Saturday, January 30, 2010

Follow Up: Edmonds

Within hours of posting today's earlier blog entry, we get further information on the Jim Edmonds signing, straight from Edmonds himself as he was quoted at the Brewers' official site.  You can read the full article here but it quotes Edmonds as saying that the Brewers "didn't make (him) any promises" and so with this in mind, we'll continue to forecast Carlos Gomez for relative full-time duty.  Edmonds will not be getting much of a projection in our next set, at least not initially.

This new article's information is in sharp contrast to reports that had been previously posted at several prominent websites, all of which seem to be traceable back to the same single comment made by one radio station reporter.  We'll put more faith in what is posted at the Brewers' official site than any other source or speculation, at least at this stage.

Smoak, Edmonds / Carlos Gomez

At least a couple of readers were wondering about Justin Smoak, who wasn't included in the previously published projections for 2010.  I will be adding him to the next forecast set to at least reflect the chance that he appears this season at some point, even if only as a September call-up.

Smoak rose through the Texas farm system rather quickly last year, hitting .328 at Double-A Frisco with 6 home runs and 29 RBI in 183 at bats and then looking much more challenged after the promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he batted .244 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI in 197 at bats.  A first round draft pick in 2008, Smoak is a switch-hitter who despite last year's Triple-A slump, projects as being close to ready for the majors.  The new projection won't offer him much playing time (think around 50 at bats) but in terms of ability, he forecasts out as a  .260 type hitter with 15 home run and 70-75 walk skill right now, at least over a full season of big league playing time.  Of course, at twenty-three, there's still much room for improvement beyond that and I expect him to eventually develop into a medium level power hitter with an excellent batting eye.

In the National League, there's a threat to one of our bargain pick forecasts as Jim Edmonds came out of retirement to sign a minor league deal with the Brewers.  The challenge here is to Carlos Gomez, who had previously been projected to be the regular center fielder and for whom we were projecting a return to his former speed glory.

Minor league contracts often don't pan out and especially when dealing with players who are clearly beyond their prime, they're used as insurance policies to back up established current players or to bridge the gap between the present and the year or two before a well-regarded prospect is ready for the majors.  However, immediately after this deal was signed, many online sources were reporting that Edmonds was told by the Brewers that he'll get a chance to play regularly in the outfield.

With Ryan Braun and Corey Hart already holding down the corner outfield spots, that makes center field the only position where Edmonds can really pick up a decent number of at bats and so there's the problem for Gomez.  I'll be watching this situation closely as spring training gets underway but if this is true, Gomez's forecast could drop back to playing time more in line with what he saw last year.  For me, it's not about whether Edmonds can contribute.  In fact, I'm rather doubtful that he can and if he goes out and starts the season hitting .230 or .240 something over his first 50-100 at bats, I think that would end the experiment.

For me, the threat to Gomez isn't so much about Edmonds replacing him as much as if Edmonds really was told he would get regular playing time, it seems to certify that the Brewers are doubtful that Gomez is the guy they want playing center field on a regular basis.  We'll see.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Garland, Thome, Nady

Jon Garland signed with the Padres yesterday and getting to pitch half of his games in pitching-friendly PETCO will help his ERA and WHIP somewhat without offering him any improvement in wins (San Diego went 75-87 last year).  We weren't projecting Garland to be particularly good so even the boost as a result of the new home park won't propel him to a much higher position on any ranking sheets.  Our previous forecast, published when we didn't know where he would end up signing, had projected an ERA in the mid 4's and we're going to upgrade that to low 4's territory now, around 4.25 or so.

Jim Thome just agreed to join the Minnesota Twins and while this is a good organization for him in terms of the chance to wrap up his stellar career with a contender, it also is an environment in which he'll be challenged for regular playing time, this as the Twins have plenty of other candidates for the DH spot.  We expected Thome was going to sign as a non-starter somewhere and we will continue to forecast about 250 at bats here with 10-15 home run power and about 40 RBI.  If somehow he managed to force himself into the near-everyday lineup, he's still capable of topping 25 home runs but it's unlikely he'll get that much playing time.

Another player who confirmed his status as a bench guy rather than a starter is Xavier Nady, who is reportedly now finalizing a deal with the Cubs.  Nady missed almost all of last season but in 2008, had a good year, hitting .305 with 25 home runs and 97 RBI, all career-highs.  With the Cubs, I think he will be severely challenged for playing time and we will not be forecasting much from him, barring a major injury to one of the current outfielders already expected to be in the starting lineup.

One more reminder re: our upcoming "If Sleepers Existed" series... If you haven't already signed up for our free mailing list, today's the last day to be on it in time to get part one of this series earlier than it will appear on the site.  We expect to publish part one of the essay either tomorrow or Friday and an email will go out to the free mailing list with a link to it when it goes online.  For those not on the free mailing list, we'll be posting it for all to see at the site by early next week.  So, if you want it first, be sure you're on the list.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Miguel Tejada / Atkins

Miguel Tejada is reportedly on the verge of returning to Baltimore, pending a physical.  This transaction was announced after the cutoff point for our newest edition of the forecasts so I wanted to share a few thoughts here about the move.

Tejada, who played with the Orioles from 2004-2007, had another pretty good year last year and actually led the National League in doubles with 46.  Also, even as he now turns thirty-six this season, he's maintained good run scoring and RBI rates from the shortstop position and has always been a threat to hit for average.

If/when this move becomes official, I'll be bumping up Tejada's projected average from .290 to around .300 and in Baltimore, he should be able to hit closer to 12 or 13 home runs than the 11 we had projected when we didn't know where he would end up.  It's unlikely that he'll come close to repeating last year's doubles total, which was the second-highest total of his career.  One key change for him will be that if he does join the Orioles, he'll likely make the move to third base with Cesar Izturis continuing as the Orioles' shortstop.

It's unclear now how Garrett Atkins fits into this equation and his forecast is the one most impacted by this signing.  We had previously expected that Atkins was taking over at third and it now appears that he's back to being challenged for playing time, arguably even more than he was in Colorado last year.  An Orioles team that has Tejada at third would be more likely to find Atkins around 260-270 at bats than the 460+ we were previously forecasting.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Many online sources are reporting that Octavio Dotel is about to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, probably by the end of the day today.  This will have significant implications not only for Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, who were expected to compete for the closer's role in spring training, but for Dotel's value itself as he instantly would become the most likely closer candidate on the roster.

Other than a 10 inning stint with the Yankees in 2006, he's only once had an ERA above 3.76 since the 2000 season and even though he's getting up there in age (now thirty-six), he still can be dominating, exemplified by 75 strikeouts last year in just 62.1 innings for the White Sox and 92 a year earlier in 67 innings.

If and when this deal gets finalized, Dotel immediately becomes a threat for at least 10+ saves in the next edition of the forecasts and unlike a lot of the other 10-20 saves projected types, he's a good enough pitcher that the rest of his numbers actually are worth having on your team.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Molina / Posey, Sleepers

The Giants continue to surprise us with their moves the past few weeks, the latest of which has them bringing Bengie Molina back for another year and being patient enough with Buster Posey to give him even more minor league experience.

Molina's return is rather significant beyond the more obvious "sign a veteran to buy time for the top prospect" transaction we're used to seeing.  If the Giants had brought in someone like a Gregg Zaun (who ended up in Milwaukee) or even Jason Kendall (KC), we all could naturally view that as bringing in an established guy to get the team through the first couple of months of the season with a plan to bring Posey up in June or July, much as the Orioles did with Matt Wieters last year.

In this case, Molina's not the kind of guy you sign to play only for the first two months.  All reports are saying that he will earn about $4.5 million on the one year deal.  He's been a fairly consistent RBI guy out of the catching slot and with the deal, the only path Posey has to regular big league playing time in 2010 is if Molina suffers a major injury or if Molina ends up traded, the latter of which is not outside the realm of possibility.

For now, it means that our previously-published Posey forecast (206 at bats, .277, 6 home runs, 28 RBI) will all but disappear, pending further information on how the Giants intend to handle him.  In fact, the reason we had published only around 200 AB in that previous edition rather than 400 AB was to reflect this very uncertainty.  It wasn't so much that our forecast was saying that Posey would become a regular specifically at the midpoint of the season, though that was conceivable.  Rather, the range of possible outcomes here was, and still is, very wide.  In short, though, the Molina signing now moves the likely outcome to much lower big league playing time for Posey in 2010.

On another matter, I'm pleased to announce that our popular "If Sleepers Existed" series will return again for another season, the first part of which will be published by late next week.  There's only one way to get it when it first comes out, though, and that is to be a subscriber to our free mailing list.  When it's first published, a link to the article will be sent out to the mailing list and then, about 3-5 days after that, it will scroll on to the website archives for all to see.  So, if you want to be sure you get it the first day it is published, be sure you're on the free list.  Also be aware that just because you are a subscriber to our paid forecasts, that does not automatically put you on the free mailing list as they're completely separate.

This sleepers series is among our top five most popular traditions every year.  Last year's edition included names such as Ryan Zimmerman, Nelson Cruz, Troy Tulowitzki, Adam Jones, Heath Bell, Chris Carpenter, Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Marmol and Frank Francisco, among others.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ben Sheets

I will likely be adding a forecast for Ben Sheets in the next edition of the player forecasts.  Sheets, as many readers know, was supposed to throw for several big league teams today and ESPN reported back in November that Sheets' agent, Casey Close, said Sheets would be healthy by the start of the spring.  Of course, we have to take what a player's agent says with a grain of salt but if it's true that Sheets is ready to go, he could be an interesting gamble for a team that needs to take a chance.

Pending further information on his status, if Sheets is throwing about as expected, I'm likely to forecast a very risky projection that would have an ERA in the mid to high 3's, maybe 20 starts (which would go up in the spring once he proved that he was ready to go for Opening Day) and a rate of about 0.80 to 0.85 strikeouts per inning.

When healthy, he has been so consistently above average since 2004 that the "healthy" part seems to be the only real challenge.  On that note, while he did start 31 games in 2008, it was the first time he had topped 24 start since 2004.  It will be interesting to see if he resembles his former self.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Headley / Blanks

Just as a brief follow up to yesterday's entry about the Kevin Kouzmanoff / Scott Hairston trade, it looks like Chase Headley is headed back to third base to replace the traded Kouzmanoff with Kyle Blanks taking over as the everyday left fielder and Hairston picking up regular at bats by splitting time between center field and right field.  For additional initial remarks from GM Jed Hoyer, we encourage readers to check out the article posted at the Padres' official site last night.

Assuming this all holds up, an upgrade to Blanks' forecast will be in order in our next edition.  We're still forecasting him to hit only around .250, as he did in his first 54 big league games last year, but with regular playing time he could hit 15-20 home runs with maybe around 60 runs scored and 60 RBI in this environment.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

S. Hairston / Kouzmanoff

A deal which will send Kevin Kouzmanoff to Oakland for Scott Hairston and several other minor leaguers has not yet been made official but is reportedly only awaiting players passing their physicals.

The Hairston part of the deal is the element I'm least sure about in terms of the impact on a player forecast.  Hairston had been expected to be a regular player in the Oakland outfield and now back with the Padres, Chase Headley remains the clear left fielder.  Still, San Diego wouldn't have made this deal if they didn't expect to use Hairston on a regular basis and I fully expect that Hairston still has a regular spot in the lineup, not yet confirmed but likely in center field.

Assuming that Hairston still heads into 2010 with that clear shot at regular playing time, the biggest impact of the deal is what the change in home parks does to each player's performance.  San Diego, as many readers know, is one of the best pitching parks in baseball and Oakland, while still favorable to pitchers, is much closer to being neutral than PETCO.  However, the gut reaction that this automatically boosts Kouzmanoff's forecast across the board and lowers Hairston's might not be entirely correct.

Even with PETCO clearly being a better pitcher's park than Oakland the past several years, there is an exception and that is that McAfee Coliseum in Oakland has actually been harder to homer in, if you're right-handed, than PETCO Park in San Diego.  From 2007-09, this according to Baseball Info Solutions, the home run effect for right-handed hitters in Oakland has been 77%.  That's saying, roughly, that a right-handed hitter in the long run would homer at about 77% of the rate he would in Oakland as he would in a neutral park.  In San Diego, the park effect for right-handed home runs the past three years has been about 86%.

Of course, home runs represent a small portion of even the best power hitter's total hits and there will be a rise in projected batting average for Kouzmanoff and a drop in projected batting average for Hairston.  So, even with Kouzmanoff losing perhaps a projected home run and Hairston gaining one, Kouzmanoff's overall forecast is the one that's more likely to improve from the deal, probably to the tune of about 5-10 points in batting average and some extra runs scored and RBI as a result of that.  The reverse will apply to Hairston.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cleveland Catcher

The Indians have come to terms with free agent catcher Mike Redmond, a move designed to bridge the gap between April and June/July, at which time prospect Carlos Santana is expected to arrive in the majors, presumably to take over the team's regular catching duties for the next five or six years.

At thirty-nine, Redmond's managed to pick up more than 2,200 at bats in the majors without ever managing 300 in a single season.  A right-handed hitter who has always been a backup, we might incorrectly guess that he had faced mostly lefties in his career, the .289 average seemingly lifted by usually being on the proper side of a platoon split.  Actually, almost two thirds (64%) of his at bats have come against right-handed pitching.  Not surprisingly, he does prefer to face lefties as he's hit .268 vs. righties and .327 vs. lefties over his career and so we need to be aware of this if he ends up playing most of the time for the first half of the season.  It still wouldn't surprise us if he could hit .280 with regular playing time but beyond the average, he has no power nor speed and even a version of him that stayed as a regular for an entire season for 400-500 at bats would still only be projected for 45-50 runs scored and around 45 RBI.  In other words, there's little upside here but his average won't kill you if you need a roster-filling catcher.

As for Santana, all he has to do is remain on the course the Indians have plotted for him.  He broke a bone in his hand this off-season but it wasn't expected to change his timetable to the majors.  Santana looks ready for the majors right now and could hit .260-.265 with 15-20 home run power if he were to get regular playing time from day one, a possibility that seems significantly less likely with Redmond now in tow.  More likely, he won't arrive until mid-summer but for those who like to draft backup plans for the second half of the season, he could still be this year's version of what Matt Wieters was to Baltimore last year, albeit a lesser long-term prospect than Wieters.

Two players who lose the most in the Redmond signing are Lou Marson and Wyatt Toregas.  Marson was poised to at least start the season with a shot at regular playing time and now will be a backup but likely still on the roster.  We can't say the same for Toregas, a player we weren't projecting as ready for the majors anyway.  He's likely got a ticket back to the minors now unless Redmond or Marson suffer a spring injury.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Philadelphia Closer Situation

Brad Lidge had "minor" knee surgery yesterday that certainly doesn't help his chances of being ready for Opening Day.  It's not so much this surgery as the bone chips procedure he had done right after the 2009 season ended that truly jeopardizes his status.

Today's reports were the first I had heard "Danys Baez" and "saves" mentioned in the same sentence as I would have expected, and still do, that Ryan Madson would be the primary backup to Lidge.  Thus, a Phillies club without Lidge would presumably go with Madson as their closer to start the season.  It's not just Lidge's health status that had us forecasting Madson to pick up 10+ saves in the latest forecast set.  It's that Lidge was so shaky in 2009 that he's going to be on a very short leash this year.  There simply aren't that many closers who can post an ERA over 7.00 in year one and have strong job security in year two if they start with a similar ERA.  So, while I entirely believe that Lidge suffered a terrible season that's unlikely to repeat in 2010, he still has to show early that he's better than that if he's to hang on to the closer's job here.

As for Baez, while he does have a lot of closing experience, he hasn't had more than 3 saves in a season since 2006 and hasn't topped 10 saves since 2005.  He's a much better pitcher than he's appeared to be with Baltimore the past couple of years, this thanks to some pretty miserable luck last year where his ERA should have rightfully been about a run better per nine innings.  Still, I wouldn't be rushing out to pick him up in your fantasy league, even if there's a legitimate threat for a few saves in April.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Huff to San Francisco

The signing of free agent Aubrey Huff by the Giants further complicates the situation we mentioned here the day they signed another free agent, Mark DeRosa.  The apparent plan to move Pablo Sandoval to first base will be aborted and with this signing, Sandoval now stays at third base (meaning we'll be bumping his errors forecast back up to be more appropriate), Huff takes over at first base from the non-tendered free agent Ryan Garko and the newly-signed DeRosa goes to left field.

Huff should be able to hit well in this environment and his previously-published .265 average will likely get the slightest of upgrades, even with a minor drop in projected power.  AT&T Park has been a good park for batting average but a lousy park for home runs, particularly for left-handed hitters, and our new forecast will take that into account.

One area we're not likely to upgrade is Huff's projection for around 135 games played.  He has played over 150 games the past three years but he's now thirty-three and the injury risk will rise sharply in the coming years and our projection has to reflect that.  Also, even with Sandoval and DeRosa getting shuffled around position-wise, neither's forecasted playing time will be impacted as we already saw and still do see both as players the Giants will try to get into the lineup as often as possible, no matter what their position.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Valverde, Delgado, McGwire

It's beginning to look like Jose Valverde is going to end up as a closer after all.  All reports the past few days have Valverde landing in Detroit very soon, presumably to take over the closer's role vacated by the departed Fernando Rodney.  If he does end up with the Tigers, we'll likely be forecasting around 30 saves.  The main impact of such a signing would be the instant downgrade to both Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry, both of whom seemed to be the primary closer candidates if the Tigers did not go out and sign someone.

I've been keeping my eye on reports related to Carlos Delgado recently as he's been playing in Puerto Rico trying to show everyone that he's healthy enough to play in 2010.  Our latest forecast for him wasn't particularly optimistic (mid-.260s hitter with only around 200 AB and 10 HR) but that's mostly not so much the risk of injury as it is the uncertainty about whether he'll even find a team and what role he would find.  Put him on a team which can commit to him as a regular player and we'd be upgrading him to a still-risky 120-130 games or so with 20+ home runs and 70-75 RBI.  He's not the player he was even two years ago but he could still help someone and an almost-entirely missed 2009 will reduce him to a likely bargain.

At least a few readers were wondering what my take is on the whole Mark McGwire affair.  It might surprise and disappoint readers but I really don't have a strong opinion on the matter either way.  If I am asked whether I believe those who do have a say will ever put him in the Hall of Fame, I would have already said no based on how he's done in the voting so far and that's even before yesterday's admission about steroid use.  What's going to be interesting in the coming years is to see how the likes of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds fare when they face similar scrutiny on the first ballot.  In particular, these two will be so interesting because both players have outright denied using steroids whereas McGwire simply wouldn't "talk about the past" and never denied using steroids to the degree Clemens and Bonds did.  In other words, will the presumption of guilt associated with Clemens and/or Bonds be enough to defy their own outright denials?  I suspect it will but we'll see.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vladdy to Texas

Just after we published the latest projection set, Vladimir Guerrero reportedly agreed with Texas on a deal that will see him take over as the everyday DH.  Guerrero should be able to hit around .300 with 20 home runs in this environment with 80+ RBI and that's all if he lasts, say, 130 games or so.

The real impact of the signing is the mystery of who's the odd one out in the outfield with the DH spot now blocked.  Clearly, a healthy Josh Hamilton plays and Nelson Cruz is coming off a 33 home run season in just 128 games so he would have a spot too.  That means that previous plans that had Julio Borbon taking over as the everyday center fielder and/or David Murphy's spot in the lineup have to be in jeopardy.  There simply isn't room to play five players in three outfield spots and a DH slot.

One thing this likely does end is speculation that Mike Lowell would still end up traded to Texas once he completely recovers from his thumb injury.  Lowell will still end up traded out of Boston but not to Texas.  With Michael Young already at third base, the Rangers had been looking at Lowell as their DH and the Guerrero signing addresses that issue.  Hank Blalock, who played first base more than DH last year, will now definitely leave via free agency.  Chris Davis is supposed to get another chance at first base but the Guerrero signing leads me to believe that Davis doesn't have absolute job security and out of the mix of Davis, Murphy, Hamilton, Cruz and Borbon, you end up with a first baseman and three outfielders and at least one player short on playing time, this all with Guerrero now the locked-in DH.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

K. Johnson, Iannetta, Podsednik, Myers

Kelly Johnson signed with Arizona to take over as their new second baseman, this as he's coming off a disappointing 2009 season that saw him hit only .224 and barely clear the 300 at bat mark.  Consider, though, that he'll only be twenty eight on opening day and even with last year's mark mixed in, he's hit .264 in the majors in more than 1,600 at bats.  Given at least a near full-time job here, he could easily bounce back to a mid .270s average with 10-15 home runs and 10+ steals, all of which will be obtainable rather cheaply if you play in a fantasy league.  With last year's performance, those facing a fantasy keeper situation may want to gamble on tossing him back into the free agent pool in an effort to reacquire him at a lower cost.

I've decided to upgrade Chris Iannetta's forecast somewhat.  Since our previous set, not only did Iannetta sign a new three year deal that will keep him with the Rockies but Colorado also signed Miguel Olivo to be his backup and only real competition for playing time.  To me, the 31-year-old Olivo looks like an insurance policy, even if you consider his breakout power performance of last year.  Olivo has a career .243 mark in the majors and in last year's career year, he picked up just 19 walks and struck out 126 times in 390 at bats, about a third of the time he came to the plate.  Also, the more I consider what I believe is Iannetta's true ability, the more convinced I become that he can actually hold down the job and put together a near 400 at bat campaign.

In case you missed it, the Kansas City Royals signed Scott Podsednik, reportedly to be their starting center fielder.  I think this is the perfect fit for him and in the new edition of the forecasts being published this weekend, I am upgrading him to .290 territory with around 25 stolen bases.  Even though he bounced back to 30 stolen base territory last year for the first time since 2006, it's worth remembering that those two forgettable seasons in 2007 and 2008 still yielded 12 stolen bases each year, this in seasons he hardly played.  His job security with the Royals will be higher than it would have been just about anywhere else.

One last item of interest today was Houston's signing of Brett Myers.  It seems pretty clear that they're bringing him in to be a regular member of the rotation and if he's healthy, as it appears he is, I'd expect him to have a mid 4's ERA with about 10 wins in this environment.  Myers has long been one of the pitchers I often hear from readers about as he was so highly-touted when he first came along and admittedly, I've never been as high on him as others.  His career, which is likely far from over, has turned about as expected, perhaps slightly better with a 4.40 career ERA in almost 1,200 big league innings.  I don't believe at twenty-nine that he's going to get much better than that but he is good enough to hold down a rotation spot here and our new forecast will reflect that.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Holliday, Beltre/Kotchman

Matt Holliday will stay in St. Louis, we learn last night, on a pretty massive $120+ million contract.  No one expected, nor should have, that Holliday would ever return to the levels of performance he showed in hitting-friendly Colorado in 2006-2007 but the .300+ projection we had listed for him here previously will hold up in our next set, to be published this upcoming weekend.  The biggest change will be a slight drop in projected power output.  It's not a huge hit to the numbers and is simply a reflection of the home park as Busch Stadium has proven to be a tough park to homer in the past few years, regardless of how good Holliday looked in 63 games with St. Louis last year.

For me, the most interesting activity the past few days has been the Adrian Beltre / Casey Kotchman situation brewing in Boston.  The way things are shaping up for the moment, Beltre will join Boston on a one year deal with an option for 2011.  Once Mike Lowell recovers from his thumb injury, the Sox will revive the trade talks with Texas (or someone else if the Rangers are no longer interested) and move him before the start of the season.  Kevin Youkilis would stay at first base and Beltre would take over as the regular third baseman.

While I don't believe Beltre's power gets a boost from hitting in this environment, I do think his average could be lifted significantly from previously-projected low-.270s territory to above .280.  Beltre still runs decently too and will remain a threat for 10-15 steals.

More than any other forecast, though, Casey Kotchman's is the one that is closest to changing significantly as a result of these developments.  The addition of Beltre would mean that the Red Sox can trade Kotchman to Seattle at any moment and once this happens, Kotchman moves to a park that isn't as good for hitters but a team that needs a full-time first baseman.  When/if this deal becomes official, I'll be changing Kotchman's forecast from the previously-published mid-.280s platoon player who had fewer than 10 home runs and 40-something runs and RBI to a full-time projected .270 type hitter with 10-15 home run power and 60-70 RBI.  In other words, a Kotchman trade to Seattle would move him back to being what he appeared to be over a full-season split between the Angels and Braves in 2008.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Chapman and International Free Agents

Aroldis Chapman, a pitcher out of Cuba, has reportedly caught the attention of at least three teams in the American League East and seems to be on the verge of landing a fairly lucrative contract.  I wanted to just briefly comment not so much on Chapman but much more generally on international free agents.

Most readers who have read our materials over the years know that I highly value statistical information.  I  often remind readers that this does not mean viewing statistics to the exclusion of scouting information.  In other words, at the purest level, statistics are anything which can be quantified.  For example, a pitcher's average velocity can be quantified into a statistic even though that information is widely viewed as scouting information rather than statistical information.  A player's height and weight, even, is another statistic and I wrote about this particular example a few years ago in an essay called Size as a Statistical Field.

There is one area, though, where I am often challenged to make a reliable forecast and that is when a player comes over from a foreign league and gets consideration for a major league job.  The challenge isn't so much that we can't get a reliable scouting report.  In this era, there is not only often a surplus of information on the Internet about just about every player who's even thinking of signing a contract but usually even video in actual competition if you dig hard enough.

The challenge is translating this scouting information into a forecast in which you can be confident.  This is because when I'm building most forecasts, the usual scouting information can be used in tandem with a much more reliable series of performance outcome statistics (i.e. what we often refer to as the "results" rather than the skills) accumulated in an environment for which we are comfortable translating data to a neutral major league environment.  The days of being completely unable to interpret Double-A data, for example, are long behind us and it's not coincidence that while many of the forecasters out there have different methods for translating minor league statistics, we all come up with a fairly consistent reading of what a player's minor league performance would have looked like had he been in the majors instead.  We may not always agree on what that means for his future but we do tend to view those past performances in pretty much the same light.

This brings me back to Aroldis Chapman.  We do have data on him, albeit limited, and we all had the opportunity to see him pitch in the World Baseball Classic.  But two games do not usually make a meaningful scouting experience and when we do eventually publish a forecast for him, assuming he signs with a team willing to show him the fast track to the majors, any forecast we publish will have the most limited of reliability.

Today's entry isn't so much to tell you that we don't know how Chapman will do.  Rather, it's to remind readers that the vast majority of international free agents are absolute crapshoots, especially when you're dealing with fantasy leagues.  Everyone wants to be the fantasy owner who managed to pick up Ichiro or Hideki Matsui when they first arrived in the majors.  But for every one of these who comes to Major League Baseball from an outside league and has immediate success, there are so many who take time or never pan out at all.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was as close to a sure thing as you can get when he first arrived in Boston and while he did have an excellent 2008 season (18-3, 2.90 ERA in 167.2 innings), to get that year if you went after Dice-K from the moment he arrived in the majors, you would have had to settle for a more ordinary 4.40 ERA in his first season and then a fairly miserable 2009 campaign right after the 18-3 year.  If you have had Kendry Morales stashed away since he first signed with the Angels, even with his superb 2009 season, how much did it cost you to endure three whole previous seasons of carrying him on your roster as he battled it out in the minors?  Those are just random names I picked and there are examples covering the entire range of the success spectrum, going from immediate superstar to players who never panned out at all no matter how much time they got.

In short, I'm telling you that while it's fun to make a best guess for a new player coming over from an international environment, your fantasy league will not usually be won by having knowledge of such players.  That's because there is going to be at least one owner in every league who will overpay for such a player, either drafting him earlier than the risk would justify or overpaying in an auction simply because a big league team with lots of cash did the same.  That should not be you.  No doubt, we can guarantee that you will miss out on getting the next Ichiro.  But you'll also skip drafting the next Hideki Irabu as well.