Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Buzz Around The Bullpen: Breakout or Bust?

Welcome back to another edition of the “Buzz Around the Bullpen”. If you are a diehard baseball fan like me, you are probably feeling like a kid in a candy shop today. While the World Baseball Classic was a nice appetizer, the excitement surrounding the start of the MLB baseball season cannot be duplicated. For me, the start of the baseball season means two things. My fantasy league websites will now become engrained on my computer screen for the next six months and I once again have Peter Gammons and the crew to put me to sleep with Baseball Tonight.

Being that the start of the season is less than a week away, I struggled with what approach I wanted to take with this article. In case you missed it, I’ve already focused on each position and I’ve also discussed some Spring Training standouts. Therefore, I thought today I could focus on a hitter and a pitcher that I expect to breakout in ’09. Also, I’m going to discuss a hitter and a pitcher that might leave their owners disappointed and wishing for more.

For now, let’s get started with two guys that I predict will breakout in ’09 and have their owners feeling like last years Carlos Quentin owners.

Fantasy Breakout Hitter

Chris Davis (1B, Texas Rangers): If you have been following my positional previews, it is not a secret that I am extremely high on Chris Davis this season. For starters, he has dual positional eligibility (1B, 3B) and as I’m sure you’re aware of, this can provide you with great roster flexibility. Secondly, he has had great numbers throughout his entire professional career including last year when he put up a respectable full season stat line in only 295 at-bats (.285, 17 HRs, 55 RBIs, 51 runs and 1 SB). If this still isn’t a enough, Davis will be playing half of his games at the launching pad this is the Ballpark in Arlington. If you haven’t drafted already, you’re going to have to act in the first six rounds to snag Davis. I promise, he’ll be worth the early round pick.
Fantasy Breakout Pitcher

Yovani Gallardo (SP, Milwaukee Brewers): If you take a look at his stats over 24 IPs last season, it is likely that Gallardo was well on his way to a “breakout” season in ’08. Unfortunately, Gallardo injured his knee in the first month of the season and was only able to make one more start in ’08. In case you forgot, this guy was one of the most sought after waiver options when he got his call to the big leagues in ’07. I look for Gallardo to step right into a revamped Brewers rotation and become the ace of the staff. Over his brief major league career, Gallardo possesses a mediocre 3.35 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. However, he has front of the rotation “stuff” and as he matures, his numbers will be much improved. The hype that surrounded him in ’07 is legitimate and in ’09, he will finally have an opportunity to put together a full season of great stats.

It is difficult to predict a hitter and a pitcher that are going to be the “busts” of ’09 because of the many variables. As we’ve seen in the past, you’re superstar hitter or pitcher is only one injury away from making your team a lot less competitive (See Erik Bedard). These are two guys that I think are going to see a significant decline and maybe even some extended time on the DL in ’09.

Fantasy Bust Hitter

Garrett Atkins (1B, 3B, Colorado Rockies): Let me start by saying that I believe Garrett Atkins will still be a serviceable fantasy option in ’09. Right now Atkins is being drafted on average around the 6th round and I feel this is a little too early for someone with his numbers. It’s not that I don’t like his numbers, it’s just how they’ve changed over the last three years that scares me. Over the last three years, Atkins' at-bats have slightly increased and his numbers have dramatically decreased. If you take a look at his numbers, there has been a significant decline in his homerun totals, his RBI totals and his batting average. However, the most telling stat might be the increase in his strikeout numbers each year. Take all of this into account along with the fact that he has lost some serious protection in the lineup with the departure of Matt Holliday. If you’re set on taking a first base/third base player around the sixth round, look no further than the guy mentioned above.

Fantasy Bust Pitcher

Ervin Santana (SP, LAA): While dealing with some significant elbow problems in Spring Training, Ervin Santana has managed to find himself still being drafted around the 7th round in most leagues. There’s no need to debate what this guy can do if he’s healthy, but I for one am not willing to waste a 7th round pick on such a huge “if”. For owners that have drafted him already, you have to hope that he can follow the same path Scott Kazmir did after dealing with similar elbow issues in ’08. But if you actually look inside the numbers, the recent elbow problems become much more worrisome for me. In ’08, Santana took on the biggest workload of his career logging 219 innings pitched. Now he reports to Spring Training with a sprained ligament in his elbow.

I know I’m not a doctor but after having the dreaded Tommy John surgery myself, this sounds like a recipe for disaster for Santana. I truly hope he can get healthy but I’m predicting a season full of strained right forearms and tricep tendonitis. These are common injuries for pitchers with damaged ulnar collateral ligaments. The reason being that their forearm and tricep muscles become overworked and strained because they attempt to take on some of the work to protect the damaged ligament. While you can strengthen the muscles around the ligament, it’s only a matter of time before you are forced to shut it down and go under the knife. Although it pains me to suggest that someone is on their way to a fairly extensive elbow reconstruction, I have your fantasy teams best interest in mind. I would stay away at all costs and “if” he can stay healthy, then more power to the owner that took the chance.

As a parenthetical note, it sounds as though John Lackey and Cole Hamels are suffering from similar injuries. Owners of Lackey and Hamels should be prepared to act fast in case their number one goes down suddenly. In the case of Hamels, there isn't any structural damgage right now and as a Hamels' owner, I hope that doesn't change anytime soon.

As with any SportsJudge articles, please feel free to post any questions or comments. Until next time, keep your ears open for the Buzz Around the Bullpen.

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