Results tagged ‘ Texas Rangers ’

Ian Kinsler, the Chase Utley Alternative

By Tommy Rancel

Since joining the Phillies lineup full-time in 2005, Chase Utley has averaged .301/.388/.535 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 29 home runs and 101 RBI per season. These numbers are typical for a star corner outfielder or a slugging first baseman – not a second baseman. For example, in 2009, Utley hit .282/.397/.508 with 31 home runs and 93 RBI. The average full-time major league second baseman hit .283/.348/.446 with 17 home runs and 74 RBI last year.

Utley is a consistently elite performer who shows no signs of slowing down. But Ian Kinsler may soon pose a threat to his throne atop the second base rankings.

Kinsler one of baseball’s unluckiest players in 2009. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was just .241, the lowest BABIP among qualified major leaguers, and 47 points lower than his career mark of .288. This drop in BABIP led to career lows in batting average (.253) and on-base percentage (.327).

Kinsler posted a career high 54% fly-ball rate (FB%) last season, with a career-low 15.4% line drive rate (LD%). If he rebounds toward career levels (47.1% FB, 20.0 % LD) a healthy batting average regression will likely follow.

Despite the low batting average, Kinsler still had a productive season for the Texas Rangers, smoking 31 home runs and swiping 31 bases. He became just the third second basemen (Brandon Phillips and Alfonso Soriano) in major league history to record a 30/30 season.

Looking at the spider charts of Kinsler and Utley, both players rate above average across the board. Utley’s batting average looks a lot better, but remember Kinslers’ BABIP fluctuation.  

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The final category is steals. Surprisingly, the 31-year-old, Utley stole a career high 23 bases last season after swiping 60 bags over the previous four. Kinsler has 91 career steals, including 80 over the past three years. He has increased his steals total in each of his four seasons: 11 in 2006, 23 in 2007, 26 in 2008, and 31 in 2009. Utley is on the wrong side of 30, while Kinsler is just 27; that age gap could widen the disparity in steals between the two players over the next few seasons.

One potential pitfall with Kinsler is health. In his four-year career he has spent 134 days on the DL with a variety of injuries. These include: a dislocated thumb, left foot stress fracture, sports hernia, and a strained hamstring last July. Utley missed 31 days with a broken bone in his hand in 2007, but has avoided a DL trip in the past two seasons.

Unlike previous years, Kinsler will not be leading off for the Rangers. This will give him fewer plate appearances, but should not be seen as a net negative. Instead, focus on all the increased RBI opportunities he will have hitting behind Michael Young and Josh Hamilton. In addition to the potential for more RBI, we know Kinsler’s power is real. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) has increased every season, going from .168 in 2006 to .235 in ’09. 

B-Rank looks past Kinsler’s 2009 batting average and ranks him 12th overall; Utley ranks slightly higher at 10th overall. Meanwhile, Kinsler’s average draft position (ADP) of 17.2 means he could produce similar or better numbers than Utley (ADP 5.4) without expending a mid-first round pick. 

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In a 12-team mixed league, a team picking late in the first round could conceivably draft a combination of Prince Fielder and Kinsl
er, a killer 1-2 punch on the right side of the infield to start the draft.

For more information on Ian Kinsler and hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

C.J. Wilson’s Potential Move To The Rangers’ Rotation

By Tommy Rancel

Spring Training marks a period of experimentation. With a month of meaningless games to fill, it’s the perfect time to try things that you would never think of once Opening Day arrives. Most experiments go nowhere and end in mid-March. Occasionally one will work, such as last season’s move of Skip Schumaker from the outfield to second base for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Texas Rangers are doing some experimentation of their own by giving set-up man and former closer C.J. Wilson a chance to compete for a rotation spot. In recent seasons we’ve seen Adam WainwrightRyan Dempster, and Braden Looper make successful moves from reliever to starter – albeit to differing degrees.

It was not too long ago when Wilson was the Rangers’ closer. After solid numbers in 2007 (66 games, 3.02 ERA, 12 saves), Rangers Manager Ron Washington tapped the lefty as the team’s bullpen stopper in 2008. However, things didn’t go according to plan. In 2008, Wilson saved 24 games, but finished with a dismal 6.02 ERA in 50 games.

The biggest difference between the two seasons was a disparity in home runs. After allowing just four homers in 68.1 innings in 2007, Wilson gave up eight in just 46.1 innings in 2008. 

The huge jump can be explained by a ridiculously high home run-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB). For his career, Wilson owns a HR/FB rate of 12.6%. But in 2008, his HR/FB skyrocketed to 16.8%, up from 2007 levels, when batters hit home runs on 8.2% of the flyballs hit off Wilson. 

Wilson benefited from regression last year, when his HR/FB dropped to a career-low 6.3%, in the process lowered his home runs allowed per nine innings rate (HR/9) to 0.37 – also a career best. Filling the set-up role and backup closer role in support of the Rangers’ top closer choice Frank Francisco, Wilson finished the season with 14 saves and set career marks in several categories, including: wins (5), games pitched (74), innings pitched (73.2), strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) (10.26), and ERA (2.81).

Despite the career year out of the bullpen, Wilson is still auditioning for a rotation spot in the Texas Rangers rotation. Why? Because in most cases 150 innings of average starting pitching is more valuable to a team than a 60 good middle relief innings. 

As strong as Wilson’s 2009 campaign was, his contributions added up to a decent but not overwhelming 2 wins above replacement level (WAR represents the number of wins a player adds to his team over your typical 25th man on a roster). According to fangraphs.com, Wilson was one of just one of 10 relievers to hit the 2 WAR threshold, showing the limited upside inherent in a role that severely limits innings pitched. On the other hand, 63 starting pitchers were worth 2 WAR or more.

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According to B-Rank (Bloomberg’s proprietary ranking of all players), Wilson’s stellar relief numbers earn him an overall ranking of 336. In most leagues he is not even drafted. On the other hand, Joe Saunders ranks 271th despite posting a nearly league average 4.60 ERA and an ugly 5.17 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that runs along a similar scale to ERA, while stripping out factors a pitcher can’t control such as defense and luck). He is also drafted in almost every league regardless for format. This is just another example of the value of league average starting pitching over above average relief

The move from bullpen to rotation is a tricky one. It’s generally accepted that a pitcher can see increases in ERA, strikeouts and velocity moving from the rotation to the bullpen. New Yankee Chan Ho Park is a good example of his phenomenon. As a starter, Park owns a career 4.39 ERA. His ERA plunged to 2.58 last season, on the strength of a strikeout rate that reached its highest point for a full season since 2001. Park also saw an increase in velocity: He posted an average fastball velocity of 92.2 MPH last season, up from his career average of 90.3 MPH. Even if Wilson makes a successful transition, he will likely see the reverse effect that Park – and other failed starts like Eric Gagne and Jose Mesa - experienced in moving to the bullpen from the rotation. In 2009, only two qualified major league starters posted K/9′s above 10.00: two-time National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (10.42) and Justin Verlander (10.09). 

In addition to the strikeouts, there are also the looming home run concerns. As mentioned, Wilson enjoyed career best marks of 6.3% HR/FB and 0.37 HR/9 in 2009. Beyond regression to the mean, neither are sustainable as a starting pitcher. In 2009, only five starters had HR/9 less than 0.50: Chris Carpenter (0.33), Clayton Kershaw (0.37), the aforementioned Lincecum (0.41), AL Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke (0.43) and Joel Pinero (0.46). Looking at HR/FB rates, five starters had rates below 6.0%, including four names from above: Carpenter (4.6%), Kershaw (4.1%), Lincecum (5.5%) and Greinke(4.5%), along with Carlos Zambrano (5.6%).

Outside of the statistical regressions, the biggest question is can Wilson handle the toll of pitching every fifth day over a 162-game season? After spending nearly five seasons in the bullpen, Wilson will be asked to throw at least 150 innings and upwards of 100 pitches per start. Last season, he threw 25 or
more pitches 14 times and never went over 38 pitches in one appearance. The good news is Wilson’s numbers reflect that he does better when pitching on more days rest. With zero days rest in between appearances, Wilson’s slash line against was .325/.385/.482 (opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG) last year. When working on three days rest that went down to .190/.261/.238; on four days it was .190/.190/.238 on four days. (Please note small sample sizes in all cases.) 

In addition to the physical aspect of starting, Wilson will need to work on pitch selection. A relief pitcher can get by with one dominant pitch and a secondary pitch. A starting pitcher generally needs at least three pitches to deal with the opposing lineup three or four times a night. Wilson has an above average fastball and a decent slider, but is lacking a true third option. In 2009, he toyed with a cut fastball and a curveball, but neither was used more than 5.6% of the time. He will need to up the usage of both pitches, or concentrate on just one as his third pitch, to balance out his pitch selection. 

When taking everything into account – statistical regressions, the physical impact and pitch selection – Wilson is facing an uphill battle. But it’s a battle worth fighting. Despite being one of the games better relievers last season, Wilson was not a valuable fantasy player, because pitchers can only produce so much value (in fantasy or real life) as non-closing relief pitchers. However, if Wilson can parlay his solid historical strikeout rates into a league-average ERA as a starter, his value would jump considerably. I wouldn’t put Wilson on any draft boards as a starter right now; but you should add him to your watch list. 

To keep an eye on C.J. Wilson, and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

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