By Eriq Gardner //
By R.J. Anderson //
In early March, I detailed why Cliff Pennington
could be a valuable piece in deeper leagues because of his ability to
steal bases. So far, he’s been well worth the late-round draft pick.
To date, Pennington’s stolen base total sits at 15. That places him sixth amongst shortstops, behind the usual names like Elvis Andrus, Erick Aybar, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes. Pennington
will probably finish within the 25-30 steals range; not bad for someone
without the hype or draft status of a Hanley or Reyes. What I expected
from Pennington was a hot streak that placed him among the game’s best
hitters for a prolonged period. Yet, over the last 30 days, he’s been
absolute on fire, batting .408/.463/.563 and placing him amongst the
top 10 batters in the entire league.
Fantasy league veterans
know all about the positional scarcity that comes with playing
shortstop. Any morsel of value from a non-elite shortstop or catcher
should be savored. Pennington ranked second in shortstop batting
average during the month of June (.338, only Rafael Furcal was
above .320) and he is hitting .375 in July. With that kind of
performance for the last month, you would think his stock would be up.
That is not reality, though, as he’s owned in only 26% of ESPN leagues
and 46% of CBS leagues.
Data courtesy of FanGraphs
obvious caveats apply to Pennington’s streak. Do not expect this level
of performance to continue. Besides the fact that nobody hits .400
anymore, Pennington plays in a cavernous ballpark. Despite all that
room, the park’s dimensions restrict hits of all variety from either
hand due to the large area of foul territory. A safe projection for his
performance from here on out is essentially his slash line to date:
.267/.338/.389. That looks similar to his 2009, when he produced
.279/.342/.418, in far fewer at-bats.
If you need shortstop help for the short-term in a standard league, grab Pennington and hope to ride out the wave.
For more information on Cliff Pennington and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
by Eno Sarris //
When you’re in the middle of a cross-country move, you can be forgiven for making some quick decisions about your lineup. Actually, if you ask a certain spouse, you will not be forgiven for ‘wasting time on your fantasy teams when you could be helping with the move.’ Pfft. This is important work here.
In one league, the Fantasy Lounge Roto Champs League, I’ve won two of the past three years — but my team is struggling a little right now. I drafted Alcides Escobar as my shortstop, and even though it took such a late pick that the rest of my team is reasonably strong (up to sixth from last), I’ve been struggling at shortstop and replaced Escobar with Ian Desmond recently. Someone dropped Stephen Drew the other day, though, so I immediately put in the claim for Drew, washed my hands of Desmond, and felt like my team had just gotten much better.
Should I have taken a longer look? These two players sport different approaches and different experience levels. But the results have been very similar. Take a look at the comparison on the right from Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools and you’ll see that these are both bottom-echelon fantasy options in standard 12-team mixed leagues. Bloomberg Sports’ new
Trade Analyzer rates the move as an average one that improves my team in only two stats.
Desmond is hitting just .247 for the year, with four home runs and six steals to date. It’s not luck on the batted ball keeping him down, as his BABIP is about neutral (.295).
Stephen Drew has fared slightly better from a fantasy perspective. He leads Desmond by a comfortable margin in batting average (.268). The rest of the numbers look similar, though: steals (Desmond leads six to five), runs scored (Drew leads 36 to 27), RBI (Desmond leads 33 to 28) and homers (both have four). Like Desmond, Drew can’t blame his low batting average on BABIP, as he sits at .315. Sound familiar?
While their fantasy stats look alike, there are different players under the hood here. Drew walks twice as much as Desmond and has a track record as a superior power hitter. Drew has a .143 isolated power number (ISO, or slugging percentage minus batting average) while Desmond has put up a .124 ISO. Desmond has struck out at a higher rate (20.7% to 18.0%, ML average is 20.5%) and is reaching outside the zone at a much higher rate (34.9% to 24.7%, ML average is 28.4%). The two players’ 2010 triple-slash stats tell the story:
Frustratingly, though, walk rate is not positively correlated with batting average. So though we know that Drew has more real-life value because of his walks, and we can appreciate his selective approach, we cannot say that a player that walks like he does will necessarily put up a high batting average. Look at Adam Dunn for an anecdotal piece of evidence in that regard. We also know that while Drew has more ISO this year and in the past (.172 career ISO), he’s on a three-year decline in that statistic.
So if you can’t depend on Drew for a strong batting average, his power has been on a decline, and he doesn’t own as much natural speed as Desmond, why is picking up Drew and dropping Desmond a no-brainer? Well, for one, strikeout rate is negatively correlated with batting average, so there’s a notch in Drew’s belt. Another reason has to do with track record. As we wrote in the preseason, Drew has shown the ability to hit for power and batting average in his short career, and at 27 years old, he shouldn’t yet be in his decline.
Finally, Drew’s aggregate offensive numbers, and defense, point to a much better real-life player at this stage of their respective careers. While Desmond and Drew sport similar UZR figures, UZR only becomes a reliable indicator of defensive ability once you have three years of data to peruse. What we do know right now is that Desmond is on pace for more than 40 errors this season, including a recent game in which his sloppy D cost Stephen Strasburg a win. The fact that Desmond is also a rookie means there’s a non-zero chance he’ll be sent back to the minors if he keeps struggling too.
If you’re looking for a fill-in shortstop in shallower leagues, or a player to hold in deeper ones, choose Drew over Desmond.
For more on Ian Desmond, Stephen Drew, Alcides Escobar, and other shortstop options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson //
Nearly 50 games into the regular season and Derek Jeter does not look like Derek Jeter. It starts with his .275/.319/.399 slash line, which looks like it belongs to Jeter’s backup in any given year. Jeter is walking in fewer than 5% of his plate appearances – a career low – and striking out more than in recent years. Is there any upside to keeping the Yankees’ captain, or is this the beginning of the end?
Jeter is seeing significantly fewer pitches than normal. Between 2005 and 2009, Jeter’s seasonal low for pitches per plate appearance was 3.72, this year it’s 3.59. Making matters worse is that Jeter is hitting nearly 70% of his batted balls on the ground. Given the limitations of batted ball data – i.e. whether the ball is being hit hard, or softly – it’s impossible to say whether Jeter is replicating his trademark out (the slow grounder to shortstop) more often than usual. Two things are certain: 1) Jeter’s .300 BABIP is well below recent norms and 2) Jeter is swinging outside of the zone more than he ever has before. That could be a sign of pressing or a sign that Jeter’s plate approach is waning.
While Jeter should not be expected to continue to perform this poorly heading forward, the reality is that he is a soon-to-be 36-year-old shortstop. Mike Axisa of the wonderful River Avenue Blues site recently tweeted that only three 36-year-old shortstops in the last 50 years have posted an OPS+ of 100 or better. Those three were Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith, and Luis Aparicio, three of the all-time positional greats.
Deciding whether to sell low on Jeter or not might be the most difficult decision some fantasy owners will make this season. Simply put, there’s no right answer. Yes, he’s old for a starting major league shortstop. But he’s also coming off a fantastic season and is one of the finest talents to ever take the field. The best news might come from 2008. Jeter had similarly poor outings in April and May — posting OPS of .654 and .715 respectively – before hitting his stride and finishing as an above-average hitter. That was just two seasons ago, so it’s certainly not impossible to think Jeter could do it once more.
For more on Derek Jeter and other struggling veterans, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
by Eno Sarris
We continue our way around the infield after examining the post-hype prognoses for Chris Davis and Rickie Weeks. It’s about time that I admit my dark secret – I actually own a fantasy team that features all of these players around the horn on the infield. As I joked on this podcast with the folks at BaseballPress, this is not a strategy to try at home, and it’s only the particulars of this league that forced me into a corner. On the other hand, finding an undervalued player that has shown elite skills in the past for a bargain price is useful in any league.
So does Stephen Drew count? He has certainly shown plenty of strong attributes at the plate – but not in the same season. If he puts these disparate parts of his game together, though, he could become an impact player at shortstop. It’s been shown by researcher Tom Tango that a player’s peak age range is 27 through 29. Lo and behold, Drew is 27. Could this be his year?
There’s a bit of a split between Bloomberg Sports’ projections for Drew and the wisdom of the crowd on this one. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kit projects Drew for an underwhelming .268 batting average, albeit with 18 home runs. Shown graphically to the left, these numbers don’t combine to instill confidence. In what is perhaps a nod to the fact that manager A.J. Hinch is thinking of batting Drew second this year, he is projected for a decent 80 runs. Are those runs scored combined with the poor batting average and mediocre home run total enough to make fantasy owners right for drafting him more than 100 spots earlier than his B-Rank (B-Rank 229, ADP 127.6)?
There’s obviously some value in his complete package of skills. His skills looks better on a Bloomberg Sports spider graph, where you can see how he stacks up in the offensively-challenged position of shortstop. Even that graph might be selling Drew short, though.
Take his batting average. Not only has he hit .291 before (in 2008), but he’s shown the different components of being able to do it again. Check out his reach rates (the percentage of swings at pitches outside of the zone) since he hit the majors: 30.6%, 21.8%, 28.2%, 22.3%. It may not be a surprise that his walk rate has oscillated similarly: 6.2%, 9.7%, 6.2%, 8.2%. On the plus side, one element of his game has steadily improved: His contact rate has risen from a poor 74.3% to a solid 84.2%.
What does it all mean for his batting average? it means that Drew is struggling with his aggressiveness but is making more and more contact as he figures it out. The recipe for a good year might just include a nice middle ground for his reach rate (say around 25%), an average walk rate (last year the ML average was 8.9%) and an above-average contact rate (the ML average was 80.5% last year). He’s done each piece before – it follows that he could hit each benchmark again, ideally in the same season.
Because he’s not a speedster (19 career stolen bases), the power is the other attractive part of Drew’s profile. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) has also jumped around more than Ozzie Guillen after a liter of Red Bull: .201, .133, .211, .167 (ML average is usually around .155). This is probably related to another component stat that Drew is struggling to harness: his line drive percentage (23.8%, 16.5%, 22.6%, 18.9%). It seems that his power rises and falls with his line drives. The lesson here is that he’s had nice line drive rates twice before – he can do it again.
Why would this year be the year that he once again puts together a good line drive rate with a strong approach at the plate and gives us something that looks like 2008 (or better)? Well, spring training stats are obviously a small sample size, but sometimes those mere 40 or 50 at-bats can give us hope. It is also worth mentioning that John Dewan has shown that about 75% of players that improve their slugging percentage by more than .200 in spring training go on to perform better than their career average during the upcoming season. Drew’s close. His slugging percentage this spring? .609. His career number? .445.
For more information on Stephen Drew and his fellow shortstops this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kit for yourself.
By Jonah Keri
Hanley Ramirez is a consensus Top-2 pick.
Troy Tulowitzki’s in most people’s Top 20, and some people’s Top 10.
Jimmy Rollins’ stock has dropped a bit, but he remains a high-round
favorite among fantasy shortstop picks.
In deeper leagues, you can safely ignore all of them.
your draft is all about finding value. One of the best sources of value
this year will be cheap steals – especially from the shortstop
position. In deep mixed leagues and especially NL-only leagues with 10
teams or more, several lightly-regarded shortstops figure to bring a
lot of hidden value in late rounds.
Leading that pack is Everth Cabrera. The 23-year-old San Diego Padre
swiped 25 bases in his rookie season last year, tied for 6th among MLB
Cabrera’s impressive steals total came despite playing in just 103
games last year. Project those numbers out over a full season, and 35+
steals become a realistic goal; no MLB SS swiped more than 33 bags in
2009. Cabrera figures to get that additional playing time too. He
showed decent plate discipline, walking in 10.5% of his plate
appearances and notching a .342 on-base percentage. Cabrera also played
solid enough defense to earn his team’s trust as an everyday shortstop.
Cabrera will never be confused for a five-category beast like Ramirez.
He hit groundballs on 62.7% of the ball he hit in play last year, an
astronomical figure that severely limits his ability to rack up
extra-base hits. A look at his Spider Chart (bottom center) shows that Cabrera offered
value in the Runs Scored and Stolen Bases department. His other fantasy
categories aren’t pretty: His two home runs put him miles below the
league average even at a more power-deficient position like shortstop,
and you’re probably not knocking in a ton of runs if you’re constantly
chopping the ball into the ground either.
Cabrera’s value could hinge on his batting average. His .255 mark last
year was sub-par for someone with little to no power and a .325 batting
average on balls in play suggests that the culprit wasn’t necessarily
bad luck. On the other hand, Cabrera’s speed should work to his
advantage, helping him leg out infield hits. If he can hoist his line
drive percentage a bit higher than last year’s 14.8% and stick in the
everyday lineup, we could be looking at a .280 hitter with 80+ runs
scored and 35 steals.
Cabrera sports an Average Draft Position of 249. But his B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of all players) of 190 demonstrates his significantly higher upside.
Grabbing Albert Pujols or Chase Utley near the top of your draft, then waiting until the late rounds to grab Everth Cabrera (or Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot,
a player with similar skills) as your starting shortstop and source of
cheap steals, could pay big dividends for your team this season.
For more information on Everth Cabrera and hundreds of other players,
and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check
out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.