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April 10, 2012

Fantasy Beat

9 Small Sample-Based Bold Predictions

by Jason Collette

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The first month of April is the most frustrating month for any fantasy writers. Sample sizes are incredibly small, making article ideas tough to come up with, but that does not stop people on Twitter from overreacting to opening weekend moves anyway.  Between covering the first two games of the Rays and Yankees series and completing an online auction (don’t!) in my longtime mixed league this weekend, I must have received at least 50 inquiries on Twitter related to add/drop moves.

A common response I gave nearly every person: “don’t do it.”

It is in my nature to be nice to people, but nothing outside of a major injury should change the opinion you had for a player that you cared enough about to exercise a draft pick on when we’re just three days into the season.  Simply put, it is too early to laugh off any of Derek Carty’s predictions from last week; one start or five plate appearances does not a season make.  In fact, I am going to make some of my own bold fantasy projections based off the ridiculously small sample sizes we have so far:

Yoenis Cespedes is going to be fun to watch
Forget about how he is likely going to hurt your batting average beyond repair. Enjoy watching the Cuban Wily Mo Pena and the fact that Oakland is likely to give him the 550 plate appearances that Pena never saw in a single major league season. Cespedes had seven strikeouts in his first four games of the season heading into Monday night play, but he also has four extra base hits and has driven in seven runs. Unfortunately, he has only scored three runs and all three have been off his home runs since nobody else in the A’s lineup can drive him in. Additionally, he has yet to reach first base since all of his hits have been for extra bases and he has yet to take a walk, so we haven’t seen how stolen bases are going to be for him just yet.

Emilio Bonifacio may steal 50 bases
Bonifacio has not seen a 50-steal season since his time in the California League when he stole 61 bases in 130 games, but he is already a perfect 4-for-4 in his first five games. He has been on first base ten times so far and is playing for Ozzie Guillen, who likes to run his guys as much as he likes to run his mouth. There were two things that I liked for the Miami Marlins coming into the season: how the new park would help the pitchers when everything was closed up and how Guillen was going to influence the speedsters on the team to run frequently. Bonifacio just needs to get on base, as he has been.

Alfredo Aceves will eventually have an ERA
While I was writing this story last night, Aceves finally retired his first batter of the season in a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning and, in the process, lowered his ERA to 27.00 on the season.  When Bobby Valentine made the decision to make Aceves his closer last week, I liked the move because Aceves has been much more effective as a reliever in his career. In 193 innings of work as a reliever, Aceves has a 6.7 K/9, a 1.03 WHIP, a .209 opponents’ batting average, and a 616 opponents’ OPS. I believe he will be fine despite the opening weekend shellacking he took against the Detroit Tigers and would not hesitate to pick him up if he were available or take him in a trade from some panicky owner ready to dump the perceived chump.

Chase Headley will eventually hit
Headley has one base hit on the season, and it was a home run. He has scored two other times thanks to a league-leading five walks in his first 13 at bats, which puts him ten percent of the way to matching his walk total of 2011. A return to double digit steals and home runs would be nice to see from Headley, and an improved walk rate would definitely help him toward reaching that stolen base goal.

David Freese will pick up where he left off
He was a factor in the World Series and drove in 55 runs in 333 at bats in 2011. Through five games, he already has driven in eight runs hitting in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. Health is the big obstacle for Freese, though, as he has eclipsed 500 plate appearances in a season just once in his career. As long as he is hitting behind Beltran, Holliday, and Berkman, though, he should see plenty of RBI opportunities.

Closers are going to fail
Even Mariano Rivera blew his first save opportunity of the season, and he was not alone in his failure; closers everywhere had trouble holding late leads over opening weekend. Meanwhile, look at the names of guys with multiple saves so far this season: Frank Francisco, Javy Guerra, Jim Johnson, Brandon League, J.J. Putz, Fernando Rodney, and Hector Santiago. None of them should have cost you more than $15 or a 12th round draft pick and, so far, they’re off to good starts. Saves come from anywhere and everywhere, so don’t be the idiot (raises hand) who spends $16 on a fragile Andrew Bailey and then acts shocked when he hits the disabled list before the season starts.

I still like these guys, despite their early generosity
Josh Beckett, Yovani Gallardo, Homer Bailey, and Gavin Floyd each gave up three or more home runs in their first start with Beckett’s gaining the most notoriety. I targeted all four of them in drafts, particularly the latter two, and would not hit the panic button on any of them just yet (even the enigmatic Bailey). I will go as far to say that only one of them will give up 20 home runs this season.

The Yankees hitters will be just fine
They started to wake up against the Orioles last night, but fear not about the way they started the season in Tampa Bay. The Yankees had 19 walks and just 16 strikeouts but were a paltry 5-for-25 with runners in scoring position and left a stunning 26 men on base in the three-game series. That may happen occasionally against a team like Tampa Bay with a talented pitching staff and their defensive positioning methods, but that combo is not found elsewhere except for Anaheim, so the Yankees hitters should return to their typical productive levels soon enough. A word of caution with Alex Rodriguez: he does not look good running the bases right now. I watched all three games of the series, and Rodriguez looked at least ten years older than his true age running the bases.

Jeremy Hellickson may just yet be able to outrun the luck dragons
While everyone spent the off-season dissecting how Hellickson was going to struggle this year due to his suppressed BABIP and ERA-FIP difference, he went out and learned how to throw a cut fastball. According to BaseballAnalytics.com, Hellickson threw 37 cut fastballs in all of 2011, and in his gem on Sunday, PITCHf/x classified 20 his 118 pitches as such. This new pitch will be key for him to effectively attack lefties; Hellickson was purely a fastball/changeup guy against lefties last season, when he held righties to a .585 OPS and .188 batting average in 358 plate appearances but saw inflated figures of .726 and .230 against lefties in 416 plate appearances. Adding a third offering for lefties and locating it like this will certainly help Hellickson in the fight against the Luck Dragons.

I also wanted to point how that I absolutely agree with Derek that you should be aggressive with your FAAB dollars early in the season rather than hoard them for the trade deadline. If you see a new closer on the market (such as Hector Santiago), jump on the chance to roster a free closer while cutting the middle reliever you hope would get the job at some point this season. If you have a reserve list, cutting and running becomes even easier since these guys were just speculative picks to begin with, chosen seven-to-21 days before the season started when you had no idea who would have what role.

I still maintain that unless there is a drastic role change or injury that affects a player (either directly or indirectly), roster moves in the first three weeks of the season are ludicrous. Unless someone sends me a trade offer I cannot refuse that involves them giving me someone they are pressing the panic button on, I am pressing the decline button every time.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Alfredo Aceves

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