Archive for November, 2009

Will the Real Jason Bartlett Please Stand Up?

Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett entered the 2009 season with a reputation as a good defender with plus speed and little to no home run power. He had the ability to hit for an above average batting average and could leg out some triples due to his plus speed. WAR had always treated him well due to his plus glove over the years but in his first year with the Rays his UZR declined to 2.1 runs above average. His WAR suffered to a below average 1.8 rating for the shortstop position and his .286/.329/.361 line (and well below average .311 wOBA) didn’t help his WAR prospects. He was entering the 2009 season as a 29 year old and people had a good idea what to expect from him.

And then Bartlett manages to hit an insane .320/.389/.490 with 14 home runs in 500 at-bats. Ironically, Bartlett’s glove (-5.5 UZR) hurt his value for the first time in his career but his hitting more than made up for it as he ranked fourth in WAR for MLB shortstops with a 4.8 number. Bartlett hit one home run during all of 2008 and he more than doubled his career home run total with his 2009 showing.

It’s fair to say that no one expected this kind of production from Bartlett entering 2009 just like many were blinded sided by the Ben Zobrist power surge. There’s been some work done to crack the Zobrist code and Bartlett has drawn some comparisons to the Zobrist surge. It’s extremely puzzling that Bartlett went from light hitting shortstop to a .490 slugging shortstop in one season.

Typically the media over speculates players that show up in “good” or “bad” shape during spring training but for what it’s worth Bartlett arrived at Rays sporting a bulkier frame that had 15 pounds added to it over the off season. Perhaps this could have negatively affected his defense as attributed to his -5.5 UZR but he still stole a career high 30 bases in 37 tries (81% success rate).

Upon further examination Bartlett whacked 11 of his 14 home runs away from Tropicana Field in 2009. And he hit much better on the road (.333/.405/.547) than he did at home (.305/.371/.425) but it should be noted that these splits show zero correlation to his 2008 home/road splits where he hit better at home. Bartlett seemed to enjoy the friendly confines of the new Yankee Stadium in 2009 where he slammed three of his fourteen homers.

The nifty Hit Tracker classifies each players home runs into certain bins. Eight of Bartlett’s home runs were labeled as “plenty home run” where the baseball comfortably left the ballpark. Six of his homers were classified as “Just Enoughers” which the Hit Tracker’s website defines as: “The ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.” Perhaps the baseball gods helped a few extra homers clear the fence for Bartlett but he did still hit eight long balls comfortably over the fence.

This could be a classic case of good player development at the big league level where Bartlett made some adjustments and truly did become a new player with an improved skill set. But we will not accept nor should you be expected to accept that for an answer here at Fangraphs!

Enter our favorite toy: The Hardball Times BABIP estimator. This calculator finds an estimated BABIP based upon a players rate of HR’s, K’s, SB’s, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and groundballs. Bartlett had a flukey looking .368 BABIP in 2009 that easily trumps his .330 career mark.

Bartlett’s 2009 line drive percentage was an astounding 26% which would have screamed that his 2009 BABIP wasn’t too out of line as recently as a few years ago before we had the calculator and used the now defunct .120 + LD% formula for expected BABIP. This line drive percentage increase indicates that Bartlett did indeed hit the ball harder in 2009 and the more line drives the better but we still have to consider the margin for error in the data. Defining a line drive can be subjective to different scorers and me and you.

After plugging the proper values into the calculator it gives us an expected BABIP of .337 for Bartlett. This changes a lot and based off of this we would expect Bartlett to have hit .279/.348/.449 which is a bit more normal than his .320/.389/.490 triple-slash in 2009.

I do believe in the human element in baseball and do believe in strong player development and that players do make adjustments as they advance in their careers just like we become better at our professions as we spend more years in a particular field of concentration. If you’ve spent ten years in a certain career I bet you feel that you’re a much better and more knowledgeable worker than you were five years ago. People make adjustments and do improve and Jason Bartlett can too. We must not forget that he is a human being.

In summary the numbers do suggest that Bartlett made some notable improvements to his game. His strong line drive percentage suggests that he’s hitting the ball harder. The Hit Tracker says he popped eight “plenty” home runs that easily sailed over the fence. Just those eight homers spike his slugging percentage much more than the one homer did just one year ago in 2008. And he also set a career high in stolen bases at 30. While Bartlett mashed much better away from home the sample size (200+ at-bats on the road and at home) is not enough to draw a convicting conclusion. Tom Tango would have harsh some words for me if I tried using splits of that size to indicate a change in skill.

Bartlett’s six “just enough” homers as defined by the Hit Tracker suggest that he may have hit a few lucky homers last season. The trusty BABIP calculator believes Bartlett should have hit for a collective .279/.348/.449 in 2009 and I believe that’s a much closer indication of his true skill level even if it isn’t the perfect forecast. And I’m mighty excited to see how you all project Bartlett in our 2010 Fan Projections.

Bartlett will be a good bet for around 25 steals next year and a solid source of batting average (.290-.300) and some power. It’d be safe to project ten home runs from him in 2009. Luckily for fantasy owners they are not responsible for projecting Bartlett’s defense which has slowly declined over the past three seasons according to UZR. UZR no longer sees him in the elite fielding category for shortstops like he was during his Minnesota days.

Jason Bartlett stunned a lot of people in 2009 but while it appears that he made some real adjustments to his game don’t think he’s the .389 wOBA hitter that he was in 2009. Fantasy players may be antsy to pop Bartlett early in your draft next year but don’t be the one to do so. You’ll be better off to select another safer shortstop option.


LaPorta’s Big League Ready

When the Milwaukee Brewers selected Matt LaPorta with the 7th overall pick in the 2007 draft, some fans and analysts did a spit-take.

Few doubted that the University of Florida slugger could rake. An injury-plagued junior season, coupled with a hefty price tag, caused LaPorta to drop to the 14th round of the ’06 draft (he and the Red Sox couldn’t come to terms). But the 6-2, 210 pound righty possessed what Baseball America described as “plus-plus raw power.” Having recovered from an oblique injury, LaPorta’s pop was a “game-changing tool.”

The problem, the skeptics said, came on the other side of the equation. LaPorta was praised for his polished bat but penalized for plodding defense. With Prince Fielder entrenched at first base, where would LaPorta play?

To the club’s credit, the Brewers drafted based on pure talent instead of myopically taking a player who better fit a short-term organizational need. The composition of a major league roster is far too fluid to draft based on filling some immediate void. If LaPorta’s bat was as good as advertised, Milwaukee at worst had a coveted trade chip.

After the ink dried on his $2M signing bonus and a strained quad muscle healed, LaPorta destroyed fresh-faced pitchers late in the 2007 season (.304/.369/.696 in 130 PA between Rookie Ball and Low-A).

In an effort to fit his bat into the big league picture, LaPorta played the outfield corners. BA rated the former Gator as the best prospect in the Brewers system, saying that he “shouldn’t need much more than a full season in the minors before becoming an impact hitter in Milwaukee.”

Realizing that LaPorta’s lumber was highly advanced, the Brewers jumped their prized hitter up to AA Huntsville in 2008. He shone brightest in a prospect-laden Stars lineup, hammering the Southern League for a .288/.402/.576 triple-slash in 366 PA. LaPorta popped 20 homers, with a .288 ISO. He was no hacker either, walking in 13% of his PA and whiffing at a rather modest rate for a slugger (20 K%).

Looking to make the playoffs for the first time since Harvey’s Wallbangers back in 1982, the Brewers cashed in their best prospect in July to acquire CC Sabathia from the Indians.

LaPorta headed to Cleveland along with RHP Rob Bryson, LHP Zach Jackson and a PTBNL that eventually became OF Michael Brantley.

He played in the Beijing Olympics after the swap, suffering a concussion in a mid-August contest. In 67 PA at AA with his new club, LaPorta hit .233/.299/.350. BA dubbed him the second-best prospect in Cleveland’s system entering 2009. As Milwaukee had, Cleveland played LaPorta mostly in left and right field.

Splitting the ’09 campaign between AAA Columbus and Cleveland, LaPorta laid waste to International League pitching while getting his feet wet in the majors.

LaPorta compiled a .299/.388/.530 line in 393 AAA PA, smashing 23 HR with a .231 ISO. His strike-zone control remained excellent, walking 11.1% of the time and punching out just 16.6%. According to Minor League Splits, LaPorta’s work in the minors translated to a .263/.336/.446 major league line.

With Cleveland, he turned in a .254/.308/.442 triple-slash in 198 PA, with a .327 wOBA. LaPorta slammed 7 dingers and recovered from a slow start to post a .188 ISO, though he didn’t work the count especially well. He drew a free pass 6.2% of the time, with a 28.9 outside-swing percentage (25% MLB average). LaPorta manned the outfield corners and first base.

LaPorta’s long-term defensive home is still up in the air. He shifted between the outfield and first base at AAA and in the majors, and his TotalZone defensive numbers don’t paint a pretty picture of his work running down balls in the gaps.

His bat, on the other hand, looks major league ready. LaPorta’s projections for the 2010 season don’t jump off the page, but he figures to be an above-average hitter with the potential to best his offensive forecasts. Bill James foresees a .347 wOBA from LaPorta next season, while Sean Smith’s CHONE throws out a line that also equates to a wOBA of .347. If I were a betting man, I would take the “over” on that wOBA.

The big question for LaPorta entering 2010 is his health. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left hip and left big toe in October. The procedures came with a 4-6 month recovery period, meaning he could be behind his teammates come spring training.

Twenty-five years old in January, LaPorta has the offensive skills to be an asset in mixed leagues. Track his progress as the offseason progresses. If his hip and toe are healing well, he could be a steal on draft day.


Deep League Value: Third Basemen

Before we all got fat off of Pecan Pie this week, we checked the position at the hot corner and found that the final tier was lacking and the position was relatively shallow for those in mixed leagues. Let’s take a look at a couple of third basemen that came in just below the fold and could outproduce their draft positions in deep leagues.

Alex Gordon, perhaps because of his draft position or because of the uniform he wears, has been oft-discussed as a figure of projection more than production so far in his career. There’s no doubt that if he puts together a season close to his upside, he will be a huge value to those that select him. At times he’s shown the selectivity at the plate, the power in his bat, and the speed on the basepaths that had people thinking good thoughts. In his sophomore season, he improved his walk rate, strikeout rate, reach rate, fly ball and contact rates. Though all of the increases were incremental, the thought was that he was on his way, just a little slower than we all expected. Then came the hip surgery.

With his struggles after his return, where is Gordon now? On the good side of the ledger, even in 2009, Gordon held on to his gains in his walk rate, reach rate, and contact rates. He took a little step back in his strikeout rate, didn’t hit any line drives, and hit a few too many ground balls. If we blame the line drives and lack of power on the hip injury – not everyone can heal as well as Alex Rodriguez, who also had the surgery earlier than Gordon and also struggled in the early goings in 2009 – then we can regain some of our optimism about the young Royal third baseman. Bill James, ever the optimist, has Gordon down for .272 with 20 home runs and 12 stolen bases. If you are willing to blame the hip, you can take a chance on those numbers and get them for cheap in 2010.

Andy LaRoche is another once-hot prospect that has struggled so far in the big leagues and finds himself on the fringe in positional rankings once again. Of course, his big league team won’t be complaining any time soon – with his good defense (+3.9 UZR/150 career at third) and passable offense (.324 wOBA), he’s already outproducing his cost. And knowing that the Bucs are likely happy with his production is valuable – at least he should stick all year. But will fantasy owners want his stats all year? His fantasy stats (.258, 12 home runs, three stolen bases) were underwhelming, and this was despite his ‘luck’ evening out from early-career lows (.287 BABIP in 2009, .177 BABIP in 2008). The problem seems to be that though he has decent walk and strikeout rates (around 9% and 16% respectively in the last two years), he doesn’t make good contact (17.1% line drive rate career).

On the other hand, the good news in the numbers also come from his contact rates – LaRoche has improved his zone contact rate from 78.6% to 91% and his overall contact rate from 69.3% to 83.2% over the last three years. If he can continue that arc and get the line drive rate up to 20% he could outproduce his projections. It’s worth noting that his line drive rates in the Los Angeles system were consistently around 18%, so there’s a sliver of upside here. Don’t overpay for it, because it’s clear that he has issues making contact, even if he’s making strides.

We will revisit some of the other deep league options in future posts. Let us know in the comments if there is a particular third baseman you’d like to know more about.


Gio Gonzalez: Walks and K’s Galore

Since he was taken in the supplemental first round of the 2004 draft, Gio Gonzalez has alternately enticed and unnerved major league talent evaluators.

If you squint a little bit, the left-hander has the makings of a top-tier starter. Gonzalez cooks in the low-90’s with his fastball, boasts a big-breaking high-70’s curveball and misses more bats than just about any hurler in the game.

Yet, the 24 year-old has already been traded three times-twice by the White Sox! As good as Gio can look when hitting the corners and garnering jelly-legged swings on that wicked curve, there are other days when he resembles an Oliver Perez/Nuke LaLoosh love child.

During his minor league career, Gonzalez managed to punch out a breathtaking 10.3 batters per nine frames, including 9.7 K/9 at AAA. Unfortunately, his walk rates were equally prodigious: 4.1 BB/9 career in the minors, and 4.6 BB/9 at the AAA level.

Over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Gio made 30 appearances (24 starts) with the Athletics. The results probably made Oakland pitching coach Curt Young weep: a 6.24 ERA in 132.2 frames. Gonzalez’s underlying numbers help explain why he’s so intriguing and aggravating to GM’s and fantasy players alike.

Gio has whiffed 9.7 batters per nine frames in the show. Opponents have made contact against him 76 percent of the time (80-81% MLB average), a rate commensurate with some of baseball’s top-end starters.

Gonzalez’s trademark curveball has exceptional movement . His yellow hammer breaks away from lefties (in toward righties) about six inches (4 inch MLB average for left-handers). It also drops in the zone 9-10 inches more than a pitch thrown without spin, obliterating the 5 inch average for MLB lefties. Talk about two-plane break.

Of course, all of those swings and misses come at a price. Gonzalez has issued a whopping 5.49 BB/9 in the majors. Gio has located just 45.9% of his pitches within the strike zone, well below the 49-50% MLB average. His first-pitch strike percentage is just 54.2% (58% MLB average).

Gonzalez has been the victim of some poor luck on balls put in play during his short major league stay, with a .345 BABIP between 2008 and 2009. His home run/fly ball rate has also been extremely high, at 16.4% (the MLB average for pitchers is around 11-12 percent). Gonzalez’s Expected Fielding Independent ERA, based on K’s, BB’s and a normalized HR/FB rate, is 4.43 over the 2008-2009 period.

It’s difficult to say what kind of pitcher Gonzalez will become as he gains more experience in the big leagues. We can dream of a day when he’ll still be whiffing bunches of batters, without the walks flowing as freely as Gatorade in the dugouts.

Granted, pitchers almost never make gains in one area without sacrificing in another. For that walk rate to go down, Gonzalez is going to have to toss more pitches around the plate. That means more contact and fewer K’s. But the trade-off would certainly be beneficial. Easier said than done, though.

With abysmal control, Gio has posted peripherals consistent with a mid-rotation starter. He’s far from a finished product, however, as his high-octane style has a way of jamming up the bases. Gonzalez is a nice target in A.L.-only leagues, if you can stomach the occasional 3-inning, 5 walk, “pass me the Tums” outing.


Shopping for Shoppach

Kelly Shoppach is a potential non tender or trade candidate this off season. But the soon-to-be 30 year old still does have value despite a disappointing 2009 season.

He’s destined for a raise after making nearly $2 million in 2009 and the Indians have a MLB ready catcher in Lou Marson whose waiting in the wings. And don’t forget about blue chip prospect Carlos Santana who will be banging on the MLB door after destroying Double-A pitching in 2009.

The former Baylor standout was the first college catcher selected in the 2001 draft by the Red Sox. They used their first available selection on him in the second round. He appeared on Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospect lists for a few seasons before being dealt away to Cleveland before 2006 in the Coco Crisp deal.

Shoppach spent time as Victor Martinez’s backup and when Martinez went down with injuries in 2008 Shoppach ran with the starting opportunity. He led all starting catchers in 2009 ISO (.256) in 353 at-bats. All in all he hit for a .370 wOBA but his .261/.348/.517 line was fueled by a .359 BABIP.

David G. successfully predicted a decline in Shoppach’s 2009 production. While Shoppach’s 2009 batting average plummeted to .214 he still reached base at an above average clip (.335) but his prestigious power that the hacktastic Shoppach previously featured vanished. In 89 games and 271 at-bats Shoppach slugged .399 with 12 home runs.

Shoppach was squeezed for playing time this season. Before some late season trades he was vying for playing time with Victor Martinez as the regular catcher and Ryan Garko at first base. Travis Hafner gobbled up DH time when his shoulder cooperated with him. Prior to the trades Shoppach would typically see playing time when Martinez played first base, Shoppach caught, and Garko hit the pine or saw time at designated hitter. Shoppach didn’t receive an ample opportunity to produce at the rate he did in 2008 until the trades of Garko and Martinez.

With the acquisition of Lou Marson (who also received a September call up and could start 2010 as the starting catcher) Shoppach doesn’t seem to fit in with the Indians. They already have another capable and cheaper back up in Wyatt Toregas. Marson and someone else (possibly Toregas) will likely keep the catching seat warm until Carlos Santana bursts onto the big league scene.

While Shoppach didn’t receive the best opportunity to replicate his 2008 showing he still presents value to other MLB clubs if the Indians do indeed decide to move on. Shoppach’s always been known as a strikeout prone (his strikeout rate is right up there with Jack Cust and Mark Reynolds at 36%) catcher with plus power and solid defense. Scouting reports usually treat Shoppach well in the defensive department. But for what its worth from a recent quantitative standpoint/analysis from new Fangraphs contributor Matt Klaassen AKA Devil_Fingers he was rated as a smidge below average in 2009 (#84 on the list and -1.5 totalruns).

While a throbbing .359 BABIP aided Shoppach’s stellar 2008 campaign a .286 BABIP cut into his 2009 slash stats. The average 2009 MLB hitters BABIP was .299 and that may lead you to believe that Shoppach’s 2009 BABIP normally regressed to the mean. But that is wrong. Shoppach’s consistently over performed the league average BABIP throughout his short career until 2009. Dating back to 2006 his BABIPS has been .286, .359, .357, and .387. It’s likely a fluke that this number remained so high in 2006 and 2007 despite just 110 and 161 at-bats.

This data tells us that Shoppach isn’t a .286 BABIP hitter and that number damaged his 2009 numbers heavily even though he walked and struck out at a similar rate to his 2008 season. The Hardball Times has the best BABIP estimator currently available and this trusty tool can paint a much better picture than raw BABIP. The new toy (and new Rotographs favorite) finds an estimated BABIP based upon his rate of HR’s, K’s, SB’s, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and groundballs. This tool gives us a .332 BABIP for Shoppach in 2009 and a .322 mark for him during his 2008 career year. This estimator suppresses his 2008 numbers but does not damage them as much as alternative methods suggest.

Over Shoppach’s career (right around 900 at-bats) The Hardball Times BABIP estimator has his estimated career BABIP at .327 so his 2009 expected BABIP of .332 doesn’t sound out of line at all. This represents a much more realistic BABIP skill for Shoppach. A .332 BABIP for Shoppach in 2009 would have given him a .260/.381/.445 line assuming that all of those extra hits were singles. It’s fair to assume that his power would have increased more than the normal player with a boosted BABIP due to his known knack to hit for power so this revised projection might be a little light on the power side. I’d personally suppress the batting average and OBP a bit while adding some to the slugging percentage. That gives you some nifty production from the catcher position that some team will have to find resourceful if Cleveland decides to cut ties with the arbitration eligible Shoppach.

It’s worth keeping a close eye on Shoppach’s situation this off season especially since he doesn’t appear to fit Cleveland’s plans very well. Wherever he lands the month of March will likely be key to his future. If Shoppach receives ample playing time he should be a cheap source of power from the catcher position and can be had extra late in your drafts or plucked off of the waiver wire due to his uninspiring, yet misleading, 2009 campaign.


FA Signing: Gonzo in Toronto, Part Two

Alex Gonzalez will be manning shortstop in Toronto once again… only it will be a different Alex Gonzalez.

Alex S. Gonzalez was the Jays’ starting shortstop from 1994-2001, before rookie GM J.P. Ricciardi shed his salary in a trade dump with the Cubs. The younger Gonzalez, who was originally signed by Florida, will take over the position nine years after the original Gonzo left town.

Both players share some similar traits. Both shortstops were above-average defenders, but below average hitters (albeit with a little added pop). The elder Gonzalez finished his career in ’07 with a triple-slash line of .243/.302/.391, while the 32-year-old infielder has a career line of .247/.294/.395 in 1,229 big-league games.

Entering 2010, the junior Gonzalez will see everyday duty at shortstop with Toronto. The club also recently announced that it had resigned veteran backup John McDonald to a two-year, $3.0 million contract. He’ll likely spell Gonzalez at short once or twice a week, while also seeing time at second base and third base.

Defensively, which really doesn’t help fantasy owners, Gonzalez should pair with Aaron Hill to provide solid defense up the middle. Gonzalez had an UZR of 10.5 this past season. His range will help to make up for the poor play at the hot corner by Edwin ‘E5’ Encarnacion. Gonzalez’ defense pulled up his abysmal hitting to give him a 0.5 WAR rating, which means he was worth about $2.4 million in ’09. Terms of his 2010 contract have not been released.

Gonzalez split the ’09 season between Boston and Cincinnati and hit .238/.279/.355 in 391 at-bats. Bill James’ projection for Gonzalez in 2010 is a line of .248/.305/.387. He hasn’t played more than 112 games in the past four seasons (having missed ’08 in its entirety), so McDonald should certainly get more playing time in 2010, after Marco Scutaro (possibly headed to Boston via free agency) started almost every game until he was hurt in September.

If Gonzalez sees some power return to his game in 2010 (His ISO was just .118 in ’09, compared to an average of .170 or so between 2003-07), he could see his value increase a little bit. Even so, he’s certainly not a Top 10 fantasy option at the position, and he may not be in the Top 20 either. Because of his defensive value, he’s far more valuable in real-life baseball than in fantasy ball.


Things I’m Thankful For: Fantasy Edition

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Since it is turkey day, I figured I’d give thanks to things throughout the fantasy world from last season and the upcoming one.

I’m thankful for…Brandon Webb getting hurt last year. Even though it ruined one of my teams, he will slip past his healthy value allowing owners to snatch him up and hope he’s healthy.

I’m thankful for…Victor Martinez being traded to the Red Sox. With a good lineup around him, it’s hard to imagine the RBI numbers that might show up in the box score next season. If they can add a decent hitting corner infielder, it will be even better.

I’m thankful for…Russell Branyan’s back issues. It may seem cruel that I’m happy about players are getting hurt, but it’s hard not to be. His back slowed him for a couple months, bringing his total numbers down and forcing owners to forget about his hot start a bit. While he won’t be a sleeper again, he may go a round or two later than he should.

I’m thankful for…Luke Scott. Scott’s power streak after coming off of an injury carried my team for a couple weeks. Not bad for a waiver wire pickup.

I’m thankful for…Ryan Franklin’s beard, and saves. Owners will ignore the fluky BABIP and lack of K’s and draft him far too early next year. I’m staying away, thank you very much (see what I did there?).

I’m thankful for…B.J. Upton’s bad 2009. He won’t hit .241 again, I promise. Because he still stole 42 bases, he won’t have sleeper status, but he will be undervalued.

I’m thankful for…Nick Johnson’s healthy ’09. I had Johnson in an OBP league, hoping he’d stay healthy and for once he did. Interested to see where he lands in free agency.

I’m thankful for…Mark Reynolds’ low batting average. Someone is going to say “no thanks” when they glance at his .260 avg, but I’m more than happy with 40+ jacks and 20+ steals from my third baseman.

I’m thankful for…Curtis Granderson’s struggles against southpaws. Like Reynolds, Grandy’s .249 avg is going to scare other owners off. Dig deeper, and you’ll see he hit .275/.358/.539 with 28 of his 30 homers against right handers. If you’re smart enough to check your matchups and only play Grandy versus righties, he’s extremely valuable.

All that being said, what are you thankful for?


Transaction Wire: Minor Moves

As you all probably know, it’s the American Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday, so we Canadian writers are holding down the fort, having celebrated our Thanksgiving this past Oct. 12 (We canuckleheads are a crazy bunch).

Anyway, your friends to the north are not the only ones working during this holiday time. Some Major League Baseball teams have been busy working the transaction wire, including the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Padres, Kansas City… and the White Sox, as you learned with Dave’s recent post discussing the signing of Andruw Jones with the White Sox.

The Boston Red Sox made a minor move by acquiring infielder Tug Hulett from the Kansas City Royals for a player to be named or cash. Hulett had been designated for assignment recently. The move brings in some infield depth on the 40-man roster. The infielder, who never got a fair shot in KC, moves on to a club that should truly appreciate his ability to get on base, while providing depth at multiple infield positions. His defense is nothing special, but Hulett is an offensive-minded infielder with a career minor-league on-base average of .393. He also has the ability to hit 10-15 homers and steal just as many bases if given full playing time, which is unlikely to happen. In deep AL-only fantasy leagues, Hulett could offer short-term value if an injury occurs to a Boston starter. Just you watch… Kansas City will now go out and give a veteran bench player $1 million to fill the role that Hulett could have done for the league minimum. Frankly, I think he would have been a nice pick-up by the Jays organization.

I won’t completely condemn the Royals. Like Hulett, Buck Coats is one of those minor-league players that I would have grabbed for depth if I was a big-league GM. The Kansas City organization signed the outfielder as a minor-league free agent after he spent the past two season in triple-A with Toronto. Keeping in mind that Coats played in one of the best triple-A parks to hit in, he managed a triple-slash line of .302/.361/.415 with 25 steals in 32 attempts. His strikeout rate was just 12.8%, yet he has never gotten on base enough (8.6 BB%) to take advantage of his speed. Coats could settle in as a nice fourth outfielder with arguably more offensive upside than Josh Anderson, Mitch Maier, or Willie Bloomquist (and for less money). If Coats does make the opening day roster, keep him in mind for possible steals in AL-only leagues.

The Toronto Blue Jays were expected to ink veteran shortstop John McDonald to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, but instead it turned out to be a two-year, $3 million deal, making the decision even worse than it was. Yes, Marco Scutaro is on his way out of town (for two much-needed, high draft picks) but the club could have found a better way to spend $3 million. Although the sample size is small, UZR suggests McDonald is no longer a gifted fielder, and that he’s still getting paid based on his reputation from years past. And offensively, he’s a black hole. If he ends up getting the starting – or even a platoon – gig in Toronto, do not – under any circumstance – consider him in your deepest of deep fantasy leagues. His 0.7% walk rate from ’09 is good for a chuckle, though.

Perhaps the most intriguing move of the day was the waiver claim of Radhames Liz. The hard-throwing right-hander was picked up by San Diego from Baltimore, which was obviously having Daniel Cabrera flashbacks. The 26-year-old Liz has a killer fastball, in terms of velocity, but he has troubles finding the plate on most nights. This past season, he threw well in eight double-A starts, but imploded in triple-A and the Majors. He had three shots at the Majors with Baltimore over the span of three seasons and failed them all, compiling a 6.26 FIP (7.50 ERA) along the way in 110.1 innings. Despite sitting around 92-94 mph, Liz has never had success in the Majors with his heater – or his 84 mph change-up. His slider has shown the most promise in limited showings, with a rate of -0.2 wSL. San Diego, which plays in a cavernous park, could be the best thing to happen to Liz in his pro career. If he can show enough command/control in spring training, he could develop into a power arm for the bullpen… But it is a big “If.” Liz is certainly not a fantasy option at this point, but don’t forget the name just yet.


Andruw Jones to the White Sox

According to MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, the Chicago White Sox have come to terms with Andruw Jones on a one-year, $500K contract with $1M in possible incentives.

Jones famously fell of the face of the Earth after inking a two-year, $36.2M deal with the Dodgers prior to the 2008 season. His wOBA in L.A. was a macabre .234. In just 238 PA with the men in blue, Jones managed to post -17.9 Park Adjusted Batting Runs.

Forced to take a minor league deal from the Rangers before the 2009 season (the Dodgers paid him to go far, far away), Jones was essentially a league-average batter in Arlington.

In 331 PA, Andruw batted .214/.323/.459. His wOBA was .338. After adjusting for the hitter-friendly nature of The Ballpark in Arlington, Jones posted +1.5 Batting Runs. He worked the count well (13.8 BB%), while crushing fastballs for a +1.28 run value per 100 pitches. Off-speed stuff caught him flat-footed, however: -1.25 runs/100 vs. sliders, -0.65 vs. curveballs and -0.41 vs. changeups.

Jones had just a .224 BABIP in 2009. The gut reaction is to say “fluke!” But Andruw’s BABIP since 2005 is .248. His career BABIP is .279.

Why might that be? Well, Jones hits a lot of fly balls. Andruw’s 49.5 FB% in 2009 was 12th-highest among batters with 300 or more PA. While fly balls are obviously beneficial to a slugger like Jones, they do have a lower BABIP than grounders. Also, Andruw pops the ball up frequently. His IF/FB% was 13.3 in 2009. Pop ups are near automatic outs.

Odds are, the 32 year-old won’t continue to post a BABIP in the .220’s. But his batted ball profile and track record suggest that he probably won’t see that BABIP skyrocket, either.

Still, Jones constitutes a nice, low-cost investment for the White Sox. He still has quality secondary skills (walks and power), and he’s guaranteed next to nothing in terms of salary. Bill James’ projections forecast a .335 wOBA for Andruw in 2010, while CHONE spits out a less-optimistic .323 mark.

The MLB.com article quotes White Sox GM Kenny Williams:

“This is an opportunity to add a power bat to the roster while improving our outfield depth,” White Sox general manager Ken Williams said in a statement. “With the addition of Andruw, Mark Kotsay and Omar Vizquel, we feel our bench is taking shape to be a strong asset heading into the 2010 season.”

Clearly, Chicago is not anticipating giving everyday AB’s to Jones next year. As a DH, he would basically be replacement-level. But if you feel that Andruw could play, say, +5 run defense in an outfield corner (he has a superb track record and hasn’t embarrassed himself in limited time in ’08 and ’09), he could be a league-average starter.

Jones is worth tracking as spring training approaches. The White Sox are looking at him as a depth signing, but the club is currently without a right fielder. And LF Carlos Quentin, slowed by Plantar fasciitis in 2009, has a career -5.3 UZR/150 between the outfield corners.

Andruw could be a fall-back option if other RF candidates aren’t appealing or if the Pale Hose give Quentin more time at DH. If he gets enough playing time, Jones still has enough bat to stay relevant in A.L.-only leagues.


Wither Chipper?

Since he got an everyday gig back in 1995, Chipper Jones has been an institution for the Atlanta Braves.

For a decade and a half, Larry Wayne Jones has scorched pitchers from both sides of the batter’s box. Chipper holds a career .404 wOBA, one point below the career marks of Hank Aaron , Duke Snider and Big Poison, Paul Waner.

Despite nagging aches and pains, Chipper has aged remarkably well. From 2006-2008, he compiled a .435 wOBA, remaining an on-base fiend capable of punishing pitches into the gaps and over the fence. In late March of 2009, the Braves came to terms with Jones on a three-year contract extension. The pact, covering the 2010-2012 seasons, will pay Chipper a total of $42M during his age 38-40 seasons.

On the heels of that extension, Jones turned in an offensive season quite mild by his lofty standards. He got off to a rousing start, but was a non-entity in August and September while battling groin, back and oblique injuries.

Overall, Chipper turned in a .354 wOBA, tied with his rookie campaign for his lowest full-season mark in the majors. Jones was patient as ever, drawing a walk in 17 percent of his PA and swinging at pitches out of the strike zone just 15.4 percent (25% MLB average).

His power, however, suffered:

Chipper crushed to the tune of .267 ISO in 2007 and a still-impressive .210 figure in 2008, but he dipped to a .166 ISO in 2009. That’s a bit above the .155 league average and .157 average for third basemen.

As you might have guessed from Chipper’s batting average dropping one hundred points from ’08 to ’09, his BABIP came down from its near-.390 mark in 2008:

Jones’s BABIP was .291 in 2009. Based on his rate of home runs, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and groundballs, Chipper’s Expected BABIP was .330. Even assuming all hits were singles, that would take Chipper’s triple-slash line from .264/.388/.430 to .303/.427/.469. That comes out to a wOBA around .401.

Of course, one could play devil’s advocate here, too. Jones is going on 38 years old, and while he has managed to stay on the field, he’s just about always nursing some ailment.

Perhaps you feel that Chipper’s bat speed is waning. His run value against fastballs, nearly +2.5 runs/100 from 2006-2008, dipped to +0.16 in 2009. Because these run values are based on actual outcomes, Jones’s values are dinged somewhat from the aforementioned low BABIP. But there’s still decline there.

According to Hit Tracker Online, Chipper’s dingers didn’t have quite the same force as in years past. His average speed off the bat was down a bit, and the Standard Distance of his homers dropped a fair amount ( Standard Distance is the estimated distance a HR would travel after accounting for wind, temperature and altitude).

Chipper’s speed off the bat (SOB) and standard distance (SD), by year:

2007: 104.5 MPH SOB, 404.8 SD
2008: 104.1 MPH SOB, 407.4 SD
2009: 103 MPH SOB, 395.2 SD

It’s extremely difficult to project a player like Jones, given his health issues and his age. The numbers are a mixed bag. On one hand, Chipper appeared to be hit-unlucky in ’09. But one the other hand, there are signs that he didn’t have the same punch as in years past.

For 2010, Sean Smith’s CHONE system pegs Jones for a .280/.377/.472 line. That comes to a wOBA near .373, and strikes me as a reasonable compromise between Jones’s actual .354 wOBA in 2009 and the .400-type mark that his XBABIP suggested.

Jones certainly comes with risk, but odds are he’s not done at the dish. Perhaps his days as an offensive force are coming to a close, but he still has enough lumber to remain a quality fantasy option at the hot corner.