I hope everyone enjoyed the All-Star break. I’d like to give a quick thank you to everyone who sent me fan mail this past week. My ego always appreciates it and I hope that my advice was helpful. For the benefit of all, I created a top 50 rest of season fantasy starters list (with the help of blogmate SexyRexy) during the All-Star game.
Though I am happy that the NL finally spanked those DH-using wussies, I doubt that winning the All-Star game gives the winning team any sort of advantage in the World Series. If anything, assuming that “home field advantage” in any way matters, the opposite may be the case. Think about it. The World Series is broken up 2-3-2. A series can last 4, 5, 6 or 7 games. If the series is four games long, the advantage is a push at 2-2. If the series goes to five games, the advantage goes to the loser of the All-Star game. If the series is six games long, it’s again a push at 3-3.
It is only if the series extends to Game Seven that the advantage is in favor of the All-Star game winner. However, to the best of my knowledge, it is rare for World Series match-ups to extend to Game Seven. Over the past decade, the only match-up that did was the 2001 Diamondbacks-Yankees World Series. Hence, Bud Selig’s “making it count” may have an adverse effect on the winning team. Perhaps instead the World Series should be broken up 2-2-1-1-1. But then you gotta worry about jet lag, I suppose. Besides, why does “it count” if the best players; e.g., Alex Rios and Andrew McCutchen (“McClutchen” as I call him) are all too often left off the roster? Rant complete. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Also, in memory of George Steinnbrenner, I present you with this classic Seinfeld moment He’s firing Billy Martin from heaven now. R.I.P.
All stats current through at least July 14.
Jose Bautista watch (07/06-07/11): .250 AVG, 2 HR, 5 R, 4 RBI, 0 SB. His ownership is up 2 percent, to 81 percent, in Yahoo leagues following a solid week for Bautista owners.
Cliff Lee | Texas | SP | 98 percent Yahoo Ownership
YTD:2.64 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 7.27 K/9, 15.17 K/BB
True Talent: 3.30 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 7.30 K/9, 5.20 K/BB
After four teams in 12 months, Cliff Lee has likely found a “permanent” resting spot for the remainder of his contract: Texas. After an almost deal to the Yankees for Jesus Montero (plus others), Lee was dealt last minute to the rangers for Justin Smoak (plus others). Last week, I projected Lee’s rest-of-season ERA in four parts (click here to read parts 1 and 2 and click here to read parts 3 and 4). I followed that up by projecting his prospective rest-of-season WHIP. I won’t duplicate the argument here, but a summary of my projection ranges are as follows: an ERA between 3.13 and 3.70 and a WHIP between 1.00 and 1.06. Since 2008, Lee has been a bona fide ace and he’s worth every penny a contending team in need of pitching paid.
Obviously, at almost 100 percent ownership, Lee is not available on waivers. The purpose of my argument and Lee’s inclusion here is that it is worth acquiring his services from an owner who may be concerned about his move away from Safeco and the Mariners’ defense to the Ballpark at Arlington. True story, however: The Rangers’ defense is even better. Thus, if Lee is available, even if you don’t buy him at a discount (let’s say market value), it is worth pursuing a fantasy ace who would otherwise be unavailable.
As an interesting side note, I pondered the question of what Lee’s second half would look like in pinstripes and his second half numbers if he had pitched for the Yankees.
Recommendation: Provided you are not in an NL-only league, it is worth paying at least the value that the Rangers did to acquire Lee’s services for your fantasy team, provided you are solid in strikeouts.
Chris Carter | Oakland | 1B/DH | 0% Yahoo Ownership
YTD: .234/.343/.486 (Triple-A)
True Talent: .230/.330/.470
A few months before the “trade that keeps on giving” (Erik Bedard) happened, Dan Haren was dealt in classic Billy Beane fashion for a gaggle of prospects. Some (Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, Aaron Cunningham) were traded, others were cut (Dana Eveland). Pitcher Brett Anderson has shown flashes of brilliance when healthy. This deal led to Matt Holliday who led to Brett Wallace, who has struggled in the minors this season, who led to Michael Taylor (who has struggled even more). Even if Taylor does not pan out for Oakland, Brett Anderson alone, who still has 4-plus seasons of cost-controlled time for the A’s, made the deal worthwhile for Beane.
Yet there was still another player in that Haren deal, a player who will likely make the trade a big win for Beane when all is said and done: Hot Dogger Chris Carter, (no, not Chris_Carter the creator of the X-Files).
Carter, a 24 year old 1B/DH type with a thunderous bat (.253 MiLB ISO), a lot of patience (12.9 percent MILB BB rate) and the contact skills of Adam Dunn (31.2% MilB K%), has been absolutely tearing up Triple-A. Despite a .236 batting average, Carter is getting on bases 34.4 percent of the time with a .255 ISO. With 22 homers and 19 doubles over 87 games (387 PA), there is no doubt that Carter can hit for power. Of course, the high strikeout rate (31.2 percent) and lack of wheels to leg out grounders is a concern, but if Dunn can succeed, why not Carter?
With Jack Cust no longer hitting home runs, the A’s have a team ISO of .120, tied for the third lowest in the majors this season. When Coco Crisp is your current team leader in ISO, needless to say you might need an infusion of power. Carter may be that infusion, especially with the A’s out of contention for 2010 and gearing up for 2011.
Minor League Splits (don’t ask me why he is listed as Vernon Carter) pegs Carter’s current performance as worth a mere .200 AVG/.685 OPS with a .203 ISO and .242 BABIP. With a lack of speed and half your balls in play being of the flyball variety, clearly BABIP won’t be one of Carter’s specialties. However, I think MLS underrates Carter’s ability to drive the ball with authority (20.2 percent LD rate. I’d peg Carter as being able to post a batting average somewhere between Dunn at the worst (.230s) and Carlos Quentin‘s true talent line (mid-.270s).
I won’t even try to defend him as an average hitter, but if Mike Stanton gets plenty of fantasy love, there is no reason that owners can’t be equally giddy about Carter, who will likely end up in the middle of the lineup (RBI opportunities), getting on base plenty (run opportunities and hitting plenty of home runs. Owners in need of power and RBIs who can forgo batting average (or have had batting average forgone for them) should keep a keen eye on Carter. Daric Barton is currently standing between him and the majors, but Barton’s health is by no means guaranteed.
Recommendation: Should be monitored in AL-only, must be owned in keeper leagues, and passable in mixed-league formats.
J.P. Arencibia | Toronto | C | 0% Yahoo Ownership
YTD: .320/.370/663 (Triple-A)
True Talent: .265/.310/.500
Before Matt Wieters, before Buster Posey, before Carlos Santana. there was J.P. Arencibia. (OK, maybe that is an overstatement because Santana came first and Wieters was also drafted in 2007.) A first- round pick by the Blue Jays in 2007, Arencibia tore up the minors in 2008 (.298/.322/.527 in 537 PA split between High-A and Double-A ball) Rod Barajas, Arencibia did not make much of an argument for himself during his second full minor league campaign and the Blue Jays had to acquire “stopgap” John Buck with the hopes than Arencibia would turn things around in 2010. Arencibia responded by doing just that.
Over 328 PA in Triple-A this season, Arencibia is hitting .320/.370/.663 (1.033 OPS) with a league leading 25 homers. Though walking has never been Arencibia’s strong suit (5.1 percent MiLB BB rate), he is drawing a career high rate of free passes this season (7.6 percent). Of course, the Blue Jays hope he maintains and develops further patience, but given his prodigious power from behind the plate (.230 MiLB ISO), I’m sure the organization can forgive a below average walk rate a la Chris Davis.
Per Minor League Splits, Arencibia’s current Triple-A line translates into a .255/.297/.497 (.794 OPS) MLB triple slash line with a rate of 35+ HR per 650 PA. That’s about the same output the Jays are currently getting from Buck Buck (.808 OPS, .230 ISO). However, with Buck signed for only 2010 and the young, cost-controlled Arencibia waiting in the wings to take over in 2011, the Jays may be tempted to give the young catcher some significant playing time to refine his game in the majors, perhaps at first with incumbent Lyle Overbay continuing to struggle.
Catcher is always a weak fantasy position and I often suggest simply ignoring it (preseason, I said that if you are in a mixed team league, where the average 10th overall drafted catcher was Ryan Doumit, you might as well wait because catchers get such comparative minimal PA time that AVG isn’t a significant factor and because all catchers hit ~10 HR with 50 R/RBI). However, with such a quality infusion of catcher talent (especially in the AL) this season, you’d be remiss to ignore free waiver wire talent. Arencibia might not hit for the type of AVG that young Posey (NL) or Santana (AL) might, but he’ll provided at least as much as power.
Recommendation: Must own in keeper formats and a close eye should be kept on him in all AL-only/mixed-league formats. Arencibia becomes a must-own commodity upon promotion.
Yunel Escobar | Toronto | SS | 45% Yahoo Ownership
True Talent: .295/.370/.410
Despite being worth +10 WAR for the Braves between 2007 and 2009, Atlanta has shipped Escobar (and Jo-Jo Reyes) to Toronto for overpeforming SS Alex Gonzalez (sub-.300 OBP this year, career .299 wOBA vs a career high .341 mark this season (based on career best .497 SLG)) and a few middling prospects. This move probably has less to do with a half-season of BABIP/ISO struggles as it does with
Milton Bradley‘s Carlos Zambrano‘s Yunel Escobar‘s attitude in general.
So far this season, Escobar has disappointed his fantasy (and real life) owners by posting a .238/.334/.284 (.291 wOBA, 79 wRC+, .046 ISO) following a solid .299/.377/.436 (.357 wOBA, 120 wRC+, .136 ISO) campaign in 2009 that saw Escobar continue to develop this double digit HR power while maintaining above average defensive skills. Though Escobar’s power is at a career low and way down from last year (.136 ISO) or even 2008 (.113 ISO), there are really no reasons to be concerned about him. At least not yet.
Below the surface, Escobar’s plate discipline peripherals have been solid in 2010 and are actually improved in comparison to last year (career best 12.3 pdercent BB rate and a solid 11.9 percent K rate due to more contact and less swings at pitches outside of the zone). Clearly BABIP (.270, .319 xBABIP, .316 BABIP career) has had a substantial effect on his triple slash line.
Escobar has only accumulated only 301 PA in 2010. Per sample size research for hitters, the only stats from which we can start to draw statistically significant conclusions from after 300 PA are Swing% (improved), contact rate (improved), strikeout rate (impoved), line drive rate (lower, but still solid at 18.4%), walk rate (improved), P/PA, home run rate and HR/FB% (down, as Escobar has 0 HR this season). It takes 500+ PA to draw conclusions about a player’s OBP/SLG/OPS and 550+ PA to draw conclusions about ISO.
Hence, we can really only say the following: Yunel is getting better in his approach at the plate, which is a positive sign for him improving as a hitter and rebounding substantially in the second half. Escobar’s “power outage” has no substantial statistical significance yet and fantasy owners should not yet be overly concerned for Escobar’s rest of the season production or for his future value in keeper leagues. Escobar’s power-based value has clearly taken some hit, but if you drafted Escobar for his “power upside” you kind of deserve Escobar’s 0 HR slap in the face. For the rest of the season, if Escobar only hits 3 or 4 homers instead of 5-7, it is not exactly a huge loss.
All in all, I think this move makes little long term (or short term) sense for the (contending) Braves, who are trading an established SS with above average defense, above average offense and three more years of team control at arbitration prices for an overperforming single-season SS stop gag (Gonzalez) with a 2011 option, a AA player with reserve MI upside, and a reliever with 8th inning potential.
From a fantasy perspective, Yunel Escobar becomes a must-own player in AL-only formats, where the quality SS pool is very thin. I think Erick Aybar, who I lauded a few weeks back is still a better SS option, but where Aybar is unavailable Escobar deserve an immediate (and perhaps total) FAAB bid for all AL-only owners in need of a SS (especially those who owned Alex Gonzalez, against who I think Escobar is an upgrade for the rest of the season).
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only, must own in deeper mixed leagues (MI-requirement), and should be owned in 10+ mixed team leagues.
Brandon Morrow | Toronto | SP, RP | 27% Yahoo Ownership
YTD: 4.86 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 9.99 K/9, 2.36 K/BB
True Talent: 4.10 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 9.50 K/9, 2.35 K/BB
Apparently, if I go more than a month without talking about Brandon Morrow, I’ll die. Hence, I need to talk about Brandon Morrow (again) for a minute, if only because no one is listening. Perhaps I need to yell louder (hey, that’s how laws in this country get passed, no?).
In an attempt to try and not rehash too much, so I’ll stick with the bullet-points: lots of strikeouts, control issues, good groundball rate. These three factors have led to a promising xFIP at times with a horrible WHIP and ERA inconsistency to boot.
As I noted last month, Morrow has been increasingly keeping the walks in check. Over the past month, this trend has continued. In the last 30 calenday days, Morrow has a 3.75 ERA (3.78 xFIP) with a 37:12 K/BB ratio over 36 IP. Thanks to better control, Morrow has been going deeper into games, giving owners more innings, more strikeouts and less peptic ulcers. Unfortunately, Morrow’s F-Strike% over the last 30 days is only 51.9% (58.6% MLB average), which is below his season mark of 53.8% and career mark of 54.1%. As I will soon reveal in an upcoming post, a 1% change in F-Strike% generally sees a corollary 0.647% decline in BB/9. As his F-Strike% is down this season (and recently), we can only realistically expect Morrow’s control to regress somewhat going forward and hope it does not regress too much (or that he starts getting ahead of hitters early more often).
I still stand behind my continuous claims that Morrow will post a very high 3’s/low 4’s ERA with a 1.35-1.45 WHIP and good strikeout numbers for the rest of the season. However, given Morrow’s continuous flashes being less wild, it’s more probable now than before that he beats my rest of season projections going forward.
Must own in AL-only, should be owned (for spot-starting) in mixed league formats.
Chris Davis | Texas | 1B, 3B | 9% Yahoo Ownership
True Talent: .280/.330/.510
Last month, I extensively explained why Chris Davis deserves a
second third chance with the Rangers. Since then, he’s only continued mashing. In 293 PA for Oklahoma City (Texas’ AAA affiliation), Davis was crushing PCL pitching (hitter’s league) to the tune of .354/.403/.555 (.958 OPS). Now that’s Smoak’s been shipped out of town for ace Cliff Lee, Davis is getting back his everyday job at 1B. Given the quality of the Rangers’ lineup, Davis’ power stroke and his keen ability to drive the ball, Davis should be a strong fantasy contributor for the rest of the season (.280+ AVG, 12-15 HR, plenty of RBI opportunities). Davis is 3-for-8 with a BB, SB and RBI since being recalled July 9 and given his 3B eligibility, he could be a difference maker for those in need of a hot corner producer or CI spot.
Recommendation: Must own in all AL-only and mixed league formats.
Justin Smoak | Seattle | 1B | 10% Yahoo Ownership
True Talent: .280/.390/.430
I have continuously pegged Justin Smoak as a Derek Lee a la 2007 hitter. Even with the move to Safe Co. I stand behind those projections. To date, Smoak’s elite patience has carried over from the minors to majors at 13.4% BB. Though many have lauded his power potential, Smoak only posted an ISO around .150 in his MiLB career. Sure, he is only 24 and has room to grow, but I am always more conservative when it comes to expectations. Hence, at least for now, I peg him as a 20-25 HR hitter, not a 30+ guy. Safe Co., per everything I’ve ever read, really only “zaps” the power of right handed hitters (see Adrian Beltre). Smoak is a switch hitter who hits better left-handed (.743 OPS, 193 PA) than as a right-handed batter (.479 OPS, 90 PA). Since Smoak mostly and bestly (yes, that is a made up word) hits from the left side, concerns about stagnant power development or power outages should be of relatively little concern. If he does not hit 30 it won’t be because of Safe Co. (almost all of his HRs this year are to left field).
On a final note, Smoak’s batted ball profile, which is just starting to become statistically significant as he crosses the 300 PA plateau, pegs him with a .307 xBABIP (per THT’s xBABIP calculator). That is well above his current .276 BABIP and if Smoak can cut his current 24.7% K% down a bit to his minor league rates (at least until he develops a power stroke), he could see a strong AVG (and bigger OBP) turn around in the second half.
Recommendation: If you had use for Smoak before the Cliff Lee trade, there is no reason to abandon ship. Otherwise, the majority of Smoak’s 2010 value will come in OBP leagues (though he might also provide some good AVG value too going forward). In 5×5 leagues, Smoak is really only useful, at least for the moment, in deeper mixed leagues with CI needs and AL-only formats, though being in the middle of the lineup is always a R/RBI plus.
Scott Baker | Minnesota | SP | 80% Yahoo Ownership
YTD: 4.87 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.84 K/9, 5.00 K/BB
True Talent: 3.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.00 K/9, 5.00 K/BB
With such a high ownership rate, Baker is likely not available on the waiver wire. However, due to his 4.87 ERA on the season and 5.04 ERA over the past 30 days, he may be available via trade. If so, you should pounce immediately. Over the past 30 days, Baker posted a 10.98 K/9, a 0.30 BB/9 and 2.72 xFIP which is well below his more oft noted (but less telling) 3.44 FIP. On the season, Baker is posting a career low FB% (41.5%) and career high GB% (35.1%), which always bodes well with less home runs . . . especially when you pitch half of your games in a pitcher’s park in front of an above average defense (even with Kubel periodically playing OF). On the heels of a career best K/9 and BB/9, Baker’s season xFIP currently sits at a career-best 3.71, though his FIP, distorted by a career high 12.1% HR/FB rate, is only barely below 4.00 (at 3.98). You might be able to pry Baker from frustrated owners and non-believers for a cheap cost. I recently shipped Jaime Garcia and Adam LaRoche for Chris Davis and Scott Baker in one of my deeper money leagues. Take my advice: make the investment now, it’ll more likely than not pay off dividends in the second half.
Also, as a pre-emptive note, Scott Baker‘s SwStr% is down this year from last, despite the uptick in K/9. However, over the past 3 seasons, Baker’s SwStr% has been elite (in excess of 10%) and there is no reason his K/9 should have been sub 7.5 (or even sub-8, for that matter) in 2008 or 2009.