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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
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