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Thursday, March 22, 2012
Kenley Jansen or Javy Guerra the top dog in LA?
I think Kenley Jansen—even if he records zero saves all year—will be more valuable than Javy Guerra. (I also think that Jansen, assuming he stays healthy, will be more valuable than about half the closers in the league even if he gets only five saves. But, that's a whole other discussion.)
I don't think this is an unreasonable conclusion, considering how much value he will generate in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Just imagine what he could do if he were able to unseat Guerra as the closer!
But without him owning the closer's role, many will ignore him. Which begs the question, is Jansen or Guerra the guy to own in LA?
While the knee-jerk reaction is always to go with the man who has the job its not that simple in this case. Fantasy owners seem to have recognized this, drafting Jansen just four spots behind of Guerra in ESPN drafts (ADP 215.4 to 219.7).
While I think the small difference in ADP has more to do with owners hoping Jansen seizes the role, he really doesn't need the closer role to be worth the pick. All he has to do is pitch like Kenley Jansen and keep striking batters out.
It goes like this:
Regressing both Jansen and Guerra's plate discipline characteristics and batted ball profiles, Jansen—not surprisingly—grades out as the far superior pitcher.
Actually, his numbers point to something truly remarkable.
I've got his final line at a 1.97 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, with a 15.01 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and 4.11 walks per nine innings (BB/9)—meaning he could very well be the next incarnation of Craig Kimbrel, Carlos Marmol circa 2010, or Brad Lidge c. 2004, albeit without the saves. Though he doesn't have a clear pathway to the closer's role, 100-strikeout setup men are a very underrated commodity in fantasy. Jansen's overall line could be worth more than many of this year's closers—even if he finishes the season with only a handful of saves.
Over 60 IP, I've got his line being worth about 0.61 points above the average reliever. Ratchet his line up to 12 saves and all of a sudden he's worth a full point above the league average in the standings. That's in comparison to guys like Huston Street (Steamer's line comes in at 0.36 points) and Jose Valverde (-1.18 points by Steamer's line) who have a full season of saves under their belt.
On the other hand, Guerra posts a more modest 3.48 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, to go along with a 7.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9—not far from his 2011 rates of 7.33 K/9 and 3.47 BB/9. Last year's sparkling 2.31 ERA will likely fade, however—and with it comes the possibility of a change at closer (or so Jansen owners hope). Still, at 35 saves on the year over 65 IP, and he still comes in below average (-1.02 points).
And while we're talking about Jansen, I think it's worth pointing out that his control is far better than he is given credit for. Because of his high walk rates (4.36 BB/9 in 2011), he has undeservedly earned the reputation of being wild. But, that statistic is very misleading.
In actuality, he had very good control last season, posting a 53.2 percent zone rate and 59.2 percent on first strikes. The zone percentage, in particular, is very impressive for a reliever. While you wouldn't expect a pitcher with that kind of control to walk so many batters, he does so because he generates so many swings and misses. So, instead of batters ending the at-bat by putting the ball in play (where there is no chance of a walk), those extra swings and misses keep more at-bats alive, resulting in inflated walk totals.
Bumping his O- and Z-Contact ratings up a notch (to .713 O-Contact and .858 Z-Contact—Guerra's numbers), he all of a sudden finds himself walking 3.29 batters per nine. Going one step further, if batters chased him out of the zone at a reasonable rate (Jansen had a 25.4 O-Swing last season), he would find himself at 2.7 BB/9.
To sum up that tangent, please don't fool yourself into thinking that Jansen is your typical high-strikeout, poor-control reliever. He's much, much more than that!
And getting back to the main point: Be sure to take advantage of his underrated value. Jansen is just one of a handful of hurlers who doesn't get credit for the value he contributes to a fantasy team. Though he's the No. 2 man in LA, don't discount him too much on draft day. You'll regret it!
What batting in a Boston (not San Diego) uniform does for your value
Lineup strength is one of the more underrated parts of a player's fantasy value. A few things that many fantasy players do wrong is to ignore, or significantly underrate, the effect that a batter's teammates have on his value.
Now, let's not get carried away on that last statement. Everyone in fantasy recognizes that batting in the Yankees lineup is better than batting for the Astros. However, you get the feeling that only the keenest of owners know the true value of this switch.
Let's take Jacoby Ellsbury for example. Out of the leadoff spot in Boston, he turned in one of the finest seasons of 2012—119 runs, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 39 stolen bases, and a .321 average.
His regressed numbers state that he was a little unlucky in runs scored, but made up for it with slightly inflated RBI totals. That regressed line is a stunning 126 runs scored and 92 RBI. Also outstanding!
Now, for the kicker—throw him in San Diego. Keep his exact same profile intact (732 plate appearances, 32 home runs, 39 stolen bases, .321/.376/.552), but change the team around him.
How does he do?
...very well, but the lineup around him has certainly taken its toll. He cedes 18 runs and 12 RBI to finish at 108 and 80. An excellent player, no doubt, but not the same guy by any means. In fact, he cedes a full 1.7 points in the standings (similar to the difference in value between Evan Longoria and Michael Young, by many pre-draft estimates).
So, the obvious (but now quantified!) moral of the story: Think carefully about lineup strength before you draft anyone. Yes, the Boston to San Diego exchange is extreme—and I'm sure you already take lineup strength into account—but don't forget about those five or six runs and RBI that can come from moving from, say, Toronto to Washington. Those little bits of value really add up to a lot and can make you a nightmare to play against. Add a half a point here and a quarter of point there and you'll find yourself way ahead of the pack in September.
Posted by Mike Silver at 5:44am
Anyone who thinks spring training stats are wholeheartedly dumb, I’d like to introduce you to Michael Morse. After the 29-year-old blasted 15 homers in less than half a season in 2010, he continued his torrid pace the subsequent spring, painting himself as a worthy sleeper and affirming (perhaps wrongly) his previous season’s performance. And what an affirmation it was. He slugged nine homers in 66 at-bats, and followed said spring up with 31 dingers and a .300 average. Not bad, Morse.
Of course, that’s an incredibly small sample of meaningful spring stats: one single player. I could find hundreds of breakouts, slumps, tumbles and rises that can be correlated to superb springs. And on the contrary, I can find hundreds more that meant absolutely nothing.
You need to know what to be looking for, of course, and I have my eyes on a handful of springs that mean something to me. I thought of the idea and threw together a makeshift list on my twitter (@fishfle) which I will expand upon below.
Whether it’s an uncharacteristic home run rate, a pathetic showing at the plate, or a leash that was thinned, there are a handful of reasons the following “bad” spring trainings mean something to me. Likewise, there are a lot of “good” spring training showings that are worthwhile of consideration and dissection, whether it’s because they set a player up for a promotion, sealed him a job, or prove to me that an injury is far in the rear view mirror. Let’s jump in.
Bad, yet meaningful, springs
Tyler Pastornicky’s leash just got shortened
Pastornicky was entrusted with the starting shortstop gig on the Braves this offseason despite zero major league at-bats, a testament to both their thrift and his excellent minor league numbers. Lo and behold, though, Pastornicky allowed low-minors straggler Andrelton Simmons, a 22 year old speedster who still hasn’t touched Double-A, to enter the picture and serve, seemingly, as a check for Pastornicky. And he deserves one after a 5-for-40 showing (equating to a .125 batting average) with one single walk and only one stolen base (his calling card). I’d be worried if I were Tyler Pastornicky.
Devin Mesoraco didn’t buy himself any at-bats
Mesoraco enters 2012 in an undefined role, seemingly stuck behind Ryan Hanigan in Cincinnati, but looking at 300+ at-bats per some projections. I’d take the under—perhaps well under—after an unimpressive cup of coffee in the majors last year and an equally anemic spring. Given that he plays for Dusty Baker, hater of all that is young, and that he hit .180 in his 53 late-season at-bats and .136 in his 22 at-bat cameo this spring, I wouldn’t touch him in fantasy leagues this year.
Justin Morneau looks overmatched
There was some talk this offseason and spring—from Twins camp—that Justin Morneau may be at the end of the road in his career, which was/is badly derailed by concussions and other injuries. He’s followed up his weakest showing in the majors, a .227/.285/.333 triple-slash last year, with an equally underwhelming (if you even want to call it that) spring training, where he’s garnered only three hits in 30 at-bats, good for a .100 average. That’s not going to cut it.
Roy Halladay’s home-run rate is uncharacteristically high
His velocity is down, and in his own words, “"I'm 34 and (with) 2,500 innings, it does take a while to get going.” Chalk this up to my paranoia if you will, but it’s not just the 6+ ERA that has me scared. Hell, you can throw that number out for all I care. Doc has given up five homers in a mere 13+ innings. For illustration’s sake, he gave up 10 round-trippers last year in 233+ innings. His fastball had a negative pitch value last year for the first time since 2003, and if his velocity diminishes on said pitch just one mile per hour, the biting 91 mile per hour cutter will be the same speed as his heater, which has been historically in the 92 range; thus, the cutter would likely be far less effective. I’d be worried enough to pass on him for another ace early—there’s too much money tied up in a Halladay investment to carry any doubt. I’ll take the Cy Young winner from last year, please.
Good springs that mean a lick
Jeff Samardzija earned himself a rotation spot
Always possessive of a nasty slider, Samardzija’s main hindrance was his subpar control. His career BB/9 mark of 5.30 just wasn’t going to cut it as a starting pitcher, but by all accounts, the Cubs are going to give him a shot based off his advances last year and his gleaming spring training. His 1.61 K/BB rate in 2011 was not impressive by any means, but was a far cry from his previous 0.45 mark. Couple that with his 9:0 strikeout to walk ratio this spring in 10 six-hit innings, and the suits in the Cubs' front office are believers. Thus, I am too.
Juan Nicasio proved the gruesome neck injury to be behind him
Nicasio suffered an injury that could’ve well killed or paralyzed him last August. So what is he doing on this list? Rocking. His 9:2 strike to walk ratio in 12 innings is fairly indicative of his true skill level, and his Double-A numbers should provide all the context you need: a 10.01 K/9 ratio supported by a mere 1.59 walks per nine innings. The kid’s got talent and has sealed his rotation spot with a solid spring showing. Cheers to that.
Zack Cozart is as healthy as can be
A hyperextended left elbow ended Cozart’s September run, where he turned heads with a couple of long balls and a .324/.324/.486 triple-slash in just 11 games. All is well in Cincinnati camp, though, as Cozart went 12-for-29 in his springtime games. A clean bill of health, a hot bat, and a job sealed, all of which is supported by solid minor league numbers. Sounds like a 26-year-old breakout to me.
Starling Marte may have set himself up for a mid-season promotion
So the kid can play. One would assume that Marte is one of the central figures in the Pirates plan to compete in the next several years after an incredibly impressive showing in Double-A. He boasted speed (24 stolen bases), power (12 home runs), average (.332), leaving only plate discipline to be desired (a 3.8 percent walk rate). Marte backed up his power-speed-average showing last year with a .520 average, three homers, and two steals in just 25 at-bats. For fun, those extrapolate to 72 homers and 48 steals over 600 at-bats, and while I’m obviously kidding about such potential, he can fit into the Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, and Andrew McCutchen category of triple-threat outfielders one day; that is, as soon as he gets the opportunity. Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, and the aforementioned McCutchen are all occupying spaces in the Pittsburgh outfield and Nate McLouth is hoping for a bounce-back as a fourth outfielder. If Marte mashes in Triple-A, he could force the Pirates’ hands in giving him at-bats. If Tabata or Presley stumble big time, then watch out.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 5:15am
Harry Pavlidis (of the Dispatch section) and I have been going back and forth on various young starting pitchers we expect to break out in real life and fantasy this year. Using advanced metrics, minor league data and PITCHf/x, we plan to give an encompassing look at what you can expect from these players in 2012.
Harry kicked things off with a PITCHf/x look at Danny Duffy. Now it is my turn to put the fantasy spin on Duffy. In the next article in this series, I will look at Harry's first breakout player—fantasy zombie Brian Matusz.
I am an unashamed Danny Duffy fan. Last year, I pegged Duffy as a post-All Star starting pitcher break breakout candidate for the American League (the National League break out pitcher that I identified was Javier Vazquez).
The reason I liked Duffy so much last year was his monster pedigree and strong minor league track record. As a "big boy" lefty, Duffy's put up a cumulative 2.65 ERA with 407 strikeouts to only 110 walks (a superior 3.7:1 rate). Duffy showed electric strikeout stuff with above average control that stayed the same or improved with every level jump of his career (well, at least until he reached the majors).
By the time Duffy reached Triple-A last year, he was striking out 28 percent of batters faced while walking fewer than six percent in the hitter-friendly PCL league. Duffy throws a four-seam fastball that consistently, and comfortably, sits in the mid-90s, and he comes armed with a deeper-than-most five pitch arsenal (albeit, only a couple are "plus pitches" at this point). That gives him a lot of weapons to work from not only mechanically, but psychologically.
Put that all together, and you have monster major league potential. From a fantasy perspective at least, velocity plus strikeouts plus control plus weapons plus recent PCL success equals huge sleeper potential. Remember that Mat Latos guy? Or Jordan Zimmermann. Or Brandon Beachy (who had a much shorter record of success heading into 2011)? Okay, so those guys are not lefties, which works to Duffy's advantage, but you get the point.
A look at Duffy's first half major league numbers showed that he had caught some bad breaks, and that he was stringing together a series of refined starts that brimmed with the type of potential he showed in the minors. Of course, history is history, and Duffy did not end up breaking out as I projected. And his second half numbers (6.41 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9) ended up worse than his first half numbers (52 IP, 4.85 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9). Does this mean I was just way off base?
Well first off, 105 innings of your first taste of major league play is nothing to get too down about. When a prospect first reaches the major league level, I look more at the basics, the underlying stuff, before I look at the results. Provided there is some translation of the tools and talent flashed in the minors, you could put up a 10.00 ERA over 100-plus innings in your rookie season and I would still love you. I remind you again of Jordan Zimmermann and Mat Latos.
There was not a whole lot of minor league to major league translation, with a sub-average 7.7 percent induced whiff rate (8.6 percent major league average) and 51.9 percent first pitch strike rate (59.4 percent major league average), but Duffy showed brilliance at times. His five starts heading into the All-Star break last year were a good example of this. Overall, Duffy looked a little raw and overmatched at the major league average, but he still looked pretty strong for a rookie—which is encouraging.
Part of the reason I am discounting Duffy's overall season performance and relatively lackluster peripherals is fatigue. Duffy's career high in total innings pitched was 126.2 innings, back in 2009. Duffy "retired" for a few months in 2010, and ended up pitching only 62.1 innings that season. Last season saw Duffy ultimately reach 157.1 innings. That's almost 100 innings over his previous season load.
Evidence of fatigue appeared after the All-Star break. As Harry noted in his article on Duffy, "Duffy's fastball speed declined in late July, recovering briefly before declining steadily through his last start." Further, as Harry notes, "Duffy's highest pitch count came in that final start on Sept. 6, throwing 119 after not crossing 105 in his other starts."
Now that's not to highlight any substantial injury risk concerns. A 100-inning jump is hefty, but 157 innings is not to the level of abuse for a guy, even one who retired for part of a season, who has been a starter his entire minor league career. Furthermore, given Duffy's healthy mix of pitches and power fastball, his breaking ball usage, despite his strikeout rate, isn't skewed like Madison Bumgardner's or Bud Norris'. To the contrary, this fatigue highlights the fact that Duffy didn't reach his potential because he was not able to build up the necessary durability to break out in the second half of last year. Six months of offseason rest should get him ready to go for the beginning of the season with plenty of that potential still brimming.
So what to make of Harry's conclusions about Duffy's stuff still needing refining and Duffy needing to build up durability in 2012 (making Duffy more likely a 2013 breakout candidate)? Harry observes the following:
Duffy's fastball is above average in whiff rate, pop-up rate and flyball rate compared to other fastballs. His change-up is mostly average but his curveball doesn't miss too many bats but yields plenty of ground balls. At least in 2011, that is. He's yet to develop a swing-and-miss secondary pitch, and that's going to hold him back. You can't pitch on fastballs alone in a big league rotation. Or not for long.
The long and short—Harry is concerned about Duffy developing and refining a quality breaking pitch to make his laser beam four-seamer more effective. The curveball is not cutting it—at least not yet—though it is a groundball machine. Does this mean Duffy is a mere wait and see project?
Well, as Lucas Apostoleris points out in the comments, Duffy is also working in a cutter to his arsenal. Depending on how that pitch, plus the further development of his curveball, pans out in 2012, Duffy could start showing strong results this season. He is a guy to keep an eye on in April.
I would not recommend drafting him in shallow leagues, or for more than $1 at this point (though it will be interesting to see what Duffy goes for in AL Tout Wars this weekend), but people in keeper leagues need to particularly be paying attention to what Duffy does early on. If he starts showing more of what I discussed during the 2011 All-Star break, I would recommend taking an early flier on him to prevent him from landing in the hands of an opponent. But I would not recommend consistently starting him until he shows the world that he's put it all together and developed in the ways that Harry identified in his article.
In hindsight, I think labeling Duffy as my breakout player for 2012 might have been a little premature. After all, Oliver's major league equivalency forecast is surprisingly bearish, projecting a mere 4.84 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 for Duffy in 2015 based on historical performance to date. He's certainly got the potential I love, but durability questions and a developing breaking pitch are short term wild cards. The addition of a cutter, if effective, will certainly make things interesting for the Royals' current fifth starter in 2012, however. A "this year" breakout is not out of the cards, though again, as Harry notes, 2013 might be the better bet.
Duffy has "number two" starting pitcher projectability with some upside to spare depending on how his groundball-inducing curve develops. A few years ago, guys like Bud Norris, Jorge De La Rosa and Scott Baker were king. If you could cobble together a roster of underrated guys with high mid-three ERA potential, high 1.2s WHIP production and good strikeout rates, you were set. But with everyone in the league seemingly posting a 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP these days, Felipe Paulino-like guys have become spot starters at best.
What separates Duffy is a good blend of strikeout potential and historical control over his mix of pitches. Unlike a cobbled-together roster of flawed pitchers with elite discreet category production, Duffy projects to do some of it all. Average groundballs, lots of whiffs, and minimal batters on base. Control is going to be the make-or-break of Duffy's fantasy relevance outside the development of his secondary pitches. If Duffy commands the zone, he's going to succeed. If he is too wild, his upside is going to be Bud Norris, and as much as I love Bud, that's not going to make Duffy too relevant an everyday starting pitcher in most mixed formats.
Thus, for the forgoing reasons, I humbly request you add Danny Duffy to your watch list immediately.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 1:26am
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