Archive for ‘Player Focus’

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:

Sunday: 02.3.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 19 Days – Adam Jones

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

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

ADAM JONES

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

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

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

ajones1

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

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

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

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

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 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”.

Friday: 02.1.2013

Top 10 RF – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Rightfielders Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host Eric Byrnes, and special guest to the series Bill James. In the LF review I mentioned my issue with MLB Network lists including guys who weren’t slated to play the particular position next year and we have a few of those on in rightfield with Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist.

I included Upton in left and Hamilton in right because that’s where they are going to play and the change for Upton was known when they presented the show because they discussed Upton’s trade to Atlanta. And I listed Zobrist at second base because that’s where he was slated to play this year before the Rays brought Kelly Johnson aboard. For those unaware, Johnson wasn’t a Ray when the 2B lists were unveiled.

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

top10RFlists

I told ya Andre Ethier was going to be on all most of these lists.

The Shredder

Apart from our three known differences that occur on every list as outlined above, Ethier is the split between lists. It was tough leaving him off. In the end, I went with Jayson Werth because of his all-around game and how good he looked upon returning from injury. Jay Bruce was a bit underrated at 10, though had I included Upton and Zobrist, he’d have been at least seventh for me so the difference between The Shredder and me looks bigger than it would’ve been with Bruce.

My inclusions they didn’t list: Werth, Josh Reddick, and Josh Hamilton

Eric Byrnes

If given the option, I’d have bet all of my money on Byrnes listing Hunter Pence. Pretty easy bet, though, right? It’s not a terrible listing, especially at 10. Overall, I really like his list to be honest as I did with his leftfield list. He gets a lot of crap from the baseball community, especially on Twitter, but I don’t think he’s so bad. My friends over at Productive Outs cannot stand him. Perhaps it’s the Spiccoli-esque way he speaks and that dialect is often viewed as just generally stupid, especially in California where both live. That’s just speculation on my part. I just think that Byrnes is actually one of the better player-analysts on the network, even if you think the bar is really low.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Werth, Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Bill James

Bill, Bill, Bill. Jeez. I mentioned in the LF review that James’ lists have really puzzled me and this one was no different. Stanton at 6???? Sheesh. I was so focused on that ranking that I barely paid attention to the Alex Rios and Nick Markakis inclusions, neither of which I like that much. My fanboydom aside, how is Stanton sixth?

My inclusions he didn’t list: Werth, Swisher, Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Brian Kenny

In fairness, I chastised Kenny in the LF review for including Carlos Quentin, who played just 86 games a year ago, only to then include Werth on my list in his 81-game season. The difference as I see it is that Werth played half a season after three straight 150+ game seasons where Quentin has rarely even been within 20 games of 150. We both had Werth on our lists, a move I obviously support. I don’t have any major quibbles with Kenny’s list this time around outside of Markakis and that’s not even a major quibble. He had consideration, but the position was just too deep to find room for him. In fact, he’d be third behind Ethier and Norichika Aoki on the honorable mentions.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Coming up this evening: my first base and catcher lists!

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.

Wednesday: 01.30.2013

ESPN Rankings Summit: Top 25 SPs

The ESPN fantasy crew is in the midst of the rankings summit where they get together and hash out the initial run of their positional ranks. It accompanies a chat moderated by one of the parties involved and it’s a pretty interesting watch/read. They are coming down the home stretch with their starting pitchers where I believe they’ll go 50 deep. Here are the top 25.

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Clayton Kershaw
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Stephen Strasburg
  5. David Price
  6. Matt Cain
  7. Cliff Lee
  8. Cole Hamels
  9. Jered Weaver
  10. Zack Greinke
  11. Gio Gonzalez
  12. Adam Wainwright
  13. Madison Bumgarner
  14. Yu Darvish
  15. R.A. Dickey
  16. C.C. Sabathia
  17. Chris Sale
  18. Johnny Cueto
  19. Mat Latos
  20. Jordan Zimmermann
  21. Roy Halladay
  22. Aroldis Chapman
  23. Kris Medlen
  24. Matt Moore
  25. James Shields

I had some minor quibbles early, but my first real contention was Chris Sale at 17. Of course that was immediately blown out of the water by Aroldis Chapman at 22. I just can’t get behind that on any level. It assumes so many things go perfectly for him. Bret Sayre did point out that it’s a tough rank on overall value because if he implodes, he will likely move back to the bullpen. A fair point, but I just don’t see how they came to this ranking because even if Bret’s scenario comes to pass, he will have x amount of horrible innings on his ledger before transitioning back. I think he’d have to be truly awful to go back into the bullpen, not just fantasy bad. A 4.20 ERA/1.35 WHIP would be fantasy bad, especially at his cost, but Cincinnati can definitely live with that out of their fifth starter especially if he’s fanning 25 percent of the batters he faces and going six innings a game.

Chapman basically has to have Sale’s season to fulfill that ranking and while there is at least chance of that, it’s pretty low on the probability spectrum making such a lofty ranking tough to justify for me. I also think Kris Medlen is too high at 23, but at least he has starting experience at the major league level and an actual arsenal of pitches. Chapman has major name value and Medlen has his brilliant end to 2012, factors that will keep both very high on most lists this year. I just think the talent pool is too deep to take the added risk of them in lieu of more consistent performers who also have greatness in their profile (e.g. Matt Moore, Max Scherzer).

The summit is a very cool event that ESPN does every year. I love reading some of the thinking going on in the room and I hope they show some videos again as they’ve done in the past.

What do you think?

Tuesday: 01.29.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 24 Days – Jose Bautista

Only 24 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.

JOSE BAUTISTA

It will be a quicker countdown entry today which actually works out quite well because Bautista isn’t someone in dire need of a deep-dive analysis. We know he is a power stud coming off of his two amazing full seasons of MLB-leading home run totals in 2010-2011 plus another 27 in 92 games during an injury-shortened 2012. The common analysis after 2010’s insane breakout was that his HR/FB was aberrational to his career levels so he was sure to come down. The problem with analysis isn’t projecting regression after an amazing season, it’s the certainty with which it’s done.

Granted this is easier to do in hindsight, but I’ve always had an issue with guaranteeing regression on a new level of performance. Again, it is a safe bet gravity being what it is and all, but speaking in absolutes has no real upside. He was “sure” to regress in 2011 and while he gave back 11 home runs, he added 42 points of batting average up to .302 and 68 points of on-base percentage up to .447 while actually improving his HR/FB rate from 21.7 to 22.5 percent. What changed to yield the performance is the first question you should ask before instantly declaring it will regress and moving on.

For example, his 2011 batting average stood out almost as much as his 2010 home run surge. After all, his flyball-heavy batted ball profile isn’t exactly conducive .300 batting averages. Of the 74 players to hit .300 or better since 2010, only Bautista did it with a flyball rate north of 45 percent. Only three others were at 44 percent. The average of the set was about 35 percent and 60 players were on the other side of 40 percent.

His .260 in 2010 was just above league average (.257) and his .241 last year wasn’t too far from league average (.255) so what happened in 2011? First off, he shifted the mix on his batted balls a bit taking from the flyballs and adding to both the line drive and groundballs. Secondly, he just smacked the ever-living-piss out of the ball year long, especially compared to league average.

bautista2011bbavg

His .309 BABIP compared to the league mark of .295, but given his batted ball profile compared to league average, it isn’t out of bounds to suggest he also had some good fortune. But when you barrel up the ball and smack rockets all over the place, you’re bound to create some of your good luck.

His dip back down to .241 last year wasn’t terribly surprising as he took a bit from 2011’s line drives and padded his flyball rate again back up to 49 percent. His batted ball profile as it stands over the last three years is far more conducive to .250 batting averages than .300 ones so prepare yourself for that and take anything else as an added bonus.

The worst part about last year’s left wrist injury that effectively ended his season in mid-July is that he had just ripped off nine and 14 home run months in May and June after a mere three in April. While he’d only had one in 12 July games, I was really eager to see what he had in store for us during the dog days of summer.

Over his three year explosion into superstardom, Bautista has posted a composite HR/FB of 21.6 percent, fourth in baseball behind Giancarlo Stanton (25.8), Mike Napoli (23.1), and Ryan Howard (22.3), but his 50.6 flyball percent and 15 percent infield flyball rate are the highest among anyone in the top 30 of HR/FB rate. What that tells me is that he’s selling out for power all day, every day. The 15 percent infield flies are likely a lot of “just missed” missed pitches that fall harmlessly into the shortstops glove on the back of the infield and contribute to his .256 BABIP during that time which is second-lowest among the top 10 in HR/FB (Andruw Jones .244) and third-lowest overall (Carlos Pena .251).

That is the long way of say that all the data suggests that 2011’s .302 really was an aberration and likely one of epic proportions. To repeat the feat, he will likely need to dramatically shift his hit profile or find the double rainbow for a second time. I have seen Bautista go as high as the late-first round. I’m not vehemently opposed to the idea as long as you realize you’re investing in a pure power source and not trying to rationalize the pick by saying, “well, he’s only a year removed from a .302 average so I have that upside, too.”

Sure, technically you do as one a skill is displayed it is owned (Shandlerism!), but you also have to understand the probability of said skill returning once gone and with Bautista, as his skills are currently constructed, chances are scant. There have been just 10 seasons of 40+ homers the last three years and he owns two including the best (54) and third-best (43) and he was on pace for a third which would’ve extended his 12 home run lead over Miguel Cabrera (124 to 112) for the most in the majors during that span. So if you are drafting him for that bankable power and understand his deficiency with batting average, then by all means proceed with your pick.