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March 21, 2010

Fantasy Focus

Depth Chart/PFM Update, Part 2

by Clay Davenport

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At this stage of spring, we don't think enough games have played to really understand how players compare to each other, but that doesn't matter, because teams are starting to make decisions based on what they've seen (and, of course, on what they already know). That obliges us to at least try and follow their thinking by looking at the spring stats and seeing how players are doing, particularly in cases where position decisions are on the line. It doesn't matter what Derek Jeter, Nick Markakis, or Albert Pujols are doing in the exhibition games because they'll start regardless.  I'm looking for cases where the performance (or injuries, or visa problems) of the player merits at least a thought of changing the depth-chart projection. Not everybody mentioned gets changed

As in the first part, the numbers following each player's name are either his True Average (with no park or difficulty adjustments) or PERA this spring.

Brewers:  The rotation was a big problem last year, and Jeff Suppan (17.57) is pitching his way towards an outright release, no matter how much money he's owed. Fellow rotation disappointments from last year, Manny Parra (3.68) and David Bush (2.68), are doing just fine, as is Chris Narveson (3.36), so we're moving up to the "sixth starter"  position and slashing Suppan. Third baseman Casey McGehee (.148) has struggled, but Mat Gamel is hurt and unable to take advantage. George Kottaras (.315) has a big lead on Matt Treanor (.198) for backup catcher. Joe Inglett 's (.289) chances of being the utility infielder jumped when Hernan Iribarren was placed on waivers and claimed by the Rangers. Outfielder Jim Edmonds (.314) has looked good enough to keep in a reserve role.

Twins:  Jose Morales is still expected to be the backup catcher but he'll start the season on the disabled list, leaving a choice between Wilson Ramos (.280) and Drew Butera (.142); edge Ramos offensively, though Butera is better defensively. Brendan Harris (.273) is cementing his spot at third base, as prospect Danny Valencia (.248) has been sent to the minors and veteran Nick Punto (.194) has struggled. In the outfield, Jacque Jones (.291) has been surprisingly decent, likely earning a spot on a club with minimal outfield depth, something Juan Portes (.383) is trying to change as well. I am not buying into the Francisco Liriano-as-closer talk; without something more concrete, he's staying in the projected rotation. I'm also assuming that Joe Nathan will miss the entire season, although a final decision has yet to be made. There's no way to pick between Matt Guerrier (2.80) and Jon Rauch (1.92) right now as the presumed closer, so they remain even, though there are some indications Rauch would get the job.

Mets: Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes seem likely to miss April, and given that even the forecast of a May 1 return may be optimistic, I can't project either for more than 70 percent of the playing time. Alex Cora and Angel Pagan should reap most of the benefits, as Cora is expected to replace Reyes at shortstop and Pagan is the frontrunner to get the majority of playing time in center field with Beltran. However, Gary Matthews Jr. (.355) is hitting well and could force his way in at center fielder. Though Fernando Martinez (.458) has had a very loud spring, he is ticketed to play every day at Triple-A. Twenty-year-old pitching phenom Jenrry Mejia (2.05) has been electric, and seems likely to earn a role either as a Neftali Feliz-like reliever sometime during the season, perhaps as soon as opening day. John Maine (7.03) and Oliver Perez (5.95) have been shaky but both will begin the season in the rotation with Jonathan Niese (3.60) and Fernando Nieve (4.25) competing for the fifth starter's slot. Injured Kelvim Escobar won't be the primary set-up reliever as hoped.

YankeesIn the race primarily between Phil Hughes (7.27) and Joba Chamberlain (8.13) for the fifth starter spot, the best pitchers have been Sergio Mitre (4.40) and Alfredo Aceves (4.12). Joe Girardi will tell us next week who it will be, and I do think Chamberlain is still most likely based on continuity, though many observers believe Hughes could get the job. Thus, we'll make some entries for Hughes and Aceves. On the offense, Randy Winn (.079) has one of the two backup outfield spots locked up despite his poor spring, leaving Marcus Thames (.000), and Jamie Hoffman (.000), neither of whom seem to want it, to compete for the other. Kevin Russo (.304), meanwhile, is making a run at taking the backup infield job from the heavily favored Ramiro Pena (.204).

AthleticsThe closer situation takes center stage now that Andrew Bailey (3.70) has a tender elbow, worth a small tick towards Brad Ziegler's (2.21) chances of pitching the ninth inning with leads. In the rotation, Justin Duchscherer hasn't returned from injury and Ben Sheets (9.94) hasn't shown anything. While Sheets is locked into a rotation spot, Duchscherer's slow return gives a little more chance to Vin Mazzaro (5.30), Gio Gonzalez (2.06), and (going really deep) Jason Jennings (3.35). Offensively, any hope Jake Fox (.000) had of unseating Daric Barton (.398) at first base has evaporated. Eric Chavez (.288) has been able to hit in his new role of utility infielder and should get some starts at first. Adam Rosales (.400) is having a big spring, but Cliff Pennington (.340) hasn't been a slouch and should hold on as the starting shortstop. Travis Buck (.310) and Gabe Gross (.255) have done more to line up outfield backup roles than prospect Michael Taylor (.103).

PhilliesIn the fifth-starter battle, Jamie Moyer still hasn't pitched in an “A” game, while his main competitor, Kyle Kendrick, has pitched pretty well (3.31). Ryan Madson hasn't been his sharpest (3.77), but Brad Lidge just made his first real pitches, coming in a minor-league game Friday. That has already been priced in to the depth chart. The offensive side was well set entering the spring. They do need to choose a utility infielder from Juan Castro (.184), Wilson Valdez (.393), and Cody Ransom (.332), none of whom is liable to get much time.

Pirates:  Lots of question marks, as many of their planned starters are being upstaged by their presumed backups. Jeff Clement (.215) was supposed to be the first baseman, but he's been outhit by Steve Pearce (.281) and Bobby Crosby (.362), and is still training defensively for the position. Delwyn Young (.378) is rocking Akinori Iwamura (.208) at second base, but will not win the job. Uberprospect Pedro Alvarez (.288) has dominated Andy LaRoche (.189) at third, but was sent to Triple-A. In the outfield, John Raynor (.310) may have played his way past Brandon Moss (.000) for a backup spot. Infielder Ramon Vazquez (.207) hasn't distinguished himself and probably will go, as the Pirates reportedly are willing to release him and eat his $2-millon salary. In the rotation, Daniel McCutcheon (5.83) has outpitched Kevin Hart (11.37) for the open spot, but a decision isn't likely to come until the very end of the spring. Evan Meek (1.79) has excelled in the bullpen while presumed closer Octavio Dotel has been hurt and Joel Hanrahan has been sidelined by a sore elbow. The report is that Dotel will be ready to go by Opening Day.

Cardinals:  Third base was the question mark coming into camp, and so it remains. David Freese (.215) is the presumed favorite, and Felipe Lopez (.188) is supposed to be a backup infielder, but neither has conclusively made their case. Allen Craig (.289) has been better, but he is competing with Joe Mather (.282) and Nick Stavinoha (.310) in a tight race for a reserve outfield spot, where Jon Jay (.196) is out of the running. Shane Robinson (.396) had a chance, bolstered by being the only outfielder besides Colby Rasmus (.359) who has played much center field this spring, but h's already been sent down. Rich Hill (8.61) has been decidedly so-so this spring – no Dave Duncan magic yet – while fellow left-hander Jaime Garcia (2.91) has been wowing people in his return from Tommy John surgery, and is becoming the favorite to be the fifth starter. Ryan Franklin (5.09) has been hittable but he is still the closer despite Jason Motte (3.32) attempt to snag the job.

PadresDavid Eckstein's (.000) job is safe for now, but Matt Antonelli (.269) and Jerry Hairston Jr. (.344) have been better at second base. Kyle Blanks (.366) has been of the better hitters in baseball this spring, forcefully claiming the left field spot. Will Venable (.305) is fending off Aaron Cunningham (.258) in right. Tony Gwynn Jr. (.263) has outplayed an injury-hobbled Scott Hairston (.000) in center while Luis Durango (.292) has played his way into the picture. On the rubber, Mat Latos (2.89) has been their most impressive starter, and should have the fifth spot locked up, though he'll still be innings-limited. Tim Stauffer (11.50) isn't challenging Latos at all. Mike Adams (2.47) and Edward Mujica (2.36) have both looked very good, and could possibly wind as the closer as trade rumors swirl around Heath Bell (12.80).

GiantsMadison Bumgarner's (10.13) lack of velocity and results are jeopardizing his chances of being the fifth starter, opening up an opportunity for Todd Wellemeyer (3.89) or Kevin Pucetas (3.44). Daniel Runzler (1.65) has been very impressive for those looking for future closers. We know that Freddy Sanchez will miss the first month or so of the season while recovering from two surgeries, and while Juan Uribe (.220) is expected to play second in April, Matt Downs (.316) is working hard to change some minds. Nate Schierholtz (.314) entered spring as the favorite to win the right field job, but the competitors are Eugenio Velez (.215), Andres Torres (.286), and Fred Lewis (.318), so it's not a done deal.

MarinersAdam Moore (.345) has been hot while Rob Johnson has been recovering from three surgeries, his share of playing time chances at the start of the season. So far this spring, Chone Figgins (.227) has played second while Jose Lopez (.146) has played third. I've let the depth charts go that direction, but it doesn't affect playing time for them or their backups, nor will it affect draft day eligibility, and I'm not genuinely convinced it will continue into the season. Matt Tuiasosopo (.402) is threatening Chris Woodward's (.178) grasp on a reserve role in the infield. Michael Saunders (.265) is out of the left field picture as he was sent to Triple-A, and Corey Patterson (.225) and Ryan Langerhans (.200) should be as well, while the M's gravitate towards Eric Byrnes (.231). Mike Sweeney (.701) – yes, a .701 Tav, an untranslated line of .684/.684/1.158 – seems a little more motivated than Ken Griffey Jr. (.226) among the elder statesmen crowd looking for DH at-bats. Looking at the fifth starter spot, open until Erik Bedard's expected mid-summer return, Yusmeiro Petit has been released and Garrett Olson (9.85) and Doug Fister (9.42) have been bad, leaving the door wide open for Lucas French (2.47). Jesus Colome (2.78) is pitching himself into the bullpen.

Rays:   Almost all of their starting pitchers have done well this spring, leaving no room for Andy Sonnanstine (3.44) or Jeremy Hellickson (0.00 in just two innings). Dioner Navarro (.409) and Kelly Shoppach (.377) have put up a spirited battle for the starting catcher's slot, but they're still looking at roughly equal time. Infielder Sean Rodriguez (.399) has been the story of the spring; he's essentially competing with outfielder Matt Joyce (.379), with Ben Zobrist (.305) set to play regularly either second base or right field. Reid Brignac (.300) hasn't had a shabby spring either as he contends for a reserve slot in the infield. Justin Ruggiano (.431) has been even better than Rodriguez, potentially burying fellow righty-batting outfielder Gabe Kapler (.080).  Hank Blalock (.315) has also hit well in limited play as he tries to find a bench spot as a corner infielder/designated hitter.

Rangers:  First baseman Chris Davis (.364) has looked good this spring, temporarily cooling the talk about Justin Smoak (.280), and the rest of the lineup looks set. Matt Harrison (2.26) has been very sharp this spring, working himself up the starting pitching charts. Rich Harden (8.61) and Colby Lewis (8.26) have been the shakiest presumed starters. C.J. Wilson (3.75), Feliz (3.83), Derek Holland (2.74), and Brandon McCarthy (3.52) would also like a spot, leaving a lot of decisions yet to be made, all the more so since PECOTA isn't convinced that Scott Feldman (3.37) and Tommy Hunter (3.02) can maintain their success from last season. As is, Hunter will begin the season on the DL with a strained muscle in his side.

Blue JaysPretty much the entire pitching staff should be up for grabs, and the early losers would appear to be starters Brett Cecil (11.24) and David Purcey (13.19), and reliever Jason Frasor (10.56), who reportedly is drawing trade interest. Since presumptive closer Kevin Gregg (8.37) isn't exactly setting the world on fire, Scott Downs (2.95) deserves a bump in save opportunities. Shaun Marcum (2.90), coming off elbow surgery, has looked the best starter. Dana Eveland (4.35) is being his usual tantalizing self, and could vulture some starts that we thought would go to Cecil or Marc Rzepczynski (9.10). Randy Ruiz (.379) is slugging his way towards a DH job, which could force Adam Lind (.272) back into the outfield, maybe Jose Bautista (.480) back to third base, and Blue Jays wondering what to do with third baseman Edwin Encarnacion when he gets back from injuries.

NationalsElijah Dukes (.196) was released, a move no one saw coming, throwing right field into disarray. Willie Harris (.379) has been lighting things up this spring, and Willie Taveras (.339) is trying to return from the dead; Justin Maxwell (.221) and Chris Duncan (.132) don't look like contributors. An interesting twist was running Ian Desmond (.349), a shortstop blocked by Cristian Guzman  (.277), out to right field. For now, we'll take the supersub approach with him. The pitching staff is in disarray, outside of that new kid, Stephen Strasburg (3.03). Top starter Jason Marquis (11.00) and closer Matt Capps (10.83) have been frightful, Scott Olsen (7.28) has no velocity; J.D Martin (2.97) and Craig Stammen (3.68) have been among the better contenders, and could slide into the opening rotation. Between Olsen's imperfect health status, Marquis' struggles, anticipating that Strasburg is delayed until May, and with Chien-Ming Wang coming up sometime in mid-season, the Nats' rotation will be highly volatile – John Lannan (3.92) look like the only sure bet. If Capps can't go, Drew Storen (3.93) has looked pretty good and is a decent bet to move up – if the Nats will trust a rookie closer.

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