This past weekend was practically the perfect storm for fantasy owners in keeper leagues. Not only did ballyhoo’d pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg make his encore appearance on Sunday against the Indians, but the top hitting prospect (Florida’s Mike Stanton) and the top catching prospect (Cleveland’s Carlos Santana) also enjoyed a productive first weekend in the big leagues.
Every few years or so, there seems to be a huge bumper crop in top-flight rookies. 2006 had a ridiculous year that included the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Justin Verlander (to name a few). There were a couple guys named Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki who topped eventual interlopers like CC Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins and Adam Dunn in 2001. And with Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Mike Leake, Justin Smoak and Neftali Feliz having major impacts in the game during their freshman campaigns, 2010 is looking to be very similar to ’06 and ’01.
For now, though, let’s take a look at how these three uber-prospects fared this past weekend. And just a word of warning: these three players have not been in the big leagues for very long, making for small and unreliable sample sizes. The numbers may eventually prove to be accurate, but there simply is not enough Major League data to make solid guesses/estimates. Proceed with caution!
As much as Indians fans may be missing Victor Martinez at the plate (though him behind it is another matter, altogether…), this kid isn’t too bad himself. While his debut wasn’t much to write home about (0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored on June 11 against the Nationals), he exploded in Game 2 by going 2-for-4 (first hit: double) with a home run, three RBIs and a run scored, then got a hit and a walk off Strasburg on Sunday. And one of the best parts about his first three games is that he has yet to strike out.
(Now watch him go on a horrid, Mark Reynolds-like stretch where he whiffs once every three at-bats.)
In all seriousness, though, one of Santana’s better qualities is his discerning eye. Starting in 2006, Santana’s walk rate in the Minor Leagues improved every season. His strikeout rates have been a little more mercurial, but have never topped 20 percent over a full season. This is good news for fantasy owners in leagues that value walks and/or on-base percentage because in an Indians lineup that has just Shin-Soo Choo as it’s lone legitimate threat, it would be safe to say that Santana will encounter his fair share of walks, since the 24-year-old backstop has clearly demonstrated he has power from both sides of the plate.
Now three games is an awfully small sample size to judge how Santana’s skills will translate at the big league-level (a hurdle all three of the featured players will encounter), but so far, the numbers Santana is providing don’t seem to be out of line with his skill set. He’s only swung at 29.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (comp: Vlad Guerrero leads baseball by offering at 49.5 percent of pitches outside the zone), and when he does swing at pitches inside the zone–55 percent, BTW–he puts the bat on the ball 90.9 percent of the time, so it seems as if he’s making good decisions at the plate, so far.
Does this guy have rotten timing to make a debut or what? The same day he goes 3-for-5 with two runs scored and almost gets the go-ahead hit, the guy at the end of this list not only makes his MLB debut, but decides to strike out over half-a-dozen batters in less than 100 pitches. This past weekend wasn’t that bad, either: 4-for-10 with a triple, a double, four RBIs, three walks, four strikeouts, two steals and two runs scored in three games against a tough Tampa Bay pitching staff.
And keep in mind this: he won’t be able to buy a drink until just before this Thanksgiving. There is little debate about Stanton’s power. After clubbing 89 bombs in 323 Minor League games (13.4 HR/AB), people would have possibly started talking about his hitting exploits the same way they talk about Chuck Norris “facts.”
Stanton’s biggest flaw, though, is his propensity for strikeouts. Throughout his Minor League career, Stanton struck out 371 times in 1,392 plate appearances, which comes out to him striking out in 26.7 percent of his PAs. 2008 was especially harsh for the Marlins’ 2007 second-round draftee, when he collected 153 whiffs in 540 plate appearances (28.3 percent). Obviously, this is a big red flag because even though he will get his home runs (and they will come), all those missed swings will greatly hold back his batting average and, in turn, limit his batting average and RBI opportunities.
There is plenty of hope on the horizon, though. The majority of those strikeouts came while he was just a teenager and after initially struggling in his first go-around in Double-A Jacksonville last season, Stanton made the necessary adjustments to boost his batting average from .231 to .311 at the time of his call-up. His strikeout rate fell from 99/341 (29 percent) in 2009 to 53/238 (22.3 percent), while his walk rate bumped up from 31/341 (9.1 percent) to 44/238 (18.5 percent). He also is not only an outfielder–limiting the amount of wear and tear on his body–but he is also a highly-rated defensive outfielder, too.
Many scouts and analysts say that right now, Stanton projects to be a Ryan Howard-type player from the right side: a ton of power to go with a ton of strikeouts. But, if he continues to improve on his plate discipline and you add in the element of speed (he already has two steals and a triple, and is considered one of the best overall athletes in the game right now), keeper league Stanton owners may have one of the most valuable players not named Heyward.
C’mon, did you honestly think I’d make it to the end of June without looking into the kid. I mean, The Associated Press only compared him to Walter Johnson after his historic start last Tuesday. Thankfully, some of the hysteria has died down a little, especially after the more realistic outing he had yesterday against the Indians. Yes, his fastball hits 100 mph and “drops” to the upper-90s late in the game. Yes, his changeup can clock in at 91 mph (somewhere, Jamie Moyer just suddenly felt sad and doesn’t know why). And yes, his curveball would probably make Bert Blyleven jealous. But just for a moment, let’s go beyond that and see how Mr. Precedent gets things done.
In my hapkido (a Korean martial art) class, my master constantly preaches about how technique is “the ability to control your opponent.” Controlling his opponent is what Strasburg–and every other pitcher, for that matter–sets out to do in every at-bat, and that starts with throwing first-pitch strikes. Through two games, Strasburg pumps in a first-pitch strike 61.7 percent of the time, an astounding rate for a young power pitcher. Just to serve as frames of reference, only 30 eligible starters have higher FPS rates (Cliff Lee leads the Majors with a 71 percent mark) and names such as Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver and David Price lag behind Strasburg’s mark.
All these strikeouts are great, for the fans, the TV ratings and fantasy owners of Strasburg, but we all know what happens when great young arms quickly pile up the whiffs. Probably no one knows this better than Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who, as skipper of the Cubs back in 1998, witnessed both the meteoric rise and fall of Kerry Wood within a span of 14 or so months. Riggleman told Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell that while the strikeouts are nice, “it’s better to get three outs on 12 pitches than three strikeouts on 18 pitches.” Of course, this was said prior to Strasburg’s first start, when he had his cake and ate it, too.
Of the 36 outs Strasburg has recorded in his big league career, 22 were via the strikeout, nine on groundouts and five on flyouts. It would be impossible to expect the San Diego State alumnus to routinely rack up double-digit strikeout games without breaking the 100-pitch barrier, so for this year and possibly next, fantasy Strasburg owners (especially keepers) should go against their nature and hope he doesn’t collect too many K’s. Simply put, Mr. Precedent won’t turn 22 until the end of July and his body isn’t yet conditioned to handle a Major League season yet. Fewer strikeouts mean fewer total pitches he uses and less stress he will put his arm under.
But then again, his stuff is just soooooooooo good that he doesn’t even have to try to get the strikeouts. They will just simple come.
Another new addition here at The Fact of the Matter. This will list 24 players (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, three OFs, DH/UTL, four SPs, two RPs, nine bench players) who I felt did the best between the previous Friday-Sunday period. I mean, this is Weekend Matters, right? But, as a caveat, I may not include players who had one really incredible day and were either mediocre or flat-out bad the other two days. If you feel anyone was egregiously left out, please, by all means, voice your concerns!
- C: Jorge Posada — 4-for-9, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, 3 R
- 1B: Aubrey Huff — 5-for-11, 3 HR, 3B, 2B, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 0 K, 4 R
- 2B: Howard Kendrick — 7-for-14, HR, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 0 BB, K, CS, 2 R
- 3B: David Wright — 6-for-13, 2 HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 0 BB, K, CS, 2 R
- SS: Jose Reyes — 6-for-13, HR, 2B, RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, SB, 2 R
- OF: Chris Coghlan — 6-for-11, 0 HR, 3B, 3 2B, RBI, 4 BB, 4 K, 6 R
- OF: Josh Hamilton — 4-for-12, 2 HR, 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K, 3 R
- OF: Ryan Spilborghs — 7-for-12, 3 HR, 3B, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, 4 R
- UTL: Brandon Phillips — 5-for-8, HR, RBI, BB, 0 K, 2 SB, 4 R
- SP: Fausto Carmona — W, CG, QS, 9 IP, R, 3 H, 0 BB, HR, 7 K, 106/73 P/S
- SP: Zack Greinke — W, CG, QS, 9 IP, 3 R, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 HR, 12 K, 105/77 P/S
- SP: Colby Lewis — W, QS, 8 IP, 2 R, 3 H, BB, 2 HR, 10 K, 119/74 P/S
- SP: Francisco Liriano — W, QS, 8 IP, R, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 WP, 11 K, 105/7, 1 P/S
- RP: Mariano Rivera — 2 G, 1 SV, 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 4 K
- RP: Brian Wilson — 2 G, 2 SV (1 multi-inning), 2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 5-0 IR-S
- Bench: Carlos Santana – C, Troy Glaus – CI, Erick Aybar, MI, Milton Bradley – OF, Garrett Jones – OF, Felix Hernandez – SP, Ted Lilly – SP, Joel Pineiro – SP, Brian Fuentes – RP
SP Rich Harden (strained gluteus muscle, 15-day DL; put on list on Saturday)
- 2B Orlando Hudson (wrist, 15-day DL; may return for June 15-17 series vs. Colorado)
- SS Jimmy Rollins (calf, 15-day DL; starts rehab assignment on June 15 … may return for June 18-20 series vs. Minnesota)
- RP Huston Street (shoulder, 15-day DL; continuing rehab assignment with Triple-A Colorado Springs)
- SP Edinson Volquez (right elbow, 60-day DL; begins rehab assignment on June 17 with Class A Dayton)
- 3B Chipper Jones (finger; doubtful for June 15-17 series vs. Tampa Bay … whispers of retirement after season?)
- 2B Brandon Phillips (tight right hamstring; missed Sunday’s game … questionable for June 17-19 series vs. LA Dodgers)
- 3B Alex Rodriguez (hip; claims to be unrelated to ’09 surgery, questionable for June 17-19 series vs. Philadelphia)
- SS Troy Tulowitzki (strained groin on Saturday; available to play on Tuesday)
- 1B Kevin Youkilis (back spasms, HBP near right elbow Saturday; missed Sunday’s game)
- C Miguel Montero returned from 15-day DL on Saturday.
Hey everyone, I apologize for the gap in entries. As everyone knows, sometimes life can get in the way every once in a while. That and the martial art of hapkido has some rather painful techniques for the fingers & thumbs. Ouch. I think the length and depth of this entry should make up for it, though.
For about 99 percent of fantasy leagues, there are only a few set of statistics that we care about. For hitting, it’s usually batting average (BA), home runs (HR), runs batted in (RBI), runs (R) and stolen bases (SB). On the mound, it’s the earned run average (ERA), walks-plus-hits by innings pitched (WHIP), strikeouts (K), wins and saves (SV). Nothing earth-shattering with that. The problem we all encounter is trying to find and acquire those players who can give us the best overall production before anyone else can find them.
This is partially the reason why we have sabermetrics: to accurately gauge a player’s true value and estimate his most likely levels of production in the future.
The problem with all these new-fangled stats and metrics is two-fold: one, there’s about a million different statistics to choose from and two, many of them employ formulas that would give Albert Einstein–let alone Albert Pujols–a strong migraine. After playing fantasy baseball for almost 10 years now, even I still have trouble trying to figure out how to come up with a player’s VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and what constitutes a good figure.
And that’s the biggest dilemma for most fantasy players: they are too intimidated by the complexity of these metrics to understand them, give up and hope they make the right personnel decisions. When it comes to making my roster choices, I’ve narrowed it down to six categories I feel most comfortable with. Now, these aren’t necessarily the absolute best categories to use, but it all comes down to what an individual feels most comfortable with. So here we go…
(All stats accurate on morning of June 2. Also of note: some of the leaders of these stats are not very surprising. The goal of giving you this information is to help you in waiver-wire decisions or in judging whether a trade is in your favor or not. You should know by now that some times the smallest, seemingly most insignificant transactions hold major implications for the rest of the season…and your team’s chances of making the playoffs.)
Strikeout rate (K%) & walk rate (BB%)
This will probably be the easiest out of all of the statistics I will show you. Quite simply, it measures how often a batter strikes out or walks based on his total plate appearances. While you can usually tell if a full-time player strikes out/walks a lot just by looking at his numbers, it’s more difficult to tell with batters who have far less playing time, or during the first part of the season, where everyone is trying to figure out what level everyone else is at.
For me, it allows me to figure out who is more prone to long slumps and who can still provide value, in terms of steals and runs, when they aren’t hitting well.
Highest K% — BB%
- Mark Reynolds (39.6) — Chipper Jones (20.3)
- Colby Rasmus (36.4) — Kevin Youkilis (19.1)
- Will Venable (36.0) — Josh Willingham (18.8)
Lowest K% — BB%
- David Eckstein (2.7) — Adam Jones (2.3)
- Jeff Keppinger (5.2) — Aaron Rowand (3.0)
- A.J. Pierzynski (6.4) — Ryan Theriot (3.2)
These stats are fairly straight-forward, too–how often does a batter swing at a pitch outside or inside the strike zone–but it carries more weight than the previous metric. Batters who tend to have higher O-Sw percentages are the ones who expand their strike zone, therefore increasing the likelihood of putting themselves in pitcher-favorable counts, making poor contact and/or striking out. In short, this shows how well-disciplined a hitter is.
The caveat here is that not all pitches inside the strike zone are very hittable and not all pitches outside the strike zone are unhittable.
Highest O-Sw% — Z-Sw%
- Vladimir Guerrero (50.4) — Josh Hamilton (80.9)
- Pablo Sandoval (43.3) — Guerrero (80.8)
- Jeff Francoeur (43.2) — Francoeur (80.5)
Lowest O-Sw% — Z-Sw%
- Daric Barton (15.1) — Brett Gardner (43.4)
- Bobby Abreu (15.3) — Abreu (48.9)
- Marco Scutaro (15.6) — Elvis Andrus (49.8)
Contact rate (Ct%)
Once again, here’s another verrrrrry easy stat to understand (noticing an underlying theme here?). But just for the point of stating the obvious, this stat measures how often a batter makes contact with the ball on every swing. Now that wasn’t too hard, was it? And the leaders…
Highest Ct% — Lowest Ct%
- Juan Pierre (96.3) — Reynolds (63.5)
- Luis Castillo (95.8) — Justin Upton (69.1)
- Scutaro (95.4) — Ryan Howard (69.7)
OK, Player X almost always makes contact on every swing while Player Z looks like he’s up at the plate with half a broomstick. So what? Well, Mr. You’re-So-Smart, if you notice the pattern of player types at each end of the list, you’ll notice that this significantly impacts two major fantasy categories: runs and RBIs.
First, you’ll see that the guys at the top of the Ct%-leaderboard are mostly table-setters: the guys whose incredible ability to put the bat on the ball is their primary reason for gainful employment. In most instances, the guys who make more contact stand a better chance to get on base, swipe a few bags (provided they have the speed and awareness necessary) and score runs! The players at the bottom of this barrel are, for the most part, the hard-hitting run-producers who sacrifice a controlled, accurate swing for a faster, more powerful and less-accurate hack in order to drive the ball.
If your team is greatly lacking in runs scored, start looking for any free agents who swing and miss less than 16 percent of the time (86 Ct%) and (don’t forget!) bat in front of players who can reliably drive them in. Should your team be deficient in RBIs, take the opposite approach. And should you find a player who combines both a high Ct% and a favorable figure of the next stat, well, you better not let him go…at least without getting someone at least just as good in return.
Isolated power (ISO)
Most of us know that a guy with high slugging percentage is the guy you want if you’re looking for home runs, RBIs and total bases. But SLG is flawed in two ways: one, guys with high batting averages pumped up by lots of singles (see Suzuki, Ichiro) can sometimes appear to be semi-sluggers, or players mired in slumps will overly defleat their SLG. Secondly, SLG treats a triple the same way as a double or a home run when, in fact, a triple is more the result of a player’s speed rather than power. ISO helps whittle away some of the mitigating factors that go into SLG.
Now here comes the hard part, the first formula of the entry. The simple version is taking the SLG and subtract the BA from it: ISO = SLG – BA (ex: .658 – .347 = .311, Miguel Cabrera). The more advanced formula goes a little like this (remember, do the work inside the parenthesis first: ISO = (2B + 3B + (HR*3)) / AB (ex: 10 + 3 + (10*3) = 43 / 164 = .262, Jason Heyward).
As far as gauging a an acceptable figure, a slightly above-average ISO falls somewhere between the .175-.200 mark while an average figure is around .150-.175 or so. The leaderboard I’m showing you is from FanGraphs.com, which uses the traditional formula.
Highest ISO — Lowest ISO
- Jose Bautista (.344) — Ryan Theriot (.029)
- Corey Hart (.331) — Pierre (.030)
- Justin Morneau (.313) — Castillo (.035)
- Miguel Cabrera (.311) — Andrus (.038)
- Scott Rolen (.302) — Gordon Beckham (.042)
Batting Average, Balls In Play (BABIP)
When this stat was first introduced, most people assumed that this would be a great tool in assessing a hitter’s value. But when the stat was explored a little more closely, it was revealed that there are way too many variables involved with this stat to have any strong corelation to a hitter’s performance. Buuuuuuuuut, this new metric did have its usefulness with pitchers and team defense.
In its essence, BABIP demonstrates how effectively a defense can turn balls hit in the field of play into outs, and in a round-about way, how difficult it is for a batter to make solid contact against a pitcher. This cuts out obvious things such as home runs, strikeouts and walks. The way you get this figure is pretty similar to getting a batting average, only with a couple wrinkles: BABIP = (H – HR) / (AB – K – HR + SF) (ex: [45 – 1 =] 44 / [268 – 70 -1 +0 =] 197 = .223, Ubaldo Jimenez).
The lower the number, the better it is for the pitcher and the higher, the better for the batter, with a league average hovering around the .300 mark. Rule of thumb (tntried to find a cleaned-up Boondock Saints link for that term, but couldn’t get one!) is that if a pitcher’s BABIP is either extremely low or high, he’s gone through a fairly (un)lucky stretch and is due for a return to the mean later on that season or the next. And should you notice one of your pitchers sporting a really nice BABIP, but is walking more and striking out fewer batters than usual, much like the second-ranked starter on the following list, it may be time to see if there are any takers for this particular hurler.
Highest BABIP — Lowest BABIP, Starters
- Justin Masterson (.404) — Jimenez (.223)
- Brian Matusz (.359) — Tim Hudson (.225)
- Zach Duke (.359) — Livan Hernandez (.229)
- Gavin Floyd (.355) — Jason Vargas (.236)
- Wandy Rodriguez (.351) — Matt Cain (.237)
Highest BABIP — Lowest BABIP, Closers
- Chad Qualls (.476) — Jose Valverde (.159)
- Bobby Jenks (.450) — Mariano Rivera (.182)
- Brian Wilson (.424) — Manny Corpas (.186)
- Heath Bell (.387) — Jonathan Papelbon (.196)
- Matt Lindstrom (.372) — Rafael Soriano (.218)
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)
The last stat for the day is probably also one of the more telling when it comes to pitching. You know how you see a pitcher’s ERA and you absolutely know that he is much better/worse than what it says? Well, this nifty metric helps trim away the grizzle and fat. Basically, what this stat does is eliminate the things pitchers cannot control and zeros in on the things he does: strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit batters (similar to the “Three True Outcomes” for hitters). The formula, though, is a little difficult to digest, though: FIP = (13*HR + 3*(HBP + BB – IBB) – 2*K) / IP +3.10
I’ll give you a minute to process that jumble of letters, numbers and other doo-wackies.
OK, done yet? Good. Now I would absolutely love to tell you how the creator of this stat, “Tom Tango” (yes, that is an alias), but I just don’t think I have the requisite brain power to figure that out. The good thing about this stat is that it operates at the same scale as ERA; someone with a 3.00 ERA is really good, someone with a 4.25 is OK and someone with a FIP above 6.00 is probably Javy Vazquez as a Yankee.
Highest FIP — Lowest FIP, Starter
- David Huff (6.01) — Roy Halladay (2.39)
- David Bush (5.66) — Francisco Liriano (2.41)
- Rich Harden (5.56) — Jimenez (2.62)
- Wade Davis (5.49) — Josh Johnson (2.69)
- Freddy Garcia (5.41) — Adam Wainwright (2.73)
Highest FIP — Lowest FIP, Closer
- Trevor Hoffman (9.06) — Jonathan Broxton (0.63)
- Papelbon (4.98) — Matt Thornton (1.08)
- David Aardsma (4.40) — Wilson (1.43)
- Francisco Cordero (4.34) — Carlos Marmol (1.79)
- Qualls (4.19) — Bell (1.98)
Well, hopefully you were able to get some useful information out of this. Like I said before, there are a lot of other statistics out there, and some may be easier to understand for some more than others.