Waiver Wire: AL 2009 Hits and Misses

Some “hits” and “misses” in this season of Heater-sponsored Waiver Wire columns…

First off, Heater writers really know their stuff. A site recently computed RMSEs for various pre-season prediction systems, and so I went back and looked at the Heater writers predictions from the last preseason issue, and the RMSE came out at 9.51, which was better than anything except the CAIRO system (9.30), and significantly better than any human-based prediction (though the betting Over/Under lines weren’t bad at all. Those casinos know how to make money!). The usually-strong PECOTA system clocked in at 11.49, virtually the same as if you projected an 81-81 season for each team. Maybe considering the “human input” on guys like Wieters, Guzman, and Gerut would have helped some, because PECOTA is a great system usually. The THT system was excellent, as expected, at 9.86, though with Marcel at 9.77 this year, it’s hard for anyone to beat their chest too much.

So, what do we have for individual player predictions made weekly here at THT? We started Waiver Wire on May 1, making for five months of predictions (though September predictions are probably too recent to evaluate at all). Most of the “hits” and “misses” will be from the earlier predictions, as there’s been more time to see how accurate they were:

Hits:

8) July 17:
Magglio Ordonez | Detroit | OF
YTD: .260/.330/.343
True Talent: .294/.359/.449
Next Week Forecast: 0.3 HR, 2 Runs 2 RBI, .292 BA, 0.1 SB
Fans have collectively “forgotten” what typical aging curves look like thanks to PEDs, and Maggs is of an age when many in the past have collapsed. But … we’re guessing the manipulative Jim Leyland is tearing him down and platooning him to “inspire” him. He’s an exceptional “buy-low” candidate now, though obviously high-risk. He has a career Ct% of almost 88%, giving him one of the better combinations of contact and power in the game.

This looks even better this week, as “Maggs” is killing off the Twins. As expected, he was quickly back into a significant role after this was written, and hit .356/.421/.500 in 202 PA from July 17 onward.

7) May 1:
Russ Branyan | Seattle | 1B/3B
YTD: .333/.415/.614
True Talent: .243/.339/.485
Next Week Forecast: 1.0 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, .252 BA, 0.2 SB
Seattle used to have “Big Richie” Sexson, now they have Russell “Paul Bunyan” Branyan. There has never been much difference (other than batting side) between the two. Branyan’s five-hit game against Danks should maintain him in the lineup against LHP, so it’s safe to count on more than the projected stats. Just don’t panic when Branyan goes into an 0-for-25-with-12-strikeouts slump. Because he will.

It wasn’t quite 0-for-25, but Branyan did in fact post a 12-for-73 (with 27 K) stretch. Worse for those of us who had him on a team, he got injured. His actual stats from May 1 onward? .238/.337/.505. Score one for True Talent!

6) June 12:
Scott Podsednik | Chicago | OF
YTD: .296/.353/.387
True Talent: .266/.328/.358
Next Week Forecast: 0.1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, .261 BA, 0.8 SB
2005 postseason hero “Scotty Pods” is back on the South Side! How thoughtful of the team to leave the lead-off spot “vacant” until he returned. Ozzie will have tough decisions when Quentin is back, since even when Pods regresses, they need him leading off (never thought we’d say that…). Expect a 25-SB pace and batting stats better than his “True Talent,” since Podsednik will be rested (and also get to avoid the toughest LHP).

Sort of a bold prediction, since Podsednik was out of baseball when Kenny Williams signed him to a minor-league contract. He’s hit .304/.351/.415 in 412 PA since June 12, with 21 SB, exceeding even our optimism.

5) June 19:
Jason Frasor | Toronto | RP
YTD: 7.2 K/9, 6.3 K/BB, 1.90 ERA
True Talent: 8.0 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 3.39 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 1.5 Saves, 3.52 ERA
Listed at 5-9, Jason Frasor has probably earned significantly less money in his career than if the same 95-plus heater and nasty slider came in a larger package. But hitters know about him (8+ career K/9), and his righty presence in the mostly gauche Blue Jays pen is perfect in a complementary role. But Cito rewards good play, not size of pitcher or size of contract, so Frasor should get the biggest share of the saves “pie,” at least until Downs’ toe is healed. And we’d call him 1-in-3 to keep getting the most saves even after that.

The Jays are calling it 50-50 now for 2010, so perhaps even 1-in-3 was pessimistic, though it seemed bold at the time. Frasor has allowed a tiny batting line of .219/.293/.304 against him since June 19.

4) July 17:
Brian Bannister | Kansas City | SP
YTD: 5.7 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 3.66 ERA
True Talent: 5.3 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.61 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 5.2 IP, 0.3 W, 3 K, 4.83 ERA
Bannister won lots of Internet fans a couple years ago by using BABIP in a sentence, and people were wondering if he’d figured out a way to suppress his below that of a typical pitcher with his mediocre peripherals. He’s at it again in 2009, but we think that he’s due for some rough times. His career second-half stats are awful (5.37 ERA, .285/.341/.491 against), he doesn’t strike out many, and he has the Royals’ popgun barrage “supporting” him. Consider him only for one-day pickups against A’s and M’s.

Not much to say here. Bannister is a dog of a pitcher, and though every dog has his day, we try to avoid them.

3) July 24:
Ryan Rowland-Smith | Seattle | SP
YTD: 2.7 K/9, 0.3 K/BB, 0.00 ERA
True Talent: n/a
Next Week Forecast: n/a
Rowland-Smith is a thoroughly unremarkable lefty “contact” pitcher with a career K:BB ratio of 1.79, FB% of 43.5%, and a fastball that averages under 90 mph. And he’s a must-play in AL Leagues! Why? The Mariners were built for this guy. Even last year, he had a fine 3.42 ERA in 118.1 IP. This year, the outfield defense is even better, with a staggering .955 team RZR and 181 OOZ plays, both tops in the AL.

This is the sort of pitching advice we like to provide. When a synergy of assorted factors combine to make a less-talented guy a good play, players can be had at a relative bargain. “RRS” only went 4-4 since this was published, and had a 4.04 ERA (not great), but he did have a great 1.14 WHIP, with 47 K in 86.1 IP.

2) August 7:
Adrian Beltre | Seattle | 3B
YTD: .254/.285/365
True Talent: .262/.308/.415
Next Week Forecast: 0.6 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, .253 BA, 0.6 SB
As with other third basemen with “bad wings” (Chavez, Rolen, etc.), there’s a huge concern about whether Beltre’s power will return, limiting the team’s deadline options, and a yellow flag for fantasy teams. Still, he’s a career .270/.325/.455 hitter, and has actually been stealing bases. For his career, he’s hit just .249/.304/.405 in Safeco, as is to be expected for a righty power bat. The everyday role makes him valuable in AL-only leagues, but not very.

We also feel good when we can warn owners off of a guy with “name” value who looks like he’s going to struggle, as with Adrian Beltre upon his return. He has hit .262/.328/.361, which qualifies as “not very” in our books.

1) May 15:
Andrew Bailey | Oakland | RP
YTD: 10.5 K/9, 3.7 K/BB, 1.61 ERA
True Talent: 7.5 K/9, 1.5 K/BB, 4.55 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 0.7 saves, 7 games, 4.59 ERA
In the California and Texas Leagues the past two years, Andrew Bailey has been used primarily as a starter, and a rigorous projection system like “True Talent” weighs his good-but-not-great numbers in those years. However, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound fireballer has lately stepped into a relief role like it’s his calling. The main reason that Bailey is not already closing for Oakland is so that the A’s can squeeze more innings out of him. Pick him up now, and even if he doesn’t help you immediately in saves, he’ll help you in ERA and WHIP. “Ziggy” owners, beware!

If the worst “miss” can be a closer, so can one of the best “hits.” Who would have guessed that the Angels would arguably have the weakest closer situation in the AL West entering 2010?

Misses:

6) June 19:
David Huff | Cleveland | SP
YTD: 5.7 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 7.09 ERA
True Talent: 6.6 K/9, 2.1 K/BB, 4.97 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 11.2 IP, 0.7 Wins, 9 K, 4.73 ERA
2006 first-round pick David Huff didn’t enter the Indians rotation with the fanfare of some other top prospects this year, largely because his fastball tops out around 92. And while we disapprove of throwing out data, his ERA is 4.44 if you write off his first two starts as “debut jitters.” He’s not ready to make anyone forget CC Sabathia, but if he’s spotted intelligently, he should be good for some across-the-board help in AL-only leagues.

Um, it sounded good at the time? Oddly, his ERA has been in line with TT (5.10 since June 19), but even that low is a fluke (and we were expecting better), as he’s struck out just 44 while walking 29 and allowing nine HR in 95.1 IP. The 117 hits allowed have generated a .300/.347/.459 batting line against. He’s been 9-6, so he hasn’t been an “across-the-board” failure, just nearly so.

5) May 1:
Josh Anderson | Detroit | OF
YTD: .341/.386/.463
True Talent: .283/.332/.380
Next Week Forecast: 0.2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, .288 BA, 1.0 SB
Anderson’s True Talent isn’t so much different from Jacoby Ellsbury’s, and Anderson has a ton of speed. Leyland wants Anderson’s glove in the lineup, so he should keep getting substantial playing time even when Thames returns, which could be two more months. Being unestablished, Anderson could play his way back to the bench, but it seems unlikely. He’s no .350 hitter, but he could keep stealing two bases per week.

Well, his True Talent prediction is down to .272/.317/.360, but still far better than his actual stats since May 1 (.222/.256/.276) between his two teams. The only thing we got right here was the speed, as he’s chipped in 19 SB—not two SB/wk, but he’s only played 50%.

4) July 3:
Andy Sonnanstine | Tampa Bay | SP
YTD: 5.5 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 6.61 ERA
True Talent: 5.6 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 5.22 ERA
Next Week Forecast: n/a
Sonnanstine is an example of how fine the line is for pitchers … the combination of two games started at the New Yankee Bandbox, some bad luck (BABIP up 18 points from ’08, HR/FB of 15%), and slightly worse control (1.7 BB/9 up to 2.4 BB/9) … and suddenly he’s back in Triple-A. He should still be the same pitcher when he returns; about 90% as good as he showed in 2008. Hear that, Omar Minaya?

Anyone who read this back in July—and needed a starting pitcher in September when Sonnanstine was called up again—had to be cursing our column. Andy’s line in six games (three starts) was an awful 0-2, 7.94, with just nine strikeouts. He even lost control of the strike zone, walking 11 in 17.0 IP.

3) August 14:
Derek Holland | Texas | SP
YTD: 7.5 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 5.04 ERA
True Talent: 6.8 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 5.90 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 4.2 IP, 0.2 W, 4 K, 6.36 ERA
Over at Baseball Daily Digest, I had some observations on the Rangers leading the league in run prevention this season. Part of the reason is that they appear to be intent on keeping their talented pitchers. Holland’s fastball averages 93 mph this year. He’s still a young pitcher with a crappy home park, so fatigue may wear him down, but for a guy who was expected to begin the year in Double-A to have allowed a batting line of just .190/.272/.306 in the past month is impressive, even if starts against Seattle, Oakland, and KC are in there. Expect hiccups, but this guy is for real. Don’t be surprised if his ERA is almost two points under that TT projection the remainder.

With as great as Texas’ pitching turnaround has been this year, and as skeptical as we’ve been here about it, it’s surprising that the biggest clear “miss” on their staff is on the negative side. We were lukewarm on Tommy Hunter (likening him to Joe Blanton pitching in texas) and that seemed like it would be a miss, but his ERA has been 4.83 since he was reviewed. Holland, on the other hand, has been downright miserable since Aug. 14: 3-6, 8.18 ERA, 31 K, 17 BB, 12 (yes, 12) HR in 47.1 IP. Batting line against of .321/.382/.592, which could bat cleanup for almost any team.

2) July 17:
Alex Gordon | Kansas City | 3B
YTD: .095/.269/.238
True Talent: n/a
Next Week Forecast: n/a
Seemingly everyone wrote a “who to get” article about players who would do well in the second half. Well, here’s the guy. If he’s on a roster, don’t hesitate to trade for him. The ugly stat line (in just 26 PA) is friendly for a good trade price. With Inge, Rolen, Crede, and Teahen playing over their heads, 3B doesn’t seem like a shallow position, but Lowell is dinged, Beltre out, and DeRosa gone. The aforementioned overperformers should decline, and Gordon could vie for fifth-best behind Longoria, A-Rod, Figgins and Young.

It’s roughly three times as humbling to be dead wrong on a hitter as on a pitcher, since they are so much more predictable, usually. And it’s no consolation to know that others are still fanatically high on his potential—it was a bad call; he hit .242/.327/.348 the rest of the way, getting into just 39 games. Sure, there were reasons, such as his health, but those same warning flags were there at the time of his recall, and were ignored.

1) May 8:
David Aardsma | Seattle | RP
YTD: 8.0 K/9, 1.4 K/BB, 4.40 ERA
True Talent: 8.2 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 4.20 ERA
Next Week Forecast: 0.3 saves, 4.45 ERA
In the grand tradition of Don “Full Pack” Stanhouse and Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, David Aardsma will need a nickname if he keeps closing. “BB-rdsma” doesn’t quite cut it, but at least it’s truth-in-advertising, as Aardsma has walked 98 men in 157 career innings. With Morrow returning this weekend, the window for Aardsma closing appears to be closing, in spite of Shawn Kelly’s injury. However, Morrow’s diabetes and injury concerns could easily net Aardsma another 5-10 saves this season. OK if you can stand the hit to your WHIP.

Next to the Garrett Jones quips in the “Comments” section on the NL side, this is clearly the worst miss of the season for this author. Nothing much to say here, other than sometimes guys with good stuff find the strike zone, and then LOOK OUT. Putz had a similar transformation in Seattle, and both pitchers vaulted from questionable to among the elite closers. Predicting the timing of such gold strikes is virtually impossible, which is why active roto owners pick up all such candidates ASAP.

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