by Eno Sarris //
On the heels of a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s tempting to get excited about Johnny Cueto.
But fantasy owners – and the baseball world in general – have been
excited about Cueto before. And, hey, it’s the Pirates.
his 10-strikeout, zero-walk debut in his rookie season, all sorts of
people prognosticated greatness for the effectively wild hurler. In
fact, Rob Neyer wrote about ‘signature significance’ –
the idea that one performance can be so great that it means something
for the career of the performer. While the article Neyer was quoting
mentioned Jason Bere and Luke Hudson, he did make the
excellent point that perhaps there was more significance when the
pitcher was as young as Cueto was (22). Cueto’s rookie ERA did not live up to the hype created by his first start, but he did put up a
8.17 K/9 that seemed to portend good times ahead.
Fast forward to this spring, and the optimism wasn’t nearly that strong. His Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools‘
B-Rank going into the season was only 183. That was largely due to his tepid sophomore season in 2009 which produced a much less
exciting strikeout rate of 6.93 per nine innings, as well as another ERA on the wrong
side of four. His home park hasn’t helped – Great American Ballpark
has averaged a 1.25 park factor for home runs
since 2007, meaning that the park augments home runs by 25%.
Nevertheless, Cueto gave up 1.26 home runs per nine innings last year, with a 1.36 rate for his career. He seems to have a bit of a homer problem, but if he was striking out a batter per inning we’d probably forgive him his trespasses.
So what gives? We’ve talked about post-hype sleepers before. Can Cueto recover all that promise that we once thought he had?
take a look at the pitching mix, one area we have identified as a part
of the game that young pitchers can mess with in order to improve the
effectiveness of their overall arsenal. In 2009, Cueto was almost a
two-pitch pitcher. He threw his fastball 60.9% of the time and his
slider 28.9% of the time. Strangely, it was his change-up, which he only
threw 9.3% of the time, that got the best whiff rate (14.1%).
2010, he’s thrown his two-seam or four-seam fastball 58.7% of the time,
his slider 31.9% of the time, and his change-up 9.3% of the time. The
mix is largely similar, but the extra use of the slider is worth
noting. While the slider got just slightly above-average strikeout
rates in 2009 (9.7%), the pitch is inching its way back towards elite
territory this year (12.2%). Guess the slider’s rate of whiffs in 2008: 15.8%. His fastball whiff rate is also into double digits after languishing at 5.8% last year. Cueto’s increased whiff rates have led to his strikeout rate inching forward to 7.07 K/9 this year. As you can see
from the screenshot above, this new K-rate puts him in the middle of the
top-10 pitchers’ pack in terms of strikeout and walk rates.
We return now to his
start against the Pirates. Of the 102 pitches in that game, Cueto threw 73 fastballs, 24
sliders and five change-ups. He got four whiffs on the slider for 17% and 14 whiffs on 73 fastballs for 19.2%. It
seems that his nice whiff rate was a big part of his good night.
The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools
just added a Trade Analyzer.
On the left you’ll see a trio of players that the trade machine
suggests might match up with Cueto as trade options. If you have the
chance to trade Mark Buehrle or Rick Porcello for Cueto, now would seem like the time to pull the trigger. The
slider is getting whiffs again, which seems to be a big part of his
original promise. If he can regain the slidepiece stuff that made us
all drool in 2008, he’ll be a boon to fantasy managers in 2010.
For more about trades that might net you Johnny Cueto, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
by Eno Sarris
We close out our post-hype infield with Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta. Just to recap, that was Chris Davis at first base, Rickie Weeks at second base, Stephen Drew at shortstop, and Alex Gordon at third base.
As I mentioned before, this is not a strategy to try at home. I was
hoping to find one or two good, young and cost-controlled infielders in
a league with contracts and 15 keepers, so I had to try something. (Gotta love Weeks’ huge first week.)
Iannetta presents a mixed bag of positive and negative indicators. Yes, he has a slightly worrisome fellow backstop in Miguel Olivo. But Olivo has established himself as a prolific outmaker throughout his career.
As evidence that the team still believes in their young catcher, the Rockies gave Iannetta a three-year contract in January.
Iannetta came tearing through
the Rockies’ minor league system and has held the Catcher of the Future
title there for a while now. An accomplished college catcher that was around average age at each level of the minor leagues, his .303/.409/.511 career
line there was still impressive. After struggling to hit for power or
batting average in his first two attempts at the majors, he
had a breakout 2008, hitting .264/.390/.505 with 18 home runs in
407 plate appearances. So, in fact, Iannetta has already been a
post-hype sleeper before and come through with a great year. Now, after
a less impressive .228/.344/.460 and just 350 PAs last season, he’s once again
undervalued. Take a look at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool, which shows how cheap he is compared to other possible top-10 catchers this year – increasing the likelihood that he could be available on the waiver wire in your shallow league.
what changed in 2009? Why did Iannetta’s batting average suddenly plunge the year after establishing himself? Once again, the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool,
with some recently added stats, gives us great insight into his 2009
struggles. As you can see from this screen shot, Iannetta suffered from
terrible luck on the balls in play last year. He walked with about the same
frequency as he did the year before, struck out a little less, had a similar
isolated slugging percentage (.241 in 2008, .232 in 2009) and looked
like the same hitter in general. However, he had a .245 batting average
on balls in play (BABIP) in 2009, and his career number in that
category is .283.
Even though BABIP holds steady around .300 across all of baseball, each player has their own true level. Ichiro Suzuki‘s
BABIP (.357) is a great example of this. Using a players’ batted ball
profile and speed, however, we can estimate a player’s BABIP.
Iannetta’s xBABIP last year? .303. It seems that Iannetta had some
rotten luck last year.
Given that Iannetta held his power
steady in both 2008 and 2009, and showed the same control of the strike
zone both years, it seems to follow that he can put in another campaign
that looks like 2008, once the BABIP normalizes. With an
acceptable batting average (for a catcher, a position where the average
line was .253/.320/.394 last year), fantasy owners will benefit from
getting his above-average power cheaply.
And yet, there’s that pesky timeshare. If you’re an optimist, though, you can look at the current situation this way: Iannetta’s lack of playing time means he might not be owned in many shallow leagues. So if you’re a Miguel Montero owner and you’re looking for a replacement at catcher, don’t chase first-week stats by proven mediocrities like Rod Barajas. Take a shot on someone with real upside. Someone like Chris Iannetta.
For more information on Chris Iannetta and other underrated catchers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit for yourself.
by Eno Sarris
Think back to 2006. That quaint comedy Beerfest was taking the country by storm while we were all saying prayers for Barbaro’s quick recovery. Faint memories of a movie called Little Miss Sunshine waft through the house like the scent of apple cobbler. Ah, those were the days.
Those were also the last days that featured Alex Gordon as The Future of the Royals Franchise. He was tearing up the minor leagues at the time, a number-two pick overall making good on his promise with a stellar .325/.427/.588 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line in Double-A. Fans of the powde -blue were practically salivating at the thought of the new George Brett rescuing the franchise. Gordon was the epitome of the hyped prospect and was being penciled in for the 2007 Rookie of the Year hardware before the season began.
Unfortunately this story was not going to be without some speed bumps. Gordon produced an underwhelming .247/.314/.411 major league stat line in 2007. Though he played a decent third base and was actually an above-average player when appraised as a whole, the hype balloon was popped. If his second season’s line, .260/.351/.432, was also not very inspiring, and last season his year was cut short by an injury, why is there hope for Gordon to have a good year this season? He’s currently hurt – could his stock fall any lower? Take a look at the graphical representation of his 2009 compared to other major league batters in the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kit. Yuck.
a player on the hopes of a rags-to-riches journey is always enticing for a fantasy player
looking for value. Consider that Gordon actually showed some signs of
life between his first two years, and you’ll find that his 189-plate appearance season in 2009 is not enough to write those gains
off. If you instead focus on his first two years, here’s a short list
of underlying statistics that Gordon improved in his sneaky-good
sophomore season: walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated power, line drive
percentage, fly ball percentage, home runs per fly ball, reach rate,
and contact percentage.
That’s a lot of improvement. In other
words, Gordon walked more, struck out less, reached at fewer balls outside the strike zone, and hit the
ball higher, further and harder. Isn’t that the kind of improvement you want from your best prospect? There’s reason for a bit of concern after last season, and Gordon’s health needs to be watched. Still, there’s reason for hope too.
Looking at his minor league
numbers and you might still expect super-stardom from Gordon, but there is
a slight asterisk that must come into play. As an accomplished college
star, Gordon hit Double-A at 22 years old (the average age of his league that year was 24).
Age matters when considering a player’s statistics in the minor leagues
– if a teenager is holding his own against top talent (like Elvis Andrus, who was 19 in the same league in 2008, or Jason Heyward
hitting the majors at 19), he gets extra credit. If a guy in his
mid-20s comes in and destroys younger pitching, his stats lose a
tiny bit of luster. Have some fun and check Kevin Maas‘ minor league statistics and the picture becomes clearer.
any case, the positives here still outweigh the negatives, as nebulous
as Gordon’s future may seem. Gordon has a good bit of power, a little
bit of speed, plays an important position, and has an improving
approach at the plate. The ending of this movie has not yet been
written, and it may just yet be the story of a Post-Hype Sleeper that
For more information on Alex Gordon and other cheap third-sackers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kit for yourself.
by Eno Sarris
We continue our way around the infield after examining the post-hype prognoses for Chris Davis and Rickie Weeks. It’s about time that I admit my dark secret – I actually own a fantasy team that features all of these players around the horn on the infield. As I joked on this podcast with the folks at BaseballPress, this is not a strategy to try at home, and it’s only the particulars of this league that forced me into a corner. On the other hand, finding an undervalued player that has shown elite skills in the past for a bargain price is useful in any league.
So does Stephen Drew count? He has certainly shown plenty of strong attributes at the plate – but not in the same season. If he puts these disparate parts of his game together, though, he could become an impact player at shortstop. It’s been shown by researcher Tom Tango that a player’s peak age range is 27 through 29. Lo and behold, Drew is 27. Could this be his year?
There’s a bit of a split between Bloomberg Sports’ projections for Drew and the wisdom of the crowd on this one. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kit projects Drew for an underwhelming .268 batting average, albeit with 18 home runs. Shown graphically to the left, these numbers don’t combine to instill confidence. In what is perhaps a nod to the fact that manager A.J. Hinch is thinking of batting Drew second this year, he is projected for a decent 80 runs. Are those runs scored combined with the poor batting average and mediocre home run total enough to make fantasy owners right for drafting him more than 100 spots earlier than his B-Rank (B-Rank 229, ADP 127.6)?
There’s obviously some value in his complete package of skills. His skills looks better on a Bloomberg Sports spider graph, where you can see how he stacks up in the offensively-challenged position of shortstop. Even that graph might be selling Drew short, though.
Take his batting average. Not only has he hit .291 before (in 2008), but he’s shown the different components of being able to do it again. Check out his reach rates (the percentage of swings at pitches outside of the zone) since he hit the majors: 30.6%, 21.8%, 28.2%, 22.3%. It may not be a surprise that his walk rate has oscillated similarly: 6.2%, 9.7%, 6.2%, 8.2%. On the plus side, one element of his game has steadily improved: His contact rate has risen from a poor 74.3% to a solid 84.2%.
What does it all mean for his batting average? it means that Drew is struggling with his aggressiveness but is making more and more contact as he figures it out. The recipe for a good year might just include a nice middle ground for his reach rate (say around 25%), an average walk rate (last year the ML average was 8.9%) and an above-average contact rate (the ML average was 80.5% last year). He’s done each piece before – it follows that he could hit each benchmark again, ideally in the same season.
Because he’s not a speedster (19 career stolen bases), the power is the other attractive part of Drew’s profile. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) has also jumped around more than Ozzie Guillen after a liter of Red Bull: .201, .133, .211, .167 (ML average is usually around .155). This is probably related to another component stat that Drew is struggling to harness: his line drive percentage (23.8%, 16.5%, 22.6%, 18.9%). It seems that his power rises and falls with his line drives. The lesson here is that he’s had nice line drive rates twice before – he can do it again.
Why would this year be the year that he once again puts together a good line drive rate with a strong approach at the plate and gives us something that looks like 2008 (or better)? Well, spring training stats are obviously a small sample size, but sometimes those mere 40 or 50 at-bats can give us hope. It is also worth mentioning that John Dewan has shown that about 75% of players that improve their slugging percentage by more than .200 in spring training go on to perform better than their career average during the upcoming season. Drew’s close. His slugging percentage this spring? .609. His career number? .445.
For more information on Stephen Drew and his fellow shortstops this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kit for yourself.
by Eno Sarris
Earlier this week, we took a look at the Post-Hype Sleeper label and some arguments for and against its existence. That led to an in-depth profile of Chris Davis and his hopes for a strong season. Now it’s time to take a look at a second baseman who has seemingly been all hype and disappointing performance for a decade now.
Will this finally be the year for Rickie Weeks? Seven years into his career, he’s still only 27, at an age when many players hit their prime. He’s been injury-prone and his batting average has oscillated between terrible and mediocre. But he’s also tantalized fantasy owners with good power and speed for stretches.
As you can see from the x-axis on the Demand vs. Scarcity chart from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Sports Tool below, Weeks is the latest-drafted three-star second baseman this year. Bloomberg Sports’ projections are pretty optimistic, as they predict a .267 average with 20 home runs and 19 steals. Those numbers result in a
B-Rank of 124; fantasy players have been more
skeptical, drafting him
much later (183.1 ADP). The sweet spot for drafting him then could be in the 14th or 15th round, in 12- or 10-team mixed leagues.
Still, skepticism remains. Last season actually looked like it might be his breakout year. A bit more than one-quarter of the way into the season, Weeks had hit nine home runs with a .272 batting average. But on May 18th, Weeks learned he had torn the tendon sheath on his wrist and would miss the rest of the season. Wrist injuries can sometimes take a long time to heal; at least Weeks has youth, and time – nearly a full year from his surgery to Opening Day 2010 – on his side.
Because of the small sample size that Weeks created in 2009, we have to take his early-season success with a grain of salt. Let’s instead look at the three years that led up to 2009 and see if there was improvement in some underlying categories for Weeks: power and contact.
Though his power has jumped around a little, there are two reasons to be optimistic. His 2008 Isolated Slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .164 was slightly above-average (the league-average ISO that year was .152). Weeks has shown the ability to put up near-.200 ISOs , though (.198 in 2007); both 2007 and 2008 were more powerful years than the first three of his career. Another reason for donning the rose-colored glasses is the fact that Weeks is hitting more balls in the air with every season. The general trend of his career has taken him from a worm-burner (30.8% flyball percentage in 2005) to more of a flyball hitter (43.5% last year). It wouldn’t take a big leap to make Weeks the cheapest 20-home-run second baseman in the game this year.
The biggest black mark on his career to date (save for his injury-prone nature) has been his struggle to make contact. Again, there’s reason for optimism. Save for last year’s small sample of a blip, Weeks has improved his contact rate every year he’s spent in the major leagues. Getting that rate up from 73.1% in 2005 to 78.1% in 2008 moved him from Adam Dunn territory (72.9% last year) to Kendry Morales‘ neighborhood (78.8% in 2009).
The fact that Weeks has improved his ability to make powerful contact is a real positive, and despite all the injuries, the upside is still there. Considering that he’s going just slightly before decent but unspectacular options like Orlando Hudson (B-Rank: 206) and still has the potential to double Hudson in the power and speed categories, the “Post-Hype Sleeper” label might just apply in this case.
by Eno Sarris
The concept of the post-hype sleeper is often bandied about in fantasy baseball circles. But its meaning is vague and even its very existence can be dubious. Most likely, it’s meant to apply to a player that had a pedigree coming up in the minor leagues that struggled upon facing the big boys at some point – and we all moved on.
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Once a player displays a skill, he owns it. That display could
occur at any time — earlier in his career, back in the minors, or even
in winter ball play. And while that skill may lie dormant after its
initial display, the potential is always there for him to tap back into
that skill at some point, barring injury or age. That dormant skill can
reappear at any time given the right set of circumstances.
So once a player shows us his prodigious power or excellent eye or speedy wheels, the argument goes, he can do it again – just give him the right set of circumstances and enough time. We all knew Russell Branyan had big power, for instance; it just took a black hole at first base in Seattle nine years into his career until he got a legitimate shot to launch 30-plus homers in a season.
Our own Eriq Gardner has countered the argument, calling it merely the remnants of the hype label being “more sticky than people realize.” He points to one article in particular by Joe Sheehan where he put the label on Felix Hernandez, Jeremy Hermida, Anthony Reyes, Andy Marte, and Zack Greinke. Of course, that wasn’t the year Hernandez or Greinke broke out, and it does show the peril of applying the label, particularly in the case of Hermida.
Finally we come to Chris Davis, a player that showed oodles of pop on the way up in the minor leagues (.306/.366/.585 combined AVG/OBP/SLG line in the minors). Davis then exploded onto the major league scene, hitting .285/.331/.549 in his rookie year of 2008. When he fizzled to a .202/.256/.415 start in the first half last year, the hype flew by him like high cheese. Suddenly hype-less, he was sent back in the minor leagues trying to find his mojo. He mashed, was promoted, and mashed some more (.308/.338/.496). Check the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool for a graphical representation of his slugging percentage by month last year. Roller coaster!
So, should we affix the post-hype sleeper label on Davis or not? Definitely maybe.
Allow me to explain. In the Shandler corner stands Davis’ power as an example of a skill that Davis has shown and can show again. Throughout the minors, Davis had an ISO (Isolated slugging percentage, or slugging percentage minus batting average) that never once dipped below .257 in a full year; it was a sky-high .279 over 1,345 minor league plate appearances. For comparison’s sake, putting that number up in the majors would land him between Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Reynolds on the power spectrum. Serious artillery there. In the major leagues, that number is still a high .230, with a peak of .264 his rookie year and a very respectable trough of .204 last year. Still, that’s the difference between, say, Nelson Cruz (.264 ISO last year) and Curtis Granderson (.204).
Whether he’s got ‘nice’ Granderson-esque power, or light-tower Gonzo power, it seems safe to say that Davis has shown power and owns it. The ride may get a little bumpy though, as we’ve seen. Does the fact that Davis had a .306 batting average in the minor leagues and batted .285 over 295 at-bats his rookie year mean that he ‘owns’ batting average as a skill? That’s tougher to say.
Beyond the small sample sizes inherent in using one season’s worth of plate appearances, there’s the fact that batting average is not a skill – it’s a result. The skills that go into batting average are legion. There’s plate discipline, contact, and speed – at the very least. So while Davis’ batting average – the result of these skills – has been divergent, his actual underlying component skills have been relatively constant. Check out the similarities in his two walk rates (a low 6.3% in his rookie year and 5.7% last year) and his two contact rates (a very low 68.1% in 2008 and even lower 63.2% in 2009). Those seem pretty similar, and they point to some serious holes in Davis’ game.
His strikeout rates concur (29.8% and 38.4% respectively). That puts Davis somewhere between Mark Reynolds (38.6% last year) and Mike Cameron (28.7%) on the strikeout scale. If he strikes out that often, Davis will struggle to put up respectable batting averages. A player like Carlos Pena provides you with a hopeful future for Davis, as he has similar contact (69.6%) and strikeout (31%) rates, but he also features a nicer walk rate (13.3%), and that selectivity is important. If Davis doesn’t start walking more, he may just end up like Brandon Inge (8.5% walk rate, 30.2% strikeout rate, 71.7% contact rate and a .230 batting average last year).
If power is all you seek, you can call Chris Davis a post-hype sleeper and pick him, although trying to get him closer to his B-Rank (214) than his ADP (172) might still be a good idea. If you are expecting 2008 all over again, you are better off not applying the label and avoiding him altogether.
For more information on Chris Davis and other big-whiffing sluggers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit for yourself.