Waiver Wire retrospective: The worst-laid plans

Last week, I looked at my 10 best predictions of the 2010 season. This week, I will look at the flip side of that coin: my 10 biggest “fails” of 2010, the predictions that utterly flopped. Feel free to toss any poor prediction I made and you relied upon into the comments.

1. My unflinching love for Chris Davis
Will I ever give up on Chris Davis? I wrote about how much I love him on no less than four separate occasions this season and he only kept on disappointing, as evident by his .192/.279/.292 line over 136 plate appearances. The prodigious power man hit his first and only home run on Sept. 20. Hey, at least he drew walks at a career best 11 percent clip, right?

As I pointed out in the offseason, when I pegged Davis as one of the major leagues’ best sleepers, Davis’ prospects for success are directly proportional to his strikeout propensity. When Davis is making contact, he’s a machine—high line drive output with home run power to spare. The problem is that Davis likes to swing a lot (53 percent career swing rate, compared to a 45-46 percent major league average) despite an inferior ability to make contact. Davis is probably what Vladimir Guerrero would have looked like in his prime if Big Daddy Vladdy was not the king of bad pitches. (Note, however, that Davis does not swing at pitches outside of the zone more than the average player.)

Davis has two golden half-seasons to his name: 2008 and the second-half of 2009. When Davis keeps his strikeout rate in check (around 25 percent), he rakes. In 765 Triple-A plate apperances, with a strikeout rate of 22.6 percent, Davis has hit .311/.370/.569 with 30 home runs. Same story in Double-A (326 PA, 21.8 percent K rate, .319/.374/.644 line with 25 homers). However, when Davis contracts strikeout-itis, he really struggles. Just look at his first half (277 PA) of 2009 (41.2 percent K rate) and his 2010 season (33.3 percent strikeouts). I stuck behind Davis in week 12 and a few weeks later when Jason Smoak was traded to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal.

Though I still believe in the still-young Davis, I am more skeptical of him for 2011. That strikeout rate is still the big factor and until I see Davis’ minor league strikeout control translate into the major league level, I’m labeling him as a toxic high risk, high upside asset. One thing is certain: I will not gamble on him as my starting third basemen in 2011! (True story: My starting third baseman was Gordon Beckham, with my backup being Martin Prado. Guess which of the three I dropped in the first week of the season to make room for a waiver wire pick? Hint, his name rhymes with “Grotto”).

2. Standing behind Justin Masterson
This wasn’t my article, but it summed up my preseason Masterson thoughts quite well. As I noted in my first AL Waiver Wire article, Masterson’s combination of groundballs, whiff-ability (which disappeared somewhere in June) and awful control made for a high-risk, high-upside asset.

All season, Masterson washed away righties (8.78 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 3.30 xFIP), but lefties were like magnesium to him (5.44 K/9, 4.31 BB/9, 4.62 xFIP). His final numbers on the season (4.73 ERA, 6.99 K/9, 1.50 WHIP) were far worse than anything I predicted (3.90 ERA…oops), but there are signs of hope for 2011. There are reasons that I will undeniably make this mistake again next year: improved control (career low 3.67 BB/9), too many ground balls to ignore (major-league second-best/AL best/career best 59.6 percdent groundball rate) and a strong finish to the season (as noted in my final Waiver Wire column for the season, Masterson threw 53 innings of 2.55 ERA, 39:20 K/BB, low WHIP baseball). I’ll admit I was wrong this year, but as we Cubs fans are prone to saying, there is always next year…

3. The Cubs will make the playoffs
Speaking of the misery that it is being a die-hard Cubs fan, I foolishly predicted the Cubs would make it to the playoffs this year. Heck, I even bet on it. My reasoning was solid: the 2009 Cubs pitching staff was strong, but quite injured, and many of the key position players were either injured for most of the season (Aramis Ramirez) or suffered horrible BABIP luck (Milton Bradley, though 2010 makes 2009 look less like a fluke) or both (Geovany Soto). Heck, Alfonso Soriano could not be nearly as bad in 2010 as he was in 2009, right?

I figured a “regression toward the mean” and replacing Bradley’s poor showing with an average-or-better Marlon Byrd would add several wins to the Cubs’ already solid 84 expected wins (per the Pythagorean expected win-loss formula). I predicted 93 wins. I was off by only 18 wins. There’s one part of my prediction which was dead on, sadly: The Cubs are likely going to be in for an extended drought until they develop their farm system further and get out from the contracts of Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Kosuke Fukudome. But hey, at least they lost their last game of the season. Otherwise they would have gotten the No. 11 pick instead of the No. 9 overall in the 2011 amateur draft. That’s a starting point, right?

4. The Cleveland Indians are a dark horse to win the AL Central
Boy, I could not have been more wrong with this prediction. Heck, I do not think the Indians were a .500 or better team all season. Call me foolish, but I was tantalized by the team’s promising offensive talent (Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Russ Branyan, Matt LaPorta, maybe a productive Jhonny Peralta/Travis Hafner combo?) and promising, though volatile strikeout pitchers (Masterson, Chris Perez, Kerry Wood). I realized early that pitching would be this team’s key weakness, but whodathunk the hitting would be so awful too?

After struggling hard and early, Sizemore went down for the season with an injury. Choo missed some time too, while Cabrera played only two-thirds of a season (some of it hurt). LaPorta earned the nickname “LaPorta Potty” for how poorly he performed at the plate. Branyan was good for the Indians, but shipped back to Seattle on a 30-day return policy (where he continued to be good). And Peralta? Well, he had to go to Detroit to start hitting again. But hey, that Jayson Nix guy’s been hitting lots of homers, albeit without getting on base.

Sigh. To say the least, the Indians were a disaster this season and I must eat my words on this one. Literally. Look for video of that to be posted on Game Of Inches sometime this winter.

5. Clayton Kershaw
For all the good things I said about Max Scherzer, I was the contrarian on Clayton Kershaw. “A 4.1 percent HR/FB rate and .37 HR/9, despite a sub-40 percent groundball rate? To heck with that 9.74 K/9, that 4.79 walk rate is sure going to come back to bite him in the ass!” I said (in so many words).

I predicted a good, but less than spectacular 3.92 ERA and plus 1.30 WHIP, pegging Kershaw as uneconomical given the sub-100 ADP. Kershaw responded by doing to his walk rate what Jayson Werth needs to do to his beard (from 4.79 to 3.57) and continuing to appease the baseball gods of home run luck (5.8 percent HR/FB, despite a stable ground ball and fly ball rate). Still, in fantasy, you can’t argue with results and his 2.91 ERA, 13 wins, and 1.18 WHIP were even better than his 2009 numbers.

If Kershaw posts league averagish control in 2011 and keeps that plus-strikeout/whiff rate (10 percent SwStr%), he could post another valuable year. But by “valuable,” I mean mid/high threes ERA, high 1.2s WHIP with a bellyful of strikeouts a la what I predict for Jonathan Sanchez every season. There’s just no way he keeps up that sub-three ERA with a 40 percent ground ball rate and mediocre control…right?

6. Curtis Granderson‘s monstrous 2010
I predicted a .277/.364/.522 (.886 OPS) and 35-plus homer year for Granderson the Yankee. I was only 11 homers and about 100 OPS points off. Whodathunk that Yankee Stadium wouldn’t help the inverse of Jose Bautista more. But hey, that contract the Yankees have on Granderson’s soul is still a steal (he produced a profit in Fangraphs dollar value) and he was nonetheless twice as good as Johnny Damon (+3.9 WAR versus +1.9 WAR), so at least I was right about something. I’ll take my four-win center fielders any day, no matter how wrong they prove my bold predictions.

Homestretch: The 1967 AL Pennant Race, Part 3
A tight race shows no signs of letting up.

7. Perpetual love for post-hype sleepers Matt LaPorta and Alex Gordon
Remember that .275/.360/.510 line I predicted for LaPorta? Yeah, sorry about that. He had a strong showing in late June (.442 wOBA, 23 PA) and July (.340 wOBA, 96 PA), but went right back to hitting like a “LaPorta Potty” in August (.298 wOBA) and September (.278 wOBA). He’s only two years older than me, so I hope he’s still young enough to turn it all around, but as the sample size grows expectations may have to temper…

Speaking of tempered expectations, how about that Alex Gordon guy? When Gordon was promoted to the majors a few years ago, it was done solely on the basis of a strong Double-A showing (.325/.427/.588 over 577 PA). Gordon didn’t flounder too heavily in the majors, hitting for a below-average .317 wOBA in 2007 and an above-average .344 wOBA in 2008. Injury and ineffectiveness in 2009 and 2010 lead to a demotion for Gordon, where he smashed the minors to an MLE of .261/.377/.431 (.808 OPS) with power upside to spare.

Still, Gordon’s strong minor league showing has still yet to translate into major league success. His .294 wOBA in 2010 featured only one month of a wOBA of .300 or higher: a .317 mark in August. Gordon is a year older than LaPorta, but they’re still both quite young (Gordon will be 27 in 2011). Gordon did not materialize into the .270/.365/.450 capable hitter I expected for 2010, but his minor league numbers, for what they’re worth, say he’s still capable. Next season may be Gordon’s last chance with KC, but he would likely catch on with another club. Keep an eye on him as a good buy-low sleeper for 2011.

Still, I was completely off base with these two guys this year.

8. Jake Fox
In the past offseason, I professed my love for Jake Fox. The Cubs subsequently responded by trading him to the Athletics for a reliever who did not fit the high strikeouts, high walks mold of the Chicago Cubs pitching corps. Like all modern Cubs prospects, Fox was no spring chicken when he went through hitter’s puberty and broke out in acne and home runs. I was angry at the move at the time, seeing Fox as the cheap in-house/economic replacement to the throne of Derek Lee, but it seems that 2010 did to this former Cubs prospect what it does to most Cubs prospects—failure.

Maybe GM Jim Hendry sold high on Fox (though I think he could have gotten more), maybe not, only time will tell. What can be said is that I was way too high on this C/1B/3B/OF eligible Wiggy-Man. My .275/.330/.495 (with power) prediction seems quite silly in hindsight and in light of his .217/.261/.384 season line. Still, in my bones, I can’t help but feel like there’s something special there a la Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This failed prediction stands out as one of the more unsatisfying ones of 2010.

9. Julio Borbon is a stolen bases machine
In the offseason, I made a specific point of advising fantasy players to avoid paying premiums for stolen base guys. Stolen bases are deep, I proclaimed, urging fantasy owners to avoid Jacoby Ellsbury in favor of Borbon. In retrospect, you should have avoided both of them.

Borbon ended up stealing (15) less than half the number of bases CHONE projected (35). The Rangers gave him the red light for being such an inefficient base stealer in the first half, after he was caught in six of 14 attempts. Though I gave words of caution in week 11, I was not as down on his wheels as I probably should have been and I had touted him highly as a buy-low in week 8. This just goes to show why I hate two-dimensional hitters —they so easily let you down.

Something else I was collaterally wrong about: I pointed out in the preseason that CHONE projected 15 players to steal 29-plus bases next year and another six to steal 29. Actual results? Only 21 hitters stole 29 or more bases. Sigh. I hate being wrong.

10. My Brennan Boesch-like bearishness on Austin Jackson
There were two AL players that “the numbers” demanded regress in the second half and both were on the same team (maybe it’s something in the Detroit water or smoky Motor City Casino air): Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson. Jackson surely had an elite line drive rate (24.7 percent) and the wheels (7.9 speed score) to back up an elite BABIP, but a .396 BABIP? That’s just insane! All season long, I proclaimed that the rookie’s flirting with a .300 average despite a 27.5 percent whiff rate and below average walk rate (7 percent) was going to burn someone overly trusting. Rather than regress toward his .340ish expected BABIP, however, Jackson just kept on raking. Look at his BABIP by month:

April: .530
May: .395
June: .345
July: .432
August: .372
September: .322

THREE months with a BABIP of .395 or higher! It’s almost as if Jackson was laughing at me and my prayer to the BABIP gods (who, interestingly enough, look the exact opposite of what Joe Morgan looks like). Expect Jackson’s 2011 to likely mirror his June/September performance (.265 average, .670 OPS) if the poor whiff-to-walk rate persists, but I have to admit, to the glorious “I told you so” of Daniel William Bennett the third, that Jackson performed mightily well for fantasy owners in 2010. His 103 runs, .293 average and 27 steals (on the heels of a better-than-average-thanks-to-BABIP-inflation .345 OBP) made him a top 100 fantasy player per the Yahoo player rater. I can’t suggest him for 2011, but I can say he and his +3.6 WAR probably deserve the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Honorable mentions:
Where there’s Smoak, there’s fire. 2008 Derrek Lee, he is not.
Tim Hudson’s second half WHIP
Jack Cust’s power
– Gordon Beckham’s season (though his second half mirrored my predicted talent level).
Daniel Hudson as a useful high ERA starter (whodathunk a move from U.S. Cellular Field to Chase Field would help a ground ball neutral pitcher with control problems? Reverse Javiar Vazquez!).
Michael Brantley as the cheap(er) alternative to Borbon. His last six weeks were solid (.285/100 R/35 SB pace), but hooboy did he struggle before that!
Dan Haren vs. Zack Greinke, 5 Ill 2d 614 (1965): I made a bet with a fan that Haren’s second-half would be better than that of Greinke. Yes, I won this bet, but I was way off base with my prediction about what Haren would actually do after his trade to the Angels. On the heels of an early version of the xWHIP calculator (which has since been improved), I predicted a 3.82 ERA, 75 K, a 4.5 KBB ratio and a 1.09 WHIP over 80 innings pitched. What he actually did: 2.87 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.0 K/BB, 75 K over 94 innings.
-Trusting “the process.”

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Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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If it matters to you at all, Alex Gordon will be 27 next year, not 26…but hey, you know what they say about that magical age 27 year.

Jeffrey Gross
Jeffrey Gross


Oops. I thought next year was 2010 again smile