I’m not sure why, but it seems as though every one of my articles features at least one Blue Jay. I don’t even like the Blue Jays, so I’m not too sure where this Canadian bias is coming from. Maybe I subconsciously like them. Oh well. At this point, I’m sure you are as tired of hearing about how much I like Brandon Morrow as I am about tell you how much I like him. Over his past 49 IP, he has only allowed 16 ER and has a 46:16 K/BB, all while maintaining a respectable GB%. Even if Morrow’s walks inflate back to their norm rate, he’s a quality pitcher. I, myself, can only imagine the possibilities if he keeps the walks in check.
On a separate note, OBP league players should really check in upon the availability of Matt Joyce.
All stats current through at least June 30, 2010.
Jose Bautista watch (06/22-06/28): .304 AVG, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 0 SB. His ownership is back up to 96.0% in ESPN leagues. A good week (after two terrible ones) for Bautista owners!
Erik Bedard | Seattle | SP | 11.5% ESPN Ownership
YTD: Has Not Pitched
True Talent: 3.60 ERA, 8.90 K/9, 2.65 K/BB
Two and half seasons after the trade that keeps on giving was struck between the Orioles and Mariners, Bedard has gone from a must-own pitching commodity to a late-round injury spec pick in fantasy baseball drafts. Whereas Brandon Webb, who has not pitched since April of 2009 and might not even pitch until August, if at all this season, was rated top 100 by ESPN and top 200 by Yahoo entering the season, Bedard, who is on pace to return July 6, was not ranked top 200 by either service. Even MDC ranked Bedard almost a full 100 picks lower.
The question is why?
Over the course of their respective careers, both Webb and Bedard have substantially similar FIPs—Bedard’s is 3.55, whereas Webb’s is 3.50. The xFIP gap is much more noticeable and and Webb’s favor—3.32 to 3.88—but Webb also pitches in Arizona and boasts a career 13.2% HR/FB rate, whereas Bedard plays in spacious Safeco and has posted a HR/FB% just over 9% in the 30 starts he’s made for the Mariners (also, 8.8% HR/FB% career). Further, for fantasy purposes, Bedard is a plus-quality strikeout source (career 8.77 K/9), whereas Webb’s K/9 is merely above average and Scott Baker-esque (7.26, career). The quality of their WHIP is not substantially different either, though Webb’s 1.24 mark is much better than Bedard’s 1.32 (though Bedard’s numbers over the past few years indicate that it’s a strong bet that he will post a WHIP under 1.30 if he returns healthy).
All in all, you see two very quality, useful fantasy pitchers—each valuable in his own right. Webb offers more ground balls and fewer walks than Bedard, but Bedard strikes out more, plays in a more spacious park and has baseball’s best outfield defense behind him. A quality outfield defense may trump a quality infield defense because fly balls and line drives have higher xISOs and xOBPs than ground balls.
So why is Webb owned in over 40% of fantasy leagues on ESPN.com, whereas Bedard is owned in a measly 11.5%? Bedard is on track to come back Tuesday, whereas Webb hasn’t even faced a live batter yet and won’t likely return until mid-August at the earliest. Apparently people have forgotten that Bedard accumulated a 2.82 ERA (3.55 FIP/3.72 xFIP), 5 Ws, 90 Ks and a 1.19 WHIP in 83.0 IP before injuries derailed his season. In fact, in 30 starts as a Mariner between 2008 and 2009, Bedard accrued 11 Ws and 162 Ks in 164 IP with a 3.24 ERA and 1.26 WHIP (<1 hit per inning) to boot.
CHONE pegs Bedard as a 3.48 ERA/3.64 FIP pitcher with more than a strikeout per nine upon return. Let’s say he throws ~80-90 IP. That would equivocate to the approximate and alleged remaining innings limit the Nationals have placed upon young stud Stephen Strasburg. Of course, Strasburg is infinitely healthier and more valuable than Bedard, but if people are willing to pay the bank for only 80 more innings of Strasburg, it is so unreasonable to say a plus-quality starting pitcher like Bedard isn’t worth something for the same set of innings?
All signs point to go for Bedard. His velocity while rehabbing in the minors is right where it should be (low-90s), as is his strikes-per-total-pitches rate (aka Zone%: 63% in the minors versus 54% for his MLB career). Further, he’s had no major set backs and just pitched 80+ pitches in his most recent minor league outing. In short, Bedard is ready and you will regret not having him.
Recommendation: Must own, immediately, in all formats. Bedard, who only has a mutual option for 2011, is not being paid too much this season and will likely be on the move to a contender (Mets? Dodgers?) before the trade deadline, and upon such, his value will only improve.
Brett Wallace | Toronto | 3B (though he will gain 1B eligibility at some point upon reaching the majors) | 0.1
YTD: .301/.363/.507 (AAA-Las Vegas numbers)
True Talent: .252/.306/.401 (with upside)
After being traded for Matt Holliday and Roy Halladay (kind of), Wallace has moved across the diamond from 3B, where his defense was highly suspect, to 1B for Toronto. So far this season, Wallace has done what he does best for the Jays’ Triple-A affiliate, mashing an .870 OPS to the tune of a .301/.363/.507 triple slash with 14 HR over 330 PA. That’s much better than his trade counterpart Michael Taylor, who has only put up a .250/.319/.386 line with a complete power zap (.192 career ISO in the minors). With Lyle Overbay, a 1B in the twilight of his career, struggling to post a .700 OPS with his.234/.317/.383 triple slash line, it is very possible that Jays fans might see Wallace make his major league debut sometime by August (especially if they can sucker another team into taking Overbay).
However, fantasy owners and Jays fans should be cautious with their expectations for the 24-year-old 1B. Though Wallace is raking and has the minor league career line (.303/.377/.486) to back up his current production, Wallace plays in the hitter-friendly PCL. Per Minor League Splits, Taylor’s league/park/luck neutralized MiLB line is “only” .297/.360/.497 with 13 HR over the same sample. However, it is Taylor’s MLB translation that is more concerning. MLS thinks his current PCL line is only worth a .239/.289/.389 (.678 OPS) line in the majors, which is actually an offensive downgrade from Overbay’s current pace of production.
CHONE is more optimistic than MLS, but still pessimistic overall, pegging Wallace’s current prospective level of production at a .252/.306/.401 (.707 OPS) MLB line. Wallace, who has a career minor league ISO of .183, will likely mature into a consistent 20-25 HR hitter with decent average/OBP skills over time, but he’s still quite young at 24 and has plenty of “seasoning” left to do.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only keeper leagues and probably mixed-league keeper leagues too. In non-keeper formats, he is likely not of value unless slotted in the No. 3 or No. 4 hole upon promotion.
Russell Branyan | Seattle | 1B, DH | 4.8% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .255/.335/.500 (my approx. ROS projection)
You wouldn’t know it based on his ownership percentage, but Branyan is again on pace for a 30 HR per 600 PA season. With 11 HR in just under 200 PA (18.1 PA/HR), Branyan’s advanced age (35) is not getting in the way of his power (17.3 PA/HR). Surprisingly enough, the reigning all-time Three True Outcomes champion is posting a career “low” strikeout rate (28.7%) while walking at his lowest clip since the end of last decade (8.5%). Nonetheless, Branyan’s wOBA currently sits at a robust .361 (26% above average).
Though Branyan, who has a team-friendly option for 2011, was recently dealt to the Mariners, spacious Safeco Field should be of no concern for prospective Branyan owners because (1) Branyan is a lefty pull hitter (and Safe Co. really only kills the righties, per the Bill James Handbook), (2) Branyan is averaging ~394 feet per home run this season and he averaged about 415 feet last season, and (3) Branyan proved that Safeco is no match for him last season (.269 ISO, 31 HR in 505 PA for Mariners in 2009).
The only real concern for Branyan owners will be the AVG/OBP (depending on the type of league you play). For leagues that use AVG, Branyan may be a toxic asset, a la junk bonds from 2008. Even with tons of power, Branyan’s career .236 AVG could do some real damage to a team’s bottom line, as any 2008 Adam Dunn owner will attest. On the other hand, OBP league players should be less concerned. Thanks to a usually strong BB%, Branyan has always posted league-average or better OBPs despite anemic AVGs.
Hence, the linch-pin, should you own Branyan inquiry is as follows: what will his rest of season AVG look like?
The ZiPS Rest of Season projection for Branyan says he is likely to post a .230/.324/.461 line for the rest of the season (with 11 more HR in 203 PA). If that is the case, then Branyan is ownable in AL-only and OBP-format leagues, but likely a dangerous proposition for mixed league owners unless they are either power-starved or at the bottom of the barrel in AVG to begin with. However, while ZiPS does consider in-season performance, there is a heavy weight toward career numbers in the ROS calculation.
THT’s xBABIP calculator pegs Branyan’s current batted ball profile as capable of a .305 xBABIP. By contrast, Branyan’s current BABIP is only .308. Hence, if Branyan maintains his current batted ball rates, K% and BB%, it is very plausible that he sustains a ~.260 AVG for the rest of the season. If that is the situation, then Branyan moves from a fringe mixed league option to palpable/borderline must-own 1B/CI.
Final note >> Over his last 171 games, Branyan has a .254 AVG with 42 HR, 104 RBI, 90 R and 2 SB.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats and deeper mixed leagues with CI requirements. Branyan should be owned in most 12-team mixed leagues as well.
Bengie Molina | Texas | C | 37.7% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .265/.305/.400
In many ways, the recent Bengie Molina-for-Chris Ray (plus Michael Main) swap makes no sense for the Rangers. Their current catching tandem for the Rangers (which primarily consists of Matt Treanor (.308 wOBA) with sprinkles of former top prospect Max Ramirez) has combined to hit .213/.310/.355 (.293 wOBA) this season. By contrast, Bengie Molina has struggled to muster up a .257/.312/.332 (.284 wOBA) line, which is worse than either Treanor (who at least, in contrast to Molina, has average defense) or Rangers catchers as a whole. Further, the Rangers were suckered into giving up a prospect to avoid taking on Molina’s remaining salary.
In real life, this trade, which frees up the backstop for Buster Posey and 1B for Aubrey Huff, is an obvious win for the Giants. But we don’t play in the real world. We play in a fantasy world from our mother’s basement. Thus, let’s look at how this trade will affect us fantasy nerds.
B-Mo, as he is called by no one, is a career .263/.313/.398 hitter at Texas. The fact that most of these ABs came from his “prime age years” on the Angels means Molina’s prospects for success on the Rangers is more limited than salivating. Sure, it is true that Molina seemed to “develop his power stroke” only after he left the Angels, but that power, as evidenced by his .074 ISO, is noticeably absent this year. Further, even if the move to the Arlington were to enhance Molina’s power value, he would also be facing stronger pitching competition overall in the junior circuit.
Hence, my conclusion is thus: Even if Molina has some rebound in power and steals, significant playing time from the Rangers’ mediocre catching depth (which used to be touted as much less mediocre, if memory does serve), his slowing lumber (pessimistic power projections), complete allergy to walks (no Rs) and putrid 0.9 speed score (no SBs) are all signs which point to “no thank you.” Additionally, the Rangers, unlike the Giants, have plenty of better offensive options to plug into the heart of their batting order and thus Molina is substantially unlikely to return his 80+ RBI “glory days.”
In the words of my favorite storm trooper, “move along.”
Recommendation: It is my regret to inform you that due to the lack of C depth in AL-only formats, Bengie Molina must be owned in such leagues. That’s also true of dual-catcher leagues. However, mixed leagues without dual-catcher needs can avoid Molina like the plague.
Dallas Braden | Oakland | SP | 28.4% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 3.83 ERA, 5.55 K/9, 42.4% GB%, 3.63 K/BB
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 5.40 K/9, 38.5% GB%, 3.25 K/BB
Before his perfect game, Dallas Braden was a nobody, a bee in A-Rod’s bonnet (more of the feud here). Thereafter, he was an overrated nobody. Almost 60% of Yahoo players who happened to own Braden on the day of his perfect game did not start him; his ownership numbers temporarily spiked following “el perfecto,” but he’s still owned in less than 29% of ESPN leagues.
Fantasy owners generally do not like Braden, and you can’t really blame them. His strikeout rate is unsexy (5.5 K/9) and he’s entirely too hittable, having surrendered 96 hits in 94 IP. Still, Braden is a useful fantasy commodity. Thanks to pinpoint control (1.53 BB/9, 62.9% F-Strike% compared with a 58.5% MLB avg) and an average groundball rate, Braden has quietly backed up his 3.83 ERA with a 3.88 FIP/4.06 xFIP. Further, despite his general hittability (el perfecto excepted), Braden has managed to post a useful 1.19 WHIP because he is more stingy about giving out free passes than a Kerasotes-owned movie theater when the damned projector breaks for 10 minutes midway through “X-Men 2″ … sorry, as you can tell I’m still bitter about that incident.
Back to the point, Ws (thanks to the anemic Oakland offense) and Ks excepted, Braden has proved to be a useful fantasy commodity this season. He’s by no means the centerpiece of any fantasy team (and if he is, you have some serious pitching issues), but Braden is nonetheless worth a stream for favorable matchups or even a bench spot in deeper mixed leagues with higher pitching limits (1,500+).
The back of one’s fantasy pitching rotation is about solidifying your overall ratios, not category padding. To that end, Braden has value. Despite what A-Rod thinks.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most AL-only formats, quite ownable and stream-worthy in mixed leagues.
Fausto Carmona | Cleveland | SP | 23.4% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 3.68 ERA, 4.73 K/9, 58.6% GB% 1.5 K/BB
True Talent: 4.80 ERA, 4.2 K/9, 60.0% GB%, 1.15 K/BB
Irrespective of what any baseball “expert” told you entering this season, Fausto Carmona’s resurgence this season was nothing short of unexpected.
Entering this season, with 2007’s “breakout” excepted, Carmona never really experienced much MLB success entering 2010. In 2008 his FIP was 4.89 and in 2009 it was an even worse 5.36. Despite strong groundball tendencies (career 60.8 GB%) Carmona’s xFIP numbers are just as ugly as his ERA in 2008 and 2009 (5.13 and 4.98 xFIPs, respectively).
Carmona’s big problem from 2008 to 2009 was a complete and utter lack of command. Whereas he walked only 2.55 batters per nine in 2007, Carmona’s BB/9 doubled in the following seasons (while the K/9 remained uselessly below average). Carmona’s 2007 command was not even supported by anything substantial other than a slightly above-average Contact%: his F-Strike% was below average in 2007 and his Zone% was merely average. Hence, Carmona’s ballooned walk numbers in 2008 and 2009 were less decreased control and more expected regression.
Not this year, however. Carmona’s back! He’s got a 3.68 ERA and 7 W through the end of June. All praise ESPN?
Not so fast. Despite the “return to form” for Carmona this season, many of his numbers are far from confidence-inspiring, and he’s actually still performing well below his 2007 levels. Though Carmona’s throwing more strikes and first-pitch strikes than last season, each of those rates is below average and below Carmona’s 2007 rates. This late into his career, it might be about time to push Carmona’s 1.6 minor league BB/9 out of our minds. Further, Carmona is boasting a career-low 6.2% swinging strike rate and a 58.6% groundball percentage, which, while still robust and well above average (in fact, it is top 5 in the MLB amongst pitchers with 50+ IP this season), is below his 60.8% career rate and 2007 rate of 63.5%.
All of these factors add up to a 4.52 xFIP, which indicates that turbulent times are ahead for Carmona. As fellow THT Fantasy writer Derek Ambrosino pointed out earlier this week, useful, but unsexy, pitchers/hitters who have value and who would almost surely be snatched up by another team are often difficult to trade, even as a throw-in. Hence, it is hard to say “trade Carmona to someone who needs pitching” and realistically expect success on that front. Rather, it is important to, as Ambrosino points out, evaluate Carmona’s opportunity cost based on his realistic ROS projections. ZiPS says a 4.83 ERA with 6 W is likely what’s in store for Carmona’s future, and Cleveland’s lack of infield defense and Carmona’s peripherals seem to substantiate that projection.
If you tell me that you can’t find an ERA better than 4.83 on the waiver wire, then you are a dirty liar—even if you play in an AL-only league. Let Carmona implode on someone else’s team. Trust me, someone will pick him up. Just don’t pass up a more valuable and available guy like Russell Branyan for the sake of keeping a trade chip time bomb around.
Recommendation: He will be owned in both AL-only and probably mixed league formats for the time being, but he really shouldn’t. Carmona is a fringe spot-starter at best.
I also wanted to cover Jake Fox this week, but I honestly would only repeat what I said about him a few weeks ago, and he’s only hitting .143/.250/.143 (.200 wOBA) on the Orioles, which is somehow worse than what he did for the A’s (thanks to a 43% K%) and hardly an upgrade over Garrett Atkins‘ .214/.276/.286 (.258 wOBA). I guess the Orioles just can’t catch a break with buy-low acquisitions this year.