The positional rankings for fantasy baseball will be here soon—once the depth charts and Player Forecast Manager are ready, I can roll them out for you—but in the meantime, I can share my thoughts about some players in a bit more detail than that list format allows. Jason Collette told you which players were marked DTM on his list already—I'll be doing the same eventually, but I was feeling optimistic last night. That means you get to see which players I am unabashedly head over heels for, the ones I am willing to spend a few bucks extra on at auction because, yes, they are that appealing.
While some may question the wisdom of writing this before I've concluded all of my drafts…okay, I'll probably pay the price for it on draft day. But it's cool; the world should know how much I dig Jay Bruce. Plus, all of these players are already on one of my keeper teams, and you can't have them.
Jay Bruce: I've been waiting for Bruce to break out for awhile now, and it looks like it may have started to happen in 2010. He hit .281/.353/.493 for the season, which wasn't as much power production as he showed in 2009 (.212 Isolated Power against a .247 mark the year prior), but he did hit lefties for once (.277/.352/.547 in 2010, .198/.285/.312 career entering the year), which boosted his batting average. Granted, we're talking about some small samples here—Bruce faced southpaws 159 times in 2010, and just 396 times in his major-league career—so things could go back downhill in a hurry (no, I haven't forgotten about the trials and tribulations of one Adam Lind in 2010). He will be just 24 years old in 2011, though, and has plenty of potential left to tap into: Kevin Goldstein just rated him the top talent under 25 in the Reds organization, which is downright impressive when you consider that that Aroldis Chapman guy who throws 105 miles per hour is also under 25 and a Red.
In the final two months of 2010, Bruce hit .339/.418/.699 in 133 at-bats. I'm not expecting him to do anything like that in 2011, but he's looked like he's been on the cusp of a breakout for a while now, and the end of the year may have been just that. PECOTA has him down for a .265/.333/.477 line (.283 True Average), but count me in for the over once the percentile forecasts are out.
Max Scherzer: From April 7 through May 14, Scherzer posted a Run Average of 8.14, struck out just 5.6 per nine and allowed nearly two homers per nine innings pitched. There was worry he might be injured—after all, health concerns were one reason the Diamondbacks sent him to the Tigers in the first place—but it turned out that the issue was in his mechanics. His arm slot was off, and he couldn't get the downward plane he needed on his pitches for them to be effective. He figured things out in his very first start back in the minors, and returned to the Tigers' rotation by the end of May.
From that point forward, Scherzer was what I and PECOTA expected him to be when I popped him in with other four-star starters heading into 2010. His RA was 2.69, he struck out over a batter per inning, and his problems with the long ball vanished, as he allowed just 0.6 homers per nine over his final 153 2/3 innings. His overall season stats were great (3.86 RA, 8.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9), but not quite as dominating as his June through September numbers, post-mechanical fix. I like him a bit more than his PECOTA forecast—think along the lines of his final 152-plus innings, except with a more realistic run average. My guess would be that, as with Bruce, a similar projection resides within the upper range of his percentiles.
James McDonald: The Pirates haven't developed many pitchers who can miss bats on their own over the last two decades, so they did as their namesakes would have and stole what they needed from a rich city on the coast. As a Buc and a starter, McDonald threw 64 frames, punched out 61 batters, and posted a 2.5 K/BB ratio. He kept the ball in the park as well, with a 0.4 HR/9, and finished with a well-deserved 3.52 RA. He still gets into trouble on occasion—you can see patient hitters controlling the at-bats, causing McDonald to waste pitches and run up his pitch count—but the potential is very much real. If he starts to attack the zone more often, he's going to be excellent.
The Pirates defense finished last in the majors in Defensive Efficiency in 2010, which is the main concern when it comes to McDonald, though his flyball tendencies work well for PNC and the Andrew McCutchen/Jose Tabata duo in the outfield. He may not get a ton of wins, either, but with full seasons from McCutchen, Tabata, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez, the offense shouldn't be as anemic as it has been in the past. PECOTA isn't as optimistic about McDonald as I am, forecasting 7.8 strikeouts per nine and a K/BB under two, but given his talent, I like his chances of being the one successful pitcher on the Pirates staff, even with that lineup supporting him.
Brian Matusz: In Matusz's final eight starts of 2010, he struck out 8.4 batters per nine, walked just 2.3 per nine, and held his opponents to a .178/.237/.282 showing. He didn't give up an extra-base hit to left-handers over his final 17 starts (an 88 1/3 inning stretch with 73 at-bats versus lefties) and showed flashes of brilliance during the second half despite pitching in the toughest division in baseball: Matusz's Quality of Opponent OPS of 744 was the second-highest in the majors amongst pitchers with a minimum of 100 innings pitched. The fact he finished with an RA of just 4.50 is a credit to his season, as odd as that may sound.
Matusz will be 24 in 2011, with 175 additional major league innings under his belt thanks to his 2010 campaign. PECOTA suggests 7.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 4.06 ERA for Matusz in his second full season in the bigs, but between the improvements in the Orioles' defense and the midseason development of young Matusz, it's easy to picture better things for him. He still has to contend with the beasts in the East, but like the other left-handed aces in the division, he has the ability to make their best hitters look foolish.