Waiver Wire Offseason: AL

Waiver Wire Offseason

Derek Holland | Texas | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.0 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 6.12 ERA
LIPS ERAs (2009): 4.81

In analyzing pitchers, especially ones who are coming off bad years, there is almost always conflicting data. Holland was downright miserable from Aug. 14 onward: 3-6, 8.18 ERA, 31 K, 17 BB, 12 (yes, 12) HR in 47.1 IP. Batting line against was .321/.382/.592. Anyone who saw him during that stretch would take some convincing to believe he actually has a future as a good fantasy pitcher. Then again, before the 2009 season, BA’s Prospect Handbook had him ranked No. 2, behind the amazing Neftali Feliz and ahead of guys like Andrus and Smoak. On Aug. 14, he was coming off some spectacular wins against some bad offensive teams, and we were convinced that he was for real, and ready to be at least a “solid” starting pitcher.

Worse still, the various “stuff” (or “peripherals”) metrics don’t agree at all about how well Holland actually pitched in 2009. The gun had him at 92.5 average for his fastballs. That much is known with some certainty. And his “velo” wasn’t down in September, as he averaged 92.7 mph on Sept. 6, nearly touching 95 (94.9) on one pitch. His changeup and slider (his 2a and 2b pitches) have good separation, coming in about 8-11 mph slower. Neither scouting nor Pitch F/X have indicated that his fastball has become “flat,” rather that it’s still showing good movement. Many experts are predicting a good year for him. And xFIP agrees with them, normalizing the BABIP and HR/FB% to indicate that he should have had a fine 4.34 ERA in 2009. BUT … Fangraphs.com’s preferred pitching metric, tERA, is closer to his real ERA, at 5.46. And LIPS, which we like at THT for it’s strong historical correlations to reality, splits the difference at 4.81.

We love the left side of the Rangers’ defense (where many balls should go with Holland pitching), and believe in the Rangers’ vision for their pitching. We think that it’s very likely that Holland will grow in confidence as he watches hard-hit balls routinely turned into outs by Andrus, Young, and whoever plays left field (Hamilton, Murphy, Cruz can all pick it). We also like the idea of facing the other three teams in the AL West frequently. The Angels scored a lot in 2009, but with Chone in Seattle, Godzilla replacing Vlad, and some of the other guys having years which suggest some slippage in 2010, it seems possible that all three division rivals may be below average in run scoring. So, we’d trust the stuff to some extent. The worry points are that as badly as he was being hammered late in 2009, he could have been hiding an injury or tipping his pitches. For now, we’re going with the “inexperience” theory; he only had 26 innings in Double-A before 2009. But he’s still relatively inexperienced, so some bad (read: “ugly”) outings wouldn’t be a shock, and Texas is still his home park, so we’re not talking Cliff Lee here.

Alexei Ramirez | Chicago | SS
2009 Final Stats: .277/.333/.389

Off topic, but Eric Seidman Tweeted Thursday that “Tanner Scheppers threw one pitch 132 mph, and Chris Carter hit a 725-foot home run off of it. Only Heyward leapt 100 ft to snare it.” While this was commentary on the hyperbole frequently used in Spring Training reports, it brought to mind the sort of nonsense that has been spewed out of airwaves and all over print media in Chicagoland regarding Alexei Ramirez, starting from about the time he arrived in town. In 2008, he was this amazing young superstar, who, after a slow start, was tearing up the league—ending with 21 HR in 480 AB, and being clearly better at shortstop than the incumbent, Orlando Cabrera (at least according to many accounts, including all the announcers who weren’t reluctant to point it out). That was 2008.

Alexei Ramirez – Sox Shortstop (Icon/SMI)

Then came 2009, and the slow start wasn’t expected. After all, he’d proven himself in 2008. Then came “Golden” Gordon Beckham, who may have one scout convinced he can play shortstop at the MLB level … provided, of course, that he has a dog named “Scout.” But he didn’t make those stupid-looking plays on April 24; that was Alexei. And the way he’s battering Double-A pitchers, it’s clear that he’ll out-hit Alexei too. Well, the last part was true, as Beckham truly is a phenomenal talent, but from June 4 (when Beckham debuted), Ramirez hit .290/.350/.419. For the season, his “awful defense” (seriously, you have to read/watch/listen to the “journalists” in this town to believe how often this mantra is repeated) resulted in a 2.4 UZR/150. That means that after having not played shortstop regularly for four years, Alexei Ramirez was better than an average MLB shortstop defensively (per UZR). GM Kenny Williams “had his back” in November, too, stating flat-out that he was staying at shortstop, “because Alexei is better than Gordon at short.” Like Kenny, we expect the throwing errors to drop in 2010, as he gains experience at the position. Frankly, given the sub-par defensive stats Alexei posted at second base in 2008, White Sox fans should have been outright exuberant about his defensive performance. It’s not like anyone can tell the difference between a .969 fielding percentage (Alexei 2009) and a .972 fielding percentage (AL average).

That’s a lot of talk about defense for a fantasy column, of course. We wanted to drive home the point that Alexei Ramirez is the White Sox shortstop, beyond any possibility of confusion, however. As a hitter, he evokes images of Shawon Dunston, and his age-26/age-27 seasons have resulted in OPS+ scores of 103 and 87, compared to 100 and 87 for Dunston at the same ages. He’s still very undisciplined, but there’s no reason he won’t grow more in that area than Dunston did, so some growth can be expected, and a league-average hitter playing in U.S. Cellular as a shortstop is a nice fantasy asset, especially if he is a low-OBP guy (walks don’t help in most fantasy leagues) and has a little speed—“The Cuban Missile” has more speed than his modest SB and triples totals indicate, which suggests that he should keep stealing about 15 bases per year. Given his limited U.S. experience, we expect more from him at age 28 than we would from other players, and think he’s a very solid fantasy option for 2010.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia | Texas | C
2009 Final Stats: .233/.290/.371

This author made Jarrod Saltalamacchia a pick in the Baseball Daily Digest “Dream Draft” before the 2009 season, wherein 12 baseball experts from various sites drafted 10 players they wanted for 2009-2014 performance. Fast forward to Thursday, when he went 2-for-3 with a three-run homer to kick off the spring festivities, and all is on track for this young, up-and-coming star catcher, right?

Nice thought, except for this thing called “reality.” Thoracic Outlet Syndrome diagnoses can vary widely in terms of long-term effects. At any level, it’s about as welcome in a catcher’s medical report as a labrum tear for a pitcher. In some ways, the worse news for prospective Salty owners (and the Rangers) is that he wasn’t showing nearly the hoped-for offensive growth even before the injury, though it has to be assumed that the shoulder was bothering him long before he went out.

We have cautious optimism about Salty at this point, even in the face of all the negative events. He is a gifted hitter, as catchers go. He plays in Texas, and they seem committed to making him the starter. He hits enough that he could pick up some AB at 1B or DH. But he does combine unproven offense with the playing time issues of a Mike Napoli (i.e., even less than the typical catcher). We wouldn’t suggest passing on any good players to take him, but Saltalamacchia playing in Texas could probably provide more fantasy value than Rob Johnson in Seattle … even if he batted one-handed.

Heater Magazine has begun publishing its daily report of box scores, The Rundown. Don’t miss a box score today, this weekend, or any day for the rest of the season. Subscribers to Heater receive a nifty little PDF via email (in Spring Training, it’s usually sent in the evening after the games). This perk lasts through the regular season and the playoffs. Get a free issue of The Rundown here.

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  1. Joey D said...

    Again, Derek Holland, with a lot of bad luck but solid K/9, decent BB/9 is going to take THIS BIG OF A STEP back in 2010 with a 6.00+, 1.60+ ?  Did I miss the intro for this series giving a rationale for some of the WORST projections on the net?

  2. Rob McQuown said...

    I don’t agree with the GP2010 projection for Holland, as can be seen from my writing.

    The book is published, I’m sharing the pages from the book on players who are requested.  The projection system is fantastic on the whole, though probably more conservative with MLE’s than some other systems (which works out great on the whole, since so many young players do indeed flop, and accounting for that risk in the projections makes for winning fantasy play, at least in 1-year leagues).  And know that over the years, we have taken into consideration some of the outliers from previous seasons to feed them back into the system for improvements, and will continue to do so.

    So, know that a) we’re working on providing the best projections possible, constantly monitoring the “performance” of said projections, and b) we’re not reluctant either to conclude in analysis that the systemic projection may not be applicable in a given circumstance.

    That said, just going by the “numbers”, Holland could have an even worse projection, as 2nd-half performance has a strong correlation with next-season pitching performance and he was a complete dog in the 2nd half. As noted, I don’t think that applies to his circumstances and agree that the GP2010 projection is too high.

  3. Joey D said...

    Hey, thanks for the reply, I didn’t mean to sound as snarky as my message looked.  I just feel Holland could take a big step forward this year with any level of BABIP, HR/FB luck and continued improvement with his command.

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