What happened to Hanley Ramirez?
Why is a .310 hitter batting just .197 on the season without a home run?
– What’s the big difference between last year and this year? 46 of the 327 pitches that have been thrown his way are right over the middle of the plate waist high and he is batting just .273 with a .364 slugging percentage thanks to just one extra base hit (a double on a fastball against John Lannon) in 12 at bats. In comparison, last season Ramirez faced 323 pitches right over the middle of the plate and he batted .326 with a .612 slugging percentage.
– Conclusion– He is not punishing the pitches he should hit.
– As far as the outpitches, how’s Hanley handling those? Ramirez has historically struggled against off-speed pitches. Last season, he hit just .245 against non fastballs. However, they only threw those pitches 39% of the time. This year, they have thrown Ramirez off-speed pitches 40% of the time, but there are two major issues, number one, he’s not hitting the fastball. The very pitch he hit .361 against in 2009, and .336 in 2010, Ramirez is hitting just .262 in 42 at bats.
– Is there anything different about the fastballs thrown to him this season? The answer is yes, they are coming in at 91.2 MPH, compared to 90.5 MPH in 2009 and 90.7 in 2010.
– And then there is the change-up, a pitch Ramirez has yet to get a hit again in 10 at bats.
– Conclusion– He is struggling more than ever against the off-speed pitches, but he is also not hitting the pitches that we’d expect him to hit, considering he is just 27-years old and has not suffered an injury, Ramirez should bounce back.
What’s the difference for Lance Berkman?
– Lance Berkman is not just good, he has been perhaps the best hitter in all of baseball with a .410 average, 8 homers, 22 runs, and 22 RBI. Why is it such a surprise for the perennial All-Star, well first of all he is 35 years and second, he is coming off his worst season, when he hit just .248.
– Is it a move to St. Louis? No, Berkman has all eight home runs on the road this season in 11 games, though at home he is batting .432.
– So how can you get him out? Throw the ball low, as in below the strike zone, he has yet to get a hit in 5 at bats against those pitches. And paint the corners. When the ball is thrown over the heart of the plate, Berkman boasts a .421 average and .895 slugging percentage.
– When he’s batting from the left side, throw the ball inside, he boasts just a .273 average on inside pitches. When he’s batting from the road side, he has yet to get a hit above his waist.
– Conclusion– Berkman has been incredible, and you can’t really pitch around him with Pujols and Holliday before him and Colby Rasmus after him. The pitchers have to paint the corners, otherwise, just wait for the veteran to cool down.
Bu Tommy Rancel //
Stephen Strasburg debuted, Jason Heyward shatter windshields, and Buster Posey won the rookie of the year award. Meanwhile, Mike Stanton quietly mashed in South Florida. Perhaps the fourth or fifth prospect in terms hype, Stanton’s powerful rookie campaign took a backseat to his more well-known peers. While the world was consumed with Stras-mas, the Marlins’ outfielder hit 22 home runs, drove in nearly 60 runs, and scored 45 of his own in 100 games. Oh, did I mention he didn’t turn 21 until AFTER the season?
Obviously the most impressive part of Stanton’s rookie season was his home run power. Only 12 men – including Stanton – have hit at least 22 home runs in their age-20 season. Names like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez give Stanton pretty good company. Perhaps even more impression is the pace which he took the ball out of the yard.
Stanton needed just 100 games and 359 at-bats to launch his 22 home runs. Of the 12 man group from above, only former Atlanta Braves’ All-Star third baseman Bob Horner hit as many home runs in fewer games and at-bats. The former top prospect’s ratio of a home run every 16 at-bats ranked fifth best in the National League last season. Add in the 21 home runs hit before his call to the show, and Stanton showed off his home run trot a combined 43 times in 2010 in just 153 total games.
Of course, Stanton’s rookie season did not come without some bumps along the way. ). In his first 70 games, he hit just .235 and finished the season at with a .259 average despite a higher-than-normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In addition to the low average, his plate discipline – 123 strikeouts and 34 unintentional walks – is a work in progress. If you’re looking for some progress, he hit .312 with an OBP of .370 in the season’s final 30 games; however, that is a rather small sample size.
With a solid two-thirds of a season under his belt, expectations of 30-plus home run power over a full season now follow Stanton. But home runs aren’t Stanton’s only source of value. In addition to the balls that went over the wall, he laced 21 doubles in ball parks across the country. Also remember, Stanton racked up all these extra-base hits while playing his home games in a neutral park environment.
On top of the gaudy power potential, Stanton’s stock is on the rise because of his placement in the lineup. The Marlins decided to ease their younger in the lineup by placing him in the lower half of the order. Of his 359 at-bats last year, 87% of them came from the sixth slot or lower. In 2011, Stanton is slated to bat clean-up behind a talented trio of Omar Infante, Chris Coghlan, and MVP-candidate Hanley Ramirez.
Because he will not hit for a high average or swipe many steals keeps Stanton from the top-tier of fantasy outfielders. Add in the negative connotation of the strikeouts and his draft position varies from OF2 and OF3. Once again, tucked behind higher-profiled stars, this could leave Stanton as a mid-round steal.
With 30-plus home run power (35 projected by Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tool), the likelihood of an equal amount of doubles, and an increase in RBI opportunities, Stanton could be a fantastic power and RBI source in 2011. Set your target around the eighth round in a standard 12-team mixed-league, but if there is a sudden run on outfielders don’t be afraid to pull the trigger a round earlier.
Update: Stanton was diagnosed with right-quad injury after coming up lame in Sunday’s contest. He is expected to miss two weeks, but continue to monitor his progress throughout the spring.
by Eno Sarris //
Maybe there’s something in the water in New York. Javier Vazquez certainly doesn’t like something about the city, because both of his attempts at wearing the pinstripes went poorly.
Consider this: Only twice in the decade did Vazquez strike out fewer than 6.99 batters per nine, and only twice did he walk more than 2.7 batters per nine. Both of those times were with the Yankees, in his worst two seasons (2004 and 2010). Over his career, those numbers are 8.07 and 2.42 per nine respectively, so his failure to meet those benchmarks is significant.
Much has rightly been made about the drop in fastball velocity that Vazquez suffered last year. His fastball and slider both lost about two miles per hour, and the difference between his fastball and changeup dipped under 10 MPH for the first time. The strange thing? The last time his fastball averaged under 91 MPH, it was in a Yankee uniform. Perhaps the stadium gun is a little slow, or the pundits have it right and he Just Can’t Pitch in New York. [Edit: Mike Fast from Baseball Prospectus points out that the gun in New York runs about 0.7 miles per hour slow, so some of the drop is thereby explained. Vazquez may be declining, but it isn’t as drastic as it seems.]
Now it sounds like the Florida Marlins are looking into Vazquez, and it’s not surprising that the feeling is mutual. Not only will the righty be getting out of New York, but he’s always been a flyballer and has had a problem with home runs (1.2 HR/9 career, 1.83 in 2010, 39% groundballs career), so the move to Florida should help. Last year, the stadium had a 95 park factor for home runs for right-handers (99 for lefties), and ESPN’s park factor has averaged a .931 over the last three years. The park in Florida should help Vazquez suppress home runs by 5-7%, it seems.
In 2004, Vazquez left New York after losing oomph on his fastball and suffering from wonky control. He went to the National League and refound his game in Arizona. Because of a more drastic loss of oomph in 2010, Vazquez may need to go to a nicer park in the weaker league to find success this time. The good news is that Florida is just that park. Vazquez looks like a fantasy sleeper all over again.
For more on Javier Vazquez and other possible fantasy rebounds, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By Tommy Rancel //
Jose Bautista and his 54 home runs grabbed the headlines as leader of a powerful Toronto Blue Jays lineup that smashed 257 home runs. Counting Bautista, seven Jays hit at least 20 home runs. This doesn’t include Alex Gonzalez‘s 17 home runs in 85 games with Toronto and the six he added with the Braves. On the other hand, this does include catcher John Buck who hit a career-high 20 home runs.
After his power-filled season north of the border, it is being reported that Buck is close to signing a three-year deal with the Florida Marlins worth between $16-18 million. Before we get into the fantasy aspect, let’s look at the deal.
Like most teams, the Marlins were looking to upgrade their catcher situation. Ronny Paulino served as the teams’ primary catcher before being suspended 50 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Whatever he took didn’t work as he hit just .259/.311/.384 in 91 games. From there names like John Baker, Brad Davis, and Brett Hayes received playing time, but none did anything to warrant more.
In Buck, the Marlins are getting a player whose profile is easy to project. Despite his .281 batting average this past season (inflated by a batting average on balls in play of .335 compared to a .289 career average), Buck is more of a .250 hitter. He does not show much patience at the plate (6.5% career walk rate) and is a hacker. In addition to striking out more than 26% of the time, he swings at nearly 30% of pitches outside of the strike zone. In the last two seasons, he whiffed at more than 16% of the pitches thrown to him.
The one positive in Buck’s game is his power. That said, he is not Mike Piazza in his prime. As mentioned, he hit a career-best 20 home runs this past season. His previous high came in 2007 when he belted 18 bombs as a member of the Royals.
Like a lot of Blue Jays, he enjoyed a home-run friendly Rogers Centre. The former Sky Dome had a home run park factor of 116 for right-handed batters (average is 100). The park he now calls home had a park factor of 95 for right-handed batters. The good news is he hit 10 home runs on the road.
With a similar player in Ramon Hernandez signing a one-year, $3 million deal on Monday, this looks like a gross overpay by the Marlins. In terms of fantasy impact, Buck was not a top 10 catcher going into 2011, but he was a decent backup option in the right situation. When you consider him leaving the confines of Toronto as well as the potential for regression in batting average, he is now closer to the bottom 10 than the top.
He should still hit for decent power numbers in Miami – sacrificing some home runs for doubles – and could give you some value in a deep league, but do not take the bait and overpay like the Marlins.
For more on John Buck and the Florida Marlins, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Gaby Sanchez
Gaby Sanchez opened eyes in his freshman season mostly by not striking out (17.7%, average is 20.7%). His high-contact approach did lead to a decent batting average (.273) and some RBI (85), and it’s not like he’s completely without power – his .175 ISO was above-average for all players (.150), just not first basemen. Deep keeper leaguers will find a place for him, but otherwise he’s best in standard mixed leagues as a utility player, taken late in 2011 drafts.
Biggest Bust: Chris Coghlan
Even during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009, Chris Coghlan didn’t show a ton of power or speed. He did ride an unsustainable BABIP (.365) to a great batting average (.321), and with a nice end to the season he caught a lot of eyes. He still showed a high BABIP in 2010 (.336), but with his higher strikeout rate (23.5%) and lower power (.115 Isolated Slugging), his line was devoid of interest. And that’s not even mentioning the injuries that limited him to 400 plate appearances. As a third baseman next year, Coghlan could still be interesting in deeper leagues.
2011 Keeper Alert: Mike Stanton
Mike Stanton is not yet 21 years old and yet his isolated power (.248) would have been 12th-best in the major leagues if he had qualified for the batting title. That’s impressive, even if his strikeout rate (34.3%) means he may have a hard time putting up high batting averages in the future. After hitting 22 bombs in his short first season, he could easily hit more than 30 home runs next year, thus making him a promising keeper even with the batting average risk. Logan Morrison is also interesting (especially on Twitter), but he profiles a little more like Gaby Sanchez right now, albeit with more power upside long-term.
2011 Regression Alert: Dan Uggla
We all know who Dan Uggla is. Lots of power, not a great batting average – a boon at a tough position, especially for teams starved for power. Then again, Uggla had a career-high .287 batting average this year, on the back of an unsustainable-looking BABIP (.330). That part of the package probably won’t return in 2011, so don’t overbid.
By Eno Sarris //
Sometimes, fantasy managers have to do things that make them feel dirty. They’ll pick up a lousy pitcher who has happened upon the closer role, or grab a streaky player in the middle of a nice stretch. It happens, and it can lead to championships.
That brings us to Emilio Bonifacio and his role on the Florida Marlins this year. With the underwhelming Wes Helms the other option at third base, the speedy infielder has received ample playing time at the hot corner, while also backing up the starting outfielders. He has produced for fantasy owners too, hitting .283 with nine stolen bases in just 166 plate appearances (with three of those steals coming in September). Managers in leagues of any kind could easily get a speed boost from him right now, and they’d be forgiven.
But they’d have to be forgiven nonetheless, because there is a litany of reasons why Bonifacio is not a good long-term option. The most obvious is the fact that he’s not in the team’s long-term plans at any position: last year’s rookie of the year Chris Coghlan is said to be slated for third base next year, and most of the rest of the positions around the diamond are filled with promising young players, like the recently profiled Logan Morrison.
The rest of the reasons might be less obvious but are more damning. For example, Bonifacio doesn’t walk enough for a man with his skill set – his 7.1% career walk rate is below average (usually the league average is around 9%). He also strikes out a tad too much (21.8% career strikeout rate, average is around 20%) for a guy with absolutely no power (.069 ISO, average is usually around .150). In fact, his career strikeout rate would be the worst among batting average qualifiers with ISOs below .100 this year. He’d also be the only player to combine a below-average walk rate with a strikeout rate over 20% and an ISO under .100.
None of this even mentions his unsustainable .352 batting average on balls in play – he is speedy, and might have a higher BABIP than most, but that’s not a number that’s likely to hold. Lastly, Bonifacio rates as a negative defender at all of the infield positions he’s played, which is yet another reason why he probably won’t figure prominently in the Marlins’ plans next year.
Sometimes you have to pick up flawed players on the way to a fantasy title. The important thing is to remember to not drop a player of consequence, and to not keep flawed players from year to year. Even in a deep keeper league, there’s no point in stashing Bonifacio, despite his 30 combined steals in the past two seasons. He is just the kind of player who can give you a few stolen bases in the season’s final weeks, then get discarded in the off-season.
By Tommy Rancel //
Although he has the size (6’3″/235) and he plays the positions (first base and corner outfield), Logan Morrison‘s game does not match his size. Still, that hasn’t stopped Morrison from being rated as a top-20 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America for the past two years.
Morrison, 23, spent most of his minor league career as a first baseman. However, with Gaby Sanchez‘s solid play at first and Chris Coghlan‘s injury leaving a void in left field, Morrison has found a new home with the Marlins – at least temporarily. While his defensive responsibilities have shifted, Morrison is still doing what he does best – hit and get on base.
The Marlins rookie is hitting .310/.427/.492 in 225 plate appearances since getting called up from the minor leagues. With that said, his .310 batting average is largely fueled by an unsustainable .378 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), and he is not likely to carry a .919 OPS over 600 a full season. However, don’t mistake this hot start as just a fluke.
In more than 1900 minor league at-bats, Morrison hit .292/.383/.465. That’s a far cry from his current slash line, but still above-average. As mentioned, Morrison has the look of a hulk-smashing home run hitter, but that’s not a major part of his game – at least not yet. On the other hand, he has shown some solid doubles power, including 38 in 130 games at A-ball in 2008.
Currently, Morrison has a .182 ISO (Isolated Power – slugging percentage minus batting average) despite having just two major league home runs. Lacking the power to put the ball over the wall, he is simply spraying it all over the field. He has already racked up 18 doubles and five triples this year.
In addition to the gap power, Morrison is showing a very good batting eye, with a 16% walk rate. He is striking out 19.8% of the time, but his 20.7% O-Swing (swings at pitches outside of the strike zone) and 6.5% swinging strike percentage show further signs of a solid batting eye.
Because of his extra-base hits and the favorable walk rate, Morrison has already scored 36 runs despite playing in just 48 games.
While his red-hot slash line is not likely to be reproduced in the near future, Morrison looks ready for an everyday spot in the Marlins lineup next season. Whether it comes as a first baseman or an outfielder is unknown. But don’t let that stop you from picking him up right now in NL-only and mixed keeper leagues.
For more on Logan Morrison and potential NL keepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits
By R.J. Anderson //
The name Alex Sanabia is foreign and unfamiliar to most baseball fans. The Florida Marlins drafted the 22-year-old (Happy Birthday, Alex!) right-hander in the 32nd round of the 2006 draft. Sanabia flew through the system, reaching Triple-A earlier this season and pitching extremely well. His complete 2010 stat line includes 16 minor league starts split between the upper minors with a 1.92 ERA in 98 innings.
How does he do it? With precision instead of flash.
Sanabia’s fastball averages 90 miles per hour, a pitch he backs with a slider and change-up. Somehow, batters are swinging and missing about 8% of the time at his slow-moving, a roughly league-average rate. In the minors, Sanabia flashed excellent control, walking a little over two batters per nine innings. That ratio has made a seamless transition to the big league game — he’s at 1.88/9 IP through his first 48 big league innings. The string bean’s strikeout rate of 6.38 is very playable when he’s that stingy with free passes.
Still, it’s hard to feel comfortable with a soft-tosser who relies enormously on flyballs. Flyballs turn into extra-base hits and home runs more often. Although batted ball data is not always reliable when it comes to differentiating line drives from flyballs, what it tells us is that 22% of Sanabia’s balls in play are supposedly liners; 39% are grounders; and 39% are flyballs.
His 3.52 FIP (a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA, but strips out defense, batted ball luck, park effects, and other factors a pitcher can’t control) looks solid through eight starts. But Sanabia has yielded home runs on just 6.3% of the flyballs he’s induced, which means more long balls are likely to come.
You should also actor in that some might not be completely sold that Sanabia’s game will translate to the major leagues for a length of time. Perhaps it’s inherent scouting bias, one that says guys with Sanabia’s stuff is better suited for the bullpen. But the fact remains there just aren’t many skinny, low-velocity, high-flyball right-handed starting pitchers who survive long in the big leagues.
Add him if you’re desperate for a starter in your deep league playoffs. He’s not highly recommended for keeper leagues, though.
For more on Alex Sanabia and other starting options on your waiver wire, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
It is hard to be 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, and go unnoticed in any walk of life. It is even harder to be that large, in addition to being a highly successful athlete in a major city, and still go unnoticed. However, Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins is all of the above, and barely generates a buzz on the national landscape.
The Marlins’ right-hander has been one of the National League’s best-kept secrets for a few years now. But in 2010 he is on the verge of breaking out. Johnson won 12 games as a 22-year-old rookie in 2006. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery wiped out nearly all of his 2007 and 2008 seasons. Since his return, Johnson has been fantastic. Peter Gammons notes that since his full-time return in July of 2008, Johnson is 30-8 with a sub 3.00 ERA.
After going 15-5 last year, the Marlins rewarded their ace with a four-year contract worth $39 million. Looking at his 2010 season to date, there is no doubt they are glad they got the deal done when they did.
In 15 starts, Johnson is 8-3 with a 1.80 ERA. He has 98 strikeouts and just 26 walks in 100 innings. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which measures home runs allowed, walks, and strikeouts, is an NL-best 2.56 – better than Ubaldo Jimenez, Roy Halladay, and Tim Lincecum.
Speaking of Jimenez, Johnson has 10 more strikeouts, 10 fewer walks, and has surrendered just one more home run than Jimenez, despite less than a two-inning gap between the two aces. Jimenez has grabbed the national spotlight – and deservedly so – but outside of wins and ERA – two metrics that rely heavily on outside factors – Johnson has been just as good, if not better.
Currently, Johnson is doing something not even Jimenez has been able to accomplish. In fact, it has only occurred a handful of times in major league history. Greg Cote (via Rob Neyer) tells us that Johnson’s recent string of eight straight starts with one run or less allowed is just the eighth such streak in MLB history. During that stretch, Johnson is 5-1 with a 0.63 ERA.
Beyond the microscopic ERA, and the pace for 17-19 wins, Johnson is having a career year in several other categories. Going back to FIP metrics, Johnson is striking out more batters than ever, while walking fewer and allowing fewer balls to leave the yard.
His strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) rate of 8.82 is a half-strikeout better than last season – his previous career best of 8.20. His walks per nine innings (BB/9) rate of 2.34 represent a career low. He has allowed just four home runs in 100 innings, which puts his HR/9 (home runs per nine innings) rate at just 0.36, another career best.
Despite the stellar marks in numerous categories, we know better than to completely take some of these metrics at face value. The strikeouts and walks are what they are, but in most cases, a low ERA is likely a product of defense and luck. Luck is also sometimes a factor in the number of home runs a pitcher allows.
It is true Johnson has been somewhat “lucky,” but not enough to discredit his fantastic start as anything but that. Johnson’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .270 is a bit lower than the league average (.302). If he regresses toward his career number of .301, he will allow more base runners, and in turn have a greater chance of giving up more runs.
In conjunction with BABIP, Johnson has stranded nearly 83% of his base runners (LOB%). The league average is around 71%. Career wise, Johnson owns an LOB% of 75.9. Again, there may be some regression here, but nothing too overwhelming. That said, in either case, even slight regression would raise his ERA.
As mentioned, Johnson’s HR/9 is 0.36. The league average is near 1.0. On the other hand, Johnson might not see much regression here. He has always maintained a lower than normal home run rate as evidenced in his career 0.62 HR/9. A key factor is the number of flyballs allowed, and the number that actually leave the park. We’ve talked about the value of groundballs before: More groundballs mean fewer chances for home runs to fly out of the yard. Johnson’s current groundball rate of 48.5% is nearly elite. For his career, just 7.6% of flyballs hit against him have gone for home runs. This year that number is down to 4.7%. Once more, you can expect some regression, but not much.
With a mid-90s fastball, and a slider that induces a whiff 16% of the time, there is plenty to like about Johnson. Add in the groundballs and the lack of extremely lucky batted ball data, and you have one of the best pitchers in baseball. If you already have Johnson, enjoy. If you don’t, he’s worth a big trade offer.
For more on Josh Johnson and other under the radar stars, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson //
If you guessed that Leo Nunez would be the better pitcher through May than Jonathan Papelbon, then congrats, but you should really use that soothsaying ability on more profitable ventures. It’s true, though, we’re just over one-third of the way through the season and Nunez has 12 saves, a 2.28 ERA, and better strikeout, walk, and home run rates than the venerable Boston reliever.
The former Royal, acquired by the Marlins after the 2008 season for Mike Jacobs, does it without the prototypical power closer stuff. Yes, he still features a blazing fastball, one that tops 94 miles per hour on average. It’s his secondary stuff that differentiates him. Nunez used to rely on a slider, but the Marlins have coaxed him away from throwing it. Instead Nunez leans heavily on a change-up that sits fewer than 10 ticks away from his heater. FanGraphs has his change-up worth 3.04 runs per 100 pitches thrown. That places it among the most effective pitches in baseball.
Roughly 13% of Nunez’s pitches have resulted in swings-and-misses. If that number improves or holds steady through season’s end, it will represent a career high, breaking the high he set just last season. That’s not the most interesting alteration in Nunez’s game, though. Instead that honor goes to Nunez’s newfound control. His career walks per nine innings rate is 2.86; this year he’s down to 1.90, a number which would net a career best.
Yes, Nunez is on pace for the best season of his career. In 2008, Nunez’s previous best season, he threw nearly 50 innings and posted a 2.98 ERA. Still, his strikeout (4.84) and groundball (39.1%) rates were uninspiring.
Now, though, Nunez’s change has given him a whole new lease on upper-tier life. Nearly 50% of his batted balls against this season have been grounders. When combined with his strikeouts and walks, Nunez has now emerged as one of the top relievers in the National League.