Archive for January, 2013

Thursday: 01.31.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 22 Days – Adrian Beltre

Only 22 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ADRIAN BELTRE

For today’s countdown piece, I’m going to do things a bit different. With Adrian Beltre, I’m going to offer 22 stats about him to celebrate the 22 days left until game time. He’s been excellent and yet somewhat underrated recently both in “real” baseball and on the fantasy landscape.

  • Since getting out Seattle (where he was criminally underrated), he his 19.1 fWAR is second among third basemen to only Miguel Cabrera. Considering Cabrera has played third base just one of those three years, I think it is fair to declare Beltre the best overall third basemen by fWAR since 2010.
  • His 19.1 fWAR also lands him fifth on the overall list behind only Cabrera, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, and Ryan Braun.
  • His fielding is no doubt aids his lofty ranking, but his 138 wRC+ is the 13th highest total in the same span (and sits 17th after factoring in ties) so it’s not like he’s been anything but spectacular with the bat, too.
  • Over at Baseball-Reference, he rates 4th overall in the 2010-2012 time period with a 19.7 bWAR topped by three of the four from the Fangraphs list. This time Cano sits atop the list followed by Cabrera and then Braun.
  • He is pacing the position in all three Triple Crown categories the last three years with 96 home runs, 309 RBIs, and a .314 batting average. He leads by four in home runs over Mark Reynolds, by 28 in RBIs over Aramis Ramirez, and by 19 points in average of David Freese.
  • For good measure he’s also leading in runs with 261 over David Wright (238)…
  • …and doubles with 115 over Ramirez again (106).
  • His last season in Seattle was really the only dismal one despite the entire tenure often being thought of as a bust because he never reached the heights of his .334-48-121 season in 2004, his last year with the Dodgers. Even factoring in the 8 HR/44 RBI swan song in Seattle, he still averaged 21 HRs and 79 RBIs per season with a 162-game average of 24/90.
  • Imagine if he hadn’t been stuck in Safeco Field for half of his games those five years. He hit a paltry .252/.304/.411 in 1595 plate appearances in his home yard.
  • That park remains hell on righties with an 84 park factor for doubles/triples and a 70 park factor for home runs. Only singles are favorable for righties at a modest 102.
  • Since transitioning out of Seattle and into a pair of favorable home ballparks the last three years, Beltre is averaging 32 HRs and 103 RBIs with a 162-game average of 36/116.
  • Not mention his average has risen from .266 to .314 the last three years.
  • He’s handled his early 30s like an all-time great. His 19.7 bWAR is the 7th-best age 31-33 WAR since 1970 and the 12th-best since 1940. He even tops Rickey Henderson and Alex Rodriguez, who tied at 19.6 apiece.
  • The greats to top his 19.7 since 1940 include: Willie Mays (31.1), Joe Morgan (25.9), Barry Bonds (25.3), Roberto Clemente (24.8), Jackie Robinson (24.5), Hank Aaron (23.5), Stan Musial (22.1), Mike Schmidt (21.3), Sammy Sosa (21.1), Craig Biggio (20.6), and Pete Rose (20.2).
  • Beltre’s 985 OPS versus righties in 2012 was 5th-best in MLB.
  • His .609 slugging percentage versus was 3rd-best as were his 30 home runs.
  • His 965 OPS in the second half of 2012 was the 8th-best in baseball and that’s with a 697 OPS in July.
  • Beltre tied Kyle Seager for the major league lead with nine home runs on 1-0 counts. Don’t get behind to these guys or they will attack.
  • Surprisingly, his 1448 OPS in those 1-0 counts was only 7th-best last year. Nick Swisher had an insane 1995 OPS including a .605 batting average.
  • But if Beltre got way ahead, he wasn’t as effective. On 2-0 counts he hit just .167 with a 333 OPS. Of course part of that is because of the meager 18 plate appearance sample. So it’s probably better stated that if he got way ahead in a 2-0 count, he wasn’t as aggressive.
  • Any plate appearance where he was ahead, he had a .405 batting average with a beastly 1274 OPS and 15 of his 36 home runs.
  • His 17 home runs with men on tied him for 4th-most with five other players including Cabrera, Braun, Chase Headley, Josh Willingham, and Alfonso Soriano.

These facts aren’t intended to inform you that Beltre is a good player. You already knew that. Instead, they should help you realize that you’re watching a generational talent. He is building a legitimate Hall of Fame case and if that fact has been lost on you to date, well, now you know and you can appreciate the greatness you’re watching at a premium defensive position.

Additionally, these gaudy statistics may help you figure out the answer to the question, “Who should I draft near the end of the first round in my draft this year?” Especially if you are in a bigger mixed league that runs 14+ teams deep, but even you 12-teamers should give him legitimate consideration. Third base isn’t the sinkhole it was a few years ago, but it is a still a premium infield position and filling it with a superstar is a great way to start your team. Hell, Evan Longoria has maintained the lofty draft status without coming close to Beltre’s numbers the last three years. I understand why people are lured in by his potential, but maybe you’d do better with Beltre’s consistency over Longoria’s promise.

Wednesday: 01.30.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 23 Days – Todd Frazier

Only 23 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

TODD FRAZIER

Todd Frazier, drafted 34th overall out of Rutgers in 2007, hit immediately as a pro posting a 943 OPS in a 47-game stint after the draft earning him the #5 spot on the 2008 Reds Top 11 prospect list from Kevin Goldstein. He went two levels per year in 2008 (Single-A, High-A) and 2009 (Double-A, Triple-A) holding his own at every stop earning the #2 spot in 2009 and #3 spot in 2010 on Kevin’s lists. He only had 16 games in Triple-A in 2009 so he needed more seasoning there and despite the fact that he was being used all over the diamond in the minors, the Reds were locked up at every one of his eligible positions leaving him in Triple-A for the entire season.

He wasn’t exactly dominating Triple-A on the stat sheet in 2010 or 2011, but he was clearly ready to be tested at the major league level yet he still logged another 90 games with Louisville before finally getting the call. His 41-game showing wasn’t too bad as he showed some pop (.438 slugging), but little else (.232 average, 5.8% BB rate) and thus couldn’t earn an Opening Day roster spot last year. Thankfully it took just 10 games in Triple-A before he was up with the big league club for good.

He had a strong rookie season (only 121 PA in 2011) showing even more power than we saw in 2011 (.498 slugging percentage), but also an improved average at .273 and a jump in discipline with a 7.7 percent walk rate. His season would’ve been great had he avoided the wall in September during which he hit just one homer with five RBIs and a 491 OPS. In fact, he had a 900 OPS through August.

frazierOPSmonth

He is slated to open the season at third base batting sixth and I think he can top his 2012.

First, he was an old rookie at 26-years old so while I’m often careful to point out that youngsters aren’t guaranteed to progress in a linear fashion, his case is a bit different than your average 23-year old who hits the ground running. He’s logged 1007 plate appearances in Triple-A and another 586 at the major league level in the last three years with a combined line of .262/.333/.465 and he’s actually been better as a major leaguer with an 808 OPS compared to 788 in Triple-A, so this isn’t a young pup in need of high level reps. He is pretty close to a finished product. There is still some more growth in his plate discipline as I believe he can be a 10+ percent walk rate guy at his peak, but his 7.7 from last year was right at league average for third basemen.

The power is the calling card in his bat and a near-.500 slugging percentage at the position is elite as only Miguel Cabrera (.606), Adrian Beltre (.561), and Aramis Ramirez (.540) topped the mark. He wasn’t just feasting off of that friendly home park, either. In fact he had a .526 slugging percentage on the road compared to a .469 in Cincy and his home run totals were nearly identical (10 home/9 road). There is 30-homer upside in this bat. The .273 batting average we saw last year is likely a ceiling of sorts, but that’s not why you’re getting him.

Pay for the power and enjoy the hidden speed as well. He had just six total stolen bases between Triple-A and the majors last year (including a meager 3-for-5 in MLB), but 17 the year before (in just 90 games) and 14 in 2010. He had a rough start to his pro career from a success rate standpoint (24-for-41, 59%), but since then he’s been excellent with an 86 percent success rate (38-for-44) the last two years between his Triple-A and major league work. There is a lot of value in Frazier’s profile especially compared to the investment.

Go the extra buck.

Wednesday: 01.30.2013

ESPN Rankings Summit: Top 25 SPs

The ESPN fantasy crew is in the midst of the rankings summit where they get together and hash out the initial run of their positional ranks. It accompanies a chat moderated by one of the parties involved and it’s a pretty interesting watch/read. They are coming down the home stretch with their starting pitchers where I believe they’ll go 50 deep. Here are the top 25.

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Clayton Kershaw
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Stephen Strasburg
  5. David Price
  6. Matt Cain
  7. Cliff Lee
  8. Cole Hamels
  9. Jered Weaver
  10. Zack Greinke
  11. Gio Gonzalez
  12. Adam Wainwright
  13. Madison Bumgarner
  14. Yu Darvish
  15. R.A. Dickey
  16. C.C. Sabathia
  17. Chris Sale
  18. Johnny Cueto
  19. Mat Latos
  20. Jordan Zimmermann
  21. Roy Halladay
  22. Aroldis Chapman
  23. Kris Medlen
  24. Matt Moore
  25. James Shields

I had some minor quibbles early, but my first real contention was Chris Sale at 17. Of course that was immediately blown out of the water by Aroldis Chapman at 22. I just can’t get behind that on any level. It assumes so many things go perfectly for him. Bret Sayre did point out that it’s a tough rank on overall value because if he implodes, he will likely move back to the bullpen. A fair point, but I just don’t see how they came to this ranking because even if Bret’s scenario comes to pass, he will have x amount of horrible innings on his ledger before transitioning back. I think he’d have to be truly awful to go back into the bullpen, not just fantasy bad. A 4.20 ERA/1.35 WHIP would be fantasy bad, especially at his cost, but Cincinnati can definitely live with that out of their fifth starter especially if he’s fanning 25 percent of the batters he faces and going six innings a game.

Chapman basically has to have Sale’s season to fulfill that ranking and while there is at least chance of that, it’s pretty low on the probability spectrum making such a lofty ranking tough to justify for me. I also think Kris Medlen is too high at 23, but at least he has starting experience at the major league level and an actual arsenal of pitches. Chapman has major name value and Medlen has his brilliant end to 2012, factors that will keep both very high on most lists this year. I just think the talent pool is too deep to take the added risk of them in lieu of more consistent performers who also have greatness in their profile (e.g. Matt Moore, Max Scherzer).

The summit is a very cool event that ESPN does every year. I love reading some of the thinking going on in the room and I hope they show some videos again as they’ve done in the past.

What do you think?

Wednesday: 01.30.2013

Trevor Bauer Shows Us His Pitches

Found this circulating in my Facebook and Twitter feeds this morning. It’s from Trevor Bauer on January 25th when he answered a YouTube viewer’s question about his pitch grips. He proceeded to go through each one of his grips explaining how he does it with little tips and tricks and insight into the kind of movement he expects based on pressure points or arm/wrist movements. Remarkably fascinating stuff and a must-watch for baseball fans, in my opinion. I imagine this would be really cool to see as a teenager who pitches as I’m sure you could pick up a thing or two to take on the mound your next time out. Instead I’ll just have to try these out next week when warming up for softball.

“Hey idiot, stop throwing crappy-ass backup sliders in the dirt with a softball, you’re doing it wrong and I’m tired of chasing after them.”  -Paul’s throwing partner before next week’s game

Tuesday: 01.29.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 24 Days – Jose Bautista

Only 24 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

JOSE BAUTISTA

It will be a quicker countdown entry today which actually works out quite well because Bautista isn’t someone in dire need of a deep-dive analysis. We know he is a power stud coming off of his two amazing full seasons of MLB-leading home run totals in 2010-2011 plus another 27 in 92 games during an injury-shortened 2012. The common analysis after 2010’s insane breakout was that his HR/FB was aberrational to his career levels so he was sure to come down. The problem with analysis isn’t projecting regression after an amazing season, it’s the certainty with which it’s done.

Granted this is easier to do in hindsight, but I’ve always had an issue with guaranteeing regression on a new level of performance. Again, it is a safe bet gravity being what it is and all, but speaking in absolutes has no real upside. He was “sure” to regress in 2011 and while he gave back 11 home runs, he added 42 points of batting average up to .302 and 68 points of on-base percentage up to .447 while actually improving his HR/FB rate from 21.7 to 22.5 percent. What changed to yield the performance is the first question you should ask before instantly declaring it will regress and moving on.

For example, his 2011 batting average stood out almost as much as his 2010 home run surge. After all, his flyball-heavy batted ball profile isn’t exactly conducive .300 batting averages. Of the 74 players to hit .300 or better since 2010, only Bautista did it with a flyball rate north of 45 percent. Only three others were at 44 percent. The average of the set was about 35 percent and 60 players were on the other side of 40 percent.

His .260 in 2010 was just above league average (.257) and his .241 last year wasn’t too far from league average (.255) so what happened in 2011? First off, he shifted the mix on his batted balls a bit taking from the flyballs and adding to both the line drive and groundballs. Secondly, he just smacked the ever-living-piss out of the ball year long, especially compared to league average.

bautista2011bbavg

His .309 BABIP compared to the league mark of .295, but given his batted ball profile compared to league average, it isn’t out of bounds to suggest he also had some good fortune. But when you barrel up the ball and smack rockets all over the place, you’re bound to create some of your good luck.

His dip back down to .241 last year wasn’t terribly surprising as he took a bit from 2011’s line drives and padded his flyball rate again back up to 49 percent. His batted ball profile as it stands over the last three years is far more conducive to .250 batting averages than .300 ones so prepare yourself for that and take anything else as an added bonus.

The worst part about last year’s left wrist injury that effectively ended his season in mid-July is that he had just ripped off nine and 14 home run months in May and June after a mere three in April. While he’d only had one in 12 July games, I was really eager to see what he had in store for us during the dog days of summer.

Over his three year explosion into superstardom, Bautista has posted a composite HR/FB of 21.6 percent, fourth in baseball behind Giancarlo Stanton (25.8), Mike Napoli (23.1), and Ryan Howard (22.3), but his 50.6 flyball percent and 15 percent infield flyball rate are the highest among anyone in the top 30 of HR/FB rate. What that tells me is that he’s selling out for power all day, every day. The 15 percent infield flies are likely a lot of “just missed” missed pitches that fall harmlessly into the shortstops glove on the back of the infield and contribute to his .256 BABIP during that time which is second-lowest among the top 10 in HR/FB (Andruw Jones .244) and third-lowest overall (Carlos Pena .251).

That is the long way of say that all the data suggests that 2011’s .302 really was an aberration and likely one of epic proportions. To repeat the feat, he will likely need to dramatically shift his hit profile or find the double rainbow for a second time. I have seen Bautista go as high as the late-first round. I’m not vehemently opposed to the idea as long as you realize you’re investing in a pure power source and not trying to rationalize the pick by saying, “well, he’s only a year removed from a .302 average so I have that upside, too.”

Sure, technically you do as one a skill is displayed it is owned (Shandlerism!), but you also have to understand the probability of said skill returning once gone and with Bautista, as his skills are currently constructed, chances are scant. There have been just 10 seasons of 40+ homers the last three years and he owns two including the best (54) and third-best (43) and he was on pace for a third which would’ve extended his 12 home run lead over Miguel Cabrera (124 to 112) for the most in the majors during that span. So if you are drafting him for that bankable power and understand his deficiency with batting average, then by all means proceed with your pick.

Monday: 01.28.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 25 Days – Kyle Seager

Only 25 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

KYLE SEAGER

When you look at Kyle Seager’s 2012 line of .259/.316/.423, you jaw will most certainly stay firmly in place. There is nothing particularly special about those rate stats and while they were above average (110 OPS+, 108 wRC+), they don’t lead many to identify Seager as a hot fantasy commodity. Shifting over to his counting stats changes the equation a bit as his 20 home runs, 86 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases were all top 10 at the position (note: he was tied for 10th in home runs with David Freese and Mike Moustakas). All of a sudden he is a bit more appealing.

Now imagine if he weren’t stuck in the anti-Coors? Though Seager bats left-handed and southpaws generally fare better at Safeco, he couldn’t wait to leave town. He was an All-Star on the road as his 126 wRC+ outside of Seattle was just a tick behind Adrian Beltre’s 127 and sixth-best among third basemen. He was essentially an American League Chase Headley. Headley finally found a way to do some damage in Petco Park this year en route to an amazing season, but he still led all third basemen with a 154 wRC+ on the road and he has a career 695 home OPS compared to 836 on the road.

Seagerhm-aw

Ouch, that is rough. He gets 75 percent of his home runs and 70 percent of runs batted in on the road. He does his best to bring something to the table at home by walking twice as often and steal more than three times as often, but that can hardly paper over his incredible home struggles. I’m 89 percent certain that Seager was on site, hard hat in tow, helping the construction crews bring in the fences at Safeco.

For those wondering, this isn’t a one-year thing, either. He only had 201 plate appearances in 2011, but 91 of them were in Safeco and they were terrible: .188/.256/.263 with zero home runs. Meanwhile in his 110 on the road he posted a .314/.358/.471 with three home runs. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Safeco Field doesn’t kill lefties on home runs nearly as much as righties? For those who didn’t click, it’s a 91 HR park factor for lefties compared to a 70 for righties.

That is borne out in Seager’s numbers as well. All five of his Safeco home runs (which all came in 2012) were pulled. In fact, to right and right center fields Seager is excellent at Safeco over his career with a .339 average, 901 OPS, and those five bombs. His .565 slugging percentage also includes 13 doubles. If he is doing that well to the pull field, can you imagine how bad it is when he goes opposite field? You may want a barf bag nearby.

When going to leftfield in Safeco, Seager’s line is an abysmal .195/.191/.248 in 117 plate appearances. He actually improved in 2012. After a 312 OPS–yes OPS, that would be a horrible on-base percentage–in 2011, he jumped all the way up to 482 a season ago. He is being especially obliterated when he tries to “go with the pitch” on the outer third of the zone and just outside the strike zone hitting just .152 (9-for-59) in those instances.

seageroppo

(click to enlarge)

Now we ask the obvious next question as we did when discussing Yonder Alonso: how much might the moved in fences help this issue? Thanks to SportsPressNW.com, we can look at a very nice picture of the new dimensions and we see a 10-foot move in the leftfield corner, a big jump of about 12-15 feet in that leftfield power alley, and some minor moves in center and right centerfield.

safeco-dimensions

(click to enlarge)

Using the Katron.org spray chart from 2012 for Seager and comparing it against the new Safeco, it doesn’t look like his current batted ball profile is set to gain massively from the move. The dots are his flyouts (lighter orange) and lineouts (darker orange). None of his doubles were anywhere near the edge of the wall so they weren’t included.

seagerspraycomp

(click to enlarge)

But as I mentioned with Alonso, this is also assumes he will have the same batted ball distribution again in 2013 and that isn’t happening. It is worth looking at though because if we saw that Seager was dotting the warning track time and time again to leftfield, we would have reason to be quite optimistic with these moved fences because even if he didn’t have the same exact distribution, he would likely hit at least a few out that way again and they’d be more likely to sail over and into the stands.

Seager, like many young left-handed batters, also struggles against lefties. Those problems, as you might guess, are you really exacerbated at home. He has a 646 OPS against lefties as a whole for his career (compared to 766 against righties), but that drops to 545 at home while sitting at a formidable 748 on the road. Another hallmark of youth is struggling with off-speed stuff and that is mostly how lefties handle him at home.

We’re slicing the data pretty thin at this point, but this is at home versus lefties by pitch:

  • Fastball: .253 AVG, .333 SLG, 14% K, 10% BB in 89 PA
  • Curveball: .176 AVG, .353 SLG, 37% K, 11% BB in 19 PA
  • Slider: .130 AVG, .130 SLG, 21% K, 0% BB in 24 PA

None of these samples are big enough to mean a ton, but it’s all we have to work with right now. These thin slices of the data won’t stabilize for some time, but there is no denying from his larger samples that Seager struggles in Safeco, with lefties, and in Safeco with lefties. The moved in fences will likely add more relief via placebo effect than in improved numbers, but Seager is just 25 years old so he still learning. If he focuses on improving against lefties regardless of venue, that will drive his biggest net positive.

As long as he continues to steal bases, his fantasy value will remain substantial aided by his 81 road games where he does his best work. Given his age, above average composite work in 2012, and the fact that the M’s just don’t have a viable backup worth sitting Seager for, he should hold the job for the duration of 2013 giving him a chance to tackle those lefty issues. He is currently slotted in the 3-hole of their lineup which is always a good thing, even in a down lineup like Seattle’s.

I love Seager as a corner infielder in a mixed league especially if you end up with a superstar 3B early on. His price could be on the rise by the time draft season hits in AL-only leagues as it thins out quickly after the superstars (Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, and Evan Longoria) and moves into the youth bracket with Seager, Moustakas, Brett Lawrie, and Will Middlebrooks.

Monday: 01.28.2013

CBS Closes Victor Martinez Catcher Loophole

Out of sight, out of mind as the idiom goes. In baseball, a player’s season can be ended in February or March leaving a 12-month gap between when you last considered him as a fantasy asset. Now most guys aren’t completely forgotten, but even high profile players will have to climb their way back into the consciousness a bit, at least to get back on the level they were at prior to their injury. One such player for 2013 is Detroit’s Victor Martinez. The sweet-swinging catcher/first base/designated hitter ripped his left knee up last March and didn’t see the field at all.

His 2013 return has brought about some controversy. He was last a full-time catcher back in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox when he put the gear on 110 times in his 127 games played. Before that, he hadn’t been a full-time backstop since 2007. Back in 2011 when he last played, he was Detroit’s full-time DH with 112 appearances there. He had 26 games behind the dish and another six appearances at first base. Most fantasy leagues require a 20-game minimum the year before to maintain eligibility at a position. With 26 in his last year of play, Martinez is a 2013 catcher.

Not so fast.

CBS Sports, easily one of the most popular fantasy hosting sites, has made their ruling on the case and they have stripped Martinez of catcher eligibility making him a DH-only qualifier in their systems. Now custom league commissioners can fix it to however they see fit (I personally will making him a catcher in my AL-only league per our rules), but it looks like any standard league format at CBS will have to abide by the ruling. I found the decision curious myself noting (to myself) that Kendrys Morales had kept his first base eligibility upon his return last year after missing all of 2011. So I took to Twitter and asked CBS fantasy expert Nando DiFino what was up with this decision.

DiFino responded, “Reverts to most appearances the previous year overwhelmingly DH in 2011: 112 at DH vs 26 at C, six at 1B. He hasn’t played primarily C since 2010, it’s disingenuous”.

He continued, “…came down to original tout rules, fairness, lots of things. But having VMart at top 5 in a position he didn’t primarily play since 2010 seemed like it wasn’t in the spirit of the game. One [guy] in the league would benefit from that.”  (the entire exchange can be found here)

And in case you didn’t click the link earlier, here is an answer from the CBS FAQ

vmartCDH

You can make a case that this also should’ve applied to Morales then since Albert Pujols was brought in to play first base, but it wasn’t hard to envision Morales getting time there even if just as a backup or to give Pujols some half-days off where they switch and Pujols DH’s while Morales mans first.

In the case of Martinez, he is not going to catch this year. That has been the word from the front office all off season and it was confirmed again recently by general manager Dave Dombrowski. They Alex Avila entrenched as the workhorse starter and while they didn’t re-sign Gerald Laird, they were ready to go with Bryan Holaday as the backup before getting Brayan Pena via free agency and trading for Ramon Cabrera who was a deep org prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates (ranked 22nd by Baseball America in 2012).

So if you plan on countering this decision by CBS by drafting Martinez anyway and waiting for him earn eligibility via interleague or by spelling Avila, you are wasting your time. Obviously we can never say never and maybe V-Mart gets a few innings fulfilling some leagues who have a 1-game requirement, but you’re betting on a super longshot at that point and that’s a surefire way to ruin your chances at winning your league.

The closed loophole cuts a leg out of catching depth, but the position is working from a surplus and even without Martinez, it is a plentiful position. In my estimation, there are eight  star-level (for fantasy purposes) players leading the charge with another eight or so high quality options not to mention a handful of wildcards who could pan out nicely including a pair of suspended catchers: Carlos Ruiz (25 games) and Yasmani Grandal (50 games).

Martinez joins only David Ortiz as the only two high-quality DH-only assets this year. Billy Butler regained 1B eligibility playing exactly 20 games there and Adam Dunn has managed to the classification since joining the AL despite it unquestionably being his best “position”.

Update your lists accordingly.

Sunday: 01.27.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 26 Days – Pablo Sandoval

Only 26 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following. (Ed. note: I shortened the intro from previous versions and I’ll probably eliminate after this week as I’m sure you get the point)

PABLO SANDOVAL

I am way late on today’s countdown offering. In fact, it’s Monday in some places already. I just had one of those days where my body refused to stay awake so I slept through a large chunk of the afternoon after waking up early this morning. Shortly after I woke up from my nap sleep, I had a birthday dinner for my brother. At any rate, no one cares about that, so let’s talk Sandoval. If you believe in what Razzball terms “Saberhagenmetrics”, then Sandoval is a big time target for you in 2013.

In short Saberhagenmetrics is a hilarious term named after pitcher Bret Saberhagen that describes a player who has a one-up, one-down statistical “pattern” to their career. Saberhagen himself won a Cy Young in 1985 with a 20-6 record, 2.87 ERA and 1.06 WHIP inciting the following see-saw:

saberhagenmetrics

He finally snapped the pattern in 1994 (evens were the bad years) with a 14-4 record, 2.74 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP in 177.3 innings. Putting blind faith into these types of patterns will leave you burned more often than not, but if you analyze the underlying factors that led to the underperforming seasons, you should be able to determine whether or not betting on the rebound is worth your time.

Sandoval lost his rookie status in 2008 with 154 plate appearances, but calling that a season is a stretch, since then he has four seasons on his ledger: two full and two injury-shortened but still north of 440 plate appearances. As a 22-year old in 2009, he exploded onto the scene with a .330 average, 25 HR, and 90 RBIs. His 2010 follow-up was mired by fitness and conditioning issues that ate into his production yielding a .268, 13, and 63 season. He eventually lost his job resulting in just 19 playoff plate appearances including just three against Texas in the World Series.

He came back in 2011 with a vengeance and only a broken hamate bone could slow him down. Still, he almost matched his 2009 production despite 167 fewer PAs. He managed a .315 average, 23 HRs, and 70 RBIs. He broke the other hamate bone in 2012 in addition to another DL stint caused by a strained left hamstring and this time he was slowed resulting in a .283-12-63 season in 108 games which was certainly better than 2010 by a good bit (115 wRC+ to 96), yet far from the star turns in 2009 and 2011.

With no more hamate bones to break, Sandoval is poised for another big season. In his 2011 return from hamate hell, he posted a .557 slugging percentage the rest of the way in 375 PA; in 2012 it was just .419 in 338 PA. But if the 2012 playoffs are any indication, his power is already back on track and ready for 2013. Sandoval put together a .364/.386/.712(!) line in 70 playoff PAs with six home runs including three in game one of the World Series against Justin Verlander (*Paul falls to the ground and starts convulsing in a fetal position*).

Sandoval doesn’t need to top 2009’s 25 HRs to be a fantasy stalwart. He just needs to show some consistency at or around that figure and he can become an elite asset in the game. Playing a premium infield position already enhances his value, but the combination of mid-20s power with a huge batting average is rare. Since 2009, Sandoval’s first full season, he is one of just six players with two or more seasons of .315+/23+. Miguel Cabrera leads the pack, completing the feat all four times and Ryan Braun is close behind missing just once (he “only” hit .304 in 2010) while Joey Votto and Robinson Cano join Sandoval.

Those thresholds are admittedly arbitrary, they represent Sandoval’s marks in 2011, but even if you round down to .300/20 he is still in an exclusive group of just 19 players to have completed the feat twice in the last four years. A lot of big names in this list (courtesy of B-ref):


Rk                     Yrs From   To                Age

1        Robinson Cano   4 2009 2012 26-29 Ind. Seasons

2       Miguel Cabrera   4 2009 2012 26-29 Ind. Seasons

3           Ryan Braun   4 2009 2012 25-28 Ind. Seasons

4           Joey Votto   3 2009 2011 25-27 Ind. Seasons

5       Aramis Ramirez   2 2011 2012 33-34 Ind. Seasons

6          David Ortiz   2 2011 2012 35-36 Ind. Seasons

7            Matt Kemp   2 2011 2012 26-27 Ind. Seasons

8      Troy Tulowitzki   2 2010 2011 25-26 Ind. Seasons

9         Paul Konerko   2 2010 2011 34-35 Ind. Seasons

10     Carlos Gonzalez   2 2010 2012 24-26 Ind. Seasons

11       Adrian Beltre   2 2010 2012 31-33 Ind. Seasons

12      Pablo Sandoval   2 2009 2011 22-24 Ind. Seasons

13      Hanley Ramirez   2 2009 2010 25-26 Ind. Seasons

14       Albert Pujols   2 2009 2010 29-30 Ind. Seasons

15     Victor Martinez   2 2009 2010 30-31 Ind. Seasons

16       Matt Holliday   2 2009 2010 29-30 Ind. Seasons

17       Shin-Soo Choo   2 2009 2010 26-27 Ind. Seasons

18        Billy Butler   2 2009 2012 23-26 Ind. Seasons

19        David Wright   1 2012 2012 29-29 Ind. Seasons

Let’s be clear that 70 playoff PA isn’t a big enough sample to determine if a displayed skill is something to bet on with certainty, but it did show us what Sandoval is capable of when healthy. With an offseason to heal and no more hamate bones to break, I’d favor a 2009/2011-type season 2010/2012-type especially since the price to do so isn’t egregious as Sandoval is currently the 9th third basemen off the board and 100th player selected overall according to early Mock Draft Central data.

Third base has some depth to it this year so while the superstars will still go early, you needn’t rush to lock one up for fear of being left with Kevin Youkilis’ rotting corpse.

Saturday: 01.26.2013

Countdown to Spring Days: 27 Days – Yonder Alonso

Only 27 days until live game action…

OK, so the first actual Grapefruit or Cactus League game doesn’t take place until February 22nd, but the Red Sox are splitting up their squad and playing a couple of colleges on February 21st so we’re just 30 days away from organized professional baseball. So why not a countdown of this final, grueling winter month that includes some fantasy analysis?

Obviously my primary focus at this site is on pitchers and you’ll get quite a bit of my analysis on them in late February when the SP Guide drops, thus I was thinking of something surrounding hitters. With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

YONDER ALONSO

Coming up in the minors, Yonder Alonso had a perfect comp: Sean Casey. It was fitting for a bevy of reasons: he was a Reds farmhand (the team Casey spent eight of his 12 years with), he batted left-handed, had high batting average potential (Casey hit .300), and had a power ceiling in the low-20s (Casey reached 20+ three times, topping out at 25). Comps are should never be used as 1-to-1 gauges, but if you wanted a good idea of what to expect from Alonso as a pro, Casey was a great place to start.

Then he was traded to San Diego.

He moved from one of the best home run parks for lefties to that absolute worst. The Great American Ballpark has a 137 park factor (where 100 is average) for left-handed hitters when it comes to home runs. Only Coors Field is better in the National League checking in with a 150 park factor. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Petco Park has a frightening 61 park factor. Alonso suffered the consequences immediately. In his first full season, he hit just nine home runs in 619 plate appearances including a whopping three at home. Edwin Encarnacion hit nine home runs.

In May.

Alonso was fourth among qualified first basemen in doubles, though, hitting 39. His power manifests itself in line drives as his 24 percent mark was fifth-best among qualified first basemen, but his 31.3 percent flyball rate is easily the lowest among quintet (next lowest was Prince Fielder’s 33.3 percent). Part of that is his game and part of it is his adjusting to what Petco Park will give him. Here is his 2012 spray chart:

spraychart

This is a full spray, home and away, but Alonso clearly leans away from the pull outfield and I bet it would be even starker in a home-only chart (which wasn’t available to me). He understands what he’s dealing with in Petco. His home slugging percentage is actually higher than his road (.398 to .389) because he popped 23 of his 39 doubles at home, but looking for pull power at home is a fool’s errand as a lefty Padre. He hit .290 with a .400 slugging percentage to rightfield at home, but those numbers jumped to .342 and .544 to leftfield.

Obvious next question is: Will the moved in fences help Alonso?

Well they should. They should ostensibly help every hitter, but I’m just being literal and anyone asking that question is actually asking how much they will help Alonso. There is no way to answer that question definitively, but let’s see if we can get some idea based on what he did in 2012. Thanks to MLB.com we know how the new fences will look once the renovations at Petco Park are finished:

petconewfence

For those of you thinking that these changes will turn Petco into Coors Jr., I hope the above picture is a wakeup call. We’re talking about a handful of 9-11 feet moves which may result in a couple extra bombs for the team’s best players. The opposition’s best players will also get a little uptick, but Petco Park is still most definitely a pitcher’s park and the best place to utilize your marginal fantasy starting pitchers. Let’s take a look at Alonso’s outfield flyball outs in Petco last year and see if those extra 10 feet would’ve turned into much.

alonsofboutsI circled a pair of outs in red that look like they might be homers in Petco2. Of course, he’d have to have the same exact hit distribution in 2013 and I highly doubt guarantee that will won’t happen. What may happen, though, is that Alonso is less fearful of pulling the ball for some power thanks to the moved in fences. At the very least, hopefully the new dimensions bring even more doubles which would then likely translate into more runs scored and driven in.

Without improved production, it is hard to justify Alonso being selected in leagues with 12 teams or fewer, even as a corner infielder or utility. He checked in as the 61st corner infielder on ESPN’s Player Rater for 2012. It was his rookie year so I’m not necessarily slamming him for finishing so poorly among corner infielders, just stating it so you’re careful not to overvalue him as he was a blue-chip prospect. And it can’t all be blamed on his home ballpark because his 723 OPS and six homers on the road were far from special.

The 26-year old Alonso is entering his physical prime and now has 746 major league plate appearances under his belt. It isn’t unreasonable to expect him to show some improvement, especially for a guy who was expected to have .300+ capability with at least high-teens power, but expecting it all at once will likely leave you disappointed. Keep him on your watch list for a standard mixed league should you need an early replacement in April or May, otherwise draft him only in NL-only leagues.

ADDENDUM

This piece was supposed to come out earlier on Saturday afternoon before I left for the movies, but I messed up the scheduling of it. So in my haste to remedy that and get it posted before it was all of a sudden Sunday, I forgot to include an instructive graphic.

yonderhmrd

Look at how his power is all to the pull field on the road (as it is with most guys, of course). This backs up the notion that he knows what he’s dealing with when it comes to Petco Park so he’s content to try and pepper doubles to leftfield instead. It will really be interesting to see if the fence move, though slight, will coax Alonso toward the pull field a bit more at home and maybe yield some extra bombs.

Friday: 01.25.2013

Top 10 Rightfielders Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will air both the left and right field shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

This is not a fantasy list!!

I felt I was getting a little verbose on these lists given that they’re really just about having some off-season fun, so I’ve cut the explanations down a bit on these.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

My first HM was 11th on my list and I’m fairly certain he will be on every list during the RF episode. He is just too big of a name and I think his bat will carry the day with the MLBN folks. Andre Ethier just missed for me. While not a premium defensive position, it’s an important one and quality defense can have a big impact so he came up just short despite a great bat.

I really wanted to find a way to get Norichika Aoki into my list, but it just wasn’t feasible. His MLB debut was a bit under the radar, but it was quite strong as he displayed bits of all five tools, the speed perhaps being the most surprising as he’d notched just eight stolen bases in Japan in 2011.

THE LIST

10. Jayson Werth (WAS) – I saw enough from Werth in 2012 in his half season that I would take him over Ethier right now. It won’t be a popular opinion, but he looked great after returning from his broken wrist and I expect the power to tick back up after an offseason rest and shift back into the heart of the order where he can sell out for it a bit more.

9. Torii Hunter (DET) – The power dipped from a consistent low-20s homer total to just 16 last year, but he shifted his value distribution to batting average by hitting .313. If his plan is to have another .389 BABIP en route to a big offensive season, he’ll want to reassess. His defense remains excellent so he can afford some regression at the dish and remain a force in rightfield.

8. Nick Swisher (CLE) – Mr. Consistent hasn’t veered from his stretch of excellent seasons but once back in 2008 when he was with the Chicago White Sox. Of course we all thought his power would explode moving from Oakland’s cavern to Chicago’s bandbox and instead he was just a bust with them. That’s well in the past and he’s been great ever since. He’s leaving the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, but his splits show that his power plays everywhere.

7. Josh Reddick (OAK) – Rarely does a guy breakout offensively with a big 32-home run season and end getting more pub for his defense, but that was Reddick’s 2012. He tied Jeff Francoeur for the major league lead with 10 kills including three dummies who thought it’d be a good idea to run on him from second on a flyout with fewer than two outs. Idiots. If he can improve his offensive profile and add to the home runs, he will shoot up this list next year.

6. Carlos Beltran (StL) – His career hasn’t been appreciated nearly enough. Thankfully it’s not over and he remains one of the best in the game at his position even at 36 years old. He is still a multi-faceted threat with only batting average lacking from the five tool profile, and even that was present in 2011 when he hit .300 on the button for 142 games. Such an amazing player.

5. Jay Bruce (CIN) – I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of Bruce, but it’s coming. He still has 40+ homer potential and at 26, he is just entering his physical prime. He also plays a pretty rightfield, especially in the throwing game.

4. Jose Bautista (TOR) – He was just hitting his groove when he got injured for the remainder of the season. He had a 14 homer June putting his season back on track poised for a huge summer, but he’d only play 14 more games the rest of the way. By the way, this is the injury concern built into his ranking. He’d probably be a slot or two higher if he’d play 150 in 2012.

3. Josh Hamilton (LAA) – Since I only honorably mentioned him in the centerfield list, I decided to include him here on the rightfield list. I’ve written plenty about him this offseason both after he signed in LA and in the aforementioned CF list.

2. Jason Heyward (ATL) – There are a lot of “J” named rightfielders. He’ll probably take the top spot on a lot of lists tonight which I can’t really argue with, but I prefer someone else (obviously). Remember when everyone (hyperbole) gave up on Heyward in 2011 labeling his 2010 a fluke and his prospect status busted? Cool brains. He was 21. He could reasonably have another down in the next year or two before settling at an elite level. As I’ve said a million times here, prospects don’t grow in a linear fashion. For the record, I don’t think he’ll have that lull in 2013. I think he’s a borderline late-first round pick in anything bigger than 10 teams.

1. Giancarlo Stanton (MIA) – 23 year old with 80 grade power + 80 arm = baseball porn. Oh, and this:

giancurtis

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