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Matt Wieters This Year

Peter Bendix took a look at Matt Wieters back in November and came away concluding that Wieters could be Joe Mauer with more power. Those are some pretty lofty expectations. David Golebiewski briefly discussed his AA exploits last month. Now that pretty much all of the projection systems have come out, I think it is a pretty good time to revisit the prospect that has more words written about him than any in recent memory.

Mock Draft Central has the three top catchers (Brian McCann, Russell Martin, and Mauer) checking in between picks 45-50 in their recent drafts. Giovanni Soto is next at about the 65th pick. Matt Wieters is not in the top 75. What can we expect from Wieters? Well, the projections have quite a range. CHONE has him pegged for .274/.352/.439/.791 with 15 HRs in 115 games. They project him to have the 10th best OPS and tied for the 5th best HR total. This is the low-end projections. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the PECOTA projection. He rates as the best catcher in baseball according to PECOTA. His line is .311/.395/.544/.939 with 31 HR and 100+ RBIs and runs. Bill James’ and Oliver lie in between the two extremes. At worst it seems he will be a top 5 offensive catcher next year.

The bigger concern with Wieters is playing time. When will he see the bigs? In front of Wieters is the career backup/part-time option of Greg Zaun. I have a hard time believing that Zaun will hold Wieters off the position, and there is little doubt in my mind that Wieters will perform well enough to warrant a call. I imagine the only thing really holding Wieters back is money. Figuring that the Orioles do not stand a chance to contend this year in the stacked AL East, the O’s may be wise to hold him back to delay his arbitration clock. If attendance starts to wane, then the O’s may be wise to bring up the young stud to put butts in the seat. Seemingly, there is no way they hold him in the minors past June.

When he comes up, he will immediately be at worst one of the better offensive catchers. Most people seem to think, though, that he will be a force. Come summer you will be very, very glad you overdrafted for Wieters. In keeper leagues, he may be one of the best picks made in your draft, similar to Longoria last year. I know I plan on reaching for Wieters in most drafts and then depend on one of the catchers off the trash heap to man the position for a month or two.


What Shakes out in the Rays Bullpen?

Last year six Rays relievers registered a save. Troy Percival got the majority of those (28 of the 52) when healthy. When he was hurt manager Joe Maddon relied a bit more on the “closer by committee” approach. While Dan Wheeler had 13 saves Grant Balfour seemed to grasp the closer’s role as the season came to a close. In 2009 the closer picture is even muddier.

The Rays will be bringing back every pitcher who recorded a save except Trever Miller (although he was pretty much just a LOOGY). Jason Hammel who recorded 2 saves will not be relied on for closing except perhaps in dire situations. Troy Percival will be back in the bullben, but he was fairly ineffective last year. He posted an ERA of 4.53, a FIP of 5.87, and a K/9 of 7.43. In other words, other than the saves he brought nothing to your fantasy team. He was a nice waiver pickup or late-round addition for cheap saves, but that was about it. Looking at the rest of the bullpen there seems to be four candidates to get the saves: Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell, and the newly signed Joe Nelson.

Balfour was one of the best relievers in baseball last year. He was utterly dominant with a FIP of 2.22, an ERA of 1.54, and a K/9 of 12.65. To put these numbers in perspective, he had the best K/9 of any reliever in baseball and was fourth in FIP. He was a welcome addition to any fantasy team even without the saves.

Dan Wheeler had a decent year to go with the saves. His strikeout numbers were not great (7.19 K/9), but he posted a pretty good ERA (3.12). I do worry about him going forward as he once again posted a FIP north of 4 (4.49 to be exact) due to his long-ball tendencies. Hid ERA was bolstered by a BABIP of .202 which implies that he should be in for a healthy dose of regression.

J.P. Howell was the second-best reliever in the bullpen. He did not have Balfour‘s insane K-rate, his was only 9.27, but he did have a very good FIP/ERA (3.39/2.22). One would expect his ERA to regress a bit, but the defense behind him next year will still be one of the best in baseball. He probably will not be able to repeat the .259 BABIP, but the team allowed only a .288 BABIP for all pitchers (tops in baseball).

The last real option is the recently signed Joe Nelson. Last year he had an ERA of 2.00, a FIP of 3.45, and a K/9 of 10.00. He was very good last year for the Marlins, and he will try to repeat that performance after moving into the division in baseball.

I would imagine that all five of these pitchers will be used in save situations. The trick is finding which will provide the greatest benefit to your team. I rarely draft a proven closer in most leagues because they generally go to high for me and are much too volatile. Situations like these are where I get my saves. Late round picks that rotate in and out of the roster when they are getting saves. With the Rays bullpen, a few things stand out. There seems to be two camps of relievers in the Rays closer situation: the effective ones and the ones with closer experience. Percival and Wheeler fall in the latter, with the rest in the former group. The less effective options may be the ones that fill the closer role, but I would bet the other camp gets their share of saves as well. Howell is probably the least likely to see the bulk of the saves because he is so effective at getting tough lefties out or pitching multiple innings. I would stay away from Percival if there is any issue with injury at the beginning of the season (he was far more effective before his first DL stint). Wheeler will not bring any value if he is not getting the saves. This leaves the two that I would target for my team: Balfour and Nelson. Both should have good ERAs and a lot of Ks out of the bullpen (which is a nice addition). If either of those gets put in the closer role, then I would expect either to be a top 5-10 fantasy reliever. You should be able to get either relatively cheaply (especially Nelson who will not be on most people’s fantasy radars).


Is Magglio Done?

Magglio Ordonez has been one of the more consistent players in baseball over the last 10 years. When healthy you can generally pencil him in for a .300 average with 20+ HR and over 100 RBIs. After his monstrous 2007, he came back to earth last year posting his lowest HR and 2B totals in a full year since his first full season in 1998. Is age starting to catch up with the 35 year old OF?

None of his peripheral numbers seem to suggest any aging effects taking their toll. His swinging strike percentage remained around his career average. His batted-ball data was in line with his career averages as well. The only thing that really suffered was his HR/FB%. This might indicate some slowing of his bat, but one year of a downward trend is not something I would bank on. If his peripherals seem to imply that Magglio had another of his dependable, above-average seasons, what should we expect going forward?

I would expect more of the same. I highly doubt we will see Magglio revert to his 2007 ways, but if he’s healthy (which might be a feat for a 35 YO OF) he should post around a .300/.375/.490 line with 20+ homers and runs/RBIs to match. The one issue I have in drafting Ordonez is that people may still see him as the batting title winning Ordonez of 2007. In 5×5 leagues, I would likely slot him in around Andre Ethier, Raul Ibanez, or Brad Hawpe. I tend to be wary of older players, particularly in this post-steroid era. Magglio, though, has been a model of consistency, which bodes well for him going forward.


Khalil Greene: Worse than Unlucky in 2008

In the newest installment in how luck may have played a role in a hitter’s fortune/misfortune, let’s take a look at Khalil Greene’s precipitous fall in 2008. Is there any hope for him going forward? I will once again refer you to Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix’s great work on xBABIP which will be referenced. Additionally, BABIP in these posts is defined (H-HR)/(PA-HR-K-BB-HBP) and xBABIp is the outcome you’d expect in a “luck-neutral environment.”

2008 did not treat Khalil Greene kindly. Hampered by injury and limited to only 105 games, Greene had his worst year as a Padre. He posted a slash-line of .219/.260/.339. In his four previous full seasons of work, he’d never posted an OPS below .725. Greene’s HR-output also took a significant hit: only 10 in 105 games. His k-rate was the highest of his career, as well. All in all it was a terrible year for Greene, but it might have been a little better with a little more luck.

Greene also posted the lowest BABIP of his career (.255), which was a pretty decent departure from his xBABIP of .276 and his career BABIP of .285. Obviously with his peripheral statistics down (along with his power), it makes sense that Greene’s xBABIP would expect him to perform at a lower level than his career norms. If we adjust his stat-line for the hits he seemed to lose to bad luck it would be a little more respectable .229/.274/.359. Those numbers are still pretty bad and likely someone you would not even sniff in a fantasy draft. Fortunately for Greene, he’s moving out of cavernous Petco Park and into the new Busch Stadium. While Busch Stadium is not Coors Field it should be at least a slight upgrade to Petco.

Below is his adjusted stat-line in four scenarios: the first is his actual 2008 numbers, followed by his numbers in Petco with “luck” stripped out, then those numbers in a neutral field, and finally his production using the new Busch Stadium’s park factors.

k-greene

As you can see he isn’t setting the world on fire, but his numbers definitely improve. If Greene can also get his talent level back to where it was before 2008, then he would be due for a big resurgence. Greene also plays shortstop which is generally a pretty weak spot for hitters especially in deeper leagues. I would consider Greene as a late-round pickup or a guy to keep your eye on the first month of the season.


Figgins Got Lucky?

Continuing our series on how luck effected a player’s season, today I will look at Chone Figgins. I will once again refer you to Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix’s great work on xBABIP which will be referenced. Additionally, BABIP in these posts is defined (H-HR)/(PA-HR-K-BB-HBP).

In my league last year, Chone Figgins had 2B, 3B, and OF eligibility. He also racked up 34 stolen bases to go along with a decent .276 average and 72 runs. While none of these numbers are eye-popping he still was pretty valuable as a guy with a lot of flexibility in a down year. He only played 116 games, and a lot of his numbers were lower than the year before; but a fantasy owner still got pretty good value for him. They were lucky in a sense, as well, because even though his numbers were down he still benefited from pretty good luck on balls in play.

Figgins sported a robust .332 BABIP. Lower than his .389 BABIP the year before, he still outperformed what we’d expect his BABIP to be based on other factors. His xBABIP was a less seemly .295. Had he performed at the level that would be expected in a luck-neutral environment his slash line would have dropped from a paltry .276/.365/.318 to a ghastly .246/.339/.284. With the loss of 14 trips on base, he would lose a couple steals and RBIs coupled with a loss of 5 runs. He already only hit 16 XBH and the loss of two more totally kills his SLG (and as a result his OPS). He essentially becomes Wily Taveras. While that’s decent value it is not what you expect from a guy you take in the 5th round or so. This output seems to be what you would expect from Figgins going forward (maybe a little more but not much). Below is the full stat-line for his 2008 season and what it would have been with a neutral BABIP:

figgins-table

What say ye?


Trevor Hoffman on the Move

The Milwaukee Brewers are again attempting to sure-up the closer position by bringing in an aging, established closer. Gone is Salomon Torres after he replaced the ineffective Eric Gagne. Last year, the Brewers blew 26 saves (ironically the same amount as Hoffman’s former team the Padres), so they brought in the all-time saves leader to try to shore-up the backend of the bullpen. Trevor Hoffman had one of his worst seasons since taking over the closer role in San Diego. He recorded his highest ERA since 1995, his lowest save total (other than 2003 when he only pitched in 9 games) since 1994, his lowest innings total of his career other than 2003, etc.

Trevor Hoffman’s statistics do not look that bad at first glance. Yes, his FIP of 3.99 was high, but he posted a 2.94 the year before. In fact over the last five years, Hoffman has averaged 55.6 IP with a FIP of 3.13. He also has been at about one strikeout per inning every year. While he does not pile up the Ks, he also does not beat himself with walks. Age is a big issue with Hoffman, but the bigger issue to me is how a flyball-pitcher will translate away from the friendly confines of Petco Park. The following is Hoffman’s FIP in Petco (pFIP), converted to a neutral park (nFIP), and in Miller Park (mFIP).

hoffman-fip-table1

As you can see, leaving Miller Park definitely hurts Hoffman’s effectiveness. Throwing in his advancing age, it would not seem out of line to expect a FIP of 4.5 or higher. Bill James (of course), Marcels, and CHONE are a bit more optimistic about Hoffman’s future than I am with FIPs of 3.24, 4.00, and 4.18. My expectations are over a quarter of a run higher than Salomon Torres’s FIP from last year (4.22). If he essentially repeats what Torres did last year, then he is definitely worth a draft pick. He is not, however, worthy of being considered anywhere near an “elite” closer or a must-draft. I would also be wary because who knows how well his arm will hold up with his advancing age.


Unlucky Beltre

Continuing our series on how luck effected a player’s season, today I will look at Adrian Beltre. I will once again refer you to Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix’s great work on xBABIP which I will make reference to. Additionally, BABIP in these posts is defined (H-HR)/(PA-HR-K-BB-HBP).

Adrian Beltre is one of the best 3B in the game today. Over the past 5 years, Beltre has been worth an average of 4.9 wins per season. Unfortunately for fantasy players, though, nearly half his value is in his glove. Additionally most of his offensive value lies in his monster 2004 season. Last year, however, Beltre was a decent fantasy 3B. His average was sub-par, but he made up for it with 25 HR, 81 R, 87 RBI, and a handful of steals. Beltre achieved these numbers despite battling some pretty poor luck. Adrian logged his worst BABIP since 2002 (.276). This killed his average, as well as hurting his ability to score and drive in runs. Beltre ’s xBABIP on the year was .319 which would have made his numbers a lot better.

If we control his statistics for the new BABIP of .319 (essentially strip the luck out of his balls-in-play), then Beltre gains 19 hits. This bumps his batting average considerably since he is not that prone to the strike out. Adding in the 5 doubles he would have likely gained, Beltre ’s slash line goes up to .300/.358/.500/.858 form the previous line of .266/..327/.457/.784. His increase in times on base and hits also helps him generate 7 more runs and ten more RBIs (bringing his totals to 81 and 87 respectively). It is safe to say that Beltre ’s poor luck had quite the effect on his fantasy season.

Going forward, I would not expect Beltre to have the same poor offensive season he had last year. Since 2002 Beltre has topped 20 HR all but one season, and he has also had 25 or more the last three years. If we pencil him in at 25 HR again and a reasonable .290 average, then his numbers should come close to matching what he missed out on last year. It would not be unreasonable to expect him to be a top 5-10 fantasy 3B. The one issue I see with Beltre is the team he plays for. The M’s have done little to improve upon an offense that was second-to-last in the AL in runs-scored, therefore it might be a struggle for him to break 85 runs or 85 runs-batted-in. If he steals 10 bases, though, you may take a little less scoring and power.


Derek Lowe the Brave

Since Derek Lowe was moved back to the starting rotation in 2002, he has been a model of consistency. Between the Red Sox and Dodgers over that time frame, an average season looked like this: 15-11, 208 IP, 3.83 FIP, 129 Ks, and a WHIP of 1.27. Since becoming a Dodger, his statistical resume is almost identical: 14-12, 213 IP, 3.77 FIP, 141 Ks, and 1.23 WHIP. As you can see, his move to Dodger-stadium has really helped his numbers (except W-L). The amazing thing about Lowe, though, is the lack of variation in his success. He has never gone over 220 IP or under 180, he has only 2 seasons with an ERA over 4 with only one under 3, he has yet to strike-out more than 150 without falling under 100, etc.

Last year he also benefitted from a very good defense behind him. Blake DeWitt, James Loney, the roving SS, and (not so much) Jeff Kent made up a pretty good defensive infield to gobble up all those groundballs. Which brings me to the most important aspect of Lowe’s game: his penchant for pounding the ball in the dirt. Since 2002, he has finished 1st, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 2nd in GB%. It is rates like that that make him so consistent.

So what do we see in the crystal ball for Lowe next year now that he has signed with the Braves? I would expect that his numbers should only improve. While Dodger Stadium is considered a low run-scoring environment, Turner Field is fairly close. According to statcorner.com’s park factors, Turner Stadium rates as just a bit higher run-scoring environment (99.6 to 97.6) while being a tougher place to hit homeruns (99.1 to 111.1). Lowe will also likely see an improved infield defense behind him with the Braves great infield defense.

Bill James, CHONE, and Marcel all see Lowe having another solid year, and there is little reason to doubt that he will continue to do what he has done so well in the past. Lowe has made himself a very successful pitcher by not beating himself, letting his fielders play, and limiting the long-ball. This is a recipe for success that should continue through this year and beyond.


The Lucky Riot

Continuing our series of lucky/unlucky players, today we take a look at the other side of the coin: the players who benefited from great luck on their batted balls in play. In this series, I’ll refer you to Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton’s insightful article on the role of luck/skill on BABIP. In it they define BABIP with the following formula:

BABIP= (H-HR)/(PA-BB-HBP-HR-K)

They also formulate a new version of xBABIP that takes into account a number of components of the hitter and models the way their BIP should be converted to outs/hits.

Last year Ryan Theriot had his best season as a big-leaguer. He was at worst a decent play at SS in most fantasy formats, and a very good play in 5×5 formats. He hit for a good average, got steals, and played a pretty scarce position (with a lots of flexibility). His average on the year was .308, he got 22 steals, and scored 85 runs. Among SS he was second in average, 9th in runs scored, and 4th in SBs (his numbers aren’t quite as good compared to 2B/3B, but the flexibility is helpful). Looking at these numbers it’s hard to argue against Theriot as a average-to-above-average SS. The one hidden aspect of his success, though, is his reliance on luck to achieve his numbers.

Since Theriot doesn’t hit for much power (IsoP of only .052 with 1 HR), most of his value is derived from his ability to get on-base. Since he can’t drive himself in or steal first he has to walk or get a hit to get the steals and runs your fantasy team needs. Last year Theriot coupled a good BB-rate, relatively low K-rate, and extraordinary luck to get on base at a .387 clip. Where does the extraordinary luck come from? Well, Theriot had a BABIP of .330 and an xBABIP of .291. If we account for this “luck” and control his statistics for the hits he “earned,” then his statistical record has an astonishingly different look.

Rather than a slash-line of .307/.387/.359/.745, his slash line is a more pedestrian .266/.348/.309/.657. The loss of 24 hits or 24 trips to the base-paths hurts his two other good categories, as well. His R and SB drop from 85/22 to 77/20. This season wouldn’t make Cubs fans or Theriot‘s owners (if he even has any at that point) very happy. I would expect something a lot closer to these numbers for Theriot next year than the numbers he put up this year.


Will Elvis Andrus Make a Fantasy Impact Next Year?

Elvis Andrus is the 20-year-old phenom coming for Michael Young’s job. Last year, Andrus was a 19-year-old holding his own in AA. He hit .295 with 54 stolen bases. The rest of his game, though, was pretty incomplete. At the dish, Andrus only walked 7.3% of the time and showed very little pop (IsoP of only .073). With the glove Elvis did not fare much better. While he has shown extraordinary range, he has not proven to be very sure-handed. He had 32 errors in 109 games which is right in line with his career .944 fielding percentage.

So with these facts in mind, why is the Rangers front-office planning on moving the very expensive Young to 3B? It seems they are trying to make room for Andrus, but the question of whether or not he’s ready is a good one. I would expect that the Rangers will employ a stopgap option at SS while they wait to see how Andrus does in the minors this year. Asking Young to move was likely similar to what the Rays did last year with Iwamura and Longoria; they did not expect Longoria to come to the Bigs so early and planned on using a stopgap at third. If Andrus does come up next year, then what can we expect?

Looking at Andrus’s MLEs, you see a slash-line of .235/.292/.290/.582 for his performance last year. This is very unimpressive. His projections are not all that pretty either. The big-ticket issue with Andrus, though, is his steals and position eligibility. If you can get 30-40 steals from a cheap SS without him killing you in other categories, then you are in business. Another thing that makes him a little more attractive is his home ballpark: Arlington. If we can bump his rate-stats up some for that then he could be useful. These MLEs also go off of a BABIP of .289. It would not be surprising to see him with a BABIP much higher considering his speed and line-drive hitting ability.

All in all, Elvis Andrus probably isn’t someone you want to draft unless you play in a pretty deep league. The best idea (and what I plan on doing) may be to keep a close eye on his minor-league box scores, the newspapers in TX, and whatever the SS for the big-squad is doing. Be poised and ready to make a waiver-request because a .290/.330/.320 line at SS with a lot of steals may just be sitting there at the All-Star Break. A less-enthusiastic projection could even see him as the SS version of Willy Taveras.