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Thursday, December 31, 2009
1. Mike Stanton: Stanton's power is absolutely legit and still growing. His plate discipline and contact skills leave much to be desired, but they are still growing as well. He's exciting but still needs at least one more full year in the minors.
2. Logan Morrison: Morrison is one of those guys that goes about his business with quiet competitiveness and polished yet underrated consistency. With incredible plate patience and enviable contact skills, he is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Stanton in that regard.
3. Chad James: James has your typical combination of a low-90s fastball and a great frame to add more velocity. His curveball shows promise as his out pitch, and his change-up is usable. He is a solid first round high school pitcher.
4. Matt Dominguez: Dominguez has progressed slower than expected, but he is still just 20-years-old. Yet, it is getting to the point where one can legitimately question every aspect of his bat. The tools and potential are still apparent, but tangible progress must be made soon.
5. Kyle Skipworth: Skipworth laid a dud in his full season debut. For his age he did show some flashes of power, however. His stock has certainly taken a hit, but he is way too young and talented to give up on.
6. Ryan Tucker: Injuries hit Tucker hard in 2009. His season was short and difficult to swallow. Yet, his injuries are not too serious. He has the talent of a #2 starter, and 2010 could be his legit breakout.
7. Jake Smolinski: As far as I can tell, Smolinski is still being floated between second base and third base, and he has the skills for either position. He has a strong eye and solid contact skills. He could be a .300 hitter one day with a bit of playable power to boot. I like him, but his power doesn't stand out, leaving his upside limited.
8. Brad Hand: Hand had a decent Sally League debut. His promising fastball / curveball combination showed strong flashes, but his control came and went. Look for his mound presence and consistency to take the next step in 2010.
9. Isaac Galloway: Galloway has tools galore, but he is as unrefined as they come. His most glaring deficiency is his plate discipline. His power and speed have potential, but have been a disappointment thus far. He is a long way away but one to keep an eye on.
10. Gaby Sanchez: Sanchez seems stuck at first base, and it is looking more and more unlikely that his bat will be even average in the major leagues. He does have some power, plate coverage, consistency, and possibly even more room to grow. He is running out of time, however.
New York Mets
1. Jenrry Mejia: Mejia mowed down most opponents on his way to a breakout 2009. Overall, though, his Double-A performance left much to be desired, and his Arizona Fall League stint was disastrous. He has a long way to go before his control and consistency catch up to his velocity.
2. Fernando Martinez: Martinez's stock has faded somewhat over the last year or two. His contact skills and gap power are solid, giving him the look of a future .300 hitter, but his home run power and plate patience haven't progressed much. Yet, he is still just 21-years-old.
3. Wilmer Flores: Flores has an athletic frame that can hold more weight, leaving me to think that his strong gap power will progress into home run power. At just 18-years-old he had an okay Sally League debut, but he has plenty of time for every aspect of his game to develop.
4. Ike Davis: Davis silenced his doubters in 2009. His 2008 season was forgettable, but his power hit the main stage last year. His batting average and on base percentage were eye-opening as well, leaving many thinking Davis has a future as an above-average first baseman.
5. Reese Havens: Havens may not stick at shortstop, but his bat should play at both second and third base. He has some thunder in his bat and has demonstrated a good amount of plate discipline. However, I am discouraged that he spent the entire year, as a 23-year-old, at Advanced-A while only posting a .247 batting average.
6. Jonathon Niese: I still consider Niese an under the radar prospect, but he deserves a slot at the back-end of New York's rotation in 2010 based on his strong three-pitch mix and constant improvement. His future lies as a #3 starter.
7. Jeurys Familia: There is a lot to like about the athletic and still growing Familia. His fastball sits in the low-90s and has room to expand. His curveball is inconsistent but has all the makings of a plus offering. His successful full season debut in the Sally League lends support to the scouting reports.
8. Ruben Tejada: Tejada put together an eye-opening Double-A performance in 2009. It appears that he could stick at shortstop, but Jose Reyes is ultimately blocking his ascent there. His plate coverage and contact ability are advanced beyond his years, and his speed will be an asset as he moves forward, but his body type will not allow much power. Yet he does have a solid shot to be a full-time major league middle infielder.
9. Brad Holt: Holt's fastball could mean the top of the rotation is in his future, but every other aspect of his game needs serious refinement. His movement, control, and secondary offerings leave much to be desired, which is discouraging for a 23-year-old.
10. Josh Thole: Thole has a future if he can become an adequate defender behind the plate. He possesses great contact skills and some gap power, but his home run power is lacking, even for a catcher, meaning his upside is limited.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 1:47pm (5) Comments
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Nolan Reimold was one of the bigger surprises of the 2009 fantasy season. Drawn from relative obscurity, he put up good power numbers and a decent batting average—rounding out many teams in need of free outfield help off the waiver wire. But where did this Nolan Reimold come from? And, more importantly, what can we expect from him next season?
Drafted in the second round of the 2005 June draft by the Baltimore Orioles, the 21-year-old Reimold began his professional baseball career at Aberdeen of the New York-Penn League. He got off to quite the hot start, showing good power (nine home runs in 180 at-bats) with a good sense of the strike zone, walking 29 times to go along with 44 strikeouts on his way to a .294/.392/.550 line. Finishing out the season at High-A Frederick, Reimold continued his hot hitting, belting six homers in 83 at-bats, with 12 walks but a ghastly 27 strikeouts. Still, his power potential was very encouraging, propelling the outfielder to a ranking of fourth-best in the Orioles' system and 99th-best in MLB. Acquitting himself well, Reimold was left to repeat High-A in 2006, where he would continue to work on his plate discipline and power stroke.
As in the season before, Reimold’s 2006 was a positive mix of power and plate discipline, but some nagging strikeout issues. With 19 home runs in 415 at-bats and a 76:107 walk to strikeout rate, Reimold put up a .255/.379/.455 line. While his BB:K rate was very encouraging—especially his 15.5 walk percentage—his strikeouts were still less than optimal, as he struck out in just under 26 percent of his at-bats. Without 30-plus home run power, it was starting to look like he would struggle to put up consistently good batting averages. Still, the Orioles had little to complain about with a powerful batter who profiled as a starting corner outfielder.
2007 was very much a lost season for Reimold, as he registered just 242 plate appearances between nine games at rookie ball and 50 at Double-A Bowie. In the time he did play, he posted another solid season for a power-hitting prospect, belting 11 home runs in 186 at bats. However, his plate discipline faltered in the promotion, as Double-A pitchers ate him up to a 0.36 BB:K ratio with 47 strikeouts in 186 at-bats, against just 17 walks. While he didn’t strike out with any more frequency at Double-A, the drop in walks was a concern, hinting that Reimold could have problems controlling the strike zone at the upper levels of the minors. Still, the season was a fine one and prospects had made careers with less. Still among the best prospects in the Orioles’ system, Reimold headed to 2008 scheduled for a repeat of Double-A Bowie, where he looked to put a full season together in his path to the big leagues.
His age-24 season under way, Reimold showed some good improvement in his second tour at Bowie. In 507 at-bats, Reimold slugged 25 home runs, with a 0.77 BB:K ratio. His walk rate recovered a bit from its 2007 decline, rising to 11.1 percent. Perhaps more exciting, however, was Reimold’s steep drop in strikeouts, as he whiffed just 82 times in 507 at-bats, good for a 16.2 percent K-rate. For a batter with good, not great, power like Reimold, this was a welcome development, as it was a great help to his rate statistics and batting averages. On the strength of his .284/.367/.501 line, Reimold headed to Triple-A as Baltimore’s fifth-best prospect and one with his eye on a possible big league call-up.
The 2009 season was a big one for the 25-year-old Reimold, as it included a blistering stint at Triple-A followed by his promotion and success as the major league level. His short stint at Triple-A consisted of just 31 games and 109 at-bats, including nine home runs and a .394/.485/.743 line. The big club needing reinforcements from injury early on, Reimold was called up in mid-May and stayed there for good. Playing in 104 games, Reimold performed very well, especially for a rookie getting his first dose of major league pitching. With 358 at-bats to his credit, he slugged 15 home runs to go along with a 0.61 BB:K ratio on his way to a .279/.365/.466 triple slash line. Overall, it was a very good rookie season, though not spectacular by any means.
The bottom line on Reimold seems to be that he is a good hitter though lacking in any real star power. For fantasy purposes, his power hitting is really his best asset, though it doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary when it comes to fantasy batters. His 14.2 percent HR/FB ratio is a good number but nothing to write home about, comparable to Matt Kemp (14.4 percent), Pablo Sandoval (14.0 percent) and Mark DeRosa (14.5 percent). It would help his power numbers to hit a higher percentage of fly balls, as his 37.3 percent flyball rate is, again, nothing special. His 1.29 GB/FB rate could use a little help as well for a player profiling as a power hitter as Reimold does.
If anything in his batted ball profile could use improvement, however, it would be his line drive rate and his pop-up rate. With just a 14.4 percent line drive rate on the season, Reimold would benefit from hitting a few more line drives. However, his .320 BABIP means that the low line drive rate didn’t hurt him much last year. His pop-up rate of 16.0 percent is also a poor number, leading to too many easy outs. If he had qualified for the batting title last season, he would have had the fifth-highest pop-up rate in the league—not the most glowing review of his prospects for maintaining a .320 BABIP.
In terms of his plate discipline, what you see is just about what you get. His 21.5 percent strikeout rate and 11.6 percent walk rate are right about where you would expect them to be, given his plate discipline indicators. His 80.3 percent contact rate is good for a power hitter and his 20.5 percent O-Swing percentage is encouraging in that he doesn’t chase poor pitches often. With a 42.3 percent swing rate and 50.5 percent zone percentage, he will be continue to draw walks at a good rate, so there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about here. Everything seems to be right in place.
Overall, Reimold profiles as a below-average outfielder in 12-team mixed leagues, which, considering the standards it takes to be an average outfielder, is still valuable. For next year, he seems good for some where in the mid-20s for home runs, with a shot to launch 30 bombs. His batting average should fall somewhere right around .270, given a slight regression in his BABIP. Tossing in double-digit steals, he looks like a good bet for some decent production next year, but nothing overly spectacular.
When analyzing his stats early on, keep an eye on his line drive rate, strikeout rate, and O-Swing percentage. It would be nice to see an improvement in his line drive percentage, which would indicate that he is putting better swings on the ball. His strikeout rate and O-Swing rate will likely go hand-in-hand. If he can keep the O-Swing rate down, he’ll likely be fine on the strikeout front—which really hasn’t been problematic since 2007. In all, Reimold should be a solid pick, just don’t expect anything overwhelming out of his stat line.
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 at 12:48am
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
In a similar vein to Chris Jaffe's spirit yesterday in his column, I figured I would forgo the traditional article highlighting some player or detailing some strategy I come up with and instead write a lighter piece on fantasy sports in general.
Lately I've come across a lot of "Best of the Decade" or "A Decade in Review" type lists in newspapers and magazines, and on television. It is amazing how the events of the past decade grow farther and farther into the past, and how they feel like they happened long ago when cataloged into lists such as "Most Influential Internet Moments of the Decade."
Similarly fantasy sports has come a long way since its inception in 1980 by writer Danny Okrent with his original Rotisserie League. Most of that change has come in the past decade with the usage of the internet that revolutionized fantasy sports from a time-consuming hobby reserved for fanatics to one that can be played casually with little commitment (though still can be time-consuming if one so chooses).
Although I was too young to be such a person, I've talked with people who played fantasy sports before the internet version arrived and heard them reminisce about keeping track of fantasy leagues through faxing and calling league members up on the phone to discuss trade offers only to be embarrassed when the person's wife answers. All of that was thrown out the window when commissioner.com (now CBSsports) offered league hosting (for a fee) and RotoNews (now RotoWire) offered immediate news updates on all players for the first time in 1997.
Yahoo Sports took the online boom to a new level in 1999 when it began offering hosting of fantasy leagues for free. To read their initial press release announcing the free fantasy leagues, click here. As for that A-Rod Club they started, that was an interesting experiment that seems to have deteriorated quickly.
As fantasy sports have grown (to something around 30 million+ people nowadays in North America), they have had a major impact on the "actual sports" they simulate. From the individual fan's perspective they have greatly increased knowledge of players on all teams, not just the local team. Without fantasy sports who would care about the minutia of the Cincinnati Reds outfield?
With that extended fan interest beyond just local teams comes a lot of extra revenue for sports in the form of larger TV deals, higher advertising prices, and greater sales of packages such as NFL Sunday Ticket and MLB.TV. According to a study by a University of Mississippi professor, fantasy sports has a $3 billion to $4 billion economic impact on the sports industry, and that makes me wonder why MLB Advanced Media and the Players Association would try to prevent fantasy sports sites from using players' names and stats without a licensing agreement in 2007. Luckily the courts ruled in favor of the fantasy sports sites saying: "It would be strange law that a person would not have a First Amendment right to use information that is available to everyone.''
Fantasy sports have truly come a long way and every year there seems to be some improvement with interfaces and new features added. I am not sure what the future of fantasy sports will look like, but I can say I am excited to see how the game evolves in the years to come.
Posted by Paul Singman at 1:37am
Monday, December 28, 2009
Even people who don't trust statistical analysis like FIP and xFIP know that Ricky Nolasco was not as bad as his 2009 ERA suggests. The question though is how good can he be once his numbers regress to the mean? I would like to suggest that his skills took the same leap in 2009 as Justin Verlander, but poor BABIP and LOB% caused the poor outcomes. Heading into 2010 this comparison might help us find out how good Nolasco will be.
Record ERA K BB WHIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB% xFIP Verlander 19-9 3.45 269 63 1.18 10.09 2.36 4.27 36% 3.26 Nolasco 13-9 5.06 195 44 1.25 9.49 2.14 4.43 38.3% 3.28
If you hold your thumb over the ERA and take the number of innings pitched into account you're looking at a very solid matchup. From their strikeouts to walks to ground balls they could have been essentially the same pitcher in 2009. Looking here you can see Verlander even dealt with some poor luck of his own. If they were so close, though, what made the difference and will it happen again in 2010?
First up is something the pitchers can't control. Their team defense was something that separates them and contributed to their ERA difference. Looking at UZR/150 for their teams, the Tigers had a 7.2 and the Marlins had a poor -3.4. That didn't really help Verlander's BABIP, which finished at .328, but did maintain a 72% LOB. On the other hand, the defense behind Nolasco led to a high BABIP at .336 and a low LOB% at 61%.
So the defense did have some effect on this comparison in 2009, but will it continue next year? It's possible there ares some positives for the Marlins as they are looking to move Dan Uggla and have already moved Jeremy Hermida. The two were poor defenders and an upgrade over them would be a positive for Nolasco. At the same time, Verlander is going to lose Placido Polanco next year; he was arguably the best defender on the Tigers.
Trying to put a projection on defense would be foolish, but with a few proper moves this could be a nonfactor for Nolasco in 2010 and make him more competitive.
Regression to the mean
Neither pitcher here had ever posted strikeout rates over 8.20 at the major league level and suddenly in 2009 they both passed nearly 9.50 K/9. That seems like something that is headed for a decline next year, but how far is the question. Both have career averages around 7.9-8 and that is where we should assume they will regress toward. Looking at Bill James' numbers he thinks both will be around 8.30 next year making both still impressive strikeout pitchers.
On the other hand, walk rate is something we might assume Nolasco will be better in next year. His career rate is 2.19, making his 2.14 this year not that surprising. Verlander, meanwhile, has a career rate of 3.02. That would make it a strong possibility that Verlander falls some in 2010 with his walk rate.
If we follow these expected numbers of regression, we can see that Nolasco is the stronger candidate to post better K/BB numbers in 2010. This doesn't guarantee he is the better pitcher, but it sure doesn't hurt.
As close as these guys are, you can see how much value you could gain by waiting on Verlander and grabbing Nolasco. Since both should see a small amount of regression in their underlying numbers you might even see a better year from Nolasco. Currently at MockDraftCentral you can see Verlander is being selected around the 46 pick while Nolasco is going around 106. That is anywhere from three to four rounds later depending on your league size and well worth the wait.
Posted by Troy Patterson at 4:29am
Friday, December 25, 2009
Dexter Fowler | Colorado | OF
2009 Final Stats: .266/.363/.406
I wrote about Colorado's crowded OF situation in an earlier Offseason Waiver Wire, and little has changed since that assessment. Colorado still needs to figure out if they're keeping Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs or Brad Hawpe, or if they can find a good trade partner for any of them.
Regardless of what happens, Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez are going to stick with the Rockies, though there's some question about where. Either could lead off or play center field, but Tracy leaned towards Fowler in center and Gonzalez at leadoff, with Fowler batting second. If that's how they play in 2010, it will affect Fowler only in his RBI and R totals, and perhaps his SBs. But is that the best spot for both?
Compared to CarGo, Fowler shows slightly better plate discipline and superior speed, so they could swap places. Fowler showed a 12.9 BB% and .58 BB/K in 2009, while CarGo turned in a 8.8 BB% and .40 BB/K. Despite those skills, CarGo outperformed Fowler in the leadoff spot, hitting .300/.379/.573 at the top of the order, with a whopping .391/.481/.913 as the first batter of the game, and .333/.409/.654 leading off the inning. Fowler, on the other hand, hit .255/.354/.394 as the leadoff hitter, including .183/.272/.317 as the first batter of the game, and .222/.326/.365 leading off an inning.
That could indicate Gonzalez can handle the leadoff pressure, or that these are statistical anomalies that will flatten out over time. Either way, it looks like Fowler should open up as Tracy's #2 hitter in 2010, but it might not stick. Gonzalez has had much more time at the AAA and big-league level, while Fowler has been rushed, so he could develop a bit more.
Fowler's shown the ability to adjust, improving his core skills at each minor-league level, with a BB/K that rose steadily from .37 in 2005 to .73 in 2008, and a walk rate that peaked at 15% in single-A Modesto, but was consistently over 10. Similarly, his contact skills got better, going from a 67% to a 79% in the same span.
So Fowler is likely to improve from the .58 BB/K and 73% contact rate he exhibited in 2009. Because he skipped AAA, he may take longer to develop than other players, however. 2010 could see him struggle more, with a potential demotion to AAA if the struggles become severe, particularly if the Rockies don't unload Smith, Hawpe or Spilborghs. Regardless, however, CF in Coors will be his, barring injury or blockbuster trade.
Where he should continue to provide value, no matter how long his hitting may take to develop, is with his speed—he reached base about 180 times in 2009, and attempted 37 steals, getting caught 10 times, for a success rate of 73%. This builds on a minor league trajectory where he also improved his stealing ability, ending with a 71% in 2008. Look for him to keep swiping bags, with his counting numbers rising as he learns to reach base more. I'd bet on him exceeding that 19 SB projection, assuming good health and PT.
The package makes Fowler absolutely keeper-worthy, particularly as he's begun to add power to his repertoire. Like other prospects, he may hit some bumps in 2010, which is why his OPS projection is fairly modest, but he'll definitely help you in SBs without killing you in other areas. If he can put it all together in 2010, of course, he's liable to help you in virtually every scoring category. I don't see him hitting his peak for another season or two, but he's going to provide value well into the future, and will probably be worth the extra buck or two in redraft leagues. Just remember how young he is and don't go more than that extra dollar.
Jordan Schafer | Atlanta | OF
2009 Final Stats: .204/.313/.287
Schafer has been one of Atlanta's top outfield prospects, but a variety of recent setbacks have really hurt his development. The first came in 2008 when he sat for 50 games after testing positive for HGH, but he began 2009 in the Braves' big-league starting lineup anyway. He looked like a winner at first, hitting two homers in his first three games, but hurt his wrist in their very first home series against Washington, a bone bruise that would derail this promising start.
From that point onwards, he would hit .181/.296/.222 in 44 games, earning a demotion to AAA in June as the wrist continued to bother him. Several days later, he reported hearing a pop in his wrist, and he was put on the DL for what became a season-long stint. After trying non-invasive procedures to heal it, Atlanta opted to put him under the knife for a surgery that would stabilize his wrist by stringing a wire between two bones. At last report, he was healing fine and only recently came out of his cast.
The Braves are now expecting him to report to spring training fully recovered, but the picture has become much muddier. The trade for Nate McLouth came soon after Schafer's demotion, and the recent swap for Melky Cabrera puts two substantial roadblocks in his road back to CF. Matt Diaz nailed down a corner spot with a strong platoon-free 2009 and 19-year old prospect Jason Heyward, considered much more of an offensive threat than Schafer, is chomping at the bit after a .323/.408/.555 season at three levels in 2009.
Right now, the Braves have said that Schafer should begin the season in AAA, unsurprising because of his health and performance issues, as well as the simple arithmetic of playing time. The drug suspension and last year's wrist problems mean that he's only accumulated 582 PAs in the past two seasons, with just 233 of them above AA. Add that to the rehab of a surgically repaired wrist, and you can see Schafer's far from a sure bet and is unlikely to provide much value for your team in 2010.
He's going to need plenty more seasoning before he comes back to the bigs for good, and when he does, McLouth (signed through 2012) is in his way, barring another trade. Cabrera is more of a fourth outfielder than a real impediment to Schafer or any other young prospect, and Matt Diaz isn't a huge roadblock, either. But it does mean that Schafer will have to recover much of his old skills to crack the big-league lineup.
When he does, you can expect a well-rounded player with a 75% contact rate in the minors, a 9% walk rate, a .41 batting eye, 66 SBs (in 102 attempts) and a .269/.337/.446 batting line. None of those are particularly eye-popping, so while scouts love the package he offers and he'll eventually help in most categories, he's not a top-shelf fantasy stud.
With the setbacks he's endured, and the rocky path to a full-time role, Schafer can probably be ignored on Draft Day, except by the deepest of keeper leagues. Watch him in Spring Training to see how his wrist has healed and (obviously) whether he starts the year with the Braves in Atlanta or the Braves in Gwinnett County.
Martin Gandy, the GP Atlanta Braves expert, didn't believe that Schafer would get any significant PAs at all, which is why there's no GP mini-browser for him. But anything can happen, so he's worth monitor throughout the season, but he's really not worth a fantasy roster spot unless he's got a starting spot—even then, his ceiling is nowhere near Fowler's.
Andrew McCutchen | Pittsburgh | OF
2009 Final Stats: .286/.365/.471
And then there are the players who surprise you. Everyone knew McCutchen had skills, but we analysts focused on his great speed and batting ability, not his power. After all, the guy had a .286/.362/.423 minor-league line, with 43 HRs spread over 5 seasons; the 96 doubles, like the 22 triples, we ascribed to his fleet feet. We clucked our tongues at the .233 OPS platoon differential, and wrung our hands about applying those skills atop the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates' batting order.
Then Pittsburgh promoted McCutchen on June 4, and he somehow shut our mouths while simultaneously making our jaws drop. He reached base three times in his first game, scoring each time, swiping one bag and driving in a run for good measure. He hit .400/.423/.600 over his first five games, and .330/.371/.516 over his first twenty, including a 13-game hit streak (he only had three hitless games in those first twenty games), 5 triples, 14 runs and 18 RBI.
When he went 1-20 over his next five games, we analysts patted ourselves on our backs and spoke wisely on small sample spaces and regressions to the mean. But McCutchen responded by hitting .302/.364/.538 over the next month (including a 3 HR performance on August 1) and .265/.379/.490 the month after that, in effect telling us prognosticators what we could do with our prognostications. He finished the year with that very nice slash line above, which included 26 2Bs, 9 3Bs, 12 HRs, 74 R, 22 SBs, 54 RBI, and fourth place in RoY voting.
Though his .327 BABIP was perhaps a bit high, even for a speedster, there was plenty to like in McCutchen's secondary stats. His .81 contact rate was consistent with his .82 rate in the minors, and his .65 BB/K was in line with his .64 minor-league ratio. His 11% walk rate is a tad better than his 10% in the minors, while the 9.4% HR/FB shows he wasn't particularly lucky in those longballs, too. As impressive was his improvement to a .110 OPS platoon differential, proof that he'd taken a solid skill base and added to it. The kid had really arrived.
Unfortunately, he'd arrived to the same old Pirates, whose offense proved to be as bad as everyone imagined, scoring the fewest runs in the NL. Still, McCutchen scored nearly 11% and knocked in 8.5% of their 636 R scored, a figure that's even more impressive when you consider he missed the first two months of the MLB season.
In 2010, the Pirates offense should get better, with Aki Iwamura hitting behind McCutchen, and Doumit and Jones in the run-producing slots, so McCutchen should continue to rack up the runs and the SBs. But playing with Pittsburgh does cap his potential somewhat from a counting stat perspective.
With his solid secondary indicators, his BA and OBP should stay strong, while that surprising power should also continue. As his GP projection shows, you shouldn't expect him to crack .500 SLG, but he should reach 450+ sooner rather than later. If there's a lesson to be learned from those of us who discounted McCutchen, it's that a talented athlete can develop in unexpected ways, especially when he's still young.
Next week, we'll look at Stephen Drew, the enigmatic Garrett Jones and Randy Wells. Please add whatever other players you'd like to read about in the comments field, as we're quickly approaching the time when I'll shift into counting down the top 2009 fantasy producers to see how they'll do in 2010.
May your Christmas presents all be as surprising as Andrew McCutchen's power surge, your family gatherings less painful than Schafer's wrist injury, and your travels as swift and smooth as Dexter Fowler gliding into second base!
And don't forget—The Graphical Player 2010 is available from ACTA Sports, making the perfect last-minute gift for the fantasy player in your life. Happy Holidays!
Posted by Michael Street at 2:00am
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Phil Hughes was the true winner of the poll, but his fantasy value seems to have taken a hit with the New York Yankees’ signing of Javier Vazquez, which significantly hurts Hughes' chances at locking up a rotation spot in 2010. So, instead, we’ll focus on Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
That’s what we call a rebound year. After turning in a paltry 2008 in which he burned plenty of fantasy owners, myself included, Tulo came back in a big way, blasting 32 home runs in 543 at-bats on his way to a .297/.377/.552 line. Though he was also quite good in 2007, this was a breakout year of sorts for the young shortstop, as he improved in a number of facets of his game, which substantially improved his outlook for the future.
Troy Tulowitzki was drafted seventh overall by the Colorado Rockies in 2005 out of Long Beach State. He premiered that season at High-A ball, where he acquitted himself nicely, showing decent power and strike zone judgment, slugging four home runs in 94 at-bats to go along with a 1/2 BB/K rate. Scouts loved his tools and upside, as Tulo ranked as Colorado’s second-best prospect and 25th in the majors.
To begin 2006, the Colorado brass promoted Tulo to Double-A Tulsa. There, he impressed again, hitting 13 home runs in 423 at-bats, with 46 walks against 71 strikeouts. His .291/.370/.473 line got the attention of the big club, who promoted Tulo for a 25-game stretch. Not surprisingly, the young shortstop struggled in his first taste of the bigs, posting a .240/.318/.292 line, with 25 strikeouts in 96 at-bats. Still, the optimists couldn’t be drowned out, as Tulo topped the charts in the Colorado system while also placing 15th in MLB. With the big league job available, Colorado promoted Tulo to the majors for good, where he would begin 2007.
The 2007 season was a banner one for Tulowitzki. The pride of the Colorado system, Tulo exploded onto the scene his rookie season. Through 609 at-bats, the shortstop slugged 24 home runs in 609 at-bats, with a .291/.359/.479 line. His 57 walks weren’t the best—and neither was his 130 strikeout total. Still, he was quite the rookie—and at shortstop no less. As a result, the team signed him to a six-year, $31 million contract in January that would carry him through the 2013, with a team option for 2014. With the sky the limit, the Rockies headed into 2008 with their prized shortstop locked up for the long term and hopes of an NL West championship. The results would be much different.
The 2008 season was not kind to Tulowitzki. Battling injuries and a sophomore slump, Tulo struggled to put up a respectable stat line. His power disappeared, as he hit just eight home runs in 377 at-bats, while his OPS sagged over .100 points, as he posted a .263/.332/.401 line. On the bright side, his walk rate improved, from 8.6 percent in 2007 to 9.2 percent, and his strikeout rate dropped to 14.9 percent. There was not much else that could be salvaged from the season, however, as quadriceps and a hand injuries slowed his season and he played just 101 games. As a result, all the team could do was look forward to 2009 and greener pastures.
Looking for – or, perhaps, desperately needing – a big rebound, Tulowitzki set out to prove that 2008 was a fluke. And prove he did, with the best season of his career and one of the best of any shortstop in 2009. Besides the obvious power and speed surge witnessed last year, Tulowitzki matured at the plate in a number of ways.
For one, he became more selective at the plate. His 73 walks in 628 plate appearances was a great step forward for the hitter, as he was able to reach the 10 percent walk rate milestone. His 20.6 strikeout percentage was also an accomplishment, given his increases in walks. Many hitters see a substantial increase in strikeouts as they become more selective. However, Tulo’s strikeout rate was right in line with his career rate of 19.9 percent, and his 0.65 BB/K rate was above his career rate of 0.55.
His selectivity showed in his plate discipline indicators as well, as his O-Swing percentage dropped over 2 percentage points from 2008 (23.7 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent in 2009), while his Z-Swing percentage remained relatively steady, dropping just 0.3 percentage points from 2008. This suggests that his strike zone judgment improved, as he swung at a higher proportion of the pitches inside the zone.
Though his contact rate decreased from 2008 by 1.2 percentage points, an 83.9 percent contact rate is a fine number and should be adequate going forward. In addition, his Zone percentage dropped 4 percentage points from 2008 (54.8 percent in 2008 to 50.8 percent in 2009) as pitchers began to respect his power. This bodes well for Tulo’s walk totals. Should his batting eye continue to develop the way it did in 2009, Tulo could become quite the walk machine with a drop in his O-Swing percentage.
Still, besides his obvious power increase and improved plate discipline, there was not much of a change in Tulo’s game between the 2008 and 2009 seasons. His batting profile stayed quite constant, as his GB/FB ratio stayed right above 1 (1.13 GB/FB in 2008 versus 1.05 in 2009) and his infield flyball percentage remained almost constant (11.7 percent in 2008 versus 11.6 in 2009). Though his line drive percentage dropped between 2008 and 2009 (20.5 percent in 2008 versus 18.4 percent in 2009), his BABIP showed no ill effects, actually climbing by over 30 points, to .323—up from .291 in 2008. In a way, it almost goes to show how unreliable line drive percentage can be on its own as a predictor of BABIP.
For 2010, there are a few keys to watch. The most important part of Tulo’s game will certainly be his improved power output. This was the big key to his 2009 reclamation, as his HR/FB rate almost tripled, climbing from 6.7 percent in 2008 to 18.5 percent in 2009. It is a bit tough seeing him repeat these numbers, though he does play half of his games at a high altitude. Like every other Rockies hitter, he plays far better at home, with a .326/.403/.597 line at Coors in 2009, versus a .267/.352/.507 line everywhere else. Still, with his youth and favorable contract, you won’t have to worry about him being traded midseason and losing half his value like many other Colorado hitters. His 18.5 percent HR/FB rate puts him right above Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, Kendry Morales and Mark Teixeira. While it’s certainly possible that Tulo carries that kind of thump in his bat, it may be a bit optimistic. Expect some regression in this category.
If there’s room for more optimism, it may lie in his left/right and pre-/post-All-Star splits. He had a bit of a reverse platoon split last season, with a .269/.382/.519 line against lefties versus a .307/.376/.566 line against righties. Should that line begin to favor the opposite hand as it does most other hitters, it will be a nice little bonus to his overall line. As for his post-All-Star explosion, he batted a blistering .344/.421/.622 after the break last season, with a 34/48 BB/K ratio. If you’re into that sort of thing and like the good vibrations coming off his bat late in the year, than you can take comfort in that stat.
For 2010, watch Tulo’s HR/FB rate, his O-Swing rate, and his Zone percentage. If his HR/FB rate is high, which it should be, he’ll be in line for another season like this past one—though don’t bank on 30+ home runs. In addition, his O-Swing rate will have a lot to say about whether he drives the ball in the upcoming season, so whether he can maintain or improve on his 2009 figure is a key factor in his success next year. And, rounding it out, his Zone percentage will help you gauge his walk and strikeout rates. Tied to his HR/FB rate and his O-Swing rate, if he can slug home runs out of the park on a regular basis, while laying off pitches outside the zone, he’ll find himself in frequent hitter’s counts and taking a free pass to first. This will help considerably, especially in OPS leagues.
Overall, think of Tulo next season as a 25-homer guy, with a shot a 30 bombs, who can post upwards of 100 runs and 100 RBIs. A .280-.290 average seems about right, though his stolen base numbers are tough to predict since this is his first season where he showcased his speed on the basepaths. Twenty steals may be a bit optimistic, though 10-15 is certainly plausible. All told, Tulo looks like one of the best options at shortstop for 2010. Even with his poor 2008, he looks like a very good bet to produce in 2010. Draft him with confidence.
And if I’m lucky enough to come across him next season in Colorado Springs, I’ll ask him to put in an extra bomb or two for the readers.
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Posted by Mike Silver at 6:00am
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
A couple of days ago it was announced that the A's have come to an agreement with free agent outfielder Coco Crisp on a one-year contract worth around 4.5 million. The deal is pending an important physical considering Crisp is coming off surgeries to both of his shoulders that caused him to miss the last 100 games of 2009.
The A's are not the type of team that goes around handing out multi-million dollar contracts like free Chinese food samples at the mall and then decides to not play the guy, so most likely Crisp will see plenty of at-bats as the Athletics' new leadoff hitter in 2010. Assuming a year of good health from Crisp, let's see what we can predict his upcoming season will look like.
Crisp experienced his breakout season in 2004 as a 24-year-old on the Indians, and followed that campaign up with another gem in 2005 that led to him being the favorite of ESPN analysts everywhere. In those two seasons he displayed a rare three-tool combination of average, power, and speed ability that looked attractive to MLB teams and fantasy owners alike.
Crisp's prime career years, however, have not smelled as sweet. Ever since his participation in the suspicious Andy Marte trade that sent him to Boston, Crisp has played a full season only once, and has not hit above .285 nor reached double-digit home runs in a season. After an injury-ruined 2009, Crisp hit the free agency market this offseason and surprisingly netted this 4.5 million contract from, of all teams, the Athletics.
Crisp has the potential to be an impact player in 2010, with a .290 average, 10 home run, and 25 steal season not out of the question. RBIs will most likely come sparsely for Crisp, but batting leadoff for any team, even the A's, will net him decent runs totals in the 80s or perhaps 90s.
That, of course, is assuming good health and is a "best-scenario" prediction. A more reasonable projection would look something like a .270 average, six home runs, and a similar 20 steals. That line does have value in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only leagues, and if the Athletics live up to the credence of their name and send the fleet-footed Crisp stealing often, then he could even become worthy of ownership in shallower mixed leagues because of steals totals alone.
Fallout: A's outfielders
This signing does impact players beyond just Crisp, as the way playing time is distributed to the rest of the Oakland outfield is altered. The other two outfielders expected to keep their starting roles are fellow speedster Rajai Davis and possible breakout player Ryan Sweeney. This leaves the recently acquired Scott Hairston without a defined role in the A's offense and reaffirms the organization's abandonment of Travis Buck. Also, two players who might have reached the majors in 2010, Aaron Cunningham and the even more recently acquired Michael Taylor, now have their chances of seeing significant MLB playing time slashed dramatically.
Obviously it is still early in the offseason and what's been a busy offseason will continue to be, so future moves can completely change what the 2010 landscape will look like. As for the A's, either Hairston or perhaps Davis will be shipped out to alleviate the logjam in the outfield. And since we are talking about the A's, once the season starts injuries will probably resolve any playing time conflicts that arise between players.
To recap, this signing is good for Crisp since he signed with a team that is dedicated to giving him playing time, but also negative since the A's play in a poor hitters' park and also have one of the worst offenses in the majors. The upcoming season appears to be a chance for the 30-year-old to redeem himself for the letdowns of past years, and playing in the relaxed Oakland atmosphere may provide him with the right scenery to post decent fantasy numbers reminiscent of his 2005 season.
Sweeney and Davis are not affected by the signing; however, that slew of A's outfielders mentioned before—Hairston, Buck, Cunningham, and Taylor—all figure to lose playing time one way or another because of Crisp's arrival to the Bay Area.
Posted by Paul Singman at 5:25am
It's that time of year when projection systems are starting to be released. CHONE was released about a month ago, ZiPS is in the process of being released one team at a time, and Marcels will probably make an appearance sometime in the next few weeks. For hardcore fantasy baseball enthusiasts, it can be a lot of fun to go through the various systems and see how they are viewing players and how they stack up against each other. While I enjoy this time of year as much as anyone else, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people start talking about how optimistic the Bill James projection system is. Some examples of this sentiment:
Pending Pinstripes (Yankees blog):
I've always thought that the Bill James projections were wildly optimistic, but they're still interesting to look at.
The McCovey Chronicles (Giants blog) comments section:
Considering how crazy-optimistic Bill James projections usually are, that seems awfully pessimistic for Affeldt.
The Crawfish Boxes (Astros blog):
Surprisingly, James has an offensive prediction for Chris Johnson, and even more surprisingly, James is somewhat more optimistic about Johnson than most of us on this board (including me). Obviously, James' system believes that Johnson's minor league numbers indicate decent enough power to offset, at least in part, a paltry OBP. I have my doubts on that.
South Side Sox (White Sox blog):
James tends to have the most optimistic projections of any of the major forecasters, specifically for young players.
The James projections often seem optimistic...
I think you get the idea.
Inevitably, each year, the James system seems to be higher on the vast majority of players than are other systems such as CHONE, ZiPS, or Oliver. And inevitably, each year, baseball analysts see nothing wrong with making straight comparisons between systems. A couple weeks ago, I saw one article about Jake Fox that read:
For 2010, Bill James projects a whopping .284/.339/.546 line for Fox in limited playing time. That strikes me as wildly optimistic. CHONE’s forecast appears much more reasonable, with a projected .257/.316/.452 performance.
Other times, we'll see straight comparisons to previous years:
Bill James is super-optimistic - when I looked at the projections they came up with a few years ago, he had the majority of starters being better than average at every single position.
Still other times, sites will refer to the James projections while completely ignoring the context under which they were created:
James also projects Jose Reyes will return from injury to hit .285 with 57 stolen bases, 14 home runs, 67 RBI and 113 runs created.Or:
The projections here are extremely pleasing. I believe that they’re too optimistic, though, especially for the bullpen.
This isn't a shot at these articles or writers in the slightest, but I believe this line of reasoning—which is common across many sites and blogs—is a bit flawed, so today I'd like to help correct some of the common errors and misconceptions that many seem to have about projections.
Relativity and context
The most important concept I'd like to stress is that of relativity. The kinds of articles I just mentioned operate under the assumption that the James projection for a player should be looked at relative to another system's projection for him or relative to last year. This is incorrect, though. What we should be doing is examining the James projection for a player relative to all of the other players the James system projects.
As I've stressed many times before, context is of the utmost importance when it comes to almost anything fantasy baseball related. In this case, most people ignore the run environment that the James projection system assumes. To illustrate my point, I'll use a very extreme example. Let's say that we transport Albert Pujols and his 44 HR projection into a league where it is common for the worst players to hit 80 HRs per year and the best to top 200 HRs. While Pujols and his 44 HRs look terrific in our reality, in this new one it looks kind of pathetic. That's context.
"What does this have to do with the James projections, though," you ask? Well, while the James projections don't assume a run environment where people are routinely hitting 200 HRs, it usually does assume that hitters perform a little bit better, on the whole (when compared to previous seasons or other projection systems). So if everyone is being projected to hit a few extra HRs, it does not necessarily make Alex Rodriguez's 37 HR projection any more optimistic than CHONE's 34 HR projection.
After all, when we're drafting players in fantasy leagues, it doesn't matter if the first pick has 200 HRs and the second pick has 190 or if the first pick has 40 and the second has 38. We don't care about the actual numbers; we care about the relative rankings. It doesn't matter if James has Albert Pujols at 44 HRs and CHONE only has him at 39. If James is inflating numbers across the board, Pujols will still be considered the No. 1 pick and everyone else will fall in line behind him, regardless of the system used or whether or not its numbers are inflated relative to other systems—we just can't mix-and-match.
So how can we compare systems if we can't do it directly? Ideally, we'd find the league average for all systems for all of our relevant stats (or even more ideally, the average for all players that will be drafted in a particular fantasy league, though that obviously works better in theory than in practice) and create a set of conversion factors so direct comparisons can be made between systems.
I didn't buy the Bill James Handbook or the projections this year, so I don't know what its league average is (and thus am not 100% certain that the James system is actually inflating stats this year, but they have been inflated in the past and anecdotally seem to be this year). If anyone wants to share what the league average is for James (or other systems that require payment), I'd be happy to whip up some quick conversion factors and post them for everyone to make use of.
"But what about players whom the James system is extremely high on? Should they be disregarded?" Of course not. Like any other system, James will like certain players more than those other systems. They're just a little tougher to pick out without applying the conversion factors since we have to guess at how much we should discount their stats. One guy who might fit this criteria this year, though, is Mark Reynolds. James has him down for 40 HRs while CHONE is at just 30. Marcels will likely be closer to 30 as well when it comes out. That's a big difference, even considering inflation. We just need to remember that all systems will favor certain players and show a distribution of players they like (relative to other systems), dislike, and are neutral on.
One last point is that the fan projections FanGraphs is running will likely be sitting in the same boat with the James projections. I'd guess that fans will be more apt to project players they like, which means league average will probably be a bit higher for these projections as well. Just something to keep in mind.
Hopefully this has cleared up some confusion regarding projections, specifically regarding the Bill James system. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments.
Posted by Derek Carty at 3:00am
Monday, December 21, 2009
Sometimes I allow myself to indulge in the delusion that there exists a substantial amount of readers who eagerly anticipate my columns each week. In this delusion, such readers are drawn to my columns because I provide useful information. Unfortunately for those readers, this column will not offer such information. Fortunately for me, this theoretical group may not even exist, so I likely won’t be disappointing anybody.
In the spirit of Festivus, I’d like to take some time this week to engage in some airing of grievances. The topic? Trades, and more specifically the ridiculous types of trade offers we are bombarded with every season. There are several distinct types of idiotic trade offers and I plan to complain about a few of them.
Now, before unleashing the vitriol, I will readily acknowledge that making trades in fantasy baseball is often rather difficult. As Jonathan Halket describes in his “Drafting to Trade” column:
To make a trade, there must be what economists call a "double coincidence of wants." Your team must not only have something the other owner wants, but you must be willing to give up a player that the other owner values more highly than the player he is giving up.
It is often difficult to find a trade partner. An ideal trade partner would have some sort of deficiency in a category or position in which you have excess, while you must have an excess of something in which the other team has a deficiency. This confluence of circumstances is more rare than it sounds. The reality of an “imperfect market” makes even the simplest of trade strategies, “buy low/sell high,” somewhat challenging to actually execute. I understand that often times initial trade offers are intended to be a jumping off point for negotiations, but the whole trading process would be a lot less frustrating if owners avoided proposing the following types of non-starters in the first place.
The sports-talk radio proposal: I won’t presume to speak for anybody else. But for me, listening to sports talk radio is something approximating what I imagine being torture..., um, experiencing enhanced interrogation at the hands of the CIA would feel like. Occasionally, I will listen for a short period of time in order to confirm that I do have some masochist tendencies. The most inane of the inane calls into these radio stations must be the ones in which fans propose trades that their franchises should make. The underlying philosophy of these trade proposals seems to be that five 1978 Dodge Dusters equal one 2010 Maybach. No, I do not want a No. 3 starter and bench players for Ryan Braun, thank you. And, no throwing in a third and fourth bench player does not help make the proposal any more attractive.
The barely legal proposal: Sometimes, you’ll hear guys speak creepily about eagerly awaiting the moment when some attractive young teenage girl turns 18 so they can pounce. Yeah, I know it’s disgusting, but it happens. What does this have to do with fantasy baseball, you ask... Did you ever draft an injured stud on draft day at a large discount? Or, have you ever had one of your best players go down with an injury which keeps him out for a month or longer? Of course you have. And, of course you know what happens in this situation. As soon as that player regains health, the trade offers flood in. I did not draft an injured A-Rod at the 23rd overall pick so that I can trade him for the 25th overall pick after waiting for a month to get him into my lineup. If I wanted that player, I would have drafted him when I drafted the injured A-Rod.
The pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey proposal: Most trade offers are unattractive due to being poorly thought out, more so than being lopsided value-wise. Other owners just often, seemingly randomly, offer up some mass of semi-equal value for their targeted player without taking into account any practical context.
There are many forms the oblivious trade proposal can take, such as asking for my best source of stats for a single category while offering no contribution in that category in return, or offering me a position or category I already have an abundance of while asking for a position or category I’m fighting to remain competitive in.
I really wish people would go about proposing trades more intelligently and think about whether they are attempting to offer something that the other team might see as valuable. Identify the skill set/positional upgrade you are looking for and make a list of the players who fit that bill. Give some thought to what level of player you want to ask for and what players/categories you are most willing to give up. Look at the standings and rosters and see which teams are in need of what you are willing to give up and see if the any of the players on your list are on any of those teams. This is not rocket science, people!
I’m sure you readers out there have trade proposal horror stories and other awful trade proposal archetypes to share. So, let’s hear them. In addition to the trade proposal archetypes, there are also difficult owner archetypes. There’s the owner who overvalues all of his players and always wants something for nothing. There’s the overzealous owner who constantly hounds you to make trades, despite the fact that you’ve made it clear you aren’t interested. There’s the owner who stalks a player of yours and sends you offer after offer for that player (although this case can be advantageous because it’s basically an invitation to propose a lopsided offer to that owner that includes the player he wants). Feel free to chime in with your thoughts about owner types as well.
Before signing off, I will attempt to impart a piece of useful information (I feel a little guilty). I’ve touched on this point before, but I’d like to make it explicit here, in practicality, there is no such thing as a two-for-one trade in most forms of fantasy baseball. There is always a fourth player involved in these trades. Fantasy teams are not major league franchises; we don’t have several levels of minor league teams plus baseball academies in foreign countries to stash a virtually infinite amount of players. When you make a two-for-one trade, you must drop somebody on your team to accommodate the new player. In most two-for-one trades, the team getting the two players plans to play both of those players in their starting lineup. This also means that the trade pushes that team’s worst producing regular (or positional overstock) to the bench along with pushing a bench player to the waiver wire.
Therefore, a team does not reap the full value of the second player. The true value-add of that second player is the difference between that player and the player he will replace in your starting lineup.
In one sense, you can view the value as being the difference between the new player and the old starter, plus the difference between the old starter and the team’s least valuable bench player. These trades can strengthen your bench, but it is somewhat ambiguous as to how we can quantify that value, as that value is largely non-contributive to your bottom line. This secondary affect on team depth is worth noting, though.
This isn’t really an incredibly advanced concept, but I’ve noticed that people all too often neglect to keep it in mind when proposed with a two-for-one. For this reason, two-for-ones often look to be more appealing on paper than they are prudent in practice.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 2:08am
Friday, December 18, 2009
Mike Cameron | Boston | CF
2009 Final Stats: .250/.342/.452
Brian Joseph at Baseball Daily Digest had a very cynical look at how public opinion (at least on the Internet) of trades is often highly shaped by the teams involved, and how well-respected the GMs are. The same could be said of free-agent signings sometimes. If anyone other than one of the best GMs in the game had inked a soon-to-be-37-year-old Center Fielder who had hit just .250/.342/.452 (and his best season among the past 3) in a good home-run park in the easier National league... suffice it to say most people would have been a bit skeptical.
Depending on which fielding metric you trust more, Cameron has either been a slightly above-average defensive CF consistently the past 5 years (ranging from +1 to +7 runs saved per season according to the +/- system at billjamesonline.com), or he was slightly below average from 2005-2007 before becoming dramatically better (+10 runs saved per season) in 2008-2009 (UZR as published on fangraphs.com). Fortunately, using either system, the average runs saved per season is slightly positive over the past 5 years, and under the auspices of trusting higher sample sizes, we'll believe that. Call it +2 to +3 runs saved/yr compared to an average CF. But this is a fantasy-based article, so why mention defense? Well, the highest correlation with value of any stat is playing time in most systems. And naturally, we start to worry about a guy's defensive skills when he's over 35, especially in a position where so much range is required. Anyway, even assuming a large deterioration in fielding skills due to age, his glove should play if he hits - “average” for an MLB CF is still very good.
Will Cameron have a Mike Lowell-esque improvement by coming to Fenway? If hit tracker results for his fly outs and extra-base hits are examined, it's clear that Cameron pulls a lot of fly balls, and that many of the fly outs in Milwaukee would be off or over The Monster in Boston. That's the good news.
Cameron was complaining that he was being prevented from stealing in Milwaukee. And that seems consistent with how Ken Macha has managed in the past. He was averaging about 20 SB per 600 PA the three years before 2009, and if a modest decline in speed and on-first-base percentage is assumed, he should still easily be good for 15+. That's more good news.
Okay, now to the clincher... how will he hit? We've already concluded that he's going to play a lot, probably get more “ball park” home runs due to being such a pull hitter (on fly balls), and steal more bases. But when CHONE (baseballprojection.com) has him projected to hit just .231/.314/.401, his defensive abilities, aid from The Monster in home games, and steals won't really matter, because he'll lose his job and become a platoon partner for Jeremy Hermida or something. But if he hits .252/.339/.442, as the ZiPS system at baseballthinkfactory.com projects, that's a whole different ballgame! Our guess is that in most leagues, there will be at least one True Believer who will drive the price up in auction, or take him 2 rounds before anyone else is considering him. But if not, he's an interesting “gamble” pick for a team which can afford a batting average hit and wants a guy who can contribute in the other 4 categories.
Garrett Atkins | Baltimore | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .226/.308/.342
Not as physically old as Mike Cameron, Atkins' bat looked about 50 last season, and that's not on the 20-80 scouting scale. Every part of his game has been in free fall since his impactful 2006 season (.329/.409/.556). Hitting just .226 or slugging just .342 is bad enough. When your home park is Coors Field – still among the best at boosting batting average and slugging – it's time to send a search party. Atkins actually continued to hit LHP in 2009, though not as mercilessly as he had in the past (.268/.363/.428), but in 239 PA vs. the “normal” pitchers, he was beyond bad, costing the Rox several wins with his anemic .199/.272/.287 stat line. Why would the Orioles risk $4-$5million to give this guy a shot in the harder league and the hardest division?
We've mentioned before that batters who make “hard contact” are often some of the best fantasy players, sometimes even moreso if they don't walk as much as their real-life managers would prefer. Well, Atkins sort of fits that mold, though he was obviously aided by Coors. He has a fine 85% Ct% for his career, and a .169 ISO. Don't expect Atkins to suddenly rebound to doing his Aramis Ramirez impersonation, but he's been enough of a hitter in the past that it seems reasonably likely that he'll be able to post numbers to make him a decent AL-only league option. The conundrum here is that the less often he faces RHP, the better his numbers will be, but then if his numbers are good, he may earn more playing time.
With somewhat-similar Ty Wigginton still around, we expect Atkins to bounce around some, as “Wiggy” did last year, playing both corner spots, DH, and perhaps some outfield too (though if he qualifies there, it won't be until later in the season). But, unless his hitting is awful and Bell is tearing up AAA, he should get over 500 PA in 2010.
John Lackey | Boston | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.1 K/9, 3.0 K/BB, 3.83 ERA
John Lackey has a career xFIP of 4.00 (thanks to fangraphs.com), and that's who he's been. He's never been below 3.57, nor above 4.31, and the xFIP hasn't changed much with the passing years. And, of course, Theo Epstein is getting Internet-wide praise for this big acquisition, since you know what you're getting with this guy, and it's good. It seems very reasonable to assume the competitive nature of the multiple “ace” pitchers in Boston will drive them all to do their best (as if they needed any extra motivation), ala the 90's Braves.
That said, it is rather a confusing signing on some levels. Lackey has been “flat” in his career, allowing about as much offense vsR as vsL. He's not as great stopping the running game as one would hope from a quick-working righty without a big leg kick (and with the speed in Tampa Bay especially, that's important in this division). He's not really a ground ball pitcher, and – coupled with the fact that he doesn't annihilate RH hitters, fans in Fenway can be expecting many balls off or over the wall. Then there's the difference in divisions. Lackey posted those 4.00 xFIP seasons in the weaker AL West, and in 2009 he faced an average OPS of .755 (thanks to baseballprospectus.com), compared to .761 and .768 for Lester and Beckett.
Lackey will be an interesting case in “hype” and “reputation”, as we discussed last week. He's been a fairly anonymous star for years in LA, if that's possible. He won one ERA title, but never logged 20 wins, and doesn't strike out enough batters to be “sexy”. So, how will he be perceived now that he's on one of the two highest-profile teams in the game? For fantasy purposes, the Red Sox should give him tons of run support, though some of the names in the lineup are still TBD. Based on the above reasons, we foresee a slight-but-significant drop in his effectiveness, so it's not clear that he'll help either ratio stat in a mixed league, though a 4.00/1.35 pitcher shouldn't hurt too much, either. The innings totals may drop somewhat, due to better and more patient offenses in his division. All-in-all, since wins are so important, his fantasy value should remain similar to previous years, though taking a different “shape” in terms of categories aided.
Cliff Lee | Seattle | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.0 K/9, 4.2 K/BB, 3.22 ERA
A lot has been written about Cliff Lee the past two years, from Derek Carty's great 2-part Pitch F/X breakdown of him earlier this year to the volume of stories written about him after this historic trade on every site possible. In short, it doesn't take Bill James to figure out that pitching in Seattle - for an organization which has placed enormous value on defense – will be a fantastic opportunity for Mr. Lee to rack up some more imposing stats en route to the free-agency bonanza he appears to be seeking.
But what will Seattle mean to him in fantasy terms. The ERA and WHIP will be reduced by the park and defense. Counterbalancing that is the fact that – while not the AL East – the West is tougher than the Central, and Lee has faced the easiest competition in the majors over the past two years (last among 100-IP pitchers in AL in 2009 with Cleveland at .743 OPS against, and only Kenny Rogers faced an easier slate in 2008 (.735 for Lee). Meanwhile, Seattle starters – not getting to face the popgun assault the M's have had recently, have had a more typical collection of OPS's seen (.759 for both Washburn and Felix in 2009, for example). So, that's an expected increase in opponent quality of about 20 OPS points, not insignificant at all. The good news for Lee and his fantasy owners is that Oakland appears to be the AAA's now, instead of the Athletics, and it's not clear who the Angels will have in their lineup now that Figgins has changed sides.
Another, more subtle point of concern is this – being a smart pitcher, it's plausible that Lee will worry even less about punching out hitters than he did in Cleveland. The Indians were never known for their defense, running guys like Jhonny Peralta out there. But with a good defensive left side (LF is still TBD, apparently, but Wilson is a wizard and Figgins is very good), Lee can allow even more contact, and probably has the precision to do just that if he chooses. The flip side of this is that it could mean even MORE innings for a guy who's posted 450 in the past two regular seasons. And those extra innings should really help fantasy ratio stats, and may allow enough more K's to make up for a slightly reduced K/9.
It's hard to figure out how much run support Lee will receive. The M's currently have Mike Carp at first base and Michael Saunders in LF, but expectations are that the M's didn't trade for 1 year of Cliff Lee to play the “experimental” team in 2009 – and that they will grab veterans for those two holes and perhaps DH also (Griffey/Sweeney at present - Nick Johnson would have been a nice fit for the OBP-starved M's, but he's in NY now). For now, the M's again look like a terrible offensive team, however. Figgins will help, but Branyan hit 31 HR in that big park in 2009, and that sort of power will be sorely missed if not replaced. For now, we'd place Lee in the 14-15 win range, but add up to half any additional WAR the M's import to his win total – so, if they add 2 4-WAR players to play 1B and LF, count on another +4 (statistically expected) wins for Lee... he's in a high-slope portion of the Pythagorean curve.
Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2020. You can order the book from Acta Sports here..
Posted by Rob McQuown at 5:00am
We continue with the mini-browser from Graphical Player 2010 to give you excellent insight into each of the players below. Rob McQuown (my AL Waiver Wire counterpart) and I are Associate Editors under John Burnson for this year's GP. Check out the end of the column for info on downloading a free sample or ordering the book for yourself.
Alcides Escobar | Milwaukee | SS
2009 Final Stats: .304/.333/.368
The Brewers have been waiting for the right time to bring the speedy Escobar up to the bigs, and they found that opportunity when J.J. Hardy plunged from .283/.343/.478 in 2008 to .229/.302/.357 this past season. Enter Escobar, and exit Hardy, first to Triple-A, then to the Twinkies in the offseason.
This move was coming eventually; Hardy's rapid decline only accelerated the timetable and reduced the potential return on the trade for Milwaukee (though the Crew helped pump up his value by demoting Hardy in time to delay his free agency for another year). Milwaukee's had its eye on Escobar ever since signing the speedy, slick-fielding Venezuelan in 2003. As desperate as the Brewers have been for pitching, they consistently refused to give up Esco in a trade, no matter how sweet the return.
Escobar's not a five-tool player, but he is a solid four-tooler—power's the only missing part of the package, but when the other tools are this good, why quibble? On top of slick defense, he brings blazing speed and excellent contact skills. In the minors, he racked up 176 swipes in six seasons, with both his frequency and selectivity increasing as he rose in the ranks—in the past two seasons at Double-A and Triple-A, he stole 76 bags and was caught just 18 times.
His .84 contact rate in the minors has stayed remarkably steady, while his plate discipline (.34 BB/K overall) has risen as Escobar has—after a .38 BB/K in 2008 Double-A, he logged a .49 in 2009 Triple-A. Both—plus his speed—are excellent indicators that the .300+ BA he logged in 134 PAs this year is for real; the OBP will always be a bit low with his plate judgment, but it should improve from .333 once he adjusts to this level. The .273/.307 BA/OBP you see predicted on his mini-browser seems fair; if anything, he should exceed that.
With Hardy now totally out of the way, the path is clear for Escobar to prove himself. He didn't hit much leadoff this season, but that's clearly where he should be in the lineup, assuming he can boost that OBP into the .350 range. Rickie Weeks has been the leadoff hitter in the past, and he might start at the No. 1 spot in 2010, but he's always lacked the OBP skills to lead off; hitting him second behind Esco will be the most likely solution and will give the Brewers a fantastic 1-2 punch in front of their big boppers.
Once Esco does ascend to leadoff, his speed and those big bats behind him will bring plenty of runs. In the meantime, you can count on those SBs—he didn't run too much this time around, and he may take a while to really cut loose on the basepaths. Speed is a skill that's instantly available, but the knowledge of opposing pitchers' moves and catchers' arms may take a little longer. The 10 SBs you see predicted on his mini-browser seem low, but they reflect these rookie handicaps, as well as his likely position lower in the lineup.
All this makes Escobar an excellent keeper candidate, but other owners may have to be patient. I'm targeting 2011 as the first season that he really comes into his own and starts to show his talent, so don't be surprised to see him struggle a bit at the plate at first. How Ken Macha elects to use him in the batting order and on the basepaths will affect that somewhat, but the kid's for real, and he won't hold him back for long.
As rare a commodity as speed can be, don't be tempted to go the extra dollar on Escobar this year in your redraft league. He's a much better bet to return your investment in 2011.
Ian Stewart | Colorado | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .228/.322/.464
There was some question as to whom the Rockies wanted at the hot corner in 2010, and they answered that this week when they non-tendered Garret Atkins, leaving the door wide open for Ian Stewart, their first-round pick in 2003.
Stewart has been a masher at every level, hitting .293/.374/.524 in the minors, including a 41-double season as a 21-year-old at Double-A Tulsa in 2006 and a .280/.372/.607 line in the rarefied air of Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2008. That shows you the kind of hitter he could become, but it does make some aspects of 2009 a bit of a head-scratcher.
For one thing, Stewart whiffed 138 times, an awful 28.1% of all his PAs, a far cry from the 20% he averaged in the minors. Surprisingly, however, that's an improvement over his last two years of MLB stats; he struck out 37% of the time in 2007 (in just 46 PAs) and 31% in 2008. And while his BB/K ratio of .41 is also distressing, it's also better than 2008's .32 and 2007's .06 (no, that's not a typo—1 BB and 17 Ks in 46 PAs).
Unsurprisingly, this led to a .68 contact rate that was still better than the .65 he put up in 2008. Both are far below the .76 he established in the minors, but even that's a tad low. True to form, his mini-browser shows you shouldn't expect BA from him; .254 feels just about right for Stewart.
This is a guy who's going to swing and miss, but when he makes contact, it should go a long way. And Stewart performs no matter the venue. He hit better away from home than he did at Coors in 2009, though the .237/.301 home/away BABIP split has a bit to do with that.
For the doubters who point to the offensive boost he got from playing at Colorado Springs, his .52 BB/K and .74 contact rate there in 2008 had nothing to do with the thin air at home. In another reversal of expectations, he slugged .573 at Colorado Springs in 2008—and .611 away from it.
So don't listen to those who say that he's a Coors product, or that he's going to keep that breeze going into the Rockpile with even more Ks next year. Stewart's just 24 years old and has shown improvement at each level in the minors and majors. Don't expect him to help your batting average, but he shouldn't continue to hit in the low .200s as he develops; leagues that count OBP will also like how he helps them as his walk rate (another area where he's shown steady improvement) continues to climb. Stewart also hasn't played a full season in the majors, and knowing that the job is his for the taking should help his confidence and consistency.
The mini-browser tells you everything you need to know: third basemen with an. 800+ OPS and the ability to score and knock in nearly 80 runs don't grow on trees. Depending on your league, he might even qualify at 2B in 2010, where his value would really skyrocket. Just remember his BA when you're bidding—he's not the next coming of Chipper Jones, but on a good day, you might mistake him for Vinny Castilla.
Madison Bumgarner | San Francisco | SP
2009 Final Stats: 9.0 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, 1.80 ERA
Before you get too freaky over those freshman MLB stats, realize that they represent just 10 IP of work—but the fact is, Bumgarner is this good and more. The mini-browser shows you his minor-league stats in 2009; he started his career as the Sally League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, with a 10.4 K/9, 7.8 K/BB, and a 1.46 ERA in 141.2 IP.
That's right: he's put up those numbers in only his second year in the league—the kid's just 19, and he's got tools. He's a tall lefty who chucks a fastball in the mid-90s with late movement, complementing it with a sweet changeup in the low 80s and a still-developing slider. I have yet to read a scouting report that says anything bad about him: He's got a great attitude, he's eager to learn, and shows tons of poise on the mound.
The tangibles and intangibles all line up for Bumgarner, but let's not forget that what may be his greatest upside is definitely his greatest downside. The kid's just 19, and has less than 300 professional innings under his belt. The Giants don't want to rush him, and have two guys named Lincecum and Cain who are happily installed at the top of their rotation. If they need anything next year, it's more offense, not young pitching.
That doesn't mean Bumgarner won't be in the bigs, and maybe in the rotation, by the end of 2010. With a great spring training and injuries to guys ahead of him, he might even start the season with the club. I'm betting, however, that he starts the season in the minors so he can work on his craft a bit more. Giants fans would like to see him ASAP, but discretion should prove to be the better part of valor here.
All these explain the pessimistic mini-browser numbers you see for 2010. He's going to rack up Ks at a good rate, but should be expected to struggle and adjust, and shouldn't be pitching a full season with the big boys. He's unlikely to return much value as a result—one of the great things about GP's mini-browser is the reality check it delivers on future talent like Bumgarner: He should be really, really good. Just not yet.
Redraft leagues will want to monitor Bumgarner through spring training and into the season, depending on where he starts the year. Keeper leagues better have him on their radars (if not their rosters) already; depending on your league's depth and keeper rules, as well as your own strategy, however, he might not even be worth a spot in 2010.
This is the guy that should supplant Cain, if not Lincecum, atop the pitching rotation, but that won't happen until 2011 at the earliest. He's an incredible talent, but there's lots that can still go wrong in a guy this young.
Next week, it's an OF fest, with Dexter Fowler, Jordan Schafer and Andrew McCutchen, as well as some of the talent tossed around in the recent trade market.
Want to see someone else? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.
And don't forget you can still download a 16-page sample of Graphical Player 2010 or order the book directly from ACTA Sports.
Posted by Michael Street at 2:00am
Thursday, December 17, 2009
With the Roy Halladay trade finalized, Philadelphia's farm system has been shaken up. For those wondering, here is the top 10 I was expecting to publish, before the trade:
1. Kyle Drabek
2. Michael Taylor
3. Domonic Brown
4. Domingo Santana
5. Anthony Gose
6. Trevor May
7. Antonio Bastardo
8. Sebastian Valle
9. Travis D'Arnaud
10. Vance Worley
Now with Drabek, Taylor and D'Arnaud departing and Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, and J.C. Ramirez being brought over from Seattle, here is how the new top 10 looks, followed by arch-rival Atlanta's (much better) system. It is interesting to note that Seattle's No. 6 and No. 7 prospects, Gillies and Aumont, rank No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in Philadelphia's system. It's more of an indication of Philadelphia's lack of blue-chip prospects rather than Seattle's strong system.
1. Domonic Brown: I have been criticized for my low ranking of Brown in the past. And I admit it: If it weren't for the trade of Drabek and Taylor, Brown would be ranked third in the organization. I feel that Brown has a good mix of skills, but nothing he does stands out as elite, leaving me a bit cold.
2. Tyson Gillies: Traded from Seattle. If it weren't for Alex Liddi, everyone would be singing the praises of Gillies. Both starred for the High Desert Mavericks, but Gillies took a different approach. He demonstrated every skill necessary to become a good major league leadoff hitter. As with Liddi, though, I'm hesitating a bit until I see his performance against better competition in a more balanced league.
3. Phillippe Aumont: Traded from Seattle. Everyone loves the stuff that Aumont brings to the ballpark, but, when it comes right down to it, he is now strictly a relief pitcher. While he could become Philadelphia's closer in short order, his bullpen status hurts his stock.
4. Domingo Santana: Call me bullish on Santana's potential, but no one else in the organization really stands out from a skill perspective. The scouting reports are glowing and the initial numbers are promising.
5. Anthony Gose: Gose has terrific speed that shines both on the base paths and in his outfield range. His bat lags way behind at the moment, but Philadelphia has top-of-the-order hopes for this teenager.
6. Trevor May: May sports a low-90s fastball with strong movement and an average curveball that could grow into his out pitch. Just 20 years old with impressive strikeout numbers in the Sally League, the 6-foot-5 May has room to grow but much to learn when it comes to locating his arsenal.
7. Antonio Bastardo: Bastardo has a workable three-pitch mix that adds up to a middle- to back-of-the-rotation future. His inconsistent major league debut offered too little of a sample size to draw conclusions, but his control numbers were solid and spell at least minor success.
8. J.C. Ramirez: Traded from Seattle. Don't let his California League numbers throw you off too much. Ramirez has good upside with his strong fastball and potentially plus slider. His questionable strikeout total in 2009 does raise an eyebrow, but I'm willing to ride it out for another year.
9. Sebastian Valle: There are questions regarding Valle's ultimate ability to stick at catcher, but he is way too young and raw for that question to be answered anytime soon. Philadelphia will let him ride it out at catcher for now, where his immense power potential would be a huge asset.
10. Vance Worley: Worley posted some 2009 numbers that are hard to sugarcoat. But I trusted his strong right arm coming out of the 2008 draft, and I'm not going to fully downgrade him yet. Call me stubborn, but he has the poise to pull it all together in 2010.
1. Jason Heyward: Heyward is the best hitting prospect in baseball. As a 20-year-old, his bat has no weakness and there is more improvement ahead in every facet. A dynamic, middle-of-the-order future is in store.
2. Freddie Freeman: While his bat is advanced for his age, his home run numbers dropped off in his second full season. Will his home run power return? His future value hinges on it. I'm buying into a good 2010 campaign.
3. Julio Teheran: It is amazing that Teheran's 160-pound body is able to generate the type of velocity that has scouts everywhere drooling. His youth and inconsistent delivery have me worried about his long-term health, but his initial stats, promising repertoire and unbridled heat have been turning heads.
4. Mike Minor: Minor's best attribute is his overall repertoire, with his change-up being his best pitch at this time. Minor certainly doesn't blow people away, but he was a safe pick in the first round of the 2009 draft. If either his curveball or slider can take the next step, he could become an under-the-radar No. 2 starter when he hits the majors.
5. Randall Delgado: Atlanta broke character with Delgado in 2009 by aggressively allowing him to pitch a full season in the Sally League at the tender age of 19. He has strong velocity now, and the ability to add more, potentially making his fastball a plus offering. As a project, though, his secondary stuff has a long way to go.
6. Zeke Spruill: Spruill doesn't have the fastball to be an ace, but his curveball has the look of a plus pitch at times. Youth and advanced control are on his side, and a No. 2 starter could be in the works.
7. Craig Kimbrel: A lively mid-90s fastball is Kimbrel's best asset. His control took a step forward in 2009, backing up his closer pedigree. He could immediately become one of Atlanta's top relievers as early as 2010.
8. Christian Bethancourt: Bethancourt has the defensive prowess to be a Gold Glover behind the plate one day. His bat is a long way off of that pace, however. He showed flashes of his power potential in his brief 2009 rookie league performance, but little else bat-wise.
9. Brett DeVall: Devall has No. 2 starter potential in his left arm. His fastball and change-up project as average offerings, but it's his curveball that could become special. Concerns about his injured elbow downgrade him slightly.
10. Cody Johnson: It's hard to find better raw power anywhere in minor league baseball. It's also hard to find a more hole-ridden swing than Johnson's. He's the biggest boom-or-bust player in Atlanta's system.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 6:30am
Dereks Ambrosino and Carty have written nice articles on the relative merits of a well-rounded player versus a one-category super-stud. Plenty of writers (including myself) are proponents of drafting players with high upsides. Undoubtedly, one thing to consider when drafting/buying your initial fantasy team is a player's eventual trade value. Some players, like some used cars models, are more tradable than others. Trade value is often a key component to strategies with super-studs or high-upside players.
The tempting thing is to take these strategies and use them to speculate for "trade" rather than "use" purposes. For instance: You're sitting in the 20th round of your draft and you already have Evan Longoria at third base, but you see Brandon Wood still out there and you think, "If Wood gets playing time this season, he could easily outproduce some of the replacement-level third basemen in the league or slot in for the owner who has an injured Chipper Jones." Wood is a high-upside guy that you will almost certainly have no room for in your starting lineup. But, if he breaks out, there should be other owners in your league willing to trade for him. You're drafting Wood not because he may have use for you, but because he may have value in a trade later on.
Of course the key question in all of this is: What is Wood's value? Is he worth the 20th pick over, say, Denard Span or not? How much should you consider Wood's potential value to your team by playing on it versus his potential value as a future trade piece?
To make a trade, there must be what economists call a "double coincidence of wants." Your team must not only have something the other owner wants, but you must be willing to give up a player that the other owner values more highly than the player he is giving up. You must have too much pizza and not enough beer and your trade-mate must also have too much beer and not enough pizza. Imagine if you conducted your everyday life like that—every time you wanted to buy milk, you'd have to have something the grocery store wanted in exchange (this is why barter economies and wife-swap parties frequently don't work and why money is so helpful).
The thing with upside players is that if their upside comes to fruition, they are replacing some current starter. If trade markets were "perfect"—with no waiting periods, irrationalities and so forth—then Wood would replace, say, Chipper Jones on some team, but Jones would then be traded from that team's bench to some other team, replacing, say, Mike Lowell, all the way down the line until Casey Blake ultimately is the starter that ends up on the bench.
The problem is that trade markets aren't perfect. If they were, a lot more trades would happen throughout the season. So if you have Wood and Longoria on your team and you've found an owner with Chipper Jones who now wants to trade for Wood, he's going to give up a lot less for Wood in the world where he can't turn around and trade Jones immediately. Of course, you could try to trade Wood to the owner suffering with the previously replacement-level Blake, but he may be out of town (mentally or literally), or unwilling, or Blake's kid nephew or whatever. Finding trading partners is hard, and sometimes you just have to be happy to find someone willing to give you anything for a player who's almost surely going to stay on your bench. What's more, the player you get in return for Wood (say, Geovany Soto, for some reason) would have more value to you if the catcher on your roster that he was replacing was also easily tradable. But he likely won't be—you might even just have to cut him even though he was above replacement level.
So let's say in the beginning of the season, you worked on your projections and you think Wood is a player who, if he breaks out, will be better than Jones but worse than the next best third baseman (say, Michael Young). If by that 20th round you've drafted a replacement-level player like Blake at third, then Wood could have value in use. But if you've drafted someone Wood has no chance to replace (unless there's an injury), then you're drafting Wood to trade him, and his value in that case is, I argue, a lot less.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 6:20am
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Adam “Not Pac Man” Jones made a big step forward in his big league career in 2009. The 24-year-old put up an excellent season for a center fielder, with a .277/.335/.457 triple-slash line on the year, up from a .270/.311/.400 year in 2008. A great improvement for the young player, and there is both cause for excitement and concern for Jones going forward.
Drafted 37th overall out of Morse High School in 2003 by the Seattle Mariners, Jones got started quickly, registering 123 at-bats that season as a 17-year-old between rookie and A-ball. Young Adam showed well there, with a .284/.368/.349 line in 124 rookie-ball plate appearances, with a .462/.467/.538 nightcap in 14 plate appearances at Low-A Everett.
Jones moved up to the Midwest League for 2004 as an 18-year-old and acquitted himself well. In 548 plate appearances in A-ball, Jones hit 11 home runs to go along with eight stolen bases. His plate discipline was not up to par, however, with 33 walks against 124 strikeouts leading to a .267/.314/.404 line. Still, Jones’ youth and excellent raw tools made him a gem in the Seattle organization, as he was ranked their ninth-best prospect at the end of the season. As a result, he was moved to High-A to begin 2005.
Opening his age-19 season, Jones started the year at Inland Empire of the California League, where he hit .295/.374/.494 in 271 at-bats including eight home runs. Jones’ plate discipline started showing some signs of improvement, as he posted nearly a 1:2 BB:K ratio with 29 walks against 64 strikeouts. His power began to show some real promise as well, as he hit eight home runs before being moved up to Double-A San Antonio. There, he hit seven home runs in 228 at-bats with 22 walks against 48 strikeouts on his way to a .298/.365/.461 line. On the shoulders of burgeoning power potential and improved plate discipline, Jones ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the Seattle system. His star rising, Jones was ticketed for Triple-A for 2006.
As a 20-year-old at Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League, Jones showed all the Seattle faithful what all the fuss was about. In 380 at-bats, the young center fielder hit 16 long balls to go along with 13 stolen bases. His plate discipline was a struggle once again, with just 28 walks against 78 strikeouts. However, his .287/.345/.484 line meant that all was forgiven and he was afforded a 32-game stint in the bigs. He flopped in this initial showing, striking out 22 times in 74 at-bats with just two walks. His .216/.237/.311 confirmed that he was not yet ready for the big time. Still, Jones came a long way over the course of the season and placed as Seattle’s second-best prospect and the 64th-best in MLB.
Repeating Triple-A in 2007, Jones had quite the breakout season. Through 420 at-bats, Jones planted 25 bombs into Tacoma stands on his way to a .314/.382/.586 line. His plate discipline was, again, subpar, with a 36:106 BB:K ratio. However, the raw tools and power proved irresistible and Jones was promoted to the big club again. Again, like in 2006, Jones flopped in his short showing, striking out 21 times in 65 at-bats against just four walks. However, the explosion at Tacoma significantly lifted his stock as Jones placed as Seattle’s best prospect and 28th-best in MLB. Despite the improvements, however, Jones was forced to switch organizations after a trade to Baltimore in February, where he would begin 2008 as the team’s starting center fielder.
In 2008, Jones finally found his form at the major league level. He finally got his strikeout rates under control. After two seasons of K-rates around 30 percent, Jones dropped the rate to 22.6. His overall line was acceptable, though disappointing, at .270/.311/.400. Still, his power did not carry over from 2007, as he hit just nine home runs in 477 at-bats to finish with a paltry 6.9 HR/FB percentage. His plate discipline was again poor, with 23 walks against 108 strikeouts. Still young at 23, but now in his second organization, Jones was beginning to get a whiff of unfulfilled expectations. Still, Baltimore was a great training grounds, as unfulfilled expectations were nothing new there.
Officially on the former prospect clock, Jones needed to deliver on promise in 2009 to reaffirm his prospect star—and deliver he did. For the 2009 season, Jones posted a .277/.335/.457 line with 19 home runs, including a blistering April and May that included 11 home runs in 183 at-bats. But that was about it for Jones, as he only posted one month of a .700+ OPS the rest of the season. Jones’ second-half line was particularly concerning, totaling .222/.290/.405.
Jones’ 2009 season, while showing great improvement over his previous performances, tells the tale of a player with tremendous potential who is still a bit overmatched at the plate.
In the plus column, Jones again cut down his strikeout rate from 22.6 percent in 2008 to 19.7 percent in 2009. Crossing the 20 percent threshold is a nice milestone for Jones, especially given that he struck out in 32.3 percent of his 2007 at-bats. In addition, his walk percentage rose to 7.1 percent, which is another great improvement for a batter who struggled so mightily just two seasons ago.
Despite the good-but-not-great home run totals on 2009, Jones really broke out in a big way with the power numbers, posting a 17.8 HR/FB rate—which is in the neighborhood of such luminaries as Mark Teixeira (17.8 HR/FB rate) and Evan Longoria (17.6 HR/FB rate). It’s hard not to be optimistic about a player who is in that kind of company. Further, his 5.6 IFFB percentage showed that he was making clean contact with the ball and was not overmatched by fastballs. This was confirmed by his vastly improved performance against heaters, rising from a -0.81 wFB/C in 2008 to -0.09 wFB/C in 2009. Overall, it was quite the improvement for Jones.
But there was just as much to be concerned about, especially regarding Jones’ plate discipline indicators. First off, Jones, again, posted a low contact rate of just 74.6 percent, a decline from his 76.9 percent in 2008. Jones also showed no improvement in his free-swinging ways, offering at 53.7 percent of all pitches he saw, hacking at a staggering rate of 35.3 percent of pitches outside the zone—good for eighth-worst in the league among qualified batters. This was compounded by the fact that pitchers caught on to his tendencies, throwing him just 48.4 percent of pitches inside the zone.
Jones’ problems go a bit deeper than just poor plate discipline, however. His injury problems are becoming a significant issue, as he played in just 119 games in 2009, down from 132 in 2008. He missed time for five ailments in 2009, including his hamstring, shin, neck, back, and ankle—which ultimately ended his season in September.
Jones’ swing plane is also a problematic as well. For a player with as much power potential as Jones has, his groundball tendencies are quite troublesome, as he posted the seventh-highest groundball rate last season at 55.4 percent, right around such power threats as Elvis Andrus and Nyjer Morgan. Without an improved flyball rate, Jones will never reach his ultimate power potential. However, for fantasy owners, this does constitute an opportunity as well as a risk, as any improvements in his groundball rate will be a great sign for his power output for the upcoming season.
As he has been cast since 2006, Adam Jones is a player with just as much potential for stardom as he has for disappointment. Jones is really a very interesting player. His power potential and adequate 2009 season mitigate his floor for 2010, while he has so much room for improvement for the rest of his offensive game that, if he figured it out at any time, he could explode as one of the better outfielders in fantasy baseball. It is difficult to say when he will make the breakout—and this is what will be the next phase of his game. For 2010, watch his O-Swing percentage, swing percentage, contact rate, and flyball rate in particular. If his O-Swing percentage drops, the walks will go up and he’ll see better pitches to hit. If his flyball rate improves, the homers will really start leaving the park with good frequency.
Overall, Jones presents excellent potential—just don’t get carried away with it. There haven’t been any signs that he will improve his plate discipline, so until you see them, don’t bank on it. Also, his groundball rate significantly mitigates his power potential, so until that improves, be careful. In the end, Jones projects as a league-average outfielder in 2010, with low- to mid-20s home runs, double-digit steals, and a batting average around .280. Good, not great. Still, he’s worth drafting on potential alone. And, if you don’t get him, watch the indicators to see if you can pull off a big trade during the year.
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Posted by Mike Silver at 1:15am
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Last month, fellow THT writer Derek Ambrosino wrote a couple of articles that spurred some debate in the comments (Approaching unconscious competence and One category roar, five category snore). I had some of my own thoughts on a few of the concepts and theories discussed and wanted to share them.
As some quick background, most of the discussion centered around the relative value of one-category players and players who are a little above replacement in all five categories but spectacular in none.
Drafting to trade
In the comment section of Derek A.’s first article, there was a little talk about drafting with the intent to trade. As a general rule of thumb, most fantasy analysts will warn against “drafting to trade.” Still, Derek A. argued that “the chances that somebody needs a 40-steal guy regardless of the rest of that player's (lack of) skill set (or at least feels that they need such a player) is probably higher than the likelihood that somebody feels they need a Garrett Anderson.” I think most of us would agree with this statement (I certainly do), so the question then becomes: “Should this be a consideration when we’re initially drafting our players?” My answer to this question is a definite “yes.”
A couple years ago, I discussed one of my favorite mixed-league strategies: that of drafting high-upside players late in the draft. This seems to be a very popular strategy these days, and I think the principles of the strategy are very closely related to our discussion on the trade value of one-category studs.
When we discuss “high-upside” players, we generally think about young, toolsy players who have a higher probability of significantly outperforming their projections than an established, 30-something-year-old veteran does. However, I don’t believe that upside must be constrained to pure production. Why shouldn’t potential future trade value be incorporated in the "upside" bucket? After all, it all leads to the same goal: winning. Whether that win comes as a result of your 20th-round pick hitting like a third-rounder or as a result of you trading your 20th-round speedster for a top-notch SP shouldn’t matter one ounce.
Value is dynamic
Another facet of the comment section discussion dealt with whether or not we should be drafting one-category players in the first place. Reader Andrew P. talked about how he disliked the idea of forgoing "more valuable” players in order to achieve balance by taking a one-trick pony. Not to pick on Andrew, but I’m not so sure it’s as simple as that.
Value is a funny thing, in that it is never static. I think when a lot of people talk about draft-day value, they think of it in a vacuum—as a precise, static number—but this couldn’t be further from the case. Value is dynamic and is unique to every team at every pick.
If you print out a list of players and dollar values and take that to your draft, the truth of the matter is, those dollar values will only truly be accurate until the first pick of the draft is made. After players have been removed from the pool and/or added to your team, the value of the remaining players will change. It will change—even if only slightly—every single time a player is removed from the pool. Over the course of an entire draft, those values can change quite drastically, especially if you’ve overloaded on one category and are short in another.
Here’s an extreme example to ponder: Let’s say the ghost of Ricky Henderson (from his 130-steal season) is resurrected and you draft him. Then you add a 118-SB Lou Brock clone. With your next pick, your pre-draft cheat sheet may say that the 110-SB Vince Coleman impostor is the best player on the board, but in the context of your team (which now sports phantom Ricky and Lou), Vince Coleman is significantly less valuable.
Why? Because you don’t need those steals! You’ve got 250 under your belt already—quite possibly enough to win the category outright. So the value of the remaining steals in the player pool is essentially zero for your team. For some other team participating in the draft, Coleman will be very appealing. But for you, the relative value of steals is extremely low, in turn raising the relative value of all the other categories. And this happens every time a player is selected (just not as drastically)—supply changes, your team needs change, and thus, every player's value changes.
I actually just had a similar situation play out in a mock draft I participated in for USA Today’s preseason magazine. I ended up with Adam Dunn, Russell Branyan and Chris Davis on the power side and Michael Bourn, Nyjer Morgan and Luis Castillo on the average/steals side. Once you take a player who will contribute heavily to HRs and RBIs but little to average and steals, the relative value of HRs and RBIs to your team decreases, and the relative value of average and steals increases.
I ended up doing a lot of "balancing" in this draft. I put balancing in quotes because it’s a word that often gets used without full understanding of what it means or why/when it should be done. I wasn’t just taking these one-trick ponies because I felt I needed "balance" (something I don’t feel is necessary just for the sake of it); I was taking them because their relative value was higher to my team because of its current makeup at that point in the draft.
The tradeability of different players
My last point today deals with the ability to trade a one-trick pony versus a guy who will help out a little bit in each category. Derek A. used Melky Cabrera as an example of the latter, so I’ll continue using him. He posited that Melky would be a lot harder to trade than, say, Elvis Andrus or Scott Podsednik who have much of their value tied up in one category. I absolutely agree, but I have a couple ideas of my own as to why this is the case.
The first is a pretty obvious one (and one Derek A. touched on briefly). Midseason, teams are often looking to trade for categories as opposed to players. If acquiring one player can catapult your team three or four points in the standings, that’s going to be a lot more appealing than acquiring a player who merely helps in acquiring three or four points across several categories. It's a matter of leverage.
One other important consideration, though, is that in our 12-team mixed league example, players like Melky and Garrett Anderson are end-of-the-bench guys. They are the guys drafted in the last few rounds or taken off the waiver wire during the season. While opinions of the top players in the league rarely differ from owner-to-owner (I think we can all agree that Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira and Jacoby Ellsbury are worthy of a pick in the first few rounds), opinions of the guys taken at the end of draft differ greatly. One owner’s late-round bargain is viewed as should-be-waiver-wire-fodder by another owner.
Feel free to compare rankings between different sites and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Guys appearing in spots Nos. 248, 249 and 250 on one site’s list might not appear at all on another’s. Last year, Baseball HQ loved Mike Jacobs; I hated him. I loved Nyjer Morgan; my own readers hated him .
Opinions diverge greatly at the end of drafts, so if you’re the guy who owns Melky Cabrera, there’s a very good chance you like him more than anyone else in your league (this is true to an extent for all players you draft, but particularly among late-round selections). And if that’s the case, how are you going to get what you consider equal (or greater) value in a trade? While Melky’s worth is open to interpretation, Andrus’ ability to steal a base is much less so.
Further compounding this reality is something called the endowment effect—the tendency for people to overvalue or grow attached to what they already have. As a result of this, owners are going to be more likely to want to keep their own, unspectacular end-of-bench guys than to acquire yours.
Just some stuff to think about. I realize these ideas weren't completely related, but I think they were all worth putting out there. If anyone has any of their own thoughts or questions, feel free to comment.
Posted by Derek Carty at 5:40am
By their nature, wins are fickle. Yes, a correlation does exist between wins and ERA, but I've seen great pitchers finish seasons with few wins and mediocre pitchers rack up wins like bad jokes in a Will Ferrell movie. How else could Joe Saunders finish 2009 with 16 wins and a 4.60 ERA while Randy Wolf gets only 11 wins out of his 3.23 ERA?
There are other factors besides a pitcher's skill level such as innings pitched per start, bullpen strength, and offensive runs per game that influence how often a pitcher will get a win; however luck still plays a large role in the way wins are distributed. Therefore it is smart to not draft for wins since luck is unpredictable.
There are times, though, in daily Head-to-Head leagues when you need to harness the power of wins to become victorious in a particular week. Such times typically occur on Saturday nights when you are trailing by one in the wins category and are setting your lineup for Sunday. Despite the unpredictability of wins, there is a strategy you can use to increase the chance you will earn at least one win and that is by starting opposing pitchers.
Just to make it clear, opposing pitchers are two starting pitchers who are pitching against each other in the same game. So for example in the first Yankees-Red Sox game of 2010, the opposing pitchers will most likely be C.C. Sabathia and Josh Beckett. The advantage of starting opposing pitchers in getting a win might not reveal itself right away so allow me to dazzle you with some math that will make clear the advantage.
Starting pitchers as a whole could have earned 2,430 wins in 2009 since there are that same 2,430 total games played in a season and one win is awarded per game. Instead of getting 2,430 wins though, starters earned only 1,706 wins, meaning 724 wins were lost to relievers. What this means is that 70 percent of the time, the win will go to one of the starting pitchers while there is a 30 percent chance a reliever gets it. This 70-30 ratio is fairly stable from year to year. With a 70 percent chance of the starters getting the win, each starter then has a 35 percent chance of getting the win assuming each pitcher is league average.
From a fantasy perspective, starting opposing pitchers offers a unique opportunity to garner wins at a higher rate. When starting both starting pitchers, you have a 70 percent chance of earning a win for your fantasy team. When starting two random pitchers however, you only have a 45.5 percent chance*. Why then would you not always start opposing pitchers if it gives you a extra 25 percent chance to get a win compared to starting two random pitchers?
*For the less mathematically savvy among us, I got to 45.5 percent by first finding the chance both pitchers get the win (.35 * .35 = 12.25%) and then finding the chance both pitchers do not get the win (.65 * .65 = 42.25%). The chance then, that one pitcher gets the win is 100 minus the sum of those percents which is 100 - (12.25 + 42.25) = 45.5 percent.
The answer is that your win potential is capped at one win with opposing pitchers, but with random pitchers there is the chance you earn two wins, a 12.25 percent chance to be exact. Therefore the two-win potential reward of random pitchers balances the decreased chance of getting one win and also the increased chance of getting zero wins.
Back to fantasy
It is time to take a step back and understand how opposing pitchers can be utilized in fantasy leagues in a practical sense. It is important to note that, over the long run, starting opposing pitchers will not necessarily result in more wins because of the two-win potential of two random pitchers. Starting opposing pitchers can come in handy though in the scenario I detailed towards the beginning of the article, and that is in a Head-to-Head league with daily roster updates.
If all you need is one win and there is a game in which both pitchers in that game are obtainable, theoretically you would be increasing you odds of getting that win by starting both of those pitchers as opposed to two starters in different games. However what's true in theory is not always true in practice and since all teams, pitchers, offenses, and bullpens are not created equal, the question becomes how much of a decrease in pitcher skill should you accept in order to start two opposing pitchers?
It should be obvious that even if Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are not opposing each other you would still want to start them since they earn wins at above the average 35 percent rate; however, a point must exist where the difference in pitcher skill is overshadowed by the advantage starting opposing pitchers offers. I understand that this pursuit is limited in its practicality since it can only be used in a certain league type in a somewhat rare situation, but for me, it is pursuits like this that make fantasy baseball so enjoyable.
Posted by Paul Singman at 5:01am
Monday, December 14, 2009
Last week, I got a request from a reader to take a look at some of the older players who had breakout seasons at unlikely ages and offer some insight as to whether they will be able to repeat. Note to readers, every column idea you think of for me is one fewer I must think of for myself. Seriously, I prefer writing about issues regarding league dynamics and fantasy baseball from more of a strategic, “macro” perspective, but from time to time, I’ll offer my thoughts on individual player evaluation.
The set of players posited by the reader was Aaron Hill, Mark Reynolds and Russell Branyan. All three of these players had breakout seasons. On Opening Day 2010, Hill will be 28, Reynolds 26 and Branyan 34. First off, it’s important to mention that Reynolds is a little different than the other two players. Reynolds broke out at 25, which is not odd, but the extent of his breakout and somewhat unfamiliar make-up/skill set still makes him worth exploring. I expect few upper-tier players will experience a wider range of draft position next year than Reynolds; I could imagine him going as high as mid-teens in some leagues and dropping into the late-50s in others.
Before getting into my evaluations, allow me to offer a few words about projecting performance. I figured it would make the most sense to focus on trying to discern whether the batting average and home run totals from last year are repeatable. Only Reynolds had a significant number of steals last year, and runs and RBIs are fundamentally team stats. So, if the batting average and homers hold next year, the runs and rib-eyes should take care of themselves and be similar as well. For what it’s worth, I expect Reynolds to swipe fewer bases next year, maybe somewhere in the 14-18 range, as opposed to the 24 he had this year.
In addition to offering my thoughts on the likelihoods of these players repeating in the batting average and homer categories, I’m also going to make reference to something called the Strong Seasons Leading Index, which I’ll refer to as SSLI. This is a metric developed by Bill James that debuted in the 2010 Hardball Times Annual. If you want all the specifics, you’re going to have to buy the book, but the overall purpose of the metric is to assess the likelihood of a player outperforming his most recent season. The final numbers for last season spanned a range from 8 to 26, with the lower number being the least likely to outperform 2009 in 2010 (Jorge Posada) and 26 being the most likely (Dioner Navarro). These are not the lowest and highest numbers possible by the metric, just the most extreme among those who had 400-plus ABs last season.
Let me also offer two pieces of information to keep in mind about SSLI in relation to the question posed in this article. First, SSLI was not developed for a fantasy purpose, so having a “better” season is defined in terms of OPS, not any of the five default fantasy categories. Second, this metric attempts to predict next season relative to the past season. While this information is useful in the “is player X for real?” vein—as I’m using it here—the questions are not the same. For any of the three players I’m looking into today, anything approximating last season would cement last year’s breakout as real, and likely provide a great return on draft day. I presume none of these players will actually cost the price of the full value they produced last season, due to understandable skepticism and uncertainty. A 10 percent drop in counting numbers across the board, certainly for Hill or Reynolds, would be fine and prospective owners would likely sign up for that production right now.
OK, enough of the preamble, let’s get into my thoughts and hopefully stimulate some discussion.
Power Projection: It’s common knowledge that, TTO royalty, Branyan has tons of pop. Whether his power is for real has never been the question with Branyan, the issue has always been whether he can make contact with the ball frequently enough to merit playing time at an offensively focused position.
HitTracker classifies all homers as “no doubt (ND),” “plenty (PL)” or “just enough (JE).” Sparing the specific criteria for each group, the designations should be generally self-explanatory. The average distribution of these the types of home runs is 18%/55%/27%, respectively. Only 10 percent of Branyan’s dingers were of the JE variety, and his average home run traveled some 410 or so feet, one of the longer averages in the sport last year. While Branyan’s 31 homers last season were seven more than he had ever hit before, the rate at which he hit them was not out of line with what know to expect from Branyan. Traditionally having been a part-time player, getting regular ABs last year likely helped some, too.
Batting Average Projection: Last year, Branyan hit .251, as compared to his career average of .234. Last year, Branyan hit ground balls a little more frequently than throughout his career, while his line-drive rate was a little lower than his norm. He hit the ball in the air with similar frequency as he’s done throughout his career. Making things a little trickier, Branyan’s BABIP has been all over the place across his career. Again, though he’s been in the league for a dozen years, he’s only been given as many as 300 ABs three times, so sample size is certainly a problem, especially as we break his career into stages by age. I would not look for a batting average repeat.
SSLI Says: Branyan registered an 11 on this index. Only three players who qualified for the study were determined to be less likely than Branyan to repeat. For perspective, some of those who were deemed equally likely as Branyan to repeat were Scott Podsednik, Jason Bartlett and Derrek Lee.
Overall: I do not believe in Branyan. He will hit 24-30 homers if he is given 400-plus ABs again, but his batting average will most likely be in the low .240s. He doesn’t put the ball in play enough to be a threat to eclipse an RBI total in the low 80s, and he’s not on base often enough to score a lot of runs. (The Seattle line-up doesn’t help either.) Further, if he were to leave Seattle, he would likely become either a part-time player or a seventh-place hitter. In deep leagues, and AL-only leagues any source of 25 homers can’t be ignored, but I can’t see him as being relevant in mixed leagues. I would not draft him with the intent of him being part of my starting line-up.
Power Projection: 2008 was a lost season for an injured Aaron Hill, but Hill showed that he was a useful fantasy option in 2007. Last year he came roaring back to put up a season nobody could have expected. What really stuck out about Hill’s 2009 were his 36 homers. Is the power real? One third of Hill’s home runs were JEs, that’s roughly double the average distribution. But in 2007 Hill did hit 17 homers at the age of 26. Somewhat surprisingly, Hill did not hit fly balls at a significantly greater rate in 2009 than in 2007. I’d guess that a good chunk of Hill’s 2009 power output was real. With a similar approach in 2007, Hill hit 47 doubles and 17 homers. In 2009 he hit 37 doubles and 36 homers. It seems like Hill did get a bit lucky last year and that we’ll see some homers turn back to doubles, but I don’t see any reason why Hill couldn’t hit 24-28 homers next year. Generally speaking, I think Hill is for real. Not 36-homer real, but real nonetheless.
Batting Average Projection: Hill’s 2009 batting average was right in line with his career norm and there were no red flags in his BABIP as compared to his career.
SSLI Says: Hill clocks in with a 15 on the SSLI. This means he’s less likely than the average player to repeat, but the odds aren’t nearly as prohibitive as Branyan. For reference, there were many players who registered a 15, including young stars who took the big leaps forward that were expected of them, like Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman and Robinson Cano. On the other hand, there were a number of veterans whose careers are winding down who clocked in at the same number, including Mark DeRosa and Orlando Cabrera.
Overall: Aaron Hill will be a very useful option next season. One thing to keep in mind about Hill is that he led the AL in both PAs and ABs in 2009, which inflated his counting numbers a bit. However, Hill is in the Jimmy Rollins model of players whose real flaws actually enhance his fantasy value. He hardly ever walks, which gives him more chances to knock in runs. And, he’s at least batting average neutral, so piling up the AB does not hurt you there. I think his runs scored decline next year because his mediocre on-base skills make it difficult to score more than 100 runs without hitting 30-plus homers, which I’m unconvinced he’ll do again. Still, I see a season of .280/90/25/90 as totally reasonable and would say a season better than that is not be out of the realm of possibility either. Where would I rank him? I don’t know exactly. Somewhere behind Robinson Cano, but ahead of Dan Uggla is a start.
Power Projection: I’ve already written a bit about Reynolds here. When it comes to power, Reynolds is the real deal. He was an elite power hitter in every level of the minors, and showed his power in 2007 and 2008 at the major league level before breaking out huge last season. According to Hit Tracker, Reynolds boasts the longest average home run of any player throughout the 2009 season. Incredibly, he hit 23 blasts 430 feet or farther last season. In light of that, I was a little surprised to find that he also hit JE homers at 1.5 times the average rate as well. I think it’s fair to expect that Reynolds will hit somewhere in the range of 35–38 homers next year. This may seem like a big drop from last year’s total, but I think that only Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols should be expected to hit more than 40 homers. Such expectations are arguable for Alex Rodriguez and Fielder, I suppose.
It might seem like Reynolds’ 2009 RBI total of 102 is lower than expected, especially given that he knocked in 97 in 2008 while hitting 16 fewer homers. Without doing extensive research, I don’t think that is the case though, at least not to an extreme. Prodigious sluggers with outrageous K-rates and/or notoriously low batting averages, drive in most of their runs with the long ball. Reynolds drove in 68 of his 102 runs in 2009 on his 44 longballs. Adam Dunn drove in 65 of his 105 on his 38 homers. Reynolds hit .260 with 223 Ks, Dunn .267 with 177. Despite cracking 40 homers five times in his career, Dunn has never driven in more than 106. Though Dunn walks considerably more often that Reynolds (decreasing Dunn’s RBI opportunities by comparison), I still think the comparison is of some value. Even if Reynolds hits 40 home runs again, he’s not going to be a good bet to drive in 110 runs unless he can lift his batting average into the .270 range, and I’m not sure that’s in the future for Reynolds.
Batting Average Projection: Reynolds has posted relatively steady GB/FB/LD distribution over his career. His 2009 BABIP looked a bit high, but his 2008 figure seemed a little high too. I think it’s fair to assert that when Reynolds makes contact, he hits the ball very hard. I’d peg Reynolds as a .250-ish hitter barring any evidence that a substantially reduced K-rate is likely in his future.
SSLI Says: Reynolds registered as the most likely of the three to repeat. His score of 17 is smack dab in the middle of the distribution. His score is identical to that of many elite players who are not seen as undependable, including Chase Utley and Brandon Phillips, as well as younger studs who seem to be perceived as more reliable than Reynolds, like Adam Jones and Evan Longoria.
Overall: Reynolds is, after all, only 26 years of age. He was an elite power prospect and is in his physical prime. I wouldn’t be too scared of drafting Reynolds, but I would not expect a full repeat. As a matter of perspective, I’d think of Reynolds as Adam Dunn plus 12 steals with different positional eligibility. Whether Dunn being outfield eligible is more valuable than Reynolds being third base eligible is probably dependent on the structure of your league.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:18am
There are some signs that the Dave Duncan effect is real and perhaps that is what happened to Joel Pineiro, but he wasn't just pitching to contact like many others under Duncan. Pineiro added a two-seam fastball to his arsenal and threw it 27.6 percent of the time this year. This led him to the best ground ball rate in baseball this year at 60 percent, which was up from his average near 47 percent. This leads to the comparison with one of the best ground ball pitchers in all of baseball when healthy. Brandon Webb has been working with these great ground ball rates his whole career and maybe this comparison could give us a clue if Pineiro can keep this up.
W L ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB% HR/FB% FIP Joel Pineiro 15 12 3.49 4.42 1.14 3.89 60.50% 6.50% 3.27 Brandon Webb (2008) 22 7 3.30 7.27 2.58 2.82 64.20% 9.60% 3.28
The big thing that will always separate them is strikeouts, where Pineiro falls far behind Webb. Even if he can maintain the K/BB at that level by essentially not walking anyone he will not be able to match Webb's numbers. That isn't a big problem, though, and they would still be close all other things considered.
Pineiro has not only added a two-seamer to his pitches, but his four-seam fastball has also lost some vertical movement. This has led to many more pitches down in the zone with his four-seam fastball and his two-seamer. There is an interesting study over at Fangraphs about how many other pitchers have made a jump like this. Looking at the followup year no pitcher from the study group lost more than 5 percent, and that is encouraging for 2010 Pineiro.
Perhaps the more concerning number is the walk rate. It's lower than any other time in his career, but there is also some encouraging signs with a BB/9 of 1.56 in his 426.1 IP in St. Louis. This could be part of the Duncan Effect as he encourages his pitchers to pitch to contact. All this makes a strong case for Pineiro to maintain his ground ball and walk rates for 2010.
I've ignored Webb here a bit, but we know how great he can be when healthy. He counts on a solid to stellar K/BB and has the best ground ball numbers in baseball. The questions now center around his shoulder and how healthy he can be going forward. His fastball was down 2 mph before going on the DL this year. If that continues once he comes back, he could lose some of the strikeouts, making him less valuable.
The good news for Webb is he can still be a successful pitcher with fewer strikeouts. That isn't good news for fantasy teams, but he wouldn't be suddenly a replacement-level pitcher. There is a lot of risk in his health for 2010, but then again his value this year should discount for that and he could be a huge steal.
Pineiro will never be your team ace, and is one of those pitchers who can be much more valuable in real baseball, but at the back of your staff he will help your win totals, ERA and WHIP. That is displayed in current drafts at MockDraftCentral where Pineiro he is taken, on average, with the 248th pick, where he should be a solid value. Webb, on the other hand, is going almost halfway up the board at 142.
The purpose of these articles is not to find perfect clones, and this is another case of looking at similarities and using this to find hidden value. That may be the case for Brad Penny as well as he joins the St Louis Cardinals. If you trust the Duncan Effect you could see Penny definitely working on his control issues, but if he works on his pitches to add more ground balls he could be a nice surprise in 2010.
Posted by Troy Patterson at 5:23am
Friday, December 11, 2009
Last week's final comment opened an interesting discussion involving the psychology of fantasy games, and I wanted to address it head-on, albeit only scratching the surface, as we're here to provide player information primarily. The discussion is tangentially related to the “hometown bias” Derek Ambrosino discussed. That is, namely, what should we do with player “reputations” when considering “value”?
This came up with regard to Josh Beckett, who famously and heroically brought down the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, including a five-hit 2-0 clincher in Game Six. And in the recent past, we've seen Jacoby Ellsbury have a torrid September and postseason to rocket to prominence, and previously, we saw K-Rod grab the reins of the closer role down the stretch and into the playoffs, announcing his “arrival.” These all seem like obvious examples of good players improving their stock through very high-profile performances. It seems hard to believe that even among the most jaded fantasy players, any of these players would go for less than “full retail” pricing the following season, either in auction or draft or trade.
But what about other cases, where the “reputation” turns out to be just “hype.” Usually, this is the case with prospects, from Delmon Young to Alex Gordon to Dice-K Matsuzaka ... certainly, nobody got these guys for as little as the value they've provided so far. And it's not just with prospects, either ... remember all the “25 homer” hype around Pedro Feliz when he went to Philly? With that offense, and the shift to that “bandbox,” he was expected to be a major force at 3B after leaving SF. Or Milton Bradley coming to the easier National League after his huge 2008 season [ed - that one hurts to remember as a Cubs fan ... oh, it's not over yet? Grumble.]
The biggest problem with reputation is that it's fickle. As noted in the Beckett writeup last week, players can see their star tarnished very quickly ... and sometimes not fully due to their own situation. Not mentioned with Beckett is that his reputation also took a “hit” by the Dice-K and Lester “stories.” Without them as teammates, it's likely we'd have all been trying to think of new things to say about Josh Beckett with much of the time and energy spent on the other Red Sox pitchers.
Ideally, of course, the “solution” to figuring out the reputation riddle is to a) time the “reputation” so that it's at its peak, and then b) find the league member who has the best combination of desire to own the player and susceptibility to “hype.” This, at the same time being aware when you are paying a “hype surcharge” to acquire a player—presumably to “flip” him to someone even more excited about the player's reputation, but also assuming that you're not overpaying by so much that you'll be disappointed to be “stuck” with the player. Whew, tricky stuff. But that's why we play, right?
Maybe a “for instance” ... in a Strat-O-Matic league where we can keep some minor-leaguers, I traded for Matt Wieters before the 2009 season. I was aware that I was paying for the “Orange Jesus” hype, but the price was good enough that I was happy to have him on my team, and we can keep players for the first six years of their careers (we have salaries and free agency after that). Honestly, I was expecting to get blown away with an offer for him, but it didn't happen, and now I still have him. Yes, I paid a high price, but no, I'm not unhappy to have Wieters for 2009-2014.
So, anyway, “reputation” is a tricky subject. Is Lidge's “reputation” back, now that he had a good postseason following a thoroughly execrable 2009 regular season? Is Ryan Franklin “toast,” despite having a great regular season (before he signed his extension)? Is Carlos Gonzalez great, all the sudden, just because he had a monster playoff series? [He's going much higher in mock drafts than most people thought.] Well, we'll cop out of any strong advice here, since—as always—it comes down to knowing your opposing managers. But we would suggest “price enforcement” on players who have an “up arrow” on reputation, while expecting the typical “discount” on anyone else you roster (since everyone evaluates differently, everyone should end up with “discounts” using their own system, in general). If you don't know your leaguemates that well, watch and learn, but stick close to numbers you trust. We'll give some comments on Curtis Granderson next week—he's already shaping up to be a player with a lot of “hype” in some circles.
Kendry Morales | Los Angeles | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .306/.355/.569
For people who may not follow slugging percentage closely, it may come as a surprise that No. 2 and No. 4 in the AL this year were Kendry Morales and Adam Lind, the two AL batters we're spotlighting this week. They each slugged better than .560, exceeding the March 9 THT projections by about 100 points apiece! I do a daily-move roto post on baseballdailydigest.com and started off with luke-warm suggestions such as, “Kendry is hitting well, and likes RHP, so it’s probably worth the chance if you need a 1B.” [He was facing a not-so-great RHSP.] By June, I had recommended that everyone pick him up, and just use him against RHP, and by July, I more-or-less noted that it would be nuts if he was available in any leagues. Despite owning him in my deep keeper AL roto league, I would have been happy with .293/.333/.473 (the THT projection) for 2009. And I was fully expecting a platoon split. But Kendry grew as a player, right before our eyes. He didn't exactly eliminate his platoon bias, but that was only because he maimed RHP, and was just “OK” in 144 PA against LHP (.296/.318/.481).
Going forward, the loss of Figgins will hurt Morales' numbers in 2010. But that is really the only reason a fantasy player would not want this guy for four categories. He doesn't walk (just 36 unintentional walks!), which hurts his real-life value somewhat, but in fantasy, that just improves his AB:PA ratio, which improves the impact of his (expected) good batting average. He had a .329 BABIP in 2009, an entirely normal figure for a player who hits the ball hard as frequently as he does and isn't as slow as as a Molina. We're not even worried about his expected increase in PT vs LHP dragging down his numbers, and figure those extra ABs will instead help his overall totals. Maybe 2009 was an “up” season for him, but we're still fine with his “normal” year. Since the theme is “reputation,” Kendry is a good guy to evaluate how much of a role that will play in the auction. Nationally, his rep got a HUGE boost this year, and he's going 55th overall in mixed drafts at Mock Draft Central (.com). But if your league is a bunch of friends from Queens, perhaps his season will be seen as something of a fluke, and he'll be a good bargain pick (55th doesn't seem like a “bargain,” given the ease with which 1B can be filled).
Adam Lind | Toronto | LF
2009 Final Stats: .305/.370/.562
Here is a case of talent evaluation and development which certainly did NOT contribute to J.P. Ricciardi's exit from Toronto! What a nice surprise for the Blue Jays, who could use one amidst some disappointing seasons. Much like Morales in many ways, and for fantasy purposes Lind is even better due to positional scarcity (his 41st ranking in mixed mock drafts reflects this). Lind also held his own against LHP (and without turning around to bat right-handed as Morales does), hitting .270/.318/.461 against southpaws. And his BABIP was also very normal at .322. He's actually a slower runner than Morales, but you aren't taking these guys for their foot speed. The strikeout rates are similar between the two sluggers (both very decent for players with such great power), and Lind is a better real-world contributor, as he walks a little more (49 unintentional walks).
We'd like to add more detail about Lind, but there really isn't much more to note. He didn't improve markedly in the second half the way Morales did, but he hit the same in both halves. He slugged .533+ every month except May, when he slugged .453. The one tidbit is that there is talk of him moving to 1B if Overbay is gone, so keep an eye on that situation, but he qualifies in the outfield this year. As with all players who show a “surge” like this, it's somewhat likely that he'll experience “Plexiglass Principle” and show some decline in 2010, but we don't expect much of a drop.
Joe Nathan | Minnesota | RP
2009 Final Stats: 11.7 K/9, 4.1 K/BB, 2.10 ERA
Of course, the only question remaining with Joe Nathan is, “how much longer?” It is sort of nitpicking to try to figure out a “trend” in his numbers at this point. He's still in his relative “prime,” even though his velocity has been down more than 1 mph the past two years, compared to 2005-2007 (93.5 and 93.6 compared to 94.8 for average fastball velocities). His control “slipped” to 2.9 BB/9, but he brought his K/9 over 11 again in the process. He allowed more fly balls, but allowed fewer line drives, suggesting more balls arbitrarily called “fly ball” instead of “liner” by the person tracking it (sort of like “hit” vs “error” by official scorers, it's not exactly consistent). In short, write in your 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 80-ish Ks and 35+ saves, and have no worries. He's about as sure of a thing as a reliever can be. At some point soon, we'll start worrying about age, but at age 35, neither batters nor Father Time is catching up to him.
Andrew Bailey | Oakland | RP
2009 Final Stats: 9.8 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, 1.84 ERA
Yeah, that worked! Moderately promising starting pitching prospect Andrew Bailey was shifted to the bullpen full-time in 2009 after a trial in 2008, and won a job in the A's pen despite only having 8 IP of Triple-A experience (in 2007). He, of course, pulled down the American League Rookie of the Year Award after winning the closer job for Oakland. His velocity improved with the shift, and that was just the recipe for the pitcher who'd posted FIPs in the minors of 4.4 at High-A and Double-A (in two separate years). His “hit rate” was a Marmol-ian 49 in 83.1 IP (.167 BAA), without the absurd walk and HBP totals. He walked just 24 batters, in fact, producing a BB/9 much lower than his minor-league rates.
So, what now? Oakland changes closers about as often as calendar pages, from Street to Devine to Ziegler to Bailey ... and most forecasting systems have not yet caught up with Bailey's new role, or don't “believe” that Oakland will stick with one closer. But they will ... at least until Beane can trade Bailey to a contender in need of a great closer. Some things to discuss with Bailey, and the projections he's going to get, and where he's drafted:
Saves on Oakland? But they are bad.
Well, it's a bit of a myth that you want closers only from good teams. The advantage from park effects is more dramatic than the difference due to caliber of team, though at the bottom end, it really is a concern and you should be careful taking closers from 100-loss teams. But the A's have had 38, 33 and 36 team saves the past three seasons ... below AL averages, but still adequate. And when the team was good in 2006, they led the league with 54. Having top-to-bottom pitching (i.e., not one or two great SP and then some dogs) and a home park that suppresses scoring make fertile soil for saves to grow. And the A's might be better in 2010 ... they are expecting their young SP and OF to have improved, and the Giambi and O-Cab experiments are history. At the very least, we expect another season like 2009, where the team garnered 38 saves (40 was league average).
Bailey had a .220 BABIP.
This could be a real worry, as each “point” of BABIP change could be worth 2 “points” of ERA change (or more), so if we assume this will regress to .300, that's +80, or +1.60 onto his ERA. And some of this effect is real, and very likely to surface in 2010. But, the rate is a general rule of thumb, and doesn't apply strictly, and less so at smaller ERAs. More importantly, there is good reason to expect that .300 is not the appropriate BABIP to which to regress Bailey. For example, Joe Nathan's career BABIP is .255. Mariano Rivera's is .266. It would obviously be nuts to regress those players to .300. While facing just 324 batters in 2009 isn't enough of a sample size to draw any strong conclusions, the probability is that Bailey's “mean BABIP” (to which we should regress) is less than .300. So, the ERA regression should be more in the range of 1.00 instead of 1.60.
xFIP is a quick way to accommodate the expected regression of both BABIP and HR/FB, and was designed with a league-average BABIP in mind. Bailey's xFIP was 3.25. But, as Colin Wyers showed in an article this summer, FIP and xFIP don't have enough variance at the extremes (to keep up with empirical data), and this behavior of the xFIP model, combined with its assumption of a league-average BABIP, make for an overly pessimistic indicator. Yes, Bailey was lucky in allowing just 44 non-HR base hits in 83.1 IP, and yes, he's likely to allow more in 2010. But it's more likely he'll allow +10 more non-HR hits instead of +18, and that will keep his ERA down. And that's if he gets 83 IP again, which brings us to...
Isn't 83 IP a lot for a closer?
Yes. On July 21, Bailey threw 2 IP, which was common for him in the first half, being as he'd recently been a starting pitcher, and hadn't fully claimed the role of closer early in the season. But he experienced minor knee issues after that 2 IP outing, and never topped four outs in a game after that. Expect him to be used as most every other closer is used in 2010, and end up with just under 70 IP for the season.
Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2020. You can order the book from Acta Sports here.
Posted by Rob McQuown at 4:00am
This week's Waiver Wire has another nice bonus, courtesy of The Graphical Player 2010 (or GP for short), the book Rob McQuown (my AL Waiver Wire counterpart) and I are Associate Editors for, under the Editorship of the incomparable John Burnson, publisher of HEATER magazine and baseball guru/genius.
In its seventh year, GP presents stats, commentary and predictions in a graphical format that packs an amazing amount of information into a small amount of space. Last week, we showed you the "mini-browser" and a handful of the stats included with each player. This week, you'll see the player graph, highlighting his career trends and his "Assets at a Glance," a quick way of showing you everything from his stability to future trends and the core skills he brings to the table.
You can download a 16-page sample of the book or order the book directly from ACTA Sports—let your leaguemates settle for the same-old, same-old analysis. Fantasy sports have moved into the 21st century; get the only book that proves it: the 2010 Graphical Player!
Carlos Lee | Houston | OF
2009 Final Stats: .300/.343/.489
El Caballo has been one of the steadiest RBI guys out there for the past several seasons. Since 2003, he's only failed to register triple-digit RBIs once, and that was in 2004, when he could only pick up a measly 99.
He's also been a solid power producer, collecting 30+ HRs and 30+ 2Bs in every season but 2008, when he broke a pinkie. (That also broke a durability record, as Lee had appeared in 140+ games in every season since 2000, with 161+ games in each of 2005-2007.) Since 2003, his power production has led to a .500+ SLG in every season but 2005, which was also the only year in that span that he didn't hit .300.
This past season saw those trends slipping away. He barely hit .300, his SLG dropped below .500 and he clubbed just 26 longballs. He did keep up that durability by appearing in 160 games, and he hit 35 2Bs and knocked in 102. But with his SB numbers now diminishing almost completely, Lee's value is tied almost entirely to his power and BA. So where did the power go?
For starters, his HR/RB rate dropped to 10.0 percent, his lowest NL average in years, and his Bash fell to 1.63, also his lowest in years and well below his 1.81 of 2008. That would indicate a combination of slipping power and bad luck.
And luck factored into more than just his HR rate—his .915/.751 home-road split for 2009 includes a BABIP split of .305/.276, though his .290 overall BABIP was identical to his career average. Lee's always hit better at home vs. on the road, but not as dramatically as 2009.
His home-road split is also reflected in his .542/.437 home/road SLG differential. The Juicebox in Houston has that wonderfully short LF porch, and Lee really feasted on it last year—elsewhere, not so much.
His core hitting skills held steady: with his walk rate dipping just a bit and his contact rate (always at or near 90) remaining the same. There's little else to explain the 2009 dip in power, other than some bad luck and the declining power you can expect from a guy with Lee's physique; still, 33 is a bit early for a complete dropoff.
You can see from his GP window the two months—June and September—that dragged his 2009 season down, as well as the rebound we both expect from him in 2010. And you also see vividly demonstrated how he'll help you in BA and HR, but not much else.
GP's stat predictions see him regaining his .500-SLG, 30-HR ways, and he should approach a .300 BA again. And his -32 sentiment indicates he's likely to be a bargain after his down 2009, making him a very nice bargain opportunity for your 2010 draft. Don't expect steals or a great OBP, but he should resume delivering BA, HR and RBI as steadily as ever—at least for 2010.
David Wright | New York | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .307/.390/.447
We had a mock "Futures" draft this offseason, focusing on the best players in the next five years, and I took Wright as my top selection, fourth overall. Among other things, I noted his rock-solid peripherals and amazing health record—and, like a voodoo curse, both struck Wright this past season.
What really struck Wright, of course, was a 94 mph fastball from Matt Cain, and many may write off his season due to this beanball, which took the helmet off of Wright's head and laid him out motionless.
He actually didn't seem all that bad at the time; after being tended to at home plate, he asked to remain in the game, though he was led off the field. His season fell apart after this, as he missed a little over two weeks (more time than he'd ever missed in his Mets career), then came back to hit just .239/.389/.367 the rest of the way.
But his season was actually starting to slip away from him (as it did with all of his N.Y. teammates) even before that ill-fated pitch, as he was hitting .324/.414/.467. Those numbers would be gaudy for any other 3B in the NL not named "Chipper Jones" or "Aramis Ramirez," but for Wright, they had to be a disappointment.
Like Carlos Lee, Wright had been a lock since 2005 for a .300 BA, 100 RBI, 40+ 2Bs and a homer total near, or surpassing, 30. So while his OBP numbers were solid, he was already down in power by a good 30 or 40 points when he got hit by Cain. Should fantasy owners be concerned about this?
In Wright's career, his worst months are April (.862 OPS), July (.867) and September (.899). That a "bad" month for Wright includes those excellent numbers says plenty about what a talent this guy is. But those months are also his worst because of his power—for whatever reason, he doesn't hit the longball in April (.471 SLG), July (.487) and September (.522). Again, "worst" is relative when you're David Wright, since most players would kill for an "off" month like that.
When you break down his 2009 season by month, or look at it with a glance on the GP graph, you can see he's right in line with his career trends. He hit .280/.372/.390 in April, .378/.479/.561 in May, .365/.432/.529 in June, and .269/.373/.398 in July. That GP window highlights what a downhill ride 2009 was for Wright, how different it was from his steadier 2007-08 and how much he needed those lost months to redeem himself.
Up until Cain gave him a Rawlings-induced headache, Wright wasn't showing his usual August mojo: he'd hit .306/.393/.408 through the first 14 games of the month. And after he came back from his concussion, he flailed rather horribly at the ball, his usual patience evaporating as he plunged into a .26 BB/K funk (his career average is .65). Up to that point, his BB/K was at .61.
Last year can't be blamed entirely on Cain, but a lot of it can, mostly because it denied Wright one of his typically strong months, and cut the legs out from under his "best worst" month—even an ordinary .899 OPS in September would have made Wright's 2009 numbers look much different. Absent Cain's intervention, it's possible that Wright's numbers would have dipped a bit, something one can easily explain by playing in a new stadium with a last-place team that looked like everyone was suffering from a voodoo curse.
Of those concerns, only the home park is a long-term worry. It will take a full season of a healthy Wright to see how much the new surroundings affect his offensive game, though he had some great series at Citi Field in 2009.
The bigger problem, his concussion, is also cause for worry, but with an offseason to take it easy, he's unlikely to have lingering effects. You might point to Ryan Church as someone whose concussions destroyed his career, but Church not only had repeat concussion problems, he wasn't half the player Wright is, even on Church's best day. Church's post-concussion collapse is just as easy to interpret as a return to the mediocrity he showed with Washington.
GP sees a nice rebound for Wright next season and, like Lee, his dip Sentiment (-52 in Wright's case) makes him an excellent buy-low target. If other owners are waffling come Draft Day, you'll know that he should regain his form of days gone by.
Josh Johnson | Florida | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.2 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, 3.23 ERA
If Johnson's GP graph looks a bit shaky, there's a reason for that, and it's the Achilles' heel for this promising young arm—if you think of his heel as being in his elbow, and substitute "Tommy John" for "Achilles." Johnson's 2007 season ended with TJS, and his return from it at the end of 2008 show excellent recovery rates, but 2009 was still a part of that recovery.
As a result, 2009 wasn't terribly steady, though Johnson turned in a career year in virtually every significant category. He had flashes of dominance along with rough starts, including a scare in May when he was pulled from a start for shoulder weakness. All of them the kinds of things you expect from a young pitcher who's the ace of his staff.
Looking back at his GP graph, the downward trend on his K/9 rates highlights the big worry about Johnson: As Marc Hulet points out in his GP writeup, logging 200+ IP is a leap of more than 120 IP from 2008 and a scary workload for a young arm just one year away from TJS. Fredi Gonzalez is proving to be a real arm-shredder, and he's signed up as the Marlins skipper through at least 2011.
As 2009 progressed, Johnson clearly lost some of his control, perhaps because of this workload. Even though his strikeouts rose, so did his walks; except for a stellar August (43 Ks and 8 BBs in 37.1 IP, including taking a no-no into the seventh inning) he put more runners on base after the break than before. His BABIP rose every month in the second half, too, either a measure of bad luck, diminishing defense or him losing giddyup on the ball.
And giddyup is what he's got. Johnson's amazingly talented, with a fastball in the 94-96 range and a hard slider, and both have great movement. Because he can throw a two- and four-seamer and change the tilt on his slider, he gets away with a lesser change-up. If he could develop that change of pace, he'd be even more devastating.
Like many other young pitchers, however, the question with Johnson is not the skills, but his health, durability and makeup. He's never had big problems in the mental department, but those injury questions will linger until he can put together consecutive injury-free seasons, something he has yet to do in the majors. Last year's 209 IP was not only a big step up from his 87.1 IP in 2008, it was the most he's ever thrown as a pro.
This makes 2010 a make-or-break year for Johnson, and just in time, too. He's headed for free agency after the 2011 season, and putting together another solid season or two would drive his price into the stratosphere. Another injury setback might make him tainted goods.
When he hits the market, he may not be playing for Florida. If the Marlins handle him the way they have other pitchers, they're going to trade him before he hits that price point. There's been plenty of buzz about potential trade targets, and Florida has also talked about a long-term deal, though I'm skeptical—but if they do keep him, he'll be in the Marlins' new stadium in 2012. About the only thing you can count on in the near future is that he'll pitch in Florida's current home park, where he has a 16-9 record, 3.53 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in his career and a 7-3 record with a 2.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 2009.
Those are all moderate long-term question marks for Johnson: team, league and park are all important factors to a pitcher. Johnson shouldn't be too affected by any change in venue, since he's a pitcher who's fairly well-balanced between ground balls and fly balls (1.06 FB/GB ratio in his career). Playing for a poorer team will drive down his Win potential, of course, but playing for a team with a better defense is bound to help him—Florida ranked near the bottom in most defensive categories in 2009. And getting away from Gonzalez might be the best move of all for Johnson and his fragile arm.
Ranked on pure talent alone, Johnson's a very valuable pitcher. The question marks in his future, particularly his health, will drive down his value, and rightfully so. Other owners in your league might forget about this, but you shouldn't. TJS recovery is as ordinary these days as the surgery, but Johnson still needs to prove that he can pump fastballs into a mitt over and over without breaking down. The history of baseball and its promising pitchers shows that this is no easy task, particularly with a surgically rebuilt elbow.
This all makes him a good gamble, depending on your strategy and the outlook of your fellow owners. I tend to stick with more established talent in the volatile pitching area, so I'd avoid Johnson unless he's a bargain. But if he stays healthy, the return on that gamble could be huge.
You can see more of the The Graphical Player 2010 for yourself by downloading a 16-page preview of the book, or by ordering the book directly from Acta Sports here.
Next week, we'll get back to our request schedule with Alcides Escobar, Ian Stewart and Madison Bumgarner. Leave your requests and suggestions for other players you'd like me to cover—focusing especially on those with significant offseason issues—in the comments below!
Posted by Michael Street at 2:00am
Thursday, December 10, 2009
1. Michael Saunders: I have gone on record stating that Saunders is one of the very few prospects with true 30/30 ability. He has the skills to be a .300 hitter to boot. Judging by his brief major league debut, however, I am a bit leery of his ability to fully transition, leading me to believe that he will not live up to every bit of his potential. But he has a legit chance at stardom, and therefore he is the best that Seattle has to offer.
2. Carlos Triunfel: Triunfel's 2009 was cut very short, which is a shame considering his youth compared to the level of competition he was facing. I think he can stick at shortstop, raising his value, and his overall bat is too good to ignore. His stock remains strong in my book, despite the lost season.
3. Dustin Ackley: While he has good bat speed and oodles of polish, Ackley is far too hyped for his projection. His power/speed combination faces question marks transitioning into pro ball and is simply not in the realm of fellow farmhand Michael Saunders' skill set.
4. Alex Liddi: Liddi posted a monster season in the hitter-friendly and age-appropriate California League, but he still has much to prove. Double-A is always the first true test, especially for a player transitioning out of the California League, and I am still quite skeptical of his strikeout rate and ability to hit quality breaking stuff. The Advanced-A numbers cannot be ignored, though.
5. Rich Poythress: Poythress was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft for one simple reason: his mammoth power potential. His bat has holes and is a bit on the slow side, his approach needs work, his speed is a liability, and his defense is limited. But boy does he have a powerful bat. I'm torn on his stock, so I'll just cautiously keep an eye on him.
6. Tyson Gillies: If it weren't for Alex Liddi, everyone would be singing the praises of Gillies. Both starred for the High Desert Mavericks, but Gillies took a different approach. He demonstrated every skill necessary to become a good major league leadoff hitter. As with Liddi, though, I'm hesitating a bit until I see his performance against better competition in a more balanced league.
7. Phillippe Aumont: Everyone loves the stuff that Aumont brings to the ballpark, but, when it comes right down to it, he is now strictly a relief pitcher. While he could become Seattle's closer in short order, his bullpen status hurts his stock.
8. Mike Carp: As a first baseman, Carp honestly isn't anything special, and he probably never will be. But I like him. He has a solid shot at being an average first baseman with his polished all-around bat.
9. J.C. Ramirez: Don't let his California League numbers throw you off too much. Ramirez has good upside with his strong fastball and potentially plus slider. His questionable strikeout total in 2009 does raise an eyebrow, but I'm willing to ride it out for another year.
10. Michael Pineda: For his age, Pineda's control is spot on. His low-90s fastball has plenty of deception and has registered strong strikeout numbers. His durability and secondary offerings are concerning, though, leaving his value in limbo. He is another prospect that will be seeing Double-A competition for the first time in 2010.
1. Justin Smoak: The only valid question mark on Smoak's resume is his projected home run power. Otherwise he has everything one looks for in a middle-of-the-order force. Texas could have Mark Teixeira Part 2 in its farm system.
2. Neftali Feliz: After a frustrating start to the 2009 season, Feliz turned up the heat as the weather warmed. His season culminated with a jaw-dropping 31-inning major league bullpen stint that left little doubt about his prospect status. Whether or not he has the repertoire and endurance to excel as a starter remains to be seen, but, if all else fails, he will be a prominent bullpen mainstay for years to come.
3. Martin Perez: It is virtually impossible to have a more impressive resume as an 18-year-old than what Perez can brandish. If you're forcing me to nitpick, his slight build is concerning, leaving question marks about the upside of his velocity, and you always have to be cautious about the arm of any teenage pitching phenom. But that's it. Otherwise I wouldn't change a thing.
4. Robbie Ross: He has a long way to go and much to prove, but Ross has upside in his fastball, despite his short stature, and the makings of a true out pitch with his change-up.
5. Kasey Kiker: It's tough to ignore the bulldog mentality that Kiker brings to the mound. He has to be a bulldog if he plans to survive as a 5-foot-10 starting pitcher. His repertoire is strong and varied but far from ace-like. He is one to watch as a potential mid-rotation starter, but his upside is limited.
6. Michael Main: Many were expecting a breakout 2009 performance, but Main's health had other ideas. His velocity and confidence were down, and his control took a step backward. His immense upside is still present, however. Maybe we will get his breakout in 2010.
7. Tanner Scheppers: Scheppers has a reputation for delivering a plus fastball/curveball combination, but his control and mechanics may need an overhaul before he sees success as a professional. His past shoulder problems throw up a red flag as well.
8. Max Ramirez: The main question with Ramirez still lies in his ability to be a full-time big league catcher. He doesn't project to hit for much of a batting average, but his power is noteworthy, especially from a backstop. I'm willing to overlook his injury-plagued 2009 and give his game a chance to regain its form.
9. Wilfredo Boscan: There is much to like about Boscan's right arm. He has a diverse repertoire that is suited for a starter, his movement is lively, and his control is spot-on. The only thing that leaves him near the bottom of this top-10 list is his shockingly low strikeout rate in 2009. Maybe it's a fluke, but if he doesn't pick up the pace he will have a difficult time succeeding against better competition.
10. Wilmer Font: Font is a young man whose reputation is built on upside. His frame has room to grow, leaving many to believe that a consistent mid-90s fastball could be in his future, but consistent movement from all of his pitches has been lacking. His secondary offerings and control leave much to be desired at this point as well.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 6:20am
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Tommy Hanson exploded onto the scene in 2009, posting some incredible numbers, including a 2.89 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 116 strikeouts in 127.2 innings. It was quite the year for the young pitcher, as he was able to move from top prospect to bona fide stud in four short months. Not a bad showing for a 23-year-old.
Drafted in the 22nd round out of Riverside Community College, 19-year-old Hanson began his professional career at Danville in the Appalachian League. In a 51.2 innings stretch spanning 13 games and eight starts, Hanson dominated the competition, striking out 56 batters while allowing just nine walks. With a great debut in professional ball, the Braves promoted their budding star to Single-A for the following season.
Hanson picked up right where he left off in 2007 at Rome in the Sally League. Through 73 innings, the hurler struck out 90 batters while walking 26—good enough for a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach. In his final 60 innings of the season, Hanson continued to dominate hitters, with 64 strikeouts and 32 walks. With 154 strikeouts in 133 innings (10.42 K/9), Hanson made his first appearance on the prospect landscape, ranking as the ninth-best prospect in the Braves organization.
Despite the dominating stuff, however, Hanson’s form needed a little more refinement, as his good walk rates from Rookie Ball and Single-A were replaced by a poor one at High-A. The Braves thought it prudent to let him work out his issues with a repeat performance at Myrtle Beach to begin 2008.
Hanson’s second tour of High-A was short-lived, as his outstanding line of 49 strikeouts against just 11 walks in 40 innings allowed him to punch a ticket to Double-A Mississippi. The subsequent showing at Double-A was impressive as well, as Hanson struck out 114 batters in 98 innings. However, his command issues resurfaced to an extent, as he walked 41 batters (3.76 BB/9), bringing a slight dark cloud over his performance.
However, when ranking young pitchers, stuff trumps all—and Hanson had this in spades. As a result, he rocketed up the prospect charts, placing first among Atlanta prospects and fourth in MLB. Challenging for a rotation spot in spring training of 2009, Hanson was on the outside looking in due to his available options and in an effort by the Braves to delay Hanson’s arbitration eligibility. As a result, he began the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he absolutely stifled the competition.
Triple-A was to be a big test for Hanson, as his performance there would determine his timetable for reaching and staying in the majors. Hanson did not disappoint. In 66.1 innings, he was able to post 90 strikeouts while walking just 17 batters. Battling for a roster opening with Gwinnett rotation mate Kris Medlen, Hanson debuted just two weeks after his teammate on June 7.
Hanson fought through growing pains in June despite posting a 2.48 ERA, as he could not find the zone nor strike out batters—leading to a 17:18 walk to strikeout ratio in his first 29 innings. Hanson quickly worked out of this early summer lull, however, with elite performances the rest of the way, including 98 strikeouts against 29 walks in 98.2 innings.
Any way you slice it, Hanson had quite the performance his rookie season. Aside from his struggles in June, Hanson was quite the dominant pitcher. His dazzling 8.18 K/9 rate, including an 8.9 K/9 rate after June, was excellent for a rookie, especially considering his 3.24 BB/9 rate on the season, which included a 2.64 BB/9 line after June.
Just as good as his overall line were his secondary indicators. Hanson posted a very good contact rate at 77.2 percent, which bodes well for his strikeout totals next season. Though his Zone percentage is low at 48.7 percent, this is mitigated by a great first strike percentage (63.4 percent)—meaning that Hanson works from ahead in the count in plenty of his matchups, allowing him to induce plenty of swings and misses outside the zone when the hitters expand the zone late in the at-bat.
This approach works to Hanson’s favor as his stuff worked best last year when he forced hitters to swing outside the zone. Hanson’s O-Contact percentage is well above average at 54.3 percent, which places him in the top 20 percent in the league for the 2009 season among pitchers who pitched at least 120 innings. On the other hand, his Zone Contact percentage was 87.2 percent—right around the league average.
Despite the great success, Hanson still has a coupled points to work on for the 2010 season. With his success on pitches outside the zone, it would help his K-rate greatly if he could induce more swings outside the zone. His O-Swing percentage was right about average at 25.5 percent. While not a bad number, it doesn’t help his strength which is inducing swings and misses on pitches outside the zone.
In addition, Hanson could stand to make some improvements on his change up for the upcoming year. He used it sparingly for a reason, as hitters mashed it when he did throw it, leading to a -1.85 wCH/C.
Hanson may also see a bit of regression in his home run rate. A low 6.9 HR/FB rate aided Hanson’s 3.50 FIP last season and this can be expected to equalize in the upcoming season. If Hanson could improve his 0.97 GB:FB rate, it will help mitigate some of this regression. Still, expect his home run rate to rise a bit next year. Also, his 1.18 WHIP will likely rise in 2010, as his very low .280 BABIP should also regress to the league average.
With an excellent arsenal, great pedigree, and stellar rookie season in his back pocket, Hanson seems primed for a great 2010. He shouldn’t be expected to repeat his sparkling 2.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. However, a 3.60-3.80 ERA is a good target, with a 1.25 WHIP. A K/9 rate in the 8-9 range seems likely, as does a walk rate right around 3.0 BB/9. Overall, Hanson represents an above-average starting pitcher in 12-team mixed leagues with a chance to outperform these projections and post some excellent strikeout rates. Draft Hanson with confidence. He will make his fantasy owners very happy this year.
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Posted by Mike Silver at 4:43am
Monday, December 07, 2009
Does hometown bias exist in fantasy baseball? If it does, this is obviously something you can use to your advantage when predicting where players will be drafted and when putting together trade offers.
Among casual fantasy players, it seems self-evident that hometown bias exists. However, most of us are in leagues that are pretty competitive. So, at that level, does this bias exist? It would be wonderful if there was some huge databank of fantasy drafts to study this, or if the folks at Harvard would add something like this to their implicit association study. However, neither of these are the case, so we’re left to think about this question anecdotally. So, I’m enlisting our wonderful and knowledgeable readers to chime in on this question because our collective anecdotal evidence has to be better than any of our individual anecdotal evidence.
First, let me offer a couple of thoughts about my experiences regarding hometown players. I live in Queens, New York and root for the Mets, I play in five leagues regularly and I’d estimate that approximately 80–85 percent of the participants in these leagues root for either the Mets or Yankees. Not all of the league participants live in New York City, but most do. Some are transplanted New York residents who have taken their team allegiances on the road. Others have moved to New York, and brought their attachment to their non-New York teams with them.
I am pretty successful when it comes to playing fantasy baseball, and I’ve noticed I rarely own hometown players. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Trying to observe the phenomenon of hometown fantasy bias in New York is a bit difficult, as there just happens to be an inordinate amount of elite fantasy talent on the Mets and Yankees. (Actually, this doesn’t just “happen to be,” the geographically disproportionate skew of talent clearly relates to New York teams’ payrolls.)
It’s hard to say somebody is guilty of using hometown bias to overdraft David Wright, Jose Reyes, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Johan Santana or C.C. Sabathia. And, I’m not sure I can even recall specific draft picks that I thought were egregious examples of hometown bias in my past league experiences. Still, the two statements remain true. I do very well in my leagues, which largely consist of Mets and Yankees fans. I rarely own Mets or Yankees. Intuitively, it just feels like there has to be something to this.
I don’t specifically try to avoid New York players, by any means. I just try to be objective as possible. I consider the stadium and teammates of a player when assessing his value, but at draft time I treat players almost exclusively as data sets. So, I do my best to just ignore whether a player plays for my team or not.
Frankly, there could be advantages to owning hometown players, so it’s only fair to mention them. Three of them strike me immediately.
It is easier to follow the developments regarding hometown players and you are likely to know more nuanced information about them. I’m not sure everybody knows how drastic Lance Berkman’s switch-hitting power splits are, but I’d guess that if you root for the Astros you do. It might be shocking to suggest it wise to platoon a player against left-handed pitching , when he sports a career OPS+ of 147 over more than 1,500 games, but if you’re from Houston, you’re probably nodding. Obviously, it is also easier to follow news regarding injuries and battles for playing time on your home team.
For some, it is just simply more fun to root for players they root for in real life. No matter how seriously we all take fantasy baseball it is supposed to be fun. However, there are counterarguments to the idea that owning hometown players makes fantasy baseball more fun. For one, part of the benefit of playing fantasy baseball is that it forces you to learn more about other players and other teams, thus increasing your appreciation for the sport in general. Also, the laws of relativity apply to fantasy baseball. As great as it was to own Santana and watch him jump out to a .5-ish ERA over his first five or six starts, it was equally disheartening watching him robbed of win after win, turn in many disappointing performances mid-season, and ultimately hit the disabled list. It hurt on two levels.
Considering your leaguemates may have hometown biases, it may also be easier to trade hometown players. Owners less familiar with “foreign” studs may not trust their value, especially when it comes to breakouts. Presumably, Kendry Morales’ hometown fans were conditioned to expect big things from him and became believers in his skills earlier than others.
These points having been stated, if hometown bias is real and you have to bump up your own team’s players to draft them, I hardly think the marginal advantage of being more easily able to follow the news about such players is enough to justify making that move.
So what are your experiences with drafting hometown players? Do you make a concerted effort to draft them, or to avoid them? Do you think hometown bias infiltrates the decisions your leaguemates make on draft day? And, finally, would you posit an inverse relationship between a fantasy player’s overall proclivity for drafting hometown players and his team performances, as a trend?
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 4:59am
This weekend I spent a lot of time looking at Jason Bay. Over at Yawkey Way Academy I took a look at Bay compared to Pat Burrell at age 31. Then when deciding who to look at here I found 2009 Bay could have been swapped with Adam Dunn. We won't look at defense here, but it's safe to say Bay was safe from a Dunn comparison out there.
R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bay 103 36 119 13 0.267 0.384 0.537 0.397 Dunn 81 38 105 0 0.267 0.398 0.529 0.394
As with defense we just have to address that Bay has better speed than Dunn. While Dunn has previously stolen as many as 19 bases, he was unable to steal any in 2009. That isn't why you would have Dunn on your team anyway, but the few extra steals didn't hurt. Bay has posted double digits for two years straight and the two years before his dismal 2007.
Before 2009 Bay had a better average and would avoid comparisons to Dunn, but in 2009 his strikeout rate jumped to 30.4%. That is what mostly accounted for the .267 average this year and with continued age Bay shouldn't expect to get better at making contact. Dunn, on the other hand, has always hacked away and his strikeout rate matched his career rate at 32.4%. His average improved with a BABIP at .326, which was up from his career rate of .294. This shouldn't last since he's in a neutral park after years in a huge hitters' park.
One of the biggest changes to put these two so close was the growth in walk rate for Bay. His career rate stands at 12.9 percent, but was at 15 percent in 2009 and helped post a solid OBP. I worry about his newfound ability to walk so much even though adding walks often comes with age. His swinging rates stayed at career levels for pitches in and out of the zone while he made less contact on all pitches. He walked more, though, with his lowest number of pitches seen in the zone. He only saw 48 percent of pitches in the strike zone, which from his career rate is more than 100 pitches less in the zone.
Since Bay is possibly changing teams it may make this comparison even more interesting. If he ends up in a lineup devoid of talent like Washington he could suddenly lose a lot of value with dropping run and RBI totals. He posted third-round value in 2009, but could he suddenly fall to seventh-round value like Dunn if he can't be counted on in these categories?
I don't think Bay has too much risk of seeing a lineup as bad as the Nationals and should maintain more value next year, but it is something to keep in mind. The other thing to be aware of, especially in keeper leagues, is that Bay might someday be pushed to DH. I know I said I would pass on defensive comparisons, but the truth is both Bay and Dunn should be DHs at this point in their careers. Bay is not as egregious as Dunn in the outfield, but his trend of posting UZR/150 numbers worse than -10 is costing his team. If either player ends up in a full-time DH spot they lose some value in your league. For 2010, though, Dunn holds a slight bonus with first base eligibility and outfield.
To their teams they add similar value offensively, but fantasy wise Bay is still the better bet. You have to pay for that, though, and you should be cautious until you know what team he is playing for. A move to a weaker offense or a pitchers' park would do serious damage to his value. If you drafted today, how much would you lower your expectations for Bay not knowing where he would end up?
Posted by Troy Patterson at 5:20am
Friday, December 04, 2009
Dustin Pedroia | Boston | 2B
2009 Final Stats: .296/.371/.447
The “mini-browser” is one portion of Graphical Player 2010 that is NOT “graphical,” but fantasy players love it! Looking at Pedroia's entry, the most critical info is right across the top: position, name, playing time, and projected value in roto dollars and fantasy points both. Then, below, you see comparable players at the position, very useful if you're in the midst of a draft and get sniped (having just completed an expert mock draft, the feeling is quite familiar as this is being written). And, for convenience, data lines (including some standard stats and also core skills metrics) from the player's previous 4 seasons and any minor-league stops in the current season.
Back to Pedroia, he didn't win another MVP, so maybe he should be ignored? This time last year, experts were taking him with all sorts of crazy early picks in drafts and mock drafts. This year, he didn't even win another Gold Glove, even though the guy who did is moving to third base, while Pedroia's organization was thrilled enough with his range to seriously contemplate a move to shortstop before signing Scutaro and ending those discussions.
For 2010, we like Pedroia's chances of adding on to 2009 quite a bit. The only worry point is that 700 PA in a projection doesn't leave much room for a player to miss time. That's obviously not been a worry for Pedroia, but playing second base can be hazardous and the odds may catch up with him someday. His BABIP was under .300 in 2009, which is surpisingly low for a guy who is fast and hits the ball with as much authority as Dustin does. Expect that to bounce back over .310 (career mark of .313), and his batting line to top .300/.370/.450 fairly easily. His incredible hand-eye coordination allows him to post tremendous contact percentages (just 146 strikeouts so far in his career, a total Mark Reynolds could top by August), while still allowing him to swing for power.
It seems safe to assume that Boston will provide a run-rich environment for Pedroia again, even if Bay leaves ... the park is great for hitting, and guys like Youkilis, Martinez, and Drew are good at both phases of offense (getting on base and driving runners in), so Pedroia's stat sheet should be quite full. It's not clear where all of him, Ellsbury, and Scutaro will bat, but he's almost a lock to be 1 or 2 again. His SB total should decline from 20 (slightly reduced PT and 20-8 success rate should lead to reduced attempts), but expecting 15 is still very reasonable ... he did attempt 28 last year, after all.
Josh Beckett | Boston | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.4 K/9, 3.6 K/BB, 3.86 ERA
Remember back a few years ago, when people were calling this guy “the best pitcher in baseball”? Many experts would tick off the top starting pitchers, and his name would be among the elites. It was sort of maddening to anyone who paid attention to park effects, since he'd posted only a 118 ERA+ before coming to Boston (very good, yes, but far from overwhelming). Amazing what one great game and one good game against the Yankees in a World Series can do for a guy's reputation, eh? Well anyway, he has posted the same ERA+ since coming to Boston, and his postseason results have been more in line with his regular-season results than with previous heroic levels. So, it's easy to forget that Beckett is still plenty good. A 116 ERA+ in Boston probably understates just how good he's been, since his first season was one of “adjustments” (which any Sawx loyalist will insist was his hard-headed refusal to stop trying to force his fastball past people). He gave up a 5.01 ERA that first year in Fenway, and it wasn't a mirage, as his xFIP was 4.70. Since then, he's posted xFIP scores of 3.56, 3.35, and 3.53. And while a 3.50 ERA isn't special, xFIPS don't have as much variance, and 3.53 this year was good for fifth in the AL. And he's been pounding the strike zone, bringing his BB/9 all the way down to 2.0 over the past three seasons. Formerly a seemingly constant threat to go on the DL with some non-severe-sounding injury (usually a blister), Beckett shrugged off his injury in 2008 to log 170 innings and has been over 200 each of his other three years in Boston. Throwing strikes can help with those IP totals!
There's a slight yellow flag with Beckett and his worse second-half performance, as he allowed 15 HR en route to a .458 slugging allowed, but that seems highly likely to be part of the typical undulations of statistics. He was still throwing strikes (.305 OBP against despite a higher-than-usual .307 BABIP), and he was still averaging over 94 mph on his fastball. Instead of worrying about it, we think the positives far outweigh the slight risks. Beckett appears to be a pitching coach's poster boy, a guy who threw hard enough that he could have remained stubborn about not studying to become a more cerebral pitcher. But he didn't. Maybe the 5.01 ERA in 2006 was his wake up call, but whatever the reason, he's much more of a “pitcher” now than he was ... and he still has the heat when he needs it. With this great offense behind him, that makes him a perennial threat for 20 wins, a sub 1.2 WHIP, and as good of an ERA as you can hope for while calling Fenway “home.”
Jonathan Papelbon | Boston | RP
2009 Final Stats: 10.1 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, 1.85 ERA
Did you hear that one about how Boston is going to trade Papelbon and let someone else close? Ha! Papelbon isn't “The next Mariano Rivera,” but if Boston has learned anything from chasing New York all these years, it has to be an appreciation for a great closer (will an appreciation for Hall-of-Fame shortstops come next?) Papelbon isn't regarded as a “team unity” guy, rather more aloof and even “mercenary,” or so the reports go. But, like all great closers, the man has icewater in his veins, and—if anything—becomes even more focused in the most stressful situations. Is this hard to believe after after his four-hit/two-walk debacle against the Angels in Game 3 of the ALDS? Well, we like sample size here, and that thrashing brought his career postseason ERA up to 1.00, and his WHIP up to 0.815. Sure, these are short of Mighty Mario's marks of 0.77 and 0.773, respectively, but we're still believing in the 17 straight scoreless postseason outings as being more significant than the one “problem game.”
For standard fantasy purposes, owners don't care how many saves a guy blows, just the saves total and the other four pitching stats (to a lesser extent). Unfortunately, Boston is in a lot of higher-scoring games, so the save opportunities aren't what you'd hope for from a 100-win team's closer. But you have to win the game to have any chance at a save, and so Papelbon should be right around the 40-save total again, given all the winning Boston plans to do.
Papelbon remains arguably the best choice in closers in fantasy drafts. As can be seen from his mini-browser page, he's worth $21 in AL-only leagues, and he's worth $22 in mixed leagues, as high as any closer with 60 IP projected (Broxton is valued higher due to his 80-IP projection). We wouldn't strive to draft him a “round early” since his walk rate rose to over three per 9 IP (from 1.0 in 2008), but we also don't think there's a good argument against taking him in the first wave of closers, perhaps starting the wave by selecting him. After all, with the big walk increase in 2009, his WHIP still remained under 1.0 (.961).
NOTE: For those who like OPS, here are Papelbon's raw OPS scores by leverage situation (thanks, B-R):
High Leverage: .186/.291/.256 = .547 OPS
Medium Leverage: .262/.311/.262 = .573 OPS
Low Leverage: .229/.273/.422 = .694 OPS
BONUS: Jon Lester | Boston | SP
2009 Final Stats: 10.0 K/9, 3.5 K/BB, 3.41 ERA
Bonus Mini-Browser for John Lester, reviewed on 10/30.
Graphical Player 2010, order now! Here is a 16-page preview of the book. You can order the book from Acta Sports here..
Posted by Rob McQuown at 4:00am
This week at Waiver Wire, we add a great new dimension to our analysis: information from The Graphical Player 2010, or GP 2010. Rob McQuown (who writes the AL Waiver Wire) and I are both Associate Editors for GP 2010, working under editor John Burnson, who also publishes HEATER magazine and is one of the finest baseball minds you'll find anywhere. Rob and I have both written for GP in the past, but this is the first year we worked with John on determining the content for each player, from the stats used to how they would be displayed.
GP is in its seventh year and presents stats, commentary, and predictions in a graphical format that packs an amazing amount of information into a small amount of space. The sample you'll see with each player is just a taste of what GP offers, including the mini-browser that allows you to compare similar players at a glance, an incredibly important tool in the fast-paced atmosphere of a fantasy draft.
We'll show you some samples from the graphs in next week's column, or you can see them for yourself by downloading a 16-page preview of the book, or by ordering the book directly from Acta Sports here.
Let your leaguemates settle for the same-old, same-old analysis. Fantasy sports have moved into the 21st century; get the only book that proves it: the 2010 Graphical Player.
Chris Iannetta | Colorado | C
2009 Final Stats: .228/.344/.460
2009 was supposed to be the year Chris Iannetta would consolidate his skills and leap into the top rank of catchers. Instead, he scuffled, spent some time on the DL, and faded enough down the stretch that Yorvit Torrealba was the backstop of choice in September.
That injured hamstring may have contributed to his struggles, by knocking him out of his groove, but it's not the kind of injury (wrist, elbow, back) you expect to have such a dramatic effect on a player's stats.
But if you'd read GP 2009, you'd have seen this coming, since we predicted that 90-point OPS drop, and we also see a rebound in 2010. Looking at the mini-browser above, you can see that his core skills remained relatively steady from 2008-2009, with the exception of a drop in his hit rate.
He lost a bit of patience, evidenced by his .57 BB/K ratio in 2009 (down from .60 in 2008), as well as the drop in BB%. But if you look back at 2007—when he also had a hit rate of 31%—his BA was almost the same. The difference has been in his power, which shows in the rising Bash rate.
That Bash may also be part of his problems, too, as he seemed to wait for the perfect pitch, then swing out of his heels to try and knock it all the way to Montana. A further indication of this comes from Iannetta's GB/FB ratio, which has dropped steadily over the past four seasons, from 1.10 in 2006 to 0.48 in 2009. He also hits much better (and hits the ball much farther) at home, with a ridiculous slash line of .295/.389/.576 in Coors in 2009, and a .167/.302/.353 everywhere else.
He's going to have to learn to swing more and take fewer walks, and stop trying to turn every at-bat into a moon shot. The best thing Jim Tracy could do is to let him watch some tape of Jeremy Giambi, the last guy who turned too passive in the batter's box, and remind him of where Little Giambi is now. If Iannetta can do that, his power will remain and his hit rate will return—and so will those HRs and RBI.
If that happens, will he still be the starter?
Let's not forget that Torrealba didn't supplant him until September, and overall his numbers weren't as good as Iannetta's. Torrealba hit .291/.351/.380, thanks to a totally unsustainable .347 BABIP (his career average is .296).
Torrealba made his hay with RISP, when he hit a jaw-dropping .477/.544/.591. That's another anomaly from a guy who's hit .258/.355/.391 in that situation throughout his career. He was hot at the right time, but don't be fooled—he's not this kind of hitter.
But catching isn't all hitting; it's game-calling, too, and the Rockies liked the way Torrealba called the game. Opposing hitters had an OPS 30 points lower with him behind the plate than with Iannetta. That's to be expected from a catcher who's five years older than Iannetta, and that's the only thing that would keep Torrealba behind the plate more.
The Rockies need right-handed hitting, however, so Iannetta is going to get every opportunity to redeem himself next year. Another positive, and overlooked, aspect of Iannetta's season, is that he continued to mash lefties. In fact, he widened his LH/RH OPS split, from a career .929/.766 to .986/.734. Being unable to hit righties isn't such a great thing, but that split should stabilize and return to his career norms.
Check out those GP comps to see where you'd value Iannetta, but getting a Posada-like season from him wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Torrealba will be waiting if he falters, but GP likes his rebound chances, and so do I.
Geovany Soto | Chicago | C
2009 Final Stats: .218/.321/.381
Soto tested positive for marijuana during the WBC, and things went downhill from there for the 2008 Rookie of the Year. The way he was hitting, and the extra weight he'd gained, it seemed like he never put the bong back down again.
It's more likely that the WBC itself affected Soto, by splitting his attention between two different Spring Training camps and not allowing him to focus on conditioning and getting into a good groove. The positive THC test, however, might have indicated what he spent his Spring Training doing instead of working out.
He started the 2009 season slowly, finally got into a groove in June, then lost a month to an oblique injury. He recovered a bit in September after returning, but it wasn't enough to save a lost season.
Unlike Iannetta, Soto didn't have a likely replacement breathing down his neck, so Chicago was stuck with him—Koyie Hill gave it his best, but even an injured Soto could have beaten Hill's .636 OPS. Hill's game-calling led to an opposing OBP 15 points lower than Soto, but Hill's no Yorvit Torrealba, and he's no threat to do more than just caddy for Soto.
A quick glance at GP will tell you where most of Soto's 2009 season came from: That 28% hit rate sticks out as much as his 38% does from 2008. Otherwise, his skills look the same or even better than 2008—he improved his BB/K ratio from .51 to .65, helped by that 13% walk rate.
His Bash tells you his power is still there and that he's not overswinging the way Iannetta seemed to be. But his HR/FB rate still dropped from 13.7% to 9.5%—that, plus the drop in H%, tells you that he's just not hitting the ball as hard. In the absence of other indicators, I'd have to say that his conditioning is suspect.
Assuming he gets back into shape, the truth for Soto lies somewhere in between his 2008 and 2009 seasons, with the very healthy result you see predicted above. He cruised in 2009, perhaps reading too many of his own press clippings, and will hopefully use his poor performance this year as motivation to improve in 2010. Lou Piniella is certainly an excellent motivator, and he's not likely to let Soto forget how he staggered through 2009.
What's most interesting is to see the comparison between Iannetta and Soto, particularly in their comps in the mini-browser. They're fairly similar offensively, with Iannetta possessing a better batting eye and Soto having more pure hitting ability. That translates to a 5-point differential in SLG and 10 points in BA, which (along with the increased PT guaranteed Soto) is the difference between being compared to Kelly Shoppach or Joe Mauer.
The catcher market is a tight one, and seeing these two side-by-side shows you that you should go the extra buck (or four) to land Soto instead of Iannetta. Both should rebound, but the return on Soto is likely to be much better, even if neither will be the catcher you saw in 2008.
Joe Blanton | Philadelphia | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.5 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, 4.05 ERA
Joe Blanton is a bit like plain yogurt—consistent, bland, and undoubtedly good for you. Until last year, he's been smooth and predictable, with about 200 IP, a FIP in the 4 range, a K/9 rate around 5, double-digit wins, and double-digit losses, though almost always more of the former than the latter. Except for a nice 2007, he's been neither unspectacular or disastrous. GP 2010 calls him "a No. 3 starter's No. 3 starter," about as average as a guy gets.
So what's up with that ridiculous 7.5 K/9 rate in 2009? That's the one thing that really pops out at you from his 2009 line—the other noticeable difference is the 1.4 HR/9 rate, which some might write off as a product of Philly's homer-happy Citizen Bank Ballpark.
But Blanton's HR rate is almost identical at home or away. As with most of his other splits, Blanton performs the same way at home or on the road, against lefties or righties, in a boat or with a goat. It's the same Blanton eveywhere—about the only thing you can count on is that he typically does a bit better after the break.
I'd argue that the elevated HR and K rate are part of the same trend: throwing more strikes. Philadelphia is a strike-throwing team; the Phillies led the NL in K/BB ratio, despite ranking 10th in strikeouts. That's because they're second in the league in BB/9, with a measly 3.0. And, perhaps also not coincidentally, they rank second-to-last in HR/9.
When you've got a strong defense and a good offense protecting you as a pitcher—and a manager who clearly advocates it—you're going to throw more strikes. When Blanton was traded from Oakland last year, he shot up from a 4.4 K/9 rate to a 6.5 K/9, and his HR/9 rate rose from 0.9 to 1.3 HR/9.
This also comes from changing leagues; with one less batter in the lineup in the NL (with rare exceptions, I refuse to count pitchers as "batters"), the guy on the mound can be more aggressive. But it clearly starts with management, as those team stats show.
GP thinks he's going to continue with an elevated strikeout rate next year, with similar results. He's not going to amaze, but he's not going to disappoint, and he will deliver 200 IP of above-average ERA and WHIP. And if you look at his comparable pitchers in the mini-browser, that puts him in pretty decent company.
Blanton's the kind of mid-round, mid-dollar pitcher that can fill out your fantasy roster perfectly. He won't carry your season, but he won't tank it, either. And when your stomach's on fire because your other gambles aren't working out, a spoonful of cool, smooth, bland yogurt might be just the trick.
Next week, I'll take a look at Alcides Escobar, Ian Stewart and Madison Bumgarner, and we'll get a peek at the other half of the GP player writeup.
Be sure to leave your suggestions for players you want me to cover in the comments below!
Posted by Michael Street at 2:00am
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Today wrapped up the fourth and final part of my interview over at FakeTeams. For those interested, all four parts can be found at these links:
Posted by Derek Carty at 5:18pm
Los Angeles Angels
1. Hank Conger: Sporting an exceptional bat for a backstop, Conger is one of the best catching prospects in baseball. The Angels hope that his defense continues to improve with experience and that his injury history is a thing of the past. Both questions are holding him back.
2. Trevor Reckling: Reckling has an impressive repertoire that separates him from the average pitcher, which the rest of his game reminds me of. His velocity is average and probably topped out, but with increased control of his entire arsenal he could become a No. 2 starter.
3. Mike Trout: Trout has athleticism in spades, leading me to believe that his speed will be an asset going forward and his defensive abilities will shine in center field. I'm not fully buying into his bat potential, however. Right now his power projects to be above average at best for a center fielder. He has obvious room to grow, though.
4. Randal Grichuk: His bat is undisciplined and littered with holes, and his defense may be a liability when all is said and done. But Grichuk's power potential is eye-popping, and I'm buying into it.
5. Jordan Walden: Walden is a one-trick pony right now, his enviable fastball being the one trick. His overall repertoire and lack of control were exposed during his brief Texas League run in 2009. His injury history is also worrisome, but I can cautiously overlook his faults for the time being. He has ace potential, but it's drying up quickly. A breakout 2010 could be in the works, and such a campaign would catapult him to the top of many Top 100 lists.
6. Peter Bourjos: Bourjos brings plenty of speed and defense to the ballpark, and his consistent swing continues to impress. But he needs to take more walks if he is going to flourish in the majors, as his lack of power has become apparent. If everything works out right, the top of the order is in his future.
7. Garrett Richards: Richards has the stuff aces are made of, and it looks like his control and mechanics, his two biggest weaknesses, have immediately taken giant leaps forward since turning pro. I'm somewhat skeptical and want to see him duplicate his success at higher levels before investing further.
8. Chris Pettit: While he will never be a star, Pettit projects as a solid all-around corner outfielder. He has the workable power, speed and contact skills necessary to be a major league mainstay.
9. Fabio Martinez: I have not seen Martinez pitch, but everything I read about him is positive. Whether it's a short write-up about his velocity or a blurb about his tenacity on the mound, he has opened eyes. I, of course, would like to see him at a higher level before I buy in any further.
10. Tyler Skaggs: Every bit of Skaggs is based on projection. He has a lanky frame that will support more weight, meaning more velocity, and he has a few unpolished secondary offerings to work with.
Tough cut: Will Smith
1. Brett Wallace: Wallace doesn't have huge upside, but his bat is as close to a sure thing as you will find. He could be a consistent 30-homer threat, but even if he doesn't quite reach that potential he looks to me like a guy who will flirt with a .300 batting average annually.
2. Chris Carter: Carter is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Wallace. He could become an All-Star, but the holes in his swing and, at times, lack of patience could hinder his potential in the majors. Watch to see if his approach and plate discipline take the next step. Then we can all firmly back Carter's corner.
3. Grant Green: Coming into the 2009 draft, I felt that Green was perhaps the most sure-thing shortstop I had seen in a couple of years, which I still believe. But I also felt that he didn't have as much upside in his bat as your typical first-round college shortstop.
4. Jemile Weeks: His potential for power and speed is a rare commodity from a second baseman. Every aspect of his game needs to take a major step forward before his stock matches his first-round draft status, though.
5. Michael Ynoa: Oakland played it safe with Ynoa's sore elbow, which was the smart move. Before the injury, word was getting around that the sky-high scouting reports from 2008 were largely true. While it was a lost season, it's good to know that the hype is somewhat justified.
6. Grant Desme: Desme has had a cult following among A's fans ever since he was drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft. For a center fielder he has plus power potential, but his bat is littered with holes that need to be filled if he is going to succeed next year when facing Double-A competition. His speed gets too much hype as well. I like him because there is still room to grow.
7. Adrian Cardenas: As a strong backer of Cardenas for a few years now, I have been waiting for his home run power potential to breed results. It hasn't happened. I still like him as an overall hitter, but his All-Star potential has taken a serious hit.
8. Aaron Cunningham: Cunningham is another prospect with a decent power/speed combination. But judging by both his minor league numbers and brief major league debut, he needs time to clean up his plate approach and adjust to the elite breaking stuff he is facing. His upside is still as an above-average major league outfielder, but it's time to show those flashes against the big boys.
9. Max Stassi: Despite his average arm, Stassi is a legit catcher. His bat doesn't offer anything exciting yet, but, for his age, he brings consistency and an above-average approach to the plate. Oakland does think his bat has power potential, however. We will see. He's on my radar screen.
10. Sean Doolittle: Doolittle's future is dependent on how much power he has to offer, which I am becoming more and more skeptical of. He may simply need to have a full, healthy season, but his upside, at this point, looks like nothing more than an average corner outfielder.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 6:00am
Now's the time of year for mistletoe, embarrassing incidents at Christmas parties and rule changes to your league. People naturally have opinions about the various rules that are needed to set up a league. I'm sure there have been thousands of e-mail exchanges and gigabytes of blog space devoted to everything from draft versus auction all the way down to two- versus three-day consideration periods for trades. The best leagues—the stable, friendly leagues where players enjoy playing with each other year after year—earn and maintain a consensus on the rules. The important rules are discussed and decisions are made as democratically as possible.
Rule changes are easiest when the only thing at stake are your league-mates' opinions on the matter. Once there is actually fantasy success on the line, it becomes much harder. Just try changing from a draft to an auction league after the draft order has been set. Depending on the rule change you want to make, interests can become entrenched quite soon. Keeper leagues basically have no easy window in which to change rules, but things only become harder once players start signing with new teams in the offseason, much less when injuries information starts coming in during spring training.
I've written a bit about this last offseason. So this offseason I want to throw in something more fun. In leagues where the competition is as much about fun as it is about pride, there are little things you can try to mix things up a bit. I'm just throwing out a few—this list is not exhaustive. Having just thought of them, I've never tried any of them myself and so would naturally be curious if you do try one of these (or something like it) out.
The Secret Santa, Version 1 (for draft leagues):
Pick a round after the draft randomly (say the 10th round). After the draft, every team's 10th round pick gets put into a hat (either literally or digitally) and then each team picks a new 10th-round pick blindly from the hat. Maybe you were laughing at one of your opponents who picked Oliver Perez during the draft and maybe now you are not. You may or may not want to limit which rounds can be chosen (for instance, not the first five rounds).
The Secret Santa, Version 2 (for auction leagues):
Pick a dollar value randomly after the auction (say $15). Each team must put a player that he auctioned for at least $15 into the hat. It is up to each owner to choose which player from his roster that he wants to put in. Then each team draws blindly from the hat.
Note that for each of these, it is important to pick the round or the dollar value after rather than before the draft/auction. Otherwise, for instance, each team would just pick the trashiest player it could find for the chosen round and each team would cut its Secret Santa player as soon as possible. It might be fun to see the picks for trashiest player, but basically all it would really mean is that your draft would be one round shorter (or the auction money that you had to spend would be $15 lighter).
The DL Dump:
On a random day during the season, every team has to cut any player on its DL. Those players go to waivers. This is a bit tougher since you will definitely need a random-number generator. It would help if it were publicly observable so that all your league-mates, wherever in the world they are located, could see the random number. I suggest using the last two digits of the close of the Dow Jones Industrial Average on any given day. These are numbers from 00 to 99. If the number were either, say, 00, 01 or 02, then that would be the day or week in which everyone would dump their DL. Obviously you'll have to work out the details to make sure folks don't cut lesser players and then stash their DL players safely on their bench.
The Closer Swap:
Same as the DL Dump, except that instead, on the chosen day, each team's leading closer (the one with the most saves at that point of the season) gets put into the Secret Santa hat.
Needless to say, all of these fun things are the equivalent of wild-card poker. They don't really add to the skill element of the game. Instead they just introduce lotteries—randomness that can make the luckiest man the winner. Generally speaking, I'm for rules that reduce the luck element of the game. But a little bit of luck, if structured in a fun way, can make the league more social, particularly at points of the season where there's not much talking going on.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 6:20am
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Ricky Nolasco throughout the 2009 season. Fortunately, reasoning and better judgment usually wins out over lesser methods. Unfortunately, last year your gut was right—you should have cut Nolasco last year.
Now, that doesn’t mean that owners who kept Nolasco made the wrong decision. After all, he did have a very high BABIP (.336) and a shockingly low stranded runner rate (61.0 percent). Nine times out of 10, Nolasco shakes off the curse and delivers outstanding numbers in line with his peripherals. Unfortunately, probability states that there is a one in 10 chance of the other scenario occurring—and it did.
But that doesn’t mean that owners should shy away from Nolasco for 2010. In fact, he may be one of the best buy-low candidates in the league. There are likely to be a large contingent of owners who are scared off by his 5.06 ERA, driving his draft stock down. Ever the vigilant analyst, ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft recently released his preliminary 2010 rankings. In the list, Nolasco was able to reach 88th overall, just below Clayton Kershaw (82) and Tommy Hanson (86), with Cole Hamels (93) occupying the next pitcher on the rung.
These lofty projections for Nolasco are somewhat surprising, as it is not often that a pitcher with a 5.00+ ERA is able to maintain any semblance of fantasy value the next season, let alone the top 100. However, this could be indicative of changing moods toward advanced statistical analysis among fantasy baseball junkies. Ever the industry standard for fantasy rankings, ESPN analysts tend to have a good sense of their consumers' opinions—and what they don’t have a sense of, they can influence with positive support.
Take Nolasco for example. A couple of years ago, he likely would have ranked considerably lower on the list, despite his excellent peripherals. However, in 2009, the loudest voices among the fantasy baseball community seem to be echoing this increased emphasis on sabermetrics, which will undoubtedly cause the rest of the fantasy world to follow suit. In practice, this means that if Cockroft says Nolasco should go 88, he probably will due to the power of suggestion. I like to call this the Eric Karabell Effect, though Cockroft deserves just as much notice in that regard.
Therefore, if you are looking to get a big steal on Nolasco, this may not be the year to do it—that is, he won’t be going in round 15 like he may have a number of years ago when he would have been one of the best picks in the draft. If he is, in fact, destined to go at the 88th pick, he will still outperform his draft slot. However, don’t reach on him too many rounds above that 88th slot, or he may not even be a value pick.
Disregarding his loftier-than-expected draft slot, there are many reasons to be optimistic about Nolasco for 2010. Despite his struggles in 2009, he has the profile of one of the better, more underrated starting options in fantasy baseball. For traditional 5x5 roto leagues, Nolasco’s peripherals cast him in as a Roy Halladay-light type of player—substituting control for added strikeouts.
Aside from the obvious difference that Halladay throws more innings and has a superior groundball rate, the two pitchers are quite similar for our guts-and-bones applications of fantasy baseball. In addition, the two could have been very similar in overall value had Nolasco been able to register a lower BABIP and ERA.
Both have exceptional control: Halladay had a 1.32 BB/9 in 2009 with a 2.00 career rate, while Nolasco had a 2.14 BB/9 in ’09 with a 2.19 BB/9 in his career. Halladay had a 7.54 K/9 in ’08 with a 7.83 K/9 in ’09; Nolasco had a 7.88 K/9 in 2008 and a 9.49 K/9 in ’09. Though there may be a discrepancy in the 2009 strikeout rates between the two pitchers, it is worth noting that Nolasco’s regressed strikeout rates, based on his plate discipline indicators, are much closer to the high-7s to mid-8s strikeouts per nine, instead of 9.5 K/9, which are more similar to Halladay’s numbers.
Nolasco’s plate discipline indicators are also very encouraging for his 2010 outlook. He induces a good share of swings outside the zone, at 29.3 percent, while also getting a good, but not great, share of swings and misses with a 78.2 percent contact rating. Though he was able to post a 9.45 K/9 rate in 2009, his contact percentage, coupled with his high BABIP, are the primary reasons why Nolasco is expected to see some regression in his strikeout rate for 2010. He won’t be posting a rate in the 6s any time soon, but a 9+ strikeout rate may be a bit optimistic.
Most importantly, however, is that his ERA is expected to rebound in a big way for 2010. Nolasco registered a 3.35 FIP ERA for 2009, which is much more indicative of his actual level of talent. Normalizing his BABIP to the league average, he could also have registered a WHIP just north of 1.10, which would be among the league’s best.
For 2010, don’t be afraid of taking Nolasco in the first half of the draft. Though an 88th overall ranking may be a bit disappointing for those hoping to sit on the pitcher as a sleeper, he is still a bit undervalued and will make many teams happy. If Cockroft’s rankings are not reflected in most draft rooms and Nolasco drops to the second half of the draft, he has the chance to be one of the best value picks in 2010. In that case, it’s more than OK to reach.
For next season, it is reasonable to expect more of the same out of Nolasco with a low-3s ERA, a sub-1.2 WHIP, and a good and strikeout total. An ERA around 3.2-3.6 and a 1.10-1.20 WHIP seem likely, with a K/9 rate around 8 thrown in for good measure. If he delivers on the promise, Nolasco will be one of the better fantasy pitchers around and he could be a great case study for the applications of advanced statistical analysis in fantasy baseball.
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Posted by Mike Silver at 1:05am
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Few players in the MLB have the quickness necessary to steal upwards of 50 bases in a season. Over the last 10 MLB seasons the feat has only been accomplished 31 times by a combined 17 players, led by Jose Reyes' 78-steal campaign in 2007. Therefore, whenever a player displays the necessary skills to have such an impact in one category, fantasy owners tend to take notice.
Michael Bourn is one such player whom people took notice of in 2009.
Even though Bourn showed the 50-plus steal potential after his 2008 season that included 41 steals in just 467 at-bats, people still refrained from drafting him in 2009 due to wariness about his .229 batting average and .288 on-base percentage. No matter how fast the player, if he will not get on base or will start losing playing time, then there is no point in owning him.
As you can see, in 2009 Bourn alleviated those concerns by becoming a solid three category threat in runs, batting average and steals. To the people who drafted him late in drafts or picked him up off waivers, Bourn rewarded them nicely with his production.
So the question is what changed from his 2008 to 2009 seasons? Below is a chart of all the metrics I feel explain the change.
BABIP explains a good amount of Bourn's improvement since a 75 point increase will do wonders to any player's batting average. Was the dramatic increase in BABIP lucky or deserved? Just based off intuition knowing how fast Bourn is, a .350 BABIP seems normal. Taking a more mathematically sound approach using Chris' xBABIP calculator, Bourn's expected BABIP in 2009 was a surprising .379. I would not interpret that number to mean Bourn was unlucky on balls in play in 2009 or that his BABIP should rise in the future; but rather simply that Bourn was at least not lucky on balls in play in 2009.
The second reason for Bourn's better 2009 is his improvement in plate discipline. He showed increased judgment in deciding which pitches were the best to swing at and as a result saw a slight increase in his walk rate and also the slightest decrease in his strikeout rate.
The third reason is his increased groundball and line drive rates, and consequently his decreased flyball rates. Players who use their legs more than their arms to reach base typically derive more value out of their grounders and lose value on their fly balls. Bourn was no exception to this rule since, according to the batted ball stats found in the THT Annual, he earned double the MLB average in run value for each of his grounders and was 25 percent worse than MLB average in run value on his fly balls. Therefore the four percent increase in GB rate and seven percent drop in FB rate Bourn saw from 2008 to 2009 certainly helped increase his production level.
There is very little that appears unsustainable about Bourn's past season, so a similar-looking 2010 seems like a reasonable projection. Promising is the fact that Bourn managed to hit a combined 39 doubles and triples, meaning he is not completely dependent on beating out grounders as, say, Willy Taveras is and also possesses some gap power.
From a fantasy perspective, another season similar to Bourn's 2009 would be fantastic though the question remains how confident people are in his abilities and where he will get drafted. The most apt comparison is Jacoby Ellsbury coming off his 2008 season in which he hit a similar .280 with 98 runs and 50 steals. In 2009 drafts, Ellsbury was taken around picks 55-70 in drafts, though granted he has more power potential and also plays for the Red Sox—two things that would help his ADP.
Using Ellsbury's ADP as a relative marker, I would expect Bourn to be picked somewhere in the 85-100 range in drafts, which is a spot the speedy outfielder could provide value from considering he finished 2009 with a Yahoo rank in the 70s. It is still early in the offseason to know for sure, but will Michael Bourn be finding his way onto your fantasy teams in 2010?
Posted by Paul Singman at 2:31am
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