Derek Jeter | New York | SS
2009 Final Stats: .334/.406/.465
Congratulations to the New York Yankees on their World Championship! Has anyone heard how many this is for them? … It’s not as though every single article mentions it today. But, love them or hate them, the New York Yankees are a monumentally large part of baseball history. And this team was worthy of taking its place alongside some of their other awesome squads. “The Captain” was “Mr. November” again this year, and there’s no doubt that he was a huge part of their 103-win season (even though Pythagorean suggests they were only a 95-win team). Jeter responded to the move to the leadoff role with his second-best season since age 26, even stealing 30 bases—a total he’s only exceeded twice. The combination of stamina (716 PA) and excellence is rare in older players in general, and almost unheard of amongst middle infielders. Ripken and Larkin each had a great rate-stat season in their later 30s, but both were with many fewer plate appearances. We wouldn’t bet a lot against the future Hall of Famer, but a serious decline seems highly likely for age-36 Jeter in 2010.
Mark Teixeira | New York | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .292/.383/.565
Did we mention that the Yankees won? (cue John Sterling) Well, they had a lot of high roto value players helping them. Gun-for-hire Mark Teixeira fit into the New York scene like he’d been there all his life, and his lousy postseason won’t be held against him as winning is the “great deodorant.” We’d like to add something clever or insightful here about Teixeira, but what can you say? He’s about as consistent as you’ll find—expect .290/.380/.550 with 110-plus RBIs in that lineup, and it’s unlikely he’ll disappoint. If he has a big postseason in 2010, he will take his place in the hearts of Yankees fans. He’s been in the hearts of fantasy baseball fans for years already, though.
[ed - As a side note, I was reading the comments about Derek Carty's great results in expert leagues this season, and in the comments was the quip that "you can't win a league early, but you can lose it." I've happily drafted Teixeira with late first-round picks in numerous leagues over his career, and don't think I've ever been disappointed. Probably now that he's a Yankee, the days of him being a "draft bargain" are gone, but there is a lot to be said for "banking" a high-consistency guy like this, even if it's a slight over-draft. - Rob]
Paul Konerko | Chicago | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .277/.353/.489
Paul Konerko put up stats that were so close to his career line you’d think it was a misprint. Even the BABIP was just two points different, and hitters’ BABIPs tend to regress to their own norm (yeah, we know, that’s a very nebulous concept, but so far the predictors of BABIP haven’t done a great job), unlike a regression to norm of the entire MLB sample as pitchers’ BABIPs tend to do. Still, the three-year totals for Konerko aren’t that great, and he’ll be 34 in March. Better players have had careers without much success after age 33, including Steve Garvey, whom Konerko highly resembles as a hitter (both are RH, don’t walk much, and have very similar career OPS+ scores). Garvey had a “last hoorah” at age 34, so anything is possible, but with Thome and Dye departing, the RBI chances and runs scored may not improve as White Sox fans would hope after the team’s awful offensive season. The present void at DH might keep Konerko in the lineup when he’d otherwise need an off day, but then again, Tyler Flowers will be pressing for playing time soon. We don’t think the push for free agency money will drive Konerko any more than he already is, so expect across-the-board declines, and while they should be gradual, don’t be shocked by a big downturn. From age 32 on, Garvey hit just .277/.309/.411 (which was good for a 101 OPS+ back then, thanks to baseball-reference.com), so a 100 OPS+ type season from Konerko wouldn’t be shocking.
Chad Gaudin | New York? | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.5 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.64 ERA
Having gotten his first taste of the majors at age 20, Gaudin is still just 26 years old (27 in March). Cut by the Cubs in the same offseason where they gave him a $2 million contract, he bounced around before making the World Champion Yankees playoff roster. In many ways, Gaudin looks very much like a league-average starting pitcher. His career ERA is 4.50, good for a 93 ERA+ (which adjusts for the numerous parks and leagues in which he’s played). The splits for starter/reliever don’t show much of a preference for either, though he relieved more when he was younger (and presumably less ready). His xFIP was about 4.5 each of the past three seasons (including his almost-200 IP 2007 season for Oakland). Room for improvement may even exist, as he’s added some K/9 (8.5 in 2009 after 6.5 previously). There have, however, been rumors that he’s worn out welcomes for reasons other than his performance, and that fits, since at $2 million, he’s a bargain, even if it’s not the sort of pitcher a team wants starting playoff games. To the public, he’s always expressed a preference for starting but a willingness to relieve, as needed. This should make him an ideal “Swingman” for a good team, such as, say, the Yankees?
Tommy Hunter | Texas | SP
2009 Final Stats: 5.1 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 4.10 ERA
They finally found the name that works in Texas: “Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.” Well, at least it works to provide a neutral “park factor,” using a multi-year measure of run scoring. That’s good news for the pitchers who are expected to throw extra innings on “The Ryan Plan” (no, not something from a Tom Clancy novel). One such hurler is Tommy Hunter, and he needs the help—he’s going to let some balls get hit (low 5.1 K/9), and hit in the air (42% FB%). He’s young and improving, which should be almost enough to counterbalance the somewhat lucky BABIP (.284) and HR/FB% (8.3%) from 2009. He has a lot of counterbalancing to do, though, as his xFIP (4.99) was much higher than his ERA (4.10). As a Judo expert with a huge body, he should know about balance, though. And he definitely looks durable, as his pitching style and results suggest another big-bodied pitcher—Joe Blanton. With the worries about the luck factors reversing and the park turning back into the hitters’ paradise it used to be, we wouldn’t go too crazy over Hunter, but he should be good for a lot of IP without causing too much damage to ratios in an AL league.
Matt Garza | Tampa Bay | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.4 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 3.95 ERA
The smart readers here at THT don’t lob up “cookies” for us to smack out of the park, and Garza isn’t an easy outlook to decipher. The first thought, of course, is that at age 25 last year, he added more than two K/9 to his power, while adding just 0.62 BB/9, which is a tradeoff usually associated with a step toward true ace-level dominance. His HR/FB% went over 10% after being under 9% for his career before 2009, but he still allowed just a .384 slugging percentage on the season (1.11 HR/9). As for the future, it appears that Garza has some similarities to Carlos Zambrano. They are two of the best RH pitchers at shutting down the running game, which keeps their actual ERAs under their FIP/xFIP estimates, partly due to the fact that they don’t rely heavily on big, looping breaking balls—but rather the natural movement on their fastballs—most of the time. Unlike Zambrano, Garza has to face some of the strongest lineups in MLB, loaded with nine hitters instead of eight. Will he fail to take more steps forward, as Zambrano has so far, or will he parlay the extra strikeouts into frequent Cy Young contention? We’d stick with the conservative position for now, as too many things have to go right for him to take that next step. But he’s still plenty good as is.
Koji Uehara | Baltimore | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.5 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 4.05 ERA
It’s difficult to post a 4.00 K:BB ratio in the major leagues and not be highly successful, but Uehara is used to being even better, with an 8.1 to 1.1 career ratio pitching for Yomiuri in the Japanese Central League. However, the one thing that can temper success in such cases is injury. And he’s also familiar with those, having missed all or parts of several of his 10 years in Japan, while being a frequent Sawamura Award (best pitcher) contender while healthy. As happens in the U.S., his team tried all sorts of things to keep their star pitcher healthy, including a full season of relief work in 2007. Unfortunately for Baltimore, he brought his seemingly balsa wood fragility with his nasty stuff over from Japan. With a swarming hoard of top-tier pitching prospects invading Baltimore, and their closer role wide open, it wouldn’t be inconceivable to see Koji the Closer in 2010, though the team will likely try free agency and trade routes first. If he remains in the rotation, expect something akin to the maddening Rich Harden Experience (without as many strikeouts), where he’s highly effective for spurts, and then breaks down, and then perhaps returns.
Billy Wagner | Boston? | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.5 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 4.05 ERA
Normally, we’d say to take a 15-IP sample size with a salt mine full of the stuff. But Billy Wagner isn’t normal, and he made a great career move accepting the shift to Boston and the AL, despite not closing games. He showed that he could be a dominant reliever, even in the rugged AL East (1.1 WHIP in Boston). He struck out 26 batters overall in those 15.2 IP. And, if it becomes important, he’s shown that he can excel in a non-closer capacity. His average fastball velocity returned to his pre-injury level, and he’s apparently ready to become The Man in some town. Expect some team to get a fairly good price on a top-tier closer in 2010, due to concerns over his injury history and—to a lesser extent—his age. Some fantasy owner could similarly reap the rewards of reduced interest, and our position is that pitchers get hurt all the time … nothing makes Wagner significantly more risky than any other pitcher who was healthy at the end of 2009.
Thanks for the great suggestions … please keep them coming! Don’t worry if they’ve been written up recently, we’ll either get the latest dish (maybe a shorter blurb), or postpone it for a couple weeks if there’s pending news, such as with free agents).
I’ll try to post the ledger of who was reviewed when, and keep it on the bottom weekly, starting next week. For now, you can access the history of THT Fantasy articles at the URL with the date in it, as such:
Friday dates with Waiver Wires:
May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
June 5, 12, 19, 26
July 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28
Sept. 4, 11, 18, 25
Oct. 2, 16, 23, 30