Stock Watch: 5/11

Stock Up

Johnny Cueto, Reds

Cueto displayed his superb talent last season, though his tendency to cough up homers and occasionally lose the strike zone dragged down his overall line. In 2009, he’s made progress on both fronts. In 39.2 frames, Cueto has a 3.13 FIP, the product of a 2.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.32 in ’08) and 0.45 HR/9. There’s certainly been some lucky bounces here to produce that 1.59 ERA: Cueto’s BABIP is .260, his strand rate is near 90% and his 4.2 HR/FB% is extremely low.

On the bright side, he’s shaved a little more than one walk per nine innings off his 2008 total (2.50 BB/9 this year, 3.52 in ’08). While his K rate (7.26 K/9) is down from last season (8.17), the overall net effect is positive (as Justin pointed out in the comments section, Cueto’s K/PA figure is slightly higher this year due to his efficiency). Cueto’s Expected Fielding Independent ERA (XFIP), based on a pitcher’s K’s, walks and a normalized HR/FB rate, checks in at 4.34 (4.62 last season).

Jay Bruce, Reds

It’s the all-Reds edition of Stock Watch! A 22 year-old lefty with immense power, Bruce has adapted to major league pitching faster than most anticipated. With a .391 wOBA, 10 big flys and a sweet .262/.342/.570 line, Bruce has certainly been The Boss in 2009. Happily, his control of the strike zone (his biggest hurdle) has improved. Bruce has drawn a walk 10.1% of the time in 2009 (7.4% last year), whiffed less often (20.6% in ’09, 26.6% in ’08), and has cut his Outside-Swing percentage from 30.4% to 25.7%. In other words, he’s already among the best outfielders in the game, and he’ll only get better from here.

Carl Crawford, Rays

Crawford has probably stolen about six bases since I started typing this sentence. Tampa’s swift left fielder has been an absolute terror on the base paths in 2009, going a perfect 22-for-22 on stolen base attempts. With 3 more thefts, Crawford will match his total from an injury-marred 2008 season. If we use Tom Tango’s SB run value of +.19, then Crawford is closing in on half a win added in the stolen base department already.

Fortunately, Crawford is showing progress in other facets of his game as well. His Outside Swing% is down to 24.8%, from last year’s hacktastic 31.5% mark (24.4% MLB average). His 8.8% walk rate isn’t awe-inspiring, but it is the highest mark of his career. With 1.7 Wins Above Replacement, Crawford has been one of the ten most productive position players in the game.

Edwin Jackson, Tigers

Let’s give credit where it’s due: Jackson has been pretty darned effective in 2009. He came to Detroit with a reputation as a radar-gun curiosity who didn’t miss many bats or control the zone particularly well, but he’s making strides. Jackson isn’t a 2.60 ERA pitcher (duh), but his K/BB ratio is an impressive 3.18. With 7 K’s per nine and 2.20 BB/9, Jackson holds a 3.51 FIP. He’s looking more legitimate by the start.

David Wright, Mets

Wright’s early-season scuffle raised both panic and ire, but he’s just fine now. His wOBA is back up to .367, and he’s popped enough extra-base hits of late to raise his Isolated Power to .174. Wright is batting .364/.436/.697 in May. Hopefully, you didn’t sell low. One aspect of Wright’s game that is curiously diminishing is his stolen base ability. He was 34-for-39 in 2007, 15-for-20 in 2008 and just 5-for-10 in 2009.

Stock Down

Scott Kazmir, Rays

What happens to a control-challenged southpaw when he loses his ability to dominate hitters? Take a gander at Kazmir to find out. The 25 year-old’s walk rate has increased for a fourth straight season (4.97 BB/9), but he’s just not fooling batters the way he used to (7.11 K/9). Kazmir’s fastball velocity has dipped from 91.7 MPH in 2008 to just 89.9 MPH in 2009, and his hard, mid-80′s power slider is now more of a low-octane frisbee (80.4 MPH). With just 46.4% of his offerings crossing home plate (48.9% MLB average) and opponents making contact 84.3% of the time (75.1% career average), something is wrong with the Rays’ former ace.

Mike Aviles, Royals

Tony Pena Jr. might be on the DL, but Aviles has compensated by doing his best impression. After an unexpectedly productive rookie season, Aviles’ bat has flat lined in 2009. Impatient to a fault (2.9 BB%), the 28 year-old isn’t getting any favorable bounces on balls put in play (.247 BABIP). His nefarious .226 wOBA is fifth-worst among all batters, and he’s been nearly a win below replacement level with the lumber already. With lackluster play in the field as well (-12.6 UZR/150), Aviles has been an anchor on Kansas City’s hopes of staying competitive.

Conor Jackson, Diamondbacks

Never exactly known for his feats of strength (career .150 ISO and .431 SLG%), Jackson has been downright punchless this season. His microscopic .071 ISO ranks among the worst in the game. Jackson is not this bad, mind you: his .210 BABIP is incredibly low, so he should revert back more toward his usual level of production as the season goes on. The question is: is that enough? Underpowered as a first baseman, Jackson’s work in left field is still under review. Singles-hitting corner players aren’t exactly in vogue, so the 27 year-old is going to have to show some thump to do more good than harm to Arizona’s dwindling playoff chances.

Jeff Francoeur, Braves

Francoeur is this generation’s Joe Carter, compiling counting stats that mask the fact that he’s sort of a drag on his team’s offense. Frenchy continues to show next to no progress in terms of plate discipline, wildly hacking at 34.6% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. Not coincidentally, his First-Pitch Strike% is a career-high 71 percent (57.6% MLB average). Francoeur has gotten behind 0-1 or put the ball in play on the first pitch more than any other batter in the majors. With a wretched .290 OBP and little pop (.136 ISO), he’s produced a .299 wOBA. Showing apparent apathy toward working the count, Francoeur is an absolute mess at the plate right now.

Ian Snell, Pirates

Snell scarcely resembles the guy who posted a 4.01 FIP during the 2007 campaign. After walking 2.94 batters per nine innings during that year, Snell’s control took a giant leap back in ’08 (4.87 BB/9) and continues to go south in 2009 (5.4 BB/9). His K rate, 8.18 during his first full season in the big in 2006, checks in at just 6.08 this year (the continuation of a four-year decline). He’s not fooling much of anyone, and has put just 44.3% of his pitches within the strike zone (48.9% MLB average). Snell will continue to take his turns on a pitching-starved staff, but he hasn’t pitched like an above-average starter in quite some time. His FIP is 5.33.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

16 Responses to “Stock Watch: 5/11”

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  1. Big Oil says:

    Enjoyed the article, David, and thanks for the liberal usage of averages for a relative newbie still getting oriented to performance standards.

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  2. Justin says:

    Again, you gotta be careful using K/9 and BB/9 when you’re dealing with a pitcher with a high or low BABIP. Cueto is actually striking out slightly more hitters this year than last: 20.8% vs 20.5%. It’s just that fewer of his outs are coming that way (so his K/9 is down) because more of the batters who are putting the ball in play are making outs. So the takeaway is: fewer walks + no drop in strikeout rate, which is exactly the type of improvement you’d hope for Cueto this year.

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  3. David Golebiewski says:

    Justin,

    Good point- that’s what I was trying to get at by the “overall net effect” wording, which is admittedly kinda vague. He’s been just as good missing bats on a per PA basis, he’s just been more efficient. Hence, the lower walk rate, XFIP and the “stock up” connotation. Thanks for being on top of that.

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  4. Moo says:

    I’m a huge fan of K/100 pitches to track the effectiveness of a strikeout pitcher. It shows both how quickly they strike out batters and how much they’re wasting pitches. I’d love to see both K/100 pitches and K per batter faced.

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    • Moo says:

      Also I think it has a higher correlation to a pitcher’s ERA/WHIP then K/9 as noted in an article on another site (not remembering name now)

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  5. Eno Sarris says:

    That HR/FB rate is what worries me a little on Cueto. One of his main problems last year was keeping the ball in the park, and he’s not in a great park to have that sort of a problem. If a lot of this is due to a lucky HR/FB rate, we may see another slow decline from Cueto, like last year. Speaking in non-numbers – will the ball begin to fly out the park as the temps rise?

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  6. Rob says:

    Thanks a lot for the article (and the website as a whole, as I am new to it this year), love the stuff. The control of zone rates on Jay Bruce are extremely encouraging and helpful, to me.

    I’m in a 7×7 category shallow 9-team, 6-player keeper league (standard 5×5 plus BBs and Ks for hitters — I didn’t make the dumb rules, only play by them) and would like to grab Bruce while I still can. I’m considering moving Cole Hamels straight-up for him. Not too concerned about my pitching (Gallardo/King Felix/Josh Johnson/Vazquez/Meche/Wandy), but would hope for a return of keeper value on Bruce with walks and strikeouts being taken into account.

    Thanks again.

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  7. David Golebiewski says:

    Rob,

    That’s definitely a tough call, but if your pitching is that formidable, I’d go for it. I’m as optimistic about Bruce as I am about any young outfielder in the game. He’s already a championship-caliber player, and he’s improving his plate discipline in fairly short order.

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  8. Doug Gray says:

    Jay Bruce is doing all of this with a .240 BABIP. If he maintains his current plate approach and that number finds it way to the norm, look out.

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    • Big Oil says:

      That has been the encouraging thing to me as well. Just last night, in his first two plate appearances, he hit two rockets right at people (if you trust the Reds’ radio announcers, I only bought the audio feed from MLB). A lot of guys in my league are ragging on him for all pop and little else. I’m looking forward to the inevitable upswing.

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  9. John Lennon says:

    This off season would be seeing agreat trade of Jose Reyes for Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Crawford would pick up the speed lost with the trqde of Reyes

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