Waiver Wire Offseason: AL

Last week’s final comment opened an interesting discussion involving the psychology of fantasy games, and I wanted to address it head-on, albeit only scratching the surface, as we’re here to provide player information primarily. The discussion is tangentially related to the “hometown bias” Derek Ambrosino discussed. That is, namely, what should we do with player “reputations” when considering “value”?

This came up with regard to Josh Beckett, who famously and heroically brought down the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, including a five-hit 2-0 clincher in Game Six. And in the recent past, we’ve seen Jacoby Ellsbury have a torrid September and postseason to rocket to prominence, and previously, we saw K-Rod grab the reins of the closer role down the stretch and into the playoffs, announcing his “arrival.” These all seem like obvious examples of good players improving their stock through very high-profile performances. It seems hard to believe that even among the most jaded fantasy players, any of these players would go for less than “full retail” pricing the following season, either in auction or draft or trade.

But what about other cases, where the “reputation” turns out to be just “hype.” Usually, this is the case with prospects, from Delmon Young to Alex Gordon to Dice-K Matsuzaka … certainly, nobody got these guys for as little as the value they’ve provided so far. And it’s not just with prospects, either … remember all the “25 homer” hype around Pedro Feliz when he went to Philly? With that offense, and the shift to that “bandbox,” he was expected to be a major force at 3B after leaving SF. Or Milton Bradley coming to the easier National League after his huge 2008 season [ed – that one hurts to remember as a Cubs fan … oh, it’s not over yet? Grumble.]

The biggest problem with reputation is that it’s fickle. As noted in the Beckett writeup last week, players can see their star tarnished very quickly … and sometimes not fully due to their own situation. Not mentioned with Beckett is that his reputation also took a “hit” by the Dice-K and Lester “stories.” Without them as teammates, it’s likely we’d have all been trying to think of new things to say about Josh Beckett with much of the time and energy spent on the other Red Sox pitchers.

Ideally, of course, the “solution” to figuring out the reputation riddle is to a) time the “reputation” so that it’s at its peak, and then b) find the league member who has the best combination of desire to own the player and susceptibility to “hype.” This, at the same time being aware when you are paying a “hype surcharge” to acquire a player—presumably to “flip” him to someone even more excited about the player’s reputation, but also assuming that you’re not overpaying by so much that you’ll be disappointed to be “stuck” with the player. Whew, tricky stuff. But that’s why we play, right?

Maybe a “for instance” … in a Strat-O-Matic league where we can keep some minor-leaguers, I traded for Matt Wieters before the 2009 season. I was aware that I was paying for the “Orange Jesus” hype, but the price was good enough that I was happy to have him on my team, and we can keep players for the first six years of their careers (we have salaries and free agency after that). Honestly, I was expecting to get blown away with an offer for him, but it didn’t happen, and now I still have him. Yes, I paid a high price, but no, I’m not unhappy to have Wieters for 2009-2014.

So, anyway, “reputation” is a tricky subject. Is Lidge’s “reputation” back, now that he had a good postseason following a thoroughly execrable 2009 regular season? Is Ryan Franklin “toast,” despite having a great regular season (before he signed his extension)? Is Carlos Gonzalez great, all the sudden, just because he had a monster playoff series? [He’s going much higher in mock drafts than most people thought.] Well, we’ll cop out of any strong advice here, since—as always—it comes down to knowing your opposing managers. But we would suggest “price enforcement” on players who have an “up arrow” on reputation, while expecting the typical “discount” on anyone else you roster (since everyone evaluates differently, everyone should end up with “discounts” using their own system, in general). If you don’t know your leaguemates that well, watch and learn, but stick close to numbers you trust. We’ll give some comments on Curtis Granderson next week—he’s already shaping up to be a player with a lot of “hype” in some circles.

Kendry Morales | Los Angeles | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .306/.355/.569

For people who may not follow slugging percentage closely, it may come as a surprise that No. 2 and No. 4 in the AL this year were Kendry Morales and Adam Lind, the two AL batters we’re spotlighting this week. They each slugged better than .560, exceeding the March 9 THT projections by about 100 points apiece! I do a daily-move roto post on baseballdailydigest.com and started off with luke-warm suggestions such as, “Kendry is hitting well, and likes RHP, so it’s probably worth the chance if you need a 1B.” [He was facing a not-so-great RHSP.] By June, I had recommended that everyone pick him up, and just use him against RHP, and by July, I more-or-less noted that it would be nuts if he was available in any leagues. Despite owning him in my deep keeper AL roto league, I would have been happy with .293/.333/.473 (the THT projection) for 2009. And I was fully expecting a platoon split. But Kendry grew as a player, right before our eyes. He didn’t exactly eliminate his platoon bias, but that was only because he maimed RHP, and was just “OK” in 144 PA against LHP (.296/.318/.481).

Going forward, the loss of Figgins will hurt Morales’ numbers in 2010. But that is really the only reason a fantasy player would not want this guy for four categories. He doesn’t walk (just 36 unintentional walks!), which hurts his real-life value somewhat, but in fantasy, that just improves his AB:PA ratio, which improves the impact of his (expected) good batting average. He had a .329 BABIP in 2009, an entirely normal figure for a player who hits the ball hard as frequently as he does and isn’t as slow as as a Molina. We’re not even worried about his expected increase in PT vs LHP dragging down his numbers, and figure those extra ABs will instead help his overall totals. Maybe 2009 was an “up” season for him, but we’re still fine with his “normal” year. Since the theme is “reputation,” Kendry is a good guy to evaluate how much of a role that will play in the auction. Nationally, his rep got a HUGE boost this year, and he’s going 55th overall in mixed drafts at Mock Draft Central (.com). But if your league is a bunch of friends from Queens, perhaps his season will be seen as something of a fluke, and he’ll be a good bargain pick (55th doesn’t seem like a “bargain,” given the ease with which 1B can be filled).

Adam Lind | Toronto | LF
2009 Final Stats: .305/.370/.562

Here is a case of talent evaluation and development which certainly did NOT contribute to J.P. Ricciardi’s exit from Toronto! What a nice surprise for the Blue Jays, who could use one amidst some disappointing seasons. Much like Morales in many ways, and for fantasy purposes Lind is even better due to positional scarcity (his 41st ranking in mixed mock drafts reflects this). Lind also held his own against LHP (and without turning around to bat right-handed as Morales does), hitting .270/.318/.461 against southpaws. And his BABIP was also very normal at .322. He’s actually a slower runner than Morales, but you aren’t taking these guys for their foot speed. The strikeout rates are similar between the two sluggers (both very decent for players with such great power), and Lind is a better real-world contributor, as he walks a little more (49 unintentional walks).

We’d like to add more detail about Lind, but there really isn’t much more to note. He didn’t improve markedly in the second half the way Morales did, but he hit the same in both halves. He slugged .533+ every month except May, when he slugged .453. The one tidbit is that there is talk of him moving to 1B if Overbay is gone, so keep an eye on that situation, but he qualifies in the outfield this year. As with all players who show a “surge” like this, it’s somewhat likely that he’ll experience “Plexiglass Principle” and show some decline in 2010, but we don’t expect much of a drop.

Joe Nathan | Minnesota | RP
2009 Final Stats: 11.7 K/9, 4.1 K/BB, 2.10 ERA

Of course, the only question remaining with Joe Nathan is, “how much longer?” It is sort of nitpicking to try to figure out a “trend” in his numbers at this point. He’s still in his relative “prime,” even though his velocity has been down more than 1 mph the past two years, compared to 2005-2007 (93.5 and 93.6 compared to 94.8 for average fastball velocities). His control “slipped” to 2.9 BB/9, but he brought his K/9 over 11 again in the process. He allowed more fly balls, but allowed fewer line drives, suggesting more balls arbitrarily called “fly ball” instead of “liner” by the person tracking it (sort of like “hit” vs “error” by official scorers, it’s not exactly consistent). In short, write in your 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 80-ish Ks and 35+ saves, and have no worries. He’s about as sure of a thing as a reliever can be. At some point soon, we’ll start worrying about age, but at age 35, neither batters nor Father Time is catching up to him.

Andrew Bailey | Oakland | RP
2009 Final Stats: 9.8 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, 1.84 ERA

The “R” in WAR
How a person can be a hero by being a zero.

Yeah, that worked! Moderately promising starting pitching prospect Andrew Bailey was shifted to the bullpen full-time in 2009 after a trial in 2008, and won a job in the A’s pen despite only having 8 IP of Triple-A experience (in 2007). He, of course, pulled down the American League Rookie of the Year Award after winning the closer job for Oakland. His velocity improved with the shift, and that was just the recipe for the pitcher who’d posted FIPs in the minors of 4.4 at High-A and Double-A (in two separate years). His “hit rate” was a Marmol-ian 49 in 83.1 IP (.167 BAA), without the absurd walk and HBP totals. He walked just 24 batters, in fact, producing a BB/9 much lower than his minor-league rates.

So, what now? Oakland changes closers about as often as calendar pages, from Street to Devine to Ziegler to Bailey … and most forecasting systems have not yet caught up with Bailey’s new role, or don’t “believe” that Oakland will stick with one closer. But they will … at least until Beane can trade Bailey to a contender in need of a great closer. Some things to discuss with Bailey, and the projections he’s going to get, and where he’s drafted:

Saves on Oakland? But they are bad.
Well, it’s a bit of a myth that you want closers only from good teams. The advantage from park effects is more dramatic than the difference due to caliber of team, though at the bottom end, it really is a concern and you should be careful taking closers from 100-loss teams. But the A’s have had 38, 33 and 36 team saves the past three seasons … below AL averages, but still adequate. And when the team was good in 2006, they led the league with 54. Having top-to-bottom pitching (i.e., not one or two great SP and then some dogs) and a home park that suppresses scoring make fertile soil for saves to grow. And the A’s might be better in 2010 … they are expecting their young SP and OF to have improved, and the Giambi and O-Cab experiments are history. At the very least, we expect another season like 2009, where the team garnered 38 saves (40 was league average).

Bailey had a .220 BABIP.
This could be a real worry, as each “point” of BABIP change could be worth 2 “points” of ERA change (or more), so if we assume this will regress to .300, that’s +80, or +1.60 onto his ERA. And some of this effect is real, and very likely to surface in 2010. But, the rate is a general rule of thumb, and doesn’t apply strictly, and less so at smaller ERAs. More importantly, there is good reason to expect that .300 is not the appropriate BABIP to which to regress Bailey. For example, Joe Nathan‘s career BABIP is .255. Mariano Rivera‘s is .266. It would obviously be nuts to regress those players to .300. While facing just 324 batters in 2009 isn’t enough of a sample size to draw any strong conclusions, the probability is that Bailey’s “mean BABIP” (to which we should regress) is less than .300. So, the ERA regression should be more in the range of 1.00 instead of 1.60.

xFIP is a quick way to accommodate the expected regression of both BABIP and HR/FB, and was designed with a league-average BABIP in mind. Bailey’s xFIP was 3.25. But, as Colin Wyers showed in an article this summer, FIP and xFIP don’t have enough variance at the extremes (to keep up with empirical data), and this behavior of the xFIP model, combined with its assumption of a league-average BABIP, make for an overly pessimistic indicator. Yes, Bailey was lucky in allowing just 44 non-HR base hits in 83.1 IP, and yes, he’s likely to allow more in 2010. But it’s more likely he’ll allow +10 more non-HR hits instead of +18, and that will keep his ERA down. And that’s if he gets 83 IP again, which brings us to…

Isn’t 83 IP a lot for a closer?
Yes. On July 21, Bailey threw 2 IP, which was common for him in the first half, being as he’d recently been a starting pitcher, and hadn’t fully claimed the role of closer early in the season. But he experienced minor knee issues after that 2 IP outing, and never topped four outs in a game after that. Expect him to be used as most every other closer is used in 2010, and end up with just under 70 IP for the season.

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