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Thursday, January 20, 2011
It’s the middle of January, and the bitter cold of winter has set in. Even more depressing, it’s been nearly three months since a meaningful baseball game has been played. As we wait for that glorious day when pitchers and catchers report again, fantasy players across the land are searching high and low, trying to uncover the best “sleepers” for the upcoming season.
I’ve heard many different definitions on what exactly qualifies someone as a sleeper. Some say it’s simply a player whose statistics for 2011 are projected to be significantly better than his previous season. Others argue that a sleeper is merely someone whose expected value is far superior to his average draft position (ADP). Another camp may believe that it’s a player who will make a strong fantasy impact, but isn’t considered to be a relevant option or targeted in drafts.
These sleepers can come in all shapes and sizes. Promising rookies looking to make an immediate impact in their debut. Veterans attempting to come back from various injuries and ailments that may have derailed their previous season. Some players have found an expanded role with their club, increased playing time or even a better lineup slot. All of these factors can lead to a player being severely undervalued on draft day, and therefore a sleeper in my book.
Listed below are a few of these players at each position. These are their stories.
J.P. Arencibia (Mock Draft Central ADP: 313): With John Buck’s departure, he’s had the starting gig in Toronto virtually gift wrapped for him. He has tremendous power upside as evidenced by his .301/.359/.626 line with 32 home runs at Las Vegas last season. Though he may potentially drain your batting average, he’s a great flyer as your seocond catcher.
Russell Martin (ADP: 333): How quickly we forget that Russell Martin had been considered a top-five catcher as recently as last season. The move to the powerful Yankee lineup should increase his run and RBI numbers. Plus, he still has 15/15 potential, which represents huge upside for a second catcher.
Chris Ianetta (ADP: 344): I believe it’s much better to gamble on someone with power potential than someone who’s “meh” across the board. Again this year, Ianetta’s being counted on to be the full-time backstop, but this year he doesn’t have Miguel Olivo to steal at-bats away. His HR/FB and FB percenages remain steady, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Ianetta blast 25-30 home runs in that thin mountain air this season.
Ike Davis (ADP: 197): Davis displayed solid power potential in his first year in the Big Apple. While his low contact percentage will keep his average down, 25HR/90+ RBI plays very well around pick No. 200 as a corner infielder.
Juan Miranda (ADP: 428): Everyone loves 28-year-old minor league veterans getting their first real shot at full time at-bats, right? So long as Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers are committed to giving Miranda 500 at-bats, there’s a cheap .280/20+HR to be found here.
Aaron Hill (ADP: 174): Did I mention that I love players with power potential? I know that Hill disappointed last season, but he’s as good a candidate as anyone for a big rebound. His .196 average on balls in play was among the unluckiest in all of baseball. Though he won’t approach his monster ’09 numbers, 25+ HR from a middle infielder are still nothing to sneeze at.
Danny Espinosa (ADP: 355): Has shown 20/20 potential and has been penciled in as the starting second basemen in Washington. They let Ian Desmond learn on the fly last year and believe enough in Espinosa’s upside to do the same with him. Again, may be a batting average risk, but gamble on the upside.
It’s hard to find much of anything here, as this is the weakest position in the fantasy game this season. If you can’t pay the premium for one of the stars, you could try…
Jhonny Peralta (ADP: 261): Average will never wow anyone, but should have 15 HR with 75+ runs and RBI. No real upside, but late in the draft you at least know what you’re getting.
Chris Johnson (ADP: 273): Very impressive .308/.337/.481 in half season at Houston. xBA and contact percentage point to the average not being sustainable, but Johnson possesses 20+ HR power. He’s another solid late-round flyer as corner infielder or bench depth.
Edwin Encarnacion (ADP: 332): Former top prospect who may be on his last chance. xBA shows upside, though he’ll never hit higher than .275. Has more than enough power, though, and will hit 25+ HR if he can stay healthy for the entire season.
Hunter Pence (ADP: 84): Extremely consistent through his first four years, and now entering his age-27 season. .280/85/25/85/15 should be considered his floor, which in my mind makes him at least a top-15 outfielder.
Chris B. Young (ADP: 166): Another highly-rated prospect who struggled for years to put it all together, Young nearly went 30/30 last season. Still only 27, there’s a great chance we haven’t yet seen his ceiling. For him to be the 41st outfielder off the board is just plain ridiculous.
Ryan Raburn (ADP: 328): Did anyone outside of Detroit realize that this guy went .315/.366/.534 with 13 HRs in the second half last season? He’s been very impressive when given the opportunity for full-time at-bats and will be the opening day left fielder. A .280 average, 20+ HR and solid counting stats would be a terrific bargain for a 4th or 5th outfielder in mixed leagues.
These players represent just a few of the better value plays that can be found in the later rounds on draft day. As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated, and be sure to check back next week as I explore pitchers in a similar fashion!
Posted by Dave Shovein at 4:07am (8) Comments
Los Angeles Dodgers: Top 10 Prospects
1. Dee Gordon / SS / Gordon stayed pretty much par for the course in his move up to Double-A in 2010, which is about what I was expecting. It means he is a solid bet to be an effective everyday shortstop, with the possibility for greater things still looming if he can learn to be more patient at the plate and more consistent on the basepaths.
2. Rubby De La Rosa/ SP/RP / De la Rosa sits comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball and even touches triple digits occasionally. His slider and change-up show promise, too, and his groundball rate in enviable. His endurance doesn't seem to be lacking, either. So what's not to like? His somewhat pedestrian strikeout rate is the only thing keeping his stock from exploding.
3. Zach Lee / SP / Lee has the raw, natural talent of a young ace with his exciting three-pitch mix, athleticism, and competitiveness. There's a lot to like and a lot to prove.
4. Aaron Miller / SP/RP / Miller has a dangerous slider to go along with his above-average fastball, but his command is a work in progress, and his lack of a third pitch hurts his chances. Despite his age, 23, he has upside and could settle in as a mid-rotation starter one day.
5. Chris Withrow / SP / If Withrow could ever harness his enviable three-pitch mix, he could be dangerous. In fact, his curveball could be one of the best in baseball with control on his side. His mechanics are mostly to blame, and my aggressive ranking after a lousy season means I'm holding out hope that he will figure it out soon.
6. Kenley Jansen / RP / Jansen, a converted catcher, came out of nowhere in 2010, using his mid-90s fastball and tremendous natural movement to dominate not only the minor leagues but the 27 innings of big-league ball he saw, too. He has the upside of a closer but has to develop a consistent second pitch in order to get there.
7. Allen Webster / SP / Webster has an average three-pitch mix at present and the potential for more. He gained confidence in his change-up in 2010, giving him a sturdy building block for success. Increased velocity and sharpened command are next on the checklist.
8. Jerry Sands / 1B/OF / Sands posted a fantastic 2010 and has the strength, build, and patience of a major league slugger, but he struggles with good breaking stuff and has a slow swing, leaving him too reliant on his upper-body strength.
9. Scott Elbert / RP/SP / Elbert's chronic lack of command is inching him closer and closer to being moved to the bullpen permanently. But his nasty fastball/curveball combination gives him a chance to excel in a relief role.
10. Garrett Gould / SP / Ethan Martin, Trayvon Robinson, and Ivan DeJesus received a long look, but the slow, consistent growth in Gould won me over. While his change-up has progressed nicely, his curveball has a chance to be a game changer.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Clayton Kershaw / SP
2. Dee Gordon / SS
3. Rubby de la Rosa / SP/RP
4. Zach Lee / SP
5. Aaron Miller / SP/RP
6. Chris Withrow / SP
7. Kenley Jansen / RP
8. Allen Webster / SP
9. Jerry Sands / 1B/OF
10. Scott Elbert / RP/SP
San Francisco Giants: Top 10 Prospects
1. Zack Wheeler / SP / Wheeler's velocity jumped up a peg in 2010 without a loss in movement, but his secondary offerings and command did not follow suit. He is a hurler with youth, velocity, and impressive movement on his side.
2. Brandon Belt / 1B / Belt put together an amazing 2010 campaign, showing everything you look for in a middle-of-the-order prospect from a statistical standpoint. I have little doubt that his patience and contact skills will continue forward, but, judging by his swing, I don't see his home run numbers continuing, which is a serious negative for a first baseman. His swing fits more with the line-drive, gap-to-gap crowd.
3. Gary Brown / OF / Brown is a superb athlete with plus speed. At the plate he has a little power projection to work with, but he needs to clean up his swing and develop a consistent, patient approach.
4. Eric Surkamp / SP / Surkamp has below-average velocity but more than makes up for it with his knee-buckling curveball. He will be making the always-important transition to Double-A in 2011, where we will see how well his strikeout rate holds up.
5. Jorge Bucardo / RP/SP / Bucardo knows what he is good at. He keeps the ball low and lives in the strike zone. He frustrates hitters and has even managed a solid strikeout rate despite his below-average stuff.
6. Thomas Joseph / C/1B / As a catcher, Joseph's power has the potential to be special. Whether or not he can handle catching is another story, as his pro debut got ugly at times. His plate approach needs a serious overhaul, too.
7. Ehire Adrianza / SS / It's pretty clear that power is not a part of Adrianza's game, but he has some useful speed and a solid plate approach to go along with his defensive prowess. If everything goes well, he will become an average big league shortstop.
8. Rafael Rodriguez / OF / Rodriguez sat in limbo in 2010, again showing the athleticism and tools that all stars are made of, but not producing anything in terms of results. Even the advanced plate discipline he hinted at in 2009 was nowhere to be found. But I'm certainly not giving up yet. I just hope he gets a crack at full-season ball this year.
9. Thomas Neal / OF / Neal's home run power and walk rate faded in 2010, which is a bad sign for a wannabe corner outfielder. His gap power and ability to make contact are real, but he needs to show more if he plans to be a major league regular.
10. Francisco Peguero / OF / Peguero's plus speed, strong defense, and solid ability to hit for contact could carry him for a while, but it won't carry him to the majors if his terrible walk rate doesn't improve. He is a talented player, but I have strong doubts about him.
San Francisco Giants: Top 10 Players Under Age 26 (as of 4/1/11)
1. Madison Bumgarner / SP
2. Buster Posey / C
3. Pablo Sandoval / 3B
4. Zack Wheeler / SP
5. Brandon Belt / 1B
6. Gary Brown / OF
7. Eric Surkamp / SP
8. Jorge Bucardo / RP/SP
9. Thomas Joseph / C/1B
10. Ehire Adrianza / SS
Posted by Matt Hagen at 4:05am (6) Comments
Friday, January 21, 2011
First I'd like to thank those who took the time to read and comment on Dynasty ranking: Top 25 players age 25 or younger. The rankings process certainly wasn't easy; there were a great many variables to take into account when compiling our top-25 lists. Differences in each of our weighting of those variables was rather apparent in our differing rankings.
In putting together my rankings, I found I had a difficult time determining whether a player's ceiling or his floor was more important, and thus tried to find the best blend of both. I had a clear preference in ranking hitters above pitchers, simply based on the volatility and inherent risk of injury pitchers carry. In ranking pitchers, I put National Leaguers higher than their American League counterparts, with Felix Hernandez serving as the exception based on his elite skills. Another variable that played a key role in a few of my more controversial rankings was age.
With that in mind, let's look at my three most controversial player rankings and the rationale behind each.
1: Madison Bumgarner | My rank 14 | Jeffrey Gross' rank 24 | Paul Singman's rank 25
Bumgarner serves as a perfect example of where age and league carried a lot of weight in my ranking. Bumgarner's numbers alone wouldn't have allowed him to slot at 14 on my list, but taking into account that he didn't turn 21 until Aug. 1 last season, and is cost controlled for some time, and thus staying in the National League with the Giants, he becomes a great deal more valuable. Last year, as a rookie, Bumgarner posted a 4.03 xFIP, 6.97 K/9, 2.11 BB/9 and a 45.1 groundball percentage. To justify his lofty ranking on my list he'll need to improve his K/9; as you'd expect from my ranking I expect him to do just that.
This time last year there were questions abound about Bumgarner's drop in velocity. In May, minor league baseball's website featured an article discussing Bumgarner adjusting his mechanics, and with the adjustment, adding velocity to his fastball. The article also discussed Bumgarner beginning to use a cutter in his pitch mix.
Checking out his FanGraphs page, one can see his fastball velocity averaged 91.3 mph, up from the high 80s as was reported near the end of 2009 and spring training in 2010. His velocity last year was still a little below the mid-90s fastballs he was reportedly blazing by low minor league hitters in 2008, so it leads hope to possibly regaining still a few more ticks. Regardless, Bumgarner was able to feature a four-pitch mix last year that included a mid-80s slider (according to FanGraphs pitch classification), which may actually be the cutter he says he developed (a 6.8 mph velocity difference between his 2009 slider and his 2010 slider would seem to support that thought).
He also featured a curveball he threw in the mid-70s, a change-up he threw at 83.2 mph on average, and his fastball. Of his pitch repertoire, his change-up, a pitch that was described as rudimentary by Baseball America after he was drafted, was his most effective according to pitch run values at FanGraphs. In fact, all three of his non-fastball pitches had positive run values, and his fastball was the only pitch posting a negative run value. It appears that losing some velocity on his fastball may have forced Bumgarner to become more of a pitcher, and could benefit him tremendously going forward (or perhaps I'm wearing rose colored shades as a Giants fan), especially in the event he's better able to use a heater that he once used to terrorize Single-A hitters.
2: Stephen Strasburg | My rank 25 | Jeffrey's rank 3 | Paul's rank 10
Leading up to making the dynasty ranking lists, Stephen Strasburg quickly became the player I was most interested to see ranked on Jeffrey and Paul's lists. Jeffrey clearly appears to be the least risk averse of us, as he's aggressively placed him in his top five. I'm clearly the most risk averse, placing him 25 on my list. Entering 2011 at just 22 years of age, time is certainly on Strasburg's side in terms of a full recovery to pre-injury dominance. Tommy John surgery certainly isn't the scare it may have once been, but was reason enough for me to place him at the bottom of my rankings.
Considering the varying recovery periods of different pitchers, banking on a full return to health and effectiveness at the end of 2011, or even the beginning of 2012, may prove wishful thinking. A quick Google search relating to Tommy John surgery yielded the website eorthopod.com which estimates complete recovery occurring in 85-90 percent of athletes. Certainly a fantastic rate of success, but not bullet proof.
Couple that with players, such as Francisco Liriano, who are able to return to full health, but not in the estimated 12-month period, and you begin to see a snowball effect of concerns. Further looking at Liriano's case, you'll see that his average fastball velocity in 2008 (he missed all of 2007 season for recovery) was 90.9 mph and in 2009 was 91.7, a far cry from his 94.7 mph pre-surgery heater. Even last season, a full three years removed from surgery, his fastball checked in at 93.7.
While it's hard to argue with his results last year, owners who kept him following his outstanding 2006 rookie season had to endure a completely lost 2007 season, a marginally useful 2008 in which he spent most of the year in the minors, and a terrible 2009. Even with last season in the books, continued good health remains a question for Liriano, and will be a question for Strasburg when he's able to return to the mound for a full season.
Really, it's anyone's guess as to why Strasburg suffered a torn UCL. Perhaps it was simply having fired too many bullets and the surgery will allow him to continue making hitters look foolish for years to come. Maybe the tear is the result of bad mechanics, or worse yet, the result of having the absurd ability to chuck a baseball in excess of 100 mph. Look no further than fellow 100 mph-plus man Joel Zumaya for an example of a body that hasn't been able to sustain good health while blowing away opposing batters.
As a baseball fan and human being, I hope to see Stephen Strasburg return to the mound and delight fans with his otherworldy stuff. As a fantasy owner, I'm just not willing to pay the premium Jeffrey and Paul are for a player who, to me, epitomizes boom or bust with little middle ground.
3: Jason Heyward | My rank 1 | Jeffrey's rank 7 | Paul's rank 3
When compiling my top 25 my first thought was that Evan Longoria would be my unquestioned top ranked player, as he is on both Jeffrey and Paul's lists. However, instead of simply looking at positional scarcity concerns (which are downplayed for outfielders in five-outfielder formats), I dug into Longoria's underlying stats. The first notable trend for Longoria is a downward slide in power since he burst onto the scene in 2008. His ISO marks have steadily declined from .259 in 2008 to .245 in 2009 and a substantially lower .213 in 2010. As one would probably guess, his sliding ISO is largely due to a lower home run rate, which is the product of a downward trending HR/FB rate (2008: 19.4 percent; 2009: 17.6 percent; 2010: 11.1 percent).
For a player who should be entering his power peak years, this is reason for pause. One logical explanation is that he's traded power for a reduction in his strikeout rate, which has improved each season (2008: 27.2 percent; 2009: 24.0 percent; 2010: 21.6 percent), and with a reduction in strikeouts he's seen an increase in batting average from .272 to .281 and ultimately .294 last season. Concerns about whether Longoria is going to be able to improve his power numbers while keeping his lower strikeout rate and higher average gave me reason enough to look into Jason Heyward as the top player on my list.
The first thing that appeals to me about Heyward compared to Longoria is that he's four years younger, and thus has the potential for four more years of upper echelon production. Heyward played most of the 2010 season at age 20, and was able to post a jaw-dropping 14.7 percent walk rate (3.7 percentage points better than Longoria's best mark, which came last year) and a number I'd expect to increase as he continues to gain major league experience. Heyward also posted an acceptable strikeout rate at 24.6 percent (3 percent worse than Longoria's mark last year, but better than his rookie mark), also a rate I expect to improve with experience.
Just looking at Heyward's home run total last year, 18, might cause some to wonder about his power and home run potential, but one shouldn't worry—scouts have always rated his power as a plus tool Further helping quell concerns, Heyward's average home run true distance of 403.3 feet was 6.1 feet greater than the average National League true distance of 397.2 feet.
Looking at his batted ball data leads to optimism for a potential spike in homers as soon as this year, as only 27.2 percent of the balls he put in play were fly balls. If Heyward is able to add some loft to his swing and hit more balls in the air, he has a shot at truly using his 16.8 percent HR/FB rate and popping 30 plus homers.
I expect him to hit for an average north of .280 with 25 plus home runs, 10-15 stolen bases, and a combined total of runs and RBI greater than 190. In his peak years, I expect Heyward to eclipse 30 home runs regularly and hit for an average north of .300 while piling up monster run and RBI totals. The biggest knock on Heyward seems to be his ability to stay healthy, as he has missed playing time in the minors in past seasons and landed on the DL last year due to a deep bone bruise to his thumb. Considering the injury that cause him to miss time last year, and his age when he suffered his previous injuries, I'll assume he'll be able to stay healthy as he physically matures. Ultimately, it was a four year age gap and my projected peak seasons that put Heyward on top of my list.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 3:09am (19) Comments
Other 2011 fantasy rankings by position:
Catcher || First Base || Second Base || Shortstop || Third Base || Corner and middle infield || Outfield || Starting pitchers
To remind everyone: These rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the names of certain players. These indicate health risks. Health concerns have been taken into consideration, as have expected talent and expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for these rankings are explained here. The "o" in front of ERA, WHIP and K/9 stands for Oliver-projected*.
*Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated since I wrote down all of the prospective pitching statistics for my pitcher rankings. Due to the sheer volume of time it would take to update my positional rankings for pitchers, I am going to keep the Oliver 2011 category listed as is. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here
Rank Player Team oSV oERA oWHIP oK/9 Opening Day closer? 1 Joakim Soria Royals 38 3.20 1.12 9.1 Y 2 Neftali Feliz Rangers 36 3.36 1.18 8.6 Y 3 Mariano Rivera Yankees 35 3.00 1.08 7.4 Y 4 Brian Wilson Giants 38 3.41 1.23 9.4 Y 5 Heath Bell Padres 36 3.48 1.24 8.5 Y 6 Joe Nathan* Twins 36 3.43 1.16 8.5 Y 7 Carlos Marmol Cubs 36 3.52 1.31 11.4 Y 8 Drew Storen Nationals 32 3.47 1.20 8.9 Y 9 J.J. Putz Diamondback 38 3.84 1.31 7.8 Y 10 Jose Valverde Tigers 38 3.81 1.27 8.2 Y 11 Andrew Bailey Athletics 32 3.66 1.24 8.2 Y 12 Jonathan Papelbon Red Sox 36 3.48 1.20 8.9 Y 13 Francisco Rodriguez Mets 38 3.78 1.30 8.9 Y 14 Matt Thornton White Sox 36 3.22 1.17 9.3 Y 15 Chris Perez Indians 36 3.90 1.30 9.0 Y 16 Huston Street Rockies 26 3.47 1.20 8.8 Y 17 John Axford Brewers 40 4.15 1.45 9.0 Y 18 Brad Lidge Phillies 32 4.21 1.38 8.5 Y 19 Craig Kimbrel Braves 36 3.98 1.44 11.1 Y 20 Octavio Dotel Blue Jays 30 4.02 1.33 9.3 Y 21 Francisco Cordero Reds 38 4.06 1.40 7.3 Y 22 Jonathan Broxton Dodgers 30 3.40 1.22 10.1 Y 23 Koji Uehara Orioles 0 3.57 1.18 7.4 Y 24 Ryan Franklin Cardinals 32 4.08 1.32 6.0 Y 25 J.P. Howell Rays 6 3.79 1.26 8.7 Y 26 Brandon League Mariners 2 3.83 1.27 7.1 Y 27 Leo Nunez Marlins 36 4.04 1.29 7.3 Y 28 Brandon Lyon Astros 22 4.00 1.32 6.2 Y 29 Fernando Rodney Angels 18 4.55 1.50 6.9 Y** 30 Joel Hanrahan Pirates 30 3.70 1.27 9.8 Y** 31 Evan Meek Pirates 10 3.84 1.33 7.7 N 32 Aroldis Chapman Reds 0 3.89 1.34 10.4 N 33 David Aardsma Mariners 38 4.09 1.38 8.2 N 34 Kevin Gregg Orioles 34 4.14 1.39 7.6 N 35 Daniel Bard Red Sox 4 3.51 1.23 9.2 N 36 Mike Adams Padres 2 3.33 1.19 8.6 N 37 Hong Chi Kuo Dodgers 6 3.07 1.12 9.1 N 38 Ryan Madson Phillies 6 3.63 1.21 8.2 N 39 Jason Motte Cardinals 2 3.76 1.24 9.0 N 40 Rafael Soriano Yankees 36 3.37 1.20 8.5 N 41 Matt Capps Twins 4 3.90 1.24 7.0 N 42 Takashi Saito Brewers 0 3.65 1.25 8.1 N 43 Kerry Wood Cubs 2 4.04 1.32 8.5 N 44 Luke Gregerson Padres 2 3.43 1.20 8.9 N 45 Mike Gonzalez Orioles 36 4.19 1.32 8.7 N 46 Jonny Venters Braves 4 4.21 1.41 6.7 N 47 Sergio Romo Giants 2 3.34 1.15 8.7 N 48 Sean Marshall Cubs 2 3.54 1.23 8.3 N 49 Tyler Clippard Nationals 4 3.87 1.31 9.0 N 50 Jason Frasor Blue Jays 4 3.95 1.35 7.6 N*Assuming health, which means assuming the amount of health reasonably expected from them.
This early in the offseason, relief pitchers and closers are hard to rank. You know the reliable big names—Joakim Soria, Neftali Feliz, Mariano Rivera, etc. through Jose Valverde—but even within this tier of elite reliables with strong grasps over ninth inning duties, history shows that anything from preseason injury (Joe Nathan 2010) to loss of control (Carlos Marmol 2008) to seeking money over role (Rafael Soriano 2011) could limit a reliever's prospective value.
With this in mind and knowing that an elite closer will likely cost you big, despite largely being valuable for just one category (saves), is drafting an elite closer for big money really worth doing?
Most experts will tell you the answer is no. The winner of the THT Fantasy experts competition, Dave Chenok, will argue in a future THT article that you should invest in an elite reliever.
My view, as I explained a couple of years ago, is that relievers are a poor return on your investment. While an elite reliever will undoubtedly help pad your team's ratios and add to its strikeout totals, a poor reliever will still get you those saves without hurting your team's bottom line when you spend elite-reliever money on your starting pitchers. Keep in mind, a medley of three or four closers will accrue only 200-250 innings for your team. Even with a low 1,400 innings pitched maximum (I usually play 1,600), that accounts for less than 18 percent of your team's total innings.
I also have a theory for Roto leagues that closers on worse offensive teams tend to accrue better saves totals. Teams like the Royals with poor offenses are going to win 60-75 games and it is unlikely they are going to routinely blow their opposition out by four or more runs. In my view, such closers get more chances and those chances are more spread out (less likelihood of long winning streaks), meaning closers on bad teams ultimately get solid saves totals. I have never proven this theory and obviously this strategy will not work in H2H leagues, which require consistency, but it is how I operate and how I have finished in the top third of my league in saves for three seasons running without spending big on closers.
Keep in mind one thing: saves are just one category in fantasy. You can place at the top of a rotisserie league without them. Last year, the winner of one of my primary money leagues (Roto Auction, standard 12-team 5x5) won despite placing last or second to last in the saves category. In an H2H league, you can even punt saves and focus on the other nine categories.
This all in mind, let's break down the rankings.
My first 10 listed players are those with the best stuff and who likely have the best holds on their jobs. Most of the reliever rankings here are based on likelihood of accumulating saves, not the underlying peripherals. That is why Leo Nunez and Fernando Rodney are listed ahead of better pitchers such as Mike Adams and Hong Chi Kuo.
The Pirates have not announced whether Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan will be their closer for 2011 and the team's use of the two in wake of trading away Octavio Dotel hardly gave much of an indication to how the Pirates are likely to lean. Hanrahan ended up accumulating more saves last season (six to Meeks' four) and has better numbers in every major peripheral category (FIP, xFIP, tERA, K/9, BB/9, K/BB), with Meeks having the ERA advantage in 2010. I've ranked Hanrahan ahead of Meeks because he's a better pitcher who got more chances in 2010, but if you draft either pitcher this preseason before the Pirates announce their closer, make sure you grab the other. I would not be shocked to see either start the year closing (though I believe Hanrahan will ultimately end the season with the job).
With Billy Wagner retired and Craig Kimbrell likely to close in Atlanta (sorry Jonny Venters), can you name any other lefty closers out there besides a possible Matt Thornton? White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has previously shown his willingness to use less elite relievers to keep Thornton in the real life role he deserves—the high leverage reliever—and the White Sox recently signed Jesse Crain to a three-year contract. I'm not saying that Crain is the closer, only that Thornton is not guaranteed a closing job. That is not to say that Thornton will not be one of baseball's best relievers again next season, just that his role is not a guarantee.
Some random random thoughts on relievers:
I hope everyone has enjoyed these ranking posts. I will continue to update the rankings throughout the preseason to reflect free agent signings, roster moves and team announcements, but the analysis will remain unchanged. Some time in February, I will post an article with updated rankings and comments/feedback/criticism/concerns regarding my rankings from other Fantasy writers from The Hardball Times and around the internet.
That said, my fourth semester of law school begins this week and runs through mid-May. I will try to write fantasy articles as often I have time, but forgive me if I don't have time. For now, enjoy, as promised, the beta version of the xWHIP 2.1 calculator (note: 2.1 beta uses 2008 runs/outs values per Stat Corner's tERA primer, rather than the four-year data from the xWHIP 2.0 post).
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 4:28am (21) Comments
Monday, January 24, 2011
In our previous search for sleepers, we looked for players who are expected to auction for less than $5 in a 12-team, deep-roster league. This time around we'll broaden our horizons with a couple players who recently found new homes, plus a blocked prospect.
Chris Capuano: The former-Brewer, now-Met made his return to the majors last season after missing two seasons due to injury and rehab and picked up right where he left off. Capuano is more or less a prototype, finesse lefty, mixing an 87-miles-per-hour fastball with some decent off-speed stuff. He's struck out 7.4 batters per nine innings for his career while limiting walks to 2.88 per nine, both rates you can expect Capuano to repeat in 2011.
His position with the Mets is fairly secure to start the season. He should open as one of five starters with Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey, and Chris Young. Swingman Dillon Gee and developing prospect Jenrry Mejia represent the only possible spring training competition currently on the roster. A mid-season return from Johan Santana could threaten Capuano's job security, although Dickey and Young are both just as likely to be on the chopping block.
Capuano is a fairly safe target to eat the occasional fantasy inning. As noted, he should have decent strikeout and walk rates. Oliver agrees, projecting rates of 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.2 walks per nine innings, although both rates appear a little low. Oliver doesn't expect many innings pitched in 2011 after he missed nearly all of 2008 and 2009, but his expected 3.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP jive with his career rates.
Most importantly, let us not forget Capuano's new home, CitiField. Capuano's greatest foe is a career 1.27 home runs per nine innings rate, a number that should fall in 2011. A lower home run rate means more runners stranded and a lower ERA. It would not be surprising if Capuano put together an ERA closer to 3.70 than his career 4.23.
NL-only leagues should be eager to jump on Capuano, while only the deepest mixed leagues should view him as more than a match-up play. For $1 at the end of a draft, he's a solid addition while you scour the waiver wire for more valuable talent.
Robinson Chirinos: The Rays acquired Chirinos in the Matt Garza trade. He's more interesting as a real-life player than as a fantasy asset. The main attraction is the potential for an odd combination of position eligibility.
Chirinos began a transition from middle infield to catcher during the 2008 season. While the Rays will look at him mainly as a catcher, there have been whispers that the occasional appearance at shortstop could happen.
First, though, Chirinos has to make the 25-man roster. Kelly Shoppach and 2010 surprise John Jaso currently have catching duties locked up, although either player could pull a Dioner Navarro and vanish quickly.
The Rays also have plenty of utility infielders between Reid Brignac, Ben Zobrist, and Sean Rodriguez. Chirinos' easiest path to the majors is to outplay one of the catchers. An injury to a middle infielder could also help the utile catcher find his way onto the roster.
Chirinos shouldn't be expected to be a world beater at the plate, though he should be well above average offensively as a catcher. He spent the last two seasons in Double-A, where he put up remarkably consistent offensive campaigns.
Oliver's major league equivalent line for 2010 was a useful .292/.373/.490 with 16 home runs. The previous season was much the same, .294/.361/.517 with 20 home runs. In 2011, he's projected for a .278/.353/.471 slash with 10 home runs in 277 plate appearances.
As noted, the biggest hurdle for Chirinos will be finding playing time. AL-only owners who miss on the top tier of catchers should take a long look at Chirinos as a backup. Owners in mixed leagues should pay careful attention to the spring training performances of Chirinos, Jaso, and Shoppach before deciding whether he's worth targeting.
Brandon Belt: Perhaps no prospect experienced a more meteoric rise in 2010 than Giants first base prospect Brandon Belt. In his first pro season as a 22-year-old, Belt dismantled High-A and Double-A pitching before ending the season with a successful 13-game stint at the Triple-A level.
Currently, Belt is blocked at the major league level by Aubrey Huff, although the latter could be asked to move to left field, especially if Bruce Bochy has trouble finding productive at-bats between Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand and Mark DeRosa.
The Giants also have a recent history of using marginally-talented veterans as an excuse to hold back impact offensive talent (see Buster Posey). Combining those two factors makes Belt a risky target in all but the deepest mixed leagues.
So what is it we like about Belt? To put it simply, the potential for extremely cheap offensive production. He has a quick, line-drive-oriented swing that produces enough loft to bop 20 home runs annually. He pairs that with advanced plate discipline, including a walk rate above 15 percent in his three regular season stops (he also walked eight times in 78 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League). He even has enough speed to swipe a handful of bags a year.
Oliver's major league equivalent line from 2010 was impressive, a .322/.407/.560 slash with 22 home runs, 76 total extra base hits, and 12 steals in 570 at-bats. Oliver is not nearly as bullish for 2011, but a .278/.353/.474 line with 14 home runs and five steals would be a welcome addition to most rosters. Belt certainly has the offensive profile to outperform the projection. The real limiting factor is just how many major league plate appearances he'll put together.
Ultimately, we can expect Belt to last in the minors until at least mid-May. The Giants just have too much veteran depth to sort through for them to risk a future Super-Two designation in arbitration. By then, Belt will be writing his own destiny. If he picks up where he left off in 2010, no number of Aubrey Huffs, Pat Burrells, or Mark DeRosas will be able to hold him back.
Belt is certainly a must-target in all but the most shallow NL-only leagues. Deep-roster mixed leagues with more than 14 teams should have a bench slot to stash him. Deep-roster leagues with 12 teams might want to acquire him via the waiver route.
Back in November, we ran a couple articles covering some players who might end up being nice value picks late in the draft. You can find the originals here and here. Today we'll take a look at what Oliver thinks of the players from that first article - Tim Stauffer, Travis Snider, and Ryan Raburn.
What was said: The Padres' elite defense and spacious ballpark, combined with a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) should make Stauffer a good fantasy producer in ERA and WHIP. The Padres' mediocre offense and a middling strikeout rate will limit his production in Ks and wins.
What Oliver thinks: A 3.97 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 150 innings are solid for an end-of-draft player, but, as previously noted, the strikeout rate (6.0 K/9) isn't likely to be impressive. Oliver is bearish about Stauffer's walk rate, expecting three walks per nine.
What was said: The 23-year-old has the raw power for a real power outburst; he's definitely the kind of player who could rapidly develop into an everyday fantasy starter. He may fall under the radar due to a couple weak seasons but has a good shot at mid-20s home run numbers with plenty of RBI. Runs will depend on where he bats. Batting average and steals are likely to be lost categories.
What Oliver thinks: While a .256/.321/.454 batting line may not sound incredibly useful, it's worth noting that the variance in Snider's expected line is likely to be high given his age and fluctuating performances. The power expectation of 28 home runs is helpful, but it depends on how much playing time he can eek out. Oliver thinks he'll contribute well in runs (84) and RBI (96) in 696 plate appearances. That seems like a few too many plate appearances, so feel free to adjust those numbers down a tiny bit. Remember, we like Snider because he's a breakout candidate, not because of his expected performance.
What was said: Multi-position eligibility including second base, solid four-category production, and the potential to snap off hot streaks that could make Luke Scott proud produce a nice late-round target. Playing time concerns are the primary worry.
What Oliver thinks: Raburn is currently projected for 554 plate appearances. If that holds up, he's an ideal fantasy utility fielder. Oliver also projects a .270/.333/.465 batting line with 21 home runs, 69 runs, 77 RBI, and five steals.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 4:10am (0) Comments
I remember when I was eight. Life was simple, girls were simple. Would you believe I actually ran for fun back then? This may creep out some of my readers. Please bear with me as I reminisce.
Growing up, I lived in a house that backed up to a pet cemetery. That pet graveyard was actually located in the back of a human cemetery. Basically, I can thank Steven King for my lack of sleepovers and overflow of nightmares until I was ten.
Moving on, my buddies and I would play baseball in the large field adjacent to the statue of Jesus. The pet cemetery was actually a quiet, flat place with built-in headstones for bases. Don’t judge me, and we didn't use the headstones as bases. That's sick.
My goal as we ran through the knee-high grasses was to be the catcher version of Terry Pendleton. My love for baseball was born out of that cemetery, but those days and dreams have long since faded. My love for baseball remains. Prospects make me feel nostalgic about those times and, thus, have a special place in my heart.
One of my favorite parts of the rookie transition that differs baseball from the other two major sports is in the way this revealing takes place.
In basketball, rookies are signed out of college, courted by every shoe company, and ushered to the starting five. In football, rookies are drafted with every intention of winning playing time from the very beginning.
In contrast, the prospects of baseball are mostly refined over several years. Their breakouts tend to come mid-season. Pomp and circumstance surround their rumored call-up, which then parlays into arrival celebrations no matter what the standing of the team. It’s all about hope, I guess. This is my tribute to hope.
There are always a ton of “hot prospects” every year in the fantasy game. Undoubtedly, the names of Mike Moustakas, Jeremy Hellickson, Domonic Brown, Desmond Jennings, Mike Montgomery, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Jesus Montero, etc. are on the lips of every expert and the pages of every website. If you’re looking for those names you won’t find them here.
I want to dive into prospects that can impact 2011 that not every expert in the world is hammering into your head. Impact Prospects and Outsiders (or IPO) is what we’ll call them. Like an IPO is for a company, the chance to play is everything in the making or breaking of these outlier prospects.
Some IPOs for 2010 that found success were Neil Walker, Colby Lewis, Jaime Garcia, Chris Johnson, and Danny Valencia. Their formula for success was a combination of playing time and relative anonymity. I choose five for different reasons. Here they are in no particular order:
Hank Conger C ANA: I am proud that I get to be one of the first to proclaim 2011 the beginning of the Conger dynasty in Anaheim. After the Mike Napoli/Juan Rivera-for-Vernon Wellsdeal came together earlier this week, I realized it’s time to join the “Conger Line.”
Conger is no stranger to top prospect lists, but his value is extremely low to date. Napoli had a strong hold of the everyday catching duties, and this led to Conger’s disappearing prospect status. Upon Napoli's departure, the opportunity for Conger to realize his potential is now. He profiles as an offense-first catcher with a plus batting eye. Picture Mike Piazza with less power.
Double-digit home runs and a .290+ BA are very possible given an increase in at-bats. It’s not quite time to throw him in the same breath as Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, and even Jesus Montero, but the ceiling for this Futures game MVP is high enough that he should be considered in mixed leagues.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka SS MIN: To see a great YouTube video of Nishioka, click here. Tsuyoshi is a three-time Japanese Gold Glove winner, including 2010. He is a two-time stolen base king, and he is the reigning batting champion with a .346 BA last season.
Is he the second coming of Ichiro? No, but does he have a chance to be a top-10 shortstop? Yes, he does. Then again you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t place Japanese stats in their place. Exhibit A is Matt Murton setting the all-time hits record this past season.
With all that said, our Oliver forcasting engine sees a line like seven HR and 30+ SB with a .300+ BA. That would certainly place him in the top 10 of fantasy shortstops in 2011. Nishioka is worth a look.
Jason Kipnis 2B CLE: Kipnis is the prototype “scrappy” middle infielder. Normally, I despise these kind of stereotypes on hard working infielders who lack elite speed and power. In Kipnis’ case, it is actually very appropriate.
Never considered an upper-class prospect by many outside of Ohio, he has fought his way into the starting second base job discussion in Cleveland. His competition is less than impressive in Luis Valbuena and Jason Donald.
Kipnis looks to be a future 20 HR/.300 BA second baseman. For 2011, I’d reduce the homers down to 14 and the batting average to .280. If those numbers hold true, he could still be the perfect MI play for all leagues.
That being said, his lack of Triple-A experience could cause him to be on hold in Columbus through the first couple of months even though he was integral piece of the Clippers championship run. He hit .389 in 18 postseason AB with the club.
Kipnis was Cleveland’s Minor League Player of the Year last season, and my advice would be not to let anybody know more about him than you. Hopefully, this helped.
Jake McGee SP/CL TB: McGee may be my favorite name on this list. His mid-90s fastball has good late movement. He once was as touted a prospect in the Rays system as Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson, but injuries and failure of his secondary pitches have clouded his future with the club. Is he a starter or future closer?
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey still sees McGee as a "starter" for Tampa very soon.. McGee, age 24, handled his duties as a reliever quite amazingly in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see how Maddon handles McGee going forward.
My opinion is that he’s got a chance to be an impact closer. His secondary stuff, including a decent slider, lead to the inevitability of a relief role. Plus, his minor league track record as a starter isn’t stunning (he had an elbow injury). As a reliever, he’s been money, and J.P. Howell isn’t that great.
Yunesky Maya SP WAS: Mays was the 2010 Domincan Winter League Picher of the Year. He used that impeccable control that was whispered about before he ever defected from his native Cuba (42:9 K/BB in 41 innings) to recapture the hearts of the D.C. brass. Look for him to gain the fourth or fifth rotation spot for the Nationals and show a very different pitcher than what we saw in his brief call-up in 2010.
Maya has potential to be a Colby Lewis-like find for the Nats in 2011. At only 29, all reports are the improvements he made in the Dominican are real. I think Lewis is a fair comparison, although I would discount the strikeouts a bit, and his control still needs to be seen. He’s an NL-only must draft and a sleeper in mixed leagues. In the deepest leagues, I really like his IPO value.
My final thought is more like a disclaimer. There was a handful of players I eliminated from this list. In fact, I started with an entire starting line-up even down to a full four-man rotation. The more I looked at the list, the red X’s began to fly all over my scratch piece of paper until there were only five. These five represent an even greater group of players that are to be had. Finding them first will still be up to you. I, along with other THT Fantasy guys, are here to guide your path.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 4:11am (24) Comments
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
If there’s one pitcher type all owners covet, it’s a high-strikeout guy … who won’t kill your ratios with repeated six-walk, seven-run outings. It’s hard to find a guy who offers both a lofty whiff total, and a braggable ERA, and if you can land one or more of those types, your pitching staff will frighten the opposition—even if they'll never admit it to your face. For the sake of this article, let’s use a K/9 of 8.5 and a sub-4.00 ERA as our benchmarks.
In 2009, only nine pitchers managed to do both, but last year, the year of the pitcher, 14 guys qualified. Here’s a look at that list (among starting pitchers who threw at least 100 innings):
It’s basically a who’s who of elite fantasy pitchers, although I am surprised to see Dempster’s name in the group. Only two starters topped the 8.5 K/9 mark and failed to produce an ERA under 4.00—Brandon Morrow, who actually led all starters with 10.9 K/9, and Bud Norris, both of whom we’ll soon discuss.
At first I found it a little weird that 14 of 16 pitchers with a K/9 over 8.5 also had sub-4.00 ERAs, but upon further thought, not so much. High strikeout guys typically do one of two things: either they dial back their stuff to gain more control, and in the process suffer reduced strikeout rates, or they fail to consistently harness/control their arsenal, and are sent to the bullpen. What we’re searching for in this week’s edition of Twisting Oliver, is that rare pitcher who can make the necessary adjustments without losing what makes him special—the ability to miss multitudes of bats.
What follow is a group of pitchers that Oliver thinks are 2011 contenders to join the elite, and reach the pre-determined benchmarks for ERA and K/9.
2009: 4.39 ERA/1.57 WHIP/8.1 K/9 (69.2 IP)
2010: 4.49 ERA/1.38 WHIP/10.9 K/9 (146 IP)
2011 Oliver: 4.17 ERA/1.32 WHIP/9.2 K/9 (126 IP)
Sporting an ERA of 6.00 heading into June, Morrow reined in his stuff, and produced a 3.53 ERA/1.24 WHIP to go along with a K/9 of 11.3 from June-August, including a one-hit, 17 strikeout, complete game shutout of the Rays. He was put in the garage in September to limit his innings.
Oliver thinks ... the ratios will trend downward, and the strikeouts will continue to come in bunches. If you extrapolate the Oliver numbers out using the THT Forecast for innings pitched (200), Morrow comes in as a top 50 pitcher, essentially a No. 4 starter in 12-team rotations.
I think ... there're plenty of reasons to indicate he'll better Oliver's projections. His xFIP sat at 3.63 last season, a significant difference from his 4.49 ERA. His BABIP of .348 was the fourth highest mark in the league. Both those numbers, combined with his productive summer, point to an ERA that could easily sit in the 3.50 range. As for that productive summer, it coincided perfectly with Bengie Molina becoming his personal catcher. The fireballer credits Molina with turning him on to the benefit of dialing down his power stuff ever so slightly, and relying more on his off-speed pitches. The result: a BB/9 ratio that went from 5.3 in the first two months, to 3.2 after, and a full inning increase in the length of his outings (from five innings to six).
Entering his age 26 season, Morrow appears ready to handle a full-season, meaning 200 innings, and 200 strikeouts, are a good bet—assuming, of course, that he stays healthy, which has been a problem in the past. There will be plenty of sleeper buzz heading into the season, so much so that he'll probably graduate from that designation by the time your draft rolls around. That means you'll have to reach a bit to secure his services. I think it'll prove worth it.
2009: 4.35 ERA/1.32 WHIP/8.5 K/9 (49.2 IP)
2010: 4.31 ERA/1.50 WHIP/9.6 K/9 (62.2 IP)
2011 Oliver: 3.99 ERA/1.36 WHIP/8.8 K/9 (107.5 IP)
After a stellar 2008 season in which he posted a 3.21 ERA and 1.32 WHIP to go along with 206 Ks in 196 innings, Volquez blew out his elbow in June of '09 and missed the first three months of last year rehabbing it. He struggled when he returned, but settled down in August, compiling a 3.48 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in his final nine starts.
Oliver thinks ... his recent tendency to give out free passes at alarming rates will be fixed, or at least improved enough to keep his ratios in check. After racking up a 5.3 BB/9 the past two years, the system projects that number to be a full point lower this season, mirroring the 4.2 BB/9 he possessed in 2008.
I think ... he stands to see significant improvement in that area as well, which should help him last deeper into games, giving him plenty of opportunities to rack up wins for a Reds team expected to contend for the NL Central crown. He was clearly experiencing elbow issues in 2009, no doubt altering his throwing motion and contributing to the wildness. Last year, he was pitching on a 12-month layoff, and was predictably rusty in the finer points of pitching, like locating pitches with consistency.
Now that he's fully healthy and will be properly prepped heading into the season, there's no reason to think his walk rate won't return to previous levels. Also working in his favor were an inflated .326 BABIP, and an xFIP of 3.87, which was actually lower than the number he posted during his breakout 2008 season. Pitching half his games in Great American Launching Pad does him no favors, but Volquez took steps to combat that last season, registering a career-high 53.9 groundball percentage. As for the strikeouts, those should be of no concern: He's posted a K/9 above 8.5 every year in Cincinnati, and his fastball averaged 93.8 mph in '10, a tick above where it was at pre-TJ surgery. If he can manage 180 innings, Volquez represents top 25 upside, with a top 75 price tag.
2009: 4.09 ERA/1.34 WHIP/10.9 K/9 (141 IP)
2010: 5.58 ERA/1.66 WHIP/7.3 K/9 (92 IP)
2011 Oliver: 4.19 ERA/1.36 WHIP/9.6 K/9 (135 IP)
It's no surprise Harden pitched just 92 innings for the Rangers last year—that’s kind of his thing—but what was surprising were the outlandishly high ratios and the falling K/9 rate, all of which represented career lows. On the plus side, he did post a career high BB/9 of 6.1 percent. Oh, wait ...
Oliver thinks ... Harden's capable of replicating his 2009 line in Chicago. With seven very successful, albeit very abbreviated, seasons on his resume, it's certainly understandable why the system isn't willing to write the frustrating hurler off after one bad year. Further supporting Oliver's hope of a bounce-back: Harden is returning to McAfee Coliseum, where he holds a 2.98 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 302.1 career innings.
I think ... there are two ways to look at this:
Glass half full: He's only 29 years old, giving hope to the possibility last year was just a bad year; nothing more, nothing less. When he was sent down to Triple-A on a rehab stint, Harden had a 13.1 K/9, and, most importantly, walked only 3.1 hitters per nine. So the ability seems to still be there. His walk rate in the bigs was so out of line with his career average of 4.1 that it's reasonable to think his control issues were a result of a correctable mechanical or mental flaw. Plus, there's the return to Oakland, a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark than Arlington.
Glass half empty: Not only were his numbers down in nearly every single relevant category, and startling so at that, but he lost two miles an hour each off his fastball and slider—basically the only two pitches he throws. As a result, his swinging strike percentage fell to 7.7, down from 15.1 in '09. He was once considered a groundball pitcher, but Harden's fly ball percentage rose for the fourth year in a row, coming in at an extreme 51.2 percent. He may only be 29, but he has more than 800 innings on his already fragile body, and judging from the loss of velocity and control, he's starting to break down. Oakland hasn't even committed a spot in the rotation to Harden, and a role in the bullpen has been discussed.
The verdict: Argument B is much, MUCH stronger, but at the price he's going to cost you (free), Harden is worth a bench stash if you’re playing deep. You know, just in case.
Jorge de la Rosa
2009: 4.38 ERA/1.37 WHIP/9.4 K/9 (185 IP)
2010: 4.22 ERA/1.31 WHIP/8.4 K/9 (121.2 IP)
2011 Oliver: 3.89 ERA/1.32 WHIP/9.2 K/9 (156 IP)
The wildly unpredictable hurler won 19 of 22 games over the final four months of ’09, compiling a 3.94 ERA with a 9.4 K/9. He started last year in much the same fashion, winning three of his first four starts and posting a 3.56 ERA/1.21 WHIP/8.0 K/9 line in the process. A torn flexor tendon in, fittingly, the middle finger on his pitching hand cost him all of May and June, but he returned to record a 3.56 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over his final 14 outings.
Oliver thinks ... he's in for a career year. With a strikeout rate projected to once again exceed 9.0, and the continued decline of his ratios, the system ranks De la Rosa just outside the top 50 starting pitchers. If he can remain malady-free, 200 innings—and thus a top 30 ranking—are possible.
I Think ... the best is yet to come for DLR, but not necessarily in the strikeout department. According to his .278 BABIP, he was a tad lucky last year, but his HR/FB ratio was inordinately high at 15.8, a four point increase from 2009. If that number regresses to somewhere in the neighborhood of his career norm (11.7), De la Rosa could post a HR/9 under 1.0 for the first time in his career, thanks primarily to his increasing ability to keep the ball on the ground and out of the thin Colorado air. Last year, he produced a 1.81 GB/FB ratio, which ranked among the top 15 best marks in the league.
The reason for the improved ratio—it had never been above 1.31 with the Rockies—can likely be traced to his use of a change-up as his preferred second pitch instead of a slider. According to PITCHf/x, he used his change-up, which has a heavy sink to it, 29.4 percent of the time in 2010, as opposed to only 8.7 percent in 2009. The use of his slider went in the other direction, from 23.5 percent in '09 to five percent last season. That proved to be a good thing, as his groundball-inducing change-up was one of the best in baseball.
The modified repertoire could have played a role in his falling strikeout rate, though, as the power fastball/slider combo he previously used is more conducive to high whiff totals. All that said, even if his K/9 hovers around 8.0, I’d still draft DLR as a top 50 pitcher simply based on the improving peripherals.
2009: 2.32 ERA/0.94 WHIP/ 10.1 K/9 (147.1 IP in the minors)
2010: 2.45 ERA/0.99 WHIP/7.9 K/9 (95.1 IP)
2011 Oliver Line: 3.84 ERA/1.23 WHIP/8.4 K/9 (170 IP)
One of the White Sox' top pitching prospects entering the 2010 season, Hudson was called up in July, surrendered 11 runs in his first 15 innings, and was promptly traded to the Diamondbacks. Hudson then made 11 starts for Arizona to close out the season, endearing himself to fantasy owners by compiling a 1.69 ERA, a 0.84 WHIP, and a 7.9 K/9. Kenny Williams, I'm sure, was not pleased.
Oliver thinks ... he’s the real deal, and ready to perform like a No. 2 starters in 12-teamers. Coming in as the 24th ranked pitcher—directly ahead of Chris Carpenter, Ricky Nolasco and Chad Billingsley—Hudson will likely be drafted much lower, providing the opportunity for major value on draft day.
I think ... I'm all in. Hudson dominated at every level in his brief stint in the minors, averaging a lofty 10.6 K/9 while walking just 2.9 guys per nine, and that ability translated nicely in his first extended big league action. The hulking hurler (6-foot-3, 225) registered a fastball velocity of 92.5 in '10, and showed excellent secondary pitches, especially his change-up, which ranked as the most valuable change in the game according to Fangraphs linear weights.
The ERA expectations do need to be kept in check, though. Despite the sub-2.00 ERA in Arizona, his xFIP hovered around 3.75, and he received good fortune in his BABIP (.245), HR/FB rate (7.1), and strand rate (83.1-percent, fourth highest mark in the league). An increase in homers especially could be of concern, as his 45.5 flyball percentage coupled with a HR/FB rate expected to regress to the mean, could lead to a long ball problem similar to what Dan Haren suffered from last season. While that's reason to exhibit a modicum of restraint come draft day, the K/9 upside, polished repertoire, and low walk rate (1.8 BB/9 in Arizona), are enough to make me throw caution to the wind, and draft Hudson as a top 30 starter.
A quick look at a few other candidates:
2009: 5.75 ERA/1.71 WHIP/9.9 K/9 (98.2 IP)
2010: 3.23 ERA/1.31 WHIP/7.7 K/9 (200.2 IP)
2011 Oliver: 4.24 ERA/1.42 WHIP/8.6 K/9 (177 IP)
Gonzalez suffered a big drop-off in his K rate between '09 and last year, but as you'll notice above, it was accompanied by a precipitous drop in his ERA, which more than made up for the decreased strikeouts. Pick a category, any category (other than K rate), and Gonzalez made positive strides in 2010, lowering his BB/9 by a full point, down to a manageable 4.1, and increasing his groundball percentage for a third straight season. He also showed improved effectiveness in all three of his pitches. Since he's still only 25, look for Gonzalez to take another positive step in his development, and while the ERA will probably be closer to 4.00 than 3.00—his xFIP came in at 4.18 last year—there's a good possibility his K rate rebounds and reaches the 8.5 K/9 threshold.
2009: 4.53 ERA/1.50 WHIP/8.7 K/9 (55.2 IP)
2010: 4.92 ERA/1.48 WHIP/9.3 K/9 (153.2 IP)
2011 Oliver: 4.52 ERA/1.47 WHIP/8.6 K/9 (154 IP)
Norris held a 6.80 ERA and 5.4 BB/9 through his first nine starts, went down the minors, worked on his control, and returned late in June a different man. Well, a different pitcher, anyway. Over his final 18 starts, Norris produced a 4.17 ERA and lowered his BB/9 to 4.1, while still keeping his K/9 at a healthy 8.5. His minor league numbers suggest there's more improvement to be had in his control (3.7 career BB/9), and in 134.2 Triple-A innings, he holds a 2.67 ERA. If he learns to harness his potent arsenal, which includes a 93.6 mph fastball (average speed) and a plus, power slider, Norris could easily be a top 50 starting pitcher in 2011. Won't cost you much to find out, either.
2009 Line: 4.00 ERA/1.49 WHIP/7.7 K/9 (63 IP)
2010 Line: 4.02 ERA/1.38 WHIP/8.5 K/9 (71.2 IP)
2011 Oliver Line: 4.22 ERA/1.41 WHIP/8.3 K/9 (133 IP)
McDonald was sent to Pittsburgh in August and struggled initially, but thrived in September, allowing three or fewer runs in all six of his starts. All told, in 11 starts with the Pirates, he posted a 3.52 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9. A nice line, but there are warning flags. While his ERA impressed, his xFIP came in at 4.03 thanks to a unsustainably low 3.6 HR/FB ratio. Also, as with almost all the guys we’ve discussed, McDonald’s career BB/9 sits above 4.0, and he failed to pitch past the sixth inning in seven of his 11 starts with Pittsburgh, despite averaging 97 pitches per outing. If forced to choose between McDonald and Norris right now, I’d draft the latter, but a nice spring out of the former could easily sway my decision.
Posted by Chris Ryan at 6:59am (10) Comments
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Earlier this winter, The Hardball Times offered prospective fantasy baseball writers the opportunity to compete in a Hardball Times fantasy league. Entrants wrote fantasy baseball articles, the best of which would be chosen as our winner. While we could only choose one winner to play in the league (congratulations, Dave Chenok), we had so many great articles that we have decided to publish some of the best. This is one of those submissions.
There are a few things I look forward to each year as we move from winter into spring. Longer days and warmer weather. Crocuses popping up through the snow. Grover Cleveland’s birthday (which happens to be the same day as my niece’s). And, especially, the inevitable article that appears on every Fantasy website imploring would-be league champions: “don’t pay for saves.”
The typical article explains why it is folly to waste money (or high draft picks) on closers. “Saves are unpredictable,” they tell us. “Closers can lose their job at any moment.” The article may tell us how Joe Borowski got more saves one year than Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and K-Rod combined, and you could have gotten Borowski 137 rounds later. The article asserts that saves are always out there on the waiver wire. “And after all,” they smugly conclude, “a save is a save, no matter who gets it.”
It all reminds me a little of Robin Williams whispering “carpe diem” to his minions in “Dead Poet’s Society”; the boys listen with bated breath and nod gravely.
I look forward to this annual article because, like lemmings, people follow the advice. And that clears the playing field, allowing me to do exactly what the experts advise against: take strong closers in earlier rounds.* The experts are missing something pretty fundamental: a save is not a save.
Why not? The key concept here is so simple that it amazes me it gets consistently ignored: Closers contribute to scoring categories besides saves. ERA. WHIP. Ks. Joe Borowski may well get as many saves as Mo one year, but Joe is probably going to hurt you, relative to Mo, in all the other scoring categories. “Oh,” I hear the experts saying, “but that is silly. Closers don’t pitch enough innings to impact those categories meaningfully. Solid starters will more than make up for any ERA or WHIP effect you get from having Joe versus Mo.”
The problem is: It isn’t true. It’s like saying that eating a chocolate bar each day won’t affect your weight, because you eat a lot of other food, and it’s only one little chocolate bar. Right.
Look, in a given week, three relief pitchers are probably the equivalent of one starter in terms of innings. Over the course of a full season, the difference in the non-save scoring categories between having, the equivalent of six innings a week of Josh Johnson (which three good relievers will give you) versus having the equivalent of six innings a week of Joe Blanton (which three weaker ones will give you) is nothing to sneeze at. You’ll do well enough in saves, and help your position in the other pitching scoring categories.
Best of all, you don’t have to sacrifice quality starters to assemble an elite relief corps; in most mixed leagues, starting pitching is so deep that—assuming you know what you are doing—you can find a starter in Round 17 who is statistically equal to one you could add in Round 12.
*The rest of this article is written from the perspective of a snake draft league, but the principles and analyses apply equally well to auction leagues
Let’s illustrate with an oversimplified example. Assume a league with none active pitchers, six of whom are starters and three of whom are relievers. I’ll use the full-season stats of six starting pitchers I actually had in one league to model that part of the equation:
Core starters INN K ERA WHIP Wainwright, Adam SP STL 230.1 213 2.423 1.051 Myers, Brett SP HOU 223.2 180 3.139 1.243 Wilson, CJ RP TEX 204.0 170 3.353 1.245 Scherzer, Max SP DET 195.2 184 3.496 1.247 Santana, Ervin SP ANA 222.2 169 3.921 1.320 Gallardo, Yovani SP MIL 185.0 200 3.843 1.368 SubTotal 1261.1 1116 3.339 1.241
Now let’s look at the impact of adding three “early round” relievers per my strategy…
Scen 1: "Top-drawer closers"
INN K ERA WHIP Wainwright, Adam SP STL 230.1 213 2.423 1.051 Myers, Brett SP HOU 223.2 180 3.139 1.243 Wilson, CJ RP TEX 204.0 170 3.353 1.245 Scherzer, Max SP DET 195.2 184 3.496 1.247 Santana, Ervin SP ANA 222.2 169 3.921 1.320 Gallardo, Yovani SP MIL 185.0 200 3.843 1.368 Bell, Heath RP SD 70.0 86 1.929 1.200 Wilson, Brian RP SF 74.2 93 1.808 1.179 Soria, Joakim RP KC 65.2 71 1.782 1.051 SubTotal 1471.2 1366 3.125 1.227
…versus the impact of waiting and taking less attractive closers per “conventional wisdom.”
Scen 2: "Don't pay for saves"
INN K ERA WHIP Wainwright, Adam SP STL 230.1 213 2.423 1.051 Myers, Brett SP HOU 223.2 180 3.139 1.243 Wilson, CJ RP TEX 204.0 170 3.353 1.245 Scherzer, Max SP DET 195.2 184 3.496 1.247 Santana, Ervin SP ANA 222.2 169 3.921 1.320 Gallardo, Yovani SP MIL 185.0 200 3.843 1.368 Jenks, Bobby RP CHW 52.2 61 4.443 1.367 Gregg, Kevin RP TOR 59.0 58 3.509 1.390 Capps, Matt RP MIN 73.0 59 2.466 1.260 SubTotal 1446.0 1294 3.342 1.252
Whoa. The difference is fairly significant in all three of the non-save categories modeled. Think you won’t score more points with a 3.125 ERA than a 3.342 ERA? Yeah, you will. In my main league last year, a 0.217 ERA differential was worth up to six points.
“But wait,” I can hear the experts protesting. “You picked three guys you knew had great stats for Scenario 1, and three guys with lousy stats for Scenario 2. You cherry picked.” Well, not really. I saw these exact combinations (or their equivalents) in several leagues I participated in last year. Maybe the difference wouldn’t be as dramatic if I’d used Jon Papelbon instead of Joakim Soria, but it’d be even greater if I’d used Matt Lindstrom instead of Matt Capps. Frankly, guys who follow the “don’t pay for saves” mantra don’t wind up with relievers as good as Bobby Jenks, Kevin Gregg and Capps.
“But wait,” I can hear the experts chortling. “What if you’d picked Joe Nathan or Jonathan Broxton—you’d have been hosed with this strategy.” Well, that’s true, but anyone can get injured, as the folks who used an early pick on Chase Utley well know. Besides, you have to be a little bit smart in executing any strategy—Nathan has had arm trouble in the past. And Broxton was outstanding in 2009, but it was his first full year as a closer—you don’t want any early-round strategy focused on guys without a multiyear record (see also Pablo Sandoval).
“But wait,” I can hear the experts spluttering. “If you wasted early round picks on Heath Bell, Brfian Wilson and Soria, you would never have had the six starting pitchers you did. Your Scenario 1 starters would not be as strong as your Scenario 2 starters to start with, and that would wash out the impact of the closers.” Again, not true—I did take Adam Wainwright early in this league, but I picked up four of the other six guys after Round 15 or off waivers, and my core starting pitching was statistically superior to most teams in my leagues. You need to do your homework, but you can assemble a statistically equivalent set of starters waiting several rounds to take your last three or four. Your straters may not be as good as someone else’s, but if you play your cards right there’s an equal chance they’ll better.
“But wait,” I can hear the experts croaking. “If you used early round picks for closers, you can’t possibly have had enough hitting—you must have sacrificed points there.” Well it’s hard to model what I didn’t do, but… assuming you use the first four rounds of your draft on strong hitters at weaker positions, there are generally enough corner infielders and outfielders left in rounds 8-12 to build a very solid overall hitting lineup. You can have your cake and eat it too.
Look, there are no guarantees in any of this. I am not saying that prioritizing closers guarantees you’ll win your league. What I am saying is that the non-save scoring statistics of closers have more impact on your team’s overall pitching performance than conventional wisdom would have you believe. So when this year’s draft rolls around, think twice before you congratulate yourself for your fantasy acumen in picking up Fernando Rodney in Round 17. You may think you didn’t “pay for saves,” but actually you just did pay—the opportunity cost of the money you could have won, which is now flying into the stands along with the last home run Rodney gave up. But—oh yeah—he still got the save. Trust me, a save is not a save.
Posted by Dave Chenok at 5:30am (21) Comments
Here at Hardball Times, we like to pride ourselves on in-depth, highly substantive analysis. But this week, I’d like to do something a bit different.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve been deep into 2011 fantasy research since the sun set on 2010. In fact, I’m just really starting to dig in now. One of the things I like to do early on is to simply get a pulse on the market’s opinions of players outside the top 50. Right now, I’m just going to do a bit of a read and react as I scan ADP, noting quite a lot of names that jump out at me and appear undervalued. I’ll do the same for players I find overvalued in an upcoming column. Again, this is not in-depth analysis, but more of a temperature read based on simple market principles and overall experience. I’ll move through this list in order of ADP.
Keep in mind that especially as you get further down the list, the standard deviation for the ADPs grows, so some of these players may go way earlier or later than their ADP in mock drafts you may have seen.
60. Kendry Morales. If you bought into Morales’s ADP last season, then 60th overall represents a bargain at a point in the draft where it’s pretty difficult to find one. Prior to breaking his leg in that freak accident last season, Morales seemed on his way to justifying his 2009 cost.
94. Grady Sizemore. I can’t blame the market for being down on Sizemore, and there’s no guarantee he doesn’t prove to be a huge bust. And, yes, I know that the 94th overall pick certainly isn’t a throwaway selection, but if you’re confident in your ability to find late value and you’re willing to compensate for this aggressive risk pick early on by taking a boring veteran late when you’d otherwise tempted to roll the dice on a prospect, there’s clear potential value to be had here. This isn’t a no-brainer, but by year’s end it will likely look like it should have been one… one way or the other.
105. Nick Markakis. Bizarrely low RBI and Runs totals drastically marred Markakis’s fantasy value last season, but his overall performance was much more similar to his previous three campaigns. I was among those disappointed that Markakis didn’t become the next Bobby Abreu archetype fantasy beast after 2007, but he’s a known, high caliber quantity coming off his worst season, superficially, in the majors. This sounds like a textbook buy-low opportunity.
116. Jonathan Papelbon. Isn’t it possible we are making a bit too much of Papelbon’s struggles? He had a few exceptionally bad outings last season and ended the season with the worst stretch of his career, but his strikeouts and homers weren’t too far off his career rates. His walks were a bit up, but they were a tad high in 2009 as well. He has a nice size contract, so even if he does find himself being traded, it is highly unlikely he changes uniforms to do anything but close.
131. Ben Zobrist. Zobrist was something of a bust last season, but that was partly a function of expectations and partly due to a very low batting average. If Zobrist modestly rebounds to post a neutral batting average, then even a repeat of last season’s somewhat disappointing production would make for fine middle infielder and justify this price. Should he regain any more of his 2009 glory, that would be all profit. Zobrist will also retain nearly all his positional eligibility going into 2011, making him a nicely flexible piece.
158. Pablo Sandoval. I’m not sure what to make of Sandoval’s struggles last season. He was shuffled all around the order and failed to produce after the first two months or so of the season. Sandoval suffered some BABIP woes, but they weren’t as abominable as you might expect given his drop in average and relative stability in batted ball type and walk and strikeout rate. So, I’m kind of puzzled, but at this price it’s worth the gamble to see if Sandoval redeems himself.
192. Aaron Hill. Hill is another player I’m willing to give a shot at redemption. Hill did suffer horribly from poor BABIP luck in 2010, which also affected his run and RBI totals. Like Zobrist, Hill’s price has fallen to the point where the risk is largely mitigated. At this price, I just see it as much more likely Hill turns a profit than goes belly up.
205. Jason Bay. There’s no way around the fact that Bay was terrible before sustaining a concussion last season. His homerun rate of one per nearly 60 at bats was basically a Black Swan-type event. Proven players coming off of uncharacteristically poor seasons are often investment opportunities, as are proven players coming off of injury. Bay qualifies as both.
208. Drew Stubbs. Stubbs simply has too much upside to be on the board this long. He’s a bit of a batting average risk, but he’s the starting CF in a friendly home park and a part of one of the better offenses in the league. Stubbs accumulated 52 combined homers and steals in his first full season in the league; the fact that this kind of talent is around at this point in the draft is absurd.
216. Carlos Quentin. It doesn’t really look like a return to 2008 form is in the cards for Quentin, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. A 30/100 season however is highly plausible, as part of a line-up with a lot of firepower in homer-friendly confines.
217. Carlos Pena. Pena will be the 33 this season. You have to think he has about two more seasons where he remains roughly the entity he is now. Within that window you expect him to hit homers in the high 20s to the low 40s and hit anywhere from .200 to .265. At this price, it’s probably worth seeing if you get one of the better seasons within that variation. See, I told you this wasn’t going to be particularly in-depth analysis.
227. Gaby Sanchez. I’ve covered Sanchez a few times already this offseason. He seems like a solid value here. I’m not sure there’s a ton of breakout potential in Sanchez, but if you’re filling out your roster and looking for take-nothing-off-the-table contributions at this point in the draft, Sanchez probably fits that bill and makes you a bit of a profit.
230. Brett Gardner. Ichiro minus the batting average at a nearly 200 draft slot discount? Gardner’s ability to get on base and his wheels will keep the runs and steals pouring in. The potency of the Yankees line-up enables a fair amount of RBI opportunities even in the ninth hole.
230. Brad Lidge. Lidge rounded into somewhat vintage form toward the end of last season. He’s locked in as the closer, and couched behind one of the best rotations in recent memory. Lidge proved a fine value last season and his price hasn’t really jumped despite a generally reaffirming performance. At this point, you have to think he’s only healthier and further removed from his nadir.
237. Carlos Beltran. Is it possible for a player so shortly removed from the game’s absolute elite to play a full season and not justify this price? I think it will be important to keep your eye on how Beltran looks on the bases during the spring. As long as he seems capable of stealing double-digit bases, it seems this ADP is laughable.
251. Jonathan Broxton. With an admittedly tenuous grasp of the bullpen situation in Los Angeles, I’m just going to act based on the assumption that common sense will prevail in some way, shape, or form for Broxton. Given Broxton’s track record, he should first be given every opportunity to earn the closer role back. Even if that doesn’t fall into place, you’d think there would be numerous teams interested in giving him a shot. A middle relief role on the Dodgers doesn’t seem all that likely to me because if he’s pitching like he can, he should be closing and if he’s not pitching well, then why should he be pitching high leverage innings at all? I think this is a situation where Broxton is worth more alive than dead, so to speak.
255. Ike Davis. Davis is a bit like Carlos Pena, but with a presumed narrower variance of expectation – higher floor, lower ceiling.
262. Ted Lilly. I’m really sick about writing about how underrated Lilly is. Insert combination Groundhog Day, Rodney Dangerfield reference here.
270. Joe Nathan. I don’t expect this ADP to stay here for long, but it seems like the earlier your draft, the better the price you’ll pay for Nathan.
274. Angel Pagan. And the parade of Mets continues, but don’t worry fellow Flushing faithful, .500 would still be overachieving. In regard to Pagan though, he was in the 100th rank range last season. Does any of last season’s production look so wildly unrepeatable?
281. Matt Thornton. If Thornton had an uncontested claim on the closer job in Chicago, he’d shoot up the list in a heartbeat. Given that he is the favorite for that job and he has proven effective enough to have legitimate fantasy value even in a non-closer role, he’s a no-brainer this late. Basically, he’d still most likely turn a profit at this price even as a set-up man.
287. Rajai Davis. Batting order demotions (sometimes well-deserved ones) and a weak offense suppressed potentially higher run totals in 2009. Still, 40-plus steals, a neutral to positive batting average, and adequate lead-off RBI totals makes Davis an easy bargain here. What exactly makes Michael Bourn 170 picks better than Davis?
333. Joel Hanrahan/370. Evan Meek. Obviously, only one of these two will emerge as Pittsburgh’s closer, but either are good bets at these prices.
342. Chris Johnson. It’s going to be quite difficult for Johnson to maintain a good batting average with his walk rate, but he’s young and will be given the chance to back-up last year’s surprise performance in Houston.
350. Neil Walker. For pennies, it’s worth finding out if he can maintain plus-pop as a middle infielder.
369. Domonic Brown. If even a portion of the hype is real, this is golden. One thing about blue-chip, widely-known prospects is that if they get off to a hot start, sometimes you can really cash in on them in a trade,
376. Josh Willingham. Willingham could be the clean-up hitter in Oakland, right?
387. Aroldis Chapman. Chapman is likely to stay in the bullpen in 2011. He’s also not slated to supplant Francisco Cordero as closer. Still, with the K-rate he’s likely to produce, it doesn’t even matter how the Reds plan to use Chapman when you’re buying him for a song.
387. Koji Uehara. With Kevin Gregg in the mix, Uehara will have to do a lot to win the closer role in Baltimore. Still, he’s probably good enough to warrant this price without closing and if Gregg is his main competition, he’s never more than an arm’s reach from save chances.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:38am (6) Comments
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Last week I pointed out several sleepers and draft day bargains that could be had for offensive players, so this week I’ll turn the tables and focus on pitchers.
To reiterate, I’ve heard many different definitions on what exactly qualifies someone as a sleeper. Some say that it’s simply a player whose statistics for 2011 are projected to be significantly better than his previous season. Others argue that a sleeper is merely someone whose expected value is far superior to his average draft position (ADP). Another camp may believe that it’s a player who will make a strong fantasy impact, but isn’t considered to be a relevant option or targeted in drafts.
Here’s a very simple rule that I try to follow when building my pitching staff: If a pitcher doesn’t have high strikeout potential, he’s basically worthless to me in 5x5 roto leagues.
While guys who won a lot of games last year or had sparkling ratios may seem appealing, a pitcher's strikeouts per nine innnings (K/9) and strikeouts-to-walks (K/BB) ratio are much better indicators of true skill, dominance and future effectiveness. I’m not saying that guys like Tim Hudson, Trevor Cahill and Fausto Carmona can’t be helpful, but their low K rates keep them from being elite options and, therefore, shouldn’t be counted on to lead your staff.
Here are a few guys that you may not be thinking much about whom I would consider targeting in upcoming drafts.
Brandon Morrow (Mock Draft Central ADP: 158): As of now, Brandon Morrow is the 44th starting pitcher going off the board, behind players like Jair Jurrjens, John Lackey, and Scott Baker. I believe that’s absolutely absurd. Morrow posted a 10.9 K/9 last season, and that number jumps as high as 13.0 in eight starts after the All-Star break. His stuff is among the best in the league, and if he can cut down on the walks, he could end up being a top-15 pitcher this year.
Mike Minor (ADP: 256): Minor owns an electric left arm that allowed him to post a 9.5 K/9 in his nine-game stint in Atlanta last season. As of now, he’s considered the favorite to win the fifth starter spot and possesses tremendous upside. Well worth the gamble as a fifth or sixth starter in deep leagues.
James McDonald (ADP: 339): McDonald is another former highly-regarded prospect who can now be considered a post-hype sleeper. He strikes out just under a batter an inning and fared very well after his trade to Pittsburgh last season. He’s guaranteed a rotation spot, and it wouldn’t be surprising me at all to see him end up with 175+ Ks and solid peripherals.
Chris Young (ADP: 329): This one depends on just how risk-averse your strategy is. When fully healthy from 2006-2008, Young was among the game’s best with good ratios and around 8.5 K/9. He’s discounted due to those injuries, but if he can bounce back, he’s a very solid arm to round out your rotation.
Erik Bedard (ADP: N/A): Here’s another guy who’s attempting to come back after major injuries but still possesses major upside if he can stay healthy. Bedard owns a career 8.8 K/9 and had sparkling ratios to go along with it until injuries derailed his time in Seattle. If he’s healthy when spring training rolls around, you could do a whole lot worse than taking a flyer on this guy.
Homer Bailey (ADP: 331): Another post-hype sleeper, it seemed like Bailey finally started to put it all together in the second half last season. He posted an overall 8.3 K/9 last year that jumped up to 9.1 after the All-Star break. The important thing to watch here is what Dusty Baker decides to do with his rotation. Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo are locks, which leaves Bailey, Travis Wood and Mike Leake competing for the final two2 spots. Each of them has nice upside in their own right, but be sure to monitor this battle as spring progresses.
Yunesky Maya (ADP: N/A): A 29-year-old Cuban defector who only pitched 21.1 innings of organized ball before his brief cup of coffee with the Nats last year. Though he struggled, he definitely has a major league arm and has blazed his way through hitters in the Dominican Winter League. If he can win a spot in the Nationals’ rotation, he’s another guy who’s currently going undrafted that could pay tremendous dividends.
Once again, power arms are the best way to build your pitching staff. Ks are the one stat that show a pitcher’s true dominance and have less fluctuation from year to year. It’s a much better idea to gamble on guys with high strikeout upside than rounding out your staff with Mark Buehrle and Livan Hernandez types.
I hope this was again helpful and somewhat informative. Check back next week as I break down important position battles to monitor during spring training. Feel free to comment or post any questions you may have.