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Friday, November 06, 2009
Derek Jeter | New York | SS
2009 Final Stats: .334/.406/.465
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.
Mark Teixeira | New York | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .292/.383/.565
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]
Paul Konerko | Chicago | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .277/.353/.489
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.
Chad Gaudin | 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?
Tommy Hunter | 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.
Matt Garza | 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.
Koji Uehara | 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.
Billy Wagner | 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 at 4:00am
Eugenio Velez | San Francisco | 2B/OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.308/.400
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.
Ian Desmond | Washington | SS
2009 Final Stats: .280/.318/.561
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.
Dan Runzler | 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 at 2:00am
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