R is for relief pitchers, overrated
Buy low, sell high. It’s the cardinal rule in fantasy baseball and the stock market alike. Never buy last year’s performance is another key mantra that pertains to fake and real baseball alike. Relief pitchers are no exceptions to these rules.
Here’s an interesting chart. It is the highest ranked single season WAR put up by relievers in the five-year span of 2006-2010. The numbers are taken from FanGraphs, and though WAR may fluctuate more than saves, it illustrates a lack of consistency from the back-inning boys that may surprise.
Here are the 2011 average draft positions for relief pitchers drafted in the first 10 rounds of a standard 10-team league.
Brian Wilson 68.8 (finished 23rd (Player Rater) with 36 saves)
Heath Bell 73.1 (finished ninth, 43 saves)
Mariano Rivera 74.0 (finished fourth, 44 save)
Joakim Soria 82.0 (finished 35t, 28 saves)
Neftali Feliz 83.2 (finished 22nd, 32 saves)
Carlos Marmol 90.0 (finished 29th, 34 saves)
Jonathan Papelbon 95.2 (finished 10th, 31 saves 31)
The Player Rater does factor in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, while most relievers are drafted for their saves. Ignore this momentarily and observe the steals found three or four rounds later.
J.J. Putz 136.5 (finished fifth with 45 saves)
John Axford 140.0 (finished third with 46)
Francisco Cordero 141.2 (finished eighth, 37 saves)
Jose Valverde 145.0 (finished sixth, 49 saves)
Drew Storen 170.2 (finished second, 43 saves)
Craig Kimbrel 174.8 (finished first, 50 saves)
This is a small sample size, but it’s clear that waiting three or four rounds to take your relief pitchers can pay dividends. If you roll the dice on three closers in the later rounds—ones who may not have the hours logged on the mound or “consistency” of the Brian Wilsons of the world (false promise, of course)—you’ll be doing yourself a favor by leaving yourself more valuable picks to use for less volatile members of your squad. I believe the mantra for that is double-whammy.
S is for shortstop rankings
1. Troy Tulowitzki
No brainer. Averaged .304/30/90/97/13 over the last three years.
2. Starlin Castro
Call me crazy, but I’d rather have the kid than Reyes. Former Cubs manager Mike Quade was an opponent of the steal, yet Castro managed 22 of ‘em and improved his success rate from the previous year (when hestole only stole 10 and was caught eight times). He flashed power that many thought wasn’t yet developed with seven dingers from August to September, and a 15/30 season could be in the cards next season, with a high batting average and run numbers to boot.
3. Jose Reyes
Reyes has been limited to an average of an average of 98 games over the last three seasons, something a new contract can’t help. His BABIP was superbly high compared to his career norm (.353 compared to .314), and his batting average should dip to the normal .290 range. It’d be a tall task for Reyes to stay healthy and steal 50 bases, and he could be a 10-15 home run guy still, but I question why you would take the risk and floor with Reyes over the upside and stability with Castro.
4. Asdrubal Cabrera
Probably not a .300 hitter and a 25-homer guy at the same time, but he hit the bombs with amazing consistency (three during only one month, four and five in each of the others) and had a BABIP a tad low compared to his career number. He didn’t swing too much more than the previous year (47.7 swing percentage was roughly three percent higher in 2011 than in 2010). A slow finish could mean Cabrera is undervalued on draft day. Considering his speed, I’d consider him in the fourth round a better deal than Reyes in the second round, but those numbers are admittedly arbitrary.
5. Hanley Ramirez
He certainly isn’t a .330 hitter or anything like it anymore, but he still possesses .300/30/30/100 upside with some RBIs. His motivation is clearly a big question mark, but he may be so universally counted on for a rebound that his draft stock may not be a steal.
6. Elvis Andrus
He’s pretty much a .270 hitter who will give you 35 steals and a handful of homers, and there’s something to be said about knowing what you’re getting. Andrus cut his Ks and raised his batting average, and such changes in his third major league season are encouraging signs.
7. J.J. Hardy
His home run pace was torrid (30 homers in only 129 games means he would’ve hit 37 homers in 162), and he’s hit over 24 in two separate seasons, but he comes with health risks. He was worth $16 in a standard 12-team league per Lastplayerpicked.com, and his upside apparently is higher.
8. Jimmy Rollins
Rollins was the sixth most valuable shortstop last year, behind Tulowitzki, Reyes, Cabrera, Castro and Andrus, but he’s nearly 33, and has considerably injury risks. An average of 115 games over the last two years is a red flag; Rollins has also ditched some plate discipline, swinging at 26.8 percent of pitches outside the zone compared to an average of 20.9 percent over his career. Rollins has also made more contact outside of the zone (81.8 percent compared to a career rate of 69.2 pewrcent than ever before, but he’s no longer a batting average asset, and his speed and power are sure to follow soon.
9. Jhonny Peralta
Just witnessed his career year, though he has improved his whiff rate since 2010 (twice under 17 percent percent even though his career mark hovers around 21 percent). He wasn’t superbly lucky and hit just a tick under .300, though .270 is more in his range. Considering his 10/50/70/.250 floor, and lack of considerable upside, Peralta carries some risk.
10. Alexi Ramirez
Solid but unsexy. Doesn’t seem to have much upside over his career averages (four seasons) of around 17 homers, 75 runs, 70 runs batted in, 12 steals, and a .279 average, though those numbers are nothing to whiff at. If he steals only seven bags, like he did in 2011, though, he’s only worth $11 bucks as the 11th ranked shortstop. Ramirez is a good consolation prize for the risk-averse who whiff on Andrus in the earlier rounds.
Honorable mention: Dee Gordon
I’d take him over Erick Aybar, my two candidates for No. 11. Aybar might steal 30 bases again, but probably won’t hit double digits in the home runs category, as his previous three-year HR/FB average doubled to 7.0 percent. Gordon could double his steal total easily, will trump Aybar in runs, and will likely hit closer to, or over, .300, while Aybar has achieved that only once in three full seasons.
T is for tip of the iceberg
Are these September “small-sample-size” breakouts just at the tip of the iceberg, or was the final-month mashing just a mirage?
Perez, a Royals catching prospect without much minor league success, impressed with a .331/.361/.473 triple slash and three home runs in his 158 plate appearances. Pro-rate his three bombs, 21 runs batted in, and 20 runs scored, and you have solid totals: 11 homers, 80 RBIs and 76 runs, with the brunt of the value coming from his batting average. Don’t be fooled, though.
Perez has hit 10 homers in a season only once in the minors (2011), and hit .290 in High-A ball and .283 in Double-A ball. His minor league triple slash of .285/.328/.397 leaves a lot to be desired, and he doesn’t take a walk (drew zero walks in 49 Triple-A plate appearances, and never more than 5.2 percent above High-A ball).
Verdict: Mirage… He’s not worth a pick in anything other than a two-catcher AL-Only league, where he is a worthy second catcher for a batting average gamble.
Moustakas, the top preseason prospect in the Royals’ top-ranked system according to Keith Law, didn’t turn a ton of heads with his minor league numbers. He hit only .293 in his first go-round at Triple-A (the 3.4 percent walk rate disappointed as well), and hit only .287 in his next 250 Triple-A plate appearances at the beginning of 2011. It was more of the same with the big boys, and in 365 plate appearances, he hit .263 with a measly .676 OPS and a .300 wOBA. He hit only five homers the whole year, but Moustakas hit stride in August and carried his first major league success into the final month of the year, in which he hit .352 with four homers, and 11 of his 24 extra base hits.
To get a taste of how hyped he was coming into 2011, observe Moustakas’ projections from Bill James and ZiPS. Both were bullish on his fantasy prospects for the 2011 season, and James’ projections in particular projected him as a polished major league hitter in his first 240 PAs (128 wRC+ and a .361 wOBA).
Verdict: Tip of theiIceberg… Moustakas’ power upside coupled with his torrid finish in 2011 make him a perfect sleeper target in drafts next spring. He’s hit as many as 36 in one year in the minors (he split 2010 between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting 21 in the former and 15 in the latter), and considering his powerful September (four bombs in 88 ABs; extrapolates to 27), a breakout isn’t farfetched in the slightest.
Sands is a powerful man who knows how to take a walk, a combination that’ll likely ensure a mildly successful major league career, at worst. Never heralded as a top prospect, Sands hit 35 moonshots in 2010 and compiled walk rates of 13.9 percent in Single-A and 10.9 percent in Double-A, enough to send him to Triple-A Albuquerque for 2011 and put him on the radar for a mid-year call up.
He didn’t take long, hitting five homers in the first two weeks of the season while batting .400, and GM Ned Colleti, not exactly thrilled with Tony Gwynn Jr. manning left, sent him up on April 18. He was back down by early June, and despite some struggles in Triple-A, returned back up for a September to remember.
Who knows if the return to the glamor of the big leagues in comparison to the mundane Triple-A life—with motels and team buses rather than the luxury hotels and team planes—motivated Sands, or if there were tangible changes made in the second Triple-A go-round, but Sands impressed to the tune of a .342 average, two homers, and eight walks in his return to glory.
This may be all smoke and mirrors, though. Sands struck out 18 times in his 73 September at-bats, and hit only four homers in his 227 sporadic plate appearances in 2011. He was also aided in the batting average department by a .319 BABIP, which is high with a 16.4 percent line drive rate, and is considerably higher than his .286 and .282 showings at Double-A and Triple-A.
Verdict: Mirage… While Sands may prove to be a solid major league left fielder, and a core member of the Dodgers for a number of years to come, he has a number of factors working against him. These include, but aren’t limited to, his home stadium, his major league power outage, the luck dragon (which may correct him in 2012), and his relatively high strikeout rate. Until he shows that he can hit with more authority at the major league level (particularly hit more line drives and home runs), I’d view Sands as NL-only worthy, nothing more.