By R.J. Anderson //
In a purely subjective sense, Brad Hawpe is the tailor-made contrast between fantasy and real world baseball values. Hawpe’s talent cavities have always included rambunctious defensive play – even on the quietest of balls – and an inability to hit as well on the road as he did at home. This leaves a general manager – particularly one in the National League – in the awkward position. Choosing to either hang onto Hawpe with the hope that he’ll steal Rickey Henderson’s legs or explaining to the ownership and media why he couldn’t recoup the standard fare for hitters with Hawpe’s numbers through a trade.
Dan O’Dowd held onto Hawpe for seasons but recently decided to release him. On Friday, Hawpe found a new home. The Tampa Bay Rays signed the southpaw to a minor league deal with the idea that he will eventually come up within the week and take over as the left-handed designated hitter. Is Hawpe worth the fee to acquire him in American League only leagues? Maybe.
Most starting pitchers are right-handed, meaning Hawpe may receive 60-65% of the Rays’ designated hitter plate appearances in September. Throughout Hawpe’s career, his line versus righties is a robust .290/.387/.507 with 94 home runs in 2,452 plate appearances. The concern is not over whether Hawpe has hit, though, but rather will he continue to hit now that he is out of Coors Field and into the American League East. Since both franchises are relatively new, the amount of players with significant playing time with both is limited.
Nevertheless, here is a table detailing how those players performed after trading their Coors for a glass of Tropicana’s finest:
The only player to improve both his batting average and AB/HR is Greg Norton. One has to suspect starting, even if only as a designated hitter, had to be an easier role for Norton to stay fresh and focused than coming off the bench in a pinch hitter role. Suffice to say that history is not on Hawpe’s side and those odds are only worsened when expanding the scope beyond the Rays and onto the entire American League East. Garret Atkins is the most recent case of failure and the last success story might be Mark Bellhorn way back in 2004 – and make note that Bellhorn’s abbreviated Colorado performance was Coors-worthy for an entirely different reason.
The Rays will stick with him despite going 0-4 with four strikeouts in his debut. A streak of such ineptitude just means that someone is likely to break it. The odds are just too great. Just please, please do not make a “Hawpe and pray” joke if you decide to add him.
For more on Brad Hawpe and other late season additions, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
Jeremy Hellickson may have been an effective major league starter had he cracked the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster on Opening Day of this season. But where an April gig would have been a luxury, Hellickson’s promotion recently became a necessity.
The Rays had a plan for Hellickson. He made a spot start last week and was sent back down to Durham where his workload could be monitored and controlled. Once the rosters expanded in September, they would recall Hellickson and use him out of the bullpen.
Tampa Bay was able to execute the first part of the plan. Hellickson made his major league debut – a successful one – and was immediately returned to Triple-A. However, even the best-laid plans are subject to change. With Wade Davis AND Jeff Niemann experiencing shoulder pain, the Rays had no choice but to bring back Hellickson and use him as a starter, beginning with tonight’s outing against the Detroit Tigers.
Although he is listed at 6-1 – already on the short side for a right-handed starting pitcher – that might be a generous measurement. Still, the numbers don’t lie. In 578.2 career innings in the minors, he posted 630 strikeouts and just 135 walks. His pinpoint command of the strike zone has drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux. Stuff-wise, Hellickson sets hitters up with his low-to-mid-90s fastball, and puts them away with an excellent change-up and plus breaking ball.
This time around, Hellickson will be on the shortest of leashes. After pitching 114 innings last season, he has surpassed 124 innings this year (117 minor league, 7 major league). Hellickson pitched a career-high 152 innings in 2008. Don’t expect him to go much beyond that this year, if at all.
If that is the case, then we might be looking at five-to-seven big league starts, or possibly just a couple of starts and several relief appearances, if Davis and Niemann get well soon. Still, given Hellickson’s talent and body of work, he’s worth an immediate pickup in all leagues.
For more information on Jeremy Hellickson and
hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate
your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
When it comes to wins, James Shields has always had tough luck. Despite an ERA of 4.01 over his first 118 starts (his career total entering this season), Shields had only won 43 games, and had 36. Part of that was because of blown wins by his bullpen. Baseball-Reference keeps track of the times a pitcher leaves a game in line for the win only to see his bullpen blow it. That happened eight times to Shields entering 2010.
This off-season, the Rays upgraded the bullpen, spending $7 million on new closer Rafael Soriano (2.71 FIP) and finding a hidden gem in new set-up man Joaquin Benoit (2.00 FIP). Shields figured to benefit from those moves. Yet he’s actually in the midst of the worst season of his career if you go solely by ERA (4.90), and still struggling in the win-loss department (8-9). Still, here are the two reasons why you should go out and acquire Shields or at least refuse to sell low.
1) The ERA is skewed.
By nearly every other pitching metric Shields is actually having one of, if not the best season of his career. FIP, which simply weighs walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed; xFIP – which adjusts for home run rates; and SIERA, which includes groundball rates, all suggest Shields is one of the league’s better pitchers this season. So why is his ERA so off? Well, in part, because of one really horrendous start. On June 11, Shields completed only 3.1 innings against the Florida Marlins, allowing 10 earned runs. Take that one start out of the equation and Shields’ ERA drops from 4.90 to 4.31. Which leads us to reason number two.
2) The home run rate isn’t sustainable.
There’s a point in a pitcher’s career when you can accept that maybe he does give up more home runs than the average starter. That point never occurs over the span of one season. Take the batted ball data from Shields’ pre-2010 career and compare it to this season. His home run per flyball rate is more than 3% higher. There is no reason to believe the same pitcher who has upped his strikeout rate is suddenly more hittable. Further, his home run per outfield flyball rate (as opposed to infield flies) is even higher.
When in doubt, go with the larger sample size. And in this case, that sample size suggests Shields is going to be a worthwhile pickup in the second half.
For more information on James Shields and hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
A few things about David Price’s fastball were evident entering Wednesday night’s start versus the Boston Red Sox:
1) It goes fast:
Pitchfx data has his average four-seamer at 94.8 MPH and his two-seamer clocking in at 90.7 MPH.
2) Hard to hit:
A poll of, say, 300 baseball fans right now asking which starting pitcher has the fastball most difficult to hit would probably yield results that showed Stephen Strasburg’s heater near the top. As it turns out, Strasburg gets whiffs 9.2% of the time. Price? 9.1%. Not too shabby.
3) He uses it a lot:
More than 70% of the time, as it turns out.
Combine that information with a Boston lineup missing Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew (Drew not for health reasons) and nothing about Wednesday night’s game should surprise. Price’s fastball sat around 93-95 all night long, topping out at 96.9 MPH. He threw it constantly. Thirty-nine of his first 40 pitches were heaters, 100 of 111 overall. He pounded the zone with it too; more than 75% of his fastballs were strikes of either swinging, called, or foul variety.
The most amazing aspect of the start was that as Price continued to pump fastballs, everyone sort of caught on. Undoubtedly the Red Sox realized he was doing his best Mariano Rivera impression by tossing almost nothing but fireballs, yet they simply couldn’t hit any of them. Not only did Price strike out 10 Red Sox (while allowing only two earned runs and walking one), he also turned up 19 swinging strikes on those 100 fastballs. That’s an absurd 19% whiff rate. As mentioned before, Price’s seasonal rate is a little less than half that. To say Price’s heater was working in all its glory last night then, is an understatement.
Graphic courtesy of FanGraphs.com
All in all, it was one of the best starts of Price’s season. Which is really saying something, since Price leads the American League in wins (with 12), trails only Cliff Lee in ERA (2.42), and has shown progress in various fielding independent metrics (3.61 FIP). The former number-one pick is bridging the gap between potential and production in only his second full season in the majors.
If you own Price in a keeper league, go ahead and slap the franchise tag on him. If you own him otherwise, sit back and continue to enjoy the maturation of a rising ace.
For more on David Price and other Egyptian-based dinosaur deities, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
In a past life, Wade Davis attempted to woo Lady Luck. Instead, he clearly offended her, leaving himself hexed for this one. At least, that’s how Davis must feel given his schedule of opponents this season. He started with consecutive games against the Yankees and Red Sox, and has since faced them both twice, along with Texas, the White Sox twice, and the Blue Jays.
Davis endured through a May 19 start against the Yankees, wielding an impressive 3.35 ERA at that point. His ERA now sits at 4.94. His cumulative statistics in those five starts in between:
That works out to an ERA of 7.89. Simply put: that’s bad. His seasonal numbers suggest that he’s not quite as good as that 3.35 ERA reflected, but he’s far superior to the 7.89 figure. With top prospect Jeremy Hellickson tearing up Triple-A, the question might not be whether Davis is rosterable in fantasy leagues, but rather if the Rays will even keep him on the 25-man major league roster, let alone in the starting rotation.
Lately it seems Davis is on the right path. He’s struggled with his command at times, yet his June strikeout-to-walk ratio is an impressive 15:1. That includes two starts where Davis didn’t walk anyone. The home run bug he’s encountered could be tied partially to bad luck, but also to his predictability in pitching. Here is his fastball usage by count:
Adding to the confusion is that Davis possesses what most scouting reports describe as plus breaking pitches. Yet, if one were simply to look at his usage patterns, it would seem he’s either uncomfortable throwing those pitches or simply doesn’t want to. Either way, it’s a problem. Part of pitching is having the upper hand when it comes to game theory. If the batter knows what’s coming, he better not know where it’s going, and if the batter doesn’t know what’s coming or where it’s going, then he’s probably not going to hit you well.
Expect a league average or slightly worse performance from Davis heading forward. In standard 12-team mixed leagues, that makes him a fringe starter at best.
by Eno Sarris //
Sometimes, you just like a guy. In the case of Jeff Niemann, there are things to like. He’s got a great nickname, for one. “The Big Nyquil” is big – six-foot nine – and owns a skillset capable of lulling a fan to sleep. His 16 pitches per inning in his rookie year, and his Trachsel-like pace on the mound, inspired the nickname, popularized by Rays blog DRaysBay.com.
As a fan of undervalued players, that’s good enough reason for this fan to follow Niemann, and even enough reason to draft him. Look how Niemann stacks up against the top 10 pitchers in baseball this year, in the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graph to the right. With his great start (and only 14 pitches per inning), is he worth more attention?
First, the role of luck in Niemann’s career should be charted. Take a look at his underlying statistics and the difference in ERA below. Pretty interesting that a pitcher could be so similar in two years and yet have such different ERAs, isn’t it? The fact that the two xFIPs (a number that strips out batted-ball luck and normalizes home-run rates, then produces a number on the ERA scale) are exactly the same gives you a clearer picture of Niemann’s true ability level.
This table seems to suggest that Niemann’s underlying game hasn’t changed much, so we should probably expect something more like last year’s surface stats in the future. In fact, with his strikeout rates declining, could we expect worse?
It’s not all bad with Niemann. He has increased his groundball percentage (from 40.5% to 45.6%). Unfortunately, thanks to work by Harry Pavlidis that published just last week, we can see that Niemann’s new groundball percentage is pretty close to the average groundball rate on all pitches in baseball so far this year (44%). So he improved… to average.
What about swing rates? Take a look at the table on the right, with statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com. Almost every single swing rate is either the same or marginally worse this year. Batters are reaching at pitches about the same, seeing about as many pitches inside and outside the zone, and making contact just a little bit more this year. That last number is swinging strike percentage (or whiff %), and it’s below-average (8.5%). That’s why Niemann doesn’t rack up the strikeouts.
It’s fine to like a pitcher, whether for his quirks on the mound or aspects of his game. But when you are playing fantasy baseball, and you have a player that has secondary statistics that have remained static while their ERA has fluctuated, it’s best to trust the underlying numbers. As you can see in this case in particular, those secondary statistics remain more stable.
In the case of Niemann, they paint the picture of a mid-rotation major league starter, and a low-end option in most mixed leagues. If Niemann’s perceived value is that of a more elite pitcher, take advantage and sell high.
For more on Jeff “The Big Nyquil” Niemann and other surging pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson //
Formerly a top draft pick and uberprospect, B.J. Upton broke out in 2007 with 24 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Those stats were accumulated despite Upton missing roughly 30 games with a strained quadriceps muscle and changing positions for the third time. Since then, Upton has played most of the previous two seasons and in every game this year, yet he’s racked up a total of 24 homers.To say Upton’s 2007 looks like a tease is being kind. With four home runs in the first 19 games, is it time to start wondering whether Upton’s power is back?
Early in the 2008 season, Upton suffered a torn labrum while attempting to rob a home run. He fought off surgery until after the season, which helps to explain his zapped homer production as well as his increased number of groundballs hit. The reality is the more groundballs Upton hits, the fewer extra-base hits he’ll rack up. Even with elite speed, Upton’s not turning grounders through infield holes into doubles. In 2009, Upton hit fewer grounders but showed signs of rust and did not hit the ball well when he connected.
Over the winter, Upton spent ludicrous amounts of time with the Tampa Bay Rays’ new hitting coach Derek Shelton. So far, that work is paying off. Upton’s .239 ISO (a metric which is derived from subtracting batting average from slugging percentage so as to not count singles twice) would mark a career high by a good margin. He’s hitting a career-low number of groundballs, with a career-high flyball rate. His homers per fly ball ratio is around the mark he set in 2007.
Only 28.8% of Upton’s batted balls are turning into hits, a stark contrast from a career 33.8% rate driven partly by his excellent speed. If his BABIP rises toward career norms, that would also boost his batting average. Meanwhile, Upton’s 13.4% walk rate is extremely attractive in leagues that count on-base percentage, especially if his BABIP rebounds.
The open question remains what will happen to Upton’s power, underscored by his current lofty .507 slugging percentage. The common perception is that Upton has began going the opposite way more and dumping balls into right field that he would’ve fouled off or whiffed at in the past. That perception is simply untrue. Using data provided by FanGraphs, we can chart how many balls Upton puts into play, and how many of those are hit to right field (since Upton is a right-handed batter). Here are those numbers:
Year BIP Oppo%
2007 325 28
2008 407 31.2
2009 414 24.4
2010 56 23.2
Upton is actually hitting fewer balls the other way than ever before. Still, Upton’s batting average while going the other way is well over .400, which suggests he’s hitting the ball decently when he does go the other way. That’s an important part of the equation.
Who knows whether this will continue. Upton certainly has the upside and potential to be a 30/30 threat, but if you value risk minimization over reward maximization, then you should consider selling high on Upton. Remember that you already spent a high draft pick to get him, though. If you can’t find a trade partner who values Upton like the super prospect with 30/30 potential, you can sit tight rather than sell for 80 cents on the dollar.
For more about B.J. Upton and other power/speed threats, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson
Here’s a fun trivia question: Who has the fourth-most innings pitched over the past three seasons, behind only Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Dan Haren? Nope, not Cliff Lee or Felix Hernandez. Nor Justin Verlander.
It’s James Shields. The Tampa Bay Rays ace has made at least 31 starts in each of his three full major league seasons while completing at least 215 innings, and winning at least 11 games. Shields’ durability would be one thing, but when combined with solid performances — notably by advanced metrics, like Fielding Independent Pitching or even Adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching (both of which attempt to strip the luck aspect out of evaluating pitchers) — Shields becomes one of the better and more underappreciated talents in the league.
Oddly enough, Shields is actually being drafted well ahead of his 133 B-Rank; his ADP is currently 110. His 2010 Bloomberg Sports projection calls for 217 innings, a 3.89 ERA, 13 wins, and a 1.23 WHIP. That line places him smack in the middle of strong three-star pitchers such as A.J. Burnett, Brett Anderson, and Rays teammate Matt Garza.
Shields has the luxury of pitching in front of one of the best defensive teams in baseball, which should help his rate stats. One thing Shields does, perhaps better than anyone else in the division, is mix his pitches. When he came into the league, he was extremely reliant upon a plus change-up. Talk to a handful of scouts during that period and his change-up was right up there with Johan Santana’s for the honor of best in baseball. Since then, though, Shields has continued to add pitches and tweak his arsenal. He throws a cutter now and has a plus curve to go with it. He locates all of those pitches well.
The only real flaws in Shields’ game is the lack of run support (presumably something that should even out over time), and home runs allowed. Shields’ run support was just 4.42 runs per game last season, despite the Rays’ offense setting numerous
franchise records for offensive production; that was the fourth-lowest total among AL starters. Meanwhile, Shields has allowed at least one home run per
nine innings in each of his big league seasons. Last year’s 1.19 HR/9 IP was a
career high in seasons where he threw more than 150 innings, so expect
a little regression there.
Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The Rays’ franchise single-season record for wins by a pitcher is 14. With a little help, Shields could break that record this season, and could do so as a strong number-two or number-three option on your pitching staff.
For more on James Shields and other starting pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By R.J. Anderson
The question most asked about a second baseman this off-season likely revolves around Ben Zobrist
and the likelihood of a repeat season. Few foresaw Zobrist blasting 27
home runs or posting a slash line of .297/.405/.543 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in
his first year as an everyday major league player.
B-Rank (Bloomberg’s proprietary ranking of all major league players)
comes in at 47, making him a potential value pick given his average
draft position of 58. The lower ADP could suggest that some see a
Zobrist regression. Certainly one factor that might be in play is his
gradual decline over the course of last season, particularly in his
slugging percentage. On June 1, Zobrist’s SLG stood at .624 – by
season’s end it had fallen 81 points. Zobrist’s season-ending mark
still led all full-time second basemen. But second-half performances
can often have a big impact on draft position the next spring.
other, more obvious concern is that Zobrist cracked 27 home runs in 599
plate appearances, after hitting 23 home runs in 1,642 minor league
plate appearances. Throughout the minors Zobrist was an on-base machine
who lacked power. Then he met up with an aspiring hitting instructor
named Jamie Cevallos – and something apparently clicked.
the most appealing attribute of Zobrist’s game is his versatility. He
qualifies at second and in the outfield in all leagues. Zobrist also
played 13 games last year at shortstop, making him a decent bet to
qualify at short at some point this season for leagues with five- or
10-game in-season thresholds. As demonstrated by the bold font in the
Position Eligibility chart below, Zobrist actually made starts at every
position except catcher, designated hitter, and pitcher last season –
and he did appear as a pinch-hitter in the DH slot once as well.
will see playing time throughout the season and should bat in the
middle of one of the better lineups in baseball. His impressive on-base
skills should create plenty of runs scores chances, and his lofty
contact rate and emerging power – even if it regresses somewhat –
should help his RBI total. Zobrist also stole a career-high 17 bases in
’09, and should get plenty of chances to run in Manager Joe Maddon’s
The influence of a hitting guru aside, the simple dynamics of regression to the mean – what Bill James called the Plexiglas Principle
– tell us that a player who sees a big jump in performance one year
should expect to pull back the following year. Expect Zobrist’s power
numbers to drop as a result. Still, his overall skill set makes him a
good get in the fifth round of your draft; especially if your
leaguemates think his ’09 breakout was really a fluke.
For more information on Ben Zobrist and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.