December 2010

Derek Jeter Will Be Valuable For Fantasy Owners in 2011

By Eriq Gardner //

Derek Jeter has been a popular topic on this website of late. R.J. Anderson recently pointed to the icon’s bleak future and Eno Sarris explained why the shortstop would have dwindling value if he left the Yankees.
Here’s the contrarian viewpoint: Jeter will bounce back in a big way in 2011. Much of the explanation on why this will be the case is grounded upon a few points I’ve made in recent posts. 
First, while it’s true that the production of past-their-prime All Stars gradually diminishes over time, rarely does it so happen in straight linear fashion from one year to the next. 
Last season, Jeter had a .270 batting average, the lowest mark of any full season in his career. In fact, Jeter has never hit below .290 in a full season until 2010 and he has topped .300 in 11 of his 16 seasons. In figuring out what Jeter is likely to do next season, do we look at last year and see it as the beginning of a trend, or do we look at the past several years and go with the larger body of work? The smart method is to split the middle. He may not reach .300, but he’ll hit higher than .270.
Despite the fact that Jeter hit only .270 last season, he still managed to score 111 times and total 67 RBI. A batting average that regresses positively towards career norms would mean more hits and more times on base. More hits likely means more RBI. More times on base means a greater opportunity to score. Even if Jeter left the Yankees, and suffered from less talented teammates hitting around him, the damage to his Runs and RBI would be mitigated by having having more success at the plate.
Second, talent at shortstop is atrociously bad these days. Jeter may be on the decline, but his production hasn’t fallen off at the same rate as the production of his peers at the shortstop position. Jeter isn’t the same 20/20 player he was in 2004. However, back then, he was competing against seven other shortstops with at least 20 HR. Last season, only four shortstops hit 20 homers. Jeter’s numbers may be slipping, but his positional strength hasn’t moved much.
But let’s examine that point further. Sarris asks whether anyone would pick pick Jeter over Alexei RamirezStephen Drew, or Elvis Andrus. Here’s a thought exercise. Let’s take this projected line for Jeter in 2011:.292 AVG, 87 Runs, 57 RBI, 10 HR, 20 SB — a fairly modest projection given Jeter’s career norms. Yet it still measures favorably compared to what Ramirez, Drew, and Andrus did last season.
Of course, those three players are younger and perceived as having some room to grow. But do they really hold more upside than Jeter? 
Jeter is only one year away from coming off a season in which he hit .334 with 18 HR and 30 SB. Not even the most optimistic projections give Ramirez, Drew, and Andrus a shot at producing those kinds of numbers in 2011. We know that Jeter hit those marks at age 35. It might not be likely he’ll do it again at age 37, but one has got to figure he still maintains greater potential to approach those numbers than some of the others. Both Ramirez and Drew have been in the big leagues for a few years and so we can project what they’ll do with a good deal of confidence. Andrus is an exciting youngster, but hasn’t yet shown the ability to hit for high average and is coming off a season where he didn’t hit a single home run.
But the fact that smart folks are willing to entertain the thought of moving Jeter down a peg or two in the shortstop rankings — especially if he leaves New York — moves me to the most crucial point.
For years, Jeter may have been slightly overdrafted thanks to reputation and the uniform he wore. This off-season, he’s experiencing the worst streak of bad publicity in his Hall of Fame career. Obviously, this means his draft price will fall despite all the arguments presented above that show why Jeter’s potential value hasn’t significantly changed. A falling price creates a better investment opportunity.
One can debate whether Jeter deserves $20 million a year at the age of 40 years old. But as a short-term fantasy buy in a year of high positional scarcity, he’s a solid option.
For more on Derek Jeter and other shortstops, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.

Not Bullish On Jeter In a New Uniform

by Eno Sarris //

Things are getting heated in the negotiations between Derek Jeter and the Yankees. Over the holiday week, Brian Cashman dropped this bomb in typically understated fashion:

“We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account,” Cashman said. “We’ve
encouraged him to test the market and see if there’s something he
would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That’s the way it
works.”

That is the way it works, but of course the baseball blogosphere took the tidbit and ran with it. Some of the fake baseball cards created by Beckett.com were chilling, and the prospect of Jeter in another uniform should be doubly chilling to fantasy players planning on snapping up Jeter as a bounce-back shortstop in 2011.

R.J. Anderson did a fine job taking a look at the historical precedent that 37-year old shortstops have provided in his article on Jeter earlier in the month. The most damning paragraph:

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.

Looking at Jeter’s combination of BABIP and batting average last year (.307 BABIP, .270 batting average), you might wonder where some optimistic batting average projections are coming from. Bill James has him projected at .295, for example. On the other hand, Jeter is still athletic, has a much better career BABIP (.356), and could easily find himself batting closer to .300 next year.

And yet, if Jeter ends up in a different uniform, he probably won’t be a great bounceback pick. Three important statistics that have always been in Jeter’s favor could then work against him: plate appearances, runs and RBI.

If Jeter were to don a new uniform in 2011, the most vulnerable statistic would be runs scored. Since Jeter joined the Yankees’ lineup for good fifteen years ago, he’s averaged 112 runs per season. That’s meant that even in his worst seasons, he’s been a boon in the category. The Yankees lineup has driven him in prolifically, and last year that offense scored the most runs in baseball (859). The offenses on the two teams that have been linked to Jeter, the Giants and Orioles, weren’t even close. In fact, the Giants (697 runs) scored only 81% of the runs that the Yankees scored.jetercardgiants.jpg

Let’s say we walk the runs and RBI projections for Jeter back 15% – after all Jeter would improve those two lineups ostensibly – and the package looks a little worse. Now we’re talking about a player that will gather around 85 runs and 50 RBI.

And there’s one last caveat. The projections we’ve been using here – Bill James’ on FanGraphs – use 703 plate appearances. A 37-year-old shortstop has never amassed 700 plate appearances. Omar Vizquel‘s 659 plate appearances in 2006 is tied with Luke Appling‘s effort in 1946 as the most ever by a 37-year-old at the position. Only nine other men have ever crossed the 600 plate appearance threshold. If we remove another 50 plate appearances to place Jeter in the middle of the best old shortstops ever, now we’re hoping that Jeter can get to double-digits in homers and steals, and worrying that he might not garner even 80 runs and 45 RBI.

Later in 2011 drafts, you may be looking at Jeter among some shortstops that are at least five years younger than him. Would you pick Jeter over Alexei Ramirez (.280, 18 HR, 80 R, 78 RBI, 12 SB), Stephen Drew (projected for .270, 16 HR, 82 R, 67 RBI and 8 SB), or Elvis Andrus (.274, 2 HR, 82 R, 43 RBI, 34 SB)?

The answer to that question will depend, of course, on the actual draft positions required to grab each of the shortstops in question. But, looking at the runs and RBI totals of this projected crew, it doesn’t look like Jeter would be the same old Jeter in a new uniform. Fantasy managers looking to grab Jeter as a value should join the throng hoping that Jeter will re-up with the Yankees.

For more on Derek Jeter and other shortstops, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.

Who is Tsuyoshi Nishioka?

By Eriq Gardner //

The Minnesota Twins have a chance to sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka, after winning the exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with the 26-year-old Japanese infielder.
Will Nishioka be a sleeper heading into the 2011 season?
The answer might depend, in part, on Nishioka’s position eligibility. He played shortstop for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, but the Twins are said to be considering him as a replacement for Orlando Hudson at second base. But that’s not set in stone yet. The Twins are also rumored to be exploring trading J.J. Hardy, and many fantasy league service providers could give Nishioka shortstop credentials anyway, thanks to his time spent at the position last year in Japan.

shortstopsrunscreated1.png

It may seem like a small point, but the difference between second base and shortstop could mean a lot as far as his value in 2011 fantasy baseball.
Talent at shortstop, after all, is extremely thin. Even Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki couldn’t help the league’s top 10 shortstops from posting the fewest amount of runs created in any time since 2006. Compared to their peers at second base and third base, shortstops are clearly are the worst run producers in the infield. (See chart.) 
Take a look at the top options at shortstop and you will see a mixture of aging veterans like Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Rafael Furcal and a gaggle of slightly younger types like Alexei Ramirez and Stephen Drew who aren’t quite superstars. 
Last year in Japan, Nishioka hit 11 HR, had 22 SB, scored 121 times, and put up a .346/.423/.482 slash line. We’d be lying if we claimed to have seen a second of this guy play, but judging by the stats alone, the comparables to Ryan Theriot or Chone Figgins sound reasonable. That might not sound like much. Others make the case there’s a shade of Ichiro Suzuki in him. Again, he’ll have to be graded on a curve depending on where he gains eligibility.

shortstopsrunscreated2.png

Assuming he does get credit for his ability to play shortstop, he may very well be worthy of early speculation. After the top players at shortstop, the talent curve becomes relatively flat (See chart #2). We believe this means it’s best to either invest a lot on a premium player like Hanley or Tulo or wait until the very end of drafts to secure a shortstop who can come close to average production at a fraction of the price.
Fantasy managers who opt for the latter course will likely want a shortstop who brings some upside. Being an unknown quantity isn’t quite the same as having upside, but Nishioka has at least shown a very good batting eye and an ability to run the bases. The Twins will also have an opening near the top of their lineup with the likely departure of Hudson. Since Nishioka will be slightly off the radar at the opening of the season, the price may be right to gamble on hitting it big with this Japanese import.
For more on more fantasy baseball sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office
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