Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

Garrett Jones | Pittsburgh | OF
2009 Final Stats: .293/.372/.567

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There might not be a bigger fantasy enigma in 2009 than Garrett “Where’d That Come From?” Jones. I covered him as #2 on my “2009 Misses” list and Mike Silver called him “the most confusing player in fantasy baseball.” It’s hard to improve on Mike’s thorough breakdown, but I’ll summarize my thoughts here.

After 11 seasons in the minors—five of them at AAA—Jones put together his first .500+ SLG above AA in 2009, earning a July promotion to Pittsburgh. Then, the guy who had a career .33 BB/K in the minors and 19 total SBs over the past four years somehow learned the strike zone (.53 BB/K) and swiped 10 bags (plus 14 at AAA).

These are the real puzzles, since the power was always there for Jones. Despite his poor SLG, he’d managed to increase that stat each of the previous four seasons at AAA, topping out at .484 in 2008. He’d cranked 30+ 2Bs and 20+ HRs in each of his full minor-league seasons over the same span (he only hit 13 HR in 2007, the year he was briefly called up to MIN, but he still swatted 32 doubles).

So while those 21 HRs and 21 2Bs in 2009 were more than expected, they’re not a complete surprise. Mike Silver points out that Jones’ absurd 22.8% HR/FB puts him in elite territory, where he’s unlikely to remain. That makes GP’s prediction of 24 HR feel just about right, even if it’s only 3 more than he hit in 2009—everything about his sudden power production screams “hot streak” and “small sample size,” so you’ve got to expect some regression.

The steals are the bigger mystery, but they declined in each month he was in MLB, dropping from 5 in July to just 1 in September. Though he’s had a few steals in the past, guys just don’t suddenly discover this kind of speed. The dropping steal numbers more than likely came because he’s an unfamiliar face and a veteran player—he saw his opportunities and took them.

His only 2-SB game, against Houston on July 7, is a good example of this. It was only his seventh start of the year, and the Astros had only seen him on base once, when he’d reached with a double the day before. On July 7, he reached base in the second inning, didn’t steal and was forced out on an Adam LaRoche DP ball.

When he reached in the seventh inning on four straight balls from Brian Moehler, Jones knew that Moehler was concentrating on throwing a strike. When he took a big lead and the righty ignored him, Jones stole second without a throw. He reached again in the eighth and stole on the second pitch, with the team leading 6-2. A better throw from Pudge would have nailed him, however; the ball beat him to the bag, but was well on the 1B side and flew into RF. One steal from smarts, and one from luck—here, too, those 9 SBs predicted by GP feel just about right.

What about the batting eye? Remember he was hitting #3 in front of Ryan Doumit or Lastings Milledge, who combined for 86 Ks and 14 HR in 500 ABs. Who would you rather pitch to? 8 of the 40 BBs against Jones were of the intentional variety, with seven of those coming in the last month of the season, when his power was clear. There’s no indication, of course, of the “intentional unintentional walk,” but it’s very likely that Jones’ walk rate (and hence his batting eye) had a lot to do with the Pittsburgh lineup around him.

In 2010, Jones has certainly earned himself a starting spot, though it may be at RF or 1B, depending on how Jeff Clement performs at the latter position. He’s going to spank some home runs and, if the Pirates can get baserunners on in front of him, he should knock them in. Given the signing of Akinori Iwamura and the further development of Andrew McCutchen, those runs should be there for Jones to cash in on. He should also hold onto some of his gains in BB/K, but expect a BA much lower than .293, based on his sub-.80 contact skills.

Silver also points out his other Achilles’ heel: his severe platoon splits. In the minors, his OPS was 120 points better against RHP, a gap that widened to 348 in 2009. Since this isn’t expected to change, it’s possible that Jones could be on the heavy side of a platoon at some point unless he turns that around.

About the only thing I don’t agree with in Mike Silver’s writeup is designating Jones as a “sleeper.” Plenty of owners will be paying attention (and paying hefty chunks of their budgets) to get him. Don’t fool yourself that a repeat of 2009 is in the works, but pay for the $15 player you see projected in the GP mini-browser. If he only qualifies at 1B in your league, his value could drop further, since he’s only a serviceable CIF option, not a starting 1B, in all but the deepest of NL-only leagues.

Randy Wells | Chicago | SP
2009 Final Stats: 5.7 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 3.05 ERA

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Wells was another pleasant 2009 surprise, for his owners and Cubs fans alike. Few analysts expected much from Wells, who wasn’t even listed in most fantasy guides, and the ones that did list him were dismissive, at best. Like Garrett Jones, he seemed destined for a life in the minors, having spent seven seasons there, without ever impressing above AA.

But when Chicago needed another starter, they looked at Wells’ AAA record thus far and thought, “Why not?” He’d put up a 3-0 record in 5 starts, with a 2.77 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, both the best ratios he’d had at AA or above. So they called him up in early May and he reeled off four solid starts, with a 1.80 ERA, 23 Ks and 7 BB in 25 IP.

All of us stood up and took notice when he brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning on his fifth outing against the Braves before leaving with a 5-1 lead in the top of the eighth. (He still couldn’t collect his first win after the Cubs’ pen fell apart and coughed up the lead, however.) Wells continued to hold our attention throughout the season, and ended ranked sixth in Rookie of the Year balloting for his impressive performance.

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Like Jones, however, he’s unlikely to repeat this level of performance again, and much of 2009 seems driven by luck. His core skills diminished as the year progressed—his WHIP grew each month, with September’s ugly 1.47 somehow producing a 3.03 ERA, his second-best of any month in 2009.

While his .320 BABIP might indicate luck wasn’t a factor, the telling stat here is his unsustainable 81% strand rate in Sept/Oct. Wells was very lucky in his last six starts of the season, just as he had been all season long, when he had a 79% strand rate. He had baserunners, more and more of them as the season went on, but they just didn’t score; that will change in 2010.

Beyond his statistics, it’s wise to think of the entire package. As my counterpart Rob McQuown points out in his GP2010 writeup, Wells is a converted catcher just six years into the changeover to the other end of the battery. That means his arm is relatively fresh, but his “pedestrian velocity” (Rob’s great words) means there’s not much room for error.

This means when Wells’ luck gives out in 2010, he won’t have the stuff to overcome it. He’s good at inducing groundballs, with a 46% GB rate in the minors that also grew as he progressed, so he’s unlikely to be punished by the longball—but when his luck turns around, Wells could be facing Death By Singles, which is just as detrimental to both ERA and WHIP (moreso to the latter).

As with Jones, you should moderate your expectations heavily for Wells in 2010. GP’s 4.24 ERA and 1.40 WHIP predictions seem extremely fair, and point clearly to that $4 price tag. Wells is an average pitcher who had an amazingly above-average season in 2009; those of us who ignored or disparaged Wells before the 2009 season will feel vindicated when he regresses to predictable levels over the long term.

Let someone else in your league believe in Wells’ 2009 season, but you should look elsewhere to fill out your pitching staff. Wells will be a decent option at the back end of your rotation as a late-round pickup—anyone who drafts him earlier will regret their unwarranted optimism.

Tim Alderson | Pittsburgh | SP
2009 Final Stats (minors): 5.5 K/9, 2.8 K/BB, 3.93 ERA

Rob asked me to write up Tim, who hasn’t accrued enough MLB PT to earn a GP writeup, and I talked a bit on Tim’s future in the comments from that week. Since then, I’ve had some time to read more about him, including the rather glaring omission from my comments that he’s no longer with the Giants (oops!).

Alderson was the price the Giants paid to pry Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates late last year, which is a good move for Alderson’s career in some way. Though he’s going to start 2010 in the minors, he could be ready for the big show by midseason and, with so many other great young starters already in the Giants rotation, it was hard to see him finding a spot.

Instead, he moves to a pitching-hungry club who are trying to restock their farm system, particularly in the pitching department—remember, this is the organization that signed two pitchers who’d won a baseball reality show in India! Alderson should face little opposition to advancement, and the promotions will be ready when he is.

The question for the 21-year-old is, when will he be ready? From an age perspective, it’s not often that a kid gets to the bigs before he can legally drink, and Alderson isn’t as skilled as Clayton Kershaw (who recently did so). Alderson hasn’t pitched above AA yet, and when he made the transition to the Pirates organization, he stumbled making the adjustment, giving back gains in nearly every statistical category.

And even when he’s on his game, his numbers haven’t been eye-popping. Since graduating to AA, Alderson hasn’t cracked 6.0 K/9, but his control has been outstanding enough to offset the diminished strikeouts. The downside of being around the strike zone has been his hit rate: he’s also started giving up more than a hit per inning since advancing into AA.

His repertoire is still developing, as he works on a change to complement his curve and low-nineties fastball, both of which are plus pitches without being dominant. What helps him is how he uses them, pinpointing them in the zone to produce ground balls at a 46% rate. Since he stands 6’7″, he’s got a great downward plane on his pitches that should continue that groundball trend.

The downside of the trade for Alderson is the move from an organization that knows how to crank out young pitchers to one that seems merely to chew them up. Pittsburgh has had some fairly talented young arms in the past several years, but Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, and Tom Gorzelanny have had nothing more than one good season (if that). Granted, they made it to the majors—which says something—and joined some perfectly awful teams when they did, but none have ever reached the promise that they once showed.

Alderson could change that with the strong base begun with the Giants, and he’s already got the control that other young pitchers struggle to develop. I’d watch his minor-league season next year and see how much of that sticks. Pittsburgh’s desperate enough for pitching that they could call him up in 2010, but 2011 is when he should truly arrive and produce. Deep keeper leagues can roster him, but the rest of us can stand safely on the sidelines to see how long it takes for him to realize his substantial potential.

Stephen Drew | Arizona | SS
2009 Final Stats: .261/.320/.428

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Except for Mark Reynolds and Felipe Lopez and some surprising minor-league callups, pretty much the entire Arizona starting lineup disappointed in 2009, as if crappy hitting was a virus they all caught and couldn’t shake. Drew wasn’t the worst of them—Chris Young would have given his eyeteeth for Drew’s season—but it’s definitely a huge step backwards from Drew’s 2008.

But those expectations are part of the problem. Drew’s .291/.333/.502 in 2008 was driven by an elevated 35% hit rate and 9.1 HR/FB%, just as 2009 was moderated by a 31% hit rate and 5.9% HR/FB. As with his core numbers, the truth for Drew is most likely somewhere in the middle, and 2009 had its share of contributing factors to hold him back.

In 2009, he was hindered early by a strained hamstring that kept him off the field for about three weeks, and he took another two weeks to get back into a groove after returning in early May. Then he ripped off a fourteen-game hit streak to bridge May and June, raising his batting average sixty-three points. He did this again between July and August, collecting a knock in eighteen of nineteen games, this time lifting his BA fifteen points.

Then, he hit just .243/.293/.376 the rest of the way, possibly due to Arizona’s lost season. The Diamondbacks, mired in fourth or fifth place in the NL West, just looked lost. They never could figure out their 1B position, Young scuffled in the outfield, while Justin Upton was either inconsistent or injured.

Drew was a fixture atop the lineup, hitting .301/.352/.541 out of the leadoff spot (but just .238/.294/.359 in the two-hole, where he played slightly more often), but the guys hitting behind him were an ever-changing kaleidoscope of players and production levels. Even Arizona’s best hitter, Mark Reynolds, was the ultimate all-or-nothing producer, delivering a home run or a strikeout in a whopping 43% of his ABs.

No wonder Drew had trouble with his own consistency. The fact is that his basic skills didn’t change: his 84% contact rate remained strong and his 8% walk rate also improved over 2008. After his slow, hamstring-slowed start, he hit .274/.330/.450, which happens to be almost identical to his GP projection for 2010. And an 780 OPS SS is well above average, but hardly elite. Drew’s got the skills to draw a walk and pop the longball now and again, but 2008 was an outlier as far as his ceiling goes.

With the recent signing of Kelly Johnson, Drew may have lost his leadoff spot (or not, depending on how you think KJ might do in 2010, a topic I’ll address in a few weeks), which could diminish Drew’s R production, if not his overall batting line. One of the problems with Drew is that he’s not a great fit for any lineup spot—not enough speed for leadoff, not enough power for the heart of the lineup, and too much talent to hit sixth or lower. The only great fit for Drew is in the two-hole, where Gerardo Parra was extremely productive in 2009.

Wherever he hits, Drew is still a valuable shortstop who should improve on his 2009 performance, particularly if the D-backs around him have a bounceback year, too. You can exploit your fellow owner’s shortsightedness (indicated by that 5 point drop in Sentiment in his GP mini-browser) by making a savvy bid for Drew, but that $14 projection looks right on target, so don’t go too much beyond that figure. Drew should be good, but not that good.

Be sure and leave suggestions for other players you’d like me to write up in the comments. I’m starting with our countdown of 2009’s top roto producers next week, but I’m saving a spot for requests each week.

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Graphical Player 2010, where these mini-browsers are just a part of the valuable fantasy info you’ll find.


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Zephon
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Zephon

All kinds of errors in the stephen drew analysis. Felix Lopez? BJ Upton? Don’t you mean FELIPE lopez and JUSTIN upton? How are people supposed to trust your fantasy analyis when you can’t even get the player’s teammmates names right?

Fred
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Fred

What should be made of Drew’s change in pitch type value for the fastball? In ‘08, he destroyed them to the tune of +16.9 while that dropped to -1.6 last year. Even though his plate discipline improved, the failure to hit fastball no doubt contributed to his decreased performance.

Michael Street
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Michael Street
Zephon— Thanks for the corrections, which I’ve made in the article. I’ve been sick all week and my brain’s a bit scrambled, but I cover the D-backs all season, so even a fever’s no excuse. “Felix” was a typo, but the BJ/Justin swap was a legit brain fart—not sure if that counts as “all kinds of errors” but I’ll definitely cop to goofing those names up. Let me know if you think there’s anything wrong with the analysis, however, which I still stand behind. Fred— That’s a great question and something that I hadn’t considered. If you look at all… Read more »
Zephon
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Zephon

Nothing wrong with the analysis on drew. Other than a few nitpicks, good stuff. I’m one of the minor league experts on Azsnakepit.com, and I watch just about every Dbacks game during the season. It drives me crazy when I see BJ and Justin confused, sorry. Maybe i responded a little too harshly.

Michael Street
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Michael Street

Zephon—

Thanks for the apology and no worries. I’m a nitpicker myself and have my own pet peeves that drive me bonkers.

Glad you agree with the meat of the Drew analysis, esp. from a AZ minor-league expert. I’ll be sure and hit you up for your opinion on some of the D-backs of the future!

Thanks again and Happy 2010!

B-Chad
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B-Chad
Michael Love the work.  Interesting article for sure.  I would like to offer some speculation on Jones.  I personally believe he’ll start be the starter in RF as opposed to 1B regardless of how Clement performs.  If the Pirates believe he can be a valuable contributor going forward, it seems putting him in RF from here going forward would be the logical move.  My reason for this belief is the possible moving of Pedro Alvarez from 3B to 1B.  I appologize in advance for not having “sources,” but I distinctly remember reading concerns about Pedro Alvarez’s range at 3B throughout… Read more »
Tim
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Tim

While we are nitpicking, you may want to correct the Clement reference in the Jones article – Jeff, not Matt…

bothstillplaying
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bothstillplaying

In the Garrett Jones piece, it’s Jeff Clement at 1b, as I’m sure Matt Clement will never make it as a position player, or, for that matter, ever again as a pitcher…..

Michael Street
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Michael Street
Tim & bothstillplaying— I believe I’ve set a personal record for knuckleheaded errors in this column. It is indeed Jeff, and I’ve changed it in the article; thanks for the correction. B-Chad— Thanks for the kind words and the speculation about Jones. I hadn’t heard about the potential move of Alvarez, but a quick web search shows you’re not the only one thinking about that move. Alvarez won’t be ready for a year or two at least, however, and I’m skeptical of the hitting ability of Clement (Jeff, that is :D) or Andy LaRoche. So moving Jones to first remains… Read more »
R M
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R M

Alvarez won’t be ready for a year or two?  What makes you say that? He seems to me like one of the most MLB ready prospects there is. 

Also, Justin Upton was either injured or ineffective?  What?  Are we both talking about the guy who put up a 4.5 WAR season last year?

Michael Street
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Michael Street
RM— Alvarez has a season of high-A and AA ball under his belt, with a .55 BB/K ratio and a .72 contact rate. He’s got the skills, but those ratios don’t really blow me away, and he’s only got one season of pro ball under his belt. Mid-2010 would be the soonest he’d arrive, IMO, with 2011 his likely arrival date. Pittsburgh has no reason to rush him, unless they’re really foolish. Justin Upton had a good year overall, but missed three weeks in August with an oblique strain. Hence the “injured” designation. And note that I said “inconsistent,” not… Read more »
RedRobot8
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RedRobot8
Your analysis of Randy Wells seems a bit lazy; everyone assumes he is going to regress, but finding a reason why in the numbers is difficult.  You wrote: “While his .320 BABIP might indicate luck wasn’t a factor, the telling stat here is his unsustainable 81% strand rate in Sept/Oct. Wells was very lucky in his last six starts of the season, just as he had been all season long, when he had a 79% strand rate. He had baserunners, more and more of them as the season went on, but they just didn’t score; that will change in 2010.”… Read more »
Michael Street
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Michael Street
RR8— As I stated in the article, “all season long, when he had a 79% strand rate.” Wells’ 2009 strand rate was 78.68, to be precise, and not 76%, as you stated. Sept/Oct’s 81% is in line with his 79% strand rate overall. And the average 2009 strand rate for all NL pitchers was 72%, putting him at the high end of the spectrum, not “pretty darn near the middle of the pack.” Starting pitchers with a strand rate in the 75-80% range can expect ERA regressions the next year of anywhere from 0.54 to a 1.36. That seems consistent… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
RedRobot8, What we must consider with projections is that, for a player like Randy Wells, there will necessarily be a pretty heavy regression to the mean component if all we look at is a single year of MLB stats (as is the case with Wells, unless we were to include MLEs as well).  One year of stats is never enough to get a really good gauge of a player’s true talent level, and that’s especially true for pitchers.  We’ll run into some trouble if we just try to look at 2009 peripherals and expect 2010 peripherals to mirror them.  We… Read more »
RedRobot8
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RedRobot8
First, I didn’t call you lazy.  I said that I thought it seemed that this particular piece of analysis (i.e., of Randy Wells) was lazy.  I enjoy your articles and read them regularly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an off day every now and then. Anyway, it seems that part of our disagreement about Wells stems from differing data sets.  I was looking at his 76% strand rate as listed on the Fangraphs page you linked to.  This puts him in the middle third of qualified NL pitchers (again, according to Fangraphs), which I do consider to be… Read more »
Michael Street
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Michael Street
RR8— Sorry for sounding testy yesterday; I’d just finished an eight-hour teaching binge and took your comment a bit more personally than was warranted. I still don’t think “lazy” is the right term for analysis you merely find fault with, however. I appreciate that you’re a regular reader, and hope you continue reading. Our strand rate calculations differ because Fangraphs (and THT) use a slightly different stat, LOB%, which contains some tweaks, multiplying HR by 1.4 and including HBP. Both have their merit, and I should have used the one on Fangraphs, but the study I mention about declining ERAs… Read more »
RedRobot8
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RedRobot8
Derek, thanks for weighing in.  I have indeed read your FIP v. xFIP articles, as well as Colin Wyers’s excellent FIP stuff more recently. However, I thought that HR/FB was one of those stats that pitchers could exert some control over.  Wells’ 8% didn’t seem that low to me, especially for a ground-ball pitcher who is also skilled at inducing infield flies.  One interesting batted ball comp for Wells is Carlos Zambrano, who has compiled a career 9% HR/FB with similar GB and IFFB rates pitching in Wrigley Field.  A regression to a 9%-10% HR/FB would cost Wells 1-3 HRA,… Read more »
RedRobot8
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RedRobot8

Also, Derek, since I have your attention: I have somehow missed the tRA boat.  How does tRA (and tRA*) stack up against FIP and xFIP for fantasy analysis?  tRA hates Randy Wells, but I don’t understand the stat enough to know what that means.

I know that this is way too much for a comment, but if you have time sometime this off-season, I’d love to see a FIP/xFIP/tRA/tRA* comparison article.

Thanks, and keep up the great work.

RedRobot8
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RedRobot8

Michael, don’t worry about your response; lazy wasn’t a good word for me to use.  Generally, most of the analysis I do is lazy, which is why I am reading and you are writing.

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
RR8, Colin’s stuff was very good too.  I forgot to mention that. What often gets missed in the discussion of “luck” is that everything a pitcher does is a skill to some degree.  Pitchers have some measure of control over most everything, it’s just that they have much more control over some things than others.  So while pitchers have some measure of control over HR/FB, they don’t have nearly as much control as they do over things like K and BB.  Same with BABIP – they have some control, it just takes a long time for it to stabilize.  While… Read more »
Paul Singman
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Paul Singman
RedRobot and Michael, Even if you guys were using slightly different Strand Rates, or LOB Percentages or whatever you want to call it, RR your argument that Randy Wells’ LOB% was “middle of the pack” is misleading. Yes, for qualified NL pitchers Wells’ LOB% might have been near middle of the pack, but you have to account for the selection bias that comes with using only starters that accumulate 160 innings. Naturally pitchers that can continue pitching over a full season are better than their counterparts that lose rotation spots or get sent down to the minors for part of… Read more »
Michael Street
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Michael Street

I just want to say thanks again for all the great commentary on both sides of all the issues here. Readers like Red Rocket, Zephon, B-Chad, and everyone who commented make me a better writer by keeping me on my toes and asking the tough questions. And the statistical analysis provided by Derek and Paul were immeasurably helpful, too.

You guys are the smartest and savviest readers on the planet, and you’re what keep me going and keep me sharp. I look forward to hearing from all of you throughout the 2010 offseason and regular season.

Mike

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