Archive for ‘All BbP Originals’

Monday: 01.3.2011

Comparing My Top 24 w/a Mock Draft, Part 2

Yesterday, I began looking at the players drafted in the first two rounds of a mock draft I’m hosting over at against my Top 24 list from earlier this Fall. I highlighted those players who didn’t make top my 24 yet found their way into the first two rounds of our draft while today I will look at the draft positions of my group of players.

I’ll start with the group that “hit” with a hit being someone who was either dead even in my list and draft position or +/- two spots. There were eight direct hits, seven of which came within the top 10 suggesting that the first round might not bring much surprise in your draft. A lot can and almost certainly will change from now until draft day, though. There were three others who were within the two pick margin. All three were favored the two spots by me as opposed to the drafters. Here is the list of 11 players:

PLAYER My List Draft Diff.
Pujols, A 1 1 0
Ramirez, H 2 2 0
Cabrera, M 3 3 0
Longoria, E 6 6 0
Votto, J 7 7 0
Cano, R 8 8 0
Rodriguez, A 9 9 0
Utley, C 19 19 0
Wright, D 11 13 2
Hamilton, J 15 17 2
Youkilis, K 20 22 2

Next is the group that drafters “overrated” in my eyes. That is they took them three or more picks higher than I had them rated. The most egregious example is a bit skewed because it’s Adrian Gonzalez and when I rated him 21st, he was with the San Diego Padres. He has since gone to the Boston Red Sox which will certainly constitute a bump in value, but I still don’t think I will have him 10th, which is where he ended up in our draft.

PLAYER My List Draft Diff.
Gonzalez, A 21 10 -11
Tulowitzki, T 12 4 -8
Gonzalez, C 10 5 -5
Teixeira, M 18 14 -4
Halladay, R 14 11 -3

I knew I was lower than most on Troy Tulowitzki, but I was still a bit surprised when he went 4th overall. My concerns with him are as follows:

…though he has three good seasons out of the four he has been in the league, he still hasn’t cracked 100 RBIs, he has only topped 11 stolen bases once and though his .290 career average is damn good, 2010 was his only season above .300 (he hit .315). Mix in significant injury risk as he has missed 40 and 51 games in two of the last three seasons and there is reason for concern with Tulowitzki.

I just think you are inheriting too much risk taking him that high. I understand that if you want him and you have the 4th pick, that is going to be your only shot so you have to take your guy, but I would play it safer. He is a dynamic talent, but he could be this year’s Matt Kemp/Joe Mauer first round flameout.

Similarly, I come in a bit lower on Carlos Gonzalez because despite his huge 2010 season, I think he is rife with risk like his teammate, albeit different risk tied mostly to the fact that this is the first season he has actually paid dividends on his prodigious minor league talent. Tread cautiously.

And finally, there was an 8-player group that could be tabbed as “underrated” as they were three or more picks away from my top 24 ranking. Of course, they are only underrated to me and those who agree with my rankings.

PLAYER My List Draft Diff.
McCutchen, A 16 45 29
Braun, R 5 18 13
Rios, A 24 35 11
Crawford, C 4 12 8
Holliday, M 13 21 8
Hernandez, F 22 28 6
Zimmerman, R 17 20 3
Kemp, M 23 26 3

Soooo let’s just say I like Andrew McCutchen a smidge more than the general populous at this point in the draft season. He went almost two and a half rounds after where I had him slotted. Now the first question would obviously be “why didn’t I take him?”. Well, I only had one real shot where I really could have gotten him and I decided to take Jose Reyes with the first pick in the 3rd round. Shortstop remains a wasteland again in 2011 and I felt like Reyes was a nice value at that point. When McCutchen fell throughout the remainder of the 3rd and deep into the 4th, I thought I was going to get him at the end of the round, but he went three picks before mine. I settled for Ichiro Suzuki.

My jaw about hit the floor with Ryan Braun’s descent into the mid-2nd round. As you are probably tired of hearing by now, I put a lot of consideration into how high a player’s floor is with my early picks and I think Braun has one of the higher floors while still maintaining an appealing ceiling making him one of the best early round picks. He was a steal at 18 by Jason Collette.

I would have much rather taken Matt Holliday than the first base run from the early 2nd round I discussed yesterday, but it wasn’t an egregious fall for Holliday as the players taken from my ranking of Holliday to his draft position are clustered pretty tightly together.

I promised news soon about my 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide and I wanted to get it out today, but it didn’t happen, so stay tuned. I should have some details out at some point this week. I think those of you who have read it the last three years are really going to enjoy this year’s version.

Sunday: 01.2.2011

Comparing My Top 24 w/a Mock Draft, The Misses

As I’m wont to do around this time each year, I started a mock draft up over at with a group of diehards if for no other reason than to forget about the luck-ridden awfulness that is fantasy football. While I do have severe issues with fantasy football, that isn’t really why I fire up baseball mocks so quickly after the season. A couple reasons are that I like to see how much the previous seasons figures in on 2011 expectations, especially in the early rounds and I am just a baseball junkie so I like to keep it on the brain year-round.

We started the 27 round (1 ea. of 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, COR, MID, UT, 2 C, 5 OF, 9 P, 4 BENCH) draft back on December 14th and surprisingly (given the holidays) we’re at the end of round 21 as of 11pm Sunday night. I’ll be sharing different aspects of the draft with you in this very space in the coming days, but today I wanted to look at how our first two rounds coincided with my top 24 from back in November.

What I wanted to see was who would come out as the biggest “values” in that they went much later than where I rated them in my top two dozen. Of course, I also wanted to see who came out the most overrated by the same measure. There was a subset of guys who I didn’t have on my top 24 that were drafted in the first two rounds of our mock. Let’s look at them first before we delve into how my top 24 fared against the draft.

Prince Fielder (15th overall) – The entire first round fell within my top 24 which isn’t terribly surprising, but I knew things would start to come off the tracks eventually as I only rated two additional first basemen after the Power Three (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto) and our first two rounds saw four other 1Bs leave the board after the power three. Fielder was the first. I don’t hate the pick, mind you, even after a down 2010. He’s just 27 and I think he’s more likely to top 40 HR again in 2011 than he is to be just over 30 as he was in 2010. On the whole, I think a second round pick is better spent elsewhere especially when Adam Dunn was available 26 picks later.

Ryan Howard (16th overall) – I can get behind Fielder on some level (although his owner had just taken Adrian Gonzalez), but I won’t support Howard in the top 24 let alone 16th. At 31, you can’t bank on the gaudy HR and RBI totals that he needs to set himself apart from that middle tier of first basemen. The offense in Philly struggled last year, is a year older and now missing Jayson Werth. I’m avoiding Howard at his current cost.

Joe Mauer (23rd overall) – I fell hard for Mauer last year up until around March when I was swayed by the contingent screaming that he wasn’t a first round (or even second round, really) pick. I remain in that camp after his 2010 season. He’s a great player and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he went 2009 on us again this year or sometime soon, but I’m not taking that high-priced risk in my draft.

Dustin Pedroia (24th overall) – This one is essentially semantics since I cut off my list at 24 because it’s two rounds of a standard draft and happens to be my favorite number, but Pedroia is 25th on my “official” list. I don’t think he will have any lingering issues with the foot in 2011 and thus he will be back to his All-Star form. Oh yeah, I also don’t have any issue with this pick because I am the one who made it.

None of the four names are particular surprisingly as they have all been early round staples the last couple of years, but I can’t envision any scenarios where I would take either Howard or Mauer. Maybe I got Carl Crawford or Troy Tulowitzki in the first round, I would come back around with Fielder, but by and large, he is a pass for me too. Pedroia, as I already mentioned, was my second round pick so obviously I can envision a scenario where I would bump him up (that scenario was getting Pujols and not wanting an outfielder in the second round).

Next up, I’ll look my 24 and how they fared in the draft.

Tuesday: 12.14.2010

Lee Shocks Everybody; Heads Back to Philly

There have already been thousands upon thousands of words devoted to the Cliff Lee signing that kept the baseball world up past its bedtime last night, and predictably I have a few thoughts myself, but also some fun pictures regarding their beastly rotation:

  • Lost in the excitement over the super rotation is the fact that Lee essentially just replaces Jayson Werth.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but Lee isn’t a pure addition to a 97-win team.  Based on Wins Above Replacement at, Lee posted 7.1 to Werth’s 5.0, so a repeat would make them a 99-win team, not a 162-win team as some of the bluster last night would’ve led you to believe.
  • As my friend Jason Collette points out, this isn’t your normal free-agent signing.Given the overall cost of bringing Lee back, perhaps we should be face slapping GM Ruben Amaro Jr. instead of backslapping him.
  • My friend Gino Barrica is the clubhouse leader on nicknames for the ridiculous rotation the Phillies now have.
  • Easy with the coronation of the Phillies (Boston’s coronation didn’t last long, did it?!) because they are far from perfect.  The bullpen needs shoring up.  After Ryan Madson, the Bridge to Lidge is shaky at best.  And hell, even when you cross it, Lidge is hardly the bastion of stability.  He strikes out the world, but also walks almost five per nine and gives up at least a home run a game.  Yes this rotation should certainly lower overall bullpen usage, but they aren’t going nine every night.
  • The lineup has a HUGE hole in it with loss of the aforementioned Werth (their OPS leader last year).  The lineup WITH Werth went through stretches of awfulness and now they are going to plug in rookie outfielder Dominic Brown.  In a tiny 62 at-bat sample last year, he looked horrible so there is some concern about him whether fair or not.  Apart from that, all of the key pieces of this lineup are 30 or older: Raul Ibanez (38), Placido Polanco (35), Jimmy Rollins (32), Chase Utley (31), Ryan Howard (31) and Shane Victorino (30).
  • OK, enough Debbie Downer…

(Note: I made all of these and while I’m more than OK with people using them in other places, I’d just ask that you link back to the source.)
Saturday: 12.11.2010

2011 Leap Year Candidates

Proponents of waiting on starting pitchers in a fantasy draft or auction will tell you that there are plenty of quality options available on the cheap, several of whom will deliver like their high-priced counterparts providing their owners a great value.  That group, which I consider myself part of, is correct (he says modestly).

Of course it is easy to throw that notion out, wait for the season to play out and then go back through and cherry pick the biggest improvements.  A much more difficult task is identifying them beforehand, rostering them on the cheap and then gloating about their massive improvements at season’s end.  That’s where I come in, or more importantly where this article comes in.

The 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide that I will be releasing later this winter will have a full-length piece on this very topic, but today I will look at the biggest leaps from 2009 to 2010 and share a few names from the list that will be contained in the aforementioned Guide.

There is neither a set statistical criteria nor a hard age range for identifying candidates set to make the leap in 2011 as the 2010 leapers ranged from age 22 to 30 averaging out at 25.  Some had success in 2009 and elevated into the elite in 2010 while others were below average and jumped several levels landing in the very good to elite range.

I identified 11 leapers in 2010.  They posted an average ERA+ of 97 in 2009 followed by an average of 139 in 2010, yielding an average jump of 42 points topping out at 75 and no lower than 22.  Rookies were eliminated from the study as they don’t have a base year to go off of and predicting rookie success of a pitcher is a minefield not worth traversing.

The 2010 Leapers

Player Team Age 2009 ERA+ 2010 ERA+ Diff
C.Buchholz BOS 25 112 187 75
G.Gonzalez OAK 24 77 128 51
D.Price TB 24 98 145 47
M.Latos SD 22 82 126 44
T.Cahill OAK 22 96 139 43
C.Lewis$ TEX 30 73 116 43
B.Anderson OAK 22 109 148 39
I.Kennedy* ARI 25 75 111 36
J.Sanchez SF 27 101 133 32
U.Jimenez COL 26 136 161 25
C.Wilson+ TEX 29 107 129 22

$ – pitched in Japan for 2008 & 2009, ERA+ in 2009 column is 2002-2007 total (217 IP)

* pitched just 1 IP in 2009, ERA+ in 2009 column is 2007-2009 total (60 IP)
+ – pitched as a reliever in 2009, ERA+ in 2009 column is 2005-2009 total (281 IP)

(Note: Removing these 3 from the sample would actually improve 2010 ERA+ gains, so rest assured they weren’t included just to boost the strength of the leapers.  These are unique circumstances, but all 3 received some form of praise for their potential coming into the 2010 season.)

The role of the ERA+ stat is merely an aid to identify seasons worth consideration, there wasn’t an ERA+ floor or ceiling used for inclusion on the list.  No one paired an artificially inflated ERA+ with a lousy skillset and made it onto the list.  The group averaged 190 innings pitched with 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.0 walks per nine innings.

2011 Leap Year Candidates

The full-length piece in the SP Guide will delve a bit deeper into the 2010 leapers, but in this space I would rather spend more time on looking at some of the 2011 candidates worth eyeing in your leagues.  The goal is to find pitchers capable of posting significant improvement in their stat line that would yield a 20+ point improvement in their ERA+ taking them from middling or even below average to among the league’s most useful and best starting pitchers.

For candidates with poor ERA+ performance to date, I am looking for guys who can take that leap from waiver wire fodder to reliable every week starter in all league formats similar to what Ian Kennedy (75 ERA+ before 2010) and Colby Lewis (73) became when they posted 111 and 116 ERA+ figures in 2010 with above average peripherals.

For candidates with average or slightly higher ERA+ performance to date, I am looking for guys who can take that leap to stardom.  In 2009, David Price and Jonathan Sanchez were at best spot starters in mixed leagues or inconsistent backend starters in AL/NL-Only leagues with a promising foundational skill or two, but they weren’t yet ready to be relied upon as top end staff anchors.  In 2010, they parlayed those intriguing skills into a more polished arsenal, were fortunate enough to have the luck break in their favor and both emerged into upper tier starters.  Price even contended heavily for the American League Cy Young award.

Here are three pitchers capable making a big leap forward in 2011:

Derek Holland, Texas Rangers – The 24-year old southpaw has shown glimpses of quality within his 196 major league innings across two seasons despite posting a 5.52 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.  Those numbers will no doubt push people away as will his Word Series collapse, but I am drawn to his 2.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio buoyed by 7.4 K/9.  He actually had 8.7 K/9 in his 10 starts spanning 47 innings last year, but it isn’t nearly a large enough sample to expect that level going forward.  With a ceiling capable of topping 8.0 and floor just over 7.0, Holland could be a great strikeout guy, but if not he should be no worse than a quality top 50 option (48 SPs had 7+ K/9 while qualifying for the ERA title).

He has proven more than enough in the minor leagues (2.47 ERA, 106 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 287 IP) so it is time for him to get a full time shot in the rotation.  He’s got a 4-pitch arsenal led by his breaking stuff, but bolstered by an improving changeup.  His 6.12 ERA in 2009 was skewed by bad luck (5.10 FIP) while the luck broke more evenly in his favor for 2010 resulting in a 4.08 ERA backed by a 4.02 FIP.  For 2011, I have Holland with a Gio Gonzalez-type season.  Not so much from the 51-point ERA+ improvement angle, but Gonzalez consolidated his skills and combined them with some good luck to post a 3.23 ERA with 171 Ks in 201 innings and Holland certainly capable of that kind of season.

Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays – Cecil actually appeared to be on his way toward making the 2010 list of leapers with a very strong start to the season that saw him at 7-2 with a 3.22 ERA and 2.9 K/BB rate headed into his June 15th interleague start in the normally friendly confines of PETCO Park.  The train barreled off of the tracks with a three game interleague stint to close June over which he allowed 16 runs in 16 innings pumping him ERA by more than a run to 4.39.   From July on, he wasn’t bad on the surface with an 8-2 record and 4.08 ERA, but his 5.5 K/9 and 1.7 K/BB showed he was well off of his early season pace.

The experience will serve Cecil well as he now has 266 major league innings headed into age-24 season.  He is poised to put together a complete season as part of a formidable rotation even with Shaun Marcum.  Though not overpowering, he has maintained a better than six strikeout rate in each of his two seasons while improving his control yielding a K/BB rate above the desired 2.0 mark.  Where most pitchers see their value take a hit as part of the AL East, Cecil acquitted himself quite well against the beastly division posting a 3.47 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 96 innings last year.

Cecil induces groundballs at a decent clip thanks to his solid 4-pitch repertoire that didn’t include a single negatively valued pitched according to  I project a moderate skills improvement combined with an already established groundball rate and a positive regression in his LOB% back up over 70% en route to a sub-4.00 ERA season with  140+ strikeouts in 195 innings.

Kevin Slowey, Minnesota Twins (for now) – I put the “for now” tag with Slowey because it was reported earlier this week that the Twins would be open to moving Slowey if the right deal came along.  I have been a huge fan of Slowey’s for the last three years now going out of my way to own him in each of the last two only to be disappointed with the end results.  Slowey has brilliant control (career 1.5 BB/9 rate), but unlike a lot of control artists, he also manages to register a good number of strikeouts (career 6.9 K/9 rate).  His downfall has been a massive flyball rate that has been getting worse (career 48% FB rate, 51% in 2010) so a move out of Minnesota could severely damage his value if he doesn’t land somewhere that could absorb his flyball tendencies with minimal damage (San Diego anyone?).

After back-to-back seasons with K/BB rates of 5.0+, Slowey dipped to 4.0 last year which was still 3rd-best in the American League amongst starting pitchers with 150+ innings.  It is the K/BB rates that keep me interested in Slowey and I’ll remain so as he is just 26 years old and if he can find a way to trim his flyball ways and subsequently his home runs allowed rate, then he will be well on his way to a low-3.00 ERA season.  Slowey is probably the biggest risk of the three because his home run rate usually trashes his ERA taking it a half run or higher than his FIP in each of the last two seasons.  Perhaps a new pitching coach with a different approach can teach him to keep the ball down a bit more without disrupting the several other things that he does well already (St. Louis anyone?)  Or maybe he and Rick Anderson are already working on an approach designed to improve his groundball rate.

Either way, Slowey’s base skills combined with the facts that he is 26 and that his 2010 surface stats (4.45 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) will likely drive his price down a bit making him a worthy calculated gamble who won’t kill you at his worst and could be ready to breakout a low-3.00s ERA season with plenty of Ks and a strong WHIP.

The entire list which will be part of my 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide has 25 candidates in all so there are 22 other potential breakouts identified.  There will be more details on the guide shortly after the New Year, but if you’ve enjoyed the work the last two years then you will really love this year’s effort.

Sunday: 12.5.2010

The Nationals Land Their Whale

In recent winters, the Washington Nationals have thrown their hat into the ring for several big name free agents, most notably Mark Teixeira during the 2008-2009 winter, but in the end, they were left telling their fans, “Hey, at least we tried and that shows our commitment to winning, right? … RIGHT???”  A Nats fan honest with himself probably realized that while the effort was nice, it was probably for the better that they didn’t come away victorious.  After all, how much positive impact would big a signing like Teixeira really have on a team like the Nationals?

If anything, it may have been detrimental to the team as a whole as a few more wins could have cost them the chance to draft then sign two of the most highly touted prospects ever in the past two drafts, first Stephen Strasburg and then Bryce Harper; both #1 overall picks.  The world got a taste of what Strasburg could be this year before he was cut down with an injury that has led to Tommy John Surgery while Harper made the most of his limited time in the Arizona Fall League and continued to draw rave reviews about his potential.

Both of their franchise players are at least a year away (and Harper is probably two or more) so would it behoove the Nationals front office to again put their best forward with some of the winter’s premier free agents?  The answer for them was a resounding yes with the surprise signing of outfielder Jayson Werth to a 7-year, $126 million dollar mega-contract.  A jaw dropper to be sure.  I’ll say out front that I don’t much care for the deal and it is less about the money than the length and player.

As a Detroit Tigers fan, I’m well aware that sometimes teams have to pay a little more because of their situation and/or city (definitely both for the Tigers pre-2006, now just the latter), but I would have liked to see the Nats go for a more calculated risk.  In the winter of 2004, the Tigers signed Ivan Rodriguez to a 4-year, $40 million dollar deal on the heels of a disgustingly bad season during which they nearly set the MLB record for losses (43-119).  Though Rodriguez was 32 years old, he was coming off of a great year for the World Series champion Florida Marlins and had a lengthy track record of excellence behind him.

A year later they took a much bigger chance and signed Magglio Ordonez to a massive 5-year, $75 million dollar deal after a season during which he played just 52 games thanks a severe left knee injury.  They had protection built in just in case Ordonez didn’t heal properly, but it was still a big risk and they were betting that he would return to something close to the .300-30-100 level he’d established from 1999-2003.  I don’t think anyone expected Ordonez to earn 100% of the contract (and he didn’t, even with the MVP-worthy 2007 season), but the Tigers really just needed him to not suck and along with Rodriguez, create a culture that was conducive to acquiring even more of the many missing pieces.  He didn’t suck, hitting .320/.382/.495 with 90 HR and 422 RBI over the life of the 5-year deal.

The Nats need Werth not to suck more than they need to him to earn him 100% of his huge deal, but they made it that much harder by going seven years for a guy whose track record is just two *full* seasons deep (as well as an excellent 134-game campaign on his ledger).  He was riddled by injuries from 2003-2007 (and missed the 2006 season entirely) and though he has shown the talent in the last three seasons that led to four top 100 rankings by Baseball America (’99, ’00, ’02, ’03), he’s far from a sure thing going forward.

He can be a 2.5-3.0 WAR player (think Hunter Pence, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Markakis level from 2010) after the first year or two of the deal as long as he is playing 140+ games a season because at least then he is not dead money on the disabled list.  Sure, the Nats are hoping he can continue to pump out 5.0 WAR seasons as he has over the last three, but you have to be realistic about a 32-year old late bloomer.  The last thing the Nats want to see is Werth out of the lineup with injuries just as their core is coming together.  Given that there is a pretty decent chance that that could happen, I think the deal was altogether ill-advised.

I’d have rather seen the Nationals blow Carl Crawford out of the water with a 7-year deal than take the consolation prize before the grand prize has even been given out.  But if Werth had to be the guy, I’d have much rather seen 5-years, $95 million taking it from $18mil to $19mil per but slicing off two years.  I genuinely hope it works out for the Nationals, but the odds are stacked rather heavily against it.

Monday: 11.29.2010

Javier Vazquez Joins the Marlins

My least favorite move of the Hot Stove season last winter was the Atlanta Braves trade of Javier Vazquez to the New York Yankees. First off, I just didn’t like the return the Braves got for Vazquez who was coming off of a brilliant season, the best of his career. Upon further review, Arodys Vizcaino is a much more heralded prospect than I originally realized so that helped the deal. He is just 19 though, so he’s far from a sure thing.

And judging the trade as a whole now after the 2010 season and into the 2011 Hot Stove really shifts the advantage to the Braves. Not only was Vazquez a total flop in New York (5.32 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, nearly -3.0 K and 2.0+ BB difference in his per 9 IP rates), but the Braves were able to flip Michael Dunn, another part of the package from New York, to the Florida Marlins for Dan Uggla.

At the time though, I mostly disliked deal from a selfish fantasy baseball angle. I bought in heavily on Vazquez in the spring of 2009 and reaped significant benefits from his Cy Young-quality season and planned to do the same in 2010 as a well-priced keeper in NL-Only leagues only to have that plan dashed with the trade. Granted, no one cares about my fantasy fortunes one way or another, but Vazquez shifting back to the American League was a loss globally as his best work had always come in National League.

Over the weekend, Vazquez and the Florida Marlins agreed on a 1-year deal worth $7 million with both a full no-trade clause and a clause stating that the Marlins can’t offer him arbitration next winter. The former isn’t terribly worrisome as I’m sure Vazquez would waive it to go to a contender (non-New York division) if the Marlins were languishing through a terrible season and looking to move him. The latter is definitely a significant concession for the Marlins, but in return they no doubt got to drop the price on the contract.

It would have been nice to have the compensation pick potential, but I don’t think it should have been a deal breaker so I applaud the Marlins for making sure they got a discount in return for the arbitration concession. Early reports had teams offering Vazquez a 2-year pact worth about $20 million, but Vazquez refused to look at anything more than a year so the Marlins landed a $3 million dollar discount for the two clauses Vazquez wanted.

It’s hard to pin a value on Vazquez for 2011 and that could result in his being severely discounted as he was heading into 2009. The struggles he had in New York last year weren’t necessarily unexpected as many predicted a substantial drop in value, but the level to which he struggled was a surprise. He has always been home run prone and that was only exacerbated in Yankee Stadium with a career-worst 1.8 HR/9. His home run rate climbed from the previous year during his first stint with New York so I’m not sure what the Yankees were expecting with an even more homer-friendly home park.

The most alarming factor from his 2010 meltdown was the drop in velocity. This has become a hot topic since rumors of his signing began swirling including a deeper look at it from writer Dave Cameron. Cameron isn’t hopeful that he can regain the lost speed and without it, he isn’t sure Vazquez can be of much value.

Given his career workload, I wouldn’t bet on Vazquez’s fastball ever coming back. And if it doesn’t, well, the Marlins just risked $7 million in the hopes that he can teach himself how to pitch without his main weapon. That’s a pretty substantial risk for a team that isn’t exactly rolling in money.

Here’s a chart from FanGraphs showing the drop in velocity:

A drop in fastball velocity is never a good thing, so I won’t try to make that case, but I’m not sure that it is a complete doomsday scenario if his velocity plateaus at the new level. He still has a plus changeup and a plus curveball to fall back on. Instead of relying more on fastball generated swings & misses, he will need to become a better “pitcher”, more crafty if you will. His flyball tendencies (41% career rate, 0.96 career GB/FB rate) won’t hurt him nearly as much in Sun Life Stadium as they did in Yankee Stadium and his strikeout and walk rates are more likely to move back toward his career rates than they are to stay where they were in 2010 just by virtue of the fact that he is back in the National League.

I wouldn’t make too many judgments based solely on his disastrous 2010 when he is also a year removed from a season that earned him Cy Young consideration. Plus he has a bit of a Bret Saberhagen thing going with every other year ERA spikes and drops and though I’d be reticent to bet on a theory like that, he has done it every year since 2000. I’m definitely willing to invest in his 13-season track record as opposed to shying away based on his worst year since his rookie year of 1998. If a sub .500 record and 4.67 ERA in 2008 held his value down going into 2009 despite strong supporting skills, then I can’t imagine having to pay much to take a chance heading into 2011 after the bottom fell out on his numbers in 2010.

Vazquez will be on my radar for 2011 and he won’t need to post a 2009 line to return a profit.

Monday: 11.15.2010

AFL Scouting Report – Brandon Belt, SF

I remember seeing Brandon Belt (1B) here at the University of Texas in a handful of games I attended across the 2008 and 2009 seasons.  My thought coming away was always, “How is he not better?”  He definitely looked like a ballplayer and he would have good plays here & there, but terribly inconsistent. He hit a pedestrian-for-college .321 in 124 games but showed exceptional plate discipline (67 BB to 74 K) and a modicum of gap power.  The only thing that really jumped off of the stat page was his 15 steals in 2009.  You just don’t expect 6’5”/195 first basemen to run much at all let alone swipe double digit bags.

To be 100% honest, I kind of forgot him once he left.  It wasn’t until early this summer that I saw he was in the San Francisco system putting together a solid beginning to the season.  Earlier this month I saw him at the Arizona Fall League in Phoenix and came away with a completely different outlook on him.  I learned from some scouts that the Giants completely reworked his swing from the ground up in hopes of better utilizing his plate discipline and extracting the power locked up in that sizable frame.

The results were amazing as he raked through three levels in his first professional season with the majority of his time with San Jose in High-A where hit posted a .383/.492/.628 line in 77 games.  That earned him a promotion to AA where stayed hot to the tune of .337/.413/.623 in 46 games.  He was again promoted, this time to AAA and though the batting average dropped he still went .229/.393/.563 in 13 games.  Be wary of the tiny sample as 3-4 extra hits would’ve taken his average up to the .290-.310 range so the .229 is very misleading.

He has stayed hot this fall (.392/.449/.658 w/14 XBH out of 31) and looked very sharp in the three games I saw him play.  He took what the pitchers gave him whether it meant blooping a ball over the shortstop’s head for a single or smashing a mistake into the gap for a double or working a walk.  His approach is very crisp.  Here is a look at the swings from his at-bats slowed down:

As for Belt moving forward, I see him with a Joey Votto-lite ceiling.  I’m not sure he can consistently hit .320 like Votto, rather closer to .290 perhaps sprinkling a .300+ season in as his luck fluctuates, but he will likely manage .400 on-base percentages with his plate patience.  For power, I have him more in the low 20s while I see Votto capable of stringing together some low 30s seasons together (his high 30s 2010 had some favorable luck behind it).  And the two meet in the road the speed as they are both adept at swiping bags despite their looks suggesting otherwise.

Barring a huge spring, Belt will likely start 2011 at AAA and get some more seasoning, but he can’t be long for the minors if he keeps raking as he did in 2010.  He is primarily a first baseman, but he played a little rightfield in his AAA stint.  If he can adequately play either position, his chances to reach the majors sooner increase as the Giants are far from locked in at first or either corner outfield spot.

Here is another video of his whole at-bats. It is a bit sped up which I didn’t do on purpose, but it happened three different times when I uploaded it so I just left it:

Tuesday: 11.9.2010

Top 24 for 2011 – Part 3

Part 3 of my look at the top 24 players for the 2011 season.

Part 1
Part 2

In the homestretch of my top 24 with the entire first round left. Remember when viewing these top 12 picks that a lot of my process involves the highest floors just as much as the highest ceilings. Sure, I want the guy who can explode for the transcendent season, but what I really want is the guy whose “bad” season is still pretty damn good (see also: Rodriguez, Alex).

12. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL – T3 (middle name Trever) is a very good player on the cusp of entering his prime and though he has three good seasons out of the four he has been in the league, he still hasn’t cracked 100 RBIs, he has only topped 11 stolen bases once and though his .290 career average is damn good, 2010 was his only season above .300 (he hit .315).  Mix in significant injury risk as he has missed 40 and 51 games in two of the last three seasons and there is reason for concern with Tulowitzki.  On the plus side, he will be just 26 years old next year, he has home run totals of 24, 27 and 32 in three of the last four seasons and he plays the thinnest position in fantasy baseball.  Don’t just extrapolate T3’s 2010 to a full season of at-bats when projecting him for 2011, that would be very dangerous.  He needed an otherworldly month of September that included 15 home runs and 40 RBIs to put up a full season’s worth of numbers in 122 games.  I would view his 2010 as a full season expectation for 2011.

11. David Wright, 3B, NYM – Well that’s more like it.  Wright’s 2010 season was back to what we have come to expect from the third baseman as he raised his power totals from 10 HR/72 RBI to 29 HR/103 RBI and the only real expense from 2009’s line was the stolen bases dropping from 27 to 19.  It was a great fantasy baseball season, but there are some concerns from a real life baseball standpoint in that he set a career-high in strikeouts at 161 (21 higher than last year’s career-high mark of 140) and his walk rate continued to tumble.  His 2007 peak of 13.2% has dropped yearly with the sharpest drop coming from 2009 to 2010 as he shaved off 1.7% to 10.3%, second-worst in his career.  For me, we are splitting hairs a bit to freak out on the latter as his 10.3% rate was still among the Nation League’s best (24th overall).  Wright remains a superstar in his prime and a few more strikeouts aren’t going to cut into his value much when he is putting as complete a line as he does, even if the stolen bases taper off to the 13-17 range.

10. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL – I am probably a little lower on him that most, but remember what I said back in Part 1 about not overrating the most recent season one way or another.  And like I mentioned again at the outset of this piece, a player’s floor is important to me, too.  As a 25-year old with one full season and just 319 games in all under his belt, would it surprise if Gonzalez seriously regressed from his breakout 2010 season?  His batting average was significantly inflated by a .384 BABIP (.355 career, .333 career-high before ’10)  and he enjoyed the 7th-best home run per flyball rate in baseball (20.4%) which masked a drop in flyballs from his 2009 mark.  All that said, he’s not some fluke scrub who came out of nowhere (3-time Baseball America top 32 prospect: 32, 18, 22 from 2006-2008) so just because I’m entertaining the notion that he could regress significantly, I am not saying it’s 100% that he will.  If pressed for a stat line on his 2011 season, I would be somewhere in the neighborhood of .291 AVG, 98 R, 26 HR, 102 RBI, 22 SB.  He still cracks the top 12 with ease because his ceiling is a season that matches or even exceeds 2010, he is that talented.

9. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY – A-Rod has started on the slow decline that is the twilight of his career, but even a pair of his worst seasons are good as many players out there.  The batting average dipped (.270) to the lowest it has been since 1995 when he wasn’t yet a full time player, but he still banged out 30 HR and 125 RBI in 137 games.  With just four stolen bases on seven tries, the end may be here for A-Rod as a runner, but he may have another sneaky 12 SB season in him once 100% healthy again.  I think 2010 serves as his floor for the next 2-3 years though .300 and 35 are both in play in everything breaks in his favor in a given a year.  You’re not drafting A-Rod for upside anymore, you’re taking him to mitigate early round risk and have a bankable stat line from your first round pick.

8. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY – All the raving about Cano’s 2010 season has me a bit puzzled.  It’s not that I don’t believe he deserves accolades for a brilliant season, it’s that I’m wondering where these plaudits were last year.  Essentially Cano’s stock has risen significantly thanks to 24 RBIs and 27 walks because outside of those two improvements, his 2010 was the same as his 2009.  Cano is a 4-category superstar in the midst of his prime and he is worthy of your first round pick.  I think he’s a first rounder on his numbers alone as he doesn’t really gain much from position scarcity.  There is this perception that second base is thin, but just as I did last year, I think it is one of the deeper positions even once you get past Cano, the 18th ranked Chase Utley and a healthy Dustin Pedroia.

7. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN – If I may pat myself on the back for a moment, one of my big predictions for 2010 was that Votto would hit 35 home runs and knock in 120.  He hit 2 more home runs and knocked in just seven less.  I am happy to say I was firmly entrenched on Votto bandwagon and took him well above his third round (29th overall) ADP last year in two separate leagues.  But enough about me because let’s be honest, no one gives a damn about me & my leagues.  I love Votto again for 2011, but be careful if you’re betting on a repeat season.  His home run boost was driven by a major league best 25% HR per flyball rate.  He was at 18% the two years before so he is scheduled for a regression especially considering that he actually coupled the major HR/FB rate with a 4% drop in his flyball rate.  He is more of a 30 HR hitter and there is nothing wrong with that.  Especially when you are hitting .320+ with 100+ runs scored & driven in.  I realize first base is really deep, but that mean that you should ignore the immense star power and take a lesser player just because they play a more scarce position.

6. Evan Longoria, 3B, TB – On the surface, Longoria’s 2010 season might feel like a disappointment.  It is probably because he was a chic MVP pick, but then by season’s end his home run total had dropped by 11 from 2009 to “just” 22.  So he didn’t have the career year many expected (including yours truly), but he was hardly anything close to a failure.  Remember that we are in a different era for offense and 22 home runs is legitimate once again.  Yes, his 33 HR season was excellent, but his 22 HR season was still very good; the total was good for 7th-most among all third basemen.  Longoria has put together three brilliant seasons and he is still a year away from his prime meaning we likely haven’t seen his best.

5. Ryan Braun, OF, MIL – Here is another great example of the high floor theory I am talking about.  The 2010 season was Braun’s worst, but there was nothing bad about it as he hit .304 with 25 HR, 103 RBI, 101 R and 14 stolen bases.  When your lowest OPS in four seasons is .866, you are an awesome player.  That is exactly what Braun is and at age 27, he is either a year into or just starting his prime depending on what range you consider the prime to be for a player.  An underrated factor to Braun’s greatness is his sustained health.  He has played 151, 158 and 157 games the last three years and he played 113 of 118 possible games in his rookie season after coming up in late May.  That kind of reliability is hard to find these days so that definitely earned Braun an extra boost in these rankings.

4. Carl Crawford, OF, FA – The biggest free agent hitter available this offseason, I don’t feel like Crawford’s value will move much one way or another based on his new home.  Crawford has always been a speed/batting average superstar with a smattering of power, but since moving down to the 2-3 spots in the lineup, he has become a legitimate five category stud and there is no reason to believe he won’t continue to play that way for the next 2-3 years at the very least.  He is averaging .299 AVG, 13 HR, 70 RBI, 93 R and 50 SB the last eight years despite the inclusion of a washed out 2008 season where he played just 109 games thanks to injuries.  Crawford was inexplicably outside of the top 12 in ADP last year (15th overall), but there is no way he will end up there this year.

3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET – This is not a homer pick, not in the slightest.  Cabrera is .320-34-120 in the bank and it doesn’t matter what position you are getting those numbers at, they are elite.  His stability is even better than Braun’s as Cabrera has averaged 158 games in seven seasons since becoming a full-time player.  That is pretty much unheard of in today’s game.  With so many seasons in the .320-34-120 range, it isn’t farfetched to believe that Cabrera has a career year where he goes .330-45-140 in his holster still.  Again, I don’t really care that he plays at the deepest position in the game, when the numbers are that good and that consistent and the player is still in his prime, he is automatically a top 5 pick.

2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLO – When you look Ramirez’s stat line from 2010, it is easy to say he disappointed, but did he really?  No, he wasn’t the 2nd-best player in baseball as he was drafted to be, but anyone who thinks they can predict exactly where a player will finish in any given year is ridiculous.  You first round player is picked that high because you are expecting a high quality, minimal variance stat line that will serve as the beginning foundation for your team.  If they happen to finish exactly where you drafted them in the overall rankings, that is a bonus; not an expectation.  A big reason that Ramirez is draft so highly is because of the scarcity at shortstop and all he did last year was hit for the 2nd-best average among shortstops (.300), deliver the most stolen bases (32), score the 2nd-most runs (92), hit the 4th-most home runs (21) and drive in the 5th-most runs (76) despite playing a career-low 142 games.  I wouldn’t criticize anyone taking Ramirez first overall, but for me we have seen his career year (2007) and while he probably has at least one more 30+ home run season in him, I doubt he has any more 50+ stolen base ones.

1. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL – Why try to fix what isn’t broken?  I am not sure how anyone but Pujols could occupy the top spot until he gives us a discernible reason to replace him.  One of his nicknames is “The Machine” and he continues to live up to it year in and year out with incredible numbers.  I hope we don’t have to sit through another offseason hearing about his balky elbow and how this is now the year that it will catch up to him.  Maybe it is, but until he falters from his perch as the best in the game, he deserves to be picked first in just about any league format you can create.  Even with a middling supporting cast, Pujols managed to lead the league in runs scored and driven in because when you are the best, your supporting cast doesn’t matter.

Friday: 11.5.2010

Top 24 for 2011 – Part 2

Part 2 of my look at the top 24 players for the 2011 season.

Part 1

19. Chase Utley, 2B, PHI – Placing Utley on this list was tough. After just 115 games last year, I think health is a valid concern, but as he pushes deeper into his 30s (32 next year) I am worried he will become similar to Chipper Jones in that he’s excellent when on the field, but how often will he be on the field? The injury concern was enough for me to bump him down to 19 because I’m aiming to mitigate risk with my early picks. You can’t win the draft in the first two rounds, but you can lose it.

18. Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY – I am not going to overreact to the .256 batting average this past season because a) batting average is largely overrated and he was just a hit a week away (26 in all) from a .300 average and b) his other fantasy relevant numbers (R, HR, RBI for Teix) were right in line with what we have come to expect from Teix. His overwhelming consistency keeps him firmly in the top 24 despite the incredible depth at first base.

17. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, WAS – It is hard not to be impressed with the first five full seasons of Zimmerman’s career with just one down year (injury-riddled 2008 w/106 games played) and consistent 20+ homer power and ~.290 batting average in the other four. Once you factor in that he will be just 26 in 2011, his career line becomes even more impressive and the best may very well be ahead of him in the coming years. That combination of a very adequate floor (20 HR, 85 RBI, .280 AVG) and likely unreached ceiling (35-120-.320 perhaps?) makes him a very intriguing player next year.

16. Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT – This is one of “my calls” in that the statistics alone don’t support Cutch over a host of other guys I could have included here, but I still chose him because I think 2010 (94 R, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 33 SB, .286 AVG) is far from his upside and pretty close to what could reasonably be considered his floor. An improvement season could yield a 20 HR, 40 SB, .300 AVG season which would definitely warrant this mid-2nd round rating. He may still be a year away from a true breakout, but I’d rather be a year early than a year late.

15. Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX – Don’t look so surprised. Honestly, Hamilton is fortunate to be ranked this highly. The .359 batting average was fueled by a gaudy .399 BABIP that almost certainly won’t be repeated in 2011. Mix in a massive injury risk and an unprecedented situation where someone has aged their body in a very unpredictable way and you have an early round that could absolutely blow up in your face. When he is healthy and playing, few are better, but you have a games played log of 90, 156, 89 and 133 since his comeback. Proceed with caution.

14. Roy Halladay, SP, PHI – The only other starting pitcher to crack the list, Halladay is the gold standard when it comes to mound men. Everyone expected him to crush it his first year in the National League and he did not disappoint in the least. Pitching is the single most volatile position in the game, but Halladay is quantifiable money in the bank. If any one pitcher could get me to break my “no pitchers drafted early” rule, it would be Halladay, not only because I like him quite a bit, but because he is unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball and like fine wine seems to get better with age (34 in 2011).

13. Matt Holliday, OF, STL – This is another high floor over high ceiling pick as Holliday is a bankable 100 runs, mid-20s home runs, 100 RBIs and .310 batting average year in and year out. If all the luck were to go into his favor for an entire season, he could push 30 homers with a .325 batting average and 110 in each of the counting stats, but in lieu of that he just keeps plugging away with a very capable line. The stolen bases may finally stop dropping (28, 14, 9 last 3 seasons), but they are far more likely to hold than reverse course back upward.

Next: 12-1

Thursday: 11.4.2010

Top 24 for 2011 – Part 1

With the MLB season officially completed on Monday night, we can start looking ahead to the 2011 season and how the top players line up. This season was as interesting as any in recent history because the movement among the top players was heavy. A lot of young players had excellent seasons while some of the old guard faltered just a bit creating openings within the top 24.

How much stock can you put into any one season for better or worse? Obviously a lot of players will make many of their decisions off of the 2010 season which is dangerous game. I fell into that trap last year when overrating both Matt Kemp & Joe Mauer, who both fell flat on their faces in 2010. Though I will consider 2010 a lot in making my decisions about who belongs in the top 24, I will also strongly consider a player’s track record & career trajectory based on age and health.

Make no mistake that my process has always combined the previous season with the track record & career trajectory analysis of a player when deciding where they should go in the following season, but I fell in love with Mauer’s excellent season leading me to put him in the first round in the initial iteration of this article last year. As spring approached and drafts/auctions began, I tempered my Mauer love realizing the error of my ways with respect to him as a first rounder.

With Kemp, I expected improvement on his stellar 2009 season, but instead he regressed back to a slightly lesser version his 2008 line which is still pretty good, but most certainly a face plant considering where he went in most drafts. Neither he nor Mauer truly tanked the teams of fantasy owners who drafted them, though they did severely disappoint given the cost to said owners. Kemp will actually just be entering his prime in 2011 so if the .249 average and 19 stolen bases (after back-to-back years with 30+) tank his value then he could be something of a sleeper of the early rounds a la Josh Hamilton in 2010.

The uncertainty at the top given the surging results of the new guard combined with the lagging results of the old guard create the potential for Kemp/Mauer situations in a list looking at next year’s top 24, but I will be cognizant of that and you will see it with the ranking of a few such players. With all of that said, let’s get to the double dozen.

24. Alex Rios, OF, CWS/Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CLE – There just isn’t much difference between these two so I decided to slot both of them in at the 24th spot, but I could have just as easily expanding the list to 25 players. Looking at their 2010 lines shows Rios with a stolen base edge and Choo with a batting average edge. Personally, I’d take the former, but in terms of overall value it’s splitting hairs. Choo is also a little younger, though, so there may be a shred more upside with him. On the whole, there isn’t much separating these two AL Central outfielders so I’ve got them tied for the end of the 2nd round.

23. Matt Kemp, OF, LAD – No, Kemp did not live up to his draft slot this year and yes, he did hit a dismal .249, but he wasn’t waiver wire fodder. He ripped a career high 28 home runs. His runs scored, driven in and stolen bases all fell precipitously, but his totals of 82, 89 and 19 in those categories didn’t kill anyone’s team. And he has been as reliable as any player in recent memory in terms of playing time logging 155, 159 and 162 games the last three years. To top it all off, he will be 26 this year and could finally put up the monster 30-30 year everyone was looking for this year.

22. Felix Hernandez, SP, SEA – Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t take starting pitchers in the first two rounds. However, just because I personally avoid the risk associated with them doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and I will cover them in this list because there are a few who deserve to be mentioned. King Felix is a workhorse superstar with five straight seasons of 30+ starts including back-to-back Cy Young worthy seasons. Now here’s the jaw-dropper: he will be 25 years old next year. With a 2.25 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 250 innings, Hernandez likely won’t improve his numbers next year, but taking a pitcher this early is in an investment in stability in a ridiculously unstable market.

21. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SDP – I realize first base is deep, everyone realizes it, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be taken early. A handful of first basemen made this list starting with Gonzalez. A lot of his presence on this list has to do with consistency. He’s .280-30-100 in the bank with ceiling for more, as evidenced by his 40-home run season back in 2009. The lineup around him stifles the runs scored and even the runs driven in to a point given his incredible power should probably be yielding closer to 110 RBIs or more. The fact that San Diego was in contention right down to the wire last year could compel them to go out and make stark improvements to their lineup which would only help A-Gonz and of course if their fortunes go the other way, he could be dealt.

20. Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B, BOS – He managed just 102 games in 2010 thanks to a thumb injury that eventually required surgery, but the injury should have no lasting effects in 2011 and thus he makes the list with ease. He might not quite make it with 1B-only on his resume, but the 3B eligibility for Youk is a prime asset. High 20s power and a .300 average go well together and they go even better with 90+ runs scored and driven in on a potent team like the Red Sox. Youkilis is going to miss games at various points in the season which hurts his value in a head-to-head formats, but as long as he keeps putting up a full season’s line in his 140-145 games, then he has at least another year or two among the elite.

Next: 19-13