by Eno Sarris //
He has plenty of upside over the rest of his career. He’s very exciting and he’s young (22). He has excellent plate discipline. He looks like an athletic masher. He can play a fine corner outfield. But Jason Heyward is over-rated when it comes to his production over the rest of this season. And the key is where he’s hitting the ball.
First, let’s go over the components of batting average.
One component is contact, since the batting average on a strikeout is zero. Heyward is striking out almost exactly as much (24.3%) as he did last year (24.6%), and both numbers are worse than the national average (20% most years). He also whiffs on more swings (10%) than the average hitter (8.5%), so his per-pitch numbers support the fact that he makes contact at a below-average rate. Only four qualified batters that have struck out over 24% of the time this year have a batting average over .280, and among those four, the lowest BABIP is .344. If one or two of them still end up with a good batting average by the end of the year, that small group probably won’t include Heyward.
Another part of batting average is speed. Heyward is an athletic fellow, and has 15 stolen bases so far in his young career. He’s also only been successful on 65% of his attempts, which is below the break-even point — you need to get the extra base twice out of every three times to make the gamble ‘worth it.’ Bill James has a four-component speed score that uses triples, runs, stolen bases and stolen base success rates to judge a player’s speed in the context of the league. A 5.0 speed score is average. Heyward has a 4.8 so far in his career. He’s got average speed, but not enough that you can expect him to beat out a slow dribbler to short.
The last component of batting average is also important for the rest of non-batting average value: power. He’ll steal some bases, he might even up that batting average a little once his current BABIP (.263) moves, but that power is the key to his value the rest of this year. We know that fly balls offer more power — around 10% of them leave the park, and they have a much higher slugging percentage than ground balls (.547 to .252 around the league this year). Well, Heyward just hits too many ground balls. He’s now hit 55% of his balls on the ground over his first season and a half. He’s also hit close to two ground balls to every fly ball so far.
That would be good enough to be the tenth-highest ground-ball rate in the major leagues among qualified batters this year. Only eleven players hit two ground balls for every fly ball. The most powerful player above him on either of these lists is Yunel Escobar with his .416 slugging percentage and .140 ISO. It’s not great company if you’re expecting power. Last year, Heyward used a 17.8% line drive rate and 16.8% HR/FB rate to muscle 18 balls over the wall. This year, those numbers are 13.6% and 15.9% respectively, and he might need a little luck to manage the same home run pace.
Unfortunately for most of his fantasy owners, the Atlanta outfielder wasn’t valued as a .275-hitting, 18-home-run having, average-speed showing outfielder this year. As he ages and puts more weight on his frame and more loft in his swing, it’s obvious that this young man with a keen eye and a line drive stroke will achieve greater heights. But this year? In a re-draft league? It might be time to shop him.
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By Tommy Rancel //
A mid-season power outage (which coincided with a thumb sprain) left Jason Heyward short of the power expectations some had for the windshield-shattering prospect. Before his original thumb injury (which occurred in lay May), Heyward smashed nine home runs in his first 158 plate appearances with a .580 slugging percentage. Post-injury, he hit nine home runs in 485 plate appearances and slugged just .414. Even with a few nagging injuries, the man-child posted a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .277/.393/.456 with 52 extra-base hits over his first 623 major league plate appearances.
Despite having a batting average below .280, Heyward displayed excellent on-base skills with an OBP of near .400. His lack of age and experience did not prevent him from showing a a mature batting eye, walking nearly 15% of the time. While his batting average came it at .277, Heyward was very successful when putting the ball in play.
His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .335 was well above the league average which falls around .300. Normally, when a player hits for such a high BABIP it is a cause for concern in regards to regression; however, in the case of the athletic and hard-hitting Heyward regression is not automatic.
Heyward maintained a higher-than-usual BABIP with a relatively normal line drive rate. Sometimes when a player hits an unsustainable amount of line drives, a quick and steep regression is likely to follow. In this case, the J-Hey Kid had a high BABIP with a large amount of groundballs. For a player without speed (remember back to our article on Joey Votto) this could be a problem. Meanwhile, Heyward has good speed even though large amounts of steals have never been a part of his game. That said, Heyward could still see some batting average fluctuation.
Some owners may have concerns about Heyward’s durability. In addition to the thumb sprain that landed him on the disabled list, he also battled some knee and groin issues The good news is in the 320 plate appearances after his stint on the disabled list. he hit .302 with seven home runs.. Even if he becomes a player who takes an annual 15-day vacation because of nagging injuries, the level of production when healthy makes up for it.
Though he is no longer the unknown phenom, Heyward is one of the most exciting young players in baseball. And though he did not take many steal attempts, the potential for a 25HR/15SB season is still there. Even with the lingering thumb issue, target him in the mid-rounds of your draft as a solid OF2 or OF3 option depending on the size of your league.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Omar Infante
Omar Infante came out of nowhere to make the All-Star team and provide fantasy owners with a an average over .300 and eligibility all over the field, which qualifies as much more of a positive surprise than any other hitter on the team (other than the Say-Hey Kid listed below perhaps). Martin Prado was a bit of a question mark going in because of mediocre minor league stats and a lack of an extensive track record, but Prado managed to keep spraying line drives all over the field (.307/.350/.459) and looks like a strong middle-tier second baseman going forward.
Biggest Bust: Nate McLouth
Nate McLouth easily qualifies for this title, as he struggled at the plate and with injuries all year and won’t crack double-digits in homers or steals by the end of the year, despite having a 20-20 season on his record. A bit of a late-season comeback helped, and a .218 batting average on balls in play points to a very unlucky season. Still, McLouth isn’t good enough defensively to handle center field nor offensive to handle a corner outfield spot. He may never again be fantasy-relevant in standard mixed leagues.
2011 Keeper Alert: Jason Heyward
We can’t go any further without talking about wunderkind Jason Heyward. The 21-year-old played with a maturity beyond his years, and his .278/.394/.457 line is nothing other than amazing given his age. Expect the patience to continue, the power to embiggen and for Heyward to eventually mature into a first-round pick in fantasy baseball.
2011 Regression Warning: Alex Gonzalez
At 33 years old, Alex Gonzalez has hit a career high with 23 home runs, with a strong .453 slugging percentage. Given his age and track record, those numbers will likely come down, and his poor plate discipline will sap him of most of his value. Meanwhile, Infante won’t once again have batted ball luck like he did in 2010, and batting average provides most his value. Neither middle infielder will be a great option next year.
By Tommy Rancel //
While some fan bases prepare for a final month of playoff races, Pittsburgh Pirates fans are nearing the end of the franchise’s 18th consecutive losing season. This means the Pirates have been bottom dwellers for the entire life span of most high school seniors. However, we’re not here to focus on the past, but rather, the future. Namely, the future of Pedro Alvarez.
After years of misses at the top of the draft, the Pirates selected Alvarez in 2008. The former Vanderbilt teammate of Rays ace David Price is already a regular in the Pittsburgh lineup. Some questions remain about which side of the diamond he’ll play down the road, but for now, the 23-year-old the man at the hot corner for the Buccos.
Before signing his pro contract, Alvarez and his agent Scott Boras made plenty of headlines, In the end, though, he made his major league debut with relatively little hype. Despite lacking the media coverage of Jason Heyward (to say nothing of Stephen Strasburg) upon his debut, Alvarez has been one of this year’s most productive rookies, coming close to Heyward’s level of production.
Heyward has hit 14 home runs in 105 games, while Alvarez has smashed 10 bombs in just 60 contests. The J-Hey Kid is currently hitting a home run once every 27 at-bats, while Alvarez is averaging one every 21 ABs.
In addition to the home runs, Alvarez is doing an above-average job of driving in runs. The league average for driving in baserunners is 14%. Heyward is at 16%, Alvarez at 18%. An 18% baserunners scored rate rivals that of Evan Longoria, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Miguel Cabrera. If we were to expand his home run and RBI rate over a full season, we would be talking nearly 30 home runs and 100 RBI.
Of course, we only have about one-fifth of the season remaining, so full-season projections mean little right now. On the other hand, Alvarez could add another 5-7 home runs, and drive in another 15-20 runs over the final six weeks of the season.
Going back to the Heyward comparison, Hotbox.com says the Braves rookie is owned in 77% of leagues – while Alvarez is owned is less than 5%. If you need some production down the stretch in a deep mixed or NL-only league, make sure you sneak Alvarez onto your roster before the playoffs start.
For more on Pedro Alvarez and other talented rookies flying under the radar, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By R.J. Anderson
Let’s take a look at three much-hyped prospects and their potential to make fantasy impacts in 2010 and beyond. Worth noting: Since all three players aren’t sure bets to go north with their major league clubs (two are near shoo-ins for demotions), they do not own B-Ranks. The entire equation changes if the league is of the keeper variety though, so keep that in mind.
SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Strasburg is being drafted 287th overall in non-keeper leagues, despite the Nationals’ stated intention to send him to the minors for mysterious reasons that allegedly have enough to do with money or service time and Strasburg’s lack of professional experience beyond the Arizona Fall League and spring training bullpen sessions. Bloomberg Sports still projects Strasburg projected to finish in the top 200 of wins, games started, innings pitched, walks, and strikeouts. An ERA projection over 6.00 is hard to take seriously, but again, the guy hasn’t thrown a pitch in minor league baseball, so anointing him as a fantasy stud this year is a reach. The lack of available data on him aside, Strasburg’s electric stuff and the Nationals’ desperate need to generate some excitement make his chances of seeing the majors at some point this year something like 95%.
OF Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Strasburg’s division mate, Heyward could be an Atlanta Brave on Opening Day. The conservative projection for the Braves’ outfield has Melky Cabrera, Nate McLouth, and Matt Diaz starting, with Eric Hinske backing them up. None of those players are nearly as skilled as Heyward, and right field looks conveniently open for when the 20-year-old slugger ascends to the majors. Of the three vaunted prospects, Heyward seems the least likely to disappoint in 2010.
OF Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
Unlike Strasburg and Heyward, Jennings is not only far less likely to see much – if any – major league time this year, he also has no place on the big league club. The Rays have the immensely talented Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton playing left and center field respectively, and two extremely serviceable players in Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler to platoon in right. Jennings finds himself in the same spot Joyce did last season, blocked because of a numbers game. A dazzling defender with great plate discipline and speed, Jennings has a history of injuries that could hold him back as well. If you’re looking for rookie outfield help this season, look to Heyward, or possibly the Florida Marlins’ Mike Stanton instead.
Drafting prospects always carries risk, and these three cases are no different. As with any fantasy baseball decision, consider the value proposition. If your leaguemates fall victim to hype, don’t get into a bidding war for Strasburg, Heyward or Jennings. If all it will cost you is a late-round pick and a bench spot, Heyward and Strasburg are both worth a shot; Jennings too, if your league is deep enough.