Archive for July, 2009

The N.L. Closer Report: 7/31

For the purposes of the “Closer Report” (which will be a weekly feature), we’ll place the relief aces in one of three categories: Death Grip (these guys have no chance of relinquishing the closer’s role; think Mo Rivera), In Control (a good chance of continuing to rack up the saves) and Watch Your Back (the set-up man is planning a coup d’etat as we speak).

(Quick Note: The N.L. Closer Report might be a little shorter than normal this week: with the trade deadline today, our site’s bandwidth is getting one heck of a test, and accessing the player pages is taking longer).

Death Grip

Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers

Big Jon tossed a scoreless inning vs. Florida on the 25th (earning his 7th win of the year), but he blew a save chance in an epic extra-inning affair vs. St. Louis on the 29th. He did rebound to pick up his 24th save against the Cards last night, however. Hampered by a toe injury, Broxton has issued 7 walks in 11 innings during July. After posting insanely low BABIP figures in April (.118) and May (.224), Broxton has been plagued by plenty of bloops and duck snorts in June (.333) and July (.320). George Sherrill is now in town, but there’s no reason to think he’ll mount any sort of challenge for the closer’s role.

Heath Bell, Padres

Bell chucked just one inning for the Fathers this week, notching his 25th save vs. the Reds on the 28th. Heath’s walk rate has remained similar to his 2008 mark (3.3 BB/9 this year, 3.2 in ’08), but his K rate has spiked to 10.7 per nine. Bell has taken the punch out act to a new level this month, with 12 K’s in 6.2 IP.

Trevor Hoffman, Brewers

Trevor appeared twice this past week, issuing 2 walks in 0.2 IP against Washington on the 28th and collecting a save (2 K, 1 H) vs. the Nats the next night. Hoffman has yet to be taken deep in 30 IP. That figures to end sometime soon, though the has raised his groundball rate drastically over the past three seasons (from 30.2% to 44.8%) while lower his FB% from 37.2 to 24.1.

Huston Street, Rockies

Equipped with a nasty slider, Street continues to slaughter opposing hitters in the late innings. Huston has allowed just one run during July, with 11 K’s, no walks and 2 hits allowed. Obviously, he’s had some good fortune to allow so few base runners (.105 BABIP), but it’s hard to argue with the results. Street’s 5 K/BB ratio is nearly double his 2008 mark (2.56).

Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks

Qualls is clearly back on track, posting a .229/.245/.271 opponent line in July after June’s .279/.279/.535 mark. He’s not punching out many hitters as of late (4.57 K/9 in June and July, after posting a 9.86 figure in April in May), but the sinkerball pitcher has issued just a single walk over his past 21.2 innings, and holds a 58% groundball rate for the season.

Francisco Rodriguez, Mets

K-Rod coughed up 3 hits, 2 R and a HR against the Astros on the 25th, then threw a scoreless inning vs. Colorado in a none-save chance on the 27th. While his cursory ERA or save numbers won’t reflect it, Rodriguez’s peripherals continue to erode. His K/BB ratio this season is just 1.92, down for the fourth straight season.

In Control

Jose Valverde, Astros

Did I curse Valverde or something? After we mentioned his increase O-Swing% and pretty solid control, Papa Grande issued 5 walks in 2.1 innings vs. the Cubs on the 27th and 28th. Though neither was a save chance, Valverde evaded danger and escaped with his scoreless innings streak intact (9.2 IP since the Fourth of July).

Rafael Soriano, Braves

Watch Out For: Mike Gonzalez

Perhaps it’s time to move Soriano up. The former Mariner has a sparkling 4.06 K/BB ratio in 2009. Gonzalez (3.15) has certainly been no slouch, but Soriano has taken the last nine saves for the Braves. Health permitting, Soriano is an elite fantasy option. Alas, it’s hard to put him in “Death Grip” territory when he has missed so much time during the course of his career.

Brian Wilson, Giants

Wilson notched 2 saves and a W this week, with 4 K’s in 3 IP. San Fran’s stopper has gradually given up fewer extra base hits as the year has gone on:

Slugging Pct. by month:

April: .390
May: .380
June: .227
July: .189

Francisco Cordero, Reds

Much like the other N.L. closer named Francisco, Cordero has a great-looking ERA (1.79) with murkier peripherals. Co-Co has an uncharacteristic 7.4 K/9 mark (9.3 career), but a low .252 BABIP and HR rate (0.4 per nine) have made him look like a lock-down reliever. Is the 34 year-old losing the ability to fool hitters? His swinging strike percentage is down for a third straight season, and is his lowest rate going back to 2003.

Ryan Franklin, Cardinals

I know that I must sound like a broken record regarding Franklin, but he’s a good middle reliever enjoying the season of his life. With 6.8 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, the 36 year-old is hardly pitching poorly. But a 1.36 ERA? With a .223 BABIP? That bushy goatee must have some talismanic power.

Matt Capps, Pirates

Just when it looked like Capps might be turning a corner, he has done his best Mike Williams impression as of late. Matt gave up 2 runs (including a homer to rookie Gerardo Parra) on the 26th, then took a loss in an extra-inning contest with the Giants on the 29th. A .358 BABIP has certainly done him no favors, but Capps’ usual pristine control has not been present. He has walked 4 batters per nine innings, leaps and bounds above his career 1.7 mark. Capps’ name has often come up in trade rumors, but the Bucs would likely be selling low if they part with him.

Brad Lidge, Phillies

Watch Out For: Ryan Madson

The embattled Lidge threw two spotless innings in non-save ops on the 26th (Cardinals) and 27th (D-Backs), but he then served up two runs (including a dinger to Mark Reynolds) against Arizona on the 28th. With 5.7 BB/9, “Lights Out” has been sub-replacement level in 2009.

Watch Your Back

Kevin Gregg, Cubs

Watch out for: Carlos Marmol, John Grabow

Gregg gave up 3 hits and two runs against Cincy on the 24th, collected two very cheap 0.1 inning saves vs. the Reds the next two nights, then struck out the side in a non-save change against Houston yesterday. Grabow was brought in from the ‘Burgh, but the changeup artist has often missed the mark this season (5.3 BB/9, the 3rd straight year that his walk rate has increased). Odds are, Gregg has nothing to worry about.

Matt Lindstrom (right elbow sprain) on the DL; Leo Nunez is filling in

Watch Out For: Dan Meyer

Lindstrom is near a return to action, and is expected to resume closer duties. Hopefully the time off aided the former Met’s MIA control and lowered swinging strike rate:

2007: 34.7 Ball%, 12 SwStrike%
2008: 34.8 Ball%, 9.4 SwStr%
2009: 37.5 Ball%, 8.9 SwStr%

(the averages for a reliever are 36.5 and 9.5, respectively)

Mike MacDougal/Joe Beimel/Sean Burnett, Nationals

Not to be rude, but does it even matter? The last save recorded by a Nats pitcher went to MacDougal, all the way back on the 22nd. In most ‘pens, Mac would be on the brink of an all expenses paid trip back to the International League (10/16 K/BB in 23.1 IP). Want an example of velocity being only one component of an effective fastball? MacDougal chucks his in the mid-90’s, yet has a swinging strike rate (4.1%) is less than half the average rate for relievers (9.5%).


Interesting Week 18 Two-Start Pitchers

Everyone is happy when one of their pitchers is scheduled for two starts in a week. But that is not always a good thing. Here are five pitchers you may be on the fence about (or should be on the fence) putting into your lineup for Week 18

Scott Baker – Home runs have been the downfall of Baker this season. In his first 10 games of the season, Baker allowed 15 HR in 59.2 IP. But since then, Baker has permitted just 5 HR in his last 50.2 innings. He is 5-1 in that stretch with a 3.86 ERA. Make sure Baker is active for his two road starts this week. Away from the Metrodome, Baker’s ERA is a full run lower than his home mark.

Mat Latos – Despite some trouble with the gopher ball (4 HR in 16.2 IP), Latos has been very impressive in his first three starts. He has a 3.25 K/BB ratio and is averaging 7.02 K/9. Latos’ fastball averages 94.7 and he relies upon it heavily, throwing it over 72 percent of the time. Get him on your roster and active for his home starts this week against the Braves and Mets.

Charlie Morton – Six of his first eight starts for the Pirates have come on the road. This week the people of Pittsburgh will get to see their recent acquisition live two times. In his first two appearances at PNC, Morton has allowed just three runs in 14 IP. Morton has been solid overall for the Pirates, posting a FIP nearly identical to his ERA and averaging 6.52 K/9. Most likely still available on the waiver wire in your league, Morton is a potential keeper for the rest of the season and a nice play for his two home starts this week.

Brad Penny – In his last seven outings, Penny is 1-3 with a 5.31 ERA. He is not getting better with regular work and depending on what the Red Sox do later today, with the trade deadline looming, his rotation spot could disappear, too. So, do not expect two starts from Penny and if he does go twice, do not expect performances that will help your fantasy team.

Randy Wells – His last two full seasons in Triple-A, Wells allowed BABIPs of .345 and .325 with identical 69.5 percent strand rates each year. So, this year in the majors he has a .278 BABIP and an 80.6 percent strand rate. This seems like as good a week as any for the luck to run out, with road starts at the Great American Ball Park and at Coors Field. Put him on the bench.

Other scheduled two-start pitchers in Week 18 are listed below. Please remember that these are projected pitchers and changes can and will happen between now and next week.

J. Santana, Verlander, Greinke, Cain, J. Vazquez, Haren, J. Johnson, Lackey, Kershaw, Chamberlain, Duke, Kazmir, Harang, Kuroda, Feldman, B. Anderson, Hochevar, Bergesen, Parra, Moyer, Kawakami, Tillman, Hammel, Contreras, Rowland-Smith, Hampton, Stuaffer, G. Gonzalez, French, Holland, Laffey, Petit, Mock, Martin

Check back Sunday for an update of two-start pitchers.

Now, I would like to take a step back and provide some accountability for previous picks. There needs to be a two-week time lag because last week’s pitchers have yet to complete their second start. So here are my selections for Week 16 and how they did.

Blackburn – Advised to sit. 13.50 ERA, 0 K (!), 2.31 WHIP (2 starts)
Cecil – Advised to start. W, 0.64 ERA, 16 Ks, 1.29 WHIP (2)
Gaudin – Advised to start. 2.77 ERA, 7 Ks, 1.38 WHIP (2)
Lohse – Advised to sit. 4.91 ERA, 8 Ks, 1.27 WHIP (2)
E. Santana – Advised to start. W, 10.24 ERA, 11 Ks, 1.76 WHIP (2)


A.L. Closer Report: 7/31

For the purposes of the “Closer Report” (which will be a weekly feature), we’ll place the relief aces in one of three categories: Death Grip (these guys have no chance of relinquishing the closer’s role; think Mo Rivera), In Control (a good chance of continuing to rack up the saves) and Watch Your Back (the set-up man is planning a coup d’etat as we speak).

Death Grip

Mariano Rivera, Yankees

It was more of the same for Rivera this week, as he tossed two innings (one save) while punching out four hitters. Opponents have made more contact against Mo this season (his Z-Contact% of 90.4 is by far the highest we have dating back to 2002), yet he has the highest K rate (10.18) since 1996. Rivera’s swinging strike percentage is down for a third straight season (from 11.8% in ’07 to 7.9% in ’09; 9.5% average for relievers), but he has seen an increase on his called strike percentage (17.7% to 20.2%; 16.1% average for relievers).

Over that same span, hitters are swinging at fewer of Rivera’s pitches within the zone (66.8% in ’07 to 61.9% in ’09; 65.7% MLB average). Mo is putting fewer of his pitches within the zone (53.4% in ’07 to 46.3% this season), and hitters are still swinging at the same number of outside pitches (about 35%). However, they’re making over 10 percent more contact with those outside pitches, which helps to explain the increase in Rivera’s foul ball percentage (23.1% this season; 17.8% average for relievers).

All of that is a rambling way of saying:

– more called strikes, due to a decrease in Z-Swing%, fewer swinging strikes due to an increase in Z-Contact%
-Rivera is putting fewer pitches in the zone, but hitters are still happily chasing a ton of those offerings. They’re making contact more often on those outside pitches, which has led to an increase in foul balls (which puts Mo up in the count and makes it easier for him to K a batter)

Rivera might not be outright dominating hitters as often by making them swing and miss, but opponents have actually put the ball in play just 16.5% of the time this year, according to StatCorner (his lowest rate dating back to 2003).

Joe Nathan, Twins

Joe recorded three saves this week (taking him up to 29 for the year), working 2.1 spotless innings as the Twins took three from the White Sox. The 34 year-old has shown no signs of decline in 2009. His 5.44 K/BB ratio is the second-highest mark of his career (5.94 in 2006), and his 66.7 First-Pitch Strike% is the highest we have dating back to 2002. Hitters have just a 13% line drive rate against the Minnesota relief ace, and they’re getting jammed often. Joe holds a 20.5 Infield/Flyball rate, third among all relievers.

Joakim Soria, Royals

The Mexicutioner had a busy, successful week. The former starter recorded a (gasp!) six-out save on the 25th vs. Texas, then collected two more saves against the O’s on the 27th and 28th. Soria has a devastating 14/1 K/BB in 11 July innings. The 25 year-old is garnering outside swings at a career-best 30.9 percent clip.

Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

Papelbon endured a rocky week. He recorded a save vs. Baltimore on the 24th while giving up two hits and a walk, then was smacked for 3 H, 3 R and a walk against the A’s on the 28th. He did notch a silent save against Oakland yesterday. The 28 year-old has been at less than his best this season: his walk rate remains above four (4.09 BB/9), with a 3.69 FIP that’s a full run higher than his career mark.

J.P. Howell, Rays

J.P. continues to roll, with three innings of scoreless relief (one save, one win) and 4 K’s since out last Closer Report. Howell was very impressive in 2008, but he’s been even better this season. His K/BB ratio has climbed from 2.36 to 3.08, he’s inducing more outside swings (22.2% to 26.9%), and he has lowered an already-stellar contact rate (73.8% to 68.1%).

Bobby Jenks, White Sox

Bobby has hardly been King of the Hill in July. In 7.1 frames, he has served up 13 hits, 8 runs and 4 walks. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Jenks may be able to be acquired at a less-than-premium price from an angered owner. His 4.33 ERA looks horribly disappointing, but Jenks has suffered from a .338 BABIP, with a HR/FB rate (15.2%) way above his career average (8.7). His K/BB for the season is 3.7, well above 2008’s 2.24 mark. It may sound crazy at first, but Jenks’ 2009 is probably better than his 2008 work, bloated ERA and all.

Andrew Bailey, Athletics

Overall, Bailey has turned in a superb rookie season. He has whiffed 10.2 per nine innings, with 3.30 BB/9 and a 2.75 FIP. Perhaps he’s tiring a bit, though. The 6-3 righty has given up 4 runs in 7.1 IP since July 19th, with 8 H surrendered. He’s a converted starter, but Bailey has thrown more innings than every reliever except Chicago’s D.J. Carrasco and Los Angeles’ Ramon Troncoso.

David Aardsma, Mariners

Outside of a nightmarish, 5-run drubbing by the Orioles on July 8th, Aardsma has not been scored upon this month. While the well-traveled righty will never be known for surgical control, his wild tendencies have at least been partially under control over June and July (3.38 BB/9 in 24 IP). Aardsma’s approach is pretty darned simple: throw one mid-90’s fastball after another (he has used the pitch over 88% of the time), with excellent returns (+2.16 runs/100). Opponents aren’t chasing his stuff out of the zone often (20.1 O-Swing%, about 5 percent below the MLB avg.), but they’re having problems connecting when Aardsma does put one over the plate (his 77.1 Z-Contact% is over 10 percent below the MLB avg).

In Control

Brian Fuentes, Angels

L.A.’s stopper had been money for most of July (8.1 IP, 7 K, 2 BB from 7/2 to 7/23), but Fuentes has been anything but en fuego in his last two appearances. In two spots vs. the Indians on the 27th and 28th, the lefty was mauled for 6 runs, 6 hits and two homers, without retiring a single batter. Fuentes’ 4.29 ERA overstates his struggles (his FIP is 3.78), but he hasn’t exactly been a shut-down option in high-leverage situations (his WPA is +0.45). The soon-to-be 34 year-old’s 90 MPH fastball has been effective (+0.84 runs/100 pitches), but his slurvy mid-70’s breaking pitch (-0.40) and changeup (-3.59) are not getting the job done.

Scott Downs, Blue Jays

Downs posted minuscule walk rates earlier in the season by virtue of getting a boatload of swings on pitches off the plate (his O-Swing% for the season sits at 34.8%). Will opposing batters continue to be fooled by his sinking high-80’s heater and big curve? Scott has surrendered 7 runs in 6.2 July innings, with 6 free passes. Downs’ O-Swing% has remained lofty this month (37.7%), but he has placed just 42.1% of his pitches within the zone (49.3% MLB avg), with a First-Pitch Strike% of only 52.6 (58.2 MLB avg). One bad month isn’t cause for panic, but you would think that hitters would begin to show more restraint if Downs continues to miss the mark with his stuff.

Kerry Wood, Indians

Woody only worked once this week for the under-construction Indians, notching a save vs. the Angels on the 27th. The 32 year-old’s main issue for the season has been fastball control: his mid-90’s gas has posted a run value of -1.07, while Wood’s near-90 MPH cutter/slider (+0.61) and 80 MPH curve (+1.87) have often had the desired effect. With a -0.53 WPA for the season, Kerry has been exactly replacement-level to this point a year after notching 2.2 WAR with the Cubs. Paying good money for even established relievers is a risky proposition, as the Tribe will surely attest.

C.J. Wilson, Rangers (Frank Francisco on the DL yet again, this time with pneumonia)

Francisco is making progress toward a return, but Wilson surely wouldn’t mind if the seemingly cursed closer takes his time on the rehab trail. The 28 year-old lefty has punched out 8.6 batters per nine innings, with 3.8 BB/9 in 45 IP. There’s nothing wrong with those rates, but Wilson’s 2.80 ERA is pretty far ahead of his 3.61 XFIP.

Fernando Rodney, Tigers

Rodney has given up just one run this month, with 12 K and 4 BB in 9 IP. The changeup-centric reliever does not appear to have any immediate threats challenging him for 9th-inning duty. Rodney is pulling the string even more than usual in 2009, throwing his 84 MPH changeup 42.1% of the time, with a +2.65 run value per 100 pitches (his best mark since 2005).

Jim Johnson, Orioles

With George Sherrill now in Dodger blue, the 26 year-old Johnson would appear to be the best candidate to claim the closer role.

A 5th-round pick by the O’s back in 2001, Johnson looks like a power pitcher but isn’t. Sure, he’s 6-5, 225 and chucks his fastball near 95, but he has a career 5.46 K/9 mark in the majors. Johnson posted a dubious 2.23 ERA in 2008- he posted rates of 4.98 K/9 and 3.67 BB/9, but managed not to give up a single dinger in 68.2 IP. To his credit, he has improved his peripherals in ’09 (6.52 K/9, 2.98 BB/9 in 48.1 IP). Johnson uses the aforementioned fastball more than three quarters of the time to induce grounders (the pitch has 8.2 inches of tailing action on righties, over 2 inches above the norm). With that offering, as well as an 80 MPH curve and a hard changeup, Johnson has induced grounders at a 55.6% clip during his career.

Watch Your Back

No one, at the moment.


Andy Marte: Prospect or Suspect?

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, Andy Marte was considered one of the best prospects in all the land. The Dominican third baseman signed with the Atlanta Braves back in 2000, and by the time 2004 season came to an end, few doubted that he was a future star.

Marte had the glowing scouting reports. In its 2005 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America gushed that his “ability to drive the ball to all fields is outstanding and getting better”, while also claiming that “his potential as an all-around impact player is unquestioned.”

Marte had the numbers as well. As a 19 year-old playing in the High-A Carolina League in 2003, the righty batter compiled a .285/.372/.469 line in 541 plate appearances. His K rate was somewhat high (20.1% of his PA), but not prohibitively so. Marte displayed power (.184 ISO) and patience (12.4 BB%) as a teenager in advanced A-Ball, a level where most players are closer to the legal drinking age.

The 6-1, 205 pounder followed that up with another tasty .269/.364/.525 triple-slash in 450 PA at AA Greenville in 2004. He maintained his control of the zone (12.9 BB%), while hitting for a ton of power (.256 ISO). The K rate crept up a little (23.3%), but it wasn’t as though he was the Chris Davis of the Southern League or anything.

As a 21 year-old in the AAA International League in 2005, Marte managed to post a .275/.372/.506 line in 460 PA. It was more of the same for Marte: walks (13.9 BB%) and extra-base hits (.231 ISO) by the bucketful. Even his whiff rate headed in the right direction, as Marte punched out just 18 percent of the time. His first exposure to the major leagues was certainly nothing to brag about (.140/.227/.211 with Atlanta), but 66 plate appearances of poor hitting were hardly cause for great alarm.

It was mighty difficult to punch a hole in his prospect status at this point. Andy was young relative to the levels at which he played. He showed a keen eye at the plate. He seemed to tame his contact issues. Heck, even his defense was sweet. Marte looked like yet another home-grown star for the Braves.

Then, something very peculiar happened. The Braves traded their gifted young third baseman, shipping him to Boston for Edgar Renteria in December of 2005. Young, cost-controlled players are worth their weight in gold (and top-rated position players tend to fair the best), so seeing Marte switch unis was hardly expected.

Then, we seemed to enter the Twilight Zone when the Sox then re-gifted him to the Indians in January of 2006, as part of a trade to acquire Coco Crisp. A top-rated prospect traded twice in one-offseason? Nonetheless, Baseball America remained steadfast: Marte possessed “everything teams want in a third baseman”, according to the 2006 Prospect Handbook.

Now Tribe property, Marte was sent to AAA Buffalo to begin the ’06 season. The 22 year-old, who demolished the International League the prior year, was…just okay. In 394 PA, Marte batted a rather tame .261/.322/.451. His once-pristine control of the strike zone went a little south (8.7 BB%, 22.7 K%), but the Indians were still anxious to try out their shiny new hot corner prospect. The club called him up in late July. Marte’s first extended time in the bigs wasn’t really anything to write John Schierholtz about, though. In 178 PA, Andy hit .226/.287/.421, with a 7.3 BB% and a 23.3% whiff rate.

While Marte didn’t exactly hit the ground running in the majors, Cleveland was committed to letting him find his footing at the highest level. Or, at least it seemed that way. Marte made the team out of spring training in 2007, but then proceeded to flail to the tune of a .553 OPS in April. After just 41 PA, the Indians pulled the plug and sent him back to AAA.

Instead of re-establishing himself in the organization’s plans, Marte did a career face-plant. He batted just .267/.309/.457 in 379 PA. Shockingly, Marte’s once-pristine plate discipline went down the toilet. He walked just 5.6% of the time, while punching out 18.2 percent. Whether he was pressing to get back to the majors or not, Andy scarcely resembled the seemingly can’t-miss Braves prospect of years past. It was like he started getting batting tips from Juan Uribe.

2008 was little better. In 257 PA with the Tribe, Marte posted a paltry .221/.268/.315 line. He didn’t wildly hack at every pitch seen (Marte’s Outside-Swing% was right around the 25% MLB average), but Andy often found himself down in the count. His First-Pitch Strike% was 63.4% (58.6% MLB average). In survival mode and in the pitcher’s clutches, Marte walked just 5.6% and K’d 22.1%. His power (.094) was non-existent.

How far had Andy fallen in the eyes of talent evaluators? The Indians designated him for assignment this past winter, and no one claimed him. No other GM felt the out-of-options third baseman was worth a look.

Just when it looked like Marte would have to buy a ticket to get back into a big league stadium, he went on a tear at AAA Columbus in 2009. Andy clubbed opposing pitchers for a .327/.369/.593 line in 326 PA, with a robust .267 ISO.

What are we to make of Marte at this point? On the positive side, he’s hardly ancient at 25 years of age, was going postal on International League competition, and his 16.7 K% was rather low. On the other, he’s still not working the count all that well (6.8 BB%), and a .345 BABIP suggests that his batting average-driven line will come down some.

Prior to the 2009 season, CHONE was the most optimistic projection system regarding Marte’s future (.248/.316/.421). But that forecast does not take into consideration his resurgent hitting at AAA (per Minor League Splits, Marte’s Major League Equivalent line is .292/.326/.498).

The truth probably lies somewhere in between those two lines. While it’s not a perfect comparison, Marte calls to mind a Joe Crede-type, with good pop and a slick glove helping to compensate for an aggressive, lower-OBP approach at the plate (it’s strange to say that about a guy who used to walk in upwards of 13% of his PA, but that was a long time ago now).

From a fantasy perspective, Marte is well worth a look in AL-only and deep mixed leagues. With Ryan Garko gone, Andy should get a decent amount of playing time at first base when V-Mart is behind the dish (though it’s possible he might have to contend with Matt LaPorta at some point, if the Indians don’t like his range in the outfield corners). While he seems like a long shot to reach those prognostications of stardom, Marte is at least back on the radar screen.


Should Owners Pick Up Tommy Hunter?

Fantasy owners are always scouring the waiver wire looking for pitchers for the back of their staff. One pitcher gaining a lot of buzz for his performance so far is Rangers RHP Tommy Hunter. In six starts with Texas this season, Hunter is 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA. He has gone at least five innings in each start this year and has yet to allow more than three runs in a game.

Hunter is not overpowering; he tops out in the low 90s with his fastball and averages 89.1 with his heater. But he still manages to get strikeouts with the pitch – he got two Ks on fastballs in his last outing – because of his varied repertoire. Hunter also has a curve ball and a change-up. And depending on which source you prefer, he also throws either a slider or a cutter. FanGraphs does not show him throwing a slider this year but has him throwing a cutter nearly 24 percent of the time. Dan Brooks’ wonderful PitchFX site shows Hunter striking out three in his last outing versus Detroit with a slider and throwing 26 of them overall, with no cutters.

It all seems very encouraging for Hunter but from a fantasy perspective owners should not be in a rush to go out and pick him up. He is thriving now thanks to the 1-2 combo of a low BABIP (.251) and a high strand rate (90%). Hunter checks in with a 1.75 K/BB ratio (which would rank in the lower third of MLB pitchers if he had enough innings to qualify) and his HR/FB rate of 6.5 percent is below average.

When we see numbers like that, the most likely explanation is an unsustainable hot start. Hunter’s FIP is 3.97 and the low HR rate indicates his xFIP would be even worse. We know with a large enough sample size that regression will push Hunter’s numbers worse in these categories. We just do not know when it will actually happen. With just two months left in the season, it is even possible that regression will not hit until 2010.

Hunter would not be the worst option for fantasy owners to pick up from the waiver wire. But at the same time one should acquire him with the knowledge that he is much more likely to post an ERA twice as high than the one he has recorded so far this season.


Minor Impacts: July 30

Every Thursday throughout the season, Minor Impacts takes a look at some of the hottest minor league players that could have impacts at the Major League Level in the near future. Some of the players we’ve educated you on before their promotions include: Vince Mazzaro, Andrew McCutchen, Gordon Beckham, Robert Manuel, Marc Rzepczynski, Aaron Poreda, Jake Fox, Nolan Reimold, Daniel Bard, Bud Norris, and Mat Latos.

Josh Donaldson: The Cubs originally signed Donaldson as a supplemental first round pick out of college, but he slumped a bit at the beginning of his first full pro season. Oakland pounced and had him included in the trade for Rich Harden. The organization then aggressively promoted him one level upon his arrival and he hit .330/.391/.564 in 188 at-bats. This season in double-A, the catcher’s offense has come back to earth a bit again and Donaldson, 23, has a line of .271/.398/.429 with 32 doubles and six homers in 329 at-bats. He’s also posted an outstanding walk rate of 17.3% and a respectable strikeout rate of 20.7%. He won’t be a star, but Donaldson could be an above-average offensive catcher in the Majors.

Travis Snider: After a disappointing beginning to his MLB career, the 21-year-old left-fielder was sent back down to triple-A where he missed time with an injury. Finally getting back into the swing of things after missing all of June, Snider is swinging a big bat. He has seven home runs and 17 RBI in 22 July games, including three homers and nine RBI in his last 10 games. On the down side, Snider’s average is still below .260 and he’s striking out a lot. But you have to expect those kinds of things with young players. He’s definitely a future star, but he’s going to have his ups and downs. Just be patient.

Cameron Maybin: Like Snider, Maybin’s rookie season has not gone quite as expected and he is currently riding buses in triple-A, rather than traveling in style in The Show. With that said, his performance in triple-A has been outstanding and he looks ready for another shot in the Majors, which has been oddly slow in coming. Currently, the Marlins outfield prospect is hitting .325/.413/.469 with 14 doubles in 228 at-bats. He’s also increased his walk rate, while trimming his strikeout rate significantly. Maybin’s power numbers have been down and he’s also stopped stealing bases so his value is really tied up in his average right now. Regardless, he’s making positive steps and could be up any day now.

C.J. Retherford: With Josh Fields possibly on his way out of Chicago, this former non-drafted amateur free agent (a great scouting job by the White Sox) could suddenly find himself jumping up the depth chart at third base. Retherford has done nothing but hit since signing and he’s currently hitting .294/.334/.471 with 28 doubles and eight homers in 340 at-bats. The 23-year-old does not possess a ton of power; his swing is more geared to the line drive. His walk rate has also dipped each season and is down to 6.3 BB% in 2009 at double-A. The right-handed hitter has potential, but Retherford needs to be a little more patient.

Brooks Brown: Prior to the season, the Diamondbacks sent Brown to the Tigers so the National League organization could have the rights to Rule 5 draft pick James Skelton, who was then optioned to the minors. Brown, a former supplemental first round pick, had been a disappointment to that point in his pro career. He’s still not a strikeout pitcher, and never will be, but Brown has learned how to pitch to his strengths and rely on his defense. His fastball is in the upper 80s most of the time, but he has a solid ground-ball rate of 50.4% between double-A and triple-A this season. Brown’s walk rate has taken a hit lately, but his control has seen signs of improving overall. A starter in the minors, the 24-year-old is headed to the bullpen (possibly as a swing man) in the Majors but he should still be a useful arm who could luck into a number of vulture wins.

Sam Demel: A former third-round pick out of college, Demel has risen quickly through the minors and is on the cusp of his big-league debut. The 23-year-old right-hander posted a 2.79 FIP in double-A while allowing 23 hits in 29.1 innings of work and a strikeout rate of 7.98 K/9. Promoted to triple-A, he’s allowed just eight hits (but 11 walks) in 15.1 innings. He also has 14 Ks. The two key things that Demel needs to work on are: consistency and command. He has the upside of a set-up man with a low-90s fastball that has touched 95 mph, as well as a slider and changeup.


Brett Cecil Makes Most of Second Chance

Fans and analysts did not consider Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil as one of the elite rookie pitchers coming into the season but he did have some buzz surrounding him. He made Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List (#72) while also earning a B+ grade from prospect maven John Sickels.

Cecil started off 2009 in the minors but was promoted in early May. He made four consecutive starts for Toronto and pitched well in three of them before the Red Sox hammered him on May 20th. Two days later the Blue Jays optioned him to the minors, where Cecil spent the next month.

Upon his return to the majors, Cecil tossed a Quality Start against the Nationals but then posted two poor outings around a relief appearance. Prior to the All-Star break, it looked like 2009 was shaping up to be nothing more than a learning season for the rookie from Maryland.

But in his last three outings, Cecil is 2-0 with a 0.45 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20 innings. What, if anything has changed for Cecil in his last three outings? Let us take a look at his PitchFX numbers to see if we can notice any trends.

Fastball

Date AVG Speed High Speed Number Thrown Strike Percentage
July 5th 88.69 90.9 33 48.48
July 10th 92.07 95.1 32 56.25
July 21st 91.56 93.4 37 64.86
July 26th 90.65 94.3 32 50.00

Slider

Date AVG Speed High Speed Number Thrown Strike Percentage
July 5th 82.36 84.5 20 65.00
July 10th 86.33 88.5 22 50.00
July 21st 84.98 88.8 39 64.10
July 26th 84.39 87.1 30 60.00

Cecil simply was lacking velocity on both his fastball and his slider in his July 5th outing, one of three poor outings this year for him. So far this season, Cecil has pitched in 11 games, making 10 starts. He has hurled seven Quality Starts but has been hit hard the other three starts, which has made his overall numbers seem mediocre.

After getting lit up for four runs in the first inning of his start against the Reds on June 25th, the Blue Jays moved Cecil to the bullpen. He might still be there, except for Scott Richmond’s shoulder injury. That led to a return to the rotation for Cecil and his poor outing on July 5th versus the Yankees.

According to the Blue Jays’ official site, the team activated Richmond from the DL Tuesday night. Cecil will remain in the rotation, as Toronto sent Dirk Hayhurst to Triple-A to make room on the roster, while Brian Tallet moved to the bullpen to create a rotation spot for Richmond.

Cecil’s last three outings have earned him a longer look in the Blue Jays’ rotation and he is someone for fantasy owners to take a flier on, as he is available in 72 percent of CBS Sports leagues and over 98 percent of ESPN leagues.


Incredible Oscillating BABIPs

There’s been a lot of work done on BABIP by the esteemed writers on this site as well as The Hardball Times, so it’s not suprising that Derek Carty’s July 10th release of a simple expected BABIP calculator flew under the radar a bit. It shouldn’t have. The calculator allows us fantasy types to say with a little more certainty what sort of BABIP a particular player should expect.

The ‘simple’ in the calculator meant that instead of using the more complicated and nuanced four-component speed score, users have to use the more brute method of inputting stolen bases. This may be a considerable flaw, allbeit an easily corrected one. Taking a look at this threesome will provide us some questions about BABIP in general. It certainly looks like sometimes rotten luck lasts a whole year.

Jose Lopez – Midway through June, Lopez was languishing was a sub-.250 batting average and little power. Most were questioning if his breakout 2008 was just a fluke. His BABIP, though, was unnaturally low, and the balls began to bounce his way. He ended June with a .329/.325/.592 slash line that seemed to be a harbinger of further success. Unfortunately, his July slash line (.269/.299/.441) has been a lot less inspiring. The simple xBABIP calculator pegs his expected BABIP at .301, which seems fine at first glance. He has an average line drive percentage (18.1%) and profiles mostly as he did last year during his great year. But then look at his yearly BABIP totals, and something looks fishy. Since 2005, those BABIPs have read: .276, .312, .269, .311, .266. It seems that he has good and bad years as much as he has good and bad months. Perhaps a good year is just one where the number of good months outweigh the bad months. And maybe 2009 is ‘just a bad year.’

Vernon Wells – Wells rode a .311/.329/.514 July back into respectability and is now on pace for a career high in stolen bases. Despite his low 14.9% line drive percentage, the xBABIP calculator likes him for a .302 BABIP. In the face of his .294 career BABIP and his career-best four-component speed score, this xBABIP seems more correct than his current .278 number. Maybe the title of the article gave you a heads up, but Wells is the proud poppa of his own pendulum-like BABIP. Here are his yearly totals, since his first full year in 2002: .288, .322, .286, .275, .313, .265, .299, .278. I’m not really suggesting that that Lopez and Wells are ‘due’ for bad years, but it does seem to follow that these are two players whose value is often tied up into BABIPs, and who often put together full years with sub-par BABIPs. Caution, at the very least, is in order when thinking of buying low in these cases.

Ichiro Suzuki – Suzuki is merely here because of tendency to ‘break’ BABIP predictors. His yearly BABIP totals oscillate a little, too, but there’s hardly a year that can be characterized as ‘poor:’ .371, .347, .333, .401, .319, .350, .390, .337, .387. When .319 is a poor BABIP for you, you don’t belong in this trio. The simple calculator can’t quite handle Ichiro’s legendary BABIP control (if such a thing exists), predicting a .328 number for Ichiro which would be the second-worst of his career. With his history, it doesn’t seem smart to predict a dive in his BABIP to get to that .328 number.

The lesson seems to be that there is still work to be done on xBABIP, and I doubt anyone would argue that they’ve figured it out completely. The work to date has been impressive, but there certainly seems to be more we can understand. Why is it that some players have BABIPs that normalize within a year, and other players seem to have BABIPs that only normalize over an entire career? It may only be a question of sample size, but there seems to be something more here. At first glance, I’d have to think that contact rate could be included in any expected BABIP model, but I’ve only just begun my journey into the numbers.


Week 17 Trade Possibilities

Hopefully you were able to pick up Miguel Montero and trade Todd Helton last week. But even if you stood pat there are still plenty of acquisition targets and trade bait guys out there for you. So, here are five guys to pick up and five guys to move.

Obtain

Ben Francisco – Since the end of June, Francisco has been playing virtually every day, most often in left field and with occasional starts in center. In his last 25 games he has a .289/.421/.539 line. He has some room for growth in his HR output and could exceed RoS ZiPS forecast of five dingers. Francisco is owned in only 13 percent of CBS Sports leagues and has the ability to contribute in all five categories, although he is not likely to offer very much in AVG.

Jonathon Niese – The overall Triple-A numbers do not overwhelm you but he won his last five decisions for Buffalo. In his last eight starts in the International League, Niese went 5-1 with a 0.96 ERA, with 13 BBs and 46 Ks in 56.1 innings. In his first start since being promoted, Niese limited the Astros to one run in seven innings in a start at the Juice Box, and retired 17 of the last 18 batters he faced.

Ryan Garko – With the trade to the Giants, Garko should receive regular playing time as the team’s new first baseman. He mashes LHP (.960 OPS this year) and holds his own versus RHP (.772 OPS). That is not great production for a first baseman but with the Giants in need of an upgrade for Travis Ishikawa, it should be enough to keep him in the lineup, something he struggled with in Cleveland. RoS ZiPS sees him with six HRs, a total I would bump up with the playing time boost.

John Lannan – In his last 10 starts, Lannan is 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA but with only 21 Ks in 73.2 innings. I seriously question whether any pitcher can succeed long term with a strikeout rate this low but I believe he can do it for the remainder of the season. From a fantasy perspective it is difficult to advocate a pitcher who has virtually no chance to help in strikeouts but for some odd reason the guys near the top of the leaderboards in Ks are rarely available in trades or on the waiver wire. Lannan is a player who should not cost much who has the potential to help in ERA, WHIP and W.

C.J. Wilson – Usually I avoid mentioning relievers because this is one area where most people are watching the waiver wire like hawks. Yet Wilson has the closer’s role in Texas while Frank Francisco is on the DL and is owned in only 35 percent of CBS Sports leagues. Now Francisco is not expected out for long because of his bout with pneumonia but he has also had problems with tendinitis, so you never know. Wilson should be an immediate add if you set a daily lineup.

Exchange

Garrett Jones – You would have to be living under a rock to miss the slugging exploits of Jones, who has 10 HR in 88 ABs for the Pirates. That has led to some far out numbers, like a .761 SLG, a .432 ISO and a 1.140 OPS. But he also has a 34.5 percent HR/FB rate which will be a tad difficult to maintain going forward. Last year Jones looked like he was going to settle in for a long career as a AAAA slugger. No one doubts that he has power and can be a useful MLB player. But he has little chance of being a star and owners should see if he has any trade value in their league.

Johan Santana – When owners drafted Santana, they were expecting him to be one of the top starters in the game. He was great in April but has struggled to keep that pace since then. Santana has been very good but the production has not matched either the draft slot or the name value. He is 3-4 in his last seven games and has given up 15 runs despite two scoreless appearances. Santana closed 2008 with a great run and he has the ability to do that again. But owners owe it to themselves to explore his trade value and if he can return third-round level value, well that exceeds what Santana has produced so far in 2009.

Erick Aybar – In his last 17 games, Aybar is batting .471 with 16 RBIs, 13 R, and 3 SB. His trade value may never be higher. His BABIP checks in at .347, 30 points above his lifetime mark in the category. Aybar stole 32 bases in Triple-A in 2006 but has just 26 combined thefts between the majors and minors since then in two and a half seasons. And his lifetime .095 ISO tells you he is not likely to contribute any HR, either.

Randy Wells – It has been an impressive year so far for Wells, with 10 Quality Starts in 14 games. But I am concerned about him being able to maintain his current walk rate, which is under two per game. Also, in two full seasons at Triple-A, Wells’ strand rate was under 70 percent both times but so far this year it checks in at 78.9 percent. Add in a BABIP and a HR/FB rate both slightly below average and it adds up to a pitcher who could fall off some down the stretch.

Shane Victorino – He is unlikely to match last year’s totals in either HR or SB. Yet Victorino has been just as valuable a fantasy player because he is on pace to set career-highs in AVG, R and RBIs. Victorino’s BABIP of .342 is 24 points above his previous career best mark in the category. Also, he is walking more than he has previously in his career. Regression in BABIP would hurt him across the board.


Welcome to the Mountain: Jhoulys Chacin

When set-up man Manny Corpas was placed on the disabled list last Friday by the Colorado Rockies, the club promoted one of its top starting-pitching prospects and placed him into the big-league bullpen.

Jhoulys Chacin made his MLB debut on July 25 against the San Francisco Giants. The 21-year-old Venezuelan worked a scoreless, hit-less inning. He walked one batter and struck out two (including veteran Juan Uribe to end the game) in the 8-2 win for the Rockies. Against the Giants, the game plan from catcher Chris Iannetta was clear: Get ahead in the count with fastballs and then drop the hook, which Chacin did successfully with both his strikeout victims.

Chacin has the potential to be a dominating late-game reliever, but he’s shown throughout his pro career that he also has a chance to be a solid No. 2 or 3 starter, so his work in the ‘pen should be short-lived. It’s a smart move by the organization to ease the right-hander in slowly, given that he has not pitched above double-A until now. This season in Tulsa, he’s allowed 87 hits in 103.1 innings, while posting a walk rate of 3.05 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.49 K/9. His control has taken a step back this year, as he walked about two batters per nine innings last year. His strikeout rate has also dropped about one K per nine innings over 2008. Chacin’s 4.01 FIP is also much higher than his 3.14 ERA and with a .273 BABIP, he’s probably been helped a fair bit by his defense.

The Rockies prospect has a good sinking fastball that peaks at 94 mph and he also has a nice changeup. His breaking ball is still a work in progress and is one of the main culprits behind his struggles at double-A in 2009. With any luck, while pitching out of the Colorado bullpen, he can work on sharpening up his curve. To further his development and value, though, the Rockies coaches will have to ensure that Chacin works on the pitch in game situations and does not stick the pitch in his back pocket in favor of his fastball-changeup combo.

Just 21, Chacin has a bright future in Colorado, especially with a career minor league ground-ball rate of 59.6%. The right-hander could end up being a key, young arm late in the 2009 season for the Colorado Rockies, but his fantasy baseball value should be much higher in 2010 and beyond as a member of the starting rotation.