Thursday, March 22, 2012
Who’s really the top relief pitcher in LA?Posted by Mike Silver at 5:44am
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.
Returning from a brief hiatus, Mike is excited to be back at THT.
Mike's former writing homes include FireBrandAL.com and StatSpeak.net, while his content has appeared on Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, and others. A lifelong Red Sox fan native to New York, Mike loves to blend baseball and statistical analysis.
Feel free to email him at mjasilver AT gmail DOT com.