Waiver Wire Offseason: AL

Scott Kazmir | Los Angeles | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.1 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, 4.89 ERA
LIPS ERAs (2006-2009): 3.66, 3.56, 3.71, 4.40


First the bad news: Kazmir’s K/9 rate has dropped annually since posting 11.4 K/9 in 2007. Worse, he went from 7.4 to 6.4 after his move to LA from TB. Through 2008, he averaged 9.7 K/9, so he was entering 2009 with sky-high expectations for 2009, as he was still just 25 years old. Of course, all the various “stuff” metrics, such as FIP and its descendents (LIPS being the current front-runner), suffered mightily. These are all highly reliant on the strikeout rate, to the point where it can obscure the other factors of a pitcher’s skill set.

Scott Kazmir 2009 (Icon/SMI)

Let’s consider those “other factors” of Kazmir’s skill set. First off, he’s never thrown overwhelmingly hard, though in his first year—as a rookie trying to impress—his fastball averaged 93.7 mph for his eight games (seven starts). After that, he posted 92.6 in his second season, and hasn’t topped 92.1 since. Well, he dropped down to 90.7 as a Ray in 2009. Of course, he faced tougher opposition than most pitchers while on Tampa Bay, as well—.763 OPS average for opponents (courtesy of baseballprospectus.com). And he was wasn’t fooling these good hitters at all. His brutal 5.92 ERA as a member of the Rays was worse than his ERA estimators, but those were all bad as well, even his tERA (4.65 in TB), which isn’t dependent upon K/9, except in as much as strikeouts are a very “rewarding” event since there isn’t any chance for anything good happening.

So, who is this guy who showed up in Cali after seemingly forgetting how to pitch in Florida? His velocity suddenly returned, with an average fastball velocity of 92.5 mph. His tERA was a killer 2.70, even if his “stuff”-based metrics didn’t seem “ace-like” (his LIPS in LA was 3.83, while his xFIP was 4.79). Part of his success can be attributed to facing lesser opponents; getting Seattle (twice), Oakland, and Chicago among his six starts led to an average opponent OPS of .730, but carving up .730-OPS-level MLB hitters like he did is still impressive … even if his K/9 didn’t rebound to levels he’d reached in previous seasons.

As with the Liriano summary, the only really important information here is probably that he was healthy and had his velocity back. This is a guy who has a proven track record of knowing how to get batters out when he has his good stuff. Escaping the clutches of the AL East can only help him. Neither Seattle nor Oakland appears to be very interested in scoring runs, and while he’s not Mark Buehrle, he’s created about as many outs (29 CS and 25 PkOff) in his career as he’s allowed stolen bases (50 SB total). That’s important with the speed in the division. Further, Texas isn’t the same offensive powerhouse it was recently, with none of their batter projections ranking in the top 50 by wOBA using CHONE (thanks to fangraphs.com); and if Borbon makes the lineup, the Rangers would have two elite speed guys as well. In conclusion, we’re as bullish about Kazmir as is possible for a guy who’s coming off a 4.89 ERA season. He’s unlikely to ever rack up tons of innings, but should be high-impact when he pitches.

Rich Harden | Texas | SP
2009 Final Stats: 10.9 K/9, 2.6 K/BB, 4.09 ERA
LIPS ERAs (2006-2009): 2006-7: 3.84, 2008: 3.26, 2009: 3.50


This author will start off by suggesting a well-written THT article by fellow Cubs fan Harry Pavlidis as a must read.

Jim Hendry said he was looking for 25 games in 2009 from Harden, and the “rest on occasion” strategy Lou Piniella used eked 26 starts out of the fragile righty. Of course, that was only good for 141 innings, and Cubs management was clear that the pressure of having such a limited-playing-time pitcher was the primary reason for not bringing him back in 2010 despite his good contributions to the Cubs.

Mr. Pavlidis begins: “The scope of most Rich Harden articles usually ends up including his gaudy whiff rates…”, and then proceeds to discuss other important aspects of Harden’s performance. At the risk of being shallow, we’ll happily jump into the “most articles” camp and rave about those K’s. But 2009 showed something which had previously seemed impossible—Harden was uninjured and not great. Even with his average fastball velocity dropping to 92 mph over 2008-2009, Harden is one of those pitchers who makes everyone around stop and watch when he’s pitching; his “stuff” is so terrific. Batters shake their heads, pitchers drool with envy, and opposing managers start wondering how they are going to scratch out a run or two and when they will be able force him out of the game.

We’ll unabashedly suggest that Harden will be great in 2010 primarily because he’s still fanning batters at a “striking” rate. Add to that the unsustainable 15% HR/FB% he suffered in 2009, the popgun offenses in the AL West, and the fact that his quick move to home makes him good at preventing steals compared to other righties. Top that off with Pavlidis’ conclusion that the Andrus/Kinsler tandum and a return to “normal” luck should pare down his BABIP, and there’s every reason to expect him to perform at an ace-like level again in 2010…

… until he gets hurt.

Julio Borbon | Texas | OF
2009 Final Stats: .312/.376/.414


In a Jan. 22 comment, I put off writing about speed-burner Julio Borbon with this comment:

As a brief preview, I can tell you my initial take on Borbon is that his roto value will be based almost entirely on playing time, and he seems to be just good enough—or bad enough—that spring training could have a big role in determining his first-half PT. If he plays, he’s a force. A knee-jerk projection would be something slightly better than Bourn’s first season in Houston. I may put him off a couple weeks in the hope that maybe some more clues to the OF situation in Texas arise.

Wednesday, Derek Ambrosino discussed the generalities of this type of high-risk player, using Borbon as an example.

Julio Borbon—on the fast track (Icon/SMI)

Sean Smith has incorporated TotalZone for minor leaguers, and CHONE projects a 10-run savings as a 500-AB CF (approximately; it’s really 14 runs as a 518-AB side outfielder, but he’s slated to play CF). Obviously, the “error bars” on any projection based on such potentially specious data are going to be huge, but there’s no good reason to presume he won’t be an above-average defender. His job security will come down to his bat. CHONE thinks he will do quite well, projecting .297/.349/.400. Heater e-Magazine (heatermagazine.com) Rangers expert Joey Matschulat has projected him to lead off against both LHP and RHP, based on a combination of team statements and expected success.

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So, what’s not to like? Well, either of Nelson Cruz or Josh Hamilton is able to play center field. The team clearly does not want this to happen, and will probably try swapping Andrus and Borbon in the lineup at the first sign of struggles. But it’s safe to say that if Borbon isn’t hitting by June, the team will take other measures (think 2009 Jordan Schafer in Atlanta), either playing one of their corner guys out of position in CF or making a deal.

Counting stolen base opportunities (SBO) the way baseball-reference.com does, his rate of SBO/PA was about what could be expected given his OBP, at .43, but a lot of that is dependent on what the batters do behind him. Brian Roberts (.356 OBP and a goodly number of extra-base hits) was .38 in 2009, higher than it had been in previous years when his OBP was higher. Jeter, with his .406 OBP, was .58. If Borbon’s OBP is reduced to the projected .350 level in 2010, that will offset the advantages of leading off. Bundled all together, he’s very likely to have between 250-300 SBO in 2010. If he’s allowed to run as often as in 2009 and is successful at a similar rate (he had 19 SB in just 77 SBO), that’s upwards of 60 steals! Of course, it would be unwise to rely on some of these assumptions. Given that his peak SB season in the minors was 53 in 594 PA, it’s clear he was getting more opportunities against some of the easier batteries in 2009 (the four steals he had in five AB against Carl Pavano—33-6 opponent SB-CS against in 2009—jump out from scanning his BvP stats, for example). But we’d say that CHONE’s 35-SB projection is very conservative, and with a full allotment of playing time, he’ll sail beyond the 40-SB mark.

Matt LaPorta | Cleveland | OF/1B
2009 Final Stats: .254/.308/.442


Elvis Andrus | Texas | SS
2009 Final Stats: .267/.329/.373


Ryan Rowland-Smith | Seattle | SP
LIPS ERAs (2007-2009): 3.93, 4.42, 4.32


Here is a 16-page preview of Graphical Player 2010. Acta Sports is currently SOLD OUT. Until they publish more, the book can be ordered through major booksellers.

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