March 2010

Joe Nathan Suffers UCL Tear; Who Becomes Twins Closer?

By Tommy Rancel

Joe Nathan‘s worst fears were confirmed this morning when it was announced that the Twins closer is out indefinitely with a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Nathan will wait a week or two before deciding on surgery, but rest and rehab is not a normal course of action for this injury. To repair the tear, he would need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

This is terrible news to Twins fans and fantasy owners alike. Nathan is not just your normal 30-save closer. He is one of the few, true relief aces in Major League Baseball.

Nathan moved full-time to the closer position in 2004. Over the past six seasons, he has averaged 41 saves with an ERA of 1.87. He has also struck out 518 batters in 418.2 innings. Just to show the magnitude of the loss, over the same period, Mariano Rivera has averaged 40 saves with an ERA of 1.90. He has 424 strikeouts in 440.1 innings.

So the question is, who replaces Nathan in the 9th inning?

Jon Rauch jumps out as a replacement. Acquired mid-season from Arizona, Rauch has the most closing experience of any current Twins reliever. He has 26 career saves and spent most of 2008 as the closer for the Washington Nationals (18 saves). However, beyond the saves and experience, Rauch does not provide much from the closer position.

Despite his size (6’11”, 291 pounds), Rauch does not possess a blazing fastball (90.9 MPH career) nor is he an elite strikeout pitcher. His career strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) is a solid but unspectacular 7.4; in 2009, that number dipped down to 6.3. Rauch’s career walk total of 2.9 batters per nine innings is better than average, netting a strong, if not nearly Nathan-esque strikeout-to-walk rate of 2.5-to-1.

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Matt Guerrier is another candidate. Guerrier has never handled the closing duties before, but has been a decent reliever in the Twins bullpen since 2006. In 389 innings as a relief pitcher, his ERA is a low 3.31. Last season, Guerrier pitched in 79 games for the Twins, going 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA. His 0.97 WHIP (walks + hits per innings) was 10th-best in the big leagues among pitchers in full-time relief roles or more.

Guerrier’s 2009 ERA and WHIP were both enhanced by a microscopic, likely unsustainable batting average on balls in play of .222 – well below his career BABIP of .278. Expect some regression here. His WHIP also benefited from a BB/9 of 1.9 last season, that’s much lower than his career 2.8 and could see some regression in 2010.

Guerrier does not possess the dominating strikeout rates you would like to see from the closer position. His career K/9 is just 6.0; in 2009, it was an unimpressive 5.5.

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The dark horse candidate in this potential race is Pat Neshek. If this decision was based off talent alone, Neshek would be the clear cut winner. But the 29-year-old with the funky delivery is coming off Tommy John surgery; Neshek missed the 2009 season after appearing in just 15 games in 2008. Pitchers often need several months or more of major league action
before finding their command and returning to pre-TJ levels

That said, Neshek was a dominant middle reliever/set-up man before his injury. With a healthy arm in 2006 and 2007, Neshek racked up 127 strikeouts in 107 innings while maintaining a 2.68 ERA. His career K/9 of 10.59 is definitely a plus for any pitcher, and he has walked fewer batters per nine (2.8) than either Rauch or Guerrier.

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We don’t usually take much stock in intangibles, but own Jonah Keri is a Neshek fan. Need proof? Check here and here. Neshek is a talented blogger as well.

Rauch’s combination of skills, health and experience make him our preferred choice right now. Keep a close eye on Spring Training events, though, as Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire may have other ideas. If you draft Rauch, try to back him up with Guerrier and/or Neshek. Track all three to your Bloomberg Sports watch list.

For more information on Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, and Desmond Jennings: The Shiny Toys of 2010

By R.J. Anderson

Let’s take a look at three much-hyped prospects and their potential to make fantasy impacts in 2010 and beyond. Worth noting: Since all three players aren’t sure bets to go north with their major league clubs (two are near shoo-ins for demotions), they do not own B-Ranks. The entire equation changes if the league is of the keeper variety though, so keep that in mind.

SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

Strasburg is being drafted 287th overall in non-keeper leagues, despite the Nationals’ stated intention to send him to the minors for mysterious reasons that allegedly have enough to do with money or service time and Strasburg’s lack of professional experience beyond the Arizona Fall League and spring training bullpen sessions. Bloomberg Sports still projects Strasburg projected to finish in the top 200 of wins, games started, innings pitched, walks, and strikeouts. An ERA projection over 6.00 is hard to take seriously, but again, the guy hasn’t thrown a pitch in minor league baseball, so anointing him as a fantasy stud this year is a reach. The lack of available data on him aside, Strasburg’s electric stuff and the Nationals’ desperate need to generate some excitement make his chances of seeing the majors at some point this year something like 95%.

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OF Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

Strasburg’s division mate, Heyward could be an Atlanta Brave on Opening Day. The conservative projection for the Braves’ outfield has Melky Cabrera, Nate McLouth, and Matt Diaz starting, with Eric Hinske backing them up. None of those players are nearly as skilled as Heyward, and right field looks conveniently open for when the 20-year-old slugger ascends to the majors. Of the three vaunted prospects, Heyward seems the least likely to disappoint in 2010.
 
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OF Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays

Unlike Strasburg and Heyward, Jennings is not only far less likely to see much – if any – major league time this year, he also has no place on the big league club. The Rays have the immensely talented Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton playing left and center field respectively, and two extremely serviceable players in Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler to platoon in right. Jennings finds himself in the same spot Joyce did last season, blocked because of a numbers game. A dazzling defender with great plate discipline and speed, Jennings has a history of injuries that could hold him back as well. If you’re looking for rookie outfield help this season, look to Heyward, or possibly the Florida Marlins’ Mike Stanton instead.

Drafting prospects always carries risk, and these three cases are no different. As with any fantasy baseball decision, consider the value proposition. If your leaguemates fall victim to hype, don’t get into a bidding war for Strasburg, Heyward or Jennings. If all it will cost you is a late-round pick and a bench spot, Heyward and Strasburg are both worth a shot; Jennings too, if your league is deep enough.

For more information on these prospects and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

The Case For Joe Mauer in the 1st Round

By Eriq Gardner


Last season, Joe Mauer took home the AL MVP after slugging 28 HR, 96 RBI, and a .365 AVG. It’s nearly indisputable that Mauer had one of the finest seasons ever by a catcher. Yet hardly any fantasy baseball idea is more controversial than the prospect of taking a catcher in the first round.

Some people who blanch at Mauer as a high pick might be nervous about the inherent risks of investing in a catcher, the one position on the diamond (other than pitcher) where no player can every day, and where injuries and wear are big concerns. Others point to Mauer’s HR-to-flyball leap (from 6.5% in 2008 to 20.4% in 2009), seeing it as a clear sign that “Mauer power” is illusory.

However, the best case for Mauer as a solid first-round pick has nothing to do with faith he’ll keep up the HRs. Nor does it have anything to do with batting average, his most famous advantage over other players. It comes down to another category in which he’s so spectacular, he holds the potential of helping a team go a long way toward winning it.

That category is runs — probably the least-considered one in fantasy baseball. It’s also the category that’s been shown repeatedly as most correlative with a fantasy team’s hitting success.

Competitors tend to dismiss the runs category, perhaps because they see it as outside  of their control. A player crosses the plate, after all, not just based on his ability, but also due to other players’ ability to drive him in.

However, it follows that getting on base is a skill, and that those who do it well score more runs. Over the last three years, only three batters with more than 600 at-bats (Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, and Todd Helton) have gotten on-base more than Joe Mauer.

The result is that Mauer crosses the plate a lot. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged 85 runs scored. He scored 94 in 2009. In 2010, he’s projected to score 92 times.

How valuable is that? Let’s put it in perspective.

Among catchers, he’s a beast. Last year, he scored 30 more runs than the average Top-10 catcher. He did this despite missing the first month of the season. Here’s a graphical look at Mauer’s performance last year. Note, too, those 112 AB as a DH:

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Going into 2010, Bloomberg projects Mauer to have a 25-run advantage on the top-10 leading run scorers at catcher. Is that a lot? Let’s look at how other players in the first round stack up in the runs category compared to the top-10 projected run scorers at their respective positions.Picture 30.png

As you’ll see above, Mauer (+25) holds a bigger advantage compared to his peers than Pujols (+12), Chase Utley (+12), Alex Rodriguez (+12), and Ryan Braun (+1).

Perhaps it’s time we began to look at things differently. Maybe Joe Mauer is to runs as players like Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are to steals. This may sound controversial, but after going through several drafts already this year, and then projecting the seasons out, I’ve typically found that the team in my league that drafts Mauer is usually the one projected to win the runs category — and give himself a huge leg up on a league title.

For more information on Joe Mauer and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy tools.

The Dreaded Turn: What to Do After Albert Pujols

By Eno Sarris

You’ve got the first pick of your 2010 draft and you’re bouncing off walls. Albert Pujols
will be yours, finally. You’ve seen the big man crush poor pitching
for years and imagined what you could do with that kind of firepower.
Nothing will stand in your way now.

Right?

Then the doubt starts creeping in. In a 12-team mixed league, you have to wait a whole 23 picks
before you get to go again! All those great borderline first-round
talents won’t be yours and you’ll be forced to pick someone who’s
almost a third-rounder as your second-best player. What will you
do at The Turn? We’ll attack this from a couple angles
so that you’ll be prepared when the time comes. We’ll assume you’re in
a 12-team mixed league, the most popular of leagues.

TheTurnGrab.jpgLet’s take a look at what B-Rank says. Here’s a screen shot of the projections right around the dreaded turn. Click the image for a full-size look.

The first thing that jumps out at you is that you may not want to take B-Rank’s #24 at the end of your second round. Of course, a team with both Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez would hit a lot of home runs, but who would play the other positions on the diamond? Why fill up your utility slot that early?

The first piece of advice is, of course, that you have a nice list of second-round talent to try and catch as they fall. Troy Tulowitzki and Mark Reynolds could drop to you given some concerns about the repeatability of their 2009 seasons. Having a steady performer like Pujols in your back pocket allows you to catch those more borderline second-rounders if they fall too far. Even if Reynolds bats a mere .245 instead of Bloomberg’s projected .255, and Pujols ‘merely’ repeats last year’s seven-year low in batting average (.327) the pair of players would average close to .285 and you’d be fine in that category going forward. (While enjoying their projected 75 home runs and 30 stolen bases.)

Now on to your second pick. There is no consensus #25. Zack Greinke, B-Rank’s suggestion, is a fine choice as he could be the best pitcher in baseball next year. But say you don’t want to pick a pitcher that early, what’s there for you?

JustinUptonGrab.jpgConsider Justin Upton, the proud owner of a new six-year $50+ million contract. Take a look at his OPS over the year last year, from Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Draft Kit. He stumbled early, but he was excellent all year and did not hit any sort of rookie wall. Add to this the fact that he cut his strikeout rate to an acceptable level (for a power hitter). After whiffing at a 34% rate his rookie year, he got that rate down to 26% by making more contact in the strike zone (80% last year, after 74% the year before). He also boosted his isolated power (ISO) from .213 to .232 while stroking those 26 home runs. The combination of Pujols and Upton would give you immense power with almost 30 combined steals to boot.

Again though, unless Tulowitzki falls into your lap, you’ve done nothing about the scarcer positions on the infield. Taking a look at average draft positions from MockDraftCentral.com, we can identify some other candidates for The Turn. A couple interesting names emerge – Justin Upton is there (25.19 ADP), and so is Jimmy Rollins.

For more information on possible second- and third-round picks, and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Top 2010 Catchers After Joe Mauer, Brian McCann & Victor Martinez

By Tommy Rancel

Catcher is arguably the most difficult position to draft in the major leagues; real world or fantasy. In fantasy, there are three tiers of catchers: Joe Mauer is alone at the top. Brian McCann and Victor Martinez make up tier two; the rest fall in line after that

Bloomberg’s Demand vs. Scarcity chart does a great job of illustrating this.

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If you are not fortunate enough to land one of the elite backstops, selecting a catcher can be a difficult process. With that in mind, keep an eye on these names when selecting your 2010 fantasy catcher.

Miguel Montero
Position Rank
: 5
ADP: 139

When Diamondbacks’ starting catcher Chris Snyder went down with a back injury last summer, Miguel Montero made the most of his Wally Pipp opportunity. For the first time in his four-year career, Montero was given more 400 at-bats. He responded by hitting .294/.355/.478 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 16 home runs and 59 RBI. His .327 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was above the expected norm (around.300), but Montero has sustained a BABIP over .320 in each of the past two seasons.

Even if his batting average regresses to the .275 area, his power numbers pass the test. Montero’s .184 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) was within his career average of .178 and his 12.7% home run-to-fly ball ratio (HR/FB) wasn’t far from his career number, 11.3%.

Montero goes into 2010 as the clear-cut starter for the Diamondbacks and could top 500 at-bats if Arizona can find a trade partner for Snyder. Another season with 15 to 20 home runs is well within reach.

Chris Iannetta
Position Rank
: 8
ADP: 182.1

Like Montero, Chris Iannetta enters 2010 as his team’s clear number-one catcher, after being mired in a time-share for several seasons. The Rockies did sign Miguel Olivo to replace Yorvit Torrealba, but Iannetta received a three-year extension from Colorado, showing that he is the team’s first choice.

Iannetta hit just .228 last season. That was actually an improvement over his .218 mark in 2008, though still a huge drag on his fantasy value. Iannetta’s batting average on balls was just .245 in ’09 though, well below his .283 career mark and the league-wide of just over .300.

Despite the low batting average, his selective batting eye led to a healthy .344 OBP. Unlike his new teammate Olivo, Iannetta will take a walk. He walked 12.3% of the time last season, while Olivo took a free pass just 4.6% of the time.

In addition to getting on base, Iannetta has shown excellent power from the catcher position, his ISO topping .230 in each of the past two seasons. In 2009, his HR/FB of 14.0% matched his career number. Playing his home games in Coors field is an added bonus, but Iannetta’s home/road power splits show some balance: His home slugging percentage  sits at .466, vs. .427 on the road.

The low batting average and BABIP make Iannetta a bounceback candidate in 2010. His impressive power from the catcher position makes him a good buy-low candidate in the late rounds of a mixed-league draft.

Matt Wieters
Position Rank
: 10
ADP: 96.5

Matt Wieters is no stranger to hype. That hype fizzled a bit when he got off to a slow start in 2009, though. During the first half of the season, he hit just .259/.316/.407 in 117 plate appearances. As his playing time increased during the second half, so did his production. Over the final 65 games of the season he hit .301/.351/.415 in 268 PA. This included a monster final month of the season, where he crushed the ball at a .333/.395/.486 clip.

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Wieters’ .356 BABIP last season is likely to regress toward the .300 level. But the Orioles catcher can make up for it in other areas: He walked just 7.3% of the time while striking out 24.3% last season, numbers that are likely to improve given his superior minor league walk rate (14.7%) and strikeout rate (18.3%).

Wieters is not a true “sleeper” with an ADP of 96.5; however, that is 49 spots later than McCann, 72 spots later than Martinez, and 85 spots behind Mauer. Not yet in that upper echelon of backstops, Wieters’ late-season charge could portend a big season, turning the top catching trio into a fantastic four.

For more info on major league catchers including: player cards, position rankings, average draft positions, and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Is Alex Rodriguez the Clear 3rd Pick?

By R.J. Anderson

Alex Rodriguez is coming off a season in which he hit 30 home runs, drove in 100 runs, and hit at least .285 for the 13th straight year. Regardless of the real world value of RBI and BA, there’s something to be said for that kind of consistency. Rodriguez also posted an OPS over .900 for the 12th time in 14 seasons, so pondering whether he’s a top-five pick, when he still plays third base, seems odd.

B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of all players) rates Rodriguez as the third-best player available, behind the obvious choices of Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez. A-Rod is followed by Ryan Howard at fourth, Matt Kemp fifth, Ryan Braun sixth and Prince Fielder seventh. Some fantasy players who place a heavy emphasis on position scarcity are also drafting Joe Mauer in this rarefied air.

Ignoring those players for now take a look at Rodriguez’s Spider Chart for an idea of his all-around production:

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Even A-Rod’s steals (14 last year, an average of nearly 19 a season over the past three seasons) rate as above average.

Still, let’s consider the argument against. First, A-Rod turns 34 in July. He played in fewer than 150 games for the second consecutive season in 2009. He saw his isolated slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) decline, despite playing in a more hitter-friendly environment. An encyclopedia’s worth of print has been produced dissecting how baseball hitters age. The common thought – presented here with all the gory math included – is that hitters on average progress rather linearly, peaking around age 27, then beginning a slow descent in their 30s.

Of course Rodriguez has never been accused of being average. Still, consider this: Rodriguez plays in the toughest division in baseball and he’ll face two of the best starting rotations in baseball, the Red Sox and Rays. That’ll take a toll on a player’s offensive production too.

Rodriguez’s Bloomberg Sports projection of 43 homers, 121 RBI, 15 steals, and a .297 average appears to be on the optimistic side. Other projection systems, like CHONE and Marcel, have Rodriguez hitting 34 and 31 homers respectively. Such a spread is not found with, say, Ryan Braun’s projections; the Brewers outfielder is projected by all three forecasters to hit 33-35 homers with a .300+ average in 2010. Braun also figures to steal more bases, though he probably won’t score more runs or drive more in – the Brewers’ offense is good, but probably not Yankees-level good.

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It’s a tough call choosing between A-Rod and Braun, and that’s leaving aside players like Mauer, Kemp and others in this spot. You might want to hope for the number-one pick, or something a bit later.

For more information on Alex Rodriguez and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy tools.

When To Target Pitching In Your Fantasy Baseball Draft

By Jonah Keri

Most of the fantasy baseball cognoscenti like to wait to draft
pitchers. Let others expend high picks on an inherently riskier
commodity, the theory goes, while they rack up sure-thing offensive
counting stats in the early rounds.

Contrarians have a different take. If everyone else is going to
zig, then why not zag? If teams are so desperate to pile up offense
that they’ll draft the number-five first baseman before the number-one
starting pitcher, then why not sneak in and grab Tim Lincecum as a
second-round bargain?

I prefer an in-between approach. Top pitchers are in fact more
prone to injury and general attrition than top position players, so it
does pay to wait. But rather than waiting too long, then scraping the
bottom of the barrel, it’s best to jump in at opportune times. That
means targeting specific pitchers at specific times, rather than
letting others’ whims dictate the kind of pitching staff you’re going
to build. When a pitcher’s likely value exceeds his perceived value,
all the better.

No pitcher’s a better number-one target for a strategic
bargain-hunting approach than Ubaldo Jimenez. The 26-year-old
right-hander enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, hurling 218
innings (6th in the National League) winning 15 games (4th) and posting
a 3.47 ERA (16th).

Despite that breakthrough season, Jimenez remains underrated by
fantasy players. His Average Draft Position is 88.3, making him a
9th-round pick in a 10-team mixed league, and an 8th-round pick in a
12-team mixed league. His B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking
of all players) is 63, meaning his expected value is significantly
higher than his perceived value.

The optimal spot to draft Jimenez, then, lies between his B-Rank
and his ADP. In a 12-team mixed league, that makes a good target in the
sixth or seventh round. Jimenez is rated as a four-star pitcher
according to his Demand vs. Scarcity chart. As shown below, that places
him in a tight cluster with fellow aces like Chris Carpenter and Josh
Beckett – but without an ace’s price tag.

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Jimenez has several factors working in his
favor that portend continued success. As shown in the Competitive
Factors tab (under Draft Kit – Player Scout), Jimenez could benefit
from facing a batch of weak opponents in an unbalanced NL West
schedule. The Diamondbacks ranked 20th in runs scored last year, the Giants 26th and the Padres 29th. Only the Dodgers (11th) scored more runs than average
among non-Colorado teams in the NL West.

Jimenez also possesses the one skill most crucial to a pitcher’s
success: an ability to miss bats. He ranked 6th in the NL in strikeouts
in 2009.

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All of these factors
point to a pitcher who could be an anchor for your pitching staff, but
still allow you to load up on hitting early. Assuming a mid-first round
pick in a mock 12-team mixed league, we picked six hitters, stockpiling
offense early on: Matt Kemp, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton,
Chone Figgins and Carlos Pena (yes, B-Rank loves Uptons). We then
pulled the trigger on Jimenez.

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You’ll want to fill your pitching staff fairly quickly from this point on, to ensure across-the-board quality. Wandy Rodriguez, Tommy Hanson and Ricky Nolasco
could be good picks along those lines. In general, take a close look at
pitchers who fit Jimenez’s profile: lots of strikeouts, ideally in the
National League (where offensive levels tend to be lower), ideally in
the NL West. Jimenez teammate Jorge de la Rosa, another top-10 finisher in NL strikeouts last year, could be a great late-round snag to round out your staff.

For more information on Ubaldo Jimenez and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy tools.

Undervalued Third Basemen: Beltre, Stewart, and Glaus

By Erik Hahmann

The third base position is one of the more top-heavy in fantasy baseball this season. Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, and Evan Longoria lead the charge with B-Ranks (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary fantasy ranking of all players) of 3rd, 14th, and 16th respectively. Those three should be off the board early, and shouldn’t be available after the mid-second round in standard 12-team mixed leagues.

Seeing these players disappear quickly might make you rush to select a third basemen before you need to. Have no fear, here are a few third basemen who could present great value deeper into your draft.

Adrian Beltre: The move to Boston and Fenway Park should be a boon for Beltre. Last season, playing 81 games in cavernous Safeco Field – a pitcher-friendly park that’s especially tough on right-handed power hitters – Beltre posted a home/road OPS split of .646/.717. Compare that with Fenway, where the only Red Sox player to have a lower OPS at home than on the road was Victor Martinez (minimum 200 AB).

Joining a Red Sox offense that ranked in the top three in runs scored and OPS last season should also provide Beltre with ample opportunities to pad his offensive numbers. The 2009 season was the worst of Beltre’s career at the plate; a shoulder injury sapped his power, caused him to miss 30 games and hit just eight homers all season. If fully healthy, playing in Fenway and flanked by multiple good hitters, Beltre could easily approach his 2005-2008 numbers, when he averaged 25 home runs and 83 RBI a year.

Ian Stewart: At just 24, Ian Stewart enjoyed a breakout year in his first full season, hitting 25 homers and driving in 70 runs in just 425 ABs. However, things could, and probably should, have been much better. Stewart’s batting average on balls in play (which is like regular batting average, only stripping strikeouts from the equation) was just .270 – 35 points below his career average. Stewart’s fantasy value is centered entirely around his power numbers, as you can see in his spider chart below. His BABIP should rebound, making him a cheap power source who won’t kill your batting average as he ascends to full-time duty.

Stewart.png 

Troy Glaus: Selecting Glaus in the final few rounds of your draft is akin to buying a lottery ticket at 2 a.m.: Sure, it’s probably not going to work out, but what do you have to lose? If he is healthy, Glaus could very well put up 25-30 home runs and gain multi-positional eligibility. It’s staying healthy that’s the issue, with shoulder, oblique, and back issues keeping him out of the lineup for all but 29 ABs in 2009. Over his career Gluas has proved himself to be one of the more consistent hitters in baseball, posting walk rates in the 13% range and never having an OBP below .350 since 2003. Currently Glaus has a B-Rank of 419 and a positional ranking of 34th, which slots him behind players like Jose Bautista and Alberto Callaspo. That makes him a bench pick in most drafts. If Glaus can stay healthy for even 110-120 games this season he should put up useful power numbers that can help you in deep leagues, and provide insurance against an injured corner infield starter in shallower leagues. If he can’t avoid the DL, a 28th-round pick is no big loss.
 
For more information on Adrian Beltre, Ian Stewart, Troy Glaus and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy tools.

Cliff Pennington: Another Cheap Steals Source at SS

By R.J. Anderson

Last week, Jonah Keri profiled San Diego Padres’ shortstop Everth Cabrera,
noting Cabrera’s cheap price/late draft position for potentially
premium stolen base production. Let’s look at another candidate to the
list of cheap shortstop SB candidates: the Oakland Athletics’ Cliff Pennington.

Ranked 366th overall and behind such names as Juan Uribe and Cristian Guzman,
Pennington projects to finish with the 44th most steals in all of
baseball. That’s not quite Cabrera level, but it’s more than Rafael Furcal and Erick Aybar,
two mid-level shortstops. Furcal is being drafted more than 100 spots
ahead of his 254th B-Rank and Aybar nearly 60 spots ahead of his 269th
rank. Pennington is ranked as the 21st-best shortstop, just slots
behind these two, and he’s not even being drafted in most leagues.

Using the 2010 Projected Stolen Bases filter for American League
shortstops, we find that Pennington ranks behind only the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus and the Rays’ Jason Bartlett in projected swipes at the position in the AL.


penny2.jpg

Thanks to Moneyball, the A’s have developed a reputation for
being averse to the stolen base. Turns out the book came out seven
years ago, times have changed, and Bloomberg Sports’ SB forecasts for
Pennington vs. the rest of the league reflect that. Last season, Rajai Davis stole 41 bases and Adam Kennedy nabbed 20. The days of Ray Durham’s
speed being held as a prisoner of the run expectancy war are over, and
manager Bob Geren is willing to give the green light when the A’s have
a capable thief. Pennington looks like that kind of base stealer: In 2009, he swiped 27 bases in 99 games at Triple-A. For his career, he has 107 steals in 476 games.

Stealing
bases involves actually getting on base, and this is where things get
interesting.  Pennington doesn’t
represent much in the way of batting average either, and the A’s lineup
is more defensive-orientated than equipped to scoring handfuls of runs
per game. That means Pennington’s true value is his stolen bases and
walks/on-base percentage. He’s projected to finish in the top 10 of all
shortstops in each of those metrics, but considerably lower in most
others.

penny1.jpg

Pennington’s biggest weakness is a lack of power. His minor league ISO (Isolated Power, i.e. slugging percentage minus batting average) is a measly .095.  For perspective, Willie Bloomquist‘s career Major League ISO is .069 and Nick Punto‘s
is .076. Pennington’s not quite swinging with a whiffle bat, but his minor league power
indicators
trail his shortstop counterparts in the big leagues -
American League shortstops had an average ISO of .117 in 2009. Combine
that
lack of pop with playing in a pitcher’s paradise in Oakland, and
Pennington projects as a player who’s a likely SB specialist for your
team, not an all-around threat.


Still, for some cheap
steals and walks, Pennington could be a value pick later in the draft,
especially in AL-only leagues.

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

Cameron Maybin: Late Steals for Your Fantasy Team

by Eno Sarris

A well-worn strategy for fantasy baseball is to wait on steals. Why pick a Michael Bourn (Average Draft Position = 87.38) early when Juan Pierre (ADP 232.91) might give you comparable statistics much later? 

In that vein, it pays to examine late-round steals options, and it doesn’t get much later than Cameron Maybin (288.25). To be fair, it’s not exactly an active market that late in a draft, as ADPs in the high 200s are not nearly as stable as ADPs earlier in the draft; Maybin goes as early as 200 according to Mock Draft Central. To help hedge your emotional investment in Maybin, we’ll identify a couple of other late options for steals, too. That way you can wait on the risky speed-only picks as long as possible and feel optimistic about landing one of them.

Back to Maybin. Remember back on December 5, 2007, when the announcement came through the wire that the Florida Marlins had traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for a package headlined by Maybin and left-handed top-shelf prospect Andrew Miller? At the time, the consensus was that this was a Big Boy trade – top prospects for top players. It’s hard to separate the outcomes of the involved players from your appraisal of the trade when it occurred – as Rob Neyer so eloquently pointed out last week – so we won’t try too hard. We’ll just note that the shine has dimmed a bit on this trade in the interim, and it now seems to contain the worst parts of the business of swapping upside for currently performing talent. Sometimes the upside isn’t what you thought it was, and sometimes the current talent is not all it’s cracked up to be, either. (Sometimes the talent goes drinking before a big game, or develops Steve Blass disease.)

Maybin, in the meantime, has gone from the prospect that couldn’t miss to the prospect that couldn’t NOT miss: His career strikeout rate in the major leagues is 31.1%. To put that in perspective, Adam Dunn‘s career strikeout rate is 32.1%. The highest batting average of a player that struck out more than 30% last year was Ryan Howard‘s .279. 

This has been a problem for Maybin his whole career, as he owns a 27.9% strikeout rate in the minor leagues as well. Looking through our rose-colored glasses, we can point to the fact that Maybin cut that rate to 19.5% last year in Triple-A. But even when dealing with that sample size we also have to admit that his 29% strikeout rate in the major leagues last year was just about the same as it ever was. There’s still room for growth, as Maybin is just 22 years old, with 257 career MLB at-bats under his belt. Still, without some luck on batted balls, it’s hard to envision Maybin hitting for a high average in 2010. 

That said, Maybin’s Spider Graph from the Bloomberg Fantasy Tools shows that it’s not all about batting average. Of course, the spider graph also shows that Maybin comes up short in all categories currently.

CameronMaybinGrab.jpgOuch. Even with a graph predicated on a mere 200-odd plate appearances in 2009, this is a damning appraisal of his skills. Let’s reach for those rose-colored glasses again and see if we can find reasons to be optimistic. 

For one, we know he has speed, as he stole 81 bases on a 79% success rate in the minor leagues. So far he’s 10-for-13 in major league attempts, so that bodes well. 

But what about his power and patience at the plate? If he exhibits those skills, we can forgive the batting average risk and enjoy the home runs and steals. The patience we’ll deal with first because patience usually translates to the major leagues eventually. Maybin has walked in 12.2% of his minor league plate appearances, and 8% of his major league PAs, so far. Given that the league average last year was 8.9%, gaining those extra walks will be important for the young center fielder. 

Now, the power. His minor league isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average, ISO shows the non-singles a player produced) was .171. If Maybin can put up that number in the major leagues, he’d have power that was comparable to, say Jimmy Rollins (.173 ISO in 2009) or Brandon Phillips (.171 ISO in 2009). Go a little further up the list, though, and you get a good comp for Maybin – Nate McLouth. McLouth has a little more power (.194 career ISO), also strikes out a lot (over 20% in his first two seasons), walks around 10% of the time (9.3% career) and puts up the same kind of power/speed combo with a poor batting average (.260 career) that we might expect out of Maybin. Walk the power back a little, and push the speed forward a little, and you’ve got Maybin’s upside right now. (Mike Cameron (11.1% career BB%, 27.9% career K%, .198 career ISO) would make a good comp, but his speed is waning as he enters his 16th year in the bigs. 

If you look at the different Maybin projections around the Web, you have the upper bounds defined by Bill James (as usual): .286 with 10 home runs and 14 stolen bases. To see the projections on the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool, go to the Draft Kit, then pick the Draft List, then Search Mode. Then toggle the switch from picture view to grid view (midway up on left side). Then you can choose 2010 projections and sort by whichever stat or player you like or pick the groups like ‘Rising,’ ‘Falling,’ or ‘Sleepers.’ 


You’ll see that Bloomberg Sports projects Maybin to bat .269 with 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases, which is realistic given his strikeout rate. In a recent interview with MLB.com, manager Fredi Gonzalez said the plan was to start the season with Maybin batting second and playing center field. If Maybin can walk 10% and show that decent power, he’ll probably stick in that second spot and outperform the projections in counting stats, due to him topping estimates on his playing time (typically hovering around 400-450 at-bats).

Add it all together and you get a player who could easily hit around .270 with up to 15 home runs and more than 20 steals this year. Nate-McLouth-lite is sounding like a good comparison right now – except you can get Maybin much, much later in your draft. If you want to wait really long for your steals, Maybin has some good upside and makes a solid late-round pick. 


(As promised, we’ll also profile Drew Stubbs and Michael Brantley in the next few days, so you get a feel fo
r other young speedsters you can nab late.)

For more information on Cameron Maybin and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

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