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All Systems Votto

Joey Votto has been one of the Reds brighter spots since they made him a second round selection in the 2002 draft. He progressed steadily through the minor league system and made his major league debut late in 2007.

Votto had a very solid rookie season (.373 wOBA) in 2008 and built upon that strongly in 2009. Despite missing a few weeks in June due to a bout with depression and anxiety attacks over the sudden loss of his father, Votto, had an extremely encouraging 2009 season. In 131 games and 469 at-bats Votto hit .322/.414/.567 with 25 home runs. He had the third highest wOBA (.418) in the majors trailing only Albert Pujols (.449) and Prince Fielder (.420).

Votto’s .373 BABIP in 2009 stands out like a sore thumb and when we refer to the expected BABIP calculator from The Hardball Times Votto’s expected BABIP is .317 based on his batted ball profile. This number would severely damage Votto’s triple slash. The calculator would have spit out this unimpressive line assuming that all hits subtracted from Votto’s line were generously singles:


Color me unimpressed. I’m just not buying this. While we should expect some natural regression from Votto’s 2009 BABIP going forward I think the calculator is being too harsh here. It should also be noted that Votto has consistently strung together high BABIPs. Here are his BABIPs dating back to his 2006 season in Double-A:

2009: .373 (MLB)
2008: .330 (MLB)
2007: .354 (MLB-84 ABs) and .341 (AAA)
2006: .371 (AA)

Votto has consistently hit the ball hard and I think his 21.7% line drive percentage (a component that the calculator considers) in 2009 is hurting his expected BABIP score from the calculator. In 2008 his line drive percentage was 25.2% and it was 26.1% in 84 big league at-bats in 2007. While the 2009 mark suggests that he hit fewer line drives I believe that natural scorers bias could also be coming into play here especially considering his high 2009 BABIP and very low 2009 line drive rate compared to his 2008 and 2007 (small sample size) rates.

Votto has flown under the radar and isn’t quite a household name because he plays on a bad team and is overshadowed by four big name first basemen in his division in Pujols, Fielder, Derek Lee, and Lance Berkman. I wouldn’t peg Votto to hit around .320 again with some normal and expected BABIP regression but he’s going to be a good power source and provide a nice batting average around or slightly above .300. The Bill James (.311/.397/.550) and Fans (.311/.398/.535) projections look quite fair for Votto and much more accurate than the BABIP calculator’s glum forecast.

Bill James is projecting a .344 BABIP in 2010 and you, The Fans, have his projected BABIP at .352. That sounds about right to be but I’d expect a home run total north of 30 for Votto in 2010 since he has no significant injury history and appears to be over his depression and anxiety issues. Expect more long balls if he appears in 150+ games especially in the homer friendly ballpark in Cincinnati.

Votto deserves more recognition than he’s been granted and he may be a candidate that could slide to you in rounds 6-8 of your fantasy drafts. You would be getting fantastic value with him there and don’t be afraid to pop him a little earlier if need be. It’s all systems go for Votto.

Proceed With Caution: OF Travis Snider

Travis Snider is one of the best high school bats from the 2006 draft and he’s risen awfully quickly through Toronto’s minor league system. Snider shot through three levels in 2008 and finished that season with the big league club. He wrapped up 2008 with a .301/.338/.466 line in 73 at-bats with the Jays. Not bad for a 20-year-old.

This led to some lofty expectations for the 21-year-old Snider in 2009. He started the season with the big league club and had a rocky 99 at-bats in April and May. Snider hit .242/.292/.394 with three home runs and struck out in 25% of his at-bats over that span. The Jays demoted Snider to the minors so he could hone up on his skills and get his bat on track.

Snider would spend the next three months with the Jays Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate. He would mash to the tune of .337/.431/.663 (27% strikeout rate) with 14 home runs over 175 at-bats. Snider played a nice hitters park and also experienced some renown hitters parks on the road but his home/road splits in Triple-A are negligible. He bashed at home (1.045 OPS) and did even better (1.123 OPS) on the road.

In the middle of August the Blue Jays summoned the hulking 6-foot and 235 pound Snider back up to the big leagues. Snider showed some improvement in the power department and over his final 142 at-bats he hit .239/.351/.437 with six home runs accompanied with a 37% strikeout rate. The strikeout rate is very alarming.

The lefthanded swinging Snider has plus power and projects to hit for average down the road but he’s always been prone to the strikeout and has struggled with lefties at the upper levels. After hitting a slender .233/.295/.310 in 116 AA and AAA at-bats versus lefties in 2008 (credit Baseball America’s 2009 Prospect Handbook for that fact) Snider improved in 2009 at Las Vegas. There he hit .396/.473/.667 in only 48 at-bats but his big league showing against them (.225/.333/.275) in 40 at-bats points towards much needed improvement albeit the small sample sizes.

2010 will be Snider’s 22-year-old season and he has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. Snider is going to be a corner stone during the Jays rebuilding project and it’s a given fact that he’s going to strike out a lot but his plus power is extremely tantalizing.

Snider should be allowed to develop at the big league level during the entire 2010 season. His troubles with lefties and alarming strikeout rate which steadily declined when he was recalled in August point towards growing pains in 2010. While he may be good for 20-25 big flies next season I foresee his strikeouts being a big issue and don’t expect him to hit any higher than .260-.270. The whiffs and his below average speed and thick lower half will lower his BABIP from the shockingly high minor league BABIPs he compiled.

Snider’s a big piece of Toronto’s future and I expect good production from him eventually but he’s got a lot of work to do in 2010 at the big league level. Keep him off your draft boards for now and try nabbing him off of the waiver wire during the season and ride out his hot streaks before the strikeouts cool him down.

Sleeper: Rays Pitcher Wade Davis

With the Red Sox and Yankees recently adding big names to their respective rotations other guys like Wade Davis tend to slip under the radar. Davis doesn’t have the name recognition of a John Lackey, Javy Vazquez, or even David Price but he’s pretty darn good. The Rays were confident enough in his abilities to have him take over for Scott Kazmir in the rotation after they traded Kazmir to the Angels.

Davis shined during his first six starts at the big league level. He had strong peripherals (8.92 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, 0.50 HR/9) which led to a 2.90 FIP. This suggests that his 3.72 ERA should have been better though his September 12 performance against the Red Sox (2.2 IP 8 ER) helps explain the bloated ERA. More good news from his big league line: His 62.5% strand rate looks a bit light and his .318 BABIP should be expected to regress.

I was fortunate enough to take in a few of Davis’ starts this past summer and came away impressed each time. During my Baseball America days one of my former colleagues and I closely charted Davis and the opposing pitcher. His broad shouldered build is impressive and he knows how to dial it up with his fastball. Davis’ curveball is a true plus pitch and has filthy break.

The Rays have a lot of rotation depth like the Yankees and Red Sox. But the Rays have younger depth that is spilling into the minor leagues and sparkling on the top prospect lists. As of today the Rays figure to open the season with a tentative rotation of James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and Wade Davis. Davis’ sparkling 2009 MLB debut should give the 24 year-old the upper hand for the last rotation spot. He’s slowly but steadily progressed through the Rays system and has no significant injury history. He’s also proven to be a workhorse during his minor league tenure. Here are his combined inning totals the past few seasons:

2009: 195
2008: 161
2007: 158
2006: 146

Davis has seen his inning totals increase every season and he’s had success at every level. He’s ready to be cut loose at the big league level and the Rays should be confident in his ability to provide 180+ innings at the big league level. While there may not be immediate pressure on Davis if he’s the teams fifth starter he better try avoiding any early big season slumps.

Andrew Friedman knows each win really counts in the American League East and if Davis struggles (his weaker points can be his command and consistency of his slider and change up) they have a few appetizing options that could slot in easily for him. Jeremy Hellickson (known for his lethal change up) is going to be pounding on the door at Triple-A Durham where he tore through hitters to wrap up his 2009 season with a 2.66 FIP in nine starts. And Andy Sonnastine is going to be hungry for another opportunity after an embarrassing 2009 showing (5.45 FIP in 100 IP) at the big league level although he showed signs of life (3.37 FIP in nine starts) after a demotion to Durham. Jake McGee cannot be forgotten as he’ll begin his first full season back from Tommy John surgery after tossing 30 innings (mostly in Double-A) during his recovery year. McGee could rocket through the system if he finds his pre-injury stuff.

I like Davis’ chances of nabbing 10-15 wins with an ERA south of 4.00 next season with the Rays. His home run per nine rate will rise from his 0.50 big league marker but Davis’ plus fastball and curve will allow his to earn plenty of strikeouts. A big key to Davis’ game will be his ability to harness his command and if he has it big league hitters better watch out because this guys going to be here to stay.

Davis has flown under the radar and closely monitor him when pitchers and catchers report in February. He has big upside and can be had later during your drafts especially with all the attention New York and Boston’s rotations are receiving.

Zeroing in On Ely

John Ely spent his first three professional seasons in the White Sox organization after they made him a third round pick in 2007 out of Miami (Ohio). The righthander is now part of the Dodgers organization after they netted him him in a deal for Juan Pierre. Luckily for Ely his new big league team plays in one of the games better run suppressing environments and the Dodgers also spend a fair amount of time in pitchers heaven, Petco Park. ESPN’s 2009 park factors has Dodger stadium at 0.857 (1.000 is average) which was the third best run suppressing environment in baseball last year.

Ely will still likely require more seasoning in the minors before reaching LA but he’s one to keep an eye for people in keeper and regular fantasy leagues.

I saw Ely pitch multiple times in the Carolina League during the 2008 season. Below is the scouting report I had on Ely:

“Has some max effort mechanics. But they create very good deception and they make it tough to pick up the ball out of his hand. Fastball ranges from 90-92 MPH. It should end up being at least an average MLB pitch. He’s got a plus-plus change up. He relies heavily on the pitch and it’s his bread and butter. His breaking ball needs a lot of work. It’s definitely his third pitch right now. If the breaking ball improves I could see Ely becoming a back of the rotation/swingman type guy. Plus makeup as well.”

I also suggested that Ely might be suited for bull pen work:

“The change up falls off the table and accompanied with an average fastball (there’s room for more growth if he can blow it up for an inning or two in the pen) he could become a middle reliever type. He’s one to watch.”

First off, I completely neglected to mention Ely’s plus-plus command which has been a key part of his success. He’s been successful at every level he’s been assigned to in the minors and has established a knack for keeping the ball on the ground. Ely has had a 51% groundball rate during each of his minor league seasons (according to It also appears that I tended to see Ely on his better days with the reported 90-92 fastball velocity. Ely’s velocity is reported to vary and here’s a snippet about that velocity in Baseball America’s 2009 Prospect Handbook: “Ely’s best pitch is a plus-plus changeup, and he does a nice job of setting it up with an 88-94 mph fastball with good movement“.

That’s a pretty big spread on velocity and it makes me wonder if Ely knows when to add or subtract a little from his fastball in order to make his change up that much harder to pick up…

Ely was very impressive last season in Double-A for the White Sox. He had solid peripherals across the board including a 7.20 K/9 rate, 2.88 BB/9 rate, and a 0.52 HR/9 rate which added up to a 3.33 FIP (the super low HR/9 immensely help his FIP). Stat Corner’s version of tRA really liked Ely last year and his tRA was 3.75 in a league where the starting pitcher’s average tRA was 4.59.

It’s fair to expect the home run rate to jump as he climbs the ladder next year and Ely’s strikeout rate has trended downward over the past three seasons. Below are his strikeout and walk rates as he’s advanced through the system:

2007 (Rookie–56 IP): 9.00 K/9, 2.25 BB/9
2008 (A+–145 IP): 8.30 K/9, 2.85 BB/9
2009: (AA–156 IP): 7.20 K/9, 2.88 BB/9

As he’s faced better competition he’s missed less bats while his impeccable control has remained similar. His strikeout rate has likely declined because he lacks a consistent third pitch and his out pitch is his plus-plus change up. Ely has also failed to pitch deep into his starts at the professional level. He’s extremely durable and has made 66 starts (and one relief appearance) over the past three seasons. Below are the average amount of innings pitched for Ely per start:

2007: 4.6
2008: 5.3
2009: 5.7

On the positive side Ely has pitched deeper into games as his career has progressed but he’s still failed to complete six innings on an average basis. Perhaps the White Sox organization keeps their minor leaguers on a strict pitch count or kept Ely on a strict one. Ely only eclipsed or passed the 100 pitch marker twice last season (and each time that he did he tossed 100 or 101 pitches).

In some regards Ely also reminds me of former Red Sox hero Keith Foulke. Foulke had great command (2.22 career BB/9) and his big out pitch was his change up though Ely throws a bit harder than Foulke did. Foulke’s fastball was typically about 86-87 mph. I do think Ely could have success in a major league bull pen but might be forced into a big league rotation as soon as next year.

Ely will likely begin the 2010 season in Triple-A for the Dodgers but could be pushed into big league action if the cash-strapped Dodgers struggle to establish the back end of their rotation. It would be key if Ely could make strides with his breaking ball and he’s going to face many doubters that think he can’t start without a consistent third offering. And if he fails he’ll likely get a shot as a reliever but his fantasy value would disappear unless he was closing.

But Ely’s had success without a consistent third pitch (accompanied with an above average ground ball rate) and pitching in Dodger stadium can only help him and may serve as a de facto third pitch in some regards.

Track his progress closely in spring training and pick him up now if he’s available in your keeper leagues. If he begins getting starts at the big league level I’d take a gamble on him and see what materializes. He’s had nothing but success thus far despite an abnormal plan of attack.

2010 Comeback Candidate: Mike Pelfrey

The Mets endured an unfortunate 2009 season where injuries to the team’s superstars severely hampered their season. The injury bug stayed away from former first round pick Mike Pelfrey as he logged 31 starts and 184 innings. But Pelfrey finished the year with a sore 5.03 ERA.

There’s reason for optimism when Pelfrey’s season is placed under the microscope but there also appears room for possible adjustments as well. Pelfrey will be 26 at the outset of the 2010 season and the Mets need Pelfrey to step up and become a force in the middle of the rotation especially after Oliver Perez’s disastrous 2009 season.

In 2008 Pelfrey logged 201 innings with a 3.72 ERA accompanied with a 4.93 K/9 rate, 2.87 BB/9 rate, and an insanely low 0.54 HR/9 rate. His shockingly low HR/9 rate helped aid him to a solid 3.96 FIP. There was natural reason to expect his home run rate to increase in 2010 and it did to 0.88 home runs allowed per nine innings. Pelfrey’s strikeout rate increased to 5.22 per nine but his BB/9 unfortunately swelled to 3.22. All of this added up to a 4.39 FIP.

Pelfrey’s FIP looks much better than his 5.03 ERA and fantasy owners should also expect his .321 BABIP to regress closer to the league average around .300. His 66.7% LOB rate should also move closer to the league average of 72% (his 2008 LOB was 74%). Pelfrey is known for his sinker and in 2009 51% of his balls hit in play were of the ground ball variety. In 2008 he had a 49% ground ball rate. Pelfrey received no help from his defense in 2009 but it figures to improve if the Mets regulars can stay healthy and on the field though the potential addition of Jason Bay in left field wouldn’t improve the teams UZR prospects. The Mets had the leagues second lowest UZR at an astounding -47.3. Interestingly enough the Mets were without a doubt the National League’s worst team with the leather as the Nationals had the second lowest mark in the NL at -26.7 which is over 20 runs better than the Mets. In 2008 the Mets had a 27.1 UZR as a team.

Despite striking out more hitters Pelfrey’s contact rate on pitches he threw outside the strike zone leaped from 68% in 2008 to 77 percent in 2009. The league average during both years was 62%. This is an interesting mystery and no definite answer may lay in the data. But his run values per pitch certainly stand out. In 2008 Pelfrey tore hitters up with his fastball and it resulted in 21.9 runs above average on the season. But in 2009 his fastball was worth -8.2 runs below average. Something happened with Pelfrey’s fastball in 2009. Hitters were definitely doing more with it when they saw it.

Pelfrey’s fastball velocity during both years remained nearly the same at 92-93 mph. But his Pitch F/X data reveals something about his fastball. While Pelfrey’s horizontal movement on the pitch remained nearly static (-7.7 X in 2008 and -7.9 X in 2009) his vertical movement on the pitch tells another story.

Here’s his vertical movement on his fastball over his first three years in the league:

2007 (only 99 pitches): 7.8 Z
2008: 7.4 Z
2009: 6.5 Z

Pelfrey’s sinker was diving about an inch more than it had been in years past. Pelfrey’s sinker has always been his bread and butter and during his last season of prospect eligibility before the 2007 season Baseball America ranked him number one in the Mets system and raved about the pitch in the scouting report: “There are few pitchers in the minors whose fastball can rival Pelfrey’s. His two-seamer sits at 92-95 mph with fierce sink and late life and rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

The difference is small and we are only talking about nearly an inch here between the difference of vertical movement on Pelfrey’s fastball from 2008 compared to 2009. Baseball is said to be a game of inches and an inch is often times the difference between a sky high pop up and a home run in this game.

Pelfrey’s sinker had a bit more sink and/or late life but it seemed to negatively affect him and he paid dearly according to the run values we have available per pitch. Why? That is what we are not exactly sure of and extra movement on a pitch typically helps a pitcher and enhances his repertoire. This extra bite hurt him and it could be statistical noise over the course of the season but hitters handled the pitch very well and did make contact with it at a great rate when it found its way outside of the strike zone.

Either way, Pelfrey should improve upon his 2009 showing next season with a little more help from his defense and a normal increase in his left on base rate. Pelfrey’s proven to be durable early in his career and his FIP vindicates his poor 2009 ERA. Pelfrey should be a good source of wins next season with the Mets having many injured regulars returning to the line up.

If you see reports about Pelfrey working on his mechanics or trying to alter his sinker to return to prior form as spring training approaches try to remember his poor 2009 run value on his fastball. Perhaps if Pelfrey goes back to his old ways he’ll see more improvement or if he sticks with what he was doing last year he’ll enjoy the extra strikeouts and rely on his defense to help him out a bit more. 2010 will tell us a lot about Mike Pelfrey and his sinker but label him as a sleeper for your drafts. He could be had towards the middle rounds and he would offer your team some intriguing upside.

2010 Projection: Ryan Doumit

Ryan Doumit’s battled a slew of injuries since he began his professional career with the Pirates as a second round pick in 1999. He was mentioned in each of Baseball America’s first prospect handbooks until he lost prospect eligibility in 2005.

In 2008 Doumit put it all together and appeared in a career high 116 games and registered 465 at-bats for the Pirates. He’s appeared exclusively as a catcher for the Bucs’ since 2008 began after spending some time at first base and the outfield.

Healthy and playing regularly in 2008 Doumit turned in one of the leagues finer lines from the catcher position. He hit .318/.357/.501 which is good for a .367 wOBA and a nifty 4.0 WAR score.

Encouraged by the results the Pirates locked up the 28 year old to a long term deal that guaranteed Doumit $11.5 million over three years before the 2009 season. The Pirates also hold a unique two year option for $15.5 over the 2012 and 2013 seasons that the club must decide to accept or decline after 2011.

Towards the end of April the injury bug bit Doumit again. This time he fractured his wrist in April after 45 at-bats. He returned from injury on July 19 after a dissapointing minor league rehab stint where he only registered two hits in 24 at-bats across two levels. This continued upon his return to the big leagues (he hit .246/.261/.431 in July and .176/.231/.329 in August over 150 at-bats) and some frustration began to mount for Doumit. After his agent cleared up some misconceptions early in September he took off and finished the season strong with a .346/.424/.481 showing in 81 September at-bats.

Despite his hot finish Doumit finished the year with a .250/.299/.414 line (.306 wOBA) in 75 games and 280 at-bats. The tricky wrist injury didn’t seem to help his production at all but Doumit should be reporting to spring training at full health. Doumit has generated some trade interest this off season and he has a relatively friendly contract but his value is down and the Pirates likely won’t sell on him at a severely discounted rate.

Doumit’s career year in 2008 was aided by a robust .338 BABIP. This helped pad his slash line and especially his batting average. His BABIP plummeted to .271 in 2009 and for his career Doumit has a slightly above average .307 BABIP. Doumit’s 2009 walk rate (6.7%) remained in line with his 2008 rate (5.1%) but he struck out more often in 2009 (17.5%) compared to a lesser 12.8% in 2008. Doumit had struck out in 20+% of his at-bats in each year with the big league club prior to his breakout 2008 so some of the regression we saw in 2009 shouldn’t be seen as stunning.

Although the classification of line drives can be tricky (per scorer in different ballparks) Doumit did see his line drive percentage slip to 17.9% in 2009 compared to 23.4% in 2008. This implies that he wasn’t hitting the ball as hard in 2009 as he did in 2008. For the first time in his career he struggled mightily with fastballs (-0.77 run value per 100 pitches) and breaking stuff (-2.62 run value per 100 pitches against sliders and -0.96 versus curve balls).

With the help of the expected BABIP calculator from The Hardball Times, we can get a clearer picture of Doumit’s expected BABIPs (XBABIP) based on his batted ball profile. Here are the XBABIPS for the past three years for Doumit:

2009 (280 at-bats): .314
2008 (431 at-bats): .314
2007 (251 at-bats): .320

Interestingly enough, Doumit’s XBABIPS for 2008 and 2009 are exactly the same despite the very different line drive percentages. If we apply the XBABIPS to each of Doumit’s slash stats over the past three seasons we end up with these revised triple slashes assuming that all hits added or subtracted were singles:

2009 (280 at-bats): .293/.342/.457
2008 (431 at-bats): .294/.333/.477
2007 (251 at-bats): .262/.329/.460

Interesting. It’s evident that Doumit underperformed in 2009 (and yes the injury likely played a role) but he over performed in 2008. The abnormally high BABIP helped him a lot in 2008 and with some regression over the past three seasons we get a better idea of where Doumit’s true skill set stands.

Doumit is entering his age 29 season and it appears that he will report to spring training healthy. Doumit has been anything but durable and healthy over his career but freak injuries like his wrist injury in 2009 could happen to any player.

I’d project Doumit to hit for a solid batting average and he’s going to get on base at an above average clip and also slug at an above average rate. The Bill James 2010 projection of .285/.341/.471 with 15 home runs seems very accurate. If Doumit stays on the field you could expect closer to 20 long balls.

Doumit is coming off of a down year and you’ll need to closely monitor his health but the systems are pointing at him to be a top ten catching option next season. He’s going to slip in drafts but don’t wait too long to take him. Gamble a little earlier around rounds six through nine. He has the potential to really be worth it and make a noticeable difference in your fantasy league.

Will the Real Jason Bartlett Please Stand Up?

Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett entered the 2009 season with a reputation as a good defender with plus speed and little to no home run power. He had the ability to hit for an above average batting average and could leg out some triples due to his plus speed. WAR had always treated him well due to his plus glove over the years but in his first year with the Rays his UZR declined to 2.1 runs above average. His WAR suffered to a below average 1.8 rating for the shortstop position and his .286/.329/.361 line (and well below average .311 wOBA) didn’t help his WAR prospects. He was entering the 2009 season as a 29 year old and people had a good idea what to expect from him.

And then Bartlett manages to hit an insane .320/.389/.490 with 14 home runs in 500 at-bats. Ironically, Bartlett’s glove (-5.5 UZR) hurt his value for the first time in his career but his hitting more than made up for it as he ranked fourth in WAR for MLB shortstops with a 4.8 number. Bartlett hit one home run during all of 2008 and he more than doubled his career home run total with his 2009 showing.

It’s fair to say that no one expected this kind of production from Bartlett entering 2009 just like many were blinded sided by the Ben Zobrist power surge. There’s been some work done to crack the Zobrist code and Bartlett has drawn some comparisons to the Zobrist surge. It’s extremely puzzling that Bartlett went from light hitting shortstop to a .490 slugging shortstop in one season.

Typically the media over speculates players that show up in “good” or “bad” shape during spring training but for what it’s worth Bartlett arrived at Rays sporting a bulkier frame that had 15 pounds added to it over the off season. Perhaps this could have negatively affected his defense as attributed to his -5.5 UZR but he still stole a career high 30 bases in 37 tries (81% success rate).

Upon further examination Bartlett whacked 11 of his 14 home runs away from Tropicana Field in 2009. And he hit much better on the road (.333/.405/.547) than he did at home (.305/.371/.425) but it should be noted that these splits show zero correlation to his 2008 home/road splits where he hit better at home. Bartlett seemed to enjoy the friendly confines of the new Yankee Stadium in 2009 where he slammed three of his fourteen homers.

The nifty Hit Tracker classifies each players home runs into certain bins. Eight of Bartlett’s home runs were labeled as “plenty home run” where the baseball comfortably left the ballpark. Six of his homers were classified as “Just Enoughers” which the Hit Tracker’s website defines as: “The ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.” Perhaps the baseball gods helped a few extra homers clear the fence for Bartlett but he did still hit eight long balls comfortably over the fence.

This could be a classic case of good player development at the big league level where Bartlett made some adjustments and truly did become a new player with an improved skill set. But we will not accept nor should you be expected to accept that for an answer here at Fangraphs!

Enter our favorite toy: The Hardball Times BABIP estimator. This calculator finds an estimated BABIP based upon a players rate of HR’s, K’s, SB’s, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and groundballs. Bartlett had a flukey looking .368 BABIP in 2009 that easily trumps his .330 career mark.

Bartlett’s 2009 line drive percentage was an astounding 26% which would have screamed that his 2009 BABIP wasn’t too out of line as recently as a few years ago before we had the calculator and used the now defunct .120 + LD% formula for expected BABIP. This line drive percentage increase indicates that Bartlett did indeed hit the ball harder in 2009 and the more line drives the better but we still have to consider the margin for error in the data. Defining a line drive can be subjective to different scorers and me and you.

After plugging the proper values into the calculator it gives us an expected BABIP of .337 for Bartlett. This changes a lot and based off of this we would expect Bartlett to have hit .279/.348/.449 which is a bit more normal than his .320/.389/.490 triple-slash in 2009.

I do believe in the human element in baseball and do believe in strong player development and that players do make adjustments as they advance in their careers just like we become better at our professions as we spend more years in a particular field of concentration. If you’ve spent ten years in a certain career I bet you feel that you’re a much better and more knowledgeable worker than you were five years ago. People make adjustments and do improve and Jason Bartlett can too. We must not forget that he is a human being.

In summary the numbers do suggest that Bartlett made some notable improvements to his game. His strong line drive percentage suggests that he’s hitting the ball harder. The Hit Tracker says he popped eight “plenty” home runs that easily sailed over the fence. Just those eight homers spike his slugging percentage much more than the one homer did just one year ago in 2008. And he also set a career high in stolen bases at 30. While Bartlett mashed much better away from home the sample size (200+ at-bats on the road and at home) is not enough to draw a convicting conclusion. Tom Tango would have harsh some words for me if I tried using splits of that size to indicate a change in skill.

Bartlett’s six “just enough” homers as defined by the Hit Tracker suggest that he may have hit a few lucky homers last season. The trusty BABIP calculator believes Bartlett should have hit for a collective .279/.348/.449 in 2009 and I believe that’s a much closer indication of his true skill level even if it isn’t the perfect forecast. And I’m mighty excited to see how you all project Bartlett in our 2010 Fan Projections.

Bartlett will be a good bet for around 25 steals next year and a solid source of batting average (.290-.300) and some power. It’d be safe to project ten home runs from him in 2009. Luckily for fantasy owners they are not responsible for projecting Bartlett’s defense which has slowly declined over the past three seasons according to UZR. UZR no longer sees him in the elite fielding category for shortstops like he was during his Minnesota days.

Jason Bartlett stunned a lot of people in 2009 but while it appears that he made some real adjustments to his game don’t think he’s the .389 wOBA hitter that he was in 2009. Fantasy players may be antsy to pop Bartlett early in your draft next year but don’t be the one to do so. You’ll be better off to select another safer shortstop option.

Shopping for Shoppach

Kelly Shoppach is a potential non tender or trade candidate this off season. But the soon-to-be 30 year old still does have value despite a disappointing 2009 season.

He’s destined for a raise after making nearly $2 million in 2009 and the Indians have a MLB ready catcher in Lou Marson whose waiting in the wings. And don’t forget about blue chip prospect Carlos Santana who will be banging on the MLB door after destroying Double-A pitching in 2009.

The former Baylor standout was the first college catcher selected in the 2001 draft by the Red Sox. They used their first available selection on him in the second round. He appeared on Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospect lists for a few seasons before being dealt away to Cleveland before 2006 in the Coco Crisp deal.

Shoppach spent time as Victor Martinez’s backup and when Martinez went down with injuries in 2008 Shoppach ran with the starting opportunity. He led all starting catchers in 2009 ISO (.256) in 353 at-bats. All in all he hit for a .370 wOBA but his .261/.348/.517 line was fueled by a .359 BABIP.

David G. successfully predicted a decline in Shoppach’s 2009 production. While Shoppach’s 2009 batting average plummeted to .214 he still reached base at an above average clip (.335) but his prestigious power that the hacktastic Shoppach previously featured vanished. In 89 games and 271 at-bats Shoppach slugged .399 with 12 home runs.

Shoppach was squeezed for playing time this season. Before some late season trades he was vying for playing time with Victor Martinez as the regular catcher and Ryan Garko at first base. Travis Hafner gobbled up DH time when his shoulder cooperated with him. Prior to the trades Shoppach would typically see playing time when Martinez played first base, Shoppach caught, and Garko hit the pine or saw time at designated hitter. Shoppach didn’t receive an ample opportunity to produce at the rate he did in 2008 until the trades of Garko and Martinez.

With the acquisition of Lou Marson (who also received a September call up and could start 2010 as the starting catcher) Shoppach doesn’t seem to fit in with the Indians. They already have another capable and cheaper back up in Wyatt Toregas. Marson and someone else (possibly Toregas) will likely keep the catching seat warm until Carlos Santana bursts onto the big league scene.

While Shoppach didn’t receive the best opportunity to replicate his 2008 showing he still presents value to other MLB clubs if the Indians do indeed decide to move on. Shoppach’s always been known as a strikeout prone (his strikeout rate is right up there with Jack Cust and Mark Reynolds at 36%) catcher with plus power and solid defense. Scouting reports usually treat Shoppach well in the defensive department. But for what its worth from a recent quantitative standpoint/analysis from new Fangraphs contributor Matt Klaassen AKA Devil_Fingers he was rated as a smidge below average in 2009 (#84 on the list and -1.5 totalruns).

While a throbbing .359 BABIP aided Shoppach’s stellar 2008 campaign a .286 BABIP cut into his 2009 slash stats. The average 2009 MLB hitters BABIP was .299 and that may lead you to believe that Shoppach’s 2009 BABIP normally regressed to the mean. But that is wrong. Shoppach’s consistently over performed the league average BABIP throughout his short career until 2009. Dating back to 2006 his BABIPS has been .286, .359, .357, and .387. It’s likely a fluke that this number remained so high in 2006 and 2007 despite just 110 and 161 at-bats.

This data tells us that Shoppach isn’t a .286 BABIP hitter and that number damaged his 2009 numbers heavily even though he walked and struck out at a similar rate to his 2008 season. The Hardball Times has the best BABIP estimator currently available and this trusty tool can paint a much better picture than raw BABIP. The new toy (and new Rotographs favorite) finds an estimated BABIP based upon his rate of HR’s, K’s, SB’s, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and groundballs. This tool gives us a .332 BABIP for Shoppach in 2009 and a .322 mark for him during his 2008 career year. This estimator suppresses his 2008 numbers but does not damage them as much as alternative methods suggest.

Over Shoppach’s career (right around 900 at-bats) The Hardball Times BABIP estimator has his estimated career BABIP at .327 so his 2009 expected BABIP of .332 doesn’t sound out of line at all. This represents a much more realistic BABIP skill for Shoppach. A .332 BABIP for Shoppach in 2009 would have given him a .260/.381/.445 line assuming that all of those extra hits were singles. It’s fair to assume that his power would have increased more than the normal player with a boosted BABIP due to his known knack to hit for power so this revised projection might be a little light on the power side. I’d personally suppress the batting average and OBP a bit while adding some to the slugging percentage. That gives you some nifty production from the catcher position that some team will have to find resourceful if Cleveland decides to cut ties with the arbitration eligible Shoppach.

It’s worth keeping a close eye on Shoppach’s situation this off season especially since he doesn’t appear to fit Cleveland’s plans very well. Wherever he lands the month of March will likely be key to his future. If Shoppach receives ample playing time he should be a cheap source of power from the catcher position and can be had extra late in your drafts or plucked off of the waiver wire due to his uninspiring, yet misleading, 2009 campaign.

Maybe Maybin? Yes.

The ultra toolsy Cameron Maybin has always had very high expectations. You really can’t blame them as the former 2005 first round draft picks first two MLB hits, including a home run, came as a 20 year old off of Roger Clemens in late 2007. He was also the key to the blockbuster deal that the Marlins and Tigers pulled off at the 2007 winter meetings when Miguel Cabrera was shipped off to Motown. Baseball America ranked Maybin as the number one prospect in the organization over the past three seasons (including 2007 in Detroit).

Maybin’s tools and athleticism have had fantasy owners eagerly awaiting on the sidelines until they translated into performance at the big league level. Maybin was given the opportunity to man center field for the Fish at the outset of 2009 and he struggled mightily in 84 at-bats in April and May. In those 84 at-bats he hit .202/.280/.310 and struck out at an ugly 37% clip. Strikeouts have been the one main concern about Maybin in the scouting reports.

He was demoted to Triple-A New Orleans in May and put everything together over the next 82 games and 298 at-bats despite playing with a partially torn labrum that bothered him over the second half of the season. In New Orleans Maybin raked to the tune of .319/.399/.463 which is good for a .387 wOBA. A .388 BABIP padded his slash stats but most importantly Maybin cut down on the strikeouts and only struck out 20% of the time in Triple-A.

These improvements earned him a September call up and he played regularly to close out the season with the big league team. Over 78 at-bats Maybin hit .282/.352/.487 with three home runs and he stayed away from strike three. Maybin’s strikeout rate over the month, though a small sample size, stuck at 23% in the big leagues and he walked nine times.

Maybin will be 23 years old when the 2010 season starts and he’s expected to be the Marlins starting center fielder on opening day barring something catastrophic. He recently underwent surgery on his labrum and is expected to be 100% this Spring. Maybin will be a sleeper on draft day and should be good for 15-20 steals and a good source of hits and batting average. Drafters will likely be hesitant to nab him due to his unappetizing overall 2009 big league stats but Maybin improved his strikeout rate and plate recognition over the course of last season. It’s all systems go for Maybin and he’s a giant sleeper that could be had late on draft day.