Miguel Montero - After years of holding Montero at a low price, refusing to move him for rent-a-players and basically sticking to the theory that I have a long-term starting catcher locked up, I would LOVE to claim that there is nothing surprising going on here - but a .500+ OBP I think has to count as a surprise. I mean, sure I thought he would be at .450, but .515?
That said, this is probably about as scary a positive surprise as you can have. Montero is absolutely raking right now, but his BABIP is almost .500 too (.478), his BB% is almost 4% higher than his career numbers and his K% is almost 7% lower. His LD% and HR/FB are through the roof as well. All of which suggests that he could crash and crash hard. My hope is that his increased LD% is not completely artificial - same with the BB% and K%. Even with marginal improvements in each of those areas, Montero may finally make the leap to the upper echelon of catchers. A return to his career averages would have been a solid season, but maybe he can set his sights a bit higher, looking at his 2009 season (16 HR, 68 R, .355 OBP, .478 SLG) gives a signal of what he is capable of - maybe 2011 can match that?
Context: Montero and Jake Fox are the only catcher qualified players on my roster. Wilin Rosario is already raking for Colorado in AA, so maybe there is a chance he sees some time in the bigs late this summer, but I will need a catcher to spell Montero before too long. Regardless, Montero at $8 and Rosario at $5 or $6 in 2012 will be a solid combo, and Montero should do what I need in 2011 as well.
Josh Beckett - Still sad I haven't gotten full use of him this year, as I have been scared to start him, but the line speaks for itself: 13 IP, 14 Ks, 5 BBs, 0 HR allowed, 2.08 ERA, .92 WHIP. And actually the underlying numbers suggest this isn't a total fluke. Beckett's xFIP is 3.19 - not 2.08 but not bad either. His walk rate is actually a bit high for him, and his k-rate, while a little high, is not far off what we'd expect. His BABIP is quite low and his LOB% is a bit high, so some regression is to be expected, but I don't see much reason to think he can't keep up his xFIP and have an ERA to match.
Context: At $11, Beckett is a potentially incredible value for me, and a guy I basically picked up on a whim. I have cap space in this league ($18 to be precise) so spending $11 on Beckett is no sweat and if he blew up, I could pretty easily cut him. He isn't a SP I 100% rely on - Weaver, Billingsley, C.J. Wilson are all above him on my pre-season depth chart, with Cly Buchholz, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza close at hand. My issue is that my depth got destroyed just before the season started - I traded Dan Haren just to have Adam Wainwright go down, suddenly shifting my pitching from a huge strength to a big weakness.
B.J. Upton -First and foremost, I felt from the moment I bid $9 on him at auction, that this was a huge mistake. Upton really doesn't bring much more than potential to the table in the 4x4 format. But so far he has earned his keep, with a couple HR and a .425/.571 batting line. The glaring concern here has to be the .400 BABIP, which is sure to come way way down. His batted ball stats don't offer any clear indications of what may have changed - he has a few more FB and a few fewer GB, with a slight bump in HR/FB - so this is likely a case of a guy who is just finding spots on the field to place the ball at the moment.
That said, so far he is controlling the strike zone better than he has in the past and even a moderate improvement here would help a lot as a guy with his power potential (remember, he did have a 24 HR season in the bigs not that long ago) and speed can do some damage as long as he is putting the ball in play. Upton won't turn 27 until August, so he is also on the right side of the age equation to show improvement. His numbers will come back down, but I think he can easily earn his $9 this year with a return to a high OBP, even if the power doesn't re-materialize.
Context: Like Beckett, Upton is not a guy I was counting on. Bautista and Pence are my top two, with a group of guys I like (Luke Scott, Raul Ibanez, Marlon Byrd) expected to fill out my lineup. My real hope was to have a youth movement in my OF with Matt Joyce, Brandon Allen and Chris Carter all playing key roles, but Joyce has struggled in the early going, Carter is getting a bit more AAA seasoning and the Diamondbacks have decided to bury Brandon Allen instead of, you know, playing the guy who has absolutely crushed AAA pitching and still profiles as a very good ML bat. I'll have more on Luke Scott shortly, but suffice it to say, I would be in a lot more trouble than I am if Upton weren't producing.
Luke Scott - The Orioles have too many OF and Luke Scott has been playing too poorly to justify time in that OF and now a guy who was a major piece of an off-season trade (Verlander and Fred Lewis for Scott and Brett Lawrie) has basically no value to me, which is just terrific. The .375 OBP looks nice, but he has shown no power and has played in only 5 games, netting 16 PAs. That is such a small sample size (not that these aren't all small sample sizes, since it is now April 12) that it isn't worth reading much into any changes in his profile. Instead, my real concern is just playing time - if he gets it, he will bounce back, I would think (at least I have no reason to think he won't), but I am not sure he will get it. Hopefully he is over his groin injury and will get back into the swing of things. We will see...
Context: I gave you the OF update above, but it's worth noting that the Verlander deal is not as terrible as it looks. I was going to have to cut Verlander (his price was way too high and at the time I had a stacked rotation) and was extremely happy to get a solid OF and a good prospect in return. Lawrie I turned into Garza, as well.
Almost My Entire Bullpen - Thank you Heath Bell for allowing me to use the word almost. Without getting into details, let's just say that Rafael Betancourt (3 HR/9), Matt Thornton (2.73 WHIP), Rafael Soriano (9.82 ERA), and Takashi Saito (DL) have all been pretty much disastrous. And I kept three of those guys (all except Betancourt) from the previous season. I am not yet ready to give up on all of these guys (although I likely won't stick too long with Betancourt or Saito) but this is getting me back to a theory I ran with a couple years ago, which is that RP in a 4x4 format (no saves) are almost never worth keeping. Of course, I would have put Soriano, Thornton and Bell all in the worth keeping camp (and they may still be worth keeping), but I think I need to be more discerning about my relief pitchers. I am sure there will be some solid middle relief types out there on the FA market, so I should be able to salvage my pen reasonably quickly, but...yikes...not a good start.
Chad Billingsley - Basically everything looks bad about Billingsley right now. His K-rate is down, his BB-rate is up, his xFIP is way too high. His BABIP is about where it should be so that isn't inflating his numbers, although he does have an awfully low LOB% which should increase and help a bit moving forward. His velocities look fine, too. Basically, I am just banking on the fact that his second start, which is what is truly blowing up his numbers (his first wasn't great, but wasn't terrible either) was in Coors. He became my #2 when I lost Wainwright and traded Haren, and my expectations from him are much higher as a #2 than as a #4. He is on the mound today at SF so, like Dempster last night, I am looking for a bounceback. Hopefully his manager recognizes when he starts to really labor and takes him out before he implodes (Yeah, that's right Mike Quade, I'm talking to you).
Conclusions: My OF is kind of a mess due to under-performance by players (Scott, Joyce) and teams (Oakland sending down Carter, Arizona sending down Allen), and my bullpen may be completely shot, but there is some hope here. A bounce back year from Beckett is looking more and more likely, and my worst SP to date is Billingsley, who I imagine will be fine before too long. I will say that I have learned a major lesson about counting on teams to do what you'd expect - I have Carter, Allen, Scott Sizemore, and Chris Nelson all rotting on my bench, and I am not sure what to do with any of them.
Next Steps: Identify RP options. Consider trading for an OF or SP. Hope and pray that Ryan Zimmerman and Chase Utley get back soon.