Jeff Clement | Pittsburgh | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .227/.295/.360
2010 THTF Projected Stats: .248/.325/.446
The 2005 draft featured a ton of great talent: Justin Upton was the first overall pick, but other players like Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Cameron Maybin, Jay Bruce, and Andrew McCutchen all went in the top 15. Some call it the best draft in history. And except for J-Up, everyone on that list went after Jeff Clement, who was picked third overall by the Seattle Mariners. Seen as one of the top offensive catching prospects, Clement busted out a .315/.387/.508 line in his first minor-league season before hitting a .263/.334/.382 bump at Double-A and Triple-A in 2006. He rebounded to a .275/.370/.497 2007 at Triple-A, following it up with a .335/.455/.676 line in 2008.
His gaudy power skills (67 HRs and 109 2Bs in 1,761 PAs) were supplemented by a cumulative 11% walk rate that portended good things, especially from the catcher position. But his 21% strikeout rate was cause for concern, something that would come back to bite him later. Seattle also wasn’t convinced that his defense was good enough behind the dish, and he was hit by a few nagging injuries. Eventually, Seattle brought Clement to the bigs in 2008, but he could only manage a .227/.295/.360 line, and that strikeout rate ballooned to 31% while his walk rate shrunk to just 6%.
But his problems didn’t end there—the Mariners inked Kenji Johjima to an extension in 2008, so Clement shifted to DH. Then the Ms brought back Ken Griffey Jr. as Seattle’s DH in 2009. So they began to work on Clement as a potential 1B, then traded him late last season to Pittsburgh, who sought to develop his 1B potential. Clement spent more time at Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate but hit just .224/.313/.459, with a 28% strikeout rate. That was over 115 PAs, as compared to the .288/.366/.505 he put up in 421 PAs with Triple-A Tacoma, so it’s likely that was due to small sample size, as well as the shock of changing teams and leagues.
Pittsburgh hasn’t given him the 1B job in 2010 just yet, but it’s his to win in Spring Training, if he can prove himself worthy on defense and offense. Garrett Jones stands ready to take over if he falters, but the Pirates would much rather have a productive Clement and Jones in the lineup, since his backups are Ryan Church and Brandon Moss. THTF’s projections don’t look very impressive for a 1B, and include a modest 22 HRs, 36 2Bs and 88 RBIs. In case you think that’s a lowball projection, it’s about in the middle of the extremes of other projection systems.
He’s a real gamble for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the instability of that K%. Pittsburgh would like to see some of that minor-league power come to the fore, as would fantasy owners. Watch him carefully in Spring Training, and if he snags that starting gig, he’ll make an adequate CIF in deeper and NL-only leagues. But you’d still be better off taking almost any of the other MLB players who were chosen after him in that awesome 2005 draft. Too bad Seattle (or Pittsburgh) doesn’t have that same opportunity.
Bud Norris | Houston | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.7 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 4.53 ERA
2010 THTF Projected Stats: 8.0 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 4.97 ERA
Listed as the No. 2 prospect by Baseball America in 2009, Norris leapt from Double-A in 2008 to Triple-A and the majors in 2009 without missing a beat. At Triple-A Round Rock, he put up 2.62 ERA, striking out 8.4 per 9 IP, while walking 4.0 and giving up 7.8 H over the same span. Though not mind-blowing, that’s still good enough for a callup, and he racked up the strikeouts with the ‘stros, even as he showed the same problems with walks and hits.
Neither the strikeouts nor the walks are surprising, since Norris is a prototypical power pitcher, delivering a fastball that’s been clocked at 98, along with a slider and still-developing changeup. Like many youngsters with thunderbolts for right arms, Norris isn’t always sure where that heater is going. His minor-league walk rate is 3.7 BB/9, and last year’s 4.0 (which he matched in the majors) is a career-high for him. That’s concerning, and he reportedly still needs to work on his changeup, though his slider was his worst pitch in 2009 (1.55 wSL/C). Compare that to his nifty -8.8 wFB/C, a nice indicator of his potential dominance.
As for his problems giving up hits, he had an elevated .329 BABIP in 2009, undoubtedly due to a team that put up the worst Defensive Efficiency (.677) in the NL. Their cumulative UZR/150 is -0.1, almost dead average, but he clearly doesn’t have Hoovers behind him. He was slightly unlucky in home runs, a 12.9% that’s sure to drop somewhat, although his 42.7 FB% in MLB is a radical shift from his 31.5% rate in the minors. He must have been leaving some balls up in the zone, which could point to either injury or fatigue.
Norris experienced elbow problems in 2008, which kept him from pitching for almost two months and had him on strict pitch limits when he returned, so he he finished the year with just 83.0 IP. In 2009, he threw 120 IP in the minors and 55.2 more in MLB, a total that more than doubled his injury-shortened 2008 season, and well above the career-high 102.2 IP he logged in 2007. Norris is a big, stocky guy, a generous 6 feet and 225, up 30 pounds from last year’s numbers, so athleticism doesn’t seem to be his strong suit. A sudden jump in IP on top of an elbow injury isn’t a recipe for long-term success, and bears watching.
The projections from THTF aren’t optimistic that he’ll be successful this year, particularly in the control department, leading to that bloated ERA. And his WHIP is going to be affected by the walks and the elevated 9.5 hit rate THTF sees, too. I don’t agree with the elevated 1.1 HR/9 rate, unless his FB rate continues to climb, so that ERA might be a tad high. In the end, Norris will bring you strikeouts, but you’ve got to expect the usual young-pitcher struggles with control and hits. Fitting him into the middle of an NL-only rotation or the back end of a mixed-league rotation seems the safest place, if you don’t ignore him entirely to see how he starts out the season.
Nick Hundley | San Diego | C
2009 Final Stats: .238/.313/.406
2010 THTF Projected Stats: .231/.290/.407
One of the few things that Padres fans have to look forward to is their young core of Kyle Blanks, Adrian Gonzalez (at least for now), Everth Cabrera, Chase Headley, and Nick Hundley. The least significant of the group from a fantasy perspective, Hundley is still very much in San Diego’s small-market, low-budget future. His value comes in ways that aren’t usually measurable in fantasy, however, which is important to know. Not all real-life prospects are fantasy studs.
That’s not to say that Hundley is worthless, since any starting catcher is bound to be in play in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues. And Hundley brings value with his power, as evidenced by his 2006 season, when he hit 11 HRs and 32 2Bs at low and high Single-A. He then clobbered 20 HRs and 23 2Bs at Double-A in 2007. He got the call in mid-2008, but disappointed by hitting just 5 HRs and 7 2Bs in 216 PAs, good enough for a weak .359 SLG.
In 2009, he was hitting .241/.346/.387 when Chad Billingsley hit him on the wrist on June 9. Hundley was on the DL for a “wrist contusion” for nearly a month before San Diego bothered to X-ray his wrist, and found a small break in his ulna bone. He took another month to get back to action in early August, finishing the season with a .286/.346/.500 September. I’ll refrain from commenting on a team that takes a month to figure out their top catcher has a broken wrist, except to say that perhaps the Padres deserve a few of the losses they try to write up to small-market economics.
As for Hundley, he’s an all-or-nothing guy at the plate, with a career 28.2 K% in the majors (21% in the minors) and a decent 8% walk rate; both will keep his BA low enough to also hold his value down. The longballs, on the other hand, are a very real part of his game. His .168 ISO was good enough for eighth among NL catchers in 2009, and he should bring that same decent power (for a catcher, anyway) in 2010.
The problem, however, will be that he’s not the Padres’ only option behind the plate. They signed Yorvit Torrealba shortly before Spring Training, and the two are likely going to share time in some fashion. Projections from THTF give him 346 PAs in 2010, or a little over half-time. Torrealba has superior BA skills, but not power, despite his late-season burst in Colorado, but he’s got experience and could push Hundley for time if he struggles. San Diego would be foolish to allow Torrealba to take over entirely, since Hundley is their future, but he’s definitely a threat for PT.
In the half-time that THTF forecasts, Hundley’s only expected to deliver 11 HRs, and his OPS isn’t all that remarkable for a catcher. But he’s still a catcher, and it’s one of the thinnest positions in fantasy, and Torrealba might revert to more tepid production levels after shifting from one of baseball’s best hitting environments to one of its worst. That makes Hundley an outside shot to beat those PT projections, which would drive up his value. Still, consider Hundley as a cheap NL-only option if you can offset his BA drag, but only the deepest of mixed-league owners shouldn’t bother looking at him at all.
Cole Hamels | Philadelphia | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.8 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, 4.32 ERA
2010 THTF Projected Stats: 8.0 K/9, 4.0 K/BB, 3.68 ERA
Hamels went from 2008 postseason hero to a 2009 zero when he was the losingest pitcher in the rotation—even Joe Blanton had a better record and ERA than the lefty who had been the ace of the staff and the pitcher of the future. Fantasy owners were taking virtual dives off of skyscrapers when Hamels seemed to regress in nearly every area of his game in 2009, including a jump in ERA of over a run. But, as so often happens in these situations, it’s a combination of bad luck in 2008 and good luck in 2009 that at least partly explains the apparent dropoff in production. That his FIP was identical between 2008 and 2009 supports that deduction rather nicely.
In 2008, Hamels had a .270 BABIP against him and a 76% LOB, while those numbers changed to .325 BABIP and 72.1% LOB in 2009. That huge .55 swing in BABIP corresponds almost exactly to the .46 difference in BAA against him in the two years. The elevated strand rates from 2008 tend to foretell an ERA correction in 2009—precisely what happened—while the near-average LOB% in 2009 mean likely ERA stabilization. In other areas, luck broke Hamels’ way in 2009, as his HR rate slipped a bit from 11.2% to 10.7%, part of a steady three-year drop in that department. That’s a bit less important for Hamels, whose FB rate has been an unwavering 38.7% over the past three years, but it does play a small part in his projection.
An area we can’t measure by statistics could change this year, too, which you can see on his Fangraphs page. Hamels is reportedly working on his curveball, which has never been considered a plus pitch for him, although his dominance with it has improved from 1.52 wCB/C in 2007 to -1.37 in 2009. And if the offseason throwing program helps him get off to a better start than he did in 2009 (12 ER on 4 HR and 12 Hs in 9.2 IP over his first two starts), that’s bound to help him, too. After those first two shaky outings, he had a 3.96 ERA and 1.24 WHIP the rest of the way—not great numbers, but much more palatable, and good enough to put him third on the staff in ERA and WHIP instead of fourth.
Some of this optimism is reflected in the THTF forecast for 2010, which sees a season somewhere in between his good-luck 2008 and bad-luck 2009 seasons. His xFIP has been slipping over the past three seasons, an indication that his skills may be eroding a touch, which may be why he’s trying to sharpen that curveball. Pitching in Philly is an unforgiving environment, even for a guy with relatively low, stable flyball numbers; Hamels gives up dingers at a 1.26 HR/9 rate at home, and 1.06 HR/9 everywhere else.
So don’t expect him to push his ERA close to 3.00 again unless he hits another stretch of good luck, but he’s still going to deliver those Ks and a solid WHIP. He’s never been an elite arm—despite what Philly fans will tell you—but he is a solid second-tier arm who’s only been on the DL 50 days in the past 5 years and generally delivers good, if not great, numbers. That kind of dependability has its own value, and Hamels’ sub-par, unlucky 2009 makes him an excellent buy in any league for 2010.
Mark Reynolds | Arizona | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .260/.349/.543
2010 THTF Projected Stats: .255/.335/.518
Arizona fans could only wring their hands in 2009 as their team found new ways to disappoint, whether it was injuries to Brandon Webb or sending their four-year centerfielder Chris Young down to the minors. But for pleasure, they could watch Mark Reynolds club 44 HRs, even has he set an all-time mark with 223 whiffs (breaking his own 2008 record). In the process, he became baseball’s Three True Outcomes leader for 2009, as 51.8% of his PAs ended with a walk, strikeout or home run.
While this makes a fun statistical toy for analysts, what it really means is that his BA is continually depressed, like Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, Carlos Pena, and Russell Branyan, the guys who round out 2009′s TTO Top Five. The best BA from any of these guys in the past five years? Pena’s .282 in 2007, the one BA that’s not hovering around (or below) .250. (Reynolds’ .279 in 2007 is another outlier, but that was clearly driven by a .378 BABIP and a relatively small 414 PAs). This drives the value of all these TTO guys down in standard roto leagues, though they make very good plays in OBP or OPS leagues.
Reynolds’ 2009 contains some good and bad trends. Unsurprisingly, his K% hit a 38.6% career high (making for a perfectly awful 61.4% contact rate), after rising from 35.2% in his three-year MLB career. On the bright side, his walk rate has risen over the same span from 8.9% to 11.5%. But the most telling rise is his HR/FB rate, which began at 16.2%, rose to 18.2% last year, then rocketed to an unsustainable 26.0% in 2009. Home run hitters like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Adam Dunn tend to have HR/FB rates in the low 20s, and only Ryan Howard regularly has rates higher than Reynolds’ 2009 HR/FB—Howards’ are in the 30s, peaking at 39.4% in 2006.
Hitters’ HR/FB rates tend to regress toward their rolling 3-year average, and Reynolds has only been in the league for three years (counting 2007′s three-quarter-time performance), so it’s possible his HR/FB is on the rise and he’s about to become the next Ryan Howard. That’s not impossible, since Reynolds is the only guy on the 2009 Top Ten TTO list who’s under 30. What’s much more likely, however, is that Reynolds will settle down into the low 20s in HR/FB rates, deflating his HR total (and his roto value) into the high 30s.
You can see that rebound in the THTF forecast for 2010, which shows him hitting 38 HRs, 104 RBI, and the slash line you see above. Because of his 2008 performance, other owners in your league might expect another great season. If you’re really clever, you’ll take advantage of that in your auction draft and bid his value up a bit, particularly at the beginning, when it’s safer to do so. Just don’t get stuck overvaluing him, because he’s a good bet to sink back down to a more reasonable production level. Arizona fans just hope they have other things to focus on when he does.