All statistics are current through at least Monday, June 6.
Dee Gordon | Dodgers | SS | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .316/.363/.372
Oliver MLE: .239/.288/.284
On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth. By Day Seven, the Lord noticed his team was lacking in stolen bases, so, with the first overall waiver wire position in his league, he created Dee Gordon. That may sound ridiculous, but for owners in need of stolen bases, particularly Hanley Ramirez and Rafael Furcal owners who lost cornerstone middle infield production this/last week, Dee Gordon comes as a godsend.
Rated by Fangraphs’ prospect maven Marc Hulet as the Dodgers’ No. 1 overall prospect heading into the season, a far cry from the 2006 Dodgers’ top 10 list, the son of ex-closer Tom Gordon could be an immediate impact player in mixed leagues. What he lacks in power (.084 minor league career ISO) and the ability to draw ball four (6.0 percent MiLB career BB rate), he makes up for with lightning speed (96 rating out of 100 per Baseball Cubes’ 0-100 scale, a 7.5+ speed score in each minor league stop, and a combined 166 stolen bases over a combined 374 minor league games.
He also can hit for average (.299 minor league career hitter with a .353 OBP clip, thanks to good contact skills and foot speed). Gordon’s success rate on the bases for his minor league career is north of the 75 percent mark, and he has been caught in only three of his 22 attempts at Triple-A this year.
In terms of what you can expect, think of Gordon in the mold of Eric Young Jr., only with the ability to hit for average with shortstop, rather than second base, eligibility. Another perk of Gordon over the perpetually disappointing EYJ is that Gordon has a manager who, if for no other reason than there are really no other options, will play him consistently.
Oliver’s MLEs are not particularly fond of Gordon, pegging his minor league seasons to date as very Eric Young Jr.-esque with an average just north of .250 overall and no on base totals and few home runs to go with it. Stolen base MLEs are particularly unforgiving, as pretty much all young players tend to run, but even still, Oliver sees Gordon as a 30-40 stolen base machine. If you consider that Oliver forecast only a handful of players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bourn, Rajai Davis, Jose Reyes, Juan Pierre, Coco Crisp, Drew Stubbs, B.J. Upton, and Elvis Andrus) as stealing more bases than Gordon’s full season MLE, then you realize what elite company this kids’ wheels reside in.
Currently on pace to reach 70 again in the minors, Gordon is a must-add player for all owners in need of speed, a middle infielder, or a placeholder for Hanley Ramirez. Gordon’s time may be a function of Furcal’s playing time, but Furcal’s perpetual inability to stay healthy seem to be written in stone.
Recommendation: Gordon is a must-add speed commodity for leagues that require its owners to deploy a middle infielder, and mixed formats with 12 or more shortstops. Ten-team leagues without middle infielder spots should closely monitor Gordon’s production as well.
Ryan Vogelsong | Giants | SP, RP | 52 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 1.68 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.04 K/9, 3.00 K/BB, 44.2% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.46 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 1.8 K/BB
Much in the vein of Colby Lewis, former bust-of-a-player Ryan Vogelsong has returned from a tour of duty in Japan to wreak vengeance upon major league hitters. Not much of a prospect when the Nippon League came a-callin’, he was a fifth round pick in 1998, Vogelsong owned a career ERA north of 5.25, a career strikeout rate that barely eclipsed the 6.0 mark, a K/BB ratio of 1.52, and average fastball velocity (just under 92) for a right-handed pitcher.
But he apparently learned in Japan. Like Lewis, since returning to the majors, Vogelsong has slashed his walk rate (career 4.10 BB/9 mark, 2.35 mark on the season), while whiffing more batters (19.6 percent K rate in 2011, 14.3 percent career) to become a newly minted master of the K/BB ratio (3.00 mark this season, 1.52 mark for his career before this year).
In fact, Vogelsong’s season to date (3.46 xFIP, 93 xFIP-, 3.00 K/BB ratio) looks pretty darn similar to what Lewis did last year (3.74 xFIP, 90 xFIP-, 3.02 K/BB ratio), with each owning a comparably pathetic career prior to his brief departure from American baseball.
The Fantasy Focus podcast guys have gone on record saying they are all in on Vogelsong, who has allowed one or no earned runs in each of his past six starts, but should you for the rest of the season? Plugging Vogelsong’s numbers into the 2011 runs environment of the latest version of my xWHIP Calculator, his numbers look legitimate, assuming that his strikeout and walk ratios remain stable (and improved over his career) heading forward. According to the xWHIP Calculator, Vogelsong’s luck-neutralized line checks in at an ERA of 3.65, and a WHIP around 1.22. Those numbers are well above his current rate of production (1.68 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), but those numbers are much better than the mean data spit out by the xWHIP Calculator (4.00 expected ERA, 1.33 xWHIP).
Per sample size thresholds, for pitchers, strikeout percentage takes about 150 batters before we can draw any statistically significant conclusions from it, while K/BB and walk percentage take about 500 and 550 batters, respectively. Hence, it is too soon to say whether Vogelsong’s new-found control is legitimate, but the slight uptick in strikeouts may be.
Presuming the walk rate is legitimate, Vogelsong would appear to be so as well. I hate to call players in year N+1 the next “player from year N” (e.g., this year’s Jose Bautista), but Vogelsong might be best described as 2011′s Colby Lewis. If he’s available in your league (possible in shallower formats, as he is owned in barely half of all leagues), I would recommend a pickup, while in deeper leagues Vogelsong might make a strong, but relatively cheap, trade target.
Recommendation: Vogelsong should be owned in any format with an innings cap of or above 1,200.
Chris Volstad | Marlins | SP | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.67 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 6.41 K/9, 2.26 K/BB, 47.2% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.66 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 1.68 K/BB
In a modern era of sabermetric-infused fantasy folk, I am actually pretty shocked that Volstad is owned in only one percent more fantasy leagues than I am. Despite a ghastly 5.67 ERA and a whipped WHIP of a baserunner-and-a-half per inning, Volstad’s peripherals indicate that he is not nearly as bad as he has been on the surface.
A walk-averse pitcher in the minors (6.5 percent walk rate, 2.5 BB/9), Volstad has seen his major league free pass rate (BB/9) fall annually fall from a below-average 3.84 mark during his rookie season in 2008 to a substantially more respectable 2.83 mark this season. Over the past two seasons combined—walk rates for pitchers have a statistically significant threshold of around 500 batters—Volstad has walked an equally admirable 3.02 batters per nine innings (3.25 MLB average).
Volstad has also upped his strikeout game. Despite a big dip in swinging strikes induced last year (career low 5.7 percent mark), Volstad’s whiff rate is currently at a career high at 7.5 percent, and has a career high 6.41 K/9 and 16.1 percent strikeout rate. Strikeout rates tend to become statistically significant at the 150 batters faced mark, and Volstad has opposed 267 to date. Hence, the moderate uptick in strikeouts may be legitimate.
All this said, Volstad’s current xFIP stands at a robust* 3.65 mark that is below the league average (98 xFIP-) and substantially below his ERA (5.67) and FIP (4.61) courtesy of an inflated 15.9 percent HR/FB rate. Savvy saber fans should go all in, right? Wrong
*The second “year of the pitcher” requires some mental recalibration regarding what is and is not a “good” FIP.
Plugging Volstad’s numbers into the latest version of my xWHIP Calculator, his normalized batted ball numbers tell a less pretty story:
Not only does Volstad’s eFIP (4.14) check in above the league average mark (4.00), but his “unlucky” WHIP (1.48) does not appear to be so unlucky (1.40 xWHIP, 1.33 major league average). Though Volstad is a neutral groundball/flyball pitcher, he lacks the ability to pop up hitters. Volstad’s 3.2 percent popup rate on the season might be near half his career mark of 6.0 percent, but that average is largely inflated by Volstad’s rookie season (13.2 percent). Volstad’s popup rate since 2009 is 4.7 percent, and it’s been declining each of those years. Popups tend to almost always result in an out, whereas outfield flies tend to produce more home runs, fewer outs, and more runs per hit.
So say what you will about Volstad’s Fangraphs-reported xFIP. It’s misleading. Though he’s been a hot-topic for discussion lately, Volstad, like most pitchers who lack the ability to induce popups, is secretly as bad as he seems, and should be avoided.
Recommendation: Volstad is not rosterable except in deep NL-only formats.
Charlie Blackmon | Rockies | OF | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .342/.396/.576
Oliver MLE: .278/.326/.457
With fantasy folk hero Dexter Fowler (I have never understood why people love his lack of upside and unexciting production) on the disabled list with an abdominal muscle strain, the Rockies gave the call-up to their top outfield prospect. Though he hardly stands out as either a power or stolen base machine for his career in the minors (.316/.376/.475 batting line with 30 home runs and 74 stolen bases in 345 games), Blackmon’s gap power, on-base abilities, and stolen base abilities have steadily improved since he was drafted in 2008.
At Triple-A this season, Blackmon was setting career bests in power (.235 ISO, .572 SLG, 10 home runs in 58 games played) while posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio above 0.50 for the second consecutive season. With 12 stolen bases in 17 attempts (respectable 70.1 percent success rate) and 7.4 speed score this season, and a combined 31 stolen bases over his past 144 games played between Triple-A and Double-A, Blackmon could play out as a useful .280+/15+/25+ hitter for the Rockies—something Fowler could only dream of doing.
If Blackmon hits while Fowler is out, Fowler could remain the odd man out while Blackmon sticks, given the Rox’ heated quest for the NL West title. Unfortunately, Blackmon is currently batting in the bottom third of the order for the Rockies, which is a death sentence in the NL for runs. Accordingly, his value must be tempered, though he could easily move up in the order if he does anything like Oliver projects.
Recommendation: Blackmon should be owned for the bench of deep mixed leagues (12+ teams, 5+ outfielder leagues) and he should be owned in all NL-only formats.
Anthony Rizzo | Padres | 1B | 11 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .365/.444/.715
Oliver MLE: .296/.374/.572
Hardly anything has changed since I wrote about Rizzo a couple of weeks ago other than the fact that the Padres have called up their power prospect and Adrian Gonzalez/Brad Hawpe replacement. Though Rizzo, like many players, has a platoon split (he struggles against lefties), that split is much less stark this year (he is hitting over .300 against lefties).
I have heard whispers of a platoon role for Rizzo at the get-go, but that’s what the Phillies said about Domonic Brown this year, and they are letting him go against both righties and lefties. Since I last wrote about him two weeks ago, Rizzo has played 12 games and blasted two additional homers to go with a pair of doubles and seven more RBI. Petco will undoubtedly affect his major league production, but Rizzo should nonetheless produce at an elite level. If he’s still available in your league, you should acquire him before it’s too late.
Recommendation: Rizzo is a must own NL-only first baseman and must-own corner infield prospect in mixed leagues.
Jason Bourgeois | Astros | OF | 13 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .287/.330/.385
Comparisons between Bourgeois and Rajai Davis are unavoidable. Davis (18 stolen bases in 43 games this year) is a career .279 hitter with no power and a pathetic walk rate (5.7 percent) who, despite a “league average” on-base rate, steals so often (he attempts more than a third of the time he reaches) that he posts ridiculous stolen base totals (161 in only 519 games). Bourgeois (14 stolen bases in 31 games), on the other hand, has hit .263 during his brief stint (243 plate appearances) in the majors with a slightly higher, but still below average, walk rate (7.8 percent) that gives him a comparable on base rate (.321, compared to Davis’ .326 mark). At the major league level, Bourgeois has attempted to steal a base 44.9 percent of the time, while always acting as a 35+ stolen base threat in the minors.
For the rest of the year, Oliver forecasts Bourgeois capable of a .287/.330/.385 line with a substantially tempered 18.2 percent stolen base attempt rate that better mirrors his minor league career (20.2 percent). Given the Astros’ struggles and commitment to Bourgeois while “rebuilding,” and Bourgeois’ desire to prove his limited value, it is very possible that he retains an elevated stolen base rate of the rest of the season.
Since returning from the disabled list three days ago, Bourgeois has already stolen two more bases. If given a full time job for the rest of the year, Oliver sees Bourgeois swiping 20 or so more bases (31 for Davis), but he could reasonably touch 30. Bourgeois has that special speed (7.6 speed score for his brief major league career) to make a dramatic impact on the stolen base totals of league laggards, so why is he owned in less than a quarter of the leagues that Rajai Davis (61 percent ownership) is? He certainly needs to be owned by anyone who thought they needed Tony Campana.
Recommendation: Bourgeois is an top-shelf third outfielder in NL-only, and stream/bench-worthy player for owners in need of speed in most mixed league formats.
Trade target of the week
Ryan Dempster | Cubs | SP | 66 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 6.32 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 8.15 K/9, 2.39 K/BB, 45.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.94 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.48 K/BB
A lot has been written about Dempster in recent weeks, including an article by Eno Sarris using my latest xWHIP Calculator, so rather than retread stale water, let me add some interesting data to the conversation. While it’s true that Dempster’s seasonal numbers check in as useful, but nothing special, when you plug them into my xWHIP Calculator using the 2011 runs environment (3.84 eFIP, 1.33 xWHIP), a significantly brighter picture forms if you take out his disastrous outing at Arizona on April 28 (0.1 IP, 7 ER, 0:4 K/BB ratio). Take a gander at the effect on Dempster’s xWHIP Calculations:
Surprisingly, Dempster is owned in only two-thirds of Yahoo leagues. He should be universally owned. While I went on record saying the buy low window on Dempster closed after his 11-strikeout performance against the Giants, a few poor recent outings have caused many owners to reopen that window a crack. If someone’s still willing to sell low on the criminally underrated Dempster (whose 2011 numbers mirror his 2009-2010 numbers), you should exploit the opportunity.
Recommendation: Dempster is a must-own No. 3 starter in mixed formats, and top-flight No. 2 in NL-only