Archive for October, 2009

Nothing Fishy About Josh Johnson

Heading into the 2007 season, Florida’s Josh Johnson looked like an ace-in-waiting.

As a 22 year-old rookie in 2006, the 6-7 righty posted a 3.99 FIP in 24 starts and seven relief appearances. Johnson punched out 7.62 batters per nine innings, while issuing 3.9 BB/9. He showed sharp stuff, with a 92 MPH fastball (an average offering, with +0.03 runs/100 pitches), a wicked mid-80’s slider (+1.81) and a mid-80’s changeup (+1.70).

Johnson finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting, looking poised to take over where A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett left off.

Sadly, Johnson never was healthy in ’07. Battling elbow problems, Josh didn’t make his first big league start until mid-June. Some blame the balky elbow on then-manager Joe Girardi’s decision to send Johnson back out to the mound after a rain delay in September of ’06. Whatever the cause, Johnson made just four starts before again succumbing to injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery in early August.

After rehabbing, Johnson returned to the bump in July of 2008. He made 14 starts for the Fish, looking none the worse for wear. Johnson whiffed 7.94 batters per nine frames, lowering his walk rate to 2.78 BB/9 in the process. The 2002 fourth-rounder posted a 3.73 XFIP.

Johnson’s stuff was nastier than ever. His fastball crept up to an average of 93.5 MPH, with a +0.51 run value per 100 tosses. Josh had some problems pulling the string (-2.41 runs/100 with the changeup), but his biting mid-80’s slider stifled the opposition (+1.54). In less than a half-season’s worth of pitching, Johnson compiled two Wins Above Replacement.

In 2009, Johnson established himself as a full-fledged ace. Josh was somewhat fortunate in terms of home runs served up (0.6 HR/9, 7.5 HR/FB%), but he was an elite arm regardless. Throwing 209 innings, Johnson had a 3.42 XFIP that ranked 5th among National League starters. His K rate climbed to 8.22 per nine innings, with unusually sharp control for a power arm (2.5 BB/9).

As if the whiff rate and ability to paint the corners weren’t enough, Johnson induced grounders at a career-high 50.3% clip. He jumped ahead of hitters often, with the best first-pitch strike percentage of his big league tenure. Johnson got first-pitch contact or gained the 0-and-1 advantage on the batter 63 percent of the time (58.2% MLB average).

Johnson’s fastball found another gear this past season:


The 25 year-old’s cheddar sat at 95.1 MPH in 2009, a mark topped only by Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Verlander among starters.

Radar gun readings are nice, but results are better. Johnson’s fastball was among the best in the business, at +1.04 runs per 100 pitches (8th among starters). His 87 MPH slider remained sinister (+1.28), and Josh even succeeded on the rare occasion when he tossed a changeup (+2.51). Johnson was worth 5.5 WAR, a performance that would earn him near $25M on the free agent market.

26 in January, Johnson possesses every attribute desired in a premium starting pitcher. He misses bats, rarely gets behind in the count and keeps the ball on the ground. He won’t sneak up on anyone entering 2010, but Johnson is well worth a high-round draft pick. There’s nothing fluky about the performance of this Fish.

Prospect Injury Report

The news was not overly great in prospect land this week, as three of the top hitters in the Arizona Fall League had to shut it down for the off-season, thanks to injuries. One of the top pitching prospects in the game had an even worse week, as he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Mike Stanton | OF | Florida Marlins
The injury to Stanton is unfortunate because he was really hitting well in the fall league after slumping for much of the second half of the year after being promoted from high-A to double-A. The good news, though, is that his back injury is not considered serious and that the club pulled him as a precaution, more than anything. However, back injuries do have a habit of lingering and/or reoccurring, especially in power hitters who take massive cuts. With any luck, though, the rest will alleviate the problem a lot quicker in the off-season than it would during the regular schedule.

After slamming 39 homers in low-A ball in 2008, Stanton hit another 28 in ’09 while splitting his time between high-A and double-A. Massive strikeout numbers – 33.1% – were at least partially to blame for his struggles in double-A. The outfield prospect will not turn 20 until November, so he has plenty of time to harness his swing. He’ll probably stick in double-A for a good portion of 2010 and likely won’t see significant playing time in the Majors until 2011. There are really no players on the Major League squad that could stand in his way, especially with Jeremy Hermida likely on his way out of town this winter (either by trade or non-tendering).

Jason Heyward | OF | Atlanta Braves
Like Stanton, Heyward suffered an injury (to his leg/hamstring) that is not considered serious. The left-handed hitter just turned 20 in August and he ended the year in triple-A. Heyward opened the season in high-A, where he played 49 games before moving up to double-A, where he played another 47 games. He did miss some time during the regular season with injuries, as well, although it was not related to his leg problem. A 2007 first-round draft pick out of a Georgia high school, Heyward has risen quickly through the Braves system. He’ll likely open 2010 in triple-A but could be playing regularly in Atlanta by mid-season.

With veteran outfielder Garret Anderson likely heading out of town via free agency (or retirement), the organization will field a very young outfield in ’10 with the anchor of the group being Nate McLouth, who is signed through 2011 (plus an option for 2012). Jordan Schafer, who had a disappointing rookie campaign in ’09, is another likely starter in ’10. The club also has Ryan Church, Matt Diaz, Brandon Jones, and Gregor Blanco on the depth chart.

Dayan Viciedo | 3B | Chicago White Sox
A bad throwing elbow has shut down Viciedo for the remainder of the winter. It’s unfortunate for the third baseman because he had an opportunity to really work on his game after a modest pro debut in ’09 after signing a big contract as an international free agent out of Cuba. Viciedo hit .280/.317/.391 in double-A but he showed very little patience at the plate and his rumored plus power never showed up (.111 ISO). The 20 year old (whose age is in question) was also criticized for his weight and overall drive.

Few scouts believe Viciedo will remain at third base for long, even though current MLB third baseman Gordon Beckham will likely move back to his original position at shortstop. The Cuba native probably needs one to two more seasons in the minors to smooth out his approach at the plate and hopefully discover his power stroke, which he’ll need to be an impact fantasy player.

Jarrod Parker | RHP | Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona’s No. 1 draft pick from 2007 was on the fast-track to the Majors before blowing out his elbow in mid-2009. Unfortunately, the club tried to take the rehab approach (which rarely works long-term) and Parker will now miss the entire 2011 season, rather than just half the year. Like the other players above, Parker is still quite young, as he will not turn 20 until November.

He made 16 starts at double-A in ’09 before getting hurt and he posted a 3.68 ERA (3.21 FIP) with a strikeout rate of 8.50 K/9. Parker has allowed just 10 home runs in 155 career innings. His ground-ball rate of 55% in ’09 makes his plus fastball all the more impressive. The track record with Tommy John surgery is good, so Parker should recover well, but it pushes back his MLB ETA, which now probably sits at late 2012. Be sure to keep that in mind, especially if you’re playing in a fantasy keeper league. The injury hurts Arizona, as well, since Parker was the organization’s only top-flight starting pitcher prospect.

Check the Position: Catcher

Over the offseason we’ll take a look at each position on the diamond and see how the past season affected the positional rankings and where there might be some potential bounceback value picks going into next year’s drafts. (See shortstops here.)

Rankings are the height of subjectivity, of course. Drafts are the expression of the subjective opinions of the different draftees, though, so lets see what we can learn by putting these players in their (subjective, fantasy-oriented) place.


One of the biggest arguments of the offseason in regards to this position will be whether or not Joe Mauer belongs in a tier of his own. Certainly, if he repeats his work from last year, he’ll be above and beyond the best catcher in the league. The problem with projecting his power next year is that he didn’t crack 30% fly balls last year, he just more than doubled his career HR/FB rate (and tripled 2008’s number). That uncertainty regarding his power ‘drags’ him down into a tier with the recovered Victor Martinez and the steady power producer Brian McCann.

Next comes the tier that mixes strong rookies with some doubt with an ageless wonder in Jorge Posada. Matt Wieters or Miguel Montero have the upside to blaze past Posada (at least in terms of batting average). Just look at the second halves that Wieters (.301/.351/.415) and Montero (.316/.366/.534) put up last year for a little taste of the possibility. Though Mike Napoli made a small stride in his strike out rate (27.1% in 2009, 29.7% career), it’s still high, and he’s still the most likely to put up the worst batting average of the group.

The third tier is a mix of riskier young catchers with upside remaining and less-valuable older catchers on their way down. Actually, to be fair, A.J. Pierzynski doesn’t seem to be declining currently with his best batting average in seven years, but he is utterly devoid of upside and provides minimal returns in the power categories. For example, despite a major step back in his slugging percentage (all the way down to .329), Russell Martin could easily hit more home runs than AJ next year (and that doesn’t even mention his stolen bases). Geovany Soto seems to have had some terrible luck (.251 BABIP, .310 career) and is a decent bet for a bounce back. Buster Posey has to be seen as more of a risk than the young veterans ahead of him, despite his strong minor league numbers, just because of his youth (22) and his struggles last year. Bengie Molina had his worst wOBA (.308) in six years and doesn’t have a starting job in hand currently.

The final tier includes a trio of long shots at this point. Though there is reason to remain excited about Chris Iannetta, there are negatives for every positive. You might want to point to his bad BABIP (.253), but that may have been because of his bad line drive rate (16%). You like a power hitter to hit fly balls, but maybe not as many as the young Rockie (52%). If he straightens out those hits a little, he could even leap a tier next year, and he’s the best long shot in the bottom tier. Ryan Doumit just can’t stay healthy, and Kurt Suzuki hadn’t even shown this power before last year (.421 slugging in 2009, .398 career) and without it, you’re relying on a catcher for (already modest) speed.

Many of us will own someone on the bottom of this list sometime next year, but will we really want to draft them at the beginning of the year?

Believe in Jay Bruce

Few young sluggers entered the 2009 season with more fanfare than Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce. The sweet-swinging lefty terrorized minor league pitchers, batting .308/.366/.551 on the farm and reaching the big leagues by age 21.

While understandably rough around the edges, Bruce displayed enormous potential in 2008. He popped 21 homers in 413 AB, with a .199 ISO. While most players his age were trying to crack AA, The Boss was nearly a league-average hitter at the highest level (.328 wOBA).

A quick glance at Bruce’s 2009 numbers leaves fantasy owners feeling a little underwhelmed. After all, Jay batted .223, with his wOBA basically unchanged (.329). He rolled his wrist attempting to make a diving catch in July, suffering a fracture that sidelined him until September.

In all, 2009 would appear to be a lost year for the highly-touted right fielder. However, Bruce actually made a good deal of progress at the plate. Here are several reasons to believe in The Boss heading into 2010:

Age and minor league track record

Bruce, who won’t turn 23 until April, has always been young relative to the levels at which he has played. While he wasn’t the most patient batter in the minors (he walked in 8.4% of his PA), Bruce bashed to the tune of a .243 ISO.

He showed no problems with pitchers of either hand, drubbing lefties for a .290/.352/.522 triple-slash and roping righties for a .318/.376/.574 line. Bruce hasn’t hit southpaws in the major leagues, but 230-some AB by a 21-22 year-old can’t exactly be considered conclusive.

Improved plate discipline

Bruce walked in 7.4% of his PA in 2008, but he improved that mark to 9.9% in 2009. His Outside-Swing Percentage dropped from 30.4% in ’08 to 26% this past season (right around the MLB average). That’s a happy development, considering that opposing pitchers gave Jay fewer offerings over the plate. They tossed him a pitch within the strike zone just 45.7% of the time in 2009 (48.3% in 2008; the MLB average is 49-50%). Bruce saw four pitches per PA in ’09, up from 3.8 P/PA in 2008.

Improved contact rate

The Boss but the bat on the ball 81.3% of the time on pitches within the strike zone in 2008, but bumped that number up to 86.6% in 2009 (88% MLB average). That helped Bruce lower his strikeout rate from 26.6% in ’08 to 21.7% in ’09.

Increased power production

Bruce’s ISO climbed from the aforementioned .199 in 2008 to .246 this past year. He clubbed 22 big flies in 345 AB (15.7 AB/HR), topping 2008’s 19.7 AB/HR pace.

Poor luck

Cincy’s franchise player had a .373 BABIP in the minor leagues, and a .298 major league mark in 2008. In 2009, his BABIP dropped off a cliff (.222). That was the lowest BABIP among batters taking 350+ trips to the plate.

Bruce’s line drive rate was extremely low at 13%, but I’m inclined to believe some of that was due to official scorer’s bias. Line drives don’t “exist” the way that some other events on the diamond do. Someone has to make a subjective judgment, saying, “I think that ball was a liner” or “I think that was a fly ball.”

Bruce had a liner rate exceeding 21% in 2008. This year, he had the second-lowest LD% among hitters with 350+PA. Given the authority with which he hit the ball overall, the low liner rate doesn’t appear to be much of a concern. Expect that BABIP to climb significantly in 2010.

Jay Bruce has all the ingredients to be a superstar. In a “disappointing” year, he showed top-shelf power, improved strike-zone discipline and better contact ability. Fantasy owners aren’t going to get another chance to acquire The Boss with anything less than a premium draft pick. If at all possible, nab Bruce now, before he becomes a perennial first-rounder.

Butler Bops in K.C.

The 2009 Kansas City Royals were an offensive disaster. Collectively, K.C. batters compiled -66.2 Park-Adjusted Batting Runs, worst in the American League. The Royals continued to hack wildly at the dish, with the second-lowest walk rate in the Junior Circuit. Not coincidentally, the club posted the second-highest outside-swing percentage in the A.L.

There’s plenty of disappointment to go around. Curious trade acquisition Mike Jacobs was sub-replacement-level for the second consecutive season. Jose Guillen made $12M while being a full two wins below replacement-level. Would-be savior Alex Gordon was derailed by hip surgery.

Not all was lost, however. While many of his teammates were making outs at a dizzying pace, Billy Butler took steps toward becoming an All-Star-caliber hitter.

We chronicled Butler’s career last offseason, noting his stratospheric .336/.416/.561 minor league line. Kansas City’s 2004 first-round draft pick had a mild age-22 season in 2008 (.275/.324/.400, .318 wOBA), due mostly to a tepid performance against right-handers and a high groundball rate for a 6-2, 240 pound guy with minimal speed.

The future looked extremely bright for Butler, though, given his superb minor league track record. And in 2009, he began to show to strong secondary skills which made him a top prospect.

In 2008, Butler appeared to take a contact-oriented approach at the plate. He put the bat on the ball 93.3% of the time on pitches within the strike zone, well above the 88 percent MLB average. That led to a very low punch out rate (12.9 K%), but the contact might have come at the expense of some power. Butler posted a middle infielder-like .124 ISO, while going yard on just 8.2% of his fly balls hit.

Butler didn’t put much of a charge in those fly balls, with a .440 slugging percentage in 2008 (the A.L. average was .566).

In 2009, by contrast, Butler waited for his pitch more often. His P/PA increased from 3.6 to 3.9, with his first-pitch strike percentage dipping from 58.6% in ’08 (right around the MLB average) to 53.6% in ’09. Butler didn’t make as much contact within the strike zone (88.6 percent), which led to a higher K rate (16.9 percent). However, the 23 year-old did far more damage when he did connect.

Butler’s ISO jumped to .191, with his HR/FB rate climbing to 11.9 percent. He slugged .776 on fly balls (.603 A.L. average). Billy still hit more grounders than one would like to see (47.3 percent), but there are plenty of positives here.

Kansas City’s first baseman continued to annihilate lefties, with a 150 sOPS+ (sOPS+ compares a batter’s performance in a given spit to the league average; 100 is average for a hitter, below 100 is below-average and above 100 is above-average). But he was no slouch against right-handers either, with a 121 sOPS+. In other words, Butler was 50 percent better than the league average vs. southpaws, and 21 percent above the norm against righties.

His more restrained plate approach also led to more free passes. Butler increased his walk rate from 6.9 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent this past year. That’s more in line with what we saw in the minors, when he drew a free pass in 11.5 percent of his PA.

Overall, Butler improved his wOBA to .369, while posting a .301/.362/.492 line. He’s not an elite option at first base (not when the MLB average at the position was .277/.362/.483 in 2009, but he could yet become an offensive force. Butler turns just 24 in April.

Target Butler on draft day. He could provide the punch of some more well-known first basemen, but at a lower price tag.

Arizona Fall League Update: The Pitchers

The Arizona Fall League is a developmental league for prospects that either A) Need a bit of fine-tuning before reaching the Majors, B) Need extra work after missing a chunk of the ‘09 season due to injury, and/or C) Are being considered for inclusion on the 40-man roster this winter.

Scott Mathieson, RHP, Philadelphia
Following in the tradition of talented, but injury-prone Canadian pitchers, this right-hander is back on track after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery (’06, ’08). The top team in the National League is certainly hoping this one will take. Mathieson posted a 0.84 ERA in 32.1 innings – over three minor-league levels – this past year while working out of the bullpen (He was previously a starter). The 25 year old allowed just 17 hits and he showed reasonable control despite his layoff in ’08 and he struck out 34 batters. Mathieson made 13 appearances in double-A and posted a 3.20 FIP, while allowing a batting-average-against of just .155. So far in the AFL, he has yet to allow a run in five innings (four appearances). If his health sticks, Mathieson could be helping out in the bullpen in Philly by mid-to-late 2010.

Danny Gutierrez, RHP, Texas
Obtained late in the season from Kansas City after wearing out his welcome in the organization (health, attitude), Gutierrez has been impressive and an organization can never have enough pitching depth. The right-hander made just nine appearances in the regular season but he’s made three already in the AFL (including two starts). In 8.2 innings, Gutierrez has allowed five hits, five walks and seven Ks. In 2008 in low-A ball, the right-hander showed a solid ground-ball rate while also posting a strikeout rate of 10.40 K/9 in 90 low-A innings. He’s a sleeper worth keeping an eye on, although he likely won’t surface in Texas until 2011.

Ian Kennedy, RHP, New York (AL)
No longer a rookie, thanks to a total of 59.2 MLB innings over three seasons, Kennedy is looking to finally establish himself as a big-league pitchers. After missing a good portion of ’09 due to injury, he’s making up for lost time in the AFL. In three starts, Kennedy has allowed 10 hits and just one walk in 11.1 innings of work. He’s also struck out 13 batters, but he remains a fly-ball pitcher, which is dangerous for a hurler with average-at-best velocity on his fastball. Kennedy does not have a huge ceiling but he does have a track record of success in the minors and he has exceptional control. A trade out of New York this off-season will probably be the best thing for his career, but the club may not want to sell low on him. If he does end up in the National League, though, he could thrive.

Jenrry Mejia, RHP, New York (NL)
Things have not gone so well for Mejia in the AFL. After making 10 double-A starts as a 19-year-old pitcher in ’09, the right-hander has struggled in fall ball. Mejia has a 10.50 ERA and has allowed 10 hits and seven walks in 6.0 innings (three starts). The Dominican native did recover in his third start to allow just one run in three innings and he showed improved command. He is definitely talented and there is no reason to rush him to New York so he’ll likely open 2010 in double-A and will probably surface in Majors in 2011, if all goes well. Don’t worry… he’s just a young pitcher going through growing pains.

Melvin Mora, Movin’ On

The Orioles hold an $8 million club option on Melvin Mora for 2010, but are in no way expected to exercise it.

The third baseman turns 38 in February and hit just .260/.321/.358 this season in 450 plate appearances. He’s a shadow of the player who compiled a .340 batting average back in 2004, on top of 27 home runs, 104 RBI, and 111 runs scored. That season, his best by far, Mora posted a wOBA of .420, which ranked 10th in the league at the time and would have put him among the top three hitters in the majors this season.

Mora’s walk rate has fallen from 11.7% in 2004, to 9.1% in 2007, to 7.0% in 2009. He’s not hitting the ball with much force these days and he’s never really been considered a disciplined hitter. His Isolated Power hit a career low in 2009 at .098. It was .143 in 2007 and a career-high .222 in 2004. He’s also hitting more groundballs than he ever has with a 42.9% GB rate this year compared to where it sat — 36.1% — in 2005. That’s not a positive for an aging veteran that lacks speed.

So, what can we make of it all? And what can teams who might bid on his services this winter expect from the aging infielder in 2010?

It’s normal to see drops in production with age, especially when players near 40. And Mora, for all his faults, was among the unluckiest hitters in baseball last season with a .285 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). He’s also remained rather healthy over the course of his career and plays a fine third base. There’s no doubt he’s capable of serving as a quality utility infielder in another locale, but he may finally be off the fantasy map.

Mora will likely have to settle for a one-year contract in the $1.5 million to $3 million range, and he probably won’t find that in Baltimore, where they’re building for the future and attempting to trim some of their proverbial “fat.”

Mora played 1,256 games for the Orioles, which ranks 10th in the history of the franchise. His 252 doubles in an O’s uniform rank 7th in franchise history, his 662 RBI rank 8th and his 158 home runs rank 9th. “He’s been here for a long time. He’s been consistent,” Baltimore manager Dave Trembley said earlier this month. “He’s been the anchor at third base here for nine years. That should say it all. … He will go down as one of the top Oriole third basemen of all time and he has the numbers to back it up.”

“Is it going to hurt a lot? Of course,” Mora said in October, with the realization that he’s probably going to have to leave Camden Yards behind this winter. “I’m always going to a part of the Orioles. There’s no doubt about it.”

Arizona Fall League Update: The Hitters

The Arizona Fall League is a developmental league for prospects that either A) Need a bit of fine-tuning before reaching the Majors, B) Need extra work after missing a chunk of the ‘09 season due to injury, and/or C) Are being considered for inclusion on the 40-man roster this winter.

Josh Bell, 3B, Baltimore
Obtained at mid-season from the Dodgers (in exchange for George Sherrill), Bell has proven to be a smart pick-up for the Orioles. The soon-to-be 23 year old posted an ISO of .281 after the trade, during 114 at-bats at double-A. Overall, he hit .297 on the season in double-A with 20 homers in 448 at-bats. He’s shown patience at the plate with two straight seasons with a +10% walk rate. So far in the AFL, he’s posting the second-highest batting average behind Florida’s Mike Stanton. Bell may need a little bit more seasoning in triple-A before taking over for long-time third baseman Melvin Mora, who is likely to depart Baltimore this winter via free agency.

Bryan Petersen, OF, Florida
A personal favorite of mine, Petersen had a 23/23 season in ’08 but followed that up in ’09 with reduction in both home runs (seven) and steals (13 in 25 attempts) in double-A. The 23 year old remains an intriguing outfield prospect, in part because he reduced his strikeout rate from more than 20% to 15.3%. He also does a nice job of getting on-base by hitting .280-.300 and he’s not afraid to take a walk (10.4%). He’s hitting .441 through seven AFL games, but he’s been caught the one time that he tried to steal. Petersen could surface in Florida by the end of ’10, especially if he can improve his base running.

Grant Desme, OF, Oakland
It’s easy to get excited about Desme’s season because the 23-year-old outfielder hit 31 homers in 486 at-bats, including a .352 ISO rate in 227 high-A at-bats. Two things work against him, though: A) He was old for low-A and old-ish for high-A, and B) He struck out more than 30% of the time. The ’09 season was the first year that he’s been healthy since signing back in ’07. Desme is currently leading the AFL in homers with seven (three more than the next closest hitter) and he’s hitting .436 despite striking out 13 times in 39 at-bats. We probably won’t see Desme in Oakland before 2011.

Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta
One of the youngest hitters in the league, Freeman is struggling in the AFL. He’s hitting just .174/.296/.217 in 23 at-bats. The first baseman also stumbled at double-A in the second half of the minor league season in ’09. After scorching high-A ball earlier in the year, he hit just .248/.308/.342 in 149 at-bats. Freeman hit just .164 in August. He just turned 20 in September so there is no reason to be worried. He should be in Atlanta by mid-to-late 2011.

Jemile Weeks, 2B, Oakland
The 22-year-old Weeks is in the AFL to make up for lost time after beginning the year on the disabled list. Upon his return, he was on fire for the first two months before slumping in July; he never really hit consistently after that. His struggles continue in the AFL with a line of .182/.250/.303 through 33 at-bats. Weeks, though, is showing some patience with three walks and he’s been successful in both of his steal attempts. Weeks may debut in Oakland around the same time as Desme… 2011.

Andy Pettitte: Metronome

At first glance, Game 6 starter Andy Pettitte has entered the metronome section of his career. For fantasy managers, that’s a level that is of borderline value in standard mixed leagues, but strong veteran value in deeper leagues.

Consider that he’s spent the last three years in the Bronx putting up a 4.05-4.51 ERA, won either 14 or 15 games per year, pitched between 194 innings and 215, struck out between 141 and 158, and put up a WHIP between 1.38 and 1.43. “Knowing” what you are going to get has sneaky value later in a deep league draft when the other owners are reaching.

Is there any reason to doubt that this 37-year old metronome won’t keep ticking? He is around the age when pre-steroid era pitchers began to decline precipitously, and there are some hints of cracks in the foundation.

His home run rate has always been a strength (0.77 HR/9 career), and with his strikeout and walk rates being only above-average (6.61 K/9, 2.83 BB/9 career), it’s fairly important for him to keep the balls in the yard. The bad news is that his home run rate has steadily been increasing in his second stint in pinstripes (.67 to .84 to .92 in 2009). The rate has oscillated like this before. He’s had three years with worse rates in his career than the number he put up in 2009. But this sort of gradual decline has not happened before. Fantasy owners may reasonably expect his second year of a 1+ HR/9 next year.

When looking at his pitch selection and the linear weights, it’s striking that he’s developed his cutter over his career and that the pitch has become more effective the more often he’s used it. That has to count as a good sign.

The bad sign in his pitch mix might be the disappearance of his slider. At one point in his career, he was throwing the pitch over 10% of the time and as recently as 2003-2004 it was averaging about +5 runs a year. Last year, the southpaw threw the pitch 0.1% of the time and it didn’t figure into his results at all according to the linear weights.

With the slider being a neutral pitch (-2.7 runs since 2005), should we be sorry to see it go? It moves less than his slider, and maybe it’s easier on his shoulder or elbow and will lead to longevity. The cutter is six or seven miles per hour faster than his slider according to one system, so maybe using the pitch more is an effort to avoid falling into a Jamie Moyer-esque “Slow, slower and slowest” pattern. That may not play so well in the American League. There are also some pitch-classification issues going on here. One system has Pettitte throwing the slider not at all, and another over 17% of the time last year. Whichever is true, the takeaway is that there is some flux in his arsenal as he ages.

Comparing him to Moyer may be overstating things. Moyer’s “fast”ball barely breaks 80, and Pettitte’s is almost ten miles per hour faster. But it does appear that there is some decline in Pettitte’s numbers and he will soon no longer be the safe late-round deep-league metronome that he has been in recent years.

Vladimir Guerrero’s Value

With an eyes-to-ankles strike zone, mammoth power and uncanny contact ability, Vladimir Guerrero has long made a mockery out of the concept of plate discipline.

From Montreal to L.A., Vlad has never seen a pitch he didn’t think he could hammer. And for the most part, he has been right. Guerrero has a career .397 wOBA, ranking 10th among active players with at least 3,000 PA. The Impaler has the 7th-most Park Adjusted Batting Runs among hitters since 2002. And, he has eclipsed the 30 homer mark eight times.

Are those high-slugging times behind Guerrero, though? Over the last three seasons, Vlad’s wOBA has dipped from .393 in 2007, .373 in 2008 and a mortal .343 in 2009. Guerrero turns 35 this February (we think), and he’s not going to garner a king’s ransom his second time through free agency. Is Vlad still a valuable fantasy option, or is Father Time sapping the free-swinger’s strength?

Much like the original Impaler, Guerrero engendered fear in his opponents. “Fear” is a nebulous term in baseball (see any Jim Rice Hall of Fame discussion), but Guerrero was intentionally walked an average of 26 times per season between 2005 and 2007. That figure dipped to 16 in 2008, and just three in 2009.

Given Vlad’s well-known tendency to hack at balls, strikes, fastballs, breaking stuff, low flying birds and hot dog wrappers, the lack of intentional free passes has led to a plummeting walk rate. Guerrero’s BB% has fallen from 11% in ’07 to just 4.7% in ’09.

Want another indication that pitchers are more willing to challenge Guerrero? Take a look at the percentage of pitches thrown to Vlad within the strike zone. As one might expect, pitchers are apt to toss Guerrero a pitch off the plate, considering his expansive strike zone (Vlad has swung at roughly 45% of pitches thrown out of the zone from 2007-2009, compared to the 25% MLB average).

But, those hurlers have thrown him more pitches within the zone recently. Just 32.7% of pitches thrown to Guerrero crossed the plate in 2007. That figure increased to 40.8% in ’08, and 43% this year. That’s still well below the near-50% MLB average, but it’s a noticeable uptick nonetheless.

Guerrero still creamed the ball in ’07 and ’08, with Isolated Power marks of .223 and .218. But extra-base knocks were more scarce this season, with a .164 ISO. Vlad was rarely healthy, serving separate DL stints for a torn pectoral muscle and a left knee strain.

Vlad hit more fly balls in 2009 (near 40%) than in any other season dating back to 2002. But his home run/fly ball rate fell considerably. Guerrero clubbed a homer on 14.5% of his fly balls in 2007 and 16.1% in 2008, but a mild 11.5% in ’09.

In 2009, Guerrero pulled fewer pitches. And while he hit for far more power than the average right-handed A.L. batter on middle-and-opposite-field pitches in ’07 and ’08, that was not the case this past season (numbers courtesy of Baseball-Reference):


Guerrero hit more balls up the middle and to the opposite field, with far less authority than in years past. Was Vlad a little late in catching up with fastballs this year? The numbers suggest that’s the case.

During the course of his career, Guerrero has crushed pitches of all types. It’s really quite remarkable: fastballs (+1.11 runs/100 pitches), sliders (+1.87), cutters (+1.95), curves (+2.78), changeups (+1.95), splitters (+2.93). Heck, he’s even knocked around the knuckleball (+4.85).

In 2009, however, Vlad posted a paltry -0.74 run/100 value against heaters. That was one of the 20 lowest marks among batters with 400+ PA. Guerrero also popped the ball up more often than usual, with a 13.7 infield/fly ball rate (11.2% average since 2002), and he made less contact on pitches within the strike zone (87.1%, 89.1% avg. since ’02).

The cumulative effect of Guerrero’s injuries has robbed him of the ability to play the outfield (he played the OF just two times in ’09). This means that he won’t qualify as an outfielder in most leagues. Just as Vlad will only appeal to A.L. teams this winter, his value will be dinged by only qualifying in a “utility” spot in fantasy leagues.

None of this is to suggest that we should stick a fork in Vlad. He surely was hampered by injuries in 2009, as he batted .290/.319/.415 in the first half but a more palatable .300/.347/.498 after the All-Star break.

The problem is, owners just can’t count on Guerrero ever playing pain-free again. It wouldn’t be totally surprising to see Vlad go DH somewhere and rebound somewhat at the plate. But in all likelihood, his days as an elite slugger are coming to a close.