A few weeks back, I speculated on Roy Oswalt’s return to the major leagues. Reports of his minor league tuneups for the Rockies were positive, his last major league numbers with Texas were seemingly unlucky, and the former All-Star is younger than it may seem sometimes.
Oswalt has since joined the Rockies, and his ownership has gone from five percent on CBS to 31 percent in that time span. If you look only at his 0-3 record and 7.88, that seems like rather poor advice from me. But if you dig a little deeper, you see that Oswalt is essentially authoring a How To on being an unlucky major league pitcher.
His strikeout rate and walk rates are both excellent (27.6 percent and 2.6 percent), but his BABIP is an almost unbelievable .490. (That’s correct—not a typo—it’s .490.) His strand rate of 57.3 percent is nearly 20 percent below his career average. His and xFIP are 2.43 and 2.48, respectively, more than five runs below his real-life ERA.
At some point all of this has to even out, right? Right? If it doesn’t, I quit.*
(*I don’t really quit, I’m just saying that for dramatic effect.)
Today let’s look at two undervalued American League infielders, one recently recalled from Triple A, the other recently demoted to Triple A.
Johnny Giavotella | Kansas City Royals | 2B | ESPN: 09 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 1 percent; CBS: 3 percent
YTD: .273/.333/.364 in 12 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .267/.317/.367 in 263 plate appearances
Giavotella and I go way back. Prior to the 2011 season, I had three middle infielders targeted in my dynasty league’s prospect draft: Jean Segura, Giavotella, and Jurickson Profar (in that order). Segura went before my first selection, and Profar went one pick before me in the second round. So I took Giavotella, a player I liked very much, and I was happy with the outcome.
Then again, hindsight is easy and cheap, and I had reasons to like what I saw in Giavotella. This is what Baseball America had to say about him in its 2011 Prospect Handbook:
An offensive second baseman, Giavotella has proven he can turn on just about any fastball. He has very good awareness of the strike zone, and his ability to draw walks is enhanced by his pronounced crouch in his stance. He has gap power, though he takes aggressive swings like a power hitter. While he has slightly below-average speed, he does run the bases well. Giavotella’s long-term future depends on his glove.
That last part is important, and underscores the fact that defense does matter in fantasy baseball, to the extent that it helps or hinders a player’s ability to get his name in the lineup. Giavotella’s defense has been bad enough at the major league level (-3 UZR in 2011, -5.6 in 2012) that he’s been unable to get much of a chance to be the Royals’ everyday second baseman.
It also did not help that during his brief looks with the big club, Giavotella’s offense has lagged as well. With his 187 plate appearances in 2011, Johnny G posted a putrid .282 wOBA. Things looked even worse at the dish in 2012, where he posted a Clint Barmesian .254 wOBA in 189 plate appearances.
So it was back to Triple A to start 2013, the 25-year-old’s third stint at the level, and he’s hitting well again. In his three seasons at Triple A, Giavotella has logged wOBAs of .385, .389, and .357. During that time frame, he’s shown good contact skills, striking out in just 11.4 percent of his at-bats, while walking in 10.2 percent. He’s displayed modest power as well, with a roughly league-average ISO of .144. It’s worth noting that he has performed considerably better against right-handed pitching than he has against left-handed pitching (.882 OPS vs. .774).
The Royals called him up on June 1 and he’s been playing every day since. With just Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada in the mix at second base, and the team five games behind Detroit in the AL Central, it’s conceivable that the Royals want to find out exactly what they have in Giavotella. He’s never been given a full-blown shot to seize the gig for himself, and if this is indeed that chance, the bat has skills that could play.
That is, of course, assuming his defense is good enough to keep him in the lineup.
Recommendation: Worth a flier in mixed leagues while he’s playing every day, especially when facing righties.
Will Middlebrooks | Boston Red Sox | 3B | ESPN: 23 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 30 percent; CBS: 51 percent
YTD: .192/.228/.389 in 216 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .217/.253/.406 in 438 plate appearances
Middlebrooks burst onto the major league scene last year, posting a .357 wOBA in a half season at third base for the Red Sox. Fantasy owners entered this season dreaming on the 15 home runs he hit last year, and undoubtedly extrapolating that rate to a full-season 30 home run projection.
Well, it hasn’t exactly worked out like that.
Through 53 games, Middlebrooks has posted a disappointing (Barmesian, even) .265 wOBA, prompting the team to demote him to Triple A. In his brief 12 game stint there he’s launched six home runs, and has an absurd .473 wOBA.
That’s encouraging, but beyond that, I’m not even sure anything was wrong with Middlebrooks to begin with. Virtually everything about his 2013 season is the same (or, at worst, very similar) to his standout 2012 season. His ISO is .197, not a far cry from the .221 he posted last year, and probably the result of a fair dip in his home run rate (from an unsustainable 21.4 percent last year to 15 percent this year). His plate discipline is virtually the same. He’s walking marginally less, striking out marginally more, whiffing marginally more, and swinging at marginally more balls outside of the strike zone. But these are all very small differences from 2012.
There is one area that is majorly different, however. Middlebrooks’ average on balls in play is down more than 100 percentage points from last year (from .335 to .221). Bounce his average up by the difference, and his triple slash is virtually the exact same as last season’s. Now, his line drives are down three percent, and it’s certainly possible his BABIP last year was overinflated, although his minor league rate has been .329 over the past three seasons. Even so, adjusting Middlebrooks’ average up by 75 points, which seems fair, would put his triple slash at a much more palatable .267/.303/.464.
That wouldn’t blow you away, but it is valuable, and that kind of power doesn’t grow on trees these days. It’s possible expectations were too high entering this season.
Middlebrooks’ ownership rate to start the year on CBS was 97 percent, nearly 50 percent higher than it is now. That’s a startling drop, and one normally associated with a player who is out for the season. I’m calling shenanigans on that in a major way. Karl touched on Jose Iglesias last week, and while he’s been impressive playing shortstop and third base for the Sox, I have a better chance of getting a date with Kate Upton than he has of continuing that strong play. When Boston deems Middlebrooks is ready to rejoin the team, Iglesias won’t be standing in the way of that. If anything Iglesias will displace Stephen Drew upon his return (which may happen tomorrow).
Recommendation: He’s fine. Really. Many jumped ship when Middlebrooks struggled, and even more did so when he was demoted. Now owners have a chance to jump on board an undervalued asset before he spikes back up where it belongs.