Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

Lance Berkman | Houston | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .274/.399/.509

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Big Puma is still just as big, but he looked more link a rhino than a puma in 2009, and fantasy owners probably had more colorful names for him than Big Rhino during August, when he failed to go yard, particularly since it followed a July when he cleared the fence just once. Injuries certainly held him back, both in time played and in the quality of his ABs when he did take the field. His calf, which landed him on the DL for 20 days, hampered his speed and power, while his back and his wrist diminished his power. All these dings and dents aren’t a good sign for a guy turning 34 next week, even if that DL stint was his first since ’05.

Still, his core skills remain solid. In the mini-browser, you can see that Berkman’s BB% climbed a bit, while his contact skills stayed right around his career norms. The 2% differential in contact and the 4% drop in H% explain part of the change in his stats from 2008 to 2009. His steady Bash and HR/FB over that same two-year period (he was actually a bit luckier in the latter category in ’09) also shows that he performed largely as expected when he was on the field in 2009. Looking over his career marks shows that these HR/FB rates were much more consistent with Berk’s career norms than the spike in 2006-07.

So there’s very little other than injuries to explain 2009, and little other than typical age-related decline to expect from Berkman going forward. That crazy rash of steals in 2008 isn’t going to come back again anytime soon, though he should toss 5-10 swipes into the mix in 2010—remember, he did collect seven in 2009 despite that gimpy calf. He should rebound in the power department, too, with most predictions putting him back into the 30-30 2B-HR category.

The one problematic trend in Berkman’s game has been his increasing struggles against southpaws. 2009 saw his OPS sink 272 points lower against lefties, a gap that’s been widening every year since 2007. His switch-hitting is supposed to protect against this—he’s obviously too old to go back to being a lefty, but it does make him a better bet against RHP than LHP. Don’t expect a platoon anytime soon, but it is a caution flag to wave over an otherwise excellent hitting profile.

2010 will tell us a lot about his overall health, and a further rash of dents and dings would be troubling. Though he’s not of the Babe Ruth-David Wells school of conditioning, a little more slimming down would set my mind at ease in this category—less Big might lead to more Puma. Now that he’s entrenched at 1B, however, there’s little chance that the coaching staff will push him in that direction. Too bad on both accounts, as more SBs and OF eligibility would drive Berkman’s value up nicely.

But he remains a very good bet to rebound strongly in 2010, and that drop in Sentiment means your fellow owners may read too much into 2009. He’s no longer among the 1B elite, but he’s a virtual lock to push (or crack) .900 OPS again, making him still top-10 material.

Colby Rasmus | St. Louis | OF
2009 Final Stats: .251/.307/.407

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Considering 2009 was just his fourth year as a pro, and his first in MLB, he didn’t do too horribly. But expectations were so high for him—some had him as a preseason ROY fave—that his not-too-shabby performance was regarded as a letdown, particularly after his OPS slid 215 points after the break. But even that’s to be expected from a kid grinding through his first MLB season, on a team making a playoff push in a competitive division.

Looking behind the stats, there’s some good news and bad news, but nothing catastrophic from a kid who just turned 24 in August. His 80% contact rate was consistent with his minor-league averages, and his uninspiring .38 BB/K isn’t too far below his .57 minor-league average, which did improve from .27 to .69 as he rose from rookie ball to Triple-A. Patience might be hard to preach to Rasmus, who had his best month (a .333/.333/.556 June) without drawing a single walk in 84 ABs.

June was also his best month for BABIP, an ungodly .377 that plummeted to .224 in July, dragging his OPS down nearly 200 points. Since that was the beginning of the end for Rasmus, BA-wise, it’s safe to assume that his bat was losing steam as the season progressed. He was also suffering from a heel problem that began bothering him in June and continued to plague him most of the season. That had to affect his production down the stretch, too.

The one surprising trend was his punchless performance against lefties. In his minor-league career, Rasmus only showed a .34 OPS preference towards RHP, but in 2009 that yawned to a .309 chasm. Given his history, that should reverse itself in the future, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

You can see from his GP projection, as well as the ones on Fangraphs, that he’s not expected to improve all that much in 2010. Rasmus is valuable for his overall athleticism and has a ton of tools, but they’re not quite ready yet. Assuming his heel is—er—healed in 2010, there’s some upside to those projections, but his underlying skills don’t merit a lot of speculation, even in SBs. Erik Manning, who covers the Cardinals for GP (and writes for Fangraphs), notes in his commentary that you can “cut his SB forecast in half” because of LaRussa’s conservative tendencies in that department.

Rasmus’ place in the batting order also bears watching, since hitting in front of Albert Pujols is better than hitting behind him, at least until Rasmus starts to deliver on his power expectations. He hit all over the lineup in 2009, slotting everywhere except third, and spent most of his time in the No. 2 spot, where he also had the most success (at least among 20+ AB samples). Giving both Pujols and Matt Holliday an opportunity to move him over and in would give another boost to his worth.

Keeper owners shouldn’t sour on Rasmus so quickly, but redraft owners can safely let him sink, particularly since he’s a slow starter. As a low-dollar/late-round selection, Rasmus could be the kind of guy who hits the waiver wire early. Moderate your expectations and don’t believe the hype, while still respecting his obvious talent. He’ll bring you some value, just not too much, and not in proportion to expectations.

Everth Cabrera | San Diego | SS
2009 Final Stats: .255/.342/.361

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In its 2009 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America cautioned against the Padres moving Cabrera to the bigs too quickly: “It’s hard to envision him going straight from low Class A to playing regularly in the big leagues in one year.” Because he was a Rule 5 draftee, he had to be on their 40-man roster or the Padres would lose him, so they ignored BA’s advice and brought him up when the Josh Wilson/Luis Rodriguez tandem wasn’t cutting it.

Cabrera is a prototypical shortstop prospect before we got used to hitters like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez: he’s got a great glove, speed to burn, and knows which end of the bat to hold. Actually, the latter categorization is a bit unkind. That mini-browser shows he held his own well enough in contact rate and did quite well in the walk department, particularly when you remember that this guy only has 29 PAs above Single-A.

That kind of accelerated timetable is usually reserved for the most elite prospects, not Rule 5 draftees, who are the baseball equivalent of sloppy seconds. That the Pads allowed him to be moved up so quickly speaks to their lack of institutional depth at this position, but also to their evident confidence in Cabrera. And it’s a confidence that you should share—with some reservations.

No matter how much he was rushed to the majors, one area that needs no further development in Cabrera is his speed. His coaches called him the fastest guy in Low-A South Atlantic League. In the Sally League, he reached base 195 times, and stole 73 bases. That’s a pretty astonishing number (even for Class A ball), particularly since he was only caught 16 times. It means he tried to steal nearly half the time that he got out of the batter’s box safely. I’ve got a new nickname for Cabrera: “Greenlight.” (By comparison, the 2009 SB leaders Michael Bourn and Jacoby Ellsbury attempted a steal about a third of the time they reached base).

Those kind of stats are what make fantasy owners go all ga-ga over Cabrera. As you might imagine, Cabrera wasn’t nearly as aggressive in 2009—he reached safely 142 times and attempted just 33 steals, getting caught eight times. Big-league pitchers and catchers are much better than their Class A counterparts, and they got wise to Cabrera quickly: he swiped 10 of 11 in July, his first full month with the Padres, but never had another double-digit month, declining to 7 of 9 in August and 5 of 10 in September.

So don’t expect Cabrera to swipe 70 in 2010; GP sees him getting about halfway there, which feels pretty good. Before he steals second, Cabrera’s got to get to first, though he shows very good core skills in that department. His BB% of 10.5% is entirely consistent with his minor-league trends, as is his 62% groundball percentage, an excellent mark for a kid with his wheels.

What he doesn’t have is power, probably the only thing you could really quibble about in a player like this. His minor-league SLG was .387, with just seven home runs in 877 ABs. That speed will deliver him doubles (40 in the minors) and triples (13), and if he can find the gaps at PETCO, he’ll manage a respectable SLG. He just won’t do it next year—only Marcel sees him cracking a .400 SLG. GP is more pessimistic than most, but that’s typical of how it treats younger players.

Whether his SLG is above or below .350, Cabrera’s a hot commodity in fantasy, and if he ends up atop the Padres lineup (as he did more and more as 2009 progressed) his value gets another bump. He and a platoon-bound Tony Gwynn Jr. will share time at the leadoff spot, at least until one or the other emerges, so you can pencil Cabrera in for at least 40% of the time at the top spot. Granted, San Diego’s not the most productive lineup in the game, and PETCO isn’t the friendliest for run-scoring, but having Adrian Gonzalez to drive you in is a nice place for a leadoff hitter to be.

So take Cabrera for what he is: a potential fountain of steals and good source of runs who might drag at your BA a bit, while delivering virtually nothing in the power department. If you can handle that kind of baggage, he’ll be a great addition to your lineup.

Drew Storen | Washington | RP
2009 Final Stats (minors): 11.9 K/9, 6.1 K/BB, 1.95 ERA

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Matt Capps | Washington | RP
2009 Final Stats: 7.6 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, 5.80 ERA

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Looking at their 2009 numbers, you’d wonder why there would be any competition at all for the closer’s role in Washington, but this isn’t the whole picture. The GP projections give a better idea of how much more similar these two are projected to be, plus Washington has signed quite a few endgame options. The Nats signed Brian Bruney and Eddie Guardado, either of whom have a leg up on a youngster like Storen, who was just drafted in 2009.

Let’s look at the frontrunner first. Capps had a career-awful 2009 in Pittsburgh, putting up career worsts in ERA, WHIP, BB%, H/9 and HR/9. Some say this goes back to shoulder problems that shut him down for nearly two months in 2008, which screwed up his mechanics, leading to elbow problems early in 2009, as well as that lost season. According to Capps, he just didn’t have a lively fastball, his bread-and-butter pitch, which neither confirms nor denies the injury theory.

For what it’s worth, his excuse is supported by Fangraphs’ pitch stats on him. He used his heater nearly 10% less than he did in 2008, and his wFB plummeted from 9.6 to -3.9, the biggest drop in a year when all his other pitches also stunk. On the other hand, that the Pirates would nontender a guy whom they still have under team control until 2012 could indicate that they knew something was seriously wrong.

Whatever its roots, the problem showed itself in Capps’ BABIP, which shot up to .370 in 2009 from .272 the year before. His HR rate also doubled itself from 2008, hitting a 13.5% career high. These trends either represent luck or, if his stuff was as bad as he says, a serious change in his pitching repertoire. He passed a physical in Washington, which would seem to rule out any serious injury, but a certain amount of caution has to be exercised in a Capps evaluation. As you can see, GP predicts his second-worst year ever, while other predictions are a bit kinder—only Marcel comes as close in its pessimism.

That risk is no doubt why Washington picked up Bruney and Guardado, but no matter who’s coming into the ninth inning, he’s just keeping the seat warm for Drew Storen. Washington chose Storen, a Stanford sophomore, as the 10th overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. By the end of the same year, he had made it all the way to Double-A, and the GP mini-browser shows how completely he dominated three levels.

Storen was a starter and reliever at Stanford, but he’s quickly become a reliever because of his two excellent pitches. His two-seamer hits the mid-90s, while he’s got a breaking ball (either a slider or a hard curve, depending on whom you listen to) with nice tilt. With a good changeup, he could be a starter, but his rocketing trajectory is clearly aimed at an endgame role. Paul Bugala, GP’s Washington writer, sees him sliding into that role by the end of 2010. In that scenario, Capps, Bruney and Guardado would be excellent (if reluctant) mentors for Storen, while also providing plenty of fallback options.

Whether that’s going to happen or not, it throws a wrench into the gears in deciding which Nat to draft in 2010. Capps has enough downside to him that the presence of Storen could tank his value entirely; the GP prediction you see was based on him remaining with the Pirates, since they were still expected to tender him a contract at presstime. It remains a fair assessment of his potential in 2010, though Capps could beat that projection if he proves healthy and successful, Washington exceeds expectations, and Storen’s development stalls. That’s a lot to ask for, of course; the good news comes in the form of that shockingly low Sentiment (100 is the lowest). Most of your fellow owners will be similarly skeptical, making him a very good bargain. Throw him into the mix early in your auction to see if you can grab him cheaply.

Storen, on the other hand, carries his own risk. His value will depend entirely on whether and when he makes the big-league club, and in what role. If Capps or Bruney manages to grab hold of the closer’s job, Storen might not see the Nats at all in 2010. Keeper owners can speculate on his future, but it’s hard to spend a lot of money on a player with just one year of professional ball under his belt.

The Nationals’ very good decision to spread the risk around their bullpen makes things very tough on fantasy owners, as it complicates matters considerably. You could even draft both Capps and Storen and then watch Bruney end up in the closer’s spot. And let’s not forget that this is still the Nationals we’re talking about—they’re better than they were in 2009, but they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Dividing up potential saves among three candidates piddles in the pool for all of them. If you take Capps or Bruney, it should be for cheap and with a strong backup plan.

Nate Schierholtz | San Francisco | OF
2009 Final Stats: .267/.302/.400

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Schierholtz has proven himself in the minors without a doubt, hitting .308/.355/.516 in seven seasons, including two full tours at Triple-A Fresno. That’s earned him some MLB time, but he’s never gotten the traction to stick. As you can see in the mini-browser, 2007 was good enough for a 23-year-old, 2008 was small-sample awesome, and 2009 was a major letdown. Some of this had to do with the fact that the Giants seemed to want to corner the league in mediocre outfielders, preferably ones with long contracts.

San Fran finally got out from under its three-year, $23M deal to Randy Winn (who responded with an underwhelming .290/.346/.410, with 56 steals, in that span), but is still on the hook for the five-year, $60M deal they dished out to Aaron Roward before the 2009 season (he’s returned the favor with a .266/.329/.414 line since then, including 251 strikeouts, 74 walks, and a disappointingly low number of exciting wall collisions). That doesn’t count other young outfielders who’ve gotten time, like Fred Lewis (.258/.348/.390 in 2009), Eugenio Velez (.267/.308/.400 in 2009), John Bowker (.194/.247/.373 in 2009), or Andres Torres (the standout in the bunch, with .270/.343/.533 in 2009 in a platoon role with Velez).

With guys like these, it’s hard to find room for Schierholtz, or so Giants’ management says. Some of that’s not entirely fair, since Schierholz missed some time with a strained left hip, and had a problem with a bulging disk in Spring Training. But still—this guy only gets 285 ABs against that kind of competition?

That’s not to say that Schierholtz is amazing in every respect. The biggest knock against him is the breeze he generates at the plate—he whiffed at an 18% clip in the minors, which he’s matched in the majors, while dropping his .33 BB/K rate in the minors to .25 in MLB. And Fangraphs shows that his pitch recognition and contact skills are hurting him, too. While he makes contact with 90% of pitches inside the zone, he swung at 35% of pitches outside the zone, making contact with a scant 57% of them. Hackers Pablo Sandoval (who swings at 43% of pitches outside the zone, making contact with 76% of them) and Vladimir Guerrero (who swings at 38% of pitches outside the zone, making contact with 66% of them) can afford that kind of wild swinging. Schierholtz can’t.

If he can overcome this lack of selectiveness, he could thrive in the majors, and that power he showed in the minors can finally show itself in the majors, too. Right now, his primary competition comes from John Bowker or possibly Eugenio Velez, neither of whom should offer much of a battle. They could, however, eat into his playing time, particularly if Bochy continues to manage in such an egalitarian style. It’s a battle to watch in Spring Training, but the more important subject for scrutiny should be his plate discipline. He spent the winter in Puerto Rico to work on his eye, so see if it’s gotten any better before thinking of picking him up.

Assuming he gets the starting role—or even most of it—he offers moderate value, though he’s below my personal threshold for outfielders of .800 OPS. NL-only leagues will find value there, but I don’t see Schierholz breaking out. Solidifying his minor-league skills to cross that .800 threshold would be enough for me.

Spring Training’s getting closer, but you can still download a 16-page sample of Graphical Player 2010 or order the book directly from ACTA Sports. And don’t forget to check the new index for all the players I’ve covered this offseason, and leave suggestions for other players to cover in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. David said...

    A couple sleeper pitchers to wonder about and a few post-hype sleepers
    P: Bailey, Hammel, BudNorris
    OF: Milledge, Dukes, Maybin
    2B: Weeks

  2. Michael Street said...

    David and Eddie—

    I’ve got Dukes and Maybin down already, and will add all the others to my list.

    Thanks!

    Mike

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