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## Season review: catchers

We've already taken our first look back, at the first basemen of 2008. Looking back, the article wandered somewhat aimlessly and had a weak conclusion. With a bit more focus and structure, that will not happen in my review of the catcher position. I'll start by throwing a table your way:

### En masse

```Year	Catchers	OPS	% + WPA/LI
2004	27	0.760	48%
2005	27	0.738	44%
2006	25	0.767	48%
2007	28	0.730	21%
2008	24	0.750	42%```

I know there are some categories that make no sense to you right now, but let me address each column in order:

The catchers column refers to the number of catchers who amassed at least 350 plate appearances in the corresponding year. It's there mostly to show how many catchers qualified for the average OPS. The OPS category is self-explanatory—it is the average OPS of qualified catchers that year. That leaves the % + WPA/LI category, which refers to the percentage of catchers with a positive WPA/LI. (A zero WPA/LI represents a league-average hitter, so % + WPA/LI shows the percent of catchers who were above average at the plate.) I was a bit hesitant to use WPA/LI numbers, at least for this year, because of the seemingly radical park factor adjustments done by Dave Appleman of Fangraphs on the data. I'm not sure if the same was done for previous years. It doesn't matter, we're moving on.

The number of catchers who accumulated 350 plate appearances in each of the five seasons was within a range of four, a difference I consider statistically insignificant. Based on the OPS numbers, 2008 appears to be an average hitting year for catchers, but later we will take a more in-depth look at the numbers to see if that holds true. As far as % + WPA/LI is concerned, every year is relatively stable except for the 2007 season, which is significantly lower at 21 percent. When we do the more in-depth look at OPS, it will reveal why this is and what it means.

```Year	750+ OPS	800+ OPS	850+ OPS	900+ OPS
2004	7	4	5	0
2005	9	2	2	0
2006	8	2	3	2
2007	6	2	1	1
2008	3	1	6	0
```

Here is the table that further breaks down where catchers fell in the OPS spectrum. Note that 750+ OPS does not show the number of catchers who had an OPS or .750 or higher, it shows the number of catchers with an OPS of at least .750 to the next highest OPS plateau, which in this case is .800. A .750-.800 OPS is slightly above league average. Usually if a player has an OPS below .750, his WPA/LI will be as well.

OPS numbers 800+ OPS are great for catchers, but only above-average compared to all batters. I would consider 850+ OPS catchers borderline elite—in three of the five years we examined they would constitute the top tier of catchers. The 900+ OPS catchers are the sluggers. They are a marvel of catching ability, and as you can see come around every only so often.

For fantasy purposes, this chart should dictate where we draft catchers. In a year like 2007, it was incredibly beneficial to own one of the two elite catchers, who were—just to put names to the numbers—Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez. However, in a year like 2008 in which there was no real elite tier of catchers but rather a sizable conglomerate of catchers at the top, it was not worth selecting an elite catcher.

It is too early to start making predictions on how the 2009 row of this chart will look, and therefore too early to definitively say if an elite catcher is worth a high selection in 2009 drafts. We also do not know how the market will value catchers.

### Individuals

We've looked at the catcher position as a whole and attempted to make certain generalizations. Now we are going to look at some individual catchers and examine their seasons.

The risers

Ryan Domuit was the 16th catcher taken on average in fantasy drafts and ended up ranked fourth among his catching counterparts. His season line included a .318 average, 71 runs, 15 homers, and 69 RBI. He did nothing spectacular, but was a steady producer across the board. His .318 batting average stands out the most, although I cannot praise his average without mentioning his .338 BABIP, or 23.4 line drive percentage. Nothing he did this season appears unsustainable, except for maybe a slight regression in his batting average. So expect much of the same next season, except with a .300 average.

Geovany Soto was the ninth catcher taken in drafts and finished with the fifth best stats. Going into the season he was an unproven rookie catcher who had played great over a short stretch at the end of the 2007 season. That sounded like another player, J.R. Towles, heading into the season.

Soto ended up having a monster year, posting a .285 average with 23 home runs and 86 runs batted in, while Towles batted .137 through a third of the season and not surprisingly got sent down to Triple-A. One won and one lost. Soto is in the big leagues for good.

Chris Iannetta was not one of the top 23 catchers taken in preseason drafts and finished with the ninth best stats. He fell in drafts more because of his time-share with Yorvit Torrealba than because of his potential playing ability.

Early in the season, Iannetta proved he was way better than Torrealba and quickly his playing time turned way in his favor. Even in limited at-bats, Iannetta was able to mash 18 home runs and knock in 65 runs. Although I am slightly skeptical about his power abilities, considering that he will see more time in 2009 expect his home run total to remain the same. He will enjoy Coors while he's playing there, and you should enjoy him while he's there, too.

Mike Napoli was the 19th highest catcher selected in drafts this year, and ended up with the 10th best stats. There have been certain power specialists in fantasy baseball—guys like Richie Sexson in 2005 and Jack Cust and Adam Dunn this season—with high home run totals and not much else. The common theme among this type of player is that they are first basemen, designated hitters or corner outfielders. I cannot recall a recent power specialist catcher besides Mike Napoli this season.

Locked in a time-share with the younger and higher draft pick Jeff Mathis this season, Napoli hit for a decent .276 average, stole a surprising seven bases, but could compile only 39 runs and 49 RBI in limited time. What really gave Napoli his fantasy value was his 20 home runs in only 274 plate appearances, the result of a 52.5 flyball percentage and 23.5 HR/FB percentage. Interestingly, Napoli's 52.5 flyball percentage is ahead of all other catchers except Mathis, who hit 52.8 percent flyballs. The Angels might have an organizational philosophy regarding flyball catchers, who knows? The bottom line is that Napoli outperformed Mathis by a staggering amount this year, and I hope the Angels will give him sole possession of the catcher's role next season and his stats will go up.

Kelly Shoppach was not one of the top 25 catchers selected in 2008 drafts, playing behind the No. 1 catcher, Victor Martinez. However when V-Mart proved ineffective at the beginning of the seaosn and then limped to the DL, Shoppach got his chance to shine. Similar to Napoli's, Shoppach's value was carried almost solely by his 21 home runs. Do not be fooled. Shoppach strikes out waaaay too often, at a 38 percent clip, and benefited from a .359 BABIP this season. He will not find his way onto any of my fantasy teams in 2009.

The fallers

Most of the catchers who fell in ranking owe it to injury, old age or a combination. Those players are Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek and Ivan Rodriguez. V-Mart and Posada have the potential for bounce-back years; Varitek and Pudge likely have seen their last season of fantasy relevance pass by.

Kenji Johjima had been consistently solid in his two years since coming from Japan. In each of those seasons he batted around .290 and hit at least 15 home runs. As a result, he was selected sixth among catchers. That picked quickly proved terrible: By the end of April, Johjima was batting .177 with a .459 OPS. Regardless, the Mariners front-office signed its struggling import of a catcher to a three-year, \$24 million extension on April 25, even with top catching prospect Matt Clement waiting in the wings. Johjima was severely unlucky this season with a .233 BABIP, but I would remain wary of him in 2009. His OPS was below .600 for all but four days of the season. Ouch!

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been owned in fantasy leagues for two years too long. Yes, at 23 he has great potential, but I wouldn't use a 13th-round selection on him until he is actually given a starting gig to realize that potential. Keep an eye open for when he is given that chance, though.

### Final thoughts

Stay tuned for the reviews of the rest of the positions throughout the offseason, after which we can really draw some conclusions about position scarcity. Those numbers do change every year.

Posted by Paul Singman at 1:01am (0) Comments

## Coming up: THT Fantasy Focus live chats

As you may have noticed, there have been some changes lately to THT Fantasy Focus. We've added a number of new writers, and there could be a few more coming on board in the near future.

THT Fantasy Focus is here to benefit you, to give you the necessary tools to win your fantasy baseball league. To this end, we'll be introducing some new tools this off-season that hopefully you will all find useful. Starting next week, we'll begin conducting live chats with our team of experts. I'll be featured in our first chat of the year, and we'll make the rest of our experts available to you throughout the off-season.

Come equipped with any questions related to fantasy baseball you may have. Who's a better No. 1 pick in 2009, A-Rod or Hanley? Was Ryan Ludwick's breakout for real? What about Cliff Lee? Do you still endorse taking catchers early after so many busted this year? What about closers? Do you have any early sleeper picks you wouldn't mind sharing?

THT Fantasy Focus Live Chat
Featuring: Derek Carty
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
11 a.m. EST

Come with any questions you have, and I'll do my best to answer them for you. The chat will be run inside of a THT Fantasy Focus post, so it should be easy to find on chat day. If, for whatever reason, you experience any difficulty finding it, shoot me a quick e-mail and I can send you a direct link.

Looking forward to chatting with you!

Posted by Derek Carty at 4:00am (0) Comments

## Dual spotlights: Dan Uggla and Ty Wigginton

Take a look at the following two stat lines and tell me which you would rather have on your fantasy team:
 Much-heralded slugger Dan Uggla at the 2008 Home Run Derby (Icon/SMI)

```+--------+-----+-----+------+----+----+
| PLAYER | POS | AB  | AVG  | HR | SB |
+--------+-----+-----+------+----+----+
| A      | 2B  | 500 | .222 | 22 | 5  |
| B      | 2B  | 500 | .274 | 26 | 5  |
+--------+-----+-----+------+----+----+```

Pretty obviously, you'd take Player B. And judging by the the title (and the big picture to the left), I'm sure you can guess who these lines belong to: Dan Uggla and Ty Wigginton. But which is which, and what are they actually measuring?

To answer the first question, Player A is Uggla, and Player B is Wigginton.

These are their expected 2008 lines scaled to 500 at-bats. When I say expected, I refer to True Home Runs and True Batting Average (which I'll explain in a minute if you aren't yet familiar with these stats) as opposed to their actual 2008 numbers, which would look like this when scaled:
```+-----------+-----+-----+------+----+----+
| PLAYER    | POS | AB  | AVG  | HR | SB |
+-----------+-----+-----+------+----+----+
| Wigginton | 2B  | 500 | .285 | 30 | 5  |
| Uggla     | 2B  | 500 | .260 | 30 | 5  |
+-----------+-----+-----+------+----+----+```

Even here, Wigginton is clearly superior. The only reason Uggla is considered the better player is because he received 531 at-bats this year while Wigginton had just 386, keeping his raw totals down.

Let's examine each player individually and see why—when we use the expected numbers from above—Wigginton looks great and Uggla doesn't.

### Power skills

Dan Uggla
```+------+---------+-----+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | TEAM    | AGE | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% |
+------+---------+-----+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 | Marlins |  26 | 611 | 27 |  28 |  14.1 |   14.6 |   14.6 | 4.2 |     39 |
| 2007 | Marlins |  27 | 632 | 31 |  31 |  14.4 |   14.4 |   13.0 | 2.8 |     46 |
| 2008 | Marlins |  28 | 531 | 32 |  23 |  20.0 |   14.4 |   14.4 | 0.6 |     44 |
+------+---------+-----+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+```

If you're new to THT Fantasy Focus, True Home Runs is a stat I developed this past season which uses HitTracker data (which tracks the trajectory of hits and adjusts for ballpark and weather conditions) to calculate how many home runs a player should have been expected to hit. Here's a quick explanation of the stats:
True Home Runs (tHR or tHR/FB) measures how many home runs a player should have hit assuming a 50/50 split in home/away playing time.

Neutralized Home Runs or Neutralized Power (nHR and nHR/FB) is the number of home runs that would be hit in a league average park with neutral weather.

Raw Power (RAW) is a measure of a hitter's, well, raw power independent of the number of fly balls hit or direction it is hit. It is simply a count of the number of balls hit past 420 feet (roughly the league average distance for No Doubt home runs) in 70-degree weather with no wind per 100 fly balls.

As we can clearly see, Uggla's power hasn't actually changed much at all since data started being collected in 2006. His tHR/FB has remained almost exactly the same from year-to-year despite a six point rise in actual HR/FB this season. We would be well-advised to expect a big regression in 2009, though his very high outfield fly percentage should continue to allow him to hit a good deal of home runs—just not as many as most will expect.

Ty Wigginton
```+------+--------+-----+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+------+-------+
| YEAR | TEAM   | AGE | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% |
+------+--------+-----+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+------+-------+
| 2006 | Rays   |  28 | 444 | 24 |  15 |  20.5 |   12.8 |   13.7 | 2.6 |     33 |
| 2007 | Rays   |  29 | 378 | 16 |  17 |  14.6 |   15.5 |   15.0 | 1.8 |     35 |
| 2007 | Astros |  29 | 169 |  6 |   7 |  11.5 |   13.5 |   10.0 | 0.0 |     40 |
| 2008 | Astros |  30 | 386 | 23 |  20 |  21.1 |   18.4 |   18.4 | 0.0 |     34 |
+------+--------+-----+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+------+-------+```

Wigginton also saw a big increase in his HR/FB this year, however, it came with a corresponding rise in tHR/FB. Considering that this is a three-year high for Wigginton, we should expect some regression next year, but it's clear his power is legitimate. The big difference between him and Uggla is that Uggla hits far more flyballs. Wigginton saw an increase in 2007 but wasn't able to sustain it this year; Uggla saw a similar increase but did sustain it.

Overall, Uggla probably has a bit of a power edge on Wigginton because of the fly balls, but not by much.

### Contact skills

Dan Uggla
```+------+---------+-----+-----+-------+-------+-------+-------+--------+-------+-------+--------+
| YEAR | TEAM    | AGE | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT%   | BABIP | mBABIP | LD%   | AB_HR | AB_tHR |
+------+---------+-----+-----+-------+-------+-------+-------+--------+-------+-------+--------+
| 2006 | Marlins |  26 | 611 | 0.282 | 0.285 | 79.87 | 0.315 |  0.317 | 16.80 | 22.63 |  21.82 |
| 2007 | Marlins |  27 | 632 | 0.245 | 0.257 | 73.58 | 0.286 |  0.303 | 15.64 | 20.39 |  20.39 |
| 2008 | Marlins |  28 | 531 | 0.260 | 0.222 | 67.80 | 0.323 |  0.289 | 15.75 | 16.59 |  23.09 |
+------+---------+-----+-----+-------+-------+-------+-------+--------+-------+-------+--------+```

I first introduced True Batting Average in this article, and here's a quick explanation:
mBABIP stands for Marcels BABIP, and tBA stands for True Batting Average. mBABIP is the BABIP Marcels projects from this point until the end of the season (for previous seasons, it was what Marcels predicted after the season was complete).

tBA uses the player's actual contact rate, mBABIP, and tHR to calculate what we should expect his batting average to be. I talked about how these three stats interact in this article.

We see that Uggla's tBA has been on a three-year decline and sat at an ugly .222 at the end of the 2008 season. This can be directly attributed to a declining contact rate and mBABIP. Let's check out his Plate Discipline stats (explained in the linked article) to see why his contact rate has plummeted.
```+------+---------+-----+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | TEAM    | AGE | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+---------+-----+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2006 | Marlins |  26 | 611 |  80 |         91 | 0.34 |          84 |       44 |
| 2007 | Marlins |  27 | 632 |  74 |         95 | 0.39 |          81 |       41 |
| 2008 | Marlins |  28 | 531 |  68 |         92 | 0.33 |          80 |       43 |
+------+---------+-----+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+```

Overall, there aren't any dramatic changes in approach. The loss of Bat Control (the most important of these stats) over the past two years looks like the primary culprit. Uggla was able to keep the contact rate at 74 percent in 2007 because his Judgment improved, but when that regressed in 2008 and the Bat Control didn't bounce back, his contact rate fell even further.

This leaves Uggla's True Batting Average looking terrible. A career high BABIP and the aforementioned lucky home run rate kept his actual average at a respectable .260 this year, but tBA says it should have been closer to .222. His owners are in for a rude awakening next year.

Ty Wigginton
```+------+--------+-----+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+-------+--------+
| YEAR | TEAM   | AGE | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | AB/HR | AB/tHR |
+------+--------+-----+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+-------+--------+
| 2006 | Rays   |  28 | 444 | 0.275 | 0.249 |  78 | 0.303 |  0.296 |  19 |    19 |     30 |
| 2007 | Rays   |  29 | 378 | 0.275 | 0.280 |  81 | 0.304 |  0.307 |  19 |    24 |     22 |
| 2007 | Astros |  29 | 169 | 0.284 | 0.265 |  76 | 0.341 |  0.307 |  14 |    28 |     24 |
| 2008 | Astros |  30 | 386 | 0.285 | 0.274 |  82 | 0.296 |  0.292 |  16 |    17 |     19 |
+------+--------+-----+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+-------+--------+```

Wigginton's batting averages aren't great, but they are respectable enough for someone with his power. He's outperformed his tBA two years in a row, but even if he hadn't he'd still be far superior to Uggla. His contact rate has been bouncing all over the place, so let's see if we can figure out why this has happened using the Plate Discipline stats.
```+------+--------+-----+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | TEAM   | AGE | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+--------+-----+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2006 | Rays   |  28 | 444 |  78 |        104 | 0.50 |          85 |       49 |
| 2007 | Rays   |  29 | 378 |  81 |        104 | 0.56 |          86 |       52 |
| 2007 | Astros |  29 | 169 |  76 |        102 | 0.72 |          84 |       51 |
| 2008 | Astros |  30 | 386 |  82 |        101 | 0.94 |          86 |       49 |
+------+--------+-----+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+```

Wigginton's contact rate was best during the first half of 2007 with the Rays and this year with the Astros (81 and 82 percent, respectively). It dropped off (to 76 percent) at the end of 2007 with the Astros, but came back this year due in large part to an increase in Aggressiveness. His Judgment worsened a bit this year, but when he made mistakes, they were swinging mistakes far more frequently than in years past. He took a lot fewer called strikes, which led to less strikeouts. He also saw a small increase in Bat Control.

Overall, I wouldn't bank on him sustaining the 82 contact percent rate (Aggressiveness/Passitivity has the lowest year-to-year correlation, meaning it's the most likely to be influenced by unexplained variation) but an 80 percent contact rate would be quite doable.

The winner of this battle is clear. Wigginton takes the victory for contact skills.

### Playing time

Wigginton only received 386 at-bats this year, but part of that was due to injury. He had a slow first half, though, and if he gets off to another slow start in 2009, the Astros could platoon or bench him. It would be a mistake, but the Astros aren't the most efficiently run team. He doesn't really have anyone behind him who is worthy of regular at-bats, though, so if he can stay healthy, Wigginton should be okay.

Uggla is essentially guaranteed regular at-bats next year, but what would Florida do if Uggla comes out hitting .220, or worse, gets unlucky with BABIP and hits .200 or below? Would he see a decrease in playing time, or would the homers and walks allow him to keep playing? I'd imagine they'd ride it out, but this is of slight concern.

### Market value

Remember that we don't have a lot of rankings to refer to yet, so we're definitely looking at a small sample and some year end data that may not actually be measuring what we're looking for. These caveats aside, let's try to decipher the market values for these two players.

Dan Uggla
RotoHog Value: 4th 2B
Yahoo! Big Board: 6th 2B
CBS Sportsline: 6th 2B (58th Overall)
CBS Sportsline Mock Draft #1: 6th 2B (R5)
Mock Draft #1: 7th 2B (R7)
There's pretty much a consensus here. Dan Uggla comes shortly after the obvious Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, and Brian Roberts. Even as the 7th second bagger off the board in my first mock draft, he was still taken in the 7th round, and he went in the 5th round in the CBS mock.

Ty Wigginton
Mock Draft #1: 10th 2B/15th 3B (R13... but I drafted him)
CBS Sportsline: 26th 3B (198th Overall)
RotoHog Value: 28th 3B
Yahoo! Big Board: Not On Board
CBS Sportsline Mock Draft #1: Still in progress, hasn't been taken through 12 3B (R12)

As a third baseman, Wigginton is seen as late-round material at best. As a second baseman, he really isn't a whole lot better.

### Concluding thoughts

Unfortunately, Wigginton will not be eligible at second base in 2009. Still, for such a small gap in talent (with playing time and a good spot in the order, an argument could actually be made that Wigginton is superior), the gap in market value shouldn't be anywhere near this large. Because of the increase in middle infield talent over the last couple of years, the positional adjustments for second base and third base really aren't too far removed from each other.

Granted, there will likely be better third basemen than Wigginton out there on draft day, but as a corner infielder or bench player in the end game, Wigginton should make a very solid pick. Uggla, on the other hand, looks like a bust if taken anywhere inside the first 10 or 12 rounds, which he surely will be.

If you feel differently or have any questions, feel free to comment or send me an e-mail.

Posted by Derek Carty at 12:01am (0) Comments

## Thursday, October 16, 2008

If you're playing in a league with strangers, you probably won't get to choose your draft slot. Most leagues have the default set to randomize the draft order, and follow through in the "snake" format. So in a 12-person draft, you could end up with picks 1, 24, 25, 48, and 49. Or 2, 23, 26, 47, 50, etc.

If you're drafting with your usual league though, you may have some choice into which draft slot you get. Many leagues will draw names out of a hat, and the first person whose name is drawn will get the first chance to pick their spot in the draft order.

Most fantasy players are familiar with the notion that there are "tiers" of players. Players next to each other in the preseason rankings may in fact have quite a difference in value. If the seventh through twelfth players in a draft are widely considered to be of similar value, then surely one would try to get the 12th pick in the draft if possible, because getting the 13th pick to lead off the second round is far better than the 18th pick.

But what if the elite players don't have clear tiers? Or if there is a clear top tier of three players, but those draft slots are already spoken for by the time your name is drawn? Is there an advantage to particular slots in the draft order?

In trying to answer these questions, I first turned to theory and mathematics. Your fantasy league pre-ranks each player, and for the most part they do a good job at identifying where players will get drafted. (This is partly due to good forecasting, and partly due to self-fulfilling prophecy). It's a pretty safe bet to expect players to get drafted in the neighborhood of their ranking.

So imagine a worst-case scenario. You're drafting against a bunch of folks who are letting Yahoo make their picks for them, simply based on rank. You want the guy who's ranked 83, but you're twelfth in the draft and you you get picks 61 and 84. In this case, you need to use the 61st pick on the 83rd best player (22 spots early!), because he won't last until your next pick.

A similar worst-case for someone drafting in the sixth position would see them eying the 90th-ranked player, while holding the 78th and 91st picks. In this case, they need to use the 78th pick, drafting the 90th-ranked player 12 spots early. But this is the worst case! The sixth drafter will never have to pick someone up more than 12 spots early, while the first-and twelfth-place drafters may need to make choices up to 22 spots too early! It's pretty clear there is an inefficiency.

So theory tells us that the early and late first round picks force players to make inefficient choices. What about practice? I have draft slots and season-long rankings from four leagues in which I've participated. From this data, I've eliminated my own four teams as well as any team that made less than 10 moves across the season, the reasoning being that they were not as committed as other players to optimizing their lineup and giving their best at winning.

I then coded each draft slot according to it's efficiency (lower is more efficient): First and twelfth received a code of "6", second and eleventh received a "5", all the way to sixth and seventh which received a "1". This way, the better draft slots would get lower numbers, and would expect better places in the final standings; higher numbers would expect worse places. I then correlated this code with the actual place finish of each team; the result was "r" = .07. This is a very, very weak correlation, probably not statistically significant, and caveats certainly apply, a small sample size of only four leagues being the biggest.

I then went back to test the importance of the original "tier" theory. We know the greatest spread in talent is at the top of the rankings; the difference between the second and third ranked players is far greater than the difference between the 149th and 150th. So theoretically, players who get the early round one picks would have an advantage. Using the same analysis data set as above, I correlated draft position with final team standing. The result was an "r" = .22. Substantially bigger, and interesting! The positive correlation here says that as draft position moves towards 12th, team standing moves towards 12thas well (and vice-versa, the first drafter is more likely to attain first place).

When put together, the two correlations paint a nice picture. The larger impact of draft order on team standing is that higher picks tend to place higher in the standings. In fact, squaring the correlation tells us that 4.8% of the variance in team standing is due to draft position. This supports the notion of tiers, as well as the importance of getting one of those best-of-the-best early round one superstars. Having a draft slot closer to the middle of each round explains just 0.49% of the variance in team standing is due to the benefit of being in the middle of the draft.

Bottom line: Try to get the highest draft spot you can, and take advantage of your tiers. But if there is a tiebreaker needed, try to get close to the sixth or seventh slot in the draft to help keep your picks efficient.

Note: I've presented data only from the four leagues that I have access to. If any readers would like to send data from their leagues, I'd be happy to incorporate this into a follow-up analysis. What I'd need is simply team draft slot, final team standing (regular season), and any notes you feel like adding. As I mention above, I think it's prudent to eliminate our own teams' data, as well as that of teams which we believe did not give an honest effort during the season. Please feel free to email this to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Thanks!

Posted by Michael Lerra at 12:01am (0) Comments

## Relevant fantasy baseball injury news

With all of the attention being shifted to the ALCS and NLCS (and rightfully so), there have been some recent developments in the area of baseball injuries that need to be addressed. Fantasy drafts will hinge on some of these players, so it is quite important to better understand the scope of the injuries.

### Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

On Monday, Oct. 13, Pujols underwent successful surgery on his right elbow for what was originally thought to be Tommy John surgery. Dr. George Paletta performed the surgery, and it was deemed that he did not require reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament (the ligament that is repaired in Tommy John surgery) because the damage had apparently not worsened. Instead, Paletta performed an ulnar nerve transposition and decompression because his symptoms were primarily neurological this season (numbness and tingling in the ring and pinkie fingers, as well as decreased grip strength).

This is a best-case scenario for Pujols because the recovery time for this procedure is significantly less than what would be needed for Tommy John surgery. It is important to note that he still has a high-grade tear of the UCL, but it is likely covered in scar tissue and may not tear to the point where surgery is needed. I was skeptical of Pujols' ability to make it through the 2008 season without some time on the shelf due to the elbow ligament damage, but he surprised me with his resiliency.

Playing first base certainly helps matters. If he were an outfielder, we are likely looking at Tommy John surgery. While playing through some degree of elbow pain throughout the 2008 season, he was able to put up some ridiculous numbers, and there is no reason we can’t expect the same in 2009.

### Mike Lowell, 3B, Boston Red Sox

The nagging right hip pain actually ended up being a structural problem within the hip: the acetabular labrum. The labrum of the hip is actually a rim of cartilage that adds depth to the already-stable hip joint. It is usually torn when the hip joint is loaded and “scoured” (forcefully rotated upon while under pressure). This is an injury more often seen in hockey goalies, ballet dancers, figure skaters and gymnasts, but it is being diagnosed more and more often as diagnostic imaging improves and as orthopedists begin to look for it more often.

The recovery time for Lowell largely depends on the extent of the injury. It sounds like the labrum will need to be repaired (sutured together), the synovial (joint) lining may need debridement, and some extensive osseous (bone) shaving will need to be directed at the rim of the acetabulum. The cause of the labral tear is probably from the large bone spur on the rim of the hip joint. In addition, he likely has some damage to part of his groin that may need to be addressed surgically. The exact nature of this injury has yet to surface.

Lowell may miss the early part of spring training and he has already said he will not play in the World Baseball Classic in March. If all goes well, he could be cleared to resume “baseball activities” in about three to four months, but it is still far too early to speculate on an exact timetable of his return to the Red Sox starting lineup. I would expect him to participate in spring training games.

From a fantasy standpoint, there is a good chance that he will be able to put together a solid season; he certainly will be more comfortable than he was this season. Keep an eye on the news during March to see how he is responding to his baseball activities, then draft accordingly. I see Lowell as a utility/bench/roster filler for mixed leaguers in ’09 rather than a starting third baseman.

### Travis Hafner, DH/1B, Cleveland Indians

Good news if you are an Indians fan: The damage in Hafner’s right shoulder was not structural. The surgery to his right shoulder was performed by Dr. James Andrews, and lasted only 45 minutes. The procedure was directed toward addressing “chronic changes” in the shoulder. This likely means it was a more basic “clean-up”: a removal of scar tissue, debridement of fraying of the rotator cuff, and perhaps some form of decompression of minor bone spur formation.

Now, Hafner can focus on rehabilitation in the offseason, and I would not be surprised if his power ultimately improves (in part) in ’09. Don't expect 35-40 home runs next season, but I could see him return to the 20-25 home run range, making him an average starting 1B/UTIL player for mixed leaguers.

### Ben Sheets, SP, free agent

The “sore elbow” of Sheets became a huge issue for the Brewers down the stretch, and clearly the injury affected Sheets to a large degree. An MRI taken late in September showed that he had a tear in a muscle near his right elbow joint. The imaging did not indicate ligament involvement, but in any event, this is a concern going forward. Any time you are dealing with soreness, pain, tightness, etc. around the medial (inner) elbow, you’re dealing with smoke. And where there’s smoke…

All indications at this time seem to point toward this injury responding well to plenty of rest, followed by conservative treatment. The Brewers are not going to bring him back, so he will land in a new home in ’09. Plenty of teams are starving for quality starting pitching and may be willing to enter the negotiations for Sheets. From a fantasy perspective, I would draft Sheets only as a No. 3 or No. 4 starting pitcher. If you want to reach and make him your No. 2, I would suggest backing up that pick with another SP selection within the next one or two rounds. Elbow problems have a way of reoccurring, so don’t be shocked to see him hit the DL next year with some form of elbow malady.

Chris is a licensed physical therapist and fantasy baseball enthusiast, and also operates The DL Informer—a fantasy baseball injury site. He can be reached via email at fantasymerch at yahoo.com.

Posted by Chris Neault at 3:18am (0) Comments

## Smoke and mirrors: Carlos Delgado

Throughout the off-season, I'll be running a column entitled "Smoke and mirrors," which will highlight players whose 2008 season was incongruent with previous years. We'll take a look at whether that increase (or decrease) in production was supported by underlying skills or whether it was luck-based.
 Carlos Delgado went from possible cut to MVP candidate in a matter of months, but is he right for your fantasy team in 2009? (Icon/SMI)

Today, we'll examine the first player in the series, Carlos Delgado. Delgado is one of the most fascinating stories of the 2008 season. Back in April and May, many Mets fans and journalists were calling for his head. They wanted him either benched or released in favor of someone like B-level prospect Mike Carp.

I'm not even going to touch on why that was an absurd notion at the time (as a Mets fan, it was very difficult to deal with that level of ignorance), but as you all know, it became a non-issue as Delgado tore it up from June on. His final fantasy line looked like this:
```+------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI | R  | SB |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| 2008 |  35 | Mets | 598 | 0.271 | 38 | 115 | 96 |  1 |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+```

Delgado performed so well over the final few months that many thought he deserved the MVP award (of course, even with those numbers, it wasn't a very well thought out idea.) Still, as fantasy owners, we can't ignore a good season simply because it was blown out of proportion by the mainstream media. Delgado had a very good season, made his fantasy owners very happy, and figures to be taken pretty early on Draft Day 2009.

The question we need to ask ourselves, however, is will he able to repeat such a season? Could he even improve on it given his abysmal April? Let's check out the underlying skills and find out.

### Power skills

```+------+-----+------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% |
+------+-----+------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 |  33 | Mets | 524 | 38 |  27 |    24 |     17 |     20 | 6.4 |     38 |
| 2007 |  34 | Mets | 538 | 24 |  29 |    15 |     18 |     19 | 6.7 |     39 |
| 2008 |  35 | Mets | 598 | 38 |  24 |    26 |     17 |     17 | 0.7 |     30 |
+------+-----+------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+```

If you're new to THT Fantasy Focus, True Home Runs is a stat I developed this past season which uses HitTracker data (which tracks the trajectory of hits and adjusts for ballpark and weather conditions) to calculate how many home runs a player should have been expected to hit. Here's a quick explanation of the stats:
True Home Runs (tHR or tHR/FB) measures how many home runs a player should have hit assuming a 50/50 split in home/away playing time.

Neutralized Home Runs or Neutralized Power (nHR and nHR/FB) is the number of home runs that would be hit in a league average park with neutral weather.

Raw Power (RAW) is a measure of a hitter's, well, raw power independent of the number of fly balls hit or direction it is hit. It is simply a count of the number of balls hit past 420 feet (roughly the league average distance for No Doubt home runs) in 70-degree weather with no wind per 100 fly balls.

If we look solely at HR/FB, we could easily get the impression that 2007 was a fluke. After all, it's been between 23 and 27 percent every year since 2003, excluding that flukey-looking 2007 campaign. I have a feeling this will be the reason given by those — even those with statistical inclinations — who advocate taking Delgado early in 2009.

If we look at True Home Runs, though, we see a different story entirely. In 2006, on the surface, we see a 33-year old hitter, past his prime, but still performing as if there has been no drop-off in talent. True Home Runs, however, thinks that he should have put up just a 17 percent HR/FB. In 2007, his tHR/FB remains relatively unchanged while his actual HR/FB regresses too far. In 2008, tHR/FB again is the same as it has been the past two years, but HR/FB regresses too far the other way.

Essentially, judging by True Home Runs, we have a very good idea what Carlos Delgado's true power level is. It's right around 17 percent (plus whatever deductions need to be made for his increasing age), far removed from the 26 percent actual HR/FB that seems to be misleading just about everyone.

Fly ball rate
One other concern is his outfield fly ball rate. It has been steady for years but plummeted nine points in 2008. This isn't, however, as worrisome as it would be for a hitter who translated those fly balls into grounders. Check out Delgado's batted ball profile:
```+------+--------+-----+-----+--------+-----+
| YEAR | OF FB% | FL% | LD% | IF FB% | GB% |
+------+--------+-----+-----+--------+-----+
| 2006 |     33 |  11 |  12 |      2 |  42 |
| 2007 |     34 |   8 |  14 |      4 |  39 |
| 2008 |     24 |  18 |  13 |      4 |  42 |
+------+--------+-----+-----+--------+-----+```

Here, we observe the same drop in outfield fly rate (the numbers are different because of the inclusion of fliners, explained in a second), but we see that his ground ball, infield fly, and line drive rates have all been stable since 2006. In 2008, a good portion of Delgado's outfield flies turned into fliners (which are balls that are borderline between flyballs and line drives).

If they instead turned into ground balls, it would more likely indicate a change in approach, a problem with his swing, or something else along those lines. Fliner rate is a less stable stat, though, which means it's more likely to be random fluctuation (plus, fliners are a bit subjective in that it's a judgment call by the scorer, so part of it could just be because of that).

Even if the shift actually is a function of a different swing, it should be a lot easier to correct since the physical difference between a fly and a fliner (both are hit in the air and are neighbors in the batted ball spectrum) is much smaller than a fly and a grounder (at the polar opposite ends of the batted ball spectrum).

We obviously would rather see a stable outfield fly rate, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if it bounces back in 2009.

### Contact skills

```+------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+---------+----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR* | BIP/tHR* |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+---------+----------+
| 2006 |  33 | Mets | 524 | 0.265 | 0.259 |  77 | 0.276 |  0.297 |  18 |      11 |       15 |
| 2007 |  34 | Mets | 538 | 0.258 | 0.273 |  78 | 0.290 |  0.297 |  18 |      17 |       14 |
| 2008 |  35 | Mets | 598 | 0.271 | 0.239 |  79 | 0.284 |  0.273 |  25 |      12 |       20 |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+---------+----------+```
Note: BIP/HR functions similarly to AB/HR (lower is better), but is more accurate for the purposes of constructing a batting average as it ignores changes in contact rate.

I first introduced True Batting Average in this article, and here's a quick explanation:
mBABIP stands for Marcels BABIP, and tBA stands for True Batting Average. mBABIP is the BABIP Marcels projects from this point until the end of the season (for previous seasons, it was what Marcels predicted after the season was complete).

tBA uses the player's actual contact rate, mBABIP, and tHR to calculate what we should expect his batting average to be. I talked about how these three stats interact in this article.

Delgado has never been heralded for his contact skills, but they have always been serviceable enough (if not a little better) given his power. It looks as though 2009 could be the end of all that, though. While his contact rate has remained very stable over the past few years, his increasing age (he'll be 37 in June) means we have to account for a decline in raw hitting ability (i.e. BABIP).

Marcels sees his year-end, true BABIP ability to be just .273, 11 points below his actual 2008 BABIP. Combine this with the looming power drop-off that True Home Runs predicts and the below-average contact rate (even if it has been stable) and you have the recipe for a disastrous batting average. Delgado's True Batting Average was just .239 in 2008, and I wouldn't expect his actual batting average to be much better in 2009 unless he manages to outperform his Marcels BABIP or the power doesn't drop off.

### RBIs and runs

Delgado will hit in the heart of the Mets' order in 2009 and should get regular at-bats (though if he hits just .240 without much power, you can be sure there will be those who call for his job again). Assuming he does play all year, he will get a decent number of RBIs and runs, but the drop-offs in home run rate and batting average (and subsequently, OBP) means that the RBI and run numbers will be limited somewhat.

### Market value

Remember that we don't have a lot of rankings to refer to yet, so we're definitely looking at a small sample and some year end data that may not actually be measuring what we're looking for. These caveats aside, let's try to decipher the market value of Delgado.

Yahoo! Big Board: 8th 1B (49th Overall)
CBS Sportsline: 12th 1B (74th Overall)
Mock Draft #1: 12th 1B (80th Overall/R7 — I picked him)
CBS Sportsline Mock Draft #1: 12th 1B (102nd Overall/R9)
RotoHog Value: 12th 1B

There are definitely some differing opinions of Delgado, and while it's early, he isn't going as high as I expected. He's most often seen as the 12th first baseman off the board, and whoever the 13th is has to slot into the Corner Infield spot in a 12-team mixed league. Still, he is being taken quite early in the mock drafts (rounds seven and nine), so if you want him, he won't come too cheap.

### Concluding thoughts

I actually selected Delgado in the seventh round of my first mock draft of the year, and when I analyzed the draft, I said that "I'm not sure if I'll ultimately condone taking Carlos Delgado in the seventh round." I think it's pretty safe to say that, at this point, I do not condone taking him so early. Since we should have expected him to hit just .239 with 24 home runs in 2008, I can't support Delgado as more than a middle-tier corner infielder in 12-team mixed leagues. There is some room for him to improve those numbers in 2009 (namely with his outfield fly rate and his BABIP), but I still will likely be passing on Delgado given his price this year.

### Final verdict

Carlos Delgado's 2008 season: Smoke and mirrors? For the most part, yes.

Posted by Derek Carty at 12:01am (0) Comments

## Season review: third basemen

Traditionally, third basemen are an offensive group. First basemen have usually held down the top spot on the offensive positional rankings, with third basemen just one notch below. Usually. Let's see how this group performed as a whole this year compared to years past:

### En Masse

```+------+--------------+------+---------+
| YEAR |THIRD BASEMEN |	OPS  |	WPA/LI |
+------+--------------+------+---------+
| 2004 |           29 | .820 |	1.16   |
| 2005 |           28 | .781 |	0.53   |
| 2006 |           27 | .833 |	1.02   |
| 2007 |           24 | .823 |	1.09   |
| 2008 |           24 | .801 |	0.99   |
+------+--------------+------+---------+
```

This table has the same basic structure as the one in the catchers article with the "Third Basemen" column header meaning the number of third basemen that qualified. The baseline to qualify is a minimum of 450 plate appearances (for catchers it was 350). OPS is the average OPS and WPA/LI the average WPA/LI.

One could definitely call 2008 a down year for third basemen as a whole, but they did not perform unprecedentedly bad. The 2005 group of third basemen performed the worst, playing only a half-a-win better than the average hitter. 2008 is the only other year in which third basemen were less than a full win better than an average hitter. I wouldn't make anything of the apparent downhill trend of fewer third basemen reaching 450 plate appearances; that number has just as good a chance to go up as to go down.

The most important thing to realize with these tables is that the numbers are simply a composite of individual "scores". Take 2004 for example, the year with the best offensive numbers. That was the year Adrian Beltre had his miracle season with a .334 average, 48 home runs, and 121 RBI. All of this came with a 23.3 HR/FB percentage after two years of 13.5 and 10.0 percent and a .328 BABIP after three years of .256, .277, .297.

Still, the Mariners decided to give Beltre a five year, \$64 million contract after that season, and of course, both of those indicator stats regressed back to his career norm, resulting in a likewise regression of his counting stats. In 2005 Beltre's HR/FB percentage was back down to 10.8 percent and his BABIP, .284. The end result was a .255 batting average, 19 home runs, and 87 RBI. Quite the difference.

What I'm demonstrating by this example is how much impact one player can have on these numbers. I'm not a fan of doctoring the numbers and removing certain data samples, as in—if you ignore that start against the Phillies when Barry Zito gave up nine runs in one-third of an inning, his ERA drops to 1.46!— but if you do remove Beltre's contributions to the 2004 season data, the OPS becomes .813 and the WPA/LI 1.02. All of a sudden, the best year becomes simply an average year because of just one player.

This means that last year's positional numbers are almost meaningless alone (comparing them to other positions is important, and something we will do after going through all of the positions); you will be much better off forming predicted stats for the upcoming season and averaging those to determine how you will handle positional scarcity. How to handle positional scarcity is a topic in fantasy baseball that draws a lot of different viewpoints, but I'll share my opinion on the subject and explain how I handle it in drafts in a future article.

### Individuals

The Risers

Kevin Youkilis was the 15th third basemen selected in leagues and finished with the
 Kevin Youkilis: Baseball player or lumberjack? (Icon/SMI)
fourth-best stats. Youkilis, who looks more like a lumberjack than a baseball player, compiled a .312 average, 29 home runs, and 115 RBI in what should be considered his breakout season. Unlike Beltre, whose "breakout" season was a fluke, Youk has the smell of the real deal.

Aubrey Huff, besides making fantasy teams sound sexy, (see this list for more examples) provided great value in all of the six percent of leagues he was drafted. He finished with similar stats to Youkilis with a .304 average, 32 home runs, and 108 RBI. Nothing jumps out indicating Huff's year was lucky, but at 32 he is not getting any younger. I still like him for next season.

Jorge Cantu, like Huff, made a return this season to fantasy relevance with a .277 batting average, 29 home runs, and 95 RBI. Back in 2005 Cantu had a similar season to this one, but 2006 and 2007 were a very different story. Determining which Cantu will show up in 2009 is difficult, but if Cantu falls far enough in drafts, he could easily find himself onto some of my teams next year.

Melvin Mora was a solid fantasy option at third base for a three-year stretch from 2003-05 when he was 31 to 33 years old. In his 36 year-old campaign, Mora regained his former glory, posting a .285 average with 23 home runs and 104 RBI. Heading into his tenth MLB season, I would not be surprised if Mora's home run total dropped to around 15, limiting his value.

The Fallers

Surprisingly, despite the drop in OPS for third basemen overall, not many had bad seasons. It was tough to label any as true fallers, but here it goes:

Alex Gordon and Ryan Zimmerman are two players I talked about extensively in this article. As I mention, both had decent seasons but were disappointing based on potential and predictions.

Mike Lowell was a disappointment this season to those who thought the 33 year-old would match the .324 average, 21 home runs, and 120 RBIs he compiled in 2007 this season. I did not, so I was not disappointed when the now 34 year-old Lowell posted a .273 average with 17 home runs and 73 RBI. Those who drafted him in the eleventh round were, though.

### Reminder

The comparisons between the positions will come after all of the positions are reviewed individually.

Posted by Paul Singman at 12:01am (0) Comments

## Thinking more about risk: performance variation

I've been thinking a lot about risk lately. In the risk profile series I have been doing, I have put all of a player's risk factors into one overall rating. However, when we talk about risk with players, we can really break risk up into two categories. The first is performance risk, and the second is playing time risk. It is this first category that I am going to discuss today in this article.

What I mean by performance risk is the variation we expect around a player's statistics not due to a change in playing time. For example, when we evaluate players we usually a formula like (X-Y)*PA. "Y" is the baseline we set for the statistic we are using and "PA" are a player's plate appearances. We want to compare our player's statistic, "X," to a set level of performance, "Y." It is this variation of "X" that we care about when we talk about performance risk.

Let's use batting average as an example. Batting average follows a binomial distribution, meaning that for every time a player comes to the plate and puts the ball in play, he will either get a hit or not get a hit. If we get a large enough sample size, this binomial distribution will approximate a normal distribution. The normal distribution has nice properties and would make it fairly easy for us to approximate the risk in a player's performance statistics. So the distribution for a .280 hitter would look something like this:

The exact variation will depend on how much playing time the player is projected for. As playing time increases, variation decreases. For now, though, let's assume that playing time is constant. There are still, unfortunately, a few problems that arise. We can never be certain that a player has a true talent of, say, .280 . We can only estimate this. So there's a chance that our .280 hitter is actually a .270 hitter or a .290 hitter. Here is what our dilemma looks like:

If we believe .280 is our best estimate of a hitter's talent, we may underestimate the variation in a player's batting average since there is a chance that we are wrong about the hitter's true talent. So to be able to express a player's performance variation, we'll need to do three things:

1. Express the desired stat in binomial form.
2. Estimate the true talent of that player's statistic.
3. Come up with an error estimate of the true talent.

So from this process we can see that performance risk comes from two things, not including playing time. Those two factors are the risk that naturally comes from the distribution around a mean, and the risk in correctly estimating a player's talent. The first type of risk isn't something we can really control; deviations will occur simply due to chance. However, the second factor is a risk that we can attempt to manage.

So, theoretically, who should have the lowest risk when it comes to performance variation? Well, that is pretty simple to answer. It will be players who have had the greatest amounts of playing time since we will be able to create more accurate estimates of a player's true talent with a larger sample size. The errors around that true talent estimate will also be smaller.

There is one more area of risk we will need to consider for performance risk. That is the risk that a player has a change in his true talent; or in other words, that he has a breakout season, or collapses. Typically, these changes are found in young or old players, with younger players usually having higher chances of breaking out while older players have higher chances of collapsing.

However, one problem we have when discussing changes in true talent is whether a "breakout" or "collapse" type performance is actually a change in talent or whether it is variation around his mean. For example, is Ryan Ludwick a new player or did he just have a lucky season? PECOTA tries to predict odds for breakouts and collapses, though the accuracy of those predictions has not been empirically tested. Also, David Gassko has published work looking at projecting breakout performances.

1. There will be natural variation around the true talent in a player's performance. However, our larger concern is the chance that we measure a player's true talent incorrectly.
2. If there were no error in estimating a player's true talent, we could pretty easily come up with a performance risk measurement.
3. Just because we have an estimate of a player's true talent doesn't mean a player's talent can't change.

Posted by Victor Wang at 12:01am (0) Comments

## Reminder: Live THT Fantasy Focus Chat on Wednesday

I just wanted to leave a quick reminder for everyone that this Wednesday will be the Inaugural THT Fantasy Focus Expert Chat. I will be on hand to answer all of your fantasy baseball questions, so be sure to stop by and ask away.

THT Fantasy Focus Live Chat
Featuring: Derek Carty
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
11 a.m. EST

I look forward to chatting with you guys!

Posted by Derek Carty at 3:00am (0) Comments

## Fantasy fallout: Mark Ellis re-signs with A’s

It was announced yesterday that the Oakland A's would be re-signing second baseman Mark Ellis. Ellis might not be someone that fantasy players swoon over, but this signing does have some ramifications that should be addressed. First, we'll look at how the signing affects the A's and the market for middle infielders, and then we'll check out Ellis' skills.

### Fallout: The A's

With Ellis now locked up for at least two years, this means that the Athletics' second base prospects will have to wait longer for a starting gig. Unless Ellis gets injured, we likely won't be seeing Eric Patterson, Adrian Cardenas, or Jemile Weeks in 2009. It is possible that one or more are either traded or converted to shortstop, but we certainly won't be seeing any of them until at least the second-half of 2009 (and quite possibly until 2011 or 2012) barring an Ellis injury.

It's also possible that Ellis will be traded next off-season or during the 2010 season, but under such a favorable contract (which will be discussed in the next section), this seems unlikely. If you own any of the above guys in a keeper league, you might want to consider trading them quickly.

### Fallout: The market

While the re-signing of Mark Ellis, on the surface, seems like a bland move, it actually could have an enormous impact on the market for middle infielders. Ellis will average just a little over \$5 million per year over the next two years, well below what someone of his talents deserves (Ellis is a decent enough hitter but also perhaps the best defensive second baseman in baseball).

Of course, agents will try to say that Ellis took less as part of a home-team discount and because of his injury concerns, and he could be undervalued to begin with because his defense is less noticeable than, say, someone who hits a lot of home runs. If this is the case, then the market might not be changed a whole lot. If it isn't the case and this is seen for what it is—a very cheap contract—then setting the bar this low could mean that other middle infielders will have to settle for similar contracts.

However, the lack of top tier free agent second basemen could negate this effect. With fewer good substitutions, teams might pay off a guy like Orlando Hudson simply because if they don't sign him, there aren't many comparable guys on the market. The number of teams who could be in the market for a second baseman might be a little lighter than you'd expect, though, which could drive the price back down a bit.

If, however, you lump in shortstops, guys like Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera, and Christian Guzman would be in that top tier, meaning they all could get smaller contracts. Furthermore, if guys like Robinson Cano, Dan Uggla, or Brian Roberts hit the market, that would further serve to drive prices down. It seems less likely that guys like this will be traded, though, since the market for them will be subpar to begin with.

There are certainly a lot of factors to consider and some tricky cause-and-effect relationships, but weighing everything, my guess would be that the market value of second baseman will be less than what we thought it would be even a few days ago, and the market value for shortstops will be below that. Let's take a look at what this all might mean for some specific players.

### Fallout: Specific players on the market

Hudson, I'd imagine, will be fine since he seems to be the best second baseman left on the market, is known for his good defense, and should land in a favorable situation regardless.

Furcal, Cabrera, and Guzman might be hurt by this deal, though. If they are to receive less money, that means smaller market teams would be able to compete for their services. If one of these guys lands on a smaller market team that doesn't have as potent a lineup as a large market team, that means fewer RBIs and runs. You could make the argument that they'd get better spots in the order to compensate, but do we honestly expect anyone to sign Rafael Furcal and bat him eighth? The Yankees and Red Sox are about the only teams that could conceivably do this.

I think this deal helps Luis Castillo. The trade market is a little different than the free agent market, but if the overall market for second basemen is lower, the potential return for Castillo is worse. That makes it less likely he gets traded and more likely he stays with the Mets where he could bat second in a terrific lineup.

Brian Roberts, on the other hand, might be hurt if he isn't traded. Barring the O's signing someone like Mark Teixeira, Roberts might be better off being traded to a team with a more potent lineup. Don't overestimate the potential improvement, though, for as bad as the O's were this year, the heart of their lineup with guys like Aubrey Huff, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Luke Scott might actually be pretty good next year.

As far as the middle tier goes (think Ray Durham, Felipe Lopez, Jeff Kent if he doesn't retire, and the like), if they will be paid less (I'd say this is probable as long as teams value Ellis at least close to where he should be), it becomes more likely that a slow start would put them into a bench role since teams wouldn't have as much invested in them.

### Analysis of Ellis

Power skills
```+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 |  28 | Athletics | 441 | 11 |  12 |     8 |      9 |     11 | 0.0 |     36 |
| 2007 |  29 | Athletics | 583 | 19 |  21 |     9 |     10 |     11 | 0.5 |     42 |
| 2008 |  30 | Athletics | 442 | 12 |  16 |     9 |     12 |     14 | 0.0 |     35 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+```

Ellis isn't a guy with a ton of power, but for a middle infielder, he does have a decent amount. He didn't even reach 450 at-bats this year due to injury troubles, but True Home Runs says he would have hit 20 given 550 at-bats. That's tremendous production out of a second baseman who wasn't even drafted in many leagues.

There is one area of concern, however, that doesn't show up in our traditional table above. Check out this one:
```+------+-----+-----------+-----+------+--------+-------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | FB%  | OF FB% | IF/FB |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+------+--------+-------+
| 2006 |  28 | Athletics | 441 |   42 |     36 |    14 |
| 2007 |  29 | Athletics | 583 |   50 |     42 |    17 |
| 2008 |  30 | Athletics | 442 |   46 |     35 |    25 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+------+--------+-------+```

As you can see, over the past two years, Ellis's fly ball rates have been fantastic, though when we look closer, his outfield fly ball rates have merely been good.

Take note of the last column, though. He has been hitting infield fly balls at an alarmingly high rate, and it has been steadily increasing for four years. In 2008, a full 25 percent of all of Ellis's fly balls were infield flies. That is a huge number—tops in the majors, actually.

This in-and-of itself isn't a huge problem. His raw power is still pretty good and he's hitting a good number of outfield flies, but if this is a function of his approach and not just statistical noise, there might be a problem looming for Ellis.

Ellis turned 31 at the beginning of June this year, so we'd normally expect his power peak to have passed. His tHR/FB, however, is on a three-year rise, correlating with the rise in IF/FB. It's very possible that Ellis realizes he is losing some strength but wants to continue hitting for power. As a result, he is really pressing. Because he's focused on hitting home runs, he's swinging for the fences, and while he'll be hitting home runs as a result, he's also popping a lot of balls up.

If this is actually what's going on, we would likely see a severe power drop-off if Ellis ever changes this approach. And even if he doesn't, that IF/FB is about as high as it can go. Since 2004, just two players with more than 300 at-bats have eclipsed that 25 percent mark. It's possible it'll remain that high or keep increasing, but it's more likely it'll go down, possible taking the tHR/FB with it.

This is all just speculation, but it does seem to fit what's been going on.

Contact skills
```+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  28 | Athletics | 441 | 0.249 | 0.273 |  83 | 0.280 |  0.306 |  19 |     33 |      30 |
| 2007 |  29 | Athletics | 583 | 0.276 | 0.279 |  84 | 0.302 |  0.302 |  18 |     26 |      23 |
| 2008 |  30 | Athletics | 442 | 0.233 | 0.264 |  85 | 0.249 |  0.276 |  20 |     31 |      24 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+```

Ellis isn't a tremendous contact hitter, but he's solid enough. He actually got quite unlucky with his True Batting Average in both 2006 and 2008. He won't be helping your fantasy team's batting average, but he won't hurt it a whole lot either. Of course, if his power drops off, all it would it take is a little BABIP bad luck to make that average incredibly ugly.

Speed skills
```+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | SB | SBA | SBO%  | SBA% | SB% | FAN_SPEED |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+
| 2005 |  27 | Athletics | 434 |  1 |   4 | 0.300 |    3 |  25 |        68 |
| 2006 |  28 | Athletics | 441 |  4 |   4 | 0.242 |    3 | 100 |        64 |
| 2007 |  29 | Athletics | 583 |  9 |  13 | 0.249 |    8 |  69 |        61 |
| 2008 |  30 | Athletics | 442 | 14 |  16 | 0.249 |   13 |  88 |        61 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+```

Ellis isn't a speed demon by any means, but he did post double-digit steals for the first time in his career in 2008. This was due to an increase in Stolen Base Attempt rate and Stolen Base Success rate. He has just a 75 percent career rate, so it's possible he got a little lucky in 2008 (although that only equates to about one additional steal), especially if you look at the last column. This is the grade given by the fans in Tango's Fan Scouting Report. As you can see, Ellis's speed appears to be on the decline.

Overall, he should see a little stolen base regression next year, but he'll still likely to provide a bit of value.

Posted by Derek Carty at 12:01am (0) Comments

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