By R.J. Anderson //
Eno Sarris already wrote about Adrian Beltre’s impact on the Texas Rangers’ offense. Due to the nature of fantasy scoring, Beltre’s individual defensive value will not result in points. Instead, the only way fantasy owners can reap the excellence of Beltre’s defense is to pick up the Rangers pitchers who seem most likely to benefit.
The recipe for a pitcher who stands to gain from Beltre’s presence includes a pitcher who gives up plenty of balls to the left side. A large ratio of those balls should be of the groundball variety. While Beltre is sure to make a snag or two on a liner and track down a fly pop-up here and there, he’s going to make his living off scooping and firing grounders at a prolific rate.
Using Baseball-Reference’s groundball-to-flyball ratio (which includes line drives as flyballs), it turns out that only three of the Rangers 2010 pitchers finished above the league average mark of 0.79. Oddly enough, each is a southpaw. Ageless set-up man Darren Oliver (0.90), swingman Matt Harrison (0.88), and starter C.J. Wilson (0.98) vary in fantasy value. There is no reason to ever own Harrison, Oliver is a nice get in leagues that value holds, and Wilson might be considered one of the better pitchers in the American League if he can continue the success he found in his first season of starting.
Therefore, Wilson is going to get the attention here.
In 2010, batters held a batting average of .090 against Wilson on balls hit inside the infield (well above the American League average of .078). Batters also managed a .206 batting average on groundballs hit against Wilson (AL average was .231) and .556 on bunts (AL average was .449). Since exact batted ball locations are unavailable, assumptions have to be made based on the infielders’ overall defensive value.
FanGraphs’ UZR suggests that the only below-average defender on the Rangers infield last year was (then) third baseman Michael Young, with Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, and Elvis Andrus rating as either average or above-average at their positions. That’s not to say UZR is perfect or that Young is responsible for Wilson’s mishaps on grounders per se.
But it does indicate that in a vacuum, the Rangers defense should be improve, with Beltre the vacuum cleaner set to replace Young at third base. And that should help Wilson retain some of his strong 2010 value, which included a sparkling 3.35 ERA.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise(s): C.J. Wilson & Colby Lewis
In one of the first articles at Bloomberg Sports, we wondered if Wilson could physically handle the transition from reliever to starter, and more importantly, if his stellar stats would follow. Wilson answered those questions by tossing 203 innings and going 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 33 starts. Wilson did lead the league in walks allowed. Still, he allowed just 10 homers all year and showed great durability. The move was certainly a success for the straight edge racer and the Rangers.
After spending 2008 and 2009 away from the major leagues, Lewis returned in a big way in 2010. Although he finished with a 12-13 record, his 3.72 ERA in 201 innings amounted to one of baseball’s biggest surprises. With nearly a strikeout per inning and less than three walks per nine, Lewis’ success was no fluke. He won’t surprise anyone next year, so plan accordingly.
Biggest Bust: Scott Feldman
Feldman enjoyed a breakout season in 2009, going 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 31 starts. He came crashing down to earth in 2010 as he went 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA in 22 starts. Feldman’s strikeout rate was poor in 2009 (5.36 K/9), but was even worse in 2010 (4.78). Although he might see some positive regression in 2011, it shouldn’t be much.
2011 Keeper Alert: Neftali Feliz
Feliz completed the opposite transition of C.J. Wilson, as the one-time starting pitching prospect became one of the AL’s best closers. The 22-year-old saved 40 games in 43 opportunities. His strikeout rate dropped from double digits in 2009, but was still better than league average (9.22 K/9). He did a stellar job of limiting walks (2.34 BB/9) and kept the ball in the yard (0.65 HR/9) despite his home stadium. There are talks of him one day resuming his starting role, but regardless of role, his live arm is worth keeping around.
2011 Regression Alert: Tommy Hunter
With a record of 13-4 and an ERA of 3.73, Hunter definitely caught some people’s attention. But really, Hunter is another Scott Feldman waiting to happen given the two pitchers’ very similar peripherals. In fact, Hunter posted an identical strikeout rate of 4.78 Ks per nine innings. He did post a nice walk rate, but gave up nearly 1.5 home runs per nine. In addition to BABIP regression, Hunter also stranded 80.7% of batters. The league average is 72.2%. Let someone else in your league deal with all that regression in 2011.
For more on C.J. Wilson and the Texas Rangers’ rotation checkout Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
by Eno Sarris //
In the case of C.J. Wilson, it’s time to give Tommy Rancel a little credit for identifying him as a possible sleeper in the pre-season (while also illuminating some of the concerns with moving a pitcher from the bullpen to the rotation). Now that Wilson has started out well, the question immediately shifts to his value going forward, and whether or not he is a sell-high candidate. Despite struggling in his last two starts, his year-to-date numbers look strong, as the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool charts to the right show.
At our disposal, we have tools like FIP (fielding independent pitching, which strips out batted ball luck and produces a number on the ERA scale). Wilson’s’ FIP is a decent 3.72. That’s probably the result of his lower strikeout rate (6.75 K/9) and .275 BABIP. While the strikeout rate is barely above average (6.6 K/9), the BABIP is actually less of a concern than usual.
Not all BABIPs are created equal. We talk about how it generally trends toward .300 across baseball, but that presupposes an average defense. Not all defenses are created equal. The Texas Rangers have the fifth-best defense in baseball when measured by UZR/150 – Ultimate Zone Rating. UZR attempts to take player positioning and ball trajectory, as well as home park intricacies, into account when rating defense. With Michael Young moved over to third base, defensive whiz Elvis Andrus doing great glove work – and even young Justin Smoak “Monster” bringing a nice glove with him to the major leagues – the ranking passes the sniff test. Finally, the Rangers as a team have allowed a .290 BABIP. So Wilson’s .275 BABIP may rise, but perhaps not as much as the average pitcher.
We are still left with a precipitous drop in Wilson’s strikeout rate. After setting a career high last year (10.26 K/9), some regression was inevitable due to his change in roles. Now that he’s dropped below his career rate (8.09 K/9), it’s hard to say what’s to come. We know that velocity and effectiveness usually drop with a move to the rotation, as pitchers can’t go all out every pitch for seven innings as a starter than they can for an inning or two as a reliever. Even accounting for those expected declines, though, Wilson’s velocity has fallen more than the average 0.7 MPH gap between starter and reliever (as Jeremy Greenhouse showed in an article last month). In fact, his fastball velocity has dropped 2.9 MPH with the move.
Still, we have a pitcher that has an average walk rate, a barely above-average strikeout rate, and one solid skill on his side. Wilson has continued inducing worm-burning grounders at a good rate (53.3% this year, 53% career), and that can limit the damage, as evidenced by his 0.48 HR/9 rate – it’s hard to get hit out of the park on the ground. While a home run rate that low is usually unsustainable, the nine pitchers that averaged less than 0.6 home runs per nine last year averaged a 49.3% groundball rate.
Of course if you can get a return on Wilson from an owner that values him as an ace, do it. But always consider context. I’m currently in a Blog Wars league where I am about to accept a trade – my Roy Oswalt for his Miguel Montero and C.J. Wilson. I need the offense in this two-catcher deep league, and I don’t think the step down is too steep for my staff to handle. As you can see, the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools trade analyzer likes the trade, an encouraging sign.
For more on C.J. Wilson and possible trade targets, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.