BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com senior blogger
Relievers can be difficult to project because performance can sway so drastically from season to season. The limited number of innings, and the various situations the pitchers are used can lead to occasional spikes or dips in results. Sometimes you don’t know if your established 8th inning guy will have to take over closer duties, which can also affect his numbers depending on the situations he’s used in. I’m not of the mind that a minute number of relievers can close; most guys can do it if they have a big fastball that can be consistently thrown for strikes. However, given how much of a financial incentive it is to be a big time closer, teams will overvalue based on saves, when they should really be looking at how effective the pitcher was overall. I digress, so here are my top 5 setup men aka potential closers that currently aren’t.
5. David Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks (68 IP, 98 Ks, 22 BBs, 2.50 ERA)
Former Team Mexico/USA pitcher is underrated, he improved his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate in 2012, and figures to be used by Kirk Gibson to trade off the 7th or 8th with the inferior Heath Bell.
4. Drew Storen, Washington Nationals (30 IP, 24 Ks, 8 BBs, 2.37 ERA)
Let’s throw out that blowup inning against the Cardinals in NLDS game 5 last year, Storen is going to be getting key outs against the Braves lineup for a team that many will predict to win the World Series this year.
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com senior blogger
Some may think of left field as that position where a youth baseball coach would hide his worst player. In Major League Baseball, it’s quite the contrary, In fact, many former center fielders, who had a younger player with a tad more defensive skills bump them out of their former positions, will usually move just one spot left. It also seems like a lot of the games top power hitters call left field their home. We’ll look at both cases in today’s blog of the top 10 left fielders in the game today:
10. Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins (.260 BA, 35 HR, 110 RBI, 2.9 WAR) – One of the most underrated power hitters in baseball.
9. David Murphy, Texas Rangers (.304 BA, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB, 3.2 WAR) – One of the most underrated players in baseball.
8. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics (.292 BA, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 16 SB, 3.4 WAR) – Great rookie season from the defected Cuban, expect more in 2013.
7. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (.303 BA, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB, 1.3 WAR) – Big platoon split due to Coors Field.
6. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (.294 BA, 14 HR, 72 RBI, 10 SB, 6.2 WAR) – Excellent defensive fielder with an improved bat.
5. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals (.295 BA, 27 HR, 102 RBI, 3.8 WAR)
Holliday is one of the great sure things in baseball. Consistently reliable slugger who drives in runs and generally does things well. One of the things he doesn’t do well is defend, or really have great range, at least not anymore. Regardless, he’ll be a big factor the Cardinals yet again.
Like shortstops are to the infield, center fielders are the captains of the outfield. Players in the middle of the deep grass have a special skill set like no other spot in baseball. Usually, they have the best wheels, an uncanny defensive ability and an above average arm. Centerfield calls for some of the best players in the game.
This season there is no lack of talent in the middle of the outfield. While some of the older players have moved to corner outfield positions, it seems like a new generation is trying to make its name in centerfield. Mike Trout was a prime example last season and trust me, he’ll be high on this rankings list. But there still is a few unknowns, so here is Couch Side’s official top 10 center fielder of 2013:
10. Chris Young, Oakland Athletics (.231 BA, 14 HR, 41 RBI, 1.9 WAR): This could be the worst pick I’ve made while doing these fantasy baseball rankings, but Chris Young still shows some serious potential. The new change of atmosphere could benefit the 29-year-old as he should see a lot of at bats. Although Coco Crisp will be in this lineup, Oakland likes to shake things up a lot and I think Young will find a promising role this year.
9. Denard Span, Washington Nationals (.283 BA, 4 HR, 41 RBI, 17 SB, 4.8 WAR): I was extremely surprised that Span wound up with the Washington Nationals. However, it just may produce a career year for the 29-year-old as he still proves to be one of the best center fielders in the game. He is a perfect lead off hitter and the bottom of the Nats’ lineup is so good that he could score a lot of runs.
8. B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves (.246 BA, 28 HR, 78 RBI, 31 SB, 17, 2.6 WAR): There’s a huge reason Upton earned an enormous contract with the Braves this offseason. Although he stikes out a lot, Upton is one of the best center fielders in the game because of his uncanny power, incredible defense and surprising speed.
7. Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies (.300 BA, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 2.6 WAR): It’s weird that Fowler isn’t a speedster, but he definately makes up for it in plenty of other areas. Last season, the 26-year-old set career highs in RBIs and home runs. If he cant repeat that performance this season, Fowler may make next year’s top five. Obviously, Colorado believes in that after giving Fowler a contract extentison in one of their very few moves this offseason.
6. Adam Jones, Colorado Rockies (.287 BA, 32 HR, 82 RBI, 3.4 WAR): By far, Jones had a career year last season. Don’t let that cloud judgements, though. One-year-wonders usually don’t last when it comes to fantasy baseball. Sure, he was a great player last season, but it was probably the first time he was more than a waiver wire pickup.
5. Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians (.274 BA, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 42 SB, 6.0 WAR)
Many might think Bourn is the fastest center fielder in the game, but then came along Mike Trout. This 30-year-old is showing signs of his age. Yet, he set a career high in homeruns last year. Bourn’s power seems to be improving. He also always seems to get better on new teams. The Indians will be his fourth, so the potential for more career seasons could be waiting for Bourn. Plus, that speed is definitely still there.
Outfield has always been a crucial position in fantasy baseball leagues. From the outfield spot you can grab some of the best players in the league. When analyzing just right fielders, there are several big name players who may be selected ahead of projections because many of them are entering their prime, or due to potential. Here’s a look at my top right fielders this fantasy season.
Right fielders just outside of my top five stack up as the following: Alex Rios, CWS, Carlos Beltran, STL, Nelson Cruz, TEX, Ben Zobrist, TAM, Nick Markakis, BAL, Nick Swisher, CLE.
5. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds (.252 BA, 34 HR, 99 RBI, 1.4 WAR)
If the right field class wasn’t so stacked, Bruce would be higher up.The 6-foot-3 lefty oozes potential. He’s hit at least 25 home runs since entering the league in 2010, with 34 last year. He knocked in 99 RBIs last year, and should improve on that. As he enters his prime, Bruce will be a 40 home run candidate, and a sleeper to lead the league in home runs. Be careful though, he’s a .255 career hitter who strikes out a lot and walks very little. Also, his career high in steals is just nine.
Editor’s note: Couch Side is very pleased to bring back its annual MLB preseason position power rankings. This year, we will offer two positions every Wednesday and Friday. Each blog ranks the top 10 players at each position and is written by some of Couch Side’s best bloggers. The following is part six of what will be a 12-part series. Enjoy!
As older third basemen with aging knees trot their way over to first base or become designated hitters, a new wave of third basemen are showing us just as much power.
Like first base, a bit of pop is expected to come from third basemen as well as a quick glove and even quicker reactions. Defense is a must just left of shortstop. A solid bat also comes with the territory. While many consider shortstop the toughest defensive position in the game, third base is where screamers come down the line. And if those players don’t have the instincts to stop a smash, they won’t have a job for long.
Major League baseball still has a plethora of talent at the hot corner. In fact, last year a third baseman took home the first Triple Crown in more than 40 years. Talent will always lye closest to the away team’s dugout and with some hefty power hitters, this year is no exception. So here’s a look at Couch Side’s top 10 third baseman for 2013:
• A quick glance at five guys outside of the top 10: Brett Lawrie, Aramis Ramirez, David Feeze, Todd Frazier and Mike Moustakas … Further out who still deserve recognition: Will Middlebrooks, Trevor Plouffe and Manny Machado. Alright, now, let’s start the show!
10. Martin Prado, Arizona Diamondbacks (.301 BA, 10 HR, 70 RBI, 5.4 WAR): Prado makes my list simply because after Miguel Cabrera, this 29-year-old may be the best contact bat / on-base guy at the hot corner. His .359 OBP also isn’t anything to sneeze at. What a player!
9. Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates (.244 BA, 10 HR, 85 RBI, 2.6 WAR): For fantasy purposes, Alvarez makes my top 10. Quite honestly, I think he is going to blow up this season. Yes, he strikes out a lot, however his power numbers easily forgive that. This may sound premature, but Alvarez could very well be the next Jose Bautista.
8. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants (.283, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 2.0 WAR): In a separate blog I wrote on Couch Side, I was forced to look up Sandoval’s defensive statistics. And considering this guy is pushing 280 pounds, he is quite nimble on his feet. Add those praises to his consistent and impressive bat, and Sandoval could easily be a top five third baseman. He just lacks power.
7. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (.282 BA, 25 HR, 95 RBI, 3.8 WAR): After slumping at the beginning of the year in 2012, Zimmerman bounced back to have a very impressive second half. In 2012, Zimmerman more or less had his best year at the plate since 2009 when he set career highs in all batting categories. He has to be loving that revamped Nationals lineup and his numbers are every indication of that.
6. Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers (.257 BA, 24 HR, 92 RBI, 1.2 WAR): Ramirez is slowly working his way back into the type of player he was in 2009 when he set career highs in every single hitting category. Last season, he obviously slumped for the Miami Marlins, but he really turned things around in the Dodger white and blue, batting in just four less runs than he did while in a Marlins uniform. That’s extrmely impressive, considering Ramirez played in 29 fewer games as a Dodger.
5. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (.289 BA, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 2.3 WAR)
I probably won’t make many friends ranking Longoria No. 5 on this list, but his injury does concern me. It seemed like Longoria took too long to heal from it, at least that’s what the experts said, and that just raises red flags. His numbers coming back, however, may place my own foot in my mouth as it was like Longoria didn’t miss a beat after injury. Check out the stats above and then consider that the 27-year-old was able to achieve them in just 74 games. I’m sure this youngster has many MVP years ahead of him. I’m just not buying into his big bat this season.
Editor’s note: Couch Side is very pleased to bring back its annual MLB preseason position power rankings. This year, we will offer two positions every Wednesday and Friday. Each blog ranks the top 10 players at each position and is written by some of Couch Side’s best bloggers. The following is part five of what will be a 12-part series. Enjoy!
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com senior blogger
Shortstop is a fun position to rank because of the defensive importance, as well as trying to figure out where an aging superstar like Jeter or a defensive wizard like Brendan Ryan would place.
I’m going to use the Bill James defensive spectrum in order to highlight the importance of the position from a defensive standpoint.
[ – – 1B – LF – RF – 3B – CF – 2B – SS – C – – ]
The furthest right you are on the spectrum determines the significance of the defensive contributions required. Shortstop is second to catcher according to this theory, where first basemen are appropriately listed on the opposite end. It’s not hard to stick a big guy with minimal athleticism over at first and let him hit his 30+ home runs (think Prince Fielder).
When it comes to evaluating right now, we have to consider all the usual factors: age, health, ballpark, peripherals, and occasionally shoddy defensive metrics. Derek Jeter has never been regarded in the saber metric community as a great defensive shortstop, but mainstream apologists and fans will insist that despite coming off an ankle surgery, and at 38, won’t be a complete liability. It remains to be seen if it will be or not, but its one component of evaluating shortstops that is a constant discussion amongst writers and fans.
Here are my 10-1 shortstops:
10. Erick Aybar (2012 stats .290/.324/.416, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 20-4 SB/CS, 4 WAR) – You have to respect Aybar for being potentially the most valuable shortstop last season via Wins Above Replacement.
9. Alcides Escobar (2012 stats .293/.331/.390, 5 HR, 52 RBI, 35-5 SB/CS, 3.2 WAR) – Escobar might be the rangiest SS in all of baseball, his stolen bases will add some nice fantasy value if he can hit for average.
8. Jimmy Rollins (2012 stats .250/.316/.427, 23 HR, 68 RBI, 30-5 SB/CS, 2.3 WAR) – The veteran Rollins can still hit for some pop and be a factor on the base paths.
7. Ian Desmond (2012 stats .292/.335/.511, 25 HR, 72 RBI, 21-6 SB/CS, 3.2 WAR) – He likely won’t slug .500 this year, but regression shouldn’t kill his stock completely.
6. Asdrubal Cabrera (2012 stats .270/.338/.423, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 9-4 SB/CS, 3 WAR) – The projection model ZiPS has Cabrera finishing with similar results to last season (17 HR, 72 RBI).
5. Andrelton Simmons (2012 stats .289/.335/.416, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 1-0 SB/CS, 2.8 WAR)
The sheer enormity of the potential defensive value makes me optimistic about Simmons as a top shortstop going forward. Is there risk in putting him this high? Sure, especially since I’m basing this off of 49 games played last year and rookie struggles are likely to occur. Taking these defensive metrics with a grain of salt, but Simmons was +19 according to Defensive Runs Saved and +10.4 in Ultimate Zone Rating. He looked like he had fantastic range and ability with the eye test as well. Hitting leadoff in the Braves lineup is going to be a decent experiment as well if he can keep up his .350 OBP ability that he showed in the minors. I’m betting high on Simmons regardless of the risk.