It’s about that time again.
Pitchers and catchers report in about a month.
Fantasy football is over.
The NBA is boring.
College basketball doesn’t really heat up for a month or so. The NHL is…well the NHL.
So naturally, your brain is starting to drift to the greatest time of the year; the start of another season of fantasy baseball.
Today I will take a trip around the NL East to provide the need to know answers to the Big Question surrounding each team in the division.
Furthermore, I will give a quick Rapid Fire question and response for each team. The Rapid Fire questions will suit those of you playing in deeper leagues that are always looking for that need to grab a sleeper.
The BIG Question: What can we expect out of Roy Holladay in the National League?
Good things. Very good things. Roy Halladay has been one of the elite pitchers in all of “real” baseball and fantasy baseball over the past 9 seasons, while pitching for a team in the Toronto Blue Jays that can be called mediocre at best, in arguably the best offensive division in baseball.
This season he moves along to a team that has represented the National League in the World Series two years straight and that plays in a division whose offensive prowess pails in comparison to its American League counterpart.
Don’t even get me started on the impact of pitchers moving to the National League in general. In the recent past, nearly every pitcher who has moved from the American League to the National League, or visa versa, put up inarguably better numbers while pitching in the National League.
Take CC Sabathia for example. Prior to arriving in Milwaukee in 2008, Sabathia was 6-8 with a 3.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 123 K in 122.1 IP in Cleveland. In Milwaukee he was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 128 K in 130.2 IP. Last year, back in the AL with the Yanks, he posted a 19-8 record with a 3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 197 K in 230.0 IP.
Look at Javier Vazquez. With the White Sox in 2008 he went 12-16 with a 4.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 200 K in 208.1 IP. Back in the National League with the Braves in 2009 he compiled a 15-10 record with a 2.87 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 238 K in 219.1 IP. What will he do back in the Bronx in 2010?
I am not suggesting that Halladay’s numbers will be affected as drastically as Sabathia’s or Vazquez’s, but facing designated hitter-free National League lineups suggests an improvement is likely in order. Pitching for a team with a chance of winning it all won’t hurt his motivation either. The only thing to fear this year with Hallady is an injury. If he stays healthy, watch out.
I project Doc Halladay to go 20-8 with a 2.50 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 215 K in 240.0 IP. Those are the numbers of an ace.
Rapid Fire: What happens if/when Brad Lidge implodes?
If Lidge falters, Ryan Madson is first in line for saves again this year. However, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has made it clear in the past that he prefers Madson in the setup role.
The real sleeper here is Danys Baez. Baez has not been a full time closer in quite a while, but collected 96 saves in the role from 2003-2005.
New York Mets
The BIG Question: Was D-Wright’s power outage permanent?
Yes and no. Citi Field proved to be quite the pitcher’s park last season. Its odd dimensions certainly played into Wright’s downturn in the power categories. Additionally, his doubles total did not increase. An increase in doubles is common for players who experience fluke drops in home runs, because they’re still hitting the ball well, but leaving it in the gaps or just short of the fence, resulting in more two-baggers.
In 2008 David Wright hit 21 dingers at home, but only 12 on the road. In 2009, his mere 10 long balls were split evenly between games at Citi Field and games on the road. A drop from 21 homers at Shea Stadium in 2008 to five at Citi Field is significant, and points strongly to the effect the new stadium had on Wright’s numbers.
The drop from 12 on the road in 2008 to five on the road in 2009 is much less significant, but still a cause for concern. That seven homer difference suggests that Wright’s power was lacking last year, and that more than just the new ballpark is needed to explain his power outage at home in 2009.
However, there is good news. First and foremost, this wouldn’t be the first time a stud like Wright suffered a fluke season and bounced back like nothing had ever happened. Look at teammate Carlos Beltran for example, whose 2005 total of 16 home runs was sandwiched between 38 in 2004 and 41 in 2006.
Another potential explanation are the quiet, but existent, rumors that he played through last season with an undisclosed nagging injury. While this can not be confirmed, if it is true it could easily explain away why he couldn’t seem to drive the ball in 2009 like he did in the previous four seasons.
What I expect from Wright is an upswing in the power department, but not nearly to his 2008 total of 33 HR and 124 RBI. I am going with a .305 AVG, 95 R, 20 HR, 90 RBI, and 28 SBs. Not quite what he did in 2007 or 2008, but it’s hard to match that power-speed combo nonetheless.
Rapid Fire: What do I need to know about Kelvim Escobar?
That he is healthy (for now), and that he could be really good. The last time he was truly healthy, 2007, he went 18-7, with a 3.41 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 160K in 195.2 IP. Right now the Mets insist he is a reliever, but that may change as the season approaches.
Moreover, with the Mets rotation being a bunch of question marks after Johan Santana, even if he does start the season in the pen it seems it will only be a matter of time before he hits the rotation. Escobar is an excellent high risk/high reward candidate.
The BIG Question: Is Chris Coghlan for real?
Absolutely. This guy is a hits machine. In fact, he was hitting .363 in limited at bats in AAA before getting the call last season. Once he did get to the majors he was able to maintain an average in the .280-.290 range for his first couple months in the big league before catching fire down the stretch and finishing at .321.
What’s especially encouraging about his strong finish is that it shows that he was able to make adjustments his second and third time around the league, so much so that he actually performed better as teams and individual pitchers saw him for the second and third time.
This is in direct contrast with most rookies that make the rounds in the big leagues. As pitchers see them for the second and third times, and teams get video of them on file, teams are able to make adjustments and exploit a young hitter’s weaknesses. In the case of Coghlan, it appears that he was the one who made the adjustments as he made his second and third rounds through the league.
Now another season in the area of .320 may be asking too much. Let’s be honest, you can’t get as hot as Coghlan was down the stretch every year. However, it is certainly not out of the question, and an average right around the .300 mark seems like a virtual lock.
One thing you shouldn’t expect from Coghlan is a power surge. There is no real indication from his minor league output that he is going to develop into a true power hitter. In fact, his career high for home runs in a season is a mere 12 in the 2007 season that he split between Low A Jupiter and High A Greensboro, and last year when he again totaled 12 between Triple A New Orleans and his time with the Marlins.
However, he did hit 31 doubles last season with Florida. As Coghlan progresses as a hitter, some of those two-baggers are sure to end up on the other side of the fence. Still, I don’t see him ever developing into more than a 20 HR type of hitter.
So should we be concerned about a sophomore slump? I don’t think so. Coghlan is unbelievably fundamentally sound in both his mechanics and his approach at the plate. This fact alone should prevent him from ever going into a prolonged slump or from having a real down season.
I like Coghlan to build off the success he had last season. Expect a .305 AVG, 90 R, 12 HR, 60 RBI, and 10 SB. He certainly won’t hurt you in any category.
Rapid Fire: I thought Cameron Maybin was going to be really good?
So did I, but I am not close to ready to give up on him. Maybin is crazy athletic and a five-tool talent, which could translate to a five category fantasy stud. Maybin is only 22 and wasn’t close to ready when the Marlins made him their starting centerfielder to begin last season.
However, after returning to the minors and thriving, he returned to the majors in September and played much better. Expect him to show improvement this season, but I still think he is a couple years away from breaking out.
The BIG Question: What can we really expect from Stephen Strasburg this year?
No prospect in history has come with more expectation than the kid from San Diego. In fact, I believe he received more votes than Bert Blyleven in the recent Hall of Fame voting.
However, before we all get his plaque ready for Cooperstown, let’s keep in mind that the guy has yet to put on a big league uniform. In addition, before tweaking a knee shagging fly balls in November, Strasburg went 4-1 with a 4.26 ERA pitching for the Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. Good, but certainly not great.
The Nationals could very well decide to take it slow with their new prize and choose to start his season in the minor leagues. While it is unlikely his minor league stay would last for more than the first month or two of the season, stepping right into a major league rotation, and more importantly being wildly successful, may be asking too much too soon.
Limiting expectations on Strasburg for this season is a necessity. While it seems highly unlikely that he won’t put up serviceable numbers that keep him in the Nationals rotation once he does arrive, you shouldn’t count on having him anchor your fantasy rotation.
Of course the possibility exists that Stephen Strasburg will immediately realize the potential his 100 MPH fastball, fantastic command, and outstanding secondary pitches promise. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he comes out of the gates blazing, has the NL Rookie of the Year honors rapped up by June, and a potential All-Star appearance on the horizon.
However, I think that is far more of a long shot than a lock. Even if he doesn’t make this dream sequence a reality, he very likely will be in the running for Rookie of Year, and almost certainly will be the stud ace he projects to be as soon as next year.
Undoubtedly, a lot of fantasy owners will draft Strasburg much higher than they should, or spend way more than they should on him in auction leagues. Don’t be the guy who reaches too far for him. Ultimately, he ranks as the all time greatest example of a moderate risk/high reward guy.
Temper your expectations and you won’t be disappointed with what Strasburg gives you. If everything breaks right, you may even owe your title to him come the end of September.
Strasburg needs to be rostered in all leagues this season, if for nothing else but his potential. It goes without saying that you need to grab him now in keeper leagues if he isn’t already the prize possession of another owner. Despite the upside, I am keeping my projections modest. 10-8 with a 4.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 135 K in 150.0 IP.
Rapid Fire: What should I expect from Ian Desmond
It feels like Desmond has been around forever despite being only 24. That is probably because he was drafted as an 18 year out of high school in 2004, was quickly touted as an excellent long term prospect, and faded into oblivion due to several poor minor league campaigns before finally breaking through with a huge 2009 in which he batted .306 in AA, .354 in AAA, and .281 in limited major league at bats.
Desmond’s upside appears limited, but it also seems that he may be the perfect example of a late bloomer. He likely is destined to be the Nationals starter, and could put up a 10 HR/10 SB season with an average in the .270 range; solid numbers for a SS.
The BIG Question: Is Billy Wagner still an elite big league closer?
At 38 years old and having recently gone through an elbow ligament replacement, Tommy John surgery, Wagner is certainly in the twilight of his career. However, there is no reason to think Wagner can not be an effective closer this year on a team that should be good enough to give him a good number of save opportunities.
After undergoing surgery in September 2008, Wagner spent nearly a year rehabbing before taking the mound in late August for the Mets. Two scoreless one-inning outings later, Wagner was dealt to the Red Sox where he continued to be effective throughout the remainder of the season.
He finished the year with an ERA of 1.78, a 1.05 WHIP, and 26 K in 15.2 IP. That’s pretty darn good. In addition, Wagner looked far from over the hill in 2008 prior to his injury. Wagner’s 2008 totals with the Mets, 27 S, a 2.30 ERA, a WHIP of just 0.89, and 52 K in just 47.0 IP, show that he was still performing as an elite closer, despite being 36 years of age.
Perhaps most promising is the fact that most guys around the league, including Wagner himself, feel that his Tommy John surgery has not robbed him of his elite stuff. In fact, at times his fastball was clocked at 96 MPH last season. While that may be a slight drop off by Wagner’s standards, he certainly still throws harder than most left handed relievers around the league. Furthermore, Wagner was quoted as saying that he has been throwing his second pitch, the slider, harder and with more movement than before the surgery.
Moreover, in recent years baseball has seen a surge in the number of pitchers who successfully return from Tommy John surgery, especially relievers. In fact, due to advances in technology that have made the surgery easier and more effective, many pitchers have returned throwing harder than they did prior to the surgery.
However, not all the news on Wagner is good. For one, major reconstructive surgery on a pitcher’s elbow always leaves them susceptible to being further injured or reinjured. Also, he is, as mentioned before, 38 years old.
He has reached that point in his career when many pitchers are prone to breakdown, even those that have not suffered the type of major injury Wagner has. Therefore, Wagner does project as a high risk investment, but one that comes with a potential high reward too.
With Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano both out of Hotlanta, the Braves lack another real option to close out games, meaning that Wagner will probably be given leeway should he struggle at times early in the season.
I think one can confidently draft Wagner this year as a number two closer. He no longer ranks amongst the elite, but should be serviceable at worst and spectacular at best. If you do target Wagner on draft day, be sure to pick up the Braves’ backup plan, Takashi Saito. Should Wagner falter or get injured, Saito should be able to step in and do an adequate job filling the role.
Gone are the days of Billy Wagner, member of baseball’s fraternity of elite closers. Today’s Billy Wagner is a savvy vet who still has some pretty awesome stuff to rely on. If he stays healthy, I like Wagner to pick up 30 saves, while posting an ERA of 2.85, a 1.08 WHIP, and 70 K in 60 IP.
Rapid Fire: What do the Braves young talents do in 2010?
I couldn’t pick just one of the Braves young up-and-comers to focus on, so I will give you one sentence on each. Tommy Hanson develops into a stud this year. Jason Heyward shows flashes of brilliance at times, but is not quite ready yet. Jordan Schafer plays more than you think he will, and puts up solid numbers. Kris Medlen proves to be an effective 4-5 starter once he gets his shot in the rotation. Top prospect Freddie Freeman bounces back from a mediocre 2009 and becomes an elite prospect in 2010.
That is it for now. Up next is the NL Central. I will be happy to answer any questions you have about my article or fantasy sports in general if you leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jon Schuman writes for Fantasy Sports ‘R’ Us, and you can find more articles like this at