Archive for ‘Off-Season’

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:

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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.

 

Saturday: 02.2.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 21 Days – Jason Heyward

Only 21* 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.

*Sorry for missing Friday’s entry, but I’m doubling up today so technically there are 20 days until live game action, but we’ll get to that later today!

JASON HEYWARD

On the heels of a brilliant 2009 campaign at age 19, Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward entered the 2010 season as the #1 prospect in all of baseball. You’d have thought it was a full season when you saw his numbers with a .323/.408/.555 line including 17 HRs, 63 RBIs, 10 SBs, and 25 2Bs, but injuries limited him to just 99 games which he split pretty evenly between High-A (49) and Double-A (47) tacking on three more at Triple-A to close the season out. Despite the hype there was no guarantee he’d start the 2010 season with the Braves, but then a big Spring Training during which he hit .305 with five extra-base hits, four stolen bases, and a near1:1 K:BB ratio (11 K/10 BB) sealed his fate as the starting rightfielder for good in Atlanta.

Well, for good so far.

You know what happened next. He hit a three-run home in his first major league at-bat and went on to have an excellent, near-Rookie of the Year campaign falling short to Buster Posey by just 22 points.  Unfortunately that was followed by the fabled sophomore slump in which he dropped 50 points from his batting average, saw his walk rate & OBP tumble in concert, and he missed 34 games due to injury including right shoulder injury that sent him to the disabled list in late May. He first missed time with the shoulder on May 11, but looking at the numbers suggests it was plaguing him throughout the month before finally hitting the DL on May 22nd:

heywardmay2011

Ouch. And that doesn’t even show the fact that he managed one line drive all month. He had 12 groundballs, nine flyballs, four popups, and the one line drive. So while it is speculation on my part that the shoulder was ailing him all month, I think the evidence is strong. He rebounded a bit when he returned on June 15th finishing out the month relatively, but then fell back into a deep slump that last all of July and August. In the two months he hit just .212/.281/.394 with 6 HRs, 20 RBIs, and 2 SBs. Perhaps most alarming was that his usually solid walk plummeted to seven percent.

He was lost.

A major problem facing Heyward in his dismal 2011 season was an inability to hit anything with a wrinkle. This is not a new problem facing youngsters and he didn’t exactly crush off-speed in 2010, but his 2011 work against the pitches especially awful and the 2012 rebound no doubt aided his resurgence:

heywardoffspeed

He didn’t exactly pound the ball against off-speed stuff last year, either, but the bar was so low that just returning to 2010 levels was enough to really help his overall numbers. Isolating his work against curveballs specifically shows that to have been his problem pitch above all in that 2011 season. Though his .143 batting average against the changeup in 54 plate appearances wasn’t carrying him to any batting titles, either.

heywardcurveball

He still has to get better to become the superstar that many see him becoming (myself included). His 35 percent strikeout rate against off-speed stuff in 2012 was the 13th-highest in baseball. That put him in the company of new teammate B.J. Upton (36.4%) and Colby Rasmus (36%), a pair of supremely talented, highly touted prospects (Upton peaked as the #2 overall prospect in ’04; Rasmus at #3 in ’09) who have never quite lived up to their expectations. Look at their numbers against off-speed since 2009 (as far as back as the data goes):

prospectOFvoffspeed

Heyward is the “best” of the three, but the lead is marginal and entirely tied to his extra plate discipline with a walk rate that is nearly two times that of the other two guys. It might worth noting that within the 2012 season, Heyward did show some improvement against non-fastballs from half to half posting a 689 OPS against the pitches through the All-Star break and followed it up with a 761 OPS from mid-July to the end of the season. The splits were small samples of about 115 plate appearances apiece, but maybe he adjusted something in-season to improve.

One thing that stuck out was that he killed changeups in the first half hitting .346 with a 991 OPS against them albeit in just 30 plate appearances before falling back to a .174 average and 513 OPS against them in the second half, again in a scant 24 plate appearances. Perhaps his luck was just evening out and the split in halves has no real significance.

The bottom line is that pitchers are beating him with off-speed pitches on a consistent basis and he will need to adjust if he is to become a superstar, face of the franchise-type who will take the torch from the now-retired Chipper Jones. For those wondering how he fares against fastballs, he has an 867 career OPS against them with single season marks of 903 in 2010, 827 in 2011, and 860 last year. He does have one particular trend that has been going in his favor year-over-year: his groundball rate is shrinking while his flyball rate climbs. He started with 55 percent groundball and 27 flyball rates in 2010, moving to 55 and 33 percent in 2011, and finally 44 and 37 percent a year ago. He was very close to the league average batted ball profile of 45 groundball, 34 flyball, and 21 percent line drive.

I hope y’all realize how much restraint I showed by not once referencing that Heyward has Trouble with the Curve.

You’re welcome.

Friday: 02.1.2013

Top 10 Catchers 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!!

I didn’t really have anyone that I fretted over leaving off. Wilin Rosario doesn’t actually play catcher so his hitting exploits would have to be about 2x what they are currently. OK, he puts on the equipment and positions himself behind home plate, but to say he plays catcher is an insult to even the worst of defenders behind the dish, let alone the best.

Jonathan LuCroy was probably closest, but he was beat out by another guy who played under 100 games last year as I expect this guy to top LuCroy in 2013.

THE LIST

10. Salvador Perez (KC) – There is a lot of speculation on this one as Perez has just 115 games played in his major league career, but part of these lists is projected 2013 performance and I’m expecting a nice year from him which should be his first full season. Despite the small sample of work, he has shown a lot. He has shown legitimate power (.471 slugging percentage & 14 HR), a strong hit tool (.311 batting average), and an ability to make adjustments as he dropped his strikeout rate from 12.7 percent in 2011 to 8.9 last year. The Royals no doubt see the potential signing him to a 5-year, $7 million dollar deal before last year which includes options for 2018 and 2019 which will be remarkably affordable (at $5 and $6 MM, respectively) if he continues at the trajectory we’ve seen early one.

9. Carlos Ruiz (PHI) – He is on the shelf for the first month of the season serving a 25-game suspension for banned substances which is unfortunate as he looks to follow-up his breakout 2012. Of course, he put together his .325/.394/.540 line in 114 games last year so missing 25 doesn’t necessarily preclude him from repeating. Suspension or not, the big question is whether or not his spike in HR/FB rate (from 4.4 in ’11 to 15.1 last year) is legitimate and thus will sustain his 16-homer output. That’s huge spike especially in light of his flyball percentage shrinking five percent.

8. Brian McCann (ATL) – The latest news has McCann’s shoulder feeling better and gives him a shot to be ready by Opening Day. Last year was an unmitigated disaster given his standard of excellence as he played a career-low 121 games with a paltry 87 OPS+ output. He kept his 20+ HR streak intact, but that was probably the only positive point in his season. This ranking takes the injury concerns into consideration as he’d be much higher without them.

7. Alex Avila (DET) – Avila labored through a tough season after a huge 2011 breakout as nagging injuries hampered him from day one. Most catchers are usually dealing with an ailment or three by the time Spring Training hits the one-week mark, but Avila seemed to suffer more than his fair share and lower body ones to his hamstring and knee held his power numbers down quite a bit. Despite the injuries, he was still above average offensively and an offseason rest should help him chase down those 2011 numbers again in 2013.

6. Carlos Santana (CLE) – A rough start to 2012 didn’t stop Santana from putting together an excellent season and the only thing keeping him this low is that he’s not a particularly great catcher defensively. I wrote about him in detail in my Countdown to Spring Training series if you’re interested in more.

5. Joe Mauer (MIN) – He still played the majority of his games at catcher and after an ugly half-season in 2011, his numbers returned to what we expect from Mauer (unless you’re still expecting 2009, in which case just stop). He’s still an excellent player even if he spends most of his time at first base or DH, but he’s not a good defensive catcher so he can only be ranked so high as we move into the elite who combine offense and defense.

4. Matt Wieters (BAL) – He’s yet to become the offensive juggernaut we expected when he was coming up through the minors, but that hasn’t stopped him from rounding into one of the best catchers in all of baseball. The defensive piece is in place and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his offensive game take off in these final three years of his 20s.

3. Miguel Montero (ARI) – Like Santana, Montero didn’t sprint out of the gate in 2012, but that couldn’t deter him from a great season at the dish and he pairs that bat with great work behind the dish. In fact, he has improved a ton when it comes to shutting down the running game the last few years. After posting a 26 percent caught stealing rate in his first full season back in 2009, he has since posted rates of 31, 40, and 42 percent. The 42 percent a year ago was the third-best in baseball. He is really one of the best overall catchers in the game and yet doesn’t get nearly enough credit as such. I will be especially interested to see where he rates on the lists tonight.

2. Buster Posey (SF) – How much can really be said about this reigning NL MVP that hasn’t been said yet? His 2010 was a precursor to his excellence which was delayed a year by his injury in 2011. Those who were worried that the injury might take some time coming back from were shown the door immediately as Posey ripped the league apart for a 1016 OPS in April. But it was his second half of the year that really earned him the MVP as he posted a 1023 or better OPS in each month with 21 RBIs per month and his .364 average in September was his worst from July on as he hit a combined .371 in the three months.

1. Yadier Molina (StL) – This shouldn’t be too much of a shock. Sure, Posey won the MVP, but he also played 29 games at first base and Molina was a legitimate candidate finishing 4th in the voting. Long regarded as the unquestioned best defender in baseball, Molina’s offensive outburst the last two years puts him in the discussion as the single best player in the game if you were talking about building a team from scratch.

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.

Friday: 01.25.2013

Top 10 Rightfielders Right Now

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

This is not a fantasy list!!

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

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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

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

THE LIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

giancurtis

Friday: 01.25.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 28 Days – Hanley Ramirez

Only 28 days until live game action…

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

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

HANLEY RAMIREZ

After the unmitigated disaster that was 2011, it wasn’t going to take much for his 2012 to be considered a rebound and it was yet he was still a disappointment. While he wasn’t going 2nd overall like 2011, he still only dipped to 20th average draft position with a high of 12 and low of 26 according to Mock Draft Central. His 20-20 season with shortstop and third base eligibility wasn’t bad, but it didn’t earn that draft position back. ESPN’s Player Rater had him 63rd overall and 42nd among batters.

The problem was that there was virtually no rebound in his paltry .243 batting average from 2011. It went up to .257, but that’s barely a dent (8 hits over a 600 AB season) and he posted the second-worst BABIP of his career at .290 (up slightly from 2011’s .275). His batted ball profile was actually somewhat conducive to a batting average increase as he added 2.5 percent to his line drives, which have the best chance to become hits. His flyball rate rose continuing a three-year trend, and those are least likely to become hits. While his flyball rate only ticked up by 1.2 percent, his infield flyball rate jumped four percent and those are all but guaranteed outs.

His BABIP based on batted ball was league average all told (he was a little low on line drives, but high on grounders & flies) so we shouldn’t be too surprised that his .257 batting average was essentially on par with the league’s .255 average as a whole. He might’ve smoked a few more at-‘em balls than normal, but nothing that would leave you saying he was quite unlucky for the performance he was delivering on the field. Batting average is really what kept his 2012 from being a “Hanley” season considering 2009 and 2010:

hanley3year

Based on my rough math estimations, a .300 average would’ve boosted Ramirez to a tie for 11th among batters in the player rater with Adam Jones and vaulted him to 18th with Jones in the overall.

“Well ya, but he was playing a lot in that cavernous monstrosity that can gives your eyes an STD if you watch too many home Marlins games!”

*Bzzz* Try again.

Ramirez raked in Marlins Stadium as did the other two superstars on that team:

homemarlins

It appears that Ramirez’s batting average issues for 2012 fit under the Occam’s razor principle: he just wasn’t good enough. No logistical pretzels about this BABIP or that venue. He simply didn’t hit the ball well enough to earn a .300+ average. I mean, we’re really only talking about a hit a week here. Another 26 hits would put right at .300 (actually .2996688, but I think MLB would go ahead and give it to him) and that feels like a lot, but there are generally around 26 weeks in the season.

Where is going to get those hits in 2013? Ideally off of southpaws. For his two-plus seasons (92 G in ’11) from 2009-2011, he hit .305 off of lefties with a .339 BABIP. Those figures dropped to .263 and .293 in 2012. It wasn’t just one problem area either; they just handled him better than ever before. Though up and in and down and away do stand out a bit when comparing the two samples:

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Ramirez remains a hot commodity for several reasons:

  • He has a track record of excellence so the potential to return to those levels is still present.
  • He is still on the right side of 30, adding to the likelihood of the first point.
  • He has dual eligibility at the hardest spot to fill (SS) and another premium infield spot (3B)
  • His “down” seasons are still 20-20 seasons with 92 RBIs. Well down seasons without injury.

Ramirez is solid “buy” target for 2013, even as a second round pick (though his ADP is a ludicrous 42 in early drafts** over at Mock Draft Central making him a huge bargain if that holds, but I doubt it will). High floors are a market inefficiency and they can sometimes be more important than a high ceiling for an early round pick. Especially if you subscribe to the notion that you can’t win your draft in the early rounds, but you can lose it.

**ADDENDUM

In the mock drafts I’ve done to date, Hanley has gone as follows:

  • 23rd overall in a 15 tm mixer w/OBP instead of AVG
  • 27th overall in a 15 tm mixer w/OBP instead of AVG
  • 21st overall in a standard 12 tm mixer
  • $31 dollars in a 14 tm auction standard 5×5

In other words: ignore that ADP because there is very little chance you’ll get him at that price.

Don’t forget the countdown continues on the weekend! 

Friday: 01.25.2013

Top 10 Leftfielders Right Now

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

This is not a fantasy list!!

***I will not be doing a top 100

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

The leftfield list was one of the easier ones as the 10 came pretty easily to me. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will not be included because they were included on the centerfielder list. We saw MLB Network put Shin-Soo Choo on the centerfielder list as well, so they’re going with where guys are expected to play in 2013 thus you won’t see Martin Prado on the list, either, as he will now play third base for the D’Backs. Nor will you see Desmond Jennings as he shifts over to center to replace B.J. Upton. Oddly enough, MLBN was counting new position for guys like Choo and Aroldis Chapman yet they still included Trout with the CFs and he is slated to play left with Peter Bourjos in center.

HONORABLE MENTION

Jason Kubel (ARI) is the only leftfielder who was close for me. His NL debut was impressive, but he just missed out as he lags a bit behind defensively and his bat was good, but not overwhelmingly so.

THE LIST

10. Alfonso Soriano (CHC) – A punching bag for many fans, Soriano hasn’t been the 40-40 guy from his Washington season, but he’s not exactly Vernon Wells, either. In fact, by fWAR he’s earned $98.5mm ($5mm/WAR) on the field while being paid $97mm. Even if you don’t buy the defensive gains, he’s been a plus-hitter for five of six seasons with the Cubs.

9. Melky Cabrera (TOR) – How much do you think PEDs helped Melky? And do you think he’s taken them consistently for two years? Those are the two questions to be asked when analyzing him. I lean toward “some, but not overwhelmingly so” and “no”, so he makes my list. I doubt he’d be the 2012 version of himself even if he kept using, so look at 2011 as a guidepost for his performance.

8. Brett Gardner (NYY) – Speculating a bit here since Gardner missed most of 2012, but when he plays he does everything except hit for power. He plays incredible defense, has game-changing speed, and he’s the Van Gogh of walks—he draws ‘em like crazy!

7. Josh Willingham (MIN) – Staying on the field has been the only real issue with Willy during his career and he’s improving in that avenue improving his games played from 114 in 2010 to 136 and 145 the last two years. Regardless of how often he plays, he’s always raked at the dish and done so enough to cancel out his below average defense.

6. Yoenis Cespedes (OAK) – What an incredible debut! I don’t think anyone saw that coming. He was the commensurate five-tool player hitting .292 with a .505 slugging percentage, playing elite defense in left using his arm to terrify runners into staying put, and stealing 16 out of 20 attempts while also taking extra bases at an above average clip. Imagine if he tops 130 games this year.

5. Justin Upton (ATL) – New to both his team and his position, Upton was finally traded after approximately 212 years of speculation. The potential is overwhelming, but we need to see it more consistently and since we don’t yet, he lands lower than you probably would’ve expected to see him.

4. Matt Holliday (StL) – Only two LF, both regarded among baseball’s best, have topped him with the bat at the position. He pairs the first-rate bat with better defense than you think. Unless you think he plays good-not-great defense boosted by his solid arm and ability to freeze runners.

3. Carlos Gonzalez (COL) – He’s failed to repeat that stunning 2010, but he hasn’t exactly been a slouch in the meantime and his rising walk rate bodes well for his late-20s. He’s yet to play more than 145 games in a season which only make his three straight 20-20 (all w/22+ HR) seasons that much more impressive.

2. Alex Gordon (KC) – The unquestioned best leftfielder in the game defensively speaking whether you trust the metrics or simply use your eyeballs. Mind you, that’s not the only reason he rated this well, he’s also come around big time with the bat including an MLB-best 51 doubles last year. Took him a while, but he’s finally paying dividends on the savior tag that was slapped on him before the ink dried on his contract in 2005.

1. Ryan Braun (MIL) – Duh-doy!

Friday: 01.25.2013

Top 10 RP – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Relief Pitchers Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host and human bobblehead (click that & also see below) Mitch Williams, and special guest to the series Bill James. The results were a bit annoying. For one, they did what I feared they might do: lean far too heavily on closers. One list had exactly zero middle relievers and the maker of said list is a huge surprise. I know these lists are for s’s & g’s and despite how it may read, I’m not getting that worked up over it, I’m just trying to have some fun as we move closer toward real baseball!

HumanBobble2

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

top10RPlists

The Shredder

I’ll say straight out front that The Shredder did much better with the relievers than with starters. I’ll also admit that Grant Balfour was a nice pick. I probably didn’t give him enough consideration. The dude hates letting guys hit the ball (4.9 H/9 last year), misses a good amount of bats (25% K rate), and Oakland has the perfect stadium for his flyball tendencies. That adds up to a helluva reliever. My love for strikeouts probably kept Jim Johnson and Eric O’Flaherty off of my list or it was just the overwhelming amount of depth at the position making it nearly impossible to whittle it down to 10. O’Flaherty has been insane the last four years with a 1.95 ERA and like a 2 million percent groundball rate. Seriously, it’s been 55-57-56-66(!!) percent the last four years meanwhile he has struck out 20% or more guys in three of the four years so he isn’t completely incapable of bat-missing. I was also impressed that The Shredder didn’t overrate Jonathan Papelbon and gave Koji Uehara some big love. All told, this was probably my favorite list because they gave middle relievers deserved love and their differences from my list were pretty strong. That said, Motte was a huge miss.

My inclusions he didn’t list: David Hernandez, Joe Nathan, David Robertson, and Jason Motte

Middle relievers: 4 (Kenley Jansen isn’t starting the year as the closer)

Bill James

Bill, Bill, Bill. You’re my dawg, but Papelbon #2?? No, just no. I pretty much blocked out everything else at that point: the inclusions of Motte and Nathan, the Rodney love, the Sergio Romo exclusion, all of it was forgotten for better or worse because the godfather of sabermetrics and objective analysis threw Jonathan Papelbon second on his list of relievers RIGHT NOW showing a clear bias toward his Red Sox (for whom Bill works as an advisor). John Axford was a little high for me, but his inclusion isn’t too problematic. This is a dude who fans 30% of the batters he’s faced for three years running. He gave up a quarter of his 2012 runs (36) in three games with a trio of three-run outings from June 10th to July 29th. And he was also saddled with a 19% HR/FB rate, it’s probably not a bad idea to bet on some improvement for 2013.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hernandez, Uehara, Robertson, and Romo

Middle relievers: 1 (and maybe two if Ryan Madson closes for LAA) 

Mitch Williams

Everyone else worked under the assumption that Aroldis Champan is going to be a starter (primarily because he is), but not ol’ Bobbles. OK, so you’re trying to make a big call, but why not just work under the same conecit everyone else did and add a disclaimer that you have Chapman second and think he’ll be closing by Memorial Day or something? Apart from that, his list isn’t too bad despite five disagreements between us. It’d really only be four without the Chapman thing because as he mentioned in the video linked in the opening, Motte was his #11. Finally, someone gives Robertson some attention, which he richly deserves.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hernandez, Nathan, Motte, Jansen, and Romo

Middle relievers: 3

Starting pitchers: 1

Brian Kenny

How could you do this to me, Brian? You’re my boy, blue! The critical thinker himself, Mr. Next Level Stats who firmly believes the closer mentality is garbage (I don’t fully agree, btw) chimes in with ZERO middle relievers in his list. Or maybe one with Ernesto Frieri, but he’s an assumed closer in many circles at this point. I’m not suggesting you should shoehorn non-closers in if you don’t think they belong, I’m just wondering how he thinks they don’t belong?! Papelbon at 4? Are Soriano and Johnson really better than all middle relievers? He pointed out multiple times how Mitch had more middle relievers than James only to come to the table with a goose egg himself. I was surprised for sure!

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hernandez, Uehara, Robertson, and Jansen (all 4 of my MRs of course)

Middle relievers: 0

I’ll reiterate once more that I know these are just fun and any exasperation I show is reasoned exasperation. I’m not taking these lists too seriously or cultivating hate for any of the panelists. I truly enjoy this series quite a bit and I’ve had fun agonizing over my own lists.