Results tagged ‘ Seattle Mariners ’

The Scoop on Cliff Lee

By R.J. Anderson //

Most people presumed Cliff Lee would be a good fit for the Mariners when they acquired him this off-season. When an abdomen injury pushed his season back a few weeks, the condition alleviated some of the buzz surrounding him. Lee is five starts into his 2010 season and still people seem to look elsewhere when discussing the best starters to date. That’s a mistake. Not only is Lee pitching well; he’s pitching better than he ever has before.

Lee is averaging a little over seven innings per start, which totals 36.2 innings pitched. He’s struck out 32 batters and walked one. That would be a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 32, which is simply unheard of. The best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history (for pitchers with at least 100 innings in a single season) is 11 – posted by Bret Saberhagen in 1994. Ben Sheets‘ 2006 season is the only other case of a double-digit strikeout-to-walk rate for a starting pitcher with at least 100 IP.

Aside from Saberhagen and Sheets, Curt Schilling is the only other pitcher to break the 9 K/BB barrier, which is fitting. During Schilling’s later years with the Diamondbacks, ESPN would always joke about whether Schilling’s win total would exceed his walk total. Now, Schilling never actually accomplished the feat, but Lee very well could. In fact, Lee actually has more wins (two) than walks at this moment – and given his performance to date, should have more wins, if not for lousy run support and other factors beyond his control.

Also, Lee has yet to allow a home run. That tidbit, combined with the walks and strikeouts, make his 3.44 ERA look absurdly high. Lee’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) allowed is .341. That’s well above league average around .300 as well as his career norms, and should regress given that he’s supported by one of the best defenses in baseball, in a park that suits left-handed pitchers very well.

Lee’s FIP – which takes defense out of the equation – is a microscopic 1.44. His xFIP – which normalizes home run rates (i.e. attempts to strip out even more luck) – is a still excellent 2.93. Lee’s Cy Young winning xFIP was 3.57. Last year it was 3.69. He’s about a half run per nine innings better than when he was considered one of the best pitchers in baseball.

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Now, don’t expect Lee to pitch quite this well all season; history tells us his walk and home run totals can’t stay this low forever. But he’s still a true elite pitcher, and can reasonably be mentioned in the same breath as Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez and other star hurlers. Unless the plan is to ship him away for future help in deep keeper leagues, there’s no reason to trade or bench Lee. Instead, appreciate how great he really is.

Oh, and give kudos to the only batter Lee walked this year: Evan Longoria.

For more on Cliff Lee and other aces, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Is it Time to Dump Chone Figgins?

By R.J. Anderson //

When the Seattle Mariners signed the speedy Chone Figgins to a four-year deal over the off-season, a .193 batting average and eight stolen bases is not what they envisioned. Yet, to date, Figgins has produced just that total and looks hapless at the plate, leading some to wonder whether the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim knew what they were doing when they let Figgins walk.

While the Angels almost certainly held intimate knowledge of Figgins, even the most pessimistic account of his aging patterns would be hard-pressed to forecast his strikeout rate jumping from the teens to more than a quarter of his at-bats. Data provided by FanGraphs has Figgins’ contact rate at a career-low 80.9%, whereas in recent seasons Figgins has made contact at an 86% rate. That is concerning, but the good news is that Figgins is still drawing walks. What about that batting average though?

Figgins’ batting average on balls in play is a measly .250. His career rate is 88 points higher; over the last three seasons, Figgins’ low is .356. Using batted ball data to dissect his game, Figgins is hitting as many grounders as ever, but fewer liners than usual. Behold though, the one real caveat about batted ball data in general: Line drive percentage. Since human scorers tally what is a fly ball and what is a line drive, there are discrepancies year-to-year and park-to-park. A quick glance at previous years shows that the Angels’ scorer might take some liberties in qualifying close fly/liner cases as line drives rather than fly balls.

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Figgins’ struggles are exacerbated by circumstance. In April of 2009, Figgins hit .244 with an inflated strikeout rate and wound up fine. In September and October of 2008, Figgins hit .234. In 2007, Figgins hit .250 in April and then .156 in May. He then torched the league for a .461 average in June, .351 in July, and .342 in August. Those months are only cherry-picked in the sense that the following results are known.

The expectations for Figgins’ season outlook have certainly depressed, but at the same time, presuming that Figgins cannot hit for the Mariners when five weeks ago everyone thought he would makes no sense. It’s that fly-by-the-seat style of roster management that leaves notoriously slow starters ripe for the grabbing come this time of the year.

If you own Figgins, hold onto him. If someone in your league dropped him, run to the waiver wire and take advantage of your competition’s short-sightedness.

For more on Chone Figgins and other struggling players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

A Tale of Two Groundballers: Doug Fister and Mike Leake

By R.J. Anderson //

Every year a handful of young pitchers will ascend the ranks, have a hot start, and cause a scramble to the fantasy waiver wire. Two of these early-season stories couldn’t be more contrasting in background and how they get the job done.

Doug Fister is a large human being. He stands six-foot-eight and most of that height is made up by lengthy stubs he uses as legs. Fister spent most of 2009 in Triple-A and showed impeccable command while getting outs via groundballs. Seattle placed him in their rotation late in the season and he continued those ways while giving up a few too many longballs. He still held a 4.13 ERA though.

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Mike Leake
has never thrown a pitch in the minor leagues. The Cincinnati Reds drafted the six-foot-nothing righty out of Arizona State University last June. The only pitches he threw for them thereafter came in the Arizona Fall League and during spring training. That didn’t prevent Leake from winning a job with the big league team this season, and so far the results have looked pretty good. Thanks to a Cliff Lee injury, Fister began the season in the Mariners’ rotation. Not only has he made three starts while lasting an average of six innings per, he’s allowed only three runs and 12 hits. He’s still not striking anyone out, but he doesn’t have to right now because he’s not handing out free passes or home runs. Even when his ERA regresses upwards – and it will – he could still fit the mold of a Nick Blackburn or – Seattle fans hide your eyes – what the Mariners thought they would be getting when they signed Carlos Silva a few fateful winters ago. With the Mariners’ terrific outfield defense, it could work.

leake1.pngIn two starts and 13.2 innings, Leake racked up groundballs and avoided home runs, which made him a lot like Fister. Leake had a tougher time in his third start. He still managed to last seven innings, but gave up five earned runs on two home runs. Five strikeouts, a walk, and 16 of 23 balls in play going for groundballs provide some hope that this is an outlier rather than the real package heading forward.  

Unlike Fister, though, Leake only has a 77% contact rate against, whereas his taller counterpart has a 92% contact rate against. That suggests that while they may take similar steps to getting the same result – groundball outs – Leake has the secondary stuff to also record strikeouts. Particularly his change-up and slider; according to pitch data from pitchfx, Leake’s change-up is being swung at and missed 18% of the time and his slider is being missed 19% of the time. Those are fantastic rates for any pitcher, especially for a rookie without a minor league track record.

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In a vacuum, that potential along with his pedigree make Leake a more attractive fantasy option moving forward. At this point, either are worth adds in deep American- or National League-only environments. Leake might be worth adding in deeper mixed leagues too.

For more on promising young players like Mike Leake, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.

Bloomberg Sports 2010 American League West Preview

By R.J. Anderson

This is the first of a series looking at all six major league divisions, with the help of Bloomberg Sports’ Spider Charts. We start today with the AL West.

The American League West figures to be the tightest division in baseball, without a clear favorite or doormat in sight. It would be inaccurate to say every team has an equal shot, but there’s certainly an opportunity for each of them to ascend to the throne and punch a ticket for October baseball. Here’s a quick look at the fantasy standouts on each club.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Even with the losses of Chone Figgins and John Lackey, the Angels have several interesting fantasy options. Kendry Morales, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and new addition Hideki Matsui represent the team’s sluggers. Meanwhile, Mike Napoli is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball; if he can shake the injury bug and wrest the full-time job from Jeff Mathis, he’ll be a great pick this season. Abreu and Hunter form two-thirds of a aging outfield, alongside Juan Rivera; though Abreu and Hunter both bring diverse skills to the table, don’t overbid on either player. Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar
have fantasy potential too, with Wood being the much hyped and much
delayed former top shortstop prospect who finally gets his shot. Kendrick in particular could be a breakout player if he can finally stay healthy for a full season.

The pitching staff could be hurt by the loss of Lackey, but ample talent remains. Brian Fuentes saved 48 games last year despite so-so peripherals; newly acquired Fernando Rodney and sleeper flamethrower Kevin Jepsen would nab saves if Fuentes falters in 2010. The rotation features Jered Weaver, a perennially good, but underrated anchor. Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana represent intriguing starting options, but both are also huge injury risks, with Kazmir opening this season on the disabled list.  Joe Saunders’ peripherals suggest he’s closer to last year’s version than the 2008 addition. The Angels appear solid across the board, without any defined flaw.


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Seattle Mariners

The Mariners were everyone’s off-season sweethearts with the acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, but Lee’s injury changes the outlook of this team, as does Erik Bedard’s continued battle with the machete-yielding injury bug. Regardless, Felix Hernandez is still the King, and one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball. Ryan-Rowland Smith is the type of finesse lefty who could get a boost from Safeco Field’s spacious dimensions and great outfield defense (see Jarrod Washburn, 2009), and he’ll certainly be available as  a late-round flyer in any mixed league of 12 teams or less.

Ichiro is Ichiro. He’ll approach 200 hits, steal bases, and potentially get undervalued in leagues that overemphasize youth. Milton Bradley has been discussed here before, and while Seattle essentially features black holes at designated hitter and shortstop, the addition of Figgins gives Seattle another speed/contact option to bat at the top of the lineup in front of Franklin Gutierrez, who could lead the team in runs batted in. The sleeper here is either Brandon League or Mark Lowe, either of whom could get the call if David Aardsma‘s out-of-nowhere 2009 performance turns out to be a one-time deal. Meanwhile, it’s probably best to avoid Jose Lopez in the early rounds. His home run total is nice, but the switch to third base and fact that he is the absolute worst type of hitter for Safeco means you should let someone else overbid for his homers and RBI.

 

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Texas Rangers

Given their deep stable of young talent, Texas has the greatest potential for a big leap this season, and in the next few years. The addition of Rich Harden makes them even more intriguing. Much like Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard, if Harden is healthy, he’s fire. The Rangers hope the program set forth by pitching coach Mike Maddux, as well as the innovative strength and conditioning regimen implemented by Jose Vazquez will do for Harden what they did for other Rangers pitchers last year. Scott Feldman, the biggest beneficiary of the Rangers’ pitch-to-contact approach last season with 17 wins and a 4.08 approach, is a long shot to duplicate last year’s numbers. Meanwhile, Derek Holland has considerable upside, as does Neftali Feliz; Holland will start the season in the minors, Feliz in the bullpen.

On the hitting side, Nelson Cruz will seek to duplicate the 30 HR-20 SB performance he put up in ’09, his first full major league season. Michael Young will be overvalued after some gaudy numbers last year, and is a good bet to see significant regression. Vladimir Guerrero should only be bought if he comes at a bargain price; as last season showed, the Vlad of old is gone. A deep sleeper could be David Murphy, a solid if unspectacular left-handed hitter entering the prime of his career in a deep lineup, with Arlington’s hitter-friendly backdrop acting as a tailwind.


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Oakland Athletics

Oakland’s offense offers little other than a sprinkling of speed, with Rajai Davis and Cliff Pennington leading the way. Pennington in particular could be a strong sleeper if he can extend his promising 2009 performance over a full season. An even bigger sleeper could be Jake Fox, who becomes the A’s designated power threat without an obvious position after the team cut Jack Cust.

At least there are a few hurlers worthy of consideration. Ben Sheets, for one, even with his health being a perpetual question mark. Brett Anderson is another, coming off an terrific rookie season that was even better than his superficial numbers suggest. Closer Andrew Bailey has health issues, as does set-up man Michael Wuertz, which could push sleeper saves candidate Tyson Ross into the equation. Ross was one of the Athletics’ top pitching prospects and will be used out of the bullpen to begin the year. He gets groundballs and has above-average stuff, which should translate to a good number of strikeouts.

If you’re in a keeper league, the A’s also feature some intriguing offensive options in the minors. Chris Carter and Michael Taylor could be up at some point this season and definitely should be on your list of sleeper pickups. Oakland probably has the lowest chance of actually winning the division, but in the wild West, anything can happen.

For more on Ichiro Suzuki and other American League West players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Milton Bradley in Blue and Teal

Seattle’s star-inhaling, soul-exhaling off-season gained the Mariners praise throughout the baseball community. General Manager Jack Zduriencik combined obvious moves (like giving Felix Hernandez a contract extension and trading a stack of B+ prospects for Cliff Lee) with some inherently risky gambles. Those moves now have the Mariners in position to not only compete, but also to win the American League West this season. Such a premise seemed impossible just 12 months ago.

Acquiring Milton Bradley qualifies as both an obvious move and a risky gamble. Getting out from under Carlos Silva’s mammoth contract (and equally mammoth – as in, extinct – pitching ability) could’ve meant taking an equally poor contract in exchange. Instead, the Mariners received what could become a relative bargain – if Bradley can stay sane and healthy.

Second-year manager Don Wakamatsu has gained a reputation as a handler of diverse personalities and masseur of egos. The M’s also hope the presence of Ken Griffey Jr. as designated tickler and upbeat presence will help soothe Bradley’s volatile temper. The Mariners will accept injuries that happen in the heat of battle. What they don’t want are lengthy suspensions caused by their underestimating Bradley’s unique personality.

Enough about the mental aspect of things though, let’s talk about the quantifiable. Just once in the past five seasons has Bradley topped 500 plate appearances. The past couple years ranked among his most durable, though. After appearing in 126 games with the Rangers (just 20 as an outfielder) in 2008, Bradley nearly matched – and if not for a suspension, would’ve surpassed – that total while playing 109 games in the outfield.

The M’s plan to give Bradley playing time both in left field and at DH. The presence of Ryan Garko, Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, and even Griffey, there’s enough alternatives that Wakamatsu can get really creative if he so wishes. Still, Bradley’s the cream of that crop, a switch-hitter with a line of .289/.398/.483 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in the past three seasons, with 61 home runs, 206 runs batted in, and 22 steals.

Bradley currently holds a B-Rank of 224th, a nod to injuries depressing his counting stats. Other factors are also conspiring against Bradley’s fantasy value. First, he turns 32 in April; the recent success of outliers like Barry
Bonds and Mariano Rivera aside, baseball players still peak most often
before their 30th birthday, with every subsequent year raising the risk
of injury, declining performance, or both. He’ll also now play half of his
games at Safeco Field, one of the toughest parks in baseball on hitters, doubly so on right-handed hitters with power, given the park’s spacious dimensions in left-center field. (Just ask Adrian Beltre.)

On the plus side, Bradley should see plenty of at-bats from the left side of the plate, where park factors aren’t as harsh and where players like Raul Ibanez and Russell Branyan have found success in recent years.

Bradley deserves ample consideration in AL-only and shallower mixed leagues. If he bats high in the order, he could see ample RBI opportunities behind speedy OBP machines Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins. You can also get strategic in how you handle Bradley on your fantasy team. Drafting Bradley, then hedging with another outfielder with a little less ability but more durability, should allow you to get the best of his production, without taking a major hit in the event of an injury or – yes, we have to say it – possible suspension.
 
It’s easy to see why general managers – both in fantasy and real life – are willing to give Bradley additional chances. His upside is too good to push aside completely. But if you’re planning on drafting him, do what the Mariners plan to do: Handle with care.

– R.J. Anderson

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