Bleacher Report: The Diamond Oracle

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Bleacher Report: The Diamond Oracle
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Want to know what's going to happen before it happens? Then you've come to the right place, as Matt breaks down the trends that will give you that edge you need this fantasy baseball season.

Opening Day is right around the corner. Optimism is running high. Maybe you've had your fantasy baseball draft, or maybe not. Regardless, in-season roster management will make the difference between a first or second place finish.

I have been in several leagues over the years that have come down to the last day, and the champion won by a couple of RBIs or strikeouts. Wouldn't you like to be in a position where you've picked up those key stats all year through timely roster management so you’re not sweating those last few days? In this weekly column, I'll analyze players who you can expect good (or bad) things from based on their historical numbers.

As an example, let's take Adam Dunn (1B/OF, WAS). Everyone is downgrading Dunn because he is playing in Washington even though Nationals Park had an overall park factor in 2008 of 1.038. It actually played as a slight hitter’s park, and was the 13th-friendliest hitters’ park for the year.

But (you knew there was going to be a 'but' right?) Nationals Park did have a home run rate of 0.942, which was good for 16th overall in 2008. So what does all of this mean? Dunn has never played in Nationals Park, so we have no historical perspective. And while I wouldn't expect Dunn to hit 40 home runs for the sixth consecutive season in 2009, he will definitely surpass 30 home runs.

This week, we're going to analyze 10 players that are getting buzz this spring in fantasy drafts (some good and some bad) and look inside the numbers to predict if they will help or hurt your fantasy team in April.

 


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The Hitters:

Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS)

In 166 career April at bats, Pedroia has hit .265 with one home run and 15 RBI. That is almost 50 points lower than his career batting average of .313. However, Pedroia has hit .339 at home, and with road trips to Los Angeles (.389 in 36 AB) and Cleveland (.308 in 26 AB) he has a chance to reverse that trend. The only black mark is his .150 batting average in 40 at bats in Oakland.

Ichiro Suzuki (OF, SEA)

In 834 April at bats, Suzuki has hit .294 with 11 home runs and 41 stolen bases. Like Pedroia, his batting average is well below his career mark of .331. Suzuki has hit .330 for his career at home, and .332 on the road. The Mariners have 13 road games in April, and Suzuki hasn’t hit less than .295 in any of those four parks.

The Oracle says…Both Pedroia and Suzuki historically have struggled in April. If you own either, don’t worry about a slow start. If you don’t own either, play up Pedroia’s weak start as post-MVP malaise and Suzuki’s as “he’s getting old”, and pounce on that fair-weather owner.

Matt Holliday (OF, OAK)

Holliday has been OK in April. In 447 April at bats, he is hitting .318 with 14 home runs and 79 RBI. April has been traditionally one in which Holliday hasn’t hit for power posting the lowest home run rate in April of any month (1 HR/32 AB).

The Oracle says…Unlike Pedroia and Suzuki, Holliday’s struggles will continue past April. Holliday is moving from the third-best hitters’ park to the fourth-worst hitters’ park the past two seasons. Don’t look to buy-low on Holliday this season.

Jeff Francoeur (OF, ATL)

Francoeur needs to get off to a hot start to help people forget his miserable 2008. However, Francoeur’s Aprils have been a mixed bag. In 296 April at bats, Francoeur’s batting average is .267, but his April home run rate (1 HR/27 AB) is the second-highest of any month.

The Oracle says…Francoeur has 12 away games and only nine home games in April, and his career numbers are much better at home than on the road, so you wouldn’t expect much out of Francoeur for the month of April.  However six of those road games are played in hitter-friendly parks, as the Braves have three games in Philadelphia and three in Cincinnati. Francoeur will be able to exorcise his 2008 demons in April.

Bobby Abreu (OF, LAA)

Abreu moves from the East Coast to the West Coast, but will his bat experience jet-lag and prevent Abreu from getting off to a good start? Abreu has been remarkably consistent month-to-month for his career, as there isn’t one month that is especially good or bad.

The Oracle says…Abreu has hit .210 in his career in Angels Stadium. Granted it’s a small sample size, as he’s only had 62 at bats there, but when you also consider that in April the Angels play 13 of their 22 games at home, and six of their road games are being played in Minneapolis and Seattle, two of the worst parks for hitters in 2008, and you have a recipe for a poor start for Abreu.

Vernon Wells (OF, TOR)

Wells is a career .283 hitter, but is a notoriously slow starter, hitting just .250 in the month of April in 701 career at bats. Further complicating Wells’ ability to have a good April is the fact that he is dealing with a bad hamstring. These injuries have a tendency to linger, and with top prospect Travis Snider (OF, TOR) major-league ready, it’s imperative for Wells to stay healthy.

The Oracle says…The Jays have 14 road games against only 10 home games in April, which is trouble for the owners of Wells for two reasons. First, Wells has better overall numbers at home than on the road despite the fact that the Rogers Centre plays as a slight pitchers park. Second, the Jays have only one “off” day in the month of April once the season starts, giving Wells little time to rest his bad hamstring. Wells is likely to start slow, and with a nagging hamstring, never recover.

 


The Pitchers:

Cliff Lee (SP, CLE)

Coming off a Cy Young season, expectations are guarded for Lee in 2009. Will he do it again? Will he even come close to last season’s numbers? Fantasy owners will be watching Lee closely in April to see how he pitches. In 20 career April starts, Lee has 12 wins against only two losses, while posting a 2.72 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 125.2 innings with 98 strikeouts.

The Oracle says…While Lee has been very impressive in April, he has several tough matchups coming up. Assuming no rainouts, he will face Texas and New York on the road, and Toronto, Kansas City and Boston at home. Lee hasn’t been particularly impressive against any of those five teams, as his ERA is at least 4.00 against all five, and over 5.00 against New York, Boston and Texas. You should fully expect Lee to struggle in April, especially on the road. You can mitigate the damage by starting him only against Toronto and Kansas City, both home games.

A.J. Burnett (SP, NYY)

One of the two top pitchers that the Yankees signed in the offseason, Burnett has never put back-to-back 30 start seasons together due to various injuries. Expectations will be high in the Bronx for Burnett, and Burnett will need to get off to a good start to avoid those Bronx cheers. Burnett has been decent in April, in 170.1 innings he has 11 wins and nine losses with 143 strikeouts, and a 3.80 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.

The Oracle says… April will be cruel for Burnett. Against his four likely opponents (@BAL, CLE, OAK, @DET) he is a combined 13-8 with a 5.71 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP in 149.2 career innings. Seven of those 13 wins have come against the Orioles, so that may his best chance at a quality start for the month. You’d be better off benching him for the remainder of the month after that initial start.

Javier Vazquez (SP, ATL)

Vazquez returns to the National League after spending the past three seasons with the White Sox. While both parks are among the top ten hitters’ parks in the majors, Turner Field isn’t quite as harsh for pitchers as US Cellular Field. Vazquez does like pitching in April, as he has a career record of 21-15 with 315 strikeouts in 350.0 innings. His peripherals aren’t sparkling though, as his ERA is 4.06, while his WHIP is 1.20.

The Oracle says…Unlike Burnett, Vazquez doesn’t have big expectations, and is penciled in as the Braves fourth starter. His likely starts will include the Nationals twice (one home, one away), as well as the Marlins and Cardinals at home. Vazquez has pitched well at Turner Field, posting a 5-4 record with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 70.1 innings. With three of his four projected starts at home, Vazquez is looking at a nice start to his 2009 season.

Randy Johnson (SP. SFO)

Johnson’s numbers have been declining for the past several years, but he can still bring the heat when he needs it. Johnson is way past being a number one starter, and will probably end up as the Giants' third starter. Chase Field played as the second-best hitters park in 2008, while AT&T Park played as the 11th-best park for hitters, so Johnson could see a slight improvement in numbers due to his move.

The Oracle says…Johnson is poised to have a fantastic April. He has three home games at AT&T Park, where he has a career ERA 2.14 and a 1.19 WHIP with 48 strikeouts in 46.1 career innings. His one away game is at Dodger Stadium, which played as the second-best pitchers park in 2008. Don’t hesitate to start Johnson in every one of his starts in April.

Next week I’ll be looking at individual matchups on a more tactical level. I will analyze projected hitter-pitcher matchups and give you the lowdown on who will have a strong first week, and who will struggle.  If there’s a player you’d like me to profile, shoot me an e-mail at wirkiowski@RotoExperts.com This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Matt attended baseball games in five different parks in 2008, and is looking forward to beating that number in 2009. Got a question, comment or complaint? E-mail Matt at Wirkiowski@RotoExperts.com

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