March 2010

Dan Haren’s Fantasy Value: Don’t Fear the Splits

by Eno Sarris

Sometimes a player just can’t get any respect, despite consistent excellence. That might be the case with Arizona ace Dan Haren.

The good news is that over the last three years, he’s posted ERAs of 3.33 or lower, WHIPs of
1.21 or lower, microscopic walk rates of 1.8 per nine innings or lower, and a strikeout rate above 8 K/9 IP. FanGraphs’ Expected Fielding Independent Pitching stat (xFIP), which runs along a similar scale to ERA and isolates factors a pitcher can best control such as home run rate, walk rate and strikeout rate and adjusts for park effects, defense and other factors, shows Haren ranking 4th in MLB in 2009 (3.08) and 4th in 2008 (3.21). Consistency is part of Haren’s oeuvre.

Take a look at Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Baseball Kit and several other numbers jump out at you. Haren was better than 75% of starting pitchers in strikeouts, and also sported an elite WHIP. Toiling for the 70-92 Diamondbacks kept Haren from amassing anHarenGrab1.jpg impressive number of wins (he settled for a still solid 14), but there’s room for hope there as well. The D-Backs’ 720 runs scored last year were average for the National League (8th out of 16) and with a few steps forward from youngsters Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, the team could add to that total – especially in a hitter-friendly park. In the end, though, those factors don’t matter all that much. If Haren nets another season with the 16th-ranked ERA, first-ranked WHIP, and sixth-ranked strikeout total in baseball, you’ll be happy.

Still, much has been made about Haren’s first half vs. second half splits; the Bloomberg Tool again shows us graphically what the naysayers are saying. You can see that Haren’s ERA rose as the season wore on in 2009. This is not a new development. Take a look at his career pre- and post-All Star splits: In 651 pre-All Star innings, Haren has a 3.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 7.45
K/9. In 575 post-All Star innings, he has 4.21 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and a
7.76 K/9. Those numbers include a mediocre career 4.58 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in August.

Thumbnail image for HarenGrab2.jpgBut that doesn’t mean you should draft Haren and trade him at the All Star break, or worse, pass on him entirely. The pre- and post-All-Star K rates were an early clue. But if you take ERA and WHIP out of the story and focus on underlying statistics, Haren is not really any different after the break, or even in his supposedly worst month of August.

To strip luck and other factors out of the equation, let’s return to Fielding Independent Pitching, the brainchild of baseball researcher Tom Tango. The expected version of FIP, xFIP, normalizes for home run rates given a pitcher’s ballpark and league situation. Listed on are Haren’s month-by-month xFIPs for his career:  3.82, 3.72, 3.73, 3.54, 3.37, 3.64. That’s right, over his career, Haren actually has his lowest monthly xFIP in August.

So why the ugly ‘regular’ stats? Since xFIP normalizes home run rate to a pitcher’s career average, it removes the effect of Haren’s biggest August problem – his 1.58 home runs per nine innings. His career home run rate is 1.03 home runs per 9 IP. You might argue that Haren tires late in the season and is more prone to the big fly, but there’s a fly in that ointment. Haren’s career home runs per 9 IP in September and October? 1.01. It simply doesn’t make any sense to say that Haren is tired in August but fine in September. For the more statistically inclined, there’s even a numbers-based argument against the importance of season splits like Haren’s here. Basically, they don’t exist.

But even those that don’t want to read about “r” values and other advanced statistical measures can see that it doesn’t make much sense to worry about one month. That’s doubly true when the underlying numbers don’t support the case for that one month being fundamentally worse than others.

Bloomberg Sports rates Haren as an elite starting pitcher, giving him a B-Rank of 29. That’s 5th among all starting pitchers, trailing only Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke. Draft Haren with confidence, and don’t trade him unless you get a top-tier offer. Not even at the All Star break.

For more on why Dan Haren is good, and the horde of other starting pitchers that aren’t as good, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

Keep Drafting Those Red Sox

By Jonah Keri

The hand-wringing has rung out from every corner of Red Sox Nation : How on Earth can Boston compete this year with such a weak offense?

The same way the Red Sox always have: By grinding other teams down with an unfailingly patient approach.

Sox ranked second in MLB last season in on-base percentage at .352
(trailing only the Yankees) and third in walks at 659 (just four behind
the Yankees’ 663 free passes). This isn’t some recent trend either.
Here are Boston’s MLB rankings in OBP and walks over the past nine

2009 2nd 3rd
2008 1st 1st
2007 2nd 1st
2006 2nd 1st
2005 1st 1st
2004 1st 3rd
2003 1st 3rd

Expect the Red Sox to rank near the top of the league in those categories again this year.

First, the Sox feature four hitters who place
the top 100 in B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of all
players). They are: Jacoby Ellsbury (12), Kevin Youkilis (24), Dustin Pedroia (51), and David Ortiz (76).

Next, consider the off-season moves the team made.

Replacing the unholy alliance of Nick Green, Julio Lugo, Alex Gonzalez and Jed Lowrie at shortstop is Marco Scutaro.
For years a patient hitter, Scutaro enjoyed a career year in Toronto in
’09, drawing 90 walks and posting a .372 OBP out of the lead-off spot;
even assuming some regression, that’s a huge upgrade compared to last
year’s gruesome foursome.

The other two swaps do pose some risk: Jason Bay (.384 OBP) and Mike Lowell (.337 OBP) are out, Mike Cameron (.342 OBP) and Adrian Beltre
(.304 OBP) are in. Even those two moves will likely pan out better than
they look on paper. Beltre’s coming off an injury-plagued season, and
he’s moving from Safeco Field (one of the toughest parks for
right-handed hitters in the majors) to Fenway Park (one of the
friendliest for righties, especially righties with doubles power or
better). Beltre’s also five years younger than Lowell, giving the Red
Sox reason to hope for a rebound. The Sox will surely miss Bay’s
offense; but Cameron has posted strong walk totals every season,
including 75 last year. He won’t be the big power threat that Bay was,
but he’ll do his part to turn the lineup over.

Meanwhile, Boston’s offense could benefit from two other factors this
season: A bounceback season for Ortiz (a miserable first half held him
to a mediocre .238/.332/.462 mark in ’09) and a full year of Victor Martinez (.303/.381/.480 in ’09) at catcher, replacing the rapidly declining Jason Varitek.

Here’s what the Red Sox lineup should look like come Opening Day:

3-15-2010 2-53-48 pm.png

Note the composite projections for that lineup: .283/.364/.467 (AVG/OBP/SLG). Those numbers would rival any team in baseball if they come to fruition.

Skeptics remain concerned that the Sox might lack the kind of major
power threat that typified recent Boston teams: Bay last year, Ortiz
and Manny Ramirez in the past. But in a game with no clock,
where the proceedings only end after 27 (or more) outs, the single most
important skill a baseball team’s offense can possess in baseball is
the ability to avoid those outs.

That’s largely true in fantasy baseball too. There’s a good chance your
league doesn’t count walks and on-base percentage. But as long as Red
Sox hitters keep vying for the league lead in both categories, they’ll
score a lot of runs. That means plenty of counting stats for most any
Boston hitter you draft.

For more information on all of the Red Sox, and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

True Value of Great Relievers, Part 1

By Eriq Gardner
One myth that is constantly perpetuated in the echo chamber of fantasy baseball analysis is that relievers are one-category players. Quite a number of very smart analysts have been telling competitors for years that relievers are good for saves and hardly anything else.
This analysis may be true for Head-to-Head leagues with short scoring periods and Roto leagues with high innings maximums — where ability to dominate often depends more on the bulk rather than the quality of innings pitched.
But in the vast majority of rotisserie leagues, the notion that relievers don’t contribute value beyond saves just doesn’t hold any water. In fact, people may be surprised to learn that a great reliever can contribute just as much value in ERA and WHIP as a good starter.
Let’s take an example from the 2009 season.
Pretend two competing fantasy teams each finished the year with 1200 innings. The pitchers on Team A let up 500 earned runs. The pitchers on Team B let up 520 earned runs. Doing simple arithmetic tells us that Team A wound up with an ERA of 3.75 whereas Team B wound up with an ERA of 3.9.
In other words, Team A was superior in ERA based upon those 20 earned runs saved by his pitching squad.
Now, here’s what most people miss: Great relievers have the ability to save just as many earned runs as good starters.
Don’t believe us?
Let’s take a comparison of two closers last year — Jonathan Papelbon and Fernando Rodney
In the minds of some, the fact that Papelbon ended up the year with 38 saves and Rodney finished with 37 saves makes them roughly equal and proof positive that it’s foolish to invest a high draft pick on Papelbon when a fantasy team could have gotten those saves from a guy who was hardly drafted before last season. But what about the ERA and WHIP contribution? Let’s take a look at how many earned runs, walks and hits these two relievers allowed last year:
Picture 5.png

As you’ll see above, Papelbon saved 23 runs and 33 H+BB over Rodney. 

Now let’s compare two starting pitchers from last season: Wandy Rodriguez and his spectacular 3.02 ERA versus Jon Garland and his decent-but-not-great 4.01 ERA. Both pitchers ended the season with about 205 innings. How many runs, hits, and walks did Way-Rod save over Garland?
Picture 6.png
The answer is just 22 earned runs and 31 H+BB.
This means that having the combination of Jon Garland + Jonathan Papelbon instead of Wandy Rodriguez + Fernando Rodney was very slightly more beneficial to a team’s ERA and WHIP in 2009. Stated another way, a team that decided to draft Papelbon very high in drafts last year instead of waiting to fill the closer spot with someone of Rodney’s caliber managed to boost his team’s ERA and WHIP about as much as having one of baseball’s top starters from the previous season instead of Garland.
I know this conclusion may be hard for some people to stomach.

Picture 8.png

Yes, a starter who puts up a 3.75 ERA is more valuable than a reliever who puts up a 3.75 ERA. But what about a reliever like Jonathan Broxton who is projected at 2.76?  How do we weight his contribution?
If we figure that teams will roughly wind up with the same amount of innings pitched in total, the real question becomes how many runs will be saved by Broxton against inferior relievers. By our math, an ERA difference of 1.00 for a reliever in 75 innings translates to 8.3 saved earned runs over the course of a season. That’s about the difference we see when looking at Bloomberg Sports’ projections on Broxton versus Leo Nunez.
Eight runs might not sound like a lot, but it’s the equivalent of an ERA difference of .36 for two pitchers who are both expected to reach 200 innings. The difference between Broxton and Nunez is the difference in ERA value from a 3.75 starter (Justin Verlander‘s 2010 Bloomberg Sports projection) and a 4.12 starter (like Aaron Cook‘s ’10 forecast).
Of course, there are other factors such as variability and scarcity to consider too. In Part 2 of this study, we’ll examine those variable, and also discuss the implications on a fantasy team’s strategy when it comes to drafting relievers. Does it make sense to draft a stud closer high? If relievers bring ERA and WHIP value to the table, does it make more sense to draft a great middle reliever over a shaky closer? Stay tuned.
For more information on Jonathan Papelbon, Jonathan Broxton, and other top relievers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

Bobby Abreu Remains A Sleeper In 2010

By Tommy Rancel

Despite playing most of his career in major media markets (Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles), Bobby Abreu remains one of baseball’s most underrated players.

Since 2001, Abreu has averaged .295/.400/.485 (AVG/OBP/SLG), 21 home
runs, 102 RBIs, 106 runs scored and 30 steals. In eight of those nine
seasons – including 2009 – he topped 100 RBI.

Last season Abreu took his bat west to Los Angeles. The change
in time zone didn’t change his production much. In his first season for the
Angels he hit .285/.390/.435 with 15 home runs and 103 RBI. He also scored 96 times and swiped 30 bases.

Abreu’s all-inclusive skill set has avoided most signs of
decline. Though he’s not the fastest runner in the game, he still
racks up plenty of steals. His
career 22.8% line drive rate (LD%) keeps his batting average
consistently above .280. His trained batting eye – shown by a 14.9%
walk rate – allows his on-base percentage to hover around .400. The
only element that’s held him back from true superstar status is his
good-but-not-great power.


Still, Abreu does carry some concerns heading into 2010.

First, he turned 36 this week. For most players, this would be a
giant red
flag. But Abreu profiles differently than most aging players, with a
high-contact swing and good speed to go with walks and gap power. On the other hand, that power appears to be waning: Abreu’s 15 homers and .142
isolated slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) were both
his lowest figures for any full season.

Over the past three seasons, Abreu’s batting average on balls in
play (BABIP) is .338. This would be high for a normal player with a
league average near .300 BABIP. For Abreu, a .338 BABIP is nearly 10
points lower than his .347 career mark. The high BABIP is a product of
his career 22.8% line drive percentage. Even if he regresses further toward .300, his
batting average will likely remain playable.

Many will point to the departures of Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero as additional causes for concerned. Guerrero was already on the downswing of this career, and he’ll be replaced by Hideki Matsui at
designated hitter; Matsui’s 2009 OPS of
.876 was 82 points higher than Guerrero’s .794. But Figgins’ 100-walk,
.400 OBP ability will be nearly impossible to replace. The Angels will
hope to do it by committee, relying more on
younger players like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Brandon Wood. Those three players, along with Mike Napoli, Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter and 2009 breakout Kendry Morales, should continue to offer the kind of support that leads to solid counting stats.


B-Rank loves Bobby Abreu with a ranking of 30; however, his
average draft position is a low 100.2. Even if you move Abreu’s value
down a bit to account for age and Figgins’ departure, you’re still
looking at big value potential around the seventh round in 12-team
mixed leagues or the eighth round in 10-team mixed leagues.

Looking at players with similar production to Abreu last year, Nick Markakis
is a pretty close comparison. In 2009, Markakis hit .293/.347/.453 with
18 home runs, 101 RBI and 94 runs scored. Markakis wins the slugging
battle .453 to .435, but Abreu was on base at a much higher clip (.390
to .347). The big difference came in steals: Mid-30s Abreu stole 30 bases, compared to mid-20s Markakis’ total of just

Markakis places 59th in B-Rank with an ADP of 54.2. While it’s
usually a good idea to discount older players and bump up players
entering their physical prime, Abreu still projects to produce similar,
or possibly better numbers than Markakis in 2010 – yet he’s being
drafted 46 spots behind his Orioles counterpart.

As long as there are no major health concerns with an older player,
that’s often a great place to find value in your draft. Abreu’s career
low in games played since his first season as a regular is 151; he’s
been a model of durability for the past 12 years. If he falls in your
draft, pick him up.

For more on Bobby Abreu, and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Kendry Morales: Fantasy Value or Sophomore Bust?

By Eno Sarris

At the start of last season, the Angels had a vacuum at first base after Mark Teixeira chose pinstriped dollars and headed East.

Enter Cuban import Kendry Morales. Morales had totaled 1,130 at-bats at the Double-A level or above, showing the
Angels he was at least ready to provide league-average offense at
first base, with a nice glove. The Angels previously let light-hitting Casey Kotchman man first base – Morales couldn’t be much worse, could he?

Many fantasy players were caught off-guard when Morales zoomed right by
average. Here was a player that once hit five home runs in a full year
(2007 in Triple-A Salt Lake, a park that usually inflates home runs by 10%
or more in a given year). He wasn’t supposed to come up and mash
.306/.355/.569 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his first full MLB season. That slugging percentage
was even better MoralesGrab.jpgthan the minor league number (.528) he put up in much more favorable hitter’s parks, even better than the best number he put up at any one stop along the way.

This season, the first-base position is deep for fantasy baseball purposes. Managers can afford to wait before grabbing a first baseman, especially if someone like Morales (B-Rank 43) is
slipping below his average draft position (61.3 ADP). Let’s say he won’t drop further than the fifth or sixth round, though. Do you pull the trigger? Will he hit for the same power and batting average this year?

Let’s take the easier question first. Morales hit .306 last year, but sported a .329 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). If that BABIP regresses towards the league-wide average (around .300), he should sport a lower batting average, correct? Not so fast. While BABIP figures across baseball hover close to .300, each player has some control over that number, especially if he possesses unique speed and hitting ability. Consider that Ichiro Suzuki has a lifetime BABIP of .357, for instance. Luckily for us, baseball analysts Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton developed a simple calculator for Expected BABIP (xBABIP); if you plug in Morales’ component statistics, you get .320. So while there might be a little regression in his stats, but it looks like this career .332 hitter in the minors stands a good chance of posting a batting average around .300 next year.

Now the harder question. What will his power output look like? it’s an open question for sure, since Morales had a slugging percentage closer to .400 in his first couple of attempts at the major leagues, then zoomed right by that figure, and .500, last year. Look at his monthly sluggingMoralesGrab2.jpg percentage and you’ll see that it took him half of last year to get there. Will he see a summer surge that big again?

One good sign for Morales’ power potential is his minor league Isolated Slugging number (ISO, which is Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average). Even granting the homer-friendly parks he played in,  Morales hovers around a .200 throughout his minor league career, a good sign. Major leaguers who posted an ISO around that number last year included Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson, Matt Holliday and Robinson Cano. These are useful comps: Many of these players might hit 30 home runs, but would you bet your house on it? Bloomberg Sports is bullish on Morales and projects 32 homers. Still, there’s always the potential for regression to the mean after such a huge breakout season.

Morales could be a good acquisition if you can get him late enough in the draft. But considering that his power might skew closer to Robinson Cano than Prince Fielder, an early-round pick might be a bit of a reach.

For more information on Kendry Morales and other draft options, and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

The (Always) Underrated Torii Hunter

By Eriq Gardner
In 2009, only four players in baseball put up at least 90 RBIs, 16 SBs, and a .299 AVG — Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, and Torii Hunter.

fantasy baseball, we’re always looking for the player who can provide
all-around value. To most people, this means a guy with both power and
speed. Every year, we’ll see about a dozen guys crack 20/20. Last year,
there were 14 of them. 

Picture 37.png
my money, though, the rarest commodity in baseball is a player who can
both steal bases and drive in runs. After all, speedy players usually
hit at the top of the lineup and have only limited RBI opportunities.
Last year, there were only four batters who drove in 100 and swiped 20
Torii Hunter came very close last
season — and would have made it happen if not for a strained oblique
that limited him to 451 at bats. If it wasn’t for missed playing time,
Hunter would have posted above-average totals in all five of the main
statistical categories. As it was, Hunter only fell short in the
category of runs.

Most people might not
appreciate the kind of pace that Hunter was on last season. Sporting a
slugging percentage (.508) that was greater than players such as Jayson
, Carlos Lee, and Matt Kemp, Hunter may well have flirted
with 30 HR with an extra 100-150 AB. Here’s a look at how he performed
against several outfielders going well ahead of him in drafts right now
who finished last season with relatively similar OPS numbers:

Picture 36.png

Picture 34.pngWhen
projecting Hunter’s 2010 season, there’s another consideration
to make. Besides having the rare ability to provide speed and the
opportunity to knock in runs, Hunter is one of only about 20 players in
baseball with 25-HR power and the ability to make contact with the ball
in at least 80 percent of his at-bats. Combined with the ability to run
quickly to first base after the ball is hit into play, this typically
translates to a pretty solid average. Last year, Hunter finished at
.299. Bloomberg Sports projects .289 for the upcoming season.

ranked 46th on the B-Rank scale, yet is being drafted well below his
projections. That’s nothing new. Hunter has a pretty long history of
being underrated in drafts year after year, and at age 34, few see him
as having the kind of statistical upside offered by many youngsters.
But is that assessment accurate? A player who provides power, speed,
RBI production, and average? Those kinds of players are a very rare
breed. Just ask Pujols, Hanley, and Braun.
For more information on Torii Hunter and other speed-RBI options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

The Pavano Principle

By R.J. Anderson

Carl Pavano has long been a whipping boy, an entry into a word association game when the term “fragile” came up, and a baseball punchline. Pavano thrived in relative anonymity last season, posting a good enough year with the terrible Cleveland Indians to earn him a trade to the contending Minnesota Twins. Rather than testing the frost-bitten market, Pavano accepted the Twins’ offer of arbitration. And boy, who can blame him? The Twins added some fun toys for his usage in the form of a new middle infield with high defensive reputations and offensive ability.

Nothing about Pavano screams fantasy asset. He’s a pitchability type, someone who relies on getting groundballs and avoiding mistakes. His injury-heavy past makes him more of a risk than most and he’s always given up quite a few homers. Pour all of that information into a bowl and whisk softly for a few minutes until the aroma of sleeper hits you. Right? Well, evidently not, since Pavano is being drafted at an average spot of 188th. His B-Rank is a low 324th and his positional rank (meaning of all pitchers, not just starters) is 118th.
Pavano is pitching for the AL Central favorites, so wins should be available. The defense behind him is strong, so his ERA could be playable. He doesn’t strike many out, but then again he doesn’t walk many either, so his K/BB and WHIP are passable. But, is he really worth a top-200 pick? The immediate options that surround Pavano in the B-Rank standings are young talents like Bud Norris, Brian Matusz, and Derek Holland – three pitchers with considerably more upside who aren’t being drafted until the 250-270 range, if it all (in Norris’ case, he’s not being drafted).
It’s not that Pavano is worthless or unworthy of being considered a fantasy option. It’s just that he’s being favored in front of options with a lot more potential to help your team. In shallower leagues, there’s no reason at all to take Pavano ahead of these younger pitchers: You can always find another generic SP with a 4.50 ERA and 12 wins on the waiver wire in a 10- or 12-team mixed league. But Holland and Matusz have the potential to be top-tier pitchers if or when their breakout comes.

At the end of your draft, take the upside pick, not predictable mediocrity.

For more information on possible over- and underrated starting pitchers and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Orlando Hudson and the Hidden Doubles

By Erik Hahmann
When one thinks of getting production from second base rarely do the words “Minnesota” and “Twins” come to mind – at least not since the days of Chuck Knoblauch. Over the past few seasons, banjo hitters like Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, and Luis Castillo have manned the position for the Twins. Last season it was Punto and Casilla teaming up to do the damage, splitting time at the position and posting OPS numbers of .676 and .526 respectively. It was time for a change.
Enter Orlando Hudson.
Minnesota inked the veteran second baseman to a one-year, $5 million deal this off-season, a small price to pay for such a significant upgrade in talent. Hudson isn’t in the same class as Chase Utley or Ian Kinsler, fantasy-wise. That duo rank as five-star talents in Bloomberg Sports’ Demand vs Scarcity chart, while Hudson earns just one star. Even so, his ability to steadily contribute in a number of categories gives him solid value as a late-round pick.
Over the past four seasons Hudson has averaged a slash line of .292/.363/.440 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 10 home runs, 64 RBI and 66 runs scored, more than respectable for someone ranked 24th at his position. Some of that success can be attributed to playing with the Diamondbacks in hitter-friendly Chase Field for three seasons. But Hudson spent 2009 with the Dodgers, where he posted a home OPS of .807 in Dodger Stadium, a tougher park for hitters.
Hudson averaged 31 doubles during that same four-year period. Last season, he rapped .283 with 35 doubles, numbers few second basemen achieve. If you sort the Top 10 second basemen by those two stats you can see that Hudson’s combination of average and doubles ranks among MLB’s leaders.

We don’t yet know how Target Field will play, and if the Twins’ new stadium will be friendly to doubles hitters like Hudson. But in an increasingly potent Minnesota lineup, Hudson’s ability to get into scoring position could net some solid runs scored totals. Hudson’s current ADP (Average Draft Position) is 185th, which slots him somewhere in the 15th round in standard 12-team mixed leagues, making him a middle infield target late in your draft.
For more information on the top second basemen in baseball, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

Is Drew Sutton the next Ben Zobrist?

By Tommy Rancel

In 2009, Ben Zobrist exploded onto the national scene with an All-Star season. The Tampa Bay Rays super-utility man hit .297/.405/.543 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 27 home runs and 91 RBI. The seeds for Zobrist’s success were planted by a former collegiate baseball player named Jaime Cevallos.

Cevallos, now an independent swing instructor known as “the swing mechanic“, met Zobrist in 2008, and convinced him to train with him. Zobrist came up through the minor leagues as a hitter who could get on base but sorely lacked power. Little wonder: Coaches and instructors drilled him to spray the ball all over the ballpark, rather than rearing back and swinging for the fences. Cevallos used video analysis to give Zobrist a variety of recommendations, on weight shift, positioning his hands, and other techniques. Perhaps his simplest piece of advice was this: swing harder. Cevallos cracked the Zobrist Code, turning a decent utility man to an elite hitter known as “Zorilla.”

Zobrist was not alone in his workouts with Cevallos. Houston Astros farmhand Drew Sutton also came along for the ride.

3-5-2010 3-01-41 pm.png

Sutton and Zobrist have been linked to each other from day one of their professional baseball lives. The pair of middle infielders were selected by the Astros in the same 2004 amateur draft (Zobrist round six, Sutton round 15). They would move through the minor leagues in near unison until Zobrist was traded to the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in the summer of 2007. Sutton would stick around with the Astros for a little longer before being sent to the Cincinnati Reds for infielder Jeff Keppinger in early 2009.

Like Zobrist, Sutton was a decent minor player, but nothing special. He was a nice hitter, but did not display the power potential of a big-time prospect. While playing for the Astros Double-A affiliate in 2007, he hit .269/.351/.388, with nine home runs and 28 doubles – typical numbers for a good-but-not-great middle infielder.

Then came Cevallos’ instruction. Playing for the same Double-A affiliate in 2008, Sutton ramped his production up to .317/.408/.523. In just 48 more plate appearances (558 in ’07, 606 in ’08) he racked up 21 more extra-base hits. He more than doubled his home run total from nine to 20 and also hit 39 doubles. Not only did his slugging percentage increase by .135 points, his raw power, displayed in ISO (Isolated power, slugging minus batting average), also jumped from .119 to .206.

In 2009, Sutton played 44 games for Cincinnati’s Triple-A team. In his brief 190 plate appearances, he rapped 19 extra base hits (five home runs, 14 doubles) and slugged .471. When we take his .261 batting average out of the equation, we can see that his ISO actually increased from .206 to .210.

After an early July major league debut, Sutton appeared in 42 games for the Reds. He hit just .212/.297/.348 in his first big league action, but we can’t much stock in a small sample of 76 plate appearances.

When interviewing Cevallos about Zobrist, I asked him how many home runs Zobrist could hit if given enough playing time. Cevallos said he would hit 30 home runs. Zobrist came up just short with 27. I recently contacted Cevallos about Sutton, and asked him a similar question: If given 600 at-bats, how many home runs would Sutton hit? Cevallos said, 25. He also noted that while both players had similar power, Zobrist’s swing would lead to a higher batting average, but Sutton’s stroke could produce a lot of doubles.

The Sutton/Zobrist comparison is showing itself once again in 2010. Like Zobrist in 2009, Sutton enters 2010 spring training without a regular job and or an obvious position, after playing five positions (2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF) in ’09. That also sounds a lot like Zobrist, who has started at seven different positions for the Rays (every position except P and C).

On the infield, the Reds have unquestioned starters in Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Scott Rolen. Orlando Cabrera was signed to be the team’s shortstop, but could see a challenge from Paul Janish. Heralded prospects Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs make up two-thirds of the outfield with Jonny Gomes and a partner to be named later in left field.

All positions seem relatively settled; however, Sutton’s versatility could come into play.

The obvious holes in the Reds lineup are shortstop and left field. Gomes mashes left-handed pitching (.274/.369/.517), but is sub-par against righties (.224/.311/.448), particularly for a player who struggles on defense. At short , the 35-year-old Cabrera has averaged .275/.322/.398 in his career; he’s a minor offensive threat at this stage of his career. Janish has been an awful hitter in his brief major league career (.205/.290/.292) after being average in the minors (.261/.351/.382), but is a good defender.

Outside of those two positions, there is always the unforeseen injury. The surprising knee injury to Rays starting second baseman Akinori Iwamura in ’09 opened the door for Zobrist in 2009. With Scott Rolen and his injury history (124 days missed over last three seasons) manning third base for the Reds, there may be an opportunity for Sutton to steal some at-bats that way.

Of course, Zobrist may have caught lightning in a bottle in 2009, and Sutton may not respond to Cevallos’ instruction — or other factors that led to Zobrist’s success — the same way as his former teammate did. Sutton isn’t worth a draft pick in standard 10- or 12-team mixed leagues. But in a deep NL-only or larger mixed (18+ teams) league, he’s a good gamble toward the end of the draft. His B-Rank of 951 is so far off the radar that most people won’t even notice him, meaning you can snag him with your last pick.

Then again, check out Zobrist’s year-by-year B-Ranks. 

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Ya never know.

To keep tabs on Drew Sutton, and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

More Late Steals for your Fantasy Team: Drew Stubbs

by Eno Sarris 

When we recently wrote about Cameron Maybin and Cliff Pennington, we pointed out that these young players had the potential to give your fantasy team late steals. Steals are a rarer phenomenon than home runs in regular baseball, but you’ll notice that this scarcity is mitigated by the fact that you only need about 100-120 steals to be competitive in the category in a traditional mixed roto league (as opposed to 200-240 home runs). It’s good not to go overboard on steals too early in your draft – especially with late speed available.

Drew Stubbs will be available late in your draft (B-Rank 178, ADP 258.6), and has speed (121 stolen bases in 423 minor league games and 10 in 42 major league games). Those are your known knowns. Let’s explore the unknowns about this young player.

Will he start? It’s difficult to predict the ways of Dusty Baker, who ran one of the worst major league regulars (Willy Taveras) out there so often last year that General Manager Walt Jocketty had to trade Taveras away just to keep him off the field (and his new team, the Oakland A’s, promptly released him). Stubbs does have competition in the form of Chris Dickerson, a speedy slap hitter who’s had some success against right-handed pitching. But Dickerson is both a known commodity with his 28th birthday imminent, and a liability against lefty pitching: a .707 OPS against them in the majors, .647 in the minors. The 25-year-old Stubbs owns no such platoon weakness. Meanwhile, Total Zone, which rates defense in the minor leagues, rates Stubbs as a very good defender in center and Dickerson as much less impressive. It looks like Stubbs will get every opportunity to start.

Will he hit for power? It’s a small sample size, but you might remember that Stubbs debuted late last year and spanked eight home runs in only 180 at-bats. That was good for an isolated power number (ISO, or SLG minus AVG) of .172, something that might translate to about 20+ home runs over a full season. That would well outpace his minor league ISO of .132, so the power is actually an open question. Though last year’s 180 at-bats don’t represent much of a sample size, he really enjoyed hitting at home, where he posted a .997 OPS and a .600+ SLG. Remember that Great American Ball Park sports a 1.176 park factor for home runs – GAB tended to give up 17.6% more home runs than a neutral park. Perhaps the park will coax a few more homers out of Stubbs in 2010.

Will he hit for average? This might be the toughest question to answer about prospects in general, but Stubbs has a major factor going against him that will probably keep him from posting a nice batting average in 2010. While perusing his minor league records (where he hit .269 in more than 1500 plate appearances), you’ll notice a very high strikeout rate (27.3%). His best full-season strikeout rate in the minor leagues was not much better (25.3%). Stubbs also made below-average contact with the Reds last year (76% – 80.5% is league average). There’s really no reason to think that Stubbs will improve beyond his 27.2% strikeout rate from his stint in the majors last season, and a player who strikes out more than a quarter of the time is going to struggle to post a nice batting average. In this respect, Stubbs is very similar to Maybin, actually. Consult Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tool about Stubbs, and you’ll notice that his 2010 Spring Training statistics are compiled on the ‘Analysis’ page for each player. It’s early going, but you might notice something.

Stubbs2Grab.jpgYup. Stubbs has already struck out three times in his first six at-bats this spring. That’s about the tiniest sample size you could use, but it does underline his previous problems with the strikeout. Expect a poor batting average, some power, and lots of speed from Stubbs. He makes for a fine backup option if you decide to wait on speedy outfielders.

For more information on Drew Stubbs, late-round steals options, and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.