Bogfella's Scouting Notebook
by Brad "Bogfella" Johnson
For almost 25 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites and publications while also appearing as a guest analyst on fantasy baseball webcasts and radio broadcasts. Over the years, "Bogfella" has become best known for leading the way in identifying pitchers who are poised to provide excellent value.
Let's jump right in ...
This Week's Scouting Tip: Role Playing
An extension of last week's tip on the importance of opportunity, this week we will discuss the critical timing behind recognizing an emerging boost (or drop) in fantasy value based on a role change for any given pitcher. Maybe it was the result of a trade, maybe the incumbent has been floundering, or maybe the organization just wants to try your guy in a different role going forward. In any case, your objective is to identify the prospective change and act before your league-mates catch on. Once the change is in place, especially if it involved someone with significant upside, everyone will be lining up to pluck the fruit from the tree. You want to be first in line!
A Star is Still a Star ...
In 2010, Neftali Feliz was the talk of Texas as the star closer on a playoff team. However, throughout his young career, Feliz has been described as one of the most promising starting pitchers in baseball. The Rangers saw an opportunity to get him to the majors more quickly as a reliever so they jumped at the opportunity. It's no secret that the plan is still to get him into the rotation at some point. So, is this the year? They have publicly stated he will get an opportunity to claim a rotation spot this spring. So what impact would that change, if it happens, have on his value? Despite his having a front of the rotation ceiling, he may actually drop a bit in fantasy value this year. He lived on his amazing fastball in the closer's role, but his secondary pitchers are not as developed, and he will need those if he is facing lineups 3-4 times a game. In keeper/dynasty leagues, he still has star upside, however, if starting this year, temper your expectations.
But let's assume he wins a spot in the rotation ... that means a change in roles for at least one other Rangers' arm. Who steps into the vacated closer's role? Texas dealt away perhaps their best option (Frank Francisco) so the field is a bit more wide open. Perhaps the first in line would be ex-Mariner Mark Lowe. He has semi-closer stuff, when healthy, and he has already said he would like to close. While he is not Feliz, we would expect him to do an adequate job. Alexi Ogando would also be in the hunt. When he finally made it to the United States last year, he was quite effective and should be Lowe's main competition. Tanner Scheppers would also receive some consideration. Texas has been working him as a starter, but he has closer upside - probably higher than Lowe - if he can overcome some issues with his command. He has had some back problems this spring and that could hurt his chances, but he likely needs more seasoning in the minors anyway. Bottom line: we think chances are pretty good that Feliz closes again this year, but monitor the best alternatives, just in case.
"Handcuffing" for Fun (and Saves) ...
An enjoyable, and potentially very productive, strategy when evaluating and drafting closers is called "handcuffing." Basically, rather than spend premium dollars or picks on the elite closers, the advocates of this approach attempt to draft cheaper - albeit less reliable - options and then add the best bets to step into the role if the initial closer falters. That is called handcuffing ... covering yourself if the guy who leaves spring training as the closer, can't hold the job.
This is a good time to start lining up some potential handcuffs. Some of our best bets to fall from grace are listed below and we think it would be wise, if you own one of the incumbents, to also stash the heir apparent on your bench.
Fernando Rodney will probably open the season as the Angels closer. We think he is at least as likely to lose the role at some point during the season. There are two likely replacements waiting in the wings, but the top choice, especially in keeper leagues, is Jordan Walden. He is a much better option to close long term, and he only has to establish himself a bit more before inheriting the role.
David Aardsmais iffy to even begin the season as a closer and could be dealt once he proves he is healthy. If you own him, you also want his understudy, Brandon League.
Kevin Gregghas never really had a closer's makeup ... Koji Uehara does (although he is not a classic power closer). If he can stay healthy he is a better option for the Orioles.
How about a deep sleeper? In Houston, Brandon Lyon will once again begin the season with his usual tenuous hold on a closer's job. You might want to keep an eye on ex-Yankee Mark Melancon. He was buried in NY but opportunity could knock soon.
It's still early in spring training, but let's check this week's Scouting Notebook ...
Move them up a notch:
Brandon Morrow (TOR)- There are a few who are still hesitant to list Morrow as a top of the rotation starter, but we think his day has come. His stuff has never been in doubt, but he has experienced both nagging injuries and command issues in the past. The injury concerns were not a factor last season, and his command has steadily improved. With further improvement, he could reduce his pitch counts, pitch deeper into games, and that all adds up to a serious candidate to lead the AL in strikeouts. This might be your last chance to get him at a bargain price.
Cole Hamels (PHI)- He is generally being listed as the Phillies 3rd or 4th starter going into the 2011 season - yet on most teams, he would be the ace of the staff. Hamels took a major step forward last year and we think he still has ceiling to achieve. When he commands the strike zone, he can be nearly unhittable. Hamels has one of the best changeups in the game and he consistently threw his curve and cutter for strikes to keep hitters from zoning in on that off-speed pitch. For a worst-case scenario, he is a solid top of the rotation starter, but in the best-case scenario, he might challenge Halladay as the team's ace ... and he will be drafted much, much lower.
Rick Porcello (DET)- We would consider Porcello a bit of a post-hype sleeper in most leagues. He is just 22 years old and with his repertoire, there is every reason to believe he will move forward as he matures. He sits comfortably in the mid-90's with his fastball and his secondary pitches are improving. Many owners will shy away from his so-so 2010 WHIP and his extremely low strikeout rate, but there are reasons to expect significant improvements in both categories. When he is confident enough to throw any pitch in any count, the hits will drop and he'll start missing a lot more bats. If you can get him late in your draft, especially in a keeper, we would take a chance on him.
Jake Peavy (CWS)- He gets yet another bump after appearing here last week. In his spring debut, Peavy looked like the old Jake, and that is very good news. He threw his whole arsenal against Angels regulars and consistently kept them off balance. We're not sure Peavy knows how to "take it easy", so he was easily into low 90's with his fastball. Given his spring performance so far, it all comes down to staying healthy. He is on track to break camp with a rotation spot, and you should be looking at him in your draft.
Move them down a notch:
Jaime Garcia (STL) - Anyone who owned Garcia in 2010 enjoyed a very productive rookie season, particularly in ERA. That said, fantasy owners may be lining up to get him in 2011 with expectations of a step forward. While we like Garcia for the longer term, there are reasons to avoid overpaying just yet. He is not a power pitcher and needs to rely on commanding the zone. His 2010 WHIP underscores some command concerns. He still gets up in the zone too often, a dangerous habit if you don't have the stuff to get away with mistakes, so we recommend a more conservative draft approach this year.
Joe Saunders (ARZ)- Sometimes a move from the AL to the NL helps a pitcher's value. In this case, Saunders simply doesn't miss enough bats to be a reliable option for your fantasy team. His strikeout rate did increase slightly when he came over from the Angels, however his hit rate was far too high to trust in a hitter-friendly ballpark. As a southpaw with a predominantly right-handed mound corps, he'll likely get innings, but his low strikeouts, high WHIP and potentially high ERA are not going to generate productive innings for your team. A deep leagues, match-up type is probably his fantasy ceiling.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS)- He will probably always taunt fantasy owners with the occasional gem of a start; however those owners are becoming more and more likely to pay a big price with an inflated WHIP and ERA from his other outings. If you could semi-predict his implosions you could consider him a spot starter, but he loses it at home, on the road and against weak teams, etc without bias. He simply has to stay down in the zone to be effective, but he fails to do that far too often. The ability is there to be a mound asset, but we can't recommend him without at least a little consistency.
Wandy Rodriquez (HOU)- We're probably bucking the trend here. However, you need to consider that he didn't become productive until he was nearly 30, and late-bloomers can sometimes head south after a few decent years. He is still prone to stretches of ineffectiveness (see early 2010) and while there is at least a fair chance that he will have respectable numbers at the end of 2011, you will probably have to overpay and hope for the best. Don't cross him off yet, but there are alternatives with higher upside.
That's a wrap for this week, but for some of the most in-depth coverage of all things pitching in fantasy baseball for 2011, visit www.bogfella.com.