Results tagged ‘ Milwaukee Brewers ’

The Prince’s Pop

By R.J. Anderson //

Over the last three seasons Prince Fielder has hit 130 home runs; or a home run for every 16.1 plate appearances. This season, though, Fielder has hit 15 homers in 340 trips to the plate; a jack per 22.7 plate appearances. Not only that, but Fielder’s .206 ISO would represent the lowest figure of his career since becoming a full-time player. ISO generally stabilizes after 350 plate appearances; with the season nearly halfway over, is it time to start getting concerned about Fielder’s lacking power?

The first thing most analysts will look for when examining a power loss is the percentage of home runs per fly balls hit. Fielder’s HR/FB% is currently a tick more than 17%. This is lower than expected when compared to his career figure of 20.1%. Even when one breaks Fielder’s rates down on a seasonal basis, it shows that this is a low rate of homers per balls in the air:

2006: 15.8%

2007: 23.9%

2008: 18.2%

2009: 23.1%

Fielder is hitting the same number of flyballs as his career rate and also the same number of groundballs. His batting average on balls in play is relatively steady too, meaning he’s not being robbed on screaming liners in the gap, or at least it doesn’t seem like it. Fielder’s just not having as many balls clear the wall as usual.

Given his big build and specific skill set, some would point to this as the beginning of the end for Fielder’s elite status. That seems overly pessimistic. Fielder is only 26 years old and while his belt is roughly the size of an asteroid belt, that doesn’t mean he’d suddenly lose power.

The popular comparison here would be Mo Vaughn. A barrel-chested, lefty-swinging first baseman with a belly and power who reached the majors at a later point in his career than Fielder, Vaughn enjoyed similar success. He hit at least 25 home runs in every season he recorded 450 or more plate appearances. It was in 2003 that injuries swamped Vaughn’s usefulness and he eventually retired, inconveniently early into his free agent contract with the Mets. But at the age of 26, Vaughn actually posted the best season of his career (to that point) with a slash line of .310/.408/.576. The big man could still hit, and did so into his early 30s.

Cecil Fielder is another popular comparison because, well, come on. Other than bloodlines, the pair don’t share too much in common. Besides, the elder Fielder also recorded the best season of his career as a 26-year-old, blasting 51 bombs for the Detroit Tigers. That suggests an early decline isn’t hereditary, nor is it a given based on his size. As this chart provided from FanGraphs shows, Prince is just having an unusual drop that the other two didn’t experience:

In the end, you should probably just keep Fielder on your roster, barring some unexpectedly massive trade offer. Expect some bounceback, because frankly there’s no reason not to.

For more on Prince Fielder and other power-hitting first basemen, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Buying into George Kottaras’ Small Sample Size

By Tommy Rancel //

Over the past few months we’ve warned about small sample sizes. This is especially true for veteran players with large career sample sizes, or big-named stars going through early-season slumps. However, there are certain times when you have to put sample size aside and jump in while the gettin’ is good. George Kottaras is a prime example of someone worth riding the sample size wave.

With Gregg Zaun out due to a torn labrum, the former San Diego Padres/Boston Red Sox farmhand is enjoying life as the Milwaukee Brewers primary backstop. It seems a little outlandish to get excited about a 27-year-old with 200 career plate appearances, but there is something very interesting about this career .234 hitter.

Though Kottaras has been ugly (.217), he’s been an on-base machine in the early stages of 2010, posting a .393 OBP to date. The secret to his success is simple; Kottaras likes to take 90-foot walks along the first-base line. In fact, nearly one-fourth of his plate appearances have ended in a base-on-balls.

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Kottaras showed a good eye in the minor leagues (12% walk rate in Triple-A), but not this good. Beyond the nearly 25% walk rate, he is laying off pitches out of the zone (13.6% O-swing, or swings outside of the strike zone), and not missing when he does swing (3.8% swinging-strike percentage). Another key aspect is getting ahead in the count. While the league-average hitter sees a first-pitch strike 59% of the time, Kottaras falls behind just 51%.

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Outside of the terrific patience, Kottaras is showing some nice pop at the plate. Twelve of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases, including five home runs. Of course, no one expects Kottaras to put up a .265 ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) for the duration of the season. That said, Kottaras belted 22 home runs as a minor leaguer in 2008. ZiPs projects him to hit a home run once every 28 plate appearances and a double once every 17. If he amasses 400 PAs this year, that would give him around 15 home runs and 21 doubles.

As for the low batting average, Kottaras has a lower than normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) – even for a catcher. The league-average BABIP is .297; Kottaras’ is a microscopic .197. With more line drives (9.0%), Kottaras is likely to see positive regression in his average.

Because of that low average, and Kottaras’ relative obscurity, he is barely owned in fantasy leagues. While we don’t expect him to continue walking at Barry Bonds-like levels, Kottaras is a buy-low candidate, especially in NL-only leagues.

If he levels out to an average hitter with gap power by season’s end, that would still make him one of the better offensive catchers in the senior circuit. On the other hand, there is a fair chance that Kottaras is a sample size anomaly. Regardless, this hot hand is definitely worth the risk in deeper leagues, given the low cost and the shallow talent pool at the position. 

For more on George Kottaras and other buy-low candidates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy tools.

Casey McGehee’s Fast Start

by Eno Sarris //

Sometimes a player outperforms his minor league numbers by such a wide margin that it’s tempting to call it a Cinderella story on par with the imaginations of Bill Murray in Caddyshack. At the same time, the urge to dismiss such performance as luck is very strong as well.

To be fair to Casey McGehee, he did have an impressive debut. In fact, his .859 OPS in 2009 was the third-best OPS put up by a 26-27 year old debuting at second or third base since 1901 – if you set a 350-at-bat and 15-home run threshold. That threshold is significant, though: The power is the most surprising part of his game, as we will see.

First, let’s appreciate how nicely McGehee is following up his debut season. Since McGehee is eligible at second base in most leagues, we can take a look at how he stacks up against other second sackers in the spider chart on the right from Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools. Sure, he’s not giving his owners many stolen bases, but otherwise he’s been more than solid. See those three dots clustered around McGehee in the scatter plot? They represent Dan Uggla, Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia. Heady company for the young Brewer.

But this sort of debut didn’t seem to be in the cards, based on his pre-major league career. His combined minor league line was .279/.332/.409; now, 518 plate appearances into his major league career, his line with the Brewers is .295/.355/.496. Maybe there’s something in the water (or beer) in Milwaukee. Of course the question is whether or not he can continue his elevated play, because those 2,800 minor league plate appearances weigh heavily against that proposition.

First, let’s look at his patience. McGehee has been showing an average walk rate in the majors (8.9%) and he’s bumped that up this year (12.1%) by not swinging… at anything. Swing rate is significant early in the season, and his 37% swing rate makes him the 20th-toughest player in baseball to coax into a swing this year. While he didn’t have great OBPs in the minor leagues, McGehee had above-average walk rates many years. Combined with his current swing rate, it looks like he’s become a more patient hitter and that his nice OBPs may continue.

The million dollar question, however, is if he will continue to show the same power. His isolated power (SLG% – BA) is .257 this year, .200 for his major league career, and .130 for his minor league career. That’s a stark difference right there. A quick check of the sample sizes needed for certain statistics to become significant shows us that ISO is one of the last offensive statistics to do so. In fact, McGehee has not yet reached the level of plate appearances at which his ISO would become significant, counting his career major league plate appearances (let alone one month worth of data this season). In other words, other players that racked up fewer than 550 plate appearances had an ISO that was less than 70% correlated with their future ISOs.

The strongest sign that McGehee’s performance will start correcting is his HR/FB rate. Right now he’s hitting fewer than a third of his balls in the air, yet 18.5% of them are leaving the park. That percentage is on par with Justin Upton, Adrian Gonzalez, and Evan Longoria, some of the most powerful sluggers in the game.

Unfortunately for McGehee and his owners, that’s the part of his game most likely to regress toward the mean. McGehee would still remain a playable option in mixed leagues if his power numbers fall back to Earth. But if someone in your league sees him as an elite infield option, you should consider looking into a trade.

For more on Casey McGehee, Martin Prado and other players outperforming their minor league statistics, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools. McGeheeGrab.jpg 

Bloomberg Sports 2010 National League Central Preview

By Tommy Rancel

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


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St. Louis Cardinals

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

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

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

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Chicago Cubs

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

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

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

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


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Cincinnati Reds

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

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

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


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Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

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

 


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Houston Astros

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

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

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

 


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Pittsburgh Pirates

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

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

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

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

Running with the Wolf (Pack)?

By Eno Sarris

Because of the volatility of the position
and the sheer number of available starters, it’s usually a good idea to
wait to draft your pitching in the middle rounds. Finding a 13th-round starter that cam match Randy Wolf‘s 2009 performance is the goal. Let’s look at one starter who could match Wolf’s ’09 numbers this season: Wolf, again.

The
33-year-old left-handler owns a B-Rank (Bloomberg’s proprietary ranking
of all players) of 160. That’s slightly ahead of his 174.70 average
draft position as supplied by the Bloomberg Fantasy Sports Engine.
That means Wolf he figures to come reasonably cheap despite posting
strong numbers in 2009: a 3.23 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 11 wins and 160
strikeouts. Compare those numbers to Gavin Floyd, who owns a 136
B-Rank on the heels of his 4.06 ERA and 1.23 WHIP last season, and you would be
forgiven for thinking that Wolf is a value pick.

You’d be forgiven, but you’d probably be wrong.

There
are plenty of warning signs emanating from this Wolf in wolf’s
clothing. The first should be obvious from his injury history. Take a
look at Corey Dawkin’s Pitch f/x Injury Tool,
and
you’ll see an extensive list of elbow problems (seven separate
trips to the DL over his 11-year career, 453 days lost to the DL,
and three arm and shoulder surgeries, including Tommy John surgery in
2005). Per his Bloomberg player card, you can also see that Wolf threw
the second-most pitches of his career last year (3,286); the last time
he threw that many pitches in a season, he lost 40 innings to injury
the next
year.

The warning signs are not only injury-related. There are plenty of
worrisome numbers too. Check out this chart from the Bloomberg’s Fantasy
engine, which shows Wolf’s strikeouts and ERA versus the top ten NL
pitchers.

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As
you can see, Wolf sports a decent, but not great strikeout rate: 6.72
strikeouts per 9 IP, vs. the major-league average of 6.99 in 2009.

MLB’s average batting average on balls
in play (BABIP) usually comes in around .300 – it  was .303 in 2009. Wolf’s career number in that category is
.294. Last year? Wolf posted a career-best .257 BABIP, tied for the lowest in baseball among qualified starting pitchers with Jarrod Washburn. That’s likely an unsustainable figure.

And
it gets worse – Wolf is moving
from a park with a .876 park factor for home runs (meaning Dodger
Stadium suppressed home runs by 12.4%) to a park with a 1.069 park
factor for home runs (hitters gain a 6.9% edge with the long ball).
That means that just based on park factor alone,
Wolf is likely to yield several more home runs in 2010. When you
consider that Wolf’s home run rate last year (1.01 HR/9) was better
than his career mark (1.13 HR/9), you’ll see how he benefited from
pitching in Dodger
Stadium. Lastly, Wolf stranded 77.5% of base runners
last year, which was much better than the league average (71.9%).
Wolf’s strand rate was 16th-highest in the majors, and much higher than
his career
number (73.5% LOB).

So, once you take a harder look at Randy
Wolf, you realize that much of his success last year was
context-specific. He had a great defense behind him in a great
pitcher’s park last year, and had
some good luck on balls in play. Look somewhere else for your mid-round
value starting
pitcher in 2010.

For more information on pitchers that are better values than Randy Wolf, and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy application.

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