The Ups and Downs of Playing Time in the Off-Season

Going with your gut and not seeking or using evidence to support your view is a time honoured tradition in baseball, so I’m just going to go ahead and declare this the busiest off-season of transactions ever. If a player’s fantasy value is some product of talent and opportunity then with every move value is increasing and decreasing as potential playing time changes. Figuring out what off-season moves mean for the playing time of the affected players is one of the best ways to find hidden value, but you have to watch out for fool’s gold.

Let’s take a look at a few players whose 2014 value is changing as a result of moves their teams have made this off-season.

Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis

I had a great exchange on twitter recently with Craig and Bret about Adams, in which I asked if they would take Patrick Corbin for him in a trade. They had differing views, but both emphasized the same thing – Adams role appears to be changing positively, but it is not locked in. The Cards let Carlos Beltran leave for the Yankees, which will allow them to deploy Allen Craig in RF, opening up first base for Adams. We know about his power, Adams hit 17 homers in 296 at-bats in 2013 and with power is increasingly at a premium people are bound to get excited about how many more he would launch with another couple hundred times at the plate.

What’s the risk? I think that there are two legitimate causes for concern. First, über-prospect Oscar Taveras is going to be looking to get back on track in 2014 and presumably will be pushing to get in the Cardinals’ outfield sometime next summer, if he stays healthy. That could push Craig back to first base if Adams has not managed to seize it for good. Could he fail to do so? I think this raises the second area of concern, which is that Adams has shown some platoon-split issues in the majors. While he improved his OPS against lefties by .214 points from 2012 to 2013 (.440 vs. .654), and those were both in extremely small samples (20 and 52 AB respectively), the gap between his 2013 OPS versus lefties (.654) and righties (.876) had an even more pronounced gap (.222). I’m still buying on Adams (and would, and tried to, trade Corbin for him), but I’m not going to pencil him in for 35 bombs just yet.

Tyler Skaggs, SP, Anaheim

Remember when Arizona’s farm system was the envy of almost every other club because they had such depth of starting pitching with high-end ceilings? Guys like Archie Bradley, Trevor Bauer, and Tyler Skaggs? Well they still have Bradley, so you know, bully for them. Alex wrote about Skaggs, the other day and pointed out that Skaggs is returning to Anaheim where he was drafted, but coming off a down year that saw him struggle with his velocity and commend his prospect star is a bit tarnished.

Skaggs threw 104 innings at AAA Reno where he posted a 4.59 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, and ratios of 9.26 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, and a 0.43 HR/9. In 38.7 innings in the majors he was worse (5.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 8.38 K/9, 3.49 BB/9, 1.63 HR/9) in several spot starts.

It is worth noting three things about Skaggs: first, the velocity and command issues seem to stem from a mechanical issue that was noticeable as far back as spring training 2013 (Keith Law ESPN Insider article). Second, when you look more closely at his performance at AAA, 2013 start to look a little fluky. Skaggs both walked and struck out more batters in his second stint at the level than in 2012. He saw his BABIP rise .63 to .369 and strand rate drop 11 percentage points to 67.6%. The upshot is that Skaggs’ FIP at AAA actually went down in 2013 to 3.07 from 3.45 in 2012. Third, in Anaheim, he may be on a clearer path to the majors because after Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the competition is not exactly going to blow your hair back.

It is a little worrying that the DBacks could notice Skaggs’ mechanical issue, but not fix it, but maybe his original club can. If so, I think Skaggs will be an upside bargain in some leagues.

Corey Dickerson, OF, Colorado

In my first TDG post I proposed that Dickerson could find himself the beneficiary of Todd Helton’s imminent retirement if it opened up an outfield spot for competition. The Rockies have remade themselves so thoroughly that Dickerson’s opportunity looked briefly brighter only to fade again as more moves were made.

First, Helton did in fact retire, which briefly opened the possibility of Michael Cuddyer moving to first base. Then the Rockies signed Justin Morneau effectively closing off that route. Then the Rockies surprised many people by dealing Dexter Fowler to Houston, which meant Carlos Gonzalez would probably man centerfield and open up a competition between Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon. But just today, the Rockies dealt Josh Outman to Cleveland for Drew Stubbs, which once again clouds the picture.

Dickerson slashed .263/.313/.459 in 213 plate appearances with 5 homers and 23 extra-base hits. I think that Dickerson will be able to hit in the majors. In 1647 minor league plate appearances, he has hit .321/.379/.601 and he has an age advantage over both Blackmon (3 years younger) and Stubbs (5 years younger). If he has the chance to compete with the two of them for the job in spring training he might well win it, but until it is clear if he has the chance his value has been called into question.

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Noel Baldwin

Noel Baldwin

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