Archive for November, 2008

Gorzelanny’s Gruesome Season

While buccaneers elsewhere are enjoying plenty of success, the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to struggle mightily. A new, more progressive front office regime is in place, but the route back to contention (much like shipping route in the Gulf of Aden) will be a long an treacherous one. Closing in on a dubious record for the most consecutive losing seasons, the Bucs must invest heavily in the player development system to once again become relevant, cultivating home-grown stars at minimal cost.

One of the few bright spots during former GM Dave Littlefield’s ill-fated tenure was the selection of left-hander Tom Gorzelanny in the 2nd round of the 2003 amateur entry draft. The Triton College product quickly established himself as one of the more promising prospects in the Pirates’ system, compiling an impressive minor league dossier that included a 3.01 ERA, 8.59 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9.

After getting a brief glimpse of the majors in 2005, Gorzelanny went on a tear at AAA Indianapolis in ’06 (99.2 IP, 3.48 K/BB ratio) and tossed 61.2 frames for the Pirates at the end of the season. The results were nothing to write home about (5.84 K/9, 4.52 BB/9) and he served a DL stint for elbow soreness in August, but he displayed a 92 MPH fastball and a pretty sharp low-80’s slider while generating a decent amount of grounders (49.2 GB%). Lefties with that sort of package do not grow on trees.

The Evergreen, Illinois native spent the entire 2007 campaign in the big league rotation, tossing a curiously high 201.2 innings (more on that later). His peripherals weren’t great (6.02 K/9, 3.03 BB/9), and his 3.88 ERA was more the reflection of a very low home run/flyball rate (HR/FB%) of 7% than stellar pitching. Using Expected Fielding Independent ERA (XFIP) from the Hardball Times, we can get a better read on Gorzelanny’s performance. XFIP uses strikeouts, walks and a normalized home run rate (HR/FB% for starting pitchers tends to hover around 11-12%) to calculate a pitcher’s ERA. Gorzelanny’s XFIP was nearly a run higher than his actual ERA, at 4.87. On top of that, his 92 MPH heater dropped to 89.9 MPH, he cut the usage of his slider to 11.2% and his GB% fell to 42.1%.

The most surprising aspect of Gorzelanny’s 2007 season was the way that he was used/abused down the stretch. Despite being in contention for positively nothing, then-manager Jim Tracy worked his 24 year-old starter unnecessarily hard, perhaps to the point of breaking him. In his article examining Chad Billingsley, Peter referenced the “Verducci Effect“, a concept developed by Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. Verducci, using research compiled over the past several seasons, theorizes that young pitchers who are subjected to an innings total increase of 30 or more between one season and the next are more prone to injury.

In 2006, Gorzelanny tossed 99.2 innings at AAA and 61.2 innings with the Pirates, for a combined total of 161.1 IP. Considering that some people (including Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll) believe that there’s a marked difference in stress between minor league and major league innings, Gorzelanny’s innings increase between 2006 and 2007 might have actually been higher than 40.1 frames. Even if taken at face value, Gorzelanny’s workload put him squarely in the crosshairs of the “Verducci Effect.”

Perhaps in an attempt to win a few extra ballgames and save his job, Tracy seemingly pushed Gorzelanny harder as the season progressed. Gorzelanny made 11 starts over August and September, and Tracy kept his lefty out there for at least 100 pitches in eight of those starts. It’s not as though the 100+ pitch games were efficient, either: the longest Gorzelanny went in any of those games was seven innings. Not surprisingly, Gorzelanny ranked near the top of the majors in Pitcher Abuse Points, a Baseball Prospectus stat that attempts to measure the stress that pitchers are put under by higher workloads.

With that damage inflicted, Gorzelanny was an unmitigated disaster in 2008. In an injury-shortened 105.1 IP, he struck out just 5.72 batters per nine innings and issued an alarming 5.98 BB/9. Gorzelanny was crushed by the long ball, surrendering 1.71 HR/9. His HR/FB rate was somewhat high at 13.2%, but even if we normalize the HR rate, Gorzelanny’s XFIP was a macabre 6.14. His once-plus fastball continued to fade, coming in at an average speed of 88.7 MPH, and he cut his slider usage down to 7.9%. Instead, Gorzelanny heavily utilized an 82.5 MPH changeup (20.5%). Gorzelanny also continued to surrender more flyballs, with a GB% of just 40.3%. Banished to the minors in July and placed on the DL with a left middle finger injury in September, Gorzelanny endured a season that he would rather forget.

Unfortunately, the current version of Tom Gorzelanny just doesn’t look anything like the guy in the prospect catalogs. Instead of displaying low-90’s heat and a plus slider, he now showcases a much less appealing high-80’s fastball/low-80’s changeup combo, with flyball tendencies to boot. Perhaps an offseason of rest will do wonders for Gorzelanny’s battered body, but steer clear of this Pirate if he doesn’t regain his velocity, lest your fantasy season go the way of an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia.

Pitchers Bring the Heat vs. a Declining Tejada

Several years back, Miguel Tejada was one of the standard-bearers at the shortstop position. The Dominican native combined tremendous power from his stocky 5-9, 215 pound frame with an uncanny ability to put the bat on the ball. Tejada’s high-power (career .184 Isolated Power), high-contact (13.5 K%) act has allowed him to accumulate 10.61 WPA/LI during the course of his career.

Unfortunately, that star-caliber player has since left the building. While Tejada turned in an unexpectedly slick season with the glove (+7 in John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system), his power continued on a downward slope in 2008. His .131 ISO tied his career-low mark, set all the way back in 1997 when he was a fresh-faced rookie. In fact, Tejada’s slugging percentage has declined every season since 2004. Since slugging a whopping .534 that year, he has posted marks of .515 in ’05, .498 in ’06, .442 in ’07 and just .415 this past season. With a -1.27 WPA/LI, Tejada was the fifth-least productive shortstop among all qualified players in 2008.

While the 34 year-old has never been mistaken for a patient hitter (his career BB% is 6.8), Tejada took his hacking to a higher level in 2008. After drawing walks at a 7.4% clip in 2007, be posted just a 3.7 BB% this past season. Miguel swung at 53% of the pitches that he saw, putting him near the top of the majors and in the company out-machines such as Jose Guillen and Carlos Gomez. After posting an identical Outside Swing Percentage (O-Swing%) of 28.4% in 2006 and 2007, Tejada chased 34.7% of pitches out of the strike zone in ’08. That figure was the 10th-highest among all qualified batters.

With Tejada’s power declining precipitously, opposing pitchers have become far more willing to challenge him with a fastball. As his slugging percentage has waned, Miguel has been seeing heaters with increasing frequency:

Tejada’s Percentage of Fastballs Seen, 2005-2008:

2005: 59.7%
2006: 60.7%
2007: 61.5%
2008: 66.1%

Miguel was challenged more than just about anyone in 2008, with the 9th-highest fastball percentage in the big leagues. Considering that Tejada is less of a threat to punish a fastball and deposit it in the bleachers these days, pitchers likely see less reason to pitch him so carefully. While Miguel Tejada in his peak seasons earned the veneration of hurlers everywhere, the later-career Astros version is treated more like a slap hitter.

Tejada was one heck of a player in his Oakland and Baltimore days, and perhaps there’s some hope for a bounceback- his Line Drive percentage (LD%) was still a healthy 23.4% in 2008. However, with rapidly declining pop and a willingness to swing at near anything, it’s best to evaluate Tejada based on his current merits, not his name value.

Gil Meche and his $55 Million Slider

Gil Meche has survived and thrived despite two rotator cuff surgeries. The 1996 first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners, Meche made his Major League debut as a 20-year old in 1999. However, he did not pitch in the majors in either 2001 or 2002 due to his injured shoulder and it took several years to re-emerge as something more than a fringe player.

In 2006, Meche added a slider to his repertoire. His O-Swing% jumped from 17.1 to 22.5 percent, his GB% went from 38.9 to 43.1 percent and his K/9 went from 5.21 to 7.52 percent. It was also the final year of his contract and he parlayed his success into a five-year, $55 million contract with the Royals, which was lampooned at the time by the mainstream media and most statheads.

But Meche has been extremely effective in his first two years with Kansas City. He has thrown 426.1 innings and posted a 3.91 ERA in that span. He made the All-Star team in 2007, notched 14 wins last year, and was one of the top pitchers in the league in the second half. In his final 14 starts, Meche was 8-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 90 innings. He had 11 QS in 14 outings and did this all with a .309 BABIP after the break.

There were two big reasons for Meche’s success last season. He notched the highest strikeout rate for any full season in the majors of his career, as he posted 7.83 K/9. Also, Meche allowed a home run on just 7.9 percent of his fly balls, which ranked 18th in the majors. He cut back on his curve and change to focus more on his fastball and slider. Meche used his slider 16.6 percent of the time last year, nearly as often as he threw his curve (17.8).

Meche was a lower-level number-three type fantasy starter in a standard 12-team mixed league last year. Barring some unforeseen improvement in his WHIP, that is probably his upside. But he is very reliable, having made 100 starts the past three seasons, he won’t kill you in any category and is a plus pitcher in strikeouts. Since many fantasy owners do not hold Meche in high regard (ADP in the 220s last year), he is someone who can provide great value in the high teens of your draft.

Catching on in Philly

Playing on the same team and at the same position as the hottest player in the Arizona Fall League (Tyler Flowers of the Atlanta Braves organization), Lou Marson did not get a lot of press this past month. However, the 22-year-old backstop prospect is poised to surface in Philadelphia in 2009 – and he has above-average offensive potential at a position that does not traditionally generate a lot of production for fantasy baseball team owners.

Marson was selected out of an Arizona high school in the fourth round of the 2004 draft. His first three pro seasons were spent in relative obscurity thanks to average to below-average offensive numbers. Something clicked, though, in the summer of 2007 when Marson – then 21 – hit .288/.373/.407 with an ISO of .120 in 393 High-A at-bats.

The catcher, who swings from the right side, then improved even more in 2008 at the Double-A level, where he hit .314/.433/.416 in 322 at-bats and earned a one-game appearance at the Major League level. Marson still hasn’t shown much power (.102 ISO in 2008) but his eye at the plate has improved significantly – with an increase in BB% from 11.7 in 2007 to 17.4 in 2008. Marson also had a successful Arizona Fall League in Flowers’ shadow. The Philly’s prospect hit ..324/.425/.588 in 34 at-bats against some of the better pitching in the minor leagues.

Standing – or squatting – in Marson’s way to a Major League career are Carlos Ruiz, 29, and Chris Coste, 35. Both veteran catchers are right-handed and neither one had overly successful offensive seasons. Ruiz hit .219/.320/.300 with an ISO of .081 in .320 at-bats, while Coste managed a line of .263/.325/.423 with an ISO of .161 in 274 at-bats. Ruiz’ off season in 2008 definitely leaves him vulnerable to the incoming young talent. The organization’s second round pick from 2004, Jason Jaramillo, has also spent the last two seasons in Triple-A and should be a capable big league back-up whenever his skills are needed. The Phillies also recently added A-ball Australian prospect Joel Naughton to the 40-man roster.

A little more time at Triple-A certainly won’t hurt Marson, but he is close to being ready to contribute at the Major League level and add his name to the young, talented offensive core in Philadelphia.

Can you expect more from Sizemore?

This Grady Sizemore kid is pretty good. And he might get even better.

Sizemore is going to be 26 years old next season – in other words, he’s just now beginning to enter his prime. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the American League, and a thought that you should keep in mind in your draft: Grady isn’t even in his prime yet.

Sizemore has managed to improve in a few aspects of his game every season he’s been in the majors. In his first full season in 2005, he had an excellent season (especially for a 22-year old!), but he hit fly balls only 31% of the time and was caught stealing 31% of the time. He also only walked in 7.5% of his plate appearances.

In 2006, Sizemore stopped getting caught stealing as often and walked 10.6% of the time. He also hit fly balls on 46.9% of his balls in play. However, he only stole 22 bases and struck out 23.4% of the time.

In 2007, Sizemore again upped his walk rate by over 3%, raising it to 13.9%. He also continued his efficient thievery on the base paths, and stole more often – he stole 33 bases in 43 attempts. He once again continued to strike out at a high rate, and he lost a few homers (he hit only 24).

In 2008, Sizemore’s skills really began to come together. Sizemore stole 38 bases while only getting caught five times. He maintained a walk rate over 13%, but reduced his strikeout rate from 24.7% to 20.5%. He also topped 30 homers for the first time in his career, smacking 33 long balls. Sizemore had always been a patient hitter, but in 2008 he swung at the lowest percentage of pitches in his career, only 41.8%. He also posted the highest contact rate of his career, all while maintaining his high walk rate and improving his power.

What does this mean for the future? Well, I’m admittedly bullish (full disclosure: I was born and raised in Cleveland and remain an Indians fan), but I think I have just cause: Grady Sizemore has been great throughout his career, he’s entering his prime, and his statistical track record suggests that he’s just now starting to put it all together.

Sizemore stole the most bases of his career last year (and was successful in 88% of his attempts) and hit the most homers of his career. He also struck out at the lowest rate of his career while maintaining a walk rate of over 13%. He continued to be selective at the plate, and made more contact when he did choose to swing. The only bad part of his 2008 campaign was his relatively low batting average – .268, to be exact. It seems counterintuitive that his BA would fall in a year in which he improved strikeout rate. Sure enough, Sizemore’s BABIP last year was a career-low .291 – this after posting BABIPs of .334, .342, and .335 over the last three years. And for those wondering, Sizemore’s 19.4% line-drive percentage was only a little lower than his career LD of 21%.

If Sizemore is able to post the same strikeout and walk rates in 2009 as he did in 2008, his batting average is likely to rise thanks to an improved BABIP. But as we know, Sizemore may not simply post the same stats again. He’s managed to improve in one or two aspects of his game virtually every season in the majors, and I’ll say it again: he’s just now entering his prime.

While it’s possible that Sizemore could experience some backslide in 2009, it’s far more likely that Sizemore will maintain the gains he’s made: namely, increased power, increased efficiency on the basepaths, and a reduced strikeout rate – and it’s certainly possible that he’ll further improve in some area as well. For example, although he has made strides in his hitting against left-handed pitching, Sizemore’s line against lefties in 2008 was a mere .224/.347/.388. If Sizemore improves his batting average and/or slugging percentage against lefties – even a little – his overall line will receive a boost.

Grady Sizemore is clearly a first round pick in most drafts. Just keep in mind: as good as he was in 2008, he has a legitimate chance to be even better in 2009.

Hunter Pence’s Sliding Production

The Houston Astros farm system has devolved into something of a wasteland in recent years. In an effort to infuse as much talent as possible into the major league roster, the Astros have been rather frugal in the amateur draft and the international player market. Surrendering first and second-round picks and then failing to sign the club’s third and fourth-rounders in 2007 certainly did not help matters, either. In selling long-term relevance for short-term mediocrity, Houston has compiled a core of thirty-something players that posted a 77-84 Pythagorean Record this past season.

One product of Houston’s barren player development outlet that figured to bear fruit was Hunter Pence. Plucked out of the University of Texas-Arlington in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft, Pence quickly established himself as Houston’s most advanced batting prospect. The gangly 6-4, 210 pounder compiled an impressive .303/.376/.554 minor league line, drawing walks at a healthy clip (11.7 BB%) while keeping his strikeouts in check (19.2 K%). Rated by Baseball America as Houston’s brightest prospect, Pence made his debut in 2007 at the age of 24.

Pence’s first taste of the big leagues looked like a smashing success, as he raked to the tune of .322/.360/.539, bopping 17 home runs and posting a .217 Isolated Power (ISO) number. His 2.16 WPA/LI ranked in the top 20 among all outfielders. There were some cracks in the armor, however, as Pence’s 5.4 BB% left something to be desired and his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was an astronomical .378. Given his 19.4% line drive rate (LD%), his expected BABIP was much lower, at .314. Taking some of those extra duck snorts out of Pence’s line gives him a much less impressive .258/.296/.472 showing.

Perhaps we should have known that Pence would be in for a down season in 2008. After all, how many all-star star seasons start with a guy running straight through a glass door? Pence came pretty close to matching his adjusted 2007 line, batting .269/.318/.466. His walk rate improved ever so slightly (6.3 BB%) and his strikeout rate matched his 2007 mark (20.8%), but he didn’t have near the same good fortune on balls in play (.303 BABIP). And, troublingly, Pence failed to hit the ball with authority, posting a feeble 13.9 LD%. That figure ranked dead-last among all qualified batters. Pence’s WPA/LI fell over two wins, to -0.03.

Though Pence ostensibly improved his plate discipline, the underlying numbers suggest that he actually took a slight step backward. His Outside Swing Percentage (O-Swing%) climbed from 29.8% in ’07 to 31.1%, and his percentage of pitches swung at within the strike zone (Z-Swing%) fell from 75.3% to 71.5%. Swinging at more balls and taking more strikes: that’s a recipe for quick outs.

Pitchers are well aware of Pence’s proclivity to expand his strike zone. The 25 year-old saw the lowest percentage of fastballs in the majors, getting a heater just 49.8% of the time in 2008. Instead of giving him something straight, most hurlers fed Pence a steady diet of sliders, hoping to coax a misguided swing out of him. Pence got a slider 28.3% of the time in 2008, also the highest rate in the majors and nearly four percent higher than second-place Dan Uggla (24.7%). As the scouting reports began to circulate, pitchers noticed Pence’s tendency to chase the hard breaking ball and exploited it.

Pitchers have clearly found a weakness in Pence’s approach, and will continue to throw sliders aplenty until he proves that he can show restraint and avoid the temptation to go fishing outside of the strike zone. If Pence wants to improve his sliding production, he’s going to have to lay off of the slider (and avoid those tricky sliding doors, of course).

Is Carlos Beltran’s Declining Power an Issue?

If you do a couple of things really well, people will trip all over themselves to praise you but if you do everything well and nothing spectacular, people will underrate you. Let’s take a quick look at Ryan Howard and Carlos Beltran. Howard gives you HRs and RBIs and people drool over those numbers. There have been 2009 mock drafts with Howard going in the first round despite being the 18th-best fantasy hitter in 2008.

Meanwhile, Beltran contributes in five categories but is no threat to finish in the top three in any of them. He’s a late second round pick in the same mocks, even though he was the 10th-best fantasy hitter last year, according to the RotoTimes Player Rater. And it’s easy to see why. In 2004, he nearly went 40-40, missing by two home runs. Last year Beltran went 27-25 and simply did not have the sexy numbers.

The decline in steals is not a great shock, as Beltran is in his early 30s now. But what happened to the power? How does a guy who hit 41 home runs in 2006 manage just 27 in 2008, despite nearly 100 more at-bats (606-510)? Let’s look at this graphically.

As the preceding graph shows, Beltran has undergone a steep decline in his FB% (the blue line) in the past few years. Also, his HR/FB rate has dropped noticeably, too. However, his FB% is not out of line with what he’s done previously. A 13 percent drop in two years seems extreme, but Beltran’s 2008 rate fits in perfectly with his marks from 2002 and 2003.

Beltran’s BABIP, SLG and ISO were all within just a few points of his lifetime marks in 2008. And just to reiterate a point made earlier, Beltran was the 10th-best fantasy hitter last year. It is counter-productive to obsess about his declining power when Beltran is simply one of the safest and most reliable fantasy hitters available.

In 2006, Beltran was the 13th-best fantasy hitter. Then in 2007 he ranked 18th. If you are drafting in the middle of the second round and Beltran is available, it would be a mistake to bypass him. He is very durable, his established rate of production puts him at the top of the second round and there is always the slight chance he returns to 40-homer levels and exceeds expectations.

Can Jair Jurrjens Avoid Sophomore Slump?

In his first full season in the majors, Jair Jurrjens put up a very solid season for the Braves. He led the team in wins (13), innings (188.1) and strikeouts (139). Acquired as one of the two prospects in the Edgar Renteria deal, Jurrjens made it a slam dunk for Atlanta, despite what many Braves fans thought at the time. They sold high on Renteria, saved nearly $9 million in payroll last year alone, opened the way for a better player at the position in Yunel Escobar and got a potential #2 starting pitcher.

Jurrjens has a lot of positives, starting out with the fact that he throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s that piles up ground balls. His 1.94 GB/FB ratio was tied for sixth in the majors. Jurrjens also found himself among the leaders in HR/9, as his rate of 0.54 placed fifth, and HR/FB, where he placed 12th with a 7.1 percent mark.

After throwing 142.2, 141 and 143.1 innings in the previous three years, Jurrjens exceeded the 30-inning jump considered dangerous for pitchers under the age of 25 with his output last year. And he did fade somewhat down the stretch, as he threw just two quality starts in his final seven outings and posted a 5.84 ERA with a 1.62 WHIP in that stretch.

But there are reasons to remain optimistic about Jurrjens, too. His FIP (3.59) was actually lower than his real ERA (3.68), his BABIP was .311 and his road ERA (3.32) was nearly 0.75 points lower than his home ERA (4.05), a very unusual split for a young pitcher in a neutral park. There’s also room for improvement in his walk rate. Jurrjens allowed 2.20 BB/9 in his final two seasons in the minors and had a 3.35 rate last year with Atlanta.

Jurrjens was a top-75 pitcher last year. If you subscribe to the 30-inning theory, you’ll want to avoid him next season, since any type of drop in his rate numbers will make him not worth using. But I love the power sinker and I expect Jurrjens to improve his WHIP and remain a good bet to post a nice $5-7 dollar season.

Is Huff good enough?

When evaluating the statistical track record of a pitching prospect, I like to look at three main things:

Strikeout rate.

Walk rate.

Ground ball rate.

Obviously, components like velocity, scouting report, and the level at which the pitcher played are very important. But these three things tend to be the best way to quickly evaluate a pitching prospect. Guys who are above average in one of these three things can often be adequate major leaguers (assuming they can be above-average in the majors). Guys who are above average in two tend to be decent/pretty good major leaguers. And guys who are above average in all three tend to be very good.

David Huff is above average in all three.

Huff is not particularly dominant, and is unlikely to be an ace – either in real life, or in fantasy. However, he is above average in all three important factors. Furthermore, he throws in the low 90s and is very close to the majors.

Drafted in the first round back in 2006, Huff has shot through the Indians minor league system. He performed well in his first professional season in 2007 (he pitched in seven innings in 2006, but I won’t count those), posting a 46/15 K/BB ratio in 59 innings, while allowing only four homers. He induced a decent number of ground balls – 40.1% – but not a tremendous amount.

In 2008, Huff was promoted to double-A and improved in every area. At double-A Akron he posted a K/BB ratio of 62/14 in 65 innings, and induced grounders on 48% of his balls in play. Huff earned a promotion to triple-A, where he pitched in 80 innings, racking up 81 strikeouts while allowing only 15 walks. He even upped his ground ball percentage, inducing grounders on 50.9% of his balls in play. Furthermore, batters swung and missed at 9.8% of Huff’s pitches in triple-A (average at the major league level is around 7.5%).

In 2009, Huff is likely to begin the year in triple-A once again, as the Indians have several pitchers ahead of him on their depth chart, and they probably will not want him to begin accumulating service time on opening day. However, the Indians possess few pitchers who are as good as Huff, and the 24-year-old is almost certainly ready to perform at the major league level. Therefore, he will probably force his way into the Tribe’s rotation within the first month or two of the season.

David Huff doesn’t get a huge amount of strikeouts, or a huge amount of ground balls, but he’s shown the ability to accumulate an above-average amount of both. He’s also shown excellent control, which should be at least above-average at the major league level as well. Huff’s biggest strength is a lack of any pronounced weakness, and this should translate to a solid #3/4 starter in a big league rotation. While he lacks significant upside, Huff should be a nice late-round flier in AL only leagues (or very deep mixed leagues), and could be a nice addition off of the waiver wire in relatively shallow mixed leagues when he gets called up to the majors.

Has Nelson Cruz Broken His Quad-A Ceiling?

Perhaps the most pejorative term in scouting parlance is “Quad-A.” It’s a term loosely applied to player who can dominate in the Pacific Coast League or the International League, but just doesn’t possess the skills to thrive at the highest level of competition.

Coming into the 2008 season, Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz appeared to fit the label to a T. The 6-3, 230 pounder (who also toiled in the Mets and Athletics farm systems) was acquired along with Carlos Lee as part of a 2006 deadline deal with the Brewers that shipped Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix and Julian Cordero to Milwaukee. Cruz creamed the ball at AAA, but he fell flat on his face in two stints with the Rangers in 2006 and 2007:


AAA (Brewers): .302/.373/.528, 10.2 BB%, 27 K%, .226 ISO in 371 AB
Rangers: .223/.261/.385, 5.1 BB%, 24.6 K%, .162 ISO in 130 AB


AAA (Rangers): .352/.426/.698, 11.5 BB%, 21 K%, .346 ISO in 162 AB
Rangers: .235/.287/.384, 6.4 BB%, 28.3 K%, .150 ISO in 307 AB

Cruz looked like the classic high-power, low-contact slugger that could bash in the PCL but couldn’t cut it in the majors. At 26 and with two failed opportunities to establish himself, Cruz looked destined to ride the AAA bus circuit for years to come.

In 2008, Cruz decided to turn into Oklahoma’s answer to Barry Bonds, hitting a scorching .342/.426/.695 in 383 AB at AAA, with a 12.8 BB% and a 22.7 K%. But, unlike the previous years, Cruz continued to murder the ball upon his recall to Texas. In 115 AB, he batted .330/.421/.609, belting 7 home runs. He drew walks at a healthy clip (12.9 BB%) while striking out in about one quarter of his at-bats (24.3%). So, has Cruz broken out?

No. Sure, Cruz’s AAA line was legitimately impressive, but we’re talking about a 28 year-old whose skill set remains the same as it was entering the year: impressive power, but just decent plate patience and lofty strikeout rates. His small-sample mashing might engender lofty expectations, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. Cruz had a .388 average on balls in play, a very high number that will regress. Also, the chances of a guy striking out so often hitting .330 are essentially zero.

In 557 career major league at-bats (roughly a year’s worth of playing time), Cruz is a .251/.312/.431 hitter, with 7.8% walk rate and a 26.4% K rate. For 2009, Marcel projects a .258/.324/.435 line. Expecting something along those lines seems reasonable. However, that’s a level of production that you probably want to shoot higher than for your lineup. Cruz has his uses on a major league roster as a power bat, but keep in mind that he’s a 28 year-old minor league slugger, not a hot young prospect. Don’t be fooled by that small sample size.