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Friday, January 08, 2010
Adrian Beltre | Boston | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .265/.304/.379
Well, much has been written about Adrian Beltre across the Internet, as the M's fans seem to be very vocal in the baseball analytical community and he's been a prime example of a ballplayer who has been under-appreciated by “mainstream” sources. Over at Baseball Daily Digest, there was an article entitled, “Why Your Team Should Sign Adrian Beltre” (written before he signed), and the latest at fangraphs.com concludes with “Adrian Beltre could be your fantasy team MVP in 2010.” And, while people are clearly stating upside scenarios, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Beltre's future in Beantown.
Mike Lowell has hit .295/.350/.479 in his four years as Boston's third baseman, so it's easy to forget that he was considered a “salary dump” in the Josh Beckett trade, as he had a big contract and was coming off a .236/.298/.360 season with major health concerns. Well, Beltre is hoping to reprise the Mike Lowell Story in Boston, coming off his own miserable season and also having major health concerns. Unlike Lowell, Beltre's hit chart is a bit more distributed, and unless he changes his approach to pull the ball more often, he can't be expected to gain quite as much from playing home games in Fenway as Lowell did, but escaping Safeco (where he has hit .252/.305/.408 in his career) should be beneficial. And the Red Sox are clearly banking on the fact that his awful .179/.299/.232 career line in Fenway Park has to do with the small sample size (just 16 games) and good pitching of the Red Sox.
From a fantasy perspective, it's appropriate to have some measure of caution here. It's too easy to look at the poor stats in Safeco, apply the standard “Fenway Factor” to his hitting stats, and reach conclusions such as, “He could be your fantasy team MVP.” Well, he could be, of course, but Garrett Jones was probably the MVP of some fantasy teams in 2009; planning for that to happen before the season still wouldn't have made much sense. Likewise, Beltre's contract should speak to the fact that nobody is really certain about his health at this point. A $9 million contract, with a $5 million player option for a Boras client who is a slick-fielding infielder in his prime? We're not saying he won't be healthy, but consider Boras' track record. Would he settle for that if he was sure Adrian was healthy? And third basemen with arm problems can go down the tubes pretty fast—just look at Eric Chavez and Hank Blalock. Also, projecting overall stats to explode for guys leaving bad hitting environments can be a dicey proposition. Khalil Green slugged .500 in his road games from 2005-2007, for example. Now he's looking for an invitation to spring training.
In short, we like the overall risk/reward balance with Beltre. And third base in the AL in 2010 is going to be a position filled with all sorts of question marks. Some crazy Scoresheet owner took Jhonny Peralta in the fourth round of a mock startup draft recently, for example—underscoring the positional scarcity (though with a very ill-advised reaction to it). If Beltre's health returns, so should his power, and in that lineup that should mean heaps of RBIs. His batting average should no longer be a problem, as he's always had decent contact skills for someone with his power (under 22% K% for his career). But keep in mind that 2009 did happen, and he might not be back as a force in 2010.
Phil Hughes | New York | SP?
2009 Final Stats: 10.0 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 3.03 ERA
In a good reader suggestion from last time, the idea of reviewing relievers who qualify as SP for 2010 was mentioned, a la J.P. Howell last year. Now, Hughes faced 158 batters as a starting pitcher in 2009, allowing a batting line of .276/.361/.507. That wasn't what the Yankees and their fans were expecting from the former elite prospect. But, taken under Mariano's “wing” in the bullpen, Hughes had an Andrew Bailey-esque transformation, taking to the relief role like he'd been born to it. The talent which had been spotted in him since before he was drafted poured out as he gained a couple more ticks on his fastball, not having to pace himself for the long game.
The move to relief resulted in a staggeringly good .172/.222/.222 batting line against him in relief—in 193 PA. And, to make matters worse for batters, this wasn't even accompanied by some freakishly low BABIP. .257 is low, to be sure, but not overly so, and not for someone who is dominating at that level. He was best in “high-leverage” situations (allowing just .200/.268/.247 against), and FWIW, allowed a .059 batting average in two-out-RISP situations. In short, he was the Mariano Rivera of the eighth inning.
From afar, it seems illogical to think that the Yankees might mess with something that worked this well. Obviously, “Plan A” for a good young arm is to have him become an excellent starting pitcher, shutting down the other team for 200 innings per season. But if a guy can pitch in high-leverage situations for 1/3 of that much, and perform far better, that's almost as useful. In November, Cashman came out and said that Hughes would be transitioning back to the rotation. But then he traded for Javier Vazquez, and the expectation is that Hughes and Joba will now battle for the fifth starter spot, though it's unclear if trying to get Hughes into the rotation is an attempt to “fix something that ain't broke.” If he relieves, he can still be used as an SP in 2010, and he should be great for ratios in a “punt wins and strikeouts” strategy, but it may be a couple/few years before he has any major fantasy impact ... unless your league uses holds, of course.
Casey Kotchman | Seattle | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .268/.339/.382
Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus editorialized at the time that the trade of Kotchman for LaRoche by Atlanta was the worst deadline trade last year. That's the sort of mystique Kotchman carries still. Kotchman has a great baseball (first) name, is the son of a scout, has a swing that has always made every scout drool and plays great defense at first base. And he didn't just look like a good hitter, he mashed minor-league pitching, while striking out in less than 10% of his at bats. Expectations for him as a first-round pick were somewhere in the Mark Grace to Will Clark range for his career. Hey, everyone loved him, even performance analysts like Joe Sheehan. And why not, with a glove that should save a few runs per year and a .324/.406/.492 career minor-league batting line?
The problem we have here is that Casey hasn't been able to hold a job since “graduation” from the minors. Sure, he still has that glove, racking up 18 runs saved the past three years according to UZR, without even playing full-time. And he doesn't strike out against MLB pitchers (under 10% of his PA for his career). Kotchman will be 27 next month. And, for a while, it was easy to be optimistic about Mighty Casey. He hit well in limited action back in 2005, then missed 2006 with mono. Then, he appeared to “break out” in 2007, raking to the tune of .296/.372/.467 in his first “full-time job”. Even his 2008 was easy to write off as “one of those things,” despite a poor .272/.328/.410 batting line. After all, there's no real reason for him to have just a .273 BABIP, is there?
Well, things got even worse in 2009, and though Adam LaRoche has a history of second-half heroics, getting traded while arb-eligible for two months of LaRoche isn't a highlight on a guy's resume. Getting traded again after the season for a guy who was DFA'd in August was even worse. But Seattle's new GM has shown a consistent pattern of building the team with “defense first,” and Kotchman seems to be the starter in Seattle now. Seattle fan Dave Cameron, in discussing the fact that Safeco shouldn't hurt lefty power, notes, “[Kotchman] won’t have to hit 400+ foot shots to get them out to right in Seattle. But he’s going to have to hit 350+ foot shots more regularly than he has.”
Kotchman has a career batting line now of .269/.337/.406. His OPS+ is 95. These are obviously not acceptable numbers for a first baseman in this era, even if he could field like Keith Hernandez (in his prime, not now). He does have a “normal” platoon split, hitting a slightly better .267/.337/.414 vsRHP, so some edge could be gained by platooning him (perhaps with Lopez if/when Ackley arrives to play second base). We're going to go on a limb and presume that the high Ct% will again push his batting average into the range of helpful fantasy stats, even in a mixed league context. Expecting good runs, HR, or RBI numbers would be too much, but we think he'll hit enough to keep his job and get 600+ PA, which should help him exceed almost all projections.
Brandon Morrow | Toronto | SP?
2009 Final Stats: 8.5 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.64 ERA
We're not going to add a lot to the 11/13 summary, as Morrow hasn't changed since then, but we wanted an excuse to post the GP graphic. But the one factor that needs to be mentioned in big, bold letters, is that he's in the AL East now, and won't pitch for Seattle's great defense in their great park, either. Boston and New York have built offenses based on a philosophy of patience, and that's not good news for a man who struggles with his command. Morrow still has the core talent to be good, but his likelihood of being useful to a fantasy team has been lessened, as in Seattle he might have been able to carve out a decent career walking the tightrope between walks and strikeouts, but not likely in Toronto. Unless he's showing some huge improvement in control in the spring before you draft, he's not a very appealing fantasy prospect for 2010.
Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2010. You can order the book from Acta Sports here..
Posted by Rob McQuown at 4:00am
Shane Victorino | Philadelphia | OF
2009 Final Stats: .292/.358/.445
The Flyin' Hawaiian has spent the past three years slowly getting better in every area but SBs, so much better that you might not miss them as much. It's hard to see exactly where those swipes went in 2009, as he set career highs in doubles and triples (his 13 three-baggers led all of baseball). He was dealing with a few lower-body injuries (hip, knee) during the season, and it's possible those held him back, particularly since he never went on the DL and played through them.
The good news is that the rest of his skills remain as good as, or better than, they have been, as you can see from his GP mini-browser. His contact rate is edging ever closer to 90%, extremely valuable for a guy with his wheels, and the rising walk rate is a testament to his improving patience. Though his home run total is his lowest since 2006, those other extra-base hits have kept his SLG and Bash steady; they also indicate that there's nothing wrong with his speed, at least once he's in motion.
Depending on your league and roster, those missing SBs might not be so important, in which case Victorino can help you in plenty of other ways. The contact rate and plate discipline should keep his BA strong, if a bit shy of .300, and hitting in front of guys like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth should keep his run total high.
His rising power and the potent Phillies lineup allowed him to also set a career high in RBI, something GP says should continue in 2010. With his SB total likely to remain in the mid-20s, Victorino will remain one of those players who will help you in nearly every offensive category, without putting you over the top in any of them (unless your league counts triples).
That all-category assistance puts Victorino in some solid comp territory, something else that's evident from the mini-browser: Guys like Andre Ethier, Nick Markakis, and Adam Lind are fine company to keep. He's sure to go early in leagues that tally steals, but Victorino shouldn't be ignored in any league. He ranked 28th in 2009's NL roto rankings, and his solid skill set and good injury history make him a safe bet to reach that same level in 2010.
Matt Holliday | St. Louis | OF
2009 Final Stats: .313/.394/.515
Almost as big a story as last year's Colorado post-Hurdle turnaround was the post-Oakland turnaround of Colorado's former left fielder. After 93 games of .286/.378/.454 baseball with the A's, Holliday was traded to St. Louis, where he nearly outhit Albert Pujols, notching a .353/.419/.604 batting line the rest of the way.
This week, St. Louis inked Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million deal that will lock him up for most of the new decade, and through the rest of his peak years. The question is, of course, how productive will he be? And were the Cards suckers to pay Holliday so much on the basis of 235 ABs?
His core skills in Oakland were still solid, as he put up a .83 contact rate and a .79 BB/K, a level of patience a tad better than he'd shown in the NL. You can't say that Oakland's home field gave him fits, either, since he hit .286/.383/.494 there. His adjustment probably came from two other causes: AL pitchers and a weaker lineup around him. Studies have shown that batting order doesn't make as much of a difference as most people think (though I wonder if any of those studies included someone hitting behind Albert Pujols).
The argument in favor of AL pitchers seems more likely—looking at his splits on Fangraphs, his plate approach was fairly consistent across leagues, though he swung at all pitches about 5% more often with St. Louis, and made contact on pitches outside the zone about 8% more often in the AL.
More significant might be the fact that he saw 10% more cheese in an A's uniform than he did with St. Louis, which isn't surprising, since he clobbered NL fastballs (2.45 RAA per 100 fastballs in the NL, vs. 0.18 on the same metric in the AL). Of course, he hit every kind of NL pitch, with the exception of changeups, better than in the AL, something that's obvious from the league split.
AL pitchers worked him differently, probably because he hadn't seen them as much; as a result, Holliday hit them quite differently. In Oakland, his 15.9 LD% was the lowest in his career, as was his 39.0 FB%. That resulted in another career high, a 13.3 infield fly percentage, as well as a career-low 9.7% HR/FB. He just wasn't making good contact, a clear sign that AL pitchers were keeping him off balance.
Those trends reversed themselves for the most part when he came to St. Louis—his HR/FB% shot back up to 16.7%, his LD rose to 17.3% (still below his career average of 19.7%), and that ugly IFF% sank back to a more reasonable (but still elevated) 9.0. The only trend that remained steady was the elevated FB%, which rose 0.6 percentage points in the NL.
That's not such a bad thing for a guy who converts 16% or more of those to HRs, and it may be consistent with him hitting fourth in the lineup, after mostly hitting third for the past several seasons in Colorado. You might argue that a guy with a consistent contact percentage in the upper 70s and a BB/K rate in the .60-.70 range already had a more slugger-like mentality. His .353 BA with St. Louis wouldn't seem to indicate this, but we're still dealing with a 235-AB sample space.
It's certainly a trend to watch, but for now, rest assured that Holliday's 2010 value should remain very solid. St. Louis is betting that he'll retain that value for quite a long time; I'm not quite so optimistic, but I do like this signing for the short-term. He's going to have plenty of men on base, and if a few of those longballs fall short of the wall for a sac fly or two, he should still collect the RBI.
Matt Klaasen makes an excellent point at Fangraphs that the deal is just an average one for St. Louis, and may hurt them in the long haul, but for now, fantasy owners have to love where Holliday landed in 2010 and beyond. His half-season in St. Louis ranked him merely ninth among 2009 NL hitters in roto production—he's sure to be higher than that over a full season in 2010.
Chad Qualls | Arizona | RP
2009 Final Stats: 7.8 K/9, 6.4 K/BB, 3.63 ERA
People said that Qualls wasn't suited to be a closer, since he relies on a sinker-slider combo to get groundballs, which isn't a typical endgame repertoire. When you want an out in the ninth, you'd much prefer a strikeout to the uncertainty of a ball hit into play (or over the fence if that sinker hangs). Qualls responded to that criticism by putting up those numbers you see up above, including that awesome K/BB percentage.
The only reason he ranked so low in 2009 roto value (31st among pitchers) comes from the 24 measly saves he collected. Nobody thought the D-backs would be so utterly hopeless, and Qualls did well with what he was given, blowing just five saves on the year. The capper (quite literally) to Arizona's lousy 2009 came when Qualls went down with a dislocated kneecap that tore a ligament on the final out of a game on Aug. 30.
Interestingly, the D-backs had dangled Qualls on waivers a few days before, hoping to work out a deal to get some prospects for the rebuilding mode they suddenly found themselves in. Qualls' knee didn't hurt Arizona's season, but it might have kept him with the club. He went under the knife to repair the tendon, but he's expected to be at full strength for spring training.
Arizona offered him a contract rather than non-tendering him, so he'll remain with the team. Will he still be the closer when he does? And will he still be the same kind of closer?
There were some rumors about the D-backs bringing free agent Jose Valverde back to the club and shifting Qualls back to a setup role, but it's unlikely they will be able to do so for Valverde's asking price, and he's the only potential threat to Qualls' job. Nobody stepped up in Qualls' absence, and new signee Bob Howry will slide into the setup role, perhaps in conjunction with lefty Clay Zavada, but neither are serious closer contenders.
Assuming he is healthy in time for 2010, and that the knee has no lingering effects on his mechanics, Qualls should bring the same 2009 skills to the table. That low walk rate may not continue, but the rest of his toolbox looks solid. The only mildly disconcerting part of his 2009 performance was a pronounced platoon split. After dominating lefties over his career (their OPS is almost 100 points lower against him than RHB), their OPS was suddenly 90 points better. This is probably a blip more than a trend, but if it continues, you might see Zavada come in and face some of those tough lefties.
In general, however, most projections (GP included) see him with very similar numbers. The team around him is going to be better than the 2009 model—Arizona's been bolstering the bullpen in the offseason, and their starting pitching should be even better with the return of Brandon Webb. That improvement should increase his 2010 save totals, which will increase his roto value, too.
About the only thing Qualls won't bring you is strikeouts, and the penalty for a hanging sinker is often a longball (particularly in Chase Field), so his ERA is never going to be in the awesome range. But he's a very good closer, someone who can be overlooked by bigger names and faster fastballs, as indicated by the 27 drop in GP's Sentiment. You might sneak Qualls in under the radar for owners frightened of Arizona's 2009 performance, his relatively low ranking, or his knee injury.
Francisco Rodriguez | New York | RP
2009 Final Stats: 9.7 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 3.71 ERA
A lot of things went wrong with the Mets' season, and K-Rod's dropoff seemed like the least of their worries. Given the serious cabbage ($37M) they shelled out to him in that three-year deal, however, perhaps they ought to be a bit more worried. K-Rod still averaged a strikeout an inning in 2009, but that K/9 was his lowest level since 2003. And his walk rate, which had been elevated three of the past four seasons, cracked the 5.0 BB/9 plateau for the first time. That's what combined to produce that awful control ratio, the lowest of his career.
You could write this off to a change in leagues, which certainly had something to do with it, as did pitching for a team that finished the season 22 games below .500. But there are other areas of concern with K-Rod—as you can see in the mini-browser, that K/9 trend continues a four-year slide, and Fangraphs shows that's happened alongside a rising trend in his xFIP.
Fangraphs also shows that he's increasingly relying on his changeup (he's using it more than twice as much as he did in 2007), coming at the expense of his breaking ball. His hard curve has been one of his key pitches, and while this might mean he's learning to use his change more effectively, it might also point toward elbow pain.
His line drive and fly ball rates were also elevated last year; in isolation, this might be a statistical blip, but in context with these other signs, it's cause for concern. One of the knocks on K-Rod has always been his violent and unorthodox delivery, which makes trainers wince and Dr. Andrews rub his hands at the prospect of another payment on his yacht. The Mets have become notorious for hiding injuries, and they might be doing the same thing with their star closer.
GP and most other predictions see his numbers settling down a bit in 2010, but it's hard to see K-Rod as elite anymore. He'll still collect strikeouts and pull down an ERA in the 3.00 range, and (unless he's nursing an injury) he'll keep saving games for the Mets. Like the D-backs, it's hard to imagine the 2010 Mets stinking up the joint the way they did in 2009, so he should increase his 35 save total, too.
As surprising as it might be to see K-Rod ranked this low in 2009 (30th among pitchers), he'll remain in this same neighborhood in 2010—note that GP projects his worth as just $1 more than Chad Qualls. His days of $20+ returns are behind him. Keep that in mind on Draft Day, and don't overpay for a guy with so many red flags, even if they seem like small ones.
Delwyn Young | PIT | 2B-OF
2009 Final Stats: .266/.326/.381
I covered Delwyn during the regular season Waiver Wire shortly after the Pirates traded away Freddy Sanchez and it seemed like Young might have a shot at 2B or as a fourth OF. As I wrote then, Young's value is centered on his moderate power, making him best as a 2B, not as an OF.
Now that Pittsburgh signed Akinori Iwamura, however, it looks like Young might be a backup 2B and OF, diminishing his fantasy value significantly. The Pirates may like his bench versatility, but his chances of getting regular PT will be slim, barring injury or blockbuster trade. He doesn't have the glove or speed to play center, pushing him to the corners in the OF, where he'll be stuck behind Garrett Jones in RF and Lastings Milledge in LF.
As I discussed last week, there's the possibility that Garrett Jones might shift to 1B if Jeff Clement tanks, which would open up RF for Young. This hardly seems like a good move, however, for either Pittsburgh or fantasy owners. Young provides a smidge of value in BA and power as an NL-only MIF for deep leagues, but he's no starting RF, not even for the pitiful Pirates.
As you can see from the GP mini-browser, Young's skills are below average in most areas, with a contact rate in the same fringey range where his 6% walk rate already resides. If you want a portrait of an adequate benchwarmer, look no further. His projected $8 value was due to the fact that the Iwamura deal didn't go down until after we went to press, which is why his comps look (relatively) gaudy. Interestingly, Aki is among those comps, but I think Iwamura has a much more promising outlook, with superior contact skills and speed.
We'll most likely see Young battle a slightly younger Brandon Moss in spring training for a roster spot, and Young's ability to play a serviceable 2B could be the difference-maker between the two. But unless he's got a starting position at the end of spring training, he doesn't belong on your fantasy roster.
We'll keep going with the countdown next week, along with any other players you might want to see. And if you like the mini-browsers you see, they're just a taste of what you'll find in the Graphical Player 2010, where Rob McQuown (of AL Waiver Wire fame) and I are associate editors.
Posted by Michael Street at 2:00am
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