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THT's Fantasy Archives
Monday, November 30, 2009
Just a heads up that I was interviewed by "raygu" of FakeTeams last week. It'll end up being a four-part interview, and part one went up earlier today. The final three parts are scheduled to go up over the next three days at 9 am EST. Topics range from strategies to player evaluation methods to my opinions on 2010 rankings and sleepers, plus some other fun stuff. Head on over if you're interested.
Posted by Derek Carty
A couple of weeks ago, in the comment section of my Approaching unconscious competence article
, a discussion sprang up regarding the way a player’s value against replacement is dispersed across categories and how it affects the perceived and real value of that player and his tradability. I touted the trade value of one-trick ponies while reader, Andrew P. advocated the all-around marginally better-than-average-type of player as being easier to trade.
I decided to try to explore this in a very unscientific way, basically for food for thought purposes. This is not going to be a fully in-depth study with peer-review level mathematical rigor. The most honest reason why I’m omitting the heaviest mathematical lifting is that I’m not great at it, and doing so might just devolve the discussion into an argument over methodology. But, also important is the fact that when discussing things like trade-ability we are talking about perception. And, since you are likely not in a fantasy league with 11 Tom Tangos, the way other owners perceive value of [your] players is important, and not necessarily congruent with their actual values.
My argument is that when it comes to players with overall marginal value (i.e. last roster spot, bench depth, trade bait, etc.) the player whose value is highly concentrated in fewer categories is the more attractive commodity.
Before we get into looking at some players and where their value comes from, let me make two semi-tangential points. First, when it comes to player production throughout the season, studies show that streakier players, that is players whose positive value is packed tighter into a smaller bunch of games, are actually worth more wins over time than those who display consistent, but non-dominating success. This is logical when you think about it, as a player who goes 4-for-4 in a game will likely influence that game much more than his composite influence on four consecutive games in which he goes 1-for-4 in each.
Second, if any of you out there play fantasy basketball, you are probably familiar with the legend of Zach Randolph (and, to a lesser extent, Tony Parker). Every year, one of two things happens to Randolph. Either some naïve owner sees the 20-10 and drafts him a good 40 picks too early, or some astute owner drafts him, and then packages him with a top-40 player and trades the two for a naïve owner’s first-round stud. Randolph is a liability of epic proportions in most categories, but puts up such attractive numbers in the glamor categories, that his perceived value is light years beyond his actual value. Ditto Parker, by the way, a 20-8 point guard who is not worth a top-70 pick.
In different ways, both of these points are illustrative of both the real and perceived value of tightly concentrated production.
With that in mind, let’s get to some fantasy baseball. To start this investigation, I wanted to establish the replacement level in all the five standard categories. I took a standard 12-team mixed league with expanded rosters, totaling 12 starting bats per team. At 12 teams, and 12 roster spots, that makes 144 starting offensive roster spots. So, I simply went down the line and cut off the 144th most productive season in each of the counting stats. For, batting average, I just took the average of the team batting averages that earned six points in all 12-team mixed leagues I played. So, let’s take a look at what a player’s line would be had he produced at the 144-cut-off in all categories.
Now, it was difficult to find players who fit this model, but here are some players who were roughly similar across the board, with no large chunk of their value coming from a single category. Their overall Yahoo ranks are in parenthesis.
Now, let’s take a look at what the marginal five-category contributor might look like. My first inclination was to just bump up each category by 10 percent. But I nixed that idea because runs and stolen bases, for example, are economies of two different scales, and proportions would be misleading. (See, I’m not totally mathematically naïve/illiterate). So, instead, I chose to redo the cut-off to determine what the 10th percentile of the roster-able players looks like, meaning the cut-off now comes at 130 as opposed to 144. So, here’s what the five-category 10 percent above-replacement player looks like. (I just moved up the batting average to the average of the “7”s in my 12-team leagues.)
The best comparison I found for this line was Melky Cabrera
, who was ranked 230th overall.
The first thing that we should notice here is that none of these players played entire seasons. Cabrera logged 485 ABs, while Murphy logged the most ABs of the player on the replacement-level list, with 432. Melky Cabrera was no fantasy world beater, and apparently being slightly better than 12-team fantasy replacement value doesn’t earn you a full season of ABs on the New York Yankees either.
Let’s take a quick break for pro-active disclaimer/friendly reminder. Now, of course Kendrick and Beckham helped fantasy teams because they are both very talented players with high ceilings who produced their value in less than full seasons, and their owners got production from other players in their absences. The seeming irony is that both of these players were more helpful than Cabrera (because of that concentrated production). In reality, we know that when it comes to the last few roster spots, good owners cobble together composite production from a variety of players. But, again, for our purposes here we are just looking at where individual production cut-offs are at certain levels against replacement. So, let’s try to keep in mind that we are looking at seasonal production for the players in question with minimal concern for how many games or ABs it took them to put up those numbers (the obvious exception being batting average, because the “weight” of individuals’ rate stats is important in terms of determining your team’s whole).
Back to the issue at hand, is Cabrera a tradable commodity in a 12-team, mixed league? I don’t think so. Did anybody out there who owned Melky in a similar league receive one-for-one trade offers involving Melky? If you owned him, is there anybody who would have been able to help your team that you think you could have gotten for Cabrera? When it comes to trade returns, to paraphrase John Sterling
, the Melk Man doesn’t deliver. If I wanted to trade Melky Cabrera in a 12-team league, here are the situations in which I would think it might be possible.
I might be able to land either an elite set-up man, or a set-up man behind a troubled closer and get some value out of it. If I was Ryan Madson
’s owner and was having health issues with my outfield, I could see making a Madson-for-Melky deal. But, more likely, I’d try to take a couple of swings for the fences on the waiver wire.
I could maybe see the Melk Man involved in a two-for-one. If, for example, I was trading a high quality all-around OF, say Nick Markakis
, for high level starter or closer, I’d consider asking for Melky as well, as a throw-in, if he would be a better replacement for Markakis than anybody on the wire. Of course, I have to be willing to drop another player (most likely a pitcher) on my roster to make room for Melky. (There really are no such things as two-for-ones, because of roster constraints, which is what makes it difficult to add a marginal player in a two-for-one deal, as the owner receiving that player still has to judge that player against his own marginal players.)
So, Melky Cabrera, who is all-around above replacement value is pretty much worthless on the open market in a 12-team league. This is because of the motivations behind trades. Teams make trades, usually from a surplus, to make up ground in categories. A player who 10 percent better than replacement across the board will have no profound impact on the standings in any individual category, and is therefore unappealing as a potential acquisition by a team looking to trade.
Now, let’s look at a few players whose value in most categories was pretty close to the replacement margin, but who produced particularly well in a single category. Overall rank in parenthesis again, as are deviation for the replacement level in each category.
|Marco Scutaro (112)||100 (+61%)||12 (-8%)||60 (+2%)||14 (+8) SB||.282 (+.003)|
|Adam Kennedy (166)||65 (+5%)||11(-15%)||63 (+7%)||20 (+14 SB)||.289 (+.012)|
Kennedy’s production is virtually even in the R, HR and RBI departments, taking into consideration overs and unders, while sporting considerable advantages in batting average and steals. Both of those categories are clear, actual assets that Kennedy offers.
Scutaro’s batting average advantage is negligible, and while he does provide speed that will contribute to your team, his big difference comes from the fact that he is actually elite at one category (runs), even though he is virtually a replacement level in three of them (HR, RBI, AVG.)
Once again, let’s look at our fictitious +10 percent all around player.
I know that the absolute values versus the relative rank dynamics of the stolen base category throws things off a bit, and that Scutaro especially has a bit more value than our hypothetical player regardless of how it is distributed, but don’t both Scutaro and Kennedy’s lines look more trade-able?
Before I try to summarize some of the takeaways of this somewhat unfocused and non-scientific column, let’s take a look at one more player, Franklin Gutierrez
. Gutierrez had a very good year and turned out to be a surprising source of five-category contribution. Without putting up staggering numbers in any one category, Gutierrez was clearly a valuable asset to fantasy teams last season, and he did so in one of the most under-the-radar ways possible.
|68||15||63||9||.283||+37%||+38%||+19%||+10 SB|| +.006|
Gutierrez didn’t reach any notable categorical milestones. While he achieved 34 combined homers and steals, he didn’t accumulate as many as 20 of either. He didn’t score 100 runs, or drive in 80 runs. But he did provide meaningful value above replacement in all other counting categories. I don’t think people realize how much marginal value players like Gutierrez provide across the board.
I say this by no means to attack Andrew P., but I think that when he argued for the plus-10 percent across-the-board player, he was thinking of a player like Gutierrez, who was more like plus-30 percent across multiple categories. That’s why five-category studs are so few and far between; they have to be more than just a little better than average at everything to really make their impact. They have to be a lot better at several things. A player who puts up a line of 90-20-90-20 is basically providing approximately 150 percent of replacement value in four categories.
Let’s try to make some sense of what we’ve talked about here and draw some conclusions.
- When it comes to trades, the way others perceive the value of your players is even more important than how objectively valuable they actually are. And the way that value is distributed across categories affects the perception.
- Other owners target players whose skill sets are likely to affect the standings. This consideration is, to varying degrees, disassociated from the overall marginal value a player offers. In some cases, this is rational, and in some cases it isn’t. A player’s value to my team may be different than it is to your team, because we are not competing against replacement level; we are competing against each other in team-wide category totals.
- Milestones are arbitrary and elevate the price of a player more than they actually reflect his value. If Franklin Gutierrez went 20-20 this past year, his ADP would rise some obscene number of spots this year. His 18-16 is certainly helpful, and you can likely grab him for peanuts again next year.
- I am no mathematical savant.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino
There is often a bit of hype that comes with players who are big free agent signings, as John Lackey is likely to be. But should you move him up your board when there are better options later? Jason Hammel
has a career ERA of 5.18 and pitches in Coors, but has skills and is getting better. Lackey has 85 more career wins, but let's see what they did in 2009.
W ERA K BB WHIP K/9 BB/9 GB% HR/FB% FIP BABIP
John Lackey 11 3.83 139 47 1.27 7.09 2.40 44.9% 9.1% 3.73 0.309
Jason Hammel 10 4.33 133 42 1.39 6.78 2.14 46.2% 9.7% 3.71 0.337
So we have a pitcher with a reputation, but also has some questions with his health and is presumably on his way to a new team. I'm sure his name will get a lot of press, and depending on what team he signs with he could move way up in drafts. Right now he is currently going around the 125th pick in MockDraftCentral.com
drafts. At the same time Hammel is not getting drafted.
|MLB: OCT 11 NLDS - Game 3 - Phillies at Rockies|
11 October 2009: Rockies starting pitcher Jason Hammel went 3.2 innings giving up four runs on four hits, striking out five during a National League Division Series game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. The Phillies beat the Rockies 6-5 as the temperature dipped into the 20's.(Icon/SMI)
Both Lackey and Hammel have a four pitch approach with fastballs just a tick above 90 mph, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. However, their pitches are much different in effectiveness. Pitch values may not be the best measure, but you can see Lackey has three solid pitches and a below average changeup. Hammel on the other hand has three below average pitches and what was in 2009 an elite curveball. It only ranked behind Edwin Jackson
's with a value of 3.53 runs per 100 pitches.
That might be a concern for Hammel going forward in 2010 as he is counting on the success of one pitch instead of Lackey who can rely on three. This is also the first time that Hammel has maintained a BB/9 under 3.0. If his walk rate climbs in 2010 he will fall behind Lackey in ERA and WHIP. It is likely he does see this climb since his largest gains were in O-swing% and O-contact%.
This shouldn't just be ignored though as their is some evidence in his PITCHf/x that his curve has changed. It is up two mph on average and is moving down only 6.4 when it used to move over eight inches down. This would make his pitches closer to the zone and tougher to lay off. He maintained this movement all year and hence his walk rate was near 2.0 per nine innings almost all season.
BABIP effects contributed to their final ERAs, but some of it was the result of a lesser defense in Colorado. We don't know what Lackey will have behind him in 2010, but that would play a large part in his BABIP and his ERA. Even with a huge split in team defenses I wouldn't recommend one over the other based on that alone.
Lackey hasn't topped 200 innings since 2007 and with his arm's injury history you have to start wondering how healthy he will be each year. He won't be your team ace in fantasy, but losing him for an extended time would still hurt. Hammel has yet to be placed the DL, but has also dealt with tendinitis as recently as 2007.
Lackey and Hammel are very differently valued by fantasy players, but with his first season over 170 innings Hammel showed he could be a surprise in fantasy. Based on the current draft positions I would say you are much better served by passing on Lackey and waiting for Hammel. You could also draft Hammel along with Lackey to ensure you have production regardless of injuries to Lackey.
Posted by Troy Patterson
Friday, November 27, 2009
Before launching into the players for this week, here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player '10
, available in December. Using “team experts” as Heater does, the writers are quite knowledgeable about their specific teams, and – lest you worry about hometown bias – they had better success (measured by RMSE) predicting win-loss totals for 2009 than any expert or “system” (or Vegas betting lines). When you consider that the popular “graphical” format conveys such a high volume of information in a glance, there's really no excuse to enter the 2010 season without arming yourself with this resource!
| New York | 2B
2009 Final Stats
Robinson Cano reminded us why “body of work” is so important when evaluating ballplayers, despite the strong emotional drive to judge ballplayers based on “what have you done for me lately?” Entering 2009, he had a career batting line (through age 25) of .303/.335/.468, yet few would have given him much chance to hit .320/.352/.520, a somewhat normal expectation for a young ballplayer with such a great career line to that point. The reason, of course, was his disappointing 2008 stat line (.271/.305/.410), and the much higher weight placed on recent seasons by most forecasting systems. THT's projections suggested he'd hit .299/.339/.457, which was wildly optimistic by other standards (for comparison, his 75th-percentile PECOTA was .298/.339/.449, and his 90th-percentile PECOTA wasn't even close to his actual stats).
But here's the thing with Cano's season... it wasn't “lucky” in any easily-definable sense, unless you consider playing his home games in MLB's best home-run park in 2009 as “lucky” (somehow, the stadium managed to suppress run scoring in spite of the taters, which is borderline unbelievable). His BABIP was .326, right in line with his .324 career line. His FB% was 33%, just like in 2008, and up from earlier in his career. His LD% was 19.9%, compared to 19.3% for his career. His FB/HR% was a career-best 12.6%, but that's hardly surprising given the homerific tendencies of the new park, his physical maturation, and the fact that the rate was nearly that high in 2006 as well (12.3%). In fact, his awful 7.6% HR/FB% in 2008 appears to be the outlier on his career ledger. All-in-all, the biggest chance in Cano's stat line was a slight improvement in his already-great contact percentage (up to 90% now!)
We do need to note something Yankees fans are well aware of, and that's the anti-Clutch tendencies of Mr. Cano. Due to his excellent overall stats, compared with his terrible clutch performance in 2009, he managed to earn a clutch score of -23.5 in 2009. While there have been numerous studies showing that “clutch ability” for a population is essentially no more significant than statistical “noise”, there are obviously a few players for whom it's a factor. And Cano had averaged worse than -6 “Clutch” runs per season before 2009, so while the magnitude of the 2009 choke was a surprise, the poor performance certainly was not.
Anyway, onward to 2010, and Cano's age-27 season... If he wasn't expected to decline in the clutch, Cano could be in line for 120+ RBI batting behind the Yankees' core, who all get on base a lot. He doesn't walk much, while averaging over 650 PA the past three seasons. He hits lefties about as well as righties, and his batting average and power gains in 2009 seem completely legit. It's always risky to predict a .320 batting average, since it requires so many things to go right, including suppport for his .324 career BABIP. But Cano is a great bet to bat .300+ with a .500 slugging and 20+ HR. With his low walk totals and great contact percentage, Cano is one of the safest sources of batting average in the league.
| New York | 3B
2009 Final Stats
Game #162 for the Yankees encapsulated the season in a nutshell. The Yankees won easily, A-Rod was spectacular, but didn't play the entire game. Virtually willing himself to the 30/100 threshhold with 2 homers and 7 RBI to end with exactly 30/100, A-Rod has now topped those marks in all but one of his 14 full seasons, and he was just 33 in 2009. Now that he has a ring, and got some timely postseason hits as a Yankee, it has to be assumed that he's now a “lifer”, as the Bronx Bombers have always been loyal to “their own”, one they prove themselves in NY. And that's great news for fantasy owners.
There may not be anything original to write about A-Rod anymore, and – assuming a reasonably moderate view is taken on his defensive skills – he seems clearly poised to go down in history as one of the 5 best players of all time. And – largely due to his agent's ability to negotiate contracts – he'll almost certainly be among the least-appreciated. The days of being a rangy shortstop with a .600 slugging are gone, and the playing time and batting average can be expected to deteriorate with the years, but as infield-mate Derek Jeter showed this year, it should never be surprising for an all-time great player to have an MVP-type season, even into his late 30's.
It's hard to predict how much of A-Rod's fielding ability will return as his hip heals further, but his batting didn't take long to rebound. He struggled through his first week back, hitting .136, with a sub-.300 slugging, before hammering 6 HR and a double in his next 8 games to remind people that he'd led the league in slugging each of the previous 2 years. Expect him to get about 10 days of rest in 2010, more if there are any lingering effects from the hip, and expect him to be in the MVP discussion at the end of the year (unless Mauer runs away and hides again). That should mean 40/120 with 100+ runs for fantasy purposes.
| New York | OF
2009 Final Stats
Who is Johnny Damon? No, we aren't still wondering where the “Idiot” who helped break Boston's “Curse” has gone, that's almost ancient history now. And his “Royal upbringing” or “rental” season leading the A's to the playoffs may as well have been in a different era. But Damon authored the second-most-surprising season by a 35-year-old Yankee in 2009, posting easily his best career ISO, and topping his career mark, .207 to .150. At age 33 (2007), he was down to a .270/.351/.396 batting line, making his value suspect, as a should-be-corner outfielder with a popgun arm. But he showed he could be a “for-real” corner outfielder in 2008, crushing all his career rate stats at .303/.375/.461. And he added even more power in 2009.
Damon could have been the poster boy for New Yankee Stadium, hammering 17 of his 24 homers at home, and not getting any of his 3 triples there (the park cut down triples a lot, showing a “triples factor” of .500, per ESPN.com's park factor report). And part of his changing stats were due to his new role as a #2 hitter behind Jeter. With Jeter being held on first base so frequently, one would have anticipated more doubles from the lefty-swinging Damon, but the reduced SB total (12, after topping 25 3 straight seasons), and improved power both are consistent with no longer leading off. That Damon was able to draw 71 walks batting in front of Teixeira and A-Rod is testament to his great batting eye and ability to foul off pitches, but getting on base in front of MVP-candidate hitters is hardly new for Damon.
For the most part, projection systems take the following steps:
1.“Neutralize” stats for a player from each season, removing “luck” factors and park effect and opponent strength.
2.Take a weighted average of the previous few seasons, usually something like 3-2-1.
3.Apply an “aging algorithm” of some sort, often dependent upon the type of player. This is combined with #2 in a variety of ways, depending on the system. My MLP system, for example, applies the “aging algorithm” to each season before weighting and combining, but the goal of MLP is to project prospects into their “prime seasons”, though someday I'll have to adapt it to MLB players as well.
4.Un-neutralize the projection for the environment the player will play in, including things such as park factor and opponent strength.
In any system that follows this basic projection methodology, Damon's age is going to be struggling with his recent tendency for improvement, and the unknown park and league and team factors will provide further randomizing factors. We think that either the Yankees or an NL team would provide fantasy value around 90% of Damon's 2009 total, with the boost in offense from the NL being mitigated by losing his teammates in New York, who are a great supply of runs and RBI. So, if he stays in NY, expect him to approach .280/.360 for average/OBP, and exceed .450 slugging. Don't expect any rebound in speed if he's not leading off.
| New York | RP
2009 Final Stats
: 9.8 K/9, 6.0 K/BB, 1.76 ERA
FIVE MORE YEARS?! Does he figure he'll just be bored with collecting rings at that point, or is he actually human? Anyway, that should be good for another 10-15 blown saves... maybe. And, what with his WHIP going up 36% (.905 from .665 in 2008) and his blown saves doubling (2 from 1 in 2008), and his K:BB ratio dropping to less than HALF (6.00 from 12.83), perhaps the old guy is losing it?
Aging curves for pitchers are little more than a suggestion these days, with guys pitching at age 40 like they did when they were 25. But Rivera's lost a little zip off his cutter, as it averaged 91.3 in 2009, down from over 93 in recent years. He's still generating a lot of swings outside the zone (over 36%), and that's the key for him. So, maybe the “suggestion” of an aging curve should be considered, but he has a long way to go down before he'd fall out of the elite closers in baseball, so he really may be able to keep closing for New York until he bores of it. We're not going all the way out on that limb, but expect 2010 to look a lot like 2009, with a slight degradation. We'd call it “regression”, but we're not fully sure that human norms apply in this case.
| New York | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 7.7 K/9, 2.9 K/BB, 3.37 ERA
Just like Roy Oswalt after he pitched 525 innings over two seasons we can see the possible impact of fatigue on CC Sabathia. CC has now racked up an amazing 779.1 IP over the past three seasons (almost 260 IP/yr). Of course, unlike Oswalt, CC moved to a park which inflated his home run totals, and into the league's toughest division (though missing the Yankees as opponents helps a lot). And his “decline” certainly didn't show up in the postseason, where he pitched scintillating ball against his AL opponents before holding his own against the powerful Phillies lineup. So, was there really any fatigue factor at all?
One thing is certain – even if 2009 was “fatigue impacted”, it was still plenty good. He led the league in wins, as one would expect from an effective high-inning pitcher on a team with a great offense. And he was 3rd in win%, so it wasn't just about staying in the game. He was 4th in ERA and WHIP and IP. He was 3rd in hits/9 allowed, and 9th in K/9 (7th in K's).
But there really is reason to be concerned here, despite his seeming invincibility. With the K:BB dropping from 5.7 in 2007 to 4.3 in 2008 to 2.9 in 2009, his xFIP has gone up from 3.63 (in 2007) to 3.94. His BABIP and HR/FB% were both in the “lucky” range in 2009 (.284 BABIP, 7.8% HR/FB). To his credit, though, most of his metrics picked up in the 2nd half, as he went 11-2, 2.74, with 9 K/9, so perhaps it was just acclimation to a new team. Sabathia's usage patter will be interesting to monitor. He's no longer a “young arm”, but pitchers in this era aren't acclimated to going as many innings as he has been the past few years. Perhaps now that he is, there won't be any ill effects, and Girardi is known for pushing his starters, so don't expect much coddling to keep him “fresh” for the playoffs.
Just a reminder about GP10:
In December, Acta Sports will publish the 2010 GRAPHICAL PLAYER. Besides covering a pair of teams apiece, Rob and I are Associate Editors of this edition. If you enjoy Waiver Wire—if you want the edge that you get here at THT Fantasy—then the 2010 GRAPHICAL PLAYER is your book. It'll be like going into your draft with Rob and me looking over your shoulder. (THTF's minor-league maven Matt Hagen is also a contributor.)
Next week, we'll begin incorporating GP profiles into our Waiver Wire columns. Until then, here is a 16-page preview of the book
. You can order the book from Acta Sports here.
Posted by Rob McQuown
| Milwaukee | 3B
2009 Final Stats
Brewers fans have been itching for a long look at Gamel, the team's top hitting prospect, at the major-league level, and they finally got their wishes in 2009. Unfortunately, by the time he got to the bigs, his way was blocked by a guy named Casey McGehee, and hampered by his own performance at the plate.
Gamel was mashing AAA pitching in April, with a .403/.483/.806 line that included 7 HRs and 8 2Bs, and got his first callup in mid-May as interleague play approached and the Crew figured they could use him at DH. Then Rickie Weeks went down for the season, and Milwaukee had the perfect opportunity to give him more PT; Craig Counsell and McGehee could both play 2B or 3B and Gamel could slide into the 3B rotation.
Even though he stayed with the big league club, that's not how things worked out, which speaks volumes about how Milwaukee regards Gamel. His biggest liability at this point is his glove—he has an .883 career fielding percentage in the minors, with 156 errors in 1334 chances. That he booted 7 balls in 61 chances in the majors (with an .885 fielding percentage) shows those struggles are continuing. Milwaukee really doesn't think the merits of his bat overcomes the deficits of his glove.
And his bat wasn't all that meritorious in the majors, either. He started out hot, hitting .308/.438/.692 in his first 13 ABs (mostly as a pinch-hitter) then cooled off dramatically, hitting just .224/.322/.329 over his next 76 ABs through the end of June, with 11 BBs and 30 Ks. After he only started 6 of 14 games through mid-July, the team decided to give him more seasoning in AAA, instead of sporadic PT in the bigs.
Gamel's funk carried over into the minors, where he hit .118/.225/.147 to close out July, then had OPSes of .751 and .669 in August and September. Despite this, the Brewers brought him back up to the big-league club in September, where he continued to collect splinters on the bench, even after Milwaukee was out of the pennant chase entirely. He collected just one start in 24 team games, though he hit .267/.353/533. Why they didn't give him a longer look at this point in the season, with the pennant out of reach and both Counsell and McGehee nursing knee injuries, is a mystery.
In the long run, the extra time in AAA should prove beneficial to Gamel, since he'd only had 21 ABs at that level before this season. He did improve his defense there somewhat, booting just 18 balls in 201 chances for a fielding percentage of .901. But even that may not be enough for him to occupy the 3B position the Brewers have been holding open for him, especially with the emergence of Casey McGehee. And before you suggest a platoon between RH McGehee and LH Gamel (or even Counsell, if he's re-signed), realize that Gamel's platoon splits have been almost even in his minor-league career, and turning this 23-year-old into half a player at this point in his career would be a waste.
The other possible position for him, 1B, is of course blocked by the formidable presence of Prince Fielder. Barring a trade of either Gamel or McGehee (or, even less likely, Fielder), it looks like his best fit will be as a corner outfielder. But there, too, he's blocked by Ryan Braun and Corey Hart. So you should expect a trade of Hart, McGehee or Gamel, in that order, before the 2010 season opens to resolve that logjam and to bolster their starting pitching, worst in the NL in 2009.
The Brewers have already indicated that they won't part with Gamel for anything less than "his equivalent in pitching," something most teams are unlikely to do at this stage of Gamel's career. A trade to an AL team would allow Gamel to slide into what might be his best position, DH, but there's not many teams willing to pay such a steep price for a guy who never wears a glove. So I'd expect to see Gamel in Milwaukee spring training, ready to prove himself at 3B or RF.
How will he perform? No matter where he ends up, he's going to need to improve his batting eye and contact rate. His .50 minor-league BB/K rate has actually dropped as he ascended each level, as has his .77 contact rate. Scouts say he has the skills, with great batspeed and a good batting eye, so these ratios suggest he's pressing, adjusting, or both. That's not quite the trend you want to see from a talent like this, but he's still only 23, so there's plenty of time to turn it around, even if progress might be slow.
Keeper owners will want to keep this in mind—don't expect him to be your 3B of the future, and don't expect him to reach his full potential in 2010. He'll be a very good hitter one day, wherever he ends up fitting into the lineup, though he profiles as an excellent #5 hitter behind Braun and Fielder. But moderate your expectations heading into 2010, particularly if he goes into Spring Training still blocked by both Hart and McGehee.
| Milwaukee | RF
2009 Final Stats
Brewers fans and fantasy owners sat up and took notice when Hart burst onto the scene in 2007 with a .295/.353/.539 in his first full season at the majors. When he followed that up with two straight seasons of decline, the same fans and owners have turned their backs on him. 2008 saw him slip to .268/.300/.459, and 2009 saw that fall even farther, and his HR and RBI totals have also dropped in corresponding fashion.
There's some explanation for these statistics, however. In 2008 it looked like he was pressing to return to his 2007 heights, as his batting eye fell from .36 to .25. Luck was a factor, too—his BABIP also dropped from .321 to .293 and his HR/FB% fell from 13 to 9.8 over the same span. In 2009, he returned his BB/K ratio to .47, and his BABIP rose to a more expected .305. His HR rate dropped again to 8.7%, despite continuing to hit fly balls at the same rate.
An emergency appendectomy cut his 2009 season short, making his one awful month weigh even more heavily against his overall numbers. May 2009, he hit .232/.283/.343, one of his worst months ever, but he'd improved in June (typically a strong month for him) and July, before losing a month to the appendectomy.
He returned in September and finished the season with an eight-game hit streak, but the operation had clearly sapped his power, not surprising, since it sliced open and weakened his trunk muscles. Only 3 of his 14 hits went for extra bases, and he hit .237/.338/.322 in September, another month among his worst ever. So you could argue that 2009 was the Tale of Two Months, while 2008 was a lot of bad luck. He's definitely undervalued going into 2010, and represents a good bounceback candidate.
With Gamel looking for a position and both Braun and Fielder ready to launch the Brewers into the stratosphere, the front office may not wait until 2010 to see if Hart does. In Milwaukee's quest for more pitching, Hart is their best trading chip. Though his value is obviously diminished by his past two seasons, he's still a guy with enough speed to swipe bases (23 each in '07 and '08) with the contact skills (.80 career) to suggest that a rebound is likely, though probably not to the luck-induced levels of 2007. He shouldn't become a free agent until 2012, and his arbitration value should make negotiations with him cheap and easy.
Watch the Brewers' offseason moves; their swap of J.J. Hardy shows they have no sentimental attachments to a slumping farm system product if they need to make room for another one they think is better, and that's precisely the small-market model they should be following. He's not a lock to be traded, since he could still be re-signed cheaply, but I'd put the probability at 80% that he'll be playing with another team in 2010.
As for what you should look for, I'd anticipate a rebound into the .825 OPS range with 20+ SBs, 20+ HRs and RBIs approaching 100, with an average pushing .300. That's not elite level, but that's a really nice corner outfielder for a team willing to gamble that he's going to finally live up to his promise. Fantasy owners should find him a buy-low candidate as well, even if he's not going to see that 900 OPS level again.
| Milwaukee | SP
2008 Final Stats
: 7.2 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 3.09 ERA
Brewers fans had to see this coming: in his first (supposedly) healthy season since 2004, Ben Sheets ended 2008 early with a tear in his elbow. It didn't seem bad at first, so Sheets declined Milwaukee's offer of arbitration, figuring on greener pastures elsewhere. It didn't quite work out that way, though. A deal with the Rangers was killed after the elbow injury turned out to be a torn flexor tendon, which shut Sheets down for all of 2009.
This isn't a serious injury by baseball standards; it's a severe form of tennis elbow (which is why they didn't think it was so bad at first), and players from Andy Pettitte to Victor Zambrano have gone under the knife for it, with clearly mixed results. Pettite underwent this surgery in 2004, and came back to pitch a 17-9 year in Houston, with a 2.39 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP, one of his best seasons ever. His elbow's been healthy ever since. Zambrano, on the other hand, had the surgery midway through the 2006 season then returned in 2007, his last season in the majors, to post a 10.17 ERA in just 23 IP; he was likely on the downslope of his career at this point anyway, but this surgery didn't help.
That gives you the spectrum of possibilities on this surgery, and makes Sheets so hard to predict—and sign. When he's healthy, Sheets has been awesome. In his best season, 2004, he ended with a 2.70 ERA and 0.98 WHIP , with a 8.25 K/BB rate that led the majors, thanks in part to a 10.0 K/9 that was the best in his career. But he also threw 237 IP, his third straight season of 200+ IP—and the beginning of his injury trouble.
Since then, he's shown occasional brilliance, with excellent control, great strikeout numbers and an ability to keep the ball in the yard. In 2006, his 9.8 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 gave him a career-best 10.6 K/BB, though his 106.1 IP were his fewest since that 2004 IP spike. In 2009, he threw 198.1 IP, his highest total since 2004, with a 7.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9 that all contributed to a 3.09 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and a 13-9 record that represented the most wins since 2004.
That injury flag, however, may overshadow all his other accomplishments. Pitching is scarce enough that Sheets will get signed somewhere, probably at a discount because of that injury history. That's the same discount that you should apply to him as a fantasy owner. He could approach 200 IP again, with good strikeout rates, or he could struggle to regain his control and/or get injured again.
Where he pitches will also be a consideration. A shift to the AL will clearly make a difference to a guy who's only pitched in the NL (the Rangers are one of his rumored destinations). He's also a fly ball pitcher, with a career 0.74 GB/FB ratio, one that has been closer to 0.70 of late. Miller Park is fairly forgiving, and a home run park like Great American or Citizen's Bank wouldn't be the best place for him to end up, either. That would make Texas an awful place for him to end up.
So watch Sheets to see where he lands and how he does in Spring Training before deciding how much to bid for him, but he becomes a moderate gamble in any park, with the odds for a good season decreasing, depending on his home team. He's a mid-round pick in a straight draft, and a mid-dollar gamble in an auction draft.
Don't ignore him, but don't chase 2004, or even 2009, numbers, either. Personally, I'd only take him in the late rounds or for a $2-5 bid. The chances of him exceeding those values is much lower than the chances of him imploding entirely, and I'm going to let someone else gloat that they got him for a buck.
That's all for this week--leave me your suggestions in the comments for other players you'd like me to cover. Next week, we'll look at Chris Ianetta, Geovany Soto and Joe Blanton.
In December, Acta Sports will publish the 2010 GRAPHICAL PLAYER. Besides covering a pair of teams apiece, Rob and I are Associate Editors of this edition. If you enjoy Waiver Wire—if you want the edge that you get here at THT Fantasy—then the 2010 GRAPHICAL PLAYER is your book. It'll be like going into your draft with Rob and me looking over your shoulder. (THTF's minor-league maven Matt Hagen is also a contributor.)
Next week, we'll begin incorporating GP profiles into our Waiver Wire columns. Until then, here is a 16-page preview of the book
. You can order the book from Acta Sports here.
Posted by Michael Street
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
1. Carlos Santana
: One of the Top 10 prospects in all of baseball, Santana brings solid defense to the catcher position and the type of power bat and middle-of-the-order mentality that could make Cleveland fans quickly forget about Victor Martinez
2. Hector Rondon
: Rondon's electric four-pitch arsenal is the envy of minor league baseball, but his tendency to lose focus and leave pitches up and over the plate will need to be remedied if he is going to succeed against major league hitting. His questionable endurance could be to blame in late innings. He is very good, but not a perfect prospect.
3. Lonnie Chisenhall
: Sporting the swing and approach of a true professional hitter, Chisenhall impressed in 2009. He has a developing blend of power, patience, and contact skills that make me think he has a good chance to be an above average major league third baseman. An All-Star, though, may be stretching it.
4. Jason Knapp
: Knapp has the ceiling of an ace, and the work ethic and smarts to get to that point. His high-90s fastball is his meal ticket, but the rest of his game lags behind. Watch for his secondary stuff to take a step forward in 2010.
5. Alex White: White is expected to make an immediate farm system impact in 2010. His tremendous repertoire will keep hitters off-balance from the get go, but Cleveland will surely be keeping an eye on his mechanics and control.
6. Michael Brantley
: The plate patience, contact skills, and speed equal up to an underrated lead-off prospect. It may take some time for Brantley to produce like a lead-off hitter at the major league level, though, as I think he is destined for an up and down early career. Stay patient.
7. Alexander Perez
: As a 20-year-old, Perez made a seamless transition from the Low-A Sally League to the High-A Carolina League. The key to his future success will be how his repertoire and talented right arm react to the added muscle that Cleveland will insist he put on. This is a key off-season, as Double-A competition awaits.
8. Nick Weglarz
: Weglarz has his fair share of fans, and I know why they are attracted to him. He is a well-built power hitter with demonstrated plate patience to back it up. But his bat still has plenty of holes in it, and they will be exposed even further as he continues to face better competition. He often looks uneasy when facing top-notch pitching, which is not a good sign headed forward. He still has upside, but I'm more skeptical than most.
9. T.J. House
: House is a likable lefty with developing secondary stuff. But, despite his youth, I don't think he has a whole lot of upside. I do like his odds to become a solid mid-rotation starter, though.
10. Carlos Rivero
: It's easy to dismiss Rivero at this point, as it seems like he has been on Cleveland's prospect radar screen forever. Yet, he is just 21-years-old and has a clean swing that still has power projection left in it. Cleveland hasn't given up, and neither should you.
1. Aaron Hicks
: 2009 brought about a disappointing full season debut from Hicks. But he has a full tool shed to work with and there is every reason to think that he will bounce back in 2010. Perhaps even to the point that he is considered one of the game's best outfield prospects by this time next year.
2. Ben Revere
: Hicks gets most of the outfield attention due to his enormous power potential, but Minnesota's plan for Revere is just as prominent. Revere has every tool necessary to become an elite lead-off man. His patience at the plate is still lacking, but he is a hard-worker who realizes the importance of doing whatever is necessary to get on base.
3. Kyle Gibson: Gibson has a tremendous amount of polish, but the injury concern is very real and is the reason why he fell to Minnesota in the 2009 draft. He doesn't have ace-like upside, but if he can put the injury concerns to bed he has a great shot at being a #2 starter.
4. Miguel Sano: Another hyped, raw bat has been plucked from the Dominican Republic. Sano's signing bonus was reportedly in record setting territory, which is notable considering it is the small market Twins that shelled out the bucks. They must see something special. When it comes to a 16-year-old project with a seven-figure signing bonus, as always, I am cautiously optimistic.
5. Adrian Salcedo
: Scouting reports are tough to find on Salcedo, but anyone who puts up a nearly 20:1 strikeout to walk ratio over any extended period of time deserves attention. Add in the fact that he is just 18-years-old with an athletic, wiry frame and you have a promising prospect that any team would love to have.
6. Wilson Ramos
: Unlike some catchers, who are all offense, Ramos also brings promising defense to the table. But I don't think his bat has as much upside as others do. His swing has obvious holes, his patience hasn't developed, and his power potential seems limited.
7. Angel Morales: Morales is an impressive athlete with enviable power potential. His discipline, plate coverage, and swing mechanics are still raw and inconsistent. Unless his overall bat takes the nest step, he will get exposed badly as he faces tougher competition.
8. Joe Benson
: Sporting a bit of that power / speed combination that we all look for, Benson is a likable prospect, but he isn't a star in the making. Yet, with increased plate coverage and a more consistent swing will come better contact skills to go with his impressive patience. He could be a future fixture in the Twins' outfield.
9. David Bromberg
: His control and movement are not where they need to be right now, but Bromberg has big league quality stuff. Everyone is waiting to see if his weaknesses will get ironed out or taken advantage of as he makes the move to Double-A. His ceiling is as a #3 starter.
10. B.J. Hermsen
: Hermsen has the look of a bulldog, but his game in the early going has been all about the control of his low-90s fastball. His upside isn't ace-like, but I can't help but be impressed by his pinpoint control at this point. We will certainly know more next year when he faces A-ball competition.
Posted by Matt Hagen
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I made a last-second guest appearance on the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable radio show earlier this evening. If you're interested, here's the link
to the archived show.
Posted by Derek Carty
When it comes to fantasy leagues, I am a weathered man. I've played in deep leagues, shallow leagues, mixed leagues, keeper leagues, dynasty leagues; leagues with drafts, leagues with auctions, leagues with free agents, waivers, FAABs, and so forth.
With most of these league settings I have a preference on the ones I like and the ones I feel subtract from a league. For example, I have always preferred mixed leagues that are toward the deeper end of the spectrum. There is one league setting, however, that I have always been on the fence about and that is bench depth.
It may seem like a fairly unimportant league setting on the surface, but in fact it is one that can have a large impact on the way you should approach a league. Even in MLB, bench depth plays a big role in the form of the 25 and 40-man rosters. For example Johan Santana
might have never been a Twin were it not for the restrictions on bench size that led to the Astros making him Rule 5 eligible.
Impact on fantasy leagues
Generally speaking a league with deeper benches allows for more risky picks to be taken for two reasons. First, since better replacement players are more easily secured, the negative impact of having one of those risky players bust is reduced. And second, since there are more bench spots available, the cost of having one of them occupied by an insurance player is marginalized.
It is important to understand that although the replacement level for starting players is unaffected by bench size, the ability to acquire replacement players is impacted.
In a league with deep benches, the players that would replace your starters in the case of injury or ineffectiveness are secured on your bench and can easily step into a starting role at a moment's notice. In a league with shallow benches, on the other hand, not every starting position can be backed by a bench spot, and in the case of certain starters needing replacing, heading to free agency or waivers is the only option. In two identical leagues save for bench size, the same caliber of player will spell starters, except in the league with deeper benches you will have more control over which players will be your
What is considered a long or short bench is subjective, but I will say that the number of bench spots should be proportional to the number of roster spots per team. This implies that a league with more starting players than another can have a greater number of bench spots, yet the two leagues can have the same degree of bench depth. In general, though, I would say that one or two bench spots is shallow, three-to-five is medium sized, and six or more is a deep-benched league.
Transitioning from the theoretical discussion on how replacement level is affected and opportunity cost marginalized, let's move to the more concrete and list some specific types of players whose value is increased by an increase in bench size. Remember that the reason the following types of players have increased value in leagues with deeper benches is due to one or both of the bolded reasons above.
- First and most obvious are the injury risks, the Rich Hardens and Chipper Joneses of the baseball world. You can count on having to delegate one of your bench spots to keeping a backup for these players, a backup you feel reasonably comfortable giving potentially significant amounts of playing time to.
- The next type of player whose value is increased by deeper benches is the phenom rookie not yet in the majors that is prematurely owned in fantasy leagues—the paradigm of which was Matt Wieters in 2009. The annoying thing about these players is that you cannot place them on the DL like you can with injured players, instead they suck up a bench spot without offering up any form of production.
- Another type of player is the one with the large handedness split, a good example of which is Jack Cust who has averaged an OPS that is .145 points higher against righties over the past three seasons. The argument of whether platoon splits are worth accounting for is one that can be made another time and another place. All I am saying is that deeper benches give you greater value in platooning two players with complementary splits, say Cust and Jonny Gomes.
The common theme among these players is that they all require you to own two players for one starting spot, something deeper benches allows you to handle more easily.
Conversely, you could say that safer players are given a slight boost in value in leagues with short benches, though I believe the depth of the league itself (as opposed to the benches) dwarfs the impact bench size will have. The players most positively affected by shallower bench leagues are the multi-position eligible players like Mark DeRosa
whose positional flexibility counteract the lack of flexibility working with few bench spots offers.
Which do you prefer?
Now that we have covered in-depth the ways bench depth impacts leagues, it is time to ask yourself which one you prefer, and remember, I truly am not sure where I stand.
On one side I like deeper benches because they allow for more roster creativity and flexibility and also seem to strip some of the luck that waiver priority or free agent races
contribute to leagues. Instead that luck is replaced with the skill owners need to have in picking the best players to fill out their bench.
On the other side, you could argue that shallower benches force owners to have more roster discipline in selecting the players that can stay and those that can go. Everyone hates making that decision of who to drop when there is no one you feel comfortable allowing to be added by another team for free, but making the correct decision in those instances is certainly a valuable skill in fantasy baseball. You could also make the point that no reasonable amount of bench depth would have led to players such as Ben Zobrist
, Garrett Jones
, or most of the other great pickups of 2009 being owned on teams before their skills became apparent.
After making cases on both sides of the issue, I suppose my argument for shallow benches is a bit more convincing though I still feel on the fence. Enough of what I have to say though, I am interested to see what others think. What say you?
Posted by Paul Singman
Monday, November 23, 2009
Last week’s Cy Young Award apparently sparked some controversy. A number of fans seemed to think that Chris Carpenter
was robbed. The archetypal argument even played out on THT, in the comment section of a post on Shyster Ball
, which then prompted another post
dedicated to the controversy.
Many Carpenter supporters didn’t seem to want to acknowledge the value of the 30 additional innings pitched by Tim Lincecum
. Talking heads in the baseball community often like to reference an alleged dichotomy between fantasy baseball and the real thing. But, I think this is actually a great example of the fantasy baseball experience being instructive regarding a debate about the real thing.
I can understand, or at least accept, that when somebody looks at Carpenter’s stats in comparison to Lincecum, they don’t seamlessly interpret that innings gap in terms of value over replacement player. But, if you play fantasy baseball, you know this is exactly what such a disparity means.
When one of your stud players misses time, you must replace that player. You want to make the most of your roster spots and get as much production in as you can. And, the deeper the league, the more questionable the quality of your potential replacements. We all know that when it comes to problems like this, prevention trumps cure, so ideally you would like to draft players who you will not need to replace. Surely, there is a fair share of luck involved in your players avoiding the DL, but you can certainly skew the odds. As Branch Rickey
famously said, “luck is the residue of design.”
Traditionally, my pieces preach conservatism and I commonly tout “boring veterans” as often representing solid value picks. But, there is one concomitant benefit to privileging upside that is rarely talked about, and it has to do with durability. By selecting players entering what should be the prime of their careers, based upon career production arcs, you are also selecting players who are generally less injury prone. Once leagues start to get deeper, say 14 teams and up, replacement value really starts to take a hit, and the payoff of successful upside picks become that much more influential on the standings. So, by targeting players between the ages of 24 and 30, you can help to kill two birds with one stone.
Of course, the upside and replacement dynamics can work against you just as hard when they fail. Quality replacements for busted picks are harder to find, therefore taking too much risk will likely lead to teams with too many holes. But, it’s worth making a somewhat fine semantic distinction here. Drafting “upside” is not the same thing as drafting “potential.” When looking for upside, you are looking at guys with reasonably similar projections and choosing the guy who may have slightly less impressive numbers, but a far greater chance to exceed them. Say, James Loney
vs. Todd Helton
. Gambling highly on Matt Wieters
, on the other hand, was —and still is— a "potential" pick. When you are looking for upside, you are playing the trends. When you are looking for potential, you are playing the lottery.
Over on Fantasy 411, Cory Schwartz posted a retrospective
on his NFBC
(15-team, mixed-league) team, which won his league and finished fifth overall out of 390 teams. Reading Cory’s thoughts, one thing struck me rather profoundly. Two of his top three picks busted, and pretty solidly at that, but he was still able to triumph. One of the main reasons why he was able to do so was that very few of his players spent time on the DL. In a 15-team league, he didn’t have to give too many at-bats to replacement-level players. Not a coincidence, 11 of his 14 starting bats were between 24 and 29 years old.
At this point, I think it’s also worth discussing how ramifications of busts and replacement value play out in shallow versus deep leagues. Cory’s first pick in this league was B.J. Upton
at 13th overall, clearly a bust. Among the players over whom he chose Upton were Carlos Beltran
and Josh Hamilton
, both of whom missed about half the season with injuries (coming into the season, Beltran was 32 and Hamilton was 28, by the way). Cory remarks, and correctly so, that although Upton busted, neither Hamilton's nor Beltran’s seasons justified them as better picks. This is true because of the size of the league.
In a shallow, 10- or 12-team league, it’s arguable that you were better off with an injured Beltran or Hamilton than an under-producing Upton. This is because of replacement value. In a 10-team league, you could have likely found a 20-homer, 80-RBI outfielder on the wire, and cobbled together a half season’s worth of him with half a season of Beltran and still wind up with pretty nice production from that spot, more production than Upton straight up. But, in a deeper league, where replacements are of far inferior quality, you’re likely better off getting the full, but disappointing season out of Upton.
So, what are the takeaways here? First, Tim Lincecum deserved the National League Cy Young Award; Major League Baseball is not a 10-team mixed league and replacement-level starting pitching is pretty brutal. Second, breakout potential and durability often go hand-in-hand. The deeper your league, the more important it is to strategically target both. Third, a league’s depth partially determines the ramifications of busts and injuries.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Just my opinion, but I believe Keith Law was 100% correct with his NL Cy Young ballot. Maybe my opinion is colored because of all the praise I've heaped on Javy Vazquez this year, but I do try to approach everything as objectively as possible. For the record, my NL Cy Young ballot that I turned into Pizza Cutter's Renegade Internet Awards looked like this:
1) Tim Lincecum
2) Javier Vazquez
3) Adam Wainwright
That's identical to Law's, for those keeping score at home. I won't give a full argument, but in my humble opinion, 220 innings of league-leading xFIP should quite easily merit inclusion among the top three pitchers in the NL. At the very least, the guy who puts him on his ballot shouldn't have to be bombarded by asinine e-mails and comments from people pretending to have a clue. If anything, I find it incredible that Law was the only
one to give Vazquez a vote of any
kind. Sorry folks, but Chris Carpenter
really shouldn't have been on the ballot, which makes the cries that he was "robbed" of first
place even more ridiculous. If you are making a case for him, maybe you can make one for third place. Maybe.
With all the flak Law's taking, I figured I'd throw my support his way and give you guys my opinion. I could go on an even longer diatribe about the absurdity of the BBWAA, those claiming guys like Law and Will Carroll were wrong because their ballots didn't match all of the other "experts" (despite the fact that their backgrounds and ability to comprehend logic vary greatly), expecting votes to be cast based on conventional wisdom, or the conventional wisdom itself, but there's been so much around the internets about it that I don't really see the need.
Posted by Derek Carty
Friday, November 20, 2009
| Oakland | OF
2009 Final Stats
With a batting average and on-base percentage about the equal of Carl Crawford
last year, and a slugging percentage close enough to call “close” after park adjustments, Davis had a 108 OPS+ with 41 SB in just 432 PA, a very Crawford-esque two-thirds of a season all told (Crawford has a career 103 OPS+). Yet the Oakland righty was probably taken as a late-round source of steals and nothing more in 2009. What can be expected from the surprising 29-year-old-to-be? Here are some projections from various sources:
455 AB, .274-69-5-44-42 (AVG-R-HR-RBI-SB)
Bill James Handbook:
496 AB, .284-74-4-44-50
341 AB, .267-48-4-30-31
Career 162-G average (baseball-reference.com):
393 AB, .280-62-3-37-45
The career line is highly warped by the fact that he was used as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement for much of his career before breaking through with a starting job in 2009.
So, the first obvious question is: “How much will he play?” With Ryan Sweeney
's fielding stats belying his reputation as a just a mediocre center fielder, the A's appear to have another in-house option to roam center field, though Rajai roams a bit more of it, and certainly looks like more of a center fielder. And though the sample size is still wanting, Scott Hairston's conversion to the outfield seems to have resulted in about average defensive skills in CF. Cunningham was a center fielder in the minors but appears to be limited to side-field duty now. All this suggests that if the A's want to try to force some of their slow DH/1B types (Barton, Wallace, Carter, Doolittle, Buck, etc.) into the lineup in 2010, they may reprise the Cust-to-outfield experiment, and Rajai could end up on another team or on the wrong end of a platoon with lefty Ryan Sweeney (though the A's have been reluctant to use straight platoons in recent years). Our mindset is that Rajai gets his regular gig in CF back (he started playing almost every day about midway through the season), as Oakland has quietly turned into a pitching, speed and defense team. And you can count on Beane heating up the trade lines shopping him around, too—both Chicago teams might have a use for him, for example. In short, anything under 450 AB would be somewhat surprising, but that “surprise” would be predicated on …
“How will he do?” Almost certainly, the CHONE system balanced out his PT based on his expected offensive contributions. They have the lowest predicted OBP at .326, but nobody seems to think he'll exceed .340 OBP again since his .366 BABIP stemmed from an unlikely .305 batting average. Still, the difference between CHONE and the other predictors is fairly minute—14 points of OBP over 500 PA is just seven times on base all season. And his career average stands at a decent .280, so predicting a decline to .267 seems overly pessimistic. One thing nobody disagrees about is his game-impacting speed, which will lend itself to pinch-running opportunities even if he's not playing regularly—as it has in seasons past. For raw speed, the “extra bases taken%” (from baseball-reference.com) probably is the most indicative as he's posted 60% for his career against an MLB average of 39%. His 78% career SB% sounds decent, with 93 SB in 358 SBO, but he's also been picked off 16 times (10 in 2009 alone), so actual straight steals aren't necessarily adding as many wins as would be assumed for a guy with one steal per 10 PA. All this combines to suggest that somewhat of a downtick in his stealing attempts could happen in 2010, but he still seems a great bet to log 40-50 SB, given 500 PA.
Wrapping it all up, we have a batter who clearly had a career year in 2009, isn't terribly efficient in his copious stealing attempts (due to the pickoffs), might get traded away, and yet is still a contributor of the coveted stolen bases needed for fantasy success. There are several risks with Rajai—and some outcomes which could cause his value to crater—but the chances of him finishing at or around 450 AB, a .275 AVG and 45 SB are pretty good. It seems very likely that he'll be valued much less than that on auction/draft day in most leagues. Not a great pick for a team that is already good and is conservatively trying to protect an advantage, but the “performance over price” possibility is large.
| Toronto | 2B
2009 Final Stats
When he was first starting out with Toronto, there were many who likened Hill's approach at the plate to former Blue Jay (and WAY former second baseman) Paul Molitor
. Well, in 2007, he started showing some signs of Molitorism, hitting .291/.333/.459. “Molly” would obviously have been chagrined at the lack of patience, but for a guy whose career slugging percentage was .409 entering 2009, the power was a somewhat unanticipated turn in the right direction offensively. But 2008 was a lost season for Hill, with the struggles and the concussion, and then finally being shut down. But worries about his career going the way of Corey Koskie or Ryan Church were assuaged early, as Hill started 2009 with hits in nine straight games, including three multi-hit games and two homers. And he was extremely consistent all season long, driving in 108 runs (tied for fifth in AL) with 36 HR (T-3rd). This sort of production from a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman made him one of the league's best players in 2009.
Since the three “early” projection systems are almost entirely based on mathematical results derived from past statistical patterns, it's unsurprising that all think Hill's power rampage in 2009 was mostly a fluke. CHONE, BJHB, and Heater/GP project his homers at—respectively—21, 20, 22. And all three predict a .282-.283 batting average. Well, we're here to tell you those are not to be believed!
Certainly, the concussive symptoms could return, but this is a guy who played 155, 160, and 158 games in the three years surrounding his concussion-impacted 2008. So, CHONE and BJHB predicting lots of missed time seems off base. The GP projection is based on the Toronto expert for the book, and is a more-reasonable 643 AB. Hill's the type of player who doesn't come out of the lineup easily, and with his combination of offense and defense, no manager is going to be in a hurry to give him an off day, though giving him “rest” when the team faces an extremely hard righty like Jered Weaver
will probably happen a handful of times. If the power stays high, it will be hard for the Jays to continue to bat him second 100 percent of the time, but his opportunities for runs and RBIs should only be dampened by Scutaro's departure. Whether he'll capitalize as well on them is another question...
Hill's HR/FB% was 3.6% in 2006, 8.6% in 2007, and 14.9% in 2009 (again, we're not treating 2008 with much gravity). In the same span, he's slightly increased his fly ball% (to 41% in 2009, compared to 39% for his career). The net result is that 15% of 41% of his 584 balls in play went for home runs, or about 6%. With his relatively high contact percentage (for a power hitter), he struck out only 14.4% of the time, which is why he was able to put almost 600 balls into play. For comparison, these numbers are quite similar to Aramis Ramirez's career rates (15.2% strikeouts, 44.5% FB%, and 13.7% HR/FB). While Hill has improved his strength, we think an Aramis Ramirez comparison is still out of reach, but many aspects of that type of power/contact hitter are likely to be repeating qualities. Expect around the same total of 584 balls in play. To fall back to 20 HR, Hill would have to reduce his HR/BIP% to just 3.5%. That's essentially what his HR/BIP% was in 2007 (3.36%). We're going to temper our enthusiasm, and use a 3:2 weighted average of 2009 and 2007 percentages of HR/FIP (which comes out at almost exactly 5%), and predict 29 HR for Hill in 2010.
As we know, batting average is a tough stat to predict. For beginners, there's so much variance that a spot-on prediction can easily look terrible due to random sampling. But—as I noted in an article on Freddy Sanchez
at the time of the trade—the better the contact skills, the less variance (duh!). Anyway, Hill has a .310 career BABIP. While he's hitting more fly balls than ever before and this number may drop a little, his .290 in 2009 seems overly low. We see a good chance that his batting average tops .290 with an increase in his BABIP more than making up for the decline in homers we've anticipated.
Putting together the pieces, it seems like Hill is a great buy-low candidate, in leagues where people put too much stock in the standard projection systems. He might not come up with a .290-29-90 season, but it seems very likely he'll come close to it.
| Detroit | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 6.8 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 3.62 ERA
2009 was a coming-out party of sorts for the former Dodgers phenom who has bounced around. His value was so low preseason that one well-known blogger called the trade of Matt Joyce for him “ridiculous” for the Tigers. Clearly, the trade didn't hurt the Tigers, but there are reasons for the Tigers (and E-Jax owners) to be worried that perhaps he won't repeat.
Starting with the list of accomplishments—he was just 25 years old, and had his innings bumped up to 214 in 2009, a total arrived at gradually, which should alleviate the risk of overuse. He went 13-9, 3.62, and helped the Tigers almost make the playoffs. He struck out 161 to just 70 walks. His WHIP was 1.262, just missing the top 10 in the AL.
But it really is a “what have you done for me lately?” sport, and Jackson was far better than this at the break, with a 7-4 record, 2.52 ERA, 97 K in 121.2 IP, and just 10 HR allowed with a 2.77 K:BB ratio. The second half, though, was more of “bad Edwin” (that would be the pitcher who had a career ERA of 5.15 entering 2009, with a 1.632 WHIP and 55 HR allowed in 456 IP). After the break, Jackson was over .500 (6-5), but his ERA was 5.05, and his WHIP soared to 1.527 (it had been barely over 1.0 in the first half). Possibly worst of all was the fact that he managed to allow 17 HR in just 92.1 IP.
In the final stats for the 2009 season (or two half-seasons in Jackson's case), he had a 4.34 FIP, which was an improvement over past seasons. He had a 4.58 xFIP, which—again—was an improvement. One thing that has been shown with pitchers is that second-half performance is roughly as predictive of next-year performance as using the entire season is. But what to do when the two are completely different? The conservative approach would be to assume that either a) the lucky BABIP and HR/FB% in the first half was lending him confidence, and he was pitching far over his head, or b) that he was hiding an injury in the second half. In either the (a) or the (b) case, it's prudent to stay away from him in fantasy.
The less conservative approach would be that all pitchers are unpredictable, and Edwin Jackson was downright nasty in the first half, even if his “luck” stats made him look better than he was. He has one of the fastest fastballs in the game (94.5 MPH on average), and his O-Swing% (from fangraphs.com) is 5% higher than MLB average, showing that hitters are often fooled into swinging at pitches not in the zone.
We won't suggest that predicting pitchers is easy. Bill James has declared it to be impossible in the past, and there are certainly enough examples every single season to make this declaration seem valid. But E-Jax is even less predictable than most. It's not like Daniel Cabrera was, with the “stuff” but never getting “results,” since Jackson got the results. But the concept is similar, in that he could help a team in every single SP category if he pitches like he did in the first half of 2009. Yet, he could easily be an almost complete waste of auction money if the second half (and his entire career before) is really him. He probably has the biggest difference between his likely upside (i.e. an upside which is likely to occur, not something that's more akin to dreaming, as is true of listed “upsides” for many other pitchers) and his likely downside of anyone entering the 2010 season.
Posted by Rob McQuown
| Chicago | CIF/OF
2009 Final Stats
For all the things that went wrong with the 2009 Cubs, count Jake Fox among the few things that went really right. A power prospect with six years of minor-league experience, Fox started 2009 by leading Triple-A in every offensive category. Many critics pointed to his long road through the minors, his defensive inconsistency, and his whiff-tastic tendencies (479 Ks in 2,355 minor-league ABs) as reasons he'd never make it in the majors.
Despite this, his absurd .423/.503/.886 Triple-A line through the end of May, combined with a slow start by the Cubs, made Fox's call-up a no-brainer, though there was no real room for him on the field. Drafted as a catcher, Fox has since been moved to 1B, where his glove is barely competent, and where he's blocked by Derrek Lee, who had a resurgent 2009 season. Fox has played a bit of 3B and LF to give him a better avenue to the bigs, but he hasn't impressed at those positions, either.
When he did play in May and June, Fox was dynamite, hitting .320/.350/.528 in 53 ABs and just 11 starts. But even when Aramis Ramirez went down, Fox still couldn't get on the field regularly; he played a mix of 3B, DH and the corner outfield spots during those first two months. Fox continued to spot-start at 3B and the OF through July and kept hitting to the tune of .300/.339/.660, and it seemed that he'd really arrived. By the end of July, his overall slash line was .311/.345/.592, leading to ramped-up playing time in August.
At this point, however, Fox started to slide back down to more expected levels. Over the final two months of the season, he hit just .212/.280/.354 and, more significantly, his plate patience evaporated. In his 103 ABs through July 31, Fox displayed unusual patience, striking out just 14 times against six walks. But in 113 August through October ABs, he struck out 33 times, with eight walks. The seven HRs and eight 2Bs he'd clubbed before that point diminished to four HRs and four 2Bs.
This, along with an uncertain PT situation, makes his future very shaky. Neither Lee nor Ramirez is going anywhere, nor is LF Alfonso Soriano. Though Bradley has been the subject of trade rumors, the Cubs are saying they want a CF, meaning current CF Kosuke Fukudome would slide into Bradley's spot in RF.
The Cubs' new ownership has given no indication that they'll make any big lineup changes (which might make room for Fox), but they say they'll remain very active in the trade market. And that's where Fox is likely to have the most value.
His atrocious glove and roadblocked path to a starting job make him an excellent DH candidate, though he could also go to a team like the Giants, who are looking for a power-hitting first baseman. The Cubs would be foolish to hang onto Fox if they can get something in return for him; the team that might deal for him, however, would be equally foolish to assume that he's going to continue to produce at this rate.
Fox's history of hacking has followed him to the majors. His career BB/K ratio of .38 slipped to .29 in MLB, showing how little that part of his game has changed. The other knock on him has been that he can crush a fastball, but can't hit offspeed stuff. Fangraph's Pitch Type Values shows that's true—against fastballs and cutters, he scored 1.9 and 3.7 runs above average, respectively. But against sliders, curves and changes, he hit -3.8, 0.0, and -2.6, respectively.
Most likely, pitchers figured that out in the second half and started feeding him offspeed stuff. He could still learn, of course, and the right hitting coach combined with playing time could reverse those trends. But it doesn't bode well for a 27-year-old entering only his second full major-league season, and strike zone knowledge isn't a skill he can develop at that age.
Fantasy owners will want to see where he ends up in 2010; with the Cubs, he's practically worthless, barring an injury or blockbuster trade, but he could be a good power gamble as a DH or 1B with the right team. He's not as good as he seemed in the first half of 2009, but he might not be as bad as his second half indicates, either. Just don't pay too much to find out.
| Washington | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 9.1 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, 4.63 ERA
Zimmermann rocketed through the minors as their top pitching prospect, before a visit to The Dreaded Dr. Andrews ended his season this past August. Tommy John surgery will keep him from returning to full strength until 2011, and he might not even toe the slab for all of 2010.
That's a shame, since The Other Zimmermann (note that extra "n" to distinguish him from All-Star teammate Ryan) had impressed coaches and scouts at every level. Already gifted with a sinking two-seamer and four-seam fastball in the mid-90s, Zimmermann has worked on perfecting his curve and slider, while trying to develop a changeup. Right now, just those first four pitches are above-average, but imagine if he can develop a fifth plus pitch for his repertoire.
He was drafted as the third player in the second round of the 2007 draft, and quickly served notice to the other teams who passed him by. In short-season A ball, he racked up 12.1 K/9 and 3.9 K/BB rates, en route to a 2.38 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He continued to average better than a strikeout per inning as he rose to Triple-A over the next two seasons, throwing just 5.1 IP in the minors in 2009 before earning his call-up.
His overall minor-league numbers were equally eye-popping, with that gaudy 9.9 K/9 leading the way, followed by a 3.2 K/BB, 0.7 HR/9, 2.81 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. With barely 195 pro innings under his belt, he got the early call from Washington, joining the pitching-hungry big-league club in time for his April 20 debut against the Atlanta Braves.
He won that start, as well as his next one against the Mets, for a 2.39 ERA, 6.4 K/9 and 2.7 K/BB. Zimmermann wouldn't win another start until June, after a rocky May when he only gave up fewer than fewer earned runs once in six starts, for a 7.27 ERA, 10.1 K/9, and 3.54 K/BB.
His control wasn't a problem, but his 1.6 HR/9 clearly was, along with the defense behind him. Overall, his FIP ERA for 2009 was .99 lower than his actual ERA, not surprising from a team that scored dead last in the NL in R/G, fielding percentage, errors (their 143 muffs led 15th-ranked Arizona by 19, or about 13%), and 15th in defensive efficiency.
Zimmermann righted the ship in June, giving up two or fewer runs in all four starts, for a 1.90 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 3.7 K/BB. For all that Washington fans had to moan about, this was something that gave them hope for the future. That is, before July.
In that month, he started four times and gave up two or more runs in each outing. His strikeouts were still strong—9.6 K/9 brought him back over a strikeout per inning—but his walks were up, to 3.75 BB/9 to bring that K/BB down to 2.6. Worse, his elbow was bothering him, so the Nats pulled him from the rotation. A short rest and rehab didn't help, and when they sent the MRI results to Dr. James Andrews, Nats fans braced for the worst.
They got it. Zimmermann is out for the usual TJS timeframe of 12-18 months, so you can safely ignore him entirely in next year's draft and monitor him for 2011. Keeper owners will have a tough call to make, as he looked excellent, and is still just 23 years old. Whether you want to hang onto him all next year will depend on your league's depth, whether you have an open DL slot, and whether you're building for the future or the present.
TJS is more of a rite of passage these days than a cause for long-term concern, but it's got to diminish his rising star significantly, at least until 2011 or 2012. The good news is that he might return in two seasons to an improved team, sort of like waking up from cryogenic sleep to find that all the world's problems have been solved and everyone finally has those jet packs they've been promising us since the 1950s.
Hey, it could happen, and it's only slightly less likely than Zimmermann returning to a competitive Washington team. You never know.
| San Diego | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 6.9 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 4.62 ERA
Like Zimmermann, Latos was his team's top pitching prospect before shooting through the minors to earn a hasty promotion by a crummy team wanting a sneak peek at its future. Unlike Zimmermann, Latos is two years younger and finished the season hale and healthy. But there are other differences, too.
The Padres didn't take Latos until the 11th round, not because of his skills, but because of his reported attitude problems—according to BA, he's got a poor work ethic and "rubs teammates the wrong way with his flippant attitude." But those skills are something else. He's got a 95-plus mph heater, tight curve and hard slider, and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning throughout the minors, along with increasingly sharp control.
As a 19-year-old in short-season A-ball, Latos struck out 74 and walked 22 in 56.1 IP, giving up just pne HR. Those 22 free passes would represent the most he'd give up in the minors, and he would continue to strike batters out while keeping the baseball in the yard. At three levels in 2008, his K rate would dip slightly from 11.8 to 11.1 K/9, while his K/BB grew from 3.4 to 5.3; only his HR/9 rose to 0.6 from 0.2. His 2.57 ERA and 1.11 WHIP confirmed his dominance.
Amazingly, almost all would continue to improve in 2009. Though his strikeouts fell to 9.1, his K/BB continued to rise to 6.1, his HR/9 fell to 0.1 (1 HR in 72.1 IP), and his 1.37 ERA and 0.75 WHIP were at elite levels. The Padres could wait no longer and promoted him straight from Double-A for his July 19 start against Colorado.
He lost that first start, despite giving up only two ER in 4.1 IP, but such is the fate pitching with the Padres' offense behind you. But he won his next two starts, ending the month with 7.0 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, and a 2.70 ERA. His problem, though, was the longball, as he gave up four for the month. This trend continued through August, as he would ultimately give up at least one HR in each of his first six starts.
He also began to struggle finding the strike zone; after just four free passes in his first three starts, he walked 12 in his next four. The bottom fell out in a loss at Chicago, when it took him 92 pitches to get through just 3.2 IP, coughing up five ER on seven hits and four BBs against just five Ks.
It speaks very well of Latos' makeup and perhaps his improved maturity that he rebounded from this to pitch seven scoreless frames against the Braves, needing only 89 pitches to shut down 23 hitters (two more than his brief performance against the Cubs), striking out four, while walking none and surrendering just two hits.
The Padres shut Latos down two starts later to preserve his arm, since he'd thrown 120 IP at both levels and—lest we forget—this kid's only 21. In those two final starts, he again regressed, giving up six ER in 6.1 total IP against the Marlins and Dodgers, striking out six, walking seven and giving up seven hits. Possibly, he was getting tired, physically or mentally, but San Diego made the right call regardless.
Though his numbers don't look great for the year, Latos showed the stuff to cement his status as one of the top young pitchers in baseball. He's slotted for the Padres' rotation next year, and PETCO Park, plus the team's solid defense, should help smooth out the expected rough spots in his performance.
What those can't help, of course, is the battle that goes on between Latos' ears. It's one of the cruel ironies of baseball that a hard-working team player like Zimmermann goes down for TJS, while a reputed head case like Latos soldiers on. I couldn't find any reference to clubhouse problems with the Padres, so it might be that Latos has reformed—or it might be that he takes a while to get under his teammates' skin.
Just like the Padres, fantasy owners should be cautious about drafting Latos too highly, at least until he's got more MLB innings under his belt. But his talent is undeniable, and keeper owners should hang on to him, while everyone else should consider him a good mid- to late-round pick or moderate gamble with a decent bid.
Why am I being so cautious? Young pitchers can implode for a variety of reasons, and a pitcher with a reputation for irritating teammates and shirking a disciplined approach to the game has more red flags than most. Bid appropriately.
Keep offering your suggestions for players you'd like to see covered below. Next week is Brewerfest, with Corey Hart, Matt Gamel and Ben Sheets.
Posted by Michael Street
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Chicago White Sox
1. Tyler Flowers
: If he can stay at catcher, an All-Star-level bat could be in the works. He combines good patience with the ability to hit for average and power. If he is moved to first base, which seems more and more likely, his bat may get lost in the crowd. He will be above average at best as a first baseman.
2. Dan Hudson
: Hudson had a breakout campaign in 2009, but he is not a blue-chip, powerhouse pitcher. Nevertheless, he has the potential to be a No. 2 starter with his consistent low-90s fastball to go along with a strong repertoire of secondary offerings, highlighted by his potentially plus slider.
3. Brent Morel
: If his bat development continues to go well, Chicago may have a very solid major league third baseman on its hands in Morel. I cannot envision his stolen base and home run numbers translating to higher levels, but he does have good speed and some power to supplement it. The key will be whether or not the rest of his offensive game takes the next step.
4. John Ely
: Ely isn't an ace in training, but he isn't completely a smoke-and-mirrors guy either. He has a consistent low-90s fastball with good movement, supplemented by a plus change-up. He won't miss a lot of bats, but he will keep hitters off-balance, even in the majors.
5. Jared Mitchell
: In my mind, Mitchell was not a first-round talent in the 2009 draft, but Chicago saw potential in him and selected him at No. 23 overall. Until he proves me wrong, I will be skeptical of his bat. He is way too raw for a college hitter, and his power and stolen base potential are not what they are cracked up to be. He is a first-round pick, though, so he has to be on the radar screen.
6. Jordan Danks
: Defensively, Danks is quickly becoming a great center fielder. His bat is not where it needs to be, however. He has a little bit of power, some decent speed and a solid approach at the plate, but his swing still has holes that need to be ironed out, causing his batting average to suffer.
7. Dayan Viciedo
: The hype surrounding Viciedo was ultimately unwarranted. He still could become a solid major leaguer, but he is not a star in waiting. His approach at the plate is too undisciplined, and his power/speed combination falls short of the initial scouting reports.
8. David Holmberg
: Holmberg brings a great mix of pitches to the mound, including a curveball and change-up that have the makings of plus pitches. His fastball falls flat right now, but further velocity is expected as his frame fills out. He's the most intriguing pitching project in Chicago's system.
9. Josh Phegley
: His bat speed is lacking and littered with holes, but Phegley has a nice line-drive swing. His defense isn't anything special, but he should stick behind the plate. If everything works out right, Phegley could be an average all-around major league catcher.
10. John Shelby
: Shelby has a nice power/speed combination and some solid contact skills to back it up, but his stats don't back up his skill set. He's at the age where he needs to start picking it up, as his prime is quickly approaching. Overall, it's hard to know what to make of Shelby.
1. Jacob Turner: Sporting the most electric fastball of any high school pitcher in the 2009 draft class, Turner is a pure but exciting project. His curveball has the best chance of developing into his out pitch, but it has a long way to go. He is one of the more raw but talented players in minor league baseball.
2. Scott Sizemore
: Perhaps the best second base prospect in baseball, Sizemore has the kind of power/speed combination that could make him an All-Star. The only downside to his stock is that he will be 25 years old by the start of the 2010 season.
3. Casey Crosby
: Crosby came back beautifully from Tommy John surgery to post stellar Single-A stats. I'm holding back a bit on his stock until I see his mechanics stabilize and his powerful left arm perform against better competition, but he might be one of the game's best pitching prospects by this time next year.
4. Alex Avila
: Avila rose from relative obscurity to post a solid Eastern League season. He was then promoted to the majors for a brief but head-turning stint that firmly placed him on the prospect map. I don't think he has All-Star ability, but we may be looking at Detroit's long-term answer at catcher.
5. Ryan Strieby
: Strieby continues to clobber the ball at every minor league stop he makes. Detroit has played it safe and moved him up one steady level at a time, but the fact is that it's difficult to project his bat moving into the big leagues. I don't think he will hit for much of a batting average, but he could settle in as a legit 30-homer threat. Or he could become another in a long line of Quadruple-A first basemen. All you can do is invest cautiously and cross your fingers.
6. Andrew Oliver
: Despite coming out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League, Oliver will get every opportunity to become a starter. On the downside, he is very raw for a player his age, and every bit of his game needs refinement. On the upside, he has a lively fastball and the makings of a plus slider.
7. Cody Satterwhite
: While his command still needs refinement and his slider and change-up are still developing, Satterwhite has the superior fastball required to be a future closer.
8. Wilkin Ramirez
: The tools are still there, but time is beginning to run out. Ramirez has the potential for plus power, and he has some deceptive, workable speed, but he has gaping holes in his swing. And his overly aggressive plate approach isn't doing him any favors. His defense is a liability as well. The odds are stacked against him at this point, but I'm not giving up yet.
9. Cale Iorg: Iorg's defense has Detroit excited, but his bat has been downright dreadful since he was drafted in 2007. It makes me wonder what I still see in this kid. Well, if he can eventually improve his patience and consistency at the plate, his bat has some pop in it—a rare commodity from a shortstop.
10. Casper Wells
: Wells doesn't have much power projection left in his bat, he strikes out too much for his average pop, and his patience at the plate is still lacking. Yet, his prowess on defense will make sure that he gets a shot in the majors soon—as a fourth outfielder at least.
Posted by Matt Hagen
|Ace and Wild Card?(Icon/SMI)|
I've moved across the Atlantic, to a country where "hardball" connotes a five-day-long game with occasional breaks for tea. But that won't stop my rants from coming. Today's will be about fantasy values and pitching depth. Does it matter if a pitcher is an ace on his own team?
On a recent martially inclined fantasy baseball podcast, one of the round-table members argued that one reason why Clayton Kershaw
would likely be more valuable than Jonathan Sanchez
is that Kershaw is probably going to be the "ace" on his team, while Sanchez is at best behind Lincecum and Cain on the Giants. (By the way, their conversation was spurred by Troy Patterson's provoking article
.) I'm not going to relitigate the Sanchez-versus-Kershaw debate, but rather just focus on whether a pitcher being an ace or not affects his value. This canard about the value of aces is actually repeated too often to ignore.
Of course aces are better pitchers than their mid-rotation counterparts. Johan Santana
is better than Mike Pelfrey
. That's why Santana is the ace of the Mets. Aces are often associated with some harder-to-quantify characteristics like "a big-game pitcher" and the ability to bring losing streaks to a halt. You can bring those attributes to the conversation if you want to argue whether Josh Beckett
or Jon Lester
is the ace of the Red Sox, if you like. Ace status is updated infrequently: In March, a pitcher is chosen as an ace based on his expected performance for the season, and he usually remains the ace, barring injury or a trade, unless performance issues become extreme (e.g. Chad Billingsley
and Kershaw this year).
In any case, the important thing is to not confuse the causational flow: A pitcher's ability affects his qualifications to be a team's ace, not the other way around. In fantasy, you don't care whether the games are big or small or whether the pitcher's team previously lost its last five games (a losing streak) or just lost five out of its last six (not necessarily a losing streak).
If pressed, I'm sure some of those who argue the "ace theory" will come up with some scanty points to support their case. I'm not going to use any data to dispel these points, in part because data on a pitcher's spot in his rotation is hard to find. A bunch of points that really go either way are:
- Ace pitchers may get a start or two more on average over the season if the manager starts them on Opening Day and after the All-Star break and otherwise reshuffles his rotation favorably. On the other hand, aces may be held out at the end of the season to make sure they're ready to go for Game One of the playoffs.
- Aces, if anything, are more likely to play against tougher opponents. A manager might try to get his best pitcher to pitch against the team's rival. And, at least on Opening Day, the ace is more likely to have an opposing ace as a starting pitcher.
- A young pitcher, like Kershaw, may benefit by being the second-best pitcher, if the ace tutors him a bit. However, Kershaw could just as easily get that help if Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez become the fifth starter on the team.
In any case, these are likely extremely marginal issues. Was Dan Haren
any more or less valuable to your fantasy team when Brandon Webb
was injured? Was Cole Hamels
any better or worse because the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee
? Should you care if Roy Halladay
ends up on your keeper's team (assuming he stays in the rotation)? I don't think so.
Posted by Jonathan Halket
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
is quite the prospect. After losing his rookie status following the 2009 season, "prospect" may be a bit of a misnomer. Still over a month short of his 21st birthday, Porcello is just as much projectability as he is a polished product.
Drafted 27th overall out of Seton Hall Prep in the 2007 draft, Porcello was widely considered the top high school pitching prospect in the draft. Baseball America was particularly high on his outlook, going so far to state that he was the best high school pitching prospect since Josh Beckett
After signing a $7.285 million contract that included a $3.58 million bonus, Porcello debuted at High-A Lakeland to begin 2008. His initial taste of professional ball was sweet, as he posted a 2.66 ERA and 3.83 FIP in 125 innings. Facing 527 batters, Porcello walked just 33 for a 0.0626 BB percentage, allowing only seven home runs. The control and groundball tendencies were a welcome sight from the right-hander. However, the lack of strikeouts was a bit puzzling, as Porcello's great raw stuff was expected to blow away the competition, especially in the low minors. With just 72 strikeouts on the season (.1366 K percentage), many felt that Porcello's curve would have benefited from remaining in the minors for at least another season. Detroit saw it differently, however, skipping the young pitcher all the way to the majors for his MLB debut in 2009.
Though he wasn't great his rookie year, Porcello's 2009 was about as good as anyone could reasonably have expected from a 20-year-old with one professional season under his belt. Though a few of his secondary indicators were less-than-ideal, especially his strikeout rate, Porcello's rookie year was a success. His 4.77 FIP was good for such a young pitcher and his 3.96 ERA should help his confidence. A .281 BABIP went a long way toward sub-4 ERA, but Porcello's high home run rate at 14.1 percent did much to erase the benefits of his lucky BABIP.
Still, the real story is not Porcello's FIP, ERA nor his BABIP, but rather, his strikeout and walk rates. While his 2.74 BB/9 is very good, Porcello disappointed in his strikeout rate for a second straight year, posting just a 4.69 K/9. With an 84.9 percent contact rate, Porcello's stuff was very hittable, giving major league hitters few problems making contact with his offerings. This is not all bad, however, as the added balls in play helped to keep his walk rate low. Still, strikeouts are a hitter's best friend, and any pitcher aside from Joel Pineiro
and vintage Roy Halladay
will struggle without them. His other plate discipline indicators were not all that encouraging, either. His 49.0 percent Zone% is below average, as is his 25.1 percent O-Swing%, meaning that he probably should have had a few more walks than he ultimately accumulated.
There was a good deal to like, however. For one, Porcello had a great groundball rate his first year, at 54.2 percent. His high GB% was very much the result of an approach centered around pitching low in the zone and using his two-seamer. That groundball rate will come in handy, as the fewer home runs Porcello gives up, the better his ERA will be.
When valuing Porcello, it is key to remember that he is still young and an incredible prospect with great projectability. However, he doesn't seem to offer a whole lot of value for 2010, given the assumption that he does not see a large upswing in his K rate. Until he offers a good deal of strikeouts—probably somewhere in the 7.0 to 7.5 K/9 range—he won't have much value to your team. Porcello's ERA may not crack the 4.00 barrier next year unless he ups that K rate, and Detroit seems bent on shedding salary next season, which may make wins hard to come by.
So, the strikeouts are in jeopardy next season, as are the wins. And, without Halladay-esque control, he won't post great ERAs or WHIPs, either. This gives Porcello a poor outlook for next season as a fantasy pitcher. If he doesn't make the requisite improvement in his K rate, he won't be good enough to make your rotation, except in very deep leagues. Should he maintain a strikeout rate below 6.00 K/9, he seems likely to post about a 4.3-4.5 ERA with a WHIP around 1.4. In other words, this is not a valuable player, yet.
However, it is important to remember that strikeouts can occasionally spike very quickly for young pitchers, seemingly without warning. Ben Sheets
is a great example of a pitcher who couldn't translate stuff into strikeouts for his first few years in the bigs. Sheets posted just a 6.44 K/9 in his first 588 innings, before erupting in his age-26 season with a 10.03 K/9 rate. His first season was not all that unlike Porcello's, as Sheets only put up a 5.59 K/9 his rookie year. Yes, they're different pitchers, but stuff usually shines through in the end, and Porcello's got plenty of that. It would be nice to see a little more giddy-up on that fastball, as it was good, though not quite as good as advertised. Sitting at 91 mph last season, many expected it to be around 93 mph last season.
No, Porcello didn't shine his first season, but he had plenty to be excited about. Next year, he is worth a flier, but not much more. Early in the season, be sure to watch his fastball velocity and strikeout rates. If these two rise, a good season could be in store. If they don't change, he will probably post a season much like 2009. Because of his underwhelming stats, he should come on the cheap next year, so there's no need to rush to the counter for his services. Just stay vigilant and act quickly if he shows signs of breaking out, as he'll be much harder to pry away once a breakout becomes acknowledged.
VOTE ON NEXT WEEK'S PLAYER PROFILE
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Posted by Mike Silver
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
|Todd Helton, smiling, as he prepares to unleash on the oncoming pitch. (Icon/SMI)|
What Todd Helton
means to the Rockies is the definition of a franchise player. He was drafted by the Rockies back in 1995, came up through their farm system, and ever since 1998 has played consistently excellent baseball for the major league club. With 2008 as an exception, Helton has put up a wOBA of at least .375 in his 11 other seasons with the Rockies.
| Year | AB | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG |
| 2006 | 546 | 94 | 15 | 81 | 3 | 0.302 |
| 2007 | 557 | 86 | 17 | 91 | 0 | 0.320 |
| 2008 | 299 | 39 | 7 | 29 | 0 | 0.264 |
| 2009 | 544 | 79 | 15 | 86 | 0 | 0.325 |
In recent years Helton has scaled back from the 30-plus home run seasons he routinely achieved in the earlier half of the decade and has transitioned nicely into a high average hitter with mild power. None of these seasons are worth bragging about to your girlfriend, though none of them (with 2008 as the exception again) is an embarrassment either.
Following 10 straight seasons of good health, Helton burned fantasy owners in 2008 when he missed close to 80 games because of a lower back injury that required surgery. Helton was picked on average that year at No. 120 in drafts, not a particularly large investment. However, because of his previous consistency, his general ineffectiveness when playing and eventual lost season were particularly upsetting for 2008 owners.
Most fantasy players have a memory that spans the offseason and come 2009, they remembered the disappointment Helton brought the year before. He was picked almost 100 picks later on average in drafts at pick 215 and to the people who selected him then, Helton did not disappoint in 2009. With his good health intact, Helton was able to put up season numbers of a .325 average and 15 home runs with decent run and RBI totals.
The people who owned him in 2008 must be feeling the sentiment I described at the beginning of my last article
With the 2010 season a ways away, yet still approaching, the questions that remain are what will Helton's 2010 season numbers look like and where will he be taken in drafts?
After the 2008 season, many people felt Helton had begun what would become his eventual decline. Knowing that makes his 2009 season all the more impressive—a renaissance of sorts. Instead of foreboding the beginning of his end, 2008 looks like more a blip on the radar than anything else.
Supporting that claim are his home run stats, shown below:
| YEAR | AGE | AB | HR | HR/FB | OF/FB% |
| 2007 | 33 | 557 | 17 | 10 | 34 |
| 2008 | 34 | 299 | 7 | 8 | 36 |
| 2009 | 35 | 544 | 15 | 9 | 36 |
Although his home run total dropped in 2008, the rate at which he hit home runs remained virtually the same, at about nine percent. Since Helton is not hitting home runs at tremendous rate in the first place, there is a good chance he continues to post home run totals in the mid-to-low double-digits, even as he continues to age in his 36-year-old season.
Helton continues to have one of the best sets of eyes in baseball, routinely accomplishing one of my favorite feats for batters—walking more times in a season than striking out. (As an aside, by my count 15 batters accomplished this feat in 2009.) Impressively, Helton has done this each of the last seven years, exemplifying his great discipline at the plate:
To learn these stats or for a refresher on them click here.
| Year | BB% | K% | Judgment | A/P | Bat Control | Bad Ball |
| 2007 | 17 | 13 | 134 | 0.04 | 95 | 84 |
| 2008 | 17 | 17 | 134 | 0.05 | 90 | 80 |
| 2009 | 14 | 13 | 129 | 0.07 | 93 | 80 |
Helton continues to have a Judgment rating through the roof, though 2009 did show the beginnings of perhaps some deterioration. Even if that deterioration continues into next year, Helton will still possess the ability to post an average above .310 and certainly one above .300.
Even as he has aged, Helton has retained the ability to hit for a high average with low double-digits power. Therefore, another season of a .310-.320 batting average with 12-15 home runs seems the most likely path for Helton in 2010. The greatest risk to his season is injury, magnified by his 2008 back injury that was termed "degenerative." I am unsure how much of a threat that back injury continues to be, so if there are any injury experts around, feel free to share your thoughts.
What I do know is that while a .315-14-90-90 first basemen is not spectacular, it certainly is solid and if Helton falls past the James Loney
s and Billy Butler
s of the world, I might find myself taking a chance on him.
Posted by Paul Singman
Monday, November 16, 2009
I want to say from the start that pure player evaluation is not my greatest asset when it comes to fantasy baseball. I don’t consider myself a master prognosticator and I am only considered to be a numbers junkie by those who don’t know any true numbers junkies. One thing I do think I am good at is balancing risk and reward when constructing a team. Often, what this comes down to is the simple principle of buying low on players with high ROI potential.
There are certainly plenty of young upstarts who I like, but the Andrew McCutchen
s of the world will also command pretty hefty price tags. While I’ll take a chance on players like that if I’m interested enough and I think the price is right, what I really like doing is drafting players who slip in the draft because they are coming off of busted seasons or injuries.
Here, I’d like to briefly lay out some players who are likely to slip further than they probably should in next year’s drafts. I am not saying that every one of these players will bounce back in 2010 in a big way, but rather that they will likely have higher upside and/or a better history of producing value than many of those drafted similarly.
It’s important to note that if you are investing in high potential players late in the draft, you do not need to hit on every pick. Succeeding on just a few can often make up for the lost value of the busts, especially in a shallower league where there are options to fill out rosters on the waiver wire. So, let’s get going now.
: Hamels was victimized by BABIP last year. His HR/9 and K/9 were exactly the same as in 2008, while his BB/9 experienced a negligible .1 up tick. Still, his H/9 rose by a full two to 9.6 — a rate that is clearly an outlier when looking at Hamel’s career. Hamels will still not come cheap, but I can easily see his ADP fall a good 40 spots. Hamels clearly has the potential to be in the top tier of pitchers. Consider taking another premium bat when others are grabbing their ace and targeting Hamels a few rounds later. Then double up and get one of the better Tier Two starters a few picks afterwards to help balance the risk.
: Hardy struggled with injuries and poor play last season. Prior to that, however, Hardy averaged 85 runs scored, 25 homers and 77 RBIs, while hitting .280 during his age 25 and 26 seasons. That’s not bad production for a shortstop. Hardy was just acquired by Minnesota where he’ll have a chance to erase last season’s disappointments. I have a feeling Hardy will slip really far in drafts this year. If he does, he’ll be a quality option at a steep discount at an increasingly thin position.
: Iannetta is something of a tough case to figure out. Many thought he was poised to break out last year, but he did not. Still, I’m not sure his season was as bad as it looked. He did still manage to hit 16 homers and drive in 52 runs in fewer than 300 at bats. We saw a drastic increase in his FB%, and substantial decreases in both his GB% and LD%, which partially explains his .250-ish BABIP, but also how he was able to hit 16 homers out of 66 hits. (Half of his hits last year were for extra bases.) Between a small sample size and trajectory rates that are all over the place for his balls in play, it seems difficult to predict where Iannetta will level out. But, he still has all the potential he had last year, and the price is likely to have dropped.
: I’m not sure if any player had a more of a roller coaster ride last year than Kendrick. In mid-June, Kendrick was sporting a .230 batting average and a .280 OBP and was sent down to the minors. At the beginning of July, Kendrick was brought back up and went on a tear to finish the season, amassing 37 runs, six homers, 39 RBIs and five steals over his final 54 games. He put up OPS marks of .981, .835 and 1.093 in July, August and September, respectively. Just looking at the composite numbers of Kendrick’s season tells an incomplete story. Last year, Kendrick showed us his best and his worst. If you felt fine taking him as a top 10 second baseman last year, I don’t see why you shouldn’t feel the same way this year. The price will likely have dropped though.
: Dice-K had performed terribly over the early part of the season, before losing time to injury. He returned toward the end of the season to make four consecutive quality starts and earn wins in three of them, striking out 20 in 24 innings along the way. Matsuzaka did struggle with walks, but that has been part of his make-up all along. It’s likely that Dice-K will be the last pitcher with realistic 200K potential available in your draft.
: In a terrible season Rios still managed to drive in 70 runs and combine for more than 40 homers (17) and steals (24). Surely, his season was a major disappointment, and he was even jettisoned to the waiver wire in shallower leagues, but Rios has a history of producing valuable fantasy seasons and will only be 28 next year. He hits in a homer-friendly ballpark and in a potent line-up. The question will be where in that line-up he hits. Rios was a borderline top 50 draft pick the past two seasons and will be starting for the Chi Sox next year; don’t give up on him.
: Like Hamels, it seems that the difference between Shields’ numbers in 2009 was greater than the difference in his performance. Shields saw a spike in BABIP, but also saw an increase in line drives hit off him. His walk rate jumped a bit, from 1.7 to 2.1 per nine innings, but his K/9 and HR/9 remained stable. I think Shields is a solid pitcher who might be able to be had some 150 picks into a draft. I like him as a value pick next year.
: Soto came on like gangbusters to win the 2008 ROY. Last year was a mix of injuries and poor performance. It was a lost season for the promising young backstop. I thought he was too highly ranked last year, but this year he may fall entirely off of some owners' radars. I normally preach not spending highly on catchers, and I maintain that philosophy. But, sometimes a player with the potential to be elite at a position falls so far that you can’t ignore it. That may happen here.
: Weeks was on his way to the best season of his career last year, when an injury ended his season about a quarter of the way through. He was hitting more balls in the air than ever before, both liners and fly balls, and looked like he was on his way to putting up the power numbers many had speculated he was capable of. Weeks might be a forgotten man at an increasingly deep position next year; keep an eye out for him in the late rounds.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino
This doesn't follow my normal comparison as I usually have two players with similar stat lines and try to explain why one player might be better or more surprising. This time I found two players who couldn't have looked more different in 2009, but looking at the numbers they should have been more similar. These two pitchers are two of the better strikeout pitchers, but they also can't keep from giving up the free passes.
Name W L ERA WHIP K BB IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB% FB% HR/FB%
Jonathan Sanchez 8 12 4.24 1.37 177 88 163.1 9.75 4.85 2.01 40.70% 43.10% 10.30%
Clayton Kershaw 8 8 2.79 1.23 185 91 171 9.74 4.79 2.03 39.40% 41.60% 4.10%
This matchup in 2009 came down to one thing. Kershaw gained a huge advantage in his number of homers allowed. You could argue he is going to continue this since he's pitching in Dodger Stadium for half his future games, but as we know AT&T Park is not friendly to hitters either. Kershaw had the lowest HR/FB% in baseball this year and less than half the amount of any other pitcher on the Dodgers staff. On the other hand Sanchez threw a fairly high HR/FB% based on other Giants pitchers such as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Using xFIP we can get an idea of how similar they are with Kershaw at 3.94 and Sanchez at 4.22.
|MLB: OCT 15 Phillies at Dodgers - NLCS Game 1|
Oct. 15, 2009: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers lost 8-6 to the Phillies in Game One of the 2009 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. (Icon/SMI)
Obviously we are dealing with two pitchers who came into the league in very different situations. Kershaw was drafted seventh overall in 2006 out of high school while Sanchez went to college and lasted until the 27th round of the 2004 draft. Also using John Sickels ratings from Minor League Ball
we see Kershaw was rated an A-grade pitcher and Sanchez was a B-grade pitcher.
Kershaw has the pedigree of a much better prospect and spent so little time in the minors we have very little to work with in minor league numbers. He struggled with control in the minors, though, topping 3.8 walks per nine innings at A ball and Double-A. His EqERA in Double-A was 6.94 in 2007 and 5.19 in 2008, which is also a bit concerning. On the other hand, Sanchez did not top 3.8 walks per nine innings until Triple-A in a small sample size of 44.1 innings. Their strikeout rates are comparable as they averaged around 11 strikeouts per nine in the minors.
These two pitchers do come at hitters just slightly differently. Kershaw has a two-pitch approach going with fastballs and his dominating curve nearly 90 percent of the time. Sanchez goes with a fastball and a slider nearly 90 percent of the time. This seems to be a trend as you could probably add lefty J.A. Happ who also is throwing two pitches nearly 90 percent of the time (fastball and a cutter).
Many pitchers take a few years to work out control problems once they make the majors and these two have almost the same amount of experience at 66 games started for Sanchez and 51 for Kershaw. Next year will be a defining moment for these youngsters.
Looking to the Bill James projections here is what we see for 2010 so far:
Name W L ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP
Jonathan Sanchez 8 12 4.24 9.59 4.6 0.88 3.92
Clayton Kershaw 13 7 3.25 9.4 4.55 0.55 3.42
Seems like more of the same for both here. The projections expect both to have big control problems with each walking more than a batter every 2 innings. At the same time, Kershaw is expected to be much better at home run control than Sanchez. Unless they expect Kershaw to improve his groundball numbers, I don't think we should expect the HR/9 to be this widely separated between the two.
I am not confident either one can make huge strides in their control. Based on this, though, Sanchez makes a better value in 2010 as he will be largely forgotten compared to the publicity Kershaw already got before finishing 2009 with a 2.79 ERA. Based on the unpredictability of HR/FB it could easily be Kershaw with the 4+ ERA next year.
Posted by Troy Patterson
Friday, November 13, 2009
| New York | OF
2009 Final Stats
Sometimes, a change of scenery is all it takes. Francoeur, who had lived in the Atlanta area his entire life, never lived up to the promise he'd shown in bursts throughout his career, particularly when he hit .300/.336/.549 as a 21-year-old rookie in 2005.
He followed this up with two seasons of .276/.315/.446 baseball, both 100+ RBI seasons, but with poor peripherals—his 0.25 BB/K ratio in particular was problematic, despite his .80 contact rate. His power numbers sagged, thanks to an HR/FB rate that dropped from 13.2 percent to 7.8 percent over that time, and an XBH% that fell from 12.8 percent to 8.5 percent.
Then came 2008, when he did so poorly that the Braves sent him all the way back to Double-A to work on his swing, uniting him with his former hitting coach, manager Phillip Wellman, but Frenchy actually hit worse upon his return. He finished the year with a .239/.294/.359 line, including a scant 11 home runs and 71 RBIs. Those kind of numbers wouldn't be acceptable for a middle infielder, let alone a corner outfielder.
And so when he started 2009 in a similar vein, hitting .250/.282/.352, they shocked him by sending him to the Mets for the oft-concussed Ryan Church. Shaken, Francoeur found his hitting stroke in Citi Field. Despite a similar number of at-bats, he racked up a .311/.338/.498 line with the Mets, doubling his home runs from five to 10 and nearly doing so with his doubles, which rose from 12 to 20. His BB/K rate remained fairly steady (.26 with New York vs .24 with Atlanta) while his line drive rate jumped from 18 percent to 24 percent, and his HR/FB rate more than doubled from 4.7 percent to 10 percent.
Incredibly, he accomplished this despite tearing the collateral ligament in his left thumb while making a catch on Aug. 23, after which his line improved to .319/.342/.493 over the remaining 36 games. Francoeur underwent surgery on the thumb at the end of the season and is expected to be fine for spring training. Speculators wonder if that injury could diminish his power, but it didn't seem to hold him back much while it was torn; hard to see it hampering him when it's healed.
The Mets see Frenchy as a vital part of their future plans, and are reportedly looking to sign him to a three-year deal. He would be arbitration-eligible otherwise, with an expected free agency date of 2012. Are the Mets buying high on a 75-game sample? More importantly, what should fantasy owners do?
I wouldn't offer the Mets' excitement over Frenchy's resurgence as a reason to recommend Francoeur, but there have been some good signs of late. His poor plate discipline has held steady in the .25-.30 BB/K range, but 2009 saw him reverse a GB% that had been hovering in the 45 percent range the past three seasons; with the Mets, he lowered that to 34 percent, while bringing his LD% to a career-high 24 percent.
His subpar 2008 could have been due to a .274 BABIP, which continued in 2009 with a .276 BABIP in Atlanta before he jacked it up to .336 with the Mets. A more telling stat would be his lack of aggression in 2008—always a hacker on pitches inside the zone (80-plus percent for his career), he dipped to 76 percent in '08, probably because of coaching to tell him to take more pitches, even ones that look good.
Unfortunately, that's not Frenchy's M.O.—he's a free swinger, both inside and outside the zone. Always well above league average in making contact on pitches inside the zone, he's also gotten better at making contact with pitches the rest of the league would leave alone. While he only made contact with 45 percent of pitches outside the zone in 2005, he can now get wood on 66 percent of those same balls, a rate that exceeds the league average of 61%. In that same time, he's improved his overall contact skills from 72 percent to 82 percent.
He's a free swinger, but he also makes contact, which can keep him alive in counts and maybe even land a few bad balls fair. That's a good thing from a guy who doesn't know how to take a walk, and it's dropped his strikeout percentage from 23 percent to 16 percent since his rookie year. Not knowing a strike from a ball doesn't matter as much to Francoeur, since he can still get a bat on it, no matter what the ump thinks it will be.
That's not a lot to recommend a guy on, particularly one with a history of disappointing fantasy owners like me, and many of you, and coming off an injured thumb. There are better gambles to make, but don't forget that the kid's only 26 next year, so he could still regain a bit of his tarnished luster. And you may find that he's undervalued by other owners, making him a good late-round or low-bid gamble. It looks like he'll get ample chance to prove he's really arrived in New York, so you don't have to worry about a hasty hook from the manager, but he remains a guy with a marginal skill set and a moderately low ceiling for a corner outfielder.
| San Diego | 1B/OF
2009 Final Stats
Blanks was Baseball America's choice for top Padres prospect in 2009, and it's easy to see why. He's a big fella (6'6", 280 lbs) who doesn't hit like one—yet.
A career .304/.393/.505 hitter in the minors, he has steadily improved his batting eye (rising from .51 BB/K to .62 in five seasons) and contact rate (rising from .70 to .82 in his last full minor-league season). Despite his size, he's not a pull hitter and hits well to all fields, an approach that has nonetheless resulted in 73 home runs and 93 2Bs in 1662 at-bats in the minors.
That's what makes scouts salivate over Blanks: he's got the tools to be a great power hitter, but hasn't started to try to swing for the fences. Power is something that hitters can develop as they get older (Blanks turned 23 this season), while strike zone judgment and contact skills are abilities that tend to plateau fairly quickly. Equally promising, he hasn't shown much of a platoon split in the minors, actually hitting a tad better (.914 OPS) against fellow righties than southpaws (.869 OPS).
After only a half season at Triple-A in 2009, Blanks got the call to the majors in mid-June and had some great moments, including a 10-game stretch to finish July when he hit .343/.465/.800, with five home runs but just nine RBIs, thanks to the Padres' moribund offense. That was but a taste of what Blanks could bring in the future, once he figures out major-league pitching (his contact rate slipped to 63% and his BB/K fell to .33 in his 148 at-bat debut).
He ended the season on a down note, as the Padres shut him down due to a torn plantar fascis tendon, or a more severe form of plantar fasciitis. This is not a serious condition and shouldn't affect him next year, so long as he stretches his feet better to avoid reinjuring it.
The question with Blanks isn't so much his makeup, as he did little to diminish the expectations around him, as it is where he'll play. He played first base almost exclusively in the minors, with a few games at outfield when they were ready to promote him. He's blocked at first base by Adrian Gonzalez, whose fate lies in the hands of new Padres GM Jed Hoyer. Hired at the end of October, Hoyer has announced his desire to build the club from within, and rumors about a swap of Gonzalez followed almost immediately.
Even if the Pads elect to keep Gonzalez, Blanks has played well enough in the outfield to merit a corner role there, most likely in left. Assuming they don't trade their current outfield talent or bring in any free agents, Blanks is expected to share time with Will Venable, Chase Headley and Tony Gwynn, Jr. Despite his fairly impressive 2009 season, Gwynn is probably the odd man out in that configuration, although Headley could move to third if San Diego trades Kouzmanoff.
For fantasy owners, Blanks has more value as a corner outfielder, though he's no slouch at first base, either. Regardless of where he plays, he should get nearly full-time at-bats, with that "nearly" qualifier removed if he impresses early. Obviously, his chances to maximize his playing time are improved with any trade of Gonzalez or any of the other outfield components, but Blanks is going to be in the field, no matter what. Hitting at PETCO will water his numbers down a bit, but Gonzalez hasn't suffered all that much, and Blanks' ability to use the entire field makes him an even better candidate to excel at baseball's least friendly hitting environment.
Keeper leagues should have him, leagues that count OBP should be especially watchful of him, and every owner should be ready to bid an extra buck or two. Don't go crazy, as he's still fairly green, but Blanks is an excellent long-term bet and a very good short-term one.
| Los Angeles | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 9.6 K/9, 3.0 K/BB, 5.03 ERA
In 2004, the Dodgers made Scott Elbert their first pick, 17th overall in the first round, and ahead of current major-leaguers like Huston Street and J.P Howell, but he hasn't lived up to expectations yet. This has largely been due to shoulder surgeries that kept him off the mound for chunks of 2007 and 2008, though he hasn't been great in the bigs, either.
With a fastball in the mid-90s, a hard curve and a change that are all plus pitches, lefty Elbert could be a starter or reliever, and he's done a little bit of both so far. In the minors, mostly at Double-A, his 3.27 ERA, 1.29 WHIP are due to his 10.5 K/9 and 0.7 HR/9, but his 4.8 BB/9 have been problematic. He's shaved that rate as he's progressed; his 4.1 in 2009 (at Double-A and Triple-A) is his career best.
Elbert reached the majors in 2008, but pitched only briefly, and then spent 2009 racing to and from Chavez Ravine, with four call-ups that saw him pitch only 19.1 major-league innings, all in relief. In that time, he struck out 9.6 per 9, only walked 3.2 per 9, but gave up four home runs for a poor 1.8 HR/9 rate.
It's not surprising to see a guy struggle when he's had fewer than 35 innings of work at Triple-A. One of the concerns was his increased hit rate, which shot from 4.8 last year to 8.7 this year, undoubtedly the product of his attempt to keep the ball in the zone and his walks down.
Something else he needs to work on is his platoon splits. Elbert has controlled lefties well in his minor league career, with a .154 BAA and a 2.87 FIP. Righties, on the other hand, have tuned him up (relatively speaking) with a .216 BAA, but (more importantly) a 4.02 FIP. Lefties hit 51.5 percent ground balls against him (40 percent vs. righties), which has translated into righties hitting 13.6 percent line drives (10.5 percent vs. lefties).
That may not seem like much, but his 2009 numbers in the minors have showed that split widening, not shrinking. He held lefties to a .162 BAA and a 1.44 FIP, but righties hit .276 and his FIP was 3.88 against them. Here, too, lefties hit 57.5 GB% (43 percent vs. righties), and righties hit 20.6 percent line drives (12.5 percent vs. lefties).
These are correctable, particularly from a 24-year-old, but they may hint at his future: if those platoon splits continue to diverge, he's going to slot in as a reliever, possibly a lefty specialist, which is not what the Dodgers necessarily expected when they picked him so early.
Also, Los Angeles is currently shopping for a No. 1 starter on the market, which puts several young candidates ahead of him in the rotation: Kershaw, Billingsley and Kuroda will all be there in 2010, and all are much farther along than Elbert. Add a free-agent No. 1 to the mix, and that leaves just one rotation spot for Elbert.
He should compete for that spot in spring training, but I'm betting he's going to return to Triple-A for at least part of next season. He needs some polish, and his undetermined role means he's even less valuable for fantasy owners. His talent (and the Dodgers' ability to train young pitchers) means he's still someone to keep an eye on, but I'd expect that to be late 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. Don't draft him, but keep him on your watchlist, particularly if the Dodgers' staff struggles.
Next week, we'll talk about Jake Fox, Jordan Zimmerman, and Matt Latos. We'll follow that with a Brewers' fest of Corey Hart, Matt Gamel, and Ben Sheets. Chris Ianetta, Joe Blanton and Madison Bumgarner will come the week after, along with whomever else THTF readers want to hear about.
Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
Posted by Michael Street
| Chicago | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 6.7 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, 3.77 ERA
John Danks had a true breakout season in 2008, knocking a full point off his xFIP, which led to two points off his ERA. He has good stuff despite a fastball which isn't overpowering, and had very good control in 2008, walking just 2.6 batters per game. He's also smart, allowing himself to be “mentored” by cagey veteran Mark Buehrle. Given the paucity of other top-tier talent on the White Sox entering 2009, he was clearly their most valuable asset in terms of price vs. performance. So, things looked dire indeed for Chicago when his ERA stood at 5.10 on June 10. He posted a 3.21 mark thereafter (virtually identical to his 2008 ERA), but his peripherals showed a weakening in 2009, as his xFIP was up to 4.65. Unlike Buehrle, he uses a big overhand curve sometimes, and—partly for this reason—his ability to prevent the running game is nowhere near as good as Buehrle's. We expect some improvement in peripherals, but the ERA was somewhat “lucky” in 2009, so don't look for much improvement there.
| Oakland | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 9.9 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, 5.75 ERA
This may be the cheapest you'll ever find a 10.0 K/9 starting pitcher entering his age-24 season. That's right, 24. It only seems like he's been around as long as Mike Gonzalez. In 2009, he was awful in two starts early, and demoted to Triple-A. He proceeded to destroy Triple-A hitters, reminding everyone why he was so highly regarded as a White Sox prospect. Then as a Phillies Prospect. Then—again—as a White Sox prospect. Then as an Oakland prospect... (you get the idea).
Anyway, upon his recall, his first five games (four starts) were even worse, as he allowed a .405/.463/.738 batting line against en route to a 10.31 ERA over these games. But this was July, not April, and the A's had had their delusions of competing in 2009 dispelled, so he was left in the rotation. Maybe he was shocked into effectiveness after absorbing 11 earned runs in a July 20 start against the Twins, but he was a significantly better pitcher after that, allowing a 4.40 ERA in 13 starts the rest of the season, and holding hitters to a .248/.342/.398 batting line. It's still not what you'd want from a starter long-term, but with the overwhelming strikeout totals, his xFIP was just 4.16 on the season, and that
is something to build upon. There's little doubt that he had a hand in his ultra-high BABIP (.369!) and HR/FB (14 percent). But a lot of those “hittable” pitches were coming early in the year, when he had no confidence, and his stuff abandoned him (or did the egg come before the chicken?) With the A's subpar offense and his control problems, we wouldn't go gung-ho bidding on him, but he's on the short list of guys who could vault into preeminence with just a minor improvement in control.
| Seattle | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 8.5 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.64 ERA
From Wikipedia, “Morrow is an English word meaning 'the next day' (the morrow of the feast) or 'tomorrow'”. Seemingly, that's about as far ahead as the Mariners want to commit to planning for the big righty, as well. After his final start of the season, it was reported that, “Brandon Morrow tossed eight innings of one-hit shutout ball in a 7-0 win over the Athletics on Wednesday night.” And the conclusion drawn by the rotoworld.com analyst was, “Hopefully the former first-round pick will have a clear role headed into 2010.”
Morrow entered 2009 poised to be the full-time closer for the M's. He blew a couple saves early, and was officially pulled from the role on May 15. On May 18, manager Don Wakamatsu said, "I talked with Brandon today. We’re going to keep him in the bullpen but not in the closer role. We’re going to get him some innings and get him to where he feels like he can command the baseball." On June 10, he returned to a starting role, and was expected to get optioned to Tacoma. Instead, he struggled in the Seattle rotation for a month before his July 11 demotion. He was okay at Triple-A, and posted a 40 strikeouts, 23 walks and two homers in 55 innings. He was called up again on Sept. 12, and had a 2.66 ERA (with 18 strikeouts, 13 walks and one home run) in 23.2 innings over four starts. But with his final game of the season against the hapless A's being his only game score over 53 all year, don't be shocked if Morrow is a reliever on the morrow in Seattle. He's getting the winter off, and will be preparing for a role in the rotation. But at this point, it would take a major breakthrough for him to have much fantasy value in 2010. Perhaps an excellent Spring Training would auger such a breakthrough, but keep in mind that even Seattle's park and defense can't save him from his wildness.
| Seattle | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 4.9 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 3.74 ERA
We counted “RRS” among the best “hits” on the year-end review of “hits” and “misses”
, and the reasons can't be repeated often enough... fantasy baseball is NOT real baseball. In real baseball, a “chuck and duck” pitcher like Rowland-Smith is a reasonable innings-eater for a team like Seattle. In fantasy, he has a chance to be a force in the WHIP category, while helping ERA some also. While you'll need to go elsewhere to find wins and strikeouts, a full-time SP with a sub-1.20 WHIP and a 4-ish ERA is always nice to have. And the fact that he should still be available in the later rounds (or for nearly minimal dollar values) is just gravy. Some may point to his .253 BBIP and suggest that it will rebound to .300. Why? He allows a lot of fly balls, which inherently have lower BABIP rates, and Seattle has assembled a suffocating outfield defense, which cuts that rate even more. Don't get into a bidding war, since you can probably get nearly as much utility from a top-notch non-closing reliever, but keep him in mind.
| Tampa Bay | OF
2009 Final Stats
With each increase in OBP being so much more important for someone who is such a threat to score, it can be argued that Crawford had his best season in 2009, topping his .315/.355/.466 rate stats from 2007. His 60 steals were a career high, as was his .366 OBP. The 16 times he was caught mitigate the impact somewhat, but don't expect Joe Maddon to stop giving him the “green light” anytime soon.
Stolen bases disproportionately valuable in fantasy baseball. As game-players, we can't afford to be “baseball purists”, and instead must figure out how to work with them. Most valuation systems start by assuming that a “replacement player” would get X stats in a category, and—as the adage about “get steals in the auction” implies—replacement level for steals is very nearly zero. Sure, one owner can get lucky and snag a Pedro Borbon when he's promoted, but banking on a guy like that appearing on your waiver wire is about as dicey as a bank extending bad mortgages. Better to lock up steals when they are available. Crunching the numbers for the past few seasons, “replacement value” for most positions indeed shows almost zero stolen bases (2.4 for outfielders) in AL-only leagues, and the stats-per-SD rate is about 10. If you figure that each Standard Deviation nets about $2.50 (based on a 70/30 hitter/pitcher allocation of auction money), Crawford's 60 SB were worth about $15 all by themselves.
But here's where SB are so tricky. For most players, the variance from year-to-year on steals is quite large. And higher variance is why fewer dollars are generally spent on pitching stats, so why would it be good advice to lock them up in the auction? The answer is that the top stolen base contributors do not
have higher variance in steals than in their other stats. Crawford (remember him?) is perhaps the best example, despite his jump from 25 stealsin 2008 to his lofty 2009 total. Crawford has now played seven full seasons (counting his injury-plagued 2008 as “full”), and has averaged 50 steals per year, with a standard deviation of 12. That's the equivalent of a 25-home run player having a standard deviation of 6 home runs perseason ... and about as reliable as you'll find.
So, for 2010, we think Crawford will generate between $10 and $13 in value from his steals alone (we don't think 60 again is likely), and we like the uptick in OBP without a huge BABIP increase (.346 vs. career BABIP of .332), and think he's likely to again generate something akin to $15 in non-SB value, making him a good bet to approach $30 in value again.
| Boston | OF
2009 Final Stats
It would be easy to focus on Ellsbury's similarities to Crawford, as both are exceptionally fast left-handed outfielders who have shown just enough power to make people expect a lot more of it. Ellsbury now has 129 steals in just over 1400 plate appearances, which is essentially two full seasons for a healthy leadoff hitter. At 70-for-82, his success rate has been significantly better than Crawford's, and he's two years younger (the great basestealers in history have all had their best SB seasons pre-27, though they tend to lose speed “gracefully,” by getting on base more and getting more chances to steal).
Because he is an historical anomaly, it's hard to discern what the future portends for Ellsbury's steals. Looking at Boston's top-10 SB seasons, Ellsbury has two of the top four, with the only others of recent vintage Otis Nixon's 42 in 1994 and Tommy Harper's 54 in 1973. In Fenway's high scoring environment, steals just aren't all that important. But stealing at an 85 percent rate helps a team, regardless of offensive environment (even after adding in the seven pickoffs, he was still successful 79 oercent of the time in 89 opportunities).
With speed like his, we don't think there's much reason to worry about him not stealing a ton of bases. The worry with Ellsbury is that his OBP isn't great (just .346 vs. righties, with three of his 32 walks coming as IBBs), and advanced fielding stats suggest he's really killing Boston afield. So, there's some danger of one of two things happening with him, each of which would harm his fantasy value. Boston could replace him, trading him to a team in a pitcher's park which could “make better use of his speed” (depending on treatment of players departing for the NL, this could end up helping a fantasy team if he steals more); or he could end up batting deeper down in the order, which would reduce his plate appearances as well as his runs scored totals. Granted, these aren't huge concerns, and he should still be near the top of any AL draft list. I expect another gradual advance in his batting rate stats (if he stays in Boston), and another league-leading stolen base total, though 70 again would be a surprise.
| Los Angeles? | 3B?
2009 Final Stats
Figgins has played 274 games in the past two years, 259 of these have been at third base. While this seems to have had an agreeable effect on his play on the field, the lost versatility is no good for fantasy owners. Figgins had 62 steals in 2005, in just 259 steal opportunities, but was down to just 42 steals in 59 tries (with 11 pickoffs) in 313 SBO in 2009. Both his BABIP and OBP were career bests, as was his runs scored total of 114. The latter stat was a function of the best Angels offense in years, and a totally healthy season from Figgins.
I see this as a classic case of numerous indicators pointing to a big crash in 2010. First off, expecting more than 625 plate appareances from Figgins is optimistic, so more than 10 percent of his value evaporates. The Angels are unlikely to repeat their offensive heroics from 2009, or Figgins may be on a team with a less-potent offense, eating into his run (and RBI) totals. His speed shows numerous indicators of being in steep decline. The quick take is that he's had 34-plus steals for six straight seasons, up to 42 in 2009. But there are enough yellow flags that counting on even 30 steals is optimistic for 2010, as would be counting on his rate stats to stay at such high levels.
| Baltimore | OF
2009 Final Stats
One of the first Waiver Wire subjects, back on May 15
, we predicted Reimold would “match Luke Scott's production, with a few steals thrown in.” Since Luke Scott is a career .264/.350/.495 hitter, Reimold was very comparably valuable in terms of rate stats, and stole eight bases in 411 plate appearances, making that prediction seem spot-on. The next question concerns what the to-be-26-year-old Reimold will do in 2010.
Opinions vary on this, with the Bill James Handbook suggests a .292/.373/.524 season (29 home runs, 84 RBIs), while Heater's “True Talent” feature thinks he'll hit just .254, with only enough at-bats to hit 18 home runs and drive in 61 runs. BJHB has a long track record of over-projecting hitters, especially if they've had a great Triple-A experience the previous year (even if it's too small of a sample size to have much statistical significance); but the “True Talent” projection is unduly pessimistic. With a contact rate that should approach 80 percent, a respectable walk rate, and decent athletic ability, there seems every indication that Reimold will be able to keep his average around .280 while pushing his slugging closer to .500 as he matures. A .280-25-80-10 season from him is possible, and (with a healthy Adam Jones) would give the O's a great outfield trio with the potential to mature into the game's best (with a good No. 4 in Pie as well)!
Posted by Rob McQuown
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Toronto Blue Jays
1. Yohermyn Chavez
: He's not a prototypical No. 1 prospect, but Chavez has middle-of-the-order potential and a strong work ethic. But he is still raw, and his bat needs to improve across the board. Call me bullish, but he is near the top of the list of breakout candidates for 2010.
2. Chad Jenkins
: The Blue Jays seem to have a standard type of arm that they go after, and Jenkins fits the mold as their 2009 first-round pick. He's not a fire-baller, but he has a big frame, good endurance, a nice repertoire and natural downward movement on his offerings.
3. J.P. Arencibia
: 2009 was a tough year at the plate for Arencibia. Despite his frustrating campaign, his home run numbers still shined through. He has the defense to stick behind the plate and the power to be an offensive weapon at the major league level.
4. Tyler Pastornicky
: Defensively, Pastornicky has the glove, arm and footwork to stick at shortstop. And that's half the battle. Offensively, his plus speed and workable on-base skills could mean top-of-the-order potential.
5. Zach Stewart
: Stewart has a fastball that can hit 95 on the radar gun, and a good slider to back it up. But does he have the endurance and third pitch necessary to permanently make it as a starter? There is a chance, but I'm thinking no. Otherwise he has a bright future in the bullpen.
6. David Cooper
: His 2009 season wasn't a complete embarrassment, but, needless to say, Toronto was expecting more. He showed good contact skills and plate discipline, but his power and batting average were a huge disappointment. There is still time.
7. Henderson Alvarez
: While he doesn't have an ideal frame, the young Alvarez impressed plenty in 2009 with his controlled low-90s fastball and strike-throwing ability. His game needs improvement across the board, but he is one to watch.
8. Moises Sierra
: Every bit of Sierra's game took a leap forward in 2009 . . . everything except his home run power. His frame and swing have home run ability, though. It will come. He is a promising young corner outfield prospect with plenty more to prove.
9. Brad Emaus
: Emaus has a bit of power, a bit of speed, good contact skills and some strong plate discipline to back it up. He does everything well but nothing great. He could be a solid big league second baseman.
10. Brad Mills
: There isn't any projection left in his arm, but Mills has great mechanics, a crafty approach and solid control. When he fully figures out big league hitters, he could be a good back-of-the-rotation type.
Kansas City Royals
1. Mike Moustakas
: Despite his lateral movement in 2009, Moustakas has one of the more pure and powerful swings in all of minor league baseball, generated by his lightning-quick wrist speed. His stock hasn't lost much luster in my eyes, but further development needs to come soon.
2. Eric Hosmer
: Hosmer's full-season debut was wholly disappointing. The most puzzling aspect of his season was witnessing his home run swing virtually fail to generate any power at all. His patience at the plate was the only skill that shined in 2009, but he is still way too young to downgrade significantly.
3. Daniel Duffy
: Since Duffy was drafted in 2007, it's hard to find a more consistent minor league pitcher. He has just about everything you look for in a top-of-the-rotation talent. The only thing he is missing is a consistent mid-90s fastball, although he occasionally hits that mark, and a true out pitch. But he is working on both of those faults.
4. Mike Montgomery
: While a 92-94 mph fastball is solid, Montgomery's frame leads me to believe that he could add a few more ticks on top of that. Combine his fastball with a curveball that is quickly turning into one of minor league baseball's best, and you are left with a potential ace. I want to see more proof, though.
5. Tim Melville
: While Montgomery has passed up Melville in terms of ace ability, the young Melville is right on schedule to join him soon. His fastball hasn't taken off as I was hoping for, and his mechanics are worrisome at times, but his secondary stuff is coming along nicely.
6. Aaron Crow
: Crow has the potential for greatness, giving Kansas City yet another potential ace pitcher, but I need to see some steadfast stats before I can really compare him to the likes of Duffy, Montgomery and Melville.
7. Wil Myers
: Being able to nab Myers in the third round, and then have the ability to pay him, has left Kansas City with a raw but premium high school hitting talent. Whether or not he can play catcher going forward remains to be seen, but it's his bat potential that will carry him. I'm being cautious with his stock right now, but I may be regretting that decision by this time next year.
8. Johnny Giavotella
: If his defense can be ironed out, Giavotella has the bat to become an above-average major league second baseman. His contact skills and plate patience are his best assets.
9. John Lamb
: This young lefty doesn't have the ultimate upside of the starting pitchers ranked ahead of him, but he is an advanced young man with a plus change-up and a developing curveball. Lamb's ability to fill the strike zone with varying speeds has made him stand out from the crowd.
10. Chris Dwyer
: Dwyer's fastball/curveball combination could turn into something special, but his command and mechanics are lacking. He is one to keep an eye on.
Posted by Matt Hagen
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I will preface this by saying that Zobrist's incredible 2009 was bittersweet for me, as I passed the opportunity to pick him up in late April, when he was still splitting time 50-50 with Gabe Gross
in right field. While it's a little unfair to root against a player for the sake of your fantasy team, every home run and every stolen base hurt just a little bit more while Stephen Drew
was dragging down my overall line.
But what a year Zobrist had. And, though it was a little surprising to see him atop the leaderboards, it wasn't as unexpected as many people seem to think, as Zobrist showed flashes of his talent in recent years under the Tampa Bay banner. But his ascension to the top of the fantasy heap was quite the journey, beginning in 2004 as a sixth-round draft pick of the Houston Astros.
As a 23-year-old in 2004, Zobrist began his career at low-A Tri City as a slick hitting shortstop with an exceptional plate approach and batting eye. Though he was unable to deliver much in the power department, with just four home runs in 257 at-bats, his 43:31 BB:K ratio was nothing but superb. With a .339/.438/.463 line to boot, Zobrist was given a modest promotion to Single-A Lexington.
The next year, 2005, was a very similar season to 2004 for Zobrist. Again, he was able to put together an exemplary BB:K rate, at 84:52 in 478 plate appearances. However, the power was not there, as Zobrist put just five balls into the stands. His overall stats for the season were very good, however, as Zobrist put up a .304/.415/.413 line in 247 at-bats for A-ball Lexington, with a .333/.475/.496 share for High-A Salem.
With his trade to Tampa Bay as part of the Aubrey Huff
deal, 2006 was a bit of a transition year for Zobrist. Beginning the year at Double-A for Houston, Zobrist registered a season much in line with his previous years, with exceptional plate discipline (55 walks against 46 strikeouts in 315 at-bats) but little power (three home runs). He struggled a bit over his 69 at-bats for triple-A Durham after moving over to the Tampa Bay organization, with just four extra-base hits. However, Tampa Bay called him up to the bigs. Unfortunately, Zobrist was completely lost in his first stint against major league pitching, posting a .222/.260/.311 line with just two home runs in 183 at-bats. Even Zobrist's patented plate discipline couldn't save him, as he posted the first sub-one BB:K rate of his career, at 10 walks against 26 strikeouts.
The beginning of 2007 saw Zobrist return to the comforts of Triple-A, where he put together a .279/.403/.455 line in 222 at-bats, with 43 walks against 38 strikeouts. In addition, Zobrist's power finally started to poke through a bit, as he hit seven longballs while down on the farm. As a result, Tampa thought it prudent to promote their shortstop to the Devil Rays. He flopped again, though, posting a .155/.184/.206 line in 97 at-bats to go along with just one home run and a 3:21 BB:K ratio. To add insult to injury... or more accurately, injury to insult, a strained oblique muscle in August effectively put an end to the prospect's season.
While 2007 was a bit of a lost season for the "old" shortstop, who turned 26 that year, 2008 saw Zobrist finally hit his stride as a batter. The big shortstop, standing 6-3, 200 pounds, played the majority of the season in the majors, where he showed some serious promise. After hitting four home runs in 71 at-bats for Durham to go along with his excellent plate discipline, Zobrist broke out in a big way with 12 homers in 198 at-bats in the American League. In addition, for the first time his batting eye carried over from the minors, as he posted a 25:37 BB:K rate. His .253/.339/.505 line was a great showing from the budding batter and Tampa Bay rewarded him with a spot on their Opening Day roster in 2009.
Carrying over from the previous season, 2009 was Ben Zobrist
's big coming out party in every sense of the phrase. Though he split time in the outfield at the season's onset, he eventually beat out Gabe Gross
for the starting job, aided by injuries in the infield that created more opportunities for him to prove his worth. When he was eventually handed the starting job, Zobrist did not look back, finishing the year with a .297/.405/.543 line to go along with 27 homers and a 91:104 BB:K ratio in 501 at-bats. Adding in 17 stolen bases for good measure, the shortstop-eligible Zobrist posted one of the best seasons in all of fantasy baseball in 2009.
Despite the excellent results, Zobrist still has some uncertainty about his ultimate upside as a player. Sure, he was superb in 2009 and in limited time in 2008. However, his iffy track record and lack of power at all levels before 2007 cast some doubt as to his actual baseline talent level.
To start with, Zobrist's 2009 has launched him into the echelon of one of the better hitters in the majors - and certainly of fantasy baseball given his multi-position eligibility. His plate discipline strides were very encouraging in 2009, as this was very important to his overall improvement at the plate. Players who see better pitches and offer at those said better pitches have a distinct advantage over their constituents at the plate. Zobrist was finally able to take advantage of this at the major league level, holding onto his 2008 gains made in O-Swing percentage (2007 O-Swing 26.7 percent v. 17.8 percent in '08 and 19.3 percent in '09). In addition, it is encouraging to see that he has not changed his approach against pitches inside the zone, as his ZSwing percentage has changed very little in the past few years. Oftentimes, batters will swing less overall in an attempt to swing at fewer poor pitches. However, in the process, they swing at fewer pitches inside the zone as well. Since Zobrist's adjustments came almost exclusively against pitches outside the zone, it points to the notion that he is getting better reads on the pitches he sees.
And perhaps more importantly, at this juncture we have every reason to believe that Zobrist's 2009 and 2008 power outputs are his new norm. Though he was unable to post any semblance of power in his first three years of professional ball, his last three seasons have gone a long way in dispelling any fears that owners should have. With a 17.5 HR/FB rate in 2009 and 17.4 in 2008, the power output seems real. In addition, Zobrist has shown that he can deliver from both sides of the plate. Though many switch-hitters have a significant strength at one side of the plate or the other, Zobrist seems to have just a slight power and batting eye edge while hitting from the right side. Since his power output was, for so long, his one absent tool, he seems good to go for the future.
Going along with his gains in power is the way pitchers approach Zobrist when they come against him at the plate. There is a definite negative correlation between a batter's isolated slugging percentage and the percentage of strikes they see. Seeing as Zobrist's Zone percentage fell 5 percent from 2008 to 2009, it seems that pitchers are beginning to respect Zobrist's power. This is a very encouraging development, especially when considering Zobrist's improvements in plate discipline, as he should be able to continue to stay patient and turn these additional balls into walks.
In all, Zobrist seems to be a very good bet for 2010, as his developing power, positional flexibility, and added speed make him one of the better players in fantasy baseball. Though it shouldn't surprise anyone that he will be a high draft pick in 2010, he will likely be worth the billing. Though his .330 BABIP may indicate a bit of regression in his batting average, he will still post excellent overall numbers - a .280-.285, high 20s home runs, a .900 OPS, and double digit steals sounds about right. All told, he should rank as one of the best second baseman or shortstops in the league - should he qualify at both in your leauge - or one of the league's better outfielders, though not quite elite. Draft Zobrist with confidence in 2010, knowing that you will get what you pay for.
VOTE ON NEXT WEEK'S PLAYER PROFILE
*Feel free to also use the text box to nominate players for next week's poll.
Posted by Mike Silver
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
|Tulo flashing his defensive skills at shortstop. (Icon/SMI)|
Some players cause me a great deal of frustration as a fantasy owner; not necessarily because they are on my team and not playing up to expectations, but in this case because they played poorly while on my team and later had their career season while off of it. An example of one of these players is Cliff Lee
, who I owned in most leagues for his terrible 2007 season and then, when I had given up on him, he comes back in 2008 to win the Cy Young
Award. Similarly, I owned Aaron Hill
in 2008 when he batted .264 with two home runs; in 2009, when off of my team, he bats .286 with a whopping 36 home runs.
I have never owned Troy Tulowitzki
on a team yet, but I would imagine the people that drafted him on average with the 45th overall pick in 2008 drafts hold similar feelings.
| Season | AB | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG |
| 2007 | 609 | 104 | 24 | 99 | 7 | 0.291 |
| 2008 | 377 | 48 | 8 | 46 | 1 | 0.263 |
| 2009 | 543 | 101 | 32 | 92 | 20 | 0.297 |
After a tremendous rookie campaign in 2007 that would have earned him a Rookie of the Year Award in almost any other year had it not been for an equally impressive Brewers third baseman named Ryan Braun
, Tulowitzki flopped hard in 2008.
He struggled throughout April, until on the 29th he tore a quadriceps muscle and was out until June. After returning from his injury, Tulowitzki played almost at his 2007 level, steadily raising his OPS from .448 to his season-ending number of .732 throughout the second half. Because he played well in the second half, I said that he was "not necessarily someone to avoid in 2009."
In 2009 people were not as high on him as last year, but Tulo certainly was not avoided being drafted around pick 80 in drafts as the sixth shortstop selected. For the people who owned him in 2009, Tulowitzki rewarded them nicely by not only matching his 2007 numbers but by raising them by six points of batting average, eight home runs, and 13 steals.
Tulowitzki had a great 2009 season—no one can deny that—but whether or not he can have a similar 2010 remains a question. In his three years in the majors, Tulowitzki has had his fair share of injuries but has at least avoided any major injuries. Although he probably will not play 150-plus games in a season, he is not too high an injury risk to justify not picking him due to concern for his health.
In the power department, Tulowitzki experienced a major surge, bringing his home run total and HR/FB percentage into new territory.
| YEAR | AGE | AB | HR | HR/FB | OF/FB% |
| 2007 | 22 | 521 | 24 | 15 | 34 |
| 2008 | 23 | 406 | 8 | 8 | 33 |
| 2009 | 24 | 536 | 32 | 21 | 35 |
Tulo achieved his power numbers not by hitting a ton of fly balls, but by making sure that the ones he did hit left the park. His 21 percent HR/FB rate ranks around such slugger-type players as Jayson Werth
, Miguel Cabrera
and Ryan Braun
Tulo could post similar power numbers next year, but the more likely path is for him to regress slightly and hit a more reasonable 26 home runs. He clearly possess power potential but is not quite at the level where he can be expected to hit 30-plus home runs perennially. Overall I would expect him to hit somewhere in the range of 20-30 home runs next year, and that range can be made more specific once the True Home Run numbers are calculated for 2009.
Surprisingly Tulo stole 20 bases this year despite getting caught 11 times. That equals a 65 percent success rate, and most players with rates that low steal less bases next year since their base stealing is actually hurting their team's chance to win. For Troy this was not even a fluke running year; his career success rate is 57 percent and in the minors it was even lower, so Tulo should definitely be getting the green light less and less in the future.
At most, he should barely reach 10 steals, but the high single-digits are where I see his 2010 steals totals hanging around.
Since joining the majors, Tulowitzki has been able to maintain a decently low strikeout rate while adding a few points to his walk rate.
| Year | BB% | K% | Judgment | A/P | Bat Control | Bad Ball |
| 2007 | 9 | 21 | 105 | 0.21 | 87 | 67 |
| 2008 | 9 | 15 | 104 | 0.15 | 89 | 72 |
| 2009 | 12 | 21 | 109 | 0.12 | 88 | 73 |
As the other stats show (for a refresher on them click here
), Tulo has increased his pitch judgment slightly over the past few years while also getting better at making contact with the pitches outside of the zone. His A/P shows that he has become progressively a more passive hitter in his three years in the majors, explaining the increase in BB percentage. He has, overall, above-average plate discipline that should allow him to continue to post solid batting averages in the .290s to low .300s.
In 2009, Troy Tulowitzki
emerged again as a premier shortstop, and he should be drafted in 2010 leagues accordingly. The last time he was coming off a good season he did disappoint in the next one; however, no logical reasoning points to why that would happen again.
An injury is much more likely to ruin his upcoming season than anything else, and Tulowitzki is only a marginal injury risk compared to other shortstops like Jose Reyes
and Rafael Furcal
. My feeling, however, is that Tulowitzki will be taken too high for my liking in most drafts since people may expect another 30/20 season from him when really 25/7 is a more likely line. Tulowitzki is a great ballplayer, but the home run/steals combination he flashed in 2009 was likely a one-hit wonder.
Posted by Paul Singman
Monday, November 09, 2009
Jonathan Halket’s recent column
has emboldened me. I have something of a rant to let loose as well, also aimed at “fantasy gurus.” Actually, this isn’t so much of a rant as it is a piece of advice to those who may read the results of all-“expert” drafts. So, heed the following sentence.
Internal politics and self-interest are involved in making picks in drafts whose results will be published on well-trafficked fantasy baseball sites.
Now, I want to make it very clear that I am not accusing any of these people of colluding, deliberately misleading their readerships, or any overtly conspiratorial behavior. What I am saying is simply that correctly identifying breakouts is seen as the type of accomplishment on which fantasy guru reputations are staked and grown in the mainstream fantasy community. Sensibly drafting a team of boring, but solidly matched and reliable veterans is not seen as sexy. Nobody exhibits a palpable aura of excitement when landing Bobby Abreu
in their fantasy draft (except me, I love owning Abreu). For this reason, you will see many young, burgeoning stars, or stars-to-be get over-drafted in these all-expert leagues. Yet, this is something that people don’t seem to acknowledge in any meaningful way.
I remember watching a preview of the 2005 season in which a roundtable of pundits were making their MVP predictions. When it came to the AL, the usual suspects were thrown out there, Manny Ramirez
, Alex Rodriguez
and so forth. Then, one guy nominated, in seeming sincerity, Bobby Crosby
. Crosby was coming off of a Rookie of the Year season and appeared to have a bright future ahead. But, nobody could have truly thought of him as a viable MVP candidate.
Most astute observers don’t think anything of these instances. Personally, I figured the show’s producers had stipulated that one of the non-sacred pundits had to throw out a highly controversial, and somewhat unrealistic nomination just to drive discussion and for the purposes of saying something that everybody watching at home didn’t already know. That’s par for the course after all.
When a fantasy guru publishes the results of a draft in which he drafts Alexei Ramirez
with something like the 35th pick in the draft, he’s not doing quite the same thing as the Crosby nominator, and it’s certainly not as choreographed and premeditated, but he is, to some degree, “making a statement.” In fact, he’s likely doing two things.
The first thing he’s likely doing is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s likely talked up this player in the run up to draft time, and he’s showing his readership that he truly believes. That’s laudable in theory, but often the guru has stretched to get the player in question, which gives a false impression of that player’s value (and maybe even that guru’s level of expectation for that player).
The second thing he may be doing—and this is the dangerous one—is falling victim to the experts’ echo chamber. Every year there are a few darlings of the “expert” community. For some reason that maybe Malcolm Gladwell can explain, but I can’t, these players start out as potential breakout stars and throughout the preseason ascend experts’ pre-draft ranks at a remarkable pace only to end up in a ridiculous position. Two good examples of this last year were Chris Iannetta and Chris Davis
and they both busted.
It is the young possible-but-not-definite studs the experts are in fiercest competition for. And, in pursuit of these players and the potential glory associated with being able to lay claim to landing them, the gurus often outsmart themselves.
As a tangential point to this whole discussion I want to address one more thing you commonly see when these gurus post round-by-round recaps of their all-expert league drafts. Frequently, you will read the author of such columns make a comment along the lines of, “I thought I might be reaching a little here, but I really wanted this player and knew he wouldn’t be available at my next pick.” I don’t understand how that is a viable defense of the pick being discussed. Either you reached, or you didn’t. As I read them, these types of comments reinforce my point about gurus feeling they have to draft guys they talk up for purposes of accountability, even if that player doesn’t represent the best pick.
The way I see it is very simple. Generally speaking, I don’t like or dislike players themselves; the question is the price I’m willing to pay for a player. So, to say that I wanted player X, and I had to take him here makes no sense to me. At every price point or numbered pick in a draft, there are multiple players that are perfectly defensible choices on their own merits. Did you pick one of those players or not? In your mind, does the player you selected have as good a chance as anybody else out there at proving to be the most valuable player (at least to your team) among those currently available? If you want player X, but he’s not one of those players, it makes no difference if that was your last chance to draft that player, no? Am I missing something?
This whole semi-rant comes back to two main points.
One, it’s unwise to pay premium prices for potential. In the early stages of the draft you are investing in production, but you are also paying for reliability. That’s what a blue-chip stock is; a relatively non-volatile investment that history dictates will be a sound long-term asset.
Two, a player’s projected production or ADP doesn’t really mean anything in terms of determining whether you got value by acquiring that player. The only value you accrue is the difference between the overall production the player gives you and the price you actually paid for him. A “sleeper” is only a “sleeper” if he’s drafted as such. If you think player X is undervalued at 60, and you draft him at 30, he now has to produce at that level to be a sound investment for you. If he gives you 45th pick value, you were right about your initial read, but you still made a bad pick.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino
While Evan Longoria
was only drafted one year after Ryan Zimmerman
he has spent a few extra years in the minors. Zimmerman has three extra seasons in the majors and 1,447 more plate appearances. That makes it so much more interesting that the two posted such similar lines in 2009. Then when we look even deeper they match in plenty of their underlying numbers. They might be the ultimate version of 2009 Clones.
Name R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG BB% K%
Ryan Zimmerman 110 33 106 2 .292 .364 .525 10.6% 19.5%
Evan Longoria 100 33 113 9 .281 .364 .526 11.0% 24.0%
|MLB: SEP 30 Mets at Nationals|
30 September 2009: Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in action against the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. The Nationals rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning on a Justin Maxwell walk-off Grand Slam to win 7-4 and sweep the Mets in the three-game series capping the Nationals' 2009 home season.(Icon/SMI)
There were some doubts about Zimmerman after the torn labrum last season, but he came back even better than before. His SLG jumped more than 50 points from his best full season and his eye had improved with his best ever walk rate. He did have Adam Dunn
behind him this year, which had to help him get some better pitches, but that doesn't really explain the better walk rate.
This year Zimmerman has cut down on his swing percentage going from a 43+% swing rate in his career to only 39% this year. This was beneficial in his swings out of the zone dropping to 21 percent. It will be interesting to see what he does with this going forward as the drop in swings has not improved his contact. His contact rate on pitches in the zone dropped to a career low of 87.1 percent.
He still has time to grow in his power, but a word of caution for his 33 homers this year is his 14 "just enough" homers according to HitTrackeronline
. That is a 42 percent rate, which is far above the league average and a sign he could regress in 2010, but don't rule out his power growing as he ages toward his prime years.
Did the Tampa Bay Rays make the right or wrong choice by holding Longoria back longer then Washington did with Zimmerman? Probably not since he was a big contributor in their World Series appearance of 2008, but even if he had not signed such a team-friendly deal he would have had more of his prime years covered by arbitration.
Longoria had a few extra homers from last year, but that was with 35 extra games this season. Most of his numbers are very similar to last year, but with the added games played to increase the totals. The one number that took a step forward was his walk rate going from 9.3 percent last year to 11 percent. His OBP responded by going from .343 to a much improved .364.
His speed has continued to surprise as he only totaled eight steals in 205 minor league games. Now he has totaled more steals in 2009 then all his time in the minors. This would lead me to expect him to stay at or below this number, but with him yet to get caught stealing, either, I see no reason to slow him down.
You could call these players even in 2009 as they matched most stats, but Longoria had a few more steals and Zimmerman had a better batting average. They still have plenty of years before they even hit their prime, but I think Longoria has the track record to support the power numbers going forward. If these two are of similar value in your league then go with Longoria first with Zimmerman being a solid second choice. I don't think you can go wrong with either one, but would go with the one who has done this before.
This is not related to fantasy, but the elite defense of these two players has been amazing as well. They both totaled UZR/150 over 19 and that helped them match each other in WAR at 7.1 and 7.2. They really are clones this season. Perhaps only their contracts split them as Longoria has an extremely team-friendly deal with options out till 2015.
Posted by Troy Patterson
Friday, November 06, 2009
| New York | SS
2009 Final Stats
Congratulations to the New York Yankees on their World Championship! Has anyone heard how many this is for them? ... It's not as though every single article mentions it today. But, love them or hate them, the New York Yankees are a monumentally large part of baseball history. And this team was worthy of taking its place alongside some of their other awesome squads. “The Captain” was “Mr. November” again this year, and there's no doubt that he was a huge part of their 103-win season (even though Pythagorean suggests they were only a 95-win team). Jeter responded to the move to the leadoff role with his second-best season since age 26, even stealing 30 bases—a total he's only exceeded twice. The combination of stamina (716 PA) and excellence is rare in older players in general, and almost unheard of amongst middle infielders. Ripken and Larkin each had a great rate-stat season in their later 30s, but both were with many fewer plate appearances. We wouldn't bet a lot against the future Hall of Famer, but a serious decline seems highly likely for age-36 Jeter in 2010.
| New York | 1B
2009 Final Stats
Did we mention that the Yankees won? (cue John Sterling
) Well, they had a lot of high roto value players helping them. Gun-for-hire Mark Teixeira fit into the New York scene like he'd been there all his life, and his lousy postseason won't be held against him as winning is the “great deodorant.” We'd like to add something clever or insightful here about Teixeira, but what can you say? He's about as consistent as you'll find—expect .290/.380/.550 with 110-plus RBIs in that lineup, and it's unlikely he'll disappoint. If he has a big postseason in 2010, he will take his place in the hearts of Yankees fans. He's been in the hearts of fantasy baseball fans for years already, though.
[ed - As a side note, I was reading the comments about Derek Carty's great results in expert leagues this season, and in the comments was the quip that "you can't win a league early, but you can lose it." I've happily drafted Teixeira with late first-round picks in numerous leagues over his career, and don't think I've ever been disappointed. Probably now that he's a Yankee, the days of him being a "draft bargain" are gone, but there is a lot to be said for "banking" a high-consistency guy like this, even if it's a slight over-draft. - Rob]
| Chicago | 1B
2009 Final Stats
Paul Konerko put up stats that were so close to his career line you'd think it was a misprint. Even the BABIP was just two points different, and hitters' BABIPs tend to regress to their own norm (yeah, we know, that's a very nebulous concept, but so far the predictors of BABIP haven't done a great job), unlike a regression to norm of the entire MLB sample as pitchers' BABIPs tend to do. Still, the three-year totals for Konerko aren't that great, and he'll be 34 in March. Better players have had careers without much success after age 33, including Steve Garvey, whom Konerko highly resembles as a hitter (both are RH, don't walk much, and have very similar career OPS+ scores). Garvey had a “last hoorah” at age 34, so anything is possible, but with Thome and Dye departing, the RBI chances and runs scored may not improve as White Sox fans would hope after the team's awful offensive season. The present void at DH might keep Konerko in the lineup when he'd otherwise need an off day, but then again, Tyler Flowers will be pressing for playing time soon. We don't think the push for free agency money will drive Konerko any more than he already is, so expect across-the-board declines, and while they should be gradual, don't be shocked by a big downturn. From age 32 on, Garvey hit just .277/.309/.411 (which was good for a 101 OPS+ back then, thanks to baseball-reference.com), so a 100 OPS+ type season from Konerko wouldn't be shocking.
| New York? | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 8.5 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.64 ERA
Having gotten his first taste of the majors at age 20, Gaudin is still just 26 years old (27 in March). Cut by the Cubs in the same offseason where they gave him a $2 million contract, he bounced around before making the World Champion Yankees playoff roster. In many ways, Gaudin looks very much like a league-average starting pitcher. His career ERA is 4.50, good for a 93 ERA+ (which adjusts for the numerous parks and leagues in which he's played). The splits for starter/reliever don't show much of a preference for either, though he relieved more when he was younger (and presumably less ready). His xFIP was about 4.5 each of the past three seasons (including his almost-200 IP 2007 season for Oakland). Room for improvement may even exist, as he's added some K/9 (8.5 in 2009 after 6.5 previously). There have, however, been rumors that he's worn out welcomes for reasons other than his performance, and that fits, since at $2 million, he's a bargain, even if it's not the sort of pitcher a team wants starting playoff games. To the public, he's always expressed a preference for starting but a willingness to relieve, as needed. This should make him an ideal “Swingman” for a good team, such as, say, the Yankees?
| Texas | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 5.1 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 4.10 ERA
They finally found the name that works in Texas: “Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.” Well, at least it works to provide a neutral “park factor,” using a multi-year measure of run scoring. That's good news for the pitchers who are expected to throw extra innings on “The Ryan Plan” (no, not something from a Tom Clancy novel). One such hurler is Tommy Hunter, and he needs the help—he's going to let some balls get hit (low 5.1 K/9), and hit in the air (42% FB%). He's young and improving, which should be almost enough to counterbalance the somewhat lucky BABIP (.284) and HR/FB% (8.3%) from 2009. He has a lot of counterbalancing to do, though, as his xFIP (4.99) was much higher than his ERA (4.10). As a Judo expert with a huge body, he should know about balance, though. And he definitely looks durable, as his pitching style and results suggest another big-bodied pitcher—Joe Blanton. With the worries about the luck factors reversing and the park turning back into the hitters' paradise it used to be, we wouldn't go too crazy over Hunter, but he should be good for a lot of IP without causing too much damage to ratios in an AL league.
| Tampa Bay | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 8.4 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 3.95 ERA
The smart readers here at THT don't lob up “cookies” for us to smack out of the park, and Garza isn't an easy outlook to decipher. The first thought, of course, is that at age 25 last year, he added more than two K/9 to his power, while adding just 0.62 BB/9, which is a tradeoff usually associated with a step toward true ace-level dominance. His HR/FB% went over 10% after being under 9% for his career before 2009, but he still allowed just a .384 slugging percentage on the season (1.11 HR/9). As for the future, it appears that Garza has some similarities to Carlos Zambrano. They are two of the best RH pitchers at shutting down the running game, which keeps their actual ERAs under their FIP/xFIP estimates, partly due to the fact that they don't rely heavily on big, looping breaking balls—but rather the natural movement on their fastballs—most of the time. Unlike Zambrano, Garza has to face some of the strongest lineups in MLB, loaded with nine hitters instead of eight. Will he fail to take more steps forward, as Zambrano has so far, or will he parlay the extra strikeouts into frequent Cy Young contention? We'd stick with the conservative position for now, as too many things have to go right for him to take that next step. But he's still plenty good as is.
| Baltimore | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 6.5 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 4.05 ERA
It's difficult to post a 4.00 K:BB ratio in the major leagues and not be highly successful, but Uehara is used to being even better, with an 8.1 to 1.1 career ratio pitching for Yomiuri in the Japanese Central League. However, the one thing that can temper success in such cases is injury. And he's also familiar with those, having missed all or parts of several of his 10 years in Japan, while being a frequent Sawamura Award (best pitcher) contender while healthy. As happens in the U.S., his team tried all sorts of things to keep their star pitcher healthy, including a full season of relief work in 2007. Unfortunately for Baltimore, he brought his seemingly balsa wood fragility with his nasty stuff over from Japan. With a swarming hoard of top-tier pitching prospects invading Baltimore, and their closer role wide open, it wouldn't be inconceivable to see Koji the Closer in 2010, though the team will likely try free agency and trade routes first. If he remains in the rotation, expect something akin to the maddening Rich Harden Experience (without as many strikeouts), where he's highly effective for spurts, and then breaks down, and then perhaps returns.
| Boston? | SP
2009 Final Stats
: 6.5 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 4.05 ERA
Normally, we'd say to take a 15-IP sample size with a salt mine full of the stuff. But Billy Wagner isn't normal, and he made a great career move accepting the shift to Boston and the AL, despite not closing games. He showed that he could be a dominant reliever, even in the rugged AL East (1.1 WHIP in Boston). He struck out 26 batters overall in those 15.2 IP. And, if it becomes important, he's shown that he can excel in a non-closer capacity. His average fastball velocity returned to his pre-injury level, and he's apparently ready to become The Man in some town. Expect some team to get a fairly good price on a top-tier closer in 2010, due to concerns over his injury history and—to a lesser extent—his age. Some fantasy owner could similarly reap the rewards of reduced interest, and our position is that pitchers get hurt all the time ... nothing makes Wagner significantly more risky than any other pitcher who was healthy at the end of 2009.
Thanks for the great suggestions ... please keep them coming! Don't worry if they've been written up recently, we'll either get the latest dish (maybe a shorter blurb), or postpone it for a couple weeks if there's pending news, such as with free agents).
I'll try to post the ledger of who was reviewed when, and keep it on the bottom weekly, starting next week. For now, you can access the history of THT Fantasy articles at the URL with the date in it, as such:
Friday dates with Waiver Wires:
May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
June 5, 12, 19, 26
July 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28
Sept. 4, 11, 18, 25
Oct. 2, 16, 23, 30
Posted by Rob McQuown
| San Francisco | 2B/OF
2009 Final Stats
In his second full season in the majors, Velez endured a bumpy ride. A slow start that had him hitting .216/.222/.438 through the first two months of the season earned him a ticket back to Fresno, where he hit .297/.340/.451 before returning to the Giants (lest you think that minor-league line is all that fantastic, he hit .310/.372/.509 there in a nearly identical number of games and ABs in 2008).
Still, this seemed to energize him, and he finished the year with a .277/.321/.426 final two-plus months, largely due to the 14-game hitting streak he began immediately upon his return, which saw him post a .417/.444/.633 line. After that point, he hit .233/.283/.360, a lower OPS than he'd had before his demotion. Even worse for his fantasy owners, he only collected 11 measly steals, the source of much of his fantasy value.
The team as a whole had its worst SB totals in several years; the Giants' 78 swipes were their fewest since 2006 and the lowest in the Bruce Bochy Era. The 2009 Giants weren't a team built for speed, with Velez, Randy Winn and Emmanuel Burriss the nominal speedsters, and none of them cracked 20 steals, with Winn's 16 leading the way. With a team that was fourth-worst in the NL in runs per game, and had the lowest OPS+ in the league, it's likely that Bochy didn't want to risk runners when he had them.
Of course, as the Giants and Velez both know, to steal a base, you've got to get on base, and neither did so very well. As a team, the Giants had a horrific .309 OBP—also last in the NL and further evidence of their amazing pitching in '09—but even Velez, their most frequent leadoff hitter, couldn't beat that awful number. This, however, shouldn't be too surprising, as Velez hasn't shown the plate discipline in his career to be a leadoff hitter.
In the minors, he showed a .36 BB/K ratio; even though that peaked at .53 in 2008, that's still not leadoff-worthy. And in the majors, it's been as bad or worse, with last season's .35 dropping to .29 in 2009. He was a leadoff hitter in San Francisco because of his contact skills (.81 in the minors, .83 in the majors) and his speed (164 SBs in seven minor-league seasons). It should be noted, however, that those minor-league speed numbers are inflated by 113 SBs in Single-A and Double-A; he's only got 28 SBs above that level.
There's no doubt he's got speed, but it looks like it's more likely to manifest itself in doubles and triples (he has 29 doubles and 14 triples in the majors, and 24 doubles and seven triples in Triple-A). His batting average should ratchet up near .300 because of his foot speed and contact ability, but he doesn't bring significant power, dragging his value down further.
Velez's problematic future in San Francisco is compounded by the issue of where to play him. The Giants inked Freddy Sanchez to a two-year deal at the end of October, blocking Velez's best fit at the keystone. As an outfielder, he's a classic 'tweener—not enough leather for center, not enough wood for the corners.
Plus, the Giants are likely to sign a free-agent outfielder next season, and are stuck with Aaron Rowand's whopper of an unloadable deal through 2012. Randy Winn's undoubtedly gone and Fred Lewis has disappointed, but both Nate Schierholz and John Bowker have to be ahead of Velez in any outfield depth chart.
At this point, his future looks to be as a fourth outfielder and backup second baseman, who might bring you a hollow BA with the possibility of some steals. He had some nice moments in 2009 and could reel off another hot streak if he's in the lineup, but if you can predict the two-week stretch when he's going to do that, you ought to be betting on things more lucrative than fantasy baseball.
| Washington | SS
2009 Final Stats
It's taken Desmond five years to claw his way up through the minors, as the Nats have waited for his bat to catch up with his glove. The glove's significant, though his tendency at every level has been to make the highlight reels while muffing the easy ones. That's common with a young player, and he's got the defensive talent for that to settle down eventually.
But what fantasy owners want to know is whether that batting line is for real. Twenty-one games and 89 PAs is an awfully small sample space, and 13 of those games were against the Braves and Mets, teams playing out the string. It's much more instructive to look at his much lengthier minor-league record.
The closest he came to that a .561 slugging percentage was actually this year, when he slugged .494 in Double-A—his third crack at that level. His overall numbers in the minors are .259/.326/.388, although scouting reports give him decent power and good bat speed. As testament, he's got 39 doubles and 19 homers in the past two seasons, and has thrown in 127 career minor-league steals for good measure.
What he doesn't have is particularly good pitch recognition (.39 BB/K) or contact skills (.78). Some of that is dragged down by his earlier, younger years—though his contact rate has remained steady, he's recorded a .50 BB/K over the past three seasons and .44 BB/K over the past two. In the brief debut he's had, those stats have remained fairly steady, with a .36 BB/K and a .83 CT in that short time. Still, nobody expects him to keep plugging along with an OPS of .879.
Desmond, however, has the advantage that Velez doesn't: playing time. The Nats are going to shift Cristian Guzman over to second to accommodate Desmond, something that should benefit both of them, as Guzman's not the defender he used to be. And there's nobody significant lurking in the minors to breathe down Desmond's neck; their better SS prospect, Danny Espinosa, won't be in the bigs for another year or two, at least.
There are lots of question marks in the Washington offseason, from the free agents they're likely to sign to whether Jim Riggleman will return as manager. Washington probably will bring Riggleman back, and he's already said he's comfortable with Desmond as his starting shortstop. With all the other holes they have to fill, and with Guzman as a fallback plan, Desmond shouldn't face any competition from free agency, either.
So it's a good news-bad news thing for fantasy owners. Yes, he'll be Washington's shortstop, failing injury or utter collapse, for 2009 and probably 2010. And, no, he's not going to produce at the levels he attained in that month-plus of major-league PT. A guy with good bat speed could run into a few longballs and a hot streak, and an OPS in the .725-.750 range with a handful of steals makes him a decent NL-only SS option. But don't be fooled by a 21-game stretch.
| San Francisco | RP
2009 Final Stats
: 11.4 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 1.04 ERA
I'll be honest and say I didn't even have Runzler on my radar, but requests are requests and Evan asked for a writeup—and I'm very glad he did. A third-round draft choice, Runzler is one of those guys who doesn't make too many prospect lists but still holds some value.
Runzler is a 24-year-old lefty reliever who put up the above stats in just 8.2 IP with the Giants down the stretch. He rocketed up through the minors in just three seasons, rising all the way from Single-A to the majors in 2009. He sports a fastball in the mid-90s with late movement but had control problems early on in his career.
Clearly, he seems to have overcome those, a testament to the pitcher's factory that is the Giants' organization. In the minors in 2009, he racked up a 0.76 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 59 IP, striking out 83 while walking just 24. As impressive, his 65% ground ball rate minimized any damage, although the .119 BA and .188 BABIP had to help, too. On the other hand, his 2.61 FIP suggests he was helped by his defense.
Runzler carried those stats over to his short stint with the Giants, albeit in slightly less dramatic fashion. Opposing batters hit only .188 against him, with a BABIP of .250, while he induced ground balls at a 48% rate, to go along with those pretty ratios you see above. FIP, too, was a bit pessimistic, as it gave him a 4.19 ERA, but the Giants did feature one of the best defenses in the NL.
The question is, as always: Will he continue?
The Giants seem to think so, as he's already being mentioned as a bullpen fixture for next year. Even though he's a lefty, his major- and minor-league splits were practically even against lefties and righties, so he's not a specialist, and Bochy didn't use him that way.
Where he did use him was in late innings, and he got better the later he pitched: batters hit .250 off him in the seventh inning and .154 in the eighth. That carried over from the minors, where hitters hit .160 in the seventh, .103 in the eighth, and .115 in the ninth.
That means he's got the chance and the skills to stick in the majors, but in what capacity?
The Giants already have the back end of their bullpen nailed down, with Brian Wilson arbitration eligible until 2013 and Jeremy Affeldt signed through 2010. Runzler will be the seventh-inning guy ahead of them, ready to step in should either falter, and could occupy a more prominent role if the Giants move Wilson.
What that means to fantasy owners, unfortunately, is that Runzler's unlikely to provide more than ratio help and holds, barring anything unpredictable. That, combined with the possibility he could regress after just one season of dominance, makes him a marginal pick at best, but still someone to keep your eye on. Thanks to Evan for putting him on our radar!
Next week, we'll take a look at Jeff Francoeur, Kyle Blanks and Scott Elbert. The weeks following will feature Jake Fox, Matt Latos, Joe Blanton and Ben Sheets. Please offer other suggestions in the comments below.
Posted by Michael Street
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Tampa Bay Rays
1. Desmond Jennings
: As one of the most dynamic players in minor league baseball, Jennings represents the future leadoff hitter for a Tampa Bay organization hoping to compete year after year.
2. Jeremy Hellickson
: He is a control artist with the repertoire of a mid-rotation starter. However, improved movement and an uptick in his secondary offerings could lead to even greater things. If Hellickson can stay healthy, he is the most sure thing that Tampa Bay has to offer.
3. Wade Davis
: His overall repertoire has ace written all over it, but Davis' control needs to improve across the board if he's going successfully transition to the big leagues.
4. Matthew Moore
: Representing the third true potential No. 1 starter in Tampa Bay's farm system, Moore has fantastic stuff but needs to improve his control if he's going to succeed at higher levels. He still has a ways to go.
5. Tim Beckham
: He was an overdraft at No. 1 in the 2008 draft, but there is no denying his upside. As a true work in progress, his glove needs just as much improvement as his bat.
6. Reid Brignac
: You would like to see him cement his play in the major leagues, but Brignac has a little bit of everything you look for in an everyday shortstop. A very solid player is in the works.
7. Nick Barnese
: His stuff doesn't turn heads, but Barnese has all the makings of a mid-rotation big-league starter. It's doubtful at this point, but if one of his secondary pitches develops into a truly dominant "out" pitch, even greater things could be on the horizon.
8. Jake McGee
: Back from Tommy John surgery, McGee threw limited innings in 2009. His goal in 2010 will be to recover what he had before the surgery, namely his plus fastball. Tampa may move him to the bullpen permanently, but I'm still willing to invest.
9. Kyle Lobstein
: His reputation gets a bit overblown at times, but there is no denying Lobstein's deliberate mechanics and solid repertoire. I do have to question how much projection is left in his arm, however.
10. Cody Rogers
: Offering considerable upside, Rogers quietly put together a fantastic Appy League debut. He needs a lot of refinement, but he has a nice combination of power and speed to go along with his natural contact skills.
1. Brian Matusz
: Matusz has everything you look for in a front-of-the-rotation prospect, including an arsenal full of potentially plus pitches, a feel for the type of control it takes to succeed in the big leagues, and an intimidating demeanor on the mound.
2. Jake Arrieta
: He has an average four-pitch mix and a fastball that can occasionally touch the mid-90s, but it is time to question Arrieta's endurance. It's the only thing holding back his No. 2 starter upside.
3. Brandon Erbe
: Erbe sports impressive stuff, but he doesn't possess an out pitch and, frankly, he is far too hittable right now. His control is not where it needs to be either. He is more raw than he should be at his point, and he looks like a mid-rotation starter.
4. Matt Hobgood
: With great endurance and advanced movement for his age, Hobgood has a good amount of upside. His repertoire has a long maturation process ahead, though.
5. Zach Britton
: His groundball rate and natural, sinking action are his best assets, but Britton doesn't have enough ability to miss bats, which will become more apparent as he moves through the system.
6. Josh Bell
: Bell's home run power busted out in 2009, but his overall upside is not indicative of his numbers. He has the makings of an average third baseman with his strong eye, solid contact skills and above-average power.
7. Xavier Avery
: Avery is an eye-catching ballplayer. His raw playmaking ability is something every team craves, but the numerous holes in his swing and lousy plate patience have forced me to be patient.
8. Mychal Givens: Givens is a tremendous athlete with a killer arm at shortstop. He needs a lot of refinement in both his offensive and defensive game. He has a long way to go in order to obtain the smoothness needed to succeed as a line-drive-hitting shortstop.
9. Brandon Snyder
: If Snyder weren't a first baseman, his bat would be playable at the major league level. But his offense projects as below average as a first baseman. More development is needed, but his bat could be maxed out.
10. Ryan Adams
: With some upside left, Adams has the contact skills to play at higher levels, but the question is whether or not his power, speed and patience will ever develop into usable skills at the same time.
Posted by Matt Hagen
|"Hmm. If I'm healthy next year, I could be your fourth-round pick." (Icon/SMI)|
Warning, this is a rant—a rant with a purpose, but nevertheless one full of unnamed conspirators and false friends. I can't even say for sure that I haven't been guilty of these crimes. The point here isn't to name and blame, but rather to enjoy a bit of therapy. It is healthy for me to let it all out every now and then, and if it helps you—well then we're both smiling. Today's exorcism focuses on two ways that experts (and others) often give non-answer answers.
How would you feel about the following hypothetical question and answer?
Desperate fantasy player:
My league does our 2010 draft during this year's World Series. Who would you draft first: Johnny Damon
or Raul Ibanez
"It all depends on who stays healthy. If Ibanez can stay on the field, then he'll have the greater value. If he's not 100 percent healthy, though, and if Damon re-signs with the Yankees, then Damon might be a better pick."
What's wrong with this diagnosis? Well, the Quack doesn't actually answer the question. Instead he has provided a bunch of conditional statements. Linguistically, conditional statements often look like: if event X happens, then the value is Y.
There's nothing wrong with a conditional statement. A bunch of them can often provide more information than a single unconditional statement (which would be, e.g., "Ibanez is worth more right now than Damon"). They're useful for explaining one's reasoning: "Ibanez is worth more than Damon because if Ibanez stays healthy he'll outproduce Damon AND I don't think he's a big injury risk." But just as often, gurus use them to avoid (intentionally or otherwise) giving an answer to the hard part of the question.
For instance, how helpful is a statement like: "If Curtis Granderson
could hit lefties as well as he hits righties, he'd be a second-round pick"? Well, if you didn't know that Granderson had terrible splits, then it would be useful. But if you were wondering about his value for next year, you'd be left a little short.
Sometimes substituting a conditional statement in place of an unconditional one is helpful as long as it is accompanied by a little honesty. For instance: "I'm terrible at projecting injuries, so you should use your own expectations concerning injuries. But, if Ibanez is healthy, he is worth more than Damon." Here, the guru is telling you that he could give you an unconditional statement like "My projections are that Damon is worth more than Ibanez," but that it might be based on some unreliable injury forecasts. So, instead he provides you with the part of his forecast that he feels is more reliable, while at least being upfront about his unfamiliarity with the repercussions of Ibanez's current ailments.
"But for Ibanez's hot September (when he hit seven home runs), he was terrible after the All-Star break. You can't expect that kind of September again, so I think Ibanez is due for a regression."
Nearly everything about this guru's prognosis is correct. Ibanez did have a great September and had an equally desultory July and August. Let's ignore that he also hit seven or more home runs in April and May and grant that such months are rare events. Still, the logic above is almost certainly incorrect.
Suppose I tell you I have a die numbered 1 through X. It could be a 100-sided die (1-100), a standard six-sided die (1-6), etc. You don't know what X is—that is, you don't know how many sides it has. But I do tell you that the die rolls are each independent of each other—the result of one die roll does not affect the outcome of the next (just like any normal die). Ask yourself if there is any difference in the following pieces of information:
1) I tell you that I rolled the die 200 times and only the first four rolls came up with the number 1.
2) I tell you that I rolled the number 1 four times in 200 rolls.
The first outcome—rolling 1 four times in a row to start (and then never again)—is the far rarer outcome. Imagine a 100-sided die—then the probability of doing it would be one time out of 100 million! If we were strato-mating a baseball season with that die, probably we would never get that outcome again. Nevertheless, both statements are equally informative about how many sides the die has (that is, what X is). Statistically, this is due to the independence assumption—which means that the order in which events occur is uninformative.
Now replace "rolls a 1" with "hits a home run." As long as the independence assumption holds in baseball, then it makes no difference whether Ibanez hits all his home runs in September or not. Only the sheer number of home runs is informative, not when they occurred.
There are many discussions of the independence assumptions—for instance, if there is such a thing as a hot or cold player. Most research points against streaks and for independence. It doesn't really matter here actually, unless you believe that streaks can carry over through the offseason and into the next. Off the top of my head, many gurus use "buts" to remove rare events from consideration. Few of them, I would venture, believe in multi-season streaks.
Posted by Jonathan Halket
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Since his entry into the major leagues, Jay Bruce
has been both brilliant and frustrating—teasing owners with his potential while falling short of those expectations.
The saga of Jay Bruce
begins all the way back in 2005, when he was drafted 15th overall by the Cincinnati Reds. Premiering in rookie ball that year, Bruce showed good power for an 18-year-old, hitting nine long balls in 192 at-bats. A good-but-not-great debut saw the young outfielder hit .270/.331/.500 and .257/.358/.457 between the Gulf Coast League and the Pioneer League that year. His 22 walks were a good showing for the youngster, but 53 strikeouts were somewhat troubling. Still, his projectability and positive overall line earned him a promotion to A-ball in 2006.
The next season saw Bruce premier for Dayton in the Midwest League. Bruce again produced, with a .291/.355/.516 line in 492 plate appearances, with 16 home runs. Bruce flashed a bit of speed, as well, posting 19 steals. His plate discipline was a bit underwhelming, however, as he managed just 44 walks against 106 Ks.
2007 was quite the season for Bruce, as he slugged his way through three levels, reaching Triple-A in time to post 203 plate appearances. His power numbers made some dramatic leaps, as he was able to hit 26 home runs in 521 at-bats. Still, his plate discipline lagged behind his tools, as the 20-year-old walked just 47 times against 135 strikeouts.
The 2008 season finally saw the arrival of the Reds' prized prospect, as his .364/.393/.630 showing at Triple-A Louisville finally forced the Reds to call up their outfielder. Bruce continued to hit well, raking upon promotion, though tailing off by the end of the season. Still, he performed right along with his minor league indicators: plenty of power but little plate discipline. His 21 home runs in 413 at-bats were a great sign, but 33 walks against 110 strikeouts were troubling. Still, Bruce was young, so strike zone judgment problems were acceptable.
2009 was quite the downer for Bruce. His overall line of .223/.303/.470 was very poor, and he missed 57 games between July and September with a hand fracture. Still, there was a lot to like about Bruce's year—and the poor overall line sets him up to be quite the value pick for the 2010 draft.
First off, don't take his overall line at face value. Sure, he had an awful 13.0 percent line drive rate, but a .222 BABIP is just too low for a hitter of Bruce's caliber to sustain. This, alone, is the primary factor in Bruce's poor line. We'll assume, for argument's sake, that Bruce posted a .300 BABIP. With this improvement, his batting average would rise to the high .270s. With Bruce's hitting ability, his .298 BABIP in 2008, and post-injury conclusion to the season, we have reason to believe that Bruce can turn his woes around in this department. Still, when assessing his prospects for 2010, err on the side of caution when assessing his 2010 BABIP.
There is more to like besides just his BABIP, however. Bruce made some big strides with his plate discipline this past season. He became a more patient hitter, dropping both his O-Swing percentage (30.4 percent O-Swing in 2008, versus 26.0 percent in 2009) and his swing percentage (51.2 percent in 2008, versus 48.0 percent in 2009). This means that Bruce was becoming more selective at the plate, a great indicator for any hitter, especially one with as much power potential as Bruce. In addition, his contact percentage made a nice improvement, rising from very poor in 2008 (71.6 percent) to adequate in 2009 (75.9 percent). Further, pitchers gave even more respect to Bruce's power in 2009, dropping the percent of pitches thrown to Bruce in the zone to a lowly 45.7 percent.
All told, these were very encouraging developments for Bruce. With improved selectivity, he should be able to translate the better offerings into more power, while adding walks. Even though he showed good improvements in his walk rate in 2009, at 9.9 percent, his plate discipline statistics are more indicative of a walk rate around 12 percent. However, his K-rate may take a rise as well, as his rates suggest a strikeout rate around 23 percent. The plate discipline hurdle is a major one for any hitter with a middling sense of the strike zone, so these improvements are very important to Bruce's development.
Bruce's 2009 was very much a tale of two seasons—his putrid pre-injury and excellent post-injury performances. While an injury is never a good thing for an athlete, especially a wrist fracture to a power hitter, the mishap could have actually saved Bruce's season. Hitting a paltry .207/.283/.441 line before the all-star break, he finished the season on a very positive note, hitting .326/.426/.652 in 54 plate appearances, including four homers, eight walks, and 12 strikeouts. In addition, his BABIP recovered, sitting at a cool .366 through the end of the year. Sure, the small sample size is unfortunate, but the success is a great sign for Bruce next season.
Overall, the young Bruce is quite the prospect, both for real life and fantasy. He has great power, demonstrated by his 22 home runs in 345 at-bats and career 18.3 percent HR/FB rate. He hit more fly balls in 2009, 48.5 percent, which, for a power hitter, is a huge positive. And, he is improving in almost every phase of his game. However, his lefty-righty splits still bear watching, as he hit 20 homers in 245 at-bats against righties, with just two shots in 100 at-bats against lefties. His 2010 performance will be interesting in his future outlook, though he is still young enough to find success against southpaws.
While at first glance, Jay Bruce
's 2009 season seems like a step back in his development, he actually made a number of significant improvements that will progress his career. He improved quite significantly in his strike zone judgment and selectivity, while also improving his fly ball tendencies. While wrist issues are always problematic for a hitter, he seems to have put these concerns to rest with a strong September. For 2010, expect a very different Jay Bruce
, one who finally lives up to his No. 1 prospect billing. A .275-.285 average with 30 home runs doesn't seem out of the question. If he is able to maintain his plate discipline gains, he could post an OPS in the .900s as well, with the high .900s a possibility and 1.000—while a reach—not out of the question. After such a poor 2009, he should go significantly lower than where his true value lies, so don't be afraid to draft him earlier than his big board listing. For next year, watch his contact rate and O-swing percentage, as well as his line drive rate—as they go, so do Bruce. In the end, he looks to be a very good outfielder in 12-team mixed leagues, with an outside chance at stardom. Especially if you're in a keeper league, don't miss out on his 2010 season.
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Posted by Mike Silver
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Two full MLB seasons have now been played since Derek Carty laid out his strategy
for drafting closers. At the conclusion of that article he states that "taking closers early in a mixed league or shallow AL- or NL-only league is simply a mistake" and instead suggests drafting closers later and having some reliance on the waiver wire for saves.
In general I would call that sound advice since saves are a relatively unpredictable commodity
and more easily found on the wire than the other fantasy categories. Before we take a step forward let's first take a look at the saves in 2009 that could have been acquired cheaply. We will show this first in a graph of each reliever's ADP against his save total, for every reliever chosen within the first 210 picks of drafts:
As you can see toward the right side of the graph, quite a few closers drafted near the 200th pick still contributed 20-plus saves. The two dots farthest up and right are Ryan Franklin
and Fernando Rodney
, who had fantastic seasons that far exceeded anyone's expectations.
As a side note, this graph does a good job of showing how the elite closers do not necessarily get you more saves than closers drafted later, but almost guarantee you will get a fair amount out of them. In 2009 at least, of the 14 closers drafted in the first 150 picks, 13 earned at least 20 saves. The one outlier was the injured and ineffective B.J. Ryan
Do not be fooled in thinking the only cheap saves came from the players represented in the graph above. Plenty of closers—or perhaps relievers-turned-closers—went undrafted in most leagues but still earned saves through some means. In 2009 those players were:
Some of these closers took over for their injured peers and others simply pitched their way into the role. The common theme, though, is that in the preseason it was incredibly difficult to picture any of these players having the success they did, and all of these players made their way on fantasy teams via waivers or free agency.
With so many saves available late in drafts and for free on the waiver wire, you would think it would be easy to get saves without drafting a closer early. The truth is, however, that it is fairly easy to get squeezed out of the saves market.
There are two basic ways in which you can acquire saves and they are through drafting and through the waiver wire. Yes, trading for closers is an option, but you should not head into a season expecting to acquire saves through trades.
Focusing on just drafting and adding, ideally you would acquire all of your closers through free agency since there is no cost in doing so. Few things are ideal though, and it is important to estimate in the preseason how many saves you can expect to get from free agents. The way you make that estimation is by knowing what type of league settings lead to more competition in adding free agents and whether that competition will benefit or hurt you. This was discussed in my article a few weeks ago on the impact of 3G phones
on fantasy sports, which I suggest reading.
The more you can lean on free agents, the less you have to invest on closers in the draft and vice versa.
Although this idea sounds simple enough, many fantasy owners fail to appropriately estimate how many saves they can squeeze out of free agency over the course of the season. They follow seemingly sound advice like Derek's, pick a few closers late in the draft and leave a dependency on the wire to give them an extra boost in saves. As the graph of ADP vs save totals shows though, the owner gambling on closers late is doing just that—gambling.
If the closers this owner took a chance on fail—which is fairly likely—then this owner better be aggressive in finding saves in free agency lest he be forced to either punt the category or trade away talent on his team for closers. Through simple planning, it is easy to avoid having to go down either of those two undesirable routes.
While Derek's advice from two years ago follows a good thought process, it assumes that you can have at least some dependency on waivers for saves to supplant the ones you draft. If, however, you appropriately estimate that your league-mates will simply beat you to the wire most of the time, then I suggest following the advice Derek Ambrosino gave in the comments section of my article linked to above. He said:
If you know you are traditionally slow to the wire, you may have to bump the top-tier, reliable closers up your sheet on draft day.
This is not to say that elite closers are 100 percent reliable and risk-free, but as the ADP vs Saves graph above shows, elite closers are substantially more dependable than their less-touted counterparts.
In many ways being a good fantasy baseball player is being a good estimator and it is extremely important to be able to accurately estimate how much production you can get out of free agents. Those who are disillusioned to their situation and think they can wait to draft closers on draft day will ultimately pay the price come the end of the season.
Posted by Paul Singman
Monday, November 02, 2009
How do you prepare for auctions/drafts? Do you refer to rankings or projections during the draft? Do you spend hours and hours copiously reviewing rankings for weeks or months in advance? Personally, I think if you prepare correctly, by learning the concepts of fantasy baseball, doing incredible amounts of legwork reaches the point of diminishing returns pretty quickly.
For the most part, I just make sure I’m briefed on players who changed teams in the offseason and those who have experienced injuries. I keep a list of rankings (from anywhere, really, it’s just to have a list of names, not for the rankings themselves), and a list of each team’s closer. For repeat roto leagues, I also take the standings from the past year and mark off what the 50th and 75th percentiles and the winning totals were for each category. I don’t really use formal projections (mainly, but not entirely, because I’m too cheap to pay for them), but do try to keep a rough running tally as I select players, using a conservative estimate of what I can expect from each, by category. I aim to be competitive in each category, measured against the benchmarks of the previous season.
But, in terms of preparation, it is much more important to learn strategies, theories, trends and concepts than to spend time tweaking rankings. Many people spend way too much time deliberating about individual decisions regarding high ranked players. Those are not the decisions that sway leagues. You don’t win or lose a league on the basis of deciding between Mark Teixeira
and Ryan Howard
. You lose a league because you only have one viable source of stolen bases, or maybe because your top picks were all power-hitting corners and you have no plus middle infielders.
Let’s take a step back and consider one of the most popular models to explain how people develop skills.
In psychology, the “four stages of competence” refers to a model explaining the psychological states one goes through in the process of developing a skill. The four stages are as follows.
: You don’t know how to do something, and are unaware of your deficiencies. This attitude is expressed by many who do not play fantasy baseball and demean the whole endeavor, and people who repeatedly play poorly and dismiss the repeated success of others (and their own failures) as entirely due to luck.
: You are still inept, but you recognize that you don’t really know what you are doing. This is often the stage where players realize that fantasy baseball has its own distinct strategies and dynamics, and that the relationship between knowledge of the real, corresponding sport and the fantasy sport are not apples to apples, but more like a Venn diagram.
: You know what you are doing, but executing requires a great deal of concentration and premeditation. These are the guys who pour over rankings, have extremely rigid, but well-crafted draft strategies. Preparation is key in this stage. As one progresses through this stage, players begin to learn how to adapt to trends in drafts/auctions as they develop and how to exploit any inefficiency in how a league is set up.
: Executing the skill at a high level is second nature to you. You can join a league of strangers a half-hour before the draft, take a quick look at the settings and draft a competitive team. You can determine pretty quickly what other players’ strategies are and make reads on which types of players are over- and under-drafted.
When I embark on learning a new skill, I try to do so in a way that promotes the development of unconscious competence. I don’t want to focus on isolated tasks; I want to understand underlying themes. I’ve helped a number of people throughout the years prepare for standardized tests, particularly the SATs, and I always told them they should spend most of their time (especially if they don’t have much) on learning things that are guaranteed to benefit them no matter what the actual questions on the test are. How is the test scored? When is it in your advantage to guess? What are the question archetypes? What can you learn by analyzing the potential answers to a question without even considering the question? How should you budget your time?
Those who spend an exorbitant amount of time going over long vocabulary lists are making highly inefficient use of their time. (At the very least, study roots, suffixes and prefixes instead.) This information is only of use if the test happens to ask about a specific word, and the whole exercise is only applicable to one portion of the test. Spending time considering Miguel Cabrera
vs. Evan Longoria
in next year’s draft is akin to studying vocabulary lists for the SATs. It’s very limited in scope, and chances are you won’t even be in a situation where you have to make that decision.
So what should you spend your time thinking about? Here are a couple of more broadly applicable exercises one might want to do in preparation for next year:
Monitor trends in positional scarcity
. Most THT readers are pretty savvy about the importance of considering the depth of high-level options at each position when determining value. While corners are usually more plentiful than middle-infielders, the overall trends tend to ebb and flow. It seems that third base is thinner today than it was just a few years ago. Additionally, in deeper leagues that use more than three outfielders, outfield isn’t as deep a position as many people seem to think it is.
Look at past year’s draft results for patterns
. Even if your league provider does not index previous year’s leagues, you should print out the draft results of each league so you can refer to them in the future. In one of my regular leagues, the group just tends to value closers very highly. What you do with this information is up to you. You may decide that you have to take closers earlier than you planned to counteract this trend, or you may decide that you want to try to take advantage of this trend by stocking up on extra bats or loading your starting rotation. Regardless, being aware of the trend will inform your decisions. Looking at past draft results is like estimating a customized version ADP.
Make a list of one-trick ponies
. Though it is best to avoid having to draft a player who only contributes in one or two categories, sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. So, make sure you have contingency plans in the case you realize you’re late in the draft and have a categorically imbalanced roster. You may need a Jack Cust
, or a Luis Castillo
even if that player isn’t the overall best option on the board.
Benchmark a winning season
. Think about your team as a unit, not a collection of individual players. Figure out what you need to average from each of your active roster spots to finish in the 75th percentile of each category. This will help you draft players whose skill sets compliment each other.
How do you budget your time when preparing for an upcoming season? What tools do you use? What activities do you feel are indispensable and which are inefficient uses of your time and resources?
Posted by Derek Ambrosino
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