August 2010

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2010 Sleepers: Second Basemen

Thanks to Baseball Monster, here are 2010's top mixed league first basemen.  I've also added the round in which they were drafted in March, using data from Mock Draft Central.

  1. Robinson Cano (4)
  2. Dan Uggla (8)
  3. Rickie Weeks (17)
  4. Brandon Phillips (3)
  5. Martin Prado (19)
  6. Kelly Johnson (26)
  7. Ben Zobrist (5)
  8. Howie Kendrick (12)
  9. Placido Polanco (20)
  10. Dustin Pedroia (4)
  11. Omar Infante (not drafted)
  12. Alberto Callaspo (28)
  13. Ian Kinsler (2)
  14. Orlando Hudson (16)
  15. Chase Utley (1)
  16. Sean Rodriguez (not drafted)
  17. Skip Schumaker (28)
  18. Aaron Hill (5)

There's been a lot of good value at second base this year: Cano, Uggla, Weeks, Prado, Johnson, Kendrick, Polanco, and Infante must be considered.  Why were they underrated?

  • Cano: Projected to regress from a strong 2009 season; lack of steals.  When I say projected to regress, I mean I had Cano at .303-21-87-87-3.  Very respectable, but instead he's held last year's batting average while adding HR and RBI.  I guess the lesson here is that a big season is occasionally followed by an even better one instead of the usual regression.
  • Uggla: Batting average concerns, lack of steals.  Uggla's biggest flaw was his projected .250 AVG, but he's at .286 in 2010.  Baseball HQ has his expected AVG at .264, so this may be a fluke.
  • Weeks: Batting average, health concerns.  Though Weeks hit .272 last year in 37 games, I was expecting something closer to his career norm and projected .254.  The current .273 AVG is probably a little over his head.  The bigger point is that Weeks was not necessarily undervalued...he was a major health risk and was drafted as such.  He traded some speed for power this year, a formula that's worked just fine.
  • Prado: Playing time concerns.  I ranked Prado 14th among 2Bs, expecting a solid year given 600 ABs.  He's provided more power and AVG than expected, but he was mainly undervalued because he wasn't a full-time player for all of '09.
  • Johnson: Had experienced success, but disappointed in previous season.  I have always been a big KJ fan, ranking him 13th among 2Bs.  He was a candidate for double digit power and speed with regular playing time, and the move to Arizona didn't hurt.  It's weird he was drafted so late.
  • Kendrick: Health concerns.  Kendrick, like Weeks, is having his healthiest season.  His customary AVG isn't there, but he's provided value in the other categories.
  • Polanco: Had experienced success, but disappointed in previous season.  Joining the top of the Phillies' lineup and moving back to the NL didn't hurt.
  • Infante: Playing time concerns.  He's hit for AVG in years past, but no one predicted .349.  He may not even reach 400 ABs, but that gaudy AVG still helps plenty.


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2010 Sleepers: First Basemen

Thanks to Baseball Monster, here are 2010's top mixed league first basemen.  I've also added the round in which they were drafted in March, using data from Mock Draft Central.

  1. Miguel Cabrera (1)
  2. Albert Pujols (1)
  3. Joey Votto (3)
  4. Paul Konerko (18)
  5. Mark Teixeira (1)
  6. Adrian Gonzalez (3)
  7. Aubrey Huff (28)
  8. Kevin Youkilis (3)
  9. Ryan Howard (1)
  10. Adam Dunn (5)
  11. Prince Fielder (1)
  12. Adam LaRoche (17)
  13. Justin Morneau (4)
  14. Gaby Sanchez (36)
  15. Billy Butler (8)
  16. James Loney (16)
  17. Carlos Pena (7)
  18. Derrek Lee (8)

Tons of disappointments in this group, but Votto, Konerko, Huff, LaRoche, and Sanchez returned good value.  Let's attempt to classify these five first basemen.

  • Votto: Off-field concerns, undervaluing of steals.  In March I labeled Votto a first-round value, and therefore wasn't shy about taking him in the middle of the second round.  I had him projected for eight steals, which added a couple of bucks to his value.  It's still hard to see why fantasy leaguers weren't jumping on him earlier after such a strong 2009 season within 544 plate appearances.  Perhaps they only saw the counting stats and were not aware that Votto missed most of June with an anxiety issue.  Simply projecting Votto's '09 stats over 600 PAs showed you he was in for a monster year.
  • Konerko: Boring player, unexpected resurgence in age 34 season.  Konerko's 2010 season is outside of the normal aging curve.  You might have drafted him as a .270-30-90 CI type, and even that is pretty good in the 18th round.  Instead he's probably going to come in with a .315 average and nearly 40 home runs, something few people could have guessed.
  • Huff: Had experienced success, but disappointed in previous season.  Switched to NL.  We knew Huff was capable of big things based on his '08 season, and he was moving to the easier league.
  • LaRoche: Boring player.  LaRoche is pretty much doing his thing - 25 homers, 85+ RBIs.  Moving to Chase Field made him slightly less boring, so hopefully you took a chance on him late. 
  • Sanchez: Playing time concerns, questionable power, undervaluing of steals.  Plenty of reasons not to draft Sanchez out of the gate.  He'd slugged only .475 in Triple A in 2009, so a poor man's Lyle Overbay wasn't terribly appealing to mixed leaguers.  Still, the idea that Sanchez could hit 20 homers and swipe about eight bags given regular playing time was quite reasonable.  Sanchez officially won the Marlins' first base job on March 29th, so that was the time to grab him off the waiver wire.


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2010 Sleepers: Catchers

Thanks to Baseball Monster, here are 2010's top mixed league catchers.  I've also added the round in which they were drafted in March, using data from Mock Draft Central.

  1. Joe Mauer (2)
  2. Brian McCann (4)
  3. Mike Napoli (14)
  4. Miguel Olivo (21)
  5. Geovany Soto (13)
  6. Buster Posey (24)
  7. John Buck (28)
  8. Kurt Suzuki (11)
  9. Victor Martinez (2)
  10. Jorge Posada (11)
  11. John Jaso (not drafted)
  12. Russell Martin (12)
  13. Yadier Molina (19)
  14. Ramon Hernandez (25) 
  15. Jason Kendall (not drafted)
  16. Carlos Ruiz (24)
  17. Miguel Montero (12)
  18. Yorvit Torrealba (27)
  19. Rod Barajas (27)
  20. Ryan Doumit (17)
  21. Matt Wieters (8)
  22. Chris Snyder (not drafted)
  23. Ronny Paulino (not drafted)
  24. Ivan Rodriguez (28)

Those who returned major value: Napoli, Olivo, Soto, Posey, and Buck.  Let's attempt to classify these five players and determine why they were undervalued. 

  • Napoli: Playing time concerns.  Fantasy leaguers must have overreacted to concerns that Jeff Mathiswould get most of the playing time for the Angels behind the plate.  It is true that Napoli benefited from Kendry Morales' freak injury.  But there was no reason to think Napoli would not get 375 ABs, which is why I ranked him sixth among catchers.
  • Olivo: Playing time concerns.  I figured Olivo to be Chris Iannetta's backup and accordingly projected 225 ABs.  He would've cracked the top 15 with 375 ABs.  As early as March 17th Rockies manager Jim Tracy suggested Olivo and Iannetta would split time initially, so savvy drafters knew Olivo's value could skyrocket with an Iannetta slump.  There is an element of luck or Coors Field involved in Olivo hitting .281. 
  • Soto: Had experienced success, but disappointed in previous season.  The "what have you done lately" fantasy mantra caused Soto to drop to the 13th round.  He'd gone in the sixth coming off his Rookie of the Year campaign.  I ranked him seventh among catchers before the season just based on projected numbers.  But we all knew there was room for more given '08 and the weight Soto lost in the offseason.
  • Posey: Playing time and call-up concerns.  We thought Posey's call-up might be delayed until June, and that he'd have a hard time supplanting Bengie Molinaanyway.  But not only is Posey projecting for 300 ABs, he's playing far beyond what I thought he was capable of as a rookie.  Posey raked in Triple A before his call-up, even more so than in 2009, and those numbers combined with positive scouting reports made him worth stashing in May if possible.
  • Buck: History showed major flaw in his game.  Buck was a career .235 hitter entering the season, and his .277 average this year separates him from the Chris Snyders of the world.  Baseball HQ says Buck's expected batting average is .260 this year, but I still think the batting average is mostly a fluke this year.  If you say you drafted Buck because you thought he'd provide his usual power numbers plus a .277 average, I don't believe you.
  • The cases of Napoli, Olivo, Soto, and Posey might be instructive.  Heading into the 2011 season we'll try to identify skilled catchers who are dropping due to playing time concerns or backstops who had big years in 2009 but slumped in 2010.  That's where the sleepers will be found.


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Jordan Zimmermann Worth Stashing?

Jordan Zimmermann had a strong rookie debut for the Nationals last year, whiffing more than a batter per inning with good control.  However he went down for Tommy John surgery on August 12th, 2009.  As he nears the end of his minor league rehab work, should mixed leaguers have him stashed?

Zimmermann's recovery has been on the short end of the typical period for Tommy John, but he's had no setbacks and the Nats have used him carefully.  He's already made nine rehab starts in the minors, though he's averaged fewer than four innings per game.  His numbers are strong, though I wouldn't mind a K/9 higher than the current 6.8.

Zimmermann's rehab plan calls for at least one more five-inning start at Triple A, according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.  If that goes well, he could make his season debut August 25th against the Cubs.  Five starts from Zimmermann is appealing in any fantasy league, but there's a catch: Kilgore says he will throw a maximum of five innings per start.  That figures to limit his chances at wins.

Even with the inning limitation, I think Zimmermann is worth stashing in mixed leagues - unless you use quality starts as a category.  His SIERA last year was 3.37, and an ERA under 4.00 this year will probably help the back-end of your rotation for the season's final month.  Who knows, maybe the innings limitation will allow Zimmermann to go full blast moreso than usual.


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8 Relievers Who Could Close Next Year

Recently I was asked to name a few relievers who are not currently closing but could become full-time stoppers in 2011.  My candidates:

  • Matt Thornton, White Sox.  The Sox might non-tender Bobby Jenks to save money, and Thornton has the skills to take over the ninth.  He's picked up five saves this year, so it's not a foreign idea.
  • J.J. Putz, free agent.  After a fantastic comeback season Putz could sign on somewhere at $5-6MM and return to closing.
  • Daniel Bard, Red Sox.  I consider it unlikely but it's not implausible that the Red Sox trade Jonathan Papelbon during the offseason.
  • Joe Nathan, Twins.  Hey don't forget about Nathan!  If he comes back strong from Tommy John surgery Matt Capps could be traded or pushed to a setup role next year.
  • Fernando Rodney, Angels.  Brian Fuentes is a free agent, so Rodney is the logical choice to step in (as he did when Fuentes hit the DL this year).  Kevin Jepsen is another candidate.
  • Brandon League, Mariners.  It wouldn't surprise me to see the Mariners move David Aardsma in the offseason.
  • Jonny Venters, Braves.  He's a little green but he's a candidate to take over for the retiring Billy Wagner.
  • Drew Storen, Nationals.  He's currently splitting the closing duties with Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett.  I expect one of the three to be anointed early in the 2011 season.
  • Several teams have to figure out unsettled situations: the Rays, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Angels, and Braves.  We might see free agents like Putz, Frank FranciscoJoaquin Benoit, Takashi Saito, or Grant Balfour given chances to close next year.  As always, keep an eye on @closernews on Twitter for all the developments.


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Peter Bourjos Examined

The Angels called up center fielder Peter Bourjos on August 3rd, with Torii Hunter moving to right field to accommodate the rookie.  Serving as the Angels' ninth-place hitter, Bourjos has started all seven Angels games since his promotion.

28 big league plate appearances isn't much of a sample, though Bourjos has scored four runs and swiped two bags in that brief time.  At Triple A this year he hit .314/.364/.498 in 455 PAs (102 games).  He hit 13 home runs with 12 triples and 27 stolen bases in 32 attempts.

Bourjos' game is all about speed.  His wheels enable him to play plus center field defense, so that should keep him in the lineup even if his offensive numbers don't sparkle.  Playing time is not an issue, but can fantasy leaguers expect tons of steals?  In the minors Bourjos attempted to steal 27.6% of the time when he singled or walked (a rate that drops if we include Bourjos' ten HBPs).  I'd like to see more - the game's top thieves typically attempt to steal around 40% of the time.

Using the MLE calculator at MinorLeagueSplits.com, here's how Bourjos profiles over 550 ABs: .256-12-47-78-29.  It's a line worth about $6, similar to the value provided by Alex Rios or Vernon Wells last year.  It's nothing to write home about; you might do just as well grabbing Corey Patterson, Will Venable, or Coco Crisp off a mixed league waiver wire if you're desperate for steals.  We don't know if Bourjos' 12 home run type power will translate to the Majors, especially over the next two months as a rookie.


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J.P. Arencibia Examined

Unfortunately it's probably too late to pick up Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, who homered twice in his Saturday big league debut.  The 24-year-old's power shouldn't come as a surprise - he hit .303/.360/.639 with 32 home runs in 420 Triple A plate appearances this year.

Keep in mind that Arencibia is more of a 2011 target, aside from the next nine Jays games.  MLB.com's Jordan Bastian wrote today that All-Star catcher John Buck is on track for an August 20th return, at which point Arencibia will go back to Triple A.  I imagine Arencibia will be back again on September 1st.  However, keep in mind that the Blue Jays want Buck to achieve Type B free agent status, so they're unlikely to sit him an extraordinary amount in September.

Arencibia profiles as next year's Mike Napoli, hopefully without the playing time issues.  I see him smacking 20+ home runs but with a batting average potentially south of .260.  Even after his '08 season Napoli was drafted in the 14th round on average, so you should be able to get Arencibia in that range next year.  Another comparison: after the '07 season, Geovany Soto was going in the 16th round.


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Time To Switch To SIERA

It's time to start relying on Baseball Prospectus' pitching stat SIERA (Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average), introduced in February.  Right now the most common pitching stat of this type used is xFIP.  XFIP is great and it's aided many of my fantasy baseball pickups, but it's time to move on to SIERA.  SIERA has improved methodology and corrects for many of xFIP's flaws.  Right now xFIP is more accessible - it's available for free at FanGraphs and included in their splits data.  Perhaps that's a fantasy advantage for you - if you're paying for BP you have access to the best pitching stat for predicting future performance.

Let's see if SIERA can find some gems for the last two months of the season.  The following pitchers have ERAs over 4.00 but SIERAs under 4.00 (minimum 75 innings):


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The All-Dropped Lineup

A couple of days ago we did the All-Dropped Pitching Staff from my competitive 12-team mixed league.  Now let's look at the best position players that were cut in the league.  Drop dates are included.

Catchers

Buster Posey - Apr 13
John Buck - Apr 8, Apr 26

Posey was called up on May 29th, and in mid-April when he was dropped it was thought that the Giants might keep him in the minors until June.  Plus rookies certainly don't always rake out of the gate, so I don't view that drop as appalling.  Buck didn't hit for average in April, and it was easy not to believe in him after he'd been so inconsistent for so many years in Kansas City.  Overall there haven't been many opportunities in our league to pick up top catchers off the waiver wire.  I usually try to give the position extra attention in drafts so I don't have to worry about it midseason, though many had the same idea on draft day.

First Basemen

Nick Swisher - Apr 22, Apr 26
Aubrey Huff - May 27
Gaby Sanchez - Apr 12, Apr 18, May 20

Huff was a terrible drop, and I was the culprit.  For some reason I didn't buy that he could sustain his '08 level again, but he has.  None of these three have major fantasy baseball name appeal, but the numbers are there.

Second Basemen

There really haven't been any top second basemen hitting the wire in our league.  Ryan Theriot, Alberto Callaspo, and the like could've been had, but those are not top ten types.  I think this position deserves the same respect as catcher on draft day, unless you have a Kelly Johnson or Martin Prado up your sleeve.

Shortstops

Alex Gonzalez - Apr 13, May 12, May 14, May 28, May 31
Marco Scutaro - Apr 11, May 16
Erick Aybar - May 3, May 28, June 15, June 23

Again, not much name value here.  Gonzalez was written off as a hot start by most, but he's shown 20 home run pop in past seasons.  Scutaro is more of a "slow and steady wins the race" type.  Aybar didn't heat up until June, but consistently scored runs and stole bags.

Third Basemen

Jose Bautista - May 6
Scott Rolen - Apr 15, Apr 26

Bautista has been streaky - nothing special in April or June, raked in May and July.  The owner who dropped him may have just had bad timing.  Rolen did have a decent April, but there must have been the impression that he couldn't hold a high level of health and power.  Not a crazy assumption to make.

Outfielders (in addition to Bautista and Swisher)

Corey Hart - Apr 4, Apr 10
Scott Podsednik - May 25, June 12
Andres Torres - May 8
Josh Willingham - Apr 8
Jonny Gomes - Apr 1, May 23, July 16

Hart looked like a platoon player in April, but hit ten home runs in May.  Perhaps you thought Hart could return to his 2007-08 level, but no one expected him to rake like this and earn a contract extension by August.  Podsednik's batting average bounced around, but he consistently stole bases, and that's what you roster him for.  Torres kind of came out of nowhere as a power-speed combo, and it's still a little tough to buy the 5'10" 32-year-old as a power source.

In my opinion, this little study shows that getting breakout position players off the waiver wire midseason is a rarity in a good 12-team mixed league, even with unlimited transactions.  You might hit on a Hart, Huff, Posey, or Bautista, but in a competitive league there's a good chance you won't.  Stocking your roster with top position players and decent-probability position player sleepers on draft day remains a strong strategy.


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Mike Minor To Get The Call

Word last night from Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was that the Braves might call up lefty Mike Minor in the wake of Kris Medlen's strained elbow ligament.  Minor is not yet available in Yahoo leagues, but should you prepare to pounce?

Minor, 22, was drafted seventh overall by the Braves last year.  Baseball America ranked him fourth among Braves prospects before the season, writing that his pitching savvy should make him at least a mid-rotation starter in the bigs.  However, they cautioned that his repertoire most resembled that of Jeremy Sowers.  But things have changed since BA wrote that description.  Check out what Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein wrote a week ago:

Minor's stuff this year has far exceeded all expectations: he's gone from a highly polished pitcher with average stuff to one with the velocity to blow it by hitters when necessary.

Just before that Goldstein wrote that Minor "continues to flash an extra 2-4 ticks on his fastball from his college days, while retaining his command and secondary offerings."  Clearly, Minor is no longer seen as just a "safe" pick. 

Statistically, Minor posted an 11.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in an 87-inning Double A stint and a 9.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in a 31.6-inning Triple A stint.  I worry that he'll walk too many guys as a rookie, as his big league rate might exceed his Double A one.  However, sometimes a rookie lefty can just be tough to hit at first; anecdotally I'm thinking of Jaime Garcia.  In fact Garcia's rates - 7.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 with less than a hit per inning - seem like something Minor might approximate.  That means a WHIP that's just OK, but overall numbers worthy of deep mixed leagues.

Of course, trying to predict what Minor might do over less than ten big league starts might be futile.  In the short term, Minor could step in to take Medlen's place Monday at Houston.  I know the Astros had a couple offensive outbursts this week, but it's still not an imposing lineup.  At the least Minor is a reasonable spot-start in most leagues.  He's certainly worth targeting in keeper leagues, as he's more polished than most rookies.  If you're wondering if you should drop a certain starter for Minor, leave a comment and we'll try to figure it out.


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