Jon Rauch, Minnesota Twins
Manager Ron Gardenhire originally announced that the Twins would go with a closer-by-committee in the absence of Joe Nathan, likely causing some fantasy owners to shred their own UCL’s throwing something at the computer screen. However, Gardenhire has since changed course and will call upon Rauch in the ninth inning.
The towering, tatted up Twin has an unusually deep arsenal for a reliever, with a low-90’s fastball, low-80’s slider, mid-70’s curve and a mid-80’s changeup. Rauch has gone to those secondary pitches with greater frequency: his fastball percentage has fallen from 67.9 percent in 2006, 60.4% in 2007, 59.9% in 2008 to 52.8 percent in 2009.
He’s not your prototypical late-game reliever. Over the past three seasons, Rauch has struck of 7.3 batters per nine innings, with contact rates hovering around the MLB average of 80-81 percent. However, he does a nice job of getting ahead in the count, with a 63.7 first-pitch strike percentage since ’07 (10th among relievers over that time frame, and well above the 58% MLB average).
Add it all up, and you have a good, not great reliever who will provide value in all formats but won’t be a force by any means. CHONE predicts a 3.96 FIP in 2010, while ZiPS forecasts a 4.27 mark.
Felix Pie, Baltimore Orioles
With Nolan Reimold still working his way back from offseason surgery to repair a damaged left Achilles tendon (and taking grounders at first base), Pie figures to be in the lineup often as the 2010 season gets under way. The 25 year-old had his own health scare a few days ago (taking a Mo Rivera pitch off his right ankle), but he’s OK.
While his Cubs career came to a frustrating conclusion, Pie made some headway in 2009. In 281 PA, the lefty batter posted a .326 wOBA, showing progress in working the count. Never known for his patience in the minors (7.4 BB%), Pie drew a walk in 8.5 percent of his plate appearances. He has a career .300/.353/.478 line at the Triple-A level, and he should be at least a league-average hitter this upcoming season.
Pie’s inclusion in the opening day lineup, coupled with Reimold trying to get acquainted with first base, suggests that the O’s are intent on giving Pie’s decent bat and great range a chance to shine. If he shows some restraint at the plate, Pie could be a sleeper.
Shaun Marcum, Toronto Blue Jays
Taking a big league mound for the first time since September of 2008, Marcum tossed seven strong innings against the Texas Rangers. The 28 year-old righty, sidelined following Tommy John surgery, gave up three runs while punching out six batters and walking just one.
As BrooksBaseball.net’s Pitch F/X goodies show, Marcum did a great job of locating his fastball and changeup for strikes (69 percent for the fastball, 76 percent for the change). His curveball and slider weren’t as sharp.
Never a hard thrower, Marcum averaged 86 MPH with his fastball, a tick or two below his usual range (it’s possible that some cutters are classified as fastballs, throwing off the average, but that doesn’t seem to be the case). Of course, he relies on the fastball less than just about any starter in the game.
Marcum’s upside isn’t huge, but he did post rates of 7.31 K/9, 2.97 BB/9 and a 4.24 FIP in 151.1 innings in 2008. It remains to be seen whether he’ll remain healthy, but Marcum’s cornucopia of pitches, solid K rate and quality control make him a good option in AL-only formats.
John Bowker, San Francisco Giants
The 26 year-old lefty hitter hasn’t done much in limited major league looks (.300 wOBA in 427 PA), straying from the strike zone often with a 31.1 outside swing percentage (25% MLB average) and a 5.4 percent walk rate. However, Bowker was the epitome of patience at Triple-A Fresno in 2009: he batted .342/.451/.596 in 450 PA, drawing a free pass 16.4 percent while also hammering the ball with a .254 Isolated Power. Clearly, the former Long Beach State Dirtbag benefitted from a BABIP over .360, but his Major League Equivalent line (MLE) was still a handy .288/.376/.466.
What do the projection systems say about the free-swinger-turned-walk-machine? CHONE forecasts a .350 wOBA, with a 9.3 percent walk rate and a .180 ISO. ZiPS is less enthusiastic, with a .340 wOBA, 8.9 BB% and a .165 ISO. Keep an eye on the Giants’ lineup-Bowker could help in NL-only leagues.
Gio Gonzalez, Oakland Athletics
The 24 year-old southpaw fascinates and frustrates with his ability to blow hitters away one inning, and then looking like he’s pitching blindfolded after being spun in circles the next. The thrice-traded Gonzalez has earned a spot in Oakland’s rotation, and he could be a nice addition for AL-only owners.
Gonzalez’s 2009 ERA (5.75) looks ugly, but he suffered from a .369 BABIP and a home run per fly ball rate nearing 14 percent (10-12% average for starters). His expected FIP (xFIP) was much better, at 4.02. His control is poor (career 5.49 BB/9, with a 54.2 first-pitch strike percentage). But with that bat-missing curve, Gio will provide plenty of K’s. CHONE thinks Gonzalez could be a league-average hurler, with a 4.57 FIP.
Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers
Following a 2007 season in which he hit .295/.353/.539 with a .380 wOBA, Hart looked like an important part of the Brew Crew’s long-term plans.
While he shouldn’t have been expected to keep producing at that level, it’s awfully disappointing that he has turned in back-to-back mundane years at the dish (.327 wOBA in 2008, .331 wOBA in 2009). In ’08, Hart still hit for power (.191 ISO) but took a hack-happy approach (4.1 BB%, 31.7 outside-swing percentage). In ’09, he showed more restraint (9.1 BB%, 23.5 O-Swing%) but his ISO fell to .158.
One of the main reasons that Hart hasn’t come close to his ’07 work is his performance against sliders. He can’t hit them, and pitchers know it. Hart’s percentage of sliders seen has gone from 18.7% in 2007, 23.5% in 2008 to 24.1% in ’09 (sixth-highest in the majors). His run value against the slider was +0.68 in ’07, -0.2 in ’08 and -1.12 in ’09.
Now, Hart may at times take a backseat to Jim Edmonds, who has gone from talking about a comeback at St. Louis’ fan fest to starting on opening day in a few short months.
Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks
Plenty of fantasy folks placed their hopes on the surgically repaired right shoulder of Webb, hoping for a return of his whiff-inducing, groundballing goodness. According to MockDraftCentral, Webb had an ADP of 35 amongst pitchers, ahead of Roy Oswalt, Ryan Dempster and John Danks, to name a few. Unfortunately, Webb may not return to the majors until June, leaving many with a busted draft pick.
Jack Cust, Oakland Athletics
Cust was DAF’d by the A’s following a year in which he showed a little more aggression at the plate and a dip in power output. He could land with a club such as the White Sox, but Cust seems resigned to accepting an assignment to Triple-A. CHONE and ZiPS both project a .360ish wOBA, which would be plenty useful in most formats (you don’t have to worry about those pesky defensive problems). But, Cust’s defensive limitations do hamper his appeal to NL clubs. As a result, he might only have value in mythical Pacific Coast fantasy leagues.
John Lannan, Washington Nationals
No, this isn’t an overreaction to one especially poor start from Lannan against the Phillies. Rather, it’s just a reminder that Lannan’s peripherals haven’t come close to matching his sub-four ERA over the past few years.
Perhaps I’m totally wrong, and Lannan has some yet-to-be-discovered ability to outpitch his component stats. But I wouldn’t bet on it. The difference between the 25 year-old southpaw’s career ERA (3.99) and FIP (4.84) is substantial. Lannan gets grounders (52.4 GB%) and has decent control (3.38 BB/9), but he doesn’t fool anyone (4.56 K/9). Others have wracked their brains trying to explain Lannan’s career .276 BABIP, to little avail.
There’s nothing in his batted ball profile that would suggest that he should post a lower-than-average BABIP. Lannan’s career infield fly ball percentage (IF/FB%) is 7.1 percent, below the near eight percent MLB average. So, he’s not getting a lot of weak contact on pop ups, which are near-automatic outs. His groundball-centric style is certainly a positive in terms of limiting extra-base hits, but groundballs have a higher BABIP than fly balls. Lannan’s career BABIP on grounders is .200, while the NL average has been in the .225-.245 range in recent years. That seems likely to rise. Lannan’s career line drive rate (18.3 percent) is pretty close to the 19% MLB average.
If there’s some BABIP-suppressing skill here, I’m not seeing it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d bet on an ERA in the mid-to-high four’s this season for Lannan.
Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics
Cahill had a rough rookie season after a brilliant minor league career, missing few bats and getting pasted by lefties as he left his breaking stuff in his back pocket. Now, Cahill is on the shelf with a sore left (non-throwing) shoulder that could keep him out during April. After that, he could head back to Triple-A. His future remains bright, but keep in mind that Cahill had minimal experience above A-Ball entering last season and is far from a finished product.