By Tommy Rancel //
Jose Bautista and his 54 home runs grabbed the headlines as leader of a powerful Toronto Blue Jays lineup that smashed 257 home runs. Counting Bautista, seven Jays hit at least 20 home runs. This doesn’t include Alex Gonzalez‘s 17 home runs in 85 games with Toronto and the six he added with the Braves. On the other hand, this does include catcher John Buck who hit a career-high 20 home runs.
After his power-filled season north of the border, it is being reported that Buck is close to signing a three-year deal with the Florida Marlins worth between $16-18 million. Before we get into the fantasy aspect, let’s look at the deal.
Like most teams, the Marlins were looking to upgrade their catcher situation. Ronny Paulino served as the teams’ primary catcher before being suspended 50 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Whatever he took didn’t work as he hit just .259/.311/.384 in 91 games. From there names like John Baker, Brad Davis, and Brett Hayes received playing time, but none did anything to warrant more.
In Buck, the Marlins are getting a player whose profile is easy to project. Despite his .281 batting average this past season (inflated by a batting average on balls in play of .335 compared to a .289 career average), Buck is more of a .250 hitter. He does not show much patience at the plate (6.5% career walk rate) and is a hacker. In addition to striking out more than 26% of the time, he swings at nearly 30% of pitches outside of the strike zone. In the last two seasons, he whiffed at more than 16% of the pitches thrown to him.
The one positive in Buck’s game is his power. That said, he is not Mike Piazza in his prime. As mentioned, he hit a career-best 20 home runs this past season. His previous high came in 2007 when he belted 18 bombs as a member of the Royals.
Like a lot of Blue Jays, he enjoyed a home-run friendly Rogers Centre. The former Sky Dome had a home run park factor of 116 for right-handed batters (average is 100). The park he now calls home had a park factor of 95 for right-handed batters. The good news is he hit 10 home runs on the road.
With a similar player in Ramon Hernandez signing a one-year, $3 million deal on Monday, this looks like a gross overpay by the Marlins. In terms of fantasy impact, Buck was not a top 10 catcher going into 2011, but he was a decent backup option in the right situation. When you consider him leaving the confines of Toronto as well as the potential for regression in batting average, he is now closer to the bottom 10 than the top.
He should still hit for decent power numbers in Miami – sacrificing some home runs for doubles – and could give you some value in a deep league, but do not take the bait and overpay like the Marlins.
For more on John Buck and the Florida Marlins, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By Eriq Gardner //
By R.J. Anderson //
A day after the Florida Marlins traded Andrew Miller to the Boston Red Sox, the Fish shipped out the other big name from their ill-fated Miguel Cabrera trade, by sending Cameron Maybin to the San Diego Padres. (That leaves only Burke Badenhop remaining in the organization from that package and that’s probably a good thing, given how the others have played during their time in Florida.) The Marlins received two right-handed relievers in return for Maybin – Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. Both could be in line for some save opportunities if Florida decides to trade closer Leo Nunez.
Webb stands 6’6″ and features a mid-90s fastball. The prototypical closer image with a fierce slider that translates into wicked groundball rates (over 60% for his career), Webb is more than projection, as the arithmetic matches the physiology. Webb’s ERA sits at 3.19 through more than 80 career innings, while his peripherals remain steady with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 2-to-1. Part of Webb’s shine can be attributed to a microscopic home run rate in 2010 (0.15 per nine innings; or one in 59 innings). That will not continue in 2011, but a sub-4.00 ERA would not be out of line.
Meanwhile, Mujica’s inability to keep the ball in the park remains the only aspect separating him from prominence. Since the 2009 season started — coinciding with Mujica becoming a Friar — he has accumulated 163 innings, a 3.80 ERA, 148 strikeouts, 21 unintentional walks…and 28 home runs. His stuff misses bats and he controls it well. Whether the home runs are a short-term blemish or a permanent flaw is to be determined. Having the gopherball bug through more than 200 career innings (with most of that time coming in pitcher-friendly San Diego) suggests it’s probably not going away. Still, his numbers are not too different from those of the incumbent closer, Nunez:
For the Padres to part with two quality relievers with years of cost control left, they required a player with the potential of Maybin. The one attribute about Maybin that will continue to be repeated until the season gets underway is his age. He is only 23 years old despite having more than 600 career plate appearances in the bigs (and a .246/.313/.380 line). That in itself is pretty rare for center fielders. Take the top 10 center fielders during the 2010 season (as determined by FanGraphs’ WAR) and track them at age 23. Here’s what you’ll find:
Josh Hamilton – Not playing baseball due to substance abuse issues.
Andres Torres – In Double-A hitting .294/.391/.393 line.
Carlos Gonzalez – In his second season in the bigs, hitting .284/.353/.525 for Colorado.
Brett Gardner – Hitting .281/.369/.378 between the upper minors.
Angel Pagan – Hitting .271/.333/.395 in his first full season in Triple-A.
Chris Young – Hitting .237/.295/.467 in his first full season in the majors.
Michal Bourn – Getting his first cup of coffee after hitting .277/.356/.385 in the upper minors.
Marlon Byrd – In Double-A hitting .316/.386/.555.
Vernon Wells – First full season in the majors, hitting .275/.305/.457.
Austin Jackson – This season, first full in the majors, hitting .293/.345/.400
With that kind of history, Maybin has some cause for optimism. There is reason to believe he still possesses the tools that made prospect analysts go wild over his potential just three years ago, it’s just a matter of tapping into those tools. Regardless of his immense physical skills, though, Maybin must cut down on his whiffing. The driving force behind his awful line is not a lack of walks (nearly 8%) or success on balls in play (.334 batting average on batted balls) but rather, strikeouts. It’s hard for any player to fare well while striking out in nearly one-third of his career at-bats; particularly when that player hits the ball on the ground a lot, rather than hitting for a lot of power.
There’s an outside chance that the two relievers are more productive in fantasy than Maybin in 2011. There’s even an outside chance that Maybin is relegated to a bench role. It’s hard to see him not breaking camp with the Padres, though, as he is out of options (meaning he cannot be sent to the minors without passing through waivers) and the acquisition cost suggests there was a demand for Maybin on the trade market. At the very least, Maybin is the more intriguing long-term keeper if you’re in a perpetual league.
By Eriq Gardner //
by Eno Sarris //
Scouting is a tough business. There is
no scout superpower that allows members of the profession to leap over
tall buildings and see into the future. Otherwise there would be some extremely well-paid scouts and some bulletproof teams out there.
members of the human race are left trying to learn aspects of
successful baseball players, and then look for those aspects in young
prospects. The problem is, you can look great using a metal bat or beating
up on pitchers who can’t locate their fastball and don’t have a
secondary pitch worth worrying about – and yet still fail at the major league level.
Enter Bryce Harper, the #1 pick of the 2010 draft, and current Arizona Fall League wunderkind.
Look at him at the plate thanks to this great video by Joel Henard at Baseball Daily Digest Radio, and you may, like one scout here in Arizona mused, think he has a high-effort swing. There certainly are a
lot of things that have to go right in his swing, even if the best
result is a powerful one. There are scouting mantras
that say swings that can be described as ‘easy’ and ‘loose’ are
the goal. After watching a few more Harper hacks, you might decide that
though it’s high-effort and complicated, his swing does look like it could generate results. You’ll also see how difficult
scouting can be.
Take a look at the list of first-overall picks in the amateur draft and you’ll find some hits and also plenty of misses. For every superhero like Justin Upton and Chipper Jones, there is a superdud like Ben McDonald and Matt Bush. Limit the list to power hitters, however, and it’s a little harder to find busts. If you give Pat Burrell
some credit, and ignore catchers and shortstops who may have been
taken for potential defensive prowess, you might have to go all the
way to Shawn Abner in 1984 to really find a first-pick, power-hitting bust with a capital B. Viewed in that light, Harper’s draft position alone works in his favor.
Harper’s case, we even have some mitigating statistics to help us out.
Though he didn’t play in college, he did pick a junior college that
played with wooden bats – and at the tender age of 17, he put up an
astounding .442/.524/.986 line that could get any pessimistic scout
over-ruled. Now he’s playing against some of the best prospects in
baseball at the Arizona Fall League, and once again his .348/.423/.565
(albeit in a small sample of games) seems to answer most questions.
Except there’s one little
thing… he’s struck out eight times in his first 23 at bats (34.7%). The sample size is not close
to being reliable – strikeout rates usually take more than 150 plate appearances to become predictive. Still, one wonders when the first criticisms of Harper wearing
enough eye black to drown Aquaman will start (image thanks to Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images).
Paired with his age, and the odd high-effort
swing, there is a little doubt here. Even if he does work out, it should
take some time (Adrian Beltre‘s 19-year old, 214-plate
appearance, .215/.278/.369 debut was the youngest significant major league start
since 1975; Ken Griffey, Jr. managed a .264/.329/.420 line at a few months older). His future still looks bright, but don’t expect much, if any impact for at least a couple years.
For more on Bryce Harper and other young prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By R.J. Anderson //
Although the Athletics and Royals did not agree on the first trade of the offseason, they did pull off most-talked about deal thus far. The details have left fielder David DeJesus heading to Oakland, while starting pitchers Vin Mazarro and Justin Marks go to Kansas City. Marks holds some middle-of-the-rotation upside, but clearly the bigger names here are DeJesus and Mazzaro.
DeJesus is a typical Athletics outfielder, or at least typical of the past few years. He plays good defense, reaches base, and does not hit for much power, while going about his business in an unheralded fashion. DeJesus’ line over the last three seasons is .300/.363/.443 with an average of 14 home runs per 700 plate appearances and eight stolen bases; which is to say he is a much better player in real life than in fantasy.
An extra instance of DeJesus’ value in real life being higher than his fantasy value comes in the form of draft compensation. The soon-to-be 31-year-old projects as a borderline Type A free agent. Meaning he could bring the Athletics draft picks in return for being signed by another team next offseason.
DeJesus is not the first former Royals outfielder to head to Oakland either, joining a worthwhile group that includes Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and past/present teammate Coco Crisp. Oakland being an extreme pitchers’ park explains why each of their slash lines dropped (except Crisp) during their time there relative to their Kansas City experience. Expect the trend to hold true with DeJesus, meaning he’ll probably hit below .300 and perhaps closer to 10 home runs than 15.
Meanwhile, the Royals get Mazzaro. The 24-year-old posted a 4.27 ERA during his first full season in the major leagues. A late-season demotion raised some eyebrows and iffy peripherals project to an ERA nearly a run higher (Mazzaro was saved by better performance with men on base than otherwise, and other factors). Mazzaro throws a sinker that theoretically should make him a groundball master, but his groundball rates are pedestrian at 41% for his career. Meanwhile, Oakland’s infield defense was one of the best in the league, while Kansas City’s is not.
Along with the park effects, expect an increase in WHIP and ERA, unless Mazzaro gets better in a hurry. Keep in mind that he does only have 35 major league starts under his belt and barely 200 innings. Pitchers do not age like hitters, but it’s just way too early to proclaim Mazzaro as a bottom feeder unworthy of a major league rotation spot to open the 2011 season.
It’s easy to fall into the rhetoric surrounding Billy Beane and Dayton Moore and assume Beane just pulled a fast one on Moore. Time may prove that to be true, but this trade feels more even than lopsided, even if neither of these players hold much fantasy value.
For more on Vin Mazzaro and mid-rotation candidates check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By Tommy Rancel //
In advance of last weekend’s deadline for exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents, the Los Angeles Dodgers re-signed Ted Lilly to a three-year deal worth $33 million in mid-October.
It’s remarkable that Lilly’s $11 million annual salary under his new contract actually tops the $10 million he averaged under his last deal. Lilly hasn’t gotten worse, but he hasn’t exactly gotten better. Keep in mind, he will be 35 years old on Opening Day. If Lilly’s mostly average, 35-year-old left arm fetches $11 million a year, pitchers like Carl Pavano, Jon Garland, and Hiroki Kuroda should be in good shape on the open market once Cliff Lee signs.
Although he spent just two months in Los Angeles, Lilly impressed the Dodgers enough to lock him up before he hit free agency. In his 12 starts with L.A., he went 7-4 with a 3.52 ERA. This came after a 3-8 record for the Cubs with a 3.69 ERA in 18 games.
Defensive independent metrics like FIP and xFIP – stats that measures strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed and strip out factors beyond a pitcher’s control – show that Lilly’s true talent level in Chicago was closer to his poor record than his better-than-average ERA. Meanwhile – according to the same metrics – Lilly was a much better pitcher in Los Angeles despite the minimal difference in ERA.
The biggest difference between Lilly’s two stops was strikeouts. In 117 innings on the North Side, he struck out 89 batters. After his move out West, he struck out 77 batters in just 76.2 innings – or 9.04 batters per nine innings (K/9). In addition to the increase in Ks, he also dropped his BB/9 from a very good 2.23 to a fantastic 1.76. Home runs followed him to L.A., but the long ball has always been a problem for Lilly (career 1.35 HR/9).
Looking at pitch selection, Lilly used more fastballs and curveballs with the Dodgers while throwing fewer sliders and change-ups. (It should be noted that he also gained velocity across the board after leaving the Cubs, but velocity readings can vary among different parks.)
On the other hand, swinging strikes and first-pitch strikes are not park-influenced. After the trade, Lilly upped his first-pitch strike percentage from 61.0% to 67.9%. He also increased his whiffs from 7.6% to 10.9%. The latter is the highest total for him since 2003.
In some cases, a player’s value or perception may differ from real-life to fantasy. That said, Lilly’s place as a mid-rotation starter is universal. He has been durable (averaged 183 innings over last eight seasons) and he piles up wins. In fact, since 2003 only four left-handed starters have won at least 10 games a year. The list: Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, and Lilly.
There is no rush to lock him up like the Dodgers did, but Lilly should provide value as an SP3 or an SP4 in all leagues next season.
For more on Ted Lilly and mid-rotation candidates check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By Eriq Gardner //
By Tommy Rancel //
Despite the news that the New York Yankees do not plan to pursue Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth this offseason, the pair of outfielders are the most sought-out position players on the open market. But who deserves top billing?
According to Scott Boras, the agent of Werth, the Phillies’ outfielder is the cream of the crop. It is normally good practice to treat agent speak as such, but Boras isn’t too far off.
Over the past three seasons, Werth has averaged a slash line of .279/.376/.513 with 29 home runs and 84 RBI. Only five players other than Werth can say they’ve averaged at least those numbers over the same time frame (min. 1800 plate appearances). Those players are: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, and Joey Votto.
This season he joined Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Jose Bautista as the only major leaguers with an OPS greater than .920 with a minimum of 650 plate appearances. That’s nice company to keep heading into a rather weak free agent class for position players.
On the other hand, the case can be made that Carl Crawford is not only the better overall player right now, but will be the better value in three to four years.
First, Crawford is younger and more athletic. Although Werth is a decent defender, Crawford is among the best in the league. Despite being the better overall offensive player right now, Werth’s skillset is not as broad as Crawford’s and could decline quicker.
Crawford’s offensive game plays in all types of parks and he has spent his career in the American League. Werth, on the other hand, has enjoyed his success playing in the National League at one of the more hitter-friendly parks. In fact, the gap in his home/road splits has grown even further apart over the past two seasons.
Consider this, the closest statistical player to Crawford at age 28 according to baseball-reference.com is Roberto Clemente. Also consider that Crawford has more career hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, and nearly 10 times as many steals than the legendary Clemente did at the same age, despite just a 22-game difference in career games. While Crawford doesn’t have the arm of Clemente, he is regarded as one of the best defenders in the game. Imagine if Clemente hit the open market going into to what some consider his prime; that could be what we have here.
Everyone knows that Crawford’s main asset is speed. That said, in recent seasons he has taken a few more walks. He also showed more power this season with a career-high 62 extra-base hits. Although Tropicana Field has taken a toll on his legs, he has avoided major injury to those valuable wheels.
Looking at short-term value, Werth is likely the better offensive player for 2011 – even though Crawford is the superior fantasy commodity given his prodigious speed. Werth’s power potential is much greater, and it’s not just tied to balls leaving the yard. He led the league with 46 doubles in 2010 and could rack up even more in a place like Fenway Park. However, if you’re looking for a keeper between the two, Crawford is the one. He will continue to offer tremendous value in steals, as well as providing an above-average number of extra-base hits for the next few years. In conjunction with steals and extra bases, He should score a lot of runs in a good lineup as well.
For more on Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and other MLB Free Agents check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Wilton Lopez
How does a pitcher who doesn’t strike out batters at an average rate for relievers (6.72 K/9, reliever average well above 7 K/9) become the best reliever in his pen? Lopez did it by not walking anyone (five all year, or 0.67 BB/9) and keeping the ball on the ground (55.7%). Those aren’t always the traits of a great closer – managers love the strikeout – and so Lopez may not be fantasy-relevant in most leagues. But if your league counts holds, or you are looking for a reliever to keep your ratios down, remember this name.
Biggest Bust: Bud Norris
If you’re looking for strikeouts, Norris could be your man; if he could pick up some of that control from Lopez through osmosis, he’d be a veritable ace. He struck out more than a man per inning (9.25 K/9), and that’s valuable. But he struggled to locate his secondary stuff, and his walks spiked as a result (4.51 BB/9). Given that he’s also a flyball pitcher (41.4% groundballs for his career), he’ll really need to cut down on the walks to fulfill his promise in the starting rotation.
2011 Keeper Alert: Wandy Rodriguez
Rodriguez struggled out of the gate (4.97 ERA, 1.52 WHIP before the All-Star game), but a fine second half brought him back to upper-echelon levels (3.60 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). Though his strikeout (8.22 K/9) and walk (3.14 BB/9) rates were the worst he’s shown in three years, they were still strong. He’s a little older than you might think (32 next season), but in the short-term he’s still a good keeper on a staff mostly devoid of young keeper pitching. J.A. Happ, for instance, strikes out more than a full batter fewer than Rodriguez, and usually walks at least a half-batter or more than him too.
2011 Regression Alert: Felipe Paulino
Paulino is a little like Bud Norris in that he can strike a batter out (8.15 K/9 last year), struggles with control (4.52 BB/9 last year), and put up a stinker of an ERA in 2010 (5.11). But Paulino may have an easier time harnessing his stuff. In his first 100 major league innings, he walked fewer than 3.5 batters per nine innings, and even after a poor second 100 innings, he’s got a manageable 3.89 BB/9 for his career. As a flyballer, he’ll always be a little vulnerable to the gopherball. But look for that unsightly ERA to improve next year if his control settled toward career norms.