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THT's Fantasy Archives
Monday, February 08, 2010
It is one of those things you remember just because. Although he only played seven games for the Yankees that season, I still remember June 10, 2002 when the rookie Marcus Thames smashed a home run off Randy Johnson for his first career hit. Nearly eight years later, Johnson is newly retired and Thames is back in the Bronx. Signing a minor league deal with Yankees, Thames' job will remain similar to the one he had on in his first major league assignment;hit left-handed pitching.
The new version of the Yankees must ball on a budget; a $200 million dollar budget, but a budget nonetheless. After finding the price tag for Johnny Damon a bit too rich for their taste, New York has turned to cheaper alternatives to solve their left field void. With Brett Gardner already in-house, they have added Randy Winn and now Thames. Depending on the opposing pitcher, left field figures to be a rotating door.
When Winn signed there were immediate questions about his ability to hit left-handed pitching. A switch-hitter, Winn owns a career slash line of .280/.330/.432 against lefties. However, in 2009 he hit just .180/.184/.200 against them. When Looking at those numbers, I tend to go with the career sample size of nearly 1,200 plate appearances over the 125 of last season. There is also the 2009 .179 BABIP against southpaws vs the .301 career BABIP that would suggest '09 as an outlier. Nonetheless, the addition of Thames should easy any fears of Winn's potential shortcomings against left-hander.
As mentioned, Thames career started with a home run off a left-hander. From there he has continued to hit well against lefties to the tune of a career slash line of .256/.329/.516 against them. Combine that with Winn's slash line of .294/.353/.430 against right-handed pitching and you have the makings of a good, not great platoon. However, there is a problem; Thames is an awful outfielder.
In just over 2,200 innings in the outfield, Thames has put up a -15.8 UZR and a UZR/150 of -9.5. In a smaller sample size, his numbers in left field are worse. This is where Brett Gardner comes in. Less of a hitter than the other two pieces of the puzzle (although he was at least average in 2009), Gardner is a plus defender with speed. He would make a nifty caddy for Thames as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.
Of course the Yankees could stick to the plan of a Winn/Gardner platoon and still use Thames. Assuming the Yankees carry Gardner, a back-up catcher, and a reserve middle infielder, there would be one spot on the bench for Thames as a right-handed power bat. He could also spell Nick Johnson a DH and would serve as an insurance policy in the event Johnson gets bit by the injury bug again. As far as fantasy is concerned, right now Thames is not a good option in any league. However, I would closely track his progress during Spring and if he does win himself a platoon job he could provide some cheap power for your squad.
Posted by Tommy Rancel at 6:47pm
Clay Buchholz has struggled to establish himself in the Red Sox rotation ever since starting with a bang. Since his no-hitter he has held a major league ERA of 5.73 in the following two seasons. I was running a review of him a few weeks ago and found an interesting comparison though when looking at his skills. That pitcher is none other than Felix Hernandez, although he was much quicker to establish himself in Seattle.
Looking at his number so far you might wonder where the comparison comes from. So far their strikeouts and walks have been far from identical.
K/9 BB/9 Buchholz 7.65 4.11 Hernandez 8.06 2.85
Buchholz has closed with strikeouts, but is quite a ways away from him in walks. Like most pitchers he has struggled with his walk numbers early on and even Hernandez has been over 3.50 in his career. Buchholz has a minor league BB/9 of 2.50, so it's fairly reasonable to expect that rate to come down to a solid number.
We saw that this past season he made some adjustments late in the year and saw some changes in his rates. In the last seven games of 2009 his K/9 was 7.53, but his BB/9 dropped to 2.38. What changed is tough to say, although his changeup rate dropped game by game and as Evan Brunell discussed here perhaps that has been why he struggles with left handers. I have my doubts about this theory on the whole as it's a small sample size in the majors and for his overall lefty/righty splits. If you compare his tOPS splits (92/109) to the 2009 American league average (92/108) there isn't much to say that he was any more interesting than anyone else.
So what changed in those last seven games that allowed him to gain control and can he repeat it? His number of sliders per game rose and his number of changeups dropped as well. He's also still dealing with a change in arm slot the Red Sox requested of him in 2008. That change coincided with a huge spike in walks in 2008 and it seems he is still figuring out how to pitch from the new slot. This should help keep him healthy, but hopefully he has figured this out.
Getting outs and limiting walks is not the only challenge for Buchholz to be like King Felix, though. He needs to maintain his elite groundball numbers. Not only does Hernandez pitch half his games in a great stadium for pitchers, he also keeps the ball on the ground to great levels. His numbers have dropped recently, but his career rate of 56.8 percent grounders is sixth among pitchers with 900-plus IP since 2002.
Buchholz has grown in his ability to keep the ball on the ground going from 38.5 percent in 2007 to 47.7 percent in 2008. He then made a bug step forward last year reaching 53.8 percent. There is reason to believe he can maintain these levels as his 2009 Triple-A rate was 52.5 percent. This isn't the elite levels of Hernandez first few seasons, but near his 52 percent and 53 percent of 2008 and 2009.
Other things going for Buchholz this year is the defense surrounding him should be improved. He had a BABIP of .289 last year, so he didn't suffer from that, but that shouldn't suddenly swing the other way either.
Buchholz is looking at finally getting that shot he has earned to start a full season with the big team. The fan base and fantasy owners will be looking for big things and a comparison with King Felix will surely make those expectations even higher. Perhaps this might be the farthest apart two players have been that I compared in ADP. Buchholz currently has an ADP of 190 and Hernandez is at 28 according to MockDraftCentral. While they aren't going to finish neck and neck, this comparison can show us how much more valuable Buchholz can be than his draft position.
Posted by Troy Patterson at 4:21am
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