Adrian Beltre | Boston | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .265/.304/.379
Well, much has been written about Adrian Beltre across the Internet, as the M’s fans seem to be very vocal in the baseball analytical community and he’s been a prime example of a ballplayer who has been under-appreciated by “mainstream” sources. Over at Baseball Daily Digest, there was an article entitled, “Why Your Team Should Sign Adrian Beltre” (written before he signed), and the latest at fangraphs.com concludes with “Adrian Beltre could be your fantasy team MVP in 2010.” And, while people are clearly stating upside scenarios, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Beltre’s future in Beantown.
Mike Lowell has hit .295/.350/.479 in his four years as Boston’s third baseman, so it’s easy to forget that he was considered a “salary dump” in the Josh Beckett trade, as he had a big contract and was coming off a .236/.298/.360 season with major health concerns. Well, Beltre is hoping to reprise the Mike Lowell Story in Boston, coming off his own miserable season and also having major health concerns. Unlike Lowell, Beltre’s hit chart is a bit more distributed, and unless he changes his approach to pull the ball more often, he can’t be expected to gain quite as much from playing home games in Fenway as Lowell did, but escaping Safeco (where he has hit .252/.305/.408 in his career) should be beneficial. And the Red Sox are clearly banking on the fact that his awful .179/.299/.232 career line in Fenway Park has to do with the small sample size (just 16 games) and good pitching of the Red Sox.
From a fantasy perspective, it’s appropriate to have some measure of caution here. It’s too easy to look at the poor stats in Safeco, apply the standard “Fenway Factor” to his hitting stats, and reach conclusions such as, “He could be your fantasy team MVP.” Well, he could be, of course, but Garrett Jones was probably the MVP of some fantasy teams in 2009; planning for that to happen before the season still wouldn’t have made much sense. Likewise, Beltre’s contract should speak to the fact that nobody is really certain about his health at this point. A $9 million contract, with a $5 million player option for a Boras client who is a slick-fielding infielder in his prime? We’re not saying he won’t be healthy, but consider Boras’ track record. Would he settle for that if he was sure Adrian was healthy? And third basemen with arm problems can go down the tubes pretty fast—just look at Eric Chavez and Hank Blalock. Also, projecting overall stats to explode for guys leaving bad hitting environments can be a dicey proposition. Khalil Green slugged .500 in his road games from 2005-2007, for example. Now he’s looking for an invitation to spring training.
In short, we like the overall risk/reward balance with Beltre. And third base in the AL in 2010 is going to be a position filled with all sorts of question marks. Some crazy Scoresheet owner took Jhonny Peralta in the fourth round of a mock startup draft recently, for example—underscoring the positional scarcity (though with a very ill-advised reaction to it). If Beltre’s health returns, so should his power, and in that lineup that should mean heaps of RBIs. His batting average should no longer be a problem, as he’s always had decent contact skills for someone with his power (under 22% K% for his career). But keep in mind that 2009 did happen, and he might not be back as a force in 2010.
Phil Hughes | New York | SP?
2009 Final Stats: 10.0 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 3.03 ERA
In a good reader suggestion from last time, the idea of reviewing relievers who qualify as SP for 2010 was mentioned, a la J.P. Howell last year. Now, Hughes faced 158 batters as a starting pitcher in 2009, allowing a batting line of .276/.361/.507. That wasn’t what the Yankees and their fans were expecting from the former elite prospect. But, taken under Mariano’s “wing” in the bullpen, Hughes had an Andrew Bailey-esque transformation, taking to the relief role like he’d been born to it. The talent which had been spotted in him since before he was drafted poured out as he gained a couple more ticks on his fastball, not having to pace himself for the long game.
The move to relief resulted in a staggeringly good .172/.222/.222 batting line against him in relief—in 193 PA. And, to make matters worse for batters, this wasn’t even accompanied by some freakishly low BABIP. .257 is low, to be sure, but not overly so, and not for someone who is dominating at that level. He was best in “high-leverage” situations (allowing just .200/.268/.247 against), and FWIW, allowed a .059 batting average in two-out-RISP situations. In short, he was the Mariano Rivera of the eighth inning.
From afar, it seems illogical to think that the Yankees might mess with something that worked this well. Obviously, “Plan A” for a good young arm is to have him become an excellent starting pitcher, shutting down the other team for 200 innings per season. But if a guy can pitch in high-leverage situations for 1/3 of that much, and perform far better, that’s almost as useful. In November, Cashman came out and said that Hughes would be transitioning back to the rotation. But then he traded for Javier Vazquez, and the expectation is that Hughes and Joba will now battle for the fifth starter spot, though it’s unclear if trying to get Hughes into the rotation is an attempt to “fix something that ain’t broke.” If he relieves, he can still be used as an SP in 2010, and he should be great for ratios in a “punt wins and strikeouts” strategy, but it may be a couple/few years before he has any major fantasy impact … unless your league uses holds, of course.
Casey Kotchman | Seattle | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .268/.339/.382
Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus editorialized at the time that the trade of Kotchman for LaRoche by Atlanta was the worst deadline trade last year. That’s the sort of mystique Kotchman carries still. Kotchman has a great baseball (first) name, is the son of a scout, has a swing that has always made every scout drool and plays great defense at first base. And he didn’t just look like a good hitter, he mashed minor-league pitching, while striking out in less than 10% of his at bats. Expectations for him as a first-round pick were somewhere in the Mark Grace to Will Clark range for his career. Hey, everyone loved him, even performance analysts like Joe Sheehan. And why not, with a glove that should save a few runs per year and a .324/.406/.492 career minor-league batting line?
The problem we have here is that Casey hasn’t been able to hold a job since “graduation” from the minors. Sure, he still has that glove, racking up 18 runs saved the past three years according to UZR, without even playing full-time. And he doesn’t strike out against MLB pitchers (under 10% of his PA for his career). Kotchman will be 27 next month. And, for a while, it was easy to be optimistic about Mighty Casey. He hit well in limited action back in 2005, then missed 2006 with mono. Then, he appeared to “break out” in 2007, raking to the tune of .296/.372/.467 in his first “full-time job”. Even his 2008 was easy to write off as “one of those things,” despite a poor .272/.328/.410 batting line. After all, there’s no real reason for him to have just a .273 BABIP, is there?
Well, things got even worse in 2009, and though Adam LaRoche has a history of second-half heroics, getting traded while arb-eligible for two months of LaRoche isn’t a highlight on a guy’s resume. Getting traded again after the season for a guy who was DFA’d in August was even worse. But Seattle’s new GM has shown a consistent pattern of building the team with “defense first,” and Kotchman seems to be the starter in Seattle now. Seattle fan Dave Cameron, in discussing the fact that Safeco shouldn’t hurt lefty power, notes, “[Kotchman] won’t have to hit 400+ foot shots to get them out to right in Seattle. But he’s going to have to hit 350+ foot shots more regularly than he has.”
Kotchman has a career batting line now of .269/.337/.406. His OPS+ is 95. These are obviously not acceptable numbers for a first baseman in this era, even if he could field like Keith Hernandez (in his prime, not now). He does have a “normal” platoon split, hitting a slightly better .267/.337/.414 vsRHP, so some edge could be gained by platooning him (perhaps with Lopez if/when Ackley arrives to play second base). We’re going to go on a limb and presume that the high Ct% will again push his batting average into the range of helpful fantasy stats, even in a mixed league context. Expecting good runs, HR, or RBI numbers would be too much, but we think he’ll hit enough to keep his job and get 600+ PA, which should help him exceed almost all projections.
Brandon Morrow | Toronto | SP?
2009 Final Stats: 8.5 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.64 ERA
We’re not going to add a lot to the 11/13 summary, as Morrow hasn’t changed since then, but we wanted an excuse to post the GP graphic. But the one factor that needs to be mentioned in big, bold letters, is that he’s in the AL East now, and won’t pitch for Seattle’s great defense in their great park, either. Boston and New York have built offenses based on a philosophy of patience, and that’s not good news for a man who struggles with his command. Morrow still has the core talent to be good, but his likelihood of being useful to a fantasy team has been lessened, as in Seattle he might have been able to carve out a decent career walking the tightrope between walks and strikeouts, but not likely in Toronto. Unless he’s showing some huge improvement in control in the spring before you draft, he’s not a very appealing fantasy prospect for 2010.