Carlos Ruiz | Philadelphia | C
2009 Final Stats: .255/.355/.425
Philadelphia bought out the remaining years of Ruiz’s arbitration with a three-year, $8.5M deal that includes a $5M option for 2013. This allowed Ruiz to cash in on a career year, and fortunately for the Phillies, the secondary skills behind that spike look somewhat sustainable, and only mildly influenced by luck.
As often happens in these spikes, Ruiz’s up 2009 looks better because of a down 2008, when he hit just .219/.320/.300, thanks to a .237 BABIP and 4.9% HR/FB rate, both below normal for him. In 2009, his much-improved line was helped by a .266 BABIP and 8.1% HR/FB, much closer to expected levels.
On top of this, he improved his hit trajectory over 2008, when his GB rate rose to a career high with 54.3% and a 16.8% LD rate sunk to a career low. Even a catcher like Ruiz, who has average wheels (he’s 120th among 209 1000-plus AB hitters in the past three years in 3B/H), will suffer from that kind of GB rate. It’s also going to lead to fewer fly balls and (hence) HRs, which happened in 2008. In 2009, he went in the other direction, with a career high of 39.1 FB% and an 18.7 LD% that is only second to his small-sample 2006 19.4% rate. This also puts him pretty much exactly in line with the NL average in these areas.
Hitting the ball along a better trajectory is tied closely to seeing it better, something Ruiz has shown consistent improvement on since his debut. After starting with a BB/K rate of 0.63, it’s risen all the way to a very judicious 1.21 last season. That comes entirely from his walk rate, which has also steadily climbed up to the 12.1% he posted in 2009, since his K% has hovered at around 12%, pointing to another solid skill Ruiz possesses: his contact skills. Check out the mini-browser to see that very sweet CT rate locked at 87-88%.
Normally, this kind of skill set would project a much higher BA for Ruiz, but with average footspeed, he’s not going to leg out that many singles, and his focus on power—note that 1.67 Bash rate—is going to have him swinging for the fences more than driving for gaps in the defense. Still, that kind of contact-batting eye package means I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats that BA projection.
Even if he doesn’t, Ruiz is going to help you in OBP, as that improvement in the walk rate clearly foretells, and the CT rate will keep his BA in a decent range for catchers, if not a bit better. With the bar being so low for catchers, particularly in the Mauerless NL, Ruiz is still a guy you can count on for above-average production. Unfortunately for you, his great postseason, rebound year, and strong second half conspire to make other owners aware of his value, as that Sentiment shows. So beware of overpaying for a catcher who’s a second-tier option, at best.
Hunter Pence | Houston | OF
2009 Final Stats: .282/.346/.472
Pence was arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career, and the Astros gave him a huge raise from $464K in 2009 to a tidy $3.5M in 2010. He didn’t offer a tenfold improvement over 2008, though he did bounce back from a down year of .269/.318/.466 in 2008. Despite a30-point boost to OPS, Pence’s counting numbers were largely unchanged from 08-09, with a few more SBs and a few less runs and RBIs from an Astros lineup that ranked 14th in the NL in R/G.
A midseason swoon in July and early August diluted a strong start from Pence, who also had to adjust to batting everywhere except leadoff, eighth and cleanup in that inconsistent Astros lineup. He spent much of his time in the five- and six-hole, which isn’t the best place to develop a guy with a decent power-speed package. But he strikes out way too much (20% career) and walks too little (7%) to hit in the first two spots in the order and he’s not going to slide into the third or fourth spot with Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee on the team, so he will likely remain there for the near future.
Pence has still stabilized his CT and H rates, no doubt why the GP and most other projections keep him in the same neighborhood for 2010. His rising GB rate is fine for a guy with speed, and an elevated HR rate somewhat compensates for the lower FB rate that results. It’s also Exhibit A as to why he’s not going to suddenly start cranking out 30+ HR seasons—note that if he nails his GP prediction for 2010, it’ll be the third straight 25-HR season.
This moderate power production makes him a poor fit for the five- and six-holes, batting order positions that dampen another category he could contribute in: steals. With lumbering base-cloggers like Lee and Berkman in front of him, Pence isn’t going to get many SB opportunities, where he could be boosting his fantasy value. Not that Pence has done much to leverage his speed. Though he’s hit double-digits in steals each of the past three years, he’s also been caught an increasing number of times each year, leading to a 54 SB% last year that’s well below his 72% three-year average.
It seems, then, that WYSIWYG with Pence: decent power, adequate steals, and a good, but not great, BA. His BB/K rate peaked at .53 in 2009, showing some improvement over his 0.27 in his rookie year, and his CT rate is also league average. As for the lineup around him, there’s little but maturing young players like Pence and Bourn to improve the Astros’ offense, which essentially swapped Miguel Tejada for rookie Tommy Manzella and Geoff Blum for Pedro Feliz, an overall downgrade.
This all points to a very moderate outlook for Pence, who is as unlikely to post MVP numbers as he is to suddenly drop through the floor—although his batting eye and contact rate indicate the latter is the more likely of the two extremes. He’s one of those names that still retains some cachet from his great rookie year (note the fat H% behind that performance), so other owners may go out on a limb for him. Don’t do the same—as cliche as the saying has become, Pence is what he is; don’t pay for more than that $21 prediction.
Bengie Molina | San Francisco | C
2009 Final Stats: .265/.285/.442
Among the Flying—er, Catching—Molina Brothers, Bengie is the one with pop (Yadier is the best all-around, and Jose is the shy one). He doesn’t bring a whole lot more to the table than that power, but for fantasy owners, having a catcher who delivers nearly 20 HRs and around 80-90 RBI can be enough. His BA is never going to threaten .300 again (2008 was a combination of a spike in H% and a crazy blip in CT%), thanks to a walk rate that’s slid from awful to nonexistent in the past four years (2005 was the last year he walked 20+ times).
His strikeout rate, once consistently around 10%, dipped below 8% in 2008, then shot up to almost 14% in 2009, but that’s not the most worrisome trend for Molina. His FB rate has ratcheted up from 38% in 2006 to 53% in 2009, while his HR rate has fallen over the same period. Bengie’s obviously changing his swing, turning it into the all-or-nothing uppercut that Charlie Brown made so infamous in Peanuts.
All-or-nothing is looking like what you might expect from Molina going forward, which (again) isn’t such a bad thing, fantasy-wise. The concern in San Francisco (and therefore for fantasy owners, too) will be Buster Posey, the guy whose seat Molina’s holding. They think Posey’s too green to start out 2009 behind the plate, so he’ll start the year in Triple-A, but he could start edging Molina out sooner rather than later. If Molina struggles or gets hurt, or if Posey quickly rounds into form, it might be much sooner. By the end of the year, Molina might be in a time-sharing situation.
Another consideration is where Molina might hit in the order. He spent nearly all of 2009 in the cleanup spot, which helped him drive in Pablo Sandoval. The Giants signed Aubrey Huff to be their cleanup hitter in 2010; if they stick to that, Molina loses a spot and has a hitter who (if you recall my article two weeks ago) is likely to struggle in that spot. If Bruce Bochy sticks to his guns and keeps Huff in the four-hole, Molina could see fewer RBI oportunities; if Molina owners are lucky, Bochy will do the right thing and slot Huff behind Molina.
GP sees a slight drop in Molina’s production and value, based in part on diminished PT from his uncertain role at press time. He’s going to beat those counting numbers—and that roto value prediction—in 2010, but he may not crack $15. The 2009 Giants ranked 13th in runs scored, and the 2010 version could be a bit better, depending on things like Sandoval’s development, the production of newcomers Huff and Mark DeRosa, and the health of Freddy Sanchez‘s shoulder.
Those will all factor into that potential value increase, which you need to keep in mind when bidding on the Molina With Power. His dingers and RBIs are worth paying for, but a 35-year-old whose swing is slowly morphing into Charlie Brown’s isn’t the best place to invest extra dollars from your budget.
Doug Davis | Milwaukee | SP
2009 Final Stats: 6.5 K/9, 1.4 K/BB, 4.12 ERA
Remember at the fifth-grade dance when you were too shy to ask any of the really hot girls to dance, so you waited until the end of Survivor’s “The Search Is Over” to find a partner, and the only one left was the kinda homely Tamara Hordinsky, the girl who lived down the street from you since first grade, but she was at least not as drop-down ugly as Agatha Pickston, and you held loosely to Mary’s shoulders for the last agonizing thirty seconds or so, just so you could say you did what you said you were gonna do and dance with a girl?
OK, maybe that was just me. Me and the Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin. He swore up and down that he’d bring the Crew two starters this offseason, and grabbed Randy Wolf right off. Then he waited until the barrel was almost empty before signing Doug Davis to a one-year deal for $5.25M with an option for a second year. And Brewers fans may find themselves awkwardly embracing Davis the way I did Tamara Hordinsky those many years ago, waiting desperately for the dance to be over.
But at least Melvin signed someone, right? And Davis is, well, someone. If you can say something nice about Davis, it’s that he’s been consistent and healthy—consistently and healthily average. Except for thyroid cancer in 2008 (and let’s face it, who can blame him for that?) Davis has pitched 190+ IP and started 33+ games every season since 2004, racking up a 62-68 record, with a 4.12 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP, in that span. He struck out 7.2 per 9 IP but also walked 4.1 per 9, which is why his WHIP is such a whopper (say that one five times fast!).
Still, he’s a lefty teams can count on to take the mound every fifth day and soak up innings without being too awful. He brings strikeouts, and has tried to keep the ball down in the zone (he had a 47% GB rate in ’07 and ’08, which slipped to 43.1% in ’09), staying on the edges of home run tolerance, right around league-average for 10% HR/FB. As he’s aged, he’s also relied more on his curve and cutter than his fastball—he used to bring the heat about half the time with Milwaukee but now throws it about once every four pitches, making up the difference with those other two pitches.
That’s a sure sign of an aging pitcher learning to pitch and not just throw (not that Davis could ever bring the heat), and it’s also why his strikeout rates have been gradually dropping. He’ll bring that durability and handful of strikeouts to Milwaukee, where he’ll likely slot in behind Gallardo and Wolf. GP projects him for a similar season in 2010, with an ERA around league average, a half-decent K rate that’s offset by the poor walk rate.
Milwaukee has a defense in signing Davis: It’s a small-market team without the money to sign a real stud like Ben Sheets (though they may regret the $4.75M more they could have spent on a guy with some upside to him). Don’t let yourself fall into the same trap, waiting till the end of the draft, only to add Davis to your roster for $1—and getting the -$2 return GP predicts. Sometimes it’s better to just forget about Tamara and Agatha altogether and just wait until the next song.
Octavio Dotel | Pittsburgh | RP
2009 Final Stats: 10.8 K/9, 2.1 K/BB, 3.32 ERA
One of the big offseason questions in Pittsburgh—particularly after the departure of the intermittently effective Matt Capps to Washington—was the identity of the new closer. With few likely internal options ready for prime time, they inked Dotel to a one year deal worth $3.25M, with a team option for 2011. Dotel hasn’t closed since 2007, when he went 11 of 14 in save opportunities with the Royals, with the line you see in the mini-browser.
Since then, he’s served as one of Chicago’s late relievers, doing a bit of setup work but appearing just as often in the sixth and seventh frame, particularly in 2009. Ozzie Guillen wisely kept him out of tight games the more he saw him, because Dotel’s become what you might call a Three True Outcome pitcher: in his tenure with the White Sox, 45% of the batters who faced him ended up with a walk, strikeout or home run.
Considering that two of those three outcomes are anathema to a late-game reliever, particularly a closer, you should be as skeptical as Guillen of Dotel’s ability to shut down the opposition. His strikeout numbers are quite nice, consistently above 10 K/9 the past three seasons, but his HR/9 is also consistently above 1 (peaking at 1.61 in 2008), and his BB/9 has risen from 3.52 to 5.20 since 2007.
The home run numbers are a bit of luck and a bit of pitching style. 2008 happened partly because of a really unlucky 16.7% HR rate, while 2009 saw him come a bit under average with a 9.0 HR/FB%. HR rate is particularly harmful to a flyball pitcher, which Dotel has always been, as you can see from those G/F rates in his mini-browser. That’s why his ERA is always a threat to rise, and what makes him a dicey closer, both for Pittsburgh and your fantasy squad.
The best scenario for a guy like this is (1) a friendly park, (2) a bullpen that will allow him to enter the game with a clean slate, and (3 a manager who doesn’t want to bring him in without a clean slate. Dotel has all of those in Pittsburgh, or at least two: PNC is a fairly good park for pitchers, John Russell only brought Matt Capps in for one-inning save situations in 2008 and 2009, and the Pirates further bolstered their ‘pen with the signing of Brendan Donnelly.
So if there’s anyplace that Dotel can succeed (other than a ballpark the size of Manhattan), it’s in Pittsburgh. The Pirates didn’t pay a huge price for him, and you shouldn’t either. He’ll give you Ks and saves, but your ERA and WHIP might get a little bruised in the process.
I’ll get back to more reader requests next week, but please leave more in the comments field below. And don’t forget to check out the new index, where you can look up all the players I’ve covered in the offseason—and hold my feet to the fire when the regular season starts.
And if you like the mini-browsers and the writing, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the Graphical Player 2010, with more stats and writeups from the best writers on the web!