Archive for ‘First Base’

Sunday: 02.10.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 12 Days – Chris Carter

Only 12 days until live game action…

CHRIS CARTER

I mentioned when I wrote about Carter on Monday that this would probably be the Houston entry for the Countdown. Writing about Jose Altuve would be too obvious (though I do have obvious selections in the Countdown *cough* Wrench *cough*) and frankly there just aren’t any other Houston hitters I’m particularly interested in writing about, sorry Marwin Gonzalez. Instead of a straight regurgitation, I do have some new commentary about Carter.

Don’t be afraid of his batting average. It’s going to be bad, that’s a lock. There have been nine instances of someone posting a 30 percent or higher strikeout rate in a full season of work the last three years and only twice did their average top .244 (Chris Davis at .270 last year, Adam Dunn at .260 in 2010). Five of the 10 were at .221 and below. But you can afford to draft one anchor, maybe even two if you have two virtual certainties for .315 or better like Joey Votto and Joe Mauer. I usually only recommend the one, though. So if you want to target Carter (and you should given his massive power) then you are taking Dunn, Dan Uggla, Ryan Howard, and Mark Reynolds types off the table unless you want a batting average deficit that you will struggle with all year.

Meanwhile, the Astros confirmed that they are considering trying Carter at leftfield which is where MLB Depth Charts had him from the jump so that really enhances his chances at a full season of playing time. He is also slotted into the cleanup spot in the lineup which is good even on a terrible team. He is still going to struggle for RBIs because of his team environment, but at least he has a chance to maximize his RBI opportunities.

Playing for such a bad team should keep Carter’s reasonable even as the hype starts to build after this trade. Though far from a unique skill set, it is still a desirable one. As we see more and more leagues shift to on-base percentage, we see players like Carter get more appreciated for their overall value so definitely bump him up a considerable amount if you do play with OBP.

Now here is Monday’s initial piece and the addendum together.

The Astros have a front office that understands how to rebuild. The best way to do it is to truly burn it to the ground and start over. In their latest such move, they traded Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez for Chris CarterBrad Peacock, and Max Stassi. A 29-year old shortstop who is on the team until at least 2015 isn’t a bad asset for a rebuilding team like Houston, but a 26-year old slugger (who is probably a DH, but ostensibly can play first base or maybe leftfield which is where MLB Depth Charts has him as of now) and a 24-year old prospect arm who are under team control until 2019 are much better. This move is perfect for Carter.

Carter got his first real shot last year and popped 16 homers along with a .239/.350/.514 line in 260 plate appearances. He did strikeout 32 percent of the time, but also carried a strong 15 percent walk rate. He’s a classic three true outcome player and his new home is tailor-made for his game. His power plays anywhere so even in his cavernous home ballpark with Oakland he still had a .458 slugging percentage (the A’s as a team had a .392 slugging percentage at home) and five home runs despite the 89 home run park factor for right-handers. His move to Houston brings a major improvement to home venue as Minute Maid Park yields a 109 park factor to righties on home runs.

Plus, with Houston’s move to the AL West, Carter’s favorite venue from 2012 is still in play as he hit three of his 11 road homers in Texas in just six games. When you are dealing with a 260 plate appearance season, any parsing of that data is going to be subject to small sample size issues as the whole is already just a half season so keep that in mind, but it’s not like this power appeared out of nowhere for Carter. It’s always been his calling card so even with the scant samples, I’m confident in projecting that this move is a huge benefit for him. Consider also that his 182 home runs in 3647 plate appearances as a minor leaguer translate to about 30 per 600 plate appearances (29.9 to be exact). He hit 65 of those home runs in 1277 PAs in Triple-A which actually tops that overall rate checking in at 30.5 per 600 PA.

Thanks to Katron.org’s balls in play project, we can get a sense of how Carter might fare in Houston, or at least how he would’ve fared in Houston with last year’s batted ball distribution. The following is a mapping of Carter’s batted balls in Oakland on a Minute Maid Park overlay. You will see three leftfield batted ball outcomes labeled for what they were in Oakland, which would’ve likely gone for home runs in Houston. There is also a handful of warning track shots in left centerfield that might’ve gotten out in Houston depending on various circumstances. Meanwhile the five home runs were all no doubters on the Minute Maid overlay. Be mindful that this is all academic as he won’t have the exact same batted ball distribution in 2013, but it gives some sense of how his power production can improve with his new club.

CarterinMMP

By the way, Jed Lowrie was my Houston pick for the Countdown to Spring Training so don’t be surprised if this re-runs for the Houston CtST entry down the road. If I can find someone else I’m interested in, I’ll definitely go another way, but Carter is someone I really like so this fits pretty well, too. I didn’t really want to hold this analysis until Houston’s day, either. Meanwhile, Lowrie is unlikely to hold a spot in the Countdown as I had my eye on someone else for Oakland and don’t know if I want to switch it up.

Addendum:

Earlier today after he was dealt to Houston, I did a piece on Chris Carter and how his power should spike with his new home ballpark. I used the Katron.org balls in play information to outline three batted balls from Carter that would’ve been home runs in Minute Maid Park. It was meant to accentuate the point regarding his likely power improvements in his much friendly environs, but it was greatly flawed. You see, the Katron dots are where the ball is fielded not where it landed. I knew this in the recesses of my mind, but I never gave full thought to the notion and what it means when analyzing this kind of data.

Here is the legend for the Katron data:

katronkey

The problem comes in that we don’t know the hit type of singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. So I absent-mindedly assumed (never assume, kids) that the doubles were hit in the air either as line drives or flies. They were not. After getting some education about Katron and the potential flaws with using the data as I did, I went back to the video and found out that my particular examples show just how dangerous using the data as I did can be when the dots represent where the ball is fielded and not where it first hits the ground.

First, let’s look at the doubles:

ccarter1a

ccarter2a

See the problem now? I apologize for that, I simply didn’t put together the inherent flaws of using the data like that. It’s 100% my fault, though, so I’m not crapping on the folks over at Katron.org as it’s even there in bold below the charts:

Every location is where the ball was fielded by a player, not where it landed. You better read this Paul Sporer you stupid dummy. 

That may not be a fully accurate quote from their site.

Perhaps if I had been reading my now-BP-colleague Sam Miller a year ago when he was writing at the OC Register, this all could’ve been prevented.

Hey, at least the flyball I highlighted doesn’t have the same issues. There is no guarantee it would’ve been out in Minute Maid, but we see the 367 sign behind Josh Hamilton when he catches it and we know that Minute Maid is 315 for a large portion of leftfield known as the Crawford Boxes.

ccarter3

(click for huge version)

(click for huge version)

 

 

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Saturday: 02.9.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 14 Days – Jeff Keppinger

Only 14 days until live game action…

Just two weeks to game time! Well, 13 days. This is Friday’s entry.

Sorry for the delays, I’m stretched a little thinner than anticipated, but it’s a good thing because it’s extra writing work and of course the SP Guide which is coming along nicely.

JEFF KEPPINGER

There are more impactful players on the White Sox I could’ve written about, but I’m intrigued by Jeff Keppinger in 2013. He is going to be the everyday third baseman batting second for them. Third base has been an issue for quite some time in Chicago. The position has been a hole for the Sox for quite some time. It was temporarily filled last year with at least adequate production when Kevin Youkilis came over via trade, but he was far from the Youk of old. Gordon Beckham was above average there for 103 games in 2009, but the last time they had a full season of above average production at the hot corner was Joe Crede in 2006. Keppinger is far from a star, but he should bring some much-needed stability to the position.

On the fantasy landscape Keppinger’s appeal comes from the fact that he has an everyday job and he qualifies at three infield positions: first, second, and third base. That of course adds corner and middle infield for fantasy purposes, too. He even had 20 games as a DH with Tampa Bay last year so those leagues that require you to use an actual DH will like Keppinger even more. His offensive profile isn’t particularly special, but the flexibility he brings your lineup helps the modest production play up. It’s like a pitcher with a modest fastball, but pinpoint command. Yeah, that’s it… best comp ever.

Honestly, Kepp should be a platoon player and not the good side, but the Sox are giving him the role in full perhaps heartened by his work against righties last year (.302/.352/.403) which was well above his career level against righties (.269/.321/.358). The White Sox got nothing out of their #2 hole last year so even falling back to his career level versus righties combined with his sparkling .333/.376/.487 mark against lefties is going to yield a massive improvement over the .221/.296/.354 performance that the White Sox saw batting second last year. The 650 OPS was tied for third-worst in all of baseball with Minnesota and Seattle, just barely topping Oakland’s 649.

With Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Alex Rios making up the heart of the order behind Keppinger (career .337 OBP), he should be in line to score plenty of runs. He had a bit of a power surge last year popping nine home runs which could jump up past double digits in his new ballpark. That said he is a groundball/line drive hitter which drives his batting average. His flyball rate is actually on the way down dropping to 27.4 percent last year after a 29.6 percent mark in 2010. His 9.2 percent HR/FB rate – his highest since 2006 when he played just 22 games – was responsible for his power surge last year.

I’m not recommending Keppinger as a shallow mixed league play, there is no need to go that deep, but super deep mixed leagues and of course AL-Only leagues can get some sneaky value with a guy like Keppinger. His batting average will be the meal ticket, but if he maintains everyday play all year we could see 80 runs scored, 10-12 home runs, 60 runs driven in. Think of him as 2012 Marco Scutaro-lite without the speed.

Thursday: 02.7.2013

Top 10 1B – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 First Basemen Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, former MLB first baseman Sean Casey, and special guest Bill James. Throughout the series, I’ve had some issues with their inconsistency regarding guys with multi-eligibility. I felt they set a precedent with the initial show by placing Shin-Soo Choo among the centerfielders. That will be his 2013 position so I figured that’s how they’d operate moving forward, but instead they’ve been all over the map.

There were no such issues at first base. In fact, there was very little disagreement among which 10 players should be included. Rankings were different, but I only had one difference with three of the four lists and just two with the fourth.

Here are all four lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:

top101Blists

The Shredder

My only real issue here is that Mark Teixeira is a bit high for me. I’m sure it’s the reputation of his exemplary glove. And it is good, but his bat is now one dimensional as he has become a .250ish hitter. His walk rate is on a 3-year downswing, too, eating into his OBP. He’s just not the superstar he once was back in his mid-20s. I was thrilled to see my boy Allen Craig get so much love. In fact, this is lowest he was rated besides my #9 ranking. I think I was trying to self-censor myself and make sure I didn’t overrate him.

My inclusion they didn’t list: Freddie Freeman

Sean Casey

This might be the best list of the entire series! Of course I only say that because it is arguably the most similar to mine that we’ve seen. We matched our top four and the only big divergence was that he rated Craig much higher which of course I’m more than OK with. Adam LaRoche over Freeman is completely defensible.

My inclusion he didn’t list: Freeman

Bill James

I’ve had the biggest issues with James’ lists throughout this series. I think he’s made some terrible picks and knowing his background, I can’t figure out how he’s coming to the conclusions. First base was no different. Anthony Rizzo is really better than Edwin Encarnacion and Craig? After 87 games? Really, Bill? C’mon. How on earth is Joey Votto third? This is just one of those where it’s not really an opinion thing. All of the data, which you’d think he favors, points to Votto easily being the best 1B right now. I was pretty geeked when I saw that James was going to be a part of the series, but it’s been a total dud for me. His reasoning is often shoddy (again, massively surprising given who we are talking about here) and he’s just all over the map.

My inclusion he didn’t list: Craig and EE … seriously, c’mon Bill.

Brian Kenny

He listed Craig fourth. He wins life!

My inclusion he didn’t list: Freeman

 

Thursday: 02.7.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 16 Days – Mike Napoli

Only 16 days until live game action…

Got some make-up work to do! Wednesday was really busy and all of a sudden it was 11:42 PM and clear that I wasn’t going to finish this piece. Hopefully I will be able to get some Top 10 Right Now stuff done today, too, so I don’t have the same issue I had last week.

MIKE NAPOLI

Back in 2004-2005, Mike Napoli hit a combined 60 home runs with 217 RBIs, 190 runs scored, and 21 stolen bases as a catcher in the Los Angeles Angels system. Unfortunately he wasn’t really much of a catcher behind the dish. This would prove to be a problem given his big league manager, former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia. Scioscia takes defense behind the plate very seriously so he wasn’t likely to be nearly as enchanted with his three true outcomes catcher as were the fans and fantasy baseball managers.

He debuted in 2006 doing what he does best: rip bombs (16), walk (51), and strikeout (90). All in 325 plate appearances over 90 games. Though he hit a meager .228, his .360 on-base percentage more than made up for it. The next year was more of the same, but in just 75 games. Then 2008 was the best of the bunch. He started a string of 20-homer seasons while also posting a career-best .586 slugging percentage and adding some batting average to a much more palatable .273 mark, but in just 78 games. The “Free Napoli” campaigns were under way by this point. He was on a 36 homer pace over 500 plate appearances.

Fast forward three years.

He played 114 and 140 games during his final two years with the Angels, but he was traded during the offseason following 2010 first to Toronto in that awesome Vernon Wells deal and then four days later to Texas. Finally. It worth noting that not all of time missed was at the hands of Scioscia. Injuries played a role as he had two DL stints in 2007 and another in 2008. In that 2010 season before leaving LA, he’d finally been given a full season (his only 500+ PA season to date) and he was solid, but not special. His walk rate plummeted to a career-worst eight percent while his 27 percent strikeout rate was the second-worst of his career. The trade was almost inevitable.

Staying in Toronto would’ve been perfectly fine, but moving to Texas whetted the appetite of every fantasy baseball manager in the world. What could he do in that park? A lot, it would turn out, but he was hardly feasting on his home venue Coors Field-style. He was actually better on the road that year with 13 homers and a 1011 OPS in Arlington and 17/1078 on the road. He didn’t stay upright as long as in 2010 missing nearly a month to a strained oblique, but he hit 30 home runs for the first time and posting career-best strikeout and walk rates. The most surprising piece of his 2011 was the .320 average. Everyone would’ve bet on 50 home runs before .320.

The follow up wasn’t quite as sweet. To hear some tell it, you’d think he hit eight home runs in 400+ PAs with a .198 batting average. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it is portrayed at some outlets. Coming from 2011’s peak, it was definitely a tumble, but how bad are we really talking about here?

napoli1

The singular difference in those two lines seems to explain everything. Elevating your strikeout rate by 10.3 percent is never a good idea and it will unquestionably cut down the production from the previous year if everything remains the same. How different were these two seasons compared to what he was averaging coming into 2011? I gave the raw averages, but then scaled them to 425 PA to better compare them with 2011-2012.

napoli2

This is more or less the same as 2012 save a sharp difference in strikeout rate. At this point, it is becoming quite clear that 2011 was the outlier. Most fantasy managers knew this deep down, but in their hearts they wanted to believe he could maintain the level now that he was playing in such a hitter-friendly environment and delivering such incredible value as a catcher. Of course the similarities in his numbers aren’t surprising when you look at his remarkably consistent batted ball profile.

napoli3

Only the HR/FB rate and that coincides with moving to Texas. So again, the only significant difference between his 2011 and 2012 seasons is how often he struck out. In 2011, he was striking out far less and it was translating into bundles of hits. In 2012, regression hit hard and actually zoomed by his career rates into a new low.

Diving deeper into his numbers, we see that off-speed pitches ate him alive in 2012, a 180-degree difference from 2011. Was this injury-related? In 2012 Napoli was day-to-day with a head injury, an illness, and twice with quadriceps injuries until the strained left quad finally DL’d him for a month in August.

napoli4

If you didn’t know any better, I could convince you that those are the numbers of two different players. The 2012 performance against off-speed stuff isn’t congruent with the 2009-2010 Napoli, either. Those 2012 numbers add up to a 582 OPS with a 43.5 percent strikeout rate, compared to 757 OPS and 30.8 percent in 2009-2010. Yet again the 2011 performance of 908 OPS and 26.7 percent is a major outlier by comparison.

Where does all of this leave us? If he didn’t have a degenerative hip issue that cost him two years and $34 million dollars from his initial deal with the Red Sox that eventually became a one year, $5 million dollar pact, it wouldn’t be too hard to project that a healthy Napoli improves significantly on his 2012 as his strikeout rate regresses toward previously established levels. The problem is determining the likelihood of a healthy Napoli. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty big unknown making it difficult to value him for 2013.

How much risk can you stomach? His current NFBC average draft position is 104, or the seventh round (NFBC uses 15-team leagues). I personally cannot stomach that much risk. Even if this were normal Napoli and not Nahipoli (please shoot me for that one), you are still talking about a guy who has one 500+ PA season and a peak of 432 otherwise. There is seemingly always something amiss with his body so adding a balky hip that we already know is a mess muddies the waters enough for me to pass altogether. It helps that he likely won’t be catching at all to exacerbate his injuries issues, but even still he won’t be on any of my 2013 teams at this current cost. I’d rather Alex Avila 126 picks later.

Monday: 02.4.2013

Chris Carter Addendum

Earlier today after he was dealt to Houston, I did a piece on Chris Carter and how his power should spike with his new home ballpark. I used the Katron.org balls in play information to outline three batted balls from Carter that would’ve been home runs in Minute Maid Park. It was meant to accentuate the point regarding his likely power improvements in his much friendly environs, but it was greatly flawed. You see, the Katron dots are where the ball is fielded not where it landed. I knew this in the recesses of my mind, but I never gave full thought to the notion and what it means when analyzing this kind of data.

Here is the legend for the Katron data:

katronkey

The problem comes in that we don’t know the hit type of singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. So I absent-mindedly assumed (never assume, kids) that the doubles were hit in the air either as line drives or flies. They were not. After getting some education about Katron and the potential flaws with using the data as I did, I went back to the video and found out that my particular examples show just how dangerous using the data as I did can be when the dots represent where the ball is fielded and not where it first hits the ground.

First, let’s look at the doubles:

ccarter1a

ccarter2a

See the problem now? I apologize for that, I simply didn’t put together the inherent flaws of using the data like that. It’s 100% my fault, though, so I’m not crapping on the folks over at Katron.org as it’s even there in bold below the charts:

Every location is where the ball was fielded by a player, not where it landed. You better read this Paul Sporer you stupid dummy. 

That may not be a fully accurate quote from their site.

Perhaps if I had been reading my now-BP-colleague Sam Miller a year ago when he was writing at the OC Register, this all could’ve been prevented.

Hey, at least the flyball I highlighted doesn’t have the same issues. There is no guarantee it would’ve been out in Minute Maid, but we see the 367 sign behind Josh Hamilton when he catches it and we know that Minute Maid is 315 for a large portion of leftfield known as the Crawford Boxes.

ccarter3

click for huge picture

click for huge picture

Monday: 02.4.2013

Chris Carter Benefits from Trade to Houston

The Astros have a front office that understands how to rebuild. The best way to do it is to truly burn it to the ground and start over. In their latest such move, they traded Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi. A 29-year old shortstop who is on the team until at least 2015 isn’t a bad asset for a rebuilding team like Houston, but a 26-year old slugger (who is probably a DH, but ostensibly can play first base or maybe leftfield which is where MLB Depth Charts has him as of now) and a 24-year old prospect arm who are under team control until 2019 are much better. This move is perfect for Carter.

Carter got his first real shot last year and popped 16 homers along with a .239/.350/.514 line in 260 plate appearances. He did strikeout 32 percent of the time, but also carried a strong 15 percent walk rate. He’s a classic three true outcome player and his new home is tailor-made for his game. His power plays anywhere so even in his cavernous home ballpark with Oakland he still had a .458 slugging percentage (the A’s as a team had a .392 slugging percentage at home) and five home runs despite the 89 home run park factor for right-handers. His move to Houston brings a major improvement to home venue as Minute Maid Park yields a 109 park factor to righties on home runs.

Plus, with Houston’s move to the AL West, Carter’s favorite venue from 2012 is still in play as he hit three of his 11 road homers in Texas in just six games. When you are dealing with a 260 plate appearance season, any parsing of that data is going to be subject to small sample size issues as the whole is already just a half season so keep that in mind, but it’s not like this power appeared out of nowhere for Carter. It’s always been his calling card so even with the scant samples, I’m confident in projecting that this move is a huge benefit for him. Consider also that his 182 home runs in 3647 plate appearances as a minor leaguer translate to about 30 per 600 plate appearances (29.9 to be exact). He hit 65 of those home runs in 1277 PAs in Triple-A which actually tops that overall rate checking in at 30.5 per 600 PA.

Thanks to Katron.org’s balls in play project, we can get a sense of how Carter might fare in Houston, or at least how he would’ve fared in Houston with last year’s batted ball distribution. The following is a mapping of Carter’s batted balls in Oakland on a Minute Maid Park overlay. You will see three leftfield batted ball outcomes labeled for what they were in Oakland, which would’ve likely gone for home runs in Houston. There is also a handful of warning track shots in left centerfield that might’ve gotten out in Houston depending on various circumstances. Meanwhile the five home runs were all no doubters on the Minute Maid overlay. Be mindful that this is all academic as he won’t have the exact same batted ball distribution in 2013, but it gives some sense of how his power production can improve with his new club.

CarterinMMP

By the way, Jed Lowrie was my Houston pick for the Countdown to Spring Training so don’t be surprised if this re-runs for the Houston CtST entry down the road. If I can find someone else I’m interested in, I’ll definitely go another way, but Carter is someone I really like so this fits pretty well, too. I didn’t really want to hold this analysis until Houston’s day, either. Meanwhile, Lowrie is unlikely to hold a spot in the Countdown as I had my eye on someone else for Oakland and don’t know if I want to switch it up.

Please be sure to check out the addendum to this piece.

Monday: 02.4.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 18 Days – Allen Craig

Only 18 days until live game action…

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

ALLEN CRAIG

You had to know this was coming.

I mean seriously, who else would I choose for St. Louis? I basically already wrote his Countdown piece back in December, I just didn’t know it yet. So I’m going to rely heavily on that for today’s entry as I don’t need to simply regurgitate what I said there or what I’ve said on Twitter (and elsewhere) since November. Allen Craig is my player in 2013. That much is clear. The wagon is hitched. Next stop: promised land.

I’ve taken him just about everywhere in mocks (missed getting him in just one) so far this winter though it appears I’m driving a relatively full bandwagon. Looking at this ADP data from NFBC provided by Baseball HQ we see that Craig is slotted 53rd overall and while I’ve been taking him higher–I’m actually the 21 that qualifies as Craig’s earliest pick which I did here (Team 10) in a November draft during the Arizona Fall League event by Baseball HQ–usually in the 30s, others have are seeing the upside within The Wrench.

Since I did this write up about two months ago and some of you have likely already read it, I made something for you to still get your daily baseball fix on the day we* officially turn the page from football to baseball.

*I never closed the book personally, I just had both open.

Enjoy:

Saturday: 02.2.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 20 Days – Anthony Rizzo

Only 20 days until live game action…

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

ANTHONY RIZZO

One of the winter’s rising sleepers (which of course cuts into his sleeper value) is Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He had a brief, but ugly debut in 2011 that saw him hit just .141 with a 523 OPS in 153 plate appearances with the San Diego Padres. Jed Hoyer, formerly of the Padres, joined forces with Theo Epstein to run the Cubs that offseason so they wanted to get their prized prospect, whom they’d discovered as part of the Boston Red Sox organization when they drafted him in 2007. He was traded for that offseason and instantly became part of their future foundation with Starlin Castro.

Rizzo ripped through the PCL in 2011 with 26 home runs, 101 RBIS, and a 1056 OPS in 413 plate appearances and yet he somehow topped that in his follow-up as a Cub farmhand hitting 23 home runs, driving in 62, and posting an 1101 OPS in just 284 plate appearances. He’d have been called up earlier, but Bryan LaHair was having an unexpected great start to the season. Once he reached the majors again on June 26th, he showed that his 2011 flop was merely a blip. He hit .285 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs, and an 805 OPS in 368 plate appearances. His seven percent walk rate was below average, but the 17 percent strikeout rate was very good (3% better than league average for the position).

A lot of outlets are looking for a big breakout in 2013 now that he will have a full season of playing time. The Bill James projection at Fangraphs has him down for a .283-33-109 season. Yes, really. The “Fans”, which consists of 41 Fangraph reader projections, weren’t far from James at .285-28-103. Those are definitely… optimistic… to say the least. I can’t help but wonder if we, the baseball community, learned nothing from last year. Doesn’t Rizzo fit the mold of some heavily favored sleepers from 2012? Namely guys like Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, and Desmond Jennings?

They were the shiny new toys of 2011 with various levels of kick-assery and they became the object of many fantasy managers’ affection leading into the March draft season for 2012. Hosmer had more or less a full season logging 128 games and 563 plate appearances while Lawrie and Jennings merely gave a taste at 43 and 63 games played, respectively. And how did that all work out?

rizzo1

Hosmer is least like Rizzo from an experience standpoint, but most like him in every other avenue as the pair are both 23-year old left-handed first basemen. Hosmer had the relatively full season of success in 2011, but that second time around the league was brutal as the struggles against lefties continued and he couldn’t stay great against righties. His 886 OPS against righties dropped to 700 in 2012 while his performance against lefties improved just six points to a still-meager 591 OPS.

Rizzo posted an 892 OPS against righties in 2012 compared to just 599 against lefties. As lefties with groundballs tendencies, they are going to be more susceptible to the infield shift. I don’t know how much either Hosmer or Rizzo faced the shift in 2012, but I do know they hit .091 and .161, respectively, on grounders to the pull field against lefties. It’s a thin slice of data as they had just 44 and 31 such plate appearances, but still worth noting especially if either or both weren’t facing the shift often.

League average for lefties in those situations was .174 so Rizzo wasn’t too far off, but his margin for error is scant if he is to have the breakout season projected at Fangraphs as he can’t give anything back against righties (and probably needs to jump up some) and needs massively improve against lefties. He was great in a half of 2012, but it is a lot different going through the grind of all six months in the big leagues. Even hitting the extrapolation of his 2012 numbers would be a major achievement.

Taking his 2012 rates over 630 plate appearances yields a 26 homer/82 RBI season which would be fantastic for the 23-year old and I still think that should be on the outer end of his projection. After all, look what another sweet-swinging first baseman did in 2012 compared to his 2011 extrapolation. Paul Goldschmidt skipped Triple-A in 2011 coming up to the bigs for a 177-plate appearance carafe of coffee during which he crushed eight bombs with 26 RBIs and a .250/.333/.474 line. Extrapolating that out would’ve been a 28/93 season yet he was far from a disappointment when he “only” went 20/82 last year. (Sidenote: I’ve got more on him coming up soon. Big fan. Big, big fan.)

The extrapolation game with youngsters is dangerous, and frankly kind of stupid. We already know that they aren’t guaranteed to progress in a linear fashion thus expecting someone like Rizzo to essentially just double his 2012 production in his first full season at such a young age is foolhardy. In order to hit any of these home run projections, he’s either going to have to maintain his 18 percent HR/FB rate or add some flyballs to the 30 percent he hit last year. He wasn’t struggling to hit the ball hard with an awesome 24.4 percent line drive rate, but sustaining that over a full season won’t be easy, either.

Just 10 percent (14-of-143) of qualified hitters were at or above his 24.4 LD rate meanwhile only four of those players were at or below his 30 percent flyball rate. So it’s basically one or the other. Two of them were Buster Posey and Robinson Cano, so there is precedent for Rizzo… as long as he’s an all-world player. And only six players maintained an 18.1 HR/FB rate or better with a flyball rate south of 30 percent. Posey and Cano were two of them along with David Freese, Kendrys Morales, Billy Butler, and Carlos Gonzalez. Note that none of those players were both 23 years old and entering their first full year in the majors.

Despite the negative slant to this piece, I’m not down on Rizzo’s long-term prospects at all. I’m simply preaching caution with him for 2013. Last year wasn’t the first year that prospects failed to live up to their billing, but rather the most recent examples thus they’re still fresh in our memories. We should learn from last year’s mistakes, not make them again. Sure there is going to be some under-25 stud who tears the league apart, but betting a significant amount of your auction budget or a high round draft pick that you found the needle is a good way to finish sixth.

One final note is that obviously all bets are off in keeper and dynasty leagues as you’re going to have to pay a little more on the front-end to enjoy the future. In current keeper & dynasty leagues, he is already cheap and likely not for sale, but in new leagues he will have a bit of an elevated price based on his hot 2013, age, and overall prospects. If you are the type who likes to build the future juggernaut in those leagues, he’s definitely one to target.

 

Friday: 02.1.2013

Top 10 First Basemen Right Now

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

*I will not be doing a top 100

This is not a fantasy list!!

Youngsters Eric Hosmer and Anthony Rizzo were close, but #10 on the list beat em out because of his two full years of big time production.

Dear Lord, please don’t let the MLBN guys list Ryan Howard.

THE LIST

10. Freddie Freeman (ATL) – I think so forget that the sweet-swinging lefty is just 23 years old. He has back-to-back 20-homer seasons and showed improvement in both his walk and strikeout rates from year one to year two improving both by about two percent. His continued ascent makes the loss of Chipper Jones easier to swallow for that offense (not to mention the addition of the Upton Bros) and the best may well be on the way as early as 2013.

9. Allen Craig (StL) – The purpose of these lists is to explore the position right now and project forward for the 2013 season. As such, Craig makes my list. His skills are plentiful and already in place, but he needs to stay healthy which I think he will do in 2013 and show subsequently show everyone what a beast he is with the bat. Those paying attention have already seen the 141 OPS+ the last two years, but that’s only been in 733 plate appearances, a full season of dominating will earn him the attention he deserves.

8. Mark Teixeira (NYY) – He is likely to rate higher on everyone’s list on the show tonight, but that’s based solely on name value. The shift (not be confused with MLBN’s The Shredder) has eaten his batting average and it isn’t coming back. He’s been under .260 the last three years and barring a change in approach, I just don’t see him coming back to the levels we were used to in his 20s when he hit a combined .290, topping .300 three times. His OPS has declined yearly since 2007. He’s still good, but no longer great.

7. Paul Konerko (CHW) – He sputtered to the finish line in 2012, but he’s far from done, even at 37 years old. Despite the down second half, he still finished with the 6th-best OPS+ among first basemen qualified for the batting title. Konerko has at least another big year in his bat, if not maybe even 2-3 seasons.

6. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR) – He may not repeat his 2012 breakout that saw him pop 42 bombs, but he’s far from a power fluke. He had a 162-game average of 27 homers for the three years leading up to last year so we had definitely seen glimpses of greatness within his game. Of course Cory Schwartz, Jason Collette, and Matthew Berry have seen the greatness since E40 was in teeball.

5. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) – I’m extremely high on Goldschmidt as evidenced by this ranking, but I think he’s slated for a big 2013. He’s got a great all-around game bringing big power (43 doubles, 20 homers), a good batting eye (10% walk rate), and speed which is rarely seen from the position (18-for-21 SB success rate). He has 30-35 home run upside, too, which could start to shine through as early as 2013 in his age-25 season.

4. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD) – When your down season is a .299-18-108 season, you’re a damn good ballplayer. That was Gonzalez’s 2012 and while it isn’t what we’re used to (he averaged .306-33-106 from 2009-2011), it was hardly bad. Throw in the trade to LA and I think he’s being slept on a bit. My only major concern is the plummeting walk rate that has gone from 18 percent in 2009 to 13, 10, and then just six percent last year. Thankfully his strikeout rate has held firm between 16 and 16.6 percent in that span. He is still a star.

3. Prince Fielder (DET) – First base is always a position with offensive stalwarts, but I wonder if Prince ever looks things over and shakes his head that even with his numbers he isn’t the unquestioned best at his position. He has missed one game in the last four seasons. Though he peaked at 50 home runs in his second year, he has hardly struggled in the meantime. He is still averaging 36 per season since that 2007 breakout along with a .290 average and 111 RBIs. Plain and simple, he is one of the best the game has seen and he has plenty more in store.

2. Albert Pujols (LAA) – Remember when his career was over in April? And how he probably wasn’t going to make the Hall of Fame in early May? It was an uncharacteristically slow start for The Machine, but the panic button was smashed to bits by far too many people especially since he’d just done something similar in 2011. He is still unquestionably one of the game’s best players and I wouldn’t even quibble with someone giving him the top spot, but for me it was easily…

1. Joey Votto (CIN) – The torch is passed. Yes, he only played 111 games last year thanks to an injury, but he still led first basemen in fWAR at 5.9 among those with 450+ plate appearances. He won his third straight OBP title in the National League and second MLB-wide title in three years. Despite playing just 111 games, he still clubbed a career-best 44 doubles. If he had gotten the 625 plate appearances he normally gets in a season, he was on pace for 58 doubles which would’ve been one shy of Todd Helton’s 59 in 2000, the most in the integration era (since 1947).

I really should do these during the week so I don’t smash four posts (two reviews, two new lists) onto the site in a matter of hours. I’ve just been so deep in the SP guide stuff that by the time Friday hits, I’m like “Oh man, I gotta get my top 10 stuff done”.

Wednesday: 01.30.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 23 Days – Todd Frazier

Only 23 days until live game action…

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

TODD FRAZIER

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

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

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

frazierOPSmonth

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

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

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

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

Go the extra buck.