It’s Draft Day here at MLB, and though it isn’t nearly as hyped as it’s NFL and NBA counterparts, it probably has the greatest impact on a ballclub’s future, both short- and long-term. Two shining examples of that are the Tampa Bay Rays and–though I’m not a fan of kicking a dead horse–the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Thanks to atrocious records and astute selections, the Rays have gone from one of the worst teams in baseball back in 2007 to the best this season with players they drafted and nurtured through their system. Players like David Price (first overall, 2007), Evan Longoria (third overall, 2006), Jeff Niemann (fourth overall, 2004), Reid Brignac (second round, 2004), B.J. Upton (second overall, 2002), James Shields (16th round, 2000) and Carl Crawford (second round, 1999).
Meanwhile in the Steel City, the Pirates turned the act of poorly-picked drafts into an artform with selections like Daniel Moskos (fourth overall, 2007), Bryan Bullington (first overall, 2002) and John Van Benschoten (eighth overall, 2001), just to name a few. It has only been until recently that the club’s drafting strategy has shifted into a more progressive, more well-thought-out approach, and the results are showing with players like Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.
And just over this past weekend, other clubs around baseball either got significant contributions from or announced the upcoming MLB debuts for some of their recent draft picks. Some of these players haven’t exactly been flying under the radar, yet some of these players may not only have a major impact on their ballclubs this season, but will also figure in deciding many fantasy leagues, as well.
Now, everyone by now knows the deal with Stephen Strasburg while both Jason Heyward and Mike Leake have been with their respective ballclubs since the end of Spring Training. The players I want to focus on are the ones who have only recently been called up to the big leagues or are within earshot of their manager’s office phone in the Minor Leagues. (all players listed alphabetically)
Pedro Alvarez, 3B — Pittsburgh Pirates: Alvarez is the first true, bona fide slugger the Pirates have had in their system since probably Barry Bonds back in the mid-1980s. The first thing out of any scout’s mouth is the tremendous power Alvarez packs into his left-handed swing. The Vanderbilt product has shown a Mark Teixeira-like tendency for slow starts (.224/.298/.424 in April, Triple-A) before rounding into form (.315/.411/.583 in May-June). Speaking of which, a round form is the only major concern the Pirates have with Alvarez, as he sometimes appears more than his listed weight of 225 pounds. He’d make a great first baseman for many fantasy teams, but his value is far greater at the hot corner. And with only Andy LaRoche in front of him at third in Pittsburgh, it may not be long before Alvarez finds himself in big league lineup cards.
Domonic Brown, OF — Philadelphia Phillies: In his final Spring Training game this year, Brown faced the Detroit Tigers and not only did he homer off Justin Verlander, but the lefty-swinging outfielder also took fellow southpaw Phil Coke deep, as well. When young left-handed hitters do well against tough left-handed pitchers, that almost always catches anyone’s attention. The Phillies’ 20th-round selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft (FYPD) has carried that ability into this season with Double-A Reading, hitting Eastern League lefties at a .311/.373/.644 clip. Brown’s power was a question coming into 2010, but has 10 homers and 13 doubles in 50 games with the R-Phils. Though he is signed through 2011, Raul Ibanez has really shown his age this season and with Philadelphia scuffling offensively, there is a small chance that Brown may make the jump to the big leagues well before the rosters expand in September.
Andrew Cashner, SP — Chicago Cubs: For the past decade, the Cubs have been known as a having a pitching staff that racks up the strikeouts with plenty of power arms, and Cashner is no exception, armed with a high-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup that is anywhere between 10-12 mph slower than his heater. His slider is considered his best secondary pitch, usually coming in the mid- to high-80s. The eighth-overall pick in the 2008 FYPD, Cashner’s biggest bugaboo was control, but before he was called up, he had a 59/15 K/BB ratio through 57 innings in Double-A and Triple-A. Three pitches are definitely enough to have a solid Major League career, but if the Cubbies can turn someone thought to be useless like Carlos Silva into one of the best hurlers in the NL, then there are plenty of reasons to think Cashner could be a front-of-the-rotation starter in the future. For now, though, Chicago plans on keeping him in the bullpen so they can control his workload, so he won’t have too much fantasy value this season.
Jhoulys Chacin, SP – Colorado Rockies: Chacin had always been one of the better pitching prospects in the Rockies system for the last four years, but he really made a name for himself on Aug. 18, 2009 when he helped author a no-hitter for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in his Triple-A debut. Jhoulys (pronounced: YOU-lease) has a lively mid-90s fastball with some sinking action on it to go with a changeup and curveball, all thrown with the same arm action, so it’s more difficult for hitters to differentiate what kind of pitch is coming out of his hand, as was evident when he threw 15.1 scoreless innings to start his his 2010 Major League season. He does a good job in throwing first-pitch strikes for a young pitcher, doing so 54.1 percent of the time. Strangely enough, after never striking out more than a batter per inning during his minor league career, Chacin is fanning 9.42 batters per nine with Colorado so far.
Mike Stanton, OF — Florida Marlins: Well, it’s about time! It only took two months of total Minor League dominantion by Stanton and Major League disappointment by the current Florida OF trio of Chris Coghlan, Cameron Maybin and Cody Ross to get the most talked-about pure power hitting prospect up to The Show. Much has been made about all the long balls the 20-year-old, 2007 second-round pick has mashed. Through 52 games with the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League, 35 of his 59 hits went for extra bases (12 doubles, two triples, 21 home runs), leading to a staggering 1.167 OPS. And when you look at his Minor League career, your eyes will grow only wider and your jaw will drop even further: 89 home runs, 65 doubles, 10 triples, 244 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 323 games. The only dent in his armor is his propensity for strikeouts (297 whiffs against 117 walks in 2008 & 2009, combined), but it seems as if he’s learning the strike zone better as he left the Minors with a 44/53 BB/K ratio. While Strasburg may steal all the headlines, don’t sleep on Stanton’s debut against the Phillies on Tuesday.
- Drew Storen, RP — Washington Nationals:
- Chris Tillman, SP — Baltimore Orioles:
- Brett Wallace, 3B/1B — Toronto Blue Jays:
- Buster Posey, C/1B — San Francisco Giants
- Tanner Scheppers, SP – Texas Rangers
- SP Brett Anderson (15-day DL; inflammation in left elbow)
- SP Doug Fister (15-day DL; shoulder fatigue)
- SP Kyle Lohse (transfered to 60-day DL; forearm issues)
- SP Oliver Perez (15-day DL; tendonitis in right patella)
- DH Mike Sweeney (15-day DL; back tightness)
- OF Nelson Cruz (15-day DL; hamstrings)
- OF Grady Sizemore (60-day DL; knee–out for remainder of season)
- 1B Justin Morneau (battling flu-like symptoms; probable for rest of week)
- 3B David Freese (out until further notice-OUFN-with sprained ankle)
- 3B Chipper Jones (OUFN with injured right ring finger)
- 3B Alex Rodriguez (left Sunday’s game with a sore groin; expected to play normally)
- OF Colby Rasmus (left Sunday’s game with a calf injury; status uncertain)
I’m not sure about everyone else, but it seems like every year, I draft at least one player that makes me feel like the smartest fantasy player ever. In relative terms, it’s a fantastic feeling. Every half-decent owner should experience this at least once a year, if for nothing else than to provide the illusion of brilliance and prop up what little self-confidence they may have after seeing their team crumble by Memorial Day.
This year, that player for me is Ubaldo Jimenez. I’m still astounded at the fact that I got him. My initial plan going into the draft was to take one of these three pitchers to be my staff anchor: Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson and Jimenez. Somehow, I was able to draft all three of them in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. The results: after getting me 44 points last week (29 coming on his shutout alone), he leads The Men Who Laugh with 203.33 total points and keeping them within striking range of first place in my division.
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.
Another weekend down and one more to go before Memorial Day Weekend. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. So here…we…go.
For the last three years, Dan Haren has been the quiet ace in baseball: always putting up top-flight numbers but getting little notoriety for his efforts. For the last three years, he’s gone 45-27 with a 3.18 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, 8.37 K/9 and a microscopic 1.79 BB/9 rate. I don’t know about you, but those numbers ain’t too shaby. This year, though, Haren has been completely out of character, as you can easily tell from his last start on Sunday against the Braves.
That tidy little ERA is up to 4.83 and his WHIP has ballooned to 1.37. He’s walking nearly one whole extra batter this year (2.3) compare to 2009 (1.5) and his H/9 shot up from 7.5 to 10.1. How does that happen? According to FanGraphs.com, there hasn’t been any real change in the velocity of his pitches–though he has either apparently stopped throwing his slider or there is no information available regarding that pitch. So where does that leave us?
Well for one thing, hitters are making more contact off of him. Batters are hitting .255 off Haren for his career, but that number jumps to .285 this season. One culprit is an abnormally high BABIP (.357 – 2010, .302 – career). Look a little deeper and you’ll see that the kind of contact batters are making isn’t necessarily bad for Haren. This year, batters hit line drives on just 17.6 percent of batted balls (career – 19.9), ground balls 47.7 percent of the time (career – 44.6) and fly balls 34.7 percent of the time (career – 35.6). And finally, Haren’s opponents are actually making less contact than before when they swing, putting the bat on the ball 73.1 percent of the time, compared to his 78.7 lifetime mark.
Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that Haren has simply been really, really unlucky so far this season. It happens. This is one of the reasons why stats like ERA (and especially W-L) can be so tricky when trying to properly value pitchers. So, if I were you, I would make it a priority to buy low on Haren and hope that his owner doesn’t have the same insight or patience that you do.
Leadoff Men: the Brave and the Prado
When a team has hitters like Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann in their lineup most of the time, it would be fair to say that they should be one of the better offenses in the league. Yet, the Atlanta Braves have the fourth-highest OBP in the NL but have scored just the ninth-most runs. Something like that happens when your leadoff hitters are batting a collective .183/.272/.294. For the first six weeks of the season, manager Bobby Cox couldn’t find anyone useful to put in at the top spot of his lineup card. That was until this past Friday, when he tried Martin Prado.
The result? Prado went 6-for-14 (.429) with two home runs, six RBI and two runs scored as Atlanta took two of three games from Arizona. He may not draw too many walks (just a 6.5 percent walk rate this year), but he also doesn’t strike out that much, either (14.2 percent). His .354 BABIP may appear high, but his career mark of .309 suggests that this isn’t unsustainable.
And with the already-fearsome Heyward batting behind him, pitchers will be even less inclined to get fancy with the 26-year-old Venezuelan and give him more fastballs to hit. When you take that into account that Prado is also eligible at 1B and 3B, and you have an extremely valuable and flexible asset on your fantasy roster…should you own him, of course.
A year ago, Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton were on different teams but placed in the same group: injured sluggers who have already seen their better days go by. The two of them combined to hit 25 home runs last year when in 2008, they belted 27 and 32 long balls each, respectively. Now, they are key parts in a Texas offense that I feel is the most explosive in baseball (yes, even more so than the Yankees or the Phillies). If you would like to disagree, let me put this lineup in front of you:
- Elvis Andrus
- Michael Young
- Nelson Cruz
- Ian Kinsler
- Justin Smoak
- Max Ramirez
- David Murphy
While you try to find the hole in that lineup, let me tell you the biggest reason why Guerrero and Hamilton have improved so much this year: they’re healthy (duh). When Guerrero’s back and knees are right, he’s able to have healthier swings (and less prone to strikeouts, whiffing at just 10.7 percent this year as opposed to 14.6 percent last year) and put more power into those swings (his line drive rate has risen from 18.3 percent in ’09 to 20.2 percent in ’10).
Hamilton–though he’s in a bit of a slump (1-for-13, 9 strikeouts in last three games)–just looks like he’s healthier and playing better. Will he be a .300-plus hitter and one of the five-best outfielders in the game? Maybe, but it’s far from a guarantee. But will he provide plenty of extra-base hits and RBIs for both the Rangers and your fantasy squad, as long as he’s healthy? Without a doubt.
(Note: later on today, I’ll add on a little news about what’s going on with my main fantasy team, The Men Who Laugh.)