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Friday, November 20, 2009
Rajai Davis | Oakland | OF
2009 Final Stats: .305/.360/.423
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:
Heater/Graphical Player: 455 AB, .274-69-5-44-42 (AVG-R-HR-RBI-SB)
Bill James Handbook: 496 AB, .284-74-4-44-50
CHONE (baseballprojection.com): 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.
Aaron Hill | Toronto | 2B
2009 Final Stats: .286/.330/.499
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.
Edwin Jackson | 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 at 4:00am
Jake Fox | Chicago | CIF/OF
2009 Final Stats: .259/.311/.468
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.
Jordan Zimmermann | 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.
Mat Latos | 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 at 2:00am
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