May 2010

Scott Hairston’s Early-Season Surge

By R.J. Anderson //

Scott Hairston is not the only Hairston on the San Diego Padres. His brother, Jerry Hairston Jr., has been the Friars’ starting shortstop with Everth Cabrera on the disabled list. Scott starts most games for the Padres too, and why wouldn’t he? The Padres traded Hairston during the 2009 season, but reacquired him in the Kevin Kouzmanoff deal and quickly decided he would start in the outfield.

So far, Hairston is batting .247/.357/.494 with six homers and three steals. Besides the fact that Hairston’s previous career high in home runs is 17 – and that he’s on pace to top that by a healthy margin – Hairston is also walking more than 13% of the time. It wasn’t too long ago that Hairston was a top prospect with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Playing second and clobbering home runs, but doing so with poor defense, the Diamondbacks eventually traded him to the Padres; they would also allow Dan Uggla to leave via the Rule 5 draft, a player with a similar skill set.

 

shairston1.pngHairston’s career batting average is a few points higher, but here’s where things get a little weird. His career batting average on balls in play is about 20 points above his current level, meaning Hairston is a little unlucky based on what we know about his ability to turn batted balls into hits. On the other hand, he’s striking out 33% of the time. That’s well above his typical K rate around 23% and generally enough to kill any hopes of a respectable batting average.

Of course, with Hairston, the golden egg of value is never going to be his batting average, but rather his power. This surge of power is impressive, without doubt, yet carries some sustainability questions. His home run per fly ball ratio is above 20% (career is just under 12%) and he plays in the National League West, where most parks, save for Coors Field, tend to favor pitchers. Hairston plays his home games at PETCO Park, one of the toughest stadiums in the game for power hitters, though a more favorable environment for right-handed hitters like Hairston than for lefties.

Hairston’s status changed over the weekend, though. He suffered a hamstring injury and may be on his way to the disabled list. So there are a few ways to assess his value. In shallow mixed leagues, you can disable him or just cut him outright. In deeper leagues, his DL stint might provide a buy-low opportunity. If you can find someone willing to offer 85 to 90 cents on the dollar based on Hairston’s power potential, though, pull the trigger.

For more about Scott Hairston , check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

 

Carlos Ruiz: Breakout Player, or Regression on the Way?

By Tommy Rancel //

Joe MauerBrian McCannCarlos Ruiz? Going into the 2010 season, not many people had Carlos Ruiz pegged as a .345 hitter with a .948 OPS. Yet here we sit in mid-May and Ruiz is exactly that. Welcome to the beauty of early-season sample sizes. However, the hot start raises the question…is there anything to suggest that Ruiz’s hot start is anything more than just that?

ruiz.png

In terms of being a .345 hitter, no. Ruiz is a career .253 hitter. Expecting him to maintain an average nearly 100 points higher is just silly. The inflated early-season average is a result of a ridiculously high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). We talk about BABIP around here a lot, with good reason.

Throughout his career with the Phillies, Ruiz has a .271 BABIP. The average player is around .300, On the other hand, it is not uncommon to see catchers, who tend to be slow, with lower than normal BABIPs. Ruiz’s BABIP thus far in 2010 is a robust, and unsustainable, .403. It is true that a hitter has slightly more control over his BABIP than a pitcher, but not this much control.

Part of the reason for the high BABIP is an increase in line drives, a factor that a hitter can, in fact, control to some extent. Of the most common ways to put a ball in play – line drives, groundballs and flyballs – liners are the ones that go for hits more often than any other. Ruiz has a relatively normal career line drive rate (LD%) of 18.4%; that’s increased to 24.6% so far in 2010. An LD% more than 20% is sustainable, but only four players in the major leagues had a rate of greater than 24% last season.

One would suspect Ruiz’s LD% to settle toward career norms; this would likely create a batting average chain reaction. His BABIP would likely fall, and in turn, so would his batting average. ZiPs updated in season projections have Ruiz with a projected .285 batting average at season’s end. That would mean a batting average of .267 the rest of the way. Even then, a .285 average is more than 30 points higher than his career number, but a lot more believable than the .345 average he boasts right now.

Outside of batting average, the biggest change for Ruiz has come in terms of strikeouts and walks. Since joining the Phillies in 2006, Ruiz has posted favorable rates in terms of walks and strikeouts. His career walk rate (BB%) of 11.6% is decent, and his 12.8% strikeout rate (K%) is more than acceptable. In recent seasons, Ruiz has posted nearly identical K and BB percentages. 2010 has been no different.

ruizkbb.png

What is different is an increase in both numbers. The 31-year-old has increased his BB% to 19.8%, but his strikeouts have also increased to nearly the same level (19.0%). Ruiz is swinging at pitches out of the zone 20.4% of the time, but that is not far off his career number of 17.4%. Pitchers are throwing slightly more fastballs to him, however, nothing that could be considered drastic. More likely, Ruiz has just improved his batting eye in terms of walks, and become more willing to work deep counts, even if it means more strikeouts.

Power-wise, Ruiz has shown decent, not great, pop in his five-year career. His ISO or Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .131 in 2010 is very close to his career number of .133. His home run-to-flyball rate of 9.5 is slightly higher than his career number, although easily sustainable.

If you were able to snag Ruiz as your catcher in the later rounds of your draft, enjoy the early-season success. While the batting average is expected to regress, the increase in walks could give him a very favorable on-base percentage, especially from the catcher position; that could boost his runs scored totals in standard 5×5 leagues. In terms of power, expecting Ruiz to duplicate his nine home runs and 26 doubles from last season is reasonable.

If you’re OK with that production from your catcher, then Ruiz is your man. However, if you have a decent back-up option, you might want to strongly consider selling high on Ruiz and his batting average before the potential BABIP regression sets in. Assuming you can get inflated value for him, of course.

*Carlos Ruiz was diagnosed with a right knee sprain on Wednesday. The injury should not require a DL stint. 

For more on Carlos Ruiz and other players with surprising starts, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.

(Audio) BTN with guest Ben Kabak of RiverAveBlues

By Bloomberg Sports //

Listen now! – (loads in new browser)

Behind the Numbers
Hosts: Wayne Parillo and Rob Shaw
Guest: Ben Kabak of RiverAveBlues

Total Running Time: 15:40

High Level Look

  • Being “zen” during games
  • the state of the farm system
  • How RAB became so successful

More ways to get Behind the Numbers, talk to us, or just have a good time

For more on the hottest fantasy baseball topics and trends, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Head-to-Head

By Jonah Keri //

Ballpark Figures: Head-to-Head — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele talks some fantasy baseball with Bloomberg Sports Analyst Rob Shaw about the upcoming weekend. Shaw has his eyes on a pitching duel in Tampa Bay between the Rays and Seattle Mariners. For offensive fireworks, check out the Cardinals and Reds. Finally, in reality, Shaw has his eyes on a postseason rematch between the Twins and Yankees. Play ball!

No Regular Johnny Cueto

by Eno Sarris //

On the heels of a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s tempting to get excited about Johnny Cueto.
But fantasy owners – and the baseball world in general – have been
excited about Cueto before. And, hey, it’s the Pirates.

After
his 10-strikeout, zero-walk debut in his rookie season, all sorts of
people prognosticated greatness for the effectively wild hurler. In
fact, Rob Neyer wrote about ‘signature significance’ -
the idea that one performance can be so great that it means something
for the career of the performer. While the article Neyer was quoting
mentioned Jason Bere and Luke Hudson, he did make the
excellent point that perhaps there was more significance when the
pitcher was as young as Cueto was (22). Cueto’s rookie ERA did not live up to the hype created by his first start, but he did put up a
8.17 K/9 that seemed to portend good times ahead.

Fast forward to this spring, and the optimism wasn’t nearly that strong. His Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools
B-Rank going into the season was only 183. That was largely due to his tepid sophomore season in 2009 which produced a much less
exciting strikeout rate of 6.93 per nine innings, as well as another ERA on the wrong
side of four. His home park hasn’t helped – Great American Ballpark
has averaged a 1.25 park factor for home runs
since 2007, meaning that the park augments home runs by 25%.
Nevertheless, Cueto gave up 1.26 home runs per nine innings last year, with a 1.36 rate for his career. He seems to have a bit of a homer problem, but if he was striking out a batter per inning we’d probably forgive him his trespasses.

So what gives? We’ve talked about post-hype sleepers before. Can Cueto recover all that promise that we once thought he had?

Let’s
take a look at the pitching mix, one area we have identified as a part
of the game that young pitchers can mess with in order to improve the
effectiveness of their overall arsenal. In 2009, Cueto was almost a
two-pitch pitcher. He threw his fastball 60.9% of the time and his
slider 28.9% of the time. Strangely, it was his change-up, which he only
threw 9.3% of the time, that got the best whiff rate (14.1%).CuetoGrab1.jpg

In
2010, he’s thrown his two-seam or four-seam fastball 58.7% of the time,
his slider 31.9% of the time, and his change-up 9.3% of the time. The
mix is largely similar, but the extra use of the slider is worth
noting.  While the slider got just slightly above-average strikeout
rates in 2009 (9.7%), the pitch is inching its way back towards elite
territory this year (12.2%). Guess the slider’s rate of whiffs in 2008: 15.8%. His fastball whiff rate is also into double digits after languishing at 5.8% last year. Cueto’s increased whiff rates have led to his strikeout rate inching forward to 7.07 K/9 this year. As you can see
from the screenshot above, this new K-rate puts him in the middle of the
top-10 pitchers’ pack in terms of strikeout and walk rates.

We return now to his
start against the Pirates. Of the 102 pitches in that game, Cueto threw 73 fastballs, 24
sliders and five change-ups. He got four whiffs on the slider for 17% and 14 whiffs on 73 fastballs for 19.2%. It
seems that his nice whiff rate was a big part of his good night. 
CuetoGrab2.jpg
The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools
just added a Trade Analyzer.
On the left you’ll see a trio of players that the trade machine
suggests might match up with Cueto as trade options. If you have the
chance to trade Mark Buehrle or Rick Porcello for Cueto, now would seem like the time to pull the trigger. The
slider is getting whiffs again, which seems to be a big part of his
original promise. If he can regain the slidepiece stuff that made us
all drool in 2008, he’ll be a boon to fantasy managers in 2010.

For more about trades that might net you Johnny Cueto, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Hot Commodities

By Jonah Keri //

Ballpark Figures: Hot Commodities — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele talks fantasy baseball with Bloomberg Sports analyst Rob Shaw. The result is a list of Shaw’s Bets and Michele’s Steals! Shaw likes Padres former top prospect Tim Stauffer as a hidden gem (though he is currently on the DL), while Brewers Casey McGehee also gets the thumbs up. Michele is rolling with Aaron Rowand, who has been a major help for the Giants offense.

The Five Types of Trades You’ll See In Fantasy Leagues

By Eriq Gardner

Everyone has a different philosophy on trading.
There’s usually no right or wrong, but competitors will usually lean towards a certain trading style.
Some owners will get itchy and make trades based upon their position in the standings or their perception of what other competitors are doing. Other owners always want to “win” a deal and will focus foremost on getting the upper hand on value, regardless of need. Some tend to focus heavily on player upside, while others do their best to avoid risk. There’s no limit to the types of psychological dispositions that compel a deal, and it’s always best to try to figure out where your potential trading partner is coming from when opening up a negotiation.
With that said, trades can be classified into five types. With the help of Bloomberg Sports’ brand new Trade Analyzer, here they are:
The Challenge Trade:

challengetrade.png
The Challenge Trade isn’t about need, per se. Instead, it’s about differing perceptions of value: I like your Tim Lincecum. You like my Roy Halladay. We swap because we both think we’re making out better by completing the swap.
This is easy enough, but very rarely do things match up so elegantly. There’s a good reason, after all, why my player ended up on my own team whereas your player ended up on your team. 
Only exigent circumstances would shift valuations significantly.
For example, let’s say you owned Josh Beckett and were disturbed by his 7.64 ERA. You might wish to get rid of him. I, on the other hand, am a pretty patient owner, who won’t let five weeks of stats significantly shake my notion of the struggling Red Sox ace. I might have a pitcher who is currently performing much better — say, Jonathan Sanchez — but may wish to take the odds that a pitcher with a longer track record of success like Beckett will outperform a recent upstart like Sanchez. We make the deal.
Challenge trades are good for opinionated folk. They serve the purpose of settling a bet on who can most accurately forecast player value, But they are nearly impossible to pursue unless you compete in a trade-happy league.
The Utilitarian Trade

tradeutilitarian.png

The Utilitarian Trade is all about need. In these types of trades, competitors can see eye-to-eye on player value, and still make an exchange based on differing team shortcomings. I trade you my Roy Halladay because you need pitching. You trade me your Alex Rodriguez because I need hitting.
Swaps like this should occur more often, but don’t. There’s a few reasons why this is the case. 
First, competitors can be hesitant about admitting a team deficiency or reluctant to make bold moves to redress a situation. Many of us are optimists by competitive nature.
Second, teams don’t always do a great job analyzing the ways they can move forward in the standings. When most people think of a Utilitarian Trade, they think about the big blockbuster above or maybe an obvious one such as speed-for-power. The fact that there’s theoretically an endless supply of trades where trading partners can both pursue smaller gains in the standings usually gets missed.
Third and perhaps most importantly, trade negotiations break down over disagreements about player value. Teams attempting to negotiate a Utilitarian Trade will do so because they see a mutual benefit to the exchange. The deal may be about need, but negotiations can still fall apart based on distractions like, “Who is coming out better?”
These trades are best for teams who can do hard analysis and let ego stand aside.
The Hedge Trade

hedgetrade.png
The Hedge Trade is about anticipating the future and managing both risk and upside. No player’s value is truly stable and teams have different tolerance levels for holding onto assets that may boom or bust.
Injured players, prospects, and ballplayers who are on the verge of a promotion or demotion are always good candidates for trade. 
Let’s say I owned injured Baltimore 2B Brian Roberts. He recently told the media that he might be back in three weeks or he might be back in three months. That’s quite a difference. If I’m a conservative fellow, I might accept 75 cents on the dollar. If you’re a gamblin’ man, you might jump at the chance at getting a superstar at a discount. I give you Brian Roberts and you give me Ben Zobrist. Voila.
Similarly, nobody is quite certain when a prospect like Desmond Jennings will be called up and make an impact at the majors. An owner who is excited at Jennings’ potential might make a strong offer. 
Or let’s say the owner of Brian Fuentes is a bit worried that the Angels pitcher might be on the verge of losing his closer gig. He might wish to take as much as he can get right now, before the bad news breaks. Maybe he matches well with the team owner who is last in the standings in the saves category, desperate to take a shot at bolstering his bullpen.
These trades are good for teams who are either forward-looking or very short-sighted. There are benefits to be on either side, depending on a team’s position in the standings.
The Depth Trade

depthtrade.png
In some ways, the Depth Trade looks a lot like the Utilitarian Trade in that one of the two teams is making the deal out of a big need. But in this iteration, the other trading partner has a surplus of talent and can package two or more players together to consolidate the value. In other words, he’s in a position of luxury.
For instance, I give you Torii Hunter and Joey Votto for Albert Pujols. Stated another way, I give you Hunter so that I may upgrade from Votto to Pujols. If Hunter represents a big upgrade for your outfield, the gains you make can outweigh the negatives of downgrading from Pujols to Votto. The deal figures to be a net benefit to both of us.
Obviously, most teams would like to be in the luxury position, which explains why deals
like these aren’t the easiest to pull off. As the Bloomberg Sports tool notes, “As a rule of thumb, in an unbalanced trade you should aim to acquire the best player in the deal.” 
That’s a good objective, of course, but the reality is that some teams do stand to benefit from being on the other side and making their team more well rounded. The question is: Can these teams swallow their pride by giving up the best player involved in the transaction?
It’s also important to note that an unbalanced trade like Torii Hunter and Joey Votto for Albert Pujols isn’t really a 2-for-1 trade. After all, the team receiving Hunter and Votto will need to drop another player to clear roster room. The team receiving Pujols will free up a roster spot to pick up another player off of the waiver wire. These factors should also be considered.
The Rebuilding Trade
rebuildingtrade.png
Finally, we have the Rebuilding Trade, reviled by some and loved by others.
These trades mostly occur in keeper leagues. On one side of the deal is a team who has fallen out of competition and will give up their best stars for future talent. On the other side of the trade is a team who is in the midst of battling for a championship and will give up their best prospects for strong players who can help propel them the final mile.
These types of deals will typically be guided by a league’s incentive and rules structure. Some leagues have a system in place that rewards aggressive long-term roster building. Other leagues are more primed to consider the integrity of current competition foremost and insist upon guidelines to prevent so-called dump deals.
Timing is the biggest consideration in these types of trades. Teams must decide when it’s appropriate to give up on a season and how to attain the best return in a trade. In a future post, we’ll explore negotiating strategies in further depth.
For a closer look at the new Trade Analyzer and trade suggestion tools, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

Is Darnell McDonald the New Garrett Jones?

By R.J. Anderson //

The Baltimore Orioles selected Darnell McDonald with the 26th pick of the 1997 amateur draft. With just over 200 career big league at-bats, after sharing a class with All-Stars like Lance Berkman, Troy Glaus, Jayson Werth, and teammate J.D. Drew it’s easy to call McDonald’s career a bust. But for right now, McDonald has done his part to inspire the downtrodden Red Sox nation.

Now 31 years old, McDonald is hitting .246/.328/.456 with below-average defense in center but also some huge late-game heroics. The projected starter in center field, Mike Cameron, began a rehab assignment on Monday, and left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury will return at some point in the near future too. McDonald’s power figures to keep him around longer than Jonathan Van Every, but just because McDonald could stick on the Sox’s roster for an additional few weeks, does that mean he should stick on your roster?

In a word: No.

darnell1.png
It’s easy to get caught up in McDonald’s triumphant debut with Boston and buy into his power as legitimate. The sample size is still incredibly small, even smaller than McDonald’s stint in Cincinnati last year, in which he hit .267/.306/.400. Even in the minors, McDonald never showed the ability to consistently hit for a slugging percentage over .450. His career Triple-A slash line – which is representative of more than 3,700 plate appearances over a good stretch of his statistical prime – is only .278/.337/.423.

This all seems rather obvious. After all, McDonald is probably out of a roster spot by June and career journeymen are pretty fungible in the fantasy world. However, after the success of Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee or even players like Jack Cust, it’s important to analyze and evaluate each player under their own circumstances, since career minor leaguers can occasionally grow into viable big league fantasy commodities.

McDonald’s story is a nice one of potential redemption and persistence. But he’s just not somebody who will continue to help your mixed league fantasy team no matter how much longer he’ll stick in the majors. In a deep American League-only league, he’s worth holding for a little while longer. Otherwise, you can safely let him pass.

For more on Darnell McDonald and the Boston Red Sox, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Stock Report

by Jonah Keri //

Ballpark Figures: Stock Report — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele talks with Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw to discuss the bulls and bears on the stock report. Shaw remains bullish on Carlos Lee, despite his poor season numbers. He tells us to keep Pablo Sandoval on the bench temporarily. Finally, Clayton Kershaw is a great buy low option with his ERA more than a run above last season.

BABIP Laggers, xBABIP and Fantasy Rebound Candidates

by Eno Sarris //

We’ve quoted Russell Carlton’s study about the benchmarks when different statistics become significant plenty of times here. In that study, he basically asked how long it took for a statistic to reliably predict itself in one season. Given a batter’s batting average, for example, how many plate appearances does it take until that average predicts his future in-season batting average to a 70% reliability? The answer, in this case, is never. Batting average is one of the most volatile statistics in baseball, and subsequently we’re always chasing those hits in fantasy play.

While batting average itself doesn’t normalize quickly, there are some interesting quirks in the component pieces. For example, line drive rate becomes significant within 40 plate appearances. In other words, the poor-line-drive-hitting players do actually have something to worry about in the early going. While BABIP doesn’t become significant over one season, one of the main components of BABIP - line drive rate – steadies rather quickly.

It follows that players with poor BABIPs are not created equally. A player with a poor line drive rate (the average line drive rate is around 19%) may end the season with a poor BABIP, and therefore a poor batting average. That makes our mission clear. Let’s take a look at the 10 worst BABIPs in the majors, courtesy of FanGraphs. Not surprisingly, the list is filled with under-achievers.
BABIPLaggers.jpg
It’s nice how quickly you can get a sense of which of these players is more ready for a rebound in batting average than the rest. For example, Carlos Quentin may have something to worry about. He’s just not centering the ball, and with a poor line drive this year as well as over his career (15.7%), he may actually end up being a guy with power and poor batting averages once we look back on his full career. That’s another way of seeing how misleading batting average can be – even though we are more than 1500 plate appearances into Quentin’s career, there’s a non-zero chance that he’s better than his .248 career batting average so far. On the other hand, this spider graph from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools might actually show us who he really is.

QuentinGrab.jpgThere are other names on that list that pop out as ready to bust out. We’ve heard a million times how Mark Teixeira is just a slow starter, he’s got an average line drive rate, and for some reason nearly 80% of his balls in play are becoming outs. That shouldn’t continue, nor should Casey Kotchman continue to be this unlucky on balls in play.

You can use a player’s batted ball profile – their groundballs, flyballs, line drives – and their speed – measured by stolen bases for now – to predict what their BABIP should be. This stat, often called xBABIP, does a good job of pointing out which players are ready for the rebound as well. Here’s the original article, by Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton, that also included an xBABIP calculator.

BABIPxBABIP.jpgCheck out the same 10 players from above, with their batting average, BABIP and xBABIP as columns. Players with the highest xBABIPs on this list suffer from the worst luck and are therefore the best bets for improved batting averages in the future. 

So there you have it. Feel good about Nick Johnson, Teixeira and Kotchman, and worry a little about Quentin and Aramis Ramirez in particular. BABIP is always a useful tool when looking at slumping batting averages, but xBABIP and its component stats help us complete the picture.


Statistics updated through 5/9/10. For more on players with slumping batting averages, check out 
Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.