Waiver Wire Offseason: AL

J.P. Howell | Tampa Bay | RP
2009 Final Stats: 10.7 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 2.84 ERA

When fans and batters alike seen Howell throw his weak stuff up there, images turn more toward John Tudor or Jamie Moyer than toward Billy Wagner or Scott Thornton, but that’s not a typo in his strikeout rate. And, changing speeds and locations like a featherweight boxer, he’s able to KO batters with guile and deception. Right-handers were particularly vulnerable to his bag of tricks in 2009, as his changeup seems to befuddle them with regularity.

Howell is a good candidate to introduce “Sentiment” from the Graphical Player 2010. Sentiment is a calculated stat, not some sort of poll of fantasy owners. As noted in GP, it’s “founded on the notion that people’s perceptions are driven largely by the most recent performance.” So, a guy like Howell has one of the higher “Sentiment” ratings in the book, at +43, as his 2009 saves pushed his value much higher than it had been in previous years.

The primary knock on Howell was that when he was “promoted” (mainly due to attrition) to the closer role in 2009, he blew 8 saves while only recording 17, an awful rate. Since as long as Soriano remains healthy, it will be a moot point, it’s not crucial to figure out whether he’s one of those rare pitchers who suddenly turns into a pumpkin when the inning strikes 9, or whether he’s just a victim of bad luck and small sample sizes. For the purposes of 2010 value, rest assured that his blown saves weren’t due to hitters figuring out his stuff. In save situations, he held batters to a line of .167/.310/.292 against. How they managed to spoil 8 of his 25 save chances is a matter of bad luck, and the fact that he wasn’t really used as a “closer” all that often, despite the high number of save chances. A good example is his “blown save” on June 7, when he entered the game up 3-1 with the bases full of Yankees in the bottom of the 8th/1 out, and walked Cano, allowed Posada to reach on an error, gets a groundout allowing a run to fall behind before the Rays tied the game in the 9th, preventing him from taking an “L”.

Some guys just “know how to pitch”, and Howell fits that mold. He’s not a fantastic WHIP asset as some setup relievers are, since he chooses to use his pinpoint control to “nibble”, rather than to avoid walks. The result, however, is that he racks up some amazing strikeout rates for his pedestrian velocity, and in general should keep runs scored down, so he should continue to have nice ERAs. His likely usage pattern won’t help his fantasy value much since he won’t get many opportunities to “vulture” wins, though he’s likely still the first option if Soriano gets injures.

Rafael Soriano | Tampa Bay | RP
2009 Final Stats: 12.1 K/9, 3.8 K/BB, 2.97 ERA

Everything Mariners fans feared when this talented pitcher was traded for Horacio Ramirez came to pass in Atlanta. The often-brittle Soriano amassed over 160 inning in his 3 years in the National League, and posted a WHIP under 1.0 while showing now problems handling the 9th-inning role. While in Seattle, he’d shown a large home-field bias toward friendly Safeco Field, but he has been so good that even his road stats aren’t bad at all. At first blush, the Rays are getting a pitcher whose K/9 as a reliever is over 10.0 in his career, while his BB/9 is under 3.0. Before 2009, he was moderately HR-prone, but with a career WHIP of 1.0, who cares? And why was everyone thinking that the Braves should be worried they might get “stuck” with such a late-inning monster after arbitration?

We’re not going to advise against Soriano, though his injury history makes him a better pick for a team which needs a few breaks to compete than or one which is a heavy favorite and needs more “solid” players. He’s failed to reach 15 innings in 3 of the past 6 years, though it’s easy to forget that after seeing him in 2009. And the AL East is a far worse pitching environment than any he’s ever had to deal with, so expect more of the homers and more WHIP and ERA, too. Remember how rudely Josh Beckett was treated in his first year of exposure to the AL East, posting an ERA over 5. If Soriano tries to challenge hitters as much as he did in the past, he could have a similar learning curve.

Curtis Granderson | New York | CF
2009 Final Stats: .249/.327/.453

Before the trade to New York (see: “hype”), Curtis Granderson could have been the poster boy for undervalued players in the 2010 draft/auction season. GP sums that up with a -50 Sentiment, which is about as bad as things can get for a guy who doesn’t lose his job (for perspective, Andy Sonnanstine was -58). With the trade, instead, all his flaws seem to be whitewashed, and people are predicting things like a 40-homer season for him, thanks to the new park. For a fantasy player, there’s certainly a lot to be excited about for a guy coming to a great hitter’s park and likely batting 2nd (against RHP) in the game’s best lineup.

Through the 2006 season, most people were commenting on how much faster Granderson was than his stats showed. Well, his 2007 season showed how right people were, as he racked up an amazing 23 triples to go with his highly-efficient 26-1 SB-CS record. Since 2007, though, his various speed indices have dropped. His triples went down to 8 in 2009, his SB-CS have averaged 16-5 the past two seasons, and his range in CF has declined. And don’t expect his SB totals to rise in NY. In both Florida and New York, Girardi has highly favored his leadoff hitters for steal opportunities (and his primary PR – Gardner or Amezaga), while the #2 hitters don’t steal nearly as much (a stark illustration of this is Damon going from 29 SB to 12, while Jeter went from 11 to 30 as they flip-flopped roles between 2008-2009).

As far as hitting goes, the new park should really help Granderson. Expecting him to keep up his .818 slugging there is far-fetched, but while most players experience about 4% better performance at home, Granderson’s career line at Comerica was just .261/.334/.451, as opposed to .284/.353/.516 on the road. Aside from a minor injury in 2008, Granderson has been remarkably durable, playing 158+ games in 3 of his 4 full seasons. He should be expected to be able to play 155+ plus games in 2010. But “able to play” may not mesh up with “play”, as Granderson also has a well-publicized problem hitting LHP, compiling a career line of just .210/.270/.344 against southpaws. Of course, that means his vsR stats are that much sicker, so maybe fantasy owners would prefer that he not start against LHP, rather coming in as a PH against righty relievers instead. All-in-all, he’s a fine fantasy player, though his dwindling steals and vulnerability to LHP keep him from being a bona fide superstar.

Nick Johnson | New York | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .291/.426/.405

Stated bluntly, almost all the other 29 teams should be ashamed of themselves for allowing the Yankees to sign this guy for the relatively modest sum of $5.5 million (with a mutual option for 2011 at the same price). Even if one assumes – reasonably – that his defense has deteriorated with the injuries, and his 2009 UZR (-5.6 runs) is more accurate than using a larger sample size (+3.7 UZR/150 career, for example), he was still worth over $15 million in “free agent dollars”, per fangraphs.com. Unless a fantasy team is in such solid shape as to want to avoid injury risk at all cost, ignoring him on draft day may be almost as shameful to a fantasy team.

Yes, we know that his walks (and HBP) don’t help your fantasy team. But even with a BASH (Bases per hit) of under 1.4 in 2009 (from Graphical Player 2010), Johnson was valuable for his batting average, runs, and RBI. Consider that his career BASH is 1.64, and that he’ll be in the midst of the great Yankees hitters, and he could end up with 100 runs and 100 RBI with just 20 HR in 140 games played. And when he’s healthy, he has one of the best batting eyes around, which he’s able to use to be an asset in batting average as well. There’s clearly a lot of risk here, and he plays the deepest position in the game, but this is a player who has the possibility to provide a lot of “swing” in the standings, when considering his performance-to-price potential.

Ervin Santana | Los Angeles | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.9 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 5.03 ERA

Ervin was written up already this post-season, but I wanted to do share the GP graphic from him, since he was on my mind. I was invited to participate in a 24-team Scoresheet league with other “media” folks from various outlets around the country. It is quite an honor, and I’m indebted to the opportunities granted me by Baseball Daily Digest and The Hardball Times which made it possible. I mention this because my “initiation” to the league was being called an idiot (in somewhat more polite terms) by another league member after I traded Gallardo to King Kaufman for Aramis Ramirez and Ervin Santana (and 2 other players I probably won’t keep). We have to cut to 10 keepers, so superstars are at a premium. So that really puts the pressure on the determination of whether a player is in the 240 best (minor leaguers don’t count against the 10-keeper quota). Scoresheet also has a slight AL/NL modification for pitchers, to account for the 8- vs. 9-man lineups. To me, the only real question with Santana is health, and I’m a sucker for recent performances when it comes to health. The Angels expert for GP (David Saltzer) notes that his elbow appeared healed, his velocity was up, and he should be expected to throw 200 innings in 2010, with 15+ wins a possibility. These are all consistent with the Waiver Wire observations I had on 10/23, and I think he’s a player who is very likely to be a draft-day bargain in many leagues.

Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2010. You can order the book from Acta Sports here..

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  1. Jon said...

    I believe you mean Horacio Ramirez, not Haratio. As a Braves fan, I felt obligated to point this out. Otherwise, nice stuff.

  2. Jeff Z said...

    I found the most value last season in JP Howell was that he was SP qualified and could run him out every day.  Any plans on doing the SP qualified players that will make a splash in the pen in 2010?

  3. Rob McQuown said...

    re: SP qualified relief pitchers -

    That’s a great idea.  I’ll fold some in each week, if I can.  This week, I’m going to briefly revisit Morrow, who may or may not start, so we can get his GP graph up there.  And I’m writing up Hughes, whose   role is also uncertain.  Those were two of the top ERA+ guys among 5-10 start/20+ Games pitchers, and I will do more guys who are certain to relieve in future weeks, as those are the helpful kind if you’re trying to win ratio stats.

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