Waiver Wire Offseason: AL

Francisco Liriano | Minnesota | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.0 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 5.80 ERA

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Liriano Wasn’t at his Best in 2009 (Icon/SMI)

Rotoworld.com’s latest blurb – January 28 – about Liriano begins:

Francisco Liriano allowed just one hit and struck out 10 over five innings Thursday in the final game of the Dominican Winter League championship.
Liriano looked incredibly sharp, hitting 95 MPH consistently with his fastball and displaying a tight break on his slider.

Expounding on the good news further, MLB.com’s Winter League stats report that he walked just 2 batters in 11.2 IP in the DWL. Now, he wasn’t facing too many guys like Miguel Cabrera in the Dominican Winter League, but the “buzz” seems very much warranted with him, as he’s proven in the past that when healthy he’s able to mow down MLB hitters just about as easily as Winter Leaguers. Barring a reversal in spring training – either a negative health report or unexpected control problems ala Rick Ankiel or Rich Hill – we recommend being very aggressive about acquiring him for 2010. In most contexts, it’s easy enough to find “filler” innings, but the subset of pitchers who are able to make an significant impact to ratio stats is very small. With the potent Twins offense behind him, he’ll be a 4-category difference-maker for the innings he’s able to go.

Scott Baker | Minnesota | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.3 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 4.36 ERA

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Baker is something of a Sabermetric “sweetheart”, in that his low walks and good strikeout numbers send hearts of analysts a-fluttering, regardless of the way the numbers are broken down. GP2010 is the least bullish on him, suggesting 4.29/1.25, which are about his career norms. His LIPS ERA’s the past two years have averaged about 3.90, so right in line with his composite 2008-2009 ERA. His projected ERA’s using other systems likewise shows him in the 3.90 ERA range. The one concern with Baker, of course, is the high FB% and the resultant homers. The leverage these longballs create can be seen clearly between his 2008 and 2009 stats:

2008 – 7.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.4 K/BB, 1.18 WHIP, 45.8% FB%, 3.86 LIPS
2009 – 7.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.4 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP, 47.1% FB%, 3.93 LIPS

Yet, in 2008, his ERA was 3.45, and it rose all the way to 4.37 in 2009! Why? Well, the observant readers notice that HR/FB% wasn’t included in those nearly carbon-copy stat lines (or even HR/9). And, honestly, going up from 8.5% to 9.7% doesn’t sound like an immense increase. But it jacked the HR/9 up from 1.04 to 1.26.

Aside from GP2010, most projection systems seem to think Baker’s HR/9 will split the difference between 2008 and 2009, and so his ERA will likely also split the difference. But an HR/FB% of 9.7 isn’t particularly high. So much will depend on the new park with Baker, in fact. Despite the outdated monicker of “Homerdome” the Metrodome played like one of the better pitcher’s parks in the AL for years before 2009, when it played “smaller” again. The new park design has left the center-to-right dimensions the same, including the high wall in RF (presumably NOT a “baggie” again). But – as the New Yankee Stadium’s environmental factors surprised everyone – it’s unknown how the weather will play at the new park. Without a good reason to assume that his HR/FB% will decline, and with Carlos Gomez no longer around to pair with Span and turn flies into outs, it’s hard to find any reason to be more optimistic than GP2010 is about Baker. In most leagues, where people are reading the widely available Sabermetrically-guided projections, it’s unlikely Baker will be much of a bargain.

Kevin Slowey | Minnesota | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.4 K/9, 5.0 K/BB, 4.86 ERA

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That’s right, Kevin Slowey posted a 5.0 K:BB ratio! He also allowed 15 HR in 90.2 IP, and watched batters post a .352 BABIP against his junk, which must have seemed little more than batting practice to MLB hitters. That he was able to throw strikes so often with a wrist injury in 2009 is somewhat amazing, but he’s expected to be fully healthy in 2010. Much of the same analysis of Baker applies to Slowey, though he’s even more adept at pounding the strike zone and throws even slower – even when healthy. Don’t expect him to have a .290 BABIP or a sub-.10% HR/FB%, but even at .310 and 11%, he’s going to rack up a lot of innings, strikeouts, and wins… while keeping his WHIP low enough to help a fantasy team. Due to ending 2009 with an injury, he could end up being one of the best players to target in 2010.

Colby Lewis | Texas | SP
2009 Final Stats: 9.3 K/9, 6.8 K/BB, 2.68 ERA (Hiroshima Toyo in Japan Central League)

In 2008, Colby Lewis led the league in strikeouts, shutouts, K/9, H/9, and WHIP. In 2009, he backed that up with another strong campaign, posting a 2.98 ERA (8th in league). NPB Roto players everywhere are bemoaning/celebrating the loss of this dominant ace pitcher from the Central League (depending on whether they owned him). Will the Rangers be as happy as the Carp were? Will US fantasy players be hailing Lewis-san? Well, BP has never been shy about projecting Japanese players, and PECOTA’s translations/comparables suggest that Lewis will post a fine 3.89 ERA and a great 1.23 WHIP… in over 160 IP. That would make the $5MM Jon Daniels and the Rangers have invested in him (over the next 2 years) seem like chump change if it came to pass. And why not?

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Colby Lewis (Icon/SMI)

The hardest thing about projecting any athletic performance is the “mental” aspect. This author’s typical perspective on performance “psychology” is that these are all highly-paid athletes who are super-competitive, and will take whatever steps are necessary to maximize their skills, in essence “growing” beyond any “mental” barriers to peak performance. Of course, that’s false. Some guys are knuckleheads (for lack of a more scientific term) and just never “get it” mentally. Some are so good that they are able to survive at the highest level despite delivering only a small fraction of their potential and never do the hard work required to rise above. And, for the most part, a favorite Steve Stone aphorism applies heavily to pitchers – the difference between a good major-league pitcher and an incompetent one is very small. Tying this all into Colby Lewis, I don’t think anyone really knows how he’ll react mentally. He was dominant in the US minors for years, even in his final year before heading East – when he posted a 1.88 ERA for Sacramento. Yet, he’s never experienced success at the highest level.

That said, we’re impressed with the “positive” atmosphere in Texas these days, especially among the pitchers. We like guys who post full-season BB/9 rates of 1.4, no matter which league it’s in. And, as noted, the usual reaction is to rely on the numbers… and Colby’s numbers have been very good and promise to convert nicely to the US. It’s still Texas, so the ballpark won’t help him. And we don’t expect a heroic ERA, but something around 4.00 seems reasonable, though we’d expect it to be slightly above that mark instead of below. Further, pounding the strike zone should allow him to pile up innings while keeping the WHIP low.

Jack Cust | Oakland | DH
2009 Final Stats: .240/.356/.417

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It’s sort of a shame for Oakland fans and Cust – and hence prospective fantasy owners in OBP/SLG leagues – that the organizational philosophy doesn’t acknowledge that there’s such a thing as a player who has a pronounced platoon split. Cust has hit an “okay” .226/.353/.382 against LHP in his career, but that’s nothing compared to the hearty .244/.382/.483 feast he’s enjoyed from “Northpaws” (most of this done while calling an adverse hitter’s park “home”). Well, they ran him out there for 26.5% of his PA against LHP again in 2009, far exceeding the AL average of 20.4% (for LHB against LHP). And, again, he contributed against the non-LH hurlers with a .247/.369/.461 line. Many worry overly much about players with “old player skills” aging faster, and while that’s true, Cust isn’t really old yet, being 3 years younger than Russ Branyan for example. The ability to play an outfield position without hurting himself (notice we didn’t add “or the team” here) sets him ahead of Jim Thome in the “must DH lefty power bats” category, and his higher salary represents that. He would have done wonders for the South Siders in US Cellular, though the Twins may be out of reach this year anyway.

Alex Avila | Detroit | C
2009 Final Stats: .279/.375/.590
2009 Final Stats (minors): .264/.365/.450 (AA)

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Alex Avila 2009 (Icon/SMI)

Back on August 21, when Avila was first recalled, we had this to say about him:

Oh, the nepotism! The son of assistant GM Al, Alex was taken in the fifth round in 2008 out of Alabama, where he just became a full-time catcher in 2008. But wait, this guy can play ball! He’s burst into the Tigers’ pennant race and wrested at least half the playing time already. After showing great hitting and on-base skills in the tough Midwest League in 2008, the Tigers vaulted him over High-A to Double-A. He didn’t slow down at all, and even added power (12 HR) and a 44% CS% to his game. If the “True Talent” projection represents his ability now, it will soon be outdated. This guy is on the fast track, and not just due to his family ties.

For the record, “True Talent” at the time projected .241/.311/.358. Somehow, his unexpectedly great performance in Detroit worsened that for the GP2010 projection. And other projection systems don’t think he’ll do much in 2010 either. And BA’s scouting department thinks he’s only good for 6th-best in their organization. But – frankly – it’s unclear what they don’t see in this guy. We’d never suggest taking him expecting a 2010 contribution, and part of his value is in his defense, which won’t show up in fantasy ball. But in trading Dusty Ryan, the Tigers have made it clear that they expect Avila to be their catcher as soon as Laird’s “expiration date” arrives. And he won’t be a bad 2nd catcher in an AL-only league for this year, though there are probably better to be had if you can’t keep him long-term.

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Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2010. You can order the book from Acta Sports here.

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Comments

  1. dan said...

    Great stuff, though I’m disappointed you didn’t quite get to the entire Twins staff…

    How about Saltalamacchia?  Have you already done Peavy?

  2. Rob McQuown said...

    John K -

    Good point.  Not sure what more I can add about the new ballpark that I didn’t cover already, though.  I pointed out some aspects of it above: “The new park design has left the center-to-right dimensions the same, including the high wall in RF (presumably NOT a “baggie” again). But – as the New Yankee Stadium’s environmental factors surprised everyone – it’s unknown how the weather will play at the new park. ”  And who knows how much the shorter LCF power alley will impact these guys… seems odd that a team with so much lefty power wouldn’t at least try to somewhat cater to it, but I guess those days are long gone.

  3. Rob McQuown said...

    Hey Dan -

    I considered just going on with the rest of them too… I was commenting on IM about how solid the Twins will be.  My quick take is that Pavano is what he is… a slightly above-average pitcher when healthy but obviously prone to breaking down, while Blackburn seems to be similar in quality – if maybe a hair behind – and much more durable.

    Goodness only knows about Salty.  I have him in a Scoresheet league where I’m rebuilding (actually “building”, since I took over an abandoned team last summer and it was brutal) and keeper decisions are this weekend.  I’ve read up a bit on his condition (TOS) and it seems as though there is a wide range of degrees of damage possible under that broad heading of “TOS”, so – like with pitcher arm injuries – I think everyone from his doctor to the casual fan is in a wait-and-see mode with him.  I’ll try to add more, but I may delay writing anything up until he officially reports and there is news out of camp.  In short, I don’t think he can hit enough to help a fantasy team (much, if any) if he can’t catch.  Beyond that, it’s all about his recovery.

  4. dan said...

    Robert what would be your Top 5 or 10 for a AL SS league (perpetual)?  I’ve got Mauer and Longoria at 1/2, but things get lumpy after that.

  5. Rob McQuown said...

    John K – Yeah, good points.  I think it’s all guesswork at this point, to be honest, as I was alluding to with the comment on Yankee Stadium.  There was a case where neither the dimensions nor the environment changed appreciably, yet the park played very differently indeed.

    dan – What a fun question!  I think I’d put Felix 3rd, with that defense and park behind him he’s a load.  I see on the forums that there is some debate over M-Cab’s status as an elite player, but I’d still strongly consider him 4th in a DH league (I haven’t played AL-only SS, but I’m assuming you get a DH, right?)  I’d probably go with the Yankees corner infielders next, then Greinke who -  though risky – has so much upside he can’t be ignored.  Then Verlander. Then 2 of Sizemore, Wieters, Vic Martinez, Kinsler to round out the top 10, depending on which sort of risk you prefer – or Pedroia, who seems to be very un-risky.  That’s 13, with the last 5 being in a “glob” that I’d probably go back-and-forth on from day to day.  I’ve omitted 3 outstanding SP in CC, Beckett, Lester due to their ballparks, but I certainly wouldn’t mind owning any of them either.  Also, Cliff Lee has to be somewhere in the discussion, playing in Seattle now.

  6. dan said...

    As you might have guessed, Rob, I’ve been handed the 3rd pick in the draft…  I’ve actually been leaning toward Cabrera (I’ve been following and contributing a bit on the message board debate), but I don’t see Felix being a reach given the available options.

    I think that’s the problem – the AL is a little thin on elite hitting, at the moment, which makes it hard to choose once Mauer and Longo are gone.  Compare a Top 5/10 in the NL to the AL, and you’ll see what I mean.  Generally, I’d prefer not to take a SP or a 1B that high (unless we’re talking Pujols, of course), but you can only pick what’s there.

  7. Jack said...

    I’ve been watching Colby Lewis for a long time. I like him but his flyball tendencies worry me, especially at Texas. Then again, he didn’t dominate at Detroit’s spacious stadium either. Doyou think that his hefty salary will persuade the team to give him an extended trial, even if he implodes with gopheritis during April?

  8. Rob McQuown said...

    Hey guys,

    I just re-read these comments, and realized I didn’t reply to the Peavy request.  Well, I touched on him when he was traded in August (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/waiver-wire-al-0814), but I’ll add him to the queue, since he’s obviously going to get a lot of attention this offseason, as arguably the best player to change leagues in that direction so far.

    Consider Markakis on the queue. 

    Rowland-Smith:
    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/waiver-wire-offseason-al-1113

    Matt LaPorta:
    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/waiver-wire-offseason-al-1023

    (will consider giving brief updates if their playing time expectations change closer to the season…)

    Jack – My take on Lewis for now is that he’ll be good enough to keep the job.  I think the question of whether he keeps it won’t be based on his stats exclusively.  If he’s making his pitches, listening to the coaches, and keeping a good attitude, I suspect the Rangers will show patience with him.  While I confess to not having watched him a lot, his 33.7% career FB% would have been higher than just 21 of the 77 “qualifying” pitchers in 2009, hardly an excessive total.  When I reviewed the numbers to write him up, I concluded that he was a “neutral” on the GB/FB spectrum, and so I didn’t comment on it.  He’s clearly NOT an extreme groundballer, as you’d prefer for Texas.

    -Rob

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