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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
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