Posts tagged ‘Major League Baseball’

Tuesday: 10.2.2012

Down Ballot MVPs: Yoenis Cespedes

Let’s talk AL MVP.

No, not that MVP battle.  I am talking about the next tier, the down ballot candidates.  I realize that most people probably don’t care about the also-rans in an MVP race, but I actually do care because I like seeing guys recognized for their big seasons even if they weren’t quite the best.  There is no financial benefit (that I’m aware of) and no one but the encyclopedic fans with incredible memories will remember the 7th-place finisher in a given year, but I’m sure it is special for the player to be given consideration for such a prestigious award.

Top 5 or top 10 finishes in the MVP do get thrown around when it comes to Hall of Fame discussion, too, so it is important that the “right” guys get their due.  I put right in quotes obviously because there is no single right answer.  For one, fans really only care that the writers get the winner right.  After that, most couldn’t care less.  There were 22 players who got votes in the American League last year and 23 for the National League so the ballot runs deep.  For this series, I am pointing out guys I want to see in that upper range, say top 5-7.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll profile some of my favorite down ballot candidates in each league.  In the American League, these guys are fighting for third place and beyond.  I can’t envision any scenario where Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera aren’t first and second in some order.

Let’s start out west:

Yoenis Cespedes (OAK, OF) – How great has he been this year?  In just about any other year he is a walkaway Rookie of the Year, but he picked the Year of Trout for his debut.  Not only did he deliver the power and speed that was expected from him based on his elite athleticism (23 HR; 16 SB), but he also hit .291 with a .353 on-base percentage, both higher than anticipated by a significant margin.  He was expected to be among the freest swingers, but his 19% strikeout rate was 31st in the AL among those with 500+ plate appearances.  Adam Dunn paced the league at 34%, easily taking the MLB title, too.  Cespedes was nowhere near the 25%-30% range that made up the rest of the top 10.

When you talk about value, there is a desire to get the heart of how a singular player impacted his team.  Now that is difficult to quantify, but the methods in place look kindly upon Cespedes.  First off, the A’s were 80-47 when he was in the lineup (an incredible .630 win percentage) and just 12-21 (.364) when he was sidelined.  Obviously crediting one of 25 as the sole reason for those splits in record is a bit outlandish on par with pitchers and quarterbacks getting far too much credit for wins and taking too large a hit for losses.  It does at least begin to show how important he is to that team, though.

If you lean more into the sabermetric sect, you might be interested to know that he has a 3.81 Win Probability Added (defined here) in his 127 games.  That is good for 7th in the American League (for the record, Trout had a massive lead at 5.61 and he has played just 10 more games than Cespedes).  These two have squished a lot of WPA into smaller sample sets than the others in the top 10.  On that definition page, it defines a 3.0 or better as great which coincidentally covers the entire top 10 in the AL as Adam Jones rounds it out at 3.04, just ahead of 11th place Billy Butler’s 2.85 mark.

Fangraphs also has a Clutch statistic (defined here) in which Cespedes also grades out nicely with a 0.75 mark (where 0.5 is above average and 1.0 is great).  He actually kills Trout here who is at -0.53 which is below average by their scale.  Of those top seven in WPA, Cespedes is the 3rd-most clutch by that statistic.  Looking at his statistics in various states of leverage (defined by Baseball-Reference here), his quality clutch rating isn’t a huge surprise as he does his best work in High Leverage situations with a .349/.432/.651 line including six home runs, 28 RBIs, and six stolen bases in 74 plate appearances.  He also has eight walks against 11 strikeouts.  The strikeout tick upward to 49, but he also fares quite well in Medium Leverage situations with a .327/.388/.567 line with 10 homers, 34 RBIs, and seven stolen bases in 240 plate appearances.  He has a meager .682 OPS and .230 batting average in Low Leverage situations across 216 plate appearances.

He wasn’t the top WAR guys on the A’s thanks in large part to Josh Reddick’s incredible defense (though he was hardly a slouch with the bat), but I do think Cespedes was easily their best offensive player overall (combinations of Chris Carter, Brandon Moss and Johnny Gomes were better in various stats like OPS, OPS+, wRC+, and wOBA, but none of them played close to as much as Cespedes) while being a capable defender in centerfield (a premium position) and leftfield.  He essentially split his time down the middle between the two positions when looking at the innings.  He is older than most rookies (26), but he still exceeded expectations in his first year as a major leaguer and he is a major reason why the A’s are now playoff bound.

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Friday: 06.3.2011

My Top 30 Franchise Picks

On Wednesday I wrote a bit about the ESPN Franchise Draft whereby they had a one round draft under the premise of who you would start a franchise with if every single player was thrown back into a pool and the league essentially started from scratch.  That piece focused on Doug Glanville’s ludicrous selection of Wilson Ramos and I proceeded to name 50 guys off the top of my head that I would definitely have taken ahead of Ramos.

Now I want to put myself within the draft and offer up my top 30 picks for a draft like this.  There are so many things to consider in this exercise.  Apart from the obvious of pure production on the field, there is age, position, health and marketability.  I’m not sure how many people considered that last one within their equation, but I think there is at least a shred of it in the pie chart.  After all, I’m building my franchise from the ground up, it doesn’t hurt to start off with a star on and off the field.

So here are my top 30 players to select if I was starting a major league franchise.  Let me know what you think or what your own top 30 looks like in the comments or on Twitter (@sporer).

1. Evan Longoria (3B, 25 years old) – I think it’s a really a coin toss between Longo and the next guy as both play strong defense at premium positions with massive bats.  Both are budding superstars with their best years ahead of them and while I’m not sure you can go wrong, my preference is for Longoria.  I’m trading the step down in position importance (but better defense at it) for an extra year of age with this guy…

2. Troy Tulowitzki (SS, 26 years old) – Both of these first two guys have three elite seasons under their belt so far and are en route to a fourth and as I mentioned Tulow also plays elite defense at a cornerstone position.  It’s also smart to build up the middle, except if it’s with Wilson Ramos, so that’s another checkmark in the pro column for Tulow.  I can’t stress enough how close these first two are for that top spot and if I were picking second in this kind of draft with Longo going first I wouldn’t be the least bit upset “settling” for Tulowitzki.

3. Miguel Cabrera (1B, 28 years old) – I’m sorry, was hitting not a factor in ESPN’s draft?  Cabrera DID NOT GET PICKED among the 30 selections in their draft.  Look, I realize that first base is neither a premium defensive position nor a particularly thin one, but this isn’t an good-but-not-great first base type like Gaby Sanchez, Paul Konerko or Ryan Howard (and truly no offense to any of those three, they’d be pretty high round picks), this is a top three or four hitter in all of baseball who is just starting his prime.  I realize my fandom for Tigers will make many think that’s where I’m coming from on this, but rest assured I’m really not.  It’s common sense.

4. Jason Heyward (RF, 21 years old) To be honest, I wouldn’t destroy someone for taking him #1 overall.  This is a franchise foundation without question: he’s 21, he’s shown he can hang in the majors already over a reasonable sample (123 OPS+ in 187 gms) and he plays an important position.  It’s not as important as the up the middle positions, but it’s not exactly left field/first base, either.  Did I mention he can barely drink legally?  This is a superstar in the making and in case you missed it, he’s five years younger than Tulowitzki.

5. Felix Hernandez (SP, 25 years old) – It might go a bit unnoticed because it is almost expected at this point, but Hernandez has done something a lot blue chip prospect starting pitchers or rather any position of blue chip prospect for that matter fail to do: he’s living up to the hype.  Hype is a dangerous thing in today’s sport culture.  The more you get heaped upon you, even if you didn’t ask for it, the shorter amount of time you have to live up to it.  Hernandez began living up to it right out of the gate with a 2.67 ERA in 84 innings at age 19 back in 2005.  He followed it up with a 4.52 ERA as he struggled with gopheritis (1.1 HR/9), but has shaved his ERA down significantly every year since: 3.92-3.45-2.49-2.27 all while adding innings.  With a rock solid skill set and the proven capability to handle workloads easily exceeding 200 innings, King Felix is the kind of pitcher you can build a franchise around with minimal risk (not zero risk, ALL pitchers have risk… it’s an unnatural motion of the body).

6. Albert Pujols (1B, 31 years old) – I, for one, am not going to let two months of hitting like a mere mortal lead me to believe that Pujols is still the best pure hitter in the game and possibly ever.  Even at 31, I think he gets back on track this year and then still has at least two more years among the elite and then another three or four as an All-Star stud.  (See also: Rodriguez, Alex)

7. Justin Upton (RF, 23 years old) – It was a shock to see Upton last until the 29th pick in the ESPN draft.  He is 23 years old with three above average seasons including one elite season (2009) and very strong defense in right field.  A legitimate knock against him would be the fact that the has yet to play more than 138 games in his three full seasons, but his track record of nearly 2000 plate appearances of above average play at such a young age with legitimate defense is too much to pass up.

8. Andrew McCutchen (CF, 24 years old) – This is an overlooked budding star who plays an elite defensive position pretty well already and continues to improve.  He is an across-the-board contributor offensively, too, capable of marked improvement as he gets older.  He can bat first or third, too.  He was another snub that surprised me.

9. Carlos Gonzalez (LF/CF/RF, 25 years old) – Currently a left fielder, CarGo can reasonably play any of the three outfield positions which increases his value for the team drafting him as both of the other positions are more valuable.  His 2010 campaign showed us his upside with the bat while his downside is probably something like .280, 25 bombs and 20 steals with runs scored & driven in depending on the team you put around him.  He was a three time top 32 (18th, 22nd, 32nd) prospect by Baseball America and he is showing why day after day.

10. Ryan Zimmerman (3B, 26 years old) – Perhaps he was forgotten because he is currently on the disabled list, but he was yet another stunning snub in ESPN’s draft.  What doesn’t he bring to the table?  Brilliant defense and excellent offense all wrapped up in a 26-year old package.  If he wasn’t playing in Washington, he would definitely have a higher profile and perhaps get the recognition he deserves as an all-around star player.  Harper & Strasburg get all the press, but Zimmerman is the franchise leader right now.  Those two will join him and Jayson Werth to give them a great foundation for competing in the near future.

11. Joey Votto (1B, 27 years old) – I am a huge fan of Votto.  I was before his MVP breakout last year and remain so now, but I don’t think he is  a high-30s home run hitter going forward, not with the skills he has displayed throughout his career.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t an elite force in middle a lineup, though.  What he lacks in home runs, he makes up for with plenty of other base hits (.317 career hitter including a yearly rise since 2008: .297-.322-.324-.338) and a ton of doubles.  Plus he is just 27 so he could realistically deliver a sustained power jump in the coming years.

12. Ryan Braun (LF, 27 years old) – His bat is so overwhelmingly awesome that his below average defense at a low-impact position barely matters.  He plays an offense-heavy position and yet still outclasses his peers by no less than 30% in any given season (career 141 OPS+; low: 130, high: 161 so far in ’11, but 154 for a completed season).  Throw in a tremendous work ethic and great personality and you have a superstar cornerstone to build your franchise around.

13. Tim Lincecum (SP, 27 years old) – It is frightening to think that he might be “boring” at this point as the next class of ace-potential young arms is making its presence felt in Year 2 of The Pitcher.  Ho-hum all The Freak does is continue to strike out the world (three straight K titles) and post excellent, Cy Young-caliber numbers.  After an un-Freak-like 3.43 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 2010, Lincecum appears to have taken steps to ensure that doesn’t happen again and has come out with a career-best 2.6 BB/9 so far this season with very little cost to his strikeout rate (down from 9.8 to 9.5 K/9).

14. Mike Stanton (RF, 21 years old) – Taking a guy who hasn’t yet reached 600 plate appearances at the major league level is risky but his off-the-charts power potential, youth and big time defense are worth taking the plunge to build around.

15. Jay Bruce (RF, 24 years old) – Between he and Stanton it’s another coin toss tradeoff where personal preference plays a big role.  Would you rather have more of a track record yet keep the power potential and star defense?  OK, it only costs three years.  Some would trade the years for the comfort of certainty.  I went the other way in this instance.

16. Bryce Harper (RF, 18 years old) – It’s really hard to take any player who has yet to see a pitch in the major leagues and build your franchise around him, but everything I have seen from this kid suggests he is worth it.  Still it’s a little scary starting your organization with someone who hasn’t even been to AA yet and then take him 17th overall, let alone 9th which is where Eric Karabell took him in ESPN’s draft.

17. Mike Trout (CF, 19 years old) – The only other prospect in my 30, Trout was also selected in the ESPN draft (12th) despite having never played in the majors.  His potential is slightly more realized with a season and a half (spread across 3 years) of professional ball under his belt and 47 games of mashing AA (.306/.413/.514).  He should no doubt hit AAA this year and could even debut for the Angels at some point in ’11.  He is a tick below Harper for me, but like a few others, this one could go either way.

18. Jose Reyes (SS, 28 years old) – Kind of forgotten after the last two years in which he totaled just 169 games, but he was still an above average player at a great position to build around.  He has only once been an elite defender, but he’s not a stone-handed, no-range shortstop, either.  I prefer someone who can make plays as I would definitely favor groundball/strikeout pitchers so I need my infield to be able to pick it.

19. Stephen Drew (SS, 28 years old) – This one will no doubt surprise people, but he has an above average bat with good-to-great defense (higher defensive value than Tulowitzki last year) at the premium position.  I would prefer as well-rounded a player as I can get depending on pick and who is available and Drew fits the bill nicely.  As I mentioned with Reyes, my infield defense needs to be tight or else they will hurt my franchise’s pitchers so I will bypass this next guy, who might not even be a shortstop soon, for the non-elite, but still very good Drew.

20. Hanley Ramirez (SS, 27 years old) – His ranking here is not an overreaction to his struggling two months, it is because we aren’t doing a fantasy draft here so his horrible defense matters.  Like I said, it might not even be sensible to leave him at short in a year or two which would cut into his overall value.  The offensive numbers are great, but dwindling and we may have seen the best of Ramirez with his .342 average in 2009 and 33 home runs in 2008.

21. Jose Bautista (RF/3B, 30 years old) – He was tough to slot.  He’s definitely become one of baseball’s best hitters in short order, but the track record remains scant with exactly a year and three months (starting in Sept. of ’09) of elite-level production.  Alas nothing in his profile suggests he can’t continue to be a great player and he has the flexibility of right or third base.  He is much better in right, but improvements at third suggest he wouldn’t kill you there if you acquired a big time right fielder later in the draft.

22. Adrian Gonzalez (1B, 29 years old) – Was his first basemenness (new word!) really enough to dissuade all 30 ESPN drafters from his five full seasons of 141 OPS+ coming into this season and a 149 mark so far this season now that he is out of Petco?  I’m sorry, but aren’t we in a power drought these last two years?  OK, enough questions… there is no question that Gonzalez is a top 30 pick for me.

23. Robinson Cano (2B, 28 years old) A major-impact bat at an up-the-middle position is a premium get and Cano is in the midst of such an impressive prime with the bat that his lagging defense isn’t as concerning.  What is somewhat concerning is a worry that second basemen fall off the table without warning as they reach their early 30s (Roberto Alomar and Brian Roberts to name a few; some fear Chase Utley is next) because of the strains the position puts on the body.

24. David Price (SP, 25 years old) – We are in a peak period for excellent young arms so I’m not inclined to chase one in with the first round pick, especially given the inherent risk associated with them, but there are still some who are a cut above and would earn my pick depending on slotting.  Price is just scratching the surface of his potential and I think he is going to be something truly special.

25. Justin Verlander (SP, 28 years old) – The definition of a workhorse, Verlander piles up the innings with relative ease.  With two no-hitters already to his credit, many believe he could add more as his career progress (more as in multiple, not just another one).  Averaging nearly seven innings a start keeps him long enough to give up some garbage runs at times as he is very good at pitching to the situation, but it also has kept his ERA in the 3.00s throughout his career when he definitely the talent to post a sub-3.00 season or two and make a huge push for a Cy Young Award.

26. Carl Crawford (LF, 29 years old) – Unless I was playing somewhere like Fenway Park that robs a ton of his defensive value, Crawford is an elite all-around asset with plenty left in the tank.  Had he stormed out of the gates in the first two months of the season, I’m sure he’d have been taken in the ESPN Draft, alas you only have one chance to take a closer or a backup catcher in the first round so Crawford was left out.

27. Shin-Soo Choo (RF, 28 years old) – This is a superstar from a pure numbers aspect, but playing for a last place team (until now) like Cleveland the last few years leaves him overshadowed and without the due he deserves.  He is the classic .300/.400/.500 guy with power, speed and defense.  A little older at 28, but hardly too old to build around at 28.

28. Buster Posey (C, 24 years old) – A pick here assumes that his recently-suffered injury won’t incapacitate him anymore than this year or cause a move out from behind the plate because that’s where his value is best, of course.  He will never be a pure slugger contending for home run titles and that is what you would want out of a first baseman being picked to start your franchise.

29. Roy Halladay (SP, 34 years old) – Yes, he is the best pitcher in baseball right now, but I can’t only be focused on the here & now.  He is 34 years old and I’m not sure it is the smartest thing to start a franchise with an arm that old.  Of course, if I was saddled with a later pick in the first round, I would take Halladay and the build my team with a lean toward trying to win immediately.  That doesn’t mean I’d take all old guys, but ties would be broken on who can help more immediately.

30. Carlos Santana (C, 25 years old) – He won’t last at catcher, but that’s OK because his bat is so great that you don’t want him automatically losing games due to the wear and tear of that position.  However, he does have less value at first base because he isn’t a true slugger, at least not yet.  I’ll take him now and enjoy another 2-3 years of him as a catcher/first base hybrid and then hopefully I’ll have a catcher in my organization to take over just as Santana enters his prime as a fully developed hitter.

 

So that’s my list.  I’m sure there are disagreements, perhaps some agreements and plenty of thoughts so feel free to share them.  For reference, here is the ESPN Franchise Draft & Chat.

Tuesday: 05.31.2011

Roy Halladay Even Struggles Better Than Everyone Else

How many pitchers would kill to have one of their bad games be one where they go seven, give up four runs and still get the win?  Hundreds, I’m sure.  It wasn’t Roy Halladay’s worst start of the season, no, that was his six earned run in six and two-thirds showing where he yielding 10 hits and allowed walked a season-high two.

His Memorial Day effort during which he allowed three home runs, easily a season-worst, yielded his second lowest Game Score of the season at 46 yet he still managed to strike out five, walk nobody and as I mentioned, earned the win.  Still don’t think wins are a fluky, unpredictable whore of a stat?

What I found most interesting about Halladay’s start yesterday was that he gave up those three home runs yet still got a win.  How often does that happen?  More on that in that in a second.  Halladay doesn’t normally give up home runs, in fact even accounting for his Memorial Day three pack, his HR/9 rate is up to a still-tiny 0.5.

Since becoming a full-time starter back in 2001, his rate hasn’t topped 1.0.  In the parts of three years before that homers were a major issue for the young Halladay (21-23 years old in that span).  That said, he isn’t averse to allowing three or more in a start even during his reign as baseball’s best pitcher, or at least one of them.

In his Cy Young season of 2003 when he went 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and league-best 6.4 K/BB rate, he twice allowed three bombs in a game.  The first was against the Royals where the homers proved to be the only earned damage against Halladay as he went six leaving before there was a decision.  Toronto won the game 6-5.

The other was a bit more damaging, but again he didn’t expire the bullpen going 7.3 innings allowing six runs striking out seven and walking just one.  He had a similar outing the following year going 6.7 innings allowing seven, six earned against Detroit, but struck out nine and walked a pair.

He has allowed 3+ home runs seven more times since 2007 which is tied with eight others for the third-most in major league baseball, including Johan Santana interestingly enough.  In those games, he is a seemingly impossible 4-2 (.667 winning percentage) outclassing his mates with a 5.47 ERA (next best is 6.95; worst is 12.20) and 1.31 WHIP (1.43; 1.96).

One of his four wins even came when he allowed four home runs in a game.  That was last year in September against Milwaukee.  They were all solo shots and the only four runs allowed by Halladay.

Now, how often does a starting pitcher give up three home runs and still come out on the other end with a win?  Here’s a clue, it’s not two-thirds of the time like Halladay.  In that same 2007-2011 span, the league is 70-449 (.135 winning percentage) in 3+ home runs allowed starts for major league baseball pitchers.

Not surprisingly, Halladay is also the best at saving the bullpen during those poor outing going 51 innings with Santana and James Shields checking in behind him at 44 each.  Of the 35 players with 5+ three home runs allowed outing since 2007, only he and now teammate Cliff Lee have a complete game under their belt.  Even when he’s doing poorly, Halladay is still better than everyone else.

Monday: 05.23.2011

Sunday Twidbits: May 22nd

Here are this week’s MLB Sunday Twidbits which is something I’ll be doing every Sunday throughout the baseball season.  It’s a simple exercise whereby I tour the league giving a statistical tidbit per team on Twitter feed (@sporer).  Sometimes a team or two will get more than one if I have more than one nugget I really want to share, but every team will be represented at least once.

Cin –  Jay Bruce is 12-for-26 w/3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R in his last 7; hitting .319 w/7 HR in May. Hope you were patient thru slow April (.237, 4 HR).

Cle –  Asdrubal Cabrera has 200% more HRs (9) than last yr (3); topped last yr’s RBI total (29 in 97 G) w/his 31st in his 44th gm.

Cle2 –  A.Cabrera is the latest member of the Paul Sporer Year Early Team; loved him for a breakout. I’m tellin ya, my ’11 rosters=’12 cheatsheets

Cle3 –  Josh Tomlin has the largest ERA-FIP disparity in MLB. He will implode bc .175 BABIPs & 85% LOB%s don’t last. Trade now… for anything.

NYM –  Carlos Beltran hitting .281/.380/.534 is = or > career #s & on pace for 28-88. Scared of inj? Trade for full value as #s warrant nice return.

NYY –  Brett Gardner was hitting .145 on Apr 28 & popping on wires; hitting .369/.455/.492 w/14 R, 11 RBI, 3 SB and 1 HR since.

NYY2 –  Gardner (cont.) – Cut guys after 62 AB & you deserve to lose… regardless of lg. format.

Hou –  With Astros O exceeding expectations, Michael Bourn‘s value is higher than usual. Elite SBer (59 pace), but also on pace for 100 R.

Tor –  Need Ks but can afford a bit of an ERA hit? Buy Brandon Morrow. He’s -0.10 on ERA, but huge in Ks, espec. if cat. is bunched in your lg.

Tor2 –  Jays getting .186/.242/.291 at 3B w/25th-worst D. Brett Lawrie & his .346/.403/.633 line w/11 HR, 29 XBH & 9 SB CAN’T be far off. Speculate.

TB –  Might consider selling Jeremy Hellickson & his wobbly 3.18 ERA. Built upon sub-2.0 K/BB, .250 BABIP & 6% HR/FB (43% FB); 3.81 FIP = danger.

TB2 –  Hellickson (cont.) – If you’re contending in kpr lg w/cheap Helly, even better to trade bc you could net an absolute mint.

Flo –  Leo Nunez has been arguably baseball’s best closer this yr. in a yr when it’s been espec. rocky. His skills last yr. predicted future success.

Tex –  Elvis Andrus was 32-47 SB last yr. along w/.301 SLG causing some to sour on the 22 y/o SS. He’s 15-15 SB & on pace for 55, 3 < than Hanley.

Phi –  Dom Brown punished AAA SPs going .341/.431/.537 in 11 G. Could be worth spec in offense-starved ’11 despite sub-.200 car. avg (in 66 AB).

Det –  DET bullpen is toting a 6.03 ERA w/only Valverde doing well. Schlereth has 3.00 ERA, but sub-1.0 K/BB & 6.58 FIP. Need Benoit to compete.

Pit –  Andrew McCutchen is hitting .311/.378/.554 in May w/3 HR, 12 RBI, 13 R & 3 SB. Slow April is behind him.

Was –  Jason Marquis has rejoined us on Earth in May w/6.26 ERA; control has left him (3.1 in May; 1.3 in Apr). I never believed, no reason to now.

Bal –  Nick Markakis is hitting .329 in May & .433 in last 7. .278 OBP (B.Roberts-.273) out of leadoff spot has stifled RBI opps during stretch.

Col –  Jhoulys Chacin has carried ’10 skill over (same K/BB), added a ton of GB (47% to 59%) & become COL ace. ERA might tick up a bit from 2.66.

Mil –  Jonathan LuCroy isn’t widely owned at any outlet yet has an .863 OPS w/4 HR & 18 RBI in 100 AB; .320 AVG WILL sink, but pwr worth spec.

LAD –  Don’t let a pair of stars fool you, LA is a must-start against for even your marginal SP. NL’s worst offense in May; 2nd-worst all yr by R.

Chw –  Matt Thornton has allowed 1 ER in 5.3 IP across 6 APP in May. Santos has just 1 meltdown, but mark my words: Thornton will close again in ’11.

StL –  Jaime Garcia‘s emergence & rise of Yadier Molina, Jon Jay & Allen Craig on O has more than made up for Waino loss; resulting in NLC lead.

KC –  May has brought Jeff Francoeur‘s descent into Francoeurdom (.239); though HRs stick & could lead to 6yr high. Has real value in pwr-less 11.

Atl –  Remember when Nate McLouth was “back”? Was hitting .287/.384/.417 thru 5/4. Hitting .143/.226/.196  w/1 HR, 1 RBI & 4 R since.

Atl –  If McLouth has a 30+ G stretch of .287 during the season, no one bats an eye, but to start seas. some think it means more. It doesn’t.

LAA –  Jordan Walden has labored thru May (6.75 ERA in 8 IP) w/3 BSv, but also 3 SV & 9 K. Only lefty Scott Downs has excelled, but unlikely for role.

Oak –  Trevor Cahill has allowed >2 ER just once. K rate has come back down (6.3 K/9 in May), but still capable of big K gm (5-7-1-6)

SF –  Remember worrying about Tim Lincecum? Velo is highest in 3 yrs (93), ERA career best (2.06), allowed 0-1 ER in 6 of 10 GS. Remains elite.

Sea –  After posting an 8.56 ERA in first 3 starts, Erik Bedard has a 1.97 ERA & 0.97 WHIP in last 5 w/7.3 K/9 & 2.4 K/BB. Widely available.

SD –  SD has 4 RP w/21+ IP of 1.16 WHIP or better and 2.6 K/BB or better. Doesn’t incl. Bell & Gregerson. Expect major activity at trade deadline.

Min –  Jason Kubel is the only Twins player with 50+ AB w/an OPS over .708 which also means he’s the only one w/an OPS higher than Joey Bats’ SLG!

Ari –  Ryan Roberts is on pace for 25 HR, 21 SB, 81 R and 74 RBI yet still not fully owned. Check your wire. Better than 1.0 K/BB is impressive, too.

Chc –  Matt Garza has used massive K & GB surges (11 K/9, 48% FB-both car. highs) to post solid 3.72 ERA, but HR correction (2.4 HR/FB%) will sting.

Chc2 –  Garza has a sky-high BABIP (.362) bc of terrible IF defense, but regression of BABIP & LOB% will only balance HR/FB at best. Hold, don’t buy

Chc3 –  After another big April, Kosuke Fukudome doing his usual slide back. .226 in May with 1 (!!!) RBI. He had 2 in April. That’s hard to do.

Bos –  Some people hate owning DH/U-only guys so David Ortiz & his 32 HR pace (& .294 AVG) could be had at a nice price. Inquire.

Wednesday: 02.9.2011

Daily Dose – February 9th

As much as I hate the miserably cold (relative to our climate) weather that has besieged Austin, I am comforted by the knowledge that baseball is on the way and we are seeing more baseball preview content up every single day.  Soon MLB Network will start their 30 Clubs in 30 Days series and with that hopefully the bitter cold of mid-20s with near single digits wind chills will head back to the Midwest and Northeast where it belongs.  I wish this kind of weather understood how unwelcomed it was here in central Texas.  Go back to the people who are insane to actually crave four seasons of weather.  I’m fine with one: summer.

Ray Flowers (@BaseballGuys) has a fun series over at RotoTimes.com called “I Like Because…” where he digs deeper on some second and third tier players to show their upside.  He makes his case for getting away from the term “sleeper” positing that in the information age, they don’t really exist.  I see where he is coming from on the whole sleeper thing mainly because I think there are different levels of players being undervalued and putting them all under the header of sleeper simplifies it too much, but no need to rabbit-hole on that right now.  I still use the term, but I like to categorize my sleepers when I do articles dedicated to identifying them.

I don’t agree with everything in the article, but I do like that he gives some love to Justin Masterson, someone I’ve been a fan of for a couple of years now.  Masterson didn’t perform as I expected last year as he continues to get positively obliterated by left-handers.  He needs to figure that out if he is ever going to reach his potential.  For his career, lefties have a .291/.381/.433 line against him while righties are much worse at .228/.304/.322.  Until he shows noticeable improvement against southpaws, he is a spot-starter against right-handed-heavy lineups only.

Over at FanGraphs, Carson Cistulli (@cistulli) did some great analysis in examining some of the top scouts of the last five years.  Through his own admission, this piece is merely a jump off point to further analysis, but it is a very interesting study that I look forward to seeing fleshed out either by Cistulli or others.

As the baseball season draws nearer, so too does the release of MLB 2K11 (March 8th), the latest of a series that just keeps getting better annually.  Initially the bar was pretty low, but last year was a huge stride forward and 2011 is setting up to be yet another large step toward perfection.  Jon Robinson got a chance to interview Roy Halladay, this year’s cover, and discuss aspects of pitching a perfect game in 2K11 which is again will be worth a million bucks as it was last year, though Halladay admits it will be tougher.  I took a few no-hitters into the 8th inning last year and one into the 9th, but I was never more than six innings into perfection.  Operation Sports has plenty of MLB 2K11 coverage, too, including screenshots and previews.

MLB.com has released their fantasy baseball positional previews.  It’s a great primer to kick off your 2011 fantasy prep work.  They go deep at every position with 73 catchers, 83 first basemen, 95 second basemen, 85 third basemen, 81 shortstops, 202 outfielders, 21 primary DHs, 230 starting pitchers and 128 relievers.  Each player capsule has the pertinent previous 3 years of stats, projections for 2011, a dollar value, a paragraph with their outlook and a “Fantasy Bottom Line”.  Best of it, it’s all free.  It would be a value at $8-10 which is what you would pay for a fantasy magazine that is outdated long before it hits the shelf.

Want another opinion on players?  How about four more opinions?  Yahoo’s team of guy has released their positional rankings as well as a top 100.  These rankings are short on analysis containing just the 1 through however many deep each position goes, but the Y! gang will have plenty of content coming out throughout February and March so this is just something to whet your appetite for now.

Over at AOL Fanhouse, Frankie Piliere (@FrankiePiliere) released his top 100 prospects list for 2011.  His #1 player won’t surprise, but his #2 might as might a noticeable absence from the top five.  Piliere has experience as a talent evaluator and scout so this is far from a dartboard approach to he is using.  He certainly doesn’t tow the industry line either.  I scanned the list 1-100, but I’ve yet to read every capsule so I’m interested to see his analysis on players (1-50 have a paragraph of breakdown included).

Bill Ladson was on the Beyond the Boxscore podcast this week and he said he expects Stephen Strasburg to be pitching in September of this year.  That’s probably the most aggressive projection for Strasburg’s return as many have had him out for all of 2011.  If this is true, it possibly raises an interesting question for non-keeper drafters about whether or not to take Strasburg and when.  Obviously if you have to keep him in the active roster all year, there is no way you would draft him in March.

However, if there is a reserve roster system in your league then you have to weigh the potential of him helping you for a stretch run against killing a precious roster spot for a guaranteed five months.  For me personally, I wouldn’t even entertain it, but that’s my conservative approach.  Who knows what he would even deliver in six or seven starts to close out the season.  He could be like teammate Jordan Zimmerman who went 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 7.8 K/9 in seven starts or slightly better like Tim Hudson in 2009 who went 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 6.4 K/9 also in seven starts.  Neither was a game-changer for their owner down the stretch, but neither has the talent of Strasburg, either.

OK, I like Blake Griffin as much as the next guy, but what the hell is going on here??  It’s pretty hilarious if you ask me, but definitely in a creepy kind of way.

In addition to being hilarious, this is also awesome: Saved by the Bell Megacast!  I don’t have a clue who Rob Cesternino or Eric Stein are, but by listening to the podcast I eventually learned that they are reality TV people of some sort.  That information is totally irrelevant.  All that matters is that they did a 2 hour and 51 minute podcast devoted solely to Saved by the Bell.  If you grew up loving the show like I did, watching the 2 hour blocks on cable during the weekdays and then the new episodes on Saturday mornings on NBC, then this is a must-listen.

Knowledge Bomb: In keeping with the theme of ranking lists being released today, I’ll share my top 24 catchers for 2011 in today’s KB.  Catcher remains top-heavy in terms of star power, but the next level down is much deeper than it has been in past years.  Catcher is a tough position to figure in fantasy baseball because it’s the only position with built in days off and the grind of catching can easily add extra days off to that total thanks to nicks and bruises throughout the season.

It is rare that the top catcher will be on par with the top guys at the other positions.  The exceptions are transcendent seasons like Joe Mauer’s 2009 campaign.  One strategy to consider is find catcher-eligible guys who will spend a lot or even most of their time elsewhere on the diamond this year.  Their value will still be highest at catcher on your roster, but if their team plays them at first base, outfield or DH, that’s a good thing for your team.

  1. Joe Mauer
  2. Victor Martinez
  3. Brian McCann
  4. Buster Posey
  5. Carlos Santana
  6. Mike Napoli
  7. Geovany Soto
  8. Miguel Montero
  9. Matt Wieters
  10. Kurt Suzuki
  11. Carlos Ruiz
  12. Chris Iannetta
  13. Jorge Posada
  14. Yadier Molina
  15. J.P. Arencibia
  16. A.J. Pierzynski
  17. John Buck
  18. Miguel Olivo
  19. Ryan Doumit
  20. Alex Avila
  21. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
  22. John Jaso
  23. Russell Martin
  24. Jesus Montero
  25. Jason Castro

Overvalued: Buster Posey – his great debut and playoff exposure has him going in the 4th round of a lot of drafts.  That’s really high for most catchers, but especially for those with just 423 at-bats on their record, even for a wunderkind like Posey.

Undervalued: A.J. Pierzynski – he’s not great by any stretch, but he’s often overlooked.  2011 will be no different as a putrid April and weak May tanked his numbers and covered up a .299 AVG/.719 OPS in the second half (up from .247/.664).

Best of the Rest: Josh Thole – a great approach at the plate (24 BB/25 K in 227 PA) plus a wide open chance at the full-time gig gives the 24-year old a chance at a solid season.  He’s never had even a modicum of power (10 HR in 1733 minor lg PAs) and that’s really what you want from your backstop which is why he didn’t crack the first 25.

Rookie to Watch: Jesus Montero – it’s hard not to be impressed with the prospects of Montero as he has ripped through the minor leagues like few before him, but the presence of Posada and Martin make it tough to project much playing time for the 21-year old right now.  Given that he needs to work on his defense if he expects to stay behind the dish, he’s like to spend a lot of time in AAA to hone his defensive skills.

I’ll leave you with a breakdown of reporting dates for each organization as we get closer & closer to the beginning of Spring Training:

Thursday: 02.3.2011

Three Questions – San Diego Padres

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide set to come out in a few weeks, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

What happens to this offense without Adrian Gonzalez?

Oh don’t worry, new first baseman Brad Hawpe will fill in so well that you will barely notice Gonzalez left.  A .298/.393/.511 line with 31 bombs and 101 RBIs shouldn’t be a problem for Hawpe.  OK that’s obviously an egregious lie that I don’t believe in the least.  Do you want to know how important Gonzalez was to an offense that still only finished 22nd with him?  Look at this:

Gonzalez led them in five key offensive categories and no one was really close.  Chase Headley was the 2nd-highest qualifying batting average at .264, Will Venable’s 13 home runs were 2nd to Gonzalez, Headley had a whopping 58 RBIs to finish 2nd on the team, Yorvit Torrealba was 50 points behind Gonzalez with a .343 OBP, but that came in just 325 at-bats.  The 2nd-highest qualifying on-base percentage was again Headley with a paltry .327 mark.  And in the most hotly contest of the five categories, Headley finished 14 hits behind Gonzalez with 161 on the season.

Counting stats for Padres hitters are likely to be even worse than they were last year cutting into the already stunted value of the group.  Headley managed those 58 RBIs despite hitting behind Gonzalez, who was getting on base 40% of the time for him.  The team added some pieces in addition Hawpe including a brand new double play duo with Orlando Hudson at second base and Jason Bartlett at shortstop as well as former super-prospect Cameron Maybin, but the loss of Gonzalez is still a major blow to an offense that was already pretty poor.

The power-sapping ways of PETCO park are nothing new and Padres hitters have long been evaluated with that impact built in, but without their superstar cog in the middle the entire group takes another hit to their value.  The chances of the six year streak of a non-Gonzalez entity topping 100 R or 100 RBI being broken seem slim.  The last two players to do it were in 2004 when Mark Loretta scored 108 runs and Phil Nevin drove in 105.

Following up a career year with one of his worst, what’s in store for Jason Bartlett in 2011?

The 2010 season was a rough one for Bartlett especially in light of his breakout 2009 in which he hit 14 home runs, drove in 66 runs, scored 90 runs, stolen 30 bases and hit .320, all career highs.  Lucky for him, he plays shortstop which is a barren wasteland after the top tier so he will have some value no matter what.  How much exactly is going to be tied to how many stolen bases he rack up.  He had a string of 23, 20 and 30 before last year’s 11, so the ability is there and San Diego was the 6th-runningest (so surprised that didn’t get a red squiggly line under it in Word) team last year with 124 stolen bases.

Additionally, he can offer some batting average value or at least not be a drag for a team.  Last year his .254 was a drag as regression bit back hard from 2009 and instead of falling back to career norms, he was actually a bit unlucky.  He is .281 hitter for his career and there is no reason to think he shouldn’t bounce back to that in 2011 and if luck breaks his way again, it wouldn’t be tough for him to top .300 again.  So as a late round speed/average shortstop, he has some value.  As I mentioned already, counting numbers will be tough to come by on this team.  Especially for Bartlett who isn’t particularly adept at getting on base.  Though he has a career .345 OBP, it is propped up by the standout 2009 and a .367 mark in 372 plate appearances back in 2006.

One last thing to consider with him is that he has only averaged 135 games played in the last four years with a high watermark of 140 and a low of 128.  That means you’re going to need a replacement for around 27 games, or 16% of the season.  Given the dearth of talent at shortstop, this can be a problematic proposition.  His backup is likely to be Kevin Frandsen or Everth Cabrera.  You could fill one of Bartlett’s strengths depending on who fills in, Frandsen for average and Cabrera for speed.  If you’re left hitting the wire, you may find that the remains are somehow even less appealing than Frandsen and Cabrera.

Is Cameron Maybin ready to pay dividends on his blue chip prospect status?

The problem is we might not even notice if he does improve because of his home ballpark.  He has certainly proven everything he can in the minor leagues so it is time for the three-time top 8 Baseball America prospect to start showing the talent at the big league level.  At 24 with just a season’s worth of big league plate appearances (610) under his belt, even a poor 2011 wouldn’t be enough to write him off completely but it would put closer to Brandon Wood territory.

The biggest issue right now is the striking out.  He has struck out in 31% of his major league at-bats despite the significant gains in K% in the minors.  After striking out in 32% of his AA at-bats in 2008, he cut down to 20% in his first run through AAA in 2009 followed by 19% in 130 AAA at-bats last year.  Any contact would be better than striking out for Maybin at this point.  At the very least, he could maybe use his excellent speed to turn some of his groundballs into base hits.

Better pitch recognition can increase his value another way as more walks would again allow him to add value by way of his speed.  As noted in the Bartlett section above, the Padres aren’t afraid to run, but it is hard to do much running with a .302 on-base percentage.

I don’t think Maybin will magically fix the strikeout and walk issues all at once in 2011, but I think we will see incremental gains in his first full season which should yield a 20+ stolen base season and low-teens power.  You can do much worse than that for a low dollar late outfield option in NL-Only leagues.  I don’t think he is quite a dollar days guy just yet, especially if your league has any guys who love grabbing the next big thing, but his price tag shouldn’t be pushing double digits.  As a single digit buy, I would highlight him as a quality end-game play perfect for rounding out a team.

Thursday: 01.27.2011

Three Questions – San Francisco Giants

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

I paid a lot for Pablo Sandoval last spring, WTF?

Yeah that was a tough one to swallow.  He certainly didn’t come close to expectations, but at the same time he wasn’t the season killer he is made out to be, either.  Season killers are multiple month injuries on April 12th.  You can overcome guys who underperform expectations, but still play 152 games.  Plus it isn’t like his season was a complete & utter disaster, he had streaks of excellence mixed in, namely his April and August where he posted 1.008 and .907 OPS marks, respectively.

In many leagues, Sandoval’s down season (.268/.323/.409 w/13 HRs) will actually create a buying opportunity as owners overreact to what essentially amounts to a sophomore slump at age 23.  Most guys aren’t even in the big leagues at 23 and Sandoval has 1400+ plate appearances under his belt.   We have seen the best of Sandoval and we have seen the worst of Sandoval and with his price being driven by the latter, now is the time to invest.  In the SiriusXM/FSTA Draft during their conference out in Las Vegas on Monday, he was taken in the 8th round (101st overall) of a 13-team mixed league.  Last year he was a 3rd-4th round pick.

Third base is still pretty thin so his value won’t completely plummet, but I would consider that 8th round value to be the high end of where he will go in drafts so you might be able to get him a few rounds later depending on your league.  Once you get past the top 10 of Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Aramis Ramirez, Pedro Alvarez, Martin Prado, Michael Young and Casey McGehee then I think Sandoval is just as good of a pick as the other guy.

He won’t offer nearly as much power as Mark Reynolds, but his overall profile is much more stable.  He doesn’t carry the age/injury risk of Scott Rolen & Chipper Jones and factoring in reasonable improvement regression, he should be better than them even if they manage to stay healthy.  Bottom line is you should pay for a guy hitting .300 with 18 home runs and 75+ runs scored and driven in, but be willing to go the extra buck or two for the potential he has as a 24-year old still coming into his own.

Andres Torres was a prototypical fantasy All-Star last year, what about 2011?

At 33, we’re not dealing with a growth profile here.  Torres’s 570 plate appearances last year eclipsed his career total by 115 spread across parts of five seasons.  That said, he gave us a taste of 2010 in 170 plate appearances in 2009 when he had six home runs and six stolen bases along with eight(!) triples.  After an amazing July, he sputtered down the stretch no doubt suffering some fatigue from his first whole season.  For 2011, it is going to be all about cost.

I’m confident he can put together another solid power/speed season as a “glue guy” for any fantasy team, but is the price tag going to be that of a glue guy or second tier fantasy star?  Early returns are mixed.  His ADP (average draft position) at one popular mock draft sites is off the charts ridiculous.  He is checking in as the 35th outfielder off the board (116th overall) ahead of guys like Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells and Nick Markakis.  While I said I don’t doubt he can repeat 2010, drafting him ahead of those guys means he has to repeat for me to get proper returns on my investment.

In the industry draft I mentioned earlier, he went in the 20th round (250th overall) which actually hits the other end of the spectrum as a great value.  I doubt he will go that late in most drafts, but anything before 15th-16th round is really ramping up the risk on your end.  He is a great story who has overcome his ADHD to have success in the big leagues, but you still have to remember he is a 33-year old strikeout machine with solid speed in a lineup that is still only decent at best.

Look for a .260-76-12-55-22 line which has value, but let your team construction dictate if he is a fit or not.  If you have a lot of high risk/high reward youth on the team, then Torres is a great stabilizing vet who’s downside isn’t  going to kill you.  But if you have a veteran-laden team on offense, then bet on the upside of a Travis Snider or Logan Morrison before taking a low ceiling Torres.

Is there anyone off the radar who could make an impact for the reigning Champions?

Yes there is and it is someone who has already been covered in depth here, first baseman/left fielder Brandon Belt, who was my favorite player to watch that Arizona Fall League back in November.  As presently constructed, the Giants lineup is essentially Posey, Sandy and Six Old Dudes.  Now those old dudes came through huge last year, especially in the playoffs and helped bring home a title, but older players aren’t bastions of health.  Injuries create opportunities which is where someone who is just about ready for the big leagues, like Belt, comes into play.

The reason Belt now has left fielder attached to his defensive description is because first base, his normal position, is pretty well sealed up for the time being.  Aubrey Huff parlayed his excellent 2010 season into a deserved contract and though he is 34, he has averaged 152 games per season since his age 26 season.  In that time, he has played fewer than 150 just once.  That said, age is fickle.  But the real opportunity could come in left field where Pat Burrell was something of a savior for that lineup in 96 games last year but is neither young (34), agile (-39.7 career UZR) or super healthy of late (122 & 120 GP the last 2 years).

Belt was a breakout prospect last year crossing three levels before heading to Arizona where he continued to stay hot.  Only 13 of his 136 games came at AAA-Fresno so he will start the 2011 season down there to get some more seasoning so he isn’t someone who should be drafted as anything other than a minor leaguer right now, but don’t be surprised if he earns an early summer call-up to spark that offense.

Make no mistake that the Giants won the World Series because of their pitching and that remains their overwhelming strength for 2011.  The offense is far from perfect and the veterans will have to produce with Posey if the team expects to contend out west and if not, GM Brian Sabean will have to find guys who can with Belt being the best minor league option for the Giants.

Tuesday: 01.25.2011

Three Questions – Seattle Mariners

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

Will Justin Smoak start to look like the guy who was the centerpiece in a deal for an ace?

Smoak, a blue chip prospect coming up through the Rangers’ organization, drew rave reviews in three minor league seasons ranking 13th (2010) and 23rd (2009) on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list the last two years.  He was being compared to former Ranger Mark Teixeira, likely due to the easy surface comparison of switch-handedness, a deft eye at the plate, first round draft status and first base positioning on the diamond.  It will be tough to find out how apt those comparisons were as Smoak is now a Seattle Mariner.

His career started off with a whimper in 275 plate appearances with the Rangers, but he still showed the ability to draw walks with a 105-point split between his batting average and on-base percentage, although both lagged with the latter topping out at .316.  His 8-home run total wasn’t horrible either.  Across a full season, that projects to the low-20 power Smoak was projected for in his young career.  Results on the whole were slightly better in Seattle (93 OPS+ v. 79 in Texas) though they came at the expense of his batting eye as the difference in average and OBP dwindled to 48 points.

As the centerpiece return for the M’s in the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers the expectation for Smoak to hit Teixeira likely won’t go away, however the capacity to do so will be seriously diminished in his home park of Safeco Field.  According to StatCorner.com, Safeco Field has a park factor of 91 on home runs for left-handed batters and just 84 for righties.  For the uninitiated, anything below 100 favors pitchers.  So for 81 of his games, Smoak is going to be playing in an environment that eats away at his ability to do the thing fantasy owners need most out of a first base/corner infield option, hit for power.

Factor in the historically bad lineup which has no chance but to improve but will still struggle and you’ve got a player bringing very little to the table in terms of production.  If the low-20s was Smoak’s ceiling for the early part of his career in Texas, then 15-17 is the new ceiling playing in Seattle.  Combine that with below average runs scored and driven in totals and you have waiver wire fodder in most league formats.  He will get drafted because of his name and because of his hot September (.340/.421/.580, 3 HR, 9 RBI), both of which are factors that will price me out for sure.  I don’t need a hit before I pass this Smoak.

Where do I draft Ichiro now that he’s 37 & stuck in that lineup?

I am less concerned about the age than I am his awful supporting cast who last year cashed in Ichiro’s .359 on-base percentage for a whopping 74 runs.  SEVENTY-FOUR!!!  He hit .315 with 214 hits and scored 74 runs.  We have already seen within his early-to-mid 30s that Ichiro isn’t aging normally.  He continues to be an age-defying star and there is no reason to bet that he drops off the table suddenly in 2011.  As I have mentioned many times before, I would be careful subscribing to these trends, but he has an on-off trend with his batting average that is schedule for an on year.  His last four years in order have been .351, .310, .352 and .315 meaning if the trend held he would be in for another transcendent batting average year that can carry a fantasy team.

On-off trends are hardly the statistical work of Baseball Prospectus and company, but maybe he dedicates himself in a different way during the offseason of those “down” seasons to come back and have another huge year.  Flimsy at best, so don’t use it as the reason to draft him.  Draft him because he hits .300+ in a ton of at-bats with 35+ stolen bases.  Unfortunately he cannot be counted on for runs until further notice, but he is a stud in two categories.

In a recent “Experts” Draft held over at CBS, he went at the top of the 5th round.  I might be more prone to take him in the back of the 4th round when all of those picks were being wasted on starting pitchers, but it’s inconsequential to say he is late 4th instead of an early 5th round pick.  Anywhere in that pick 40-60 range suits me just fine.  The age is scary to many so you may even be able to hold off until the 6th round or get a few dollars shaved off of his auction price.  When you are dealing with superstar once-in-a-lifetime players, things like natural age progression and mistrusting the stats is how you get burned.  He is as solid as they get in this game on unpredictability.

Is there anyone besides Ichiro worth caring about in this lineup?

Yes, there is some hidden value.  Off the top, I would be willing to bet on a Chone Figgins rebound.  The price is likely to be ripe for a profit as his .259 average left a sour taste in the over-reactionary populace of fantasy baseball while you are smart enough to wade through the belly-aching and see a guy who still stole 42 bases and hit much better from June on (.280) after entering the month with a .211 average.

But for the purposes of this question, I would like to shift your attention to the former AL West foe who was brought to the Mariners to provide some punch to their lineup, Jack Cust.  You may recall about 500 or so words ago I lamented Safeco Field and what it does to a hitter’s power.  However the “hitter” in that example is a mere mortal when it comes to power hitting, he is no Jack Cust.  Cust’s power isn’t to be stifled by cavernous stadiums whether in the Bay Area or the great Northwest.

Cust popped a .501 slugging percentage in McAfee Coliseum, his former home in Oakland, which has a home run park factor just a point higher at 92 for lefties than his new home.  This means his power won’t be stifled, just as the power of the guy whose shoes he is filling, Russell Branyan, wasn’t during his two stints with Seattle.  Cust has a legitimate shot to replicate Branyan’s 31 home run season from 2009 and he certainly doesn’t cost what 31 home runs should (went 29th round in the aforementioned “Experts” League) so put a star next to him on your draft list.

Saturday: 01.22.2011

Three Questions – Texas Rangers

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

Michael Young. Go.

OK, that’s not really a question, but his offseason has been one of uncertainty with the signing of Adrian Beltre and Baseball-Reference.com referring to him as Mike Young for some reason, so what does 2011 have in store for him?  For fantasy purposes the movement on the diamond whether over to first base or off the field to designated hitter has no real impact on his fantasy value because he will still qualify at third base based on last year.  That is where his value is highest without question.  I can’t really see the position move impacting his offense too much, either, though sometimes guys just don’t respond well to DH’ing.

Young has been a legitimate fantasy asset now for eight straight seasons and even at 34 years old there is nothing in his profile to suggest that will change.  The batting average dipped below .300 for only the second time in the eight year stretch since 2003, but with his flyball rate climbing yearly since 2007, that is hardly shocking.  The tradeoff is the likelihood of his power staying in the upper teens, lower 20s area.  His team dependent numbers should remains strong as the lineup actually gets better than its 2010 iteration with addition of Beltre.  With third base still one of the thinner positions on the infield (shortstop is the thinnest), Young remains a quality asset whether at third or filling your corner infielder spot.

Can Mitch Moreland hold the first base spot all year or does Chris Davis take that job and run with it?

Moreland joined the Rangers late in July and enjoyed a solid 47-game stint, but the results aren’t indicative of what you should expect over a full season.  He showed uncharacteristic power (9 HR in 145 AB; 12 in 353 minor lg. AB) thanks to a 21.2% HR/FB which would be tough to sustain over an entire season and would certainly qualify as an upset if he did it.  With a 29 AB/HR rate in 1398 minor league at-bats, no one is betting he is going to sustain his 16 HR/AB over a full season in the majors.

Conversely, he showed a much better knack for getting base hits in the minors than he did in his short time at the big leagues.  A career .313 hitter in the minors, Moreland hit just .255 in his time with the Rangers.  In essence, I would bet on the two trends reversing where he a low double-digit home run total for the season would be paired with a .285+ batting average and above average plate discipline.

But will it be enough?  For your fantasy team, not in mixed leagues as he profiles as a slightly better Daric Barton.  For the Rangers, that is to be determined.  Davis is a prototypical AAAA guy who has mashed his way through the minor leagues on multiple occasions, but failed to carry it into the big leagues in his last two years after a strong rookie debut in 2008.  Of course despite being written off as a complete bust by most, he is still just 25 years old.  Plenty of guys don’t even start their major league career until age 25 and he already has 872 major plate appearances under his belt so it’s far from over for him.

On the whole, Davis has more upside than Moreland related specifically to his prodigious power so inking Moreland in at first base on your Texas Rangers lineup projection is dangerous.  A lot can change between now and Opening Day.  It is a situation to monitor closely throughout the spring, but in the end it is one to avoid in anything but the deepest leagues where I would be more willing to gamble on Davis with a late pick if he has a solid spring than invest in Moreland’s higher floor, but much lower ceiling.

Is this the year that Ian Kinsler finally puts it *all* together?

Kinsler, a fantasy favorite for a few years now, has a 30-30 season (2009), a 20-20 season (2007), a .319 season (2008), a .517 slugging season (2008), two 100 runs scored seasons and two All-Star appearances (2008, 2010) yet his career still feels like something of a disappointment when you realize it could be so much better.  In the 30-30 and 20-20 seasons, he hit .253 and .263 respectively.  In the All-Star seasons he only played 121 and 101 games.  In fact he’s only played more than 130 games once in his five year career.  He is either putting up an incredible minus one key factor and/or having injuries cut dream seasons short.

So is 2011 the season of 150 games, 100-30-90-30? … No, of course not.  Sorry, but there is just no way you can realistically project that at 29 he is all of a sudden going to make it through an entire season.  Health is a skill and it’s one he lacks.  That said, he is still generally putting up a season’s worth of numbers in the 100-odd games he does play so he is still worth drafting relatively given the risk, but I think it would be foolish to reach for him at a position that has a lot more depth than many seem to realize.

Maybe shortstop’s stink drifts over to second base or fantasy owners just associate middle infield positions with scarcity, but second base has plenty of viable option.  Those automatically ahead of Kinsler for include Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips.  After that group, Kinsler’s power-speed combo is just too rich to pass up for guys like Rickie Weeks and Martin Prado, who are very good, but just don’t offer Kinsler’s robust fantasy excellence.  Plus you can always dream that everything goes his (and your) way and he finally plays a full set of games.  Just don’t bet on it.

Friday: 01.21.2011

Three Questions – Oakland A’s

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

How will the playing time be split between the 947 outfielders on the roster?

After their offseason acquisitions, the Oakland A’s have the following outfielders on the roster: Chris Carter, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Conor Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Ryan Sweeney, Michael Taylor and Josh Willingham.  With Jack Cust no longer on the team, you pretty much pencil Matsui into the DH spot for most of the season.  That leaves seven players for three spots.  So the ideal setup would be DeJesus in left, Crisp in center and Willingham in right.

Ideal is the operative word here because though the A’s would love to get 150 apiece games out of that trio, they are far from the modicum of health.  DeJesus played just 91 games last year and has only once topped 144 in his career (157 in ’07).  Crisp has never reached the 150-game plateau.  In the past three seasons he has played 118, 49 and 75 games, so he is far from a sure thing.  Add in that he is now on the wrong side of 30 years old (31), too.  Like Crisp, Willingham has never reached the 150-game plateau, either.  He has only topped 500 at-bats twice in his career and they were in his first two full seasons as a major leaguer (2006 & 2007).  In the subsequent three years, he has 351, 427 and 370 at-bats.

So like I said, in a dream world the A’s would give the bulk of time to those three players but history says that you really shouldn’t bet on that with any level of certainty.  Since he can play all three positions, Sweeney is natural fit for the fourth outfielder as he can be plugged in for any of the three starters.  Jackson primarily plays left, but could play right in a pinch.  He can also play first base so he could end up rotating around the diamond to get his playing time.

Carter and Taylor might both start the season in AAA.  The former can’t really play anywhere so he projects as the backup DH right now while the former is on the cusp of being a busted prospect.  He was rated 29th by Baseball America before the 2010 season and went out and laid an egg with a .740 OPS and just six home runs after seasons of 19 and 20 and OPS marks of .968 and .944 in 2008 and 2009.  He can play all three outfield spots so he can back anyone up or take over a starting job if he establishes himself at the plate in AAA.

The A’s have great depth in the outfield which suits them quite well, but does little inspire fantasy owners.  All of their outfielders are likely to be discounted both because of health concerns and the lack of clarity around playing time so if one or more of them manages to play a full season, they will be very profitable for their team.  I would pick one you think is most worth gambling on, but avoid rostering multiple A’s outfielders.  Ranking them, I’d go: Crisp, Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus, Sweeney, Jackson, Carter and Taylor.

What’s up with Kurt Suzuki?

That is kind of a vague question, but looking at his 2010 season against 2009 season shows significant decline in total player value, but more so to the A’s than to fantasy owners.  His runs and RBIs sunk, but a lot of that is tied to the 75 fewer at-bats as opposed to a production drop.  His power output was essentially the same as he hit two fewer home runs in the 75 fewer ABs.  The big drop came in 32-point batting average decline which shades his season as much worse than it actually was, again from a fantasy aspect specifically.

Calling it a 32-point drop sounds a lot worse than calling it what it really is, a 3.2% dip over the course of 131 games.  Playing 131 games is essentially 21 weeks of a 26 week season and in that span the difference between a .274 batting average and a .242 batting average is 16 hits, or less than one a week.  When you think about it like that, he needed less than one extra bloop a week to fall in and all the talk about “what was wrong with Suzuki?” would be non-existent.

This is why I don’t flip out over batting average fluctuations from one year to the next within a certain range.  Some raise an eyebrow and there is something within their skills that points to a long-term problem, but mostly it’s statistical noise.  For Suzuki, he suffered a very weird anomaly where he had a 20% infield flyball rate, more than double his previous career high.  It contributed to an ugly .245 BABIP which obviously held his batting average down.

Use Suzuki’s 2009 as a baseline projection for his 2011 season and draft accordingly.  Catcher is deeper than usual thanks to the recent influx of young talent (namely Carlos Santana and Buster Posey) and Suzuki projects as a borderline top 10 candidate at the position.

Does Daric Barton have any value in standard 5×5 leagues?

In a word?  No.  Because standard leagues don’t use on-base percentage which eliminates his most value asset: the ability to draw walks (AL high 110 last year).  And that leaves you with a first baseman or corner infielder hitting a blasé .265-.275, barely scraping double digit power with fewer than 60 RBIs (due at least in some part to his team setting) and not turning his high on-base percentage into a high number of runs scored (again, due at least in part to his team setting).  That’s trash.

There were 15 first basemen that hit 20+ home runs, which is double Barton’s output and there were 27 in all who hit more than his pitiful 10 home runs.  There were 22 first basemen with more RBIs than his 57 including Kevin Youkilis who topped him by five in nearly 200 fewer at-bats.  Slotting him at corner only makes things look worse as there were another 11 third basemen with 20+ home runs, 21 topping 10 as well as 19 guys who topped his RBI output.

Unless you play in a specialty league that counts walks and/or on-base percentage, Barton is waiver wire fodder until further notice.  And I’m only leaving the door open slightly because he is 25 years old and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities for him to develop some power and for the Oakland lineup to stay healthy and generate plenty of run scoring and driving in opportunities, but the opening is very minimal and I certainly wouldn’t advise you to bet on it.