September 20, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
As the end of the season approaches, Value Picks looks at 2010 fantasy disappointments—all will be cheap next season, but will they be bargains?
Adam Lind leads the DH disappointments by producing $12 less than expected, following up his 2009 breakthrough season with a .250 TAv well below his 10th PECOTA percentile. Lind’s season can be partly explained by a horrible May and June, which has diluted his .263/.311/.502 second half. Two things unify his season, however, explaining his low BA: an increased strikeout rate and a sudden drop in his effectiveness against lefties. His 23 K% in 2010 rose sharply from his 17% standard in the past two seasons, looking more like his lackluster 2007. And Lind hit .257/.306/.410 against LHP before 2010, but that plummeted to .119/.162/.187 this season, due to setbacks in contact rate and plate discipline. Identical 6.1 BB% and 27.5 K% against lefties in ’08 and ’09 fell to 3.5 BB% and 38.8 K% this year. Similar, less dramatic slippage in both rates against RHP combined to drag down Lind’s overall numbers. Lind’s strong post-ASB performance portends well, but keep his long-term streakiness in mind when bidding next year.
Chris Davis’ up-and-down 2009 season ended with a late-season adjustment, leading BP 2010 to say, “all systems should be go for a big 2010,” but 2010 turned out to be a lot like 2009. After hitting .188/.264/.292 in April, Davis went to Triple-A, where he hit .354/.403/.555, earning a promotion after the Smoak trade. His .189/.267/.245 thereafter forced Jorge Cantu’s arrival and Davis’ return to the Redbirds, where he hit .288/.370/.510 in August, leading to his third recall, now as a reserve.
An overall 31% strikeout rate in the majors and 27% in the minors makes his low BA unsurprising, but he failed to go yard in 116 MLB PAs, producing a .078 ISO that would embarrass a reserve shortstop. His 40.3% GB rate and 1.07 GB/FB ratio pave a poor path to power, and pitchers are exploiting his inability to hit fastballs. Fangraphs shows him dropping from a -1.13 wFB/C in 2009 to -1.25 in 2010, as opposing hurlers pump more heaters at him, at rates rising steadily from 55.3% in 2008 to 62.3% in 2010. Nobody wants a power hitter who can’t hit a fastball and who puts the ball on the ground, making Davis look like one of those Quadruple-A hitters who should head to Japan’s breaking-ball-heavy NPB. Wherever he lands, he’s someone to avoid until he shows more MLB consistency.
Nothing indicated the Chicago Cubs’ 2010 collapse more than Derrek Lee’s .267 TAv and .157 ISO, his worst since age 23. After being traded, he’s been even less productive with Atlanta (.259/.364/.376) than with the Cubs (.251/.335/.416), ruling out ballpark and clubhouse effects. Instead, back problems paint part of the picture, and his diminishing discipline fills in the rest.
Each year since 2004, Lee’s swung more at pitches outside the zone, rising from 14.7% to 23%. His contact rate on those pitches has simultaneously improved from 43.6% in 2005 to 65.7% this year, but he won’t find consistent hits outside the zone. In addition, his swing plane shifted in 2010, producing a 38 FB% that’s more like 2008’s 34% than 2009’s 46%. Further suppressing his power, his FB/HR rate this season equals 2008’s 11.7%, not 2009’s 17.9% spike. A healthy back in 2011 and adjustment of his .299 BABIP should mean a moderate rebound, but 2009’s .321 TAv looks like an anomaly. After returning just $14 against a $24 forecast, he’ll be much cheaper in next year’s draft, and could be worth a small gamble.
Mark Reynolds and Pablo Sandoval, two third-base letdowns who lost $8 from their Graphical Player 2010 projections, suffered from elevated expectations and reversals of fortune. Most analysts figured they’d continue to rise after great 2009 seasons, but they fell hard instead. Only PECOTA came close to predicting either, as Reynolds’ current .274 TAv beats his 50th percentile, even if his slash line falls closer to his 40th.
BABIP and HR rates, which helped him in 2009, have hurt Reynolds in 2010. His elevated .338 BABIP in 2009 fell to a lackluster .264 in 2010, and it wasn’t surprising to see this season’s 20.6% HR/FB fall between 2008’s 18.2% and 2009's 26%. With a fly ball rate trending upwards (this season’s 55% is a career-high), those missed homers turn into even more outs. Otherwise, Reynolds’ 2010 plate approach has been the same or better. His 65% contact rate is consistent with his 67% and 66% rates the past two seasons, while his career-best 14 BB% is a nice boost from last year’s 11%. But the more he walks, the fewer ABs he has, and the more each out affects his BA. Inevitable BABIP and HR% fluctuations add to this, making years like 2010 more expected, even if everyone but PECOTA failed to see it. Bid on a 2011 bounceback, not a return to 2009.
Pablo Sandoval’s decline was equally expected, though far more dramatic. Like Reynolds, Sandoval takes mighty hacks, but his excellent 87% contact rate this season is identical to 2009, just as his 7% walk rate is only a bit below 2009’s 8%. But even PECOTA didn’t see a BABIP plunge of 63 points, nor his current .259 TAv. Sandoval’s HR rate also fell from 14% in 2009 to below 7% this year, which can’t be blamed on his cavernous home park, as nearly 10% of his flies left AT&T Park, while 4% left opponents’ yards, a complete reversal of 2009’s home/road splits.
Instead of writing 2010 off entirely to luck, look at how pitchers handle Sandoval. He’s seen only 38% of pitches inside the zone, worst in baseball and lower than last year’s 40.5%, suggesting pitchers are exploiting his hacktastic tendencies. In response, he’s showing a reverse selectivity, swinging at 3% more balls and offering at 5% fewer strikes than in 2009. This suggests a player who’s lost at the plate, a common ailment among sophomores, particularly those who skipped a level like Sandoval. Like Reynolds and Lee, Sandoval’s 2011 likely sits between the extremes of 2009 and 2010. Although a disappointment, he could turn into a relative bargain come draft day.