October 2010

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Assessing Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana rewarded those who drafted him in the 19th round or picked him up off the waiver wire this season, posting a 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 169 strikeouts, and 17 wins over 222.6 innings.  It was a far cry from '09, when Santana posted a 5.03 ERA and missed a chunk of the season with an elbow strain.

How should you handle Santana, heading into 2011 drafts?  This wasn't a repeat of his '08 season, when he posted a brilliant 3.49 ERA (3.12 SIERA) and 1.12 WHIP with 214 Ks.  This time Santana had a 4.29 SIERA, 6.83 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, and 1.09 HR/9.  Those are not bad peripherals, but they suggest he belongs at the back end of a mixed league rotation.  Also, he was throwing a 94.4 mph average fastball in '08 and was at 92.5 in '10.

Don't forget that elbow issue, which makes you wonder if he can log anything close to 222.6 innings again.  If you're getting Santana around the 15th round, that works, but don't be too aggressive on him.

We don't have SIERA by month but we do have xFIP, courtesy of FanGraphs.  Santana never had an xFIP below 3.97 in any month, and his strikeout rate dipped below 6.0 in the last two.  Hard to say if that's a trend, but he could fall outside the realm of mixed league usefulness in 2011 if so.

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Players To Watch: Kansas City Royals

Let's see what the Royals have to offer mixed leagues in 2011...

  • Billy Butler, 1B.  Took a mild step back in power in his age 24 season.  I don't see why Butler can't provide a .300-20-100 season next year, and fantasy leaguers sometimes take him early in case he's ready to truly break out.  He trimmed strikeouts and improved his walk rate this year.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt, SS.  16 homers and 78 RBIs, that's a quality mixed league shortstop.  Six of his homers were "just enoughs," so maybe look for 10 bombs in 2011.
  • Mike Aviles, 2B.  He qualifies at shortstop too if your league uses a 10-game requirement.  Nice bounceback year for Aviles, who had a lost 2009 due to elbow surgery.  He's got a little pop, and he attempted to steal over 15% of the time he was on first base.  Quality middle infield sleeper.
  • David DeJesus, OF.  His best season was cut short in July due to thumb surgery.  He's always provided sneaky value in average and runs.
  • Wilson Betemit, 3B.  Massive .297/.378/.511 line in a half season.  He won't do that again, but he could certainly hit 20 home runs given 600 plate appearances as the team's regular third baseman.  Think about him for your CI slot if it's really, really late.
  • Alex Gordon, OF.  Only played 10 games at 3B this year.  He says he's going to "dominate" next year, and I could see him matching Ned Yost's 20 home run, 80 RBI suggestion.  If he runs a little and his average isn't horrible, there could be some value.  You'll be able to get him late.
  • Kila Ka'aihue, 1B.  Another huge year at Triple A, as well as six home runs in the bigs in the final month.  There's at least some chance of 25+ home runs and a quality OBP.  If he appears to be in line for regular duty come March, take a look.
  • Zack Greinke, SP.  Unless he's traded to the Yankees or something, he could be a nice value pick next year.  SIERA puts him at 3.70 this year as opposed to his 4.17 ERA.  He admitted in September that he felt burnt out and unmotivated at times, so there is a mental component.  Certainly capable of a sub-3.00 ERA again.
  • Luke Hochevar, SP.  We talked about him yesterday - interesting, but no need to draft him.
  • Gil Meche, SP.  Also not worth drafting.  Maybe a healthy Meche could give you another 2008, but his shoulder probably won't allow 30 starts.  He could end up as Soria's setup man and therefore a dark horse for saves.
  • Joakim Soria, RP.  He may be the game's best closer; he should go earlier than the ninth round this time.
  • Mike Montgomery, SP.  Well-regarded 21-year-old lefty prospect.  He was decent at Double A, and could have some big league success in 2010, but I'd be surprised if he made a fantasy impact.
  • Mike Moustakas, 3B.  Recently turned 22; hit .293/.314/.564 with 15 home runs in 236 plate appearances at Triple A.  He was incredible at Double A and could be an immediate .300, 25 home run threat as a rookie.  I imagine he'll start at Triple A.  Keep an eye on his performance and prepare for a potential June call-up.
  • Eric Hosmer, 1B.  Just 21, he finished the year at Double A.  Hosmer has mammoth power, slugging .615 with 13 home runs in 211 PAs there.  If Ka'aihue struggles and Hosmer is raking, the Royals could bring him up.  Like Moustakas, he could make an impact right away.

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The Next David Price

Rays lefty David Price made 23 starts in 2009 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.35 WHIP after starting the season at Triple A.  This year he broke out, posting a 2.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 19 wins, and 188 strikeouts.  He was drafted in the 16th round on average.  How can we identify the next Price?  Before this season, here's what we knew about Price:

  • First overall pick in 2007.
  • Threw hard for a lefty, averaging 92.9 on his fastball.
  • Control needed work and his strikeout rate wasn't amazing, but both rates were OK.
  • Nothing special about his ERA or WHIP either.
  • Doesn't play for a big-market team.

Can we find anyone similar heading into 2011 drafts?

Morrow we discussed yesterday; he might go a bit before the 16th round.  Hochevar and Minor should be drafted pretty late.

Hochevar has tossed some brilliant games over the last few years - 22 strikeouts and zero walks in consecutive 2009 starts, a 10 K effort this year.  He also had three starts this year with 7+ Ks and 2 or fewer walks.  However, he was limited to 108 pro innings with an elbow sprain.  He's the type of guy you might not have to draft but should monitor.

Minor is very interesting.  His strikeout and walk rates were strong - 9.5 and 2.4 in 40.6 innings in the Majors and 10.9 and 3.4 in 120.3 minor league frames.  He was done in by a .396 BABIP in the bigs.  SIERA puts him at 3.29 as opposed to his 5.98 ERA.

What have we learned?  There are always about 25 intriguing young pitchers each year, but Mike Minor is our best bet to be the David Price of 2011.

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A Look At Brandon Morrow

Brandon Morrow is one of the more intriguing starters for 2011 fantasy drafts.  Let's take an in-depth look at the 26-year-old righty.

The Pros

  • Among those with at least 100 innings pitched, Morrow ranked first in baseball by a longshot with a 10.95 K/9.  Tim Lincecum was next at 9.79.  Morrow struck out eight or more hitters in half his starts, including a 17-K gem.  If he reaches 200 innings, he could whiff 240.
  • Morrow is difficult to hit, with 7.8 per nine allowed in his career.  He posted a .348 BABIP this year (almost certain to come down) but still allowed only 8.4 hits per nine because batters put so few balls in play against him.
  • He's a former first-round pick who was jerked around before being traded to the Blue Jays, so he might now just be settling in.
  • His average fastball velocity was a solid 93.4 this year. 
  • Morrow's ERA was 4.49, but his SIERA was 3.15.  The casual fantasy player may not realize that he's in line for a much lower ERA even if his skills remain the same.

The Cons

  • Due to injuries and time spent as a reliever, Morrow has never topped this year's 146.3 innings in a pro season.
  • He's inefficient.  Morrow's 17.2 pitches per inning figure this year was the 10th-worst in baseball among those with 100 innings.  He averaged 5.63 innings per start, which could limit wins.
  • I expect his WHIP to come down from 1.38 because of even fewer hits allowed.  But his 4.1 BB/9 was a career-best, and that's still a WHIP-damaging control rate.  Silver lining using arbitrary endpoints: his BB/9 was 3.0 over 14 starts made in June, July, and August.
  • He pitches in the AL East.

In trying to predict where Morrow might be drafted, Clayton Kershaw is a decent comparable.  He too was coming off a low-inning, high walk campaign, and he was drafted in the eighth round before this season.  On the flip side he didn't come with injury or American League concerns and he's really tough to hit.  Jonathan Sanchez is also similar, and he was drafted in the 19th.  I'm thinking rounds 13-15 for Morrow in 2011.  It's a solid gamble.

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Players To Watch: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles players we'll be keeping an eye on for mixed leagues in 2011...

  • Nick Markakis, OF.  Drafted in the fifth round on average before the 2010 season, Markakis should slip several rounds in 2011 after his power continued to fade.  He batted third 64% of the time but drove in only 60 runs.  He might be able to bounce back to his 20 home run, 100 RBI ways.
  • Adam Jones, OF.  He's seemingly settled into the 20 home run, 10 steal range, less than was expected of him.  He did have eight home runs in June.  Only 25, Jones' breakout could still be in the offing.
  • Luke Scott, DH.  Scott played 19 games at first base and 14 in the outfield, so he may only qualify at DH if your league requires 20 games.  His power has risen for three straight seasons and he slugged over .600 in three separate months this year.  Maybe he takes one more jump up to 30 home runs.
  • Matt Wieters, C.  Wieters' sophomore season did not bring improvement.  An eighth rounder before the season, he'll be later than the tenth this time.  I'm reaching here, but it's mildly interesting that Wieters slugged .416 over the season's final three months.  Hmm...actually, that's not interesting.  Nick Hundley can do that.  I still like Wieters if he becomes unpopular enough in drafts.
  • Brian Roberts, 2B.  He won't go in the fourth round this time, as he was plagued by back pain all season.  He's 33 now and these things usually don't just go away, but if he slips to the ninth or tenth consider him.
  • Jeremy Guthrie, SP.  His 3.83 ERA and 1.16 WHIP screams fluke.  In the unlikely event he's traded to an NL club, he might get on my radar.
  • Brian Matusz, SP.  He should be a popular sleeper again after posting a 4.30 ERA and matching SIERA.  Over the last two months: 2.18 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9 in 62 innings.
  • Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, SP.  Highly regarded, but disappointing in the bigs this year.  Both had promising Triple A numbers, especially Tillman, but I'd probably avoid them.
  • David Hernandez, RP.  As a reliever this year: 3.16 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9 in 37 innings.  Maybe Buck Showalter won't designate a closer right away, but Hernandez should be in the mix.  I certainly like him more than Alfredo Simon.  If Koji Uehara doesn't return and the O's don't sign a veteran, speculate on Hernandez.
  • Mike Gonzalez, RP.  He may get first dibs at closing due to his salary, though maybe Showalter won't stand for that.  He tossed 22.6 innings from July forward, posting a 2.78 ERA, 11.1 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9.  He missed a bunch of time earlier with shoulder problems.
  • Zach Britton, SP.  Well-regarded prospect could help the Orioles, but probably not your fantasy team as a rookie.

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Players To Watch: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are always a good source of fantasy sleepers.  Here are the players you'll want to keep an eye on for 2011.

  • Andrew McCutchen, OF.  Drafted in the eighth round before the 2010 season, McCutchen performed very close to his projection.  Perhaps the added reliability and the fact that he's only 24 make him go a round or two earlier in 2011.
  • Ronny Cedeno, SS.  If you squint you can see a shortstop capable of 10 homers and 10 steals, which is worth something.
  • Neil Walker, 2B.  Despite down-ballot ROY buzz he'll be a sleeper for next year.  Read more on him here.
  • Ryan Doumit, C.  I could see him traded to another club and having some use as a second catcher.
  • Chris Snyder, C.  He'll get the lion's share of the catching duties, and should be good for 15 homers and an ugly batting average.  With 450 ABs he could actually push 20 homers.
  • Jose Tabata, OF.  He could steal 30 bags with 600 plate appearances.  He's only 22, and the power has yet to arrive.  Even so, he could supply runs batting in the #1-2 spots along with a nice average.  A sneaky three-category player who will likely be had late.
  • Pedro Alvarez, 3B.  He's already capable of 30 homers and 100 RBIs.  Probably won't help in average or steals, but he could provide good value in the eighth round or so.
  • John Bowker, OF.  The Pirates gave 654 PAs to Quad-A guy Garrett Jones, and maybe Bowker could get that chance next year.  He hit .313/.382/.587 with 18 homers in 322 Triple A PAs this year and was even better last year.
  • Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan, RP.  These two righties will compete for the closer job in spring training.  My money's on Hanrahan, but it's too early to call.  If you draft one, try to snag the other later.  Chris Resop is a deeper sleeper to get into the saves mix.
  • James McDonald, SP.  An 8.6 K/9 in 11 starts catches the eye.  A .330 BABIP helped push his WHIP to 1.38, as did a just-OK 3.64 BB/9.  On the flip side he can't sustain a 4.3% home run per flyball rate and he does allow a lot of flies.  SIERA had him at 3.74 in his 64 Pirates innings, and he throws pretty hard, so there's enough here for a speculative 20th round-type pick.
  • Brad Lincoln, SP.  He failed in the bigs but had solid peripherals at Triple A.  Someone to watch, but not to draft in mixed leagues.  Another note on the Pirates' rotation: they're likely to add a veteran free agent starter.

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The Potential Of Jay Bruce

Heading into the season Reds right fielder Jay Bruce was being drafted in the 11th round on average.  We had him down for .269-32-91-85-8 in 560 ABs.  His actual line: .281-25-70-80-5 in 509 ABs.  He missed some time in September with an abdomen injury, and also was benched against tough lefties earlier in the season.  Projected to 560 ABs he would've hit .281-28-77-88-6, pretty close to our projection aside from RBIs.

Bruce fell a bit short of the breakout some fantasy touts predicted or hoped for, but his age 23 season was definitely his best yet.  He provided excellent 11th-round value.  In 2011 I think people will be salivating on draft day, given Bruce's obvious talent.  He could be drafted as early as the fifth round.  Will he be worth that level of speculation?

The first thing to note is that Bruce probably won't be benched much next year, having proven his ability to hit lefties.  Hit AB totals in May, June, and July suggest he'd be around 590 in a healthy, full season.  Right there you're looking at 30 home runs without any growth.

Bruce's .281 batting average may not be sustainable; Baseball HQ's xBA stat had him at .260.  His 26.7% strikeout rate was on the high side, 25th in baseball among those with 400+ PAs.

We mentioned the 30 home run potential.  This year 15 of Bruce's home runs came in his final 133 ABs.  That's a ridiculous rate, but it was only two months.  It's enough to hint that Bruce could be a 40 home run player in 2011 though.

In the RBI department keep in mind he spent 48% of his plate appearances in the #6 spot in the lineup and 40% in the #5 spot.  Assuming the Reds don't bring in a big name to play left field, I could see Bruce find more of a permanent home at #5 behind Joey Votto and Scott Rolen.  That means more RBIs.

Bruce attempted nine steals and found success on only five.  Compared to how many times he was on first base, he really didn't attempt many steals.  He may get a few extra swipes by improving his success rate, but he's not a 10 steal guy unless something changes.  Sometimes a player just decides to run more, but don't count on steals from Bruce.

Entirely using gut feel, I'd put Bruce down for something like .270-35-100-90-5 next year.  Not too many players hit 35 homers these days, and the steals help.  Even without a massive breakout type campaign, Bruce's power numbers should make him a top 10 fantasy outfielder in the vein of Vladimir Guerrero or Corey Hart this year.  I'm intrigued enough to say a fifth or sixth round selection is justified.

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8 Pitchers Whose WHIPs Should Fall Next Year

We still like pointing out BABIP anomalies, call us old-fashioned.  Here are a few to watch for 2011 on the high side.

  • James Shields - .354 BABIP.  I was going to do a post on how Shields is the new Javier Vazquez, always underperforming in ERA compared to his peripherals.  But then I realized there really isn't any such trend.  SIERA says 3.57 for Shields this year, way below his actual 5.18 ERA.  His 1.46 WHIP should scare off bidders as well.  He should be the best 187-strikeout bargain around in 2011 drafts, perhaps rounds 13-16.
  • Manny Parra - .352 BABIP.  One of the hardest-throwing lefty starters, Parra will probably be tendered a contract by the Brewers on the strength of his 9.52 K/9.  SIERA says 3.82 as opposed to his 5.02 ERA, but Parra's control is an issue.  So while his WHIP will come down from 1.62, it still won't be good.
  • Josh Beckett - .349 BABIP.  He had a 3.84 SIERA against a scary 5.78 ERA and an uncharacteristic 1.54 WHIP.  There's no reason we can't get the Beckett of '09 next year.  His poor season should push him toward the 10th round.
  • Brandon Morrow - .348 BABIP.  He whiffed 178 in just 146.3 innings, but still had a 1.38 WHIP.  His walk rate will keep that WHIP at an unhelpful level, but his 8.36 hits per nine rate could actually come down.  Certainly an intriguing name for 2011 drafts, with his 17-strikeout one-hitter fresh in our minds.
  • Zach Duke - .347 BABIP.  A 4.58 SIERA says he could have some uses in real baseball for a new club, but he's not a mixed league option.
  • Aaron Harang - .346 BABIP.  His SIERA was only 4.44; Harang is definitely slipping.  Even if his WHIP comes down from 1.59 it will still hurt.  In the right ballpark, very late in the draft, I'd still consider him.
  • Yovani Gallardo - .340 BABIP.  He cut down on the walks but still had a career-worst 1.37 WHIP.  On the plus side he struck out 200 for the second year in a row.  Maybe next year he puts it all together and takes a leap in value.  Sound investment around the 8th round.
  • Francisco Liriano - .340 BABIP.  His 1.26 WHIP could have been even lower.  His 3.02 SIERA against his 3.62 ERA shows there's room for more here.  However, Liriano won't be drafted in the 19th round on average this time around.
  • Honorable mentions to Jason Hammel (.337) and Jonathon Niese (.335).

Lilly Remains With Dodgers

Good news for fantasy leaguers, as lefty Ted Lilly inked a three-year deal with the Dodgers.  Lilly has found the National League to his liking since 2007, trimming his walk rate significantly.  Only a handful of starting pitchers had an average fastball velocity below Lilly's 86.7 mph this year.  Unlike Mark Buehrle, Livan Hernandez, and others, Lilly is able to deceive his way to a strikeout rate near 8.0 per nine typically.

Lilly's wart is his groundball rate, which at 29.5% was the second-worst in baseball this year behind Kevin Slowey.  Tons of flyballs means frequent home runs; fortunately, they come without men on base given Lilly's control and apparent ability to prevent batted balls from falling for hits.  Dodger Stadium has a reputation as a pitcher-friendly place, though this year and in '07 it actually inflated home runs according to ESPN's park factors.  Lilly had a 1.35 HR/9 in 46.6 Dodger Stadium innings this year, which is around what we've come to expect from him.

Lilly had a sparkling 2.96 SIERA in 76.6 innings for the Dodgers this year, with a 4.14 mark in 117 Cubs frames.  His past Cubs' SIERAs suggest you should look for something in the 3.80 range going forward.  Lilly turns 35 in January, and there is health risk.  He missed most of April this year due to minor shoulder surgery, and has a history of shoulder problems from his American League days.

Lilly isn't an exciting pitcher, but he still gives you 165 Ks and a strong WHIP.  Last year he was drafted in the 16th round on average, and he should be in the same bargain range in 2011.

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9 Pitchers Who Should Post A Higher WHIP Next Year

BABIP used to be a cool, underground fantasy stat when we fired up this blog in 2005, but now it's on every street corner.  Nonetheless, here are nine pitchers with BABIPs of .265 or below in 2010.  We should expect these BABIPs to rise in 2011, meaning more hits and a higher WHIP and ERA.

  • Trevor Cahill - .238 BABIP.  Cahill had a 4.16 SIERA as opposed to his 2.97 ERA.  He's obviously talented, and gets a lot of groundballs, but I typically stay away from low-strikeout starters in fantasy baseball.
  • Bronson Arroyo - .246 BABIP.  His lowest figure since becoming a full-time starter in '04.  He did manage a .270 mark in '09, but previously bounced around in the .285-.321 range.  He's not big on strikeouts or groundballs and had a 4.66 SIERA next to his 3.88 ERA.  Fill out your rotation with someone more interesting in the late rounds.
  • Tim Hudson - .250 BABIP.  He had a ridiculous groundball rate, and posted a 3.70 SIERA against his 2.83 ERA.  If you have to take a low strikeout guy Hudson is probably your best bet.
  • Ted Lilly - .259 BABIP.  He's never been above .283 in the NL (Expos debut aside), so I think he does suppress hits as a skill.  His 3.8 K/BB is sparkling, but he allows a ton of flyballs.  I'd look for an ERA in the 3.80 range from Ted.  Always a solid choice when solid second-tier starters fall off the board in the 10th-15th rounds.
  • Matt Cain - .260 BABIP.  Cain has a .274 career BABIP and has allowed as many as eight hits per nine innings in only one of his 5+ seasons.  He's another flyball guy, but he showed the best control of his career this year.  His SIERA was 3.90 this year though his ERA over the past two seasons was 3.02.  I'm not sure projection systems have a good read on Cain.  He's a fine mid-rotation fantasy choice.
  • Roy Oswalt - .261 BABIP.  Oswalt seemed undervalued coming into this season, but in March 2011 the opposite might be true.  There's nothing not to like, but his incredible work with the Phillies might push him into the fifth or sixth round.  I'm not prepared to do that.
  • Jonathan Sanchez - .262 BABIP.  Sanchez led the NL with the lowest hits per nine innings at 6.6, but also led the league in walks.  He was helpful in WHIP this year, but probably won't be in 2011 unless he suddenly finds control.  I fear that Sanchez's big year will push him out of sleeper territory, even though he still walks a ton.
  • Clay Buchholz - .265 BABIP.  We know he's talented, but the 2.33 ERA is nowhere near the 4.29 SIERA.  Buchholz didn't excel with strikeouts or walks.  You have to think he'll be overrated in drafts, but there's always a chance he pulls a Justin Verlander and his peripherals catch up.
  • Ian Kennedy - .265 BABIP.  Nice sleeper for strikeouts, but he's homer-prone.  Those longballs should come with more baserunners next year.  Draft him with caution, but I don't think he'll go too early anyway.

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