Transaction Analysis


RotoAuthority Unscripted: Free Agent Boosts and Busts

If you’re like me (and you’re reading this, so you are) you’ve spent most of the offseason repeatedly and compulsively hitting the refresh button at MLBTraderumors.com. It’s open in another tab right now, and as you’re deciding whether or not to finish this article, the need to get the next Masahiro Tanaka update is starting to creep in. See, you don’t just want to find out if Tanaka is right for your fantasy squad, but you’re eagerly awaiting any sliver news on Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez

But take a step back. There’s plenty of time for those guys to find new homes that make or break their fantasy value. What about those guys who already did find new homes? What will you do with them?

Me, I’ll break ‘em down into three groups: Busts, Boosts, and…Neutrals, because I couldn’t think of something clever or alliterative that means the same thing.

Prince Fielder: Neutral

Someone in your league is gonna reach for the Prince. “Prince Fielder in Texas!” that person shouted some months ago, “Fantasy gold! First round pick!” Go ahead and let someone else be that excited. Now, I’m not down on Prince, but I don’t think the Ballpark in Arlington is going to be his savior. 

Let’s check out a couple basic park factors. According to ESPN, Fielder’s 2013 home of Detroit had a 1.139 factor last year good for third-friendliest in baseball. His famously hitter-friendly new home? Texas had a 0.985 factor, good for 17th in baseball. Putting it two slots behind Safeco Field in Seattle! Now, I know a single year’s park factor can swing dramatically…but that’s kind of my point: you can’t bank on Ballpark in Arlington to help Prince, because you can’t even count on it being a hitters’ park in any given year!

Homers were no better, as Detroit added a few homers (1.013) and Texas suppressed a few (0.903). The biggest take-away is that a new park is not a sure thing. There is some good news, though: according to Fangraphs, Texas did manage to add homers for lefties, compared to Detroit’s neutrality. Less than good news, is that the ballparks in three of Fielder’s four new top opponents all suppressed lefty homers. 

To me, the ballpark change is a neutral one. It might help a little, but that will probably be offset by the road parks he plays in. I didn’t delve much into the lineups, but he’s leaving one good offense for another. Fielder is a quality hitter, but one who’s transitioning from elite to good and even the Ballpark in Arlington can’t stop that. He’s more of a third-rounder than a first-rounder.

Ian Kinsler: Bust

What about the man Prince was traded for? I’m calling bust, but it has more to do with the player than the park. As we saw above, the park factors for Texas and Detroit aren’t that different, and they’re even closer for right-handed homers—which means they won’t be able to stave off a decline that’s been pretty steep over the last couple years.

Mid-teens numbers in homers and steals is okay…but not all that special. Neil Walker pretty much does that. Okay, he doesn't steal, but you get my point. With essentially unchanging surroundings, Kinsler isn’t going to live up to his name brand next year. 

Robinson Cano: Neutral

Yankee Stadium is a great place for power hitters. Safeco Field is not. That much we know, and it’s already priced into what you’ll be paying for Cano. The Yankees have a good lineup (though last year, not so much) and the Mariners do not. Also priced in. And neither one matters.

You see, Cano is still so much better than the next best second baseman that he’s still worth a first round pick. He doesn’t have to outhit nearly all first basemen to be worth one of the top twelve draft picks…but he does that anyway. Even if you took away ten homers from Cano’s total, he wouldn’t slip down to the tier of mortal second basemen. Yeah, the power is probably going to be lower, but everything else should be close. Given the sour impression your opponents may have about playing in Seattle, Cano might slip to the end of the first round or the beginning of the second…in which case, you’ll be glad he found a new home.

Justin Morneau: Boost

I’ve been thinking about this one for awhile, and, honestly, it’s one of my favorite free agent moves of the offseason. How recovered Morneau is from his concussion and the effects thereof, I can’t say. But I wouldn’t be able to guess at that no matter where he ended up. He’s a gamble, and one you shouldn’t bet the farm on. (Certainly, the Rockies aren’t risking that much on him.) But Coors Field gives him a fighting chance at fantasy relevance, and that’s all I ask for.

Last year, Morneau played in two of the worst parks for homers: Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, and Minnesota’s Target Field. By ESPN’s numbers, Minnesota suppressed homers by nearly 20%, and Pittsburgh by over 30%. (But note that Fangraphs agrees in principle but not extremity.) Colorado added about 15%.  By some pretty rough math, that takes Morneau’s 17 homers and makes them 22. That isn’t bad, but it isn’t why you draft him. You draft him (and late, mind you) because combined with the chance of getting back into the regular swing of baseball with another year removed from his concussion, there could be a spark of his former greatness. And if it doesn’t work…well, you’ve got someone you can use when he plays at home.

Curtis Granderson: Bust

Before his injury last year, Curtis Granderson was in my projected second round. See, I love power hitters, especially the more scarce they get. I figured him for a 40-homer threat, and maybe he was. Not anymore.

In a lot of parks—and definitely Yankee Stadium—I could excuse a player’s decline. I don’t care if you’re worse than last year so long as you give me value for draft position. But not in CitiField. Grandy might only be moving across town, but he might as well be moving to the Dead Ball Era.

It’s not all about the park, which is more like going from excellent to neutral, than it is a real killer. It’s that, plus the whole situation. His park effect gets worse, his lineup gets worse (way worse), and his competition gets better. Forget for a moment how good the AL East is and think of how good the NL East pitching is. Think about the rotations the Braves, Nationals, and Phillies have. (Okay, only think about half of the Phillies’ rotation.) Mix that environment with Granderson’s inability to hit lefties and his overall declining trends and I’m staying away.

Scott Kazmir: Boost 

Why Scott Kazmir became horrible, I don’t know. Why he turned back to good, I also don’t know. What I do know, is that he did, and that his 2013 performance was impressive. I’d draft him next year if he were still pitching for Cleveland, but the A’s cannily swooped in and signed him for a couple years. He’s a risky guy because you don’t get to fall off the map with control issues for years at a time and not be risky. But the upside is tons of strikeouts and decent rate stats and wins. 

Kazmir had a pretty rough ERA last year, at 4.04, but his FIP (3.51) and xFIP (3.36) suggested that a little luck and maybe different scenery could help. And Oakland is pretty much the perfect place for him to end up. First of all, his team defense (provided it remains similar to last year) goes from a significant negative, as Cleveland was 25th in the Majors in UZR, to a slight positive, as the A’s were 12th.

The park factor could be even bigger though. Here Fangraphs and ESPN disagree, with Fangraphs calling the parks nearly even last year. According to ESPN, however, Kazmir is leaving a hitters’ park for one of the most extreme pitchers’ parks in the league. It’s a logical fallacy to assume that the truth lies between points of disagreement, so I won’t tell you to split the difference…I’ll just say there’s a chance ESPN will be right, and if they are it’s very good news for Kazmir. And if not, well, the defense should help his ERA and WHIP anyway, and the bullpen ought to hang onto his leads. It’s a good situation.



Transaction Analysis: Pirates Acquire A.J. Burnett

After what seemed like years of waiting, the Yankees and Pirates finally pulled the trigger on the A.J. Burnett deal. Whether the move makes sense for either team, it is a move that could help your fantasy team, and not just by increasing Burnett's fantasy value.

A.J. Burnett

It isn't often that leaving the Yankees increases your fantasy value, but Burnett was in an unusual situation. A decent pitcher with a bloated contract -- and coming off two straight years of ERAs north of 5.00 -- Burnett was in the mix for the fifth-starter's spot with Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia and not necessarily the front-runner. Even if he'd won the job out of camp, he would have been on such a short leash that he probably wouldn't have been worth a roster spot. While the Yankees will win more games than the Pirates this year, Burnett has a much better chance of netting his own wins with the Bucs.

Wins are hard to come by in Pittsburgh -- Kevin Correia's 12 last season are the most by a Buc in the last three years -- but something in the 9-13 range seems possible given Burnett's durability (four straight years of at least 180 IP) and the potential development of the Pirates' young offensive core. At the least, it should be better than yo-yoing from the rotation to the bullpen.

But wins aren't the reason to draft Burnett; instead it's the change of scenery and competition--and his 8.22 career K/9. Despite Burnett's bad ERAs, his SIERAs have been better at 4.37 and 3.89. It looks like there's a pretty good pitcher in Burnett, just trying to get out, and Pittsburgh may be the place to do it. His otherworldly 17% HR/FB rate in 2011 should regress a bit on its own (his career rate is 11.3%) and the PNC park should do its part to help. While Yankee Stadium boasts a 1.267 park factor for homers, PNC Park's is just 0.799. The park also reduces walks, which Burnett will appreciate.

So, his ERA and WHIP should go down, and his strikeouts ought to remain good (he racked up 173 last year) and may well improve with the chance to face the Astros and Cubs instead of the Red Sox and Blue Jays -- where does that leave us? A pitcher with an ERA in the mid-4.00s, perhaps lower, with wins in the low double-digits and about 170 strikeouts. That won't anchor a staff, by any means, but it's solid production. Burnett's penchant for variance means that he might be quite a bit worse, of course, but it also means he could be better. I mean, he got that monster contract in the first place for a reason, right?

Burnett's ADP is currently sitting at 240.92, with a 6% draft rate. Expect those numbers to go up as his ADP begins to reflect his new situation, but he could still bring a lot of value towards the end of the draft, especially as casual players write him off for all the bad press he got in New York. Don't let your league be one of the 94%.

The Burnett trade isn't good news for the rest of Pittsburgh's rotation, though, as one of Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, or Charlie Morton will probably open the season in the bullpen or the minor leagues. The silver lining to that cloud is that whoever loses his spot should be getting it back as soon as Erik Bedard gets hurt.

Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes

The trade is good news for one of these two pitchers, and early indicators suggest Freddy Garcia is likely to be the beneficiary. He's not the pitcher he was 10 years ago, but a 4.12 FIP and a 2.13 K/BB rate mark him as pretty close to average, and an average-ish pitcher in line for Yankee wins can be useful as a streamer. A word of caution, though: with the 41.3 FB% he posted last year, a small change in his ability to keep the ball in the park could mean a big drop in his value. Expect the leash to be short on Garcia if Hughes is waiting in the bullpen, but there are a lot of worse options for the last couple rounds of the draft.

Phil Hughes may still have a chance to beat out Garcia for the fifth starter's job, and Ivan Nova could always fall on his face and let both in. The great first half Hughes had (and the prospect-promise he'd showed before that) will keep him from being written off for years to come, but Hughes has been flat-out horrible for the last year and a half. If the Yankees give him a chance, it might be wishful thinking, but it might be that they can see that his old magic has returned. If the Yanks sound confident in him at the end of Spring Training, Hughes might be worth a flier. If he makes it into the rotation as an injury or performance replacement, I'd stay away.

 



Transaction Analysis: Pierre, Lidge, Francis

Other than that little matter with that big first baseman, it was a relatively quiet week for transactions. But quiet isn't silent, and when I saw that Juan Pierre signed with Philadelphia, Brad Lidge joined Washington, and Jeff Francis agreed to terms with Cincinnati, it occurred to me that this would have been a huge day back in 2007. Pierre was coming off a 64-steal season, Lidge had just resurrected his career (for the first time), and Francis won 17 games leading Colorado to the NL Pennant.

How times change. Pierre and Francis have signed minor league contracts, while Lidge will earn just $1MM. All three entered the offseason with the potential (however slight) at being fantasy contributors, but all three find themselves in situations that significantly diminish their values but bear at least some attention.

Juan Pierre

Pierre joins a crowded left-field picture for the Phillies, and he will vie with John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Domonic Brown for playing time. It's possible that he won't make the team, or that he will be relegated to pinch -unning duty, both of which obviously kill whatever fantasy value the 34-year-old speedster had left after stealing just 27 bases for Ozzie Guillen's White Sox in 2011. Those desperate for steals (in leagues that don't count CS, at least) should keep an eye on Pierre, though, as he has a knack for worming his way into Major League lineups. Pay extra attention if Ryan Howard's injury lingers.

Pierre isn't the only player whose potential value takes a downturn with this move, as Brown just got another roadblock to playing time. This doesn't end his chances at winning a starting job, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier.

Brad Lidge

 Say what you want about Lidge, the guy doesn't stay down. Or up. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a higher-variance ballplayer than Lidge, who can be the worst reliever in baseball or the best. Though it seems safe to say his best years are behind him, the upside that seems to follow him led to speculation that he might land a closing gig somewhere. That speculation ends with his deal with the Nationals. Though he earned the prestige of a Major League deal, it doesn't look like he'll be pitching in the ninth inning, or even the eighth with Drew Storen closing and All-Star Tyler Clippard setting up. Though trade rumors swirled about Storen over the summer, it seems unlikely that a Washington team with dreams of contention would trade both at once.  

Lidge's best chance at fantasy-relevance may hinge on pitching well enough to get traded into another team's stopper job. Deep leagues can at least note that his strikeout rate has never dipped below a batter per inning.

Jeff Francis

Though teams like the Mets and Mariners were thought to have interest -- and room in their rotations -- for Francis, he signed a minor league deal with a Reds team that doesn't have room for the starters they already had. Coming off a mediocre 2011 in which his 4.10 FIP wasn't good but was better than his 4.82 ERA and 16 losses suggested, Francis might have been worth a late-round flier in deep leagues. If he manages to crack the Reds' rotation (he's probably seventh in line if Aroldis Chapman is under real consideration) he'd be worth a look, as Cincinnati looks to compete and Francis's 47% GB rate ought to play decently in cozy Great American Ball Park.

It would probably take a trade or injury to get Francis into the Cincinnati rotation, but if it happens he could be a useful two-start pitcher or streamer, though that's probably where the upside is.

Five years ago, all three of these guys looked like (or even were) fantasy mainstays. At the beginning of the offseason they looked like they could still help your team if they found the right situation. None of them did.



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.





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