Twisting Oliver: sophomore studs and duds

The rookie pond was stocked last year, with more than 15 first-year guys making a serious impact on the fantasy landscape—some monumentally so. In an attempt to sort through the 2010 freshman class, let’s look at Oliver’s projections to see what kind of strides, or step-backs, can be expected in 2011.

(With so many intriguing players to sift through, we’ll be doing this in two parts, with the criteria being only those players who saw at least 300 plate appearances last season. Sorry Carlos Santana followers, you’ll have to purchase the THT Forecasts to read the praise Oliver heaps on the young backstop.)

Mike Stanton

2009 line: .255 AVG/76 R/28 HR/92 RBI/3 SB (551 PAs @ AA/A+)
2010 line: .259 AVG/45 R/22 HR/59 RBI/5 SB (396 PAs)
2011 Oliver projection: .283 AVG/90 R/46 HR/120 RBI/5 SB (574 PAs)

Oliver thinks … Stanton is destined for fantasy superstardom this year. Coming in as the second-ranked outfielder, Oliver projects a home run title, and an RBI total surpassed by only the great Albert Pujols. Most interestingly, the system foresees a significant increase in batting average, the one thing that figured to stunt Stanton’s growth into an elite fantasy asset.

I think … Oliver is one optimistic S.O.B.—not necessarily about Stanton’s power potential, although I do think 46 home runs and 120 RBIs represent an absolute ceiling more than a realistic expectation. The .283 average is where I think the system gets a little hyperbolic. In almost 1,200 minor league at-bats, Stanton never hit above .300 in a full season and was a career .274 hitter. His strikeout rate was the main culprit, sitting at a bloated 31 percent. It was an even more elevated 34.3 percent last season—a number that ranked as the fifth-highest mark in the league, and placed him in the company of notorious average-killers Mark Reynolds, Jack Cust, Adam Dunn and Russell Branyan. Also similar to those players, Stanton made contact on 70 percent or less of the pitches he swung at, a feat only 10 hitters achieved in 2010.

One thing that could lead to a higher average than his profile indicates is his ability to draw a walk. His bases on balls percentage sat above 11 percent in the minors, but was only 8.6 last year. So based on that history, typical age progression, and his restraint in chasing bad pitches—his O-Swing percentage was close to the league average last year—it’s reasonable to assume Stanton will draw walks at a higher clip in his second season, which inevitably will lead to better pitches to hit, and, perhaps, the rise in batting average Oliver projects.

And if that happens, if he approaches an average of .280, there’s little doubt Stanton finishes as a top five outfielder. And if the 2010 average is replicated, well, he’ll still be a top 20 player at the position. In other words, you’re either getting good, or great, if you pay for Stanton’s services on draft day.

Buster Posey

2009 line: .325 AVG/84 R/18 HR/80 RBI/6 SB (497 PAs @ AAA/A+)
2010 line: .305 AVG/58 R/18 HR/67 RBI/0 SB (443 PAs)
2011 Oliver projection: .299 AVG/74 R/20 HR/81 RBI/1 SB (568 PAs)

Oliver thinks … the average is totally legit, but the power will level off some, preventing him from seriously challenging Joe Mauer‘s status as fantasy’s top catcher. The system does think he’ll give Brian McCann a run for his money though.

I Think … Oliver and I are on the same page when it comes to Posey. Last year’s rookie of the year hit 18 homers in 406 at-bats (22.5 AB/HR), which surprised many considering he totaled just 11 in 303 career Triple-A at-bats (27.5 AB/HR). Oliver thinks he’ll split the difference between the two totals, projecting a homer every 25.1 at-bats. That seems likely given the low volume of fly balls Posey hits (33 percent) and his profile as a high average, line-drive hitter.

Speaking of the average, he was a career .333 hitter in the minors, and he registered a 0.84 BB/K ratio. In his first major league go-around, he actually struck out less, but he also walked considerably less, leading to a 0.55 BB/K. With more experience that ratio is sure to improve, and Oliver agrees, forecasting a 0.65 BB/K.

Looking at his linear pitch type values on Fangraphs, Posey was one of the best hitters in the league against curveballs and change-ups, and he was a plus hitter against fastballs as well. The slider seemed to be the only pitch with which he struggled, a fact pitchers repeatedly tried to exploit—he saw the 13th-highest percentage of sliders among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. That strategy didn’t exactly work, further confirming Posey as a mature, bust-proof sophomore slugger. If you’re looking for a comp, think Billy Butler with catcher eligibility.

Jason Heyward

2009 line: .323 AVG/69 R/17 HR/63 RBI/10 SB (422 PAs @ AAA/AA/A+)
2010 line: .277 AVG/83 R/18 HR/72 RBI/11 SB (520 PAs)
2011 Oliver projection: .297 AVG/77 R/22 HR/78 RBI/8 SB (538 PAs)

Oliver thinks … the batting average will approach .300, but the counting stats will hang around last year’s totals, making Heyward a top 25 outfielder in the class of Nick Markakis, Hunter Pence and Torii Hunter.

I think … based on the tangible (i.e., his past numbers), the projections seem perfectly reasonable, but I also think Oliver forgot Heyward is supposed to be a transcendent, once-in-a-generation superstar (and that he dealt with a lingering, and power-hindering, thumb injury a good portion of his rookie year).

While the 5×5 numbers don’t blow you out of the water, Heyward demonstrated total command of the strike zone last year, registering a 14.6 walk percentage and ranking among the most restrained hitters in terms of swing percentage on balls outside the zone. According to his pitch-type values, he also recorded a positive number against the four pitches he saw most frequently, another indication of Heyward’s advanced ability at the plate.

The two things that held his numbers down somewhat were a strikeout rate approaching 25 percent and a 27.2 flyball percentage. Considering his outstanding plate discipline and ability to successfully hit all pitches, along with his 15.7 strikeout percentage in the minors, it’s fairly safe to predict a drop in strikeouts in his sophomore year (Oliver projects 19.4 percent). That should considerably help his average creep up near .300, and possibly beyond, depending on how much improvement he makes.

As for the flyball percentage, it ranked as the ninth-lowest mark in the league last year, with only Derek Jeter, Elvis Andrus, Skip Shumaker, Juan Pierre, Michael Bourn, Ichiro Suzuki, Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Theriot elevating a smaller percentage of balls into the air. Those eight guys combined for a grand total of 26 homers, so it’s amazing, really, that Heyward was able to park 18 balls while keeping such company. If he can raise his flyball percentage into the 30-35 range, which is still below league average, 25 homers should be guaranteed, especially considering the natural power progression expected of a man Heyward’s size.

So while the projection may suggest taking a somewhat cautious approach on draft day, I suggest being ultra-aggressive if you want to play with Heyward this year—all he needs are a few minor tweaks to become the fantasy phenom everyone’s predicted.

Ike Davis

2009 line: .298 AVG/58 R/20 HR/71 RBI/0 SB (488 PAs @ AA/A+)
2010 line: .264 AVG/73 R/19 HR/71 RBI/3 SB (523 PAs)
2011 Oliver projection: .270 AVG/71 R/21 HR/80 RBI/1 SB (569 PAs)

Oliver thinks … if Davis were an outfielder, he’d be worth starting in 12-team leagues. He’s not, of course, which means his .270/20/80 line makes him the 25th ranked first baseman. Useful as a corner infielder, but not someone for whom to hold high fantasy expectations.

I think … Davis could see more growth than the system projects. His strikeout percentage was definitely too high at 26.4, which helped depress his batting average, but a walk rate of 12.0 allowed him to maintain an on-base percentage of over .350, making the inflated strikeout rate easier to stomach.

He struggled at the plate during the middle of the season, but regained his form over the last two months, compiling a .294 average and a walk percentage of 15.8, one of the highest percentages in the league over that span. That’s a good indication he made the necessary adjustments to combat what opposing pitchers were doing, always a positive sign in a young hitter. Unfortunately, his power never spiked, and his ISO of .176 ranked 17th at the first base position. And that’s the rub— he has the potential to be a high average/walk guy, but without sufficient power, he’ll remain a backup in 12-team leagues.

An oddity I found while digesting the numbers: Davis saw only 39.4 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, the third-lowest percentage in the league. One reason could be his ineffectiveness against breaking pitches. Looking at his linear pitch type weights, Davis registered a negative value on breaking pitches and a plus value on fastballs, which was the major reason he saw the seventh-lowest percentage of fastballs, and the fourth-highest percentage of curveballs among qualified hitters. A steady diet of breaking stuff, obviously, leads to fewer strikes in the zone compared to a high volume of fastballs and change-ups.

As for the fantasy relevance, improvement in his ability to handle breaking pitches, coupled with his already outstanding eye, could force pitchers to feed him more strikes, which, in turn, could lead to better pitches to drive. And that may just help him go from a 20-homer threat to a potential 30-homer guy. Just a theory, but worth looking into if you’re searching for a reason to draft Davis as a sleeper candidate.

Starlin Castro

2009 line: .299 AVG/56 R/3 HR/49 RBI/28 SB (509 PAs @ AA/A+)
2010 line: .300 AVG/53 R/3 HR/41 RBI/10 SB (506 PAs)
2011 Oliver projection: .293 AVG/66 R/5 HR/52 RBI/13 SB (551 PAs)

Oliver thinks … at a position shallower than the entire cast of The Real Housewives of Orange County combined, Castro is advanced enough to be your regular SS, although don’t expect much more than he offered in 2010.

I think … Oliver’s right in projecting only moderate growth, but I say dream big. Outside of the top three (Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes), there’s not a shortstop on the board that I feel comfortable drafting in the first 10 rounds. So why not wait, and then reach a round or two early for the top five potential of Castro?

The wunderkind feasted on lefties last year (.339 average) and was solid against righties (.286), and while his three home runs don’t indicate much pop, he actually registered a .108 ISO to go along with his .300 average. I bring that up because only Tulowitzki, Ramirez, Rafael Furcal and Castro were able to produce an ISO above 1.00 and an average of .300 or better at the shortstop position in 2010. Throw out homers, and Castro’s 36 extra-base hits were the fifth-best total at the position, and he did it in just 463 at-bats, 100 fewer than the next closest guy above him.

Some will point to his fortuitous .346 BABIP and predict a batting average decline, but as a speedy player with a GB% over 50, a higher than normal BABIP is to be expected, as evidenced by the .356 career mark of both Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter.

Ultimately, what will determine whether Castro becomes an elite shortstop or simply middle infield filler will be his ability to turn his raw speed into stolen base production. When he first got the call to the bigs, Castro was apprehensive on the base paths, attempting just three steals in 58 games before the All-Star break. He became more aggressive down the stretch, though, swiping nine bases on 15 attempts in 67 games after the break. In his only full season in the minors, Castro had 28 steals in 127 games, so we know he has the speed to get it done; he just needs to learn the nuances behind the art. With more experience, that will come, making 20 stolen bases very attainable.

In case you’re wondering, only five players in the majors had 20 or more steals and a .300 average last season: Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez and Shin-Soo Choo.

Honorable mention:

Tyler Colvin

2009 line: .286 AVG/69 R/15 HR/60 RBI/8 SB (459 PAs @ AA/A+)
2010 line: .254 AVG/60 R/20 HR/56 RBI/6 SB (394 PAs)
2011 Oliver projection: .246 AVG/58 R/16 HR/61 RBI/5 SB (498 PAs)

Even if you extrapolate Colvin’s numbers out to THT Forecast for plate appearances (609), Oliver doesn’t think Colvin will amount to anything other than a spare outfield part in 12-team leagues. That’s mostly because of an average expected to hang around .250. In nearly 2,000 minor league plate-appearances, none above Double-A, Colvin posted a 0.30 BB/K ratio, the exact ratio he had in his rookie season. That low a number doesn’t usually equate to a high average, and neither does his 71.9 percent contact rate.

The power is legitimate, though, probably more so than Oliver projects. Colvin registered a .246 ISO last season, and it was .225 during his final year in Double-A, but the system thinks he’ll be good for only a .176 mark this year. He’ll be battling with Kosuke Fukudome for playing time, but NL-only leaguers need to be on high alert, and Colvin could be mixed-league worthy if he can fine-tune his batting eye.

Jose Tabata

2009 line: .293 AVG/52 R/5 HR/35 RBI/11 SB (402 PAs @ AAA/AA)
2010 line: .299 AVG/61 R/4 HR/35 RBI/19 SB (441 PAs)
2011 Oliver projection: .291 AVG/76 R/9 HR/59 RBI/22 SB (603 PAs)

Upon being called up in June, the 20-something-year-old prospect had 29 extra-base hits in barely 400 at-bats, slightly bettered his .297 career minor league average, and stole 19 bags, which, if combined with his Triple-A numbers, totaled 44 steals in 155 games in 2010.

Oliver envisions the average and slight pop being maintained, but that Tabata’s not quite the elite base-stealer last season suggested he is. The numbers seem to back that up. His speed score of 6.4 wasn’t overly impressive, and neither was his 73 percent success rate on stolen bases—of the 19 players who stole 30 or more bases last season, only three had success rates lower 73 percent. It wasn’t much higher in the minors (75 percent), so perhaps Oliver is on to something. Either way, as a fourth fantasy outfielder, Tabata won’t kill you in any category, and looks to be a plus producer in at least two.

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Comments

  1. Will Hatheway said...

    I realized a league I just drafted wasn’t as competitive as advertised when Stanton was mine for 8 bucks… and he only averages $13, anyway. Nice that Yahoo projects him right there, as well.

    Nice point about Castro. I guess you might as well get some upside rather than, say, Aviles.

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Good article Chris. I’d like to add that Heyward’s FB%, IMO, was also depressed by his wrist injury. Very hard to drive/elevate the ball without full control over the bat’s range and grip.

  3. bensbias said...

    While it’s true that 2009 Davis and this years Stanton may be overhyped fantasy players who strike out a lot, I don’t think it’s fair to compare Davis to Stanton.

    Chris Davis’ 2009 performance was largely unexpected, people have been guessing this kind of potential for Stanton for his entire career.

  4. Dos mas said...

    I love when people compare Stanton to Dunn or Davis.  Davis is 4 yrs older than Stanton, and at the same age Stanton was in the majors while Dunn was in A ball.  The age factor gives a HUGE advantage to Mike Stanton. This is being overlooked too frequently when everyone compares Dunn, Davis, and Reynolds to Stanton. Hopefully it keeps his price down

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