Archive for January, 2009

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?


Carlos Quentin and the Dreaded Wrist Injury

Carlos Quentin was one of the front runners to win the MVP Award last year before his season ended in September with a broken wrist. All indications are that his recovery has gone without a hitch and he is expected ready for Spring Training. Yet fantasy players are treating him cautiously, as Quentin’s ADP according to the latest Mock Draft Central rankings is 37.

After two unimpressive stints with the Diamondbacks, Quentin flourished last year in his first full season. Most significant was his 36 home runs in 480 at-bats. Wrist injuries frequently sap power, which is undoubtedly the main reason Quentin is slipping into the fourth and sometimes even fifth round in early mocks.

Quentin is an unusual hitter in that he rarely hits line drives. His 15.4 percent LD mark was the third lowest in the majors and contributed to his .280 BABIP. But his low-strikeout and high-HR numbers resulted in an AVG of .288, or eight points above his BABIP.

The move to Chicago agreed with Quentin last year. He hit 21 of his 36 homers at Comiskey Park. But he did well on the road, too, where he notched a .950 OPS.

Because he struggled in his first two seasons in the majors, it’s easy to forget the Quentin was a top prospect. What he did last season was better, but not out of line with what he produced in the minors. Following his 2005 season at Tucson, prospect maven John Sickels ranked him as the sixth-best position player in baseball and Baseball America had him 20th overall, one spot above Nick Markakis.

But it all comes back to the wrist injury. And before you point to Evan Longoria, here’s what Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll had to say: “Here’s the key on Longoria — he broke his ARM (distal tip of ulna), not his wrist. If you pointed to the area, we’d all use the common term of ‘wrist’ but it’s not anatomically so.”

So, caution is justified with Quentin. He will still be a worthwhile player to own, but he’s not a top three-round guy. And before you draft him in the fourth round, ask yourself if you wouldn’t be better off with Curtis Granderson, who will be a full year removed from a non-displaced fracture in his right middle finger.


It’s Almost Gamel-Time

It’s safe to say that Bill Hall does not have a firm grip on the Brewers’ third base job. In fact, after hitting .225/.293/.396 in 2008, he’s lucky to have a Major League job. But that’s what happens when a club has $15.7 million committed to a player.

Thankfully for the Brewers, Hall has the ability to play a number of other positions, including shortstop, second base and the outfield. It’s fortunate because it allows the club the freedom to promote third base prospect Mat Gamel to the Majors, as soon as he’s ready. Gamel, 23, was originally selected in the fourth round out of junior college in 2005. He has been a hitting machine in the minors and has a career line of .305/.375/.489 in 1,710 at-bats. In 2008, he hit .329/.395/.537 in 508 Double-A at-bats. He also appeared in five Triple-A games and two big league games.

Offensively at the Major League level, Gamel has the potential to hit .300 and hit 20 home runs, although the in-game power is still developing. His defense is another story. He made an astonishing 53 errors at third base in 2007 but “improved” in 2008 and made just 30. The club does not have the luxury of hiding him at designated hitter or first base (thanks to Prince Fielder). Left field is not an option thanks to displaced third baseman Ryan Braun. Corey Hart, another promising young hitter, is in right field.

Thankfully, Gamel’s defensive woes will not hurt Fantasy Baseball owners – aside from possibly limiting his playing time and causing him to be removed late in games for defensive purposes. He’s certainly not someone you’ll want to draft to begin the season, but he could become a force in the second half of the year.


Is Josh Hamilton a First-Round Pick?

Of the players likely to go in the first few picks, perhaps the hardest to forecast is Josh Hamilton. Over at Mock Draft Central, Hamilton has been picked as high as second and as low as 18, which is a pretty wide split. Let’s compare that to two other guys who have topped out as the second pick. Jose Reyes has not dropped below eighth and Grady Sizemore’s lowest position was 11th.

Now Hamilton as the second pick is probably a reach, but he is in a group of people to consider at the end of the first round and the beginning of the second. Some analysts think it is crazy to draft Hamilton on the first round when you can get Carlos Lee on the second. Others see the production that Hamilton delivered last year – .304-32-130-98-9 – in his first full season and see room for improvement.

Part of the problem with Hamilton is that so much of his value derives from that high RBI total. He was second in the majors last year and only a second-half slump kept him from posting even gaudier totals in the category. Hamilton had 61 RBIs the first two months of the season and only 26 combined in August and September.

Fantasy owners like HR, SB and AVG because for the most part, the players are in control of their numbers in these categories. Meanwhile, as Jim Rice can tell you, RBIs are dependent on opportunities. It sure helps when you have Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans (or Ian Kinsler and Michael Young) getting on base a ton for you to drive in.

Hamilton’s monster first half coincided nicely with Kinsler’s terrific start. Then when Kinsler faded and then got injured in the second half, Hamilton suffered with him. It was a rough August for Hamilton, but he hit great in September (.366/.443/.516) and still managed just 13 RBIs.

A look at Hamilton’s profile shows nothing outlandish. Yes, his BABIP was high at .339 but nothing to be overly concerned about given his line drive and ground ball tendencies. Hamilton does not hit a ton of fly balls (32.9%) but has a good rate of converting those into home runs (19.2%). The fly ball percentage is low and will probably keep him from ever contending for the HR crown. But the Ballpark in Arlington, where he hit 19 HR last year, should keep him a 30-HR player.

In fantasy football, it is very common to look to capitalize with a QB-WR combo to give yourself a nine, 10 or 12-point connection. This year fantasy baseball players might be wise to do the same with Hamilton and Kinsler. Now you just have to decide which one to draft first.


Garrett Olson Catches a Break in Seattle

Left-hander Garrett Olson has endured quite the chaotic offseason. The 25 year-old with just 165 major league innings to his name has swapped teams twice within a two-week period. First shipped to Chicago along with minor league ‘pen arm Henry Williamson for Felix Pie, Olson now heads across the country to Seattle with shortstop Ronny Cedeno in exchange for reliever/hopeful roation member Aaron Heilman (also twice-traded this winter, having been Mariner property for less than two months).

Assuming Olson will remain with the M’s (thus allowing his head to stop spinning), the Cal Poly product will compete for the fifth-starter’s role in Seattle. The chances of him winning that spot outright in spring training appear slim- he faces competition for Ryan Rowland-Smith, Brandon Morrow and Ryan Feierabend – but Olson still might see his fair share of rotation work. All clubs end up calling upon those 6th, 7th and 8th starters, and with Erik Bedard’s health uncertain and Morrow facing a massive innings leap if he’s in the rotation from the get-go, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 2005 supplemental first-rounder end up making a fair number of starts.

To this point in his major league career, Olson has struggled quite a bit. His ERA (6.87) overstates the extent of his issues (his FIP is a less-frightening 5.28), but the finesse southpaw has had difficulty finding the strike-zone on a consistent basis. While he exhibited solid control in the minors with 2.93 BB/9, Olson has issue nearly five free passes per nine innings in the big leagues. The 6-1, 200 pounder also displayed a penchant for missing bats down on the farm with a career K/9 mark of 8.91, but major league batters haven’t been fooled by his high-80’s heat or low 80’s slider and changeup (6.05 K/9).

As one might imagine, Olson’s mild fastball generates plenty of flyballs. His career GB% in the majors is 40.5%. Pitching in a venue that does not take kindly to such tendencies (Camden Yards has a 3-year HR park factor of 123, per the Bill James Handbook), Olson gave up plenty of tater’s with the O’s, surrendering 1.15 HR/9. If Olson had remained Baltimore property of had stayed put in Chicago (with an also-unfriendly 3 year HR park factor of 117), he would have been toiling in a stadium ill-suited to his pitching tendencies.

In Seattle, however, things look more promising. Safeco Field is one of the least threatening parks for hurlers, with a three-year run factor of 92 (suppressing offensive production by 8%). Those run-stifling tendencies extend to homers, as Safeco has diminished long-ball levels by 6% from 2006-2008 (94 park factor).

To boot, Olson will now pitch in front of what figures to be one of the absolute best defensive outfields in the game. Seattle’s new front office appears to have made defense a priority, having acquired gifted glove men Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez in a 12-player bonanza that shipped J.J. Putz to Queens (Ronny Cedeno might also fit the “defense-first” bill, depending on what metrics one looks at: he rates well at 2nd base put poorly at shortstop per UZR, but John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system liked his work during his extended big league trial in ’06, giving him a +5 mark). Residing in front of rangy fly-catchers in a pitcher’s park, Olson looks like a more viable fantasy option than he did with either the Orioles of the Cubs.

While acquiring players like Gutierrez, Chavez and Olson will never garner front-page headlines, Jack Zduriencik and company have done a fantastic job of matching team personnel to the tendencies of Seattle’s home ballpark. Olson is certainly no star. But, he might just turn out to be a decent rotation candidate now that he’s pitching in a favorable environment, flanked by three outfielders capable of covering the gaps.


Roy Halladay and Risk

In 2004 and 2005, Roy Halladay missed significant time with first a shoulder injury and then a leg injury. Since then he’s started 31 or more games three consecutive years but some fantasy players still consider him an injury risk. That’s good news as it means that one of the top pitchers in the game doesn’t carry the cost that he could.

In 2008, Halladay led the American League in WHIP (1.053), finished second in Wins (20) and ERA (2.78) and third in strikeouts (206). Yet according to the latest rankings from Mock Draft Central, Halladay is the seventh pitcher off the board, with an ADP of 47 or 30 spots behind Johan Santana.

Last year, Halladay started throwing more cut fastballs. He got more swings outside of the zone and batters made less contact on those swings than they had previously against him. All of that led to a 7.54 K/9, his highest total for any season with more than 17 starts.

There is at least one big concern around Halladay. In 2008, manager John Gibbons let him throw nine complete games, which led to 246 innings, his highest total since 2003. The next year is when Halladay came down with his shoulder injury.

All pitchers carry risk. And perhaps Halladay has slightly more risk than others because of his past injury history. But according to the RotoTimes Player Rater, Halladay was the top pitcher in 2008 with a $34.14 earned dollar value, which was good for eighth overall. It’s up to each fantasy player to weigh the risk and the reward for each player and value them accordingly.

No one can accurately predict the risk of a pitcher coming down with an injury. But most people would say that it is less risky to have a 31-year-old pitcher throw 246 innings than a 26-year-old one throw 266, like Halladay did in 2003.

However, that is not the only risk that owners have to take with Halladay. While he was the top pitcher in 2008, he was outside the top 30 in 2007, when he made 31 starts. Was 2008 simply a career year for Halladay? It was certainly his best to date; but he also has a greater track record than just one season, as he was one of the game’s best in both 2003 and 2006 and was on pace in 2005 before the leg injury.

Fantasy players should look for certainty with their first few picks. But at some point you have to add risk and upside or you are certain to finish out of the money. So far this off-season, owners are saying Halladay’s risk becomes appropriate near the end of the fourth round.


Prospects in Proper Context, Pt. 7: AAA International League

We’re reaching the home stretch in our “Prospects in Proper Context” series, as we turn our attention to the AAA International League today. It’s often said that Triple-A is more of a holding cell for veterans and Quad-A-type players than a level that truly promising youngsters spend a good deal of time at, and this list bears that out. As such, I broke one of my own rules for this list: I lowered the minimum AB necessary to qualify for the list from 200 to 150, to squeeze in a sweet-swinging right fielder for the Reds. The point of these posts is to get a grasp on who has the most potential once age and offensive environment are taken into account. Leaving off Jay Bruce would just be silly. The first two players profiled have the necessary skills to become championship-caliber assets, but the rankings thin out from there.

Here are links to the other six parts of our prospects series:

High-A
Florida State League
Carolina League
California League

Double-A
Texas League
Southern League
Eastern League

(note: 2008 league offensive levels are found courtesy of First Inning. Keep in mind that the league offensive levels are only from one season’s worth of data. Park factors are from 2006-2008 data compiled from Minor League Splits, posted on the Baseball Think Factory site. A park factor of 1.00 is exactly neutral. Anything above 1.00 favors hitters, while anything below 1.00 favors pitchers. The Park Adjusted Line (PAL) and Major League Equivalency (MLE) figures are compiled from Minor League Splits. A 150 AB cut-off was used for the list.)

AAA International League offensive Levels: Singles (0.91), Doubles (1.02), Triples (1.01), Home Runs (0.99)

1. Jay Bruce, Reds: .437 wOBA (.364/.393/.630)
Age: 21 (22 in April)
Position: RF
2006-2008 Park Factor (Louisville): Runs (1.05), Hits (1.03), Doubles (1.00), Home Runs (0.97)
Park Adjusted Line (PAL): .359/.388/.641
Major League Equivalency (MLE): .310/.333/.540

The amateur draft has justifiably been called a crapshoot. Despite the presence of highly talented and nuanced scouting departments that check and cross-check hundreds of players each year, there is a high degree of volatility in the process. Baseball’s draft just isn’t like those of its professional contemporaries, the NBA and the NFL; most players selected have plenty of development left and are years away from contributing at the highest level. Because of this, the amateur draft’s history is littered with high picks who just never refined their skills or ultimately had a flaw that kept them from reaching the lofty standards set by the player’s organization.

The outfield class from the 2005 draft, however, is shaping up to be an exception to the rule. Take a look at the absurd amount of fly-catching talent: first-round selections included Justin Upton (quickly moved off shortstop, Ryan Braun (sent to left field after a, ahem, bad year at third base), Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus and Travis Buck. Ellsbury looks more solid than spectacular and Buck has endured some injury problems, but Upton, Braun, Maybin, McCutchen, Bruce and Rasmus could all be described as organizational pillars. Teams could have played “pin-the-tail-on-the-outfield-prospect” and came away with a stud.

Bruce’s exploits have already been covered here in detail. Suffice it to say, a guy who posts a near-.200 ISO when he’s just barely old enough to drink deserves plenty of acclaim. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the article:

“Bruce is obviously an extremely valuable long-term property. In keeper leagues, he should be near the top of your list. However, I would caution against going too hog-wild for him in 2009. He’s a very bright young player with star-caliber talent, but he also has some rough edges to smooth out in the plate discipline department. Select Bruce knowing that he has the ability to become a star, but also knowing that he might not quite reach that level this upcoming season.”

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: .347 wOBA (.283/.372/.398)
Age: 22 (21 during ’08 season)
Position: CF
2006-2008 Park Factor (Indianapolis): R (0.99), H (1.01), 2B (1.00), HR (0.98)
PAL: .278/.367/.391
MLE: .238/.313/.325

As noted above, McCutchen was part of that ridiculous 2005 outfield crop. While the Fort Meade (FL) native might lack the punch of prospect contemporaries like Bruce, Maybin and Rasmus, McCutchen more than held his own as a 21 year-old in AAA. The 5-11, 175 pounder probably won’t hit for more than doubles power, though some (including ESPN’s Keith Law) feel that there might be more thump to come if he alters his swing:

“McCutchen has strong wrists and forearms and makes hard contact, but doesn’t get his lower half involved at all and thus hasn’t hit for the kind of power he’s capable of producing.”

Law also rightly points out that McCutchen has been pushed up the ladder pretty rapidly, skipping High-A ball entirely by jumping straight from the South Atlantic League to the Eastern League in 2006. McCutchen made excellent strides in working the count at Indianapolis this past year, raising his walk rate from about 8% in years past to 11.7%, while also cutting his K rate to 17%. An excellent athlete, McCutchen remains pretty raw on the base paths (he swiped 34 bags in ’08, but he was caught 19 times for a poor 64% success rate) but has shown plenty of range in the field.

His plus glove will likely move incumbent Nate McLouth out of center field sooner rather than later, a positive development despite McLouth’s odd Gold Glove selection. Both John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system (-40) and our UZR data (-15.1 UZR/150) suggest that Nate is stretched patrolling center. Moving McLouth to a corner and inserting McCutchen should aid a beleaguered Pittsburgh pitching staff.

For more on McCutchen, check out Peter Bendix’s article here.

3. Jed Lowrie, Red Sox: .350 wOBA (.268/.359/.434)
Age: 24 (25 in April)
Position: SS
2006-2008 Park Factor (Pawtucket): R (1.02), H (1.00), 2B (0.97), HR (1.18)
PAL: .263/.355/.419
MLE: .224/.299/.351

This switch-hitting Stanford product has made steady progress since the Red Sox selected him in the supplemental 1st round of the 2005 amateur draft. A career .281/.387/.446 minor league hitter, Lowrie has a discerning eye at the plate that helped him draw a walk 13.5% of the time at Pawtucket. Making his major league debut while filling in for an injured Julio Lugo, Lowrie performed admirably, batting .258/.339/.400 in 306 PA. Jed does not possess a whole lot of power in his 6-0, 190 pound frame, but his combination of walks and doubles power could make him an asset to the Sox. To boot, Lowrie’s defensive scouting reports are reading better these days, and his initial work in Boston rated well.

There are some negatives, though: at 25, Lowrie probably does not have a whole lot of development left in him, meaning what you see is what you get, and his strikeout rates have elevated as he’s ascended through the farm system.

In 2009, Lowrie will battle the incumbent Lugo for the starting shortstop gig. Lugo hasn’t really hit much since signing a 4-year, $36M deal with the Sox before the 2007 season. The 33 year-old has posted wOBA’s of .293 and 317 in ’07 and ’08, respectively. CHONE projects Lugo to post a .319 wOBA in 2009, compared to .335 for Lowrie. One could make the argument that Lugo’s glove makes the difference, but Lugo has posted two campaigns in negative UZR/150 territory over the past three seasons. Lowrie appears to be the superior player at this point, though it’s not a runaway win.

For more on Lowrie, check out Brian Joura’s article here.

4. Matthew Joyce, Rays: .384 wOBA (.270/.352/.550)
Age: 24 (23 during ’08 season)
Position: OF
2006-2008 Park Factor (Toledo): R (0.95), H (0.98), 2B (1.07), HR (0.90)
PAL: .275/.357/.565
MLE: .234/.304/.463

Before Joyce was shipped to Tampa Bay for Edwin Jackson in a rather questionable swap for the Tigers, he mashed for Toledo in the International League and more than held his own in Detroit. In the articled linked to above, Dave Cameron compares Joyce to a Jayson Werth-type player, and the comparison seems apt from this writer’s vantage point. Both are very rangy corner outfielders who absolutely mash opposite-handed pitching, while having some issues with same-side hurlers.

While Werth is a right-handed hitter demolishing southpaws, the lefty-swinging Joyce hammers righties. In his minor league career, the Florida Southern product has batted .294/.355/.475 versus right-handers, compared to .239/.328/.393 versus those pesky left-handers. In 2008, Joyce creamed International League righties to the tune of .286/.366/.610 and continued to treat them rudely in the majors (.255/.333/.509). Overall, the 12th-round selection in the ’05 draft posted a .355 wOBA in his first big league action, with an 11.4 BB%.

Joyce is certainly not a perfect player-he has issues with lefties and will swing and miss pretty frequently- but if properly utilized, he could be a large asset to both the Rays and fantasy owners alike. In his article examining Joyce, Peter Bendix summed it up perfectly:

“Matt Joyce is probably not a top tier fantasy outfielder, thanks to his struggles against left handed pitching. However, there are far more righties than lefties out there for him to face, and Joyce should mash against righties, and could supply 25-30 homers even if he’s platooned, thus making him a very valuable commodity late in drafts.”

5. Denard Span, Twins: .407 wOBA (.340/.434/.481)
Age: 24 (25 in February)
Position: OF
2006-2008 Park Factor (Rochester): R (1.00), H (1.00), 2B (1.03), HR (1.00)
PAL: .346/.440/.487
MLE: .298/.379/.391

Entering the 2008 season, Span was fighting for his prospect life. The 2002 first-round pick had been a perennial disappointment, posting a lukewarm .282/.349/.347 career line through 2007. In 2008, it was almost as if Span emerged as a new player, doing his best Kenny Lofton impersonation along the way.

While Span’s AAA work was batting average-fueled, his time with the Twins was pretty impressive: in 411 PA, he drew a free pass 12.6% of the time and compiled a .387 OBP. I took a look at Span earlier this offseason, attempting to figure out whether or not his ’08 showing was just a flash in the pan or a harbinger of things to come. While I wouldn’t go quite so far as to expect a repeat performance, I think that Span has made some legitimate changes that portend to long-term success:

“Ordinarily, one might regard Span’s season as a blip, a flash in the pan. How often does a career disappointment suddenly start raking in the majors? However, there are some reasons to think that Span made some legitimate improvements in his game this past season. He drew walks at a 12.6% clip for the Twinkies while keeping his K rate in check (17.3%). His contact rate was a healthy 88.7%, and he almost never strayed from the strike zone, with an OSwing% of just 16.7%. That was the 10th-lowest figure among batters with at least 400 PA. Span’s stolen base prowess improved somewhat, at least to the point where he wasn’t harming his team (using the .22 run value for a SB and the -.38 value for a CS, Span’s 18/25 season came out to a net positive of 1.3 runs).”

“It’s not that uncommon for a player to experience a single-season hike in batting average or power, but it’s far more rare for a batter to show much-improved plate patience and then give all of those gains back the following year. Span’s increased walk rate and very low O-Swing% paint the picture of a hitter who refined his control of the strike zone and took a more mature approach with him to the batter’s box.”

If Span retains the patient approach that he brought with him to Minnesota, he could be a valuable commodity as a high-OBP player with some speed.


Lyon the Tiger

In many respects, the Detroit Tigers were a disappointing entity in 2008. Preseason prognosticators held a generally sunny outlook for the men from the Motor City on the belief that a Miguel Cabrera-infused offense and a Justin Verlander/Jeremy Bonderman-led rotation would lead to a postseason berth. Instead, Detroit limped to a 74-88 record and a similarly disappointing 78-84 Pythagorean Record.

While the offense didn’t reach the hyperbolic expectations that some held, the Tigers did plate the 4th-most runs in the American League. Where the team truly disappointed was in the run-prevention department: the club ranked 26th in starter FIP, and the bullpen also turned in a wretched performance, ranking 27th in both FIP and WPA. Detroit’s lackluster leather didn’t help things (they ranked 24th in Defensive Efficiency and 27th in UZR/150), but injuries and poor showings on the mound doomed the Tigers to a distant fourth-place finish.

Detroit ostensibly took a step toward fixing their leaky bullpen, inking former Blue Jay, Red Sock and D-Back Brandon Lyon to a one-year, $4.25M deal. Just how much will the 29 year-old aid the Tigers in upgrading a depleted ‘pen?

Lyon’s last three campaigns are a great example of why ERA is such a misleading statistic for relievers. Based on his ERA’s…

2006: 3.89
2007: 2.68
2008: 4.70

..one would assume that Lyon was decent in ’06, great in ’07 and kind of lousy in 2008. However, not a whole lot changed in Lyon’s repeatable skills over that time frame. Rather, the flyball righty (career 41.6 GB%) was the beneficiary of an extremely low HR/FB rate during that superficially impressive 2007 season: only 2.2% of Lyon’s flyballs left the ballpark that year, compared to 9.7% in ’06 and 9% in ’08. After that run of good luck in 2007, Lyon had the misfortune of posting a .355 BABIP this past year.

Here’s a look at his three-year Expected Fielding Independent ERA (XFIP), which evaluates a pitcher based on his strikeouts, walks and a normalized HR/FB rate (thus rooting out Lyon’s wacky ’07 campaign):

2006: 4.18 XFIP
2007: 4.78 XFIP
2008: 4.33 XFIP

As you can see, Lyon’s ’07 season was actually his least effective campaign in recent years. On the positive side, Lyon posted the best walk rate of his career in 2008 (1.97 BB/9) and his K rate (6.67) was the highest since his lone season with Boston in 2003.

Marcel projects Lyon to pitch 62 frames in 2009, with a 3.98 FIP. That projection was made before Lyon switched to the DH league. He will however be moving from a great hitter’s park (Chase Field) to a slight hitter’s venue in Comerica Park. Let’s say that Lyon’s projection increases slightly, to a 4.05 FIP. Given those parameters, Lyon’s fastball/curve mix figures to be worth about 5 runs above what a replacement-level reliever (4.75 FIP) would produce. If we multiply Lyon’s 5 RAR by the average Leverage Index of a closer (about 1.8) to give him some additional credit for pitching more critical innings, he figures to be worth about .9 WAR, or about $4.05 million using a $4.5M/WAR scale.

So, Lyon figures to be worth most of the money that the Tigers will pay him, and he is coming off a season in which he posted the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. Adding a guy like Brandon Lyon to a club’s bullpen is not in itself a problem. Where the problems lies for the Tigers is that Lyon just might be the best option that they have for the late innings, considering Fernando Rodney’s flammability and Joel Zumaya’s tenuous health.

Lyon seems like the guy who’s going to rack up the glory stat in Detroit, so he merits attention on draft day. Just don’t reach for him- plenty of other relievers have similar skill sets and talent levels. The only thing that separates Lyon is that he enters the game in the 9th inning with a lead between one and three runs.


Jhonny Peralta and Second Tier SS

The shortstop position in fantasy baseball as we head towards the 2009 season has three players in the top tier and around 10 players fighting for position in the second tier. One of the interesting players is Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta. In three of the past four years, Peralta has delivered good numbers in home runs, runs and RBIs. Last year he led all shortstops in RBIs and finished third in both runs and HRs. Unfortunately, he contributes nothing in steals and his average has not been a plus since 2005.

Last year, Peralta’s numbers benefited by him putting more balls in play. Both his BB% and SO% decreased as he set career highs in five plate discipline metrics. He had 17 more plate appearances than 2007 but 51 more balls where he made contact. Peralta’s BABIP was his lowest since becoming a full-time player in 2005 but he posted his second-best fantasy season, going .276-23-89-104-3.

A switch in the batting order also helped Peralta’s 2008 numbers. Last year he spent much of the year in the cleanup spot after hitting fifth, sixth or seventh most of the year in 2007. As the Indians did not add a slugger in the off-season, Peralta still figures to hit in the heart of the order, which should keep his RBI numbers high.

Peralta should be a pretty good bet to match last year’s numbers. What is harder to say is where fantasy owners should target him. One ADP report has him at #83, which is at the end of the seventh round. Another report has him at #117, which is in the middle of the 10th round. This is a pretty big discrepancy, but perfectly reasonable given how bunched up the second tier of shortstops actually are.

One of the keys to being a successful fantasy player is understanding the ebb and flow of your draft. Even if you rank Peralta as the fourth-best shortstop in fantasy, is there any reason to draft him in the seventh round if J.J. Hardy, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Young, Stephen Drew and Derek Jeter are all still available?

Peralta should put up good fantasy numbers once again in 2009. But he is just one of many middle-class options at shortstop. You should feel good if you wind up with Peralta as your starting shortstop. Just remember not to reach or overpay for the privilege.


Life is Unfair, Starring Robert Andino

After hitting below .190 in his first two pro seasons combined (479 at-bats), it looked like Robert Andino was going to be a bust. The 2002 second round draft pick out of high school improved the next season, though, and hit .280 between two A-ball levels. At the end of 2005, he earned a late-season call-up to Florida and played in 17 games but hit just .159/.245/.250.

In 2006, Andino began his first of three straight seasons in Triple-A. He hit .256/.304/.364 and received another brief call-up to the Majors. The next season, the shortstop had his best full season in the minors and hit .278/.322/.428 in 598 at-bats with 13 triples, 13 home runs and 21 stolen bases (although he was caught 13 times). Andino received his third Major League stint and appeared in seven games.

Finally, in 2008, the Miami native had the chance to spend some significant time in Florida. He appeared in just 43 Triple-A games, while spending the rest of the season in the Majors. That said, he managed to get into just 44 games and had only 63 at-bats while hitting .206/.254/.333 with an ISO of .127. He also posted rates of 6.0 BB% and 36.5 K% while being shuttled between the Majors and Triple-A all season long.

Recently in the newspaper, Andino expressed a desire to play or be traded. It’s not surprising that the 24 year old does not see a future for himself in Florida with Hanley Ramirez at shortstop (.308/.400/.540 career) and Dan Uggla at second base (.262/.341/.490 career). The club also traded for young second baseman Emilio Bonifacio earlier in the off-season. The problem for Andino, though, is that he has little trade value at this point because he has yet to prove that he can hit Major League pitching.

Andino is also out of options, which means he’ll have to go through waivers if Florida attempts to send him down at any point in 2009. The Pittsburgh Pirates were rumored to have been interested in Andino earlier in the winter. There is a lot of varying thought on Andino, who strikes out way too much for a player with modest power. He also does not take advantage of his speed due to poor instincts on the base paths. The CHONE projection system suggests a 2009 line of .237/.296/.352 (in 489 at-bats), while Marcel projects .262/.326/.410 (in 219 at-bats).

It’s possible that everything could click for the athletic Andino is 2009, but a lot of things have to go right for that to happen, including a trade or waiver claim to get him out of Florida.