Fantasy Notes
May 23, 2006

It's been a while since I've posted anything and sometime in the next few weeks I'll get back to regular posting, but I wanted to offer just a few notes for fantasy players...

Casey Janssen's value will never be higher.  He's faced the Angels and the Devil Rays twice in his six starts.  This is pertinent because other than the Royals, those are the two worst offenses in the AL so far.  He's also faced the Orioles twice and in those two starts he's given up seven earned runs in ten innings work.  He's yet to face the Red Sox or the Yankees and the Blue Jays still have most of their intradivisional schedule left against those two teams.  His next start will likely be against the White Sox and two of the three following that will be against Baltimore. 

He's not overpowering by any stretch.  In fact, his stuff is about as good as Josh Towers.  He's a nibbler and depends on hitting his spots for success.  None of his pitches consistently make hitters uncomfortable so unless they get themselves out with over-aggresiveness (like the Angels do), he's very hittable.  In a month's time, it would not surprise me in the least to see his ERA near 5.00.

If you saw my appearance on ESPNews last week, you know that I singled out Frank Thomas, Jorge Sosa and Matt Belisle as guys who are on the rise.  Nothing like sticking one's neck out on national TV, eh?  But I had good reasons to choose those guys (I think). 

Thomas had been leading with his hips up til now.  When his swing is on, his hips open up following through with his hands as the bat flies through the strikezone.  When it is off, as it was for the first month and a half, his hips have already swung open to face the pitcher as his hands are just entering the zone.  This robs him of his power - unless the pitch is up and in - and leaves him vulnerable to pitches outside.  Just before he injured his quad in Toronto he started getting his timing right and for the last couple of games he seems to be hitting his stride just right.  As slow as he moves I doubt he'll come close to hitting .300 again, but it's still possible.  More likely is that he'll hit pretty well and finish with an average in the .260-.270-ish range.

I like Sosa because over his last five starts he's pitched 25+ innings, walked 6 and struck out 20.  He still has a bit of a problem with the gopher ball and that is something that will continue to plague him every time he faces the Mets.  Why?  Because Carlos Delgado not only owns him, but also his house, his dog and his next three kids.  In 28 career at bats against Sosa, Delgado has picked up a hit 14 times, seven of which have left the yard.  He's also walked 4 times.  So with nearly a 2.000 OPS against him (1.851), it's pretty safe to say he is not fooled at all by Sosa's offerings.  Fortunately for Sosa, the Braves don't play the Mets again until the end of July and they only have 9 more games left against them the rest of the way.  Sosa has similar stuff to Daniel Cabrera and last year Cabrera nearly doubled his strikeout rate from the previous year.  Sosa could see a similar leap this year.

I know a lot of you are saying, "but what about his strikeout to walk rate?  it stinks for his career!".  That's true.  But that doesn't necessarily mean Sosa stinks.  Remember, he's a converted shortstop and has less than 50 innings pitched in the minors.  That means just about everything he's learned about pitching, he's had to learn facing major league hitters.  And, no offense intended, but Tampa has not exactly been an ideal place to learn how to pitch over the last few years.  The coaching hasn't been bad, but the defense hasn't been particularly good nor has the run support so the pitchers have always felt additional pressure to make perfect pitches. 

Still, back to my point about the minors, Sosa's numbers in the minors have been decent: 46.2 innings, 50 hits, 10 walks, 47 Ks, 4.05 ERA.  The guy has tremendous stuff and it was just a matter of letting him learn how to pitch.  Against mediocre Marlins and Nationals offenses and pitching in three of the National League's most pitcher friendly parks for a large portion of his schedule, Sosa is a good bet for success.

And if you're overly concerned about minor league numbers like strikeout to walk rates, I have a little puzzle for you.  Suppose you are a major league GM and you have a 25-year old pitcher in Triple-A who last year threw 113 innings, allowed 85 hits, but walked 72 while striking out 111.  His ERA was 3.26 but a rival GM comes to you and offers a 22-year old who boasted a 1.88 ERA last year in Double-A.  Not only that but he pitched 158 innings, allowed 118 hits, walked 43 and struck out 143.  So he's offering you a guy who's three years younger yet only one level below, who's ERA was a run and a half better, WHIP was substantially better (1.019 versus 1.385) and who's strikeout to walk ratio was in a different league (3.325 versus 1.542).  No brainer, right?  Well, unless you listen to the scouting report that tells you that your guy throws in the high 90s and the guy they're offering throws in the high 80s, then there's a good chance that you will be trading Randy Johnson (your guy - those were his numbers in 1988) for Bobby Jones (those numbers came in 1993).  There's nothing wrong with having Bobby Jones - he was a fine innings eater for about eight years.  But he's no Randy Johnson and if you're only looking at a guy's numbers in the minors, then you are going to make some pretty lousy evaluations and possibly some trades that will haunt you forever.  And it's not just pitchers whose numbers don't always reveal the level of talent.  Just ask any Red Sox fan about Jeff Bagwell. 

OK, so now that I'm done ranting for today, what do I like about Matt Belilse?  Well, he hasn't shown it as much this year, but last year he was a pretty extreme groundball pitcher, getting 1.91 groundballs for every flyball he surrendered.  That mark was the best of any pitcher the Reds currently have who had a start last year.  They let him start five games and in only one - against the Cubs at home - did he not pitch well.  Of the 11 home runs he surrended all year and the six he gave up as a starter, four of them came in that one game.  Remove that game and he posts a 1.10 WHIP and 3.85 ERA as a starter.   To me, that's a guy they should be pitching in the rotation.  Hopefully the Reds will give him that chance.

Speaking of chances, it's nice to see that Jason Kubel will get another shot at proving his worth with Shannon Stewart headed to the DL.  After his demotion to Triple-A, Kubel posted solid but unspectacular numbers.  I have to wonder what Jason Bartlett has to do to get a similar opportunity.  Currently, he's hitting .325 in Triple-A with a .481 slugging percentage.   His six errors at short are a little disconcerting, but considering that the tandem of Juan Castro and Nick Punto have a combined 8 errors in the same time span, I'm not sure the Twins are gaining much on defense with what they have.  Bartlett showed good range in spring training and his .824 OPS translates to much better offensive production than the .535 they're getting from Castro or the .741 they're getting from Punto.  For a team that ranks near the bottom in scoring runs, that would seem to be a pretty useful trade-off.  A couple of years ago Justin Morneau experienced a similar roadblock, posting a .992 OPS in Triple-A before finally getting a chance in Minnesota.  I guess my question is this: what's the point of having a fertile farm system if you don't use it?  It seems to me that of the four options available, farming these guys in favor of playing below replacement level players would rank well below simply trading or playing them but only slightly ahead of promoting them to the bench.  Free Jason Bartlett... again.