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Marco Estrada is hardly a “sleeper” who’s going to be super cheap, but he’s someone to target nevertheless. First the bad news: he gave up 18 homers over 138.1 innings last year, which is hardly ideal. This was accompanied by a 10.5 HR/FB%, so there was nothing fluky about it either. But this crazy high HR rate didn’t come with a solid 3.64 ERA and strong 1.14 WHIP by accident, as Estrada also posted a 143:29 K:BB ratio. If he had qualified, his 25.4 K% would have tied for third best in all of baseball, and among those in the top-10 in that category, his accompanying 5.2 BB% would have easily been the lowest. Not only that, his 18.0 IFFB% would have also been the highest among all starters. This is a combination that shouldn’t be overlooked. When it came to striking out and walking batters faced, essentially he was the best in the league by a wide margin. And inducing infield flies should basically be treated as a K. If you want to dig deeper, Estrada’s .298 BABIP last year looks unlucky when you consider it came with a 0.76 GB/FB ratio and the aforementioned 18.0 IFFB%. Track record matters, so he should be viewed around a top-35 fantasy starter this year, but if you looked at last season’s peripherals alone, Estrada would be worthy of being treated as a top 10-15ish starting pitcher.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
After hitting nine homers over his first 907 at-bats in the majors, Aaron Hill slugged 17 bombs during his third year in the league. Injuries were to blame for the shortened following season, but he also finished with just two home runs over 205 ABs. In 2009, Hill truly broke out, hitting 36 homers with a .286/.330/.499 line. His power didn’t disappear the following year, when he hit 26 HRs, but he batted just .206. Then, in 2011, Hill managed only eight home runs over 520 at-bats, although that surprisingly came with 21 steals (he had totaled 23 stolen bases over 2,930 career at-bats up to this point). In other words, Hill was one of the more unpredictable hitters in the game. He entered last season at age 30 playing in Chase Field, which is easily among the best hitter’s parks in baseball, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise he had a huge bounce back campaign. However, the extent to which Hill rebounded may have been, as the second baseman finished as the 25th most valuable player overall. While his price tag isn’t expecting a repeat, Hill presents an interesting case since he’s been all over the map since entering the league (here are his end season fantasy ranks over the past four years, respectively: 30, 341, 249 and 25). Since he’s still with the Diamondbacks and in his prime, I’m more on the side of “believer” than not, but Hill’s definitely not one of the safer picks among the top-75.
Carlos Gomez combined for 56 homers/steals last year in just 415 at-bats, which was the fourth-most in baseball (behind only Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and B.J. Upton). Gomez has generally been considered a disappointment, but he’s also totaled a 35.5 UZR/150 over the past two years while playing center field, which is second only to Brett Gardner (this is without question imperfect data dealing with too small of a sample. But realize the third best UZR/150 over this span has been Peter Bourjos – at a distant 23.9. Either way, and even if you want to just use scouting tools, it’s hard to argue against Gomez being one of the better defensive players in the league). Because of that, playing time should no longer be an issue, and in fantasy terms, Gomez looks like someone to target. More walks would be nice, but over the past three seasons, his SB success rate has been a ridiculous 86.6 percent (71-for-82). He’s 27 years old and just hit .278 with 14 homers and 26 stolen bases over 252 at-bats after the All-Star break last season (that’s prorated to 28 homers and 52 steals over 150 games). Gomez should be viewed as a top-25 fantasy outfielder.
Ron Shandler (among others) thinks Mike Trout is being drafted too highly this year. Here’s a rebuttal from Chris Liss I highly recommend reading.
Wilin Rosario entered last year with a career minor league line of .267/.316/.449 over nearly 1,500 at-bats. The undrafted backstop then proceeded to hit 28 homers in fewer than 400 at-bats in the majors as a 23-year-old. There’s obviously quite a bit of power upside here, but even while playing in Coors Field, which has boosted batting average more than any park over the past three years according to The Bill James Handbook (it’s also held the lowest strikeout Park Index over that same span), Rosario had a K % of 23.2 and a BB% of 5.9 last season, so he’s clearly a BA risk. Moreover, his defense is nothing short of terrible (Fangraphs graded him at -11.1 Fld, and as Gene McCaffrey pointed out, Rosario’s 21 passed balls were 10 more than any other player, and he also led all catchers in errors. On a side note: I can’t recommend McCaffrey’s “Wise Guy Baseball” enough). Of course, that poor defense doesn’t hurt fantasy owners on the surface, but it certainly could if it leads to less playing time. Still, it’s hard to argue against someone who just combined for 32 homers/steals in 396 at-bats at such a young age, and Coors Field remains the league’s best hitter’s park. Rosario should be considered a top-10 fantasy catcher, and that’s being modest mostly because the position is a bit deeper than usual.
Here’s a Hooter’s ballgirl who may not fully understand the rules.
Another interesting catcher to discuss is A.J. Pierzynski. After averaging 11.9 home runs over his first 10 full seasons in the league (in which he’s remained remarkably durable for a catcher, never appearing in fewer than 128 games over that span) and never clubbing more than 18 in his career, Pierzynski hit 27 home runs last season at age 36. While it’s rarely smart to pay for career-year stats, especially for someone doing so in his mid 30s, Pierzynski’s ADP is somehow a modest 180.0 in Yahoo! Leagues, and even if you believe his power is sure to take a step back, he has a career .284 batting average and is now joining a Rangers lineup that led MLB in runs scored last season. Texas also has the third-highest HR Park Index for LHB over the past three years. Pierzynski has never scored 70 runs or recorded 80 RBI in a season during his career, but the fact he’s currently the No. 13 catcher off the board in Y! leagues sure gives confidence to those who like to wait on the position.
Back in 2009, David Ortiz hit .238 as a 33-year-old, looked like the wrong body type to age well and was only DH eligible. Over the three seasons since then, his average season looked like this: .296-78-28-86. That included him missing a total of 105 games over that span. In fact, if you prorated Ortiz’s numbers over a modest 150 games last season, you’d get this: .318-108-38-100. Put differently, he was the sixth most valuable fantasy player on a per-game basis, according to Baseball Monster. While that pace was likely unsustainable, nothing jumped out as totally fluky (he had more walks than strikeouts), as he’s surprisingly held up as one of the league’s better hitters throughout his mid 30s and is even 1B eligible these days. However, health has quickly become a major concern. After an Achilles’ injury ended his season last year, Ortiz is dealing with problems with both of his heels right now. He’s going to start the year on the disabled list and could miss as much as the first month of the season, making him a proverbial high-risk, high-reward pick.
In case you’re also a hoops fan or enjoy my random links, here’s my NBA column from last week.
Song of the week: Menomena’s “Heavy Is As Heavy Does.”
I’ve never cared much about the WBC at all before, but for some reason, I’ve found myself invested this year. It helps that the players involved seem to be into it, and I just couldn’t help myself getting worked up over Joe Torre’s unbelievably crazy in game management. I’m not sure his strategical decisions could have hurt USA’s chances of winning their game against Canada more. Between the completely unnecessary bunts, the intentional walk to Pete Orr(!) from a newly called upon reliever that loaded the bases and ensured Joey Votto would come to the plate again to not having Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup to saving Craig Kimbrel for a possible save situation and not using him in a much higher leverage situation in the eighth inning of an elimination game, it was truly maddening. Still, this tournament is only going to get more and more popular moving forward, and I’m officially onboard with it.
Longread of the week: In the footsteps of a killer. Seriously, read this and all the accompanying information it presents (including the voice mail).
Bonus pick: Can someone please help identify either the aforementioned killer still on the loose, or these dirty cops? At least spread the word any way you can.
Yu Darvish was something of a disappointment during his first year in the states, finishing with a 3.90 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Of course, with 221 strikeouts and 16 wins, he wasn’t exactly a bust, and looking forward, there are signs of a future ace. On the surface, Darvish actually was worse after the All-Star Break (4.26 ERA) than before it (3.59), although most other peripherals point toward him improving with experience (his K/BB rate went from 2.21 to 2.89 and his HR/9 rate dropped from 0.79 to 0.51, although his LOB% went from 75.9 to 63.4). The question remains whether Darvish started trusting his stuff more (his control was terrific in Japan) and stopped nibbling, or should we disregard data from September, which is the month that matters least when looking at numbers, thanks to roster expansion? I lean toward the former, as he was so dominant in September (2.21 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 39:7 K:BB ratio over 36.2 innings), I’m betting it’s meaningful and a sign of things to come. Darvish’s 92.8 mph average fastball velocity was top-15 among starters, and he sported an elite 11.8 SwStr%. Moreover, his 27.1 K% was second only to Max Scherzer, which looks especially impressive when you combine that with his 1.46 GB/FB ratio (not to mention his 12.3 IFFB%). So there’s already a lot to like about Darvish, and that’s before considering the Astros joining his division this season.
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