May 2010

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Five for Friday: Sophomores

There have been a few well-publicized struggles by some of the top rookies from 2009, including Florida's Chris Coghlan, J.A. Happ (injuries) and even Andrew Bailey (significant drop in secondary stats like K-rate). Let's have a look at five more of the top rookies from '09 and see how they're doing.

Gordon Beckham | 2B | Chicago (AL): A lot of people were projecting a big year for Beckham in '10 but that just hasn't been the case. The infielder is currently hitting just .194/.288/.239 in 179 plate appearances. His power has completely dried up (0.45 ISO rate) but he does continue to take a reasonable number of walks (10.1%). The club has insisted that it's not going to send him down to triple-A to work on his game, but that might be a mistake given that it's getting worse, not better (.149 batting average in May); he's hurting the club and something needs to be done to ensure this is not a long-lasting issue.

Elvis Andrus | SS | Texas: On the flip-side, Andrus was supposed to be a glove-only player, at least early in his career. He's matured into a solid hitter much sooner than people expected. The 21-year-old is currently hitting .305/.399/.347 in 201 plate appearances. After nabbing 33 bases in '09, Andrus already has 17 in '10. Although his strikeout rate is up a bit (and his power numbers are down), the young infielder has shown more patience at the plate, with his walk rate going from 7.4 in '09 to 12.9% this season.

Rick Porcello | RHP | Detroit: It's been well-documented that Porcello is a much better real-life ball player than a fantasy pitcher, but he still ended up on a good number of fantasy teams in 2010. Unfortunately, after winning 14 games as a rookie, Porcello has seen his strikeout rate remain static at 4.50 K/9, while his ERA (5.58) and WHIP (1.70) have both risen significantly. If your fantasy league counts ground-ball rate than he might have some value... otherwise, he's an injury fill-in option only in mixed leagues.

Casey McGehee | 3B | Milwaukee: McGehee's rookie season was considered a fluke by almost everyone outside of those in his fan club and family. However, his wOBA has actually risen over last year from .367 to .395. McGehee has been one of Milwaukee's best hitters with a triple-slash line of .315/.377/.534. He has a bit of an unusual swing but it seems to work for him. He could end up being a classic late bloomer and is a threat for 80-100 RBI in 2010.

Garrett Jones | OF | Pittsburgh: Like fellow late-bloomer McGehee, Jones' '09 season was considered a fluke. Unlike McGehee, the projection with Jones may have been correct. The Pirates outfielder is currently hitting just .253/.337/.391 in 199 plate appearances. His power has dropped from an ISO rate of .274 in '09 to .138 in '10. Without the power in his swing, Jones is pretty much useless to fantasy owners, outside of his first base eligibility, which gives roster flexibility. Monitor the 28-year-old's situation but but don't hang onto him expecting a huge reversal of fortunes.


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Study: Does It Pay To Bench Starting Pitchers?

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I decided to conduct a test.  I took the 32 starters who were drafted last year outside of the top 276 picks and ran their aggregate numbers.  Then I compiled their numbers had I benched them against the Yankees and Phillies every time.  Note that Chris Carpenter was eliminated from the sample, as he emerged as a must-start last year pretty quickly.

This study doesn't reflect reality perfectly, but the sample does consist of guys who almost all fit the spot-start mold.  Pitchers for whom you'd want to pick and choose their opponents - Paul Maholm, Kyle Lohse, and Joe Blanton, but also emerging stars like Ubaldo Jimenez and Tommy Hanson.

In aggregate, the 32 starters tossed 3951 innings with a 4.71 ERA and 1.431 WHIP.  I don't know for sure, but this seems like the type of performance you'd typically get out of your fifth or sixth starter spot in a 12-team mixed league as you filter through various options. 

I ended up removing 48 starts and 252.3 innings from the sample for games started against the Yankees and Phillies.  Innings-wise, I removed 6.38% of the total.  The aggregate of the starts against the Yankees and Phillies: 5.46 ERA, 1.456 WHIP.  Without these starts the group comes down to a 4.66 ERA and 1.430 WHIP.  Taking these starts out didn't move the need much, which makes sense since they are such a small percentage of the total.

Benching these starters would've brought plenty of frustration - Kenshin Kawakami, Anibal Sanchez, and Tim Redding shined against the toughest offenses.  There were plenty of sparkling one-off performances from guys like Manny Parra, Todd Wellemeyer, and Brad Penny.  Penny would've been annoying to own - a strong start against the Yankees in June, but bombed by them in August.  And then in September he shut down the Phillies in his first Giants start.

I expected the Phillies/Yankees sample to be a lot worse in terms of ERA and WHIP.  A better study would've looked at xFIP instead, as well as the peripheral stats.  I'm not convinced the ERA difference here is significant. 

My guess: if you are able to identify the "marginal" starters correctly, as well as the offenses that will be the best all year, there is a small gain to be had over the long run.  Season to season, with probably no more than two marginal guys on your regular roster, you'd probably have a lot of years where you wished you hadn't benched any starters.


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Five for Friday: Royal Keepers

It was just one year ago that things looked bleak in the Royals' system. Top prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were struggling. Well, a year really can make a difference... Let's have a look at five prospects in the system that should be keeper league targets.

Mike Moustakas | 3B: The former No. 1 draft pick had a lackluster '09 season with a triple-slash line of .250/.297/.421 in 492 high-A ball at-bats. After beginning the 2010 season on the DL, Moustakas has returned with a vengeance in double-A and is currently hitting .394/.468/.779 in 104 at-bats. He has 10 homers and 33 RBI in just 27 games. Impressively, he's struck out just 17 times, which is nice to see given his power output increase. Luckily, the third base job in KC just happens to have a vacancy...

Eric Hosmer | 1B: Even though he was just 19 last season, scouts were puzzled when Hosmer struggled. As it turns out, he was having vision problems, which led to the .241/.334/.361 in 377 at-bats between low-A and high-A. After surgery, the improvement in his production has been startling: .384/.457/.570 in 151 high-A at-bats. Although he has just two homers, Hosmer has 16 doubles and impressive raw power that will develop into over-the-fence power as he matures as a hitter. He also has a good eye at the plate with 21 walks and just 12 Ks. A good sized player at 6'4'', 215 lbs, Hosmer has gone 6-for-6 in steals.

Mike Montgomery | LHP: The organization is really reaping the rewards from having a number of very high draft picks in the past few seasons. The club has done an excellent job of scouting and has whiffed on very few players. Montgomery, just 20, has already reached double-A. He began '10 in high-A and gave up just 14 hits and four walks in 24.2 innings. Moved up to double-A, he's struggled a bit with his control and has walked nine batters in 14.2 innings, but his ERA is sound at 2.45. On the year, Montgomery has struck out 45 batters in 39.1 innings and has a 1.60 ERA.

Derrick Robinson | CF: It's taken a little time for Robinson, 22, to turn his raw athleticism into baseball talent but he's making significant strides in '10. Last season, he hit a lackluster .239/.290/.324 but stole 69 bases in 128 games. The speedster is starting to realize that he needs to get on base to take advantage of his main skill. Moved up to double-A for '10, Robinson is hitting .303/.393/.407 in 145 at-bats. He has 22 steals in 27 tries. Most importantly, his walk rate is up and he's taken 22 free passes. His strikeout rate is still high but his game is definitely headed in the right direction.

John Lamb | LHP: The organization has been rather aggressive with its young prospects that have put up good numbers in the low minors. The Royals recently moved Lamb, 19, from low-A to high-A. The lefty had posted a 1.58 ERA at low-A Burlington with just 26 hits and 17 walks in 40.0 innings. He also had 43 Ks. Lamb could stand to induce more ground balls, but he's still young. Impressively, he's holding right-handed batters to a .183 batting average. He's still a ways away from the majors, but stash him away in your deep keeper leagues and you'll be happy that you did.


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Benching Your Starting Pitchers

I have waffled over the years as to whether it makes sense to bench your starting pitchers occasionally if they're facing tough offenses.  I always seem to guess wrong.  Tom Gorzelanny against the Pirates, that's a must-start.  But Gorzelanny in Citizens Bank against the best offense in the NL, especially against lefties - I'll sit him.  The result: I've danced around Gorzelanny's best starts.

The philosophy I hope to abide by: if he's good enough to be a permanent part of your roster, he should be active for all starts.  Against the Phillies, against the Yankees, in Colorado, whatever.  If it was easy to consistently predict the outcome of a single game, I'd be doing a whole lot of baseball betting.  I don't sit my position players against Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, and I probably shouldn't bench decent starters against good offenses either.  If I picked a guy up solely to face the Astros, that's one thing, but otherwise I shouldn't pick and choose starts.

What's been your experience with benching your more marginal starters?  Have you seen evidence that supports spot-starting?


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Time To Drop Grady Sizemore?

THURSDAY: Sizemore is on the DL indefinitely due to the knee bruise, and surgery hasn't been ruled out.  I'd suggest waiting for further information before cutting him, especially if you have a DL spot available.

WEDNESDAY: Grady Sizemore was chosen in the second round of many fantasy leagues, so dropping him is a difficult pill to swallow.  Is it time to move on?

Sizemore is getting an MRI on his bruised knee today.  He'll probably miss at least several more games, so cutting him won't hurt in the short-term.  However, the bruise happened on Sunday.  It's not the cause of his 2010 struggles.  As recently as May 13th, Sizemore told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he's healthy despite coming off a couple of September surgeries.

Sizemore has been a huge detriment in fantasy leagues, with a 2010 performance worse than any month he had in '09.  In fact, he was pretty good in July and August of last year before going down in September for elbow and abdominal wall surgery.  On May 11th FanGraphs' Dave Allen worked his magic to explain the problem: "He is swinging at more pitches he shouldn't and at fewer pitches he should."  Sizemore has been uncharacteristically choosing the wrong pitches to swing at and take in his 140 plate appearances this year.

If you have the bench space, you should stash Sizemore.  Assuming his knee checks out, his only real problem is an old-fashioned slump.  140 PAs is a concerning sample, but the guy's 27.  He probably didn't completely forget how to hit.  Those who stick with Sizemore will probably be rewarded with a solid power/speed combo from here on out.


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Roundtable: Waiver Wire Pitchers

Brett Greenfield of Fantasy Phenoms asks this week's question:

The following pitchers are off to hot starts but weren't drafted. Which one is most likely to carry this early success over the course of the season?  Brett Cecil, Tom Gorzelanny, Wade LeBlanc, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister are the candidates.


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Fastball Velocity Gainers And Losers

Velocity isn't everything, but it's certainly important.  Limiting our sample to qualified pitchers, this post looks at the biggest fastball velocity gainers and losers comparing 2009 to 2010. FanGraphs supplied the data.

18 pitchers added at least 0.5 mph to their fastball this year:

  1. Francisco Liriano - 1.7 mph increase
  2. Luke Hochevar - 1.7
  3. Tommy Hanson - 1.3
  4. James Shields - 1.2
  5. Kevin Slowey - 1.1
  6. Scott Olsen - 1.0
  7. Jered Weaver - 1.0
  8. Matt Garza - 0.9
  9. Joe Saunders - 0.8
  10. Tim Hudson - 0.8
  11. Ubaldo Jimenez - 0.7
  12. Tim Wakefield - 0.7
  13. Brett Myers - 0.6
  14. Jonathon Niese - 0.6
  15. Gio Gonzalez - 0.6
  16. Randy Wells - 0.5
  17. Cole Hamels - 0.5
  18. Aaron Harang - 0.5

In turn, 27 pitchers lost at least 1.0 mph:

  1. C.J. Wilson - 2.7 mph decrease
  2. John Maine - 2.4
  3. Zach Duke - 2.1
  4. David Bush - 2.0
  5. Rich Harden - 1.8
  6. Max Scherzer - 1.8
  7. Homer Bailey - 1.7
  8. Scott Feldman - 1.6
  9. Chris Carpenter - 1.6
  10. Randy Wolf - 1.4
  11. Paul Maholm - 1.4
  12. Matt Cain - 1.4
  13. Jonathan Sanchez - 1.3
  14. Zack Greinke - 1.3
  15. Kevin Millwood - 1.2
  16. Johan Santana -1.2
  17. Ricky Romero - 1.2
  18. Justin Masterson - 1.2
  19. Tim Lincecum - 1.2
  20. Mike Pelfrey - 1.2
  21. Phil Hughes - 1.1
  22. Ricky Nolasco - 1.1
  23. Kenshin Kawakami - 1.0
  24. Carl Pavano - 1.0
  25. C.C. Sabathia - 1.0
  26. Brandon Morrow - 1.0
  27. Brian Matusz - 1.0

Thoughts:

  • Liriano struck out hitters at about the same rate last year with a lot less velocity, but this year he's shown better control and an increased groundball rate.  Strikeouts are up for velo gainers Hanson, Shields, Olsen, Weaver, Jimenez, Niese, Wells, and Hamels.
  • We can toss out the losses for Wilson, Hughes, and Morrow, as they converted from relief.  The dropoff helps explains Scherzer's struggles, as he's down from 93.6 to 91.8 and now resides in Triple A.


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Five for Friday: Call-up Watch

Last week we took a look at six names that could see a call up to the Majors in the near future. It was so much fun that we're going to take a look at five more names to monitor as the season progresses.

Andrew Cashner | RHP | Chicago NL: The starting rotation looks pretty solid in Chicago right now, but things can change in a flash. Cashner was the club's 2008 first round draft pick out of Texas Christian University. Converted to a full-time starter in pro ball after seeing time as a closer in college, many have suggested that the right-hander is destined for the bullpen in the Majors. If the early returns on his '10 season are any indication of his future ability, though, don't be so sure to write him off as a starter. He struck out 42 batters in 36.0 double-A innings before a recent promotion to triple-A. In his first start at that level, Cashner allowed just one run in six innings and struck out six batters.

Scott Mathieson | RHP | Philadelphia: Health concerns continue to swirl around veteran closer Brad Lidge and back-up closer Ryan Madson is dealing with health issues of his own. As a result, a door could be opened for the hard-throwing Mathieson to gain some experience at the MLB level. The Canadian has been very good since the beginning of '09 now that he's finally healthy. Last season, he struck out 34 batters in 32.1 innings and held them to a .149 average. This season, he currently has a 0.54 ERA in 13 triple-A games. He's also struck out 18 batters in 16.2 innings of work.

Lance Lynn | RHP | St. Louis: If the club ever tires of Kyle Lohse's performance, Lynn is waiting in the wings in triple-A. The club selected the right-hander out of the University of Mississippi with the 39th pick of the amateur draft in '08. He's not a dynamic, hard-thrower, but he's durable and gets his fair share of ground-ball outs. Lynn currently has a 3.26 ERA in seven triple-A starts. The 23-year-old pitcher has 31 strikeouts in 38.2 innings of work, but he's also walked 21 batters. His overall ceiling is that of a No. 3 starter.

Brad Lincoln | RHP | Pittsburgh: The pitching has been ugly in Pittsburgh, but Lincoln has yet to take advantage of the clear opening. The former No. 1 draft pick has pretty much gone one-good-start-one-bad-start-one-good-start... all season long. However, he's been good for two straight starts now with 11 hits and just two walks allowed in 14.0 innings. He's also struck out 11. Although Lincoln is limiting the hits overall on the year, his ground-ball rate has diminished recently and his strikeout total is still modest (29 in 42.1 innings). If he can string a few more good starts together, though, he could convince the Pittsburgh head office that he's better than some of the other pitchers being trotted out to the MLB mound. 

Neil Walker | IF/OF | Pittsburgh: Just when you'd written him off... Walker is back from the dead. The former local high school star who became the club's No. 1 draft pick in '04 has resurrected his career with a move from third base (He was originally a catcher) to a utility role. Walker has played first, second, third and the outfield so far this season at triple-A. All the moving around has clearly taken his mind off of his struggles at the plate and he's currently hitting .338/.399/.602 in 133 at-bats. Current Major Leaguers like Akinori Iwamura, Jeff Clement, Ryan Church, and even Andy LaRoche should be looking over their shoulders.


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Is Barry Zito For Real?

Seven starts in, we've already read quite a bit about Barry Zito's renaissance.  Consider me a skeptic.

I'm not doing anything too advanced here, but Zito's numbers outside of his 1.90 ERA are not impressive.  His walks are still high - 3.6 per nine innings.  His strikeout rate is his worst since '03 - 5.7 per nine.  We could blame a lot of this on his last start - without it, his walk rate is 2.55 per nine.  On the other hand, eliminating a pitcher's worst start will often give a huge boost when he's only made seven.

Zito has excelled in two areas - hits and home runs allowed.  6.3 hits allowed per nine is not a reasonable expectation moving forward.  You just don't see pitchers do that over an extended period.  His BABIP is quite low at .241, though we have to credit Zito for posting four other low-BABIP full seasons in his career (including .242 in '03).  Zito has also not allowed a home run so far this year, despite a career rate of 0.94 per nine coming into the season.  His 44.4% groundball rate is a career-best, so maybe he will continue doing a better job preventing the longball.  Still, that rate doesn't place him on the groundball leaderboard.

XFIP is always a good way to see how a guy has really pitched.  Per FanGraphs, Zito's is 4.49.  If the reduced strikeout rate continues Zito may have a hard time even matching last year's value of $5.43, from here on out on a prorated basis.  You may want to hang on to him for now, though, as his next start is against the Astros.


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Strikeout Rate Gains And Losses

I thought it'd be cool to look at which starting pitchers have seen the biggest uptick in their strikeout rate, assuming at least 100 innings pitched last year and 20 this year.  The top ten gainers:

  1. Vicente Padilla - 5.93 to 9.54.
  2. Jered Weaver - 7.42 to 10.41.
  3. James Shields - 6.84 to 9.59.
  4. Chris Carpenter - 6.73 to 9.40.
  5. Justin Masterson - 8.28 to 10.73.
  6. Cole Hamels - 7.81 to 10.09.
  7. Doug Davis - 6.46 to 8.65.
  8. Randy Wells - 5.66 to 7.85.
  9. Ricky Romero - 7.13 to 8.94.
  10. Josh Johnson - 8.22 to 9.84.

Honorable mentions to Roy Oswalt, Joel Pineiro, Tim Lincecum, Kevin Correia, Tommy Hanson, Kevin Millwood, Mike Pelfrey, Todd Wellemeyer, Craig Stammen, and Homer Bailey.  Wells is interesting - his peripherals (and therefore xFIP) have made a nice improvement, but his BABIP is high and his ERA is an uninspiring 4.57.  Masterson sports a huge BABIP, but beyond that he's continued to have problems against lefties.  Shields' fastball is up over a mile per hour, and he may have reversed a mild decline.  Romero could be elite if he could just stop walking right-handed hitters so often.

Now for the biggest losers:

  1. Max Scherzer -  9.20 to 6.08.
  2. Ted Lilly - 7.68 to 4.88.
  3. Ricky Nolasco - 9.49 to 6.75.
  4. Zack Greinke - 9.50 to 6.94.
  5. Wandy Rodriguez - 8.44 to 5.95.
  6. Rich Harden - 10.91 to 8.57.
  7. Nick Blackburn - 4.29 to 2.04.
  8. Dave Bush - 7.01 to 4.91.
  9. Livan Hernandez -  5.00 to 2.91.
  10. A.J. Burnett - 8.48 to 6.40.

Honorable mentions: Fausto Carmona, Gil Meche, Brad Bergesen, Jake Peavy, Kenshin Kawakami, Javier Vazquez, Barry Zito, and John Lackey.  Scherzer, Harden, Peavy, and Vazquez jumped from the NL to the AL.  Others may have injury concerns.  Should we be worried about Wandy?  His groundball rate is up, Ks are way down.  He's already had back spasms, shoulder soreness, and concerns about his delivery.


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