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June 9, 2011

Resident Fantasy Genius

Too Soon to Count Out

by Derek Carty

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Judging by the comments, you guys seemed to enjoy “Too Soon to Count Out” last week, so I thought I’d bring it back again this week to look at a couple more players who are underperforming but may have better days ahead.

Shin-Soo Choo | CLE | OF: Choo has been a disappointment to fantasy owners this year, but he’s a guy I’m not overly concerned about. He has been bad, but he hasn’t been Dan Uggla bad. For one thing, he’s in line to steal just as many bases as he usually does.

The biggest problem with Choo is his uncharacteristically low .241 batting average; he has hit over .300 in the past three seasons. This is due in large part to a .300 BABIP, which may not sound bad at first, but is low compared to his career average of .353. Additionally, his 26.9 percent strikeout rate is well above his 21.5 percent rate from last season. His power is also down; he’s hitting a home run every 32 contacted balls compared to one every 21 contacted balls for his career.

This may seem like a lot of problems to expect a full rebound from, but I think it’s a legitimate possibility for Choo. First, his batted-ball rates are all in line with his career norms, and he’s still hitting his home runs as far as he did last year, including one opposite-field shot already. He’s not hitting as many as far this year, but at least we can see that his raw power hasn’t eluded him. This is a much better sign than if he were hitting his homers 20 feet shorter than in the past.

2011

2010

He’s hitting them a little more to center instead of to right as he usually does, but I’m not too concerned about this since his distribution among all contacted balls has been normal:

Field

2011

2008-2010

Pull

44%

42%

Center

31%

34%

Opposite

25%

25%

This bodes well for a power bounceback, something that will also aid his batting average. On the subject of his average, I initially noted that he’s striking out more than he did last season, and while that’s true, last year he experienced a large improvement in strikeout rate. This year, he’s just a little worse than his career rate; remember, he had a career .297 average coming into the year.

That just leaves the BABIP. The good news here is that BABIP is the most unstable of the three stats we’ve looked at and is most likely to be a function of random fluctuation. Initially, I thought that the low BABIP might have been a result of him pressing, as he says he has been doing in an attempt to play well in the face of his recent DUI. It’s possible that he is, but hearing this news, I expected to find that he’d been swinging at more pitches, specifically out of the zone. He’s not, though:

Year

OOZ Swing%

Swing%

2008

24%

45%

2009

22%

45%

2010

27%

45%

2011

25%

44%

He is taking a first-pitch strike 58.8 percent of the time (56.2 percent career), so that might be a result of the supposed DUI-related pressing.

His xBABIP is .337, though xBABIP rarely awards a player with a mark at the career .353 rate Choo’s actual BABIP sits at. Last year, his xBABIP was a nearly identical .341. Additionally, his 22 percent line-drive rate is in line with his career rate. I’m not big on using line-drive rate to analyze BABIP because of how much variation there is in it (more than there is in BABIP itself), but it’s at least good to see that it hasn’t plummeted, which would portend a potential problem (alliteration accidental).

While there’s no guarantee that the BABIP bounces back, if I’m going to gamble on a struggling player, Choo is the kind of guy I want it to be. His power and speed don’t seem to be much of a worry, and he’s striking out about the same as he has for his career. That leaves BABIP as the main concern, and with his xBABIP in line with the past and his swing rates showing that he doesn’t appear to be pressing, that’s a gamble I’m willing to take if he comes at a discount.

Tim Stauffer | SDP | SP: OK, maybe it’s a little ridiculous to say “don’t count out” a guy with a 3.58 ERA, but Stauffer is a slightly different case because he has a mere two wins so far this year, picking up the second just this week after he managed to throw a shutout to compensate for the complete lack of offensive support he has received.

On the year, Stauffer has received just 3.5 runs of support per game he has started, but that’s a bit skewed by the game the Pads managed to score 13 runs (which did little good since it happened to be synced up to Stauffer’s worst outing of the year, earned run-wise). If you exclude that start, he has received just 2.75 runs of support while the Padres have been scoring 3.42 runs per game on average. Additionally, whenever Stauffer pitches a gem, the Padres offense seems to disappear entirely or only reappear once he has left the game. In the eight starts he has allowed two or fewer runs, Stauffer has only received two wins despite the Padres winning six of those games.

While his win total doesn’t reflect it, Stauffer has been very good this year. He’s handling the move to the rotation exceptionally well, mixing terrific control with above-average strikeout numbers and a lot of ground balls, culminating in a 3.50 SIERA.

Stauffer throws a 90-91 mph two-seam fastball about half the time, which may not generate a lot of swings-and-misses, but it does get him a lot of ground balls. His punchouts come from his three above-average secondary pitches (change-slider-curve) that he works very well off his fastball. While PECOTA’s 50th percentile projection is a 4.09 ERA for Stauffer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him maintain a mid-3s ERA.

Circling back to Stauffer’s win potential, let’s use Bill James’s Pythagorean Theorem to see how many wins we should expect of Stauffer going forward. As our inputs, we’ll use Stauffer’s SIERA (translated to an RA scale) and IP/GS, the Padres bullpen’s RA, and the Padres offense’s R/G. Plugging these variables in, we see that in games Stauffer pitches, the Padres should win 53 percent of the time. Of those wins, we can approximate that Stauffer should receive a W in 69 percent of them.* That would put Stauffer on a pace of 12 wins per 32 starts, more than double his current pace of five wins per 32 starts.

*To arrive at this number, I looked at all games since 2000 where a pitcher threw between 5 1/3 and 6 2/3 innings (Stauffer has averaged six innings per start this year) and his team won the game to see how often the starter got the W.

 Simply put, Stauffer has been very good himself but unlucky with his run support this year. That should even itself out going forward, and despite his team’s offense being the worst in the league, he should still win his fair share of games and have value in all but the shallowest leagues. 

Related Content:  Tim Stauffer

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