Pitcher Stock Watch -- 2013 preview

Pitcher Stock Watch -- 2013 preview

By David FerrisCSNChicago.com
In our last Pitcher Stock Watch of the season, we'll focus on player values for the 2013 fantasy year. Consider these thoughts along with your keeper-league decisions, or keep them tucked in your mind for draft season next spring. 
Buy
Jeff Samardzija, SP, Cubs: We always knew he could miss bats, so the 180 strikeouts were no great surprise. But a walk rate under three came as a shocker, given that Samardzija could't find the plate consistently as a reliever. Don't be fooled by the 9-13 record - Samardzija received the worst run support in the National League. No matter what you think of the current Cubs roster, that has to be seen as a fluke. And the peripherally-suggested numbers also indicate that Samardzija's 3.81 ERA was unlucky, perhaps by half of a run. The breakout was real, and there's a good chance for another leap in 2013. 
Adam Wainwright, SP, Cardinals: His KBB rate was solid from the word go, and Wainwright also picked up steam in July and August before a September slump pushed his ERA back over four. All in all, it wasn't a bad season for someone fresh off Tommy John surgery. The secondary numbers suggest Wainwright pitched a lot better than the surface stats tell us: his FIP checks in at 3.15 and his SIERA graded out at 3.32. Throw in the favorable life in the NL Central (and Yadier Molina behind the plate) and we might be looking at a Cy Young sleeper for 2013. 
Sell
Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays: With all due respect to Rodney's dominant season (0.64 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 44 saves in 46 chances), it's important to remain unemotional about the numbers. The Rays don't get attached to any closer, as a foundational strategy: they've had a different save leader in each of the past eight seasons. Rodney's best season in the 2007-2011 pocket was a 4.26 ERA and 1.32 WHIP; let's not forget what a carnival ride he was in Detroit and Anaheim. And we certainly worry about where he might be next spring when the muscle memory of this dream year is out the window. Let's someone else chase this mirage into 2013. 
Rick Porcello, SP, Tigers: You hate to dismiss a young pitcher with a pedigree - Porcello doesn't turn 24 until the end of the year and he was a first-round pick back in 2007 - but the career arc has been a flat one through four seasons. A cushy 53.8 ground-ball rate sounds like a great place to start, though Detroit's infield defense took some of the shine off that number. Porcello also doesn't know how to put away batters: his 5.43 K9 rate makes him a difficult commodity to own in any start-capped or inning-capped league. The Tigers didn't let Porcello throw a lot of sliders as a rookie, but maybe it's time to junk the offering altogether; it's been his worst pitch by far in 2012. At the end of the day, we want to chase someone with more strikeout upside, someone who can miss more bats. Porcello isn't that type of pitcher. 
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Indians: His mechanics seemed to fluctuate from start to start, inning to inning and batter to batter - no two deliveries were completely alike. And without the dominant mid-90s heater from the Colorado days, Jimenez is no longer a pitcher who can succeed without everything in place. Perhaps there's a pitching wizard in the majors who can take on the Jimenez Project and fix everything, but nothing the Indians tried in 2012 worked. Let go of the brand name. 
Hold 
Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants: His strikeout rate never really fell off, even during the darkest days, and Lincecum finally started recording key outs with runners on base during the stretch run. Perhaps it was a mechanical fix the Giants made with Lincecum from the stretch position, or perhaps it was merely a case of some batted-ball luck evening out. A 3.06 ERA over the second half is worth rostering in any format (even with a 1.32 WHIP), and AT&T Park still hides a fair amount of his mistakes (3.67 ERA at home). If you can land Lincecum as your third starter in a mixer next year, you've done well. 
Josh Beckett, SP, Red Sox: His diminished fastball (both in speed and location) didn't play in the AL East any longer, but Beckett made a mild comeback during his first five LA turns (3.45 ERA, nine walks, 26 Ks). Beckett's combative, no-apology personality never seemed to fit in the fishbowl of Boston, but he'll appreciate the laid back nature of Los Angeles - not to mention the different media approach. We're not going to pencil Beckett into the All-Star rotation or anything like that for 2013, but a significant bounce back is likely, especially with those NL parks (and flailing hitters) around to break his fall.

Impressions of Aroldis Chapman as Cubs head to Dodger Stadium

Impressions of Aroldis Chapman as Cubs head to Dodger Stadium

SAN DIEGO – The Los Angeles Dodgers made an honorable no-tolerance statement on domestic violence, or their high-powered front office didn’t do enough homework on Aroldis Chapman, or a Hollywood franchise couldn’t deal with the bad optics.

Maybe all those factors swirled together as a deal with the Cincinnati Reds collapsed during the winter meetings, the police report surfacing weeks after an ugly incident at Chapman’s South Florida home. 

The New York Yankees scavenged and acquired the superstar closer at a steep discount in late December, before the Broward County State Attorney’s Office decided to not file criminal charges, and before Major League Baseball imposed a 30-game suspension to start this season. 

The Cubs handled Chapman’s transition in a clumsy, awkward manner after that blockbuster trade with the Yankees one month ago, looking unprepared for his welcome-to-Chicago press conference with coach Henry Blanco sitting there as the translator, and sounding insensitive when the Wrigley Field sound system played a 1997 Prodigy song called: “Smack My B---- Up.”

The Cubs hired a new translator – and fired a DJ – and now have Chapman’s 100-mph velocity waiting for a potential playoff preview that begins Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

“The talent is even more impressive when you’re actually there watching it on your side,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That life at home plate is purely different. It’s just different what the baseball does.

“It’s obvious to me that you have to get in there and talk to him and develop that relationship. He’s smiling more easily already and the conversation’s actually coming back to me in English a little bit, which is fun to hear, so I’ve been really happy about that.”

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Whether or not Dodger fans stay until the end to watch a first-place team that has weathered Clayton Kershaw’s back injury – and the 26 other players who have spent time on the disabled list this season, tying a major-league record – watching Chapman is a unique experience even for an MVP candidate or a Cy Young Award winner. 

“It’s fun hearing the crowd do their oohs and aahs on every pitch,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, “how engaged they are, and how excited they are when he comes in to pitch.”

“A lot of the players are almost in the same amount of awe that the fans are,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “When you see a guy like Chapman go out there and compete and perform, there’s a lot of appreciation and respect for what he’s capable of, because, frankly, the game’s never really seen anything like it, especially from the left side. 

“We’ve seen a lot of hard throwers. But when you see a scouting report that’s 100-to-105 (mph), he’s a one-of-one type of guy. You definitely stop and watch when he’s out there.”

Chapman – who can cash in as a free agent after this season – has so far answered the legitimate questions about how he would fit into a laid-back clubhouse and effect best-team-in-baseball chemistry.

“He’s an absolute professional,” Arrieta said. “I’m very attentive to details. (I’m) watching the way he goes about his routine and (how) it starts for a 7 o’clock game. He’s starting right around 2:30, 3 o’clock, getting ready for that ninth inning.

“He’s getting his body ready. He’s getting his mind ready. You can see his focus. A guy like that, he obviously has his routine down extremely well, so it’s really nice to kind of watch him throughout the day. What’s he doing at 3:30? What’s he doing at 4:30? What’s he doing at 6 o’clock? He’s constantly doing things to prepare himself for those three outs.

“That’s why he’s so successful. Obviously, he’s very gifted. His velocity, his presence and his size alone are extremely tough to defeat. But when you see the amount of hours that he puts into those three outs, it makes you realize why he’s able to go out there and be as successful as he is.”

[RELATED: How soon before Cubs make Javier Baez an everyday player?]   

Chapman hasn’t quite been the add-on to a dominant bullpen the Cubs envisioned, because top setup guy Pedro Strop (knee) and former closer Hector Rondon (triceps) are on the disabled list. Maddon also had to curb his enthusiasm for four-out saves and realize Chapman – who’s allowed four of eight inherited runners to score – prefers to work one inning at a time.  

But Chapman has been as good as advertised, going 9-for-11 in save chances, allowing two earned runs in 15 appearances and striking out 21 of the 48 batters he’s faced while giving up only three walks.   

“It’s probably a demoralizing feeling for the other team to see him warming up,” pitcher Jason Hammel said. “Big-league hitters will hit a fastball after a while if they see it enough. But he makes guys take some pretty silly hacks.”

“You can literally hear the ball out of his hand,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “He can make the seams sing a little bit with the power he’s getting.”

Dodger Stadium draws celebrities to an iconic site, creates a sense of energy and gets louder and louder. But after a series of decisions that could echo into October, Wrigley Field is where Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasts from the speakers as Chapman warms up and the fans look up at the video board after each pitch.   

“The guys on the bench are like mimicking what the crowd is doing,” Maddon said. “It’s wonderful. How many pitchers elicit that kind of reaction? There’s a couple, but you’re anticipating that big number and we’ve never seen that here. 

“But most any place you’ve not seen it. (It’s) the reputation, where he’s come from – and his presence and how big he is – he’s so formidable and imposing. And now he’s our toy.”

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

Austin Jackson and Matt Davidson are officially done for the season.

Meanwhile, the White Sox still remain hopeful that Brett Lawrie is on the mend after a second MRI.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday that Jackson, who had surgery June 10 to repair a medial meniscus tear in left knee, and Davidson, who had surgery after he fractured his right foot, won’t return this season.

“Austin is progressing, but it unfortunately it’s been a slow pace,” Hahn said. “He has not taken baseball activities. I wouldn’t expect him back this season.”

Jackson hit .254/.318/.343 with 18 RBIs in 203 plate appearances before he suffered the injury.

At the time of Jackson’s injury, Hahn didn’t think it would end his season. But, Hahn did say it would take at least six weeks before they could re-evaluate Jackson’s knee post-surgery and get a better determination of when he might return. Jackson’s re-evaluation was pushed back a few days from the six-week mark and the White Sox made it clear they weren’t optimistic about him returning.

Davidson went 1-for-2 with an RBI before he broke his foot running the bases in his first game of the season.

“(I) would not expect (Davidson) either. It was a pretty bad fracture. It’s progressing and he’s hitting the early milestones. There just isn’t enough time for either of those two.”

Lawrie, who has been on the disabled list since July 22, had a second MRI earlier this week and is being treated, Hahn said.

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Manager Robin Ventura has been adamant all along that Lawrie’s injury was tricky to diagnose. What began as a strained hamstring and later was thought to be a quad injury has been reclassified as a knee and calf issue. Hahn said the MRI showed the area is structurally sound.

“He received some medicine in the joint there,” Hahn said. “We’re let that work for a couple of days and we’ll ramp up the activity and see how it goes. No specific time frame.”

Miguel Gonzalez will participate in one more bullpen — possibly a simulated game — before he starts a rehab assignment, Ventura said. Gonzalez is on the DL with a strained right groin.

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.

The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.

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Among the most significant:

No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd

The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.

Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.

No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair

After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.

“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”

No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”

No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall

The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week. 

Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.

“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”

No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard

Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.

“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”

Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.