The fantasy alphabet, part four: N-Q

N is for New kids on the block

I’ve already touched on why you should play the upside and draft rookies. Who are the ones you should dole out the dollars for in 2012?

Matt Moore
Surprise, surprise. The The number one pitching prospect in baseball in 2011 (according to Keith Law) did not disappoint in his September showcase, where he pitched 19 combined innings between the regular season and playoffs, striking out a whopping 23 and posting seven shutout frames in the ALDS versus the Rangers.

The question isn’t whether Matt Moore will be good. He has the pedigree, (very) small sample size performance coupled with uniform minor league success, the stuff, and the opportunity to be a massive success, and the Rays breed strong pitching arms.

The question, rather, is whether Matt Moore will be worth his average draft position. Hiroki Kuroda was the 24th ranked starting pitcher, per ESPN, with a 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 13 wins, and 161 punch-outs. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Moore besting the strikeout and WHIP numbers, and putting up similar win and ERA totals—the Rays boast one of the best defenses in the league, which partly explains Jeremy Hellickson’s flukish 2.95 ERA in 2011.

The 24th starting pitcher drafted in ESPN standard leagues was Max Scherzer at 102.6, and Moore should land somewhere in—between Scherzer’s 2010 number and Hellickson’s ADP (163.9, the 39th starting pitcher taken). He possesses the ability to best Kuroda’s numbers and be a solid #2 starter, and won’t be taken among the first twenty pitchers. Eat the value.

Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer was the third overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, and after setting record after record at UCLA, impressed mostly in his first taste of minor league ball. He struck out a dirty 43 strikeouts in just 23.2 innings in high A ball and AA. Despite a 7.56 ERA in AA, he put up a FIP of 3.44, and suffered from a bit of “hazing” from BABIP gods, posting a .353 mark in A+ and a .429 mark in AA.

There were rumblings—at least in the blogging world—that Bauer should have been called up in late 2011. Jack Moore at FanGraphs called Bauer “the most major-league ready prospect from the 2011 MLB draft.” Keith Law agrees, and Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, and Joe Saunders are all legitimate question marks.

Bauer may not have a spot in the rotation come April 1, but with the unpredictable back end of the Snakes’ rotation, he should be up by June 1. Owners in deep leagues, NL-only leagues, and dynasty formats where he isn’t owned (unlikely as that is) should take note.

Devin Mesoraco
The Reds’ catcher of the future (and present?) started off his minor league career slowly, with a .261 average in A ball, and a .228 showing in A+ the subsequent year, but his talent was clear even then, with a strong and improved 9.8 BB$ in his 2009 A+ campaign. Thought to possess more power upside, Mesoraco mashed 26 homers across A+, AA, and AAA in 2010, and entered 2011 with 58 AAA plate appearances under his belt.

Mesoraco enjoyed such a successful AAA season that, in Keith Law’s July 14th midseason prospect report, he shot up to number six in the minors from the pre-season 31. “A potential All-Star,” he wrote.

The two-headed monster of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan were the clear obstacles to his manning the Cincinnati catching post, and Hernandez will walk as a free agent this winter. Hanigan has two years left on his friendly contract, and might be part of a clean timeshare with Mesoraco. But that friendly contract might mean he’s traded for more important assets, and Mesoraco is let loose.

Dusty Baker isn’t the friendliest of old men to his young prospects, but Devin Mesoraco has the potential to be special. Say hello to your NL Rookie of the Year?

O is for O-Swing and Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano stuck out in 14.1 percent of his at-bats in 2011. The number isn’t startling, or even above league average, but it was an even 3 percent jump from his previous 11.1 percent mark, and an even bigger departure from his 2009 9.3%. What gives?

Cano swung at 5.1 percent more pitchers outside of the zone in 2011 than in 2010, and his 41.6 percent mark was 7.8 percent higher than his career average. Cano’s O-Contact percentage, however, didn’t jump, meaning he made barely any more contact on swings outside of the zone, despite swinging at 5.1 percent more of those pitches.

The O-Swing Percentage stat merely explains the disturbing trend we’re seeing: Robinson Cano is ditching his plate discipline. To go along with his newly wild swinging ways, Cano left the progress he made in the walks department behind. This graph illustrates his BB, K, and O-Swing percentages over the last three seasons, compared with his career norm.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Cano can clearly be an excellent fantasy player in lieu of his free-swinging ways (trending in the wrong direction, as you can see), but his batting average numbers are surely limited as a result. 30-100-100-.300 is nothing to balk at, but neither is 20 batting average points.

P is for the PETCO Pitchers

I’m down to my last spot. I have one dollar to burn on one spot. Some people have three or four spots left, maybe 20 bucks to spend on whomever they choose. I need to look deep. I need a starting pitcher. Kyle Loshe? Joe Saunders? These people are the definition of shaky. I want more upside to match the risk. I’ll take a PETCO pitcher. Who’s new in San Diego? Aaron Harang? Wait, that might work. The guy was killed by homers in Great American. Hell, why not? Aaron Harang, a buck!

The draft room burst out laughing. Harang had won 18 games in the previous three years combined, and put up a 5.32 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 2010. His strikeout numbers had dropped from 216 and 218 in 2006 and 2007 to 153, 142, and 82 from 2008-2010. He was the epitome of washed-up, and he was only drafted because of his home park: PETCO.

Sure enough, Harang rebounded well in PETCO, putting up a fairly good ERA (3.64) albeit with a little bit of luck. He posted 14 wins on an anemic offense—again, aided by luck—and posted a 3.05 ERA at home. I was among the many who started him only at home, and reaped the rewards.

Padres pitchers posted a 3.02 ERA at home in 2011, good enough for third in the majors. Since the opening of PETCO in 2004, the Padres pitchers have posted a 3.40 ERA at home, in a robust 6,020 innings. The second best home staff since 2004 has been the Cardinals at 3.63.

Tim Stauffer posted a 2.57 ERA at PETCO in 2011. Clayton Richard, in a 47 innings sample size, put up a 2.30 ERA at home. Mat Latos and Aaron Harang had 3.24 and 3.05 showings, respectively. Dustin Moseley (4.05) and Cory Luebke (4.04) didn’t fare so well, but their downsides as spot-start pitchers weren’t particularly low.

Keep your eye out for any free agent pitchers who end up in PETCO over this winter. They’ll be worth that buck more often than not.

Q is for Quelling your doubts…

Martin Prado is no longer a fantasy asset.
Look no further than his .266 BABIP and freak staph infection injury to explain Prado’s slow year. A career .293 hitter with a .315 BABIP, Prado slipped to .260 and .266 respectively, due to his 14.6 percent LD (compared to his 18.9 percent career number). His batted ball types were pretty much in line with his career totals, otherwise, and he struck out over four percent less than the previous year. Chalk this one up to bad luck and a little regression; Prado still has the potential to hit .300 and may hit 20 homers one year.

Colby Rasmus is barely a #4 outfielder.
Rasmus finished 93rd on the ESPN Player Rater for outfielders, behind the likes of Endy Chavez, Jason Kubel, and Ryan Raburn. He only played in 129 games, yes, but when he played, he was ineffective and a constant headache. Rasmus, like Prado, got eaten alive by the BABIP monsters, and dropped from an admittedly inflated and unsustainable .354 to an equally unsustainable (on the other side of the spectrum) .267. His average dropped 51 points with it, all the way down to .225. Rasmus’s LD percentage only slipped three percent, though, and the only red flag is his 15.5 percent IFFB. A relatively clean slate in Toronto should be plenty to rejuvenate the young Rasmus; if not that, then the friendly bounces surely will.

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Would you keep Moore over Pineda?  (Price would be the same for 2012)

Nick Fleder
Nick Fleder

Moore has tremendous upside and is quite polished for someone for a guy with under 30 major league innings, but Pineda is superb and has room to take a step forward. His ERA was a tad bit high, and he could probably end up throwing 200+ innings. BABIP is a tad low, even for an fly-ball pitcher, but keep Pineda.

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson

fwiw, I think you have a toss up scenario. Is there a reason you can’t keep both?

Greg Simons
Greg Simons

I particularly like the “P is for PETCO Pitchers” section.  I picked up all three of the players you talked about at the beginning of the section – Lohse, Saunders and Harang – in my reserve rounds.  Shockingly, they all served me fairly well.

I won’t be keeping Harang (who knows where he’ll be next year), but I do have Latos for $6 and Luebke for $1.