November 2010

Derek Jeter’s Bleak Future

By R.J. Anderson //

Derek Jeter is a free agent by name only. The Yankees’ only conundrum in re-signing their captain will be similar to the ones the Bombers faced with Andy Pettitte last offseason: how long and for how much?

Those questions are not easy to answer in this case, because Jeter’s marketing power and brand are unrivaled. The Yankees’ own brand would not suffer from losing Jeter – they were popular before him too, you know – but they have no reason to pass on him (despite diminishing skills) because a sunk cost is no big deal to New York.

Jeter’s 2010 season represents a massive disappointment. Fresh off a season in which hit .334/.406/.465 with 18 home runs, Jeter failed to come near those numbers. His batting average slipped under .300 (to .270) for the first time since 2004. His on-base percentage fell below .350 (.340) for the first time in his career – the same can be said of his slugging percentage ending at less than .400. Jeter still managed 10 home runs and 18 stolen bases, but his mediocre stats and slap-hitting ways might represent the future more than Yankees fans would like to believe.

In June, Jeter will turn 37. No shortstop (defined by having played at least 50% of their games at the position along with 300 plate appearances) aged at least 37 has ever hit more than nine home runs in a season. Since 1970, only 20 shortstops met that qualification after turning 37, with the highest batting average being .295, the highest on-base percentage being .367, and the highest slugging percentage being .419. Over the last three seasons, Jeter’s line: .301/.369/.414. Meanwhile, only two of those players finished with an OPS above the league’s average.

In other words, Jeter’s not likely to get much better than he’s played lately as he ages. The crowd perception is that Jeter will get a deal worth three years at roughly $15 million per year. Even though three years does not seem like a long time, one has to wonder if Jeter’s increasing immobility at shortstop along with the presence of prospect Eduardo Nunez will result in the Yankees moving Jeter to the outfield or full-time DH before the contract expires. Moving him becomes a definite if the Yankees foolishly give in to Jeter’s supposed desire for six years. Consider the idea admirable – in the sense that Jeter loves to play and really wants to test the limits of his icon boundaries – but also insane.

As for your fantasy docket, one would expect him to be undervalued entering next season, and there’s something possibility for a bit of positive regression after such a huge year-over-year drop. Still, in most leagues Jeter’s name value will inflate his bidding price beyond a reasonable range.

Tread softly and do not be afraid to let him go. Unlike the Yankees, you have a choice.

For more on Derek Jeter and other free agents, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Revisiting the Fantasy Value of Madison Bumgarner

by Eno Sarris // 

Back in July, we took a look at Madison Bumgarner and found some reasons to be suspicious of his early success. As a short recap, here are those reasons in helpful bullet form.

  • His velocity was down from the mid-nineties to barely cracking 90 MPH.
  • His strikeout rate was below-average (6.75 K/9, average was 7.13 K/9 this year).
  • He was getting lucky, with a .266 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and an 82.7% strand rate (numbers that trend to .300 and 70% across baseball).

All of these shortcomings were notable at the time, given his history and velocity. But now we are looking at Madison Bumgarner, World Series Beast. Perhaps it’s time to revisit our initial findings on Bumgarner and see if he should get a revised rating.

First, his velocity. Bumgarner throws across his body, and he’s not a very thick guy, so there were reasons to be worried about a drop in velocity. Sometimes it’s a harbinger of injury. But then Bumgarner went out and improved that velocity all year – it’s now steady at 91 MPH, touching the mid-90s some games. If you look at his fastball velocity chart below, you see there might still be some issues (the bars represent full velocity range for each game), but it also shows that he found some oomph.

BumgarnerVelo1 copy.jpgBumgarner rode that improved velocity to an improved strikeout rate, ending the year at 6.97 K/9. Perhaps we focused too heavily on his strikeout rate, however. His walk rate is so low (2.11 BB/9 in 2010, 2.16 career) that his K/BB is well above average.  Had he qualified for the ERA title, his 3.31 K/BB would have ranked 15th in baseball – tied with a pretty decent pitcher named Felix Hernandez.

Largely because of this ability to limit walks, Bumgarner’s work stood up even when his luck regressed to the mean. He ended the year with a .322 BABIP, so many more hits fell, and yet he finished the year with an even 3.00 ERA. His strand rate remained high (81.7%), but his FIP (a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted-ball luck and other factors largely beyond a pitcher’s control) was still strong at 3.66.

Upside remains. Bumgarner once struck out double-digit batters per nine innings in the minor leagues, and obviously his postseason performance has shown that he has the ability to punch batters out. Because he can limit walks, it looks like the worst-case scenario has shifted in his favor. Without reaching his upside fully and pushing the strikeout rate further, he may not be the ace that was hoped for him, but we can now be more positive about his future.

For more on Madison Bumgarner and other young pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

MLB Season in Review: Houston Astros Hitting

By Eno Sarris //

Biggest Surprise & Regression Alert: Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson was a revelation in an otherwise poor season for the Astros; Houston scored the third-fewest runs in baseball in 2010. His .308/.337/.481 rookie batting line is in the books, but can he make a repeat performance in 2011? It’s not likely. His minor league isolated power (ISO) was only about average (.152, major league average is .150), so the power he showed last year (.173 ISO) was a little high – not impossible to replicate, but don’t bet on it either. The bigger issues: Johnson’s plate discipline (4.2% career BB%, 26.7% career K%) and elevated 2010 batting average on balls in play (.387 BABIP last year, a number that trends towards .300 across baseball), point to a big potential drop in batting average next year.

Biggest Bust: Lance Berkman

Tommy Manzanella was terrible, but he was mostly known for his defense anyway. Carlos Lee also had a poor season, but turned it on late to get to 24 home runs and some respectability – at least from a fantasy perspective. Michael Bourn didn’t have a great batting average, but still stole 52 bases. That leaves Lance Berkman. He was injured much of the season, and didn’t crack 500 plate appearances for the first time since his sophomore season in 2000. His knee condition may be degenerative, and he’s seen a three-year decline in slugging and on-base percentages now. He’s best left for the deepest of leagues until he shows life again.

2011 Keeper Alert: Brett Wallace

Hunter Pence is the only no-doubt keeper on this offense, but Brett Wallace is the only interesting player who has yet to establish himself in the major leagues. Coming off his minor league record, in which he put up a .304/.375/.487 batting line, more was expected of him than his rookie-year stats (.222/.296/.319). Then again, many of his better power years in the minor leagues came in high-run environments, so his power might be suspect. In his 159-plate appearance major league debut, he didn’t show the ability to take a walk (5%), struck out too much (34.7%) and didn’t show any power. He’s a deep-league sleeper and an NL-only dynasty keeper at most, but he’s also a name worth remembering, if only for potential help in the batting average category if and when he gets going.

For more on Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson and other young Houston Astros, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.