2013 Black Swans

I’d pick any guy that looks this good. Photo:Universal Studios

By Andrew Ball

I hate the term “sleeper”. With the amount of information available to fantasy owners nowadays, players just don’t sneak by in drafts. Sleeper tags are also typically applied only to late round players, when really any player can return value if selected at the right time. Players like Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011 and Andrew McCutchen in 2012 may have been the best draft day bargains the past two years, but neither appeared on any preseason sleeper lists. League settings, size and hundreds of other factors also dictate who should be coined a sleeper. Despite all of that, the big question in fantasy baseball remains, “Who are the sleepers for 2013?”

Because I think the question is impossible to answer, I am not going to give any sleepers. Rather, I will give you my Black Swans Team for 2013. Like black swans, the players on this team are known by all, but for one reason or another they are being undervalued this season. Some may be early round picks, while others can be had in the closing stages of a draft or auction, but all of these players should give owners a big return on investment in 2013.

C – Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Joe Mauer has a chance to be the top catcher in 4 of the 5 roto categories. In fact, last year he was 1st in runs scored, 2nd in steals and 3rd in both average and RBI among catchers. The one category he does not excel in, home runs, is vastly overrated by fantasy owners, making Mauer’s elite production available at a discount.

1B – Freedie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

In 2012, Freeman improved upon his rookie campaign in every category except batting average. His .259 average can really be credited to a large discrepancy between his .295 BABIP and his .345 xBABIP, which should correct itself in 2013. Also, his OBP and isolated power saw significant increases in the second half last season. Normally, I disregard second half splits due to small sample size caveats, but Freeman had a tangible reason for his improvement. He had corrective eye surgery half way through last season, making me believe that the boost to his production should be sustainable.

2B – Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

Cano is the poster boy for the Black Swans team, a consensus first round pick that is still undervalued this year. There are 4 truly elite talents this season: Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Robinson Cano, yet Cano is only 7th in ADP on Mock Draft Central. In each of the past three years, Cano has hit at least .302, scored at least 102 runs, hit at least 28 home runs and driven in no fewer than 94 runs. In 2012, he set career highs in homers, runs scored, walk rate, and isolated power, displaying that he is not done improving as a hitter. His numbers alone should make him a top pick, but when you remember he is eligible at second base you have every reason to consider him first overall in drafts.

3B – Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ramirez could have made this team at either shortstop or third base, an impressive feat. What’s not to like about Hanley Ramirez? He is a 20/20 lock that has put up numbers his entire career in spite of his ballpark and teammates. At 29 years old, I see no reason he won’t at least repeat his 2012 numbers and I actually think we will see some improvement now that is away from Miami. He should be happy playing SS full-time again and I think a .280 average with 20 home runs, 20 steals, 90 runs and 90 RBI is well in reach for Ramirez.

SS – Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals

Escobar detractors will point to a .344 BABIP in 2012 and scream regression, when the truth is he actually underperformed his xBABIP of .354. He will be hitting second in an emerging Royals lineup, which should boost his runs scored and RBI totals from a year ago. He also has tremendous speed and instincts on the bases, evidenced by his 35 of 40 success rate on steals last year. With another year of development, and more plate appearances at the top of the order, I think Escobar swipes 40 in 2013.

OF – Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers

Blind resumes don’t work quite as well when you have already revealed the player, but just take a guess which player hit .278 with 14 home runs and 26 steals after the all-star break last year?  Gomez finished last season with 19 home runs and 37 steals and he did that in only 452 plate apperances. No he won’t help you in batting average, but a little more closely at the outfield crop this year and you will find a plethora of players who will probably hit somewhere between .245-.265. Gomez falls in that range, but unlike most of the others, he may also finish with 20-25 home runs and 40-45 steals.

OF – Johnny Gomes, Boston Red Sox

Gomes was one of several players that enjoyed fine seasons with the A’s last year in platoon roles. The knock on Gomes has always been that he struggles against righties, so it was a surprise that Boston signed him to be their everyday leftfielder this offseason. Despite his perceived platoon problem, Gomes actually posted a 101 RC+ against right-handers last year, and he now is moving into a much better overall hitting environment. Look at Gomes’ road totals from last year: .273/.409/578 with 11 home runs in just 48 games. If you’re look for a late round gamble to be this year’s Josh Willingham, look no farther than Johnny Gomes.

OF – Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies

Two years ago, Brown was one of the top-5 prospects in the game and he is still just 25 years old. I have to believe he will earn regular at bats over the likes of Laynce Nix, Delmon Young (coming off an ankle injury), John Mayberry Jr., and Darin Ruf, and I am excited to see what he will finally do with the playing time. Currently he is being selected as the 80th outfielder in drafts, so the reward far outweighs the risk with Brown. And if you need more convincing, check out what this smart writer had to said over at Fake Teams.

SP – Jeff Samardzjia, Chicago Cubs

Samardzjia will fall into the late round starting pitcher category this year, when really he should be drafted in the top 20 at the position. Among pitchers that threw at least 150 innings in 2012, Samardzjia ranked 7th in K% and 15th in xFIP. He gets ground balls at a decent clip, limits walks, is just entering his prime and boasts one of the fastest average fastballs among starting pitchers. With a slight decrease in ERA and increase in innings, Samardzjia should finish with 12-15 wins, a 3.50 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and 210 strikeouts.

SP – Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles

Hammel was a top-30 starter last season before suffering a season ending injury after making 20 starts. He always was a serviceable enough starter in Colorado, but last year he morphed into a groundball/strikeout machine by adding a power sinker to his repertoire. The sinker led to his highest groundball rate, 53.2%, and strikeout rate, 22.9%, of his career and reminded me of what Brandon Webb used to be like. Hammel’s inclusion on the Black Swans team just indicates that I believe his 2012 to be the real new and improved Jason Hammel, and I don’t think the majority of fantasy owners have caught on to that just yet.

RP – Huston Street, San Diego Padres

Huston Street has trouble staying healthy, that’s the only downside you can list to owning him. On the other hand, he pitches in Petco, he racks up strikeouts (10.85/9), he limits walks (2.54/9), and he has saved at least 20 games in four consecutive seasons. Every closer has some risk, but I don’t see how relievers like Addison Reed, J.J. Putz, or Joel Hanrahan are being selected before Street with they all have similar issues and aren’t nearly as good as Street. As noted in our rankings, we feel that Street is an elite closer, so if you can acquire him at less than an elite price, you should definitely do so.

 

Setting Up Your Spreadsheets – Pitchers

Photo: USA Today

by Zack Smith

Everyone has a process for preparing for a draft.  Some people print out cheat sheets like they’re possessed by Hexxus.  Others buy more magazines than a 15 year-old pop star wannabe.  Pages of stats, sleepers, busts and top prospects get riddled with highlighter marks and underlines and notes.  Some people focus on the categories that count for points in their leagues, while others prefer to look more in depth.  Some listen to podcasts and read internet articles.  And some just go on gut, what they’ve seen on highlights or even name value.

The first thing I do when I’m ready to start preparing for the next season is set up spreadsheets.  These spreadsheets help me because I’m able to have all of the stats that I use to evaluate players right in one spot.  I’m able to sort and compare stats, perform analysis and what-if scenarios and rank players easily.  I’m going to explain how I set up my hitters spreadsheets in hopes that you can use them as a template to help you prepare for your draft.

First, FanGraphs.com allows users to customize reports with any and all of the stats that are available on their website.  If you’re not familiar with FanGraphs, I suggest you consider getting familiar with FanGraphs.  Check out the Custom Leaderboards the site offers.  You can select the player pool(s) you want to include, filter on several criteria and pick and format the stats you want to evaluate.  After you’ve selected your player pool and the stats you want to include in your file, you can export the table to Microsoft Excel to further manipulate it.

You may find it helpful to group the statistics into categories and list them across the top.  This makes comparing and ranking easy as you are able to view stats next to each other and move them about freely in your workbook.  Here’s how I group the stats:

Standard (SP)

GS

IP

W

L

SO

ERA

WHIP

Standard (RP)

G IP W L SO SV ERA WHIP

These are the standard counting stats that most people look at when discussing baseball statistics.  Games Started are used for starters rather than Games simply to differentiate and players that may have worked out of the bullpen as well.  Innings Pitched is very important because the more innings a pitcher throws, the larger the effect.  While pitcher wins and losses are difficult to predict and aren’t always indicative of a pitchers performance or skill level, they are used in most fantasy formats.  If they count for points, we need to pay attention to them somewhat.  Similarly, there are improved metrics to determine a pitcher’s performance but ERA and WHIP are still used in many leagues.  These “Standards” are the stats that traditional leagues use for scoring and, thus, they are the statistics we attempt to predict.

Run Prevention

K%

SwStr%

BB%

I call this group “Run Prevention” because they show us how well a pitcher does keeping runners off the bases and if runners aren’t on base, they can’t score.  I like K% and BB% better than K/9 and BB/9 because they show a pitcher’s performance against each batter faced rather than just in terms of innings.  For example, if two pitchers both strikeout two hitters in an inning but Pitcher A walks two batters and gives up a hit while Pitcher B goes 1-2-3, who was the better pitcher?  They both have a K/9 of 18.0, but Pitcher A struck out 33% of the batters he faced whereas Pitcher B struck out 67%.  Swinging Strike Percentage is the total number of pitches at which a batter swings.  A pitcher with a high SwSt% generates a lot of swings and misses.

Δ Expectations/Results

BABIP

LOB%

HR/FB

FIP

xFIP

SIERA

This is always the most interest group of statistics I pull in the offseason.  These metrics help us determine what pitcher’s numbers should have looked like and gives some insight to why expectations may not align with results.  They are not generally used as predictive tools but they can be helpful when evaluating a player’s numbers and they have shown better predictive abilities than ERA.  As I touched on in the hitters’ portion of this piece, BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play and can help explain a pitcher’s ERA.  The league average BABIP for pitchers usually sits between .290 and .300 but it’s important to look at a player’s individual career BABIP when talking about regression because some players may be able to influence their BABIPs more than others.  For instance, strikeout pitchers usually have lower BABIPs because they are able to generate weaker contact.  Left On Base percentage or strand rate can also tell us something about why a pitcher’s ERA was what it was.  Pitchers who allow more runners to score (lower LOB%) will have higher ERAs than those who are able to “strand” those runners.  League average is about 72% so any player with a LOB% that varies greatly from that will probably regress some in the future and see his ERA affected.  Much like LOB%, a pitcher’s HR/FB rate will usually come in around league average and, if not, it’s generally safe to expect it come in close the following year.  Some pitchers, such as ground ball pitchers who do not allow many fly balls or pitchers who pitch in hitter-friendly ballparks, will have higher HR/FB ratios than others.  FIP or Fielder Independent Pitching is an ERA estimator that takes into account only what the pitcher can control – strikeouts, walks, hit batters and home runs.  It assumes that all other variables such are league average.  xFIP takes FIP a step further and tries to estimate how many home runs a pitcher should have allowed as opposed to how many he actually allowed.  This stabilizes the metric because home run rates can be volatile.  Lastly, SIERA refines this metric even more by taking batted balls into account as well as the fact that some pitchers are able to control the hits and runs they allow.  Each of these estimators tells us a little something different and I encourage you to research them further.

Batted Ball

GB%

FB%

LD%

Batted Ball data is a very simple tool to use when looking at pitchers.  Pitchers who are able to keep the ball on the ground are less homer-prone than fly ball pitchers and also allow less extra base hits.  This usually leads to a lower ERA however it should not be used in a vacuum.  For instance ground ball pitchers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello were hurt last year by the Tigers terrible infield defense whereas Jason Vargas stands to gain some value as a fly ball guy in a pitcher friendly park with one of the best outfield defenses in the league.  Not all pitchers can be categorized as either a ground ball or fly ball pitcher but it’s important to know their tendencies.  Also, LD% is important because line drives turn into hits more than other batted ball types and a high LD% may indicate reduced effectiveness of a pitcher’s pitchers and/or velocity.

Again, keep in mind that everyone has their own ways of evaluating players and the preference for certain statistics is what makes fantasy baseball fun.  If everyone looked at the same stats and felt the same way about them, it would be very difficult to make transactions or to hold an auction.  These are the statistics I use and the way I use them.  Use them as a reference for setting up your spreadsheet with the stats you like and that you find most helpful.  Hopefully, this helps some of you prepare and I would love to hear any suggestions you may have or any feedback about your draft/offseason prep.

This article also appears at Fake Teams

Setting Up Your Spreadsheets – Hitters

by Zack Smith

Everyone has a process for preparing for a draft.  Some people print out cheat sheets like they’re possessed by Hexxus.  Others buy more magazines than a 15 year-old pop star wannabe.  Pages of stats, sleepers, busts and top prospects get riddled with highlighter marks and underlines and notes.  Some people focus on the categories that count for points in their leagues, while others prefer to look more in depth.  Some listen to podcasts and read internet articles.  And some just go on gut, what they’ve seen on highlights or even name value.

The first thing I do when I’m ready to start preparing for the next season is set up spreadsheets.  These spreadsheets help me because I’m able to have all of the stats that I use to evaluate players right in one spot.  I’m able to sort and compare stats, perform analysis and what-if scenarios and rank players easily.  I’m going to explain how I set up my hitters spreadsheets in hopes that you can use them as a template to help you prepare for your draft.

FanGraphs.com allows users to customize reports with any and all of the stats that are available on their website.  If you’re not familiar with FanGraphs, I suggest you consider getting familiar with FanGraphs.  Check out the Custom Leaderboards the site offers.  You can select the player pool(s) you want to include, filter on several criteria and pick and format the stats you want to evaluate.  After you’ve selected your player pool and the stats you want to include in your file, you can export the table to Microsoft Excel to further manipulate it.

You may find it helpful to group the statistics into categories and list them across the top.  This makes comparing and ranking easy as you are able to view stats next to each other and move them about freely in your workbook.  Also, you can conditionally format the statistics to highlight values that are above or below average or whatever threshold or criteria you use to evaluate them.

Here’s how I group the stats:

Standard

 G

 PA

 H

 2B

 3B

 HR

 R

 RBI

 SB

 CS

These are the standard counting stats that most people look at when discussing baseball statistics.  I think Games are important to evaluate durability and, when it comes to counting stats, opportunity is a large part of the equation.  Similarly, Plate Appearances gives you the total number of times a player is up to bat.  I prefer Plate Appearances to At Bats because I like to consider the absolute total of number times a player has the chance to do something at the plate and then see what he does with them.  It’s also helpful when comparing players who walk a lot to players who don’t, putting them on equal terms unlike At Bats.  Listing Hits, Doubles and Triples in addition to Home Runs allows you to see the distribution of all Extra Base Hits.  While most leagues count home runs and may not count Total Bases or Extra Base Hits, these stats are important when considering RBIs and Runs scored.  Players with high Extra Base Hit totals are in scoring position more often and advance runners more than those who are primarily “singles hitters”.  Also, if a player’s Home Run totals are down, take a look at the number of doubles and triples that a player hit to see if he may have just missed hitting a few more home runs.  Lastly, I throw Caught Stealing in there because, although as fantasy players we only care about the stolen bases, success rate may help predict how much a player runs in the future.

Performance Indicators

  BB%

  K%

  ISO

  BABIP

I call this group “Performance Indicators” because these stats give us some insight into why the standards look as they do.  BB% and K% tell us how many times a player walks and strikes out relative to how many time they’re at the plate.  I prefer them to totals because they allow me to compare them against other players.  ISO is, essentially, a measure of a player’s ability to accumulate Extra Base Hits.  It measures a player’s true power, not just the balls that fly over the fence.  This is a good indicator of how much power a player displayed shown in one metric.  The fourth component of my “Indicators” section is BABIP or Batting Average on Balls in Play.  This basically calculates how many balls, out of the balls a player puts in play, fall for hits.  BABIP may explain fluctuations in a player’s Batting Average.  One should expect a player with a BABIP that is out of line with his career BABIP to regress.  It’s important to compare a single season’s BABIP to that player’s career BABIP because different types of hitters typically have different BABIPs.  For instance, players with speed tend to have higher BABIPs than slower players because they are able to turn more ground balls into hits.  Also, players who hit more line drives will usually have higher BABIPs than those who hit a large number of fly balls.

Performance Measures

  AVG

  OBP

  SLG

  wOBA

  wRC+

These five metrics are just as they’re labeled, measures of performance.  We use Batting Average to measure how many hits result in a player getting on base (not including errors).  On Base Percentage adds Walks and Hit by Pitches to that.  Slugging Percentage is simply total bases divided by at bats, attempting to show that all hits are not created equal.  While these numbers can be helpful and may play a part in your league, they fall short of truly evaluating a player’s offensive performance.  Weighted On Base Average or wOBA is the best all-encompassing metric we have to measure this.  You can read more about wOBA on FanGraphs (link below), but just know that it accounts for BB and HBP, assigns weights to them and to hits and considers SB and CS.  wRC+ stands for Weight Runs Created (the + means that is it compared to league average) and is closely related to wOBA.  It measures a players’ total offense and converts it into runs, adjusting for park and league factors.  This adjustment allows us to easily compare players who play in different situations or conditions.

Batted Ball

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

GB/FB

HR/FB

Batted Ball data tells us what kind of hits result when a player makes contact.  This data is somewhat subjective in that it is determined by humans who track each hit and decide what type of hit it is based on trajectory, speed and other factors.  This data is pretty simple to use and can be very helpful.  For example, power hitters tend to hit more fly balls whereas speedy contact hitters usually have higher groundball percentages.  Line drives are the type of batted ball that are most likely to become hits and, thus, LD% is often tied to BABIP and Batting Average.  IFFB% digs deeper into fly ball percentage and shows how many fly balls are infield fly balls which can artificially inflate FB%.  There are two main takeaways:  you want to see power hitters with high FB% and high LD% should translate to high averages.  This data can also be helpful in explaining changes in power numbers.  HR/FB is a tool for measuring the sustainability of a player’s power.  The first thing to look at when a player’s power numbers change is the FB%.  If it is relatively normal, look at HR/FB to see if the change may have to do with either an increase or decrease in actual power.

Please keep in mind that everyone has their own ways of evaluating players and the preference for certain statistics is what makes fantasy baseball fun.  If everyone looked at the same stats and felt the same way about them, it would be very difficult to make transactions or to hold an auction.  These are the statistics I use and the way I use them.  Use them as a reference for setting up your spreadsheet with the stats you like and that you find most helpful.  Hopefully, this helps some of you prepare and I would love to hear any suggestions you may have or any feedback about your draft/offseason prep.

This article also appears at Fake Teams

2013 Fantasy Ninjas Fantasy Baseball Rankings Are Here!

Today is an exciting day around here, as we are finally rolling out our 2013 rankings. These were not just done simply by the two of us averaging our rankings together, but instead we held a three day rankings summit earlier this month to hash out exactly where every player should be ranked.

Now in the coming weeks we will have a lot more content on strategy and all the news out of spring training, but for today we hope you just enjoy our rankings.

Rankings Home

- Fantasy Ninjas

From WBC to MLB

Yoenis Cespedes. Photo: Kyle Terada – US Presswire

A look at how of the biggest international stars should fare this season for fantasy owners. 

By Zack Smith

The World Baseball Classic kicked off yesterday and this year, just like each event since its inception, the WBC will showcase the best talent on the planet.  2013 will be the third WBC and is sure to expose the world to some of the next wave of emerging baseball players.  The WBC is a platform for players from countries outside the US to show what they can do against elite competition.  Several players who put themselves on the map in international competition are now playing in the Major Leagues and are deserving of fantasy attention.

Alexei Ramirez

Ramirez caught the eye of several scouts while playing center field for Cuba in the 2006 WBC.  He ended up signing with the White Sox to play shortstop and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2008.  It looked like fantasy players had a new power/speed threat to target on draft day after Ramirez hit .290 with 21 home runs and 13 stolen bases.  Unfortunately, Ramirez hasn’t hit those numbers since.  He maintained double digits in home runs and stolen bases until 2011 when he stole 7 bases in 12 attempts and followed by hitting only 9 home runs in 2012.  Ramirez has 15/15 potential and maybe 20/20 but he hasn’t been able to put it all together since his rookie season.

Dayan Viciedo

Viciedo didn’t actually play in the WBC but he almost made the 2006 roster for Cuba at the age of 16.  He left Cuba in 2008 and capitalized on Alexei Ramirez’ success by signing with the White Sox that offseason.  Power is Viciedo’s best attribute and he showed what he can do given a full slate of at bats when he hit 25 home runs in 2012.  He has good bat speed and the ability to put the bat on the ball but he swings at too many pitches out of the zone.  He had a fly ball rate of only 31.4% last year, a number that will limit home run production, so you would like to see him hit some more balls in the air.  He posted a strong LD% so I would expect his BABIP to normalize a bit and I think he comes in at more of a .275 hitter than .255 in 2013.  Viciedo will be 24 in 2013 and I think we see him take another step forward.  He’s a good source of cheap power that should be available later in drafts.

Norichika Aoki

Aoki played in the 2006 WBC but he really stood out in 2009 when he led Japan to their second title.  He hit .324 with 7 RBIs during the tournament and signed with Milwaukee in the 2011-2012 offseason.  Aoki led Nippon Professional Baseball three times and posted a career slash line of .329/.377/.426 in Japan.  He also averaged 23 stolen bases per season but hadn’t stolen more than 20 bases since stealing 31 in 2008.   Scouts were divided about how Aoki would fare in the U.S. since he struggled after NPB switched to a baseball similar to the ball used in the MLB and WBC.  Aoki responded by hitting .288 with a .788 OPS.  He also stole 30 bases and hit 10 home runs.  He’s projected to hit at the top of a very good Brewers lineup so scoring 80 or more runs again is definitely projectable.  The only concern about Aoki is that he will be 31 this season and his decreasing stolen base production in Japan may point reduced speed.  That said, Aoki will post a good average and run totals but I wouldn’t expect double digit home runs or 30 stolen bases again.  I’m expecting around 8 home runs and 25 stolen bases – numbers similar to what I think Ichiro will do but you’ll be able to get him at a cheaper price.

Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes was the star of the 2009 WBC hitting .458 with 2 home runs and 3 triples during the tournament.  Although his tools were on display during those games and he was well known in scouting circles, it was this video that had everyone (including baseball fans) talking about him.  All of the references to “core power” and “explosive ability” proved true as Cespedes exceeded even the loftiest expectations for a Cuban defector who lacked polish and who struggled against good breaking pitches.  He broke camp with the Athletics and never looked back.  Cespedes hit .282 with 23 home runs, 16 stolen bases, 70 runs and 82 RBIs in his first year in Major League Baseball.  He was able to make some adjustments during the season to address his issues with breaking balls and went on to hit .311 with 14 home runs in the second half.  He missed some time due to injury so with a full season this year and some more improvement, Cespedes has a chance to go 30/20 with excellent run and RBI totals.  Cespedes is a top 10 outfielder in my book and I’ll be targeting him in the late second to early third round.

Kyuji Fujikawa

Fujikawa was one of the elite relief pitchers in Japan for almost a decade but had to wait to become a free agent before joining a Major League club because his NPB team would not post him.  He signed with the Cubs this offseason and will compete for with Carlos Marmol the closer’s role during Spring Training.  He has good command and control and has the experience of pitching in high leverage situations.  Fujikawa throws a low to mid-90s fastball and uses a splitter as his out pitch.   Marmol will probably start the season as the closer but if he struggles or gets traded, look to Fujikawa as the next option and be sure to snatch him off the waiver wire if you’re in need of saves.  He’s also a nice option if you miss out on closers in your draft and want to take a flyer on a guy who may have the job at some point this season.

Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish was the most hyped Japanese pitcher to come to the U.S. since Daisuke Matsuzaka made the switch in 2007.  Darvish was billed as a “different” pitcher than the usual soft throwing Japanese players who came over and pitched to contact.  Scouts love his aggressiveness and his willing to pitch inside to hitters.  He’s definitely a strikeout pitcher who mixes speeds as well as changes planes and keeps hitters off balance.  He throws four fastballs (two-seam, four-seam, cutter and split-finger), two curveballs and a devastating slider.  He barely threw his changeup and, with his arsenal of pitches that all show plus potential at times,   he didn’t really need it.  Darvish struggled some with his command early but was able to make the appropriate adjustments and decreased his BB/9 from 4.65 to 3.65.  He ranked 9th among starting pitchers in swinging strike percentage and 6th is total strikeouts with 221 Ks in 191.1 innings.  Darvish has the pedigree of an ace and has the potential to be a top 5 fantasy starter.

Hisashi Iwakuma

Iwakuma led Japan to the 2009 WBC title going 1-1 with 15 strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings pitched.  He struggled as a reliever when first joining the Mariners in 2012, but found his groove when he moved into the rotation.  He held opposing batters to a .246 average as a starter and posted 2.65 ERA.  He struck out 78 hitters in 95 innings and walked only 28.  Iwakuma’s stuff doesn’t compare to Darvish and he’s not as young or athletic, but he still has value in deeper leagues and as a spot starter.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ryu is the only player on this list who has not played in the States but the Dodgers thought he was worth a bid of over $25 million and a $36 million contract.  Some scouts see him more as a reliever because of questions about his secondary pitches but the Dodgers believe in his changeup and slider.  His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 94 mph with some cutting action but it isn’t a dominant offering.  Although he’s a bit heavy, he’s not unathletic and repeats his delivery well which allows him to log innings.  If he reaches his potential, he’ll stick as the Dodgers’ number three and profiles as a low-end number three in fantasy as well.  He’ll be the first player to make the transition from KBO to MLB so its difficult to project how he will fare his first year in America.

This article also appears at Fake Teams.

Sources

Baseball America

FanGraphs

Worldbaseballclassic.com

The Ninja Wrap

Wrapping up the notable transactions for the last week (2/11-2/17)

By Andrew Ball

Free Agent Signings

2.12 – The Cleveland Indians sign OF Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million contract.

You can read more about the deal here.

Other signings worth mentioning, but not worth giving analysis

The Los Angeles Angels sign RHP Chad Cordero to a minor league contract.

The Los Angeles Dodgers sign RHP Mark Lowe to a minor league contract.

The Miami Marlins sign 1B Casey Kotchman to a minor league contract.

The Tampa Bay Rays sign OF Jack Cust to a minor league contract.

Trades

2.15 – The Tampa Bay Rays send INF Reid Brignac to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for cash considerations and a player to be named later.

Brignac ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects four consecutive years from 2006-2009, but he never really panned out, hitting just .227 over 671 at bats for the Rays. Now he moves to an organization that has a great hitting environment and an injury-prone shortstop so if he is going to succeed, this is the place. I think he is a nice reserve player in NL-Only formats.

All stats courtesy of Fangraphs

Transaction Analysis – Cleveland Bourn Unit

The Cleveland Indians sign Michael Bourn to a 4 year/$48 million deal.

By Zack Smith

There were plenty of rumors about where Bourn would end up this offseason from Texas to Seattle and, most recently, New York.  In the end, Bourn will be manning center field in the Forest City.  It’s an interesting move because Cleveland already had three serviceable outfielders in Michael Brantley, Drew Stubbs and Nick Swisher.  Stubbs and Brantley are both good defenders which may mean that Nick Swisher moves to first base and Mark Reynolds slots in at DH.  Swisher’s versatility will come in handy for the Indians if they decide to keep both Stubbs and Brantley (if one gets traded, my money is on Stubbs).

Bourn’s calling card is his top-end speed and stolen base totals.  He’ll be 30 years-old this season and a player’s legs are usually the first thing to go.  I think Bourn is a couple of years away from really declining, but I don’t think he reaches 50 stolen bases again like he did from 2009-2011.  He should slot in at the top of the lineup and the Indians are made up of a lot of hitters that strikeout more than you would like.  That means that Terry Francona may be less inclined to compound those strikeouts by taking chances on the base paths.  He wasn’t the most run-happy manager in Boston but that didn’t seem to hurt Jacoby Ellsbury very much.

As I mentioned, the Indians lineup is comprised of a lot of free swinging hitters.  The 2012 Oakland A’s set an American League record with 1,387 strikeouts and, while I don’t think the 2013 Indians will be that bad, the projected lineup below could push 1,300 K’s.  The group had a K% of 20% last year and an average of 22% over the past three seasons.  Teams average about 6,150 PAs per season which equates to roughly 1,300 strikeouts.  The addition of Michael Bourn, whose K% has increased each of the last three seasons, adds more swing-and-miss to a team that had plenty of it.

Despite the strikeouts and his age, I think Bourn will be productive in 2013.  He walks at an above-average rate and he’s flirted with an OBP of .350 the past 4 years.  He should score plenty of runs hitting atop the Indians lineup and I still believe he swipes 40+ bags this coming season.  He’s never been much for home runs or RBIs so the move to Progressive Field and to the AL doesn’t affect him as much as it would some other players.  I expect Bourn’s stat line to look similar to what it was in 2012.

The Cleveland pitching staff stands to gain the most from the signing since Cleveland will now boast one of the best defensive teams in the league.  They are strong up the middle with Cabrera and Kipnis and each of the outfielders has good range and at least average an arm.  I’m a believer in Mark Reynolds as a good defensive first baseman but the general sentiment seems to be that Swisher will play there because of his contract.  Either way, the corners are also above average defensively as Lonnie Chisenhall is a former shortstop and very good third baseman.

Chris McGuiness, Cleveland’s first pick in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft, is probably the odd man out here.  He was slotted in to be the full-time DH, but Reynolds and newly acquired Jason Giambi will not compete for the role as well.  I can’t see anyone other than Reynolds ending up with the gig but if Cleveland were to deal one of their outfielders, McGuiness should once again be the favorite.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.

The Ninja Wrap

Wrapping up the notable transactions for the last week (2/4-2/10)

By Andrew Ball

Free Agent Signings

2.9 – The Seattle Mariners sign LHP Joe Saunders to a one-year, $6.5 million contract.

Safeco field and the Mariners’ defense have helped mediocre lefties succeed in past seasons. Just take a look at the difference between Saunders and the recently traded Jason Vargas in 2012.

   Pitcher

ERA

FIP

K%

BB%

  Saunders

4.07

4.08

15.0

5.2

   Vargas

3.85

4.69

15.9

6.2

The two were virtually the same pitcher last season, the difference being Safeco and a strong Seattle outfield. Yes, the defense will feature Michael Morse instead of Ichiro and the fences are moving in, but Saunders should still see a slight improvement in his numbers that will make him a matchups option in mixed leagues.

2.9 – The Cleveland Indians sign 1B Jason Giambi to a minor league contract.

Giambi might be the only player this offseason to interview for a managerial position (with the Rockies) before signing a contract to continue playing. With Rule 5 pick Chris McGuiness his only real competition for playing time, Giambi may end up getting at bats as the Tribe’s DH. Until he shows he can hit for power again, however, you can ignore him even in AL-only leagues.

2.10 – The Cleveland Indians sign RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka to a minor league contract.

Dice-K was 1-7 with an 8.28 ERA in 2012. Those numbers are not good, not good at all. The number that is intriguing is the fact that he still struck out more than 8 batters per nine innings last season and has a career K/9 of 8.20. If you’re at the end of an AL-only draft, or even better in the reserve draft of a league like that, I would choose Dice-K over the likes of Jair Jurrjens, Joel Pineiro, and Mike Pelfrey for sure.

Other signings worth mentioning, but not worth giving analysis

The Arizona Diamondbacks sign C Rod Barajas to a minor league contract.

The Baltimore Orioles sign RHP Joel Pineiro and LHP Mark Hendrickson to minor league contracts.

The Cleveland Indians sign OF Jeremy Hermida to a minor league contract.

The Miami Marlins sign 3B/OF Chone Figgins to a minor league contract.

The Seattle Mariners sign RHP Jon Garland to a minor league contract.

Trades

The Houston Astros send INF Jed Lowrie and RHP Fernando Rodriguez to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for 1B Chris Carter and two minor leaguers, RHP Brad Peacock and C Max Stassi.

You can read more about the deal here.

 

All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.

Transaction Analysis – Houston Lowries Their Payroll

The Houston Astros send INF Jed Lowrie and RHP Fernando Rodriguez to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for 1B Chris Carter and two minor leaguers, RHP Brad Peacock and C Max Stassi

By Andrew Ball

In a move that would make Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria proud, the Houston Astros rid themselves of another major league caliber player in Jed Lowrie for three young, cheap assets. The terrible pun in the title aside, Houston’s 2013 salary obligations now total less than $25 million and their highest paid player is Wandy Rodriguez, who also happens to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rany Jazayerli noted on twitter that he admires the Astros because “No MLB team ever has so embraced the fantasy baseball ‘if you’re going to suck, suck all-out’ strategy”.  In acquiring Lowrie, the A’s have announced they are contenders again this year, while Houston has made it perfectly clear they have accepted they will not be a good team.

Jed Lowrie spent his healthy games in 2012 as the starting shortstop for the Astro’s, but the A’s have already announced that Hiroyuki Nakajima will be their everyday shortstop with Lowrie attempting to fill a Ben Zobrist-type role for the A’s. Lowrie is versatile to enough to play all four infield spots and he will get an opportunity to do so because Oakland lacks an all-star level player at any of the spots. He will start 2013 with just SS eligibility, but he may gain 1B, 2B, and/or 3B eligibility by the All-Star break, making him more valuable in all league formats. The problem is that moving from Minute Maid Park, where he hit .262 with 9 home runs in 164 at bats, to the Coliseum could hurt his production. Lowrie is more of an injury certainty than a risk at this point, which pushes him outside the top-20 at the position, but the fact that he remains an above average hitter who is still just 27 means he’s not too far outside that range.

Houston has two players who I think are very positively affected by the deal in Chris Carter and Tyler Greene. It is no secret that I like Chris Carter, who hit 16 home runs with a .275 isolated power in just 260 plate appearances last season. Now, he does have problems making contact and he does have Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace to compete with for playing time, but there is no denying that this is a great move for Carter’s prospects this season. The Coliseum depresses home runs for right-handed hitters by 11%, while Minute Maid Park inflates home runs by 8%, so saying that the move is a good one for Carter is a slight understatement. I also am not too worried about the playing time because Houston will want to see what they have in the 26 year old, so I think he should be in line for 500 at bats. The average won’t be good, but .240, with 30 home runs seems reasonable and should put him in the Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds class of sluggers.

The other player who gets a significant boost is Tyler Greene, who I feel will get the majority of the games at short stop for the Astros. This is a middle infielder who hit 11 home runs and stole 12 bases in 330 plate appearances last year. Yes, he also walked less than 6% of the time and struck out just over 28% of the time, but have you seen the depth at 2B and SS this year? If Greene goes 20/20, he almost assuredly will be one of the 15 most valuable players at either position and I doubt he is drafted that way. If you can acquire Tyler Greene late in a draft, I think he has a chance to show a huge return in 2013.

Of the two prospects the Astros received, Brad Peacock is the more interesting one. Peacock looked poised to make an impact in the majors last year after a dominating minor league season in 2011, but instead he struggled badly in the PCL, finishing the year with a 6.01 ERA. Despite the struggles, he did still strike out 139 hitters in 134.2 innings so there is some hope for Peacock. He should get a shot at the majors at some point in 2013, so I think he has AL-only value this year. Max Stassi is a catcher with some pop, but he is just a name to remember for now even in keeper or dynasty formats.

All statistics come courtsey of Fangraphs.

The Ninja Wrap

Wrapping up the notable transactions for the last week (1/28-2/3)

By Andrew Ball

Free Agent Signings

2.1 – The New York Yankees sign 1B/DH Travis Hafner to a one-year, $2 million contract.

Hafner is injury prone (he’s missed time in each of the past 6 seasons), and he only qualifies at utility, making him an afterthought for most fantasy owners. The move to Yankee stadium, though, is a perfect example of a player going to the exact right situation for him. I think Pronk, who posted a .210 isolated power just last year, hits 20 home runs this season and is a huge steal in AL-only leagues.

2.1 – The Cincinnati Reds sign C Miguel Olivo to a minor league contract.

To me this move is not noteworthy, but I have seen a bunch of speculation that this signing is bad for Devin Mesoraco. Honestly, I do not think it affects Mesoraco in the least bit. The Reds needed another catcher for spring training and for depth, and Olivo was the most talented backstop available. Mesoraco should still split time with Ryan Hanigan to start the season, and, if he can hit like he is capable, he will more than likely earn the bulk of the playing time early in the season.

Other signings worth mentioning, but not worth giving analysis

The Baltimore Orioles sign OF Chris Dickerson to a minor league contract.

The Boston Red Sox sign 1B Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract.

The Cincinnati Reds sign LHP Manny Parra to a one-year, $1 million contract.

The Cleveland Indians sign RHP Matt Capps to a minor league contract.

The Los Angeles Angels sign UTL Bill Hall to a minor league contract.

The New York Mets sign RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a minor league contract.

The New York Yankees sign OF Juan Rivera to a minor league contract.

The Philadelphia Phillies sign RHP Chad Durbin to a one-year contract and sign INF Yuniesky Betancourt to a minor league contract.

The San Diego Padres sign RHPs Freddy Garcia and Tim Stauffer to minor league contracts.

The St. Louis Cardinals sign INF Ronny Cedeno to a minor league contract.

The Tampa Bay Rays sign INF Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract.