By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Mitch Moreland
When the season started, the Rangers had hoped that one of their young first basemen would take hold of the position and become a fixture in the lineup. They got their wish, just not the name. After Chris Davis’ struggles, Jorge Cantu’s inability to adjust to the AL, and Justin Smoak’s trade to Seattle, Moreland was guy for Texas at first base. In 47 games, he hit .255/.364/.469 with nine home runs. He also showed the ability to take a free pass with an above-average 14.5% walk rate. He did strike out a lot, and his home run-to-fly ball rate is likely unsustainably high. But with no one else stepping up at the position, he is likely to get his fair share of playing time in 2011.
Biggest Bust: Ian Kinsler
A preseason favorite of Bloomberg Sports, Kinsler missed 59 games and spent 69 total days on the DL with an ankle sprain and then a groin injury. When he was healthy, Kinsler hit .286 with a career-high on-base percentage of .382. That said, he hit a career-low nine home runs and his slugging percentage was just over .400. Whether the injuries took a toll on his power, we don’t know, but with such high expectations headed into the season, Kinsler did not live up to the hype in 2010. That said, a healthy Kinsler could bounce back in 2011 to put up big numbers from the keystone. He certainly looked good in Game 2 of the ALDS today, launching a James Shields pitch deep into the left field bleachers.
2011 Keeper Alert: Josh Hamilton
.359/.411/.633 with 33 home runs, 100 RBI, and 95 runs scored. This is what Josh Hamilton did in 2010 despite missing 29 games with injury. It should be enough to win him the AL MVP and a spot on your team next season, even if you’re in an auction league and he sports a high salary. Sure, his batting average was largely inflated by a ridiculous .390 batting average on balls in play, but the power is real and he did lower his strikeout rate. The injuries are a concern, but even if he makes an annual DL stint, the production of the 130-140 games he does play is enough to warrant first-round draft pick consideration.
2011 Regression Alert: Vladimir Guerrero
After hitting a career-worst .295/.334/.460 in 2009 for the Los Angeles Angels, Guerrero rebounded with the Rangers in 2010 to hit .300 with an .841 OPS. Healthy for the first time in a long time, he drove in 115 runs – surpassing 100 RBI for the first time since 2007. While Guerrero could have fallen in the category of surprise in 2010, his value in 2011 is tied directly to his home park. He hit .315 at home with an OPS of .881. On the road his average dropped to .284 and his OPS dipped under .800. If he returns to the Rangers, he should have another good season. If not, buyer beware depending on his landing spot.
For more on Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
Chris Davis just can’t win. After starting the season as the Texas Rangers’ first baseman, Davis lost his job to top prospect Justin Smoak. Once Smoak was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee, Davis once again became the Rangers’ starter. That has come to an end (again) with Thursday’s acquisition of Jorge Cantu for two minor league pitchers.
You can feel bad for Davis if you want, but the truth is the Rangers are justified in looking for an upgrade – even a marginal one. In 113 plate appearances, the 24-year-old was hitting just .188/.265/.267. After smashing 21 home runs in 113 games last season, Davis is homerless in 2010.
Jorge Cantu should not be confused with a savior at the position, but even in a down year he has been more productive than Davis. Spending most of his time at third base for the Marlins, Cantu hit .262/.310/.409 in 97 games.
While he is new to the American League West, Cantu has had success in the AL before. As a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004-2005, he hit .289/.318/.507 with 30 home runs and 134 RBI. His peak for Tampa Bay came in 2005, when he hit 28 home runs and drove in a then-team record 117 runs. The next two years were not so productive for Cantu and by mid-2007, the D-Rays traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. After an uneventful half-season in Ohio, he returned to Florida, but this time with the Marlins
Cantu proved to be a solid pickup for Florida. In 2008 and 2009, he combined to hit .283/.336/.462 with 45 home runs and 195 RBI. As mentioned above, this year has been a bit of a downer, but he still has 10 home runs, 25 doubles, and 54 RBI.
One thing that may help Cantu in Texas is the ball park. According to statcorner.com, the Marlins’ Sun Life Stadium is a below-average home run park for right-handed batters. Meanwhile, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is much more homer-friendly to righties.
Cantu is worth a shot in all AL-only leagues. In a standard 12-team mixed league, Cantu is a borderline pickup, unless you’re in need of a quick fix at a corner infield spot.
For more on Jorge Cantu and his new team, the Texas Rangers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office
By R.J. Anderson //
Many looked on with apathy when the Texas Rangers signed Colby Lewis to a two-year deal with a club option this past off-season. This very same Lewis had pitched for the Rangers from 2002-2004 with a not-so-good 5.48 ERA in nearly 300 innings. Lewis didn’t find success in short stints as a Tiger or Athletic either and he bolted to the Hiroshima Carp for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Then it happened. The same pitcher that Baseball America ranked as the 32nd-best prospect in baseball entering the 2003 season emerged. In those two seasons in Japan, Lewis started 54 games, pitched more than 350 innings, held a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 8-to-1(!) and an ERA of 2.82. He struck out more batters than he allowed baserunners. Entering this season, it was hard to peg just how good Lewis could be. After all, Daisuke Matsuzaka had similar success in Japan, and he’s been a pretty average pitcher (ignoring the price tag) during his stint in Boston. Meanwhile, other decent Japanese league hurlers, like Kei Igawa and Kenshin Kawamaki, won’t be in the running for any Cy Young awards in the foreseeable future.
Yet Lewis has persevered and sustained that level of success stateside. In 19 starts for the Rangers, he’s recorded nearly a strikeout per inning. He’s walked only 41 batters too. Why is that impressive? Because in 2003 (the only other season he recorded more than five starts in the majors) Lewis walked 70 batters in about the same number of innings, while striking out 29 fewer batters. He looks nothing like the old Colby Lewis, which makes you wonder: Can he continue to have a 3.52 ERA? Will he continue to pitch this well?
Odds are, his ERA will escalate a bit. Lewis’ home run per flyball ratio is well below league average, despite pitching in a ballpark that makes home runs commonplace. Despite the Rangers’ defense, it’s hard to foresee any Ranger pitcher lasting too long without a bump in the ERA road. That’s not to say Lewis is valueless or should be sold high, just that expecting this exact level of domination heading forward isn’t a good idea.
There is no magic innings mark within a season that determines when it’s OK to assume the ERA will last. Still, unless your fellow league owners value Lewis as an elite or near-elite starting pitcher, he’s a solid hold for the rest of the season.
For more information on Colby Lewis and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
A year ago, it seemed Vladimir Guerrero‘s days of being a feared power hitter were numbered. Through a combination of injuries and age, Guerrero’s power numbers took a hit in 2009. He hit 15 home runs and totaled just 31 extra-base hits as injuries limited him to 100 games.
His 2009 slugging percentage of .460 along with his .164 ISO (Isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average) were the lowest totals since his rookie season of 1997. With limited defensive ability, and a seemingly declining bat, Guerrero took a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers.
The deal has proved to be a blockbuster so far. Vladdy got off to a slow start with the Rangers – at least in terms of power. His .333 batting average (AVG) in April was very good, but he hit just two home runs. His slugging percentage was right back in the .460 area. An OPS of .851 is still good production from the DH spot, but April proved to be just the opening act.
In May, Guerrero exploded for a .330 average, with 10 home runs and 31 RBI. His slugging percentage for the month was a stellar .633 in 109 at-bats. In June, he has added two more home runs and is once again slugging over .630.
So what is behind Guerrero’s return to the top of the power-hitting food chain?
Our first guess would be health. Guerrero missed a game earlier this month after taking a foul ball off his eye, but the back problems that have plagued him throughout his career have been quiet in the early part of 2010. He has played in 58 of the Rangers first 62 games and has even logged some outfield innings along the way.
If you are looking for a fluke in his overall power numbers, you won’t find one. His .568 slugging percentage is identical to his career number. His .230 ISO is slightly lower than his .247 career average. In terms of batted ball data, his .322 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is right in line with his career .319 BABIP. His line drives, groundballs, and flyballs are all within 2-3% of historical values.
Although Guerrero is swinging at 50.2% of pitches outside of the strike zone, he is striking out just 9.5% of the time – a figure that represents the second-lowest single-season total of his career.
While luck doesn’t seem to be a factor for Guerrero, the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington certainly is. Outside of being healthy, playing his home games in the offensively-friendly park has been the biggest reason for Vlad’s resurgence. Guerrero’s new home currently ranks in the top three among American League stadiums in runs scored and home runs.
In 98 plate appearances on the road, the Rangers DH is hitting .272/.306/.424. At home, the 35-year-old is hitting .381/.407/.669 with 10 of his 14 home runs and 10 of his 12 doubles in 150 PAs. In fact, a ******** 20.4% of the flyballs he hits in Arlington have left the yard.
In general, it is good to exercise caution when dealing with such extreme splits, however, because of the park’s offensive nature, Guerrero could very likely sustain the power barrage in Texas. With 47 home dates remaining, Guerrero could put up 10-15 additional longballs in that park alone.
Even if Guerrero’s batting average (which currently hovers around .340) regresses, he is on pace for his ninth career 30-home run season and his 10th 100 RBI campaign. After spending five seasons as a rival of the Rangers, Guerrero is learning that sometimes the grass is greener on the other side.
For more on Vladimir Guerrero and other sluggers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits
by Eno Sarris //
In the case of C.J. Wilson, it’s time to give Tommy Rancel a little credit for identifying him as a possible sleeper in the pre-season (while also illuminating some of the concerns with moving a pitcher from the bullpen to the rotation). Now that Wilson has started out well, the question immediately shifts to his value going forward, and whether or not he is a sell-high candidate. Despite struggling in his last two starts, his year-to-date numbers look strong, as the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool charts to the right show.
At our disposal, we have tools like FIP (fielding independent pitching, which strips out batted ball luck and produces a number on the ERA scale). Wilson’s’ FIP is a decent 3.72. That’s probably the result of his lower strikeout rate (6.75 K/9) and .275 BABIP. While the strikeout rate is barely above average (6.6 K/9), the BABIP is actually less of a concern than usual.
Not all BABIPs are created equal. We talk about how it generally trends toward .300 across baseball, but that presupposes an average defense. Not all defenses are created equal. The Texas Rangers have the fifth-best defense in baseball when measured by UZR/150 – Ultimate Zone Rating. UZR attempts to take player positioning and ball trajectory, as well as home park intricacies, into account when rating defense. With Michael Young moved over to third base, defensive whiz Elvis Andrus doing great glove work – and even young Justin Smoak “Monster” bringing a nice glove with him to the major leagues – the ranking passes the sniff test. Finally, the Rangers as a team have allowed a .290 BABIP. So Wilson’s .275 BABIP may rise, but perhaps not as much as the average pitcher.
We are still left with a precipitous drop in Wilson’s strikeout rate. After setting a career high last year (10.26 K/9), some regression was inevitable due to his change in roles. Now that he’s dropped below his career rate (8.09 K/9), it’s hard to say what’s to come. We know that velocity and effectiveness usually drop with a move to the rotation, as pitchers can’t go all out every pitch for seven innings as a starter than they can for an inning or two as a reliever. Even accounting for those expected declines, though, Wilson’s velocity has fallen more than the average 0.7 MPH gap between starter and reliever (as Jeremy Greenhouse showed in an article last month). In fact, his fastball velocity has dropped 2.9 MPH with the move.
Still, we have a pitcher that has an average walk rate, a barely above-average strikeout rate, and one solid skill on his side. Wilson has continued inducing worm-burning grounders at a good rate (53.3% this year, 53% career), and that can limit the damage, as evidenced by his 0.48 HR/9 rate – it’s hard to get hit out of the park on the ground. While a home run rate that low is usually unsustainable, the nine pitchers that averaged less than 0.6 home runs per nine last year averaged a 49.3% groundball rate.
Of course if you can get a return on Wilson from an owner that values him as an ace, do it. But always consider context. I’m currently in a Blog Wars league where I am about to accept a trade – my Roy Oswalt for his Miguel Montero and C.J. Wilson. I need the offense in this two-catcher deep league, and I don’t think the step down is too steep for my staff to handle. As you can see, the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools trade analyzer likes the trade, an encouraging sign.
For more on C.J. Wilson and possible trade targets, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
by Eno Sarris //
We’ve talked in this space about different ways that a pitcher can improve his game. He can refine a pitch and increase his whiff rate on a specific pitch like Johnny Cueto, or alter his pitching mix like Mike Pelfrey. Usually that change happens right in front of our eyes in American baseball. In the case of Colby Lewis, we actually have a pitcher that seems to have done both by undergoing a sea change abroad.
Lewis left MLB for Japan after the 2007 season, following an ERA north of six with the Rangers and Athletics. He struggled to strike out batters at an above-average rate, couldn’t keep walks down (career 4.8 BB/9 before this year), and didn’t have a proclivity for worm-burning, as his career groundball percentage is below average (39.9%). There wasn’t much that suggested he was going to succeed in the major leagues other than his good minor league statistics (3.39 ERA, 1.185 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9).
Then he went to Japan. In those two years, Lewis had a strikeout rate over one per inning, and walked a minuscule 1.16 batters per nine. His ERA was sparkling and under three both years, he led the Japanese leagues in WHIP one year, and he took the strikeout crown both years. You could say that he made good use of his time there.
Now that he’s back, he’s striking people out, not walking people as often as he did before, and has even become the subject of fawning love letters in the media. Okay, it’s not quite a love letter, but you get the picture. Despite his poor start on Sunday, Lewis is still striking out more than a batter per inning, and walking fewer than four batters per nine innings. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider chart shows us that his current walk and strikeout rates make him a more than capable fantasy as an SP2 in a deep league, or SP3 in a shallower league. The dot closest to him is Justin Verlander.
First off, he’s been a little lucky, but not incredibly so. His BABIP will rise (.261 currently, around .300 MLB-wide), and he’ll strand fewer runners (78.1% this year, 70% across baseball). As more dinks and dunks fall into play, more runners will cross the plate instead of ending the inning on the basepaths. Lewis is also a flyball pitcher that is only giving up 0.88 HR/9 because of a slightly-generous 8.3% HR/FB rate. That number usually approaches 9-11% across baseball, so a couple more long flies could turn into homers soon, especially in the favorable hitting environment at Arlington.
All that said, Lewis’ xFIP (a number that focuses on strikeouts and walks and strips out batted-ball luck, and produces a number on the ERA scale) is still 3.99; that seems to be a good estimate of his true talent level. He’s obviously striking people out and has made real progress finding the strike zone.
Most of his progression came from altering his pitching mix to feature his slider. In 2003, Lewis used his fastball 74.6% of the time and his slider 2.4% of the time. FanGraphs tracks a stat called linear weights, which uses game states before and after a pitch to measure the effectiveness of each type of pitch. In 2003, Lewis’ fastball was ‘worth’ -25.8 runs. That number is legendarily bad, as Carl Pavano owned last year’s worst fastball with -23.6 runs and Zach Duke‘s -19.4 runs fastball was second-worst. Surprisingly for such a bad season, Lewis’ slider was still worth +1.2 runs that year.
After five years of featuring that below-average fastball and hiding his slider, which was the only pitch that was consistently positive by linear weights, it took two years in Japan for the light to go on permanently. Now that Lewis is back, he’s using the slider 30.3% of the time, and it’s his best pitch by linear weights (+7.8 runs). Altering his pitching mix has made all of his pitches more effective, as his fastball is finally a positive (+2.1 runs).
Lewis’ slider is his most effective pitch at getting whiffs this year (15%, 8.5% is average), and in particular it’s great low and away as Dave Allen showed on FanGraphs.com. Using Patrick Newman’s pitch f/x tracker for the Japanese leagues, we can see that he refined the pitch while in Japan. Take a look at the image below, which shows how often he threw the slider in a typical start (5/22/09 in this case, and the sliders are yellow).
The biggest remaining question is which way Lewis’ walk rate will go. Obviously, he was having trouble in that category before he left for Japan, as his career rate suggests (4.86 BB/9). And then he dominated in that category in Japan, where the strike zone is called a little bit larger and walks are not as prominent in the baseball culture. For example, Patrick Newman had this to say about the Japanese strike zone:
“My (unofficial) translation of the official rule is “the strike zone’s
upper limit is the point mid-way between the batter’s shoulders and the
top of his pants, the lower limit is the bottom of the batter’s knees,
and covers the area over homeplate”. So that’s not too far off the MLB
strike zone. In practice, I have noticed that the umpires can get a
little generous at times.”
Of course we can expect his walks to come in closer to the major league average (3.59 BB/9) than his elite Japanese rates, but if he does only walk batters at an average rate, his strikeout ability will play well enough to make that work as a package. On the other hand, if the walk rate starts creeping significantly over 4 (and after his bad start Sunday, it’s at 3.68 BB/9), Lewis may have some trouble.
In the meantime, Lewis is a hold in shallow leagues – you wouldn’t get much for such an unestablished non-prospect pitcher anyway – and a testament to the ability of pitchers to change. With that new focus on the slider, he’s practically a new pitcher.
For more on Colby Lewis and other surging pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson
When it comes to early-season role shuffling, Neftali Feliz to the closer’s spot in Texas is as big a maneuver as you’ll ever find. Ignore whether or not it’s the right real-world call for the Rangers, and just focus on the facts:
– Feliz is 21 years old.
– He throws fire.
– He’s one of baseball’s top prospects.
Those three reasons alone are enough to give him fantasy value. Add in the extra pleasure of getting saves credit for his appearances, and the decision has made some fantasy owners downright giddy. It’s hard to project just how good he will be and the worrisome part is that no timetable on his closing efforts is being publicly made. That means that owners of Feliz have two choices:
1. Ride the tidal wave and hope the Rangers don’t move him to the rotation, or away from the ninth inning.
2. Let him rack up even more hype, then ship him off, and hope the Rangers realize he’s wasting away in a closer’s spot, since he’ll likely provide more real-life value (if not necessarily more fantasy value) as a starting pitcher.
It’s a difficult call. How many saves could Feliz rack up, anyway? Last year, Frank Francisco recorded 25 saves, which led the Rangers, but C.J. Wilson also tallied 14, and four others had at least one, including Feliz. All told, there were 45 saves recorded. The Rangers won fewer games in 2008 and as a result only racked up 36 saves, although team quality did not stop the 2007 Rangers from topping 40 saves once more.
Skeptics might speculate that Feliz is too young, too new, and too untried to wage war in the 9th. They have no idea what they’re talking about. In 34 career big league innings, Feliz has per nine ratios of 11.8 strikeouts and 2.6 walks. During his time at Triple-A, mostly as a starter, he posted about a strikeout per inning, and his career minor league numbers are 325 strikeouts in 276 innings. He’s got the stuff to miss bats and produce outs, even in high-leverage situations.
If Feliz is the full-time closer from here on out, he’s getting something like 35-40 chances for a save. That’s valuable, but it’s not like another closer’s job won’t change hands and lead to a similar opportunity before the month of May is even upon us. So, depending on the needs of your team, and the offer quality presented, you could either ride the wave or ship Feliz out for a king’s ransom.
Either way, Feliz could win you a title. If your league has weekly transactions and Feliz isn’t owned yet, use that number-one waiver claim, or empty your FAAB account.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Erik Hahmann
Those numbers prompted the Rangers to promote the then-23-year-old to Triple-A at the start of the 2009 season. Facing his toughest competition to date, Borbon continued to put up strong numbers, hitting .307 and getting on base at a .367 clip. Although Borbon stole only 25 bases at Triple-A, his patience at the plate showed improvement; his walk percentage climbed to 7.2%, the highest of his three minor league stops.
Bloomberg Sports’ B-Rank projects Borbon as the 14th-best center fielder in MLB in 2010, ahead of better-known players like Nyjer Morgan, Vernon Wells, and Carlos Beltran to name a few. Those players, and others of the same ilk, might get picked ahead of Borbon in many leagues based on name recognition alone. That’s a perfect formula for landing one of the best sleeper names in fantasy baseball this season.