Transaction Scripts: Yankees in Transition

Headley enjoyed his stint in NY so much he took less to stay. Let that marinate with his 4 year 52 million dollar deal.
Headley enjoyed his stint in NY so much he took less to stay.

It seems strange to be breaking down New York’s offseason moves to this point without commenting on a free agent that they overspent on. Well, with the exception of Chase Headley. However, he may have left money on the table to sign with New York. Wait, what? In flurry of moves during the Winter Meetings, teams like San Diego, Los Angeles and Miami were wheeling and dealing. Within the division, Toronto has strengthened their team defense and lineup by signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson. The Red Sox have been busy hoarding number three starters to go along with the signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Tampa is being Tampa and making under the radar deals and stockpiling arms. The biggest news in Baltimore is that Chris Davis can (legally) take Adderall this year. Phew!

Oh yeah, one last thing. The black cloud that is Alex Rodriguez is hanging over the 2015 Yankees.

Brian Cashman is trying to look to the future and shed some of the mistakes of contract’s past. Now that the Derek Jeter retirement tour has ended and the “Core Four” have all retired, the time has come to try and rebuild on the fly. A total reclamation project is not in the offing for a franchise that prides itself with headlines, winning and most importantly, championships. But one of the reasons they have been quiet this winter is because the cupboard is kind of bare on the farm. Because the Yankees are devoid of the prospects that other teams desire, they have taken a new course. I was surprised about the backlash on Twitter from Yankee fans after they traded Martin Prado and David Phelps to Miami for Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones and prospect Domingo German. Prado is nice and all but his ceiling is limited and pitchers who repeatedly throw 95 MPH do not fall off trees. Adding the Marlins number 8 prospect in German was great as well. He is not overpowering but throws strikes.

So what have the Yankees done this winter?

Yankee Acquisitions: Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Domingo German, Gonzalez Germen, Chase Headley, Chris Young
Yankee Losses: David Robertson, Shane Greene, Martin Prado, David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy

Starting with the infield, it appears for now that the Yankees are going to bring in Didi Gregorius and his strong defense to platoon with Brendan Ryan at shortstop. While it makes sense to be strong up the middle, what does Sir Didi offer as he tries to replace a Yankee Legend? According to ESPN Statistical Analysis, Gregorius made 41 good plays at shortstop in 2014 in 580 innings while the best total at the position was 71 good plays per 1,000 innings. I am not a math wizard but this implies that Gregorius was on pace to make more good plays per 1,000 innings than the leader in baseball. While this will not mean anything to Gregorius’ production on offense, if he helps save runs that may have more worth than anything he would do offensively. On a positive note, here is another list, courtesy of Mark Simon, noting the players with the highest hard hit rate in 2014:

Hard Hit Rate Mark Simon

It is only one statistic, but Gregorius is nestled in between Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout. I’m not sure how this happened but Didi is a candidate for a platoon. His career slash lines against left-handed pitching are a paltry .184/.257/.233 while his numbers improve against righties to the tune of .262/.332/.411. It is hard to say that a move to Yankee stadium will improve his numbers since Arizona is a hitter’s ballpark as well but the short porch in right is enticing to lefties. Gregorius has hit all 13 of his career homers off of right-handed pitchers so it really makes sense to platoon him with Brendan Ryan not only to shield him from the New York fans and writers but to allow him to gain confidence. This is could be a tough sell as Bob McManaman wrote about for the Arizona Republic:

“…this was a scout’s take on Gregorius in a text message to the New York Daily News: He’s OK. Solid defender, bat is light-long swing. Good athlete. Nervous type, not sure he can handle NY. If Gregorius is batting around .220 in May, Yankees fans and the New York tabloids alike will be screaming at Cashman for not trading for Troy Tulowitzki or Elvis Andrus or making a run at Hanley Ramirez before he bolted to the rival Red Sox.”

This will be Didi’s third team in the last three years. Replacing Derek Jeter is a tall order on its own, starting in New York as a platoon player at best whose best quality is defense, may be too tough for Gregorius to handle. In the 81 games Steamer projects out of him, he’ll produce 34 runs, 6 home runs, 32 RBI and 2 stolen bases while hitting .248/.310/.366. That does not look great but in comparison to Derek Jeter’s 2014 of 145 games, 47 runs, 4 home runs, 50 RBI, 10 stolen bases and .256/.304/.313 it doesn’t look so bad. I think Yankee fans are smarter than people give them credit for (Editor’s note: Greg is a Yankees fan). Gregorius may not light it up in fantasy, but if he saves runs for their patchwork pitching staff then he will be worth his spot in the platoon.

When the Yankees traded for Chase Headley in 2014 it seemed like a reach for a team that could not realistically make the playoffs. I remember watching a game near the end of the year and hearing that Headley was surprised about how much he enjoyed being a Yankee and that playing there may have changed his mind about his pending free agency. It really did not register with me at the time but while I am reading reports that his 4 year 52-million dollar contract was below other offers, I was surprised. Taking out his outlier 2012, his high in home runs for a season is 13 (which he has done each of the last two years). If the Yankees had any plans to give Alex Rodriguez playing time at third base would they have given Headley a four year contract? As congruent as Headley’s statistics have been over the last two years in which he has averaged 138 games, 57 runs, 13 home runs, 50 RBI, 8 SB and a .246/.338/.387 slash line, his power peripherals are very intriguing. First, here are Headley’s home runs from 2014 with an overlay of Yankee Stadium. Now he did hit 6 of his 13 homers with the Yankees, but notice the distances in comparison to the overlay:

Chase Headley Yankee Overaly 2014

What makes even less sense is how his supporting statistics match up over the last three years. I charted them below and you may find it as perplexing as I did:

Headley HR Chart

It would appear that Headley is regaining strength in his thumb with the increased bat velocities the last two seasons and while a return to his 31 home run spike from 2012 is very unlikely, I am willing to buy into Headley increasing his home run totals in 2015. Ballpark, plus increased HR/FB%, plus increased ball speed off the bat could translate into a bump in not only Headley’s home run totals, but his fantasy stats overall. Steamer seems to agree:

Chase Headley 2015: 138 G, 69 R, 17 HR, 68 RBI, 8 SB, .259/.343/.413

That is a solid portrayal for Headley going forward and although I was not enamored with his contract for the Yankees, it is a boon for his fantasy value. By no means does this propel him to the top of any 3B rankings but it makes him relevant again. If he can hold on to the distances that he exhibited in 2014, I could see him hitting 20 – 23 long balls next year:

2014 Longest HR by AVG Distance

Although it seems that the Yankees are stockpiling designated hitters with Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez already on the roster, they picked up Garrett Jones from the Marlins. Jones is not a particularly strong fielder in right or at first base so if he plays it will be for his bat. But if Jones is going to be a part of a platoon at DH, the Yankees may be on to something. Similar to Gregorius, Jones does his best work against right-handed pitchers, hitting 101 of his 117 career home runs off of them. His career slash lines against right-handers is .267/.333/.479, which, in New York is something to take note of. Once again, just like Headley, Jones’ power spike in 2012 has been followed up by back to back 15 homer campaigns. Unlike Headley, Jones’ peripheral numbers do not portend a serious jump in power due to his arrival in New York. First here is his home run overlay with Yankee stadium using his 2014 home runs:

Garrett Jones Yankee Overlay 2014

While Headley had supporting stats to say an increase in power is due to happen, Jones will have to rely on the short porch in right field for a power jump. But Jones averages a home run every 21.9 at bats against right-handed pitching for his career so if he can garner 450 at bats with the Yankees his career numbers dictate that he could hit 21 home runs at his peak. Using Jones’ Steamer projection of 81 games, he’s due to produce 41 runs, 14 home runs, 45 RBI and a .250/.311/.448 slash line. Jones’ value will be determined not only by how he is used but by how many at bats he gets. He is a sneaky cheap power play in AL-only leagues.

Finishing up the infield preview, it appears that a spring training battle at second base is brewing between Robert Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. At a time when Yankee fans are looking for a prospect to break through and contribute to this team, Refsnyder has been growing in the minor leagues. Their numbers in the minors last year are strikingly familiar:

Robert Refsnyder AA/AAA: 137 G, 82 R, 14 HR, 63 RBI, 9 SB, .318/.387/.497
Jose Pirela AAA: 130 G, 87 R, 10 HR, 60 RBI, 15 SB, .305/.351/.441

Pirela is on the active 40-man roster and would appear to have the inside track as the season opens, but a strong spring could push Refsnyder into the position earlier than anticipated. Defense could be the deciding factor, as Refsnyder is still a work in progress at second base and could use a bit more seasoning at AAA. Steamer seems to think that the Yankees will start with Pirela at the position:

Jose Pirela Steamer: 57 G, 24 R, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 5 SB, .259/.307/.381
Robert Refsnyder Steamer: 97 G, 45 R, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 9 SB, .262/.328/.390

Even though I think Refsnyder is the best for second base in the long run it may take him until June to win the job. But once he is there it may be his for some time which would make Yankee fans happy to see players come through the system again.
As to the pitching pieces in this deal, it starts with Nathan Eovaldi coming over from the Marlins. Like Chase Headley, he is a tough player to project for 2015 as he has enticing positives like his live arm and improving FIP but he has his warts. Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here is repertoire:

Eovaldi MPH and Movement 2014

Fangraphs.com’s Eno Sarris has a couple of interesting tweets regarding Eovaldi:

To say that Eovaldi could be the next Garrett Richards is high praise indeed, but may be a work in progress. His pitches with batting averages against show the problems that Eovaldi has with his changeup:

Eovaldi 2014 Results against

There are reports that Eovaldi is working on a split finger fastball this offseason, so it will remain to be seen what he can do in a ballpark like Yankee Stadium. But with his velocity and youth, it is a risk worth taking for the Yankees.

The other piece in the Marlins trade was pitcher Domingo German who was the eighth rated Marlins prospect and immediately jumped one spot in the Yankee ranking to number 7 after the trade. German is a very good young pitcher who struck out 113 in 2014 against only 25 walks. His fastball is reported to be in the low 90’s with an average changeup and a developing slider. In his first full season in class A, German had a tidy 2.48 ERA. His fastball does have sink which is a plus as teams are looking for power pitchers who generate groundballs.

I have already written up Andrew Miller here and how he provides insurance in the bullpen as the Dellin Betances era may begin in New York. Having been fortunate enough to get him in the reserve draft in my AL-only league next year I look forward to Betances transitioning in to take over at closer for his mentor and hero Mariano Rivera. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees can stay the course and hold on to their prospects like Luis Severino, a live-armed righty who throws an easy fastball and allow AFL star Aaron Judge to develop instead of flipping him for an aging veteran. The times are changing in New York and I am curious to see how Brian Cashman sheds contracts before trying to make a splash in the 2016 free agent class. These are not the Yankees of years past, at least at the moment.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, ESPN.com, MiLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/mGs6bU

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

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Transaction Scripts: Kemp, Upton, Norris, Myers oh my!

During the twelve days of Christmas A.J. Preller dealt twelve prospects headlined by Max Fried, Zach Eflin and Trea Turner
San Diego’s GM A.J. Preller has dealt 12 prospects to reshape the Padres outfield

In a flurry of moves, new Padres general manager A.J. Preller has totally revamped the San Diego lineup by adding the much needed element of power. These acquisitions should move the Padres out of last place in baseball in both slugging and OPS in 2015. However, these moves did not come cheaply, as San Diego had to tap heavily into their farm system to upgrade. Although the farm has been utilized in this way, Preller was able to hold on to their three top youngsters, Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe. Not only that, but the rookie GM was also able to keep his starting rotation (Cashner, Ross, Kennedy) intact. Even in the midst of all these deals, it appears that Preller and the Padres are far from finished, as there are rumors that they may also be in on Cole Hamels, though it is fair to speculate he would have to part with at least one of his top prospects to make that happen. A new Twitter handle has emerged to celebrate the brashness of A.J. Preller:

Before I dive into the new players that the Padres have added, I will take a moment to see what they traded away. First, here is a list of the prospects in order of status according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo: Max Fried, Trea Turner, Jace Peterson, Jesse Hahn, Joe Ross, Zach Eflin, Dustin Peterson, Jake Bauers, Burch Smith, Joe Wieland, R.J. Alvarez and Mallex Smith. That is six starting pitchers, one future closer, a first baseman, a second baseman, a shortstop, a third baseman and an outfielder who stole 88 bases in the minors last year. No pear tree, but what a turnover. One of the main points here is that although Preller has dealt these youngsters, they are not his prospects. It is evident that Preller is looking to put his fingerprints on the Padre franchise and this is quite a start. Some have mused that the prospects dealt were more quantity than quality. That remains to be seen, but more importantly, why did Preller make such a push for power?

Padres OF 2014Even though Petco Park’s fences have been moved in, last year’s team was not built to hit the ball out of the yard, which is exactly why it finished next to last in every power-measuring category in baseball. Many of the game’s elite power bats aren’t typically going to sign with San Diego via free agency for obvious reasons, which is why the new GM probably felt he needed to acquire thump via trade. It looks as though Preller did his homework. We are currently in an era where pitching dominates, making power bats all the more scarce. Daren Willman shared some pretty cool charts on Twitter:

What these highlight is how the game is evolving in pitches called for strikes, specifically low and inside to right-handed hitters. This is important because as I looked into the players that Preller acquired, they handle low and inside pitches well. Here are each of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Justin Upton’s zone profiles with slugging percentages, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:

Wil Myers Slugging Zone ProfileDerek Norris Slugging Zone ProfileJustin Upton Slugging Zone Profile 2014Matt Kemp Slugging Zone Profile 2014

Key in on the bottom inside third of the strike zone in which Kemp slugged 1.205 last year, Upton .641 and Norris .611. While Wil Myers did not handle this pitch well, he did slug .592 on pitches in the middle lower third.

It has been discussed that the move to Petco depresses the power of the players that Preller has obtained. According to this tweet though, (using a conversion from Baseball-Reference.com) the loss of home runs may not be as bad as forecasted:

So how about those home runs? I created overlays for each player with Petco as the background:

Kemp 2014 Petco OvelayMyers 2013 Petco Overlay

Derek Norris Petco OverlayUpton overlay Petco 2014

With the knowledge that only a few home runs would be lost due to the ballpark effect from the previous tweet, it will be interesting to see if each player can maintain his two-year averages in San Diego. I charted this below using 2012 and 2014 for Kemp’s statistics but all the other players listed reflect their last two years. Along with that, I included each player’s Steamer and ZiPS projections (thanks Fangraphs). There is no ZiPS projection yet for Kemp.

Padres Projections 2015

Due to their past seasons, it is easiest to predict what Upton and Kemp are capable of. I understand that there will be a cloud over Kemp and his arthritic hips, but he was a monster in the second half of 2014 and should be motivated after the trade. Before casting too much aspersion on how the move to Petco may sap their power numbers, take a look at their career stats hitting at Petco:

Matt Kemp in Petco: 59 G, 28 R, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 8 SB, .322/.372/.495
Justin Upton in Petco: 46 G, 24 R, 10 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, .291/.359/.541

Is it just a coincidence that each outfielder was available or did Preller target these outfielders who have OPS numbers in Petco that are .867 and .900 respectively? Here are the behind the scenes stats that I enjoy (again courtesy of Fangraphs) using some advanced metrics to predict future performance:

Padres New Players Last 2 year supporting stats
With the exception of Myers, the HR/FB%, wOBA and wRC+ seem very stable on the other three. There are no major variances in the swinging strike rates, either. It would appear that the only wild card in here is Myers, who not only needs to adjust to the National League, but possibly to playing center field as well. It will be a very interesting year for Myers since his power was never really questioned as a prospect but his ability to hit for average was. His two-year slash line of .258/.324/.400 is probably a good one to use as a projection for what he’ll do in 2015. I also think that Upton and Kemp can maintain their two-year averages. Norris may benefit from more playing time if he can stay healthy and move into the lower tier of number one catchers, but he profiles better as a strong number two for fantasy purposes. Preller has moved some of his chips into the middle to play for this season and still has control of many of these players until 2019.

Can Myers, Upton, Kemp and Norris form a core four in San Diego?
Can Myers, Upton, Kemp and Norris form a core-four in San Diego?

Kemp has called A.J. Preller a rock star among general managers and his first concert in 2015 will be fun to watch. It remains to be seen if he can add one more starting pitcher to this team. One thing is for certain though, this lineup will be much deeper and more powerful than in years past. Not only that, but there are possible platoons around the diamond with Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte at third. At first base, the Padres can use Tommy Medica against left-handed pitching and Yonder Alonso against righties. Also, they can use Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes at shortstop with Amarista being an emergency option in the outfield as well.

Things are not perfect with the lineup but with the defection of Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse from San Francisco and the rudderless movement of Colorado, the Padres have positioned themselves for a run at the Wild Card. That is all you need in October, a chance. While I do not think that Preller is finished, I like what he has done to address team needs so far.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, CBS.com, ESPN.com, Fangraphs.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/DaUXCz (Preller & Kemp), http://goo.gl/HmzmXd (Prospects), http://goo.gl/74EHkc (Myers, Upton, Kemp, Norris)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Billy Beane’s Gamble with the A’s

If Beane’s gambles do not pay off there may be plenty of seats available in 2015

As I started to dig into the Athletics roster in review of their litany of transactions I have to admire the willingness of Billy Beane to tinker with the team. In 2014, Oakland hit 146 home runs and drove in 686 runs as a team. But as a result of players leaving either via trade, retirement or release, the remaining production on the roster is 49 home runs and 265 RBI. It doesn’t take advanced sabermetrics to see that more than two thirds of the A’s offense is gone. And it doesn’t stop there. Of their 162 pitcher starts from 2014, 65 are also gone, along with 50 quality starts. Wait, there’s more. In losing Luke Gregerson to Houston via free agency, 22 of Oakland’s 61 holds from 2014 have also disappeared. Is Billy Beane a Kinks fan? For some reason music has been on my mind lately and the song “Do It Again” popped into my head while trying to find a way to write up Oakland’s mentality. The Kinks are probably before your time but I thought I would mix in some of lyrics as I take a look at how Oakland is attempting to rebuild on the fly.

“Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again.”

Semien has a nice blend of power and speed which should entice fantasy player's to remember him in the late rounds as a MI with upside
Semien has a nice blend of power and speed. Fantasy owners should target him in the middle rounds

Why yes Mr. Beane, you will need to do it again. In 2014, the A’s pushed all the chips into the middle, banking their World Series hopes on the back of their starting pitching. It failed, and as a result, a new plan needs to be drawn up. Beane gave up prized shortstop prospect Addison Russell to the Cubs for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. He then traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester, who inevitably lost the Wild Card play in game to the Royals. This offseason, Beane has dealt Josh Donaldson, who led the team in almost every offensive statistical category to Toronto for young pitching and Brett Lawrie, who at just 24 years old may need Oakland as much as they need him. After giving Brandon Moss a chance, the A’s were rewarded with 76 home runs and 220 RBI over the last three seasons. But at a time when power is scarce, they only got Joey Wendle from the Indians in return. With only one year remaining on his contract, Jeff Samardzija was a player that Beane decided he had to trade as well, and he got five pieces in return including potential starting shortstop Marcus Semien. Is this a lateral move in comparison to Addison Russell? After the dust seemed to be settling Beane dealt another All Star in Derek Norris to San Diego for pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. This is the one deal I could really get behind as Hahn fared well in his major league debut in 2014 and Alvarez represents a talented young arm in the bullpen with his 95 MPH fastball.

“Where are all the people going?
Round and round till we reach the end.
One day leading to another,
Get up, go out, do it again.

Then it’s back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Back where you started,
Come on do it again.”

This is what A’s fans are wondering looking ahead to 2015. I can offer up some suggestions, but with the Angels looking to build upon their momentum from last year and the Mariners adding Nelson Cruz, it remains to be seen if the A’s can contend this year. Does Beane want to? Not only that, there have to be some more moves on the horizon as the present roster does not seem ready to compete. With A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker working their way back from injuries the present rotation appears to be Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Hahn. Stephen Vogt will appear just about everywhere on the field and lineup to keep his bat active but this team is relying heavily on Brett Lawrie and Marcus Semien on the left side of the infield. Their starting pitching and bullpen may keep them in games, but will they score enough runs to be a real threat?

Acquired by the A’s: Alex Hassan OF, Ike Davis 1B, Brett Lawrie 3B, Sean Nolin LHP, Kendall Graveman RHP, Franklin Barreto SS, Joey Wendle 2B, Marcus Semien SS, Chris Bassitt RHP, Josh Phegley C, Rangel Ravelo 1B, Michael Ynoa, Jesse Hahn RHP, R.J. Alvarez RHP

Traded or left via Free Agency: Josh Donaldson 3B, Derek Norris C, Jeff Samardzija RHP, Jason Hammel RHP, Brandon Moss 1B/OF, Kyle Blanks 1B, Alberto Callaspo 2B, Nick Punto SS, Jon Lester LHP, Adam Dunn DH

“And you think today is going to be better,
Change the world and do it again.
Give it all up and start all over,
You say you will but you don’t know when.

Then it’s back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
Come on do it again.”

When looking at the fantasy prospects of the players that are new to Oakland, we have a mixed bag. If Billy Butler can regain his career HR/FB% he can return to a 15 home run player as projected by both Steamer and ZiPS. But there is no excitement generated there. Lawrie has burned far too many in the past so 2015 either represents the perfect storm to get him on the cheap or he may lose his relevance in fantasy outside of AL-only. It would appear that the biggest beneficiaries of Oakland’s new faces are Marcus Semien, Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. Starting with the additions to the offense, a chart showing what Steamer and ZiPS feel about the new Athletics is displayed below:

Oakland Athletics Offense Projection Chart

For Billy Butler to help the Athletics he must recover from his career low HR/FB% of 6.9 back to 10.9. If this occurs, his power will return and he should hit about 15 dingers. There is some discrepancy regarding his potential RBI total but this offense will be a landmine to project as it is full of platooners, injury risks and unproven youngsters. Because of his chance to be the Opening Day shortstop, Marcus Semien will be an intriguing middle infield option for 2015. After a rough debut last year, Semien went to the minors and returned in the second half.

Marcus Semien 1H: 43 G, 22 R, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 3 SB, .218/.287/.327
Marcus Semien 2H: 21 G, 8 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .273/.333/.485

While both of his projections forecast double-digit home runs and stolen bases, I think ZiPS is more accurate when setting his value in 2015, which is enticing as long as you are willing to tolerate a sub .240 batting average. Ike Davis could be a source of cheap power in AL-only leagues but that may be the peak of his upside. He does have some power, though it has been in decline the past three years peaking with a HR/FB% of 21.1 and dropping to 10.3 last year. I am not going to predict a Brandon Moss turnaround for Davis in Oakland, but Moss arrived with only 23 home runs in his big league career and was promoted at age 28. Davis will be 29 in 2015 but has a 32 home run season in his past. While that is likely an outlier, I think he can hit the 17 forecasted and maybe even reach 20.

Brett Lawrie is the biggest wild card here. He has barely averaged 100 games per year over the last three seasons but has still managed double-digit home runs each year along with 22 stolen bases during that span. Reckless play on the turf in Toronto has kept many a player injured in and is part of the reason why Melky Cabrera signed with the White Sox. Even though it seems as though he’s been around forever, Lawrie will turn just 25 this year. I was on the Lawrie train last year but it would take a steep discount for me to buy in 2015. However, he cannot be ignored considering the dearth of talent at the hot corner.

On the pitching side of it all I did cover many of the prospects in an article here if you wish to check it out. This time I will focus on Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez as the prizes in the Derek Norris trade. Beane was trading from strength with his abundance of catchers and sold high on Norris whose power finally played in 2014. Here are the Steamer and ZiPS projections for the new arms in Oakland:

Oakland Athletics Pitching Projections

Starting with Jesse Hahn, if he can win the fifth spot in the rotation he will become an AL-only upside play after a solid finish to his 2014 season with the Padres. In order to survive deeper through the lineup he may need to develop a third pitch, but here are his pitch speeds and batting averages against in two different charts (courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net):

Jesse Hahn Pitches and VelocityJesse Hahn Results and AveragesThe other reason I am high on Hahn as the fifth starter in Oakland is due to his ability to produce groundballs. Note his groundball/ball in play percentages:

Jesse Hahn GB rates with pitches

As a fifth starter with upside in Oakland, he can use the ballpark to his advantage and pitch better than his projection. In an effort to strengthen the bullpen, Oakland will take a chance on Michael Ynoa and high upside hurler R.J. Alvarez who wowed the Padres after they acquired him from the Angels last year in the Huston Street trade. It would not surprise me if Alvarez works his way into the eighth inning role by the end of the season replacing Luke Gregerson. Again courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here are Alvarez’s speeds from 2014 while in San Diego:

RJ Alvarez Pitches 2014

His 95 MPH fastball and slider combo will play well in high leverage situations. Alvarez struck out 61 in the minors in 43 and a third innings with a 1.25 ERA last year. All he needs is an opportunity.

“The days go by and you wish you were a different guy,
Different friends and a new set of clothes.
You make alterations and affect a new pose,
A new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose.
But it’s superficial and it’s only skin deep,
Because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep.
Get back, get back.

Back where you started, here we go round again,
Back where you started, come on do it again.”

It would appear that Billy Beane is walking a fine line with his upheaval of the Athletics roster, but that verse has been written before. Only time will tell but it will take each player acquired playing at or higher than their projected level to make it worth the gamble. I know A.J. Preller is getting all the accolades in San Diego for having brass balls but Beane has been doing it for years.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/2V9RGm (Beane), http://goo.gl/wpsJfQ (Semien)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Rays moves

The Rays turned Wil Myers into a new RF in Souza, a new C in Rivera and pitching depth in Smith
The Rays turned Wil Myers into a new RF in Souza, a new C in Rivera and pitching depth in Smith

One of the recurring themes this winter is that teams covet power. Teams are looking for hitters that can hit balls out of the yard and for relievers who can throw gas. If the bullpen arm can produce groundballs, even better. While Tampa made more moves near the trade deadline in August than this off season, they have still addressed needs. First, here is a recap of who has joined the Rays in December following the signing of Ernesto Frieri in November along with the trades of Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta:

Acquired by the Rays: Kevin Jepsen, Rene Rivera, Burch Smith, Jake Bauers, Steven Souza, Travis Ott

Traded by the Rays: Matt Joyce, Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo, Gerardo Reyes

With Steven Souza, Rene Rivera and Kevin Jepsen, the Rays got three players with power, albeit different types. Souza slugged a robust .590 in AAA Syracuse this past season and already has a highlight reel catch to his credit during Jordan Zimmermann’s no hitter in 2014. Rivera had 11 home runs with the Padres in 103 games last year and spent some time batting cleanup. To create room in the outfield for Souza, the Rays shipped Matt Joyce to the Angels for relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen. Jepsen recovered his velocity last year, resulting in a 10.39 K/9. At first glance, it looks like all three players have a great chance of success in Tampa.

This move allows Souza the chance to win a starting gig in the outfield, which would obviously not be the case if he was still a member of the Nationals. He has an intriguing power/speed combo, but he is probably a bit too old to be considered a prospect.

This is punctuated by his numbers in the minors over the last two years. Here are his stats for each season:

Steven Souza 2013 AA: 77 G, 54 R, 15 HR, 44 RBI, 20 SB, .300/.396/.557
Steven Souza 2014 AAA: 96 G, 62 R, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 26 SB, .350/.432/.590

For comparison’s sake, here are the two positions last year with cumulative stats for the season that Souza and Rene Rivera will look to help Tampa improve upon:

Rays 2014 vs Souza Rivera Steamer

Souza’s Steamer projection pegs him for 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases while hitting .250/.322/.415 in 81 games. It’s not bad, as it will be hard to expect him to maintain the OBP and SLG% he displayed in the minors. If he can get into 120 games he could be a great value play in AL-only leagues and usable in mixed formats. With the number of players that can hit 15 home runs and steal 20 or more bases declining, these skills come at a premium. It will be interesting to see if Souza can win the right field job out of spring training. If he can, he is worth a long look. In Syracuse, he actually displayed more power against right-handed pitching. hitting 14 of his 18 round trippers against them while slashing .359/.432/.618. Souza had a respectable slash line against lefties as well (.322/.433/.506). I would not be shocked to see Souza finish with 20 homers and 25 steals, albeit with an average right around .250.

The Rays very rarely had a great hitting catcher during the Joe Maddon regime. Rather, a veteran who could handle the pitching staff and throw out baserunners. Rivera is not only a highly regarded defensive backstop, he also has some pop. He has thrown out 39% of base stealers (league average 28%) over the course of his career. Pair that with his 11 home runs and .252/.319/.432 slash line last year and he is a huge offensive upgrade to the Rays without sacrificing defense. Here is Rivera’s home run overlay with Tropicana Field as the backdrop:

Rene Rivera Overlay Trop

Rivera also played three games at first base so he could give James Loney some days off against tough left-handed hurlers. This makes Rivera a nice AL-only target, and if he can play 120 games for Tampa Bay, a solid number two in fantasy mixed leagues.

The addition of Kevin Jepsen further solidifies their bullpen. With Jake McGee succumbing to surgery, this gives Tampa even more depth. It will allow them to shorten games for their young staff while adding a pitcher who throws hard and generates grounders:

Kevin Jepsen pitches and velo 2014Kevin Jepsen sabermetric outcomes highlight GB

Over the last three years Jepsen has averaged 9.2 whiffs per 9 and 3.04 K:BB. His 3.21 ERA and 1.20 WHIP during that span are nothing to sneeze at either. Further, if Jepsen’s numbers from 2014 can hold, he will give the Rays another viable option at the back end of their pen to close games. While this is a muddled situation right now, hopefully the roles will crystalize in spring training. But it appears that the Rays are committed to strong young pitching with a rotation of Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly along with a deep, hard-throwing bullpen. They also have Nate Karns and Alex Colome who can step in for Moore until he is ready to return from surgery. It is rotational depth that the Yankees would kill for.

Tampa Bay has also acquired three prospects this month. The group is highlighted by first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith who came from San Diego along with young left handed-pitching prospect Travis Ott from Washington. Ott is the prototypical gamble that the Rays like to take. As a prospect as he pitched in single A as a 19 year old and had one win in 55 innings for Auburn in the New York Penn league, recording a 45:26 K:BB and 3.93 ERA. He will have time to develop and has a feel for pitching. Burch Smith rose quickly in San Diego’s system until he experienced forearm problems, now he appears ticketed for the bullpen. However, he can reach the low 90’s with his fastball and also has a changeup and curveball that could play well in relief. Jake Bauers only reached single A as well and hit .296/.376/.414 in 112 games last year, adding 8 home runs. Many believe his power will evolve as he ages. All in all, a prototypical return in swapping out Wil Myers for a less expensive equally valued player in Souza and finding a solid defensive catcher who may provide upside in the power department in Rivera. If Jepsen closes any games he will more than make up for the loss of Matt Joyce who fell behind Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer last year in the outfield. It will be fun to see if Nick Franklin can excel with the Rays as well after the Mariners gave up on him. The Rays will be a team with deep pitching depth, strong defense and lots of flexibility. Whether or not they can compete in the American League East remains to be seen.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/TZpiLj

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Marlins add Gordon, Morse, Latos

In an effort to provide Giancarlo Stanton more chances to win, the Marlins added Dee Gordon, Martin Prado to bat in front of him and Michael Morse for power behind, but will it work?
The Marlins added Dee Gordon, Martin Prado and Michael Morse so far this winter

When the Marlins signed Giancarlo Stanton to an extension it changed the direction of their offseason. Instead of playing for the future the Marlins are going for it, as echoed by quotes from Stanton, courtesy of USA Today:

“Stanton told USA TODAY Sports that he was always willing to listen about a long-term extension, but simply wanted assurances that the team is committed to winning.
‘Winning,” Stanton said, “has a way of curing a whole lot of things.’’

Indeed, winning is the cure. This has happened before with the Marlins as they seem to build with youth to contend, win and then sell off the parts before they become too expensive. There is an opt-out clause in Stanton’s contract that the team feels he will take so the window to win has been shortened even with the agreement in place. In an effort to fill gaps within the pitching staff until Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John Surgery, Miami added Jared Cosart last August along with the following changes this offseason:

Players Acquired by Miami: Dee Gordon, Michael Morse, Martin Prado, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, David Phelps, Kendry Flores, Luis Castillo, Andre Rienzo, Miguel Rojas

Players Traded by Miami: Casey McGehee, Nate Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Domingo German, Dan Jennings, Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Enrique Hernandez, Austin Barnes, Anthony DeSclafani, Chad Wallach

On the surface this is about improving the infield and the offense. Even though Stanton hit 37 home runs prior to his season-ending injury, the Marlins as a team only hit 122 in 2014. Unlike the Padres, the Marlins have a strong base to build around in the outfield which is why they turned their focus to veteran pitching depth and improving their lineup. Here is a chart showing what each spot in the lineup produced in 2014. These spots will likely be filled by the aforementioned Prado and Morse:

Marlins 2014 2 & 4 hitters

While the counting statistics will likely be the same for Prado, his career slash lines of .291/.340/.429 are an improvement over what the Marlins had there last year. Hitting in front of Stanton is an enviable place to occupy in any lineup. In Prado’s career he has hit .297 against fastballs and figures to see plenty of them if he hits second. As for the cleanup spot, Stanton had Casey McGehee hitting behind him for most of 2014 and still produced 37 dingers, so this is more about Michael Morse hitting in a better spot in the lineup. Which Dee Gordon are the Marlins getting? Considering that they stole only 58 bases as a team last season, Gordon figures to give them a new dimension even if there is regression in his on base numbers.

Can Latos recapture his 2013 7.9 K/9 or is he ticketed for more elbow problems? His 2014 velocities raise concern
Is Latos healthy? His elbow is a concern for fantasy owners

As for the pitching side, the Marlins did give up the second-rated left-handed pitching prospect in the minors when they moved Andrew Heaney to the Dodgers in the Gordon/Haren trade. This is a high risk, high reward scenario for them because there is no guarantee Dan Haren pitches in 2015. Not only that, but they dealt Anthony DeSclafani to the Reds in return for Mat Latos who is coming off of a disappointing and injury filled 2014. If Latos cannot regain his fastball velocity and ends up needing further elbow surgery, then this could all blow up.

Here’s a look at what Gordon, Prado and Morse have done over the past two years, (for Gordon I used 2012 and 2014 due to his limited 2013) along with their Steamer projections, courtesy of Fangraphs:

marlins batters last two years plus steamer

I think that Prado is capable of scoring more runs since the number two hitters in 2014 were able to cross the plate 82 times. Gordon will regress towards the slash lines but I still think he is capable of 90+ runs and 60 stolen bases. The only question with Morse is health. If he can stay off the DL, there is a buy-low opportunity there. I can see a stat line of 20 home runs and 70 RBI this year if he can play 130 or more games.

Miami felt it needed to add a veteran pitching presence and has taken a chance on two pitchers who are coming off of mediocre years and declining velocities. Haren is dealing with the velocity decline with success, although he is prone to blowing up on occasion. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Haren has lost 2 MPH on his fastball and has moved to using his cutter more, especially near the end of 2014:

Haren Pitches 2014Haren Career Pitches VelocityHaren 2014

Latos had a 2014 that he probably would like to forget. Coming off of an elbow procedure to clean up bone chips and promote bone growth, he also had a knee problem. It’s blatantly obvious that Latos was never comfortable last year. What is more disturbing is the drop in his 2014 K/9 (6.5) and the loss of velocity in his pitches. Again, here are Latos’ career velocity charts along with the same pitches and speeds from 2014 (courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net):

Brooksbaseball-Chart

If Latos cannot regain his fastball speeds in 2015, it may be a long one for the fantasy owners who are buying a return to form. The following charts illustrate how important it is for Latos to use his slider, curve and split finger. His fastball and sinker are too hittable for him to pitch effectively without using his full arsenal:

Latos Career Pitches and Averages AgainstLatos 2014 Pitches and average against

I find it remarkable how similar the two players Steamer projections are for 2015 considering one is 27 and the other is 34:

Mat Latos Steamer Projection: 10 W, 30 G, 182 IP, 133/53 K/BB, 4.12 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 4.04 FIP
Dan Haren Steamer Projection: 10 W, 28 G, 163 IP, 123/35 K/BB, 3.93 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.91 FIP

Ultimately, Latos’ elbow health and velocity in Spring Training may determine his worth for 2015. As of this writing, the Marlins definitely took risks to keep their franchise player happy. A lot will have to go right for the Marlins to make the playoffs in 2015, although with the turmoil surrounding the Phillies, Mets and Braves, they have given themselves a shot at the Wild Card. If Haren decides to walk away from his contract or Jose Fernandez has any sort of a setback, the Marlins could be in tough shape.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, BrooksBaseball.net
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/HdJkLW (Stanton), http://goo.gl/GrzT28 (Latos)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Brandon Morrow to San Diego

Morrow has a career 9.2 K/9 as a starter and moves to San Diego for only 2.5 Million
Morrow has a career 9.2 K/9 as a starter. San Diego picked him up for a reasonable 2.5 million dollars

There is some congruence between modern day general managers and fantasy baseball owners. With escalating salaries being spent on back-end rotation pieces, it results in pitchers like Edinson Volquez and Brett Anderson cashing in for 10-million dollar deals. With the variance that pitchers have and how many are found on the waiver wire it pays to know which players to target late in drafts that you may be able to hit on as fliers. The new regime in San Diego has taken a similar chance on wild card Brandon Morrow by offering him an incentive-laden 2.5-million dollar deal with the chance to earn as much as 5 million. To say that Brandon Morrow is a fantasy tease is an understatement.

Since his 2007 arrival in Seattle, his stuff tantalized fantasy owners. However, the Mariners could not decide how to use the right-hander. Morrow was used primarily in relief during his first three years as a major leaguer, making only 15 starts. It was not until 2010, after his trade to Toronto that he finally had a chance to become a starter. In that season he won 10 games in 26 starts, but his ability to strike batters out is what excited those in the fake baseball community. In just over 146 innings Morrow was able to fan 178 batters, good for a 10.9 K/9. But keeping Morrow on the mound is where the problem lies. However, if there is a silver lining, a pitcher with a similar skill-set who suffered an injury prior to his leaving Toronto back in 2003 resurfaced with a small contract and resurrected his career.

Back in 2003 the St. Louis Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter to a $300,000 contract and although he did not pitch for them until 2004, the returns far outweighed the weight. One of Dave Duncan’s biggest reclamation projects was the transformation of Carpenter from an afterthought to one of the game’s most dominant arms. Even though Carpenter was a year younger than Morrow, this is a chance well taken by San Diego. Morrow has a 9.8 K/9 as a starting pitcher along with a 4.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Here are each pitchers’ career totals as they left Toronto:

Brandon Morrow: 42 W, 43 L, 231 G, 108 GS, 735.2 IP, 765/340 K/BB, 4.28 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
Chris Carpenter:
49 W, 48 L, 152 G, 136 GS, 939.1 IP, 612/331 K/BB, 4.47 ERA, 1.39 WHIP

Can history be as kind to Morrow as Carpenter's departure from the Blue Jays to the NL was? Even their deliveries are similar...
Can history be as kind to Morrow as it was to Carpenter? Even their deliveries are similar

It is apparent that Carpenter was more durable in his time in the American League while with Toronto, but Morrow did not benefit from bouncing between the bullpen and rotation either. I would think his signing with San Diego promises him the chance at the starting role he craves.

Digging a bit deeper I wanted to see how each pitcher’s repertoire compared to one another. I will use Morrow’s 2011 season and Chris Carpenter’s injury shortened 2002:

Chris Carpenter 2002 – 8.4 SwStr%, 1.25 GB/FB, 41.6 GB%, 4.53 xFIP
Fastball – 91 MPH, 58.3% Usage
Slider – 85.4 MPH, 8.4% Usage
Curveball – 74.3 MPH, 20.3% Usage
Changeup – 83.1 MPH, 13% Usage

Brandon Morrow 2011: 11.5 SwStr%, 0.87 GB/FB, 36 GB%, 3.53 xFIP
Fastball: 93.9 MPH, 61.6% Usage
Slider: 87.9 MPH, 26.6% Usage
Curveball: 81.5 MPH, 5.6% Usage
Changeup: 86.8 MPH, 6.2% Usage

While Morrow was able to pile up many more strikeouts than Carpenter, Carpenter was much better at keeping the ball on the ground. Moving to the National League usually provides pitchers with a bump in value but after returning from injury in his first full season back, Carpenter racked up 15 wins in St. Louis. Not only that, in his first three years with the Cardinals, Carpenter saw his K/9 jump to 7.7 while lowering his ERA and WHIP to 3.08 and 1.08 respectively. Even with his velocity decreasing slightly, his peripherals took a major jump:

Chris Carpenter 2004: 9.4 SwStr%, 1.79 GB/FB, 52.2 GB%, 3.36 xFIP
Fastball: 90.6 MPH, 51.6% Usage
Slider: 84.6 MPH, 13.8% Usage
Cutter: 86.2 MPH, 3.2% Usage
Curveball: 74.2 MPH, 21.4% Usage
Changeup: 83.9 MPH, 9.5% Usage

His strike percentage only increased by two percentage points from 2002 to 2004. Further, he started to mix in a cutter. However, these two factors cannot explain the newfound success. Carpenter did raise his GB/FB from 1.25 in 2002 to a glorious 1.79 though, and that is the progression I am focusing in on. This accounted for a 10% increase in groundball percentage and helped to drop his xFIP by more than a full run. Although 2014 was a shortened season for Morrow, there were some interesting changes in his repertoire:

Brandon Morrow 2014: 8.7 SwStr%, 1.67 GB/FB, 50.5 GB%, 4.06 xFIP
Fastball: 94 MPH, 58.9% Usage
Slider: 86.2 MPH, 18.6% Usage
Cutter: 89.3 MPH, 4% Usage
Curveball: 78.4 MPH, 3.2% Usage
Changeup: 83.5 MPH, 15.2% Usage

I cannot guarantee a quick fix for Morrow based on his improving GB/FB ratio since his xFIP actually went up by a half run, but there are interesting similarities in their returns after injury. Morrow is still throwing hard, and his introduction of a cutter has helped him keep the ball on the ground more, making him an intriguing sleeper pick in 2015. The injury concerns are real though, which help to depress his value. I listed his career in the American League but here are his career statistics as a starting pitcher:

Brandon Morrow: 108 G, 38 W, 33 L, 611.1 IP, 628/260 K/BB, 4.40 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9.2 K/9

Only 13 starting pitchers struck out more than 200 batters in 2014. It only took Brandon Morrow 179.1 innings in 2011 to eclipse that total, but it was his only time. Between the years of 2010 to 2012 Morrow started 77 games, winning 31 times while pitching 450 innings and fanning 489. I cannot predict how many innings Morrow will pitch for San Diego this year but if he can make it to 150 or more I do know that I will want him on my teams. Chris Carpenter was able to shake the injury bug and put three prolific seasons in St. Louis after leaving Toronto in 2002.

Chris Carpenter (2004-2006): 93 G, 51 W, 18 L, 645.2 IP, 549/132 K/BB, 3.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.7 K/9

With the parallels of an emerging cutter, increased groundball rate and moving to the National League, Morrow makes for a worthwhile selection. Only time will tell if Morrow can follow Carpenter’s breakthrough whilst conquering his injury-plagued past. The situation reminded me of this quote:

“Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.” Charles Dickens

Morrow could be lightning in a bottle or someone who could force fantasy owners to drink. Whether or not we are toasting to his contributions as a Padre will be determined by his ability (or inability) to make 25 or more starts. Since he has only done this three times in his career, it’s definitely not a lock. Not only does he gain in ballpark factor, he is in the National League. As a late round flier, he is disposable if injuries get him again. Those who grabbed Chris Carpenter off the waiver wire in 2004 can attest. Not only can Morrow be a bargain at his low salary for the Padres, but to fantasy owners as well.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/HI3wxA (Morrow), http://goo.gl/vg46vL (Carpenter)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Jason Motte and the Cubs Bullpen

Hector Rondon
Can Motte and Maddon rain on Rondon’s parade or does this create a buying opportunity?

“The best way to predict the future is to study the past, or prognosticate.” Robert Kiyosaki

When I saw that Jason Motte had signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, I immediately jogged my memory to all of the closer reclamation projects of Tampa Bay’s past. Is it a coincidence that one of the first things the Dodgers have done under Andrew Friedman regime is clear house in their bullpen trying to get rid of the salary burden? For years, the Rays built their bullpens with players who were discarded or unwanted by other clubs. As romantic and whimsical as all of this sounds, it also makes trying to predict what Joe Maddon will do with his closer as difficult as any manager in baseball.

In his nine-year tenure as the Rays skipper, only Fernando Rodney led the team in saves for two seasons in a row. In that span, the average age of the team’s leader in saves was 32.5 years old. If you take out J.P. Howell and Jake McGee who were thrust into the role to replace Troy Percival and Grant Balfour respectively, the number jumps to 34.3 years old. Speaking of coincidence (and this is bad news for Jake McGee), the only two other pitchers to lead the Rays in saves during Maddon’s tenure in Tampa Bay required surgery the next season. Reports that McGee’s surgery was just for loose bodies should relieve his fantasy owners in keeper leagues, but it took Jeremy Hellickson until July to return from a similar procedure.

How do we delve into the mind of Maddon and predict what his bullpen will look like in 2015? For some clarity and to justify my research on his tendencies in Tampa, here are the leaders in saves over his time with the Rays:

2006: Tyler Walker 10 Saves, 16/7 K/BB, 4.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
2007: Al Reyes 26 Saves, 89/31 K/BB, 4.75 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
2008: Troy Percival 28 Saves, 38/27 K/BB, 4.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
2009: J.P. Howell 17 Saves, 79/37 K/BB, 2.84 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
2010: Rafael Soriano 45 Saves, 57/14 K/BB, 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
2011: Kyle Farnsworth 25 Saves, 51/12 K/BB, 2.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
2012: Fernando Rodney 48 Saves, 76/15 K/BB, 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP
2013: Fernando Rodney 37 Saves, 82/36 K/BB, 3.38 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
2014: Jake McGee 19 Saves, 90/16 K/BB, 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

Off all of the above pitchers, Jason Motte has similarities with Troy Percival and Fernando Rodney in regards to his signing with the Cubs. At a relative low cost of 4.5 million dollars with incentives to close games, Motte is a chance worth taking.

If the Cubs are going to build toward contention they need a veteran presence in the bullpen to not only groom the up and coming pitchers but to set the tone for the other relievers. Only two years ago Jason Motte closed out 42 games for the Cardinals before requiring Tommy John surgery in May of 2013. Looking at his pitches thrown and batting averages against in 2012 versus 2014 show some changes, but being only a year removed from TJS, he still threw with good velocity:

Jason Motte 2012:
Fastball: 97.9 MPH, 59% Usage, .182 BAA
Sinker: 96.3 MPH, 13% Usage, .219 BAA
Change: 84.9 MPH, 2% Usage, .000 BAA
Cutter: 92.4 MPH, 26% Usage, .215 BAA

Jason Motte 2014:
Fastball: 95.1 MPH, 50% Usage, .245 BAA
Sinker: 93.6 MPH, 3% Usage, .000 BAA
Change: 89.7 MPH, 8% Usage, .000 BAA
Cutter: 89.7 MPH, 38% Usage, .400 BAA

In 2014 Motte relied much more on his cutter than in 2012. Further, he threw only 13 sinkers in 2014 as opposed to 156 in 2012. It will be interesting to see what pitches he uses with the Cubs this year and how much of his velocity he can recover moving ahead. It could be addition by subtraction if he can not only regain his sinker, but throw more of them. In 2011, Rodney used his fastball and sinker almost equally. However, when he arrived in Tampa Bay he moved his spot on the pitching rubber and shelved his fastball, resulting in his best season:

Fernando Rodney 2011:
Fastball: 96.3 MPH, 32% Usage, .259 BAA
Sinker: 96 MPH, 31% Usage, .308 BAA
Change: 83.2 MPH, 26% Usage, .191 BAA
Slider: 89.3 MPH, 11% Usage, .217 BAA

Fernando Rodney 2012:
Fastball: 98.2 MPH, 7% Usage, .333 BAA
Sinker: 96.7 MPH, 55% Usage, .227 BAA
Change: 83.2 MPH, 37% Usage, .071 BAA
Slider: 89.8 MPH, 0.5% Usage, .000 BAA

Rodney ditched his slider and primarily used his sinker and changeup to record 48 saves with an ERA and WHIP under 1. What I find interesting are the seasons of not only Motte and Rodney prior to joining Maddon’s team, but Troy Percival. Percival is interesting to take note of as he was returning from a forearm injury at a much more advanced age but was still able to save 28 games with Tampa in 2008:

Troy Percival 2007: 3 W, 34 G, 40 IP, 36/10 K/BB, 1.80 ERA, 0.85 WHIP
Fernando Rodney 2011:
3 W, 39 G, 32 IP, 26/28 K/BB, 4.50 ERA, 1.69 WHIP
Jason Motte 2014:
1 W, 29 G, 25 IP, 17/9 K/BB, 4.68 ERA, 1.52 WHIP

If Jason Motte can regain his velocity or at least his sinker, his three years prior to surgery were pretty impressive:

Jason Motte 2010-2012: 13 W, 53 Sv, 201 G, 192.1 IP, 203/51 K/BB, 2.43 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

Also, over those three years Motte had a K/9 of 9.5 and K/BB of 3.9. However, Joe Maddon has not had a weapon like Hector Rondon who will only be 27 during the 2015 season. While there is speculation that the Cubs need an upgrade at the closer position, it appears that people are missing some out on some of his statistics. Rondon had TJS in 2010 and fractured his elbow in 2011. After being selected in the 2012 Rule V draft by the Cubs he was able to regain his fastball and took over the closer role in 2014 replacing Jose Veras early in the year. His overall stat line passes the eye test, but going deeper into his splits by first and second half, there is a lot to like:

Hector Rondon 2014 totals: 4 W, 4 L, 29 Sv, 64 G, 63.1 IP, 63/15 K/BB, 2.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
Hector Rondon 2014 1H:
3.93 ERA, 39/13 K/BB, .259/.324/.311 with .290 wOBA, 10.2 K/9, 3 K/BB
Hector Rondon 2014 2H:
0.62 ERA, 24/2 K/BB, .162/.178/.202 with .170 wOBA, 7.5 K/9, 12 K/BB

In the second half, Rondon traded some strikeouts for contact but the results were something to like as his K/BB quadrupled from 3 to 12. Combine that with a .66 WHIP after the All-Star break and Rondon seemed to be gaining confidence in the role. Oddly enough, he and Jason Motte have similar arsenals:

Hector Rondon 2014:
Fastball: 97.1 MPH, 52% Usage, .222 BAA
Sinker: 96.6 MPH, 22% Usage, .278 BAA
Slider: 84.7 MPH, 17% Usage, .133 BAA
Cutter: 92.4 MPH, 8% Usage, .222 BAA

One area that Rondon does need to improve upon is his ability to enter a game with runners on base and maintain his effectiveness. If he comes in with no one on his slash lines against are .186/.234/.241, but if there are men on those numbers jump to .263/.307/.298. It is difficult to come in and put out a fire in the eighth or ninth inning if your BAA is .263. That will be up to the Cubs to monitor and consider as he develops in the role. Therein lies the rub, can Rondon start in and maintain the closer role for 2015 in its entirety?

If Rondon starts the year in the role and can avoid early meltdowns, I think Maddon will stick with him as his closer. It has been mused that since the Cubs are spending for pitching like Jon Lester that a big ticket closer will be acquired as well. But a Jonathon Papelbon has never been Joe Maddon’s style and I do not think it will change. In fact, Rondon seems like a player that Maddon would love to take a chance on, so I think Motte is a Cub to fortify the bullpen and to provide insurance in the event that anything happens to Rondon either by injury or effectiveness. Motte will be a popular sleeper heading into the season and that could be justified, but I think this will help keep Rondon’s price below what is should be and make him a value pick entering 2015, as long as we do not tell anyone. Just remind people of the blown saves with runners on for Rondon then steal him late in the draft for auction. Unless Maddon burns us all, Rondon will be the man.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, Fangraphs.com, MLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/ZBW4Ln (Rondon), http://goo.gl/WNxj3o (Motte)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Melky Cabrera to the White Sox

Melky brings his career .307/.345/.477 slash lines in the AL Central ballparks home to Chicago and sees his fantasy value rise
Melky brings his career .307/.345/.477 slash line in AL Central ballparks to Chicago

Whether you buy into steroids being the reason for Melky Cabrera’s evolution from a fourth outfielder with the Yankees to a viable fantasy option three of the past four years, he has been relevant. In 2011 he broke through with a career best 18 home runs and 87 RBI for Kansas City and then had a chance at a batting title in San Francisco in 2012 until his PED suspension. Not an ideal way to enter free agency. In 2013 Toronto took a chance on Cabrera, signing him to a two-year contract, but the stain of steroids made this risky. After struggling through a number of injuries, Cabrera had a disappointing season, making 2014 a make or break year for him. The “Melk Man” delivered, rewarding the owners who stashed him late in drafts with a bounce back season across every category but stolen bases. Playing on the turf in Toronto has had an adverse affect on speedsters like Jose Reyes. This was no different for Cabrera, as his theft numbers were cut in half from 13 in 2012 to 6 in 2014.

From a fantasy perspective, the move to Chicago should not only help Melky maintain his value, but may even increase it. An uptick in stolen bases is the would be prize. Using three of his last four years as an indicator (I am discarding his shortened 2013) Cabrera’s numbers seem to hold up. His HR/FB in 2012 was 9.8 and jumped to 10.7 in 2013, holding steady at that number in 2014. Since U.S. Cellular and Rogers Centre are strong hitter’s venues, this should have no affect on his power production going forward. While there is a big discrepancy in his home run distances from 2011 and the years following, his average speeds off the bat have held fairly stable as well according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker:

Melky Cabrera 2011: average true distance 406.9, average standard distance 403.1, average speed off bat 105 MPH
Melky Cabrera 2012: average true distance 393.1, average standard distance 390.5, average speed off bat 104.4 MPH
Melky Cabrera 2014: average true distance 395.1, average standard distance 394.1, average speed off bat104 MPH

Here is a 2014 overlay of his home runs with the Cell as a backdrop:

Cabrera overlay
His home run metrics hold up, so how will Melky Cabrera adapt to the American League Central? Already having played in the division with the Royals should make his transition easier. Looking deeper into his numbers, this looks like a match made in heaven for Cabrera, not only to keep his knees healthier, but he enjoys hitting in all five ballparks in the Central. Here are his aggregate numbers for his career in the division’s ballparks:

Melky Cabrera in AL Central parks: 198 G, 126 R, 23 HR, 110 RBI, 22 SB, .307/.345/.477

In 34 games as a visitor at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, he has been even better:

Melky Cabrera in Chicago (A): 34 G, 23 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB, .336/.366/.591

I understand that Melky will not be hitting against the White Sox, though their pitching staff is vastly improved, but his .957 OPS at the Cell should encourage fantasy owners. Digging a bit deeper I was surprised about how consistent he has been in spite of the steroid cloud that has been attached to him. Again, looking at his last three out of four seasons (skipping 2013) his counting statistics have varied but that is more about games played than production. Over the seasons 2011, 2012 and 2014 this is his average stat line:

Melky Cabrera 3-year average: 136 G, 89 R, 15 HR, 73 RBI, 13 SB, .315/.357/.478

I think Cabrera may slot in second, behind Adam Eaton and preceding American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu. That being said, I have a hard time believing his runs would slip but his Steamer projection looks like this:

Melky Cabrera Steamer projection: 134 G, 77 R, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 6 SB, .288/.341/.432

I do think that Cabrera has probably already had his best season, but the move to Chicago may be just what he needs to bounce back to double-digit production in home runs and stolen bases. In spite of missing time in 2014, Melky was able to finish as the 25th ranked outfielder via ESPN’s Player Rater after going undrafted in leagues coming off of his 2013 disaster. What remains to be seen is what this move will have on his value in upcoming drafts. Here is the projected stat line I am willing to attach to Cabrera:

My 2015 Melky Cabrera projection: 145 G, 87 R, 17 HR, 84 RBI, 10 SB, .293/.344/.480

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, ESPN.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/7z3JlW

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Cespedes to Detroit; Porcello to Boston

Yoenis Cespedes takes his power to Detroit, but will his fantasy value rise as a result?
Yoenis Cespedes takes his power to Detroit, but will his fantasy value climb as a result?

Winston Churchill once said that Russia is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Since Cuba was one of Russia’s main allies I will use that as a segue to try and figure out which team won the Yoenis Cespedes and Rick Porcello trade. It feels like every year fantasy players expect more of each of these players but walk away disappointed. After Cespedes’ rookie season in which he hit 23 home runs in less than 500 at bats, more pop in the future seemed likely. His home run derby win seemed to punctuate Cespedes as a feared slugger. Although he hit three more homers the next season, his batting average plummeted to .234 as opposing pitchers took advantage of his poor plate discipline. In 2014 he finally hit the 600 at bat plateau but had the lowest home run total of his career (22). His batting average and RBI total salvaged his fantasy value though. Can the presence of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez propel Cespedes to the fantasy season that we have hoped for or has he peaked already?

Speaking of peaked, it feels like the last three years have been the year that Rick Porcello is going to break out in the strikeout department. After being drafted in the first round in 2007, Porcello was put into the rotation as a 20 year old in 2009 and won 14 games. In fact, Porcello has won double-digit games every season of his career. In real life, that’s great. However, wins are hard to predict for fantasy purposes, making strikeouts the stat that fake gamers covet. Porcello has had great success keeping the ball on the ground and in 2013 struck out a career-high 142 hitters. The thought was that in 2014 he would continue to build on that number. On a positive note, Porcello won a career-high 15 games but his strikeouts dropped back to 129 for the season, leaving him with a pedestrian K/9 of 5.7. Now a member of the Boston Red Sox, is the breakout ever coming? Can John Farrell help Porcello reach his peak or was 2013 it?

Yoenis Cespedes moves to Motown

At first glance the move to Detroit seems like a great opportunity for Yoenis Cespedes as he will hit in the deepest lineup he has ever been a part of. Teaming up with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez should provide Cespedes not only tutelage, but the opportunity to drive in and score more runs. But Cespedes’ supporting metrics suggest that the ballpark and his downward trends may counteract his new opportunity. In 2014 drafts he was the 21st outfielder taken according to FantasyPros.com at pick number 66. While Cespedes finished 24th among outfielders via ESPN’s Player Rater, it has to be a disappointment to his owners that he finished lower than two of his new Tiger teammates J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis.

Much has been made about Matt Kemp’s move to San Diego and how it mat have an adverse affect upon Matt Kemp’s fantasy value but Cespedes seems to be getting a pass due to the improved lineup. Digging deeper however, there appear to be some warning signs. Small sample size alert, but in eight games in Detroit Cespedes has a .686 OPS. Over the last three years his power numbers according to ESPN’s home run tracker have been in freefall:

Cespedes 2012: Avg.. True Distance – 409.1, Avg. Std. Distance – 407.1, Avg. Speed off Bat – 106.4 MPH
Cespedes 2013: Avg. True Distance – 403, Avg. Std. Distance – 403.1, Avg. Speed off Bat – 104.7 MPH
Cespedes 2014: Avg. True Distance – 387.5, Avg. Std. Distance – 387, Avg. Speed off Bat – 101.7 MPH

Not only is Cespedes hitting the ball for less distance, but the speed off the bat has dropped 5 MPH over the last three years. It is unfair to just judge his overlays in regards to lost home runs but if he were hitting in Comerica over the last two seasons, the charts suggest he could have lost up to 13 home runs:

Cespedes Comerica Overlay
Cespedes Comerica Overlay 2013
Even if I take half of those 13 homers off the table and round down, he loses 6 long balls. Unless Cespedes can get his swing speed back to 2013 levels, his power numbers are due for a dip, especially since his HR/FB% has been in decline. However, I also felt like Ian Kinsler would suffer a bit in Detroit after leaving the comfortable confines of Texas, but he was able to maintain his value. This is where the Cespedes peripherals come into play. Using Fangraphs’ weighted statistics in runs created plus (wRC+) and weighted on base average (wOBA), Cespedes has been in decline since his debut.

Cespedes 2012: wRC+ 136, wOBA .368
Cespedes 2013: wRC+ 102, wOBA .318
Cespedes 2014: wRC+ 109, wOBA .326

Once is a mistake, but twice is a trend. Since the weighted numbers do not rely solely upon ballpark effects, they are a truer measure of what a player has done. Over the last two years Cespedes is getting on base less, creating fewer runs and hitting for less power. A look at his zone profile may provide a glimpse. Note the amount of pitches that Cespedes saw in the lower four quadrants representing low and away:
Cespedes zone profile pitches seen 2014
This number has grown over the last three years as well. In 2012, Cespedes only saw 522 pitches in those quadrants, but in 2013 it jumped to 602 and in 2014 it reached 665. One of the reasons that Cespedes chases the pitches low and away is that he hits the bottom third of the strike zone well for power. It is a fine line to walk as a pitcher when you see Cespedes’ zone profile for slugging, noting that he hits the low and away in the strike zone for his second highest slugging percentage at .794.

Cespedes zone profile slugging 2014
But if he drives these pitches to center field, how many fewer home runs will he hit? Steamer projects the following season, which is almost a direct reflection of his last three years averaged together:

Yoenis Cespedes Steamer Projection: 138 G, 75 R, 24 HR, 87 RBI, 7 SB, .268/.319/.467

Since I usually use the last three years to try and project players, I came to almost those same numbers. Due to the ballpark, I will take the under on 24 home runs (I say 18) but the over on runs and RBI due to the support of the Tigers lineup. Cespedes has stolen seven bases each of the last two years so that is tough to dispute. I will also take the under on his slugging percentage unless he has a career year. Let others buy into the Tiger hype while you remember that he is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Rick Porcello comes home to New England

Rick Porcello comes home to Boston, but is the best yet to come?
Rick Porcello comes home to New England, but has he already reached his peak?

After being spurned by Jon Lester (Editor’s note: spurned, Greg? Only you), the Red Sox took their return in that deal and replaced him with Rick Porcello. Porcello is coming off of a 15-win season for Detroit and is a consistent but unspectacular pitcher. He features five pitches including a sinker, change, slider and curve to go along with his fastball. For Porcello to thrive, he needs to pitch to contact, primarily inducing ground balls. He’s similar to Cespedes in that he likely already reached his peak. Here are his last three years averaged out:

Rick Porcello 3-year average: 13 W, 186 IP, 126/42 K/BB, 4.08 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

While his wins were valuable to fantasy owners, his lack of strikeouts limit his ceiling. After reaching a 7.2 K/9 in 2013, he dropped back to 5.7 in 2014 which is in line with his career number of 5.5. Even though he is viewed as a ground ball pitcher he only had a 1.69 GB/FB ratio in 2014. His career number is 1.89 and in 2013 it was 2.34. Porcello threw fewer sinkers (42% 2013, 33% 2014), struck out fewer batters but set a career-high in wins and career low in ERA (3.45) last season. He is a good pitcher who has seemed to reach his ceiling but he is still young. Porcello will turn just 26 this season, but the breakout may not be coming. He will still have value in deep and AL-only formats, but I would be hesitant to use him in more shallow leagues. While John Farrell has helped to turn around pitchers before, Porcello’s career swinging strike percentage of 8.6 and K/9 of 7.2 really mitigate his fantasy ceiling.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, BrooksBaseball.net
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/KHoVUy (Cespedes),  http://goo.gl/sXy15A (Porcello)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!