Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

This week’s Waiver Wire has another nice bonus, courtesy of The Graphical Player 2010 (or GP for short), the book Rob McQuown (my AL Waiver Wire counterpart) and I are Associate Editors for, under the Editorship of the incomparable John Burnson, publisher of HEATER magazine and baseball guru/genius.

In its seventh year, GP presents stats, commentary and predictions in a graphical format that packs an amazing amount of information into a small amount of space. Last week, we showed you the “mini-browser” and a handful of the stats included with each player. This week, you’ll see the player graph, highlighting his career trends and his “Assets at a Glance,” a quick way of showing you everything from his stability to future trends and the core skills he brings to the table.

You can download a 16-page sample of the book or order the book directly from ACTA Sports—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!

Carlos Lee | Houston | OF
2009 Final Stats: .300/.343/.489

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El Caballo has been one of the steadiest RBI guys out there for the past several seasons. Since 2003, he’s only failed to register triple-digit RBIs once, and that was in 2004, when he could only pick up a measly 99.

He’s also been a solid power producer, collecting 30+ HRs and 30+ 2Bs in every season but 2008, when he broke a pinkie. (That also broke a durability record, as Lee had appeared in 140+ games in every season since 2000, with 161+ games in each of 2005-2007.) Since 2003, his power production has led to a .500+ SLG in every season but 2005, which was also the only year in that span that he didn’t hit .300.

This past season saw those trends slipping away. He barely hit .300, his SLG dropped below .500 and he clubbed just 26 longballs. He did keep up that durability by appearing in 160 games, and he hit 35 2Bs and knocked in 102. But with his SB numbers now diminishing almost completely, Lee’s value is tied almost entirely to his power and BA. So where did the power go?

For starters, his HR/RB rate dropped to 10.0 percent, his lowest NL average in years, and his Bash fell to 1.63, also his lowest in years and well below his 1.81 of 2008. That would indicate a combination of slipping power and bad luck.

And luck factored into more than just his HR rate—his .915/.751 home-road split for 2009 includes a BABIP split of .305/.276, though his .290 overall BABIP was identical to his career average. Lee’s always hit better at home vs. on the road, but not as dramatically as 2009.

His home-road split is also reflected in his .542/.437 home/road SLG differential. The Juicebox in Houston has that wonderfully short LF porch, and Lee really feasted on it last year—elsewhere, not so much.

His core hitting skills held steady: with his walk rate dipping just a bit and his contact rate (always at or near 90) remaining the same. There’s little else to explain the 2009 dip in power, other than some bad luck and the declining power you can expect from a guy with Lee’s physique; still, 33 is a bit early for a complete dropoff.

You can see from his GP window the two months—June and September—that dragged his 2009 season down, as well as the rebound we both expect from him in 2010. And you also see vividly demonstrated how he’ll help you in BA and HR, but not much else.

GP’s stat predictions see him regaining his .500-SLG, 30-HR ways, and he should approach a .300 BA again. And his -32 sentiment indicates he’s likely to be a bargain after his down 2009, making him a very nice bargain opportunity for your 2010 draft. Don’t expect steals or a great OBP, but he should resume delivering BA, HR and RBI as steadily as ever—at least for 2010.

David Wright | New York | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .307/.390/.447

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We had a mock “Futures” draft this offseason, focusing on the best players in the next five years, and I took Wright as my top selection, fourth overall. Among other things, I noted his rock-solid peripherals and amazing health record—and, like a voodoo curse, both struck Wright this past season.

What really struck Wright, of course, was a 94 mph fastball from Matt Cain, and many may write off his season due to this beanball, which took the helmet off of Wright’s head and laid him out motionless.

He actually didn’t seem all that bad at the time; after being tended to at home plate, he asked to remain in the game, though he was led off the field. His season fell apart after this, as he missed a little over two weeks (more time than he’d ever missed in his Mets career), then came back to hit just .239/.389/.367 the rest of the way.

But his season was actually starting to slip away from him (as it did with all of his N.Y. teammates) even before that ill-fated pitch, as he was hitting .324/.414/.467. Those numbers would be gaudy for any other 3B in the NL not named “Chipper Jones” or “Aramis Ramirez,” but for Wright, they had to be a disappointment.

Like Carlos Lee, Wright had been a lock since 2005 for a .300 BA, 100 RBI, 40+ 2Bs and a homer total near, or surpassing, 30. So while his OBP numbers were solid, he was already down in power by a good 30 or 40 points when he got hit by Cain. Should fantasy owners be concerned about this?

In Wright’s career, his worst months are April (.862 OPS), July (.867) and September (.899). That a “bad” month for Wright includes those excellent numbers says plenty about what a talent this guy is. But those months are also his worst because of his power—for whatever reason, he doesn’t hit the longball in April (.471 SLG), July (.487) and September (.522). Again, “worst” is relative when you’re David Wright, since most players would kill for an “off” month like that.

When you break down his 2009 season by month, or look at it with a glance on the GP graph, you can see he’s right in line with his career trends. He hit .280/.372/.390 in April, .378/.479/.561 in May, .365/.432/.529 in June, and .269/.373/.398 in July. That GP window highlights what a downhill ride 2009 was for Wright, how different it was from his steadier 2007-08 and how much he needed those lost months to redeem himself.

Up until Cain gave him a Rawlings-induced headache, Wright wasn’t showing his usual August mojo: he’d hit .306/.393/.408 through the first 14 games of the month. And after he came back from his concussion, he flailed rather horribly at the ball, his usual patience evaporating as he plunged into a .26 BB/K funk (his career average is .65). Up to that point, his BB/K was at .61.

Last year can’t be blamed entirely on Cain, but a lot of it can, mostly because it denied Wright one of his typically strong months, and cut the legs out from under his “best worst” month—even an ordinary .899 OPS in September would have made Wright’s 2009 numbers look much different. Absent Cain’s intervention, it’s possible that Wright’s numbers would have dipped a bit, something one can easily explain by playing in a new stadium with a last-place team that looked like everyone was suffering from a voodoo curse.

Of those concerns, only the home park is a long-term worry. It will take a full season of a healthy Wright to see how much the new surroundings affect his offensive game, though he had some great series at Citi Field in 2009.

The bigger problem, his concussion, is also cause for worry, but with an offseason to take it easy, he’s unlikely to have lingering effects. You might point to Ryan Church as someone whose concussions destroyed his career, but Church not only had repeat concussion problems, he wasn’t half the player Wright is, even on Church’s best day. Church’s post-concussion collapse is just as easy to interpret as a return to the mediocrity he showed with Washington.

GP sees a nice rebound for Wright next season and, like Lee, his dip Sentiment (-52 in Wright’s case) makes him an excellent buy-low target. If other owners are waffling come Draft Day, you’ll know that he should regain his form of days gone by.

Josh Johnson | Florida | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.2 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, 3.23 ERA

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If Johnson’s GP graph looks a bit shaky, there’s a reason for that, and it’s the Achilles’ heel for this promising young arm—if you think of his heel as being in his elbow, and substitute “Tommy John” for “Achilles.” Johnson’s 2007 season ended with TJS, and his return from it at the end of 2008 show excellent recovery rates, but 2009 was still a part of that recovery.

As a result, 2009 wasn’t terribly steady, though Johnson turned in a career year in virtually every significant category. He had flashes of dominance along with rough starts, including a scare in May when he was pulled from a start for shoulder weakness. All of them the kinds of things you expect from a young pitcher who’s the ace of his staff.

Looking back at his GP graph, the downward trend on his K/9 rates highlights the big worry about Johnson: As Marc Hulet points out in his GP writeup, logging 200+ IP is a leap of more than 120 IP from 2008 and a scary workload for a young arm just one year away from TJS. Fredi Gonzalez is proving to be a real arm-shredder, and he’s signed up as the Marlins skipper through at least 2011.

As 2009 progressed, Johnson clearly lost some of his control, perhaps because of this workload. Even though his strikeouts rose, so did his walks; except for a stellar August (43 Ks and 8 BBs in 37.1 IP, including taking a no-no into the seventh inning) he put more runners on base after the break than before. His BABIP rose every month in the second half, too, either a measure of bad luck, diminishing defense or him losing giddyup on the ball.

And giddyup is what he’s got. Johnson’s amazingly talented, with a fastball in the 94-96 range and a hard slider, and both have great movement. Because he can throw a two- and four-seamer and change the tilt on his slider, he gets away with a lesser change-up. If he could develop that change of pace, he’d be even more devastating.

Like many other young pitchers, however, the question with Johnson is not the skills, but his health, durability and makeup. He’s never had big problems in the mental department, but those injury questions will linger until he can put together consecutive injury-free seasons, something he has yet to do in the majors. Last year’s 209 IP was not only a big step up from his 87.1 IP in 2008, it was the most he’s ever thrown as a pro.

This makes 2010 a make-or-break year for Johnson, and just in time, too. He’s headed for free agency after the 2011 season, and putting together another solid season or two would drive his price into the stratosphere. Another injury setback might make him tainted goods.

When he hits the market, he may not be playing for Florida. If the Marlins handle him the way they have other pitchers, they’re going to trade him before he hits that price point. There’s been plenty of buzz about potential trade targets, and Florida has also talked about a long-term deal, though I’m skeptical—but if they do keep him, he’ll be in the Marlins’ new stadium in 2012. About the only thing you can count on in the near future is that he’ll pitch in Florida’s current home park, where he has a 16-9 record, 3.53 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in his career and a 7-3 record with a 2.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 2009.

Those are all moderate long-term question marks for Johnson: team, league and park are all important factors to a pitcher. Johnson shouldn’t be too affected by any change in venue, since he’s a pitcher who’s fairly well-balanced between ground balls and fly balls (1.06 FB/GB ratio in his career). Playing for a poorer team will drive down his Win potential, of course, but playing for a team with a better defense is bound to help him—Florida ranked near the bottom in most defensive categories in 2009. And getting away from Gonzalez might be the best move of all for Johnson and his fragile arm.

Ranked on pure talent alone, Johnson’s a very valuable pitcher. The question marks in his future, particularly his health, will drive down his value, and rightfully so. Other owners in your league might forget about this, but you shouldn’t. TJS recovery is as ordinary these days as the surgery, but Johnson still needs to prove that he can pump fastballs into a mitt over and over without breaking down. The history of baseball and its promising pitchers shows that this is no easy task, particularly with a surgically rebuilt elbow.

This all makes him a good gamble, depending on your strategy and the outlook of your fellow owners. I tend to stick with more established talent in the volatile pitching area, so I’d avoid Johnson unless he’s a bargain. But if he stays healthy, the return on that gamble could be huge.

You can see more of the The Graphical Player 2010 for yourself by downloading a 16-page preview of the book, or by ordering the book directly from Acta Sports here.

Next week, we’ll get back to our request schedule with Alcides Escobar, Ian Stewart and Madison Bumgarner. Leave your requests and suggestions for other players you’d like me to cover—focusing especially on those with significant offseason issues—in the comments below!

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