March 2010

Who Replaces Huston Street?

By Tommy Rancel

The Rockies are expected to start the season with closer Huston Street on the disabled list. Street has been battling shoulder stiffness this spring, and suffered a setback while playing catch on Tuesday. He  underwent an MRI on Wednesday, and although the results were clean, he is likely too far behind on his throwing program to be ready by opening day.

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Right-handers Rafael Betancourt and Manny Corpas would seem like obvious replacements, but both have issues of their own. Like Street, Betancourt has missed time with a shoulder issue this spring. Corpas, on the other hand, missed the second half of 2009 with a bone chip in his right arm.

More likely, the Rockies will turn to left-handed former starting pitching prospect Franklin Morales to fill in for Street. Most baseball fans remember Morales, 24, as a promising rookie starter on the 2007 National League championship team. He dealt with a back injury and inconsistency in 2008, and had a shoulder problem of his own in 2009. Once healthy, he rejoined the Rockies as member of the bullpen. When Street went on the DL in September with biceps tendinitis, Morales closed out six games in his absence.
 
He made 40 appearances last season (38 in relief) and had a league average-ish 4.50 ERA. He also saved seven games in eight chances. Despite the ho-hum ERA, Morales showed traits of a good relief pitcher.

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In his brief time as a major league starter (72.2 innings), Morales had an unimpressive strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) of 5.4. Meanwhile, as a relief pitcher he struck out a batter per inning (32 strikeouts in 32 innings). He also allowed just one home run in 32 relief innings.
 
The knock on Morales has been control. In his major league career, he has a walks per nine innings rate (BB/9) of 4.6. In 2009, his BB/9 was over 5.0. While his control remains an issue, velocity is not. As a starter, Morales averaged low 90s on his fastball; as a reliever, he topped 93.0 mph, on average, in 2009.
 
Outside of his strikeout rate, Morales currently offers little to fantasy players. With a league average ERA and poor walk rates, his average draft position is just 335.5. That said, as a the potential closer on a promising team, those flaws become less relevant, and Morales becomes a serious late-inning target.

Grab Morales at the back end of your draft, especially in a deep NL-only league or a larger mixed league. Given Street’s injury history, as well as the medical and performance questions facing the rest of the bullpen, Morales presents the potential for some cheap save opportunities – and maybe more.

For more on Franklin Morales and other potential sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Chris Davis: Fantasy Post-Hype Sleeper or Bust?

by Eno Sarris

The concept of the post-hype sleeper is often bandied about in fantasy baseball circles. But its meaning is vague and even its very existence can be dubious. Most likely, it’s meant to apply to a player that had a pedigree coming up in the minor leagues that struggled upon facing the big boys at some point – and we all moved on.

Ron Shandler, fantasy baseball prognosticator extraordinaire and member of the inaugural Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Experts League, has his own famous saying that seems apropos:

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Once a player displays a skill, he owns it. That display could
occur at any time — earlier in his career, back in the minors, or even
in winter ball play. And while that skill may lie dormant after its
initial display, the potential is always there for him to tap back into
that skill at some point, barring injury or age. That dormant skill can
reappear at any time given the right set of circumstances.

So once a player shows us his prodigious power or excellent eye or speedy wheels, the argument goes, he can do it again – just give him the right set of circumstances and enough time. We all knew Russell Branyan had big power, for instance; it just took a black hole at first base in Seattle nine years into his career until he got a legitimate shot to launch 30-plus homers in a season. 

Our own Eriq Gardner has countered the argument, calling it merely the remnants of the hype label being “more sticky than people realize.” He points to one article in particular by Joe Sheehan where he put the label on Felix Hernandez, Jeremy Hermida, Anthony Reyes, Andy Marte, and Zack Greinke. Of course, that wasn’t the year Hernandez or Greinke broke out, and it does show the peril of applying the label, particularly in the case of Hermida.

Finally we come to Chris Davis, a player that showed oodles of pop on the way up in the minor leagues (.306/.366/.585 combined AVG/OBP/SLG line in the minors). Davis then exploded onto the major league scene, hitting .285/.331/.549 in his rookie year of 2008. When he fizzled to a .202/.256/.415 start in the first half last year, the hype flew by him like high cheese. Suddenly hype-less, he was sent back in the minor leagues trying to find his mojo. He mashed, was CDavisGrab.jpgpromoted, and mashed some more (.308/.338/.496). Check the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool for a graphical representation of his slugging percentage by month last year. Roller coaster!

So, should we affix the post-hype sleeper label on Davis or not? Definitely maybe.

Allow me to explain. In the Shandler corner stands Davis’ power as an example of a skill that Davis has shown and can show again. Throughout the minors, Davis had an ISO (Isolated slugging percentage, or slugging percentage minus batting average) that never once dipped below .257 in a full year; it was a sky-high .279 over 1,345 minor league plate appearances. For comparison’s sake, putting that number up in the majors would land him between Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Reynolds on the power spectrum. Serious artillery there. In the major leagues, that number is still a high .230, with a peak of .264 his rookie year and a very respectable trough of .204 last year. Still, that’s the difference between, say, Nelson Cruz (.264 ISO last year) and Curtis Granderson (.204).

Whether he’s got ‘nice’ Granderson-esque power, or light-tower Gonzo power, it seems safe to say that Davis has shown power and owns it. The ride may get a little bumpy though, as we’ve seen. Does the fact that Davis had a .306 batting average in the minor leagues and batted .285 over 295 at-bats his rookie year mean that he ‘owns’ batting average as a skill? That’s tougher to say.

Beyond the small sample sizes inherent in using one season’s worth of plate appearances, there’s the fact that batting average is not a skill – it’s a result. The skills that go into batting average are legion. There’s plate discipline, contact, and speed – at the very least. So while Davis’ batting average – the result of these skills – has been divergent, his actual underlying component skills have been relatively constant. Check out the similarities in his two walk rates (a low 6.3% in his rookie year and 5.7% last year) and his two contact rates (a very low 68.1% in 2008 and even lower 63.2% in 2009). Those seem pretty similar, and they point to some serious holes in Davis’ game.

His strikeout rates concur (29.8% and 38.4% respectively). That puts Davis somewhere between Mark Reynolds (38.6% last year) and Mike Cameron (28.7%) on the strikeout scale. If he strikes out that often, Davis will struggle to put up respectable batting averages. A player like Carlos Pena provides you with a hopeful future for Davis, as he has similar contact (69.6%) and strikeout (31%) rates, but he also features a nicer walk rate (13.3%), and that selectivity is important. If Davis doesn’t start walking more, he may just end up like Brandon Inge (8.5% walk rate, 30.2% strikeout rate, 71.7% contact rate and a .230 batting average last year).

If power is all you seek, you can call Chris Davis a post-hype sleeper and pick him, although trying to get him closer to his B-Rank (214) than his ADP (172) might still be a good idea. If you are expecting 2008 all over again, you are better off not applying the label and avoiding him altogether.

For more information on Chris Davis and other big-whiffing sluggers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit for yourself. 
      

The Bloomberg Sports Experts League

By R.J. Anderson

Bloomberg Sports recently held a fantasy draft featuring six industry experts and six avid fantasy players from different walks of life. For more information make sure to check out the official league site.

Here’s a brief rundown of the rosters:

Harold Reynolds of the MLB Network loaded up on power arms and flashy hitters alike. The triumvirate of Chase Utley, Adrian Gonzalez, and
Justin Upton is a pretty solid top threesome on any squad. Reynolds
also seems to be a fan of Boston’s off-season additions, since he
popped both Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre. Edwin Jackson, Carlos
Zambrano
, Roy Oswalt, Chris Carpenter, and Yovani Gallardo help
Reynolds’ projected total of 112 wins.

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Lawr Michaels of Mastersball.com had the first selection and took Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez – one of two players generally accepted in that slot (along with Albert Pujols). He also features a strong set of relievers that project to finish with 100 saves, good for second-best in the league, backed by Brian Fuentes, Rafael Soriano, and Leo Nunez.

Ron Shandler of BaseballHQ.com jumped on Pujols at number two. He seemingly punted saves though, rostering Heath Bell as his only closer. Shandler is projected at a league-low 53 saves, which is seven saves fewer than the next-lowest team (Gardner).

USA Today’s Steve Gardner did a fine job knocking his own efforts. He did manage to grab Ian Kinsler, David Wright, and Andrew McCutchen, as well as promising rookie Jason Heyward. Gardner’s offense is projected to finish with the second-fewest homers, runs scored, and runs batted in. His pitching staff expects to fare better, though, with Cliff Lee, John Lackey, and Rich Harden leading a staff that projects to finish third in wins.

KFFL’s Tim Heaney loaded up on top-100 players, particularly those with odd facial hair. Kevin Youkilis, Jayson Werth, and Nelson Cruz, along with the clean-shaven Mark Teixeira, headline the offensive efforts. Heaney’s pitching staff projects relatively weakly, second-to-last in projected wins.

Rotowire’s Derek Van Riper loves him some upside. Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer are the big names here, and Van Riper also added Ben Zobrist, one of the most valuable players in baseball last year. Some interesting upside picks here include B.J. Upton, Rickie Weeks, and Elvis Andrus, who certainly has the defense to play in the majors, and could see an offensive boost come with age.

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For more
information on these players and access to the team analysis tool, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit
.

Wandy Rodriguez, The Value-Priced Johan Santana

By Tommy Rancel

Wandy Rodriguez joined the ranks of baseball’s elite starting pitchers in 2009. The Houston Astros left-hander went 14-12 with a sparkling 3.02 ERA in 33 starts in 2009. He also struck out 193 batters while topping 200 innings (205.2) for the first time.

Those are impressive numbers for any pitcher, but there is reason to believe Rodriguez can duplicate those numbers in 2010, and maybe improve them.

There is a lot to like about Rodriguez’s game. His career strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) rate is 7.5, but he has posted back-to-back seasons over 8.4. In each of the past two seasons, Rodriguez has lowered his walks per nine (BB/9) and stabilized his home run rate to less than one home run per nine innings (HR/9) – no small feat in the cozy confines of Minute Maid Park.

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In addition to his swing-and-miss stuff, Rodriguez gets his fair share of ground balls. He owns a career ground ball rate (GB%) of 43.5%. In 2009, he elevated that number slightly to 44.9%. Rodriguez had a rather normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .306 last year, despite some below-average fielding behind him. Looking at ultimate zone rating (UZR), Miguel Tejada, the Astros’ shortstop last season,  had the lowest UZR (-13.9) of any National League shortstop. Second basemen Kaz Matsui was rated a bit higher, but his UZR (-1.7) was still in the red at season’s end.

With Tejada now at third base for the Baltimore Orioles, Houston will turn to rookie Tommy Manzella at shortstop. What? Who? Good questions.
 
Manzella is a slick-fielding shortstop who has toiled around the upper levels of the Astros minor leagues for the past few seasons. Recently, ESPN.com writer Tim Kurkjian noted that Manzella’s defense has been major league-ready for years, but only now is the 26-year-old getting his shot. Over the past few seasons in Triple-A, he has rated above average defensively by totalzone, a metric similar to UZR.

With Manzella projected to be the team’s every-day shortstop, Rodriguez could see his BABIP creep closer toward .300 and maybe even lower. A lower BABIP could knock Rodriguez’s already stellar 3.02 ERA down below the 3.00 level.

Despite the solid control rates (K/9, BB/9) and the favorable batted ball data (GB% and HR/9) some might say Rodriguez is a one-year wonder; Bloomberg Sports disagrees. Looking at B-Rank, Rodriguez is slotted one spot ahead of fellow lefty, and traditional fantasy baseball stud, Johan Santana.

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Though Santana is behind in B-Rank, his average draft position (ADP) of 37.1 is nearly 74 spots ahead of Rodriguez (110.6). Bloomberg Sports projects Rodriguez to go 13-10 with a 3.11 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 197 innings this season. The same system projects Santana at 14-10 with a 3.31 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 193 innings.

While Rodriguez should benefit with improved defense from Manzella, Santana is likely to start the season without two of his best defenders behind him: Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes. Given the projections, the noted defensive changes, and the 2009 injury to Santana, Rodriguez is not only the better value, but could be the better pitcher outright in 2010.

Why waste a third-round pick on Santana when you could get similar, if not better, production from Rodriguez later? I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of paying more for less. 


For more
information on Wandy Rodriguez and other top-flight starting pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit
.

AL East Second Basemen: A Bumper Crop

By Tyler McKee

The
AL East is flush with second base talent. Each team’s starter played
more than 150 games in 2009 and four ranked among the six second
basemen
who scored 100 runs.

With top-end talent being rare at the position, any
one of these players makes a strong case to fill that 2B slot. Taking a
look at B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary
ranking system), as well as Bloomberg Sports’ spider charts for 5×5
hitting stats, we can easily identify
each player’s strengths and weaknesses.


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The Blue Jays’ Aaron Hill
hit 36 homers last season, first among all second-baggers and ninth
across all
positions. Power is his strong suit; his six steals and .330 on-base
percentage last year fall well short of elite status.

The Yankees’ Robinson
Cano
bounced back in 2009 to a career high of 25 homers and the
highest
average among second basemen at .320. He’s well suited to new Yankee
Stadium, a park that favors left-handed hitters and also turned moderate
power threat Johnny Damon into a major home run source last
year. Still, Cano gets a low Bloomberg
B-ranking of 99 because he lacks speed, with only five stolen bases last
year. Cano’s runs scored are also hurt by his aggressive approach at
the plate; his walk rate of 4.5% last year was second-lowest in the
majors for second basemen.


Brian Roberts
‘ B-rank
places him at 37, because of his consistency across all five batting
categories. The spider charts show the Baltimore Oriole rating above
average in every category. His 30
steals ranked him second at the position last year. But Roberts has seen

those same speed numbers decline in recent years. Couple this with his
current injury status, a herniated disc that has kept him out of Spring
Training, and one can see why his average draft position is 24 spots
lower than his B-Rank.

Despite a drop-off in batting
average of almost 30 points, Boston’s Dustin Pedroia still
managed to hit .296 last
season with an OPS of .819. Power was all he lacked, with just 17
homers. He managed to swipe 20 bags last year, the second time he’s
accomplished that feat. At 26, Pedroia’s entering his prime and should
be off the board
quickly after Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler. His current ADP
has him drafted
32nd.

Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist got off to a
torrid start in 2009, earning an everyday job and ending the season as
one of baseball’s most valuable players, with 27 home runs, a
.948 OPS and great defense. Was it a fluke? Zobrist’s .326 BABIP was a
little high (league average is around .300). Meanwhile, isolated power
(slugging percentage minus batting average) was a sky-high .246.
Bloomberg Sports colleague Tommy Rancel has chronicled The
Zobrist Code
, including Zobrist’s work with hitting instructor
Jamie Cevallos. Still, some regression toward the mean is expected.
Even then, Zobrist projects as an elite option at second base: He’s
going off the board at number 52 according to Bloomberg Sports ADP
numbers.

For more
information on good second base options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit
.

True Value of Great Relievers, Part 2

By Eriq Gardner

In the first part of our look into the true value of great relievers, we described why great relievers contribute just as much value in ERA and WHIP as starters.

Simply put, a fantasy team’s ERA and WHIP is a function of the total amount of earned runs, hits, and walks given up over the total number of team innings pitched. What matters most is finding pitchers who will save a team’s ratios from damage by limiting the number of earned runs, hits, and walks allowed.

We showed why the advantage of having great relievers instead of bad relievers is comparable to having great starters instead of mediocre ones, and it’s almost time to explain how one can get a strategic edge by leveraging the full value of relievers.

But first, we need to quickly examine two concepts that also play a role in this discussion.
The first factor is variability.
In Part 1 of the study, we noted that Jonathan Broxton is expected to save eight runs over Leo Nunez, which is not an insignificant number. However, two bad games at the beginning of April where Broxton lets up a couple of unlucky grand slams erases that advantage. Over a long-term period, we can be confident that a player will live up to his skills. But in a small sample size like 75 IP, how can we safely say that Broxton will come close to his projected 2.76 ERA?
We can’t.
As visual proof, here’s two radar graphs which plot ERA vs. xFIP (a measure of what a pitcher’s ERA should be based on peripheral stats such as strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate). On the left, you’ll see the 20 pitchers who pitched the most innings in baseball last year. On the right, you’ll see the 20 pitchers who gained the most saves last year. On the left, you see a little variability. On the right, you see a lot.
RelieversxFIP.pngStartersxFIP.png

So if we can’t confidently project a reliever’s ERA, should we give up on the idea we should roster them with the expectation they’ll help in the category?
Nope.
The more relievers that a team has on its roster, the more closely the relievers’ ERA in aggregate will match our expectations. For instance, the average difference between the above starters’ ERA and xFIP was 0.51. For the relievers, it was 0.58. Not that big a deal if a fantasy team is willing to invest in several relievers to get the job done. A couple might underperform. A couple might outperform. In total, they should do what we expect.
Next comes the concept of scarcity.
How much of an investment (via high draft picks) does one have to make on great relievers? And if we need them in bulk to be ensured of having an impact, are there simply too few great relievers out there?
It turns out there are quite a few great relievers in any given year, and as you’ll see below, you don’t need to spend much to build a strong bullpen. Players such as Mike Thornton, Mike Adams, Mike Wuertz, Matt Guerrier, George Sherrill, Ronaldo Bellisario, and Jason Frasor all put up an ERA last season that was more than a run under than the league average.

They are not alone. Yes, not all are closers, but remember that in our expansive view of the value of relievers, we’ve shown that they provide value beyond saves, and thus, it’s fair to consider middle relievers and set-up men too. In fact, anybody who looks at an in-season player rater (on service providers like ESPN) measuring the real value contributed by players will see quite a number of middle relievers near the top of the charts, largely on the strength of contributions in ERA/WHIP. Last year, for example, Wuertz was roughly the 38th most valuable pitcher in 5-by-5 roto leagues, ahead of solid closers like Francisco Cordero and good starters like Ryan Dempster.

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Of course, fantasy teams need closers too, because saves do count. So now we start getting into the best strategy for rostering relievers via draft.
When looking at pitchers in general, we want to focus foremost on underlying skills — the ability to strike out batters, the ability to have control and limit walks, and the ability to limit damage by preventing line drives and home runs. A pitcher who displays these skills can be expected to save earned runs, hits, and walks over the long haul.
Some relievers such as Broxton, Mariano Rivera, Joakim Soria, and Heath Bell do all these things extraordinarily well and deserve a premium because of the added contributions they make in the saves category. It’s perfectly reasonable to select them high in drafts because they are providing strong value in ERA/WHIP plus racking up numbers in the scarcest of categories — saves.
There are other closers out there, including Frank Francisco and Chad Qualls, who also sport strong peripherals, but might get discounted because of perceived job insecurity. In the middle rounds, each makes a good target.
Finally, at the end of drafts, there’s a good quantity of middle relievers out there whose value in ERA/WHIP strongly outweighs starters being drafted late. If these great middle relievers contribute more value than mediocre starters, it makes sense to take them ahead of those mediocre starters. (Plus, these are the relievers who are most likely to be promoted to closer during the season — adding the prospect of even greater value.)
Anybody reading closely at this point might wonder about available roster room to gather all these relievers. Rostering depends a lot on context. The more roster spots per team in a given league, the more available room for relievers who will provide help in ERA/WHIP. A smaller bench might mean not as much opportunity to draft a heavy load of relievers.
That said, teams that acknowledge that late-round relievers can provide as much value in ERA/WHIP as early-round starters can use their biggest investments not on starters, but on stable hitters who won’t require back-ups, nor replacements. Having a team built upon stellar relievers saves high draft picks for a killer offense, which then saves bench room for more pitchers.
Relievers also tend to post much higher strikeout rates than starters. A team that relies heavily on reliever
s — mixing in some mid-to-late round starters with great strikeout rates such as Jonathan Sanchez and Jorge De La Rosa — can compete strongly in the category of strikeouts too.
What this all adds up to is the prospect that one can take advantage of a market inefficiency based on the wrongful assumption that relievers don’t contribute much value beyond saves. It turns out they go a long way to helping a fantasy team do extremely well in four of five pitching categories, at an amazingly cheap investment. By correctly leveraging relievers, fantasy teams can relax on starting pitchers and focus on winning five offensive categories. This is extremely enticing. 
What’s the real lesson here? Perhaps it’s that the true value of great relievers lies in the fact that most people don’t recognize their greatness. 
For more information on good pitching options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit

Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre Are Black Sheep Sleepers

By R.J. Anderson

Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre are eerily similar. The pair of early-30s outfielders share a division, an affinity for high socks and grit, past or present homes in Colorado and the south side of Chicago, and the ire of the sabermetrics community. They also own the same career OPS (.720). But it’s the two players’ ability to swipe bases which them interesting, if unheralded, options in most leagues.

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Podsednik is coming off a year in which he hit seven homers in 537 at-bats. That qualifies as a power spurt; Podsednik had hit six homers in his previous 1,407 at-bats. He also hit over .300 for the first time since 2003, his breakout season with the Brewers. Don’t expect a repeat of that feat either.

He’s still a strong stolen base threat, though, especially if he sticks in the Royals’ everyday lineup. After swiping 30 bases last year, Manager Trey Hillman has Podsednik penciled in as the starting left fielder and plans to give him the green light to run often.

Podsednik’s B-rank of 321st is accompanied by a projected line of .277, three homers, and 20 stolen bases. An average draft position of 326 suggests the market for his services is just right. With Jose Guillen shunted to DH, Podsednik winning the confidence of his manager and his speed holding up, though, 500-plus at-bats and another season of 30-plus steals could happen – which would bump up Podsednik’s value substantially.

Meanwhile, Pierre will man left field on the south side of Chicago. B-Rank enjoys the faux Frenchman’s abilities far more than Podsednik’s, and ranks Pierre 208th with a projected line of .296, a single homer, and 32 steals. Considering Pierre is coming off a season in which he went on a hot streak in Manny Ramirez‘s absence, there’s a chance someone will overdraft him; in fact, his average draft position is at 196. That’s a slight overdraft, although acceptable if you draft power early and are looking for a late-round speed threat.

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It’s important to note that these players are undervalued because their flaws are well-established in real world analysis. Both Podsednik and Pierre are woefully short on power, especially playing corner outfield spots, where teams typically target far more prolific offensive players. But in fantasy baseball, both could be good targets. In fact, if your fellow league members are sabermetrically savvy, Podsednik and Pierre could be terrific win-ugly value plays.

For more information on Juan Pierre, Scott Podsednik, and other draft day sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

More Stolen Base Options: Julio Borbon

By Erik Hahmann

Much has been written on this site about finding cheap steals in your draft. We’ve profiled players such as Drew Stubbs, Cliff Pennington, Cameron Maybin, and Everth Cabrera. Another player to consider adding for that list is the Texas Rangers’ young center fielder, Julio Borbon.
 
After being selected in the first round of the 2007 draft, the speedy outfielder began his first full season of professional ball with the Rangers’ High-A team in 2008. He hit .306/.346/.395 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and stole 36 bases in 314 plate appearances, confirming his profile as a speedy, high-average hitter with little power. Promoted to Double-A, Borbon hit a robust .337/.380/.459, with 17 more steals in 217 plate appearances – giving him 53 stolen bases between the two levels that year.

Those numbers prompted the Rangers to promote the then-23-year-old to Triple-A at the start of the 2009 season. Facing his toughest competition to date, Borbon continued to put up strong numbers, hitting .307 and getting on base at a .367 clip. Although Borbon stole only 25 bases at Triple-A, his patience at the plate showed improvement; his walk percentage climbed to 7.2%, the highest of his three minor league stops. 

 
The Rangers gave Borbon an extended look in the majors in August, rotating him between center field, left field and DH. In 179 major league plate appearances, Borbon produced another impressive stat line: .312/.376/.414, with 19 steals in 23 attempts. Using Bloomberg Sports’ Batting Speed graph, we can see how Borbon compared to all MLB center fielders last season in terms of AB, H, R, SB, CS, and OBP:
 
BorbonSpeed.png 
 The low ranking in AB, H, and R is expected due to his late call-up. But given a full season, Borbon projects for strong numbers in these categories. You can see Borbon compares favorably when you look at his SB (19, compared to the average of 21), CS (4, 7) and OBP (.376, .344) – again, in just 179 PA. Bloomberg Sports projects Borbon to post a .300 AVG, .357 OBP, 39 steals and 81 runs scored in 2010.
 
BorbonList.pngThe Rangers are giving Borbon every opportunity to win the center field job this spring, not wanting to run Josh Hamilton out there for a third season and risk him getting injured once more. If Borbon wins the center field job, he’ll likely lead off, which would give him an opportunity to beat Bloomberg Sports’ already optimistic projection: Getting on base in front of hitters like Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Nelson Cruz should provide Borbon ample opportunity to showcase his excellent speed and potentially even approach 100 runs scored.

Bloomberg Sports’ B-Rank projects Borbon as the 14th-best center fielder in MLB in 2010, ahead of better-known players like Nyjer Morgan, Vernon Wells, and Carlos Beltran to name a few. Those players, and others of the same ilk, might get picked ahead of Borbon in many leagues based on name recognition alone. That’s a perfect formula for landing one of the best sleeper names in fantasy baseball this season.

 
For more information on Julio Borbon and other draft day sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit 

Will Alex Rios Rebound in 2010?

By Tommy Rancel

For the first five years of his career, Alex Rios was a productive hitter. From 2004 to 2008, he averaged .288/.338/.455 (AVG/OBP/SLG). But after a slow start in 2009, he was placed on waivers by Toronto, then given away to the White Sox for no compensation other than the amputation of his bloated contract. Overall in 2009, he hit just .247/.296/.395. His batting average was just .199 after moving to Chicago.

Despite the dip in those slash numbers (AVG/OBP/SLG), Rios still hit 17 home runs and stole 24 bases, providing continued value for fantasy owners.

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Obviously, the most alarming loss for Rios came in batting average. In 2006-2008, his batting average was .297. His 2009 average of .247 represents a 50-point drop. For a speedy player who was only 28 years old, this was odd.

Sure enough, when we look at his batted ball data from last season — notably batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and his percentage of line drives hit (LD%) — we see some outlier numbers.

Thanks to his speed and ability to hit line drives (more on that in a minute), Rios has a slightly elevated career BABIP of .319. The league average is around .300. Last season, his BABIP dropped to .273.

Digging a little deeper, Rios has maintained a career LD% of 19.8%. In 2009, that number dropped to 16.4%.

Going even deeper into the numbers, Rios saw a tremendous drop in LD% against right-handed pitching (RHP). In his career, Rios owns a LD% against RHP of 19.8%; in 2009, that number sank to 14.7%. This is significant because Rios faced a right-hander 72% of the time last year.

Some studies, like the one here, suggest career BABIP is the best predictor of a player’s BABIP going forward. If this is the case for Rios, expect a healthy regression in batting average, and on-base percentage, towards career marks near .280 and .330.

After hitting 24 home runs in 2007, many expected Rios to become a 30/30 player; however, he is not that type of hitter. A big chunk of the balls he hits into play are line drives or groundballs (42.8% career groundball rate). This leaves little room for fly balls (37.4% career fly ball rate). Because of this, he’s averaged 19 home runs over the past three years; Bloomberg Sports projects a modest 18 homers in 2010, despite the homer-friendly climate of U.S. Cellular Field.

Meanwhile, Rios set a career-high in steals with 32 in 2008, followed by 24 more last season. Over the past three years, his success on stolen base attempts is a strong 81% (56/69). Bloomberg Sports projects 26 steals for Rios in 2010.

Although he had a down season in 2009, Rios narrowly slides into the top 100 players ranked by Bloomberg Sports; his B-Rank is exactly 100. His average draft position (ADP) is just 146.

Assuming a mid-round draft slot in an averaged size (12-14 team) mixed league, you could start your outfield with a combination like Ryan Braun, Bobby Abreu, and Rios. This trio would give you a well-rounded, durable outfield, despite using just one premium draft selection. All three players have averaged at least 620 plate appearances in the past three seasons, and provide a blend of average, (decent) power, and speed.

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If we tweak the 30/30 projections on Rios down to 20/20, and add in the potential for batting average regression, we are looking at a productive third or fourth outfielder in many mixed leagues. Target him with other bounceback candidates in the middle of your draft.

For more on sleepers like Alex Rios, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Can Brian Bruney Be the New David Aardsma?

By R.J. Anderson

The Nationals’ acquisition of Brian Bruney wasn’t the most glamorous transaction of the off-season. But it could pay some serious dividends.

Former Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Matt Capps figures to start the season with the 9th-inning job for the Nats. But Capps ranks among the shakiest closers in the game, following his ugly 5.80 ERA last year with more struggles in spring training. That could leave the door ajar just enough for Bruney to land some save opportunities. Bloomberg Sports projects Capps to finish with 23 saves and Bruney with 11. The realty is Bruney, who B-Rank suggests is the 33rd most valuable fantasy reliever in baseball, could find himself in the position of being the 2010 version of David Aardsma.

Last spring, Aardsma entered Mariners camp alongside a number of other relief pitching options, competing for the closer’s job. He won the job, stormed through the season, and posted a 2.52 ERA and 38 saves. Like Aardsma, Bruney has a blazing fastball that sits in the mid-90s, and a history of control problems. For his career, Bruney has averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, but with a sky-high walk rate of 6.2 batters per 9 IP. Compare those numbers to Aardsma’s career averages of 9.1 and 5.2, factor in their reliance upon flyball outs, and you can see the similarities.

Last season, Bruney struggled under the weight of a tough division, tougher park, and even tougher string of performances before the All-Star break, as his ERA ballooned to 4.86. After the break, Bruney’s luck improved and he posted a 3.22 ERA. A move from the American League East to the National League East would help anyone; Bruney is no exception.
 
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Eight different pitchers recorded saves for the Nationals last year, including Mike MacDougal and Joel Hanrahan - two similar-profiled pitchers. All told, there were 33 saves to be had. The common concern when drafting closers on bad teams is whether they’ll receive enough opportunities to be worth the slot. This logic is sound, and seemingly supported by research. The majority of those eight relievers have moved on, leaving Bruney and also-ranks like Tyler Walker and Sean Burnett around to scrap over extra opportunities.

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What you do with Bruney depends on the depth of your league. In a 10-team mixed league, even drafting the Nationals’ actual closer is iffy, let alone drafting a potential backup. But in deeper leagues, Bruney’s upside and surrounding situation in D.C. sets him apart from most others closers-in-waiting. At the very least, get him on your watch list, and be ready to pounce.

For more information on Brian Bruney and other saves options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

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