Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

Dan Uggla | Florida | 2B
2009 Final Stats: .243/.354/.459

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Florida had dangled Uggla most of the winter, knowing that he would soon be too expensive for them, but they didn’t get any takers and refused to trade him just to get rid of him. This was a wise decision, though it left them facing arbitration, which they escaped by signing him to a one-year, $7.8 million deal this last week. This doesn’t make him a Marlin forever, or even for 2010, as Florida is expected to continue shopping him around—now, however, the other team at least knows how much it might hurt their payroll to take on the Sluggin’ Ugg.

2009 was more ugh than slug for Uggie, at least in the first half, when his .768 OPS and .429 SLG were his worst half-season performances in his four-year career. He redeemed himself somewhat with an .867 OPS and .496 SLG in the second half, but some owners might have given up on him by then.

The resulting season was actually good for a 2B: his third straight season of 30+ HRs and around 90/90 in R and RBI. It ranked him third behind Chase Utley and Brandon Phillips among full-time NL 2B, though the $11 return in mixed leagues was likely far less than some owners paid. But forward-looking owners, particularly in keeper leagues, have to wonder if that first-half skid was a brief bad patch or signs of an impending collapse.

Uggla is a very streaky hitter; his OPS can fluctuate month-to-month by as much as 600 points, as it did between May and July in 2008, though 2009 was much steadier, with a mere 200-point shift from the first two months of the season and August. That’s to be expected from a hitter whose contact rate has been at or below 74% in the past three years—2008 saw him plummet to a career-low 68%.

What has helped Uggla has been his improved plate discipline, evidenced by the rising walk rate you see in his mini-browser. That gives him extra value in OBP leagues, and could portend a similar improvement in his K%, which has stuck in the low 20s. If he did, that would undoubtedly mean cutting back on his all-or-nothing swing, which would diminish his calling-card power.

So take that BA tradeoff for the HRs it brings, and sit tight if Uggla looks uggly again early on in 2010. If you’ve owned him before, you know it’s a rough ride, and patience is the watchword. Owners who have stuck with him have been rewarded with the roto values you see in the mini-browser.

In 2010, Uggla’s fate may further be affected by the team he’s with; there were rumbles of shifting him off 2B into the OF, and if he’s traded to a new team, they could make the same move. His value is a lot less if he’s not a MIF, so 2010 could see another sharp downward shift in his value as measured by position qualification.

Keep that sentiment in mind, too, since other owners in your league might have been turned off by his up-and-down 2009, and you could find some value in their reluctance, as long as you also remember the $14 GP projection. He might earn you a few more dollars, since a hot streak is as likely as a cold one for a guy like this, but he’s not going to blow the roof off, either. Look for value and a slight rebound, but don’t bust the budget on him, either.

Todd Helton | Colorado | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .325/.416/.489

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Reports of Helton’s demise were greatly exaggerated. After a 2008 in which he dropped below .400 in OBP for the first time since the last century and below .400 in SLG for the first time in his MLB career, people figured age had finally caught up with the 34-year-old. Yeah, right. In 2009, Helton answered those critics by rebounding nicely, pushing him above a .900 OPS and into 26th in the NL in roto value.

But for all that, he’s not the power hitter he once was. His SLG was his third-lowest since his rookie year, and he hasn’t been north of .500 in that department since 2005. That’s because he no longer hits more than 40% fly balls, and doesn’t turn more than 10% of them into home runs—those haven’t happened since ’06 and ’05, respectively. His walk rate has trended downward, too, with 13.8% also his lowest rate since ’99 (though how many free-swingers would kill for a “career low” like that?).

And of course, his back was healthy last season, something that bothered him all of 2008, if not before that. The mini-browser shows the effect that had on his hit and contact rates, both of which returned to career norms in 2009; he seems to be healthy again. Backs are troublesome things, especially with increasing age, so those problems could recur, and there’s no way to predict that.

Otherwise, Helton’s skill set is as solid as ever: a BB/K ratio consistently above 1.2 for the past six years (and a none-too-shabby 1.03 before that), a line-drive rate averaging around 25%, and a career contact rate of 88% (91% on pitches in the strike zone). Helton’s due to slowly slip into the West over the next several years, but he’s under contract to the Rockies through 2012, and it seems a crime to imagine him anywhere else.

He’ll hopefully play in a Colorado jersey for as long as he wants to, and he should have a similarly open door on your fantasy team. Colorado’s 2010 lineup should be as productive as the 2009 version, when it was the second-best in the NL, putting ducks on the pond for him to drive in. Depending on your league, his diminished power makes him better as a CIF than a starting 1B, but fewer guys in the league are a better bet to bolster your BA while still contributing in R and RBI.

His days as a top-25 roto producer are gone, as his GP projection indicates, so don’t overbid on days gone by. Think of him as a municipal bond from Omaha: perhaps a bit boring because of the modest returns, but those returns are virtually guaranteed (barring acts of God), limiting your exposure, so long as you don’t sink your whole budget into him.

Tommy Hanson | Atlanta | SP
2009 Final Stats: 8.2 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 2.89 ERA

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Hanson’s arrival was one of the most-anticipated debuts on the planet, and he didn’t disappoint. His first outing—a six-ER, three-HR shelling at the hands of the Brewers—was his worst showing of the season, and he rebounded to win his next four starts, not giving up a run in three of them and holding his opponents to a .217 BA. Amazingly, despite his late June 7 debut, he ranked 25th in roto production among NL pitchers. The Age of Hanson has arrived.

So why the pessimistic GP projection? For one thing, the GP scoring system looks for performance and consistency at the major league level, and (in John Burnson’s words) is “doubtful of distinguished performance from newcomers, and from players with only one MLB season. … These players are often inadequately tested, and those who post impressive debuts often have luck to credit more than skills.”

Really? From Hanson, rated Atlanta’s top prospect by Baseball America, and in anyone’s Top 25 at the start of 2009? Rob McQuown on the AL side says that he’s heard Hanson called more valuable than Roy Halladay, and bound for a better career than Dave Stieb, one of the best pitchers of the 1980′s. Well, don’t believe the hype—or not yet, anyway.

For starters, you can look at his 3.94 xFIP, showing that he wasn’t pitching nearly as well as his ERA indicates. Digging a little deeper, his 3.2 BB/9 is outside the acceptable range, while the .280 BABIP and 7% HR/FB indicate a fair amount of luck there. An 80 LOB% might be the best indicator of luck; starters with a rate this high tend to lose more than a run of ERA in the succeeding years.

Unlike Randy Wells and J.A. Happ, both of whom benefited from a fair dose of luck (and elevated LOB%) in 2009, Hanson has the skills to do well in spite of this. He’s got four plus pitches, including an excellent fastball and slider, and keeps the ball down, meaning his HR/9 should always stay a little low. But the walk rate is still troubling, and that luck’s going to even out. GP might be a bit too pessimistic, but every projection I’ve seen pushes his ERA well north of 3, and most have his WHIP above 1.2.

The defense behind him will be mostly the same in 2010, with Melky Cabrera (-1.6 UZR in 2009) an upgrade in LF over a leadfooted Garret Anderson (-11.8 UZR), while Troy Glaus will still be learning a new position at 1B, and a probable downgrade from the Casey Kotchman/Adam LaRoche that combined for a 4.5 UZR last season.

Obviously keeper owners will want to ride out the correction, but redraft owners can let others overpay for Hanson’s 2009 numbers. He’s solid, he’ll pick up Ks and deliver a good ERA, but I’d be surprised if he was in the top 25 of NL roto producers in 2010. Sophomore slumps are cliches for a reason, and you should expect one from Hanson.

Adam LaRoche | Arizona | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .277/.355/.488

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Caught between the Diamondbacks and the Giants, LaRoche chose the Snakes, landing on his fourth team in three years. That six-game hiatus in Boston seems unfair to count, just as this peripatetic itinerary seems unfair to a guy who’s hit .274/.348/.494 in that spell, averaging 25 HRs and 84 RBI.

Those aren’t amazing numbers, especially after his 2006 season, when he clubbed .915 OPS, with 38 2Bs, 32 HRs and 90 RBI, but they’re still awfully solid. Only his position makes him seem so expendable, along with his performance since that ’06 peak. He hasn’t crested 30 HRs since then (his best was just 25), though the doubles have kept coming (he’s averaged 37). In many ways, LaRoche seems like a guy who’s never gotten his props, and teams playing Hot Potato with him haven’t helped his development and confidence, either.

Neither has his inconsistency: LaRoche is the poster boy for slow starters. He improves his career OPS 130 points in the second half, while rising steadily from a .660 in March and April to a peak of .933 in August. As often happens in statistics, the arc isn’t that smooth year-to-year: 2009 saw him start out with an un-LaRoche-like .916 OPS in the seasons’ first two months before plunging to .502 in July (when he bounced from Pittsburgh to Boston to Atlanta). It was tough sledding, and his inconsistency is no doubt both cause and effect of his life as a human pinball. That’s also why owning him requires a Zen-like patience in the early months of the season, when it seems so tempting to swap him for the fantasy equivalent of a bag of practice baseballs.

What’s odd about LaRoche’s bipolar tendencies is that his underlying skills have remained steady—the “Skills” section in his mini-browser shows remarkable consistency in his CT% and BB%, while his 38 H% in 2006 is part of the story behind that spike. The other part of the story is his HR rate, which was 21% in 2006, about 6% better than his usual season; that coincided with his first season of hitting more than 40% fly balls to drive up Atlanta’s hopes for future returns. Instead, he’s cruised along at a FB% in the 40-43 range since then, explaining his 20-25 HR output.

Luck—or at least the appearance of it—can also explain his slow start. Along with the OBP splits above, his career BABIP also rises steadily month to month, from .243 in the first month of the season to .362 in the last month. BABIP isn’t entirely a measurement of luck; it also measures hit trajectory, since line drives are going to fall for hits more often than any other trajectory. So you might believe that LaRoche get luckier as the season goes along (in which case he’d better be buying bushels of Powerball tickets in September), but the more likely explanation is that he takes a while to get going over the season, hitting the ball harder with each successive month.

Now that he’s with the Diamondbacks, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that he’s in power-friendly Chase Field, which could stretch some of those doubles into dingers. A new start with a team lacking a 1B standout in the minors could give him the jolt of confidence he needs. LaRoche’s signing led almost immediately to a DFA for Eric Byrnes, indicative of Arizona’s commitment to LaRoche, at least initially. Adjusting to a new team is clearly not a problem with LaRoche, and hitting coach Jack Howell and bench coach Kirk Gibson might help him to a hot start.

The bad news: he’ll probably hit fifth, providing protection for the whifftastic Mark Reynolds, who could cut down on his RBI opportunities. And while the Diamondbacks don’t have a clear-cut first sacker breathing down LaRoche’s neck, they do have other options. Conor Jackson, who should be at full strength in 2010, is expected to shift to LF, but he can still play both positions, and Gerardo Parra could push him for playing time in the outfield. Brandon Allen is Arizona’s 1B backup plan—if he can bring his batting eye up to par with his power, he could also keep the pressure on LaRoche.

The key here will be the patience of A.J. Hinch with LaRoche’s inevitable slow start, as well as the performance of Allen, Parra, and CoJack. Hinch showed in 2009 that he was willing to promote young players over struggling veterans, and he liked running out different lineups. LaRoche, with a .200 OPS split against righties, could slide into a platoon rotation with Jackson, or wind up in the familiar role of trade bait for another team.

Fantasy owners can bet that LaRoche will eventually reach the numbers in his GP projection, assuming he is in both Arizona and in their (and your) starting lineup. He’s a classic trade target to grab from impatient owners, or to wait and see if he hits the waiver wire in April. If you do take him for 2010, you should have a backup plan for the first few months of the season—or a good Zen mantra to keep your blood pressure down.

Drew Stubbs | Cincinnati | OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.323/.439

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Losing Jay Bruce to a wrist injury brought the first rumbles that the Reds’ CF Of The Future would be called up from Triple-A, but it wasn’t until Willy Taveras went down a month later that Stubbs made it to the bigs. When he did, people wondered what took the Reds so long: Stubbs cranked eight dingers in 196 PAs (after just three in 472 Triple-A PAs in 2009), swiped 10 bags and added a 7.6 UZR in just 42 games.

Going into 2010, the Reds CF Of The Future seems to be their CF Of The Present. With no real competition from above (only Dusty Baker could ever see Taveras as an obstacle to Stubbs’ advancement) or below (the other young CF prospect, Chris Dickerson, is likely slotted into LF and has had problems staying healthy), the job should be his in spring training and beyond. But his 2009 performance is a great example of small sample size, since some of those trends aren’t likely to be sustainable.

Stubbs has decent power potential, but it’s not the jaw-dropping kind brought by fellow Reds prospect Juan Francisco, or even the relatively (next to Francisco) modest power of Bruce. Stubbs makes good contact and has excellent speed, so those 94 doubles (and 16 triples) in the minors come as much from his feet as his hands. The .480 SLG he posted in limited time (84 PAs) at Triple-A at the end of 2008 evaporated upon more prolonged exposure in 2009—he hit only one more Triple-A homer in 2009 in 472 PAs.

The same is likely going to happen to his homers in 2010. He’s got the bat speed and the ability to make solid contact that will eventually translate into home runs, but those are a year or two away. Consistent contact is more of an issue with Stubbs. The one aspect of his minor-league career that did show itself in last year’s debut was his strikeout rate: his 27.2 K% with the Reds is almost exactly in line with his 27.3% in the minors.

That K rate has improved each year of his development thus far, so it should continue to do so in the majors, but it’s not going to happen overnight. That means the BA is going to suffer, which will probably always be the case with him. GP doesn’t see much for him in 2010 in either BA or power, with a level of freshman pessimism similar to that expressed with Hanson above.

But note that all of the projections on Fangraphs except Marcel concur with GP’s modest power projections, and only Bill James sees him with category-sealing SB numbers. Still, speed, as they say, never slumps, and Stubbs should steal bases—as long as he can get there in the first place. And as long as he’s got the playing time, which is a big factor in that GP projection.

Shawn Weaver, GP’s Cincinnati writer, has split the CF time among Stubbs, Dickerson, and Taveras, which may certainly happen if Baker continues to favor veterans (particularly punchless ones like Taveras, still signed at $4M through 2010) or if Stubbs struggles. The other wild card is Francisco, who will be shifting to LF in Triple-A after Rolen’s two-year extension. Though he’s got farther to go than Stubbs in development, and shows even worse strikeout tendencies, it’s possible that Francisco pushes Dickerson to CF and a struggling Stubbs to the bench, or even Triple-A.

There’s a lot of moving parts here, and banking on a high-strikeout kid isn’t the best way to spend your budget. If he snags the full-time job and keeps mashing, he’ll beat that GP projection easily, particularly the roto dollar number. But he is much more likely to struggle, which could cut into his counting stats significantly. His speed and potential makes him a worthy gamble, especially in keeper leagues, but restrain yourself and let someone else overbid on that 196-PA sample.

For more of this kind of statistical knowledge and team commentary, grab your copy of Graphical Player 2010 today!

And leave any player suggestions in the comments field below. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month!

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Comments

  1. Jeff Lewandowski said...

    Great work Mike, I love these breakdowns. 

    I’ll second the request for an index.  I did go back and read them all after I discovered this column, but it is a bit tricky to go and find a player when I want to refer back to someone you’ve already covered.

    How about covering Elijah Dukes and Jeremy Hermida?  I don’t think I saw either of those guys in your previous posts. 

    Thanks again for such an informative column,
    Jeff

  2. Michael Street said...

    Jeff—

    Thanks for the compliment. I have to tip my hat, as always, to John Burnson and the other writers on the GP staff—I rely on John’s numbers and guidance as well as the writers’ commentary to shape my forecasts. I add my own analysis, too, but it all starts with what I read in GP. Please pick up a copy of GP2010 if you like what you see here (I cover AZ and MIL for GP and for HEATER magazine, another excellent investment).

    I’ll look into creating some kind of index, as I wrap my brain around how I could create something like that. Dave and/or Derek of THT are likely to have some good ideas here.

    Dukes and Hermida are on the list, too—thanks again!

    Mike

  3. Tony (Medford, OR) said...

    Great, thanks for the links Mike. I think these duplicate requests will probably come more and more often as you guys cover more and more players. Maybe an index would help? Or is there one that I’m missing?

    Tony

  4. Michael Street said...

    Tony—

    You can click on my name in the “Lineup” to get a list of my columns with the descriptive headers, but I think my headers were sometimes too coy—you sometimes can’t tell who I’ve covered.

    It’s why I’m using player names in the headers now; at some point, I oughta just go back and add them in the old ones, but I haven’t had the time.

    But if I keep getting the duplicate requests, I may have to. Still, I wonder if people would go back and read all of them just to find out if and when I covered a player.

    Of course, the best solution is just to have all my readers read every week, but I understand how unrealistic that is :D (A writer can dream, though, can’t he?)

    Thanks!

    Mike

  5. Mark said...

    Hey Mike,
    Thanks for the great work
    maybe you can have a side link
    showing all the links of the players you have covered…

    On Stubby, don’t you think an old dog like Dusty
    will take to the new trend of defense
    keeping him in there just for that?

    MT

  6. Michael Street said...

    Galen—

    I’ll pass Cust over to Rob on the AL side, and add Willingham to the list!

    Mark—

    Thanks, man! I’m looking into an index of some kind with the THTF guys. I don’t have the design authority to add a sidebar, but we’ll see what we can work out.

    As for Dusty and Stubbs, Dusty has always loved veterans over rookies, and an old dog doesn’t change his spots. Plus Taveras is still under contract for a $4M, so he could get pressure from the top to play him, regardless of performance.

    It’s definitely something to watch in spring training. He’d be a fool to keep Taveras out there, but he ran him out there despite a .556 OPS. Only a quad pull opened the door for Stubbs at all. If we’re betting on trends, I think it’s more likely that Dusty sticks to his folly in 2010.

    But let’s hope Baker figures it out sooner rather than later and leans towards Stubbs. Definitely something to watch in Spring Training.

    Thanks for the comments!

    Mike

  7. Michael Street said...

    OK, everyone, with the help of the incomparable Dave Studeman, I now have all the players I’ve covered in this WW Offseason in a great Waiver Wire Index.

    You’ll also see it as a persistent link under my Author page, which you can find in the “Lineup” area of the sidebar.

    I’ll update this index throughout the offseason and during the regular season, so you can not only find my older writeups, but also compare the offseason predictions to how these guys do in 2010.

    Thanks again for reading!

    Mike

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