As we eclipse the halfway mark of the 2010 season, most everyday players have eclipsed the 200-PA threshold (many even the 250- and 300-PA thresholds) by which we can start drawing some statistically significant conclusions about various hitters’ 2010 season. In forecasting players for the second half, we can make statements about K%, BB%, LD%, GB%, and FB% (and maybe even HR/FB%) without having to fret too much someone screaming “sample size! sample size! sample size!” in our ears.
All stats current through at least July 4
Jose Bautista watch (06/29-07/05): .261 AVG, 1 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 0 SB. His ownership is sitting at 79% in Yahoo. A mediocre week for Bautista owners.
Matt LaPorta | Cleveland | OF, 1B, DH | 15% Yahoo Ownership
True Talent: .275/.360/.510
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, C.C. Sabathia was traded to the Indians in exchange for power masher Matt LaPorta. In 417 AB/496 PA between rookie ball (28 PA), A-ball (102 PA) and Double-A (266 PA) for the Brew Crew prior to being traded, LaPorta smacked 32 home runs with only 93 K’s and 53 walks. “Fizzling” thereafter, LaPorta “only” hit a combined 26 HR between Double-A (67 PA), Triple-A (393 PA) and the majors (198 PA) for the Indians split between 2008 and 2009, posting a .188 ISO and .327 wOBA (101 wRC+) in the majors.
Entering this season, LaPorta was a popular sleeper pick, though many were concerned about LaPorta’s playing time when the Indians signed Russell Branyan to a criminally cheap contract late in the offseason. Playing time concerns exacerbated as Branyan returned from injury and LaPorta batted .217/.288/.250 in April and .212/.281/.308 in May with a combined 1 HR, 4 2B and 7 RBI over 123 PA. LaPorta kept the K% in check (24 K to 112 AB), and it was nice to see a resurgent BB% in April and May (9%) after a 6.1% posting in the majors in 2009, but the lack of power had many, including Mark Shapiro, concerned. LaPorta was shipped down to the minors for more marinating and Branyan continued to do that voodoo that he does so well.
Lost in the shuffle, largely overcast by the Carlos Santana machine, was LaPorta’s pure mashing in Triple-A after being demoted. In a mere 67 AB, LaPorta destroyed minor league pitching to the tune of .373/.462/.657 with 5 HR and 11 BB. Per Minor League Splits, that type of hitting is worth a .333/.410/.551 MLB equivalent line. The Indians took notice, trading Branyan for a pair of (middling) prospects and recalling LaPorta to play 1B full time (rather than bouncing him around between LF/1B/DH).
Post-Branyan LaPorta has been nothing short of spectacular. In the 10 games since being recalled, LaPorta has hit .333/.412/.767 with 4 HR, 9 RBI and 5 R in 34 PA. MLS pegs LaPorta’s minor league career numbers at a .248/.322/.439 MLB-equivalent level of production, but that seems to be more the floor than the ceiling for LaPorta and a verification of his power. Prior to his recall, some commentators with quick trigger fingers were ready to write LaPorta off as just a “could be” hitter with some pop—after all, the man has been around at least three years. However, LaPorta barely has 350 MLB PA to his name, and what we are seeing now might only be the tip of the iceberg of his potential.
In his ability to both slug and make average contact, LaPorta is a rare power hitter. Whereas most hitters with minor league ISOs upward of .250 tend to strikeout 30% of the time or more (Howard, Davis, et al.), LaPorta’s K% is a mere 21.3% in his brief major league career and below 25% in the minors. This, combined with average-or-better walking abilities, gives LaPorta .280+ AVG/.370 OBP upside.
Given his OF/1B eligibility, LaPorta could make a major splash in the second half for fantasy owners in need of power/OBP and who have an open spot at UTIL/1B/OF. Further, the AVG upside makes LaPorta more than just an interesting play for those in need—it makes him a moderate-risk, high-upside guy for those looking to solidify their offensive stats. Sure, he won’t run much (3.2 career speed score), but LaPorta may be the kind of hitter Kendry Morales was in the second half last season. He’s just that good.
Plus, as an added bonus, his fantasy owners can change their team name to “LaPorta Potty.”
Recommendation: Must own in all formats, especially AL-only.
UPDATE: LaPorta had a nasty collision with Elvis Andrus on July 5, which may sideline him for a while.
Kila Ka’aihue | Kansas City | 1B, DH | 0% Yahoo Ownership
YTD: .250/.250/.250 (MLB) // .310/.477/.597 (AAA)
True Talent: .260/.390/.450
Mired in the Kansas City mess that is Dayton Moore’s “process” are several plus-quality minor leaguers. This should not be surprising because, even if you are terrible at drafting, if you have a perennial top-five pick, it is exceedingly difficult to continuously mess up the draft. Moore seemingly attempted to do just that this year by drafting Christian Colon, a high-contact shortstop with an allergy to walks and a mediocre power (and career) upside, fourth overall. (From what I hear, think Alexi Ramirez with less power and more walks.). A few weeks ago, I took a look at “former” uberprospect Alex Gordon, age 26, who has kept on mashing to no avail since. There is also, of course, 2008′s top pick, Eric Hosmer, age 21, whose strong walking skills (13% BB% this season), intriguing power upside (.198 ISO this season) and poor defense profile him as the stereotypical 1B/DH type.
Then there’s this other guy, Kila Ka’aihue, a 26-year-old 1B/DH by trade, who has posted walk rates north of 12% in every minor league stop with a .207 career minor league ISO to boot. I am utterly convinced Dayton Moore hates him. Though the Royals, as a team, have a barely above average .338 OBP this year and are not dead last with their .403 SLG, they have been the bottom-feeders of major league baseball in OBP/SLG/wOBA since at least 2004. Still, they refused to give Kila “I walk a lot, even though I am not old” Ka’aihue his fair chance. Rather, the Royals tried to solve their wOBA woes by bringing in Mike “I don’t know how to walk” Jacobs (for Leo Nunez, who has been a serviceable closer for the Marlins), who hit a handful of homers (19) but posted a sub-.300 OBP along the way for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile, Kila, mired in a “down year,” posted a “pathetic” .252/.392/.433 line with 17 HR in 555 PA for the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate, getting a 25-PA cup of coffee to placate stats nerds everywhere.
Kila is currently back to his power-hitting ways, mashing 16 HR in half as many PA as last season while posting a .310/.477/.597 line for the Omaha Royals. Minor League Splits says such a performance is worth an MLB-equivalent line of .249/.384/.433 (.817 OPS) with 10 HR in 245 AB. Still, Kila Monster, the true pride of Hawaii, gets no love and is wasting away his prime years of youth proving that he has nothing to prove in the minors.
There’s a clear logjam at 1B/DH in Kansas City, with grandpa/Red Giant Jose Guillen and youngster Billy Butler, who is just starting to come into his own as a hitter, sticking around right now and Eric Hosmer on his way. Moore has never really given Kila and chance, and it’s quite likely that he’ll need a change of scenery in order to stick in the majors. Kila could provide a quality trade chip for the Royals, as his MLB-equivalent .814 OPS would rank top 10 among DHs (meaning there’s 20+ teams that could use his production, not to mention cost-controlled talent) and middle of the pack amongst MLB first basemen. Personally, I would love to see the Cubs acquire the second incarnation of the Greek god of walks. (And maybe Alex Gordon, too; in exchange, the Royals can have Josh Vitters and Tyler Colvin.)
In terms of immediate fantasy impact, Kila is more of a keeper league player at the moment. The 1B/DH logjam in KC makes Kila’s short-term playing time possibilities near nil. However, Kila is a minor leaguer worth monitoring. He may be an injury away from the majors, though Alex Gordon will likely be first in line for promotion. Though it’s unlikely that Kila will be on the move at the All-Star break—his lack of MLB experience makes him more offseason trade fodder (for impact talent loading, as Moore has the Cubs’ sense of team building)—stranger things have happened.
Whenever and however it happens, Kila needs the chance to prove to casual fans what we stats nerd already know: Kila has a lot of talent.
Recommendation: Kila Whale should be owned in both AL-only and mixed-league keeper formats. Though immediate playing time concerns limit his short-term value, you should free up an AL-only and deeper mixed-league bench/starting spot for Kila when he gets his next cup of coffee.
Michael Brantley | Cleveland | OF | | 7% Yahoo Ownership
True Talent: .280/.345/.370
First, Grady Sizemore went down. Then went Asdrubal Cabrera. Shin-Soo Choo super-sprained his thumb a week ago, and now Matt LaPorta might see a DL stint after colliding with the elbow of Elvis Andrus. Though injuries have not stifled the middling Indians this season nearly as badly as they have the Red Sox or Phillies, the Indians are currently without four of their five best players, and three of those players either have missed or will miss significant time this season.
Though Indians fans can give up hope for the 2010 baseball season (not that there was particularly much to begin with, though I pegged them as the dark horse to win the AL Central), fantasy owners might do well to take a second look at Cleveland and its slew of young talent.
Above, I profiled Matt LaPorta, and previously I explained why you must own Carlos Santana. Now, it’s time to take a brief look at Michael Brantley.
A former Brewer taken in the seventh round of the 2005 amateur draft, Brantley was shipped to Cleveland as the infamous PTBNL in exchange for C.C. Sabathia (who would later have to leave the Brewers and sign with New York because there was not enough food in Milwaukee to feed both C.C. and Prince Fielder). Though he utterly lacks power (his scouting report on The Baseball Cube rates his power as a Juan Pierre-like 12/100), Brantley has shown a keen ability to walk (10+% BB% in every minor league stop) and make plenty of contact. Brantley’s speed plus heavy groundball hitting (career 55.2% GB%) have lead to a high average (.302) and even higher OBP (.388) in the minors.
When Sizemore went down last season, Brantley was given his first shot in the majors, producing a .313/.358/.348 line with 4 SB (50% CS, however) in 28 games. Though Brantley cracked the Opening Day roster this season, he struggled through his first 40 PA, posting a .156/.229/.188 triple slash line, which led to a Triple-A demotion to clean up a crowded outfield. An injury or two later, and that once-crowded outfield has turned into a job opening.
Brantley is currently hitting .332/.405/.427 with 11 SB (6 CS, 68.5% success rate) for the Columbus Clippers. Minor League Splits credits this production with a .294/.356/.370 MLB equivalent, though his career production is more mellow. As a guy who can get on base and run (160 SB in under 2,500 PA), Brantley is an intriguing outfield option for those in need of speed and AVG (and maybe R’s, if he’s slotted ahead of Carlos Santana).
Be cautious with Brantley in leagues that use net stolen bases, however. Though Brantley has plenty of wheels and will provide the Indians with quality outfield defense, his speed has not yet translated into smart baserunning in the majors. Though his minor league success rate is encouraging (160/199, 80.4%), Brantley’s been caught in 5 of 9 attempts thus far into his major league career. That should change as Brantley develops into a league-average (or better) hitter over time, but consider yourself warned.
Recommendation: Brantley should be owned in AL-only leagues, moving to must-own status if slotted in the No. 1 or No. 2 hole ahead of Carlos Santana. In terms of mixed-league value, Brantley is a quality bench player in 12-plus-team, three-outfielder leagues, and a fringe fourth outfielder for five-outfielder leagues.
Brennan Boesch | Detroit | OF | 72% Yahoo Ownership
True Talent: .270/.310/.475
In my major league debut for THT, I had harsh things to say about Brennan Boesch’s .380/.392/.676 triple slash line, .310 ISO and 2.9% BB%. Though his numbers have come down a bit since, Boesch is still hitting .341/.394/.594 on the year with an improved 8.0% BB% and impressive .253 ISO with 12 HR and 47 RBIs to boot through his first 251 MLB PA. This warrants a second look.
Boesch currently has the third-highest BABIP in the majors among hitters with 250+ PA, with a lofty .384 mark. Per THT’s xBABIP calculator, Boesch’s batted-ball profile pegs him as a .303 BABIP hitter. If we adjust Boesch’s current MLB line to account for the .303 xBABIP, optimistically assuming all subtracted hits were only of the single variety, Boesch’s current .341/.394/.594 (.988 OPS) triple slash line falls to .280/.339/.533 (.872 OPS) . Still a useful line.
SLG: Though he began his minor league career in 2006 without much power, Boesch found his power stroke last season in Double-A and has not lost it since. According to scouting reports, Boesch profiles as a quality power hitter. By all accounts, Boesch’s 25+ HR pace may be legitimate; especially when you consider that he is averaging 413 feet per home run.
AVG: Though he hits for power, Boesch is not much of a strikeout guy. He’s kept his K% in check around 20% for his minor league career, and that’s just about what he’s doing in the majors. Maybe a sub-25% K% will stick; if so, Boesch may provide some consistent head-to-head production value for owners and post an AVG in the .270s.
OBP: OBP leagues should be cautious, as Boesch’s career-high BB% in the minors was 7.8% in 111 PA in High-A. I don’t trust that 8.0% walk rate.
Assuming the power is legit, I’d peg Boesch as a .270/.310/.475 kind of hitter. That’s Mike Jacobs/Marcus Thames territory. There’s obviously some value to be had with Boesch, but it comes more in fantasy than in real life (which may limit his value long term). Then again, perhaps he’ll prove me wrong (again) and maintain an improved plate approach. We’ll see what his second-half stats look like.
Given Boesch’s 72% ownership, the forgoing was more of a confirmation piece for current owners/apology to prospective owners than a specific recommendation.
Recommendation: A must-own hot bat in AL-only leagues who should be owned in deeper (12+ team/5 OF) mixed leagues. Just keep an eye on his month-to-month stats.
Daniel Hudson | Chicago (AL) | P | 2% Yahoo Ownership
YTD: 3.47 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.48 K/BB (AAA)
True Talent: 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.40 K/BB
Jake Peavy‘s detached muscle in his shoulder (which will likely end his 2010 season) clears a rotation spot for top Sox pitching prospect Daniel Hudson. Hudson, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 amateur draft, has compiled a 2.90 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with a 43.5% GB% and a 364/87 K-to-BB ratio in 310.1 IP for his minor league career. Minor League Splits equivocates this production into a major league FIP of 3.94.
Hudson has been relatively successful in the upper minors. Over 117.1 Triple-A innings between this year and last, Hudson has accrued a 3.38 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP and a 132/40 K-to-BB ratio. A note of concern, however: For the season, Hudson’s Triple-A GB% has dipped to 40.7%. This may be a sample size issue, but this is the third consecutive year that Hudson has burned fewer worms than the last (falling from 50+% in 2008), and the Cell is not one of the better places in the league to lose groundball tendencies. (Per THT’s “top secret” HR/FB% data, U.S. Cellular Field ranks second overall, behind only Citizens Bank Park, in HR/FB exaggeration with a 21.3% inflation index).
Let’s take the above 3.94 MLB-equivalent FIP as the baseline for Hudson’s MLB projection. Assuming he takes over the role of fifth starter and goes an average of six innings per outing, he would have at most 15 opportunities to start a game for a max innings output of 90. Given that he has already thrown 93.1 innings in the minors this year and only 147.1 innings last year, let’s pretend the White Sox care about long-term pitcher durability and innings totals and cap his season total innings at 177.1. That number would put Hudson approximately within the 30-inning range of the Verducci Effect and limit him to 84 IP in the majors this year. If Hudson does indeed throw 84 innings, he would allow, again assuming a 3.94 FIP, about 36.77 runs to score.
Right now, the White Sox are on pace to play ~1,444.1 innings of defense with team UZR total of -19.18 per 162 games. Assuming that Chicago’s second-half defensive production remains constant, that would give the team a Runs Above Average Allowed per Inning (RAAA/INN) rate of approximately 0.0147. Per 84 innings of play, that would allow an additional ~1.11 runners to score compare with what the league-average defense would allow. If we add this to Hudson’s defense-neutral runs allowed, supra, we get 37.88 runs allowed.
Finally, we look at park effects. Per Baseball Reference, U.S. Cellular Field has a park effects index of 8%, meaning total offensive output at the park is exaggerated by 8%. Since the Sox only play half their games at the Cell, we’ll use a 4% index. This increases Hudson’s theoretical runs allowed total from 38.01 to 39.40 (per 84 IP), yielding a 4.22 ERA.
Personally, I would peg Hudson’s ERA over/under for 2010 slightly lower, between 4.00 and 4.20. He has demonstrated above-average control in the minors (2.5 MiLB career BB/9, 3.1 Triple-A) and a keen ability to miss bats (6.9 MiLB career H/9, 7.9 Triple-A plus 10.6 MiLB career K/9, 10.1 Triple-A). Hence, a sub-1.30 WHIP, provided the walks stay in check, would be entirely plausible in my estimation. K/9 might be a more fickle thing to predict. Minor League Splits pegs his career numbers as worth an upper 7′s rate (7.69) and his Triple-A numbers in the low to mid-8′s (8.67 for 2010). Given his consistent ability to whiff hitters in the minors, I would not be at all shocked if he posted a strikeout per inning. Still, I err on the side of conservatism and say he will post a K/9 somewhere between 8 and 9.
Juan Pierre, Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel and a struggling Gordon Beckham aside, the Sox still have three offensive juggernauts, who should provide plenty of run support, between Rios-Konerko-Quentin. Hence, my final over/under line on Hudson (which you can adjust based on your own IP beliefs) is 84 IP, 5 W, 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 79 K.
Recommendation: If you had Peavy, you need Hudson. With Erik Bedard back, Hudson might be the last reliable AL-only infusion of starting pitching talent until September call-ups. If you are in mixed leagues, the same rule applies, though you might still be able to get Edinson Volquez or Jordan Zimmerman (or maybe even Brandon Webb) down the line.
Joshua Bell | Baltimore | 3B | 0% Yahoo Ownership
True Talent: .250/.310/.420
With Garrett Atkins gone as gone could be from Baltimore, the team has decided to promote its most recent return on the Erik Bedard theft: Joshua Bell, who was acquired from the Dodgers, who are more than happy with Casey Blake (so happy that they gave up Carlos Santana for him), for George Sherrill. After fizzling around in High-A ball for the Dodgers between 2007 and 2008 (combined .244/.328/.412 line), Bell sizzled in 2009 in Double-A ball split between Baltimore and Los Angeles to the tune of a .298/.379/.529 triple slash line with 20 HR in 446 AB. Bell, who posted an .885 OPS with the Dodgers’ Double-A team and an .899 OPS with that of Baltimore, accomplished this feat of talent with a .342 BABIP, 21.3% K% and 11.8% BB%.
Prior to promotion, Bell was hitting .265/.310/.453 in Triple-A, flashing good power (.188 ISO) for the hot corner but decreased patience (5.8% BB%) and more whiffs (26.2% K%). Minor League Splits equivocates this kind of production into a less-than-encouraging .241/.277/.405 line, which is better than his cumulative minor league MLB OPS equivalent of .611.
Bell may be Baltimore’s third baseman of the future, but his Triple-A numbers through the first half indicate that he’s not yet ready for major league play. Minor League Splits is even bearish on his MLB-equivalency production from Double-A last season, declaring it worth only a .235/.299/.384 triple slash line (sub-.700 OPS). Given the Orioles’ young team and current floundering in the basement of the AL, it’s quite possible that they will give Bell quite a long leash to learn to play at the pro level this season. However, until the young caterpillar shows signs of metamorphosing into a butterfly, he’s nothing I can recommend.
If you are in need of 3B help and must have an Orioles player, I suggest you elect a look at Jake Fox, who is hitting .345 with 2 HR since the calendar flipped to July. Fox won’t light the world on fire in OBP leagues (in fact, he’ll likely post a below-average OBP thanks to his extreme allergy to walks (career 5.5% BB% in the majors, 6.9% in the minors)), but he’s got legitimate pop (.235 minor league ISO, .185 MLB ISO) with some AVG upside.
Oh wait, wasn’t this supposed to be a Joshua Bell post?
Recommendation: Unless slotted in the No. 3 or No. 4 hole consistently, Bell is unownable in either AL-only or mixed leagues. In keeper leagues, I’d consider him as a trade chip.
Marc Rzepczynski | Toronto | SP | 1% Yahoo Ownership
YTD: 6.35 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 11.12 K/9, 7.00 K/BB
True Talent: 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.75 K/9, 2.50 K/BB
Let the Toronto bias continue! Entering 2010, I had seven bold names on my list of sleepers to consider: Phil Hughes, Francisco Liriano, Colby Lewis, Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos, Kris Medlen and Marc Rzepczynski. Between my auction and draft money leagues, I acquired all but one of those players (Liriano) at some point this season. So far, six have paid off. With a recent promotion and Jesse Litsch‘s recent struggles, it is time for the seventh player on that list, Rzepczynski, to step forward and make me look like a genius.
As a guy with groundball plus strikeout talents, Jonathan Sanchez All-Star pitcher Marc Rzepczynski, who I had stashed in my DL slot until May in every league, is the kind of pitcher I am perpetually infatuated with (for evidence, see my continuous write-ups and appraisals (via my blog or THT AL Waiver Wire columns) of Brandon Morrow, Gio Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa, Justin Masterson and, sadly, Andrew Miller). To go with a ridiculous 61.1% minor league career groundball rate and 9.5 K/9, Rzepczynski has exhibited average control (3.5 BB/9) and palatable results (3.38 ERA and 3.25 park/luck-neutral minor league FIP). Of concern has been Rzepczynski’s hittability in the minors (8.4 hits per nine against hitters who are generally inferior to MLB hitters) and WHIP (1.32), but the guy might be the heir to the Brandon Webb throne with upside to spare. I’ve even given him the nickname “The Repo Man”, in honor of his double-play-inducing abilities. Hence, I’ll forgive these minor flaws, though you’ll have to forgive me for blindly ignoring that fact that Minor League Splits says his overall minor league career is only worth a 4.38 FIP (though this is inflated heavily by a poor 52-IP showing in Triple-A this year while rehabbing a broken finger).
Last year Rzepczynski got his first taste of major league play, and the results were as good as one could expect. In 61.1 IP (11 games started), The Repo Man accrued a 3.67 ERA/3.70 xFIP through a steady diet of ground balls (51.2%, top 20 among all starting pitchers who threw 50+ innings last season) and strikeouts (8.80 K/9). The WHIP (1.32) and walks (4.40) remained a noticeable concern, but the 25-year-old pitching machine seemed poised to break out (or at least have a quality season) in 2010.
Then, of course, the finger injury happened, and Rzepczynski pitched much less effectively in Triple-A than he ever had previously in his career (4.33 park/luck-neutral MiLB FIP, 7.51 K/9), though he still kept the ground balls rolling (50%) and the walk rate in check (3.22). When Marcum went down, the Jays recalled Rzepczynski from Triple-A, and he “rewarded” them this week with 5.2 innings of 4 ER, 7 K, 1 BB, 8 GB/16 BIP baseball. Needless to say, his (SAMPLE SIZE!) 2.40 xFIP after one game is more than half his current ERA of 6.35.
Bright skies lie ahead (overall, long term) for those who take low- to medium-risk, high-reward gambles. Rzepczynski’s recent Triple-A struggles are of course concerning, but the talent is unquestionably there, and the only thing seemingly standing between Rzepczynski and glory is whether or not he keeps the walk rate in check. Given his minor league track record, I’ll take that gamble (though, as my blogmate The Bright One likes to point out, I’ll probably start hating Rzepczynski by next season or as soon as he starts proving to everyone else just how good I know he is).
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats. Should be owned in mixed leagues, especially those with innings limits in excess of 1,400.