December 2008

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Why Were They Underrated?

Let's look at players who had huge fantasy seasons in 2008, yet were drafted fairly late or not at all.  We'll attempt to determine why these players were underrated.

  • Tim Lincecum (11th round).  4.00 ERA, less than one full season of experience, plays for Giants.
  • Cliff Lee (undrafted).  Awful/injured in 2007.
  • Dustin Pedroia (15th round).  Projections underestimated power, speed, AVG.
  • Josh Hamilton (12th round).  Health concerns, half-season under his belt and years off before that.
  • Ryan Ludwick (undrafted).  Role, AVG, health in question; power underestimated.
  • Nate McLouth (23rd round).  Hadn't played a full season yet; plays for Pirates.
  • Aubrey Huff (28th round).  Mediocre in 2007.
  • Ervin Santana (28th round).  Awful in 2007.
  • Kevin Youkilis (15th round).  Underestimated power, RBIs, AVG.
  • Joakim Soria (13th round).  Sophomore; plays for Royals.
  • Ryan Dempster (undrafted).  Underestimated health, pretty much all skills.
  • Carlos Quentin (undrafted).  Injured, ineffective in '07; role in question.
  • Ricky Nolasco (undrafted).  Health, role in question; plays for Marlins.

Looks like one reason players are underestimated is a lack of experience.  2008 rookies who may be underrated: Joey Votto, Chris Davis, Chris Dickerson, Chase Headley, Ian Stewart, Matt Joyce, Jay Bruce, Jair Jurrjens, Joey Devine, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Johnny Cueto.  Not sure if he's a rookie but you have to love Nelson Cruz.

Pitchers with good stuff who were bad (ERA over 4.50): Daniel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Cueto, Aaron Harang, Javier Vazquez, and Brett Myers.

Who else is on your list due to inexperience, injury, role concerns, a small market, or plain old breakout potential?


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Chris Davis Projections

Most projection systems see big things for Rangers infielder Chris Davis after he smacked 17 home runs in 295 ABs as a rookie.  Davis qualifies at first base, and also at third if ten games played cuts it in your league. 

Assuming 550 at-bats, here are the projections for Davis:

So we're looking at something like .284-35-107-99-6 on average.  Davis is currently being drafted in the ninth round, 15th among first basemen (behind Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee, Carlos Delgado, Joey Votto, and James Loney).  None of these guys have anything on Davis aside from experience.  Here on December 19th he looks like a great sleeper at position 105.25, but we'll see where that average draft position is in March.


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10 Starters You Can Get In The 10th Round

Sometimes I like to build a stacked offense with reliable hitters (power/speed guys if possible) and then worry about pitching starting with the 10th round.  It's not as risky as it might sound.  Using Mock Draft Central data here are ten starters being chosen 109th or later in current drafts who I like.

  1. Edinson Volquez- 113.21.
  2. Ervin Santana - 115.13.
  3. Ben Sheets - 115.61.
  4. Yovani Gallardo - 124.14.
  5. Ricky Nolasco - 130.73.
  6. Brett Myers - 131.47.
  7. Adam Wainwright - 134.04.
  8. Josh Johnson - 149.98.
  9. Randy Johnson - 151.03.
  10. John Danks - 151.07.

Bonus: ten more I like who are going even later: Javier Vazquez, Aaron Harang, Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Kevin Slowey, Ted Lilly, Johnny Cueto, and Clayton Kershaw.

Think about this before you burn your sixth round pick on Scott Kazmir or your eighth round choice on Dice-K.  I'm not saying you have to wait back til the 10th round specifically, just saying that you can avoid pitching for quite a while and still succeed.


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The Biggest Gainers

Yesterday we compared average draft positions from current drafts to those done in March to see who fell the furthest.  Today's let's switch it and look at the biggest gainers.

I won't name every undrafted player from March who is being drafted for '09. But that list is headed by Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, Cliff Lee, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Davis, Edinson Volquez, Andre Ethier, and Ricky Nolasco.  Now on to the gainers who were drafted in March:

  1. Aubrey Huff - gained 239.16 (331.58 to 92.42).  Following a surprise '08 that garnered Huff a few MVP votes, he's now being picked in the eighth round.  In many leagues you can use him at either infield corner, but should you wait a few rounds and take Chris Davis, Jorge Cantu, or Paul Konerko instead?  Huff's season was weird - most of the production came from a massive three-month stretch.
  2. Evan Longoria - gained 215.73 (235.53 to 19.8).  Everyone's looking forward to 30-100 in his first full season.  Geovany Soto ranked 42nd on this list, by the way.  Fantasy leaguers were ready for Soto.
  3. Jay Bruce - gained 214.66 (318.35 to 103.69).  Bruce could pop 30 HR as a sophomore.
  4. Ervin Santana - gained 213.66 (332.15 to 118.49).  He always had the stuff, and had success in his first two seasons.  The key here was the career-best walk rate of 1.93 per nine. Guys like Ian Snell, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jonathan Sanchez, Edinson Volquez, and Chad Billingsley could reach new heights with improved control in '09.
  5. Nate McLouth - gained 202.92(265.56 to 62.64).  A preseason pick for 20/20, McLouth came through.  No reason he can't repeat, maybe with more steals.
  6. Joey Votto - gained 188.72 (283.58 to 94.86).  Very solid rookie year.  Aside from Davis and maybe Konerko first base drops off after Votto.
  7. Joe Saunders - gained 185.17 (327.88 to 142.71).  Doesn't get strikeouts, and his ERA should be over 4.00 this time.  I'll take Zack Greinke any day.
  8. Ryan Doumit - gained 182.48 (311.69 to 129.21).  You can still wait til the 11th and get Doumit, who broke out in '08.
  9. Milton Bradley - gained 169.35 (325.70 to 156.35).  Unless you're in an OBP league, I don't see the appeal of Bradley in the 14th.  Give me Jayson Werth or Nelson Cruz instead.
  10. Jon Lester - gained 166.18 (264.91 to 98.73).  He's in line for another strong season if he can stay healthy.  I'd rather have the strikeouts an A.J. Burnett or Volquez provides though.

The next five: Xavier Nady, Kerry Wood, Jair Jurrjens, Mark DeRosa, and Dustin Pedroia.


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The Biggest Losers

Today I've compared Mock Draft Central data from today to data from March 18th of this year.  Looking at average draft position, who are the biggest losers?

  1. Travis Hafner - fell 167.99 (43.81 to 211.80).  From the 4th round in '08 drafts to the 18th heading into '09.  I thought Hafner would bounce back to his 40 HR, 110 RBI level of '06, but his shoulder bothered him all year.  He had arthroscopic surgery in October and now he's just a late-round flyer.
  2. Takashi Saito - fell 148.88 (74.96 to 223.84).  The Dodgers didn't tender him a contract due to concerns with his elbow, which was injected with platelet-rich plasma in July in an experimental procedure.  Depending on where he signs he could be a solid buy-low closer option.
  3. Gary Sheffield - fell 145.63 (91.16 to 236.79).  Sheff was a bad eighth-round pick in March, knowing what we knew then.  His shoulder bothered him for most of the year.  I'm still not a fan, but as a 20th rounder you can't really get burned.
  4. Erik Bedard - fell 142.6 (37.21 to 179.81).  I still can't believe people were drafting Bedard in the fourth round.  But in the 15th round, I dig it.  He had September shoulder surgery and hopes to be ready for the start of the season.
  5. Carlos Guillen - fell 141.58 (49.28 to 190.86).  His numbers fell off, and he lost shortstop eligibility.  Doesn't look nearly as appealing at an infield corner.
  6. John Smoltz - fell 136.73 (81.5 to 218.23).  Another shoulder surgery guy.  Was a dangerous seventh-round pick.
  7. Kenji Johjima - fell 128.46 (125.46 to 253.92).  His bat simply died.  I don't see him bouncing back.
  8. Rich Hill - fell 128.12 (114.87 to 242.99).  Hill got a case of the yips and provided no value.  He's out of options, so he may get a fresh start somewhere else.  Physically I don't think much has changed since '07 - he doesn't have an arm injury.
  9. Jeff Kent - fell 125.64 (142.17 to 267.81).  I remember saying he was a bargain.  His power started to slip, but mainly fantasy owners probably expect him to retire.
  10. Brad Penny - fell 121.63 (130.67 to 252.30).   If rest somehow healed up his shoulder, he could have a few solid months in 2009.

The next five: Fausto Carmona, Jeff Francoeur, Billy Wagner, Ian Snell, Dustin McGowan.  The three starters are worth a late look.


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Top Picks At Each Position

According to Mock Draft Central data, here are the players being drafted first at each position (average draft position in parentheses).

  • C:  Russell Martin (41.98)
  • 1B:  Albert Pujols (3.12)
  • 2B:  Ian Kinsler (10.80)
  • SS:  Hanley Ramirez (1.25)
  • 3B: Alex Rodriguez (2.14)
  • OF: Grady Sizemore (7.83)
  • SP: Johan Santana (17.90)
  • RP: Jonathan Papelbon (57.99)

Prior to 2008 drafts it looked like this:

  • C: Victor Martinez (29.47).  This year: 77.14.
  • 1B: Ryan Howard (10.41).  This year: 11.41.
  • 2B: Chase Utley (8.38).  This year: 29.52.
  • SS: Hanley Ramirez (2.65)
  • 3B: Alex Rodriguez (1.06)
  • OF: Matt Holliday (5.22).  This year: 12.33.
  • SP: Johan Santana (13.07)
  • RP: Jonathan Papelbon (45.87)


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AL to NL: Pitchers

It doesn't always hold true, but fantasy owners have seen mediocre AL pitchers become above-average NL pitchers many times (Ted Lilly and Bronson Arroyo come to mind).  In this space will attempt to get a running list going of pitchers who will transition from the AL to the NL in 2009.  Of course, the Rockies' acquisitions are an exception.

Starters

  • Javier Vazquez (Braves)
  • Jon Garland (Diamondbacks)
  • Greg Smith (Rockies)
  • Daniel Cabrera (Nationals)

Relievers

  • Francisco Rodriguez (Mets)
  • J.J. Putz (Mets)
  • Huston Street (Rockies)
  • Sean Green (Mets)
  • Leo Nunez (Marlins)
  • Alan Embree (Rockies)
  • Boone Logan (Braves)
  • Trever Miller (Cardinals)
  • Chris Bootcheck (Pirates)
  • Jae Kuk Ryu (Padres)


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Jonathan Sanchez Examined

Today let's take a look at 26 year-old Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez.

Sanchez posted a 5.01 ERA in 158 innings/29 starts this year.  However, his xFIP put him at 4.36.  A more advanced stat, tRA, put him at 4.53.  His month-by-month ERAs were inconsistent - 3.48, 5.20, 3.10, 8.57, 3.75 (two starts), 7.83.

Sanchez pitched 75.6 innings in 2007, so in 2008 his total jumped by 82.3. Injury history: biceps tendinitis in March of '07, rib cage strain in July of '07, strained oblique in September of '07, and a rotator cuff strain in August of '08.  That 7.83 ERA September this year was after he returned from the DL.  He's a risky pitcher.

Sanchez is appealing because of his peripherals - 8.8 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 4.3 BB/9, 8.9 K/9.  The walks (and subsequent 1.45 WHIP) are the unappealing part. He flashed solid control in June and only walked one in his two August starts (one of those against the Astros, dead last in the NL in walks).

Does he deserve credit for the low hit and HR rates?  His BABIP was .327 vs. the Giants' .315 mark, so if anything he was shafted even while allowing less than a hit per inning.  A 10.0% HR per flyball rate and 41.1% groundball rate suggest the HR rate is fairly realistic.

Projection systems: Bill James says 3.90/1.40, Marcels says 4.61/1.44, ZiPS says 4.28/1.46.  He's probably not going to help your WHIP unless he takes an unforeseen leap in control or has a swing in his BABIP luck.

Stuff-wise his fastball averages 90.8mph and he'll also use a changeup and a slider.  He gets tons of swings and misses.  In their '07 handbook, Baseball America called Sanchez's fastball "sneaky-fast" and spoke highly of his changeup.  He doesn't throw as many changeups as Cole Hamels, but Sanchez does have some similarities.

Put it all together and we have the makings of a high-risk, high-reward fantasy pick.  Sanchez is capable of whiffing 40 in a month; he's also capable of walking everyone or winding up on the DL.  It's a bit early for mock draft data, but Sanchez is being picked in the 18th round right now - after Mike Pelfrey, before Jered Weaver.  By the 18th or so things are enough of a crapshoot that Sanchez is a fine upside play.  If he gets hurt and you cut him it won't really affect your team.  For some reason I had a strong 18th round in '08 - in various drafts I picked Nate McLouth, B.J. Ryan, Conor Jackson, and Hiroki Kuroda.


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A 3.35 ERA For Phil Hughes?

I've been having fun with the Bill James projections, which you can purchase for $9.95 here.  Today let's take a look at some interesting starters they project to post an ERA under 4.00 in 2009.

  • Barry Zito - 3.94
  • Tim Wakefield - 3.91
  • Jonathan Sanchez - 3.90
  • Jorge Campillo - 3.86
  • Pedro Martinez - 3.36
  • Phil Hughes - 3.35

A few of those are quite bold.  Hughes may be the Yankees' sixth starter heading into 2009, but they have him third in ERA in the American League.  How do they think he'll pull this off?  With an 8.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.65 HR/9, and 7.92 H/9.  Hughes has not demonstrated those skills in his 106.2 big league innings.

As for Pedro, projection systems can't understand he had major surgery and isn't the same pitcher.  Most of you incorporate gut feel when crafting your fantasy teams, and this is a great example why that's necessary.


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A Look At The San Francisco Bullpen

The Giants made an early strike to sign Jeremy Affeldt to be their setup man.  It was surprising Affeldt signed on November 17th, as the market for him figured to be strong.  Plus, he chose not to seek a closing role given Brian Wilson's presence in San Francisco.

Wilson used his 95.8mph heater to whiff more than a batter per inning.  However, that K rate was accompanied by a lot of walks, hits, and home runs.  His WHIP was 1.44, yet he still saved 41 games.  At the least, his BABIP (.336)/hits per nine innings (8.95) will come down.

The Giants figure to stick with Wilson unless he takes a step backward in 2009.  However, there is a case to be made that Affeldt is the better pitcher.   The main difference is Affeldt's superior control.  Affeldt was also plagued by a rough BABIP (.329).

The Bill James projections suggest the pitchers are in the correct roles, however.  They have Wilson with a 3.74 ERA and 1.38 WHIP and Affeldt with a 4.39 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  They may have projected Affeldt as a Red though.  ZiPS sees a similar ERA but higher WHIP for Wilson, but likes Affeldt for a 3.44 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.

This was a long-winded way of saying that I think Affeldt is a better pitcher than Wilson, but the Giants are unlikely to agree unless Wilson is horrific.  I'd be intrigued if Bob Howry steps up as a strong setup man and Affeldt gets a chance to start.  Howry doesn't project too poorly himself, with the systems calling for an ERA in the 3.75-4.10 range and a WHIP around 1.25.

While the Giants' revamped pen should certainly be an improvement, note that all three late-inning relievers allowed more than one home run per nine innings in 2008.  This could lead to some especially painful losses.


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