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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Some weeks I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the topic for this column. Other weeks inspiration comes naturally and organically. This week, the latter is the case.
I write this column on a Saturday afternoon in between trips to bathroom. Sure, being sick is never fun, and even less so on a weekend. But right now I’m supposed to be away for the weekend at one of my best friend’s bachelor parties. My duffle bag sits on the floor, still fully packed. My cell phone is off, partially because I was holding out hope to take a nap, and partially because I don’t want to be taunted when the drunken phone calls start, detailing the debauchery I both fear and love that I will never grow out of. I’d rather not live vicariously though this one; I’d rather isolate myself and do my best to pretend this is just another quiet weekend at home. I’d rather pretend this is just another opening paragraph to another column.
I love my friends and I am disappointed I am not sharing this weekend with them. I’m sure they are disappointed that I am not there as well. So, it seems only natural this week’s column should deal with disappointment.
But, first a few more words about friends, and more particularly—friends and fantasy sports. Most of the owners in my main league were supposed to be at this party this weekend. My foremost league is the best kind of fantasy league there is—a league of friends. I’m recruited for tons of leagues every year and many have encouraged me to play more established expert leagues, or high-stakes national leagues. While, I’m not necessarily opposed to joining these leagues, they could never replace the leagues in which I participate with my friends.
As people grow older and more successful, new obligations and responsibilities emerge. We have to work longer hours, we build families and must accommodate the demands of partners and children, we have to help with homework, fix things around the house (or break ‘em worse), we have to help care for older, ailing family members. It’s not surprising that we often lose touch with friends, or at least see them much less often. For many groups, fantasy sports helps to preserve the fabric of a group’s friendship. It’s an experience we all can share and a source for bonding. It’s an uninhibited, private forum for us to prod one another in ways we might not want to do on Facebook or the like. And even as our wives and girlfriends complain incessantly about how we are always talking sports and fantasy sport, they are unknowingly bonding over fantasy sports too, indirectly.
I don’t mean to knock anybody who plays public leagues, or hig- stakes national leagues exclusively, nor am I trying to flaunt my situation to my readers—I’m aware that for many, building a league that includes many of their best friends that is also functional and competitive is just a circumstantial impossibility. But, I must say, you guys are missing out.
In a given year, if I was offered the proposition of either winning Tout Wars or my home league, I wouldn’t even think twice. No amount of e-fame among my fellow fantasy dorks can replace a year-long mandate to talk trash to James, Joe, Andrew, Pete, Chris and the rest of the crew.
If you have a league situation that is like mine, take a moment to realize that you are very lucky, and take another to thank your crew! In the meantime, I’ll look forward to finding out what ridiculous offseason trades were made this weekend, among the renally-corrosive revelry that was James’ bachelor party.
Now, let’s get into a few players who are likely to waken with explosive diarrhea on the morning of your fantasy team’s bachelor party.
Jones’ price has remained largely in check this offseason. At the peak of his hype last year, I was expecting to see Jones pushing for top 50 consideration in 2010 pre-ranks and ADP. Yahoo has him pre-ranked at 73 and MDC has his ADP at 89. At his ADP, I couldn’t really blame somebody for taking a shot on Jones and his talent, but I’m skeptical for a few reasons.
First, after his torrid April and May, Jones was beyond pedestrian, posting a .764 OPS in July, sandwiched between two marks in the low sixes in June and August.
Second, his power numbers just didn’t seem to add up. In 2009, he hit fewer balls in the air than in 2008 while retaining an almost identical line drive percentage, yet he hit twice as many homers. While this may just be the normal development of power that can happen in players Jones’ age, the pattern stands out to me. Jones’ BABIP and increased ground ball percentage indicate that he should have hit higher than the .277 mark he posted last year, but I’m just not sure what to make of the power surge, especially since 11 of his 19 dingers came in that first two-month hot streak. I should note that Hit Tracker indicates that he did not benefit much from “lucky” or “just enough” homers; his clouts did register as legitimate.
Perhaps there just isn’t enough data yet to make a solid determination about Jones’ power quotient, but I’m not convinced. For perspective, Jones did hit 25 homers in 101 games in his final season of minor league ball.
Third, I’m skeptical of Jones’ speed. Jones swiped 10 bags last year, giving his owners fantasies of 20/20 or 25/25 potential. However, Jones never stole more than 13 bases in a season in the minors. I don’t see his speed as a legitimate asset for fantasy purposes. While 10 to 15 steals don’t hurt, they’re not much of a reason to draft Jones over more established power threats at the outfield position. I’d rather take my chances with Andrew McCutchen going one spot behind Jones according to ADP, though his power breakout upon call-up was inconsistent with his minor league history.
Most offseasons, I like Vazquez. He’s often been a target of mine because he fits the criteria of durable, low-profile, boring veteran with low walk and high strikeout rates. Players like this usually represent bargains. However, this season ADP has him as the 12th-highest-drafted starter.
To be sure, if Vazquez tosses 200 innings again, he’ll flirt with 20 wins and he’s as good a bet for 200 strikeouts as anybody not named Tim Lincecum (or Mark Reynolds). However, it is also worth remembering that we are talking about a pitcher who will be 34 this season and who is moving back to the slugfest that is the AL East, and pitching in a telephone booth to boot. Vazquez sharply lowered the percentage of fly balls he gave up last year; if that dip does not hold this year, he could be in trouble.
There are 68 places of ADP between Vazquez and teammate A.J. Burnett. This seems strange to me, as Burnett and Vazquez possess similar upside, as far as I can tell. The points in favor of Vazquez are better control and established durability.
Finally, let’s remember that we’ve been here before with Vazquez. In 2005, he came over to New York coming off what was then a career year. He started the season well, even making the All-Star team, but ultimately flopped. Personally, I think the Yanks gave up prematurely on Vazquez. That not withstanding, a younger, stronger Vazquez was not a fantasy ace in the AL East in 2005, nor is he likely to be worth the price for such in 2010. I normally like to grab one stud starter and then fill out with underrated veterans and high-upside pitchers. My advice would be either pass altogether and take two pitchers in the pick 75–100 range, or to take the plunge a round earlier and grab yourself a true, sure-thing stud, like Dan Haren.
With an ADP of 133, Furcal is certainly not fetching premium prices. Still, he’s the ninth-taken shortstop overall and, frankly, I don’t see any reason to believe he is a viable starting option in a shallow league. Furcal was never much of an asset in any categories beside runs and steals. Hitting atop the Dodgers order enabled Furcal to score 92 runs in his dismal 2010 season, so it seems fair to expect he’ll figure out a way to eke out a valuable runs totals again. But last year he didn’t even run much, attempting only 18 steals and succeeding at a mere 2:1 ratio. I’d much prefer taking my chances 20 spots earlier on Alexei Ramirez or holding off 20 picks and rolling with Asdrubal Cabrera or Elvis Andrus.
Early Sunday afternoon as I was getting out of the shower, my doorbell rang. It was a delivery, inscribed on the card were lyrics from O.D.B.’s "Brooklyn Zoo" and the package, from 1-800-FLOWERS, was this, and I assure you the sentiment was more sarcastic than sympathetic:
See, wouldn’t you want to play fantasy baseball with these guys? This is a rather grandiose way to kick off the trash talking. The teddy bear will be my team’s logo this season!
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:04am (11) Comments
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Rookie catchers normally won't help your fantasy squad. The good news is that you shouldn't have to rely on any of these guys in standard, shallow leagues, but participants in deep leagues or ones that employ two everyday catchers need to take notes.
Buster Posey and Carlos Santana seem to be on equal footing heading into the fantasy baseball season. It appears that both will start the year at Triple-A with the possibility to take over at the major league level in a couple of months. While the odds of that scenario coming true for Posey don't seem good while Bengie Molina is blocking his ascent, Lou Marson is the only player standing between Santana and the full -ime gig in Cleveland. I'll take Santana over Posey.
Truth be told, Tyler Flowers isn't far behind. Flowers could be first in line if an injury happens at catcher, first base, or designated hitter for the Chicago White Sox.
If you're in the market for someone who has a better shot at starting, and therefore producing, Alex Avila may be the safest investment of any rookie catcher. A quick start could cement him as the starter in Detroit, as the light-hitting veteran Gerald Laird is the only man standing in his way. Adam Moore is worth keeping an eye on, too. I'm not a fan, but he could win Seattle's catching job by default, and at 25 years old his prime is approaching quickly.
The odds of seeing significant playing time in the majors are long for Jesus Montero and Jason Castro. On the subject of Castro and the Houston catching situation, how does J.R. Towles sound as a post-hype sleeper? I like his odds more than any of the rookie catchers.
If you're looking for a deep rookie sleeper, keep Jonathan Lucroy in mind. For some reason Milwaukee has decided to rely heavily upon Greg Zaun, and if his body can't handle it, Lucroy could get a shot sooner rather than later. All indications are that Milwaukee prefers Lucroy at catcher over Angel Salome.
Chris Carter, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Brett Wallace, Yonder Alonso, and Brandon Allen are strong talents, but they are all blocked at the major league level. It will take an injury or an absolute trouncing of Triple-A pitching to get them to the majors. Long term, Pedro Alvarez is still hanging onto his third base title, but he may get his first crack at the majors as a first baseman. But he too won't get there anytime before midseason. Keep an eye on all of these guys as June hits, but none of them are worth a draft investment.
Freddie Freeman may be closer than people realize, but his bat is too unpolished at this point for my taste. Mike Carp is a deep sleeper and may get a look in Seattle, but he doesn't have the talent of the others.
And that's it for first basemen capable of making a fantasy impact. You want a non-rookie post-hype sleeper? I don't like giving away my main targets, but if he's still there, I'm taking Chris Davis late in every single draft I am a part of. But even Davis' potential breakout won't prevent me from targeting this year's top overall first basemen above most other positions.
Scott Sizemore is on radar screens, but he is still supremely underrated. This year at second base, I feel very comfortable passing on the first couple of tiers in order to land Sizemore and a backup plan later in the draft. It's all about value, and I think that Sizemore is a serious Rookie of the Year contender. Even if you pass on the first couple of tiers and someone steals Sizemore from under you, the position is deep enough to recover.
Adrian Cardenas could get a full-time shot at some point this season in Oakland. His main position is second base, but I'm sure he could play a passable shortstop.
The only other rookie second baseman that I could see making an impact in 2010 is Eric Young, but he will probably be relegated to Triple-A thanks to Troy Tulowitzki and Clint Barmes. But if the bad Barmes shows himself, Young's speed could come into play.
Ian Desmond is getting some looks, but he doesn't have enough bat to invest in. Dustin Ackley seems to be getting some pub as a second baseman, but I wouldn't count on it until he mashes at the higher levels.
For the sake of balance, and because finding them can make you a fantasy champion, if you're on the prowl for a post-hype sleeper at second base . . . there isn't one. But if Rickie Weeks falls in your draft, he's worth a shot. Orlando Hudson and Freddy Sanchez don't seem to be getting the respect that they deserve either. As I said before, it's a deep position.
Rookie third basemen who could make an impact are few and far between.
Pedro Alvarez was mentioned earlier as a player to watch as midseason approaches, but Carlos Triunfel and Lonnie Chisenhall should spend 2010 gaining experience in the minors. The one guy who could prove to be a solid contributor is David Freese, but he doesn't have much upside.
Mat Gamel may not technically qualify as a rookie, but he is one guy I would consider late in the draft. Even if you don't draft him, keep an eye on him. If he starts the season hot, you need to pounce, as Casey McGehee won't hold him back from playing time.
If Chris Davis is third-base-eligible in your league, he's your slam dunk post-hype sleeper. If not, I would feel OK about my team if I had a third base combination of Kevin Kouzmanoff and Edwin Encarnacion. Just ride the hot hand. You should be fine as long as you can make up for it at other positions.
Alcides Escobar is rated properly by most prognosticators. As a team philosophy under manager Ken Macha, Milwaukee doesn't steal bases very often, which will eventually be Escobar's main fantasy strength. But not this year. He's a backup plan in standard leagues.
Reid Brignac and Adrian Cardenas are ready for the show, but both are blocked at this point, Brignac more so than Cardenas, and are not worth a draft investment.
There isn't much out there for post-hype sleepers, but Cliff Pennington is worth keeping an eye on, and for where he is being ranked, J.J. Hardy could turn into a great investment. There is a large drop-off from the top two tiers of shortstops, which means I will be nabbing one early.
The outfield crop is always deep when you consider rookies and post-hype sleepers, but I will try to get to as many of them as I can.
If you can only afford to stash one guy on your bench for a potential midseason call-up, make it Jason Heyward. He has the potential to set the league on fire, a la Ryan Braun in 2007.
Desmond Jennings, Michael Saunders, Fernando Martinez, and Michael Taylor have the potential to become instant impact players, but none of the four are projected to break spring training with their respective big league clubs, meaning we're looking at more potential midseason call-ups. The one guy who could surprise and join the big leagues sooner than expected is Jennings, as Tampa Bay has a plan at right field, but it's of the shaky, platoon variety.
Michael Brantley is draft-worthy late based on his stolen base and run scoring potential. Austin Jackson should follow closely with his similar skill set.
The real value this year is in the talented pool of second-year players encompassing later rounds. Unless I'm staring a great value in the face, generally, I'll be passing on the first couple of tiers of outfielders. Dexter Fowler, Travis Snider, Colby Rasmus, and Matt LaPorta are the guys to target, as I honestly would not be surprised if they were all playing in the All-Star Game this year.
Unless he drops to the last couple of rounds and you have room to stash him, let Stephen Strasburg go this year, as it's hard to know when to expect him to arrive in Washington. Madison Bumgarner is getting some deserved respect, but like Strasburg, he is not a must-have in my mind. But if he's there in the last couple of rounds, I will gladly roll the dice.
The guy I like more than Bumgarner and Strasburg in 2010 is Brian Matusz. I'll be picking him up late every chance I get.
Wade Davis is the highest-rated rookie starter at this point, but I think his stock is overinflated. Plus, Tampa Bay won't hesitate to replace him if he starts slow. Jeremy Hellickson would be the top replacement option, and he is worth a late-round look.
Neftali Feliz is late-round-worthy, but his role makes him a question mark. Don't draft Jonathon Niese, but he has a permanent rotation spot within reach in New York. Hector Rondon, Jhoulys Chacin, Tim Alderson, Brad Lincoln, and Jake Arrieta are pitchers to watch as midseason approaches.
Heading the list of non-rookie late-round breakout candidates are Brandon Morrow, Trevor Cahill, Mat Latos, Derek Holland, Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, Homer Bailey, and Brett Cecil.
I want a couple of entrenched aces at the top of my rotation, but just like every year, the young depth at starting pitcher with the potential to break out is tremendous in later rounds. Let other teams use valuable draft picks on the Kevin Sloweys, Derek Lowes, Jorge de la Rosas, and Tim Hudsons of the world. And in most cases, you can be patient and wait for the breakout. If you can stay unattached to your bench players and are quick enough, nabbing these guys from the ranks of the undrafted after a breakout performance can win you a league championship.
This should be short and sweet, because rookies rarely pitch high-leverage late innings.
Neftali Feliz could slide into the closer's role with an injury or inconsistent showing from Frank Francisco. If holds is a category in your league, Feliz's strikeout rate could make him one of the more attractive setup men in baseball.
Drew Storen is the only other rookie that I could see effectively closing games at some point this season. He has a whole lot of proving to do in the minor leagues, though.
Posted by Matt Hagen at 6:00am (6) Comments
Friday, February 26, 2010
Cameron Maybin | Florida | OF
2009 Final Stats: .250/.318/.409
In their 2009 edition of the Prospect Handbook, Baseball America predicted a starting gig for Maybin out of spring training, saying: "Only a disastrous showing would send him back to the minors." Maybin fulfilled the prediction by making the squad as the starting CF, then hitting a limp .202/.280/.310 in the first 23 games and 95 PAs, earning him a quick demotion to Triple-A.
He didn't return to the Marlins until the end of the season but hit .293/.353/.500 the rest of the way, giving at least the appearance of improvement in those final 104 PAs. He did show some strides forward, tweaking his BB/K from 0.26 to 0.45 and his contact rate from 63% to 78%, despite a walk rate that stuck at 8%. He was also helped by a H% that rose from 32 to 38, but much of those trends are good ones, even if they are expressed over a fairly small sample size.
Like many gifted young hitters, Maybin struggles in allowing his peripheral skills to catch up with his athletic talent. He's got five-tool potential, but he'll only reach that level if he can harness his aggressive approach at the plate. In the minors, he struck out in 24% of his PAs and followed that up by whiffing in 29% of his MLB plate appearances in 2009. He's got great bat speed and has power potential (.473 minor-league SLG), so every pitch must seem hittable to him.
The good news is that he's made strides in these areas throughout his minor-league career—his K% dropped from 32% to 20% between 2008 Double-A and 2009 Triple-A, and his contact rate rose from to 68% to 81%. His BB% dipped from 13% to 11% over that same period, but that's not precipitous, and it remains well above acceptable minimums. He's going to start to make those same advances in the big leagues, too, but it will take some time. He's been up-and-coming for so long (he debuted in 2007 and was the key piece of the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit) that it's easy to forget that Maybin turns 23 this year.
The nice part, as always, is that his speed doesn't need further development, though his opportunities to show it do. While not an elite SB threat, he managed to swipe 81 bags in 103 attempts in the minors, at yearly success rates in the 70-80% range. Fredi Gonzalez didn't really let him loose in 2009 (one SB in four attempts), no doubt because he spent most of his time hitting second or eighth, as well as his need to focus on other areas of his game. But that speed will come, as he gets on base more and learns the opposing pitchers. Like his batting, you shouldn't expect that to advance too quickly, particularly since Gonzalez projects him in the two-hole in 2010, behind Chris Coghlan, who rarely steals, and ahead of Hanley Ramirez, who may be able to deliver Maybin to the plate no matter what base he's standing on.
Maybin remains extremely talented, as well as very young, so you can't get too excited about him too soon. With his history of swinging and missing, as well as the usual bumps you expect from a young player, he's not likely to be too reliable this season. I like most of the GP prediction for him, though those steals seem awfully high, given where he's hitting. Keeper owners will clearly want to be all over him, if they aren't already, given his long-term prospects, but don't let that enthusiasm affect your bid in a redraft league. Other owners are likely to overpay for Maybin based on his reputation, so you should let them. Even the most optimistic predictions don't see him doing amazingly well in 2010, so don't go too much over that $13 GP prediction.
Chris Volstad | Florida | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.1 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 5.21 ERA
Marlins fans were ready for Volstad, a former first-round pick, to shine in his first full year in the bigs after the impressive 2008 season you see in his mini-browser. Instead, he disappointed, putting together the 2009 numbers you see just below that line. If you had the full browser and graphs available in GP 2010, you'd see one of the reasons why: his BB/9 suddenly went through the roof in August and September, while his never-impressive K rate bottomed out.
Despite his lanky 6-foot-7 frame that makes you think he's gonna bring the heat, his fastball sits only in the low 90s. But it's what he does with it that counts—he gets ground balls. His curve and change will keep batters guessing, but getting them to pound the ball into the dirt is how he gets guys out. In 2008, he collected grounders at a 53% rate, leading to a very nice 1.9 GB/FB ratio. He also had a 77% strand rate, a sure sign of ERA regression, even for a groundball pitcher.
Sure enough, he regressed in 2009, and not just in that three-plus-point rise in ERA. He also left the ball up in the zone, dropping his overall GB rate a few points to an even 50%, while his GB/FB rate fell to 1.5. The consequences of this can be seen in his HR/FB rate—in 2008, it was a measly 3.9%, low even for a groundballer, and in 2009, it went the other direction, to an incredibly unlucky 17.5%. That's why his xFIP for '08 (4.59) and '09 (4.35) are very close; in fact, after normalizing the HR rate (which is what differentiates xFIP from FIP) we can see that Volstad controlled the game better in 2009 than 2008, despite much poorer results.
The altered hit trajectory helps account for the shift in home runs, particularly with the lucky/unlucky shift in HR rate he experienced between 2008 and 2009. It also shows you Volstad's narrow margin for error, a margin that's narrowed even further by a defense that put up a -3.4 UZR/150 in 2009, much of that courtesy of the infield, from the -28.6 Jorge Cantu at 3B to the -9.6 Dan Uggla at 2B. More traditional metrics like Defensive Efficiency also put Florida pretty low on the defensive totem pole (.686, 12th in the NL).
So even when Volstad can induce ground balls, there's no guarantee that the Marlins' gloves will gather them in. Except for 1B Gaby Sanchez, the infield is likely to remain the same in 2010, giving him a similarly low margin for error. He can help himself with a better walk rate, which sat above 3 BB/9 in both '08 and '09, higher than his minor-league 2.4 BB/9 average over five seasons. Ground ball pitchers can use double plays to eliminate some of those walks, but when you combine an elevated walk rate with a sudden jump in fly ball and home run rate, you have a recipe for disaster.
GP is pessimistic that Volstad will be able to keep all these moving parts in sync for 2010, and its prediction isn't far off from most other systems. Low-strikeout pitchers like Volstad have diminished worth in fantasy, which explains that low value, plus don't forget that he's only 23 this year. He might push that return into positive territory with a mild breakout, but he remains a late-draft, low-dollar gamble, even in NL-only leagues. Florida has lots of pitching talent to gamble on, but your money's better spent elsewhere than Volstad.
Jonny Gomes | Cincinnati | OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.338/.541
He tried to test free agency, but like many others dipping a toe in the shallow pool of free-agent dollars, Gomes didn't find too many takers, so he ended up taking a one-year deal this week to return to Cincy. A glance at his mini-browser shows the inconsistency that might have led to such reluctant suitors, particularly at a time of hesitant spending. What's the difference between that devilish .666 OPS with the Devil-free Rays and the .879 OPS with the Reds?
Hit rate and home venue helped, as his 26% hit rate valley with Tampa Bay became a 38% mountain in Cincinnati, while going from Tropicana Field (0.85 HR park factor in 2008) to Great American Ballpark (1.18 HR park factor in 2009) had to help him dispense souvenirs to fans in the cheap seats. Gomes also managed to hold his own against RHP for the first time in years in 2009, registering an .859 OPS against righties and a .914 against southpaws—in his career, his OPS is 127 points better against lefties. Luck was a factor even beyond his hit rate, as he converted 22% of his fly balls into longballs, a career best for him and even more impressive considering that he also had his lowest fly ball rate since 2005.
Amid this fluctuation, the one constant you can see in his mini-browser is that 70% contact rate, something that will always deflate his batting average. When he's not giving the cheap-seat fans souvenirs, he's stirring up a nice breeze in the muggy Cincinnati summers, a tendency that's unlikely to change. In his career, Gomes' best K% rate was the 29.9% he had in Tampa Bay in 2008; his worst was in 2007, when he struck out 36.2% of the time. In 2009, he whiffed 30.2% of the time, a bit below his 32.2% career average, but well within expectations. Neither the K% or CT% bode well for leagues that count BA, and it will be a consideration in whether you'll want to draft him. Unlike TTO monsters like Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena, you can't rely on Gomes for walks, as his 8-9% walk rate—another constant in his career—is merely adequate.
A further consideration with Gomes is the all-important playing time factor. When they signed Gomes, the Reds speculated that he could slide into a platoon, probably with Dickerson; knowing that the short side of a platoon is your perceived ceiling isn't particularly comforting. He was considered a backup in 2009, and only got on the field so often thanks to injuries to outfielders Jay Bruce, Willy Taveras and Chris Dickerson. While Taveras is gone and Bruce is a lock for RF, Dickerson is back, along with LF candidates Laynce Nix, Wladimir Balentien, Chris Heisey and Josh Anderson. Even all-or-nothing power-hitter Juan Francisco is a possibility in the long-term outlook, though Dusty insists Francisco's going to learn the infield first (an absurd proposition for the corner infielder, given the presence of Scott Rolen at 3B through 2012 and Joey Votto at 1B for hopefully much longer).
As Gomes saw in 2009, anything can happen, and injuries can open the door for him again in 2010. But just as that kind of "luck" can go his way, it can go against him, too, and his H% or HR rate could plummet. With this kind of volatility and playing time potential, Gomes' value is likely to be less than that $6 prediction. As streaky as he is, he should be bouncing on and off the waiver wire all season long, which is why you should lay off him on Draft Day, unless a massive case of exploding hamstrings suddenly lays low all the other LF candidates in Cincy. He's definitely someone to watch and ride when he's hot, but Gomes is a bench player at best for any league other than the deep NL-only variety.
John Maine | New York | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.1 K/9, 1.5 K/BB, 4.43 ERA
While everyone knows the Mets ace is Johan Santana, how many fans outside New York could name Maine as the man following him in the rotation? Whether you can or not, seeing a guy with his 2008 numbers in the No. 2 slot shows why Mets fans have acid reflux just thinking about their 2010 starting pitching. Even Maine's career year of 2007 looks more like a No. 3 or lower pitcher on a contending team, and he'd have a hard time even hearing the word "rotation" if he were pitching for the Mets' free-spending crosstown rivals.
Part of Maine's problems of late has been his tendency toward injury; he's missed 184 days in the past four seasons due to various ailments, including most of last season to weakness in his pitching shoulder. Appropriately, he started 2009 weakly (11 starts, 5-4, 4.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 1.2 K/BB) but finished it relatively strong (4 starts, 2-2, 4.12 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 3.3 K/BB). That's a good, but not amazing, turnaround, which is a good way to describe Maine himself: good, but not amazing. His 2007 peak, after all, was a 15-10 record with a 3.91 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, to go with a 8.5 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB.
The same could be said for his assortment of pitches, something he seems to be tweaking year to year. In that peak year of 2007, he threw 21% sliders and 66% heat; in 2008, he cut that slider rate in half, while increasing his fastball percentage to 71. Last year, he threw 72% heat and 16% sliders. This shifting repertoire has led to those predictably mediocre results.
As that peak year shows, he's had good strikeout numbers in his Mets career, around 7 K/9, though that fell to 6.1 K/9 last year, worse at the end of the year than the beginning. But that decent strikeout rate is dragged down by walk rates that push 4 BB/9. Worse, Maine's walk rates have climbed as his strikeout rates have fallen, not a good direction for growth. As a marginal flyball pitcher, he's further damaged by HR rates above 1.0 HR/9 in his career. He's gotten better (or luckier) in keeping the ball in the yard since that 2007 peak—last year was helped a bit by a 7.5% HR/FB rate. All this leads to a FIP and xFIP that have both climbed each season since 2007, making it hard to blame his struggles on the dysfunctional antics of the team behind him on the diamond.
Taking a step back to see the whole picture—or whole pitcher—we see a guy with slightly above-average skills at a moderate risk for ERA inflation and injury. Things could break his way, and Maine might leverage those strikeout numbers and keep the walks and home runs down, beating that $7 prediction (something he hasn't done since 2007). Or luck could break the other way, and he could return significantly less, even getting injured and losing all value entirely.
Doesn't much sound like a good investment, does it? Sure, you can gamble a few bucks on Maine, and it's not the worst place to spend your budget, but don't depend on him to be your No. 2 (or even No. 3) starter. Leave that to the New York Mets.
Johnny Cueto | Cincinnati | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.9 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 4.41 ERA
Except for a slight dropoff in strikeout rate from 2008, Cueto actually did fairly well in 2009, producing numbers almost identical to his 2008 rookie season. The big hiccup came in July, his worst month of the year (1.026 OPS against, 4.7 BB/9, 8.16 ERA), which followed four straight months of dropping strikeout rates.
Cincinnati put him on the DL with an inflamed shoulder after a disastrous August start where he gave up 7 ER in just 2.2 IP against the lowly Nationals. This came at the tail end of a string where he lost 7 of 8 starts, beginning with a 22-1 lambasting at the hands of the Phillies, who hung 9 ER on him in 0.2 IP. During that losing stretch, he gave up 4+ ER in six of the seven losses, the exception being a start against the Cardinals when he left with a tight hip flexor after two innings of work, having surrendered "just" one run.
The speculation is that Cueto's World Baseball Classic work may have tired him out or left him ill-prepared for the season, yet another strike against the international tournament in the eyes of MLB fans. Whatever the reason, he missed the minimum before returning, refreshed, to the rotation. He rebounded to win five of his final six starts (.711 OPS against, 3.9 BB/9, 3.63 ERA). It doesn't look like that shoulder problem will be any concern going forward for one of the bright spots in a young Reds rotation that gets more impressive each season.
The only area of Cueto's game that's significantly different from 2008 is that strikeout rate, which fell by a little more than a strikeout per game. That's undoubtedly from that midseason tired-arm spell; his K rate after returning from the DL was 7.8 K/9. Expect to see his strikeouts return to more robust levels in 2010. Otherwise, he improved his walk rate slightly from 2008, held home runs down, and even nudged his groundball rate downwards from 0.95 GB/FB to 1.02. You can see all of these changes on the GP mini-browser except the last one, which only looks the same due to rounding. His FIP dropped as a result of this improvement between 2008-9, while his xFIP rose a bit (again, due to HR rate normalizing).
All this consistent production makes for remarkable agreement among us prognosticators. GP is at the high end of the ERA scale for Cueto in 2010, but nearly everyone sees an ERA in the 4.2-4.5 range, a WHIP around 1.30, and about 7 strikeouts and 3 walks per 9 IP. Cueto's young, and the Reds have held his innings down below 175 IP in the past two seasons, reducing any injury questions that last year's DL stint might have raised. With Edinson Volquez out for TJS, Cueto rises to No. 3 in the rotation and becomes the best young pitcher the Reds have in the majors, at least until Aroldis Chapman shows his stuff.
Because he's young and is still learning to keep the ball down and in the yard, he's an ERA risk, and the fringe-y walk rates give him that decidedly average WHIP (within .02 of league average in both '08 and '09). So don't be taken in by the youth and the strikeout rates, as he represents moderate risk, and will still get shelled now and again, particularly with the Great American Home Run Park as his home venue. Some luck and slight improvement could see him beat that $4 GP forecast, but it won't be by much. Unless you're in a keeper league, 24-year-old power pitchers with elevated HR tendencies and mild control problems aren't the best investments.
Spring Training is just beginning, but there's still plenty of time to download a 16-page sample of Graphical Player 2010 and buy a copy to prep for the season. And don't forget to check the index for all the players I've covered this offseason, and leave suggestions for other players to cover in the comments below.
Posted by Michael Street at 2:00am (16) Comments
Asdrubal Cabrera | Cleveland | SS (+2B)
2009 Final Stats: .308/.361/.438
If the Indians hadn't spent the first two months digging their graves, and the rest of the season lying in them, Asdrubal Cabrera's first full season would have gotten more attention, as he ramped up his all-around offensive game significantly while making an in-season position shift from second base to shortstop. He reversed his bias toward hitting LHP, hitting .311/.364/.456 while batting lefty. He showed great basestealing skills, going 17-for-21, easily the best he'd done at any level besides his 2007 in Double-A (23-for-30 in 425 PA). He mashed 42 doubles and four triples to go with his six homers. Overall, he had the seventh-best wOBA among MLB shortstops in 2009!
It may be for the best that Asdrubal is getting out of the danger zone that is second base. He wrestled with knee, hamstring, and elbow issues in 2009, and had minor surgery to clean out his elbow after the season. Reducing the plays on which runners are trying to do him harm has to be to his advantage. And he has plenty of range and arm to play shortstop, by all indications. In just over 1,000 innings played at shortstop, his UZR is below average, but MLB average for a shortstop is very rangy, and the Indians have every reason to believe that he will improve his defensive statistics with a steady position, as opposed to changing back and forth between the two middle infield spots. Besides, he has the luxury of following Peralta, who has very limited range at shortstop, so the bar will be set pretty low at first.
2010 will see Cabrera's BABIP decline from the unreasonably high perch at .360, but his seasonal age will be just 24 years old, and some maturation can be expected. He wouldn't really help his game by trying to hit more homers, but expect at least a handful of that copious batch of 2009 doubles to turn into homers in 2010. In what should be a quietly potent lineup, he should have ample run production, regardless of his lineup slot, which is currently slated to be No. 2 again.
Kevin Youkilis | Boston | 3B/1B
2009 Final Stats: .305/.413/.548
In Sabermetric scoring systems or sim games, Kevin Youkilis really shines. He's been seventh in WAR in the AL each of the past two years, and—despite playing a position where offense is plentiful—is just a notch behind the top dogs like Mauer, A-Rod, Longoria. Without stealing bases, hitting homers, or racking up 650 AB (in addition to nagging injuries such as back spasms limiting him to around 600 PA, his walks drag down the AB total—and the value of his batting average—somewhat), he's not going to excel in many 5x5 categories, though runs and RBI should continue to be ultra-strong, totaling near the 200 mark. And being 3B-qualified really amps up his relative value for 2010. While there's always a nagging fear that he's playing over his head (he slugged just .439 in his lengthy minor-league career and .453 was his high before 2008), he's not really a huge HR guy even slugging .550, so his value wouldn't drop too much if his slugging fell below .500. CHONE projects him at .473, and the Fans at .532, we'll split the difference and suggest he'll check in around .500. Don't pay for his 2009 levels, but don't fear much of a decline, either.
Nick Markakis | Baltimore | OF
2009 Final Stats: .293/.347/.453
The helium seems to have drained out of the fast-rising Markakis baloon in 2009. Strat-O-Matic players may not have noticed, since he still womped RHP (.312/.376/.504) and got his “1” (the best) range rating on defense. But his +/- and UZR fielding metrics collapsed (-5.8 fielding runs on Fangraphs), and his overall batting line represented a sharp decline from his stellar 2008 season, which, in turn, was a step up from a very good 2007 campaign. So, what's to come in 2010? Is he on the Ben Grieve Death Spiral? Is the .262/.305/.376 batting line against LHP a sign of future platoondom? Will he remain anchored at first base after swiping 18 bags in 2007?
In one of those ultra-imprecise judge-from-a-distance verdicts, our short answers to the above are that we think Markakis will be just fine as a hitter because he was mostly just fatigued in 2009 ... with a few caveats. His fade at the end of the season came after a long (bad) season for the O's, and he was at .306/.358/.481 on August 29. Facing the tough pitching of the top AL East teams down the stretch didn't help, but even the Indians got him out in September. As for his speed and fielding, we don't have any good reason to expect those to return to form. The bunting he's been working on—as noted by Heater e-Magazine Orioles expert Brian Joseph (though it didn't make the cut for this week's edition)—isn't likely to help his value any, either in real life or in fantasy leagues. Player statistics show variance, and Markakis' 2008 was buoyed by a .350 BABIP, and his .317 BABIP in 2009 was probably lower than expected, assuming he's retained some of his once-good speed. So, entering his age-26 season, coming off a “down” year, we can certainly expect some rebound ... just don't expect him to vault right back up to the curve he'd been on pre-2009.
Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2010. Acta Sports is currently SOLD OUT. Until they publish more, the book can be ordered through major booksellers.
Posted by Rob McQuown at 4:00am (0) Comments
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Davis, Doug 2009 Offseason
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