Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

Ryan Doumit | Pittsburgh | C
2009 Final Stats: .250/.299/.414

Stick your thumb up like you’re hitchhiking. See that triangular pocket formed by your tendons? It’s called the “anatomical snuffbox,” and underneath it is the scaphoid bone, one of several bones that make up your wrist joint. It’s also the same bone that Doumit broke on April 19, knocking him out for nearly two months and possibly leading to his awful season.

For what it’s worth, this bone is nearly always broken by a fall, the kind where you try to stop yourself with the heels of your hands. Doumit claimed he hurt it while swinging a bat, but it’s more likely he hurt it at some other point. There wasn’t a play at the plate on the day he hurt it, and his swing was no more violent than usual, at least to my eye. Is this one of those hidden off-the-field injuries? Do with it what you will.

Whatever its cause, Doumit’s wrist certainly seemed to bother him for the rest of the season. He wasn’t really tearing off the cover in the dozen games he’d played before losing seven-plus weeks, but he limped through most of the season after he returned. His best month was September, when he hit .329/.406/.459, displaying unusual patience, with a .58 BB/K ratio—if that doesn’t sound so hot, compare it to the .30 he put up the rest of the year.

Overall, however, 2009 simply stunk for Doumit. His .268 BABIP and .164 ISO were the lowest since 2006 and 2005, respectively. That low BABIP could either signal bad luck or hitting with less authority; that his 17.9 LD% was his lowest since 2006 would point towards the latter. Since it’s rare for a guy’s power to suddenly vaporize at his age 28, this is most likely wrist-related. To wrap up the anatomy lesson from above, some people can take up to six months to heal completely from a scaphoid fracture, and loss of hand and wrist strength (sometimes permanent) isn’t unusual.

On the bright side, his .73 GB/FB ratio, 11.6% HR/F and 3.3 HR% all held steady, so he hasn’t changed his swing and he’s managing to get the ball out of the yard when he does get a hold of it. He’s probably going to recover some of that power as his wrist heals completely.

Pittsburgh fans can also expect to see him behind the plate for the next several seasons—he’s signed through 2011, and they’ve said they have no plans to move him from catcher. Given Doumit’s injury history, they may change their tune eventually, and he did get a few starts in RF partway through the season when they were looking for more offense, but that’s not going to happen soon. That’s more good news for fantasy owners, since his value is clearly tied to his position. The Pirates actually look like they might be a bit better next season, so he might even have a chance to knock in some runs.

Doumit’s still a free-swinger, but that power and a CT% in the low- to mid-80s is what makes him such a great option at C. Next season, he’s going to be undervalued because of his downer 2009, and you should exercise caution, too. But he’s still a good early mid-round gamble with a good upside. I’d expect a year somewhere between 2008 and 2009, but don’t be surprised to see him hit the DL again.

Jay Bruce | Cincinnati | OF
2009 Final Stats: .223/.303/.470

Bruce is another power hitter who ran into serious wrist problems. The difference with him was, he didn’t seem to be performing all that well before the injury. Bruce was hitting .207/.283/.411 when he fractured his wrist on July 11—sorry, guys, couldn’t get the scoop on which bone he broke, so there’s no anatomy lesson this time around. When he returned in mid-September, he only got to play in 18 games, but he mashed, hitting .326/.426/.652.

Of course, that screams small sample size, and it probably didn’t hurt that he hit down in the order after he returned, in more low-pressure spots like sixth and seventh. But overall in 2009, he had an OPS almost identical to 2008; he actually improved from .767 to .773, all of that improvement coming from SLG, which went from .453 to .470.

And behind those numbers, he showed even more improvement. He sharpened his batting eye and contact skills, going from .30 BB/K and 73 CT% to .51 and 78% in 2009. He boosted his extra-base hits, too, going from 8.6 XBH% in 2008 to 10.1% in 2009, with 51% of his hits going for extra bases in 2009, as opposed to 37% in 2008.

On the downside, he saw reductions in LD% from 21.1% to 13%, and his HR/FB% also dropped slightly, from 18.5% to 15.4%. That suggests he wasn’t making consistently solid contact, a notion further supported by a BABIP that fell from .296 to .221. Coming back strong from his injury says to me that these are likely to turn around.

Plenty of players have sophomore slumps, and Bruce didn’t really get the chance to figure his out in 2009, even if he showed signs that he was beginning to do so. Though he dropped in OPS each of the two months before getting hurt, he demonstrated a clear shift in his approach to the plate in June. After two months of a free-swinging .37 BB/K, he changed dramatically to a .93 BB/K in June, when he also started making better contact. It’s very likely that he would have pulled out of his apparent nosedive, one that—it should be noted—really was only two months long, hardly something to be concerned about in such a young player.

All of this bodes well for 2010, assuming his wrist injury is behind him. Hideki Matsui (who is much older) suffered a very similar injury in 2006, and saw his SLG dip six points the following year. Not a significant drop, and one that can’t even be reliably attributed to the wrist injury, as Matsui was 33 at the time and some dropoff, or at least leveling off, isn’t unusual at his age.

Doctors were pleased with the cleanliness of Bruce’s break, and (again) he came back stronger after returning. Given an offseason ahead of him to continue rehab and strengthening work, and the fact that he’s only 22, I think we can assume Bruce will be fine next season. Try to remember when you were 22 and healed quickly from injuries like this—he’s gonna be fine.

He’ll return to a Reds squad with several young hitters, and picturing him in the midst of guys like Votto, Phillips and Stubbs should make fantasy owners and Reds fans very happy. If you find him undervalued in your draft because of his perceived dropoff in 2009 or concerns about his wrist, go the extra dollar or two. He’s young, he’s talented, and he’s going to keep getting better.

Chris Carpenter | St. Louis | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.7 K/9, 3.8 K/BB, 2.24 ERA

Among pitchers, arm injuries are obviously far more serious, and Carpenter missed most of the past two seasons after two separate procedures: Tommy John Surgery and a repair job on a compressed nerve in his shoulder. In fact, The Original CC hasn’t had a DL-free season since 2005. That includes this year, of course, when he missed more than a month with a torn oblique muscle.

But when he’s healthy, he’s amazing. Of the past three healthy seasons (’05, ’06, and ’09), his worst WHIP was 1.069 in 2006, a number that led the NL. That’s because he gave up about 7 H/9 and under 2 BB/9 in all three years; that plus his .63 HR/9 tells you why he registered a sub-3.00 ERA in that time.

This year, he was as impressive as ever. In 26 starts after coming back from that oblique tear, he reeled off 22 Quality Starts. Two of those were moderate shellings: a six-run, 5.0 IP outing against the Giants on June 30 and a seven-run, 6.0 IP outing against Atlanta on September 13. Chuck those out, and he’s got a 1.72 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. He’s got a solid defense behind him, as evidenced by the .731 DER, but his FIP-ERA was a measly 0.57. This is a guy that deals.

It’s hard to read this season as an anomaly, either. His 79.5% strand rate was a touch high, his .274 BABIP and 5.2% HR/F both low, but those are the only stats that look especially skewed. He walked 13 in 41.0 September innings, likely due to fatigue, something that carried over to the middling postseason performance against the Dodgers where he walked four, struck out three and gave up nine hits (including an uncharacteristic dinger).

Overall, his strikeouts have dipped as his GB% has risen, so his fantasy points might be a bit depressed, but he’s still one of the top pitchers in the game when he’s healthy. That’s the crux of the problem with Carpenter: When might he hit the DL again? He’ll be 35 in 2010, but with the recovery from TJS behind him, you’ve got to like his health chances, at least in the short term.

With my crystal ball currently in the shop, I can’t tell you if he’ll tear another oblique, but pitching coach Dave Duncan is now expected to wear his wizard cap for at least another season, so his mechanics should remain solid. Some of the slightly depressed numbers outlined above say to me he’s due for a but of a correction, and I’d expect to see those strikeouts continue to dwindle down the road. He’s signed with St. Louis through at least 2011, giving him the comfort of familiarity (and hopefully Dave Duncan) for some time to come.

Carpenter’s health concerns push him out of the top tier of pitchers, and keeper owners have to calculate the chances of a serious injury shutting him down again, but he’s not far out of that top tier. As a rule, I don’t blow a lot of bucks on my pitchers and try to minimize risk, so I’d only take him for my team if he seemed especially undervalued. But I’d put his chances at another excellent season far higher than his chance at serious injury or sudden collapse. And another run at the Cy Young is well within the realm of possibility.

Next week, I’ll be looking at Eugenio Velez, Ian Desmond, and Dan Runzler; then, I’ll cover Jeff Francoeur, Kyle Blanks, and Scott Elbert; followed by Jake Fox, Matt Latos and Joe Blanton.

Keep offering your suggestions for other players you’d like to hear about, particularly those with offseason questions—injuries, contracts, playing time—looming.

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  1. Michael Street said...

    Weeks is also still arbitration-eligible, so the Brewers are still likely to re-sign him for a discount. This could be his last year to prove he can stay healthy and productive, however.

  2. Andrew said...

    Doumit-I’d consider him a small value buy.  2008’s average was aided by luck, but the guy’s an offensive-minded catcher when healthy

    Bruce- I’ll target Bruce in every draft next year.  Fangraphs just did an article on him, and I had a little debate about him with one of the writers at rotosavants.

    Carpenter- Definition of boom or bust.  He did get lucky this year, though, and I’m not expecting him to fall to where he’d need to for me to take him.

  3. Bill Hamilton said...

    I’d like to see a comparison of Carlos Gonzalez (COL) and Julio Borbon (TEX). Which will be the better choice in 2010?

  4. chris said...

    Ricki Weeks? what happens to him with Lopez coming in and doing the job he cant ie stay on the field and be a true lead off hitter.

  5. Rob McQuown said...

    After conferring with Mike, I’ll cover Wagner in the AL section next week.  Good suggestion, wonder where he’ll end up.

    We’re discussing the Car-Go v. Borbon question via email, but my initial thought is that the two players should be considered for drastically different roles, even though both could nominally be leadoff hitters for their MLB teams.  Car-Go has shown tons of power in the minors, and resumed his power hitting in Colorado after taking a mulligan on his lousy 2008.  Borbon’s a pure “speed guy”, and if he develops fully, could steal 50+ without anyone marveling about it.

  6. John K said...

    Very thorough look at these guys, thanks so much.  I want to second that request for Ben Sheets.  Will he be a case that we just have to wait on?  His ST might move his value around a lot it seems.

    Thanks again!

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