Sorry for the brevity of players in this week’s article, but my computer crashed before I saved the final product. Hence, my analysis of Alfredo Simon, Fausto Carmona, Dallas Braden and Jake Fox is gone and I am out of time to rewrite. I will cover these four underowned players (and more) next week.
All stats current through at least June 22, 2010.
Jose Bautista watch (06/15-06/21): .154 AVG, 0 HR, 3 R, 1 RBI, 0 SB. His ownership is down to 91.4% in ESPN leagues. This is the second rough week in a row for Bautista owners.
Chris Davis | Texas | 1B (+3B in Yahoo standard leagues) | 19.9% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .280/.330/.510
After hitting .188/.264/.292 to start the season, Chris Davis was sent down to Triple-A to make room for Justin Smoak, who currently is hitting .223/.332/.399 on the season. Though Smoak has been a highly touted prospect the past few seasons, there’s been very little fire through his first 171 PA (sample size!) in the majors. I’ve previously called him ” a 2007 Derek Lee-like hitter.. The question is whether Smoak really is a better option for the Rangers than Davis. Let’s dig a bit into the numbers.
Anyone who reads the Game of Inches blog, knows me or listens to the Game of Inches podcast (P.S., before you point it out, if you browse that last link, I’ve already apologized for my Alex Rios hate) knows how much I (irrationally) love Chris Davis. Davis is an all-or-nothing hitter who makes great contact (career 22.6% line drive hitter) when he actually makes contact (below-average career 65.5% contact rate). As I noted in the offseason, Chris Davis’ 2010 prospects solely hinged upon his strikeout rate. If Davis could keep his strikeout rate in the mid-20% range as he did in the second half of 2009, he would be an invaluable asset. If not, well, he’d hit like he did in the first half of 2009.
Before his demotion this season, Chris Davis was striking out at an unacceptable, 2010 David Wright-like 35.4% clip. Though this K% is lower than last season’s 38.4%, it seemed like Davis was taking steps back from the strides he made in the second half of last year and in the minors last season. However, a closer look at his numbers reveals otherwise.
Davis’ problem at the plate has always been contact issues with pitches outside of the zone. His career O-Contact% of 47.9% is well below the 61+% MLB average (66.4% this season). Though this season has been no exception for Davis with respect to pitches outside the zone (36.7% O-Contact% this season), he was taking fewer hacks at those pitches this season (a career-low 33% swing rate at O-Zone pitches versus a career 35.2% mark). The results have been a career-high 9.4% walk rate and a career-low Swinging Strike rate (SwStr%) of 15% (~20% lower than last year’s 19.1% mark).
Given his second-half strides with strikeouts last year and his improving approach at the plate this season, Davis’ 35.4% seems unluckily and unnaturally high (bad umping, close-call third strikes—with Davis only getting 53 PA in the majors this season, a single K has a ~2% point impact on his K%). Something more in the 27-28% range seems more feasible.
Perhaps more concerning for Davis this season was the lack of home runs, though again, 53 PA is a terrible sample from which to draw conclusions about a player’s power. His .104 ISO is half of what it was last season. These worries, however, might be put to rest by a look at Davis’ current minor league numbers. Minor League Splits does not have 2010 data for Davis to translate into major league production, but he is currently hitting .352/.407/.548 in Triple-A. Davis’ 2010 Triple-A ISO of .196 is well below his .268 minor league career mark, but it’s still light years ahead of what we might dub “Darren Erstad power.”
For his minor league career, Davis is a .309/.370/.577 hitter. Minor League Splits says that his minor league track record is worth a .246/.290/.437 major league line with ~28 HR per 650 AB. At the major league level, Davis owns a .253/.302/.475 line with ~33.5 HR per 650 AB.
Justin Smoak, meanwhile, has a career minor league line of .293/.404/.454, which Minor League Splits says is worth a .222/.309/.328 line with 14 HR per 650 AB. His career MLB performance to date (SAMPLE SIZE!!) is .223/.332/.399 with ~24 HR per 650 AB.
Though minor league numbers are hardly the end-all, be-all predictor of major league success, given both players’ struggles in the majors, I’ll take the guy with the better minor league track any day of the week. This post is not a knock on Smoak, who I think will mature into a Derrek Lee a la 2008-like hitter, so much as it is a reaffirmation of my belief in Davis. Another player with great minor league numbers who bounced around a lot before given a bona fide chance is Nelson Cruz, and we all know how that story turned out (P.S., the Brewers got royally screwed on that deal). Davis has already proved that he has legitimate HR power. Given his contact issues with out-of-zone pitches and a below-average walk rate, Davis may never succeed at the MLB level (or at least not hit consistently—think Jonny Gomes). However, Davis is a guy who deserves a chance. He flashed what he can do in 2008 and late 2009, and that kind of upside is worth a gamble.
Perhaps he needs a change of scenery. Plenty of teams could use a 3B-capable player. Except the Royals, apparently.
Recommendation: Upon promotion, should be owned in all AL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues (12+ teams, CI position), too.
Matt Joyce | Detroit | OF | 0.0% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .260/.370/.440
Former super-prospect Matt Joyce (whom I have all too often confused with Cameron Maybin) has been destroying the minors this season. Between High-A and Triple-A this season, Joyce has hit .317/.458/.558 (1.008 OPS) in 120 AB. Per Minor League Splits, that is worth a major league triple slash line of .258/.373/.414 (.787 OPS). That is an immediate upgrade over Hank Blalock (.691 OPS, lost power stroke). The Rays called up Joyce up yesterday, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joyce slide into at least a platoon role with Blalock, with the chance of taking over full time. The Rays outfield is certainly crowded, and there is no room for Joyce out in either of the corners at the moment, but Joyce is only a trade (Upton) or injury (Pena) away from full playing time if he does not unseat Blalock for the DH role.
Matt Joyce is certainly worth keeping an eye on as he accrues ABs in the majors. Maybe he’s finally ready to live up to his potential (he’s a 20/20 candidate, full season).
Recommendation: Keep an eye on him in AL-only and five-outfielder mixed leagues with 12+ teams.
Conor Jackson | Oakland | OF | 10.4% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .275/.355/.400
Speaking of changes of scenery, Conor Jackson is someone who needed one badly. Fangraphs previously assessed the impact of Valley Fever on Jackson’s performance/value, so I won’t duplicate any of that analysis. Since coming over to the A’s, Jackson has hit .345/.441/.414 in 34 AB. His in-season walk and strikeout rates mirror his pre-Valley Fever rates this season, and BABIP luck aside, he’d be hitting approximately .280 with a .365 OBP. Unfortunately, Jackson has experienced some power struggles since contracting Valley Fever, and the move to spacious Oakland will do very little to assist Jackson in rekindling his former 20-HR power potential. Jackson’s ISO currently sits at .089 on the season, and it’s unlikely that he’ll regain the pop of yore (given the long-term effects of Valley Fever) anytime soon. Thus, Jackson’s value in terms of fantasy bottoms out at nil, at least for the foreseeable future and until he proves to be “healthy” again. Whereas Jackson was once a sleeper late-round outfielder with .290/20/10 promise, Jackson offers little more than the prospect of an empty batting average. Think Kevin Millar.
Recommendation: The hot bat (and trendy ESPN weekly add) of Conor Jackson should be owned in 0% of fantasy leagues. Well, he bats 3rd in a line up, so he does have some AL-only value. Still, it’s 3rd in the Oakland lineup, so…
Carlos Guilen | Detroit | 2B, OF, DH | 36.6% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .290/.325/.360
Once upon a time, in 2007, I rekindled my love of baseball through a man named Carlos Guillen. Following a swearing-off of the Cubs in 2004 and a heart-breakingly terrible 2006, I was about ready to give up on baseball. Then, current blogmate “Sexy Rexy” invited me into a fantasy baseball league. I’ll be honest, I had no clue what the heck I was doing, and prior to 2007, my baseball knowledge outside of the Cubs was extremely limited in scope. Hence, I ended up drafting a ton of “over the hill” players whose names I recognized from collecting baseball cards as a kid. As it turns out, Magglio Ordonez, John Smoltz, Kenny Lofton, Aaron Rowand, Tim Hudson and Trevor Hoffman had plenty of gas left in the tank.
What does this have to do with Carlos Guillen? Well, nothing really, I suppose, but I played in a head-to-head league in 2007 and Guillen was the shortstop (now second basemen/outfielder) who helped solidify my overall team with a consistency that fantasy players with weak stomachs could only dream of.
A look at Guillen’s career splits reveals the following per-month performance (pro-rated per 650 PA):
MAR/APR: .310 AVG, 12.4 HR, 98.6 R, 78.2 RBI, 5.4 SB
MAY: .304 AVG, 16.6 HR, 86.5 R, 76.9 RBI, 9.6 SB
JUNE: .287 AVG, 20.6 HR, 95.1 R, 106.9 RBI, 3.9 SB
JULY: .288 AVG, 17.4 HR, 105.3 R, 73.4 RBI, 5.8 SB
AUG: .284 AVG, 21.8 HR, 84.2 R, 86.1 RBI, 7.6 SB
SEPT: .287, 12.0 HR, 82.9 R, 68.5 RBI, 6.0 SB
What does this indicate? Two things. First, Guillen is the kind of hitter most fantasy players proselytized Conor Jackson to be a few years ago. Yet, Guillen has gotten little, if any, love since getting kicked out of the shortstop position a few years back by Adam Everett. Second, it shows that, perhaps September aside, Guillen is a consistent all-season producer. Unlike the half-players like Adam LaRoche and super streaky players like Alfonso Soriano (90% of his value comes in 40% of his games), Guillen is a bedrock of expectations. For head-to-head leagues, consistency is gold. In roto leagues, a guy like Guillen is valuable injury/ineffectiveness insurance. Guillen is currently hitting .286/.342/.463 on the season with 5 HR, 18 R and 21 RBI in 162 PA. Over a 650-PA season, that extrapolates to a .286, 20 HR, 72 R, 85 RBI, 4 SB fantasy season. Obviously the SB upside of a 35-year-old with knee issues is likely limited, but otherwise, Guillen’s numbers almost exactly mirror his career pace since becoming a full-time player in 2001.
And yet, he’s owned in only one-third of ESPN leagues, while Aaron Hill is more than 75% owned. Go figure. If you are in need of some 2B or even OF help, you should consider Carlos Guillen immediately. He’s one of baseball’s better-kept secrets.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, top 12-2B for mixed leagues and a good bench player or fifth outfielder for deeper mixed leagues.
Geovany Soto | Chicago (NL) | C | 51.7% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 267/.405/.460 (.385 wOBA)
True Talent: 270/.400/.470
Yes, I do realize this is an AL Waiver Wire Column and yes, I do realize that Geovany Soto is an NL player. However, this brief rant goes well beyond my Cubs homerism and pierces deep into the underlying problem of “old school” baseball. Right now, Soto is top five in WAR amongst catchers, despite being the only top-10 catcher with 200 or fewer PA this season. Soto is the major league leader in walk percentage (a robust 19.0%) among all players who have accrued 150 PA this season (among those with 50+ PA, only Nick Johnson and George Kotteras have walked more per PA). His .385 wOBA is second only to Jorge Posada‘s .394 mark among catchers and is top 35 amongst MLB hitters with 150+ PA this season.
And yet, as of late, Lou Piniella has routinely benched Soto for Koyie Hill (.238 wOBA this season, .258 wOBA career) and his marginally “better” defense (-1.0 WAR per 80 PA vs Soto’s -3.0 FRAR per 200 PA. This is a matter of more than Lou’s senility. http://gameofinches.blogspot.com/2010/06/tbos-first-call-into-sports-radio.html”>Even sports radio hosts hate Soto. Fantasy players kind of hate him, too, as evidenced by the barely 50% ownership, though they can be slightly forgiven as it is hard to play, as your primary C, a guy who is only starting three games a week.
In the offseason, I took a two-part look at Soto’s disastrous 2008 campaign. In Part One, I took a look at the types of injuries Soto suffered throughout the season and how they likely impacted his numbers. In Part Two, I analyzed the effect of sheer bad luck on Soto’s sophomore season. Even though Soto improved his plate discipline in 2008, injuries zapped his power and poor luck (and injuries) deflated his OBP. Even without power, Soto’s xBABIP-adjusted 2008 triple slash line should have been .269/.365/.432 (.797 OPS).
This season, Soto’s plate discipline has developed further and his power, now that he’s fully recovered, has returned (.193 ISO, 8 HR). And yet, you’d think he’s Milton Bradley by the way people in Chicago treat him. Even fellow sabermetrics fan and blogmate “The ‘Bright’ One” was guilty of hating on Soto until I pointed out his raw awesomeness per nine.
I bought a Soto jersey prior to the 2008 season that I have worn to every Cubs game (and even an Indians-Royals game that I almost got “ejected” from) I’ve attended since. The Cubs are 19-2 (16 of those wins came in a row) in games I’ve attended since, including the home away from home no-no. Soto is a guy who will always have a place in my heart, and if I ran the Cubs I would lock him up long term. Cubs fans have Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella to blame, what’s your excuse?
Recommendation: Must own in all NL-only leagues and all mixed-league formats. Soto, when he plays, is unquestionably a top-10 fantasy catcher.
Alex Gordon (3B, 14.2% ESPN Ownership)
True Talent: .270/.365/.450
Alex Gordon is currently tearing the cover off the ball in Triple-A, where he is hitting .335/.461/.584 with 10 bombs in 185 AB. Minor League Splits is 50 AB behind on updating his stats, but his MLB equivalent line between High-A and Triple-A ball was .261/.377/.431 (.808 OPS) and he’s been hitting just as well in those past 50 AB. His Triple-A equivalency numbers are even better, with a .020 OPS boost based on power numbers. That’s plenty better than Alberto Callaspo‘s current (and career-like) .276/.301/.427 line. Keep in mind, it was only a combination of bad luck (.227 BABIP) and injury that led to Gordon’s banishment to the minors after only 38 PA this season. With Gordon mashing and staying healthy, not even Dayton Moore can ignore the him for much longer. Keep an eye out. Gordon may be back in the majors very soon—even if it means a change of scenery.
Recommendation: Keep an eye on Gordon. If he plays every day, Gordon is a borderline must-own in AL-only formats and a strong bench player or CI for deeper mixed leagues.
See you next week.