By Tommy Rancel //
Over the past few months we’ve warned about small sample sizes. This is especially true for veteran players with large career sample sizes, or big-named stars going through early-season slumps. However, there are certain times when you have to put sample size aside and jump in while the gettin’ is good. George Kottaras is a prime example of someone worth riding the sample size wave.
With Gregg Zaun out due to a torn labrum, the former San Diego Padres/Boston Red Sox farmhand is enjoying life as the Milwaukee Brewers primary backstop. It seems a little outlandish to get excited about a 27-year-old with 200 career plate appearances, but there is something very interesting about this career .234 hitter.
Though Kottaras has been ugly (.217), he’s been an on-base machine in the early stages of 2010, posting a .393 OBP to date. The secret to his success is simple; Kottaras likes to take 90-foot walks along the first-base line. In fact, nearly one-fourth of his plate appearances have ended in a base-on-balls.
Kottaras showed a good eye in the minor leagues (12% walk rate in Triple-A), but not this good. Beyond the nearly 25% walk rate, he is laying off pitches out of the zone (13.6% O-swing, or swings outside of the strike zone), and not missing when he does swing (3.8% swinging-strike percentage). Another key aspect is getting ahead in the count. While the league-average hitter sees a first-pitch strike 59% of the time, Kottaras falls behind just 51%.
Outside of the terrific patience, Kottaras is showing some nice pop at the plate. Twelve of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases, including five home runs. Of course, no one expects Kottaras to put up a .265 ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) for the duration of the season. That said, Kottaras belted 22 home runs as a minor leaguer in 2008. ZiPs projects him to hit a home run once every 28 plate appearances and a double once every 17. If he amasses 400 PAs this year, that would give him around 15 home runs and 21 doubles.
As for the low batting average, Kottaras has a lower than normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) – even for a catcher. The league-average BABIP is .297; Kottaras’ is a microscopic .197. With more line drives (9.0%), Kottaras is likely to see positive regression in his average.
Because of that low average, and Kottaras’ relative obscurity, he is barely owned in fantasy leagues. While we don’t expect him to continue walking at Barry Bonds-like levels, Kottaras is a buy-low candidate, especially in NL-only leagues.
If he levels out to an average hitter with gap power by season’s end, that would still make him one of the better offensive catchers in the senior circuit. On the other hand, there is a fair chance that Kottaras is a sample size anomaly. Regardless, this hot hand is definitely worth the risk in deeper leagues, given the low cost and the shallow talent pool at the position.
For more on George Kottaras and other buy-low candidates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy tools.
By Bloomberg Sports //
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Behind the Numbers
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By R.J. Anderson //
With apologies to Ken Griffey Jr., Armando Galarraga is the hot story in the baseball world thanks to Wednesday’s near-perfect game. Whether the call on Jason Donald’s infield single was blown or not is irrelevant for fantasy purposes. The real question is whether Galarraga deserves a spot on your team. Short answer: probably not.
Galarraga broke onto the scene for the Tigers in 2008, making 30 starts. He would win 13 games and post a 3.73 ERA. Most pundits applauded the Tigers and bemoaned the Rangers – Galarraga’s previous employer – for grabbing yet another worthwhile arm. A season later Galarraga fell apart: He still managed to make 29 starts, but won only six games and held a 5.64 ERA. This led some to wonder what exactly went wrong; those who saw Galarraga’s 4.88 FIP in 2008 knew better – he was never all that good in the first place.
That’s not to say Galarraga wasn’t worse than expected last year – his FIP jumped more than a half run up to 5.47 in 2009 – but Galarraga’s skill set fails to inspire confidence in his ability to be an above-average pitcher. He’s a right-handed starter with a fastball that sits at just 90 miles per hour and he’s only a slight groundball pitcher. Generally pitchers with that profile need good command and control to make it in the majors, and Galarraga had never shown that ability in the majors. His career walk rate per nine innings is still over 3.5, giving him a mediocre 1.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Getting back to the question at hand, Galarraga has made three starts this season, and has a 2.57 ERA and 3.86 FIP to show for it. He’s turning the corner, right? Don’t be so sure. One near-perfect game goes a long way, especially when it comes in the pitcher’s fourth appearance of the season.
Galarraga just wasn’t all that good in his previous starts this season. Against Boston he went just over five innings and allowed only one run. He made up for that good outing by allowing five earned runs against the Dodgers a week later. All told, he struck out eight batters, walked four, and allowed two homers in 10.1 innings. That’s a 5.34 FIP and 5.24 ERA, more along the lines of what we’d expect from him.
Galarraga’s classiness is worth applauding, given his reaction to umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call. He had a very special night on Wednesday, but unless something has changed for good, he’s just not rosterable in most mixed leagues.
For more on Armando Galarraga and other pitchers who do something amazing, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By Bloomberg Sports //
Ballpark Figures: Stock Report — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw are talking some baseball. Today Steele and Shaw are discussing the Bulls and Bears.
By R.J. Anderson //
It’s June and Carlos Silva has a 3.12 ERA and a 7-0 record through 10 starts. To enhance his portfolio, Silva is coming off a start versus the St. Louis Cardinals in which he struck out 11 batters. Suffice to say, this is not the Carlos Silva we’ve come to know over the years – the Silva with a career win-loss record a tick above .500, an ERA over 4.60, and a career strikeout per nine ratio of 3.90. The 2010 version is striking out more than six batters per nine innings, with better numbers across the board.
The main difference between the old Silva and this one has been his pitch usage. In the past, Silva would throw his heavy sinker that sits in the low-90s and pound the zone with it about three-fourths of the time. This worked against batters of the same hand, but left-handed hitters would take advantage of his weak secondary offerings.
This season, though, Silva is throwing his fastball less than ever and pumping his slider and change-up more often. His change-up is actually his best pitch according to FanGraphs’ run values, which assign a run value to each event to which a pitch leads, whether it be a strike, a groundball, a home run, or something else.
This revolution in Silva’s arsenal is leading to increased success against opposite-handed batters and endearing him to fantasy owners thanks to the resulting newfound strikeout ability. This year to date, Silva’s inducing whiffs on 8.5% of his pitches. Consider that for a moment, while observing Silva’s swinging strike rates since breaking into the major leagues full-time:
The sustainability of Silva’s success is debatable. The rarity of 3.12 ERA seasons makes it unlikely that Silva will remain quite this good heading forward. Plus Silva is a groundball pitcher and groundballs turn into hits far more often than flyballs; they just turn into extra-base hits less often. As it stands, 27.5% of Silva’s balls in play are turning into hits as opposed to a career rate over 31%. Even if one discounts a full regression to that number, the reality is that Silva’s probably going to give up hits at a higher clip heading forward than he has to date.
It’s unlikely that you or the owners in your league have shaken the perception of who Silva is, meaning selling high on him for a big return is a long shot. If someone bites, go for it, otherwise sit on Silva with adjusted expectations.
For more on Carlos Silva and other pitchers who went from good or mediocre to amazing, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By Bloomberg Sports //
Ballpark Figures: Headlines — Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Analyst Rob Shaw are talking some baseball. Today Steele and Shaw are discussing the fantasy headlines. In Anaheim, Kendry Morales blasted a game-winning grand slam, then while celebrating that grand slam Morales decided to jump on home plate, and he landed awkwardly fracturing his leg. The injury will likely keep him out for several months, they are saying September for a return date. This kills the Angels lineup and hurts fantasy managers with one of the best young first baseman on their squad.
By Tommy Rancel //
In early April, R.J. Anderson asked the question, who would replace the injured Mike Gonzalez as the Baltimore Orioles’ closer? It is now early June and we find ourselves asking the same question. Through ineffectiveness (Jim Johnson) and injury (Alfredo Simon), the Orioles are still looking for a steady replacement for Gonzalez. With their projected closer’s status still in limbo, the Orioles have turned to Will Ohman at the end of games.
The title of Orioles’ closer is more of a figurative title than a literal one. Baltimore has won just 15 of its first 51 games. In save situations, the team has converted only nine out of 20 opportunities. That said, if you are lacking in saves, Ohman could provide a cheap fix without much cost. The veteran lefty is available on waivers in nearly every fantasy league.
A lefty-one-out-guy (LOOGY) by trade, Ohman will be tested in the closer’s role for the first time in his eight-year career. Although he has been tagged with the lefty specialist label, Ohman has been serviceable against both left-handed and right-handed batters. His career OPS against lefties is a very good .637. His OPS against righties is higher at .752, but still far from the extreme splits of some other lefty relievers.
On the surface, Ohman has been a great find for Baltimore in 2010. In 26 appearances, he has allowed just two earned runs (1.08 ERA). He has more strikeouts (18) than innings pitched (16.2), and has stranded every batter to reach base against him (100% LOB%). In fact, both of his earned runs have come off solo home runs by right-handed batters.
In addition to the favorable ERA and strikeout rate, Ohman is keeping the ball on the ground. His 43.6% groundball rate is the second-highest total of his career (52.7% in 2005). Groundballs are great because they can never go for home runs and usually limit the damage to a base hit.
A 1.08 ERA and a strikeout per nine innings rate (K/9) of 9.72 are very attractive. But buyer beware. Using our favorite defense-independent metrics, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), we can see Ohman has been the beneficiary of some good luck.
Ohman’s FIP of 3.96 suggests he’s been much closer to average than his 1.08 ERA tells us. This is because his walks per nine innings rate (BB/9) of 4.32 is unimpressive, and not unexpected given his career 4.43 BB/9. With a left-on-base percentage of 100% sure to regress, those free passes will come back to hurt Ohman at some point.
Meanwhile, if we look at Ohman’s 3.71 xFIP, which measures the same metrics as FIP except with a normalized home run rate, we see that his FIP is slightly elevated due to his home run rate of 1.08 home runs per nine innings.
Even with regression to the mean, Ohman is likely to settle as a league-average reliever. With the closer position his for the time being, he could rack up 5-10 saves over the next few weeks. Even if he relinquishes the job, Ohman is likely to rack up some holds over the season, which could be valuable if your league counts the stat.
Facing more right-handed batters may elevate his lower than normal ERA, but if you need some cheap saves (and possibly holds) plus some strikeouts to pad your team’s total, Ohman is worth a flier in extremely deep mixed leagues and AL-only formats.
For more on Will Ohman and other potential waiver wire fixes, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
by Eno Sarris //
The 2010 season went from glorious to tragic for one player in the midst of a walk-off celebration over the weekend. Though Kendry Morales should be lauded for his strong sophomore follow-up to 2009, his celebration skills need a little work (perhaps he could call Bill Gramatica, the NFL kicker who tore his ACL while celebrating, for a little advice). As he landed on home plate in the midst of an Angels dogpile after his game-winning grand slam home run on Saturday night, Morales fractured a bone in his lower left leg. His recovery may take months, not weeks, and fantasy owners might best be served by counting him out for the rest of the season. If you have a DL or bench spot open, it’s best to wait to hear the results from the surgery before dropping him completely. Regardless, it’s time to look for replacements out there.
First, it’s worth describing what fantasy owners will be losing. From the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools graphs below, we can see that Morales was a fine option at first base, with power and a decent batting average. However, as we pointed out in the preseason, Morales’ power is not of the elite variety. His .197 ISO (isolated power, or slugging percentage minus batting average) ranks 10th at the position this year. With a flukishly high (and likely to regress) flyballs per home run rate (21.6%), it would be folly to just pro-rate out his home run pace (about 33 home runs). That’s doubly true given Morales was hitting fewer than one-third of his balls in the air, and his ISO had taken a step back from last year’s prodigious levels. As you can see from the graph on the far right, Morales’ slugging percentage was close to the mean for a major league first baseman.
Even if he doesn’t have light-tower power, it will be difficult for owners to find a player who has the ability to hit near .300 with 20 or so home runs the rest of the season on the waiver wire. Let’s outline some quick positives and negatives for some first baseman who might be on the wire in your league. These options will go from players available in shallow leagues down to ones you can hopefully get off of your deep league waiver wire.
If you are willing to make some sacrifices in the batting average category, and you are in one of the 79% of Yahoo leagues that features Scott on the wire, he’s probably the best choice as a Morales replacement. He actually has more power than Morales, as seen through the lenses of ISO (.232 career ISO, .254 this year). There is some concern with Scott that he’s a platoon player (.774 OPS versus lefties, .865 versus righties career). On the other hand, researcher Tom Tango has shown that it takes up to 1000 plate appearances against lefties to provide significant results, so even Scott’s career 443 plate appearances against lefties give him an ‘incomplete’ in the category. Over the past three years, his lefty/righty splits have been virtually identical, so you can probably play him daily, unless your bench is really loaded. While someone like Todd Helton may be on your wire, too (34% owned), Scott is a better Morales replacement because he is showing much more power than Helton (who owns a Rey Ordonez-esque .071 ISO this year) and is therefore probably a better option for most fantasy teams.
Glaus is available in 76% of Yahoo leagues, so he should be out there on the standard mixed league waiver wire. The major problem with his candidacy is that the power has not returned to his career level (.239 career ISO) since he had his last shoulder surgery in 2009. His ISO since the end of 2008 is below average (average is usually around .150), so once again it’s not a good idea to pro-rate out his home runs so far when deciding on your pickup. He’s also reaching for pitches more than he has in career (24.2% reach rate this year, 16.9% career), a sign of a potentially slowing bat. On the other hand, he does have seven home runs in the bank, and there’s still the chance he finds his old power. He certainly has more power potential than, say, a Mark Teahen (25% owned, .148 career ISO).
The Smoak Monster doesn’t have much by way of major league statistics to help us back up the case, but his minor league slash line (.293/.411/.461) shows the ability to get on base at an elite level. He’s had some power dips at certain spots, but considering his home park (1.387 park factor for home runs), he’ll get some help. His batting average is likely on its way up, considering that he has a great line drive percentage (25.3%) and yet a terrible batting average on balls in play (.184). Smoak, who is available in 92% of leagues, is probably a better pickup than Gaby Sanchez (94% available) because of the pedigree and potential. While both players have similar ISOs right now (.140 for Smoak, .145 for Sanchez), Smoak has had better seasons in the minors than Sanchez ever did.
If power is your only concern, and Branyan’s swing doesn’t bother you like it bothers this guy, then the Cleveland slugger might be your best bet. The power is no question mark with Branyan, either this year (.242 ISO), or career (.257 ISO). Just know that his batting average will likely suffer, based of career norms (.234 career average) and his strikeout rate (38.8% career). He’s made some minor advances in the strikeout rate, keeping it around 34% in the past three years, and against righties will provide power with a more respectable batting average. Don’t play him against lefties (.745 OPS in 542 career plate appearances against southpaws), and if he stays healthy enough, Branyan can replace the potential home runs that Morales took with him to the hospital. Branyan is available in 94% of Yahoo leagues and is better than Eric Hinske (also 94%) because of playing time concerns for the Braves utilityman.
All is not lost. Some of these players will be fine stopgaps and the final prognosis on Morales has not been delivered. Remember to breathe easy, don’t break anything, and rush to your waiver wire to try and mitigate your losses.
For more on possible Kendry Morales replacements, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.