Monday, December 17, 2012

What the Blue Jays Have Not Done

With today’s agreement on a contract extension between the Toronto Blue Jays and R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays have successfully upgraded every aspect of their roster. They have a new leadoff hitter and shortstop in Jose Reyes. They have a new left fielder in Melky Cabrera. They have competition at second base between Macier Izturis (the favorite) and speedster Emilio Bonafacio, who if he is not at second will serve as an upgrade to Omar Vizquel the former utility player. The National Cy Young award winner is just one piece of a dramatically updated starting rotation: Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, Ricky Romero, and Brandon Morrow. The team retained Anthony Gose as insurance against the continued regression of Colby Rasmus. Brett Lawrie is back at third base and primed for a big season after the experience of the 2012 season. The only spot that you might consider upgrading but has not even been considered by the Blue Jays is designated hitter – where their former stud first baseman now resides. 

Not so long ago, Adam Lind was a top prospect and a player that oozed the potential that fantasy owners lust after. The Blue Jays selected him in the third round of the 2004 amateur draft out of South Alabama University. He performed very well in the minors, showing an ability to hit for both average and power. The Blue Jays took their time working him into the regular lineup. He worked as both a part-time designated hitter and left fielder. In 2009 he earned a fulltime role in the lineup and hit .305/.370/.562 with 35 homeruns which was right in line with projections based on his minor league performances. 

He began the 2010 season right where the 2009 season had ended. But in early May of that season he was placed on the disabled list with a back injury which has been a recurring problem ever since. He got off to a great start to the 2011 season hitting .339, with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs in 46 games until the back injuries hit him again. It seems reasonable to assume that the back injuries have affected his swing at times. In fact early in the 2012 season there was a point where he could not bend over because his back was that stiffened and inflamed. Yet, he was not on the disabled list and was being treated with anti-inflammatory medication. Chris Lund of The Hardball Times wrote an article presenting video evidence of the changes in his swing due to the back injury.  He even suggests that the changes to his swing are causing the back injury to recur.

“The back injury is a significant marker because of the shift Lind has made in his swing. The way he engages his torso and lower half puts greater strain on his back for a player trying to generate enough bat speed to hit for power. As such, we have seen Lind miss games due to wrist and back injuries in the time since the original back problem.”

On May 17th of the 2012 season, Lind was sent to the minors. He was batting just .186 with three homeruns at the time. Two weeks later he was taken off the 40-man roster. The Blue Jays claimed they wanted Lind to work with minor league hitting instructor Chad Mottola on regaining his stroke. They clearly stated that there was no timetable and that he would not be recalled until they were certain he had earned another opportunity. Lind played 35 games altogether in the minors during the 2012 season. He hit .545/.615/.818 in three games at the double-A level, and .392/.448/.664 in 143 plate appearances for triple-A Las Vegas where he worked with Chad Mottola. On June 24th the Blue Jays recalled Adam Lind to the major leagues. He was a different player at that point.


Obviously Lind did not transform back into the masher of 2009 but he became productive once again with a wRC+  of over one hundred in each month since. The major difference between these numbers and 2009 is almost entirely in batted ball types (and another stint on the disabled list with back problems). Lind is hitting a lot more groundballs and infield flies. His HR/FB took a turn in the right direction but with Lind hitting so many balls on the ground it does not show in his homerun total. However, if Lind does nothing but maintain his swing and this type of production he could hit 20-25 homers with a solid batting average. 

The key to Lind’s productivity is health. If he can stay off the disabled list and do the necessary stretching and exercise to both stay in shape and prevent his back from tightening it could help him put up numbers more in line with his potential. There is some hope that the big changes to the Blue Jays roster this offseason will serve as motivation.  Adam Lind is no longer the young guy that’s been there the longest. He does not have to be the veteran presence or protect anyone in the lineup or even play defense. All he has to do is hit and until the last couple of seasons he had done that very well his entire life.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Hot Stove Season's Unwritten Rule #2

1)      Whenever a player seems to move to a better team his trade value increases. There is nothing fantasy owners like more than something new. Shiny new rookies with glittering minor league stats are almost always drafted too high. The same thing happens a veteran player joins a new team. The important thing to remember is that in addition to rule one, things like park factors, league changes, and coaching styles have a far greater impact than the name on the jersey.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Unwritten Rule of the Hot Stove Season #1

When a player changes teams there is increased risk.

    A lot of analysts will tell you about ballpark factors and league changes that will have an influence on a player’s production. There is more to it than just that. There is a comfort level that could change for the better or the worse. Different coaching styles could alter a player’s style and consequently change his production. It will not always be a negative change but for every Gio Gonzalez there is a Shawn Marcum, a John Lackey, a Jonathan Sanchez or Barry Zito. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hey Guys,

I've been doing a lot of work for Big League Monthly and the BLM Daily Edition. Please check it out.

Some recent pieces include:

Five Ways to Prepare for Next Season

Using MLB Teams as a Model for Fantasy

An Early Look at 2013 Season Targets

As anyone who has been a fan of this site knows, there is a lot more action in the offseason than during the season. Why? I guess I enjoy writing about the hot stove and examining how teams are built and how to exploit that to benefit fantasy teams. You should start to see some position rankings with a lot more commentary than you've seen before on my lists of this type.

See you soon!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Amazing Austin Jackson - For Real?

Take a minute and think of a few players that might be the owner of this batting line:

.319 Batting Average/ .401 On-Base Percentage/ .527 Slugging Percentage

Joey Votto? Albert Pujols? Matt Holliday? Chances are you got it right because you looked at the title of this post. However, that does not make Austin Jackson's season any less impressive. If that is not enough, the Tigers' star center fielder has already either tied his career high in homers (10) and is nearly on pace for highs in doubles, triples, homers, walks, runs, and RBI. That after missing three weeks while on the disabled list with an abdomen injury. For fantasy owners the only real disappointment in his season is the low number of stolen bases - just eight as of this writing. The low number of steals can probably be blamed in part on his increased power, as most teams discourage stealing third base and attempting to steal home and not making it can get a young player benched.

The question you should all be asking is how much of this is improved skill and how much is just good fortune? Jackson entered the majors in his age 22 season. Three seasons in the majors and not yet in his prime - that is almost the recipe for a breakout season. His walk rate has improved two straight seasons from 7 percent to 8.4 percent to this season's 11.8 percent. That looks like real improvement. He has also cut his K percentage to 22.6 percent from last season's 27.1 percent which was a slight bump up from 2010's 25.2 percent.

Jackson is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone which is probably key to both improvements. In case you are wondering, Jackson's O-Swing has improved three years running. Jackson attributes his lower strikeouts to not chasing two-strike pitches, which makes a lot of sense. Swinging at better pitches does more than just increase walks and reduce strikeouts. It also allows the batter to make better and more consistent contact. Better contact has likely been a large part of his power increase.

Before the season and in Spring Training, Jackson worked with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on reducing his high leg kick and shortening his swing. Jackson says this allows him to turn on better fastballs. "I'm extremely pleased by how quickly he adjusted and adapted," McClendon said to the Detroit Free-Press. "And really the credit goes to him because he wanted to do it and he was willing to do it."

The future looks very bright for Austin Jackson. But we can find a few worrisome factors if we try. His BABIP is an extremely high .399 and despite his improved skills and terrific speed is not really sustainable. We can expect at least some regression to his career averages, though that is not as big a drop as we may once have expected. His13.3 HR/FB is not absurdly high except relative to his career 7.1 percentage. There may be some luck in his homerun rate, but again part of this is based on real improvements so it is very difficult to say how much to expect it to decline over the next 12 weeks (if at all).

Just In Case You Do Not Follow Me on Twitter (@bigjonwilliams)

I am writing for a new digital magazine called Big League Monthly. This is not just a fantasy mag, though that is what I write about for them. The magazine includes great interviews with minor leaguers, features on major leaguers - this month that includes Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Sale, Eric Hosmer and others. Please check it out, it is completely free.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Solving Rickie Weeks

Hey Jon,

Thoughts on Rickie Weeks?

Hey Dennis,

Weeks has always made mediocre contact and struck out too much. This season he has struggled to make even his usual contact rate. He is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone but is making much worse contact with those pitches. His power has slipped dramatically. The only thing that seems to be going well is drawing walks.

There is little doubt that part of this is Weeks at least initially pressing to justify his new contract. This happens to lots of players. That pressing has led to a huge slump that I am guessing is at least partly mechanical. His BABIP is low, he is hitting lots of infield fly balls. and his HR/FB is lower than usual.

I think there is at least some bad luck involved but I think he needs to get his mind straight before his batting will come together. I can't recommend him at this point. If I owned him I'd like to stash him on the bench if I could and hope for the best. I have him in a league where he is undroppable and I probably would not anyway.

If your league is a shallower one and there are viable options available I could see dropping him at this point. I think this might be an Adam Dunn (2011) season for him. But if your league is deeper I think the chances of Weeks having a big second half are better than say - Ivan DeJesus becoming a fantasy stud.

Good luck Dennis, I hope my ramblings have helped you at least a little.