Albert Pujols is a superstar by any definition of the word. He produces time and time again on the field. He does nothing off the field to bring shame to himself of his team. He's someone the kiddies should try to emulate. However, does that mean that he's still a good enough hitter that he should be a top-10 lock in 2013? Maybe – maybe not. The Marlins have faced, and will continue to face, innumerable questions about how they continue to run their franchise into the ground. On the field they have some questions about the 9th inning as well as what the health situation is with Logan Morrison. We'll investigate. We'll also touch on a right-handed pitcher who seems intent on coming out of retirement as well as trying to discern just what in the heck the D'backs are doing with their best player, Justin Upton.
PUJOLS A “LOCK AGAIN IN 2013?
Albert Pujols is going to the HOF even if he never plays another game. Book it. According to early ADP numbers people seem to understand though that he's not the player he once was so he's not going in the first two or three selections anymore. Of course, there is no shame in that at all as he's still a borderline elite hitter. On the flip side, I'm a bit surprised to see his ADP inside the top-10. Have I lost my mind covering fantasy football all year? Nope. I'm just speaking logic here (I think). Here's what I see.
(1) Pujols, if you believe his age (some have expressed doubts), will be 33 years old on Wednesday. That's not ancient by any means, but that does put serious doubt into his ability to go .333-40-125 this season.
(2) Pujols had knee surgery this offseason. 'Minor' was the term used to describe the procedure, but it's still something to remember – at 33 bodies tend not to heal as fast as they used to, and the inevitable wear and tear of playing for decades takes it's toll.
(3) People are making a huge deal out of the Josh Hamilton signing and how the lineup protection will invigorate Pujols. Having Hamilton in the middle of the order is going to be a boon for the Angels, but let's not get carried away. Remember that little health discussion we just concluded. Pujols is the Rock of Gibraltar compared to Hamilton. Hamilton will turn 32 in May so it's not like he's just popped out of his momma's womb, and there is the fact that he is always seemingly hurt. Hamilton is coming off a season of 148 games played, the second highest mark of his career and a four year high. Still, over the past four seasons Josh has averaged 123 games played a season. That means he's missed roughly a quarter of the season the last four years. People shouldn't be overly confident with Hamilton staying healthy long enough to make a massive difference for Pujols.
(4) Back to Pujols there's the little fact that for the past two years his production has dipped. Actually, let's go point-by-point. When we do we find that the situation might be a bit more pronounced than that.
* Check out his batting average since 2008: .357, .327, .321, .299 and .285.
* Check out his OBP since 2008: .462, .443, .414, .366 and .343.
* Check out his SLG since 2008: .653, .658, .596, .541 and .516.
How surprised are you to learn that in each of the past four years Pujols' AVG and OBP has gone down – every year? On top of that, his SLG has gone down the last three years. Is that a guy you should be banking on a rebound from in 2013?
More piling on?
* The last three years his homer total has gone down (47, 42, 37 and 30).
* The last three years his runs scored total has gone down (124, 115, 105 and 85).
* After recording at least 115 RBIs his first six years and nine of his first 10 seasons he has posted marks of 105 and 99 the past two years.
* What about the homers? Down three straight years there too: 47, 42, 37 and 30. Not only has his power dipped dipped a bit of late he's also hit a few less fly balls the past two years failing to reach his career 40 percent fly ball rate. It's also been three years running that he hasn't reached his career level (19.2 percent) in the HR/F category: 18.3, 18.3 and 14.0 percent.
I'm not saying that I'm downgrading Pujols to the point of marginalizing him.
I'm not saying you should avoid taking Pujols on draft day.
What I am saying is that I think some people are banking on a return to his salad days when one might not be coming. As I stated in this audio discussing Pujols, he's not going to fall on his face, no way that will happen, and that comfort is a strong reason for supporting making Pujols a first round pick – his consistency is virtually unparallelled. However, he may also be unable to substantially improve upon the fantasy numbers he's posted the last two season. In the immortal words of Jerry Seinfeld... not that there's anything wrong with that.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Matt Capps had some shoulder woes last year that limited him to just 29.1 innings pitched, but he's said to be healthy and he's looking for someone to give him a shot at some late inning work. Each of the past six years Capps has at least 14 saves, and while that's not a number anyone would be jumping up and down about, he represents one of those guys that always seems to find his way into the 9th inning at some point making him a strong league specific option. Capps could make himself a mixed league option if (A) he can prove he's healthy and (B) if the team he signs with doesn't have a strong 9th inning option. Given that it sounds like the Marlins are one of a handful of teams talking to Capps, well, let's just say here we go again. By that I mean, answer me this (without looking); who is the Marlins' closer? I'll pause for five seconds for you to think..... Steve Cishek. Given that the Marlins are the cheapest team in baseball, we all know they aren't going to make some splashy bullpen move, so adding a guy like Capps is likely all they will be able to do to bring in competition for Cishek. Last season Cishek worked 68 games, and along the way he proved himself to be a very competent major league hurler for a second straight season. Cishek saved 15 games for the Fish, he also had 13 holds, though he suffered four blown saves. He's able to rely on his fastball/slider combo – he only throws his change up about five percent of the time – to take down batters. Over 122.2 big league innings he's struck out 126 batters, and last season he pushed that K-rate up to 9.61 per nine. Unfortunately, he also saw his walk rate go way up. After a 3.13 BB/9 mark in 2011, a league average total, he walked a batter more per nine last year at 4.10. Luckily he's able to induce copious amounts of grounders – his career ground ball rate is 54 percent – so even when he puts batters on base he isn't exactly game for big innings because batters have a hard time lifting his ball into the seats (he's allowed only four homers in his career). Of course, nothing infuriates a manager more than a reliever walking batters, and given his lack of history working the 9th inning it's certainly possible that if he starts the year in a funk that he could lose the closers role quickly. Keep a close eye on Capps or whomever else ends up as the primary setup man in Florida just in case that scenario plays out.
Logan Morrison is struggling with his health, and it appears that he may not be a lock to be ready for Opening Day for the Marlins. Morrison had a second knee surgery, he had another last offseason, and he has yet to get to the point where doctors will clear him to ramp up his activities. A big dude (6'3”, 240 lbs), Morrison has yet to really find his power stroke, and a lack of health isn't doing him any favors either. He did go deep 23 times in 123 games in 2011, but healthy woes limited him that season and it was more of the same last year as he hit 11 long balls in 93 games. Since he offers nothing in the steals column – he has three steals in three seasons – he really needs to be power the ball given that his career batting average is .250. Face it folks. The performance we've seen out of Morrison to this point has been very disappointing. No steals, worse than the league average in batting average, and 150 game averages of 19 homers and 68 RBI, LoMo has been as boring as it gets. Toss in his continued physical woes and it's going to be tough sledding convincing me that he is a must roster in 12 team mixed leagues this year. Regardless, if you're on Twitter and you don’t follow @LoMoMarlins – and for that matter @BaseballGuys – I don't know what you are thinking.
The Diamondbacks wont take “less” than they would have gotten from the Mariners in exchange for Justin Upton (Taijuan Walker, Stephen Pryor, Nick Franklin and Charlie Furbush), according to GM Kevin Towers. Of course, this is the same guy who has said Upton would be dealt, wouldn't be dealt, would be dealt, wouldn't be dealt... It's also the same guy who tried to trade Upton to a team that was one of four that were on his no-trade list. Obviously the team has to trade Upton, they have done everything possible to alienate him at every turn, and there's just no way they can expect him to be the player he is with the disrespectful way they have continued to treat him. I'll say it again. Even in a “down” 2012, Upton still hit .280 (career .278), had more homers than Shin-Soo Choo (17 to 16), stole more bases than Adam Jones (18 to 16) and scored 107 runs – the same total as Andrew McCutchen and the fourth most in the majors. Please trade him to my Giants.
It only seems like every player reported on has something to do with the Marlins... It sure looks like Javier Vazquez has impressed everyone that has recently watched him throw. The 36 year old righty didn't throw a pitch that counted last year, but apparently he's got the bug to return to the big leagues. He's been playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League to get back in shape, and he is set to pitch in the World Baseball Classic in early March. He may wait until after the event to agree to a deal, but it certainly seems likely at this point that he will be returning to a big league hill in '13 (reports suggest more than a dozen teams have been in contact with his agent). It's tough to think that Vazquez should be a highly prized mixed league option this year, but those in league specific setups should keep a very close eye on where he ends up. After all, this is a guy who has won 165 big league games, and a guy who left behind a run of 12-straight seasons with double-digits wins while tossing at least 190 innings in 11 of those 12 years. Vazquez also went 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 2011, and reports hint at his stuff still being there (he was hitting 95 mph on the gun). Don't forget about him on draft day.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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