September 27, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
Ending the season on a high note, Value Picks looks at some of the biggest surprises of 2010—are they one-season flukes or players to watch in 2011?
Some surprises are familiar to VP readers, like Gaby Sanchez, who’s earned $23 above his 2010 Graphical Player projection, despite a late-season fade. Sanchez’s 82% MLB contact rate compares to his minor-league 86%, the former hurt by strikeout rates over 20% in the last two months. This, plus a 9 BB% that isn’t quite as good as his minor-league 12%, have kept his BA and OBP strong.
Sanchez doesn’t deliver power, as seen in his .485 SLG and .183 ISO in the minors—respectable, but low for a power position. A 9.2% HR/FB ratio and 46 FB% this year, in line with his minor-league rates, show his 2010 power production was on target. Sanchez may yet develop power, but at 27, don’t expect any huge surge. His age and relatively low ceiling makes him less surprising, and less valuable, in 2011 and beyond.
Exceeding his GP 2011 expectations by $20, Aubrey Huff nonetheless seems like a bigger surprise than Sanchez. A change in leagues and scenery foreshadowed change, but his .315 TAv and slash line shattered PECOTA’s 90th percentile and fooled everyone, who saw only his failure to follow up 2008 with a solid 2009.
Huff’s 2009 came from career lows in BABIP (.260) and ground-ball rate (48.1%), with second-worsts in 9.1% HR/FB and 15.5 LD%. In 2010, Huff’s performance in all of these categories returned to, or exceeded, his normal levels. Leaving the AL East’s strong lefty staffs may have helped him reach a career-high OPS of .881 vs. LHP. Huff hit .321/.407/.537 on the road, but he also seemed well-suited for AT&T Park, where his .264/.354/.483 line was bolstered by 4 triples in “Triples Alley” and 12 HRs that all sailed over the short right-field wall. With performance levels as good as they’ll ever get and 2008 in the rear-view mirror, Huff will be overvalued on 2011 draft day.
Vladimir Guererro’s $16 rise in value is the most among DHs, but Andruw Jones’ $11 rise is more interesting, since most of us figured Jones was finished after he hit .207/.304/.393 in the past three years. Instead, he blew through his 90th PECOTA percentile for a .288 TAv he hasn’t approached since his Braves days. Jones’ 14 BB% and 22 K% in 2010 are almost identical to 2009, while his .235 BABIP rebounded nicely from last season’s career-worst .221, but the real difference comes from his plate approach.
He swung at 42.4% of pitches, fewer than ever, driven by a career-low 62.5% swings at strikes. Jones seems to be waiting for his pitch, a notion supported by career highs in contact rate, both on strikes (84.1%) and overall (76.2%), and a 9.8% swinging-strike rate that’s miles below his career 13.3%. The results haven’t been great, however, showing weaker supporting numbers, despite his best BA and OPS since 2006. His 10.9 LD% were the worst in his career (17.4% average), while his 45.5 FB% is among his worst—not a good sign for a guy whose value derives from his power. He turned 21.6% of fly balls into home runs, but 12 of the 19 came at home, so his 2011 value depends on where he'll play. This, plus his increasingly fragile health, means you should bid cautiously, though his improving batting eye might bring a few bucks.
Adrian Beltre leads Third-Base Surprises Not Named Jose Bautista (whom Rob McQuown will cover in his OF column) with a return that’s $22 above expectations. Many people figured Beltre would rebound, coming off 2009 injuries and escaping Safeco for cozy Fenway. His 2010 performance comes less from the latter, however—his .326/.371/.588 road line exceeded his .314/.329/.521 performance in Boston. It helped that he played more in NL East parks, where he hits well, and less in NL West parks, where he doesn’t.
Along with good health, Beltre’s 2010 came from a best-ever 87% contact rate, a .330 BABIP, and a 14.0% HR rate not seen since his insane 23.3%, 48-HR 2004. More interesting, however, is how Beltre fished in Boston: his 40% swing rate at pitches outside the zone and 73.7% contact rate on those pitches (both career highs) came because of the career-low 44.7% of strikes he saw. If it seems puzzling for pitchers to work around him in Boston more than Seattle, look at the players hitting behind Beltre: Hermida (.203/.257/.348), J.D. Drew (.260/.347/.452), and Mike Lowell (.224/.297/.337) “protected” him a collective 89 times. Beltre’s ability to make contact with those balls while remaining productive suggests that his abilities remain intact and strong. He could do better in 2011 if he sees more strikes, but expect some slippage in his peripheral rates, so bid for strong, if slightly diminished, production.
The same can’t be said for $15 surprise Chris Johnson, who’s done little to show that he’ll continue to deliver like this. He hit .329/.362/.570 in his second season at Triple-A Round Rock before his callup, out of character from a player whose overall minor-league line is .277/.315/.429. His 26% strikeout rate this year is higher than his 19% average in the minors, and only a crazy .402 BABIP has kept his BA as high as it has been—his low 5% walk rate was also consistent with his minor-league rate. He improved to an 18 K% this season in Round Rock, so he may also improve in 2011, but when his BABIP returns to more expected levels, his walk rates come to roost, and pitchers learn his tendencies, he’s going to look more like the kid in the minors. While there’s some value here and third-base talent can be scarce, let someone else overpay for Johnson’s career year in 2010. Sometimes, when something’s too good to be true, it is.
Thanks for a great first season at BP, writing for the sharpest readers on the web—I look forward to another season of Value Picks in 2011!