Mostly MLB Notes: Dan Haren bouncing back, avoiding Mark Trumbo and Ryan Zimmerman over Evan Longoria

Battling through hip and back injuries, Dan Haren posted a 4.33 ERA last season that was his worst since 2004 - his second year in the league. His average fastball velocity dropped to a career low 88.5 mph, and lingering questions regarding his health left him without many suitors during the offseason when he was a free agent. Ultimately, he signed with the Nationals on a one-year, $13 million deal. While not cheap, it was a bit surprising someone with his track record couldn’t fetch a multi-year deal, but he passed his physical and will have every incentive to prove he’s healthy in 2013. Haren is just one season removed from posting a 5.8:1 K:BB ratio (which was second best in baseball) with a 1.02 WHIP, and he’ll now be moving back to the National League. Projecting wins can be tricky, but it certainly helps that the Nationals’ lineup looks like one of the best in the league, and they also possess what appears to be an elite back-end to their bullpen (and having Denard Span playing center field doesn’t hurt either). Even during last year’s struggles (thanks mostly to giving up too many homers), Haren had a 142:38 K:BB ratio. Assuming he’s back healthy (and remember, it wasn’t an arm injury), the former fantasy ace could be a huge profit in the NL. He somehow went for just $10 during this weekend’s NL-only LABR auction. I personally rank him as a borderline top-25 fantasy starter.

After Miguel Cabrera, there are four third basemen (Adrian Beltre, David Wright, Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman) I value all similarly. Beltre is typically the next off the board, and I have no problem with that (on a side note: he somehow had 117 more at-bats last season compared to the prior year, hit 25 points higher in BA and yet finished with fewer RBI. Go figure.). You don’t quite know what you’re going to get when it comes to BA and power in a given year from Wright, but usually at the end of the season, the production is there one way or the other. But here’s where I get a little controversial – I prefer Zimmerman over Longoria, and not just because the former’s Y! ADP is 27 picks later, although that makes it a slam dunk for me. Zimmerman has eclipsed 25 homers exactly once during his career, but let’s compare these two over the past four seasons. Here’s Longoria’s average campaign over that span: .277-78-26-93. And here’s Zimmerman’s: .292-85-24-84. Both have some durability concerns, so that seems like a wash, although it’s worth pointing out how much a shoulder injury dragged down Zimmerman’s overall numbers last season - as of June 23, he was batting .218/.285/.305 with three home runs over 55 games. After receiving a cortisone shot, he proceeded to hit .321 with 22 homers over his final 358 at-bats. Despite having two-plus more seasons of experience in the majors, Zimmerman is just one year older. Longoria is a terrific defensive player and is probably the likelier of the two to put up a top-five overall type season if each played to their 100th percentile, but while Zimmerman will be hitting in the middle of a loaded lineup and in a (slight) hitter’s park, Longoria plays in the tougher league and has to contend with Tropicana Field, which according to The Bill James Handbook, has suppressed run scoring over the past three years more than any other park other than Safeco Field and AT&T Park (yes, even more so than Petco). Even if you still prefer Longoria to Zimmerman, there’s no reason there should be a two round discrepancy between them.

[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

In only his second power lifting meet, this man squatted a mere 905 pounds. He says it would have been 1,000 if not for them not having enough 100 lb plates.

This whole sequence, which culminates with a pitcher tackling a base runner, is bizarre.

After looking over other rankings and seeing a few drafts, it appears I value Mark Trumbo far lower than most. I can see the counter – he’s hit 61 homers over his first two seasons during a time when power is down league wide. Still, Trumbo had an alarming .227/.271/.359 line after the All-Star break last season. In fact, over his final 205 at-bats, he had a 78:10 K:BB ratio (it was 153:36 on the season). Studies have proven looking at split data is meaningless in most cases (unless of course there’s an underlying issue like an injury), but at the risk of pointing out this example as an exemption, it’s extra concerning involving someone without a pedigree (he was an 18th round pick) with a career .804 OPS over 2,793 minor league at-bats who’s already 27 years old – so it’s entirely possible the league simply figured him out. And even if I’m dead wrong and he continues to provide 30-homer type power moving forward with a .260ish average, Trumbo scored 66 runs last season. 66! There were 105 players who crossed the plate more. With Josh Hamilton joining Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos in the outfield, moving Trumbo to DH and Vernon Wells to the bench, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if playing time became an issue at some point. There are at least 25 first basemen I’d rather have on my fantasy team than Trumbo this season.

[Also: Why isn't the World Baseball Classic a bigger deal?]

Call me crazy, but I’m beginning to think R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball has decent movement.

Here’s a firm but fair review of Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine.”

Matt Moore was a disappointment during his rookie season last year, finishing with a 3.81 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, thanks greatly to poor control (4.11 BB/9). However, I’m still a full believer and would happily take him this year, although to be clear, I in no way claim this is going out on a limb, as I assume he won’t be cheap in most leagues despite last year’s performance. Don’t forget, the former top pitching prospect struck out 210 batters over 155.0 innings across Double and Triple-A as a 22-year-old in 2011, recording a 1.92 ERA and 0.95 WHIP as well. Pitching in the AL East is definitely a hurdle, but the Rays perennially field one of the league’s best defenses (this has as much to do with managing/shifting as it does personnel) and as mentioned before, Tropicana Field is one of the best pitcher’s parks in all of baseball. Moore’s average fastball velocity (94.4 mph) last year was the third-highest among all starters, and even if his control doesn’t dramatically improve (but if it does, there’s top-five type upside here. Consider he had a 3.01 ERA and 1.21 WHIP after the ASB last season despite a 3.6 BB/9 rate), he should get you 200 strikeouts and won’t hurt your ERA because he’s so tough to hit. For an entertaining (and at times, contentious) debate between Moore and Chris Sale, check out this Twitter thread.

Song of the week: Here’s the “Yeah Yeah Yeahs” first single since 2009.

Here's an Elevator Murder Experiment.

Speaking of young players who disappointed last year, let’s talk Eric Hosmer, who both cost a higher pick than Matt Moore and was also much worse on the field. After posting a .293-19-78-11 line as a rookie, he fell to .232-14-60-16 last year despite playing in 34 more games. Hosmer’s season was weird any way you look at it – he had five homers in April yet hit .188 despite a 13:10 K:BB ratio. He then homered just nine times over his next 450 at-bats over the rest of the year. On one hand, Hosmer is still just 23 years old and even during an absolute disastrous season in which he posted a .663 OPS, still combined for 30 homers/steals. He also somehow had a .255 BABIP despite a 1.92 GB/FB ratio. On the other hand, his .232/.304/.359 line was about as ugly as it gets, regardless of his HR/SB output, and while that GB/FB ratio in regards to his hit rate suggests his batting average will almost certainly increase a good amount moving forward, it also reveals a shockingly low home run ceiling if that type of batted ball profile remains even remotely similar. Smart people like Keith Law remain bullish and think a mechanical adjustment could lead to big things, and for what it’s worth (probably nothing) Hosmer has been killing it so far this spring. First base is as deep as ever, and there’s a tier in particular featuring Billy Butler, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, Hosmer, Ike Davis, Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Howard and Freddie Freeman (and frankly, maybe even extends to David Ortiz and Paul Konerko) that I value so similarly, I’m going to just let any particular draft I’m in dictate which one I grab.

[Also: Dusty Baker won't shake Kirk Gibson’s hand because of DH rule]

I’m not going to get worked up over Bob Ryan’s general stance against WAR (although it was a bit weird how he ended it saying Mike Trout was more valuable than Miguel Cabrera last season), but the real issue I have with this type of column (and he’s hardly the only one who’s done this), is the straw man that states “seamheads” treat WAR as the be-all end-all stat. Here’s Jonah Keri’s take: “Who are the zealots who dogmatically cling to WAR and have some status within the analytical community? I know of exactly zero people like this.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Here’s a longer than usual GIF that’s a bit NSFW and also probably the most absurd I’ve ever seen.

In case you also like the NBA or are just a fan of my random links, here’s my hoops column from last week.

Once viewed as the best pitching prospect in the game, Homer Bailey has a career 4.50 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 644.0 innings. Part of the problem has been him adjusting to pitching with decreased velocity, as he regularly worked in the mid 90s back in the minors but has averaged 92.8 mph since joining Cincinnati (although the latter is hardly a low number). Others have whispered there’s also a problem between his ears, but that kind of talk has quieted the last couple of years. Regardless of the reasons behind his past troubles, there’s hope for a much brighter future. Bailey posted a 3.21 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP with a 92:24 K:BB ratio over 103.2 innings after the All-Star break last season, and while I previously stated the worry about choosing arbitrary end points, he’s now recorded a 230:67 K:BB ratio over his past eight months of pitching (a span of 274.2 innings), dating back to the end of the 2011 season, so there’s at least the possibility that the light switch has finally turned on. Over the last five years, here are Bailey’s SwStr% numbers, respectively: 5.4, 7.9, 8.4, 9.3 and 9.4. That’s a trend going in the right direction. Bailey had a 2.32 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP over 108.2 innings on the road last season. He had a 5.16 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP while allowing a whopping 21 homers over 99.1 innings at home. This can be looked at two ways – either he’s someone to avoid since he pitches in a hitter’s park, or he’s due to rebound there since most players perform at roughly a 10% better rate at home. The answer is almost certainly somewhere in the middle (he’ll be better at home in 2013, but he’s also unlikely to repeat last year’s numbers on the road). The Reds should provide good run support, although having Shin-Soo Choo manning center field could pose a problem. Bailey remains something of an enigma (over his last four months last year, he posted ERAs of 6.00 or worse twice and ERAs of 2.61 or lower twice) and won’t get the benefit of dominating the Astros this season (he had a 1.25 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP over 21.2 innings against them last year), but there’s at least a chance he finally has a true breakout campaign in 2013. I’m targeting him.

Longread of the week: The making of Pulp Fiction.

There’s essentially a zero percent chance Craig Kimbrel ends up on any of my fantasy teams this year, but that’s solely based on my philosophy with closers and his price tag. However, it’s worth reiterating just how dominant his season was last year. Over his final 47.2 innings, he posted a 0.76 ERA with an insane 93:4 K:BB ratio. Please read that last sentence again. Kimbrel allowed three runs over that span and all of them came via a solo home run (it’s pretty remarkable he finished with a 1.01 ERA and didn’t even come close to the league leader, as Fernando Rodney had a 0.60 ERA that was the best in MLB history). Kimbrel’s 16.66 K/9 rate was easily the best in the history of baseball, but what makes that even more remarkable is he somehow combined that with a 49.0 GB% (the two previous best K rate seasons were Carlos Marmol in 2010 at 15.99, and that came with a 35.1 GB%. The other was Kenley Jansen in 2011 with a 16.10 mark that was accompanied by a 26.9 GB%). Nobody had previously thrown more than 30 innings in a season and had a 45% strikeout rate. Kimbrel’s K% last year was 50.2. Wow.

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