Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

Aubrey Huff | San Francisco | 1B/OF
2009 Final Stats: .241/.310/.384

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Needing a 1B with some pop in his bat, preferably a lefty, the Giants signed Aubrey Huff to a one-year, $3M deal this week. According to manager Bruce Bochy, Huff will hit fourth and play most of the time, largely at 1B and possibly in LF. This would be a change from his role in 2009, and the Giants clearly hope they’re going to get better results, too.

Huff’s .253/.321/.405 start with Baltimore in 2009 wasn’t awful, but it was underwhelming, so Baltimore shipped him to Detroit in mid-August. The Tigers said they wanted another, more versatile bat, since Huff could play the outfield as well as either corner spot. Instead of exploiting his versatility, however, manager Jim Leyland inexplicably mired Huff in the DH spot, platooning him with Marcus Thames, even though Thames had only shown a .047 OPS platoon split on the season.

In Leyland’s defense, Thames had shown a larger split in the past, and Huff wasn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball, either. Huff played in just 28 of the Tigers’ 45 remaining games, hitting .189/.265/.302, and Detroit lost the first-place spot it had when he arrived, finishing a game back of first-place Minnesota and 9.5 games behind wild card Boston. This wasn’t all Huff’s fault, of course (Thames hit .254/.347/.305 over the same span), but his dismal production didn’t help, either.

A variety of factors came together to make Huff’s 2009 look worse than it actually was. First was luck, as his .198 BABIP was well below his career .292 BABIP (.297 from 2006-8). Huff’s HR%, which has hovered just over 10% in his career, dropped to 9.3% in 2009 with the O’s and a career low 6.5% with the Tigers. That bad streak is only accentuated by the favorable 2008 numbers he had. He brought home the Silver Slugger in 2008, thanks to a .304/.360/.552 line—but that can be explained by a 14.3% HR rate and a .310 BABIP.

His venue in Detroit was a problem, too. His BABIP in Comerica last season was .228, which looks like more bad luck, except that fits precisely with his career BABIP in that stadium. His HR rate could have also been hurt by Detroit’s home park, too, since he had one HR and three 2Bs in 72 PAs there in ’09.

As you can see from the GP mini-browser, most of his other numbers, particularly plate discipline and contact percentage, have remained steady. That suggests Huff’s core skills are intact, but that (absent other streaks of good or bad luck) you should expect a line more like 2007 than either ’08 or ’09—which is almost exactly GP’s predicting for him.

For those looking for a bigger rebound, remember that Huff is changing teams, ballparks and leagues—his 261 PAs of .250/.272/.341 baseball with the Astros in 2006 are the sum of his full-time NL experience. Keep in mind also that 2009 was the first time since 2006 that he’d played the field more than he’d DHed, which might have worn him down, explaining that weak second half. Since Bochy plans to play him in the field so much, this could prove a further problem for Huff’s chances in San Francisco.

Bochy will have Travis Ishikawa (.261/.329/.387 in 2009) in case Huff falters, and GP actually sees both players as having virtually identical seasons (.255/.325/.424 for Ishikawa). That means San Francisco may have dropped $3M for a guy who’s about as good as the lefty 1B they have. That, and the fact that they’re happy to land a cleanup hitter who should deliver a .440 SLG, says a lot about the free agent market, if not the bad choices of the Giants. Don’t make the same mistake; Huff should only be a starter in deeper NL-only leagues.

Brett Myers | Houston | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.4 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 4.84 ERA

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Houston inked Myers to a one-year, $5.1M this week, including an option for 2011. Josh Shepardson beat me to the punch in his very nice piece in Buy on the Rumor on Sunday, but I’ll add my .02 here.

Because he lost most of 2009 to a bad hip, Myers’ numbers for last season aren’t a real measure of his worth. Because he’s bounced from starting to closing since 2007, it makes both ’07 and ’08 harder to judge, too. But the mini-browser is still a picture of a guy with some skills to offer the Astros, if he can survive the squeeze of Minute Maid Park.

Myers is a power pitcher with a two-seamer and a four-seamer that combine with a very nice curve to produce some good strikeout numbers. But his pitches aren’t so good that opposing hitters don’t get a hold of one now and again and rip it over the fence. Check that HR rate on the mini-browser: He hasn’t dipped below 1.2 HR/9 since he was a closer in ’07, and his career average is 1.4. This is further reflected in his HR/FB ratio, which has always been elevated (15.5% career). In 2009, that ballooned to a whopping 24.3%, a sure indication that his stuff was way off.

But his ERA will be higher than other power pitchers as a result of this tendency, even when he’s healthy. As Josh points out, Myers will move from one hitters’ park to another; his career HR/9 in Minute Maid is 1.2 in just 22 IP, a fairly good indication that we should expect the same from him in Houston. Myers compensates for those homerriffic tendencies by inducing groundballs (47.3% GB rate career), which makes the defense behind him that much more important—and ERA that much dicier to predict.

That’s another problem, as he’ll be going from a good defense in Philly (27.9 UZR in 2009, fourth in the NL) to a below-average one in Houston (-17.7 UZR, tenth in the NL). Houston’s defense will be different in 2010, swapping a -13.9 UZR Miguel Tejada for (most probably) Tommy Manzella (no minor-league UZR available), who is expected to be a significant upgrade. And they’ve brought Pedro Feliz (5.3 UZR) to replace Geoff Blum (0.3 UZR). That will be an improvement, but it will still be a step down from what he had in Philly.

So what can we expect from Myers? That GP projection reflected his uncertain role and destination at press time, so his K and IP numbers are low for a starter, while his K rate is a tad higher. The ERA and WHIP feel about right, though perhaps a bit on the low side because of that diminished defense; wins will also be harder to come by with Houston (14th in the NL in runs scored) than they were in Philly (first in the NL in runs scored).

That makes Myers a decent mid-rotation fantasy option who will deliver the Ks for you (expect a rate somewhere in the high 6s and low 7s) while bruising your ERA now and then and bringing about 10-15 wins.

Adam Dunn | Washington | 1B-OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.398/.529

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Dunn has been Old Reliable in fantasy (and real) baseball, delivering 40 HRs, 100 RBI, 100+ BBs, and 160+ Ks nearly every year between 2004 and 2009. The first exception came in 2006, when he only drove in 92; the second came in 2009, when he managed a “mere” 38 HRs. Sadly, you could see him pressing for this milestone down the stretch: after his 38th longball (preceded by a 5-25 run since HR No. 37), he whiffed 12 times in 37 ABs, hitting just .108 in those eleven games.

That production ranked Dunn 24th among NL batters in standard roto leagues, thanks to the .249 career BA he also consistently brings. He’s much more valuable in saber leagues, as those walks give him a .398 career OBP, but he still brings plenty to the plate to any league due to his steadiness and predictability.

Even better, he’s cut back on those whiffs since tickling 200 Ks in ’04 and ’06, when his K rate crested 28%. He still hovers in the 25+ neighborhood, but you’ve got to take improvement where you get it, particularly since he’s done it without losing ground in the other areas. And, as you might expect, cutting back on the Ks helped his BA rise from .244 from ’02-’06 to .256 since then.

Many of us thought his move last season from Cincy to Washington, in a less friendly ballpark surrounded by a weaker lineup, would hurt him significantly. But Dunn was as strong as ever, improving over his 2008 stats in nearly every area.

You can see the elevated H% in the mini-browser that contributed to some of that improvement. Dunn’s longball swing has always produced a higher H%, and 2009′s H% was helped by his 21% LD rate, his highest since 2006. He’s also consistently brought high HR/FB rates, but his 21.1 HR% in 2009 was in line with his career 22.4%, so luck wasn’t the whole story of his season. What we’re seeing is a slight uptick made more pronounced by his relative downer of a 2008, when his H% was 35, and his GB% with the Reds was a career-worst 37.2%.

The wonderful thing about Dunn is that he makes us commentators seem so smart by being so reliable—2008 was a down year only because of the slight drop in BA and SLG, as he hit all those other marks listed above. His consistency and his health (Dunn’s thumb cost him 41 games in 2003 and his knee cost him 6 games in 2007, the only times he’s been on the DL in his career) make him one of the better choices in fantasy.

But that predictable value isn’t always that impressive, partly because of the BA drag on your lineup. Like the Christmas package from your grandma that you know will contain another sweater, you know what you’ll get in Dunn—even if it’s not exactly what you want. Count on him for another year like the one you see at top, with a BA in the .260s, around 40 HRs, 100 RBI, 100 BBs, and 150+ Ks. The Nationals lineup around him is somewhat improved, as Ryan Zimmerman and Nyjer Morgan continue developing, while Elijah Dukes gets another chance to make good on his promising talent; continued growth should boost his R and RBI production.

That makes Dunn a great bet to finish in the same mid-20s neighborhood in the 2010 roto rankings; his value is dropped a bit if he loses OF eligibility in your league, but he’s still someone who stands on the edge of elite status in standard roto, an edge he crosses over in saber leagues.

J.A. Happ | Philadelphia | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.5 K/9, 2.1 K/BB, 2.93 ERA

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Happ was one of the better surprises in the Philadelphia lineup, as he blossomed from a young arm of the future to a pitcher of the here and now, earning second place in RoY balloting. He started the year with strong bullpen performances, then switched places with starter Chan Ho Park when the Korean righty struggled. The move turned out to be great for both of them, as Park shaved nearly 4.7 runs off his ERA and 0.6 off his WHIP, and Happ merely continued to excel.

He finished ranked 26th among NL pitchers in roto value, leading to that close RoY voting, where he finished ahead of Tommy Hanson, who is generally regarded as a much better talent. But looking behind his 2009 numbers are a few signs that a correction is coming.

The biggest of these signs is the 85% strand rate in 2009, well north of where it should be and a good indication that his ERA was artificially deflated. His 3.0 walk rate sits right at the edge of acceptability, even if it’s improved over his previous years (both ’07 and ’08 are relatively small samples), and his strikeout rate is also on the border of Joe Average.

The other place he sits on the borderline is in hit trajectories; that 2009 0.9 GB/FB ratio you see in the mini-browser puts him right near the flyball-pitcher threshold. Citizen’s Bank Park is a tough place for that kind of pitcher to flourish, and he was right about league average with a 9.6% HR/FB rate. Any unlucky rise in that rate in 2010 doesn’t bode well for a flyball pitcher, even a fringe-y one.

He also saw a bit of luck in 2010, as he was helped by a rather low .270 BABIP, and (as noted in the Myers writeup above), Happ undoubtedly benefited from the strong Philly defense. That defense will, with the exception of Feliz, return in 2010; his outfield defense is, with the exception of Raul Ibanez, very strong, which is important for a flyball pitcher (even a marginal one).

The overall portrait, then, is a young pitcher with borderline skills who nonetheless succeeded in 2009, making him an excellent candidate to give some of those gains back in 2010, especially at Citizens’ Bank Park. He’ll also be better scouted, and more exposure could reveal further flaws.

He’s still a good pitcher for the middle or end of your fantasy rotation, but he won’t really rack up the strikeouts, and the potential for an ERA explosion is a fuse waiting to be lit. Let other owners be taken in by his moderately lucky 2009 and don’t go the extra dollar—hold firm on that GP $8 projection. Don’t expect to see Happ ranked anywhere near this high in 2010.

Kelly Johnson | Arizona | 2B
2009 Final Stats: .224/.303/.389

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One of the bigger disappointments for fantasy owners and Braves fans, Johnson fell off a cliff in 2009. Two straight seasons of OPS in the .800 territory plummeted to below .700, and Martin Prado took the keystone job from Johnson when he hit the DL. Cut loose by the Braves, Johnson signed with the Diamondbacks, who are willing to pay $2.35M to see if he can regain those gaudy MIF numbers in 2010.

Some of Johnson’s disappointing 2009 can be written off to wrist tendinitis, which landed him on the DL for 20 days in July; it most likely had been bothering him for even longer before that. This is supported by the fact that he hit .261/.358/.493 after that point, but Prado was hitting even better, so Johnson only started 12 of the remaining 38 games, despite such improvement.

Furthermore, that hit rate in his mini-browser shows a big drop in his H% in 2009. Despite a rise in his contact rate, that’s more than enough to account for his BA losses, and the wrist injury would certainly account for the power outage. At 28, Johnson is far too young to experience significant age decline, and he’s been in the league too long for pitchers to suddenly find massive holes in his swing.

Arizona should be a great place for him to regain his confidence, as Chase Field is much more hitter-friendly than Turner Field, and Arizona has few legitimate contenders to that spot. Ryan Roberts and Rusty Ryal got some PT at the keystone last year, and both are better as bench players, while their best minor-league second baseman, Mark Hallberg, is a year away at best.

He should also hit leadoff, a spot Arizona has long had a problem filling, as Chris Young lacks the patience and Stephen Drew lacks the speed for that spot. Johnson’s no speed demon, either, but he could crack double-digits in steals on an Arizona team that has become more focused on the SB under A.J. Hinch. The GP projection is based on PT play (175 PA), so you can follow its ratio predictions, but bump up his counting stats and value predictions accordingly. Note that low Sentiment score, too, a sure sign that other owners will be bearish on Johnson.

So many signs point to a rebound that Johnson is someone you should be able to grab at a bargain price. He’s the kind of player who can contribute in nearly every category, without blowing the doors off of any of them, making him an excellent addition to your lineup. Don’t go crazy, but don’t be afraid to risk an extra buck or two on Johnson if he’s still within your budget. You won’t be sorry.

If you like these projections and mini-browsers, don’t forget to get a jump on your competition by picking up a copy of Graphical Player 2010. You’ll get the full browser for each player, as well as insightful commentary from the best baseball writers on the web.

And leave your player suggestions in the comments below. As I inch closer, I’ll keep counting down the top 2009 roto producers, adding in recent signings and reader requests each week.

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Comments

  1. Michael Street said...

    Train—

    Thanks for the compliment!

    I covered Victorino last week, and McCutchen on Christmas.

    But as a quick comparison, I’d go with Victorino for a couple of reasons: (1) GP expects him to return $23, vs. McCutchen’s $18; (2) Victorino’s a proven talent, whereas McCutchen could experience a sophomore swoon; (3) the Phillies are a much better team than the Pirates, so Victorino’s counting stats are likely to be better. Both bring SB and power potential, but Victorino has the edge in both departments.

    About the only caution about Victorino is where he might bat in a lineup that now includes Placido Polanco, a decision that could affect Victorino’s R vs. RBI production, as well as his ABs. Check last week’s comments for a longer discussion on this.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Mike

  2. Dan said...

    Nice work, Michael.  Have you covered Orlando Hudson, yet (waiting for a team, I know)?  How about Jason Bay?  He’ll face some interesting changes. 

    I’ll selfishly repeat a message here I left on the AL thread – is anyone interesting in joining a new Scoresheet AL keeper league?  Some great owners are participating, but we have room for one (maybe 2) more.  Send me an email if you’re looking for another league, or if you’ve always thought it would be fun to give Scoresheet a try.

  3. Michael Street said...

    Dan—

    Thanks for the compliment. I’ll add Jason Bay to the list, as he’s someone I should have covered after he signed. And O-Dog is someone I’ll cover when he signs, assuming it’s an NL team (as I imagine it will be). Good luck filling those final slots; I know Rob McQuown is a big fan of Scoresheet, and saw his reply to you there.

    Jon J—

    Rob is my AL counterpart, so I’ll pass along Feliz and Aardsma to him (he might have covered them already). And Piniero is someone I’ll cover once he lands with a team, too. Other than that, Nolasco, Cain and CarGo are on my list.

    Thanks to you both—

    Mike

  4. Rob McQuown said...

    Good stuff over here in NL Land…

    Neftali Feliz – consider him added to the queue, great choice.  We had a brief blurb on him when he debuted back in August: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/waiver-wire-al-0807

    David Aardsma – After being my top AL “miss” in 2009 (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/waiver-wire-al-1002/), hopefully I’ll be able to figure out something more on target for him in 2010. 

    Jason Bay – I mentioned him just after the season, before he’d signed.  His choice of destinations might should make for an interesting update for Mike, however… http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/waiver-wire-offseason-al-1023/

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