Archive for ‘Centerfield’

Monday: 02.18.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 4 Days – Minor League Guy

Only 4 days until live game action…

Minor League Guy

In the age of the internet where seemingly any information can be found, the Cardinals broadcast scrambled to identify a farmhand during a Grapefruit League game against the Mets. Instead of scrapping the opportunity for a graphic, the team in the truck went with their gut and the result was awkwardly hilarious:

mlg

Of course, many of us baseball diehards knew ol’ Minor League Guy to be Oscar Taveras, the team’s second-best prospect according to Baseball Prospectus. Flash forward about a year and the broadcast team shouldn’t have any trouble identifying Taveras in a Grapefruit League game. First of all, he should be in the game well before the ninth inning, but more importantly he is now baseball’s second-best prospect or at least no worse than third-best.

He was even labeled properly in this picture with teammate Jon Jay in an article discussing his excellence.

Like last year, there is a triumvirate of guys – once again two hitters and a pitcher – and the order will vary from outlet to outlet and person to person. Last year it was Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Matt Moore; this year it’s Taveras, Jurickson Profar, and Dylan Bundy.

mlbpros

MLB.com

lawpros

ESPN’s Keith Law

sickpros

John Sickels (split lists hitters; pitchers)

 

And that is just from the early lists. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America will have their top 100s out soon and I’d be surprised if they disagreed on the trio.

Though it was probably a bummer to get labeled as simply “Minor League Guy” on television, it looks like Taveras will have the last laugh as he now stands atop, or at least nears the top of baseball’s prospect heap. Imagine if he pans out on the Vladimir Guerrero comp that some have thrown on him, maybe he’ll end up being labeled as “Hall of Fame Guy” on a broadcast 20 years down the line.

Wednesday: 02.13.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 9 Days – Stubbs Stance

Only 9 days until live game action…

What happened to a player essay for the Countdown?

DREW STUBBS

News out of Goodyear, AZ today from Jerry Crasnick discusses how Drew Stubbs is looking to discard his leg kick in hopes that it might boost his batting average and more importantly cut his vomit-inducing strikeout rate.

Stubbs is hoping to emulate the success of former Arizona Fall League teammate Austin Jackson, who took a major step forward as a hitter after jettisoning his leg kick for a toe tap. Jackson raised his batting average from .249 to .300 and cut his strikeout total markedly in 137 games with Detroit. (full story)

Stubbs has been headed the wrong way, while Jackson’s change last year led to a huge breakout season stunted only by an injury.

stubjax

From a homer & stolen base standpoint, Stubbs has Jackson beat easily, but his massive strikeout rate has just tanked his batting average and if he wasn’t an outstanding centerfielder defensively he might have lost a lot of playing time in 2012. There are a lot of stories like this every Spring Training and other noise about weight changes and desires to steal bases, etc…

This, like a new pitch, is a discernible change in approach so they should be placed atop the list in terms of newsworthiness. The key will be whether or not it works and then of course whether or not he sticks with it. With Jackson it was obvious very quickly, to me at least. I personally saw a difference in him in week one which I mentioned to anyone who would listen. Watching every Tigers game definitely helped me there. I don’t watch nearly as many Indians games, but I’ll be keeping an eye on Stubbs.

He is costing nothing this mock season so he might be worth a late flier as your reserve outfielder. If this is something that make him even a steady .260 hitter, then he can be a huge impact player.

Monday: 02.11.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 11 Days – Denard Span

Only 11 days until live game action…

DENARD SPAN

It isn’t too difficult to be excited about the Denard Span move to Washington. He was traded there this offseason for prospect Alex Meyer. Here is big reason why the Nationals were high enough on Span to trade their 2012 #6 prospect who now becomes Minnesota’s 2013 #4:

spandefense

His sparkling defense is ever-present and adds a lot to his value. He gives the Nats the true centerfielder they’ve been after for years. Bryce Harper and Roger Bernadina turned a strong combined effort last year, but the five years before were mediocre or worse:

span1

Compare that with Span producing fWAR totals of 3.1, 4.1, 2.6, 2.2, and 3.9 from 2008 through last year with the 3.1, 2.2, and 3.9 coming in 94, 70, and 128 games, respectively. The primary challenge will be staying healthy enough to give the Nats a full season so he can return to his 4-win levels. While he gets plenty of value from his defense in center, he also has a solid bat, especially for a leadoff man. His walk rate started at 11 percent over his first two seasons before dipping a bit, but it has held steady in the eights every year since with last year’s 8.3 still holding above the 8.0 league average.

Span isn’t special in either of the flashy offensive categories in fantasy: homers or steals, but he has a chance to deliver big value in the two overlooked categories: batting average and runs scored, especially the later. He is a career .284 hitter and he hit .283 a year ago, but his line drive rate is on the rise moving from 18 percent in 2010 to 21.3 percent a year ago and he is speedster with a heavy groundball lean posting a career high of 54.4 percent last year (compared to 53.8 for his career) so he has the makings of a greater than .300 average. Last year he was just 10 hits from a .302 average. It’s not a stretch to see him hitting or exceeding .300 as soon as 2013.

He could be ready for his first 100-run season in 2013, too. His career-best was 97 back in 2009 in just 145 games. Last year, the Nationals leadoff spot scored 96 runs which were right about league average ranking 14th in baseball despite the fact that only Jayson Werth carried an OBP over .312 in that role. This bodes well for Span.

(Courtesy of ESPN)

(Courtesy of ESPN)

Even at his worst, Span carried a .328 OBP (2011) and the heart of the Nats order is stacked this year. Even if you factor in some regression for Adam LaRoche on the heels of his second-best season, it is offset by a full seasons of Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Harper started 2012 in the minors while Zimm started 2012 like he was in the minors carrying a sub-700 OPS into the All-Star break, though he eventually finished with a strong 824. Now batting fifth again, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Werth focus on bringing the power aspect back into his game in full force. It all adds up to one of the deepest groups of 2-5 hitters in the league.

A healthy Span – and he seems to have finally put the frightening concussions issues behind him – is looking at a .300-100-7-55-15 season with the high-powered Nats.

Sunday: 02.3.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 19 Days – Adam Jones

Only 19 days until live game action… and many folks officially turn their attention back to baseball tonight after the Super Bowl (Go Niners!)

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.

ADAM JONES

I talk often about how we can’t expect linear growth (and I’m hardly the only one) from young players. As exciting as it is to see a big age-22 season as a 380 PA/100 game call-up, we can’t just assume that they’ll take the experience and expound on it the following year as a full-time player. Hell, even if they log 500+ playing 140-something games as a full-time player in that age-22 season, there are still no guarantees that, even with good base skills, they’ll improve the following year.

It just doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes it does and it’s magical, but often we see players experience a series of ups and downs in the early 20s as they amble about like a baby goat trying to establish themselves on firm ground. Regardless of their pedigree coming up, they may bounce around statistically for multiple seasons before finally becoming what we saw in the minors. And of course, they might not ever reach those minor league expectations. Adam Jones fits the former description.

Jones, a supplemental first round pick of the Mariners back in 2003, was a well-regarded prospect landing in the Baseball America Top 100 in both 2006 (64) and 2007 (28). He had a few cups of coffee with the Mariners, but was eventually traded to Baltimore in that huge Erik Bedard trade. His 2008 Oriole debut wasn’t particularly special as he showed just a bit of the power and speed that we’ve now come to expect from him yearly. He’s now headed into what he hopes will be his sixth straight *full* season (500+ PA) and fifth straight of better than league average performance.

ajones1

He surged forward in his second full season adding 10 home runs and improving his strikeout and walk rates, all in virtually the same amount of playing time. Despite adding 102 plate appearances the following year his production was essentially static in the counting number while his walk rate plummeted while the strikeout rate ticked back up. He rebounded at age 25 and then took another step forward last year for his best year yet. And depending on how you delineate it, he either just entered his prime or has yet to do so, either way the future is bright.

Is 2012’s power jump for real? The 18.8 percent HR/FB rate isn’t outlandish given his 2009 and 2011 rates. He did a lot of his home run damage in May hitting 10 with a 31.3 percent HR/FB rate, but at the other end of the outlier spectrum he had just a 9.1 HR/FB rate in August when he hit just two home runs so they cancel each other out a bit, though it’s reasonable to say May’s outburst contributed a good bit to his surplus over 2011. Nothing within his profile loudly screams that the 32 home runs were a fluke, though I’d probably land in 25-28 range for a projection. He didn’t hit a ton of flyballs (32.6 percent), but his 21.5 line drive rate offset that a bit.

Jones now has three straight seasons of established performance averaging a .284 batting average, 25 HRs, and 12 SBs, with the latter two categories on the rise year over year. The 2012 season may be the best of his career, but there is legitimate room for improvement given his skills and age especially since we’ve seen him do better with the walk rate in the past. I happen to think he can take another step forward with his batting average and put together a handful of .300+ seasons. It’s not much of a jump from the .280s anyway so I’m not exactly going out on a limb, just outlining something that is a reasonable expectation in the near future. Taking it a step further, a .320 or better season where he contends for a batting title in the near future wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Bet on a big batting average jump before another 32 HR season.

Monday: 01.14.2013

Top 10 CF – Review

I mentioned in the post with my centerfielder list that it would be a bit difficult because of the transition at the position. Should Mike Trout really qualify since he’s unlikely to play there much in 2013? How about Bryce Harper? I didn’t even really consider Shin-Soo Choo because he hasn’t yet played there for Cincinnati, but he was all over the MLBN lists. I love his bat, but his defense is a big fat TBD. For the record, I don’t think he’ll be abysmal or even bad. Probably just average.

Let’s take a look at how things shook out on the show.

Their primary list comes from The Shredder, which if you’ve watched Clubhouse Confidential at all (and you should be), you know is their device that churns out their projections and assessments of players based on the data. Sometimes not even Brian Kenny, their resident stats-guy, agrees with The Shredder and the former-ballplayer-turned-analyst never does. New twist this year is they get lists from Bill James, too!

Shredder (my rank):

10. Michael Bourn (3)

9. Adam Jones (7)

8. Jon Jay (NR)

7. Curtis Granderson (10)

6. Shin-Soo Choo (NR)

5. Jacoby Ellsbury (NR)

4. Austin Jackson (4)

3. Matt Kemp (5)

2. Andrew McCutchen (2)

1. Mike Trout (1)

Shredder matched seven of my selections including three perfect matches. It inexplicably had Bourn at 10 which led me to believe it isn’t counting defense all that much. I found that ranking patently absurd. Inclusions of Jay, Choo, and Ellsbury don’t bother one bit, but rating Bourn that low just doesn’t compute for me.

Jay is probably surprising to a lot of folks and it definitely raised my eyebrow when I saw him pop up about 6 minutes into the show, but upon further inspection, it’s not a bad selection at all. Just not over Bourn. Jay is 14th in fWAR the last two years for CFs and his 110 wRC+ is 10th ranked. He isn’t a power guy at all with just 14 homers the last two years, but his .301/.359/.412 is pretty strong, especially that .359 OBP.

Bill Ripken (my rank):

10. B.J. Upton (6)

9. Shin-Soo Choo (NR)

8. Curtis Granderson (10)

7. Michael Bourn (3)

6. Jacoby Ellsbury (NR)

5. Austin Jackson (4)

4. Matt Kemp (5)

3. Adam Jones (7)

2. Andrew McCutchen (2)

1. Mike Trout (1)

Maybe I’m overrating Bourn? Seven if better than 10, but I’m still surprised he’s rated out of the top five, especially from someone who is proud to ignore stats like Ripken. I figured he’d praise Bourn for “playing the game the right way”, moving the runner along, and his defense. He saved his praise for Jones who he feels will be an MVP candidate in 2013. At least Ripken got Upton in there. C’mon Shredder.

Bill James (my rank):

10. Angel Pagan (NR)

9. Michael Bourn (3)

8. Shin-Soo Choo (NR)

7. Austin Jackson (4)

6. Jacoby Ellsbury (NR)

5. Adam Jones (7)

4. Curtis Granderson (10)

3. Matt Kemp (5)

2. Mike Trout (1)

1. Andrew McCutchen (2)

OK fine, I’m overrating Bourn. Whatever! I don’t feel bad leaving out Ellsbury. I see an MVP-type season sandwiched around 92 terrible games the last three years. With the list being Top 10 RIGHT NOW, I can’t see how he has a very strong case, especially for the mid-list rankings he pulled on all three lists. Show me something, Jacoby.

Is it bad that Ripken and I had the most matches with eight? I matched seven apiece with The Shredder and James. Unique to my list were Harper at 9 and Denard Span at 8. Shredder went it alone with Jay, all 10 of Ripken’s appeared elsewhere, and James flew solo on Pagan.

I’ll do the 2B review soon and then SPs and RPs coming up later this week.

Friday: 01.11.2013

Top 10 Centerfielders Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will fire up the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will start with the both the centerfield and second basemen shows. 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. Again, this is not a fantasy list.

CENTERFIELDERS

This was a bit tough because there is some legitimate transition at this position. Because it is a premier defensive position, we have some guys who are excellent with the leather, but lagging with the bat so deciding their fate was difficult. As such, I did some honorable mentions to cover these cases:

Chris Young (OAK) – He grades out extremely well with the defensive metrics even if your metric of choice happens to be your eyes, but his offense has never been great and has been on the decline since 2010’s peak. He’s now in a playing time crunch in Oakland.

Josh Hamilton (LAA) – He has been in center for exactly 52 percent of the time the last two years (130-of-250) with modest results. He is unlikely to see a single game there in 2013 or perhaps ever again as two of the best centerfielders will be playing in the same outfield with him.

Peter Bourjos (LAA) – A near-shoo-in for the 2014 iteration of this list, Bourjos is arguably the best defensive centerfielder in the game, but he was limited to just 195 plate appearances last year because his production at the dish imploded after a strong 2011. I feel like my list reflects how seriously I consider defense, it’s not just a list sorted by OPS, but Bourjos just didn’t do enough in the follow up to his breakout 2011 to warrant a spot.

Cameron Maybin (SD) – Similar to Bourjos in that almost all of his value is coming from his defense and base running right now with a lagging bat, except Maybin is logging 560-ish plate appearances of modest to poor bat work. Don’t even worry about bringing Petco Park, either. He was far worse on the road last year with a disgusting 572 OPS in 269 plate appearances

Ben Revere (PHI) – Revere is a ridiculously good defensive outfielder, but his time has been split between right and center with the best work being done in the former. The Phillies paid a handsome fee to the Twins for Revere’s services in order to make him a full-time centerfielder. He may well wind up on the 2014 list like Bourjos, but for now he’s merely an honorable mention.

10. Curtis Granderson (NYY) – Grandy was so exceptional with the bat in 2011 that most overlooked any defensive foibles, but when the bat regressed in 2012 his issues in center were exacerbated. He has really struggled with what the Fielding Bible labels as “Deep” plays the last two years which has result in some poor grades across all the defensive metrics. The bat and base running make a net-positive as a centerfielder, but the diminishing defense holds him back.

9. Bryce Harper (WAS) – He spent 92 of his 138 games kicking butt in centerfield during his rookie year, but the Nats set the precedent for the Phillies by also paying the Twins a handsome fee for a big time centerfielder when they acquired Denard Span at the end of November. Span has a deep enough track record in the field and with the bat so if he is healthy, he’s their guy in center and that’s why Harper is buried on the list. I’ll be interested to see how MLBN handles these cases since they won’t technically enter 2013 as centerfielders, but we know without question that they are very capable centerfielders.

8. Denard Span (WAS) – And here he is. I love Span’s defense, he is definitely one of the best out there with the glove and hopefully his concussion issues are behind him so he can stay on the field. He rebounded last year from a two year lull with the bat, but not quite to his exceptional level from 2008-2009. He still owns those bat skills and when combined with his defense, he is a near-elite centerfield.

7. Adam Jones (BAL) – His defensive reputation is definitely substantial as evidenced by a pair of Gold Gloves, but I don’t see an elite glove when watching him. I see some great player, but otherwise he’s a good-not-great defender. The defensive metrics aren’t particularly fond of him, especially for a two-time hardware winner, but reality and perception are often far apart when it comes to the Gold Gloves. Elsewhere, his bat continues to advance so even modest defense makes him a tremendous asset for Baltimore.

6. B.J. Upton (ATL) – This is one where my eyes and the metrics just don’t marry well. I see a silky smooth defender who uses his speed well and makes a lot of amazing plays. I think Upton has to fend off a lot of heat being labeled a disappointment because he isn’t a superstar and it looked like he would become one after 2007. He has been a remarkably consistent player value-wise save a 2009 blip in which he still delivered 2.4 fWAR. He was paid like a star for a reason, he is one.

5. Matt Kemp (LAD) – This is like an amped up Granderson case. Kemp’s bat is phenomenal, one of the absolute best in baseball the last two years even with him playing just 106 games last year. But his defense, while improved, still leaves something to be desired. I feel like he has been improving a lot since that debacle across-the-board in 2010, but the metrics are still down on him. If this were a fantasy list, he likely wouldn’t fall past two or three, but since we’re focusing on the complete package, he is down here.

4. Austin Jackson (DET) – I went back and forth on A-Jax and almost slotted him as high as second because I think his defense is truly elite and the bat took a major, sustainable step forward last year. Of course, he has just the one elite year with the bat so his outstanding glove earns him the four-spot. While the hitting improvements are definitely viable, he still has to go out and prove it with a strong follow-up.

3. Michael Bourn (FA) – Bourn hasn’t reached 105 wRC+ once in the last four years yet he has finished 4.9, 4.7, 4.1, and 6.4 fWAR. That is some serious defensive and base running value being delivered by Bourn. He is still lingering on the market, but someone is going to get themselves a fantastic centerfielder.

2. Andrew McCutchen (PIT) – I’m not a huge fan of his defense, but he has excellent and sustained bat to earn such a high spot. He is improving yearly with the bat and seems to be getting better in the field. He isn’t atrocious by any means, but I didn’t see a Gold Glove winner out there in 2012. When you’re crushing the hell out of the baseball like Cutch does, you don’t need to be Peter Bourjos-esque with the leather.

1. Mike Trout (LAA) – Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you are! It’s only the one season, but Trout was Cutch-plus with the bat all while playing Bourjosian D, predominantly in center (110-of-139 games). I know he isn’t going to start 2013 in centerfield, but he is still the best centerfielder in the game right now. Unlike with Span/Harper, Bourjos could lose his starting role if he performs poorly with the bat again and Trout would assume the role. Harper only moves back to center with a Span injury so he is more of a theoretical CF than Trout. I will be very interested to see how MLBN handles this tonight.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,846 other followers