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February 14, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at First, Third and DH

by Michael Street

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Pitchers and catchers report this week, as do I, returning from a crazy offseason where Rob McQuown covered my 1B-3B-DH beat, while writing his own column, pitching in with PECOTA, and probably feeding the homeless—dude’s a Superman, let’s face it. In addition to my gratitude, Rob was rewarded with the chance to cover the more interesting signings of the offseason, while I pick up with the kind of fill-in-the-gap marginal signings typical of the weeks before Spring Training, two of which I’ll discuss here.

There was one significant signing to note: Baltimore’s one-year deal for Vladimir Guerrero to be their designated hitter, the last of several moves that might allow them to tread water in baseball’s toughest division. Christina Kahrl discusses the economics of the deal, while R.J. Anderson analyzes its impact on the Orioles lineup, and both discuss the Impaler’s skills and 2011 outlook, but I’ll dig a bit deeper.

The GP11 mini-browser shows the ten-year trends of a declining slugger, with a slugging uptick assisted by a move to Arlington. Camden Yards will continue to help Vlad, since the left-center power alley is almost thirty feet closer than Arlington’s, while the left field lines are virtually the same. Arlington’s reputation as a hitters’ park also comes from the way the ball flies in the summertime, while Baltimore’s breezes can knock down a few long balls, even in the summer heat. These differences should balance out, however, sustaining Vlad’s long balling ways, even if neither PECOTA (24) nor GP (28) sees him cracking the 30-HR mark.

Of greater concern is Guerrero’s legendary hacktastic ways, reflected by diminishing on base percentages and walk rates. His walk rate remained flat in 2010 after 2009’s career low; both years were well below his 8.5 BB rate career average and about half of the relatively robust 10.1 percent he maintained between 2002 and 2007. Just 40.2 percent of opposing pitchers’ offerings were strikes—another career low for a guy who never sees many strikes. That was with Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton hitting behind him, more fearsome hitters than any lineup protection Baltimore can offer. About the only good sign for Guerrero is his BABIP, which fell to a career-low .292 last season. Since it was his third straight year under his .320 career average, however, this points less to luck than to a guy who’s just not hitting the ball as hard as he used to.

So while he shouldn’t collapse to 2009 levels, Vlad’s value will come increasingly from batting average and not from his dissipating power. Sliding skills, increasing injury risk, and losing his outfield qualification further push him outside the top-tier designated hitters. Under these circumstances, GP’s $23 projection seems a bit of a stretch, but if other owners let him slip to later rounds or bargain prices, he can still offer value to your fantasy team.

The same can’t be said for Pedro Feliz, whom Kansas City signed to a minor-league deal to compete for their third-base job. General Manager Dayton Moore said that Feliz was a defensive specialist who would provide injury insurance; Feliz’s fantasy value lies along similar lines. Scoresheet owners may like his 2.73 Range in 2010, as will those who play Box Baseball or other sim games that count defense. The rest of us, however, need look no further than the grim picture painted by his mini-browser and PECOTA’s projections.

Despite the optimistic expectation of a rebound in GP’s Ten-Year Trends, none of his slash line numbers represent starting third-base material. PECOTA projects even lower slash numbers, and his .231 TAv is near the bottom of the third-base barrel. Kansas City’s competition at third may be thin, but all of their other options have projected TAvs more than 20 points higher than Feliz. You have to respect his glove and his World Series experience, but that’s pretty much all you have to do on draft day.

I have similar sentiments for Mark Kotsay, whom the Brewers signed to a one-year contract on the same day Feliz got his deal. Once again, R.J. and Christina scratched their heads over the usefulness of such a common, redundant commodity. Kotsay can hit righties, but Milwaukee has lefties Mat Gamel and Craig Counsell on the bench, and Prince Fielder (whom Kotsay is backing up) hits from the south side of the plate, too.

Like Feliz, Kotsay brings postseason experience and clubhouse demeanor, but unless your league has an Intangibles category, these don’t matter much. Whether it’s GP’s dismal projection of $-1 or PECOTA’s .249/.310/.364, Kotsay wouldn’t belong in your fantasy lineup if he were a middle infielder. Milwaukee fans might like his veteran mojo in a young clubhouse, but they’re more likely peeved at yet another impediment to Mat Gamel. Whatever their feelings, yours should be to avoid Kotsay, plain and simple; even deep NL leagues have better corner infield options than this.

So that my return column doesn’t seem like I’m portending gloom and doom for everyone, I’ll finish with a look at Kila Ka’aihue, a Royal with a great outlook. Thanks to his sweet minor league ratios and comps like Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez, PECOTA projects a .302 TAv and .387 OBP for Ka’aihue, good enough for 10th and seventh among first-base qualifiers, respectively. Those excellent minor-league credentials include an amazing 21.2 walk rate in Triple-A last season, though that may have been because it was his third year at that level. He also fanned 21.4 percent of the time, a trend that continued in the bigs (21.7 K percent). But this strikeout rate shows an interesting pattern when broken down by months.

In August, Ka’aihue hit just .167/.239/.274 in 92 PAs, despite a 14.3 percent strikeout rate. He seemed to figure it out in September, however, hitting .261/.367/.511 in 110 PAs, though his K% leapt to 28.3 percent. Small-sample caveats apply, as does the luck reflected by a BABIP that grew from .171 to .295, but it’s worthwhile to note that his walk rate also rose sharply from 8.7 percent to 14.5, indicating a more selective approach. In short, Ka’aihue seemed to see the ball better and swing at strikes more aggressively, a good indication of adjustment and confidence. Further adjustments will no doubt be necessary in 2011, but he looks like an excellent bet for OBP leagues and could provide some very strong numbers if he matures quickly.

Kansas City has supposedly kept Ka’aihue down in the minors because neither he nor Billy Butler is possessed of a great glove, and the Royals aren’t giving him the first-base job just yet. We’ll be watching this situation throughout Spring Training, but Ka’aihue should be the Royals’ starter, since their current alternative is Wilson Betemit. This makes Ka’aihue an excellent opportunity for speculation in earlier drafts—his value will surely rise once the position becomes his.

Value Picks will begin focusing on Spring Training matchups like this in the coming weeks, but we’ll continue to take reader requests in the comments section. Feel free to add yours!

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

R.A.Wagman

One Spring Training job hunt to pay attention to is that of the Toronto Blue Jays. Who's on First?

Feb 14, 2011 04:21 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

That's going to be one that I'm definitely going to be following. It's less a matter of who can play the position best as it is whether Farrell is willing to trade defense for more offense. They're better on offense with Bautista over at 3B and some combo of Lind and EE at 1B and DH, but Farrell could elect to go with better defense at 3B and mix EE, Lind and Bautista at 1B and DH.

We'll see how things shake out in Spring Training, and I'm sure that my colleague Mike Petriello will have thoughts on this.

Thanks for the comment!

Feb 14, 2011 09:33 AM
 
fawcettb

Not sure why PECOTA thinks Feliz will sport a .699 OPS after last year's .533, and that isn't going to make Scoresheeters like him. His defense might add a few points to his OPS, but his -.300 OBP and lack of a job will have us holding our noses and passing like we've done the last 5 years.

Feb 14, 2011 05:50 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Most projection systems are predicting a rebound for Feliz, who had a .228 BABIP last season (.265 BABIP career). But he had other skills deteriorate, like a career-low 3.0 BB% and near low in LD% and a sudden spike in FB%.

So a rebound to his previous (still low) .250/.288/.410 career slash line, or the days of double-digit HRs, is clearly not in the cards (or in the Royals, for that matter :D).

And you're absolutely right--his defensive abilities aren't enough to overcome his other deficits (most particularly, lack of PT) and push him out of Scoresheet and other sim leagues. I'd meant that his Range alone is strong, but my phrasing suggested the whole package was palatable, which it definitely isn't.

Thanks for the comment and your thoughts!

Feb 14, 2011 12:48 PM
 
rionwood

How about a Pirates Bullpen showdown, Meek vs. Hanrahan?

Feb 14, 2011 05:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Thanks for the question--I'm going to refer this to Mike Petriello, who covers relievers in his Thursday VP column. I'm sure this is a battle he'll be following throughout the spring.

Feb 14, 2011 09:35 AM
 
BP staff member Mike Petriello
BP staff

I actually touched on that last week! I think Hanrahan's your man.

Feb 14, 2011 14:11 PM
 
adambennett

Hi Mike:

Welcome back!

Feb 14, 2011 09:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Thanks, Adam. Glad to be back :D

Feb 14, 2011 09:34 AM
 
BP staff member Craig Brown
BP staff

Welcome back, Mike!

I wanted to chime in on Kila... Or as I refer to him, The Kila Monster.

Kila's legend has been built on two things. First, he's been buried by the Royals while they have handed opportunity to stiffs like Jose Guillen and Mike Jacobs. And second, he's done extremely well in the minors. The organization has never been a fan of Kila because they feel he exhibits too much patience at the plate. I know... But we're talking about the Royals. What Kila does is basically work the count. If a pitcher is struggling to throw strikes, he'll look at a few pitches before he takes a rip. He's the anti-Betancourt. The Royals, however, see him watch a hittable pitch go by and think he's a failure. Honest to God... This team is insane.

This is the year he gets his chance. I think the Royals will shift Butler to DH and Kila will get most of the reps at 1B. And there will be days when the positions are flip-flopped. But he should get a full compliment of playing time. The OBP is a little high in PECOTA, I think. But as you noted, his walk rate will make him valuable in leagues where OBP count.

And you earned five demerits for failing to mention he has, "slider bat speed" which is Royals-speak for "we have no idea what to do with this guy."

Feb 15, 2011 09:36 AM
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Thanks, Craig--awesome intel here! I would agree that Kila's PECOTA projections seem optimistic, though not entirely unrealistic, for OBP. As for the fate of the Kansas City franchise, I'd agree with your assessment of that, too. Their strategy seems to be one of pounding their heads against the wall because it feels so good when they stop--problem is, they clearly haven't stopped the pounding yet.

I will accept my five demerits, punishment for which presumably involves watching five Royals games without benefit of hot dogs or beer. And writing "slider bat speed" on the board fifty times.

Feb 15, 2011 11:26 AM
 
Tuck
(667)

I love good snark as much as anyone, but there is such a thing as being too patient. Hermida was everybody's golden boy a few years ago. But if you watched him you saw it was passivity, not patience. Like Hermida, Kila will be overmatched by ML fastballs. And let's be fair, Kila's big seasons in '08 and '10 came in his second full seasons at AA and AAA, respectively. He was old for both levels and played in friendly parks. Like Cal Pickering or Erubiel Durazo (on the high end), Kila will fail because strike zone control isn't enough to overcome modest talent.

Feb 15, 2011 13:43 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Only when Kila faces MLB pitching over a full season will any of us know for sure, and you make some good points here, Tuck, but I'm not quite as pessimistic. For one thing, he's more than just patient; his bat's got some good pop, too.

I agree also that Kila excelled at his second year at both levels--really his third year at AA--but to me, that suggests a guy who's capable of adjustments more than someone who's old for his levels. And hitting .252/.392/.433 isn't such a horrible year for his first year at Triple-A, IMO, even at the age of 25.

Last, looking at his Pitch F/X numbers, he didn't seem especially overmatched against MLB fastballs last season (90% contact rates against four-seamers, 17% swinging at 'em outside the zone, and a 22.6% LD rate against them). If anything, he might have more problems with breaking balls.

I'm not entirely sold on him, either, but I don't think it's right to write him off yet, anymore than I think it's right to crown him the next A-Gon. Still, finding out which one he'll be is what makes this game so fun :D

Thanks for your thoughts!

Feb 15, 2011 19:15 PM
 
leites

"Thanks to his sweet minor league ratios and comps like Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez, PECOTA projects . . ."

Yet another apparent example of the divergence between how Colin describes the role of comps in PECOTA, and how the other BP writers describe it.

You guys can't have it both ways -- when we complain about how so many crappy minor leaguers have hall-of-famers as comps, you say that we don't understand the role of comps in the system. But then you go ahead and use comps to great players as a proof point for your own favorable predictions.

Feb 15, 2011 21:53 PM
rating: 1
 
leites

According to Colin's latest rebuttal of our complaints, "PECOTA does not look at the quality of the comp's performance, simply the change in performance from one season to the next."

Feb 15, 2011 21:55 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

You have a good point, leites, and I think your reply points out the heart of the issue (which is possibly why you added it). Based on Kila's translated minor-league stats and his comps, he's projected to sustain the gains he made in the minors the way his comps did--which is another way of saying what I said in my piece.

The confusion comes (as you point out) when a player has great PECOTA comps but poor projections, or when a player with great comps fails to perform precisely like those comps.

This is further complicated because PECOTA comps are also based on particular seasons, rather than an entire career. His other comp is Nick Johnson, which isn't PECOTA's way of saying Kila will soon establish permanent residency on the DL.

So to say that Kila has comps of A-Gon, Votto and Johnson doesn't mean he's going to hit like the 2011 (or 2010 or 2012) version of any of these guys, but that he looks like a similar player at a similar stage of those players' careers. Since the full PECOTA projections aren't out yet, and because I'm not intimately involved in PECOTA's formulations, I can't say for sure *when* Kila looked like these guys.

However, looking at similar stages in their careers, Votto went from hitting .294/.381/.478 in Triple-A in '07 to .297/.368/.506 in MLB in '08. A-Gon went from .338/.399/.561 in '05 in Triple-A to hitting .304/.362/.500 in '06 in MLB. Johnson went from .256/.407/.462 in Triple-A in '01 to .243/.347/.402 in MLB in '02. Those are untranslated minor-league stats, but they do show a lot of consistency jumping to the majors, esp. with A-Gon and Votto. (Johnson began 2002 with wrist soreness that would soon land him on the DL, which might explain why his '01 stats weren't as strong).

From this, we might expect Kila to perform at a similar level--to *his own* minor-league performance, not to A-Gon or Votto's performance. Given that Kila hit .319/.463/.598 last season in Triple-A, that would explain PECOTA's optimistic projections of .262/.387/.473 for him. I'm oversimplifying here, but I hope you get the gist of what I mean.

Ultimately, we writers can prevent confusion or misunderstandings like this by being clearer in our writing, and I take responsibility for that. I don't want to lard my articles with detailed explanations of PECOTA's system, but I can be clearer in how I explain the causes/effects of its projections.

Thanks for the chance to explain things!

Feb 16, 2011 11:55 AM
 
leites

Thanks, Michael - very clear and helpful. Hopefully, going forward, the other BP writers can approach the way they describe comps with the same level of precision and clarity.

Feb 16, 2011 12:44 PM
rating: 0
 
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