Archive for ‘Hitters’

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.

Thursday: 07.12.2012

The Second Half Hail Mary Team

Your team sucks.  Way to go, idiot.  You are wallowing near or at the bottom of the standings with seemingly no hope.  It’s a redraft league so you don’t even have the option of trading for the 2013 which can be a fun exercise once you realize a season is lost.  So what do you do with the second half?  Hint: ignore your team and start looking for sleepers who will definitely fail in fantasy football is not the answer.  No, the answer is you throw conservatism out the window and chuck some Hail Marys to see if you can make a run.  Cross-sport reference!!!!

As dire as the situation may look now, there is time.  It’s not exactly the halfway point, four teams have played 87 games and all but two have (Washington & Kansas City at 83 & 84, respectively) played 85 or more, but a lot of baseball is still going to be played.  There will be plenty of Cinderella stories in October about a team that was buried at the All-Star Break only to surge through the standings in the dog days of summer en route to an improbable victory.  Let’s make that your story.

Presenting the Hail Mary Team for 2012.  This group of strugglers contain a ton of upside if they can reach previously established heights in the coming months.  Honestly, if you are one of the teams looking up at most of the league in your standings, you probably have a couple of these guys on your team.  They came into the season with elevated expectations and have failed to meet them for a bevy of reasons.  Their price tags have lowered (and if they haven’t, just pass, because there’s no sense paying full price) and with nothing to lose, they could be your ticket to a much better slot in your standings.

CATCHER Carlos Santana

He’s been wretched this year after a great 2011 season.  And it’s not just the concussion that sidelined him near the end of May as he was horrible in that whole month leading up to the injury (.233/.314/.344).  The concussion may be exacerbating the situation, but it’s just been a rough go since a solid .262/.417/.446 line April suggesting that maybe something other than the concussion is in play.  Nevertheless, this is a power force at a scarce position who can be a big time run producer if he gets back to the guy we saw in his first 201 games spanning part of 2010 and all of 2011: .244/.362/.459 with 33 HR and 101 RBI.  Brian McCann got some consideration, but his surge before the break (.421, 4 game HR streak w/11 RBI) likely allayed the fears of many and ate into any discount you could’ve gotten previously.

FIRST BASE – Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer

Both guys have been hot of late, but such wretched starts have their overall lines still in shambles resulting in their appearance on waiver wires in shallower leagues and making them available for little more than a song in leagues where they are on a roster.  Davis has a very healthy .294/.351/.635 line with 7 HR and 28 RBI in the last month so his price might be one of the higher ones on this list comparatively speaking, but I’d be willing to pay it as long as it still represented a discount against preseason expectations.  He’s been a bit Dan Uggla-esque circa 2011 where the batting average was just awful, but the power was still present.  I’m not sure he’s going to run off a 33-game hit streak like Uggla did, but who cares?

Hosmer ripped off a 3-hit game in Yankee Stadium in late May, his first of the year, and that seemed to be something of a turning point for his season.  From that game on: .289/.352/.430 with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 7 SB in 165 plate appearances.  He is still toting a .231/.299/.371 season line, though, which is why he still qualifies for this team.  Like Davis, he will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum among this list of players, but he should still be available at a sharp discount compared to the preseason which is what makes him a worthy Hail Mary target.

SECOND BASE – The Weekeseseseses, Rickie & Jemile

The Brothers Weeks have been awful this year lending to the decimation of the second base this year which could’ve been a plentiful position had players met or at least been near expectations.  Surges from Aaron Hill, Neil Walker, Jason Kipinis and Jose Altuve are only masking failures of the brothers, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Ackley instead of adding depth.  Back to these two, though, with Rickie first.

Injuries have always been a problem as he has just one season with more than 129 games played, otherwise he has usually performed quite well as long as he is on the field.  Until this year.  Even a depressed offensive environment can’t mask his woes as he checks in just under the Mendoza Line at .199 with just 8 HR and 6 SB in 81 games.  He hit 20 HR in 118 games last year, so even doubling his current output would be short of expectations.  He’s running at the same clip as last year, but he’s not really a speed asset these days anyway, that’s his brother’s area of expertise.

Speaking of Jemile, he has been an abomination thus far.  Imagine he were even average, the A’s might be above .500.  As it is, they are right at the mark and his return could help them stay there or exceed the level going forward.  The real bummer is that his poor half has overshadowed the huge gains in walk rate (up from 5% last year to 11% this year) paired with a small improvement in strikeout (down 1% to 13%).  If Dee Gordon can lead baseball in stolen bases (30) with a .280 on-base percentage, Weeks should have more than 12 with a more palatable .312 OBP.  He is an easy target if steals is a category where you’re severely lagging.

SHORTSTOP – Alexei Ramirez

When Ramirez ended up April with a paltry .498 OPS, some may have seen that as a prime buying opportunity as he routinely takes a while to get going.  Over his career, April is easily his worth month checking in with a .561 OPS compared to .721 or better in every other month peaking with .822 in July.  He sputtered to a .581 mark this May.  He improved to .678 in June so he is progressing, but not nearly as rapidly as usual.  In a scant 7-game sample for July, he is at 1.057 so maybe he finally ready to let loose.

The power has been noticeably absent throughout with just two home runs.  He has run a bit more to help alleviate a bit of the damage checking in with 10 SB, three more than all of last year in a full season.  He has long been one of those guys who is much better as a fantasy asset than as a real life one with only one season over 99 OPS+ (104 as a rookie).  He had become a bankable 15-70-10-80 with an average around .270.  It will take a helluva rally to get there this year, but if he just performs to the levels we have seen in the past, he will be a positive asset at shortstop at a nothing cost.

THIRD BASE – Ryan Zimmerman

I was surprised the other day when I heard some fantasy analysts dismissing him as a non-entity.  The basic premise was essentially that he’s never been any good so why are folks still hung up on him?  That’s just crazy talk.  He was excellent in 2009-2010 and was tracking toward another great season last year when injuries cut it short.  He hasn’t been good this year and I think injuries are a big reason again as he had a DL stint back in late April through early May and then he took a while to get going once he was back.

I’ll grant that he isn’t the sturdiest guy around.  That seems to come with territory when dealing with defensive stalwarts like Zimmerman, but he is definitely a damn fine hitter capable of big numbers.  In fact, he has been hot of late starting with a Coors Field trip (always a nice remedy for a hitter) totaling 14 games in all during which he has hit .333/.394/.683 with 5 HR and 18 RBI.  He has a 1.003 OPS with 3 HR in the non-Coors part, so don’t worry that he is Brandon Mossing us.  His bottom line is still gruesome (.694 OPS) enough that the price won’t be too steep.

OUTFIELD – Cameron Maybin

Proponents of Maybin’s are pointing toward last year’s second half dash to the finish that saw him swipe 28 bases after the break with an improved .268 average (up from .259) and hoping he has another such run (pun fully intended) in him.  The talent is there in glimpses, but those are all too brief because even when he’s hitting the longest home run in Chase Field, he’s still only carrying a .212 average.

Ichiro Suzuki

This is probably just the decline of a 38-year old former star, but it’s hard not to look at his 39 SBs from just a year ago and dream of him stealing 20+ in the second half.

Shane Victorino

He has been a far cry from what we expect in the slugging department thanks to a precipitous drop in triples as he has just two after leading baseball two of the last three years and notching 10 in the third of those seasons.  Aside from that, he hasn’t been awful save a little batting average misfortune.  I think the perception of his struggling is stronger than the truth of it as he already has as many steals (19) as he did in all of last year and his eight homers are just off of last year’s pace.  Try to prey on the trade rumors swirling about and his benching the other day for not liking his slot in the order as well as the general Phillie malaise that has seemingly stunk up every non-Hamels entity.

Bes Jond Unnings and D.J. Jupton

Paired together for obvious reason, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton have been colossal disappointments this year, though like others in the list they have run enough to stem the tide a bit on their being fantasy sinkholes.  Both have 15 SBs, impressive more so for Jennings coming in eight fewer games, but both are still on the wrong side of .680 OPS to date.  It looks even worse if you extend back into September for Jennings as he jumped off a cliff after a blazing hot run from late July through August.

Meanwhile, no one is expecting anything batting average-wise from Upton, but what is with the power outage?  He’s been around a 20 HR hitter the last two years which combined with his speed and 80ish runs driven in and scored made the batting average plenty palatable.  He’s now on pace for 13, down 10 from last year, but he can string together some 4-5 HR months and rally to or above 20 if he’s right.  Both of these Rays have plenty of upside that make gambling on them easy, especially at a discount.

Nelson Cruz

He has been lying in wait just ready for a Cruzian streak.  It may be bubbling up near the surface, too, as he entered the break with three multi-hit games including four doubles, but no homers.  When he gets hot he can carry a fantasy team so he is an easy inclusion even though he hasn’t been as rotten as the others with a 99 OPS+.  You may have to package one of your few worthwhile assets to get him and someone else on this list.  It could pay major dividends with a monster like Cruz.

PITCHING

Tim Lincecum

Duh.  Just look at the track record, I don’t really need to tell you why he’s a Hail Mary candidate.

Dan Haren

Currently injured making it a nice time to strike.  For the purposes of this exercise it also helps that he was terrible for five starts (8.67 ERA) before finally hitting the DL with a balky back.  His brilliant track record and the glimpses of greatness this year when healthy make it clear that he is still someone worth targeting.  The rest will hopefully get him back to 100% and he will return to his previously established level of excellence.

Rickey Romero

Let’s be honest, he didn’t really earn a 2.92 ERA last year from a skills standpoint. He still got the 2.92 ERA and I’m sure it helped many a fantasy team, but expecting that this year would’ve been silly.  Similarly, he isn’t a 5.22 ERA pitcher, either.  The skills have deteriorated this year without question, but not 5.22 deterioration.  His control is all out whack with a career-worst 4.7 BB/9.  That points to a potential mechanical issue which hopefully can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague is sweeping across the Toronto rotation so injury could be an issue, too, but he doesn’t seem to be laboring or hurting when I view his starts with my amateur scouting eye.  A 3.50 ERA from a workhorse who will put himself in position for decisions (and ideally wins given their stout offense) can go a long way toward fixing your flailing staff.

Derek Holland

We saw last year, specifically in the second half and playoffs, what he can do when he is click.  His skills are in line with last year’s save a bit of home run trouble which has no doubt led to his inflated 5.05 ERA.  He quietly came off the DL just before the break and had a quality start, strike quickly before he strings a few together and saps up any discount via trade or starts getting scooped up off the waiver wires.

Doug Fister

The infield defense has struggled as planned and Fister has been a prime casualty, but that isn’t the only factor as a 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 1.2 HR/9 rate.  That factor should regress, especially for a groundball artist (2.2 GB/FB ratio), and that will cut into his 4.75 ERA.  Completing the Hail Mary pass would be a tightening up of the defense allowing him to pitch to a level on par with his skills which would be around 3.45 or better.

Francisco Liriano

Personally, I don’t think he should be trusted, but we are talking Hail Marys here.  He has a 3.12 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his seven starts since returning to the rotation.  We know the upside he has when everything is going perfectly.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Is he the next Liriano after his fall from grace last year?  Probably so, but like Liriano he is streaking in his last seven with a 2.93 ERA and 44 Ks in 46 innings.  In fact, they both started their streaks on June 5th so they are even more similar this year.  They both have ace upside.  Doesn’t mean they’ll will reach it, but the chance is there.

Ervin Santana

He likes to throw a stinker season in every once in a while to keep everyone honest I guess, but his capability is a commodity as proven in three of the previous four years from 2008-2011.  Unsurprisingly home runs were his issue in 2009, too, so figuring that out will be the key to his potential success going forward.  He doesn’t quite have ace potential because he peaks around 6.8-7.0 K/9, but with the Angels clicking, he can run off a bunch of wins with quality ratios if he gets himself figured out.

Clay Buchholz

Another guy I don’t really buy into, but people I respect do and besides, I’m trying to fix your crappy team not mine.  Even including the thrashing he suffered right before hitting the DL, he had 3.35 ERA and 5-1 record (including 4 straight Ws) in eight starts whittling his ERA from 9.09 to 5.53 in the process.  He is currently sitting on the DL with terrible bottom line numbers making now the best time to strike if you are interested.

Wednesday: 06.27.2012

Yadier Molina’s Superstar Season

In “Year of the Pitcher: Part 3”, the headlines are being grabbed by R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Brandon Beachy before his injury, Stephen Strasburg (and actually the Nats rotation as a whole) and whoever is six-plus innings into a no-hitter or perfect game on a given night.  And rightfully so given how incredible those guys have been.  Apart from the wunderkinds (Bryce Harper & Mike Trout), Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp before his injury, hitters aren’t really getting as much run as individual story makers.

This attention on pitchers isn’t a problem, but it has left some hitters in the midst of great seasons off the radar including the brilliant season that Yadier Molina has had thus far.  The 29-year old backstop signed a five-year, $75 million dollar extension in early March that includes a mutual option for a sixth year that would keep him in St. Louis through 2018.

Instead of signing Albert Pujols, they essentially doled the money out to Molina, Carlos Beltran (2/$26mm) Rafael Furcal (2/$14mm) and Lance Berkman (1/$12mm) with Molina as the obvious centerpiece to be paired with Matt Holliday through the 2000-teens.  They are hoping that Molina can be their Jorge Posada in terms of longevity.

The challenge in that comparison is that Molina was up at 21-years old and full-time by 22 while Posada first saw significant time at 25-years old and that lack of wear and tear applied in his early 20s allowed him to remain an offensive force through his 30s with only two seasons below 101 OPS+ and zero below 90 (he was at 90 last year w/a .714 OPS).

However the story worthy of attention right now is that present-day Molina has become the best all-around catcher in baseball.  He has long been the league’s gold standard when it comes to the defensive discipline of catching, but he took a major step forward offensively last year and has not only continued it in 2012, but amped it yet another several notches.

When I saw Yahoo!’s Scott Pianowski tweet on the matter, I found myself nodding in agreement as I had just recently looked at Molina’s stat line over the weekend and marveled at the fact that he is ridiculously close to career-highs almost across the board in only 276 plate appearances.

He achieved career-bests in home runs (14), RBIs (65), runs (55), batting average (.305) and slugging percentage (.465) last year in 518 plate appearances.  He is already exceeding both rate stats (.319 and .512) to go with his 12 home runs, 44 RBIs and 33 runs scored in just 53% of last year’s plate appearance total.  His .369 on-base percentage is also tracking to be a career-best.  After an embarrassing 4-for-9 (44%) stolen base rate last year, he is just two away from his career-high with seven so far in eight attempts (88%).

It is a generally accepted fact that catcher’s develop later offensively speaking because the early part of their career is spent learning the finer points of handling a pitching staff and taming a running game, but that development is usually confined to a power spike.  Molina’s entire game is reaching new heights.

He is currently on pace for 26 HR, 95 RBI and 15 SB with his .317 batting average.  Only one catcher has ever reached or exceeded all four of those marks: Ivan Rodriguez in 1999 when he had 35 HR, 113 RBI and 25 SB with a .332 batting average en route to an MVP.  Of course the offensive environment was much different back then so while Pudge’s dream season netted a 125 OPS+, Molina’s carrying a 142 so far.

None of this offensive explosion is coming at the expensive of the defensive work that made him famous in the first place and earned him four Gold Glove Awards.  GGs aren’t a perfect measure of defensive prowess so you can’t just use them blindly, but I think it is universally agreed upon that Molina has deserved every single one he has earned.

In fact, a major & valid complaint of the awards is that they are often offensively driven for some ungodly reason, but Molina bucked that trend with his 2010 win as he was rather putrid at the dish netting a meager 84 OPS+, but even voters couldn’t ignore his MLB-best 49% caught stealing rate as he threw out a career-high 33 runners (against 35 steals).

So far this year he is popping runners at a 37% clip (13-of-35), but that doesn’t even tell the full story.  He is so good that he stops the running game before it even starts.  The opposition is running at a clip of nearly once per two games, easily baseball’s best rate.  There is currently an attempt once every 16 innings against Molina.  Compare that with San Diego’s Nick Hundley who doesn’t see six innings pass without someone attempt larceny on his watch.  Molina’s rate was even better a year ago when base runners ran just once every 17.7 innings.

The closest catcher to Molina this year is John Buck who is two innings behind (1 every 14 innings) and right behind him is Yadier’s brother, Jose Molina (13.8).  Yadier remains the most feared catcher in the game defensively speaking and with good reason.  The other bias usually associated with Gold Gloves is that multiple winners seem to get favored and ties usually go their way.  Arizona’s Miguel Montero is having a helluva year cutting down runners (22-of-42, 52%), but that might not be enough to trump Molina’s reputation.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Carlos Ruiz is another catcher also having a truly brilliant year at the dish (and behind it).  His .361 average is the best in baseball and his 10 home runs are already a career-best while his 41 RBIs in 67 games have already topped the 40 he amassed in 132 games last year.  He has been no slouch behind the dish, either, with a career-best 39% caught stealing rate stopping 22 of the 56 would-be thieves.  Runners are testing him exactly once per game, but he is meeting the challenge.  At 33 years old, his 171 OPS+ is fourth in baseball behind just Joey Votto (198), David Wright (180) and Mark Trumbo (174).

When I was first gathering data and thinking about this piece, I was thinking of suggesting that Molina could be a longshot MVP candidate based on his excellent all-around season and he may be, but if he is then Ruiz definitely has to garner some consideration and likely even more than Molina as he is out-hitting him and playing sharp defense that is at least in the county of Molina’s, if not in the same ballpark.  I still give Molina the edge as baseball’s best all-around catcher both now and going forward.

What is clear is that these two plus the out-of-nowhere breakout from A.J. Ellis, the insane offensive surge from A.J. Pierzynski, the emergence of Jonathan LuCroy before his hand injury and the continued dominance of guys like Buster Posey, Miguel Montero, Joe Mauer (not 2009 levels, but still very good) and Matt Wieters, perhaps we are in the midst of “The Year of the Catcher” as well as the third edition of TYotP.  Given the return to earth by Mike Napoli and the struggles of Carlos Santana, Brian McCann and Alex Avila, who’d have thought we would be talking about superlative catchers this year?

For the Cardinals, it is still very early (in fact, the extension for Molina hasn’t even kicked in), but it certainly looks like he is trending in the right direction (improved OPS+ in five of the last six years) offensively without losing anything in the defensive game that went a long toward earning him the contract in the first place.

Tuesday: 06.19.2012

Trout and Harper in 2013: The Industry Weighs In

Though we are in the midst of our third straight “year of the pitcher” (maybe it should be an “era of the pitcher”?), two hitters are capturing the attention of the baseball world.  Rookie hitters at that.  Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the consensus top prospects in baseball this preseason, have lived up to their hype thus far leaving the baseball community drooling in anticipation of what will come next.  The fantasy baseball community might be drooling most of all, especially those with the wunderkinds on their teams.  Those playing in keeper leaguers are giddiest of the bunch.

Trout is on pace to produce one of the five best age 20 seasons since the expansion era (1961), in fact the 2nd-best if he maintains his current pace of production.  Only A-Rod’s insane age 20 season tops Trout’s current pace from an OPS and OPS+  standpoint.  Harper is on pace to be just the 2nd 19-year old to qualify for the batting title and post an OPS+ over 100.  Not 2nd-best, 2nd at all in the expansion era (and subsequently the best at his current pace).

(data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)

We got a 40-game taste of Trout at age 19 a season and it was less than impressive.  He hit .220 with a  .672 OPS including five home runs and four stolen bases.  In exactly 60 more at-bats than he had last year, he has a .328 average, .907 OPS, six home runs and 19 (!) stolen bases.

Harper, meanwhile, spent his first pro season between A and AA last year.  He crushed the former, posting a .977 OPS with 14 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 258 at-bats before getting a promotion.  He faltered upon arrival posting a .628 OPS in his first 80 at-bats, but closed the year with an .878 OPS in his final 49.

It looked like he was going to need a similar adjustment to AAA as he had a .708 OPS in 72 at-bats before getting the call to the majors as the decimated Nationals needed his potentially impactful bat.  Using arbitrary endpoints again, he seemed to need an adjustment period again posting a meager .650 OPS in his first 13 games.  However, since May 13th he has hit .325 with 15 extra-base hits include seven home runs leading to a .988 OPS in 123 at-bats.

The two are on pace for some pretty impressive seasons even if you don’t factor in their ages:

Harper’s RBI total is pacing a bit low, but it won’t take much to boost that up.  In fact, if you just added five to his current mark, he would move from 59 to 75 in a snap.  By the way, a quick note about the pacing.  I built in five off days for both of them just to be a bit conservative.  I also included an 85% pace which builds in some regression should they fall off their current production pace yet maintain the same amount of at-bats.  It’s kind of a wet blanket/reality check as they are likely at or very near the peak production of their seasons right now.

With the hysteria surrounding the two, I wondered about the future.  Specifically next spring.  I have my own ideas about their 2013 value, but I wanted to know where some of the top fantasy minds in the industry saw them going so I reached out to them with that very question.  Here are the results:

Derek Carty (Twitter) – I imagine both Harper and Trout will be drafted higher than they should — fantasy players love drafting on hype, so much so that they’ll draft a guy who has to make good on his ceiling just in order to break even on the pick (see: Brett Lawrie, 2012) — although both should be quite good.  Harper will offer more in terms of power while Trout will offer more in terms of speed.

A true 80 runner, Trout could swipe 40 bags next year (although some scouts feel he’ll slow quickly as he ages, given his body type).  Harper could challenge 30 HR. and both could provide solid averages, although Trout’s power/speed combo will likely be superior to Harper’s, giving him the edge (especially leading off for the Angels).  I’ll take Trout in the seventh and Harper in the 10th (subject to change, of course, based upon rest-of-2012 performance).

Eno Sarris (Twitter) We asked this of analysts in the online scouting community going into the year for FanGraphs+ ($) and they were all split.  Like right down the middle split.  Dave Cameron writes a piece about how impressive Bryce Harper has been in the early going, and then Wendy Thurm writes that we shouldn’t forget about how good Mike Trout has been.

It seems clear that both will be great, and quickly, and so we’re left with the quintessential question: do you prefer to have power first, or speed?  I’ll take the speedy guy, even if it’s a year older, and here’s why: 1) This speedy guy with power is more likely to add value in all five offensive roto categories. 2) This speedy guy comes with a great contact rate.

There’s nothing worse than a contact problem, and though Harper has a nice strikeout rate, his swinging strike rate (12.5%) is way above average and the sample is almost robust enough to worry about it (Ed. note: this was turned in before Harper’s 5 K performance, which Sarris subsequently wrote about).

Along with Trout’s speed, his better contact rate (9.6% better) should mean that his batting average will be better than Harper’s most years.  It’s as simple as that, but there’s a little more.  If stolen bases by themselves are rare, the true five-cat performer is even rarer, and if you can get your speed from guys with power, you avoid ever having to Juan Pierre it up. I know Harper has the ability to steal some bags now, but I see it more like athleticism and taking advantage of situations — a la Brandon Belt — than Trout-like wheels.

Both of these guys have upside — in one corner, you have a guy who could hit .280 with 25+ homers and 10+ steals as soon as next year, and in the other you have a guy that could hit .300 with 15+ homers and 40+ steals next year. The thing is, there’s an outside shot that Trout’s current batted ball mix (1.22 gb/fb, 12.2% HR/FB) and ISO (.192) are sustainable, in which case he might hit closer to 20 home runs and push the needle further in his favor.

I chose Trout over Harper when they came up and I’ll do it again. Oh, and round? I’ll take him as early as the third or fourth, depending on how the hype works out going into the season next year.  If Harper gets more of the attention, I might gamble on taking Trout in the fifth or sixth in order to really pump him for value.

Joel Henard (Twitter) – Looking at Trout and Harper next season, it’s going to be a tough call.  I definitely see them going way too early in drafts with owners drafting them in the 2nd round.  I see both guys as later 3rd and early 4th round guys.  I am a Harper fanatic and will probably draft him way too early, with that being said I would rank them in 3rd and 4th round.

Riley Breckenridge (Personal Twitter; PO Twitter) Mike Trout: late 2nd round, early 3rd – Updated ZiPS projections have Trout pegged for a 90/15/60/33/.290 output in 2012. I think we’ll see an uptick in all five categories in 2013, (~95/18/70/38/.295), which brought to mind the 2011 model of Andrew McCutchen with more speed, a better batting average, and slightly fewer home runs. McCutchen’s ADP this year sat in the mid-20s, so I’d project Trout as a late 2nd rounder in most leagues.

Bryce Harper: late 3rd round, early 4th – Harper is a tougher call than Trout.  His real value will come when he can give a fantasy owner 30+ bombs and ~20 steals. While I’m fairly certain that day will come, I’m not sure it’ll be in 2013.

Jason Collette (Twitter) – Along where Desmond Jennings and Brett Lawrie were this year both round and dollar wise to be honest.

Nando Di Fino (Twitter) – I actually ran numbers with Harper, Griffey, Yount, Mantle, and A-Rod — their 19-year old season vs. their 20-year old seasons.  All but Yount put up insane numbers. Trout is essentially a year ahead of them right now, so it’s a sneak preview, to a degree. I look at them like this:

Harper: $32 roto player, with lots of power, great average, and some speed.

Trout: $34 roto player, with some power, great average, and a little more speed, which will get his value a tick above Harper’s.

In points leagues, I bet Harper is a little more valuable in 2013 when it’s all said and done, and I would wager that Harper would go in the first round in most drafts, while Trout falls to 2/3. In reality, they should probably both be late first-rounders in both formats next season, and will likely finish with late first-round value.

Al Melchior (Twitter) – Trout probably won’t maintain a .300-plus batting average going into next season, but he should have some Shane Victorino-type value with his speed/power combo. With the added hype of having been a top prospect boosting his value, I see him going as a 4th or 5th rounder.

Harper will hit for more power than Trout, and that will offset his relative shortcomings in batting average and steals. Think of him as Hunter Pence, but with more stolen bases and walks. Also likely to be drafted in the 4th or 5th rounds on average.

Cory Schwartz (Twitter) – Assuming both of these phenoms continue to produce at their current pace and rates, they’ll both be highly coveted in re-draft leagues next year.  Personally I’d go after Trout first, because his edge in the stolen base category will likely outweigh the value of Harper’s superior power.  He’s not likely to hit in the .320’s next year as he is right now, but I think his other production is realistic and projects to high teens in homers and 35-40 steals with an average in the .280’s and nearly 100 runs.

In a 12-team re-draft league, that type of player would probably go in the third round and possibly even sooner… think about Andrew McCutchen this year in terms of value; he’ll certainly go ahead of where Desmond Jennings did this year.  Harper projects for a slightly higher average and could challenge 30 homers next year, while stealing 12-15 bases.

He’ll probably go a half-dozen or so picks after Trout, comparable to or before someone like Hunter Pence. Either way, both have clearly established themselves as potential impact players next year and, based on their production so far this year and expected growth going forward, neither will last very long on draft day.

Derek VanRiper (Twitter) – Valuing Trout and Harper for 2013 requires an unscientific calculation of their expected adjustment period as big league pitchers find ways to get them out. As we’ve learned through the first two-plus months of Brett Lawrie‘s 2012 season, elite tools don’t immediately lead to elite results over the first 500-600 plate appearances.

Trout should run enough to steal at least 25 bases while providing double-digit power, while Harper seems to be a better bet for 15-20 homers and double-digit steals, albeit with a lower batting average because of his ongoing development against left-handed pitching.  In Trout, I think we’re looking at a player who will be valued as a third or fourth-round pick in many drafts next season (similar to Desmond Jennings in 2012), while with Harper it seems as though a Round 4-5 ADP seems more likely.

Chris Liss (Twitter) – Off the top of my head – mixed league, Trout will be a 2nd round pick, Harper 3rd. That is if we drafted for 2013 today. But obviously that could change a lot.

Scott Pianowski (Twitter) – I can’t see Trout lasting longer than two rounds, perhaps getting into the Top 12 or 15. He’s capable of being a dominant speed player right away and he has good (not elite) power, so we might have a five-category player here. It will be interesting to see how the league changes its pitching approach to him, and how the kid reacts.

Harper I don’t like as much as everyone else seems to for the immediate future. Down the road, of course, we can all see the superstar potential. I doubt I’d get him where I’m likely to slot him, maybe fourth or fifth-round value. And before anyone drafts either of these guys in 2013, remember all the sophomores that have broken our hearts.

Ray Flowers (Twitter) – If I was drafting today for the 2013 season I’d roster Trout for the reason many others are saying Trout would be their choice – it’s the speed component. I don’t doubt that Harper could make a run at 20 steals, but if Trout is swiping 40 bags as is obviously possible, Harper is going to have to hit a who lot more dingers to make up that difference in the fantasy game. Plus, I’m not sure that Harper is going to be a .300 hitter right off the hop, which will make his need for a major home run driven effort exceedingly important if he is going to outpace Trout next season.

Speaking of sophomore slumps, notice the 4th-place hitter on that age 20 list from above.  Jason Heyward.  Just two years ago he took the league by storm with a five-tool game worthy of the #1 prospect ranking he earned that preseason.  Since then things haven’t necessarily gone as planned.  He labored through injuries dropping 50 points on his batting average and 141 points on his OPS a season ago.  He has been better on the whole so far this year, but his walk rate has dipped again while his strikeout rate is at a career-high 23%.

He serves as the most ready-made example of what Pianowski is talking about as does Brett Lawrie, a name elicited often by our panelists.  I know what you’re thinking, “Harper and Trout aren’t Heyward and Lawrie!”  And that may be true, but they were both elite, blue-chip prospects who took the league by storm in their debuts and have since struggled by comparison.

Trout didn’t take the league by storm initially (87 OPS+ in that 40-game sample last year) which is maybe why he feels different meanwhile Harper seems to be a generational, once-in-a-lifetime-type talent to whom rules of history don’t apply, unless we’re talking about the rules of Ken Griffey Jr.’s early career.  While Trout matches up somewhat with A-Rod (who struggled in 17 and 48-game samples as an 18 and 19-year old before storming the league at 20).

Nevertheless, if they maintain these incredible paces, no one is going to care about cautionary tales from history and the pair will be very highly drafted in 2013 (like top 10 if they keep their current paces up).  For me, I have Trout higher than Harper.  His speed changes the fantasy game and when paired with his run production ability and batting average potential makes him my favorite type of player.  I would value him as a 2nd rounder in 12-team mixed leagues and I can legitimately see him creeping into the 1st round.

Harper, meanwhile, is of course no slouch.  He oozes with ability and his power could be transcendent in a hurry.  In the lowered offensive era, that is huge.  The Hunter Pence comparison given by a few of the analysts makes sense, but I would give him more pop (30+ HRs) while taking away some of the batting average (closer to .265-.270, compared Pence’s .280-.290 range with a couple of .300s mixed in), at least initially.  Harper has .300/35 capability, I’m just not sure it shows up in year two.  I would value him as a 3rd rounder.

Loosely averaging everyone’s thoughts and opinions yields Trout as a late second/early third round pick and Harper as a mid-to-late third round pick.  They will continue to garner a ton of attention the rest of this season and their draft position will be written about a ton during the upcoming winter and early next spring at the various internet outlets and in every magazine that hits newsstands.

Saturday: 06.16.2012

Welcome to Splitsville: Lefties

Welcome to Splitsville.  Here is Splitsville I analyze players through a particular lens, or split, and highlight those who excel.  I looked first at those excelling in each split so far this year, but then I compared it with their career performance to see if it is something that can be relied upon with any degree of certainty going forward or might just be statistical noise through two and a half months.

With the proliferation of daily games like FanGraphs The Game, Daily Joust, FanDuel, PickSix and many others, knowing which players excel in a particular split can help you decide who to pick for a single game.  It is incredibly hard to pick who will excel in a one day sample and even leaning on a favorable split won’t guarantee results, but it can enhance your odds.

Our first split to examine is “vs. lefties”.  Some guys just rake against southpaws.  They usually aren’t southpaws themselves as the lefty-lefty matchup is one of the tougher ones for hitters which aided the rise of the LOOGYs.  Here are 16 guys who are more or less LOOGY-proof:

Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen is on another level across the board this year with an .809 OPS against righties which is up a tick from his career .792 OPS mark against them.  Meanwhile, he is obliterating lefties this year as his 1.285 OPS against them is baseball’s best among those with 50+ PA facing left-handers.

David Wright

Wright has been unique this year in that he has actually been better against right handers (1.063 OPS) than lefties (.986 OPS), but he is still excelling against them so he makes the list plus he has been significantly better against them for his career.  As a superstar, he has excelled regardless of which hand the pitch is coming from (.855 career v. RHP), but his 1.021 OPS is akin to him being Jose Bautista (1.025 OPS in 1338 PA) circa 2010-2011 against southpaws.

Shane Victorino

Victorino has a .641 OPS against righties this year and a .742 for his career.  The Flyin’ Hawaiian is a slap-hitting useful, but unspectacular outfielder against righties, but becomes Mike Napoli with more speed against lefties.  Napoli has an .888 OPS in 1153 PA since 2010.

Billy Butler

Butler has always handled lefties, but this year’s power surge against them has put him on pace to push the 30-home run barrier for the first time in his career.  He was popping a home run every 24 at-bats coming into this season, but has upped that mark to every 14 at-bats with 4 in 57 AB so far.  Butler still hits pretty well against righties with a .288 average, but his slugging dips 100 points to .434 meanwhile he actually has more walks (99) than strikeouts (93) vs. LHP.

Derek Jeter

Unsurprisingly, this surefire first ballot Hall of Famer is doing well across the board.  He has always held an edge against lefties, but this year he has been on another level and it is propping up his entire stat line.  This year he has just a .696 OPS against righties.  He is still hitting .280 against them, but no power (.360 SLG).  He has the same amount of home runs against lefties (3) in 130 fewer plate appearances.

Kevin Youkilis

Youk has been an abomination on the whole this year, but he is still popping lefties to the tune of a solid .853 OPS (compared to his putrid .586 mark against right-handers).  He has held an advantage against lefties, but it was usually accompanied with an excellent mark against righties, too (career .852 OPS).  His career mark against lefties is essentially equal to 2010-2011 Troy Tulowitzki (.931 OPS in 1135 PA).

Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt doesn’t exactly have a rich career history having played all of 101 games in his career, but he does seem to feast on lefties in his limited sample.  His minor league record showed a similar domination of lefties suggesting we will continue to see this trend from him in the majors (1.390 OPS v. LHP; .934 vs. RHP in 131 and 326 PA, respectively).

Jose Altuve

Like Goldschmidt, Altuve has virtually a nothing sample of games compared to most of the guys on this list with just 119 played.  He is but a relatively hollow batting average against same-handed pitchers, but bashes the hell out of lefties with a near-.400 average this year.  This was present in his minor league career as he posted a .446 AVG and 1.165 OPS in 92 PA.

A.J. Ellis

Ellis is your prototypical late-blooming catcher as his 51 games this year are already a career-high.  He has always been an on-base machine with capable batting average and no real power before this year’s surge.  Though his career samples aren’t huge, he shows a pretty distinct edge when facing southpaws, especially for power.

Danny Espinosa

Espinosa has been so bad against right-handers both this year (.589 OPS) and during his career really (.676 OPS) that you could make a case that he should be a platoon player.  The switch-hitter’s split has been as stark as ever this year to the point where fantasy managers should definitely be platooning him where applicable.

Scott Hairston

Speaking of platoons, Hairston is deployed that way by the Mets with great success.  He has just 49 plate appearances against righties posting a paltry .600 OPS.  I am surprised it took this long for him to become a platoon player with a career .225/.287/.408 line against righties in 1328 plate appearances.

Trevor Plouffe

Plouffe currently doesn’t care which hand you throw with, he is going to hit a home run regardless.  But for his career, he has a distinct advantage against lefties in the form of a 230-point split in OPS.  In a lot of leagues, specifically any mixed league format, he was a waiver wire pick (and might still be out there in a few leagues) so the roster should be constructed in such a way that he can be platooned once this hot streak tamps down.

Gaby Sanchez

Sanchez’s performance this year has been one steeped in relativity.  A .698 OPS inspires exactly nobody, but compared to his .449 mark against righties, it is clear he fares better against lefties.  And his career record, filled with much more appealing data, bears that out as well with  a 177-point edge.

Jonny Gomes

Gomes notoriously feasts on lefties and the split seemed to be getting more distinct by the year before this year’s surge against righties (.752 OPS).  His career mark is probably still more instructive.  Same goes for teammate who would be a perfect platoon partner, though he too is enjoying an unexpected surge against same-handed opposition.

Mark Reynolds

Reynolds hits for average against no one and hits for power against anyone, but he is exceptional at getting on base and hitting for power against lefties specifically.  He didn’t hit his first 2012 HR until May 4th so he only have 1 against lefties and 5 overall, but four doubles in his 12 hits vs. LHP gives him that gaudy SLG so far this year.

Cody Ross

Ross was hitting everyone before he went on the disabled list, and he has always hit like an All-Star against lefties, but this year he was at a superstar clip against them buoyed by his .625 SLG in the short sample.  The Green Monster probably aided his work against righties so you might not have to worry about sitting in those situations once he returns.  Either way, he has been out for nearly a month so he probably appears on more than a few waiver wires.

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