Waiver Wire Offseason: AL

Elvis Andrus | Texas | SS
2009 Final Stats: .267/.329/.373

Who says defense doesn’t count? (Icon/SMI)

We’ll give ourselves a bit of a “pat on the back” for predicting that Andrus wouldn’t slip from his early July levels when many thought he would. But the harder question is estimating the amount of growth he will show in 2010. It seems like a safe bet that if he’s a dedicated worker, he’ll eventually improve his offensive game, given the clearly remarkable hand-eye coordination and body control he has.

On the one hand, his 82 OPS+ was identical to that of The Wizard back in ’78, but Ozzie was 23 that year, compared to just 20 for Andrus. Ozzie collapsed to a pathetic 48 OPS+ the following season, and it took him four years and a move to the “old school” turf (and a manager who understood how to utilize said playing surface to its fullest) to top 80 again. Another slick-fielding shortstop—Tony Fernandez—posted an 84 OPS+ when he was 22, and quickly improved upon that. Among projection systems, most seem to think that Andrus is due for a reprise of his 2009 stats, which would be quite satisfactory to the Rangers. Somewhat surprisingly, Marcel sets the curve for Andrus expectations in 2010 at .280/.346/.410. The flaw in relying on Marcel is that—as a player who puts 55% of his balls in play on the ground—Andrus is very unlikely to follow the “typical” power growth expectations, as measured across the entire population of baseball players. Since Marcel projects growth along these curves, without considering uniqueness factors of various players (it’s supposed to be a monkey, remember? “See no groundball, hear no groundball, speak no groundball…”), it lumps in Andrus’ age-20 performance (6 HR, 25 2B+3B in 480 AB) with all other players.

The majority opinion certainly makes the most intuitive sense for the immediate future of Andrus, as well. It’s too much of a stretch to suggest that Andrus will break the .340 OBP. So, don’t expect him to be on base a lot more often than he was in 2009. He should, however, get a full complement of plate appearances and should easily top 40 SB, even playing for a manager who doesn’t allow players to try to steal very often. With that in mind, lightning-fast players who put the ball on the ground a lot can rack up some great BABIPs. If Andrus switch-hit (or batted lefty), he’d be more likely to post .350 BABIPs as he did in the minors, with the step of a head start to first base. As it is, his best chance of expanding his BABIP is going to be to keep hitting extra-base hits to keep fielders honest enough for him to surprise them with bunt singles and infield choppers. In case it needed to be written, he’s great on defense, and will undoubtedly get as much time as he needs to accomplish the growth in his offensive game, as did Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel before him. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that that time will come in 2010.

Nelson Cruz | Texas | OF
2009 Final Stats: .260/.332/.524

It’s not often when a hitter entering his age-29 season is projected to have stats better than both his previous season and his career line, but that’s what’s happened with Cruz in almost every projection system. Marcel The Monkey is “confused” by these other systems, weighing recent seasons as he does and coming up with a .261/.332/.483 batting line. But numerous other systems are predicting a .340+ OBP, with PECOTA going all the way to .363! Mock drafters over at Mock Draft Central are on board, taking him 64th in Average Draft Position, the 18th outfielder taken—ahead of roto stalwarts like Bobby Abreu and Carlos Lee. That’s what happens when a guy jacks 33 HR and steals 20 bases in just 462 AB, as Cruz did in 2009.

There’s a slight measure of “bad” news with Cruz. His owners will be annoyed that Ron Washington sits him against pitchers he can’t handle well, but that (presumably) helps his overall rate stats somewhat and he’s shown that he can be an excellent contributor with just 500 AB. The worse part is that not being valued by one’s own manager is often a precursor to a trade, and Texas is a great setting for hitters. Another slight worry point is the loss of Rudy Jaramillo. Not to overstate a hitting coach’s role too much, but it’s hard to conceive of a way that losing Jaramillo’s support could have a positive impact on Cruz.

By both reputation and stats, Cruz is a very good defensive outfielder, covering lots of range, making few errors, and throwing out lots of runners. Assuming that 2009 was an “up” year for his homers, and that he won’t suddenly receive 700 PA and mash 45 HR (the pace he was on), the most likely situation for Cruz is probably a slight reduction in his rate stats (a la Marcel’s projection), with his HR/SB totals increasing very slightly (or remaining the same despite more playing time), though his runs and RBI should increase with the extra PT. A .265-35-100-20 season should be considered an above-average result from Cruz in 2010, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all. And his “upside” is even higher, though obviously much less likely.

Kurt Suzuki | Oakland | C
2009 Final Stats: .274/.313/.421

Has anyone noticed lately how many players on the A’s fail to draw a high number of walks. And it’s not like walks have become “expensive”, which would reduce the “market inefficiency” of buying them … free agents such as Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell can attest to that fact. Anyway, Suzuki’s walk total in 2009 was a paltry 28 in 614 PA, after drawing 44 in 588 the previous year. Other than that, he’s a typically average MLB hitter playing in a bad park for hitters. He’s good at the agility and game-calling aspects of defense and until the “youth movement” pitching rotation in 2009, he’d thrown out runners pretty well in 2008, too. Of course, 190 innings of Greg Smith can help those stats a ton (he’s arguably the best pitcher at thwarting the running game active today). It’s safe to say that when the pitcher holds the runner, Suzuki is capable of making accurate throws, but doesn’t have the cannon arm of the top defensive catchers. And that’s sort of his entire game in a nutshell … he’s “adequate” to “good” at almost every aspect of baseball, with no appreciable weaknesses (other than the evaporating walk rate); he even stole eight bases in 2009! As a fantasy pick, he’s about as safe as a catcher can be—he’s durable and very projectable. He’s not quite a good enough hitter to force his way into DH duty unless a team is devoid of hitters like the ’09 A’s, but you know what you’re getting. Expect a marginal improvement across the board from 2009, as he enters his age-26 season.

James Shields | Tampa Bay | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.8 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, 4.14 ERA
LIPS ERAs (2006-2009): 4.12, 3.67, 3.97, 4.05

In some ways, Shields is a “chuck and duck” pitcher like the two Twins we covered last week: Baker and Slowey. His fastball barely averages over 90 mph, and he’s allowed well over 1.0 HR/9 IP while walking fewer than 2.0. If anything, he tried to be more in this mold in 2009, posting a career-high “F-Strike%” (from fangraphs.com) of over 63%, compared to his career norm of 60%. As usual for AL East pitchers, he was among the top pitchers in “opponent OPS” (courtesy of baseballprospectus.com), finishing 12th among 73 pitchers with 162+ IP (.761 OPS for his average opposing hitter). So, when Shields is able to post LIPS scores averaging under 4.00, that’s more significant than Baker and Slowey doing so.

Some may worry about Shields’ walk rate going up from 1.51 to 1.67 to 2.13 the past three seasons, and the trend this suggests, especially since it’s dropped his K:BB rate from 5.11 to 3.21 in that span. But he’s throwing with the same velocity, throwing more first-pitch strikes, and is generating about the same percentage of swings, with just as many missed swings on balls in the zone. In 2007, the contact% on swings against balls he threw outside the zone was particularly low, but his overall contact% allowed has been very consistent. In short, all his peripheral numbers point to consistency, and there’s every reason to expect him to put up a season in keeping with his past three seasons … so about a 3.80 to 3.90 ERA

Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2010. Acta Sports is currently SOLD OUT. Until they publish more, the book can be ordered through major booksellers.

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  1. Rob McQuown said...

    Hey sean -

    I tried to post it, but he “stole” it, along with those 40 bases… No, seriously, I’ll get it up next week, along with some requests for previously-done players who were written up before the GP pages were available.  And, no, I’m not just trying to motivate people to go to Amazon.com and buy the books they still have in stock,but now that I think of it… http://amzn.com/0879464097

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