Draft Scripts: Using NFBC ADP’s to evaluate Middle Infield

Jose Altuve finished the year atop the ESPN Player Rater & now being taken at pick 11 on average. Is that too steep?
Jose Altuve finished the year atop the ESPN Player Rater

In the midst of thinking that middle infield would be a tough position to forecast in 2014, three middle infielders made the top 20 on ESPN’s Player Rater. However, it did not include top-twelve selections Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez. This seems to be carrying over to early ADP’s as people are reacting to the strong performances by Jose Altuve and Anthony Rendon who finished 1st and 17th respectively last season. Early on, each player is being taken in the top 15 in NFBC money drafts. The third player to finish in this company was Dee Gordon, who is not enjoying the early love as his other brethren due to questions of regression. But is Gordon really that much more of a question mark than the other two? That remains to be seen. At first glance, second base seems much deeper than in the past.

Troy Tulowitzki is still the top drafted SS but his home/road splits in 2014 bear watching. Home SLG - .748, Road - .447 along with averaging just over 100 Games the past five seasons.
Tulo is still the top drafted SS but his home/road splits from 2014 bear watching

As for shortstop, rankings always begin with Troy Tulowitzki. This is not a knock on Tulo (or maybe it is), but he has averaged just 105.8 games played over the last five seasons. If you select him with eyes wide open, that is fine, but even with less than 100 games in 2014, Tulowitzki still finished 8th on the Player Rater at his position. It seems like Hanley Ramirez falls under the same category, but he will be learning a new position in Boston. HanRam has averaged 121 games over the last five years, but should see a bump in production playing in Boston if he can handle playing the outfield. Add in Jose Reyes and you have an instance in which three of the top four ranked shortstops are a risk for injury. While everyone is an injury risk, the checkered health of this talented trio makes it difficult to draft them since it comes at a cost that is rarely returned. Dee Gordon finished 2014 as the top fantasy shortstop but will not retain eligibility this year. Let’s transition to the average draft positions at second base for 2015 in NFBC money drafts:

2B ADP's

I was a proponent of Jose Altuve last year and enjoyed the returns of owning him in my home AL-only league. While I think he can repeat some of his numbers, it stands to reason that he will regress a little in 2015. Batting average is the hardest statistic to predict so when it is one of the main reasons driving a player’s value, that makes taking him in the first round risky. With the dearth of power in the league, I find it hard to justify taking a base-stealing second baseman in the top 10. I also loved Anthony Rendon as my editor will be happy to tell you (Editor’s note: It’s true, he did). But with Rendon being taken at pick number 14 that again neutralizes his value. I think he is very talented and capable of repeating his numbers in 2015 but his home run tracker lists 12 of his 21 home runs last year as “just enough”. What if half of those do not go over the wall this year? That drops him home runs from 21 to 15 which is worth making note of. Meanwhile, Seattle signed Nelson Cruz for Robinson Cano. This is very important since Cano has had little protection since moving to the Mariners. I think he is due for a big bounce back season and with his ADP slipping into the twenties, now is the time to pounce. Two other players I like this year are Jason Kipnis and Kolten Wong at their present draft spots. Kipnis’ power numbers are limited by an inability to hit fly balls, but all he needs is health to rebound. Wong had a strong finish to 2014 and looks to build upon that this year. Like the blind profile with projections, here are some interesting ones courtesy of Steamer:

Player A: 72 R, 13 HR, 62 RBI, 20 SB, .254/.331/.387
Player B: 56 R, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 19 SB, .245/.295/.392

It is easy to see that player B has a noticeable drop in runs scored and just 9 points in batting average, but he is going to be an interesting player to watch develop. While I prefer player A in drafts, if he is taken ahead of where I want him, player B is an intriguing fallback option. Here is one more comparison:

Player C: 59 R, 10 HR, 59 RBI, 9 SB, .279/.316/.398
Player D: 71 R, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 8 SB, .262/.349/.400
Player E: 66 R, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB, .241/.319/.395

While two of the players above are now teammates, it will be interesting to see how their at bats work out. The third player in the comparison really came on in 2014 and looks to build upon that this year in anonymity since he is not going in the top 200 thus far. Here are the their identities:

Player A: Jason Kipnis
Player B: Arismendy Alcantara
Player C: Scooter Gennett
Player D: Ben Zobrist
Player E: Marcus Semien

Projections do not tell the whole story but when the names are taken out of the process, it allows us to look at them objectively. Other players of note are Chase Utley, Jedd Gyorko, Nick Franklin and Rougned Odor. Second base is not a fantasy gold mine, but it is definitely as deep as it has been in recent memory. Here are the steamer projections of the players taken in the top 200:

2B Steamer Projection Chart

Due to the ADP’s in clear tiers, drafting shortstop will depend on an owner’s preference. Those who want a premium player at a volatile position will be taking Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez or Ian Desmond in the top 30. After that though it is sort of spread out. Only two shortstops are being taken between picks 50-100 but then five go off the board between picks 105 – 138. Almost a whole round lapses then four more shortstops are being selected between picks 150-180 in the NFBC top 200. Here are the players with their ADP’s included:

SS NFBC ADP's

As much as shortstop will be in transition, especially with the move of Hanley Ramirez to the outfield in Boston, there is hope. Continuing the blind profile exercise, here are some interesting ones I found using the Steamer projections:

Player A: 63 R, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 8 SB, .274/.320/.409
Player B: 66 R, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 8 SB, .251/.316/.397
Player C: 63 R, 13 HR, 57 RBI, 9 SB, .252/.314/.395

Only one of the above players is being taken inside of the NFBC’s top 200 in money drafts. Showing that while there is depth at shortstop, it seems as though there are many at the same statistical level. Continuing on that theme, here are three more in the same exact circumstance:

Player D: 50 R, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 3 SB, .255/.296/.401
Player E: 64 R, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 2 SB, .253/.298/.392
Player F: 59 R, 15 HR, 64 RBI, 3 SB, .256/.323/.402

There aren’t many discernible differences in either group. Player A does have a big advantage in batting average which enhances his value but that is also the one statistic with the largest variance. In the second group any one of the three players listed could out-produce the other with a bump in one category. Curious?

Player A: Starlin Castro
Player B: Asdrubel Cabrera
Player C: Brad Miller
Player D: Wilmer Flores
Player E: J.J. Hardy
Player F: Jhonny Peralta

Only Starlin Castro and Jhonny Peralta are being drafted inside the top 200 but I think those picks are better spent on pitchers or players with more upside than guys like Peralta. There are plenty of similar options available. Before I forget, here are the Steamer projections for the shortstops inside the top 200:

SS Steamer Projection Chart

Intriguing undrafted shortstops include Erick Aybar, Chris Owings and Alcides Escobar. I can see a bounce back by Jean Segura who endured a very tough season not only in his adjustments, but personally as well. Danny Santana is due to regress but how much? If he can steal 20 bases and score 80 runs then he still has value. Yes his average will drop to the .270 range but it depends on need. Javier Baez will be a very tough player to own since he will be streaky and may not break out until the second half. I think he is talented but to reach for him at pick 106 would be unwise. There are options if you do your research, just do not wait too long or you will find yourself with Jed Lowrie.

Middle infield will have depth and some value to share this year. I think you can be successful without reaching or paying for career years. It will take patience but early knowledge of how players are being valued helps determine where to get them. Tomorrow I will take a look at the outfield.

If you think there is variance in the middle infield, just wait.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.go.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/ONnSIi (Altuve), http://goo.gl/6cSfy1 (Tulowitzki)

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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Profile Scripts: Marcus Semien

Can Semien carry his gains from the second half to a full season in Oakland?
Can Semien carry his gains from the second half to a full season in Oakland?

Picking out sleepers seemed so simple years ago. All you had to do was look into the stats. Now, there is an almost-unlimited supply of literature surrounding the fantasy game. To go further, social media has really changed the game. Everyone’s thoughts, discoveries and opinions are floating around on the web. Really, what is a sleeper anymore? Advanced metrics and projections paint a picture but throwing the correct dart takes some analysis and some luck. I was much too high on Brad Miller last year (Editor’s note: hindsight is 20/20, Greg!), and it did burn me, not only in my own fantasy leagues but with my readers as well. I also took a flier on Semien in a couple of leagues. Both of them tanked in 2014 and while this article is focused on Semien, I think Miller is a post-hype buy for 2015 as well. Why you ask?

“Like dreams, statistics are a form of wish-fulfillment.” Jean Baudrillard

I have been working on projections, which is a tiring and difficult process that requires number consumption and formulating a range of outcomes for various players. First, a player needs opportunity. With the trade to Oakland, Semien is the obvious candidate to start at short. Check.

Semien was a popular sleeper last year that disappointed fantasy owners which could depress his value entering 2015. Check.

He could finally blossom into the interesting blend of speed and power in Oakland with guaranteed playing time. If he can hold on to the gains from his small sample size in the second half last year, he may become the sleeper we are looking for. A year early maybe, but better late than never. Check.

Before getting to deep into Semien himself, let’s paint the picture of a league average shortstop. According to Fangraphs’ 2014 major league position page, the average shortstop had a slash line of .251/.303/.363, a 6.7 HR/FB%, a wRC+ of 87 and a BABIP of .295. While the numbers seem sort of generic, they do tell a story. Without picking on a player, the closest comparison I found was Jordy Mercer. His 2014 statistics featured a .255/.305/.387 slash line, an 8.9 HR/FB%, a wRC+ of 91 and a BABIP of .285. But no one goes into a draft hoping for Jordy Mercer, I have to be honest. While his 12 home runs, 55 RBI and 4 stolen bases were nice to those desperate to replace a Troy Tulowitzki after his inevitable injuries, he was nothing to brag about.

wRC+ refers to weighted runs created, which his nice because it takes out ballpark effects for a measurement of a player’s value. According to Fangraphs, if you want a rate statistic for hitters that weights each offensive action and controls for league and park effects, wRC+ is for you. 100 is league average. There were 9 shortstops who were able to produce a wRC+ over 100 in 2014 with qualified at bats. Remember that when I get to Semien’s advanced metrics forecast.

So if you do not want to end up with Mercer as your fantasy target for 2015, why Semien? He had a chance to win the third base job with the White Sox early in 2014 and was demoted after a slow start. Looking at his 2014 and career big league numbers is interesting:

Marcus Semien 2014: 64 G, 30 R, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 3 SB, .234/.300/.372
Marcus Semein Career: 85 G, 37 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 5 SB, .240/.293/.380

While not overwhelming, Semien’s slash lines do provide glimmers of hope, especially when you factor in that over his minor league career he had a .374 OBP and .465 SLG%. Since I have made it a point to focus on his wRC+, his total for 2014 was 88 while his career number is 86 (in just over 300 at bats). Oakland must see something in him to believe that he is a viable starting option for their 2015 club. Semien matched Jed Lowrie’s home run output in 202 fewer at bats and his wRC+ only trailed Lowrie by 5. Going a bit deeper into Semien’s 2014 shows he had very different splits prior to and after his demotion to AAA Charlotte:

Marcus Semien 1H: 43 G, 22 R, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 3 SB, .218/.283/.367
Marcus Semien 2H: 21 G, 8 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .273/.333/.485

It is not earth shattering by any means but here are some of his advanced metrics along with his Steamer and ZiPS projections:

Semien Advanced Metrics

Although Semien will not have shortstop eligibility to open the season, if you took his 106 wRC+ against the other projected shortstops Semien would rank fifth in that category. Only five shortstops were able to achieve double-digit home runs and steals last year as well: Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubel Cabrera. Here are Semien’s projections from three different sources:

Semien Projection Table

I understand that it is a small sample size, but over Semien’s 21 games in the second half he hit for a higher batting average with a lower BABIP than the first half and increased his wRC+ to a very respectable 129. More importantly, he was able to increase his OBP to .333 and SLG% to .485 for a tantalizing .818 OPS. It would be a mistake to think he could do that over a full season, especially his first full season as a major leaguer. But three different projections seem to agree that Semien can reach double-digits in home runs and stolen bases. Here is Semien’s prospect grades according to Fangraphs.com:

Semien Scouting Grades on Fangraphs

Will coming home allow Semien to blossom? Here's hoping his double digit HR and SB potential shines through
Will coming home allow Semien to blossom? Here’s hoping his double digit HR and SB potential shines through

Changes in scenery and opportunity can create fantasy goodness. Semien is returning to California with the chance to be a starting shortstop in the major leagues. Unlike Brad Miller, Semien was able to go to the minor leagues and refine his game before getting another shot to play in the majors and has a clearer path to playing time. While his numbers may resemble Asdrubel Cabrera’s 2014, his ceiling could be more than the projections indicate. I am willing to pay for 15 home runs and 12 steals if Semien can hit .240 or better. That holds great value at a position where only five others were able to accomplish that feat in 2014. With the lack of offense presently in Oakland, he may even be able to steal more than the projections are saying which provides more appeal for Semien moving forward. Semien won’t be a fantasy star, but he is a player with the opportunity to be a staple at a position where average numbers are common. Whether or not Semien can fulfill my projection will remain to be seen, but a guy can dream.

My 2015 Marcus Semien Projection: 72 R, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 12 SB, .247/.323/.430

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, CBSsports.com, MiLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/5nWR16, http://goo.gl/f1b1tt

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: Samardzija to the White Sox, Semien to the A’s

Jeff Samardzija takes his 96 MPH sinker & 200+ K's to Chicago to join Chris Sale at the top of the White Sox rotation
Jeff Samardzija takes his 96 MPH sinker & 200+ K’s to Chicago to join Chris Sale at the top of the White Sox rotation

After the rumors surfaced that a deal had been in place to move Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, it was made official today that he and Michael Ynoa were indeed moving to Chicago in return for Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassit and prospect Rangel Ravelo. While there is certainly quantity in return for the services of Samardzija, the Athletics continue their rebuilding on the fly under general manager Billy Beane. Meanwhile, the White Sox are stockpiling players to enable them to build towards a run to the playoffs and even a chance at the American League Central crown. While it may take more than they presently possess, the pieces are in place for the White Sox to improve.

One of the things that the White Sox have lacked is a solid number 2 starter to slot in behind Chris Sale. ‘Shark’ will now split up lefties Sale and Quintana to compose a solid front-3. This puts 2 of the last 5 pitchers to strikeout over 200 batters over the last 2 seasons in the same rotation. The other 3 include free agent Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and defending National League Cy Young Award winner and MVP Clayton Kershaw. That is pretty good company to be in and to have 40% of it in your staff, if only for a year, is something to pay attention to.

I understand that moving to a ballpark that is known more for its ability to produce home runs than prevent them is a daunting task, but Samardzija has had to pitch in Wrigley with the wind blowing out, so he should be up to the task. In fact, over the last 3 seasons, his grounder to fly ball ratio (GB/FB) has increased, settling at 1.64 in 2014. While his strikeouts per 9 dipped some this year (from 9 in 2013 to 8.3), his K:BB improved to a career best 4.7. Along with that 96 MPH sinker, Samardzija also features a 96 MPH fastball, an 87 MPH slider, a 94 MPH cutter and an 86 MPH split-fingered fastball. In 2014, the big right-hander had 3 of his pitches produce ground balls per balls in play percentages above 45% (slider 47%, split-finger 55%, sinker 62%). Here is a look at his zone profile, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net showing his ground ball percentages of balls put in play:

Samardzija GB per BIP
Even though Samardzija has been a very good pitcher, he has only averaged 8 wins per season over his last 3 years as a starter. ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft has an idea as to why:

While it remains to be seen if Samardzija is continuing to grow or simply had a career year in 2014, returning to his hometown to pitch for his favorite team is a chance that the White Sox were willing to take. With a little run support he would be in line for a nice contract extension from the White Sox or a chance at free agency following the 2015 season. For an idea of his projection, I will average out his last three seasons:

Jeff Samardzija 3 year average: 8 W, 202.2 IP, 199/59 K/BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

I think the move to a contender will propel him to double-digit (12-14) wins for the first time in his career. Being in the American League for the full season will probably force his WHIP up some (1.15 range, probably), but his ability to fan hitters at a consistent rate will be worth the price. His move to the less pitcher-friendly league may create a buying opportunity for fantasy owners, and a substantial return on investment is possible.

Due to the lack of power arms in the bullpen, taking oft-injured Michael Ynoa is worth the flier for the White Sox as well, but as enticing as his fastball and above average changeup are, his injury past makes him nothing more than a speculative bullpen piece moving forward.

Oakland’s quantity in return:

Can Marcus Semien's blend of power and speed make him a fantasy relevant player in 2015? Oakland thinks so
Can Marcus Semien’s blend of power and speed make him a fantasy relevant player in 2015? Oakland thinks so

While Billy Beane is trading pieces away from his failed run at the World Series this year, things are definitely changing in Oakland. In the short term, Marcus Semien will get a chance to gobble up the lion’s share of playing time at shortstop and Chris Bassitt will get a look at the rotation or as a long reliever for the A’s. Catcher Josh Phegley has had 2 stints in the majors but his swing can get long and he profiles as a backup catcher. The prize in this deal may be AA prospect Rangel Ravelo who is a first baseman but may get some time at third base in the minors this year to speed up his arrival to Oakland.

Since Marcus Semien seems to be the centerpiece of this trade, it will be interesting to not only see if his defense can keep him at short with the A’s, but if his bat can play a full season in the majors. There is some life in his bat and in his legs, but can he make enough contact in the majors to become fantasy relevant? To start building a baseline for his projection with Oakland, let’s have a look at his last 2 seasons in Triple A and with Chicago:

Marcus Semien AAA 2013-14: 115 G, 77 R, 19 HR, 69 RBI, 11 SB, .266/.368/.491
Marcus Semien Chicago 2013-14:
85 G, 37 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 5 SB, .240/.293/.380

There is a lot to like in Semien’s 2-year stat line from AAA, which features double-digits homers and steals with a .859 OPS. However, he’s yet to translate that to the majors. One of the reasons that Semien was traded is that the White Sox possess depth in the middle infield. Because Jeff Samardzija could be a 1-year rental, it was hard for Beane to maximize his full value on the trade market. But Semien does represent what Oakland prefers, a player with multi-positional possibilities that can get on base along and drive in runs. Some interesting splits exist when looking at Semien’s numbers in 2014:

Semien vs LHP: .271/.311/.424 wRC+ 105
Semien vs RHP:
.212/.294/.342 wRC+ 79

In the ever-changing world of fantasy baseball, Semien may be a great matchup play in daily fantasy against left-handed pitchers; even in Oakland. I was surprised by his home/road splits since Chicago is a good hitting environment:

Semien Home 2014: .220/.320/.385 wRC+ 96
Semien Road 2014:
.246/.281/.361 wRC+ 80

During the 2014 season, Semien was demoted to AAA since he really struggled early on, but after posting an .881 OPS with Charlotte he finished the year in Chicago:

Semien 1H 2014: .218/.287/.327 wRC+ 72
Semien 2H 2014:
.273/.333/.485 wRC+ 129

Predicting a player’s performance over his first full season in the majors is tough to do. Fortunately, Semien has provided a template for his performance thus far in his 85 games as a Major Leaguer. Fangraphs Steamer projection is bullish on him for 2015:

Marcus Semien Steamer Projection: 120 G, 60 R, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 9 SB, .242/.323/.410

With the move to Oakland, I will put my projection slightly under on the power numbers but I could see Semien producing 13 home runs with 55 runs, 49 RBI and 7 steals. But I could also see Semien reaching the projection above if his adjustments at AAA from last year stick. Let’s compare Semien’s projection with Asdrubal Cabrera’s 2014. Cabrera finished the year as the 16th ranked shortstop via ESPN’s Player Rater.

Asdrubal Cabrera 2014: 146 G, 74 R, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB, .241/.307/.387

Even with his limitations, Semien has top-15 potential at shortstop. However, that probably represents his upside. I think he can be a good late mixed league middle infielder with potential for more if he can thrive in Oakland as others have in the past.

Similar to their trade with Toronto, Oakland has acquired another big league ready arm in Chris Bassitt. He will get a chance to make the rotation or audition for Oakland’s long reliever gig. Bassitt has a fastball, sinker, a slider and a curveball in his repertoire, but his best pitch in the majors last year was his curve. Paired along with the acquisitions of Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, they are taking calculated chances on upside arms who could stick. I really see Bassitt sticking as the long reliever as he could reduce his pitches to his sinker and curveball. Further, Oakland’s ballpark will help Bassitt keep the ball in the park.

Josh Phegley has played 76 games with the White Sox and represents organizational depth at catcher. He does have pop in his bat but his 7 Major League home runs have come with a .207/.221/.332 slash line attached. He’s at best Oakland’s third catcher and should receive only limited playing time.

Along with Semien, the player I am most interested in from this deal for Oakland is first base prospect Rangel Ravelo. There are questions about his ability to hit for power and stick at first base but there are rumors already starting that the A’s will also use him at third base to season him quicker. Over 133 games in AA, Ravelo scored 72 runs with 11 home runs, 66 RBI and 10 stolen bases while slashing .309/.386/.473. A versatile high OBP player being acquired by Oakland seems to fit the Beane type of target in trade. There are probably more moves to come but as always there is a lot to talk about when it comes to this team:

It is much too early to say who wins a trade like this, but social media has decided that Chicago got the better end. How Marcus Semien and Rangel Ravelo develop and contribute in Oakland will be a determining factor when looking back at this trade in hindsight. The early winners are Jeff Samardzija and Semien. Samardzija should get more run support and Semien will get a chance to play full time with a big league club.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com, Fangraphs.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/FxRPHf (Samardzija), http://goo.gl/88yWvs (Semien)

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