Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011 Bounceback candidates

As someone who plays fantasy baseball, I was thinking the other day about some potential guys who are bounceback candidates for this year who I could get late in a draft but expect pretty decent production from. Now, I know not everyone plays fantasy baseball, but that doesn't matter. I only include the anecdote to explain why I thought to make such a post. Bounceback candidates are important in a general sense in baseball, especially if you are a fan of the team they are on. And, in a general sense, I think we like to see guys succeed who had a rough year the year before. It's just human nature. Anyway, the point is, I thought I'd take a post to discuss a few players who I feel will have good (or at least average) seasons after having sub-par seasons. I chose two pitchers and two hitters who I feel are the most likely to have bounce back seasons.

Note: Remember "slash lines" such as .300/.400/.500, are, in order Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, and Slugging Percentage.

Bounce Back Candidate: Aaron Hill
What he has to bounce back from: .205/.271/.394, 26 Homers, 68 RBIs.
Why he will bounce back: Aaron Hill was the most unlucky hitter in baseball last year. His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) was an astronomically low .196 (league average is about .290) The next lowest BABIP in the majors was .236. Despite ihs struggles with his average, Hill still managed to mash 26 Home Runs, showing that the power he showed in 2009 was not a fluke. I don't expect Aaron Hill to have an incredibly high average this season, nor do I expect him to suddenly become a patient hitter, but I expect him to rebound and put up something like a .270/.335/.480 line while he once again approaches 30 Home Runs. That would be a great line for a Second Baseman.

Bounce Back Candidate:
Aaron Harang
What he has to bounce back from:: 6-7, 5.32 ERA, 1.585 WHIP, 6.6 K/9.
Why he will bounce back:: Harang was limited by injuries last season, which I'm sure the Padres (who signed him) are hoping is the reason for his preciptious drop in effectiveness last season. Harang's career numbers are a 4.33 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and a 7.5 K/9, which are respectable, and it is important to remember that he accrued most of those numbers in the Great American Ball Park, one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. A move to the cavernous PETCO park, if Harang can stay healthy, is likely to only lead to an improvement from his average WHIP and ERA. It is also notable that Harang is a notorious flyball pitcher, further benefitting him at PETCO park. If Harang stays healthy, 14 wins, a sub 4.00 ERA, and a 1.3 WHIP all seem very possible.

Bounce Back Candidate: Mark Reynolds
What he has to bounce back from:: .198/.320/.433 with 32 Homers.
Why he will bounce back::Reynolds is in a situation very similar to Aaron Hill's in that he had horrible luck last year (though still not as bad as Hill's). There is reason for caution though in regard to Reynolds that is not present in the discussion of Hill, and that is Reynolds monstrous strike out totals. Reynolds has led the league in strikeouts the last three seasons, and that is partly to blame for his average tanking in 2010. However, there is also a reason for a bit of hope, that being that Reynolds actually increased his walk percentage in 2010, and posted an impressive OBP given how low his average was. Like Hill, Reynolds also showed that the power he possesses is no fluke. A change of scenery for Reynolds (who was traded to the Orioles) may also help him some. He will also be in a better line-up with Orioles, which may produce more hittable pitches for Reynolds. Reynolds posting a .250/.370/.480 line with 30+ homers is what I expect to see this season.

Bounce Back Candidate: Javier Vazquez
What he has to bounce back from: 10-10, 5.32 ERA, 1.398 WHIP, 6.9 K/9.
Why he will bounce back: He's back in the NL. I am kidding in part when I say that, but Javier Vazquez has some serious AL/NL splits. Vazquez's career NL ERA is 4.02. His career AL ERA is 4.65. Now, those numbers should not be considered with utmost importance in why he will have a good 2011, especially because Vazquez's low NL ERA was mostly accrued when he was much younger. However, I still feel it will play a small role. Another reasno Vazquez should succeed this season is that he will be moving from Yankee Stadium to Sun Life Stadium. Like Harang, Vazquez will benefit from this change. There is also no reason at this point to assume that Vazquez's K/9 numbers will not rebound, and that last year was just an anomaly. Vazquez is often lost in the discussion of the great Strikeout pitchers of active players (at least for starters), but the fact is he is one of the best, even when he was in the AL. If his K/9 can rebound back to his career norm, Vazquez should fairly easily put up 15 wins and sub-4.00 ERA.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Bonds Trial Begins

Most of you probably already know that the Barry Bonds perjury trail is starting today. Most pundits feel it is fairly likely that Bonds is indicted on perjury charges, and I tend to agree with them. If so, the ramifications of the trial on baseball will be great. However, I will save that post for after his is actually indicted.

This post is more specifically about whether Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. In the past, I posted a poll about PEDs on my blog, and the overwhelming sentiment was not to allow guys who are connected to PEDs into the Hall of Fame. While I saw the virtues of both sides of the argument, at the time I argued against most guys attached to PEDs into the Hall of Fame. However, in the last year or so I have had a change of heart -- to some degree in that I believe many of the players who owned up to their steroid use, and have managed to pass many tests since they became instituted, may belong in the Hall of Fame if their numbers dictate it.

However, despite his amazing numbers, I still don't believe that Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame, and that is something that can be argued whether or not he had used steroids. The fact that he lied to a grand jury itself is likely enough to keep Bonds out of the Hall of Fame. It does not matter that the trial is about steroids -- if the trial had been about any other matter, Bonds' potential indictment would threaten his Hall of Fame chances. If Pete Rose, the all time hits leader, can be kept out of the Hall of Fame when he was not even indicted for any crimes, it seems likely to me that many HoF voters will keep the Home Run King out of the HoF with the same morality rules.

Another major difference between Bonds and other players such as Alex Rodriguez (who never had an official positive test) is that Bonds actually failed an MLB drug test, though he tested positive for amphetmaines and not for steroids. This means that Barry Bonds is actually on record with the MLB as having failed a drug test, something many other players who are connected to PEDs have not done.

Anyway, my basic argument here is that of all of the MLB players from the Steroid Era connected to the period -- Bonds is perhaps the least likely player with Hall of Fame numbers to get into the Hall of Fame, despite being the best player of the era. Again, it will depend on whether or not he is indicted for perjury, but this seems entirely probable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pre-Season Predictions

Given that Opening Day is only a couple of weeks away, I thought I'd take a post to make my predictions for divisional and Wild Card winners for the upcoming season. If you are curious about my predictions from last season, you can find them here. Remember, these are only predictions. If you feel I am completely wrong about something, let me know what you think.

American League East: Boston Red Sox.
It's fairly hard to find anyone making pre-season predictions where they dont' feel the Red Sox will win their division. Given their line-up upgrades (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez), bullpen upgrades (Dan Wheeler, Bobby Jenks) and an expected return to health, it's hard to foresee the Red Sox not winning the division, especially with the Yankees looking weaker than they have in recent years. Also of note is the fact that the Red Sox managed to win 89 games last year despite losing Pedroia in June for the entire season, Victor Martinez for a 6 weeks, Youkilis for 8 weeks, and so on. Even without the upgrades they made, the Red Sox would be a much improved team.

American League Central: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox really only made one major addition this offseason in the form of Adam Dunn. However, their fellow AL Central leaguers made even less progress. The White Sox, of all of the teams in the division, have the best balance between offense and pitching (which is what I based my prediction that the Rangers would win the AL West last season on). The Tigers line-up has been improved, but is still inferior to what the White Sox can put out there. The Twins made very few upgrades this season, and probably have a slightly better line-up than the White Sox, but their pitching has much less depth than the White Sox have. While it's true the White Sox have no true ace, every pitcher in their rotation is average or better -- something no other team in their division can claim to have.

American League West: Oakland Athletics
This division is the most difficult in the AL for me to predict. All three of the contending teams in this division (Athletics, Rangers, and Angels) all made some fairly large changes this offseason, and the number of changes made are sometimes hard to predict. However, I feel that the Athletics most effectively addressed their problems this off-season, and as a result will have a well-banced team capable of taking the division next year. Their additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham, not to mention the potential that rookie slugger Chris Carter has, should give them a much-improved line-up. The Athletics have the best pitching staff in the AL West, and quite possibly in the American League, so that should not be an issue.

American League Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays
While it's true the Rays lost two of their more productive hitters in Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, not to mention their closer in Rafael Soriano, I still believe the Rays are capable of winning 90+ games and winning the Wild Card. The Rays, despite having traded Matt Garza, have an excellent rotation with rookie Jeremy Hellickson likely to take Garza's spot in the rotation. Hellickson performed well last year, and it is difficult to doubt young Rays pitchers right now given how well every single one of them has performed in the major leagues. The Rays line-up will be severely diminished, but they have a fairly capable rookie in Desmond Jennings who will take Crawford's post. They also added Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, who should prove to be fairly productive in whatever role they are given. While a team like the Yankees clearly has a better line-up, a commmon adage is that "good pitching beats good hitting", and the Rays clearly have the Yankees beat in that respect.

National League East: Atlanta Braves
With the news that Chase Utley may be out for the entire season, the Braves seem to be the best team in the division. The Phillies may have a ridiculously stacked rotation, but their line-up has been severely depleted with the losses of Jayson Werth and Chase Utley. The left-handed heavy line-up will have a hard time winning consistently on top of having to rely on aging stars like Jimmy Rollins. This is not to say that the Phillies will not still be good, I just believe that the Braves will be able to be better this year with their upgraded line-up and always-good pitching staff.

National League Central: St. Louis Cardinals
In what is possibly Albert Pujols' last season on the Cardinals, I think the Cardinals should be able to take the division. The Brewers made some major upgrades, but recent injury news involving both star pitchers they added (Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum) makes me back off a little on predicting them to win their division. The Cardinals have their own injury problems in the starting rotation (Adam Wainwright), but they still have Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia as a solid one and two, and plenty of guys to take the ball behind them. The Brewers do not have that same luxury.

National League West: Colorado Rockies
Just as the West is hard to predict in the American League, it is equally difficult to predict in the National League due to the fact that many of the teams in many ways seem equally matched, with no clear dominant team. However, I feel over the course of a long season, the Colorado Rockies probably have the capacity to most consistently win. The emergence of Carlos Gonzalez last season, and a full season of Troy Tulowitzki (hopefully), both point towards a great line-up this season. Ubaldo Jimenez also showed what he could do last season, and while the starting rotation is very likely the wek point for this team, most of the other teams in their division also do not have overwhelming strength in this area, making their better line-up the determining factor.

National League Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies.
I feel that, just as last season, the Phillies and Braves are quite possibly interchangable between the Wild Card and the NL East Title. However, as I stated above in my discussion of the Braves, I feel the Braves are the better team this year. However, given their dominant rotation, the Phillies seem likely to win the most games of all non-division winners this year.

Anyway, that's it for now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Minor League Equivalency 2

Last year, I made a post where I used the Minor League Equivalency calcutor to calculate the stats of various rookies who were projected to start last year. Looking at last year's post, you can probably notice that it is certainly not a perfect calculator -- but it is not as if it was completely wrong, especially in the cases of Jason Heyward and Austin Jackson. Also, it doesn't help that I completely overlooked Buster Posey, but such things happen.

Anyway, the point is I thought I would do the same this season, and see what the calculator says certain up and coming rookies will do this season. To remind you, the calculator uses stats from a given level of the minor leagues and projects it out to the Major League level, based on some advanced algorithm. It should be noted that the calculator only works for position players, so I can't gauge potential rookies of the year like Jeremy Hellickson and Aroldis Chapman.

Just like last year, I am going to start with an Atlanta Braves rookie. This time, though, it's going to be Freddie Freeman who is currently slated to start at 1B for the Braves.
Freeman, who had an excellent season last year at AAA Gwinnett, projects out to a .270/.319/.428 line with 14 homers, 29 doubles, and 67 RBIs. His low OBP is mostly a product of his K/BB rate -- freeman strikes out almost twice as often as he walks, even in the minors. The Calculator projects it to get even worse in the majors, but if Freeman can improve on that, he will certainly be in line for a solid rookie season especially for an age 21 season.

Next up is the Phillies' Outfielder Domonic Brown. His name is one of the hotter rookie names heard this offseason. But does he deserve the praise he is getting? It should be noted that it seems likely given a crowded Phillies outfield, that he starts in a platoon role or in Triple A. However, given his reputation as an excellent 5-tool top prospect, I would be shocked to see him work his way into an every day role this season.
Here is how the calculator feels he would do in a full season: .264/.325/.502, 22 homers, 38 Doubles, 20 SB, 66 RBIs. The Calculator seems to feel that Brown has an excellent chance to mash a huge number of extra base hits next season if he plays full time, while also having him just barely obtaining a 20-20 season his rookie year, which would probably make him a lock for the Rookie of the Year if he puts up these numbers. Like Freeman, Brown is plagued by a horrible walk to strikeout rate, resulting in his low average and OBP in the majors. Unlike Freeman, despite those problems, the Calculator indicates that Brown's ability to slug (a .502 SLG for a rookie is huge), likely will make him a heavily contributing player without a high OBP.

Next is much talked about successor to Jorge Posada, Yankees catcher Jesus Montero. It seems likely that he ends up sharing some time with Russel Martin this year, but given his impressive performance in the minors last year, he is fully expected to become the primary catcher for the Yankees by next year if not sooner. Here is the calculator's full-season projection for Montero, based on his impressive season in the minors last year: .250/.304/.429 with 17 homers, 29 doubles, and 59 RBIs. Like the two young hitters discussed above, Montero has a major problem with the strike out that leads to a hamstrung average and OBP. Despite this, for a 21-year-old catcher, even if Montero only does what this projection believes he will do, those are pretty solid numbers. Numbers that the Yankees can only assume will get better.

For this season, those three seem to me to be the most likely position playing rookies to get a fair number of at bats next season. All three of them are projected to have at the very least, a league-average season for a rookie. Domonic Brown, if he is able to get the at-bats and live up to his five-tool hype, certainly looks to be the most dominant of these three players for the 2011 season, and quite possibly in the future.