By Bloomberg Sports //
Ballpark Figures: Fantasy Headlines — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw talk some fantasy baseball. Today’s topic is a Rookie Report.
By Tommy Rancel //
A year ago, it seemed Vladimir Guerrero‘s days of being a feared power hitter were numbered. Through a combination of injuries and age, Guerrero’s power numbers took a hit in 2009. He hit 15 home runs and totaled just 31 extra-base hits as injuries limited him to 100 games.
His 2009 slugging percentage of .460 along with his .164 ISO (Isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average) were the lowest totals since his rookie season of 1997. With limited defensive ability, and a seemingly declining bat, Guerrero took a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers.
The deal has proved to be a blockbuster so far. Vladdy got off to a slow start with the Rangers – at least in terms of power. His .333 batting average (AVG) in April was very good, but he hit just two home runs. His slugging percentage was right back in the .460 area. An OPS of .851 is still good production from the DH spot, but April proved to be just the opening act.
In May, Guerrero exploded for a .330 average, with 10 home runs and 31 RBI. His slugging percentage for the month was a stellar .633 in 109 at-bats. In June, he has added two more home runs and is once again slugging over .630.
So what is behind Guerrero’s return to the top of the power-hitting food chain?
Our first guess would be health. Guerrero missed a game earlier this month after taking a foul ball off his eye, but the back problems that have plagued him throughout his career have been quiet in the early part of 2010. He has played in 58 of the Rangers first 62 games and has even logged some outfield innings along the way.
If you are looking for a fluke in his overall power numbers, you won’t find one. His .568 slugging percentage is identical to his career number. His .230 ISO is slightly lower than his .247 career average. In terms of batted ball data, his .322 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is right in line with his career .319 BABIP. His line drives, groundballs, and flyballs are all within 2-3% of historical values.
Although Guerrero is swinging at 50.2% of pitches outside of the strike zone, he is striking out just 9.5% of the time – a figure that represents the second-lowest single-season total of his career.
While luck doesn’t seem to be a factor for Guerrero, the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington certainly is. Outside of being healthy, playing his home games in the offensively-friendly park has been the biggest reason for Vlad’s resurgence. Guerrero’s new home currently ranks in the top three among American League stadiums in runs scored and home runs.
In 98 plate appearances on the road, the Rangers DH is hitting .272/.306/.424. At home, the 35-year-old is hitting .381/.407/.669 with 10 of his 14 home runs and 10 of his 12 doubles in 150 PAs. In fact, a ******** 20.4% of the flyballs he hits in Arlington have left the yard.
In general, it is good to exercise caution when dealing with such extreme splits, however, because of the park’s offensive nature, Guerrero could very likely sustain the power barrage in Texas. With 47 home dates remaining, Guerrero could put up 10-15 additional longballs in that park alone.
Even if Guerrero’s batting average (which currently hovers around .340) regresses, he is on pace for his ninth career 30-home run season and his 10th 100 RBI campaign. After spending five seasons as a rival of the Rangers, Guerrero is learning that sometimes the grass is greener on the other side.
For more on Vladimir Guerrero and other sluggers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits
by Eno Sarris //
It didn’t quite start with a
crash in the library. But Conor Jackson has so far had a career that
resembles the now-defunct Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
It all started
so well when he got his first regular playing time in 2006, racking up a .291/.368/.441 line that suggested further upside.
He’d been ranked as high as #17 on Baseball America’s top 100 list and had
shown a .200 ISO in the minor leagues (isolated power, or slugging
percentage minus batting average), so it seemed possible that Jackson
was going to develop into an above-average first baseman despite his
underpowered debut (.151 ISO). At the very least, his nice walk rate (9.7%) could provide good value to his team.
The ride meandered a bit when he followed that up with a .284/.368/.467 season that made fans
wonder if there wasn’t a lot of projectability there. Though he had hit 15 home runs in both seasons,
there was still some hope that he could improve that number in the
future, especially after a solid .183 ISO in his sophomore season.
The 2008 season took most of the shine off Jackson’s future, as his
batting line looked very familiar (.300/.376/.446) and his ISO took a
step back (.146). First base, of all positions, is not a great place to
stick an underpowered stick, as the average batting-title qualifying
first baseman put up a .287/.378/.515 batting line in 2009. But
Jackson still offered value with his batting average, and by playing in
the outfield he added a little quirk and a little spice for people in
deep, five-outfielder leagues.
But last season, things turned for the worse. Jackson caught valley fever, a fungal
affliction seen mostly in the southwest. To quote the Wikipedia entry
on the subject:
The spores, known as arthroconidia,
are swept into the air by disruption of the soil, such as during
construction, farming, dancing at desert raves, or an earthquake.
I hope he caught it at a rave, so that some fun came from the situation. The rare disease has mild, flu-like
symptoms, but the fatigue associated with it basically cost Jackson the
year. He amassed just 110 plate appearances in the majors, and a dismal
.182/.264/.253 batting line. It might be safe to call 2009 a bedeviled section of the wild ride for Jackson.
Will there be a return to
normalcy for Jackson? Though claiming to be healthy, he has struggled
to a .245/.331/.343 line. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider
graph shows just how bad such a line is, when stacked up against first
basemen. Jackson is available in 97% of Yahoo leagues and 89.7% of ESPN
leagues. With his mild power even when he was going well, he was easy
to jettison and easier to ignore.
maybe there are still
fine times coming. Jackson has picked it up in June (.289/.357/.421)
and there are other encouraging signs. He never stopped walking
throughout his troubles (11.4% this year) and his contact rate is right
(87.3% this year, 87.6% career). Now he’s finally hitting the ball with
some authority (27.5% line drive rate).
He probably won’t ever have the power of the average starting first
baseman, he just doesn’t hit the ball in the air enough (34.4% this
year, 40.3% career). But if Jackson can continue to spray line drives
and show his trademark excellent eye at the plate, he can
help in deeper leagues – especially in leagues that count OBP and have five outfielders. Maybe Kevin
Smith was right – maybe everyone does want Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
By R.J. Anderson //
If you guessed that Leo Nunez would be the better pitcher through May than Jonathan Papelbon, then congrats, but you should really use that soothsaying ability on more profitable ventures. It’s true, though, we’re just over one-third of the way through the season and Nunez has 12 saves, a 2.28 ERA, and better strikeout, walk, and home run rates than the venerable Boston reliever.
The former Royal, acquired by the Marlins after the 2008 season for Mike Jacobs, does it without the prototypical power closer stuff. Yes, he still features a blazing fastball, one that tops 94 miles per hour on average. It’s his secondary stuff that differentiates him. Nunez used to rely on a slider, but the Marlins have coaxed him away from throwing it. Instead Nunez leans heavily on a change-up that sits fewer than 10 ticks away from his heater. FanGraphs has his change-up worth 3.04 runs per 100 pitches thrown. That places it among the most effective pitches in baseball.
Roughly 13% of Nunez’s pitches have resulted in swings-and-misses. If that number improves or holds steady through season’s end, it will represent a career high, breaking the high he set just last season. That’s not the most interesting alteration in Nunez’s game, though. Instead that honor goes to Nunez’s newfound control. His career walks per nine innings rate is 2.86; this year he’s down to 1.90, a number which would net a career best.
Yes, Nunez is on pace for the best season of his career. In 2008, Nunez’s previous best season, he threw nearly 50 innings and posted a 2.98 ERA. Still, his strikeout (4.84) and groundball (39.1%) rates were uninspiring.
Now, though, Nunez’s change has given him a whole new lease on upper-tier life. Nearly 50% of his batted balls against this season have been grounders. When combined with his strikeouts and walks, Nunez has now emerged as one of the top relievers in the National League.
By Tommy Rancel //
Going into the 2010 season, B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking system), among many other rankings, tabbed Zack Greinke as a top-five starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. After his Cy Young season in 2009, it was easy to see why. Pitching for one of the worst teams in the majors, Greinke still won 16 games, and racked up 242 strikeouts in 229.1 innings. His 2.16 ERA was nearly identical to his 2.33 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) which suggests that he put up these numbers without much luck, and was dominant all year long.
Thus far this season, Greinke hasn’t been anywhere near the top-five pitcher that many had hoped. For starters, he is just 1-8 through 13 starts in 2010. His ERA is nearly two runs higher than his 2009 mark. As was the case last season, his FIP (3.91) is comparable – as is his 4.18 xFIP (similar to FIP, but also strips out aberrant home run rates). While Greinke’s ERA and FIP are elevated, they remain better than average. But for most fantasy players, that is not enough. What they might fail to notice is this: Greinke’s 2009 season looks like the outlier. His 2010 performance looks very similar to what he’s done throughout the rest of his career.
One of the biggest reasons behind Grienke’s 2009 success was his strikeouts. His strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) in 2009 was a career-best 9.50. This year, Greinke has 66 strikeouts in 80 innings, which puts his K/9 at a strong but still significantly lower level of 7.43 – very close to his career 7.59 mark. Also down is his swing-strike percentage. Greinke induced a whiff nearly 10% of the time last season, but sits at just 5.8% this year. On the plus side, this is the only number that’s well below his career level (8.6%)
In terms of walks, Greinke’s BB/9 (walks per nine innings) of 2.03 this year is virtually identical to his 2.0 from a season ago, but still lower than his already impressive career 2.26 level.
Another major difference from last year to this year is home runs allowed. The rightly allowed just 11 home runs last year in nearly 230 innings of work; his HR/9 was a microscopic 0.43. This year he has allowed 10 long balls – nearly matching his total from a season ago in about one-third of the time. On the other hand, his HR/9 in 2010 of 1.13 is much closer to his career level of 0.97 than the number we saw last year.
Looking at his batted ball data – namely batting average on balls in play (BABIP) – Greinke has maintained a relatively normal BABIP in each of the past two years (~.318) when compared to his career number (.315). This further disqualifies luck from the equation.
One slight change in batted ball data is the type of balls being hit. Greinke allowed 40% groundballs last year; that’s down slightly to around 38% in 2010. Conversely, his flyball rate is up nearly 4% year-over-year. With his HR/9 regressing towards a career norm, and more flyballs in general, it’s not surprising to see that his home run-to-flyball ratio (HR/FB%) jump from 4.5% last year to 9.0% this year. Again, the 9.0% is much closer to his career HR/FB% of 8.7%.
When looking at pitch selection, Greinke is throwing more fastballs and change-ups while throwing fewer breaking balls than a year ago. This could be a part of the difference in the two seasons, but we’re talking a relatively minor 3-5% difference on most pitches.
While the 1-8 record is not a true indication of Greinke’s talent level, his 2010 peripheral stats seem to be just that. Greinke appears to be a very good but not quite elite pitcher who enjoyed a career year in 2009. If you can use his name value to acquire a pitcher with similar peripheral stats and a greater chance at more wins (Tommy Hanson?) plus possibly an additional player, you could successfully upgrade your team.
For more on Zack Greinke and other high-profile starting pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits
by Eno Sarris //
By traditional statistics, Cole Hamels has oscillated some in his short time in the major leagues:
2006: 4.08 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
2007: 3.39 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
2008: 3.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
2009: 4.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
2010: 3.98 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
could safely say that he’s been an elite pitcher, a good pitcher, and a league-average pitcher if you use the old statistics. Since we do use
the old stats in fantasy baseball, it’s worth noting Hamels’
depreciated value, represented here by spider graphs from the Bloomberg
Sports Fantasy Tools. Looks like a mediocre year, especially for a “former” top starter.
Coming as it does on the heels of his poor
postseason play last year, his performance in 2010 might seem to show
an early decline for the 27-year-old pitcher, at a time when most are
peaking. Then again, less traditional stats have something quite
different to say about Cole Hamels:
2006: 3.98 FIP, 3.68 xFIP
2007: 3.83 FIP, 3.51 xFIP
2008: 3.72 FIP, 3.63 xFIP
2009: 3.72 FIP, 3.69 xFIP
2010: 4.63 FIP, 3.69 xFIP
is fielding independing pitching, a number that runs on a scale similar to ERA, while stripping out factors such as batted ball luck and bullpen support to get at the underlying ability of a
pitcher to strike batters out and reduce walks. Meanwhile, xFIP is similar but
corrects for home run rates. For example, Hamels this year has a 1.62
HR/9 rate, (1.21 career), but is giving up the fewest flyballs of his
career (36.1% this year, 39.2% career). For some reason, 17.6% of his
fly balls are leaving the park, when it’s usually only 10% that do so across baseball.
By regressing his home run rate towards where it might be if his flyballs acted more like the average flyball, we find
that Hamels has been pretty much the same guy all five years he’s been
in the big leagues. In fact, his xFIP has been remarkably steady.
Then there’s the fact that, in some ways, he’s been better
this year. He’s sporting the second-best strikeout rate of his career,
and the best groundball rate. Those are the two best outcomes a pitcher
can have, so this is not some insignificant change. His fundamental skills are getting
Looking at his pitching mix, one thing does stand out
as being a little different this year. Hamels is using his changeup at
a career-low level (23.7%, vs. 30.6% career). Considering that the pitch is
his best in his arsenal (+68.7 runs career by linear weights, and the
only positive pitch he owns), it seems a bit strange to back off the
changeup. By some systems, he may be tinkering with a cutter, and most
pitching coaches would want their star starters to own more than a
fastball and a changeup. But Hamels’ cutter has been, to date, a negative
(-3.9 runs). The changeup is his major weapon, and he needs to
throw it more often. ESPN’s TMI blog (pay link) even reported that when Cole Hamels
throws 22% or more of his pitches as changeups, his ERA is 3.67
and the Phillies are 6-1. His ERA this year is 4.50 and the team is 1-4 when he doesn’t reach 22% changeups.
has basically been the same pitcher his whole career. While he’s
striking out a few more batters this year, and keeping the ball on the
ground a little better, he’s also walking a few too many. Moreover, he needs to
throw his changeup more.
The full picture is one of a pitcher
that has a put-away pitch and a good idea of what he is doing. If you
can acquire Hamels on the cheap, now is the time to do it. Once the
home runs start to normalize, he will push his ERA down towards the mid-3s, improve his WHIP
and be a valuable, front-line fantasy pitcher.
- Alex Rios: 15 HR, 91 R, 79 RBI, 32 SB, and a .291 BA
- Matt Kemp: 18 HR, 93 R, 76 RBI, 35 SB, and a .290 BA
by Eno Sarris //
Fantasy baseball can be a fickle beast. Take the case of Hisanori Takahashi on the Mets.
First, he was a 35-year-old veteran of the Japanese leagues that had never pitched more than 150 innings in a season, never struck out as many as one batter per inning (a feat Colby Lewis and numerous other dominant Japanese league pitchers have managed), and didn’t come with a ton of buzz. It seemed that the Mets were happy to use him as a LOOGY, as they stuck him in the bullpen despite Rod Barajas‘ claim that he was a “Number 3 starter” after catching him in spring training.
Fast forward to the first month of the season, and Takahashi was doing fine, but wasn’t interesting to most fantasy players as a middle reliever. Then John Maine went down with an injury and Oliver Perez went down with a case of Oliver-Perez-ness, and suddenly Takahashi was thrust into a starting role. It was what Takahashi was used to, and he blossomed at first.
Two starts in, Takahashi hadn’t given up a run in 11 innings, and had even bested the mighty New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Fantasy owners went to the wire and picked him up. Many people had him in against the San Diego Padres – and then he was shelled for six runs in four innings. He followed that up with five runs allowed in five innings against the Marlins on Sunday. Now Takahashi is owned in only 12% of fantasy leagues and is probably on most waiver wires in mixed leagues. Will the real Takahashi stand up? The pitcher represented by the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graphs on the right is just barely fantasy relevant in shallow mixed leagues.
Going back to Patrick Newman and his NPB Tracker to figure out more about Takahashi’s history, we delve into more mysteries. Take a look at the velocity tracker grab on the left. He’s got five legitimate pitches, most of which are usual in American baseball: fastball, curve, change, sinker and slider. The last, though? The shuuto.
The shuuto is a legendary pitch in Japan and is hard to translate. Mike Fast, pitch f/x analyst extraordinaire, took a look at the pitch and recent literature on the subject and couldn’t definitely label the pitch. By all accounts, though, it’s a two-seam “cut” fastball – a tiny bit slower than a regular four-seam fastball, but with movement that bores to the left. It could just be another name for the cut fastball, in the end.
Does that jive with what we can see in pitch f/x for Takahashi? Fangraphs doesn’t have a pitch that seems to fit the description of a pitch with a similar velocity but different movement, but Texas Leaguers says that Takahashi throws a two-seamer 7.5% of the time. The two-seamer that Texas Leaguers describes crosses the plate at 81.5 MPH compared to his four-seam 88.6 MPH velocity, though, so it’s already a little different than most two-seamers. We know from Harry Pavlidis’ work with benchmarks for pitch types that the average four-seamer goes 92 MPH and the average two-seamer goes 91 MPH.
If we move forward with the idea that the shuuto is what most would call a two-seamer, we realize that the pitch is probably not the key to Takahashi’s success. After all, the primary benefit from the two-seamer is the ground balls it entices. With a 52% groundball rate, the pitch is the most grounder-heavy pitch type according to Pavlidis’ work. Takahashi’s shuuto yields a poor 33.3% groundball rate. And he throws the pitch, at most, 7.5% of the time.
From NPBTracker.com, here is Takahashi’s pitching mix in Japan:
Here’s Texas Leaguers description of his pitching mix this year:
Obviously, the classification systems are different. Newman stated that he thought Takahashi threw the shuuto very rarely in Japan, as his numbers show. Looking at his pitch f/x spin angle with gravity chart, we can see the four-seam fastball, the changeup, the slider and the curve pretty distinctly. The ‘shuuto’ or two-seamer might be those straggler dots in between the fastball and the changeup. Tightening pitch classifications will be a big step forward for pitch f/x, and will help us answer questions like these more definitively in the future.
What we can tell now is that Takahashi throws a lot of pitches, and that his three main pitches – the fastball, changeup and sinker – all pound the strike zone at above-average rates (all above 65.7%, and average is ~60%). The changeup and sinker also get above-average whiffs (11.0% for the changeup, 25.7% for the sinker, 9% is about average.
Conventional wisdom might lump him in with some countrymen, point out the hitch in his delivery, his large arsenal including the shuuto, the bad groundball rate, and the below-average whiff rate on his fastball (7.3%), and call Takahashi a novelty that will suffer once teams start scouting him better and seeing him more often.
But as a lefty in a division with some nice parks for a flyball pitcher (0.499 park factor for home runs in Citi Field this year, for one), Takahashi has some things going for him. Shuuto or not, he can find the strike zone with multiple pitches and gets whiffs on his secondary stuff. At the very least, he is a good matchups play and a strong bench pitcher in any format deeper than a 10-team mixed league.
By R.J. Anderson //
With all due respect to Brad Lincoln and Michael Stanton, the big debut of the week comes tonight in the form of Stephen Strasburg. His availability in most leagues is non-existent thanks to the hype and attention paid to his college and minor league performances alike over the last 12 plus months, yet it’s suffice to say most people who own 21-year-old have no idea what to expect from him except some variation of “good”. Let’s take a closer look through a pair of historical lenses at just what could be in store for Washington’s new ace.
21-year-old starting pitchers
Since 1947 – the beginning of the expansion era – 97 21-year-old pitchers have thrown at least 100 innings while starting 80% of their appearances. Of them, Vida Blue is the only one to finish with an ERA below 2.00. 18 more finished with an ERA below 3.00; 47 finished with an ERA between 3.01 and 4.00; and five more finished with an ERA over 5.00. The average ERA is 3.62, which is pretty good, all things considered, but when we modernize the sample and make 1990 the furthest year back, that average ERA raises to a touch below 4.00 (with the best case scenario being Clayton Kershaw’s 2.79 ERA and the worst being Zack Grienke’s 5.8 ERA).
Top college arms
Strasburg was qualified enough as a collegiate pitcher to go first overall, so it makes sense to compare him to his peers who were also good enough to go within the top five picks. Going back to 1985 and selecting only pitchers who were chosen in the top five out of the NCAA, we can create the following list to examine (Note: the statistics and age are from their first 100+ inning season):
Stripping away the guys who simply never made it or were relievers for most of their early career gives us a group of 20 arms. 15 of which either posted ERA above 5 or below 4; or in other words: these guys are usually either above or below average. The average ERA is above 4 with the high water mark being just shy of 5.6 and the low being in the 2.3′s. If we slice the pool smaller, and focus on the really hyped top arms similar to Strasburg – like Prior, McDonald, Benes, Price, and Benson – then the average ERA hovers around 3.5.
Using all of that information, we still have an incomplete picture from which to draw conclusions. One could argue that Strasburg is just another class of pitcher. One with more velocity, better control, a more polished feel for the game, and an enhanced sense of observation; you know, a lot of things that aren’t entirely quantifiable but sound good and intensifies the myth of Strasburg. Betting that Strasburg will be average or better is one thing; however do not fall into the trap of expecting a legendary performance from him. History simply isn’t on his side.