Analysis Of Latest News

Transaction Analysis: Tigers Sign Prince Fielder

The mystery team struck again this week, as the Tigers agreed to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214MM contract in the wake of Victor Martinez's torn ACL. The move will obviously improve a team that won its division by 15 games last year, but just how much is an argument for another time. We're going to focus on the fantasy impact of the signing, which is far-reaching.

Park Effects

Miller Park is one of the game's most underrated hitter's parks, at least in the sense that it doesn't get talked about as much as Yankee Statium, The Ballpark In Arlington, Citizens Bank Park, or Coors Field. It has inflated home run production by 12.1% over the last three seasons according to ESPN's Park Factors, but we can be more precise than that. StatCorner provides park factor splits for left-handed and right-handed hitters for a variety of stats, and they say Miller Park has a home run park factor of 118 for lefties and just 103 for righties. That might be surprising since it's 356 and 374 to right and right-center fields but only 344 and 370 to left and left-center, but the orientation and physical shape of the ballpark creates a bit of jet stream out to right. If you watched the NLCS at all this past October, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Fielder's over-the-fence power received what is approximately an 18% boost thanks to his home park in recent years. Comerica Park is much less forgiving though; the homer park factor for lefties is just 88, so it suppresses long balls by lefties approximately 12%. Now we can't just add the 18% and 12% and say that Fielder's homer total will drop 30% because of the ballpark switch, it doesn't work like that. Prince isn't your average home run hitter, he has arguably the most power in all of baseball, so it's not like he's just barely clearing the wall on his way to 35+ homers each year. Petco Park and Tropicana Field didn't stop Adrian Gonzalez and Evan Longoria from hitting all those homers, and Comerica is unlikely to do the same to Fielder. Heck, just look at his new teammate Miguel Cabrera, who still continues to rank among the league leaders in long balls every year. Park effects don't always apply to great hitters.

According to Hit Tracker, Prince's homers had an average standard distance of 407.5 ft. last season, more than 13 ft. and 3.5% greater than the 393.7 ft. MLB average. Furthermore, just ten of his 38 homers qualified as "Just Enoughs," meaning they cleared the wall by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Given their definition, Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer from year-to-year, which is part of the reason why Casey McGehee went from 23 homers (and 15 Just Enoughs) in 2010 to just 13 homers (and five Just Enoughs) in 2011. Slightly more than one-quarter of Fielder's homers last year qualified as Just Enoughs, so he's out of the danger zone when it comes to signficant drop-off next season. Prince doesn't just sneak the ball over the fence, he's fond of the second deck and 400+ footers, which plays anywhere.

Now that doesn't mean Fielder won't see some decline in his power numbers next year, just that it might not be as drastic as one would assume at first glance. Age-related decline isn't a concern at 27 (28 in May), though he will have to adjust to a new league and presumably DH'ing at least part of the time. I think we all have Adam Dunn in the back of our minds, who went from being one of the game's most prolific power hitters to unrosterable last year, but that's a rather extreme example. Similar players like Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero made the same switch a few years ago and showed no ill effects. It's safe to project another 30+ homers out of Fielder next year, but the days of 40+ might be a thing of the past. Then again, he's only topped 40 twice in his six full years, the last time coming in 2009.

The Trickle Down Effect On Cabrera

Manager Jim Leyland was emphatic that Cabrera will be his third baseman when Fielder was officially introduced on Thursday, which is wonderful news for fantasy owners. I don't know of many people that expect the experiment to work given his size and already subpar defensive skills, but as far as fantasy owners are concerned, it's a goldmine. If Cabrera -- who's already the best fantasy option at the most productive position -- manages to play enough games at the hot corner to qualify for third base eligibility, he has a chance to become the most dominant fantasy weapon since Alex Rodriguez in his heyday. We're talking a super-elite hitter at a premium position, even though his offense might take a slight hit given the transition. But still, he's starting from such a high production baseline that we'll barely even notice.

The Trickle Down Effect On Boesch

During the same introductory press conference, Leyland acknowledged that Brennan Boesch will bat second in front of Cabrera and Fielder, which improves his fantasy outlook a bit. The 26-year-old outfielder hit .283/.341/.458 with 16 homers in 115 games and 472 plate appearances before a thumb injury ended his season in late-August. That production alone made him valuable, but hitting in front of the two big bats should boost his runs scored total if nothing else. The effect of lineup protection is generally overstated, but in the case of elite hitters like Cabrera and Fielder, it can have a very real impact. I definitely have Boesch earmarked as a breakout candidate for 2012.

The Trickle Down Effect On Fister And Porcello

As wonderful as a third base eligible Cabrera would be, his defense at the hot corner figures to create some problems for a few members of Detroit's staff. The team will employ three below-average defenders on the infield in Fielder, Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta (Peralta's +9.9 UZR in 2011 was based on his ability to avoid errors, not necessarily make more plays) regardless of who they play at second base. Both Doug Fister (career 5.52 K/9 and 46.5% ground ball rate) and Rick Porcello (4.84 and 51.9%) are pitchers that rely on their defense, so don't be surprised if they wind up with a higher WHIP and ERA than projected. Fister was already doomed to be overvalued on draft day given his dominance after the trade (five of his ten starts with the Tigers came against the lowly Twins, Athletics, and fading Indians), so don't fall into the same trap. That's not to say he won't be a solid option, but don't count on him repeating his second half numbers over a full season, especially now with the defense behind him. Porcello wasn't much more than a fringe roster candidate in standard 12-team, 5x5 leagues to start with, so I wouldn't blame you if you took him off draft boards entirely now.

* * *

Given his mammoth power and the fact that he's still very much in the prime of his career, Fielder will again be a top fantasy producer in 2012 even though he's moving to an unfriendly ballpark. Cabrera stands to gain the most out of the deal since he'll pick up third base eligibility, though Boesch should receive a boost as well. Some members of the pitching staff won't like the infield defense behind them, so make sure you don't get stuck depending on them for quality innings next year.

Transaction Analysis: Rangers, Darvish Agree To Terms

Yu Darvish. Even his name is exciting. A colorful ace with rock star fame, Yu Darvish comes to America with with more fanfare than any Japanese player since Daisuke Matsuzaka. He brings the hype of a first-round draft pick and five consecutive years of sub 2.00 ERAs in a league generally considered to be tougher than Triple-A. Rangers fans should be excited by his presence in their rotation, and baseball fans in general should be excited to see if Darvish can prove he really is one of the world's best pitchers on the biggest stage. 

You should be excited to watch Darvish in the MLB. But should you be so excited that you plant him on your fantasy team?

Briefly: yes.

To be sure, there are risks associated with drafting Japanese ballplayers (or signing them, for that matter); one only needs to look at the track records of most Japanese imports to be wary. Daisuke Matsuzaka was an ace in Japan--this year he may not make the Red Sox rotation. Hideo Nomo had his moments, but was maddeningly inconsistent (I know: I once drafted him two years in a row.)

Differing ballpark dimensions, pitch selections, playing styles and ball types all conspire to make it relatively difficult to translate NBP performance into an MLB equivalent, though our own Mike Axisa evaluates some projections at RotoGraphs. Most of the projections that are out now suggest an ERA in the 3.00s with a strikeout rate of about 8.00 K/9, which would be good but perhaps shy of ace-level. There could be a lot of variance in those projections, however any ERA from the 2.00s to the low 4.00s wouldn't surprise me.

Uncertainty aside, there's a lot to like about Yu Darvish, in real and (more importantly) fantasy baseball. Check out his stats since 2007 here

Many have commented on the durability of Japanese pitchers. The Japanese schedule is shorter and more spread out, so many Japanese pitchers come to the Majors with relatively low innings totals. Darvish, however, has thrown quite a few innings recently, pitching 232 last year and breaking the 200 mark in four of the past five seasons.

For comparison's sake, Matsuzaka broke 200 just twice in eight seasons in Japan, and American prospects never throw so many in the minors. While pitching on a five-day schedule instead of a seven-day may take its toll, Darvish has been pitching with a Major League workload since he was 18. Of course, it could always be his previous overwork that breaks him down, but that strikes me as more of a long-term worry and less of a reason to be scared in 2012. If other owners want to let Dice-K scare them off from Darvish, let that be their loss.

Darvish was a strikeout artist in Japan, averaging over a whiff an inning since 2007 (his age-20 season), including a 10.7 mark last year. He has a power pitcher's arsenal, with a 94-mph fastball that may well translate into Major League strikeouts better than the Swiss-Army assortment that many Japanese pitchers employ. Along with those strikeouts he's employed impeccable control, averaging over four strikeouts per walk in four of the last five years. Last year, he posted a 7.67K/BB. (Note of caution: Matsuzaka had limited his walks effectively in Japan, so control may not be a guarantee.) While last year has the look of a career year, he's young enough (he turns 26 this August) that it might have been just another step forward as a pitcher. 

I'm sure the Rangers took all of this into account when they signed Darvish, but we get to consider something that Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels couldn't: the Rangers themselves. The Rangers are a smart club and they know pitching, having earned some benefit of the doubt with Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and their willingness to try Neftali Feliz in the rotation. The fact that they spent $111 million on Darvish gives me confidence that I wouldn't have gotten from the Orioles or the Reds making the same decision.

For fantasy purposes, of course, there's another team-factor to consider: the Rangers are a good team with a great offense in a division that includes two weak sisters. They're going to win plenty of games and some of those wins will fall to Darvish, even if he underachieves relative to expectations. While his home park won't do him any favors, the Seattle and Oakland offenses will.

There are no minor league comparables for Yu Darvish, as any pitcher in the Western Hemisphere with his talent would have been in the Majors long ago, but Eno Sarris of Fangraphs drew up a list of similar Major Leaguers last month. He suggests that Johnny Cueto makes an appropriate floor for Darvish's value and Jordan Zimmermann a rough median projection. Felix Hernandez provides a ceiling. Which seems to say that he'll probably be at least very good -- a No. 2 starter, for a good team -- his potential is among the best in baseball. Even Johnny Cueto has fantasy value, and he'd have even more with the Rangers.

Right now, Darvish's ADP is 124.14 -- appropriately, just two spots ahead of Zimmermann (ironically, Cueto is being drafted about a round earlier.) This strikes me as a decent prediction of where he'll be taken in a lot of drafts, as the 10th and 11th rounds are good times to take the top prospect off the board, but I wouldn't be afraid to take him a round or two early. I wouldn't make him as my ace, but taking him as a second or third SP would give your staff a lot of upside. Don't get me wrong, Darvish is far from a sure thing, but I've found that playing it safe is a good way to finish in the middle of the pack; winning teams make calculated risks, and Darvish looks like a risk worth taking.

Transaction Analysis: Kuroda, Pineda, Montero

In a matter of a couple hours on Friday night, the Yankees pulled off two moves -- teaming up with the Mariners on one -- that have given fantasy owners a lot to consider. When the dust settled, no fewer than three potentially high-impact players changed teams, and there was a fourth on the move who could sneak into consideration in deep AL-onlies or super-deep mixers.

Let's have a look a look at what went down and what it could mean ...

The Yankees agree to terms with Hiroki Kuroda

With a profile that includes strikeout ability, solid control, above-average groundball rates and relative durability, Kuroda has been a salt-of-the-earth commodity in the fake game in his four Major League seasons, all of which were spent with the Dodgers. You probably wouldn't have won many leagues with the Japanese right-hander as your No. 1 starter, but he's been an ideal No. 3 or 4.

Now, things are about to get tougher for Kuroda. He's leaving pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium for a home ballpark in the Bronx that favors hitters. He's also staring at his age-37 season and is leaving behind the navigable NL West for baseball's toughest division. Factor in that his draft-day price -- current ADP of 170, per Mock Draft Central -- will likely be inflated in the coming weeks by his new pinstriped uniform, and we seemingly have a formula for a guy who is a good pitcher but could land on our overpriced list.

But owning a good starter who takes the ball every fifth day for the Yankees has one notable allure (in most leagues): that little stat we call "wins." The fact remains that, barring an unprecedented rash of injuries or the world's untimely demise in May, the Yankees are a virtual lock to win 90-plus games in 2012, and someone has to be the beneficiary of all those Ws.

For example, Phil Hughes and his 4.05 SIERA won 18 games in 2010, while Ivan Nova and his 4.29 SIERA won 16 games in 2011. Kuroda is better than both of those fellas. Of course, there's a lot of random chance factored into that equation. Fantasy pinada A.J. Burnett drew Lady Luck's short straw last season, winning only 11 games despite posting a 3.89 SIERA that was better than both Hughes' two years ago and Nova's last year.

The bottom line is, I'd let the plusses and minuses of this move offset each other with respect to Kuroda's fantasy value. He remains a No. 3 or 4 for me, and while the potential for an uptick in wins is enticing, there are factors at play that could just as easily point toward mild regression in his ratios and strikeouts.

The Yankees acquire Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi

Blockbuster alert! Two of the game's at- or near-the-Majors top young talents in Pineda and Montero are on the move.

On the heels of a brilliant rookie season in which his 3.36 SIERA was actually better than his sharp 3.74 ERA, Pineda, like Kuroda, is tasked with overcoming a more challenging home ballpark and schedule. And with more strikeouts than innings pitched in 2011, Pineda certainly has the higher upside of the Yankees' two new arms, although he also comes with some risk.

In his breakdown of the swap, ESPN analyst/scout Keith Law (sub req'd) cautions that Pineda, still something of an unpolished two-pitch pitcher at this juncture of his young career, may not be able to repeat 2011's surface stats, especially against lineups with tougher left-handed hitters. For what it's worth, Pineda posted a .237/.296/.357 line and a 2.96 K/BB ratio vs. lefties last season, so it's not his L/R splits that worry me. Instead, I'd keep an eye on the 36% groundball rate he posted last year, as some of those fly balls could come back to haunt him in 2012 if they bleed out of Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.

Even if there's regression in the cards for Pineda, a guy who struck out more than a batter per inning and walked fewer than three per nine frames as a supposedly raw rookie is not one to be ignored. His current ADP is 97, which indicates to me there is still some skepticism among owners. If you're more of an aggressive type, I'm fine with grabbing Pineda as many as two or even three rounds earlier, because he has second- or third-round upside, but don't get too carried away.

In Montero, the Mariners get their much-needed and long-sought-after offensive stud, and in the Mariners getting Montero, fantasy owners get the opportunity to draft a touted hitter who may qualify at catcher but probably won't play there often, which is always advantageous.

You can't really find a bad word written about Montero's hitting, and it's been that way for some time. He has hit for average and power, and drawn enough walks, at every stop along the way in the Minors and in a brief Major League stint in 2011 to suggest he'll be productive. As a 20-year-old in his first trip through Triple-A, Montero hit .289/.353/.517 with 21 homers. Yup, nobody messes with The Jesus.

The move to a bad lineup and a ballpark markedly tough on righty hitters won't help his counting stats, but I like Montero right at the fringe of the top-10 catchers once he qualifies at the position. Just be sure that you know your league's rules about position eligibility, and monitor how the M's deploy Montero in Spring Training, before drafting him. We'll be watching that one closely.

Noesi is a high-probability but low-upside right-hander in the mold of Mike Leake based on his minor league peripherals, which could be a useful profile in Safeco Field. He'll be 25 later this month, so he's not someone you'd expect to have some marked improvement from his history as a control specialist in the minors. Noesi could be useful as a streaming candidate in standard mixers, especially at home against weaker offenses, so he's probably safe to pass on in drafts for those formats, but file away his name in very deep mixers or AL-onlies.

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