Posts tagged ‘Countdown to Spring Training’

Sunday: 02.10.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 12 Days – Chris Carter

Only 12 days until live game action…

CHRIS CARTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CarterinMMP

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

Addendum:

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

Here is the legend for the Katron data:

katronkey

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

First, let’s look at the doubles:

ccarter1a

ccarter2a

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

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

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

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

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

ccarter3

(click for huge version)

(click for huge version)

 

 

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Saturday: 02.9.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 13 Days – Victor Martinez

Only 13 days until live game action…

VICTOR MARTINEZ

The biggest issue with Victor Martinez in 2013 is one being settled before camps even start. His eligibility after a season lost to injury has been a topic of debate especially after CBS decided to make DH-only. I personally don’t agree with the decision at all, but they addressed it head on and there is at least reasoning behind it regardless of whether or not I agree. Both Yahoo! and ESPN will keep Martinez at catcher. He played 26 games at catcher in 2011. I get what Nando DiFino is saying with the “regular catcher” issue in that he hasn’t been a full-time backstop since 2010, but I don’t agree that he “used” his last year of catcher eligibility in 2012 and since he didn’t play he’s no longer eligible.

For those of your in CBS leagues, you should reach out to your commissioners to see how it’s going to be played so you don’t get surprised come draft day when you think you’re stealing a catcher late only to realize he lasted a couple of extra rounds because he is a power-light DH-only player. Speaking of DH, some AL-Only leagues require that you put an actual DH (20+ games there) in that spot as opposed to it being a utility spot for anyone. The usage of the spot in baseball has made that a much easier fill with 32 players registering 20+ games there and 27 of them putting up a 101 OPS+ or better. Add in Martinez and you should have trouble filling spot even after you remove guys like Carlos Santana, Evan Longoria, and Joe Mauer who have way too value at their original position to consider slotting them at DH.

As for Martinez himself, he is poised for another big season. His 12 homers in 2011 were the fewest he’s hit in a full season, but he made up for it with a .330 average and 103 RBIs. His flyball rate dropped from 42 percent in 2010 to just 33 percent, but most of the shift went to line drives explaining his career-best .330 mark. His 24 percent line drive was a career-best for a full season and seven percent higher than his 2010. He could bring his average back down to his .303 career level and still push 100 RBIs, but he would likely need the power to return a bit closer to the 20s we were used to from him prior to 2011.

In 2011, he had the bad Austin Jackson leading off with just a .317 on-base percentage. It was also Magglio Ordonez’s final season and he was hardly himself with just a .303 OBP. Miguel Cabrera was still excellent and Brennan Boesch had his best season. In 2013, V-Mart likely gets a much better Jackson setting the table while Torii Hunter will probably be close to what Boesch was that year (.341 OBP). Of course the treat is the Cabrera-Prince Fielder combo just ahead of him.

Last year Delmon Young was the primary fifth hitter for the Tigers. He managed a whopping .261 with men on base resulting in 63 RBIs. In 2011, Martinez hit an amazing .404 with men on. I wouldn’t expect a repeat there, but even his career .324 is markedly better than what Young offered a year ago. Young’s 63 RBIs came on 70 hits, a 90 percent ratio. Martinez’s ratio for his career with men on is 99 percent (664 RBIs on 670 hits). The league as a whole with men on a year ago was at 95 percent (17077-for-18073). Young had 268 ABs with men on last year and Martinez had 270 two years ago, so giving Martinez 269 this year with a .324 average is 87 hits. Using the league average (to be conservative) 95 percent RBI/Men on Hits ratio yields 83 RBIs.

He had just two solo home runs in 2011 after full seasons of 14, 10, 10, 15, 15, and 10 spanning 2004-2010 taking out his 67-game 2008. That’s an average of 12. Even that leaves us just short of 100 RBIs. Of course these are just estimates. He could get more at-bats with men on, he could simply hit better than .324, or drive in more guys than the league average 95 percent of RBI/MOH.

How his RBI total breaks down, I think he is going to be extremely valuable again in 2013 even if his power doesn’t return and even if you’re locked into using him as a DH-only. Obviously he will have much more value as a catcher, but he will also cost more. The price tag will likely fall significantly in leagues where he is DH-only unless you run into someone wanting to gamble that he accumulates enough games behind the dish. I would strongly advise against that bet. Everything I’ve heard out of the organization has said that he won’t catch at all.

If he is to keep his homer output from 2011, he will be looking to have just the 11th instance of 15 or fewer homers and 100+ RBIs since 1990.

Saturday: 02.9.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 14 Days – Jeff Keppinger

Only 14 days until live game action…

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

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

JEFF KEPPINGER

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: 02.7.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 15 Days – Ryan Doumit

Only 15 days until live game action…

The backend of the doubleheader to catch up from yesterday’s missed piece and as I mentioned in the Napoli piece, I’m hoping to get several done this weekend to avoid any more delays as we head into the second half of the countdown.

RYAN DOUMIT

For years, fantasy managers would always wonder aloud “what if Ryan Doumit just stayed healthy one year and got 500+ plate appearances?” We finally know the answer. In 2012, he had a career-high 528 PA and put together a .275/.320/.461 line with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs, in other words he did exactly what we should’ve expected once extrapolating his previous numbers out over 500 PA.

The extrapolation game is dangerous with small samples, but after a while Doumit’s several similar small samples became a large body of work. Only twice in his seven seasons before 2012 did he top 450 PA with the other five yielding 304 or fewer each time. His triple slash stats bounced around a bit as he hit .318 one year and .208 in another, enjoyed a .357 OBP one year and .299 the next, and even had a .501 slugging percentage only to fall to .406 two years later (the .318/.357/.501 are all from his 2008 season).

Through it all, his 528 PA pace (number equals his 2012 total) in homers and RBIs was just about the same:

doumit

While not really a catcher in the conventional sense, he has maintained eligibility behind the dish throughout his career giving him a special appeal to fantasy managers. Offensive upside at catcher often costs a pretty penny and in 2008-2009 so did Doumit. He had an 813 OPS in 2007 leading to a high price tag in the spring of 2008. He backed it up with the season of his career which sent his price sky high heading into 2009. He tanked. He tanked hard. Ever since then, he’s been kind of an afterthought with most resigning to the fact that he’s just never going to play enough.

His value was always in his catcher eligibility, but at his value peak the tantalizing thing about him was the fact that he was only a part-time catcher – playing first and outfield as well – so if he could stay healthy he could rack up the playing time that other catchers wouldn’t since he didn’t need so many off days. That finally came to fruition in his eighth year in the majors.

He started at catcher 56 times, but also logged starts as a DH (48), LF (16), and RF (6). He got some time at first base in one game, too. Can he repeat? At 32 years old, can he log a 500+ PA season, a feat that eluded him for seven years, for the second straight season? The smart money is on “no”. I like smart money. I’m even more likely to avoid the bet this year because the price is once again on the high side. His current NFBC ADP is 170th overall.

I’d rather wait 60 picks and take Alex Avila.

Tuesday: 02.5.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 17 Days – Alex Gordon

Only 17 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.

Just under the wire! It’s still Tuesday for me. I went to dinner with my podcast co-host and long-time friend Jason Collette and I was pumping out SP Guide work all afternoon so the Countdown got short shrift until after dinner.

Stupid sidenote: the last four Countdown entrants have first names that start with “A”. Isn’t your life better now?

ALEX GORDON

Drafted with the second overall pick in 2005, Alex Gordon was tabbed as the savior of the franchise almost immediately. He was a mix of George Brett, Ryan Gosling (not yet a mega-star, but he’d done The Notebook so throwing him into the mix was betting on the come back then), and a unicorn. He started his pro career in Double-A and obliterated the league in 2006 vaulting himself to the top of the prospect heap heading into 2007 according to Kevin Goldstein and #2 overall according to Baseball America.

He wasn’t even Gosling circa “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” posting an uninspired .247/.314/.411 line in 601 plate appearances. It got better in 2008, but only because he had set the bar so low. Things actually got worse in 2009-2010 resulting in trips back to the minors in each season where he ended playing 30 and 75 games, respectively, split across a few levels. A hip injury in 2009 cost him three months and that was sandwiched by quadriceps and thumb injuries in 2008 and 2010 that both required time on the disabled list. He was not only failing to live up to the lofty expectations, but through 2010 it was hard not to see him as a bust. He’d had a career 95 OPS+ in 1642 PA.

It all turned around in 2011. He finally stayed healthy again and not only had his best season yet (not a difficult feat given what he’d done to date), but also had a legitimate star-level season. He registered a 7.1 bWAR and 6.9 fWAR in his first full season as a leftfielder, having switched over from third base. He proved to be not only adequate out in left, but exemplary as his 12 kills doubled the next best from a leftfielder (Gerardo Parra, 6) and led all of baseball as he narrowly edged teammate Jeff Francoeur by one.

Finally.

Last year’s follow was a bit off the pace, about a full win at both sites, but still a star level offering. Gordon has hit .298/.372/.478 the past two years in 1411 PA with 37 home runs and 96 doubles, including an MLB-best 51 last year. Are his 37 home runs a disappointment? When he was expected to become Georygos Brettunicornling, I think many were looking at 30 bombs a year. Brett only averaged 17 during his career with a 162-game average of 20, but he never struck out (career 7.8% K rate) so Gordon was supposed to trade those Ks for more homers. It took Brett 9196 PA to strikeout out 634 times; Gordon has fanned 641 times in 3053 PA. Different eras and Gordon isn’t Brett so I’m not holding him to that standard, just showing the incredible gap.

In the midst of his prime at age-29 with back-to-back seasons of 45 and 51 doubles, some are still expecting a home outburst as there is an adage that believes a player with a ton of doubles could start translating some of them into home runs with some added strength and/or a bit of good fortune. The thinking being that with 45+ doubles, several are banging off the wall and just missing their exit from the yard. It’s not a terrible notion, but it’s not a birthright if you are a big doubles hitter, either.

Looking at Gordon’s 2011 with 45 doubles and 23 home runs, there are 79 players with seasons of 45+ and 23 or fewer, but only 12 others including Gordon to have pulled off the feat more than once.

gordon1

Hey, it’s George Brett! Gordon is fulfilling the expectation after all! What does this group of players have in common? They never really translated the doubles into an abundance of home runs. Brett’s 30 in 1985 are highest of anyone in that group and he didn’t do it after either of his 45 double seasons. The second name on that list is the one that rings truest when I think about Gordon.

In fact, when I was making my list of which players I wanted to cover for the countdown, I was thinking about Gordon and trying to come up with who he reminded me of after his two big seasons in a row and I kept coming back to Nick Markakis and Shin-Soo Choo. There is nothing with that as both as high quality MLB players. Markakis had run off six straight full season of well above average play (117 OPS+) before being limited to just 104 games last year.

The bottom is that the home runs aren’t coming, not at the quantity that was expected of him as a prospect. He’s going to live in the 15-20 range and may have another season or two where he pushed 25, but barring a major change in his approach, 30 just isn’t happening. He is the prototypical line drive hitter with gap-to-gap power. His line drive rate hit a career-high at 25 percent last year and has lived at or north of 20 for his entire career save that 2009 washout. His flyball rate is on a four year decline hitting a nadir of 32.7 percent a year ago, a far cry from his career-best 47.6 back in 2008.

After spending 172 of his last 312 games as a leadoff hitter, he is currently slated to hit third again with Lorenzo Cain leading off. Hopefully this switch doesn’t prompt Gordon to unnecessarily change his approach thinking he has to be “the man” and go for power in that spot. His work in the 3-hole has been 101 points worse from an OPS standpoint than his leadoff work (883 to 782) and 64 points worse in slugging percentage (.501 to .437).

He needs to stick with his approach from 2011-2012. The move to third in the batting order puts 100+ RBIs into play even if he only hits 14 home runs again. That would be a career high by 13 RBI (2011). Meanwhile he could still score 100 as he did in 2011 (101) provided he maintains or improves his 10 percent walk rate. I think he still viewed as an overall disappointment by some which depresses his fantasy price. Current NFBC draft data has him as the 94th guy off the board, inexplicably behind teammate Eric Hosmer. Don’t be afraid to pay for Gordon, especially at this current discounted rate, but even for a little more should your league price him higher. What he lacks in home run power, he makes up in batting average and runs scored, the two most underrated categories in standard 5×5 leagues.

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: 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.

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.

Monday: 01.28.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 25 Days – Kyle Seager

Only 25 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.

KYLE SEAGER

When you look at Kyle Seager’s 2012 line of .259/.316/.423, you jaw will most certainly stay firmly in place. There is nothing particularly special about those rate stats and while they were above average (110 OPS+, 108 wRC+), they don’t lead many to identify Seager as a hot fantasy commodity. Shifting over to his counting stats changes the equation a bit as his 20 home runs, 86 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases were all top 10 at the position (note: he was tied for 10th in home runs with David Freese and Mike Moustakas). All of a sudden he is a bit more appealing.

Now imagine if he weren’t stuck in the anti-Coors? Though Seager bats left-handed and southpaws generally fare better at Safeco, he couldn’t wait to leave town. He was an All-Star on the road as his 126 wRC+ outside of Seattle was just a tick behind Adrian Beltre’s 127 and sixth-best among third basemen. He was essentially an American League Chase Headley. Headley finally found a way to do some damage in Petco Park this year en route to an amazing season, but he still led all third basemen with a 154 wRC+ on the road and he has a career 695 home OPS compared to 836 on the road.

Seagerhm-aw

Ouch, that is rough. He gets 75 percent of his home runs and 70 percent of runs batted in on the road. He does his best to bring something to the table at home by walking twice as often and steal more than three times as often, but that can hardly paper over his incredible home struggles. I’m 89 percent certain that Seager was on site, hard hat in tow, helping the construction crews bring in the fences at Safeco.

For those wondering, this isn’t a one-year thing, either. He only had 201 plate appearances in 2011, but 91 of them were in Safeco and they were terrible: .188/.256/.263 with zero home runs. Meanwhile in his 110 on the road he posted a .314/.358/.471 with three home runs. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Safeco Field doesn’t kill lefties on home runs nearly as much as righties? For those who didn’t click, it’s a 91 HR park factor for lefties compared to a 70 for righties.

That is borne out in Seager’s numbers as well. All five of his Safeco home runs (which all came in 2012) were pulled. In fact, to right and right center fields Seager is excellent at Safeco over his career with a .339 average, 901 OPS, and those five bombs. His .565 slugging percentage also includes 13 doubles. If he is doing that well to the pull field, can you imagine how bad it is when he goes opposite field? You may want a barf bag nearby.

When going to leftfield in Safeco, Seager’s line is an abysmal .195/.191/.248 in 117 plate appearances. He actually improved in 2012. After a 312 OPS–yes OPS, that would be a horrible on-base percentage–in 2011, he jumped all the way up to 482 a season ago. He is being especially obliterated when he tries to “go with the pitch” on the outer third of the zone and just outside the strike zone hitting just .152 (9-for-59) in those instances.

seageroppo

(click to enlarge)

Now we ask the obvious next question as we did when discussing Yonder Alonso: how much might the moved in fences help this issue? Thanks to SportsPressNW.com, we can look at a very nice picture of the new dimensions and we see a 10-foot move in the leftfield corner, a big jump of about 12-15 feet in that leftfield power alley, and some minor moves in center and right centerfield.

safeco-dimensions

(click to enlarge)

Using the Katron.org spray chart from 2012 for Seager and comparing it against the new Safeco, it doesn’t look like his current batted ball profile is set to gain massively from the move. The dots are his flyouts (lighter orange) and lineouts (darker orange). None of his doubles were anywhere near the edge of the wall so they weren’t included.

seagerspraycomp

(click to enlarge)

But as I mentioned with Alonso, this is also assumes he will have the same batted ball distribution again in 2013 and that isn’t happening. It is worth looking at though because if we saw that Seager was dotting the warning track time and time again to leftfield, we would have reason to be quite optimistic with these moved fences because even if he didn’t have the same exact distribution, he would likely hit at least a few out that way again and they’d be more likely to sail over and into the stands.

Seager, like many young left-handed batters, also struggles against lefties. Those problems, as you might guess, are you really exacerbated at home. He has a 646 OPS against lefties as a whole for his career (compared to 766 against righties), but that drops to 545 at home while sitting at a formidable 748 on the road. Another hallmark of youth is struggling with off-speed stuff and that is mostly how lefties handle him at home.

We’re slicing the data pretty thin at this point, but this is at home versus lefties by pitch:

  • Fastball: .253 AVG, .333 SLG, 14% K, 10% BB in 89 PA
  • Curveball: .176 AVG, .353 SLG, 37% K, 11% BB in 19 PA
  • Slider: .130 AVG, .130 SLG, 21% K, 0% BB in 24 PA

None of these samples are big enough to mean a ton, but it’s all we have to work with right now. These thin slices of the data won’t stabilize for some time, but there is no denying from his larger samples that Seager struggles in Safeco, with lefties, and in Safeco with lefties. The moved in fences will likely add more relief via placebo effect than in improved numbers, but Seager is just 25 years old so he still learning. If he focuses on improving against lefties regardless of venue, that will drive his biggest net positive.

As long as he continues to steal bases, his fantasy value will remain substantial aided by his 81 road games where he does his best work. Given his age, above average composite work in 2012, and the fact that the M’s just don’t have a viable backup worth sitting Seager for, he should hold the job for the duration of 2013 giving him a chance to tackle those lefty issues. He is currently slotted in the 3-hole of their lineup which is always a good thing, even in a down lineup like Seattle’s.

I love Seager as a corner infielder in a mixed league especially if you end up with a superstar 3B early on. His price could be on the rise by the time draft season hits in AL-only leagues as it thins out quickly after the superstars (Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, and Evan Longoria) and moves into the youth bracket with Seager, Moustakas, Brett Lawrie, and Will Middlebrooks.