By Jonah Keri //
Biggest Surprise: Shaun Marcum
Ricky Romero‘s very close, with a 13-9 record, 3.79 ERA, and
7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But we’re giving the nod to Marcum,
given his great comeback from injuries. The 13-8 record, 3.63 ERA and
7.7 K/9 IP rate are nearly identical to Romero’s line. But the 2.1 BB/9
IP points to a pitcher with a much better WHIP than Romero (for 2010
fantasy purposes) and generally better command. At any rate, if you
drafted either of these guys this year, you’re happy.
Biggest Bust: None
The pitching staff overachieved en masse. In fact, looking at the seasons put up by Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells,
and the terrific performances by several young starters, it’s a wonder
the Jays didn’t make a bigger run at the postseason. Goes to show what
a killer division the AL East is.
2011 Keeper Alert: Brandon Morrow
No one can figure out why the Mariners gave up so early on Morrow,
the hard-throwing number-one pick. But the Jays are happy they did.
Morrow’s 178 strikeouts in just 146.1 IP yield an off-the-charts
strikeout rate for a starting pitcher. His 17 K, one-hitter against the
Rays marked the single best game by any pitcher this season, according
to Bill James’ Game Score stat. Morrow has real ace potential, but you
won’t have to pay nearly that much given the modest 10-7 record and
4.49 ERA. Keep him if you can, or draft him at a discount next season.
2011 Regression Alert: Kevin Gregg
The 36 saves are great, but Gregg’s success was purely a function of
opportunity. He was his usual wild self this season, walking a batter
every other inning and working in and out of trouble far more
frequently than a pitcher usually tasked with pitching ahead and with
the bases empty ever should. We recommend buying skills when shopping
for relief pitchers, because skills-challenged closers like Gregg
become nearly useless the moment they lose their job. And it’ll happen
sooner or later.
For more on Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow and the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Jonah Keri //
Biggest Surprise: Jose Bautista
The biggest no-duh of any player we’ll cover in this series,
Bautista’s 52 homers and 119 RBI (so far) are the biggest individual
story in all of baseball. The breakthrough season has elicited all the
expected accusations. But several other factors back up a big home run
spike. Bautista’s flyball rate surged to 54.8%, he hit a home run on
21.8% of his flyballs (tops in the league) and the rest of the Jays
also enjoyed a banner power year, as Rogers Centre played like a
launching pad this season. Either way, many 2010 Bautista owners will
soon enjoy some frothy Yoo-Hoo showers.
Biggest Bust: Aaron Hill
Twenty-five homers from a second baseman are a boon to any fantasy
team; a .206 batting average is not. Hill will finish the year with
well over 500 at-bats and an average near the Mendoza line. Unless you
compensated with an army of Ichiros, your team likely took a big hit in
batting average that may have derailed your run at a title.
2011 Keeper Alert: Aaron Hill
Fantasy baseball is all about finding value. In Hill’s case, his
incredibly disappointing 2010 season will cause his price to plummet.
But look deeper and you’ll find that his batting average was the result
of a flukishly low .196 batting average on balls in play. The power’s
still there, and the average will bounce back. If you don’t keep him,
draft him at a discount next year.
2011 Regression Alert: Jose Bautista
Another no-brainer, of course. No one expects Bautista to top 50
homers again. But depending on how skeptical your leaguemates are, you
might actually be able to get Bautista for less than full value. Fifty
homers likely won’t happen again, but 35-plus very well could.
For more on Jose Bautista, Aaron Hill, and the Toronto Blue Jays lineup, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
Jose Bautista has been the biggest
surprise of any hitter in baseball this season. The 29-year-old’s
career has been anything but conventional. In 2004 he split time
between four of the worst teams in baseball (Devil Rays, Royals,
Orioles, and Pirates) and stuck with Pittsburgh until the 2008 season,
when he eventually wound up on the Blue Jays.
Entering this season, Bautista sported a career line
of .238/.329/.400 in 2,038 plate appearances. He’s hitting
.254/.364/.580 this season. A 4-for-4 explosion last night against
Baltimore hoisted his league-leading home run total to 30, with 75 RBI
for good measure. So where did this improvement come from, and is it
In cases where a player suddenly blows up, the easy
thing to do is peruse his underlying metrics and see which ones are
inflated. That’s a problem, though, because Bautista doesn’t appear to
be the usual blow-up candidate with fluky peripherals. His walk rate is
almost identical to last season, as is his strikeout rate, and his
BABIP is a career worst .233 – (vs. career BABIP of .273). The only
area which has seen change is his flyball rate, and by extension, his
Bautista is hitting more flyballs than ever, 53.4%
(fourth-highest in MLB) vs. a career rate of 44.4%. Hitting that many
flyballs is an excellent way for a power hitter to smack more home
runs. But it’s bad for a player’s batting, average as most infield
flies are outs, and more than 70% of outfield flies are caught too.
Bautista’s 18.9% HR/FB rate is 6.8% higher than his career norm and
explains some of the newfound power, but not all of it.
HitTrackerOnline.com keeps count of home runs by batter and park. Below
are Bautista’s homers this season, pay close attention to the parks
column, which means Bautista isn’t just taking advantage of short
One subtle factor that explains a large part of his
power streak is his sudden ability to hit right-handed pitching. For
his career, Bautista has hit .259/.358/.478 versus southpaws and
.230/.324/.401 versus righties. This season, Bautista is still hitting
lefties, but he has upped his game versus same-handed pitchers, batting
.243/.358/.558 through Monday. As is the case with his overall line,
nothing outside of the power sticks out in his line. He’s not getting
incredibly lucky with balls in play or walking a whole lot more than
That generally suggests a bona fide improvement. Even
still, it’s always important to consider the larger sample size.
Consider dealing Bautista if your leaguemates see him as a true
For more information on Jose Bautista and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
That said, some teams desperate for a shakeup might prefer the hot hand, and since we can’t make a strong case that luck, track record, or home environment weigh strongly on this decision, one wouldn’t be crazy at all to choose Bautista among the two.
By R.J. Anderson //
Almost every aspect of Brandon Morrow’s career has resembled a roller coaster ride. So is there any surprise that Morrow’s 2010 season is replicating that model?
Drafted by the Seattle Mariners as the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft ahead of hometown hero Tim Lincecum, Morrow failed to live up to expectations in the great northwest. Struggles with command and health restrictions that kept him in the bullpen for most of his Mariner career marked his downfall. Over the off-season he was dealt to the Blue Jays for reliever Brandon League.
The Jays placed Morrow in the rotation, hoping to squeeze the most value possible out of the right-hander. He’s since made five starts, yielding a 5.46 ERA. Morrow has allowed 17 earned runs, but seven came in one start and 12 came in the first two starts. In his last three starts he’s posted the following line: 19 IP, 25 SO, 10 BB, and a 2.37 ERA.
As always. Morrow features an explosive fastball at
upwards of 96 miles per hour. That velocity, combined with his draft
status, helped Morrow secure an annual position on numerous breakthrough
lists in the past two seasons. The hype makes hot stretches like the
one Morrow is now in difficult to evaluate without bias.
There is reason
to believe this is just a hot stretch, though, and not the new
Morrow has shown short stretches of success in the past, without following through. In September 2008, Morrow made a pair of starts against the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He pitched quite well, striking out a batter per inning and posting a 2.13 ERA. In July 2009 Morrow made four starts in which he struck out 21 and walked nine.
The only change in Morrow’s per nine ratios this season is his strikeout rate and a slight deflation in his home run rate – although he’s allowing the same number of home runs per fly balls hit. That increase in strikeout rate just screams unsustainable. Morrow’s swinging strike rate is up one whiff per 100 pitches – from 10% to 11% — and the only change in pitch approach is the strong implementation of a curveball. It’s interesting to see that Morrow is throwing his curve the most on 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts per data from FanGraphs, suggesting the key to his success has been an increase in strikes looking, rather than of the swinging variety.
Reality and history suggest Morrow simply will not continue to strike out more than a batter per inning. Consider that Morrow has only faced two American League East opponents this season (Baltimore and Tampa Bay) and those starts combined to see him walk 11. Also note that he’s yet to face the Red Sox or Yankees.
There’s a chance Morrow can post a sub-4 ERA, but don’t bet on it. If you can sell high, do it.
For more on Brandon Morrow, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
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by Eno Sarris //
We’ve talked a little in this space about approaching early stats with some skepticism. Eriq Gardner had a great piece reminding us about the Emilio Bonifacios of the world – not all fast-starters turn out great. Tommy Rancel also pointed out some slow starters who would make great waiver wire or trade targets. So, we know not to take too much stock in the first 50 plate appearances of a season.
But there must be something we can figure out from smaller sample sizes. Thankfully, Steve Slowinski from DRaysBay provides an answer. Here are the following levels at which these stats become significant:
- 50 PA: Swing%
- 100 PA: Contact Rate
- 150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
- 200 PA: Walk Rate, Ground Ball Rate, GB/FB
- 250 PA: Fly Ball Rate
- 300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
- 500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
- 550 PA: ISO
It follows that statistics based on pitches would become significant earlier: a batter sees anywhere from three to four pitches per plate appearance, so you’re really looking at a sample of 200+ pitches early in the year. Swing percentages and, to a lesser extent, contact rates, don’t leave us with too many tools in the early going. Let’s take a look at Travis Snider with these statistics in mind.
Snider is striking out in almost a third of his at-bats (32.4%), and sports a terrible .118/.286/.265 batting line (through Sunday) that is being held down by his strikeouts as well as his microscopic .136 BABIP. If a few more balls fell into play, his numbers would look a lot better. But these stats are misleading two weeks into the season. Let’s focus on the other tools in our bag right now.
The swing rates favor improvement for Snider. One of Snider’s major weaknesses is his tendency to strike out. And the only statistic that is currently significant, swing percentage, suggests that he may be making progress in that part of his game. Snider’s swing percentage this year is 42.3%, which is down from 48.2% last year. The even better news is that he’s swinging less at pitches outside the zone (21.7% this year, 27.1% last year). So Snider is making progress at discerning bad pitches, which might bode well for his strikeouts.
He’s swinging less, and making about the same contact (69.7% this year, 71.3% last year), but he has another 50 or so plate appearances before that trend starts to become significant. If he can boost the contact rate while keeping the newfound swing rate, his sense of the strike zone will benefit greatly – and so should his batting average.
Another piece of news that we can take away is that his reduced power this year (.147 ISO this year, .178 ISO last year, .229 ISO in minors) is not significant. It won’t be for another 400 plate appearances. In fact, Snider’s career ISO (.172) was amassed in just 398 plate appearances. That could improve.
Though it, too, comes in a few plate appearances, perhaps Snider’s spring training slugging percentage can provide a pattern for his future growth. Taken from the Bloomberg Fantasy Tools, the grab on the right shows Snider’s slugging percentage in spring training.
Of course the best indicator of Snider’s upside is his terrific minor league performance. He hit a lofty .304/.382/.533 in four minor league seasons, with much of that performance coming in pitcher-friendly leagues and ballparks. He’s also just 22, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Snider’s plate discipline is getting better. We’ll have to rely on hope and those minor league statistics when it comes to his power. There’s still a chance he meets his Bloomberg Sports projections (.267, 18 home runs) for the year, or even betters them. Most of the season remains.
For more on struggling young players like Travis Snider, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
The season’s barely started, yet by last count we’ve had seven teams make a switch from their projected closer. Some are injury related, and some are simple managerial decisions. The decision by the Toronto Blue Jays to remove Jason Frasor from the closer’s role in favor of Kevin Gregg falls under the latter.
Normally, making a switch this early would scream knee-jerk reaction. On the other hand, Gregg and Frasor were locked in a tight battle this spring, and the Jays didn’t give Gregg nearly $3 million this winter without considering the possibility that he might close some games.
Frasor has struggled in his five games so far. Meanwhile, there is concern about his velocity, which is down more than two miles per hour from 2009. That could just be a product of building up arm strength early in the year, but also good reason to lower his usage in high-leverage situations for now.
Gregg came to Toronto after one disappointing season with the Chicago Cubs. Despite the ugly 4.72 ERA in Chicago, his peripheral stats were pretty good. His 9.31 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) were just off his career best and among the highest such rates in the game. His walk per nine innings (BB/9) of 3.92 was his lowest total since 2006.
Gregg struggled with the long ball while in Chicago. After allowing 10 home runs in two seasons with the Marlins, he yielded 13 homers in 2009 with the Cubs. Some of that was bad luck, though: Gregg posted an aberrant 15.3% home run-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB), much higher than his career rate of 8.5%. He is likely due for some regression.
If we normalize his HR/FB from 2009 using expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), a metric that looks at things pitchers can control like strikeouts and walks with a normalized home run rate, we see Gregg’s xFIP of 4.18 last year was a lot better than the near 5.00 ERA.
In addition to regression, Gregg has made some changes in pitch selection that could go a long way in lowering his home runs allowed. Since 2003, nearly 85% of Gregg’s pitches have been a fastball (65%) or slider (18%). But in early 2010, he’s thrown the pair of pitches less than 60% of the time.
In their place, he’s throwing more split-fingered fastballs (8.4% career, 23.1% in 2010), and has reintroduced a cutter to his arsenal. Gregg has dabbled with a cutter before – throwing it 2% of the time in his career – but is throwing the pitch nearly 20% of the time so far this season. Please note that all these percentages are extremely small sample sizes, but don’t ignore the fact that Gregg has made some adjustments.
It also seems the pitch selection changes have changed the type of pitcher Gregg is. He’s getting nearly 70% groundballs this year after getting less than 40% for his career. Of course a 70% groundball rate is unlikely over the course of a full season (unless you’re Chad Bradford). Nonetheless, if Gregg and his newfound weapons can keep that ground ball rate above 45% (or even better, 50%), that would be a nifty shift for the 31-year-old.
If he’s available in your league, immediately grab Gregg regardless of size and format. Frasor and Scott Downs are still in the mix, but all things considered, Gregg is looking like a strong play, especially in a season that has seen a 23% turnover rate at the closer position in just 10 days. Also remember that Toronto has seen a different saves leader in each of the last five seasons including Frasor in 2009. This trend looks likely to continue in 2010.
For more on Kevin Gregg and the Toronto Blue Jays check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.