Cameron Maybin | Florida | OF
2009 Final Stats: .250/.318/.409
In their 2009 edition of the Prospect Handbook, Baseball America predicted a starting gig for Maybin out of spring training, saying: “Only a disastrous showing would send him back to the minors.” Maybin fulfilled the prediction by making the squad as the starting CF, then hitting a limp .202/.280/.310 in the first 23 games and 95 PAs, earning him a quick demotion to Triple-A.
He didn’t return to the Marlins until the end of the season but hit .293/.353/.500 the rest of the way, giving at least the appearance of improvement in those final 104 PAs. He did show some strides forward, tweaking his BB/K from 0.26 to 0.45 and his contact rate from 63% to 78%, despite a walk rate that stuck at 8%. He was also helped by a H% that rose from 32 to 38, but much of those trends are good ones, even if they are expressed over a fairly small sample size.
Like many gifted young hitters, Maybin struggles in allowing his peripheral skills to catch up with his athletic talent. He’s got five-tool potential, but he’ll only reach that level if he can harness his aggressive approach at the plate. In the minors, he struck out in 24% of his PAs and followed that up by whiffing in 29% of his MLB plate appearances in 2009. He’s got great bat speed and has power potential (.473 minor-league SLG), so every pitch must seem hittable to him.
The good news is that he’s made strides in these areas throughout his minor-league career—his K% dropped from 32% to 20% between 2008 Double-A and 2009 Triple-A, and his contact rate rose from to 68% to 81%. His BB% dipped from 13% to 11% over that same period, but that’s not precipitous, and it remains well above acceptable minimums. He’s going to start to make those same advances in the big leagues, too, but it will take some time. He’s been up-and-coming for so long (he debuted in 2007 and was the key piece of the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit) that it’s easy to forget that Maybin turns 23 this year.
The nice part, as always, is that his speed doesn’t need further development, though his opportunities to show it do. While not an elite SB threat, he managed to swipe 81 bags in 103 attempts in the minors, at yearly success rates in the 70-80% range. Fredi Gonzalez didn’t really let him loose in 2009 (one SB in four attempts), no doubt because he spent most of his time hitting second or eighth, as well as his need to focus on other areas of his game. But that speed will come, as he gets on base more and learns the opposing pitchers. Like his batting, you shouldn’t expect that to advance too quickly, particularly since Gonzalez projects him in the two-hole in 2010, behind Chris Coghlan, who rarely steals, and ahead of Hanley Ramirez, who may be able to deliver Maybin to the plate no matter what base he’s standing on.
Maybin remains extremely talented, as well as very young, so you can’t get too excited about him too soon. With his history of swinging and missing, as well as the usual bumps you expect from a young player, he’s not likely to be too reliable this season. I like most of the GP prediction for him, though those steals seem awfully high, given where he’s hitting. Keeper owners will clearly want to be all over him, if they aren’t already, given his long-term prospects, but don’t let that enthusiasm affect your bid in a redraft league. Other owners are likely to overpay for Maybin based on his reputation, so you should let them. Even the most optimistic predictions don’t see him doing amazingly well in 2010, so don’t go too much over that $13 GP prediction.
Chris Volstad | Florida | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.1 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 5.21 ERA
Marlins fans were ready for Volstad, a former first-round pick, to shine in his first full year in the bigs after the impressive 2008 season you see in his mini-browser. Instead, he disappointed, putting together the 2009 numbers you see just below that line. If you had the full browser and graphs available in GP 2010, you’d see one of the reasons why: his BB/9 suddenly went through the roof in August and September, while his never-impressive K rate bottomed out.
Despite his lanky 6-foot-7 frame that makes you think he’s gonna bring the heat, his fastball sits only in the low 90s. But it’s what he does with it that counts—he gets ground balls. His curve and change will keep batters guessing, but getting them to pound the ball into the dirt is how he gets guys out. In 2008, he collected grounders at a 53% rate, leading to a very nice 1.9 GB/FB ratio. He also had a 77% strand rate, a sure sign of ERA regression, even for a groundball pitcher.
Sure enough, he regressed in 2009, and not just in that three-plus-point rise in ERA. He also left the ball up in the zone, dropping his overall GB rate a few points to an even 50%, while his GB/FB rate fell to 1.5. The consequences of this can be seen in his HR/FB rate—in 2008, it was a measly 3.9%, low even for a groundballer, and in 2009, it went the other direction, to an incredibly unlucky 17.5%. That’s why his xFIP for ’08 (4.59) and ’09 (4.35) are very close; in fact, after normalizing the HR rate (which is what differentiates xFIP from FIP) we can see that Volstad controlled the game better in 2009 than 2008, despite much poorer results.
The altered hit trajectory helps account for the shift in home runs, particularly with the lucky/unlucky shift in HR rate he experienced between 2008 and 2009. It also shows you Volstad’s narrow margin for error, a margin that’s narrowed even further by a defense that put up a -3.4 UZR/150 in 2009, much of that courtesy of the infield, from the -28.6 Jorge Cantu at 3B to the -9.6 Dan Uggla at 2B. More traditional metrics like Defensive Efficiency also put Florida pretty low on the defensive totem pole (.686, 12th in the NL).
So even when Volstad can induce ground balls, there’s no guarantee that the Marlins’ gloves will gather them in. Except for 1B Gaby Sanchez, the infield is likely to remain the same in 2010, giving him a similarly low margin for error. He can help himself with a better walk rate, which sat above 3 BB/9 in both ’08 and ’09, higher than his minor-league 2.4 BB/9 average over five seasons. Ground ball pitchers can use double plays to eliminate some of those walks, but when you combine an elevated walk rate with a sudden jump in fly ball and home run rate, you have a recipe for disaster.
GP is pessimistic that Volstad will be able to keep all these moving parts in sync for 2010, and its prediction isn’t far off from most other systems. Low-strikeout pitchers like Volstad have diminished worth in fantasy, which explains that low value, plus don’t forget that he’s only 23 this year. He might push that return into positive territory with a mild breakout, but he remains a late-draft, low-dollar gamble, even in NL-only leagues. Florida has lots of pitching talent to gamble on, but your money’s better spent elsewhere than Volstad.
Jonny Gomes | Cincinnati | OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.338/.541
He tried to test free agency, but like many others dipping a toe in the shallow pool of free-agent dollars, Gomes didn’t find too many takers, so he ended up taking a one-year deal this week to return to Cincy. A glance at his mini-browser shows the inconsistency that might have led to such reluctant suitors, particularly at a time of hesitant spending. What’s the difference between that devilish .666 OPS with the Devil-free Rays and the .879 OPS with the Reds?
Hit rate and home venue helped, as his 26% hit rate valley with Tampa Bay became a 38% mountain in Cincinnati, while going from Tropicana Field (0.85 HR park factor in 2008) to Great American Ballpark (1.18 HR park factor in 2009) had to help him dispense souvenirs to fans in the cheap seats. Gomes also managed to hold his own against RHP for the first time in years in 2009, registering an .859 OPS against righties and a .914 against southpaws—in his career, his OPS is 127 points better against lefties. Luck was a factor even beyond his hit rate, as he converted 22% of his fly balls into longballs, a career best for him and even more impressive considering that he also had his lowest fly ball rate since 2005.
Amid this fluctuation, the one constant you can see in his mini-browser is that 70% contact rate, something that will always deflate his batting average. When he’s not giving the cheap-seat fans souvenirs, he’s stirring up a nice breeze in the muggy Cincinnati summers, a tendency that’s unlikely to change. In his career, Gomes’ best K% rate was the 29.9% he had in Tampa Bay in 2008; his worst was in 2007, when he struck out 36.2% of the time. In 2009, he whiffed 30.2% of the time, a bit below his 32.2% career average, but well within expectations. Neither the K% or CT% bode well for leagues that count BA, and it will be a consideration in whether you’ll want to draft him. Unlike TTO monsters like Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena, you can’t rely on Gomes for walks, as his 8-9% walk rate—another constant in his career—is merely adequate.
A further consideration with Gomes is the all-important playing time factor. When they signed Gomes, the Reds speculated that he could slide into a platoon, probably with Dickerson; knowing that the short side of a platoon is your perceived ceiling isn’t particularly comforting. He was considered a backup in 2009, and only got on the field so often thanks to injuries to outfielders Jay Bruce, Willy Taveras and Chris Dickerson. While Taveras is gone and Bruce is a lock for RF, Dickerson is back, along with LF candidates Laynce Nix, Wladimir Balentien, Chris Heisey and Josh Anderson. Even all-or-nothing power-hitter Juan Francisco is a possibility in the long-term outlook, though Dusty insists Francisco’s going to learn the infield first (an absurd proposition for the corner infielder, given the presence of Scott Rolen at 3B through 2012 and Joey Votto at 1B for hopefully much longer).
As Gomes saw in 2009, anything can happen, and injuries can open the door for him again in 2010. But just as that kind of “luck” can go his way, it can go against him, too, and his H% or HR rate could plummet. With this kind of volatility and playing time potential, Gomes’ value is likely to be less than that $6 prediction. As streaky as he is, he should be bouncing on and off the waiver wire all season long, which is why you should lay off him on Draft Day, unless a massive case of exploding hamstrings suddenly lays low all the other LF candidates in Cincy. He’s definitely someone to watch and ride when he’s hot, but Gomes is a bench player at best for any league other than the deep NL-only variety.
John Maine | New York | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.1 K/9, 1.5 K/BB, 4.43 ERA
While everyone knows the Mets ace is Johan Santana, how many fans outside New York could name Maine as the man following him in the rotation? Whether you can or not, seeing a guy with his 2008 numbers in the No. 2 slot shows why Mets fans have acid reflux just thinking about their 2010 starting pitching. Even Maine’s career year of 2007 looks more like a No. 3 or lower pitcher on a contending team, and he’d have a hard time even hearing the word “rotation” if he were pitching for the Mets’ free-spending crosstown rivals.
Part of Maine’s problems of late has been his tendency toward injury; he’s missed 184 days in the past four seasons due to various ailments, including most of last season to weakness in his pitching shoulder. Appropriately, he started 2009 weakly (11 starts, 5-4, 4.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 1.2 K/BB) but finished it relatively strong (4 starts, 2-2, 4.12 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 3.3 K/BB). That’s a good, but not amazing, turnaround, which is a good way to describe Maine himself: good, but not amazing. His 2007 peak, after all, was a 15-10 record with a 3.91 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, to go with a 8.5 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB.
The same could be said for his assortment of pitches, something he seems to be tweaking year to year. In that peak year of 2007, he threw 21% sliders and 66% heat; in 2008, he cut that slider rate in half, while increasing his fastball percentage to 71. Last year, he threw 72% heat and 16% sliders. This shifting repertoire has led to those predictably mediocre results.
As that peak year shows, he’s had good strikeout numbers in his Mets career, around 7 K/9, though that fell to 6.1 K/9 last year, worse at the end of the year than the beginning. But that decent strikeout rate is dragged down by walk rates that push 4 BB/9. Worse, Maine’s walk rates have climbed as his strikeout rates have fallen, not a good direction for growth. As a marginal flyball pitcher, he’s further damaged by HR rates above 1.0 HR/9 in his career. He’s gotten better (or luckier) in keeping the ball in the yard since that 2007 peak—last year was helped a bit by a 7.5% HR/FB rate. All this leads to a FIP and xFIP that have both climbed each season since 2007, making it hard to blame his struggles on the dysfunctional antics of the team behind him on the diamond.
Taking a step back to see the whole picture—or whole pitcher—we see a guy with slightly above-average skills at a moderate risk for ERA inflation and injury. Things could break his way, and Maine might leverage those strikeout numbers and keep the walks and home runs down, beating that $7 prediction (something he hasn’t done since 2007). Or luck could break the other way, and he could return significantly less, even getting injured and losing all value entirely.
Doesn’t much sound like a good investment, does it? Sure, you can gamble a few bucks on Maine, and it’s not the worst place to spend your budget, but don’t depend on him to be your No. 2 (or even No. 3) starter. Leave that to the New York Mets.
Johnny Cueto | Cincinnati | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.9 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 4.41 ERA
Except for a slight dropoff in strikeout rate from 2008, Cueto actually did fairly well in 2009, producing numbers almost identical to his 2008 rookie season. The big hiccup came in July, his worst month of the year (1.026 OPS against, 4.7 BB/9, 8.16 ERA), which followed four straight months of dropping strikeout rates.
Cincinnati put him on the DL with an inflamed shoulder after a disastrous August start where he gave up 7 ER in just 2.2 IP against the lowly Nationals. This came at the tail end of a string where he lost 7 of 8 starts, beginning with a 22-1 lambasting at the hands of the Phillies, who hung 9 ER on him in 0.2 IP. During that losing stretch, he gave up 4+ ER in six of the seven losses, the exception being a start against the Cardinals when he left with a tight hip flexor after two innings of work, having surrendered “just” one run.
The speculation is that Cueto’s World Baseball Classic work may have tired him out or left him ill-prepared for the season, yet another strike against the international tournament in the eyes of MLB fans. Whatever the reason, he missed the minimum before returning, refreshed, to the rotation. He rebounded to win five of his final six starts (.711 OPS against, 3.9 BB/9, 3.63 ERA). It doesn’t look like that shoulder problem will be any concern going forward for one of the bright spots in a young Reds rotation that gets more impressive each season.
The only area of Cueto’s game that’s significantly different from 2008 is that strikeout rate, which fell by a little more than a strikeout per game. That’s undoubtedly from that midseason tired-arm spell; his K rate after returning from the DL was 7.8 K/9. Expect to see his strikeouts return to more robust levels in 2010. Otherwise, he improved his walk rate slightly from 2008, held home runs down, and even nudged his groundball rate downwards from 0.95 GB/FB to 1.02. You can see all of these changes on the GP mini-browser except the last one, which only looks the same due to rounding. His FIP dropped as a result of this improvement between 2008-9, while his xFIP rose a bit (again, due to HR rate normalizing).
All this consistent production makes for remarkable agreement among us prognosticators. GP is at the high end of the ERA scale for Cueto in 2010, but nearly everyone sees an ERA in the 4.2-4.5 range, a WHIP around 1.30, and about 7 strikeouts and 3 walks per 9 IP. Cueto’s young, and the Reds have held his innings down below 175 IP in the past two seasons, reducing any injury questions that last year’s DL stint might have raised. With Edinson Volquez out for TJS, Cueto rises to No. 3 in the rotation and becomes the best young pitcher the Reds have in the majors, at least until Aroldis Chapman shows his stuff.
Because he’s young and is still learning to keep the ball down and in the yard, he’s an ERA risk, and the fringe-y walk rates give him that decidedly average WHIP (within .02 of league average in both ’08 and ’09). So don’t be taken in by the youth and the strikeout rates, as he represents moderate risk, and will still get shelled now and again, particularly with the Great American Home Run Park as his home venue. Some luck and slight improvement could see him beat that $4 GP forecast, but it won’t be by much. Unless you’re in a keeper league, 24-year-old power pitchers with elevated HR tendencies and mild control problems aren’t the best investments.
Spring Training is just beginning, but there’s still plenty of time to download a 16-page sample of Graphical Player 2010 and buy a copy to prep for the season. And don’t forget to check the index for all the players I’ve covered this offseason, and leave suggestions for other players to cover in the comments below.