August 2011

Giants’ Giant Moves and the Fantasy Implications

by Eno Sarris //  

The San Francisco Giants finally admitted some of their mistakes today when they designated both Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for assignment. Looking back at why they should have known better can help us for fantasy purposes, and looking forward to the final month might uncover a fantasy sleeper or two. Perspective is important.

Call Aaron Rowand the more obscene mistake of the two. In 2008, Brian Sabean signed the outfielder to a five-year, $60 million contract after Rowand made some high-profile catches for the Phillies the year before. Sabean was no doubt excited about Rowand’s career-high power surger in 2007, too. Unfortunately, it was fairly obviously an outlier season. Even at that point in his career, Rowand had two seasons with an isolated slugging percentage over .200… and five seasons where it was under .166. He’s always hit more ground balls then fly balls, and he’s never walked at a league average rate. Rowand was sure to be a strong defender in center field, but he wasn’t sure to add much power or patience, and his swinging strike rates suggested he’d always be an average whiffer or worse.

And that’s how it turned out. Rowand never saw even his career-average power in San Francisco (.163 average, .158 Giants-best), he struck out more, never walked, and became a defense-only center fielder pretty quickly. Now all of the center field at-bats will go to Andres Torres and Cody Ross, even if neither provides much offense either. With Torres’ strikeout rate, the best his owners can hope for is a mini power resurgence  (three home runs over the final month?) and a .250 batting average, with maybe five steals to boot.

Ross will be the outfield utility player, more likely to play against lefties as his line against them (.918 OPS vs LHP, .718 vs RHP) is much better. Perhaps it will turn into a straight platoon in left field, actually. Baby Giraffe Brandon Belt bats lefty and is the only non-Carlos-Beltran player on the field right now with elite offensive upside. It might be hard to see it right now with his .219 batting average and slightly-better-than-league-average power (.156 ISO), but Belt does have that sort of long-term upside. Right now, he’s striking out 26.2% of the time, which is out of wack with his swinging strike rate (9.7%, only a little worse than 8.5% league average) and his minor league record (22.2% strikeout rate in Triple-A this year). Once he strikes out less and shows more of that power (.218 minor league low in ISO, at Triple-A), he’ll show more of that .280/.375/.500 type of ability that he has. If you are desperate for offense in a deeper league, now is a good time to pick up Belt. Keeper leaguers should be trying to buy low too if their deadline has not passed.

Let’s not forget Miguel Tejada just because his one-year, $6.5 million contract was a smaller mistake. His short stint as the Padres shortstop shouldn’t have erased the fact that two teams had already moved him to third base. Once a player has been moved off of shortstop, it’s very rare for him to return and find any prolonged success. And Tejada’s power has been in a tailspin since his last decent year in Baltimore in 2007. He doesn’t walk, doesn’t have power, doesn’t have a shortstop’s glove any more, has failing health, refused to lay down a bunt when his third base coach called for it, hits way too many ground balls and doesn’t have the speed to take advantage of those grounders any more. Need anyone say more?

His absence will create more opportunities for Mike Fontenot at shortstop. The lefty cajun might enter into a straight platoon with righty Orlando Cabrera there, even. Cabrera has been about as bad as he was in Cleveland for the Giants, and he’s been better against lefties in his career (.739 OPS vs lefties, .697 versus righties). Neither shortstop is very exciting, and in a platoon role they are even less so. Still, deeper-leaguers might want Fontenot since there are more right-handed pitchers in the league.

The Giants tried to erase a couple mistakes, but the players behind them are not incredibly interesting. Only Brandon Belt even approaches mixed league consideration. But with a month left and five games between them and the Diamondbacks, the Giants felt they had to do something. Maybe the biggest thing we can learn from them in fantasy is that this is the time to feel some urgency. Go out there and do something for each of your teams today.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

Fister Winning In Detroit

By Tommy Rancel //

Doug Fister serves as a shining example of why a pitcher’s win-loss record can be misleading. At the time of his trade from the Seattle Mariners to the Detroit Tigers, the right-hander had a 3-12 record. Based on record alone, it would seem the Tigers were making a horrible decision.

That said, his 3.33 ERA and solid defensive independent metrics suggested he was a much better pitcher than his record would indication. Although Fister was not allowing many runs to score, his offense was scoring even less. In games he started, the Mariners averaged less than three runs a game.

Since the trade, Fister has made five starts for the Tigers. He has already doubled his win total on the season (6) despite a slight uptick in ERA (3.45). Why? Because the Tigers are averaging 4.5 runs in his starts.

Wins aside, Fister has been a quality pitcher by any metric. His season ERA stands at 3.35 with an FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.24 and an xFIP (expected FIP) of 3.89. Standard FIP measure things a pitcher can control without outside influence: strikeouts, walks, and home run. Meanwhile, xFIP measures the same things except it normalizes home runs to the league average, further stripping luck from the equation.

What Fister will not give you is much of a boost in strikeouts (5.46 K/9 on the season). On the other hand, he is very stingy with walks. His current 1.75 BB/9 is third best in the American League. Thanks to his low walk rate, his 1.19 WHIP is good for a top-15 spot in the AL. As a member of the Tigers, he has 17 strikeouts and just two walks in 28.2 innings.

Because of his win-loss record, Fister is available in over 85% of leagues according to his Bloomberg Sports card. This is a ridiculously low number considering his is in the top-15 in: innings pitched, walks allowed, WHIP, and ERA. He is also 13th in opponents average (.256) among AL starters with at least 170 innings pitched.

As teams expand rosters come September 1st, you should do the same with your team and Doug Fister. In addition to his own numbers, consider the fact that the Tigers play a favorable schedule down the stretch. Of their final 28 games, 15 come against teams that are a combined 85 games under .500. When you factor in all of the above, Fister may be the difference between becoming a champion or being the runner-up in your league.

For more on Fister and potential September additions, check out bloombergsports.com

A Look at the Young and Old On the Rise


 

 

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Kyle Seager, 2B/3B, Mariners

The Mariners have surprised us in recent weeks with an offense we did not know could exist in Safeco.  While we’ve discussed Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp, another fine hitter to emerge this season is Kyle Seager.  A third round pick in the 2009 draft out of North Carolina, Seager boasts a .313 average after a hitting binge that included 15 hits over six games.  In 24 games at Triple-A Seager hit .387 with a .585 slugging percentage.  So success at the dish is nothing new for the 23-year-old prospect. 

 

John Mayberry, OF, Phillies

While everyone drafted Dominic Brown in their fantasy drafts this season, it’s instead the 2005 first round pick John Mayberry who is enjoying the better season in the Phillies outfield.  The 27-year-old slugger has blasted 12 home runs with 41 RBI through 77 games.  Best of all, Mayberry is not a one-trick pony, as he has swiped six bases already this season.  Mayberry has blasted 18 home runs in 266 career at bats in the Big Leagues and while he can still improve his plate discipline and lift the average some, Mayberry has earned his way to your fantasy roster. 

 

Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves

The Braves legend will not go away.  Chipper Jones has been written off a number of times this season because of his usually array of injuries, but right now he is putting together a nice little hot streak with plenty of power.  The batting average is up to .281 on the season with 13 home runs and 58 RBI.  Since the All-Star break, Jones is batting .387 with five home runs.  51 home runs shy of 500 for his career, the 39-year-old Jones has already stated that he intends to come back for another season. 

 

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees

Since the All-Star break, Derek Jeter has hit .355 with 26 runs in 37 games.  While that’s nice and all, what’s more remarkable to me is that on the season his average has soared all the way up to .299.  So is Jeter back to being Jeter?  Yes and no.  The average is good and the 13 steals isn’t bad, but the limited power he once had is all but gone.  During his hot streak, Jeter has just 10 extra bases including one home run.  While he’s not a power guy, it seems that a lot of his hits are coming on grounders with eyes.  Regardless, Jeter has played a large part of keeping the Yankees afloat with A-Rod.  He also took away a lot of the pressure for next season, as fans will not be clamoring for a position switch.

The Dude Abides: Lucas Duda’s Power Bat

 

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On television they call him Lebowski, but Mets fans should call him their next great hope.  While David Wright has regressed to being just a solid player and Jose Reyes can’t stay healthy, the team is desperate for a bat to play the role they anticipated from Jason Bay.

 

Fortunately for them a player has stepped up.  His name is Lucas Duda and he boasts a .279 average with seven home runs with 36 RBI.  While those numbers are not the most impressive, if you take a look at what has occurred since the All-Star break it’s a different story: 7 HR, .321 average, with 24 RBI.

 

The best news is that Mets fans may have more power coming.  Justin Turner has played with Duda in the Minor Leagues and he has seen with his own eyes what Duda is capable of, “You guys haven’t even seen him get hot yet… I played with him last year when he was unbelievable… when he starts hitting the ball over the fence, it comes in bunches, so we’re waiting to see that, it’s really fun to watch.”

 

At the moment, Duda has been splitting his time between first base and right field.  Though he has offered decent defense at first base, his future will be at right-field once Ike Davis returns from injury.  “I think wherever.. right field or first base… right field is a work in progress, but anywhere that is going to get me at bats.”  The fact that the Mets will be able to pencil him in at right-field is a big lift for a team that will look to fill some holes after losing Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez in trades. 

 

While there is some fear that Jose Reyes may be the next to leave Flushing, at least Mets fans know that the Duda abides.  “As you play more as you get more at bats…, your confidence grows and I think it is growing right now,” says the red-hot Mets slugger.

 

Replacing Brian Wilson

By R.J. Anderson //

Giants closer Brian Wilson was placed on the disabled list recently, causing a frenzy amongst his fantasy league owners. With only a few weeks remaining in the season, this is not the best time to lose your finest reliever. As it stands, there are really only two strategic options.

1) Find a new closer

Easier said than done, however two names to consider: Mark Melancon and Jason Isringhausen. Rob covered Isringhausen in more depth on Monday and he is available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues, probably because of the shaky situation unfolding with the Mets desire to get more of Bobby Parnell.

Melancon is available in roughly 35 percent of ESPN’s league because he closes for the Astros. One of the requirements for registering a save is the pitcher’s team having a lead in the final inning, and the Astros—who are more than 40 games under the .500 mark—rarely have that luxury. Melancon still gets a fair amount of appearances and strikeouts, plus he could help with the occasional save. His inclusion here actually leads in nicely to the other strategy on the table …

2) Punt saves, add the best reliever available

Some leagues value holds, but many don’t. That means a variety of strong setup men are left in the free agent pool because they offer little value given the limited amount of roster spaces. Take Mike Adams, who is universally regarded as the best eighth inning pitcher in the minors. He has a career 2.03 earned run average and a 1.39 ERA this season, yet is on less than 20 percent of the ESPN league rosters because he does not get saves (only three career). If Adams, the best of the best, is available in that many leagues, then there is a really good opportunity to find someone in your league who can help you in other categories, if not saves.

Those options might not be ideal, but you have to make the best of what the season throws your way.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

Not Shooting (Kyle) Blanks

by Eno Sarris // 

Kyle Blanks is a big man. Predictable headlines aside, this large human being (6′ 6″, 270 pounds at least) might be able to power your fantasy team to a late season push. Let’s take a look at his strengths (!) and weaknesses.

His obvious strength is his strength. The hoss bent-armed an inside fastball from Matt Cain into the seats Tuesday night, and he’ll break some distance records when he gets ahold of a pitch with his arms extended. The Big Nasty has a .260 ISO (isolated slugging percentage, or SLG-batting average) this year, which lines up very well with his .264 rookie ISO. Sure, last year, he didn’t show power like that, but he was hurt. Now on the correct side of Tommy John surgery, and coming off a minor league season in which he ISO’ed over .360, he looks to have his power stroke back. And the league ISO right now is .141, so a .260 number is impressive. It would be fourth in the league since 2008 among qualified batters.

How much should fantasy owners worry about his home park, though? Not as much as you might expect. As a right-handed batter, PetCo only suppresses his home run power by 5%. That’s it. Sure, he might lose some doubles (right-handed double power is suppressed by 28%), but Blanks has legit home-run power and will be able to muscle balls out of his home park.

Losing those doubles really only speaks to his major weakness anyway. As a guy who hits half his balls in the air (and should, given his power), Blanks is already at a batting average disadvantage. Add in the fact that he is striking out in 29.6% of his at-bats, and he’s virtually assured of having a mediocre batting average. Since 2008, only four batters have qualified for the batting title while also striking out more than 27% of the time: Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Pena. The best batting average of that crew is Cust’s .240. So, yeah, he’s not likely to have a nice batting average.

Could he improve his strikeout rate? His minor league K rates oscillated between about 20% and 25%, so maybe. But only maybe. His 15% swinging strike rate, which has held steady throughout his 400 major league plate appearances. That would be the third-worst swinging strike rate in baseball since 2008 among qualified batters. The only silver lining is that he’d be in a virtual tie with Ryan Howard, who has struck out about 26% of the time in the same time frame. Howard had a .265 batting average over the past three years.

A .260 batting average will play if he has 30+ homer power, that much we’ve learned from Mike Stanton. With offense (and, in particular, power) down around the league, Kyle Blanks towers above the fray both literally and figuratively. If power, and power alone, is your main goal. it’s time to go get some Blanks for your gun. And by gun, we mean fantasy team, of course.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

The Aaron Hill/Kelly Johnson Swap

By Tommy Rancel//

The Arizona Diamondbacks decided to shake up the interior of their team on Tuesday when they acquired a pair of middle infielders – Aaron Hill and John McDonald – from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for their own starting second baseman Kelly Johnson. In McDonald, the Diamondbacks pick up a very good defender along the middle infield and depth at shortstop behind in Stephen Drew’s absence. He provides little in terms of offense and is not considered a real play in any league format.

Hill and Johnson, on the other hand, have spent the last few seasons as key performers at the keystone position.

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Mets Hurler Jason Isringhausen’s Story of Redemption

 

Follow us on Twitter: @BloombergSports @RobShawSports @MicheleSteele

 

The Mets free fall has begun, a few months later than most baseball analysts expected, but the team is starting to fall on hard times now that they have traded All-Star Carlos Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez.  The team has also lost their two best hitters this season to injuries in Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy.  While Reyes is expected to return at the end of the month there is no guarantee it will stop the bleeding.  The team has lost six of its last seven and the Mets now sit four games under .500.

 

One piece of good news that has recently unfolded was a personal milestone from a very unlikely Met.  Jason Isringhausen’s career started with the Mets in a cloud of hope as a part of Generation K with Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson. 

 

Izzy went 9-2 in his first season with the Mets with a stellar 2.81 ERA.  He was immediately compared to Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver, the two best home grown Mets aces in franchise history.  Of course, the bottom then fell out as injuries took their toll on all three members of Generation K.  Izzy went 9-19 in his next three seasons with the Mets before getting dealt to the Oakland A’s for Billy Taylor.

 

Izzy was moved to the bullpen where he went on to dominate for the next eight seasons.  He won a World Series, picked up a career-high 47 saves in 2004, and dismissed his legacy of being a bust.  However, that wasn’t enough for the Mets 44th round pick in the 1991 draft.  He had more to prove.

 

Izzy returned to the Mets this off-season with absolutely no idea whether he would ever even make the roster.  “I had no idea… nobody knew what was going to happen,” said Isringhausen after the recent home stand.  “I just try to go about my business the right way and help the team anyway I can and try to get outs when they call on me.”  Izzy has certainly handled his job the right way.  He has offered some wisdom for the younger pitchers and offered some brilliant work out of the bullpen while doing so.  However, the big opportunity did not come until days after the All-Star break when the Mets announced they had dealt their star closer K-Rod to the Brewers.

 

Since that transaction, Izzy has returned to his old role of closer.  In 12 appearances, Izzy has picked up two wins and seven saves.  The seventh save, which took place on August 15th was the 300th of his career.  It’s been an incredible ride for the soon-to-be 38-year-old hurler.  He returned to where he failed and has been a pleasant surprise. 

 

Unfortunately for Isringhausen, reality will now set in.  With the Mets out of contention for a spot in the post-season, the team is looking towards the future and they will turn to flamethrower Bobby Parnell for ninth inning duties.  Izzy, a true professional, has been one of Parnell’s biggest supporters even during his recent struggles.  “It won’t be his last rough spot either… he’s got the stuff to do it… You can take care of the little things and the rest kind of falls in place.”

 

The young bust is now a wily veteran who has redeemed himself in the eyes of Mets fans.  Whether he gets another save or not for the rest of his career, Isringhausen has accomplished what he set out to do.  He went about his business the right way and got outs when needed.  However, his lasting contribution may be the professionalism that he brought to the clubhouse and the lessons that he provided to a new a new generation of Mets hurlers.  Izzy did alright as a Mets hurler.

 

Four For Grabbing

By R.J. Anderson //

The season might be wrapping up, but there are still a few players available in a good chunk of leagues that could help push you over the top. Let’s take a look at four players who could be used to form an entirely new infield. They are ranked by their availability in ESPN leagues in ascending order:

1. Jose Altuve

2. Yuniesky Betancourt

3. Mike Carp

4. David Freese

Altuve is the Astros diminutive second baseman. The story on him throughout the minors was that he can hit, and that remains the case after more than 100 major league plate appearances. There are some reasons for concern, as Altuve’s value is entirely batting average driven and it’s far too early to say whether he can maintain an average in the .330s. If not and his peripheral statistic remain the same, then his value dips quite a bit. Altuve is owned in just 5.3 percent of ESPN leagues.

As bad as Betancourt was in the first half (.237/.255/.342), he’s been very good since the All-Star break (.369/.385/.553). Betancourt has always shown traces of power, and while his on-base percentage is being buoyed by his average, it’s a matter of positional scarcity. Just riding the tail end of the heat wave can provide good value, particularly if you do not own Troy Tulowitzki or another top shortstop. Betancourt is available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues.

Justin Smoak’s injuries have opened the door to Carp, who is owned in 52 percent of ESPN leagues. His seasonal line of .320/.379/.492 is strong, and he has been particularly effective over the last two weeks. Because Carp is a lefty, he will not be as affected by Safeco’s offensive constriction as his right-handed batting teammates. Carp isn’t likely to continue to hit like he is one of the league’s best first basemen, but if you can catch some lightning in the bottle from a utility slot, he could provide useful, as Rob covered earlier in the week.

Freese completes the infield and is owned in nearly 75 percent of leagues. He is hitting .319/.369/.458 on the season, and four of his seven home runs have come in the last four weeks. Freese’s power has picked up in the second half, and would be owned more widely if he hadn’t missed almost all of May and June.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

Derek Holland, Jeff Niemann and Spot Starting

by Eno Sarris //  

The tale of two starters owned in about half of all fantasy leagues ends with a discussion on strategy. Derek Holland and Jeff Niemann may not be very similar in terms of their physical stature or the quality of their stuff, but the two pitchers have similar statistical profiles. Putting them in a position to succeed is very important to getting the best results from these two young starters.

Neither Holland nor Niemann have great swing-and-miss stuff right now. The average swinging strike rate in the major leagues is 8.6% this year, and Holland (7.2%) and Niemann (8.1%) fall short of that number. Their strikeout rates (6.84 K/9 and 7.14 K/9 respectively) reflect this reality. In the future, Holland has more upside, perhaps, as his 94 MPH fastball is three ticks faster than Niemann’s, and his four-pitch mix has gotten better whiffs in the past. But, right now, both of these guys lack the strikeout punch of an elite pitcher.

None of the rest of their rates are elite either. Holland has average control (3.07 BB/9, 3.11 BB/9 is average), gets groundballs at a slightly above-average rate (47.3% GBs, 44% is average), and has had slightly below-average luck (.310 BABIP, 70.3% LOB, averages are .292 and 72.4% this year). For the most part, Niemann’s story is the same. He has an average ground-ball rate (44.1%), and slightly above-average luck (.277 BABIP, 76.7% LOB). Right now, he’s showing an elite walk rate (2.11 BB/9), but he’s been limited to 98 1/3 innings this year and his career rate is much closer to average (2.90 BB/9).

If their luck stats regress towards the mean like they should, both of these pitchers are mid-to-high threes ERA pitchers. Even if one is 6′ 9″ and is nicknamed the Big Nyquil because of his slow pace and sleepy stuff, and the other is 6′ 2″ and has a suprising 94 MPH fastball coming from his left hand, there are similarities here.

By all accounts, if a 3.6+ ERA is above-average in real-life baseball, it is average in your regular mixed fantasy league. So you have two pitchers that have the upside to give you average production and the downside to actually hurt your ERA. How do you best use two dudes like this?

By putting them on your bench and using them in good matchups.

Holland has been a better pitcher on the road, showing better control and better results. Avoid Arlington, where he has a 5.32 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP, and he’s suddenly a much better pitcher. Niemann doesn’t have much of a home/road split, but he does face juggernaut offenses in Boston, Toronto and New York. Avoiding those teams would be the safe way to go. You mitigate your risk, and you improve the downside portion of the ledger.

If you have the flexibility to use a starter half of the time, you’ll get half of an above-average starter out of each of these two dudes by picking your starts well. Many fantasy teams make the mistake of holding too many bench position players. These players only contribute one or two starts a week to your team. Instead, your bench should be made up of pitchers like Holland and Niemann: pitchers that can easily be put in a position to succeed.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

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