Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Chicago Cubs
What did Anthony Rizzo show us in 2012?
With gradual improvement versus left-handed pitching, in line-drive frequency and with opposite-field contact (and an improving rate to all fields), he's working his way out of the hacker stigma he drew in his San Diego Padres cameo. Unfortunately, he still doesn't take many free passes, and that growth against southpaw potency brought him all the way up to ... .208-4-17. He'll need to keep mashing the more dominant handedness to have a chance of sniffing .285 in a full season - possible, but hardly probable.
Focus instead on the 15 homers in 337 at-bats - a dream for hard-line extrapolators. He avoided relying on his home environment, which despite recent statistical results remains a decent place to leave the yard for a lefty stick. Besides the sizzle-before-fizzle Bryan LaHair, the North Siders didn't carry another big bopper from Rizzo's side, so the results are a bit skewed.
Walks will come eventually, but in the immediate future, expect more strikeouts ... but also more yard-departers. The 23-year-old squarely belongs in the large tier of first basemen boasting stark drawbacks but also tantalizing profit traits. As long as you favor power (not necessarily 30 taters, but close) and run production and are willing to absorb a clip hit, he'll continue delivering.
How much of Jeff Samardzija's season was real?
More than you'd think. Detractors point to his control and workload to foretell a 2013 drop-off. Both are fair concerns, especially given his spotty history as a starter.
But just like he did in his career as a Notre Dame wideout, he started catching on after a few years. During his rotation transition, he learned to pitch efficiently: That 2012 figure of 15.84 tosses per stanza, while not outstanding, showed his budding comprehension of how to attack hitters. (Note that 60.2 first-strike percentage, a catalyst for inducing hitters to chase at a 34.2 percent pace.)
It's not as if he needed to learn a new pitch; the vet - yes, he qualifies - already deploys four with regularity (including his slider and newly honed, game-changing sinking heat), and he keeps as many as six ready depending on the situation. His average four-seam velocity and opponents' swinging-strike rate (a gaudy 12.1) remained dominant even while he took on more innings.
Sure, the soon-to-be 28-year-old will probably tire a bit after his big IP jump by walking a few more batters; he was textbook efficient in his plate workings, after all. But Chicago managed his innings effectively down the stretch and shut him down early to minimize the degree of downturn. And, of course, he plays in the Senior Circuit.
Play into your opponents' doubts and swipe him as a third mixed arm, which should still make the former Fighting Irish receiver a golden haul.
Who will close?
Czar Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and skipper Dale Sveum fall in line by insisting Carlos Marmol holds the reins. In last year's second half, the right-hander relied on his slider less often while attacking the strike zone a bit more than usual. See the 1.33 ERA and 12.0 K/9 from July 23 on.
Of course, the addictive slide piece could easily allow Marmol to relapse, and whenever he does ... it's ugly, regardless of how many hitters he punches out. Too many nibbles, too many blown saves.
Kyuji Fujikawa casts the largest shadow on Marmol since Sean Marshall - not saying much, perhaps, but we're not talking about James Russell and Shawn Camp. The Japanese righty can dial it up to about 97 mph, and his herky-jerky-derky delivery increases its suffocation factor. Also, his split-finger fastball should play well at Wrigley Field.
Trusting Marmol to sustain his forward steps shouldn't place him much higher than where he fell off 2012 boards - for the optimistic, somewhere at the bottom rung of No. 2 stoppers. As a third, he's much safer.
The import should siphon at least a few closures. When combined with his novelty and strikeout ability, that makes him a complementary RP in deep setups. For the tangible possibility Fujikawa takes more or simply usurps Marmol, he's one of fantasy's better speculations and necessary handcuffs, if you're into that sort of kink. The regularity with which he visits the black would likely win over Sveum if Marmol starts straying from the progress he's made.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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