By Eriq Gardner //
By R.J. Anderson //
To say Matt Wieters may have been a tad bit overhyped is more than fair at this point in the catcher’s career. Through the first 637 plate appearance of his career, Wieters slash line is a paltry .264/.322/.384. For the sake of comparison, Jason Kendall’s career line is .289/.367/.380. That’s counting some excellent seasons earlier in his career…but, still.
Everything about Wieters screams that he should be performing better than last year. His walk rate has increased nearly a full percentage point (from 7.3% to 8.1%), his strikeouts have declined (from 24.3% to 22.9%), and his ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average, an indicator of power hitting) has remained nearly the same (.124 to .115).
The elephant in the elevator is Wieters’ batting average on balls in play and batted ball profile. He’s hitting more groundballs than last year (roughly 5% more; or 47% total) and yet his BABIP has dropped nearly .100 points, to less .269 (league average is typically around .300).
Generally, putting the ball on the ground means more singles and fewer extra-base hits. Yet, that doesn’t always hold true when the batter isn’t fast enough to beat out close plays for infield hits. Wieters has all of four career infield hits; that lack of speed, combined with an unhealthy dose of poor luck, have been the culprits.
The reality of the situation is that Wieters’ hype has caused fantasy owners to hold on a little longer than they should. In keeper leagues, he’s well worth a hold.
But standard 12-team mixed league owners can probably find better options elsewhere. To name two: Angels’ catcher Mike Napoli’s already reached double-digit home runs, and Miguel Montero recently returned for the Diamondbacks and is mashing, while hitting in the middle of the Arizona lineup.
For more on Matt Wieters and other catchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
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 Tommy Rancel //
The Baltimore Orioles’ signing of Garrett Atkins this off-season was as non-descript of a move as you can get. Yet at the time of the signing, the move struck me as odd. Even before the season started, Baltimore was seen as a fourth- or fifth-place team in baseball’s best division. Therefore, handing nearly $5 million to a below-average corner infielder on the wrong side of 30 didn’t make much sense.
Less than a month into the season, the deal looks as bad (if not worse) than it did in December. The 2010 season is very young, but Atkins has a paltry OPS of .564 so far. We warn against small sample size selections, but this looks more like a continuation of a larger decline than statistical noise. Atkins hit his OPS peak in 2006 (.965), but has seen his OPS decline in each season since:
As alarming, if not more, than the OPS decline is the power decline that has accompanied it. Using Isolated Power (ISO), which measures raw power by taking slugging percentage and subtracting batting average, we can see Atkins has been on a sharp decline in power since ’06.
Atkins put up a stellar .228 ISO in 2006, but just a .116 ISO in 2009. To date, he is struggling to crack .100 in 2010.
Despite the season being less than a month old, it is pretty clear the Orioles are not going to be contending this year. With that in mind, some younger players in the organization could see significant playing time as the team looks for additional members to add to a strong core of talented players that includes Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz and others.
One of those players who stands to get a chance to prove himself is Rhyne Hughes. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Gregg Zaun last summer, Hughes has seen an increase in playing time due to Atkins’ – and the team’s – struggles. Called up just last week, Hughes already has three starts in place of Atkins.
Here are a few things to remember on Hughes: He is not a top prospect. At his age, 26, he’s not much of a prospect at all, and has always been a bit older for his league. More than likely, he won’t be a star at this level, but he wasn’t in the minor leagues either. With that said, despite the lack of hype and fanfare, he has been a fairly solid producer.
In more than 2,200 minor league plate appearances (PA), Hughes has a career slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .279/.349/.457. More recently, he has toiled in Triple-A for Tampa Bay and Baltimore. In 368 PAs at the level, he hit .309/.367/.534, including 15 games this season with a 1.088 OPS.
Hughes is a bit of a hacker (strikeout rate over 30% last year) and doesn’t walk much (less than 10% walk rate in minors), but you’re going to find flaws in most 26-year-old minor leaguers. Meanwhile, the 2010 Baltimore Orioles are in a perfect position to find out if Hughes can have success at this level.
If you drafted Atkins, or picked him up off waivers in a really deep mixed league or AL-only league, drop him if you haven’t already done so. In his place (again, assuming you’re in a deep league) consider Hughes. He should be readily available in most formats and is likely to be given a chance at decent playing time.
If you have an empty spot in an AL-only because a player has recently hit the DL (Nelson Cruz?), give Hughes a flier for a few weeks and see what happens. There isn’t a lot to watch for with the Orioles, but Rhyne Hughes could inject a little excitement to an otherwise ugly season.
For more on Rhyne Hughes and other unlikely sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits