While we won’t be doing the deep dig, we’re always happy to go into more detail in comments, per request. If something takes more research, we’ll either field it the next week, or see if another member of the team wants to dig into the subject matter even deeper. Some of the other THT Fantasy writers have been doing some deep digs into AL players, such as Mike Silver’s piece on Billy Butler, and Troy Patterson’s compare-and-contrast piece on Chone and Denard. We recommend reading these if you haven’t.
Joe Mauer | Minnesota | C
2009 Final Stats: Walked/On/Water
OK, he didn’t really walk on water, or turn water into wine, but he did play in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and hit .365/.444/.587, with his defense making this season the best ever for a catcher, by most estimations. Given that he racked up 606 PA (second among all MLB catchers to Kurt Suzuki, though he got “off days” at DH 28 times), it’s easy to forget that his spring was marred by very serious-sounding back issues, and he didn’t get started until May 1. For perspective on how great his season was, he entered that rarified air where his “mixed league” roto values were higher than his “AL only” values. This comes into play because the standard deviations are significantly lower for mixed leagues, and a player is so far above the replacement levels that the extra variance makes up for it. Caution warns that his back issues, and the huge amount of playing time and his height will catch up to him someday soon (no pun intended). And paying for the $33 to $37 that he earned in 2009 won’t be prudent, but if bidding starts to slow down in the early 20s, he’s as likely to hold his value as almost any hitter. And if OBP is a category, look out!
Zach Greinke | Kansas City | SP
2009 Final Stats: 9.5 K/9, 4.8 K/BB, 2.16 ERA
There are really only two questions with Greinke: 1) How close was 2009 to his true talent level, and 2) Will the Royals start scoring runs? The answer to (1) is “very close.” His HR/FB% was a bit low (just 5.4%), indicating that he was probably lucky on his fly balls in play. But his BABIP was also higher than typical at .313 (we’d like to blame this on the Royals middle infielders, so … we will!). His xFIP was 3.36, which is much higher than his ERA, but ERA diverges from FIP at the extremes, so that’s not all fluke. He’s throwing 94, and he still has his pinpoint control. There are few starting pitchers more sure to post great ratios in the game. The answer to (2) is “we doubt it, but he’s so good that even a great offense would likely only net him another 3-4 wins.”
Matt LaPorta | Cleveland | 1B/OF
2009 Final Stats: .254/.308/.442
In these days when good college players seem to be jetting to the majors and making an impact quickly, it’s easy to lump a guy like LaPorta in with the guys who have disappointed recently, such as Jeff Clement or—to a lesser extent—Alex Gordon. LaPorta got to start 12 games in May and didn’t make much of that semi-opportunity, hitting a paltry .190/.286/.286. The Indians were trying to save a season that was going quickly down the tubes, and sent him “down” to Triple-A. And, while Triple-A is below the majors, LaPorta hadn’t played there before 2009, hitting .279/.386/.539 in Double-A in 2008. Well, he made the most of the demotion, abusing IL pitchers with his .299/.388/.530 batting stats, and cutting his strikeouts from his past seasons. Called back up on Aug. 20, he hit .273/.315/.489 the rest of the way (149 PA). From a winning baseball perspective, we’d like to see more OBP, but that doesn’t matter in most fantasy formats, and the power is undeniable. Also, he’s never walked a ton but has always augmented his OBP with many HBP, which get overlooked in some points-based systems. While he’s young and has options, there’s almost no reason to expect him to do poorly enough to lose his job. Expect more of what he brought to the table upon his recall in 2009, probably with an uptick in OBP.
Ervin Santana | Los Angeles | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.9 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 5.03 ERA
Normally, when a pitcher’s xFIPs read—year-by-year—4.98, 5.11, 4.93, 3.64, 4.77, there are not a lot of reasons to presume that he’s better than a 4.50-plus pitcher. But, Santana may be the exception. He really came into his own in 2008, averaging 94.4 mph on his fastball for almost 9.0 K/9, and walking fewer than two batters per nine IP. But a scary elbow injury with a visit to Lewis Yocum, followed by triceps problems, led to a very slow start to 2009 for the fireballer and took 2 MPH off his fastball. His control predictably declined to 3.0 BB/9, as well. But after reaching a “low point” (and a high 7.20 ERA) on Aug. 6, the Santana of 2008 started showing up again, as he held hitters to just .259/.316/.414, with a 49:18 K:BB ratio in 69.2 IP. And he’s shown adaptability in pitching out of the bullpen in the playoffs, and doing great. Expect a full offseason of rest and workouts to have his arm back in peak form for 2010, and performance approaching 2008′s greatness should be considered a possibility.
Jason Bay | Boston | OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.384/.537
Sure, Jason Bay produced $25-$29 worth of roto value in 2009. But what will he do in 2010? And for which team? As a short answer, we’re going to suggest being very careful with Bay. His BABIP wasn’t particularly low, considering aging and his past BABIP. While he didn’t feast in Boston, the park should have helped him significantly (even if it didn’t in a one-year sample), and he had an amazing plus-16 clutch rating (hitting .357 with RISP, 100 points above his bases-empty AVG), leading to his second-in-AL RBI total (and much of his roto value). With teammates who don’t get on base as much, and a less-friendly ballpark, his chances of repeating that level of production are small. That said, he has a good chance to hit 30-plus HR, steal 10 bases, and approach 100 RBI, so don’t forget about him completely.
Felix Hernandez | Seattle Mariners | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.2 K/9, 3.1 K/BB, 2.49 ERA
Here’s a piece of auction advice: Whatever “player values” list you are using, add a few dollars to Felix Hernandez’s value, and don’t be afraid to bid that amount. The reason pitchers get dinged in values (most valuation systems used either 70/30 or 67/33 for hitter dollars and pitcher dollars) is that pitchers are unpredictable, and you are avoiding paying for the “downside” risk. Well, if you want to use only 30% of your budget on pitchers, go with more cheapies, but get Felix. This is a case of a guy who has been progressively learning more and more the “how to pitch” part of the game. And he’s in a great setting—the M’s have a clear intention of putting one of the best defensive teams on the field possible. The ballpark is very forgiving to flies, and the A’s can’t hit. It’s unclear how well either of the other two divisional foes will hit in 2010, but having one team that can’t hit out of three is a big enough bonus. As with Greinke, he’ll suffer from run support but should be great enough to still post very good win totals without it.
Enjoy, and keep the suggestions coming!