Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

This week at Waiver Wire, we add a great new dimension to our analysis: information from The Graphical Player 2010, or GP 2010. Rob McQuown (who writes the AL Waiver Wire) and I are both Associate Editors for GP 2010, working under editor John Burnson, who also publishes HEATER magazine and is one of the finest baseball minds you’ll find anywhere. Rob and I have both written for GP in the past, but this is the first year we worked with John on determining the content for each player, from the stats used to how they would be displayed.

GP is in its seventh year and presents stats, commentary, and predictions in a graphical format that packs an amazing amount of information into a small amount of space. The sample you’ll see with each player is just a taste of what GP offers, including the mini-browser that allows you to compare similar players at a glance, an incredibly important tool in the fast-paced atmosphere of a fantasy draft.

We’ll show you some samples from the graphs in next week’s column, or you can see them for yourself by downloading a 16-page preview of the book, or by ordering the book directly from Acta Sports here.

Let your leaguemates settle for the same-old, same-old analysis. Fantasy sports have moved into the 21st century; get the only book that proves it: the 2010 Graphical Player.

Chris Iannetta | Colorado | C
2009 Final Stats: .228/.344/.460

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2009 was supposed to be the year Chris Iannetta would consolidate his skills and leap into the top rank of catchers. Instead, he scuffled, spent some time on the DL, and faded enough down the stretch that Yorvit Torrealba was the backstop of choice in September.

That injured hamstring may have contributed to his struggles, by knocking him out of his groove, but it’s not the kind of injury (wrist, elbow, back) you expect to have such a dramatic effect on a player’s stats.

But if you’d read GP 2009, you’d have seen this coming, since we predicted that 90-point OPS drop, and we also see a rebound in 2010. Looking at the mini-browser above, you can see that his core skills remained relatively steady from 2008-2009, with the exception of a drop in his hit rate.

He lost a bit of patience, evidenced by his .57 BB/K ratio in 2009 (down from .60 in 2008), as well as the drop in BB%. But if you look back at 2007—when he also had a hit rate of 31%—his BA was almost the same. The difference has been in his power, which shows in the rising Bash rate.

That Bash may also be part of his problems, too, as he seemed to wait for the perfect pitch, then swing out of his heels to try and knock it all the way to Montana. A further indication of this comes from Iannetta’s GB/FB ratio, which has dropped steadily over the past four seasons, from 1.10 in 2006 to 0.48 in 2009. He also hits much better (and hits the ball much farther) at home, with a ridiculous slash line of .295/.389/.576 in Coors in 2009, and a .167/.302/.353 everywhere else.

He’s going to have to learn to swing more and take fewer walks, and stop trying to turn every at-bat into a moon shot. The best thing Jim Tracy could do is to let him watch some tape of Jeremy Giambi, the last guy who turned too passive in the batter’s box, and remind him of where Little Giambi is now. If Iannetta can do that, his power will remain and his hit rate will return—and so will those HRs and RBI.

If that happens, will he still be the starter?

Let’s not forget that Torrealba didn’t supplant him until September, and overall his numbers weren’t as good as Iannetta’s. Torrealba hit .291/.351/.380, thanks to a totally unsustainable .347 BABIP (his career average is .296).

Torrealba made his hay with RISP, when he hit a jaw-dropping .477/.544/.591. That’s another anomaly from a guy who’s hit .258/.355/.391 in that situation throughout his career. He was hot at the right time, but don’t be fooled—he’s not this kind of hitter.

But catching isn’t all hitting; it’s game-calling, too, and the Rockies liked the way Torrealba called the game. Opposing hitters had an OPS 30 points lower with him behind the plate than with Iannetta. That’s to be expected from a catcher who’s five years older than Iannetta, and that’s the only thing that would keep Torrealba behind the plate more.

The Rockies need right-handed hitting, however, so Iannetta is going to get every opportunity to redeem himself next year. Another positive, and overlooked, aspect of Iannetta’s season, is that he continued to mash lefties. In fact, he widened his LH/RH OPS split, from a career .929/.766 to .986/.734. Being unable to hit righties isn’t such a great thing, but that split should stabilize and return to his career norms.

Check out those GP comps to see where you’d value Iannetta, but getting a Posada-like season from him wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Torrealba will be waiting if he falters, but GP likes his rebound chances, and so do I.

Geovany Soto | Chicago | C
2009 Final Stats: .218/.321/.381

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Soto tested positive for marijuana during the WBC, and things went downhill from there for the 2008 Rookie of the Year. The way he was hitting, and the extra weight he’d gained, it seemed like he never put the bong back down again.

It’s more likely that the WBC itself affected Soto, by splitting his attention between two different Spring Training camps and not allowing him to focus on conditioning and getting into a good groove. The positive THC test, however, might have indicated what he spent his Spring Training doing instead of working out.

He started the 2009 season slowly, finally got into a groove in June, then lost a month to an oblique injury. He recovered a bit in September after returning, but it wasn’t enough to save a lost season.

Unlike Iannetta, Soto didn’t have a likely replacement breathing down his neck, so Chicago was stuck with him—Koyie Hill gave it his best, but even an injured Soto could have beaten Hill’s .636 OPS. Hill’s game-calling led to an opposing OBP 15 points lower than Soto, but Hill’s no Yorvit Torrealba, and he’s no threat to do more than just caddy for Soto.

A quick glance at GP will tell you where most of Soto’s 2009 season came from: That 28% hit rate sticks out as much as his 38% does from 2008. Otherwise, his skills look the same or even better than 2008—he improved his BB/K ratio from .51 to .65, helped by that 13% walk rate.

His Bash tells you his power is still there and that he’s not overswinging the way Iannetta seemed to be. But his HR/FB rate still dropped from 13.7% to 9.5%—that, plus the drop in H%, tells you that he’s just not hitting the ball as hard. In the absence of other indicators, I’d have to say that his conditioning is suspect.

Assuming he gets back into shape, the truth for Soto lies somewhere in between his 2008 and 2009 seasons, with the very healthy result you see predicted above. He cruised in 2009, perhaps reading too many of his own press clippings, and will hopefully use his poor performance this year as motivation to improve in 2010. Lou Piniella is certainly an excellent motivator, and he’s not likely to let Soto forget how he staggered through 2009.

What’s most interesting is to see the comparison between Iannetta and Soto, particularly in their comps in the mini-browser. They’re fairly similar offensively, with Iannetta possessing a better batting eye and Soto having more pure hitting ability. That translates to a 5-point differential in SLG and 10 points in BA, which (along with the increased PT guaranteed Soto) is the difference between being compared to Kelly Shoppach or Joe Mauer.

The catcher market is a tight one, and seeing these two side-by-side shows you that you should go the extra buck (or four) to land Soto instead of Iannetta. Both should rebound, but the return on Soto is likely to be much better, even if neither will be the catcher you saw in 2008.

Joe Blanton | Philadelphia | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.5 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, 4.05 ERA

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Joe Blanton is a bit like plain yogurt—consistent, bland, and undoubtedly good for you. Until last year, he’s been smooth and predictable, with about 200 IP, a FIP in the 4 range, a K/9 rate around 5, double-digit wins, and double-digit losses, though almost always more of the former than the latter. Except for a nice 2007, he’s been neither unspectacular or disastrous. GP 2010 calls him “a No. 3 starter’s No. 3 starter,” about as average as a guy gets.

So what’s up with that ridiculous 7.5 K/9 rate in 2009? That’s the one thing that really pops out at you from his 2009 line—the other noticeable difference is the 1.4 HR/9 rate, which some might write off as a product of Philly’s homer-happy Citizen Bank Ballpark.

But Blanton’s HR rate is almost identical at home or away. As with most of his other splits, Blanton performs the same way at home or on the road, against lefties or righties, in a boat or with a goat. It’s the same Blanton eveywhere—about the only thing you can count on is that he typically does a bit better after the break.

I’d argue that the elevated HR and K rate are part of the same trend: throwing more strikes. Philadelphia is a strike-throwing team; the Phillies led the NL in K/BB ratio, despite ranking 10th in strikeouts. That’s because they’re second in the league in BB/9, with a measly 3.0. And, perhaps also not coincidentally, they rank second-to-last in HR/9.

When you’ve got a strong defense and a good offense protecting you as a pitcher—and a manager who clearly advocates it—you’re going to throw more strikes. When Blanton was traded from Oakland last year, he shot up from a 4.4 K/9 rate to a 6.5 K/9, and his HR/9 rate rose from 0.9 to 1.3 HR/9.

This also comes from changing leagues; with one less batter in the lineup in the NL (with rare exceptions, I refuse to count pitchers as “batters”), the guy on the mound can be more aggressive. But it clearly starts with management, as those team stats show.

GP thinks he’s going to continue with an elevated strikeout rate next year, with similar results. He’s not going to amaze, but he’s not going to disappoint, and he will deliver 200 IP of above-average ERA and WHIP. And if you look at his comparable pitchers in the mini-browser, that puts him in pretty decent company.

Blanton’s the kind of mid-round, mid-dollar pitcher that can fill out your fantasy roster perfectly. He won’t carry your season, but he won’t tank it, either. And when your stomach’s on fire because your other gambles aren’t working out, a spoonful of cool, smooth, bland yogurt might be just the trick.

Next week, I’ll take a look at Alcides Escobar, Ian Stewart and Madison Bumgarner, and we’ll get a peek at the other half of the GP player writeup.

Be sure to leave your suggestions for players you want me to cover in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Michael Street said...

    R M—

    Bash is the number of bases per hit, a quick-n-dirty way of measuring growing power, as well as a hitter trending towards an all-or-nothing swing.

    Mike

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