Spring Training games are ready to start this week. It is hard to believe nearly a month has already passed since our 2011 fantasy baseball player projections were first published. The heavy lifting is done with those projections, which cover over 600 players, but now is the time for reflecting on the numbers and taking in new news and information (not to mention correcting obvious typos) to appropriately tweak them right up to Opening Day.
That process is the same as we’ve done in the past, posting regular projection updates on the website and for the Cheatsheet Compiler custom ranking tool. Make sure to keep your copy of the Compiler up to date. New this year, we are going to publish comments discussing why the numbers are changing for certain players, to give you more insight into the thinking behind the numbers.
So without further adieu, here is the first round of our player projection update commentary, discussing the changes made from when they were originally published up to the update posted February 23rd.
Blurry Vision, Fat Finger Typing
The first few changes have to do with the fact that after two months of projecting hitters and pitchers (yep, I started back in late-November), my eyes go crossed and I make a few fat finger errors like my original projections of Ryan Howard with 593 runs scored, Ross Gload with 249 and Domonic Brown with 501. Meanwhile, Howard was going to tally only 101 hits. Obviously, I was a bit tired the night I was working on the Phillies, and thanks to everyone who helped identify these typos.
Veteran Player Movement and Top Prospects
At this point in time, most changes occur when a free agent is signed to a team and the shuffle for at-bats begins. I try to be as accurate as possible, with each American League team totaling about 5,000 at-bats and each National League team totaling about 4,500 at bats.
I aim to project what is likely to happen for the season with the Major League roster that breaks camp. It is often difficult to speculate when a team will decide to call up a top prospect, much less let that player suddenly amass 500 at-bats. That is why there aren’t projections for the Mike Trout‘s, Bryce Harper‘s and Jesus Montero‘s of the league. Actually, I do have projections for Montero given the shallow catcher position for fantasy.
I’m not saying to not draft these players. I’m about as high on their fantasy prospects as their own mothers. However, given they are slated to start the year in the minors, and are purely speculative picks at this point posting goose eggs on your fantasy roster to start the season, it is better to adjust those players into your final cheatsheet rankings to where you’d feel comfortable making that high upside pick, rather than projecting them for 150-200 at-bats of average rookie performance.
Back to the impact of veteran players changing ball clubs, for example when the Toronto Blue Jays traded Mike Napoli to the Texas Rangers, I needed to move at-bats to certain Blue Jays who would benefit from a Napoli-less offense and take at-bats away from the Rangers players who will watch Napoli bat in their stead.
A similar approach is taken with the pitchers. As scenarios developed, I made relevant changes. For instance, all winter long it looked like Andy Pettitte would sign with the New York Yankees, but not start the season in New York. I projected him to start 20 games as he was likely to sit out the beginning of the season.
When he announced his retirement, I immediately did the same for his numbers and projected those 20 starts elsewhere. Also, since I project the Yankees to finish the season at 90-72, Pettitte’s wins and losses also had to be allocated elsewhere, likely to the players who will pick up his starts.
Here are some of the specific changes made on the hitters side of the projections ledger.
The addition of Vladimir Guerrero had me shuffling the whole Baltimore Orioles offense to find more than 400 at-bats for him. All the left field candidates Luke Scott, Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold, were the big losers here.
My original projections for the Tampa Bay Rays were based on the fact that I thought they would sign a free agent to play first base or platoon with Dan Johnson. Since no one materialized, the Rays will be forced to find those at-bats from the existing group. Johnson and Manny Ramirez look to be the primary beneficiaries and the likelihood of a Desmond Jennings call up increased with fewer bats in his way. I feel good about Desmond eclipsing 250 AB so he made the cut for the projections.
Cleveland Indians’ Grady Sizemore was downgraded because his knees don’t appear to be what they once were. His power should be solid, and I have his at-bats approaching 600, but the steals will likely take a hit.
Keeping with the Indians, signing Orlando Cabrera sent Luis Valbuena to the bench as a utility infielder. Also, it looks like the Indians will start Jayson Nix at 3B, with some time going to Valbuena. He likely won’t be the starter there all season, but he will be the main body until Lonnie Chisenhall is finally called up.
The Minnesota Twins re-signed Jim Thome and 300 at-bats had to be found from somewhere. Since the DH slot was likely to be filled from the rotation of outfielders, most of the at-bats were taken from Delmon Young, Denard Span, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer.
Justin Morneau still hasn’t been cleared for baseball activities, so he isn’t likely to see anywhere close to 600 at-bats. The Twins are playing it safe with the two-time concussion sufferer, as the next one could send him into retirement. I haven’t changed the projections yet as we await more status updates on Morneau, but I wanted to relay the information as a cautionary notice on drafting him.
I seem to have overlooked Julio Borbon. I’m not sure why I missed him, but he has taken his rightful place in the Rangers outfield.
Jordan Schafer is showing early signs of a lively bat and is likely to steal some at-bats from Nate McLouth and makes a great fill in when the Atlanta Braves need to sit Chipper Jones. That transition involves Martin Prado moving from left field to third base and Schafer taking over for Prado.
The New York Mets have a lot of bodies that will be filling a lot of positions. Some players are injury prone like Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay, and will need to rest from time to time. Others don’t provide enough at the plate, such as Luis Castillo and Ruben Tejada, to demand a lot of playing time. Scott Hairston and Fernando Martinez will get squeezed out of at-bats because there just aren’t enough to go around.
I projected the Philadelphia Phillies with too many at-bats in the early projections. When I took a realistic look at how many at-bats will go around, Ross Gload, Ben Francisco, Placido Polanco and Domonic Brown are all likely to see less playing time than I originally projected, and they’ve been adjusted downward accordingly.
With the addition of Jerry Hairston to the Washington Nationals offense, at-bats needed to be shifted around. The Nats are piling up too many bodies for the amount of at-bats they can provide. As a result, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Roger Bernardina and Rick Ankiel will all see the plate a little less than before Hairston was signed.
After a closer inspection of Geovany Soto’s body of work and likelihood to produce in 2011 for the Chicago Cubs, I upgraded his projections. I think he’ll play more and thus see a better overall performance.
The Milwaukee Brewers will have a solid bench this season, but they are all likely to see limited at-bats this season. I feel I originally under projected starters Corey Hart and Jonathan Lucroy, while Chris Dickerson, Mat Gamel, Carlos Gomez and Mark Kotsay will all see minimal time this season at the plate.
With the addition of Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot to the St. Louis Cardinals offense, and the rumors of an additional bat being brought in, there just didn’t seem like enough at-bats to go around for Jon Jay. If the team stands pat though, he will be the fourth outfielder and may get near 300 at-bats.
I knew the Arizona Diamondbacks would add another bat to their lineup, so I left room for the projection to be filled later. That bat turned into Russell Branyan. He will be more of a platoon player, but his power is without question.
I didn’t believe the Colorado Rockies had plans to use Jose Lopez in any type of regular role, but with the injury to Eric Young, Lopez is the perfect bat to slide into the second base slot in Colorado. He’s not much of a glove, but luckily for me I don’t have to project fielding performance in any way, shape or form.
Casey Blake seems to be showing his age and isn’t likely to continue his recent levels of production for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s still a decent player, but nothing more.
I didn’t include many backup catchers in the early projections because I didn’t want to put too many players who would get fewer than 250 at-bats into the projections. Most leagues don’t go that deep, but catcher is a position that needs some extra attention. These catchers were added in this update despite low at-bat projections: Brayan Pena (KC), Ryan Hanigan (CIN), Dioner Navarro (LAD) and Rob Johnson (SD).
There weren’t as many changes to the pitcher projections as the hitters, but there are some key ones to take note of including the Toronto Blue Jays’ closer situation.
Josh Beckett is recovering from shoulder and back problems. He was poor after his return from these injuries at the end of 2010 and this isn’t something that is likely to get straightened out, even though many experts are bullish on Beckett bouncing back for the BoSox (couldn’t resist). In my opinion, we have probably seen the best days of Josh Beckett. He’ll still give you solid stuff, but the elite days are a thing of the past.
Like Beckett, Johan Santana has a shoulder injury. These are never good and often spell the beginning of the end. Santana fell off his elite pace a few seasons back, but the downward spiral will mean a tough year, even when he does return in mid-summer.
The Toronto bullpen has gone through a lot of change in the last few months. They added Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco to the ‘pen to give them solid 8th and 9th inning options. This allowed the Jays to slide Shawn Camp and Jason Fraser to other set up roles. Frank Francisco is the early favorite to be the closer.
Justin Duchscherer was added to the Orioles rotation and will fill a middle of the rotation slot. Assuming his health holds up, he’ll be good for 35 starts. Unfortunately, health has been Duchscherer’s problem and about expecting 25 starts is more like it for him in 2011. The addition of Duchscherer will mean fewer starts for Chris Tillman and Rick VandenHurk.
The signing of Armando Galarraga is more of rotation depth move for the Diamondbacks than adding a regular to the rotation. Galarraga will likely start the season in AAA and be the first one called up when a starter goes down. He’ll still pick up a dozen or starts, but he’s not a player to select unless you are in a very deep league.
As more shuffling occurs through Spring Training, we’ll continue to make adjustments and provide follow-up commentary on the changes.