Jerry Sands | Dodgers | OF | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .400/.422/.875 (AAA)
Oliver ROS: .240/.318/.449
Some five-plus years into a very up-and-down career featuring flashes of coming-and-going power, fluctuating strikeout and walk rates, and a pure inability to hit at times, 27-year-old James Loney is probably a known and unreliable quantity at this point. He might hit for an above-average batting average (mid-.280s?) with slightly above average on-base output (.340?) and hit double digit home runs (12?) with average-at-best defense. While this sort of production may be useful at a premium position like third base, or borderline useful even in left or right field, it does not survive the cut at first. This is evidenced by Loney’s 2008-10 combined WAR production of +2.4 following a career-best +2.1 WAR season in 2007.
With Loney off to a paltry .150/.175/.217 line through the first 10 percent of the season (16 games played), the Dodgers may have had enough with Loney’s ever-eroding power and patience at the plate. I say this because the team has called up first base/corner outfield prospect Jerry Sands from Triple-AA, despite the face that he had come to the plate barely 300 times at any level above Single-A ball heading into this season. (303 at Double-A in 2010.) Through 10 games in Triple-A this season (45 plate appearances), Sands already had collected five round-trippers to go with a .400 batting average, 12 runs and 17 RBI.
Yell sample size all you want. Sands jacked a combined 35 home runs over 590 plate appearances split evenly between A and Double-A ball last season. He also hit a combined 29 home runs over 493 combined Rookie and A-ball plate appearances over 2008-2009. If there’s one thing this kid can do, it’s hit for power. Baseball Cube, which rates prospects on a 0-100 qualitative scale, gives Sands a 98 rating in the power department. Just to give you some sense of relativity, Baseball Cube gave Mike Stanton a power rating of 99. Oliver’s current six-year MLE forecasts project Sands as capable of hitting 30+ home runs over a full major league season (600+ plate appearances).
Sands also draws walks at a healthy clip. In 1,128 minor league plate appearances, Sands has drawn 142 walks for a 12.6 percent walk rate. While that’s not as fearsome as Jason Heyward’s ungodly 91-walk rookie season (top 10 in the history of baseball for such a young player in his rookie year), Sands’ career minor league walk rate puts him in a class with such other walk-heavy outfielders as Bobby Abreu, Jayson Werth, and Shin-Soo Choo.
If there’s one knock on the to-be 24-year-old “kid” who has a .294/.390/.584 line over four minor league seasons,
it’s that he’s struck out 229 times (20.3 percent). While that’s below average overall, 20 percent is a good strikeout clip for a power hitter who walks. Again, for comparison’s sake, Mike Stanton has a minor league career strikeout rate of 26.6 percent.
Oliver is quite bullish on Sands’ future, projecting him for a .257/.329/.486 line (~.350 wOBA) as early as next year. Those would be solid fantasy numbers for both a real life and fantasy player, and would be a vast improvement over James Loney’s career .284/.343/.430 (.334 wOBA) mark. if only to rub it in, Oliver projects Sands as a better defender than Loney. If Sands’ plate discipline skills largely translate from the majors to the minors, he will likely outperform Oliver’s projection.
A .260 batting average with 20-25 home runs and double digit steals is entirely in the cards for the rest of the season if Sands is given regular playing time. With Loney struggling and Sands getting the early season call up, it’s highly unlikely the Dodgers will squander the burnt option by letting Sands ride the pine to pinch hit.
Recommendation: Sands is a must own commodity in NL-only and deep mixed leagues where 50+ outfielders are employed. Sands should be closely monitored closely in shallower leagues and probably picked up as a bench option.
Ryan Roberts | Diamondbacks | 3B, OF | 18 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .248/.323/.383
With less than 500 plate appearances to his name, Ryan Roberts, who will turn 31 in September, has been a journey man for most of his career. In the minor leagues for Toronto, Texas and Arizona, Roberts has produced numbers that translate into quintessential “league average production” (mid-.330s wOBA per Oliver’s MLEs from 2007-2009. That said, and with a .262/.345/.421 career line and 10 home runs over 453 career major league plate appearances heading into the 2011 season, few people could have predicted what Roberts has done through the first 10 percent of the season. Over 43 trips to the plate this year, Roberts is batting .378/.465/.757. He’s gone yard four times and even swiped a pair of bags.
Is this kind of production sustainable? Roberts has shown good patience in both the majors and minors, with a career walk rate north of 10 percent, but probably hits too many ground balls (career rate around 40 percent) to sustain an impressive power output. Even at Chase Field. Roberts is not a batting average hitter, despite the hot start. A career .274 hitter in the minors, Robert’s current .370 BABIP is well above his career rate (.300) and his current in-season xBABIP of .332, which I suspect is being inflated by a zero percent infield fly rate. Oliver expects a batting average closer to .250 going forward, but perhaps something above that is possible, as Roberts’ batting average MLEs in 2008 and 2009 were north of .260.
Even with realistic expectations instilled, Roberts appears to be a useful utility player for deeper and NL-only formats. Roberts has annually shown himself to be an 18/10-type player in the minors, and Oliver sees him capable of eclipsing the decade mark in both home runs and stolen bases this season if given 500-or-more plate appearances. A .265/15/10 or better production line for the season is quite realistic if Roberts gets the playing time.
Father Time Melvin Mora struggling offensively out of the gate (that is, unless you have an affinity for the epitome of empty batting average: .281/.286/.313), Roberts has only a nominal obstacle in his path to a full time position, and this is evidenced by his ever-increasing playing time at third as the season progresses. Even if the Diamondbacks decided to stick with Mora, however, Roberts can hack it at second and in the outfield as well, so he could super-utility himself into a healthy digest of at bats this season a la Omar Infante last season.
Recommendation: Should be owned in NL-only leagues. Not worth a roster spot except in the deepest (14+ team, corner-infield-requiring) mixed leagues.
Chris Coghlan | Marlins | OF | 12 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .284/.353/.411
A notorious slow-starter (only Juan Pierre took longer to get his first extra-base hit last season), Coghlan floundered in April last season (.195 batting average, no extra base hits). From April 28 onward, at least until his season prematurely succumbed to injury, Coghlan batted .296 with five home runs, seven stolen bases, 53 runs and 25 RBI over 313 trips to the plate. Though the HR/SB numbers are not particularly eye-catching, Coghlan was still on track for a 10-15/20 pace with a solid batting average and excellent runs production to boot. Once April ended, Coghlan quietly produced the kinds of numbers his drafters expected.
This season, Coghlan is off to a much better, but overall underwhelming start, batting .270 through the first 15 games of the season. His overall numbers, however, are depressed by a frustrating 2-for-17 start to the season. Since game five commenced, Coghlan’s reached via hit one out of every three at bats (17-for-51) while collecting 11 runs and batting in eight other Marlins. As a strong line drive hitter with decent speed and a low infield flyball rate, Coghlan is a near-lock to bat north of .290 for the season while crossing the decade mark in both home runs and stolen bases. As a leadoff hitter, Coghlan is almost guaranteed 80 or more runs scored, even in an Dan Uggla-less lineup with a less-than-hot Hanley Ramirez batting behind him.
In the preseason, I pegged Coglan as a sneak fifth outfielder for mixed leagues, assigning him a positional ranking in the 50-60 range. I still stand by that and believe a .295/10/20/90/60 season could be in the cards.
Recommendation: Should be owned in NL-only leagues, a solid fifth-outfielder play in mixed leagues, and passable but worth keeping an eye on in shallow leagues.
Angel Pagan | Mets | OF | 65 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .282/.330/.418
Put the putrid .175 batting average out of your mind for a moment; Pagan’s .179 BABIP is well below both his career BABIP (.318) and current in-season BABIP (.296), despite an atypically high infield flyball rate (14.8 percent) over a meager 56 balls-in-play sample size. What’s more important is that through the season’s early going, Pagan has managed to increase his walk rate (10.7 percent compared to a career 7.4 percent) while simultaneously slashing the strikeout rate (12.7 percent compared to a career rate of 17.1 percent).
A look at Pagan’s plate discipline stats, the sample size argument aside, indicates that this improvement may be more than mere luck and fluctuation. Pagan is swinging less often (41.0 percent Swing rate compared to a career rate of 43.8 percent) while simultaneously increasing his already superior contact rate (91.3 percent this season compared to an 87.0 percent career rate and 80.7 percent major league average) by making more contact with pitches outside the zone at a career best 85.3 percent. Pagan’s swing-and-miss rate (3.3 percent) is almost half of what it was last season.
What this means is that brighter batting average skies lie ahead for Pagan, whose overall skill set has steadily improved since coming over to the Mets from the Cubs. Despite reaching base only a luck-depressed 19 times this season, fleet-footed Pagan has already stolen four bases in four tries. As Pagan’s batting average normalizes, his on-base percentage will spike, thereby giving him more opportunities to terrorize opponents on the basepaths. Oliver projects Pagan for a solid 10/30 campaign, and though he’s currently dwelling in the basement (No. 7) of the Mets’ top-heavy lineup, Pagan will likely get re-upped to the No. 2 hole (behind Jose Reyes) once his bat inevitably catches fire.
Pagan likely won’t be available on the waiver wire, but he’s probably on the bench of many a frustrated owner at the moment, including yours truly. This makes him an ideal buy-low candidate for owners in need of quality stolen bases (i.e., a speedster who will not hurt you in other categories a la Juan Pierre’s expected home run and RBI total). Dangle the right piece, and I almost guarantee you that Pagan, a top 40 capable outfielder, will be yours.
Recommendation: Pagan should be owned in all formats, except the shallowest of leagues.
Nick Hundley | Padres | C | 60 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .227/.285/.373
In a world where elite catchers not named Brian McCann or Buster Posey have struggled to produce offensive numbers, Nick Hundley’s .339 batting average and three homers have been a bright spot for fantasy owners who scraped the bottom of the barrel to fill their catcher slot on draft day. Though the past few weeks have been a nice honeymoon, however, owners would be wise to cut ties in favor of other catchers populating the waiver wire or try to flip Hundley for a tempered profit (e.g, a reliever like Johnny Venters or Daniel Bard) to a team that currently employs another frustrating catcher option or has Victor Martinez sitting on the disabled list.
Unless you paid big bucks for a big name catcher, you should always keep an open mind when it comes to your catching spot. Catchers rarely eclipse 130 games played or 450 at-bats, meaning their impact on your batting average is relatively unimportant. What you want from a catcher is someone who is going to get you counting stats. Hundley isn’t particularly poised to do that or even hit for a good batting average long term.
Hundley is a career .249 hitter with a career .303 BABIP that is more than .100 points below his current BABIP (.410). Once things normalize, and they probably will, Hundley’s going to be batting more akin to Mike Napoli than Joe Mauer. Cutting ties with him now lets you retain that which you’ve already acquired. Hundley’s power ceiling is about 10 more bombs for the season. You can get that out of many catchers with sub-10 percent ownership on the waiver wire, including Alex Avila, Ryan Doumit, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rod Barajas, Hank Conger, Miguel Olivo and Chris Snyder.
Hundley also plays for one of baseball’s weaker offenses in one of the least friendly parks for producing runs. This all noted, Hundley’s ceiling looks more like the floor of the other catchers who are living in waiver wire purgatory. From an NL perspective, Rod Barajas seems the better catcher play. Barajas will produce a similar batting average to Hundley, but do it with more power in a better lineup and at least accrue some RBI in the process. If you’re in a mixed league, I highly suggest you scoop up Hank Conger. We all know how much Mike Scioscia loves Jeff Mathis, but the Angels’ skipper has shown a recent trust in Conger that he never really extended Napoli. Conger’s started the majority of the Angels’ games over the past week and Mathis threw a temper tantrum, so it’s possible Conger, a good hitting catcher prospect, could make some waves real soon. Both Conger and Barajas are owned in a mere four percent of Yahoo leagues, so chances are they’re available for your picking.
No matter what you do with your catcher spot, you that you can do better than Hundley. If you drop him, you can probably at least burn someone’s higher waiver priority or a bit of their FAAB budget, only to laugh as Hundley proves a negative fantasy asset here on out.
Recommendation: Nick Hundley should be owned only in NL-only and two-catcher leagues with 12 or more teams.
Chris Young | Mets | SP | 22 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: YTD: 1.46 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 8.76 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 20.0% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.58 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 1.47 K/BB
Like seemingly everyone else in baseball this year, Chris Young is currently on the DL. That is frustrating to be sure, but most fantasy players do not realize their unused DL spots are just extra bench spots. Young is one of baseball’s most flyball-oriented pitchers and had ridiculous home-road splits back in Petco, but short of new Target Field, there are few, if any, home ballparks a pitcher like Young is better suited for than Citi Field.
Young is a notoriously capable strikeout pitcher (career 7.83 K/9) with poor control (career 3.55 BB/9) and a high propensity for keeping the ball in the air (career 28.3 percent groundball rate). Still, he’s managed to maintain a career WHIP of 1.21 and an ERA of 3.76 thanks to large ballparks in the NL West. As a splits-exploiting stream option, few pitchers are more attractive than Young at home.
He probably won’t stay healthy the whole year (I expect him to top out around 140 innings), but he’s already showing that he is worth the gamble through his first two home starts: 1.46 ERA, 12:6 K/BB ratio, and a mere six hits over 12.1 innings (0.97 WHIP). Just for reference, Young’s career numbers at home are a 3.39 ERA, and 341:128 K/BB ratio over 379.2 innings. Unless you’ve got Joe Mauer and friends on the disabled list, what do you have to lose? He’s just a poor man’s Aaron Harang (68 percent Yahoo ownership), right?
Recommendation: Young should be streamed for all home starts in all formats when healthy.
Travis Wood | Reds | SP | 31 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.73 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.77 K/9, 3.17 K/BB, 31.8% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.03 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.11 K/BB
Similar to Chris Young, but different. Travis Wood is a quality flyball pitcher with good strikeout tendencies who is better suited for the road (career 3.62 ERA) than his home ballpark (career 4.68 ERA), one of baseball’s least forgiving in terms of home run-inflation. Most of the media attention on the Reds’ “reliable” rotation focuses on
Johnny Cueto (career 4.27 ERA/4.51 FIP/4.30 xFIP), Edinson Volquez (career 4.49 ERA/4.43 FIP/4.21 xFIP), and Homer Bailey (career 5.09 ERA/4.48 FIP/4.45 xFIP), but Wood (career 3.90 ERA/3.30 FIP/3.92 xFIP) is rarely mentioned. He barely beat out Mike Leake for the fifth starter role in spring training before Bailey/Cueto got Dusty Bakered. In the season’s early going, two bad starts masked talent (2.73 FIP, 3.67 xFIP, 3.62 tERA). Don’t be fooled. Wood, despite a 90 mile per hour fastball, is probably the real deal a la Ted Lilly, and will likely finish the season a top 50 starting pitcher if given the innings. In tandem with a guy like Young, you could realistically get an elite pitcher’s worth of production from two roster spots.
Recommendations: Wood should be owned in all NL-only formats and mixed leagues with an innings cap north of 1,400.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments