Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down the five baseball players who have been making a huge fantasy impact over the past two weeks.
5) Alex Rios, OF, White Sox
Rios struggled with the White Sox in 2011, batting just .227. However, he has bounced back this season with a .316 AVG, 18 HR and 67 RBI. In the past two weeks alone, he hit .353 with 14 runs, five home runs, 15 RBI and one stolen base. He is a five-tool talent and his hot streak could continue, especially considering that he plays at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. Be aware, however, that Rios is known for his inconsistency.
4) Adam LaRoche, 1B, Nationals
Like Rios, LaRoche has struggled with inconsistency. Last year was a disaster for him, as he only played in 43 games and had just a .172 average. He is known for getting hot in the second half of the season and he is living up to that right now. In the past two weeks, LaRoche has a .429 average, 10 runs, seven home runs and 14 RBI.
3) Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers
Gomez is a solid outfielder defensively but is not known for his offense. He hasn’t been able to play every day in the past but he’s been given a chance in Milwaukee and is putting up huge numbers. Over the last two weeks, Gomez is batting .348 with 14 runs, four home runs, 10 RBI and six stolen bases. At 26 years old, he could get a chance to play full time next season.
2) Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds
Stubbs is known to be unpredictable at the plate. He steals a lot of bases and has some power but he kills your batting average. His currently has a .239 season average, but in the last two weeks, he has a .362 average with 17 runs, four homers, 11 RBI and five steals. Stubbs is a streaky hitter, so ride out this hot streak while you can.
1) Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
Pujols had a slow start to the season but he’s been on fire recently, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Angels. Over the past two weeks, he has a .365 average, 11 runs, seven home runs, 19 RBI and two stolen bases.
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Bloomberg Sports Anchors Julie Alexandria and Rob Shaw break down the moves made at the trade deadline and the implications for your fantasy team.
Reds Trade for Jonathan Broxton
For the Reds, Jonathan Broxton simply provides depth and some closer experience. However, he is destined for a middle relief role with the club in front of Aroldis Chapman. The Royals get two quality arms in return and Greg Holland becomes the closer in Kansas City.
Rangers Acquire Ryan Dempster
With the Angels breathing down their necks, the Rangers had to do something before the trade deadline, especially with Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz lost for the season. Ryan Dempster had already been traded to the Braves but he rejected the move last week. He did, however, welcome a trade to the Rangers mere hours before the trade deadline. This is a move that will help Dempster quite a bit when you consider that he has won just five of his 16 starts despite a 2.25 ERA. His ERA is likely to rise in Texas, but I’m sure fantasy managers will welcome it with the additional wins due to the Rangers run support.
Shane Victorino Traded to the Dodgers
One of the better offensive outfielders in baseball, Shane Victorino ends his career with the Phillies now that he has been traded to the Dodgers. He gets plenty of steals, has some pop and reaches base often. However, in Los Angeles, he will likely lose some of that pop, which could keep his average down a tad. Originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1999, Victorino owns a .357 average at Dodgers Stadium and will benefit from having Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the lineup.
Hunter Pence Traded to the Giants
This is the big surprise, as Hunter Pence is 29 years old and clearly in his prime. Though Pence has lost some of his speed this season, he does have some pop and is a line drive hitter. A move to the Giants could cost him some home runs, but at least he will play some meaningful baseball this fall. Regardless, overall the move hurts Pence’s fantasy value.
Yankees Acquire Casey McGehee
For a second straight season, Casey McGehee has struggled at the plate but he is a fine Ty Wigginton type player who can contribute in big moments. What this acquisition does is hurt the fantasy value of Eric Chavez, as three is now a crowd with Jayson Nix also taking some at-bats away while filling in for the injured Alex Rodriguez.
Pirates Acquire Gaby Sanchez
The Pirates had nothing to lose and now hope that a change of scenery will do some good for Gaby Sanchez. After two straight seasons with 572 at-bats and 19 home runs, Sanchez struggled mightily this season with just three home runs and a .202 average before being relegated to the minor leagues. The 28-year-old moves to a more hitter-friendly ballpark and a surprisingly better lineup to resurrect his career.
Cardinals Acquire Edward Mujica
Last year the Cardinals brought in relief help including Octavio Dotel and it worked out well for them. This year, the Cardinals have a bit more work to do but they will not let the bullpen be the team’s unraveling. On Tuesday, the Cards acquired Edward Mujica, a hard-thrower with solid control. He does surrender some home runs but is another quality arm to help bridge the gap to Jason Motte.
Pirates Acquire Travis Snider
Another cheap pickup for the Pirates, Travis Snider has some serious potential, but it just did not work out in Toronto. On the other hand, Pittsburgh is a fine place for him to establish himself and at 24 years old, he has some time to reach his potential. I see Snider as a potential 30-homer guy with more than 10 steals and a respectable average. He is the big bat that the Pirates would love to team up with Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen.
Blue Jays Trade Steve Delabar for Eric Thames
A feel good story in Seattle, Steve Delabar went from a coach to a player in a little over a year and has averaged well over a strikeout per inning this season. He provides the Blue Jays with the power arm that they expected to have in the injured Sergio Santos. His value takes a minor decline since he moves from the pitcher’s haven Safeco Field to the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.
Eric Thames makes the reverse move from Toronto to Seattle. There won’t be many complaints from Thames since he will likely get a crack at playing everyday with the Mariners. He has some power but really struggles when it comes to the strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Braves Acquire Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm
A .300 hitter for a second straight year, Reed Johnson is very much a utility player with no fantasy value. On the other hand, Paul Maholm has enjoyed his time in Chicago with a 9-6 record and a solid 3.74 ERA. He has surrendered a run or fewer in each of his last six starts. Maholm also boasts a 1.69 ERA in five career starts at Turner Field. Though the Braves only made this deal since Ryan Dempster rejected the trade to Atlanta, I do think this is a nice fit with Maholm as hot as any pitcher in baseball right now.
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Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw discusses the performances of four players who were trending on Twitter Tuesday night.
Bronson Arroyo, SP, Reds
Arroyo brought a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Brewers Tuesday night, but left with a no decision. He gave up three hits, one walk and three earned runs in 7.2 innings pitched. He is now 3-5 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.25 WHIP this season. The biggest surprise from Arroyo this season is his strikeouts. He has 60 strikeouts this year compared to just 14 walks.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
Rizzo made his debut with the Cubs Tuesday night against the Mets. He went 2-4 with one RBI and one double. In 70 games at AAA in Iowa this year, he had a .342 batting average, 23 home runs and 62 RBI. Rizzo was brought up to play first base, which moves Bryan LaHair to the outfield.
Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies
Ruiz is having an incredible season. He went 3-4 Tuesday night with one home run, two runs and two RBI. He now has a career-high 10 home runs this season, as well as a .361 average and 41 RBI. Overall, Ruiz is providing much-needed offensive production to the Phillies lineup.
Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds
Chapman bounced back from back-to-back blown saves Tuesday night. He had three strikeouts and one walk in one inning pitched to pick up his ninth save of the season. His numbers this year are still outstanding, especially his 64/12 K/BB ratio.
For more fantasy baseball insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
By R.J Anderson //
Biggest Surprise & 2011 Keeper Alert: Mike Leake
Jumping straight from college to the major leagues is something special and rare. Leake did it and did it about as well as anyone could reasonably expect. Twenty-two starts (and two bullpen appearances late in the year) held Leake’s innings total under 150. But a strong groundball tendency (over 50%) produced a solid 4.23 ERA. A little more control could help (3.19 walks per nine), though, given his pedestrian strikeout rate (5.92 per nine),
Biggest Bust: Aaron Harang
A really ugly season. Harang didn’t reach 150+ innings for the first time since joining the Reds. He also finished with an ERA over 4.50 for the second time in three years. His strikeout rate dropped, his walk rate increased, and his home run issues remained. He was one of the most underrated pitchers for a stretch between 2005 and 2007. Nowadays he’s an average starting pitcher at his best, and a mess at his worst.
2011 Regression Alert: Homer Bailey
Bailey pitched a lot better than his 4-3 record and 4.59 ERA might suggest. He showed an improvement in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, with his K rate spiking to a near-elite 8.26 K/9 IP. Look for positive regression in his fantasy stats in the near future; he’s a 2011 breakout candidate.
By R.J Anderson //
Biggest Surprise & 2011 Keeper Alert: Joey Votto
Votto has consistently been underrated. He hit .322/.414/.567 last season, yet nobody seemed to notice (he finished 22nd in Most Valuable Player voting). The Reds’ surge to the playoffs this season (combined with an even more impressive .324/.424/.600 line. Votto increased his homer output to 37, runs scored to 106 to RBI to 113, while stealing an eye-opening 16 bases. He was the best first baseman in the National League by both real life and fantasy standards and is an auto-keep for next season.
Biggest Bust: Orlando Cabrera
It’s hard to point to a 35-year-old’s decline as a bust, but Cabrera continued to slip toward a permanent state of unrosterability. His experience managed to trick Dusty Baker into hitting him leadoff for far too long, and then number-two for too long, even though his .303 on-base percentage screamed for a demotion. The Reds and Cabrera hold a mutual option for 2011. There’s a chance he returns, but he could end up backing up Paul Janish or someone else in 2011. Avoid.
2011 Regression Alert: Jonny Gomes
Not because he overplayed his means, but because he provides a perfect example of what regression to the mean looks like. In the first half, Gomes hit .277/.330/.471 with 11 home runs in 278 at-bats. He overplayed himself then with a .330 batting average on balls in play. In the second half his BABIP dropped to .294 (essentially his career average) and Gomes saw his line drop to .251/.324/.383. Gomes’ home run rate actually nosedived in 2010, and his awful defense makes him a long shot for an everyday job next year. Look elsewhere.
by Eno Sarris //
If you took a look at Jay Bruce on August 26, you might not have come away very impressed. He had a .265/.333/.430 line that morning, with 13 home runs. Even looking for power alone, you might have been forgiven for moving along to another player on the wire. How could someone with 13 home runs this deep into the season be a power pickup?
What a difference a few days make. Starting August 27, Bruce has gone eight for his last 15 with five home runs. Now his current line (.274/.343/.464), with 18 home runs, looks a lot better. In case you are in one of the 36% of Yahoo fantasy leagues where Bruce is a free agent, it’s worth unpacking his upside a little further.
In the minor leagues, Bruce had a .243 ISO (isolated slugging percentage, or slugging minus batting average); that number would rank in the top 20 if he had put that together in the major leagues this year.
One of the reasons we use ISO instead of straight slugging percentage is shown when you delve into Bruce’s history in the major leagues. His .462 slugging percentage doesn’t look that great given his position – even the average right fielder this year has put together a .448 slugging percentage. But Bruce is a moderate flyball hitter (43.2% this year), and flyballs tend to produce low batting averages on balls in play. Sure enough, Bruce has a mediocre career BABIP (.287), and that’s one of the reasons his batting average is a little low (.253 career). So instead we use ISO, to tease out his power and avoid dealing with all the singles. Bruce has a career .209 ISO in the majors, which would rank him between David Wright and Andre Ethier on the leaderboard right now. That is decidedly above average.
This year, Bruce’s HR/FB percentage is 12.3%, down from 16.8% in 2009. There is little reason for a young, developing player’s HR/FB to go down. Just take a look at Ethier – who has kept his HR/FB around 14 and 15% the last three years after debuting around 9% – for an example of your typical power progression.
Bruce has a .190 ISO so far in 2010, but of course a week ago that was .165. And last year, it was .246. We know from past research that ISO is one of the last statistics to become reliable, and it usually does so around 550 plate appearances. Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool projects Bruce for a .212 ISO going forward as the year-to-end projections below show.
There are few men on the waiver wire that can provide pop like Bruce can in the final weeks of the season. If he’s out there in your league, pick up him up right away. If you are thinking of trading for him in a keeper league, do it soon, before he hits another strong week (or another year of development) and his owner decides not to trade him away.
For more on Jay Bruce and other power options on your waiver wire, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
by Eno Sarris //
Continuing an ongoing series here, today we will look at another prospect from Baseball America’s midseason Top 25 list who may come up and impact your fantasy league.
Just this January, Aroldis Chapman agreed to a six-year, $30.25 million contract with the Reds, amid legendary tales of velocity and dominance from the Cuban leagues. Even while signing he was described as ‘raw,’ despite being 22 years old – or roughly the age of a guy a year out of college. The team talked of refining his delivery and not rushing him, but after a good spring training, they assigned him to Triple-A and the countdown began.
True to his age, Chapman was ready for the upper levels of the minor leagues, as his 11.01 K/9 attests. But true to his unrefined label, Chapman also has had his struggles, as his 4.9 BB/9 can attest. In some ways, he fits the statistical profile of Edinson Volquez, his future partner in the Reds’ rotation. He throws gas, is a little wild, and is not a groundball pitcher (41.5% at Triple-A right now), much like Volquez.
It’s hard to see if Chapman will develop control. He had 365 strikeouts and 203 walks in 327 Cuban innings, a 5.6 BB/9 that was a harbinger of his current struggles. That sort of wildness will limit his upside for sure, but gas like he throws will allow him to persevere as well.
We might look to Brandon Morrow for a true comp.
Though he is a right-handed pitcher, Morrow posted a 4.3 BB/9 in the minor leagues, and owns a 5.14 BB/9 so far in the major leagues. It’s taken him until
this year to fully harness his arsenal (his 10.4 K/9 is helping) to the
point where he has gotten his FIP (3.28) under four for the first time. If Chapman can continue to whittle that walk rate down to the mid-fours like Morrow, he might be okay.
But there are myriad reasons to be skeptical. First, Chapman’s walk rate this year dwarfs even Morrow’s – and Morrow had a BB/9 closer to four at Triple-A before it skyrocketed in the major leagues. Second, only eight pitchers in baseball that have a BB/9 over four are currently qualifying for the ERA title. In other words, only eight pitchers have had enough stuff to overcome such a terrible walk rate to survive as full-time rotation members so far this year. The odds are stacked against Chapman becoming a dominating pitcher even now that he’s shown his strikeout ability in the States.
Morrow is a prescient comparison because Chapman is currently a reliever, much like Morrow used to be while in Seattle. The Reds converted their big Cuban asset, at least temporarily, to relief, and he’s closing in Triple-A. It may have been a move to get him on the major league roster, and with Francisco Cordero currently struggling (4.47 FIP, 5.80 BB/9), it may even mean a fantasy-relevant role will come Chapman’s way when he’s called up as roster expand Sept. 1. (One piece of good news is that his control has been better in relief, with his walk rate down to 4.15 BB/9.)
Because of his still-existent control problems, however, fantasy owners in mixed leagues should wait for concrete news on the subject before moving. Deeper league managers looking for saves could speculate with Chapman. But you’d have to think that Nick Masset (3.77 FIP, 9.6 K/9, 4.07 BB/9) is the next man in line for saves in that bullpen, especially with the Reds in prime playoff contention.
It looks like fantasy owners may have to wait another year to benefit from Chapman’s booming fastball.
For more on Aroldis Chapman and other potential pitcher pickups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson //
Every year a handful of young pitchers will ascend the ranks, have a hot start, and cause a scramble to the fantasy waiver wire. Two of these early-season stories couldn’t be more contrasting in background and how they get the job done.
Doug Fister is a large human being. He stands six-foot-eight and most of that height is made up by lengthy stubs he uses as legs. Fister spent most of 2009 in Triple-A and showed impeccable command while getting outs via groundballs. Seattle placed him in their rotation late in the season and he continued those ways while giving up a few too many longballs. He still held a 4.13 ERA though.
Mike Leake has never thrown a pitch in the minor leagues. The Cincinnati Reds drafted the six-foot-nothing righty out of Arizona State University last June. The only pitches he threw for them thereafter came in the Arizona Fall League and during spring training. That didn’t prevent Leake from winning a job with the big league team this season, and so far the results have looked pretty good. Thanks to a Cliff Lee injury, Fister began the season in the Mariners’ rotation. Not only has he made three starts while lasting an average of six innings per, he’s allowed only three runs and 12 hits. He’s still not striking anyone out, but he doesn’t have to right now because he’s not handing out free passes or home runs. Even when his ERA regresses upwards – and it will – he could still fit the mold of a Nick Blackburn or – Seattle fans hide your eyes – what the Mariners thought they would be getting when they signed Carlos Silva a few fateful winters ago. With the Mariners’ terrific outfield defense, it could work.
In two starts and 13.2 innings, Leake racked up groundballs and avoided home runs, which made him a lot like Fister. Leake had a tougher time in his third start. He still managed to last seven innings, but gave up five earned runs on two home runs. Five strikeouts, a walk, and 16 of 23 balls in play going for groundballs provide some hope that this is an outlier rather than the real package heading forward.
Unlike Fister, though, Leake only has a 77% contact rate against, whereas his taller counterpart has a 92% contact rate against. That suggests that while they may take similar steps to getting the same result – groundball outs – Leake has the secondary stuff to also record strikeouts. Particularly his change-up and slider; according to pitch data from pitchfx, Leake’s change-up is being swung at and missed 18% of the time and his slider is being missed 19% of the time. Those are fantastic rates for any pitcher, especially for a rookie without a minor league track record.
In a vacuum, that potential along with his pedigree make Leake a more attractive fantasy option moving forward. At this point, either are worth adds in deep American- or National League-only environments. Leake might be worth adding in deeper mixed leagues too.
For more on promising young players like Mike Leake, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Tommy Rancel
In 2009, Ben Zobrist exploded onto the national scene with an All-Star season. The Tampa Bay Rays super-utility man hit .297/.405/.543 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 27 home runs and 91 RBI. The seeds for Zobrist’s success were planted by a former collegiate baseball player named Jaime Cevallos.
Cevallos, now an independent swing instructor known as “the swing mechanic“, met Zobrist in 2008, and convinced him to train with him. Zobrist came up through the minor leagues as a hitter who could get on base but sorely lacked power. Little wonder: Coaches and instructors drilled him to spray the ball all over the ballpark, rather than rearing back and swinging for the fences. Cevallos used video analysis to give Zobrist a variety of recommendations, on weight shift, positioning his hands, and other techniques. Perhaps his simplest piece of advice was this: swing harder. Cevallos cracked the Zobrist Code, turning a decent utility man to an elite hitter known as “Zorilla.”
Zobrist was not alone in his workouts with Cevallos. Houston Astros farmhand Drew Sutton also came along for the ride.
Sutton and Zobrist have been linked to each other from day one of their professional baseball lives. The pair of middle infielders were selected by the Astros in the same 2004 amateur draft (Zobrist round six, Sutton round 15). They would move through the minor leagues in near unison until Zobrist was traded to the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in the summer of 2007. Sutton would stick around with the Astros for a little longer before being sent to the Cincinnati Reds for infielder Jeff Keppinger in early 2009.
Like Zobrist, Sutton was a decent minor player, but nothing special. He was a nice hitter, but did not display the power potential of a big-time prospect. While playing for the Astros Double-A affiliate in 2007, he hit .269/.351/.388, with nine home runs and 28 doubles – typical numbers for a good-but-not-great middle infielder.
Then came Cevallos’ instruction. Playing for the same Double-A affiliate in 2008, Sutton ramped his production up to .317/.408/.523. In just 48 more plate appearances (558 in ’07, 606 in ’08) he racked up 21 more extra-base hits. He more than doubled his home run total from nine to 20 and also hit 39 doubles. Not only did his slugging percentage increase by .135 points, his raw power, displayed in ISO (Isolated power, slugging minus batting average), also jumped from .119 to .206.
In 2009, Sutton played 44 games for Cincinnati’s Triple-A team. In his brief 190 plate appearances, he rapped 19 extra base hits (five home runs, 14 doubles) and slugged .471. When we take his .261 batting average out of the equation, we can see that his ISO actually increased from .206 to .210.
After an early July major league debut, Sutton appeared in 42 games for the Reds. He hit just .212/.297/.348 in his first big league action, but we can’t much stock in a small sample of 76 plate appearances.
When interviewing Cevallos about Zobrist, I asked him how many home runs Zobrist could hit if given enough playing time. Cevallos said he would hit 30 home runs. Zobrist came up just short with 27. I recently contacted Cevallos about Sutton, and asked him a similar question: If given 600 at-bats, how many home runs would Sutton hit? Cevallos said, 25. He also noted that while both players had similar power, Zobrist’s swing would lead to a higher batting average, but Sutton’s stroke could produce a lot of doubles.
The Sutton/Zobrist comparison is showing itself once again in 2010. Like Zobrist in 2009, Sutton enters 2010 spring training without a regular job and or an obvious position, after playing five positions (2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF) in ’09. That also sounds a lot like Zobrist, who has started at seven different positions for the Rays (every position except P and C).
On the infield, the Reds have unquestioned starters in Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Scott Rolen. Orlando Cabrera was signed to be the team’s shortstop, but could see a challenge from Paul Janish. Heralded prospects Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs make up two-thirds of the outfield with Jonny Gomes and a partner to be named later in left field.
All positions seem relatively settled; however, Sutton’s versatility could come into play.
The obvious holes in the Reds lineup are shortstop and left field. Gomes mashes left-handed pitching (.274/.369/.517), but is sub-par against righties (.224/.311/.448), particularly for a player who struggles on defense. At short , the 35-year-old Cabrera has averaged .275/.322/.398 in his career; he’s a minor offensive threat at this stage of his career. Janish has been an awful hitter in his brief major league career (.205/.290/.292) after being average in the minors (.261/.351/.382), but is a good defender.
Outside of those two positions, there is always the unforeseen injury. The surprising knee injury to Rays starting second baseman Akinori Iwamura in ’09 opened the door for Zobrist in 2009. With Scott Rolen and his injury history (124 days missed over last three seasons) manning third base for the Reds, there may be an opportunity for Sutton to steal some at-bats that way.
Of course, Zobrist may have caught lightning in a bottle in 2009, and Sutton may not respond to Cevallos’ instruction — or other factors that led to Zobrist’s success — the same way as his former teammate did. Sutton isn’t worth a draft pick in standard 10- or 12-team mixed leagues. But in a deep NL-only or larger mixed (18+ teams) league, he’s a good gamble toward the end of the draft. His B-Rank of 951 is so far off the radar that most people won’t even notice him, meaning you can snag him with your last pick.
Then again, check out Zobrist’s year-by-year B-Ranks.
Ya never know.
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