Thursday, January 13, 2011

2011 Sleeper: Robinson Chirinos (and the Garza Trade)

Around here the wait for Spring Training to start can be excruciating. We scour looking for news to hold us over. But it is January and we end up reading about Rex Ryan and his quest to unseat Bill Belichick as the greatest coach in the land and looking at Superbowl predictions. Fortunately for the fantasy baseball junkie, there is NFL football and the never ending search for yet another sleeper.

There has already been plenty of talk about the Tampa Bay Rays making the Matt Garza trade. In case you've been under a rock the deal was Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and minor league pitcher Zachary Rosscup to the Cubs for pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld, and catcher Robinson Chirinos.

I don't have much to add about Garza himself. I like him in the National League, where he should get a slight boost to his overall numbers. The change in ball parks is not ideal but moving from the AL East to the NL Central should more than make up for it. But you knew all that or at least you've read it on three million different fantasy sites.

Far more interesting to me (for fantasy purposes) are the players coming back to the Tampa Bay Rays and the roles we can project for them, especially catcher Robinson Chirinos. After laboring for years to advance as far as Double-A, Chirinos broke out in 2009 by hitting .294/.396/.519 then built on that in 2010 by hitting .326/.416/.583 with 18 homers. At catcher, anything close to those numbers in the majors would make Chirinos a fantasy stud and an MLB star.

I think we've been mislead about how important Chirinos was to this deal. The Rangers were also hard after Garza. According to Peter Gammons the Rangers tried to acquire Chirinos for the Rays to include him in a Garza deal.
The Rangers were the other team in it to the end. They thought they could get Chirinos from the Cubs, then package him with left-handed pitcher Derek Holland, reliever Frank Francisco and outfielder Engel Beltre, plus pay some of Francisco's contract. Friedman sees everything in the long term, and he thought that in 2012 and '13 -- when Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and Archer could be an extremely formidable front three -- the Rays would have a better chance to keep their window open.
The Rangers players plus Chirinos would have been a much better package in the short term as far as keeping their place atop the AL-East. That the Rangers wanted to acquire Chirinos for them indicates how important he was to the deal from the Rays perspective.

Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on Chirinos during Spring Training. I believe he has an excellent chance of making the team as a utility player if not as a back-up catcher. He has a reputation as a great glove in the infield and at catcher. The Rays definitely see something in Chirinos and a productive player (even a part-time one) who qualifies at catcher is fantasy gold. That's much more significant to fantasy owners than another rookie pitcher on a team loaded with quality arms.

The rest of the deal...

Chris Archer has been discussed a ton as the consensus best prospect in the deal. He was in the top three Cubs prospects by almost every source and for many was number one. He has great stuff and his ceiling is as a front line starter. However, until he improves his control his chances of emerging as more than a quality innings eater are minimal. Though he was at the top of the charts in the Cubs deep system, he is just one of several very good pitching prospects for the Rays. He needs improved control to separate himself from the pack, to his credit his control has improved two straight seasons. He is essentially ready to fill that innings eating role now and could make his major league debut this season.

Outfielder Sam Fuld is an ideal fourth outfielder. He is a solid defender at all three outfield positions and at the plate shows patience and the ability to draw walks. He doesn't have much power but can steal bases. He is much like a more durable and experienced Fernando Perez. Stat guys should love Fuld since he is a stat guy at heart as well. He is a Stanford graduate who majored in statistics and interned at Stats, Inc. Our kind of guy.

Hak-Ju Lee is a few years away but is a very interesting prospect. Keith Law of ESPN likes him more than most and had him ranked first in the Cubs system. He is a very good defensive shortstop with above average speed on the bases. He doesn't have much power and though some believe he will develop some, power is not likely to be a major fantasy asset of Lee's.

Brandon Guyer is an average defensive center fielder with nice speed. He had a very good 2010 season hitting .344/.398/.588 in Double-A with 13 homers, 76 runs, 58 rbi, and 30 stolen bases in 410 plate appearances. He looks like a nice starting option if one of the outfield primaries needs extended time off due to injury.

Other Articles on Robinson Chirinos and the Garza Trade that you may enjoy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Farm System Rankings with Dollar Values

The above graphic was created by Doug Gray of and is used with permission. I present it here because it is always nice to know where the talent will be coming from.

Monday, January 10, 2011

FIP Video from DRays Bay

2011 Sleeper: Chris Capuano SP New York Mets

Last week the New York Mets acquired Chris Capuano, the former Brewers pitcher. Capuano missed the 2008 season and most of the 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. In 66 innings with the Milwaukee Brewers last season he seemed to have regained most of his command and effectiveness. He posted a 7.36 K9, 2.86 BB9, 1.23 HR9, and .298 BABIP, all fairly close to his career levels.

Those numbers put Capuano in the solid but not great category. He's someone who in fantasy we hope to slot as our fourth or fifth starter and pray for an ERA around 4.25. He usually delivers. Miller Park, where Capuano has spent most of his career, is a good park for homerun hitters and especially for left-handed power hitters. Which explains some of Capuano's problems with the long ball. However, as a fly ball pitcher, Capuano is always going to see a fair number of balls leave the park.

Capuano's new home greatly reduces homers. A swing from a factor of 118/103 (LHB/RHB) in Miller park to 90/94 in Citi Field Park, quite a large reduction. Limiting Capuano's largest weakness as a pitcher to such a large degree greatly increases the odds of Capuano having a nice 2011 season. If he can return to his former durability and maintain his former effectiveness, Capuano is a great target in NL-only leagues, and a nice late-round pick in mixed leagues.

Park factors from

Player Stats from

The Truth About Jose Bautista's 2010 Season

There is already a lot of debate on message boards about Jose Bautista's place in fantasy drafts going into the 2011 season. So far, drafters seem to be betting on a repeat of 2010's homer barrage. As a third round pick Bautista needs to return a value around $20 to $25 in standard AL-only leagues. He was valued around $32 in 2010.

To properly judge Bautista's ability to repeat his performance I think we need to know what he did differently. Stats tell us part of the story but without a root cause it becomes very easy to predict a large regression, to something closer to his career levels. Not that his career levels are bad. The 2010 season was one of Bautista's few opportunities to be an everyday starter. Using his career fly ball and HR/FB rates and projecting 500 at-bats Bautista comes out at 32 homers. That's probably a good baseline expectation for 2011 but some of us would like to see better.

Bautista owes much of his success to Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy who showed Bautista during the 2009 season that he was late on nearly every pitch. This made him easier to strike out as well as reducing his production rates. Murphy and Bautista worked on fixing his swing throughout the 2009 season and when he received regular at-bats in September of 2009 he hit ten homers from September 6th to the end of the season. Then he played winter ball to cement the changes into his muscle memory. He even changed his off season workouts from a power lifting routine to a regimen based on polymetrics and cardio with the aid of his Dominican trainer, Kelvin Terrero.

Frankie Piliere, a former scout for the Texas Rangers and presently writing for breaks down the changes far better than I could:
The first part of Bautista's new setup is rather simple. Compared to past years, he is slightly closer to the plate with his back foot. He's not a player that uses the whole field exceptionally well, but he also trusts his hands and knows that he can spin on the best inner-half fastball. So, what he appears to have done is edged his way up on the plate and cut off parts of the zone that pitchers once were able to exploit. It's a subtle one- or two-inch difference, but that small movement up on the plate has allowed him to build on a strength.

Then there is the slight change in his lower half. A little more straight up and down in 2009, Bautista is now in a bit more of a crouch and sitting more on his back leg. His bat angle in his setup is worth pointing out as well. At an angle closer to 45 degrees last season, it's close to flattened out now. Overall, it appears he has made an effort to get his top hand more involved and get his hands moving through the zone quicker in general. To do that, he has put his hands in a higher position and is creating much more leverage. Rather than low and close to his body, we now see him with his hands not just higher but also further away from his body. So, before he even begins his swing, he is in a stronger, loaded position with his hands back.

Take a good look at the way Albert Pujols reads and reacts mechanically to a pitch inside and you'll see some extreme similarities. Pujols does not use a leg kick, but once Bautista's foot is down, the similarities show up in a big way.
"I was getting ready way too late and the ball was beating me to the strike zone," Bautista said. "When I wasn't playing every day, making the adjustments was really tough because I wasn't seeing the results."
The changes outlined above make the statistical changes easier to understand. With that understanding comes the ability to believe Bautista can repeat them or at least come close enough that we can bid on the side of the over of our earlier baseline for homers.

The uptick in contact rate is the easiest to believe. With Bautista getting better looks and improving his timing, it is only natural that he would make better contact. Manager Cito Gaston's call for more balls hit in the air leads to an improved fly ball rate. Better timing and improved contact leads organically to the improved HR/FB which together with more flyballs leads to 54 homeruns.

I'm calling myself a believer in Jose Bautista. I think there will be some regression but not enough to call Bautista a fluke or a potential bust. I think 35-40homers is a good bet and a repeat of 2010 is not out of the question.
Information for this article was gathered from many sources including these great articles:

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Working Out Some Design Problems

UPDATE: All Set, hopefully that's a little cleaner, a little less clunky, and faster loading.

Working out some design problems, I'm slow and ponderous but I should be done later tonight, so please excuse the very temporary changes.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Dangers of Skimming in Unfamiliar Territory

I hope you had a great Holiday Season. Time to get back to work. Only six weeks until spring training!

There are different classes of fantasy sports enthusiasts. That isn't meant to belittle anyone but nevertheless I believe it to be true. One of the more common classes I like to call skimmers. The fans in this class recognize that new fantasy strategies and projecting techniques emerge everyday thanks to the great work of the sabermetrics-minded crowds at sites like fangraphs and the hardball times. They buy the latest edition of Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and Baseball Prospectus 2011 and believe they are developing an edge. But they aren't because they are at heart, skimmers.

Now, for most of the internet skimming is okay. In fact, for most of the junk on the internet skimming is recommended. Once you know that Britney Spears isn't wearing panties the rest of the story lacks importance. Am I wrong? But when we skim the articles at the saber sites we come away swinging unqualified statements like "extremely high or low BABIP numbers are always an indication of luck" or "ERA is a meaningless stat." I'm sure some of you can name a dozen more.

This kind of thinking will cause you to miss out on potentially useful players. In some leagues you might have avoided Jon Garland coming into the 2010 season based on a lousy 4.8 K9 and a 4.68 xFIP. But strikeouts accumulate and pitching in Petco was almost certain to improve his ERA. Those that took a chance lucked into not just a 3.47 ERA but also slightly better strikeouts stats as Garland posted 6.12 K9 last season. Garland may not be a great pitcher but in the right ballpark he can post a decent ERA. In most leagues ERA is the category that counts, not FIP or tERA.

Players do not have to be great or even good by modern evaluation standards to be very useful, even great fantasy players. In the last few weeks I've read a hundred different writers trash shortstop Alcides Escobar. They point out his lack of power and the fact that he doesn't walk much as his weaknesses but they fail to speak to his strengths. Escobar is an excellent contact hitter and a superior base stealer. Facts are his walk rate is improving and hitting near the top of the Royals lineup will probably be much more comfortable for him.

I spoke to a friend about Escobar last night. I said the Brewers made a mistake last season (I may have said it more colorfully) not allowing Escobar to run at will when he reached base. My friend quipped about his lack of on-base skills. I told him that the worst thing you can do to young players is to make them change their offensive style when they aren't ready. Especially the ones with an Escobar-like profile, they start trying to hit doubles, triples and homers because they know that they have a permanent Red Light.

So be certain you're getting the whole story and not skimming past the part that might reveal hidden fantasy baseball gold.