What To Do About Lance Lynn

It’s a story as old as time. A young pitcher, for whom expectations are relatively low, is given a rotation spot to start the season and he runs with it. He pitches well through the first month or two of the season, but you hold him because no one is offering you close to the value you think he’ll return over the rest of the season. He starts to struggle a bit and you worry the league is catching up to him. You think about dealing him for less than you still think he’s worth because he’s “your guy”. You hang on to him and he gets a second wind. The trade offers get a little better, but still not enough. Then he hits a wall and you’re left wondering how to value him going forward.

We could be talking about Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija or a handful of others here — but for today, it’s Lance Lynn of the St Louis Cardinals. The main problem about establishing the proper value for any of these types of players is that on some level, we already thought we knew who they were. Lance Lynn was a very helpful bullpen piece for the 2011 Cardinals in his 34 2/3 IP — so much so that they brought him back after he was recovered from his oblique strain to pitch meaningful innings in the NLCS and the World Series. We knew he was going to get a chance to start while Chris Carpenter was on the shelf (at the time that was only supposed to be a month or two) and then he would shift back to the bullpen and be a set-up guy. We also now know that it didn’t play out like that.

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Potential September Call-Ups: The Shelby Miller Edition

The first round of the 2009 draft did has seen a number of pitchers in the big leagues already – including both college and prep arms. In fact, of the 11 pitchers picked and signed in the first 18 picks of that draft, 7 of them are currently in the majors. However, the second best of the entire bunch (behind Strasburg, of course) may be close to making his major league debut. Shelby Miller was drafted by the Cardinals with the 19th overall pick and even though he’s not Mike Trout (taken 6 spots later by the Angels), who is?

The scouting report on Miller is exactly what you’ve grown to expect from a hard throwing Texan. His fastball sits in the 92-95 range, touching some 6’s and 7’s, with movement. His best off-speed pitch is a power curve which he often throws in the low-80’s and is a legit big league out pitch. On top of that, he’s developed his change-up into an average pitch and it can flash above-average. He’s still working on developing his command and control (which are not poor right now by any means), but he’s athletic enough that the profile projects him to be at least above-average here. Plus, he’s worked his way through the minors rather quickly — 2012 is his age-21 season, as Miller does not turn 22 until October.

Much more after the jump…

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Rebuilding a Dynasty League Roster, Part 2: Establishing Your Time Horizon

With dynasty leagues, along with pretty much everything else in life, the biggest successes come when you are realistic about both how and when you go about it.  In this respect, you really have to operate like a major league front office.  When an MLB team in the rebuilding phase views their future, they will look at it through the lens of their time horizon.  That means they are establishing a target date in the future in which the goals they have been building towards become feasible.

Take the Kansas City Royals as an example.  Dayton Moore has been fortifying their farm system for a few years now, and they are starting to see the fruits of that labor with bats like Hosmer and Moustakas already having shown promise at the major league level.  These players are likely to be free agents after the 2017 season, and the Royals know that they may not be able to keep them beyond their arbitration years.  So what they appear to be doing is focusing on ways they can give themselves the best chance of winning during the time period from 2014-2017.  You can see this in a few different ways.  This is part of the reason why they were focused on getting a college SP with their first round draft pick.  You can also see this in the financial flexibility they’ve given themselves as a franchise – I believe Sal Perez is now the only player who is under contract for the Royals in the 2014 season.  This will make it easier for them to take on salary in trades and sign complementary pieces over the next two seasons.  It’s all a part of the process.

Much more on this after the jump…

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It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Casey Kelly!

One of the best athletes available in the 2008 draft, Casey Kelly was taken as the 30th pick overall by the Boston Red Sox. He fell further in the draft than he should have because he had a strong commitment to the University of Tennessee, where he had a scholarship to be a quarterback for the football team. The Red Sox drafted Kelly as a pitcher, but he publicly said he wanted to be a shortstop (some teams saw him as a 1st round talent as a SS as well). So what they did for the 2009 season was have Kelly pitch until he hit his innings limit and then play SS. Turns out, even Kelly agreed with the Red Sox’s assessment once the season was over — he had a 2.08 ERA and a 74-15 K/BB ratio in 95 IP before hitting .222/.302/.340 with 3 HR in 182 PA. After an aggressive assignment to Double-A at the start of 2010, Kelly struggled to put up numbers equivalent to his talent, even though scouting reports remained positive and he was young for the league.

In the winter of 2010, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, but 2011 yielded similar results to the previous year. Coming into the 2012 season, Kelly’s prospect shine was starting to wear off as scouts expected better than his middling results. However, 2012 saw a different Casey Kelly. Both his stuff and command were sharper in spring training, where he put up a 1.74 ERA with an 18-2 K/BB ratio in 20 2/3 IP. He took this into Triple-A, where he had 14 K and 0 BB in 2 starts before going on the DL with inflammation in his right elbow. In July, Kelly picked up right where he left off. All in all, Kelly has struck out 57 batters and walked only 5 in 56 1/3 IP between spring training, Triple-A, the AZL and Double-A. Now, Monday, he is being summoned to make his major league debut against the Braves in San Diego. Let’s see what we can expect from Kelly.

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What To Do About Ike Davis

I promise this series will not all be about first basemen who are not living up to the potential we’ve graced them with, but this particular player was suggested by a reader and there’s certainly enough here to make for an interesting piece.

Still only 25 years old, Ike Davis was considered by many to be an overdraft when he was taken 18th overall in the 2008 draft out of Arizona State, and he did nothing his first professional season to quiet those doubters – hitting exactly zero HR in his first 239 plate appearances. Power was supposed to be a big part of his game, so even his supporters were a bit surprised. However, in 2009, Davis hit nearly .300 and powered out 20 HR across two levels (High-A and Double-A). After a very brief stint in Triple-A to start 2010, Davis was called up on April 19th and did not look back, hitting .264 with 19 HR in his rookie season. His 2011 season looked like it was going to be a breakout for him, but after just 36 games of hitting .302/.383/.543, an ankle injury sidelined him and eventually ended his season. This led to him being a trendy sleeper for 2012, but this season has been more negatives than positives thus far.

In spring training, Davis was diagnosed with Valley Fever – otherwise known as “that thing that made Conor Jackson terrible at baseball”. While the Mets downplayed the seriousness of it (medically, it can be either not a big deal or a really big deal), the more Davis slumped in April, the more questions came up about it. To be fair, the Mets and Davis never changed their stance on this – and did not blame the slump on the Valley Fever. But we just don’t know. At the end of May, Davis was hitting .170 with 5 HR, 21 RBI and 49 K’s in 171 PA and hearing calls for him to be demoted to Triple-A.

But since June 1, Davis is hitting .254/.326/.525 with 17 HR, 47 RBI and 63 K’s in 273 PA – and those calls have clearly quieted down. The most interesting thing about Davis’ season is that essentially been a 7-10 split on his PECOTA projections coming into the season. And, yea I just dropped a bowling metaphor. Right now, his .221 batting average is less than his 10% weighted mean projection of .224, while his projected HR total of 27 is higher than his 90% weighted mean projection of 26. So while that’s interesting and all, the important question going forward is what does this mean we should expect out of him next year.

To answer that question, let’s dig a little deeper into his numbers. First of all, a .247 BABIP in 2012 jumps out at you – especially compared to his .321 and .344 numbers from 2010 and 2011. Now I’m not the type to look at this and scream that it’s all luck and regression is coming, though I do think that’s a part of it. Interestingly, Davis has a career high line drive rate of 21.9% (above the MLB average of 20.9%), but he’s only hitting .578 on those line drives and that’s over 100 points lower than league average. All in all, I don’t believe he’s a .330 BABIP player like his career average coming into the season was, but he should settle somewhere between .280 and .300. On the other end of the spectrum, he also is unlikely to carry a HR/FB rate of over 21% going forward. The fences being moved in at Citi Field have probably helped a little, but he’s also averaged over 400 feet on his 2012 HRs and only three of them would have been HRs in fewer than 20 MLB ballparks. So his power is legit, but probably not quite this legit (which would be nearly 40 bombs over 600 PA). The other thing to watch with Davis, are his lefty/righty splits, as in his career, he’s got an 835 v RHP and a 647 OPS v LHP. If you’re in a daily league and can sit him against above replacement-level LHP while he still struggles in this arena, you can extract even more value from him.

If Davis continues to demonstrate he is the player he’s been outside of April/May 2012, he could be a nice sleeper for 2013 and trade target in dynasty leagues. So, while he’s unlikely to be a star (and will probably never be a top-5 fantasy 1B), there’s nothing wrong with a player who should be able to hit .260-.270 with 25-30 HR as soon as 2013 and even has a little upside left in the tank as he enters his prime. This season he’s been the 30th ranked 1B on the ESPN Player Rater, but right now Corey Hart is 11th while hitting .270 with 23 HR and good counting stats (73 R/66 RBI). Ike can do this (albeit with more RBI than R), and if he’s being valued outside the top-15 1B next year, he could provide a nice return on your investment.

If Loving Brett Anderson is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right

Last night, Brett Anderson started a major league game for the first time in 14 months and 16 days. We know the background — Anderson saw Tommy John surgery interrupt a burgeoning career at the age of 23 in June of 2011. I watched most of this game last night, as I really wanted to see how Anderson was going to look in his return. The results were overwhelmingly positive as he threw 7 IP allowing only 1 ER, 4 H (none of the extra-base persuasion) and striking out 4. Yes, it was a very good match-up against the Twins in Oakland, but there were two additional things about his start which were extremely important.

You know the old adage that control is the last thing come back after a pitcher undergoes Tommy John surgery. Anderson looks like he’s going to try to be the exception to this rule. In his career, Anderson has had a very stingy walk rate of 2.2 BB/9 in his career — and last night he not only had no walks, but he threw 62 of his 86 pitches for strikes against the Twins. This is good for the obvious reason, but also with Anderson likely being monitored pretty carefully from a pitch count perspective for the rest of this season, this type of control will allow him to go deeper into games, potentially increasing his chances of getting wins. If he had only made it through 5 innings last night, he would not have gotten the win — but going 7 got it done.

The other aspect to last night’s start which was amazing is that Anderson faced 22 hitters (yes, 22 — he had a triple play turned behind him and he picked off Josh Willingham) and he allowed ZERO fly balls. Anderson has always been a ground ball pitcher, but this kind of ratio is insane. Could it be partially due to pitch selection? It’s clearly a small sample, but Anderson relied more heavily on his 2-seamer and curveball than he historically has, while easing off his 4-seamer and his slider. Could be something interesting to keep an eye on as he finishes out this season.

Anderson is a guy I’ve been stashing everywhere this season because I love his skill set. If you’ve seen my stuff at Roto Hardball and Fake Teams, you’ve seen me talk about the holy trinity of pitching and Anderson fits the bill with a career 7.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 54% ground ball rate. This means he can limit the downside risk while he’s on the mound. Yes, he will also be helped by pitching half his games in the cavernous Coliseum, but not nearly in the same way as a fly ball machine like Tommy Milone. You should feel confident starting Anderson the rest of the way both at home and on the road — starting Monday in Cleveland. If he’s unowned in your league, no matter the size, go grab him. Now.

Rebuilding a Dynasty League Roster, Part 1: Setting the Table

Dynasty leagues are the ultimate form of fantasy baseball.  A dynasty league championship is not just the culmination of a great draft or a great year; it’s the culmination of a successful process which spans across seasons.  It’s the closest you can get to being an actual GM without leaving your couch.  The depth of your knowledge will be tested, proportionally with the depth of your league.  If you play in a format with 10+ man minor league rosters, you’ll need to know what’s happening all over the map – from the top prospects knocking on the door, like Dylan Bundy and Oscar Taveras, to the emerging prospects who may be those guys next year, like Xander Bogaerts and Jose Fernandez.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, the gateway drug. Before you know it, you’re obsessively checking short season box scores.

If you’ve made it to this sentence, you’re either ready to speak my language or you are already well-versed.  So no more wasting time, let’s get to the task at hand.  Rebuilding a dynasty league roster is not a challenge for the faint of heart – it requires knowledge, organization and patience. But on top of that, it requires the ability to step back and determine what course of action you need to take in order to be competitive. The most difficult decision a dynasty league owner can make is whether or not it is necessary to rebuild in order to compete in future years. To look at a team that you put together and say “OK, this hasn’t worked out like I had planned and I need to blow it up and start again” is tough to do and some owners hold onto hope for too long, delaying their rebound to contention. This is usually a much easier decision if you are taking over a neglected team (which you did not build) in an existing league.

Much more on this after the jump…

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Potential September Call-Ups: The Wily Peralta Edition

The Background: Wily Peralta is a big-bodied RHP in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2005 when he was 16. Peralta’s journey through the minors has been a slow process, but his upside has always been there. With four pitches — a four-seam fastball that can hit the mid-90’s, a low-90’s sinker, an above-average slider (his best out pitch) and a middle-of-the-road change — he’s had the repertoire to start, but had not showed the consistency necessary to take the next step forward until 2011.

This spring saw Peralta’s value at that highest it’s ever been. He had just put together his best minor league season, capped off with a late season promotion to Triple-A and an ensuing 5 start stretch where he went 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 40 K in 31 IP. He came into the 2012 season as the consensus top prospect in the Brewers farm system — which is still impressive despite its overall lack of quality. Additionally, Peralta was ranked #46 on my Top 100 Dynasty Prospects list (published over at Fake Teams). However, this year has not gone as smoothly as both Peralta and the Brewers were hoping.

When you look at Peralta’s season stats at Triple-A, you don’t get blown away. He’s 6-10 with a 4.75 ERA, 1.61 WHIP and 128 K in 130 1/3 IP. Yea, the strikeout rate is nice and it is the PCL, but you’re not paying that much attention to him. However, you should be. What you don’t see in the stat line is that Peralta was called up to the majors in mid-April for three days to serve as the long man in the Brewers bullpen and got into a serious funk upon his return to Triple-A. In fact, in the 8 starts following that brief promotion, he had a 9.00 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 17% K-rate and 1.2 K/BB rate. To put it lightly, that’s terrible. But the remaining 17 starts he’s had in 2012 tell a very different story:

5-4 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 24.6% K-rate (97 in 92 2/3 IP) and 2.4 K/9 rate.

That looks a lot more like the Wily Peralta scouts have been dreaming on for years. His WHIP will never be exquisite, as he’ll never have a low walk rate, but he’s a strikeout guy — don’t get too greedy. What’s also encouraging is that 2012 was the second season in a row where Peralta has put up a ground ball rate above 50%. That will certainly help once he arrives at Miller Park.

The fact is, you never know what can set a player into a slump. Maybe Peralta was thrown out of his rhythm by the promotion to the Brewers bullpen and subsequent demotion. Maybe he was just bummed out by being back at Triple-A. It happens — these guys are human, not a collection of statistics. In my mind, the run Peralta has been on since the start of June says he still has the same chance today as he did prior to the season of becoming what he’s had the talent to become — an innings-eating #3 starter who can put up some solid K numbers (~8.0 K/9). Throw the fact that he’s essentially major-league ready on top of that, and you get a very valuable dynasty league asset.

Don’t be surprised to see Peralta get a few starts down the stretch for the Brewers, as he’s already on the 40-man roster and they may want him to get a few starts under his belt before he competes for a rotation spot in the spring. And don’t let the overall stat line fool you — he’s still the guy we thought he was.

How Early Can You Spot a Pop-Up Prospect?

Every year, there are a few guys who start the year well down their own organization’s top prospects lists, only to end it comfortably in experts’ Top 100 lists — and they usually fall into two different categories. First, there are the players who have tools, but just have not put the performance together. And when I say this, I’m not talking about your elite level toolshed players like Bubba Starling and Aaron Hicks, I’m talking about that next level down. The second group are the guys who we thought we had pegged, but were wrong. For example, maybe it’s a command/control pitcher who jumps up a grade or two in velocity. Or a hitter who was thought to have 40-45 power and is now hitting bombs left and right.

This brings us to the important question here. How do we spot these guys before our league mates do? To do this, you need to first get stats and then get context. When looking for stats to tell me who some possible pop-up prospects are, I’m looking more closely at certain leagues and certain stat categories. Now by no means is this an exact science, but the two minor league levels most likely to provide a pop-up prospect are Double-A and Low-A. This usually happens because, excluding the jump from AAA to the Majors, the moves from short-season ball to Low-A and from High-A to Double-A are generally regarded as the most daunting in the minor leagues. This fact causes the trajectory of these players’ stocks to go higher. As far as stats go, I’m looking most closely at strikeout rate for pitchers and total bases for hitters. Obviously those aren’t the only ones I’m looking at, but they are often a good place to start.

The context first comes from checking the player’s age. If it’s a 24 year old in Low-A, I’m not very interested. If it’s a 22 year old in Double-A, now I’m a lot more interested. Then comes the qualitative information from writers who cover minor league baseball – guys like Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law at ESPN, any of the guys at Baseball America (especially Ben Badler for international guys). There are plenty more good ones, but I’m not going to list all of them out here. You’re looking for first-hand reports – something substantial. Maybe a velocity spike, a mechanical change or just a change in approach. Anything to give substance to what you’re seeing on the stat pages.

If you keep an eye on these things as the minor league season starts, and have roster spots to burn, you can jump the gun on these pop-up guys. And for some examples, let’s check out what you would have seen in April 2012:

Alen Hanson (Low-A, Age 19) – .410/.441/.695, 4 HR, 10 SB, 73 TB

@BenBadler on 4/15/12: Pirates SS Alen Hanson with another home run today in Low-A. That’s 4 HR in 11 games. Had 4 HR in 123 career games coming into 2012 #sleeper

Tyler Austin (Low-A, Age 20) – .345/.383/.828, 9 HR, 3 SB, 72 TB

Kevin Goldstein on Tyler Austin, 4/16/12: He has nowhere near the tools of some of his Riverdog prospect brethren, but the bat stands out, and is very much for real.

Dan Straily (Double-A, Age 23) – 28 IP, 35 K, 9 BB, 3.21 ERA, 24 hits, 1 HR

Gregory Polanco (Low-A, Age 20) – .286/.343/.495, 5 HR, 10 SB, 45 TB

Happy Lucas Giolito Day, Everyone!

There have been many 2012 first round draft picks to make their professional debuts already — in fact, I’m willing to bet we’ve seen at least 80% of the draftees play in their first professional game. But today is that day for one of the most talked about draftees, California high school RHP Lucas Giolito. In fact, as I’m typing this right now, he’s probably warming up in the bullpen for the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League affiliate.

For those of you unfamiliar with his story, Giolito is a prototypical power pitcher (listed at 6’6", 225 pounds) with a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s (and occasionally can touch triple-digits) with a plus curveball and a developing change-up (stop me if you’ve heard that one before). He had a legitimate chance to become the first high school right-hander to go 1st overall in the draft. Unfortunately, that trajectory came to a halt very early in the spring when he was sidelined with an elbow injury — a strain of his UCL to be more specific. Giolito did not return to pitch again before the draft, which exacerbated the uncertainty around where he would go. But the Nationals took a chance with the 16th overall pick that they could get him signed away from his UCLA commitment, and nabbed him for just a bonus just under $3mm. He’s been throwing off a mound for the past few weeks, recently to live hitters, and now the Nats finally get to see him in game action.

So when you’re checking out 2012 draftees for your minor league draft in the spring, don’t just look at the draft slots and assume that tells the story of Giolito’s potential value. He is the pitcher from the 2012 draft with the highest ceiling — and the only guy who scouts throw the "potential ace" tag on. If his elbow is healthy (and that picture will become slightly more clear as he pitches in GCL games), he should be towards the top of your wishlist this off-season. And yes, I will have my version of that wishlist for you when the minor league season is over.