by Eno Sarris //
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that there are different results on different types of batted balls, and that across baseball, these results hold steady from year to year.
When a pitcher has allowed a line drive this year, the batter has put up a .732/.730/.997 batting line.
When a pitcher has allowed a flyball this year, the batter has put up a .226/.220/.595 batting line.
When a pitcher has allowed a groundball this year, the batter has put up a .219/.219/.238 batting line.
Unfortunately for pitchers, there is little evidence that they can control line drives from year to year. Fortunately for pitchers, there is evidence that they can control the other two. Take a look at the slugging percentages on groundballs versus flyballs in particular.
This brings us to Chris Volstad, a pitcher that is owned in virtually no leagues – at the time of this writing, he was available in 97% of Yahoo leagues. There’s a reason for that. Check out this screen grab from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools. Volstad is doing very little right this year.
Very little is not nothing, on the other hand. Volstad has one important thing going for him. He can induce groundballs. His career groundball percentage is 50.6% and even in his struggles this year, he’s got a nice 48.2% number. That puts him at 40th in the league, which is not bad in itself. It is early going, though. If he had put up his career groundball percentage last year, Volstad would have been 13th in the league, right behind Adam Wainwright and in good company with Josh Johnson right behind him.
Returning to Steve Slowinski’s piece on the levels at which statistics become significant, we find this about pitchers:
- 150 BF – K/PA, grounder rate, line drive rate
- 200 BF – flyball rate, GB/FB
- 500 BF – K/BB, pop up rate
- 550 BF – BB/PA
We will have to count this as good news in Volstad’s case. He has a career strikeout rate of 5.67 K/9 and this year he’s lagging behind with a 3.47 K/9. Since he’s only faced 102 batters, we can hope the strikeout rate will rise. Derek Lowe was long successful with a 60% groundball rate, 5+ K/9 and a sub-3 BB/9, and these are all levels that Volstad could reach with a little work.
It can be tough to try and dominate your fantasy league with a groundballer, that much is true. Especially the groundballers that don’t strike people out, since strikeouts are a category in almost any league. There are also better groundball pitchers than Volstad out there, and RJ pointed out a couple of them just last week. Volstad’s contact rate (88.1% this year, 83.4% career) actually sits in between the two pitchers RJ talked about (Mike Leake and Doug Fister), so he’s an interesting test case. He’s the third amigo you could say.
Perhaps you can leave Volstad on the wire for now. But don’t let anyone convince you that he doesn’t do anything well. Watch his groundball rates, and if they rise, and he manages to strike a few out along the way, he could easily make a good pickup in a deep league.
For more on the three amigos, Mike Leake, Doug Fister and Chris Volstad, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
This division will likely a two-team race. The Phillies are the favorites, but Atlanta is better than most people would like to acknowledge. Don’t be surprised if both of these clubs make the playoffs, and be prepared for a possible National League Championship Series match-up.
Jason Heyward is already ahead of schedule, and the season just started. We wrote about him at Bloomberg Sports, calling him a shiny toy, and fretting that he might get sent to the minors. Clearly that last part was a little less than prescient. Heyward made headlines this week by hitting a home run in his first career at-bat, and has become a hot commodity; so much so that he’s probably overpriced as a trade target right now. Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado project as less-hyped but still solid producers who are worth discussion, if you don’t already own them.
The starting rotation offers several interesting storylines. Can Jair Jurrjens repeat his amazing 2009 season? Will Tommy Hanson emerge as a 200-inning ace in his first full big league campaign? The biggest question mark is Tim Hudson. Prior to missing most of 2009 and part of 2008, Hudson had made 25+ starts in every season since 2000. He’s back and looked good in the spring, but he’s no sure bet to stay healthy all year. If his price is reduced due to injury concern, inquire about him; if he’s being priced like the Tim Hudson of old, pass.
Cole Hamels might be the only player on the two-time defending National League pennant winners who qualifies as a sleeper. Though his won-lost record and ERA turned much worse in 2009, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) shows identical 3.72 marks in both seasons, making him a potential value pick. Everyone else is a known commodity, including newly-acquired ace Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth.
Ryan Madson is the man in waiting if closer Brad Lidge stumbles once more. Madson has typical closer velocity, checking in last season at 95 MPH, but also uses a cutter and change-up as his secondary pitches, rather than the commonplace slider. Raul Ibanez‘s hot entrance to the National League fraternity is what people will remember from last season, rather than his quick descent back into the real world. A year older, Ibanez has bust potential written all over him. Avoid.
The Marlins are in the running for the most top heavy team in baseball. Hanley Ramirez is one of the best players in baseball. Last year, Josh Johnson appeared to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bloomberg Sports also loves number-two starter Ricky Nolasco.
After that, things get murky. Jorge Cantu provides some pop. Chris Coghlan is a decent sleeper. Dan Uggla had his name floated in trade rumors for what seems like the umpteenth year without a move happening; he’s a good bet to 25-30 home runs, but his low-batting average/solid on-base percentage is a lot more valuable in real life than in standard 5×5 fantasy leagues. The Marlins do have some strong outfield prospects on the rise. Cameron Maybin and his blend of power and speed potential are already on the major league roster, and Mike Stanton has Jason Heyward-like power potential.
Well, there’s Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan and … well … have you heard about Ryan Zimmerman? The good news about teams like the Nationals is that literally everyone besides the superstars qualify as sleepers Ian Desmond can sneak through the cracks. Desmond is the 24-year-old rookie shortstop who had a coming out party last season in Double- and Triple-A, with a .354 batting average in 55 Triple-A games. In National League-only leagues, he’s an intriguing upside play at shortstop – even more so in keeper leagues.
Brian Bruney is someone else we’ve profiled as a potential sleeper, but again, only in deep NL-only leagues, as he’s the closer in waiting for now.
Jose Reyes could be a good target is his asking price has crashed due to injury concerns. David Wright will probably cost full value though: Bloomberg Sports and other projection systems expect a full recovery, despite last year’s career-low 10 home runs. Assuming Citi Field doesn’t become a wasteland for hitters, Jason Bay should put up solid numbers too. Manager Jerry Manuel’s lineup fetishes will ding his RBI totals, though. Manuel had Bay batting fifth on Opening Day, behind an ugly collection of bats that included Alex Cora, Luis Castillo and Mike Jacobs.
On the pitching side, Johan Santana‘s value depends on his valuation: Do your leaguemates still see him as one of the top three starters in the game, or can he now be had at a discount? Santana’s rotation mates are avoidable in shallower leagues. Meanwhile, Francisco Rodriguez isn’t the dominant closer he used to be; don’t overpay.
For more on Hanley Ramirez and the rest of the NL East, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy baseball kits.
Going into last season, Ricky Nolasco‘s solid rookie campaign pointed to a budding star poised to make a large fantasy impact. He finished the year with a solid 13-9 record for a decent Florida Marlins club, but also put up a disappointing 5.06 ERA — a full run and a half higher than his previous season.
Some might see Nolasco’s extremely large jump in BABIP from .284 in 2008 to .336 in 2009 and his impressive FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching – a measure that runs on a similar scale to ERA but strips out factors such as defense, run and bullpen support) of 3.35 for the year as signs of a particularly unlucky season and thus expect regression to the mean this year. But there’s more to it than that. The key is to look at the splits.
The disparity between his April/May and June/July splits is quite astonishing. Nolasco posted a huge 6.49 FIP in May coupled with an absurd BABIP of .418 and a left-on-base percentage of 37.6%. This means that 62.4% of batters that reached base against Nolasco ended up scoring! Compare this with one month later, when all of those stats fell faster than stock in Toyota. In June and July, Nolasco saw his BABIP fall to around .300 and his LOB% rise to a solid 75%. His FIP fell below 3.00. So what happened? We know that he was not injured, so the answer must have involved his mechanics.
Whatever it was did not seem to affect Nolasco’s ability to hit the strike zone. Bloomberg Sports’ performance grid shows that his walks per nine innings (BB/9) stayed right around his career average. Instead, it appears the culprit was an inability to keep the ball down in the zone, as evidenced by his flyball percentage (FB%), which jumped to 50%, from his usual average of about 41%. Needless to say, this is a big problem for a major league pitcher, especially one that depends on a dominant slider as one of his go to pitches.
If a slider is thrown properly it should have significant lateral movement as well as diving action, causing hitters to swing over top of the ball and drive it into the ground, or miss it completely. However, delivery issues could significantly hinder a pitcher’s ability to achieve this breaking action. When thrown poorly a slider will stay flat and be easily distinguished by the hitter, (as explained in detail here) which is what appears to have happened to Nolasco.
The increased FB% and a drop of two strikeouts per nine innings, to 7 from 9, indicates that batters were able to square up his pitches far more often then normal. Instead of hitters rolling over his breaking stuff and driving it into the ground, they were able to make more solid contact — and Nolasco struggled as a result. The Bloomberg Sports hits per nine innings chart (H/9) shows just how bad it got for him. At one point he was giving up five more hits than the league average. The H/9 chart also shows a strong correlation with the BABIP chart. This is a clear indication that what many thought was a run of bad luck, was also the result of bad pitching.
On May 22, Nolasco was sent down to Triple-A to work out his issues, and whatever adjustments were made worked out well. After he returned on June 7, Nolasco saw a return to his old results. His flyball rates fell in both June and July, bottoming out at 24.1%, his groundball rate skyrocketed to 54.2%, and his K/9 returned to its normal rate of better than 9.0. During this time Nolasco achieved a miniscule 2.34 FIP.
In 2010 it won’t be better luck, or better fielding that enables Ricky Nolasco to return to the mean, and the hearts of fantasy managers. Look to see if he can become more consistent in his delivery. If he can do this, he will make a very solid number two starting pitcher for any fantasy team.
by Eno Sarris
A well-worn strategy for fantasy baseball is to wait on steals. Why pick a Michael Bourn (Average Draft Position = 87.38) early when Juan Pierre (ADP 232.91) might give you comparable statistics much later?
In that vein, it pays to examine late-round steals options, and it doesn’t get much later than Cameron Maybin (288.25). To be fair, it’s not exactly an active market that late in a draft, as ADPs in the high 200s are not nearly as stable as ADPs earlier in the draft; Maybin goes as early as 200 according to Mock Draft Central. To help hedge your emotional investment in Maybin, we’ll identify a couple of other late options for steals, too. That way you can wait on the risky speed-only picks as long as possible and feel optimistic about landing one of them.
Back to Maybin. Remember back on December 5, 2007, when the announcement came through the wire that the Florida Marlins had traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for a package headlined by Maybin and left-handed top-shelf prospect Andrew Miller? At the time, the consensus was that this was a Big Boy trade – top prospects for top players. It’s hard to separate the outcomes of the involved players from your appraisal of the trade when it occurred – as Rob Neyer so eloquently pointed out last week – so we won’t try too hard. We’ll just note that the shine has dimmed a bit on this trade in the interim, and it now seems to contain the worst parts of the business of swapping upside for currently performing talent. Sometimes the upside isn’t what you thought it was, and sometimes the current talent is not all it’s cracked up to be, either. (Sometimes the talent goes drinking before a big game, or develops Steve Blass disease.)
Maybin, in the meantime, has gone from the prospect that couldn’t miss to the prospect that couldn’t NOT miss: His career strikeout rate in the major leagues is 31.1%. To put that in perspective, Adam Dunn‘s career strikeout rate is 32.1%. The highest batting average of a player that struck out more than 30% last year was Ryan Howard‘s .279.
This has been a problem for Maybin his whole career, as he owns a 27.9% strikeout rate in the minor leagues as well. Looking through our rose-colored glasses, we can point to the fact that Maybin cut that rate to 19.5% last year in Triple-A. But even when dealing with that sample size we also have to admit that his 29% strikeout rate in the major leagues last year was just about the same as it ever was. There’s still room for growth, as Maybin is just 22 years old, with 257 career MLB at-bats under his belt. Still, without some luck on batted balls, it’s hard to envision Maybin hitting for a high average in 2010.
That said, Maybin’s Spider Graph from the Bloomberg Fantasy Tools shows that it’s not all about batting average. Of course, the spider graph also shows that Maybin comes up short in all categories currently.
Ouch. Even with a graph predicated on a mere 200-odd plate appearances in 2009, this is a damning appraisal of his skills. Let’s reach for those rose-colored glasses again and see if we can find reasons to be optimistic.
For one, we know he has speed, as he stole 81 bases on a 79% success rate in the minor leagues. So far he’s 10-for-13 in major league attempts, so that bodes well.
But what about his power and patience at the plate? If he exhibits those skills, we can forgive the batting average risk and enjoy the home runs and steals. The patience we’ll deal with first because patience usually translates to the major leagues eventually. Maybin has walked in 12.2% of his minor league plate appearances, and 8% of his major league PAs, so far. Given that the league average last year was 8.9%, gaining those extra walks will be important for the young center fielder.
Now, the power. His minor league isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average, ISO shows the non-singles a player produced) was .171. If Maybin can put up that number in the major leagues, he’d have power that was comparable to, say Jimmy Rollins (.173 ISO in 2009) or Brandon Phillips (.171 ISO in 2009). Go a little further up the list, though, and you get a good comp for Maybin – Nate McLouth. McLouth has a little more power (.194 career ISO), also strikes out a lot (over 20% in his first two seasons), walks around 10% of the time (9.3% career) and puts up the same kind of power/speed combo with a poor batting average (.260 career) that we might expect out of Maybin. Walk the power back a little, and push the speed forward a little, and you’ve got Maybin’s upside right now. (Mike Cameron (11.1% career BB%, 27.9% career K%, .198 career ISO) would make a good comp, but his speed is waning as he enters his 16th year in the bigs.
If you look at the different Maybin projections around the Web, you have the upper bounds defined by Bill James (as usual): .286 with 10 home runs and 14 stolen bases. To see the projections on the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool, go to the Draft Kit, then pick the Draft List, then Search Mode. Then toggle the switch from picture view to grid view (midway up on left side). Then you can choose 2010 projections and sort by whichever stat or player you like or pick the groups like ‘Rising,’ ‘Falling,’ or ‘Sleepers.’
Add it all together and you get a player who could easily hit around .270 with up to 15 home runs and more than 20 steals this year. Nate-McLouth-lite is sounding like a good comparison right now – except you can get Maybin much, much later in your draft. If you want to wait really long for your steals, Maybin has some good upside and makes a solid late-round pick.
r other young speedsters you can nab late.)
For more information on Cameron Maybin and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.