Here are three players with low ownership rates who could pay immediate dividends in fantasy leagues:
Brad Penny, St. Louis Cardinals (owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues)
Penny’s 2008 season was wrecked by shoulder problems, and in 2009 he posted rates of 5.66 K/9, 2.65 BB/9 and a 4.56 expected FIP (xFIP) between Boston and San Francisco. His actual ERA was three-tenths of a run higher, due mostly to a lower-than-usual rate of stranding base runners (67.1 percent in ’09, compared to a 71.1% career average). Happily, his fastball velocity returned to the 94 MPH range, after sitting at 92 MPH in 2008. Penny inked a one-year, $7.5 million deal with St. Louis back in December.
In his first start for the Cardinals on April 8th, Penny pitched seven strong innings against the Reds. He allowed one run and six hits, striking out four and walking two. Penny induced 13 groundball outs, compared to four of the fly ball variety.
We shouldn’t try to glean too much from one start, but Penny seemed to be pitching differently. For most of his career, the burly right-hander has reared back and fired four-seam fastballs nearly 70 percent of the time. Against the Reds, however, Penny often threw a high-80’s pitch with plenty of sinking and tailing action. His Pitch F/X page classifies most of them as changeups, but the pitch was thrown harder and had more drop than Penny’s typical changeups.
They sure look like sinkers to me, and that jives with this spring training report that Penny was working with Duncan to develop a sinker. Keep an eye on Penny’s pitch selection the next time he toes the rubber.
Kelly Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks (16%)
Johnson’s 2009 campaign with the Braves looks terrible on the surface. He hit .224/.303/.389 in 346 plate appearances, losing his second base job to Martin Prado. By September, Johnson was relegated to pinch-hit duty and official odds-maker on Bobby Cox’s next ejection.
However, the new D-Back didn’t really slip from his 2008 level of play. Johnson walked in 8.5 percent of his PA in ’08, and 9.2 percent in ’09. He whiffed 20.7 percent in ’08, and 17.8 percent in ’09. Johnson’s ISO was slightly higher in 2009 (.165, compared to .159 in ’08). The major difference in his line was a plummeting BABIP: Johnson got hits on balls put in play 34 percent of the time in 2008, but just 24.7 percent in 2009.
That .247 BABIP is bound to rise this season: his career mark is .310, and all of the projection systems call for a BABIP between .310 and .318. Johnson figures to hit something closer to his career .265/.347/.434 triple-slash in 2010, and he could top that considering Chase Field’s accommodating dimensions for hitters. He’s well worth owning in NL-only leagues, and isn’t a bad option in deep mixed leagues, either.
Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds (27%)
Just how good of a hitter Stubbs will be in the long term remains up for debate. The 25 year-old authored a career .269/.364/.401 line in the minors, including a .268/.353/.360 showing last year at Triple-A Louisville. The former Longhorn has a good eye at the plate (11.9 percent walk rate in the minors). But his power (.132 ISO) and contact skills (27.2 K%) elicit mild projections from CHONE (.251/.328/.380) and ZiPS (.235/.305/.348).
While Stubbs might never be a top-shelf batter, he could be plenty useful in fantasy leagues if he gets on base at a decent clip. That’s because the 6-4, 205 pound center fielder can fly. Stubbs swiped 46 bags in 54 attempts in Triple-A last season (an 85 percent success rate), and his career minor league stolen base success rate is 77.1 percent. NL-only players searching for SBs should give Stubbs a spin.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.