Results tagged ‘ Chicago Cubs ’

Lilly and Velocity: Fantasy Buy, Sell or Hold?

by Eno Sarris //

There are a lot of different ways to look at Ted Lilly and his season so far.

1) He’s doing fine. He has a 2.90 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and is only 2-5 because of a poor offense behind him. The Cubs have scored the third-fewest runs in baseball, so Lilly is good for everything but wins. Just check out his Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graphs! He’s elite in every category but strikeouts. This is not a crazy way to look at Lilly – he’s never been about strikeouts anyway, and he’s still got his trademark control. Buy!
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2) He’s heading for disaster. He’s sporting a career low in strikeouts per nine innings this year (5.66). A drop in strikeouts for a veteran is worrisome enough, but Lilly hasn’t ever averaged below 6.84 K/9 for a full year, and the lowest average he has put up in the National League was 7.57 in his first year with the Cubs. This is not a dip, it’s falling off the table bad. And Lilly’s walk rate, though still solid (2.37 BB/9), has gone up from last year (1.83 BB/9).

Lilly is also suffering from his worst fastball velocity in years – one system has him at 85.6 MPH, and one at 86.4 MPH. Both are far below his normal ~88 MPH level. Add to all this the fact that Lilly is a flyball pitcher (34.4% career groundball rate) and suddenly you can envision that home run rate (1.05) starting to inflate closer to his career number (1.35) once Wrigley Field starts warming up. Lower velocity, fewer strikeouts, more walks, and more home runs on the way? Sell!

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes. A pitcher with an 88 MPH fastball obviously doesn’t rely on blowing people away for his success. His current walk rate is in line with his National League walk rate (2.36 BB/9) and he’s getting his pitches in the zone at exactly his career rate (54.7%). It’s a little worrisome that his contact rate is up (83.7% this year, 79.7% career), but we have not yet tackled his velocity fully.

It may be tempting to point to his arthroscopic surgery and the reduced velocity and wipe your hands of Lilly. The surgery did go into the labrum, and labrum surgeries have ruined many careers. But the surgery only repaired a little fraying, and was done soon after last season ended. He’s now put seven months between himself and the surgery, and lo and behold, look at his velocity charts for the most recent games (courtesyLillyVeloGrab.jpg www.fangraphs.com). See how he’s been his old self again in the last two starts? Maybe Lilly just needed a little time to get back to his prior form. You might notice that his K/9 in those last two starts was a decent 6.19 (11 strikeouts in 16 innings). While velocity alone does not a good pitcher make, given average movement (and Lilly’s movement is not elite), a faster fastball is always better. Here’s some great work on the subject by Jeremy Greenhouse at Baseball Analysts.

As a flyball pitcher, Lilly will always have the risk of the home run looming (or flying) over his head. A 1.3+ HR/9 rate is not a comfortable place to be for most pitchers. Had he put up his 1.35 career HR/9 rate last year, for example, he would have been sixth-worst among ERA title qualifiers in the category. But Lilly always makes up for this flaw by not walking anyone (and thus keeping his WHIP low); the home runs he allows are often solo shots. Because he helps in WHIP, doesn’t (usually) hurt in strikeouts, and will hopefully start to win some games, he’s still a valuable pitcher despite the lack of a marquee name.

And since he still gives up those home runs, hasn’t pushed the average velocity needle back over the hump, and hasn’t yet struck out enough batters to register in that category, he can be hard to trade. Especially in leagues where other managers know how to find the velocity of a pitcher, that makes Lilly a “hold” in most formats.

For more on Ted Lilly and other options for the middle of your fantasy rotation, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Who Is This Carlos Silva Guy?

By R.J. Anderson //

It’s June and Carlos Silva has a 3.12 ERA and a 7-0 record through 10 starts. To enhance his portfolio, Silva is coming off a start versus the St. Louis Cardinals in which he struck out 11 batters. Suffice to say, this is not the Carlos Silva we’ve come to know over the years – the Silva with a career win-loss record a tick above .500, an ERA over 4.60, and a career strikeout per nine ratio of 3.90. The 2010 version is striking out more than six batters per nine innings, with better numbers across the board.

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The main difference between the old Silva and this one has been his pitch usage. In the past, Silva would throw his heavy sinker that sits in the low-90s and pound the zone with it about three-fourths of the time. This worked against batters of the same hand, but left-handed hitters would take advantage of his weak secondary offerings.

This season, though, Silva is throwing his fastball less than ever and pumping his slider and change-up more often. His change-up is actually his best pitch according to FanGraphs’ run values, which assign a run value to each event to which a pitch leads, whether it be a strike, a groundball, a home run, or something else.

This revolution in Silva’s arsenal is leading to increased success against opposite-handed batters and endearing him to fantasy owners thanks to the resulting newfound strikeout ability. This year to date, Silva’s inducing whiffs on 8.5% of his pitches. Consider that for a moment, while observing Silva’s swinging strike rates since breaking into the major leagues full-time:

2004: 4.8%

2005: 4.5%

2006: 4.8%

2007: 5.5%

2008: 4.9%

2009: 3.7%

2010: 8.5%

The sustainability of Silva’s success is debatable. The rarity of 3.12 ERA seasons makes it unlikely that Silva will remain quite this good heading forward. Plus Silva is a groundball pitcher and groundballs turn into hits far more often than flyballs; they just turn into extra-base hits less often. As it stands, 27.5% of Silva’s balls in play are turning into hits as opposed to a career rate over 31%. Even if one discounts a full regression to that number, the reality is that Silva’s probably going to give up hits at a higher clip heading forward than he has to date.

It’s unlikely that you or the owners in your league have shaken the perception of who Silva is, meaning selling high on him for a big return is a long shot. If someone bites, go for it, otherwise sit on Silva with adjusted expectations.

For more on Carlos Silva and other pitchers who went from good or mediocre to amazing, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Geovany Soto: Back And Better Than Ever

By Tommy Rancel //

It was not too long ago when Geovany Soto was considered a future star in Chicago. The Cubs catcher looked like a major offensive weapon at a position largely void of heavy hitters, hitting .285/.364/.504 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his breakout 2008 campaign and earning National League Rookie of the Year honors.

The bar was set high for Soto in 2009. But his season got off to a rough start. As a member of Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, word broke of a failed drug test. In addition to the off-field problems, Soto struggled on the field for most of 2009, hitting just .218/.321/.381 in his second full season.

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Soto saw steep declines in several categories, including: home runs (23 to 11), RBI (86 to 47) and runs scored (66 to 27). After playing 141 games in ’08, he played just 102 games in ’09, as a strained oblique knocked out a chunk of his summer.

Healthy, and seemingly clear of trouble, Soto has rebounded to 2008 levels and beyond. The 27-year-old is hitting .298/.463/.468 after 32 games in 2010. He has already scored 17 runs after crossing the plate just 27 times last year.

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Soto’s strong start is similar to that of Carlos Ruiz; whom we spoke about last week. Like Ruiz, Soto has been the beneficiary of a lucky batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His career BABIP is .310. So far this year that number sits at .353. On the other hand, his .246 BABIP in ’09 suggests there was some bad luck last season.

His high 2010 BABIP is driven by a robust 26.4% line drive rate. As mentioned in the Ruiz post, only four players had an LD% above 24% last year. Soto’s career rate is 20.3%.

There will likely be some regression here, but it shouldn’t be too damaging. ZiPs projects him to hit .275 at season’s end. That’s an expected 23-point drop from his current level, but still above his career average of .268.

In another similarity to Ruiz, Soto is walking more than ever. Soto has always had a good walk rate (12% career), but is now walking nearly 1/4 of the time. For the first time in his career, his walk rate (23.6%) tops his strikeout rate (23.4%). That’s a rare feat seen only among players with the sharpest batting eyes.

The improved walk rate has a direct correlation to improved pitch selection. Career-wise, Soto has swung at 18.8% of pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%). In 2010, he is chasing just 12.5% of pitches out of the zone – the second-lowest percentage in the majors (min. 90 plate appearances).

If you own Soto, hang on to him. His batting average will likely regress, but the improved plate discipline should allow him to maintain an excellent on-base percentage. He also continues to show good power from behind the dish, another rarity.

If you don’t have Soto and need a catcher, make sure to put his name at the top of your shopping list. The bounty is likely too high right now, but if his average starts to slip, the price may come down. At that point, be prepared to strike quickly.

For more on Geovany Soto, Carlos Ruiz, and potential breakouts, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Bloomberg Sports 2010 National League Central Preview

By Tommy Rancel

The St. Louis Cardinals have won six of the past 10 NL Central titles. In 2010, they are once again the favorites, but will have to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers, the upstart Cincinnati Reds, and the Chicago Cubs, in what might be Lou Piniella’s last stand with the team. The Houston Astros are lacking enough firepower to make much noise and the Pittsburgh Pirates are improved, but not enough.


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St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards are the most complete team in the division, led by the greatest hitter on the planet in Albert Pujols. Nearly a consensus top pick in Fantasy drafts, Pujols will likely be the top hitter in baseball once again in 2010. St. Louis also re-signed Matt Holliday, who is likely to maintain his steady numbers in the senior circuit.

Keep an eye on a pair of youngsters to provide offense behind the superstar duo. Center fielder Colby Rasmus was merely average last season, but is talented enough to make the leap to All-Star status – his Opening Day home run was a monster shot that showed his prodigious power. Third baseman David Freese had a hot start to his career, but only has 17 major league games to his credit. Both will see significant playing time in 2010. The Cards lineup packs plenty of punch, but is not a good source of speed.

The Rotation is led by bona-fide aces in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Behind them Brad Penny will try to replace Joel Pineiro as Dave Duncan’s new pet project. Ryan Franklin will reap the benefits of all the talent in front of him and is likely to top 30 saves pretty easily, assuming he keeps his job all year.

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Chicago Cubs

Derrek Lee remains among the game’s most underrated sluggers, though a pullback might be coming, given he’s into his mid-30s. Meanwhile, other high-profile Cubs players simply underperformed last season, for a variety of reasons.

The Cubs biggest off-season addition could be hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. The former Texas Rangers hitting guru will be reunited with former pupil Alfonso Soriano in hopes of rejuvenating the aging left fielder’s career. Soriano is ripe for at least a small bounceback after seeing his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop nearly 30 points from his career total.

In addition to Lee and the potentially improved Soriano, the Cubs will need Aramis Ramirez back at full strength. If healthy, Ramirez is a legit 30-home run threat in the middle of the lineup.

On the pitching side, Carlos Zambrano is nowhere near the ace he used to be. Both Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster are safer bets. Meanwhile, Carlos Marmol goes into the season as the unquestioned closer. His walk rate remains among the highest of any closer in baseball, though, making him something of a risk.


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Cincinnati Reds

Led by elite young hitter Joey Votto, the Reds should put up plenty of runs at the Great American Ballpark, especially if young outfielder Jay Bruce follows with a breakout season of his own. Outside of Bruce and Votto, the Reds offense features a member of the 30/30 club in Brandon Phillips, as well as former All-Star Scott Rolen.

Phillips is a good bet for 20/20, a mark he has hit in each of the past two seasons. Rolen, 35, can still hit, as evidenced by his 2009 OPS of .823 – but he’s also an annual DL candidate.

The rotation, led by Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, is pretty average across the board. Johnny Cueto has the stuff to stand out, but remains too wild and inefficient with his pitches. The wild card in the Reds rotation is prized off-season acquisition Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban national with a 100-mph fastball is the Reds player you must keep tabs on all season, especially in a shallow league where he may still be available on the waiver wire. He starts the season in the minor leagues.


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Milwaukee Brewers

While Pujols and Holliday might be the NL’s top 1-2 punch, the Brewers duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are not far off. Braun has averaged 34 home runs in his three big league seasons, while Fielder has topped 45 home runs in two of the past three years. There is nothing to suggest anything less from each in 2010. New addition Carlos Gomez should provide fantasy value with his stolen bases, but he’s also an OBP drain who should be batting at the bottom of the order.

Rickie Weeks will return to the top of the order after missing most of last season with a wrist injury. Weeks looked poised to break out in 2009 before the injury, and had an excellent spring showing no ill-effects from the surgery. If he can finally play a full year, he could be primed for a breakout.

Yovani Gallardo is the unquestioned ace of the pitching staff, but he is followed by several question marks. Randy Wolf was signed to be the #2 starter, but buyer beware on Wolf this season. In the bullpen, At age 42, Trevor Hoffman is still going strong, but because of his age, he’s not a sure thing to last the season. One sneaky note about the Brewers: The addition of Gomez in center and slick-fielding Alcides Escobar at short should greatly improve the defense. Teams like Tampa Bay, Seattle and Texas have already shown us how a jump in a team’s defensive skill can go a long way toward improving run prevention – and thus the fantasy stats of a team’s pitchers.

 


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Houston Astros

The Astros spent money this off-season, but on the wrong players. Pedro Feliz was signed to be the team’s third baseman, but he’s a lousy hitter who shouldn’t be rostered. The Astros also spent big bucks on Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom, leaving Houston with two overpriced, undertalented options for the closer spot. Lindstrom gets first crack, but you might consider drafting a top set-up man like Chicago White Sox lefty Matt Thornton a few rounds later, and focusing on offense and starting pitching at that point in your draft.

Lance Berkman is in his contract year, and remains the team’s biggest offensive threat. He’ll start the season on the DL with a knee injury, though. Hunter Pence has 25-home run power and could be a 20/20 threat if improves his stolen base percentage (58% career). Michael Bourn is a budding lead-off man, and is a fantastic source of steals (102 steals since 2008), though he provides little power

The rotation is led by Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez. Oswalt battled injuries last year while Rodriguez was one of the few bright spots for the team in 2009. Both pitchers are likely to benefit from new shortstop Tommy Manzella’s slick fielding. The rest of the rotation looks shaky at best.

 


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Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen is the team’s best offensive weapon after less than one full major league season. McCutchen showed decent power and has an outside chance of pulling off a 20-homer/40-steal campaign. Go get him.

Beyond McCutchen, the Pirates have some interesting former top prospects that have yet to live up to potential, as Lastings Milledge and Jeff Clement finally get chances to prove themselves as everyday players. Last year’s breakout Garrett Jones blasted 21 home runs in 82 games, but can he maintain a home run to fly ball rate of 21% over a full season? It’s a long shot, but you have to love his two homers on Opening Day.

The rotation has a few nice back-end guys like Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf and Zach Duke, but none is a front-line starter. Beware of them in NL-only leagues, as there is a possibility of them becoming trade candidates come July – especially Duke. Octavio Dotel is the team’s closer, but has battled injuries this spring and is a trade candidate for the summer as well. If something should happen with Dotel, keep an eye on Evan Meek as a potential source of cheap saves.

For more on Albert Pujols and the rest of the NL Central, check out Bloomberg Sports’ kits.

The Underrated Derek Lee in 2010

By Tommy Rancel

 

At a position stacked with superstar names, Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee is often overlooked. The best player on the face of the planet, Albert Pujols, plays the same position in the same division. So do sweet-swinging first basemen Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman, and Joey Votto.

 

That Lee gets lost in the shuffle among other big hitters only makes him a more attractive pick. In 2009, he hit .306/.393/.579 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 35 home runs, 111 RBI and 91 runs scored. His .972 OPS was fourth-best in the National League. The three names in front of him were all familiar foes: Pujols, Fielder and Votto.

 

Looking at Lee’s Spider Chart (bottom center), you can see the extent of his all-around contributions.

 

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The biggest question facing Lee in 2010 is, can these numbers be sustained? It’s hard to envision a 34-year-old player duplicating such a great season. 


When we look for flukes in a batter’s season, we often look at batting average on balls in p
lay (BABIP) and home run-to-fly ball ratios (HR/FB). In 2009, Lee had a BABIP of .327, well above league average, which typically hovers near .300. Lee’s career BABIP sits at .323, though, suggesting his ’09 figure isn’t unusual. 


Lee’s career home run-to-flyball rate spiked to 17.9% in 2009, up from 11.7% In 2008. On the plus side, that ’08 figure represented a career low; Lee’s career HR/FB rate is 17%

 

With regression questions answered, we can look forward to the 2010 season. The most conservative projection on Lee in 2010 comes from the CHONE projection system. CHONE projects a slash line of .285/.365/.487. That would give him an OPS decline of .120 points compared to ’09 levels. Bloomberg Sports pegs Lee to hit .303/.386/.526. .

 

At these levels, Lee figures to slot in below some of the elite first basemen on baseball. But we’re still bullish on him, especially in 12-team mixed and deeper leagues. Here’s why.


Lee ranks 35th overall in B-Rank (Bloomberg’s proprietary ranking of all players). Despite the relatively high overall ranking, he is the 10th-rated first basemen. This is more a testament to the talent level at the position than Lee’s abilities. With such a deep pool of talent, it is essential to get a bargain at the position. Unless you’re able to score Pujols, Fielder, Ryan Howard or Mark Teixiera in the first round, you might want to lie in the weeds and snatch up Lee much later.

 

Average Draft Position shows Lee being taken at #90, making a 55-spot gap between where Bloomberg Sports ranks him and where people are drafting him. Looking at the Demand vs. Scarcity chart below, you’ll see that there are plenty of good first basemen available. But few have a bigger gap between their B-Rank and ADP than Lee.

 

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The dot nearly on top of Lee’s belongs to Carlos Pena. Pena’s value is nearly as high as Lee’s. If you can get either one you’ll be the benefactor of a big bargain. The reason to chose Lee over Pena is batting average. Looking at the trend line chart below, you can see just how big of a gap there is between the two in that category.

 

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Outside of Lee and Pena, other four-star first basemen include: Justin Morneau, Votto, Berkman, Adam Dunn and Kendry Morales. None of the names above come close to representing the value of Lee. Here’s a look at each player’s B-Rank and ADP


Morneau
B-Rank: 42
ADP: 37.2

 

Votto
B-Rank: 34
ADP: 39.3

 

Berkman
B-Rank: 60
ADP: 69.0

 

Dunn

B-Rank: 38.0
ADP: 58.0

 

Morales
B-Rank 43
ADP: 59.5

 

Only Votto (34th) has a B-Rank higher than Lee (35th); however, all five of these 1B are being drafted three to five rounds earlier. It’s hard to fight the temptation of drafting Morneau or Votto in the fourth round, but your team is likely better off pursuing an elite starting pitcher or help at a shallower position, the coming back around to add Lee two or three rounds (or more) later.

 

Because he’s in a contract year, Lee is a safer play in a mixed league than an NL-only. If the Cubs fall out of the race by July 31, contenders in both leagues could be battling for his underrated services. Don’t find yourself in a similar fight come draft day. Lock him down.

 

For more information on Derek Lee and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits for yourself.

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