Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

Shane Victorino | Philadelphia | OF
2009 Final Stats: .292/.358/.445

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The Flyin’ Hawaiian has spent the past three years slowly getting better in every area but SBs, so much better that you might not miss them as much. It’s hard to see exactly where those swipes went in 2009, as he set career highs in doubles and triples (his 13 three-baggers led all of baseball). He was dealing with a few lower-body injuries (hip, knee) during the season, and it’s possible those held him back, particularly since he never went on the DL and played through them.

The good news is that the rest of his skills remain as good as, or better than, they have been, as you can see from his GP mini-browser. His contact rate is edging ever closer to 90%, extremely valuable for a guy with his wheels, and the rising walk rate is a testament to his improving patience. Though his home run total is his lowest since 2006, those other extra-base hits have kept his SLG and Bash steady; they also indicate that there’s nothing wrong with his speed, at least once he’s in motion.

Depending on your league and roster, those missing SBs might not be so important, in which case Victorino can help you in plenty of other ways. The contact rate and plate discipline should keep his BA strong, if a bit shy of .300, and hitting in front of guys like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth should keep his run total high.

His rising power and the potent Phillies lineup allowed him to also set a career high in RBI, something GP says should continue in 2010. With his SB total likely to remain in the mid-20s, Victorino will remain one of those players who will help you in nearly every offensive category, without putting you over the top in any of them (unless your league counts triples).

That all-category assistance puts Victorino in some solid comp territory, something else that’s evident from the mini-browser: Guys like Andre Ethier, Nick Markakis, and Adam Lind are fine company to keep. He’s sure to go early in leagues that tally steals, but Victorino shouldn’t be ignored in any league. He ranked 28th in 2009′s NL roto rankings, and his solid skill set and good injury history make him a safe bet to reach that same level in 2010.

Matt Holliday | St. Louis | OF
2009 Final Stats: .313/.394/.515

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Almost as big a story as last year’s Colorado post-Hurdle turnaround was the post-Oakland turnaround of Colorado’s former left fielder. After 93 games of .286/.378/.454 baseball with the A’s, Holliday was traded to St. Louis, where he nearly outhit Albert Pujols, notching a .353/.419/.604 batting line the rest of the way.

This week, St. Louis inked Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million deal that will lock him up for most of the new decade, and through the rest of his peak years. The question is, of course, how productive will he be? And were the Cards suckers to pay Holliday so much on the basis of 235 ABs?

His core skills in Oakland were still solid, as he put up a .83 contact rate and a .79 BB/K, a level of patience a tad better than he’d shown in the NL. You can’t say that Oakland’s home field gave him fits, either, since he hit .286/.383/.494 there. His adjustment probably came from two other causes: AL pitchers and a weaker lineup around him. Studies have shown that batting order doesn’t make as much of a difference as most people think (though I wonder if any of those studies included someone hitting behind Albert Pujols).

The argument in favor of AL pitchers seems more likely—looking at his splits on Fangraphs, his plate approach was fairly consistent across leagues, though he swung at all pitches about 5% more often with St. Louis, and made contact on pitches outside the zone about 8% more often in the AL.

More significant might be the fact that he saw 10% more cheese in an A’s uniform than he did with St. Louis, which isn’t surprising, since he clobbered NL fastballs (2.45 RAA per 100 fastballs in the NL, vs. 0.18 on the same metric in the AL). Of course, he hit every kind of NL pitch, with the exception of changeups, better than in the AL, something that’s obvious from the league split.

AL pitchers worked him differently, probably because he hadn’t seen them as much; as a result, Holliday hit them quite differently. In Oakland, his 15.9 LD% was the lowest in his career, as was his 39.0 FB%. That resulted in another career high, a 13.3 infield fly percentage, as well as a career-low 9.7% HR/FB. He just wasn’t making good contact, a clear sign that AL pitchers were keeping him off balance.

Those trends reversed themselves for the most part when he came to St. Louis—his HR/FB% shot back up to 16.7%, his LD rose to 17.3% (still below his career average of 19.7%), and that ugly IFF% sank back to a more reasonable (but still elevated) 9.0. The only trend that remained steady was the elevated FB%, which rose 0.6 percentage points in the NL.

That’s not such a bad thing for a guy who converts 16% or more of those to HRs, and it may be consistent with him hitting fourth in the lineup, after mostly hitting third for the past several seasons in Colorado. You might argue that a guy with a consistent contact percentage in the upper 70s and a BB/K rate in the .60-.70 range already had a more slugger-like mentality. His .353 BA with St. Louis wouldn’t seem to indicate this, but we’re still dealing with a 235-AB sample space.

It’s certainly a trend to watch, but for now, rest assured that Holliday’s 2010 value should remain very solid. St. Louis is betting that he’ll retain that value for quite a long time; I’m not quite so optimistic, but I do like this signing for the short-term. He’s going to have plenty of men on base, and if a few of those longballs fall short of the wall for a sac fly or two, he should still collect the RBI.

Matt Klaasen makes an excellent point at Fangraphs that the deal is just an average one for St. Louis, and may hurt them in the long haul, but for now, fantasy owners have to love where Holliday landed in 2010 and beyond. His half-season in St. Louis ranked him merely ninth among 2009 NL hitters in roto production—he’s sure to be higher than that over a full season in 2010.

Chad Qualls | Arizona | RP
2009 Final Stats: 7.8 K/9, 6.4 K/BB, 3.63 ERA

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People said that Qualls wasn’t suited to be a closer, since he relies on a sinker-slider combo to get groundballs, which isn’t a typical endgame repertoire. When you want an out in the ninth, you’d much prefer a strikeout to the uncertainty of a ball hit into play (or over the fence if that sinker hangs). Qualls responded to that criticism by putting up those numbers you see up above, including that awesome K/BB percentage.

The only reason he ranked so low in 2009 roto value (31st among pitchers) comes from the 24 measly saves he collected. Nobody thought the D-backs would be so utterly hopeless, and Qualls did well with what he was given, blowing just five saves on the year. The capper (quite literally) to Arizona’s lousy 2009 came when Qualls went down with a dislocated kneecap that tore a ligament on the final out of a game on Aug. 30.

Interestingly, the D-backs had dangled Qualls on waivers a few days before, hoping to work out a deal to get some prospects for the rebuilding mode they suddenly found themselves in. Qualls’ knee didn’t hurt Arizona’s season, but it might have kept him with the club. He went under the knife to repair the tendon, but he’s expected to be at full strength for spring training.

Arizona offered him a contract rather than non-tendering him, so he’ll remain with the team. Will he still be the closer when he does? And will he still be the same kind of closer?

There were some rumors about the D-backs bringing free agent Jose Valverde back to the club and shifting Qualls back to a setup role, but it’s unlikely they will be able to do so for Valverde’s asking price, and he’s the only potential threat to Qualls’ job. Nobody stepped up in Qualls’ absence, and new signee Bob Howry will slide into the setup role, perhaps in conjunction with lefty Clay Zavada, but neither are serious closer contenders.

Assuming he is healthy in time for 2010, and that the knee has no lingering effects on his mechanics, Qualls should bring the same 2009 skills to the table. That low walk rate may not continue, but the rest of his toolbox looks solid. The only mildly disconcerting part of his 2009 performance was a pronounced platoon split. After dominating lefties over his career (their OPS is almost 100 points lower against him than RHB), their OPS was suddenly 90 points better. This is probably a blip more than a trend, but if it continues, you might see Zavada come in and face some of those tough lefties.

In general, however, most projections (GP included) see him with very similar numbers. The team around him is going to be better than the 2009 model—Arizona’s been bolstering the bullpen in the offseason, and their starting pitching should be even better with the return of Brandon Webb. That improvement should increase his 2010 save totals, which will increase his roto value, too.

About the only thing Qualls won’t bring you is strikeouts, and the penalty for a hanging sinker is often a longball (particularly in Chase Field), so his ERA is never going to be in the awesome range. But he’s a very good closer, someone who can be overlooked by bigger names and faster fastballs, as indicated by the 27 drop in GP’s Sentiment. You might sneak Qualls in under the radar for owners frightened of Arizona’s 2009 performance, his relatively low ranking, or his knee injury.

Francisco Rodriguez | New York | RP
2009 Final Stats: 9.7 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 3.71 ERA

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A lot of things went wrong with the Mets’ season, and K-Rod’s dropoff seemed like the least of their worries. Given the serious cabbage ($37M) they shelled out to him in that three-year deal, however, perhaps they ought to be a bit more worried. K-Rod still averaged a strikeout an inning in 2009, but that K/9 was his lowest level since 2003. And his walk rate, which had been elevated three of the past four seasons, cracked the 5.0 BB/9 plateau for the first time. That’s what combined to produce that awful control ratio, the lowest of his career.

You could write this off to a change in leagues, which certainly had something to do with it, as did pitching for a team that finished the season 22 games below .500. But there are other areas of concern with K-Rod—as you can see in the mini-browser, that K/9 trend continues a four-year slide, and Fangraphs shows that’s happened alongside a rising trend in his xFIP.

Fangraphs also shows that he’s increasingly relying on his changeup (he’s using it more than twice as much as he did in 2007), coming at the expense of his breaking ball. His hard curve has been one of his key pitches, and while this might mean he’s learning to use his change more effectively, it might also point toward elbow pain.

His line drive and fly ball rates were also elevated last year; in isolation, this might be a statistical blip, but in context with these other signs, it’s cause for concern. One of the knocks on K-Rod has always been his violent and unorthodox delivery, which makes trainers wince and Dr. Andrews rub his hands at the prospect of another payment on his yacht. The Mets have become notorious for hiding injuries, and they might be doing the same thing with their star closer.

GP and most other predictions see his numbers settling down a bit in 2010, but it’s hard to see K-Rod as elite anymore. He’ll still collect strikeouts and pull down an ERA in the 3.00 range, and (unless he’s nursing an injury) he’ll keep saving games for the Mets. Like the D-backs, it’s hard to imagine the 2010 Mets stinking up the joint the way they did in 2009, so he should increase his 35 save total, too.

As surprising as it might be to see K-Rod ranked this low in 2009 (30th among pitchers), he’ll remain in this same neighborhood in 2010—note that GP projects his worth as just $1 more than Chad Qualls. His days of $20+ returns are behind him. Keep that in mind on Draft Day, and don’t overpay for a guy with so many red flags, even if they seem like small ones.

Delwyn Young | PIT | 2B-OF
2009 Final Stats: .266/.326/.381

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I covered Delwyn during the regular season Waiver Wire shortly after the Pirates traded away Freddy Sanchez and it seemed like Young might have a shot at 2B or as a fourth OF. As I wrote then, Young’s value is centered on his moderate power, making him best as a 2B, not as an OF.

Now that Pittsburgh signed Akinori Iwamura, however, it looks like Young might be a backup 2B and OF, diminishing his fantasy value significantly. The Pirates may like his bench versatility, but his chances of getting regular PT will be slim, barring injury or blockbuster trade. He doesn’t have the glove or speed to play center, pushing him to the corners in the OF, where he’ll be stuck behind Garrett Jones in RF and Lastings Milledge in LF.

As I discussed last week, there’s the possibility that Garrett Jones might shift to 1B if Jeff Clement tanks, which would open up RF for Young. This hardly seems like a good move, however, for either Pittsburgh or fantasy owners. Young provides a smidge of value in BA and power as an NL-only MIF for deep leagues, but he’s no starting RF, not even for the pitiful Pirates.

As you can see from the GP mini-browser, Young’s skills are below average in most areas, with a contact rate in the same fringey range where his 6% walk rate already resides. If you want a portrait of an adequate benchwarmer, look no further. His projected $8 value was due to the fact that the Iwamura deal didn’t go down until after we went to press, which is why his comps look (relatively) gaudy. Interestingly, Aki is among those comps, but I think Iwamura has a much more promising outlook, with superior contact skills and speed.

We’ll most likely see Young battle a slightly younger Brandon Moss in spring training for a roster spot, and Young’s ability to play a serviceable 2B could be the difference-maker between the two. But unless he’s got a starting position at the end of spring training, he doesn’t belong on your fantasy roster.

We’ll keep going with the countdown next week, along with any other players you might want to see. And if you like the mini-browsers you see, they’re just a taste of what you’ll find in the Graphical Player 2010, where Rob McQuown (of AL Waiver Wire fame) and I are associate editors.

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Comments

  1. Michael Street said...

    dan—

    That’s a really good point; it’s too bad that there’s no Pitch Fx data to see how he’s doing there.

    I thought it was also interesting that Fangraphs changed its designation of his secondary pitch from a slider (which it’s not, though it’s sometimes mistaken as one) to a curve. That could reflect a refinement of the Baseball Info Solutions data, or a change in the trajectory of the pitch.

    Injury or not, however, I think you’ll agree that he doesn’t quite look like the same K-Rod.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Mike

  2. John K said...

    Interesting write ups.  I’m wondering if Brandon Webb has been done?  Qualls is on my list of pitchers to follow very closely during ST.  Only 5 weeks until pitchers and catchers report!

    Thanks again for these summaries!

  3. Michael Street said...

    John K—

    Thanks for the comment (I’m assuming “interesting” is a compliment here :D). I haven’t done Webb, since his injury makes him such a question mark. There’s no reason to think that he can’t resume his former ways, if he’s fully healed—and that’s a big “if.”

    I cover the D-backs for Heater, and I was confounded at every turn by what the front office was saying about Webb in 2009—AZ’s is particularly tight-lipped and they repeatedly downplayed the injury until the severity could no longer be ignored. They may have sincerely underestimated it, but it makes me skeptical about information at this point.

    Having said that, they were smart to have picked up his option to see how he does in 2010. You’re quite right to follow him in ST, and remember how horribly Chien-Ming Wang lost his sinker in 2009 after his injury (albeit of a much different variety). Not much else I can do predictively other than that, though if I hear anything further about him, I’ll pass it along.

    Thanks for asking!

    Mike

  4. dan said...

    I also wonderd if K-Rod was hiding some injury that would become public after the season, though the fact that he did some winter ball pitching leads me to doubt that was the case.

  5. Neil said...

    The problem with Victorino for 2010 is that he may lose his #2 spot in the lineup, which is a gold mine for runs/RBI. Won’t the lineup be something like:

    Rollins
    Polanco
    Utley
    Howard
    Werth/Ibanez or Ibanez/Werth

    Putting Victorino 7th, in front of the catcher.

    Or will the Phillies use Polanco 7th?

  6. Michael Street said...

    Neil—

    It’s hard to know for sure what the Phils will do, as I couldn’t find Manuel addressing the subject directly. I’d imagine there will be some competition/controversy in spring training over the issue.

    I think it would be foolish to bury Victorino’s speed in the bottom third of the order, and—as fellow BDD writer Doug Thorburn points out in his article “The Curious Case of Placido Polanco”—Polanco is “the poster boy for the empty batting average.” The only thing to recommend him for the #2 spot is a good contact rate (typically 93+). He doesn’t steal, doesn’t hit for power, rarely takes a walk (5% walk rate career) and his batting eye has fallen steadily for the past three years.

    I thought about this issue when I was writing my column, but hadn’t heard anything definitive, and (frankly) thought Manuel would be foolish to supplant Victorino in the two-hole. Now that you’ve asked the question, I do find some writers speculating that swap will be made, though (again) none of them are named “Charlie Manuel.”

    That’s not to say he won’t, and if he does numbly plug him into the #2 spot, thinking “that’s where he goes,” I don’t think it will last. And if somehow it does, Victorino’s decline in the R department should be made up for with increased RBI opportunities, which will shift his value; fewer ABs will drop his overall worth a bit. It’s definitely something to watch in Spring Training.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Mike

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