October 17, 2013
Looking Back: Endgame Sleepers
Welcome to the second installment of “Bret looks back on his favorite 2013 columns and grades himself.” Last week, I took a look at my 10 bold predictions based on April’s small samples, but today we’ll go even further back in the time machine.
My favorite column to write every year looks at my favorite endgame sleepers just as Spring Training is coming to a close. In the past I’ve stopped at 10, but this year I turned the dial all the way up to 20—putting the spotlight on players in leagues of varying depths.
As you can tell by the list below, it runs the gamut from very strong picks to almost laughable ones (okay, you can remove the almost in one or two choice examples). And as a reminder, any players who were either in the top-250 in ADP or had such late spring helium that they were almost certain to go in that space during your upcoming draft, were not eligible—which is why I couldn’t include two of my biggest loves, Alex Cobb, and Shelby Miller, in anything other than the introduction.
Enough with the niceties, on to the continued judgment:
12-Team Mixed Leagues
Edwin Jackson, SP, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 273)
- What I Said: “It hasn’t been a straight line, but E-Jax has moved his strikeout rate in the right direction ever since hitting the big leagues, with his 21.3 percent mark in 2012 setting a career high. He also has not posted either a FIP or an xFIP of 4.00 or higher since 2009. He may never ‘break out,’ but he doesn’t need to in order to return value at this price.”
- What Happened: Well, he didn’t post a FIP or xFIP higher than 4.00 this season, but that didn’t stop him from laying waste to fantasy teams in stretches. However, being a true Edwin Jackson apologist, I’ll be right back in there buying again next season. Just try and stop me.
- Grade: C-
Jeff Keppinger, 3B, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 286)
- What I Said: “Keppinger’s utility is based on his two most useful skills: batting average and eligibility…He’s the classic last-starter/first-guy-off-the-bench type that you can use to cover different positions and know that your overall numbers won’t suffer.”
- What Happened: Turns out that safe batting average wasn’t so safe, and Keppinger found himself on the waiver wire in just about every mixed league by mid-May (his slash line after 130 at-bats this season was an incredulous .177/.174/.192).
- Grade: F
Adam Lind, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 299)
- What I Said: “The sailing hasn’t exactly been smooth for him since his breakout 2009 season, when he hit .305/.370/.562 with 35 homers and 114 RBI; however, he has still averaged more than 27 homers per 150 games over the last four seasons.”
- What Happened: .288 and 23 homers wasn’t too shabby for someone who snuck into the top-300 in the preseason by a hair. Lind ended up the season as a top-150 overall player.
- Grade: B
Chris Tillman, SP, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 318)
- What I Said: “Tillman hadn’t been very good for the previous three seasons, but thanks in part to a 2.9 mph jump in fastball velocity, he was the Orioles’ best pitcher in the second half. There’s likely some regression coming from his 2012 performance, but he has the potential to move the needle on his underlying stats to avoid some of that backslide and be a top-50 pitcher in 2013.”
- What Happened: The right-hander kept most of his gain in velocity, dipping back from an average fastball velocity of 93.0 to 92.3 MPH. But he did bump up his strikeout rate and won 16 games on the way to being an easy top-50 pitcher.
- Grade: A-
Jaime Garcia, SP, St Louis Cardinals (ADP: 321)
- What I Said: “Garcia has the holy trinity of pitching skills I like to see: above-average strikeout, walk, and ground-ball rates. His FIP has also improved in each of the past three seasons, to a career low 2.97 in 2012. And, as far as the shoulder goes, in 12-to-14-team mixed leagues, it’s really not that big of a deal. If he gets hurt, there will always be pitching on the wire.”
- What Happened: Garcia was his usual solid self for just over 55 innings before requiring shoulder surgery in May. And like I said, there was certainly pitching available on the wire.
- Grade: C+
Andy Dirks, OF, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 325)
- What I Said: “There’s really no reason that Dirks should be going 75 picks later than David Murphy; they’re basically the same guy. PECOTA projects him to hit .277 with 13 homers and 13 steals, and that seems attainable for the 27-year-old, who should also get plenty of opportunities for counting stats in one of the best lineups in the American League.”
- What Happened: Well, he did outperform David Murphy. That counts for something, right?
- Grade: C
Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 328)
- What I Said: “It’s almost a shame that he’s pitching so well, because he is a perfect post-hype prospect candidate—a player who has lost some luster on prospect lists, but still is very young and full of upside…12 wins, a 3.75 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, and around a 7.0 K/9 is possible.
- What Happened: Even with the spring hype, Teheran still managed to provide serious value—finishing the season as a top-25 pitcher. He significantly outperformed all four of the numbers I said were possible.
- Grade: A
16-Team Mixed Leagues
Erasmo Ramirez, SP, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 361)
- What I Said: “Ramirez is sort of the opposite of Teheran, in that his lack of a rotation spot and unimpressive numbers this spring will likely cause him to fall further than this ADP suggests. Then again, with Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer the most likely candidates for the last two spots in Seattle’s rotation, Ramirez will get his chance in time.”
- What Happened: He did get his chance, but it took way too long and Ramirez gave up too many homers when it did happen. One of my most personally disappointing calls of the year.
- Grade: C-
Felix Doubront, SP, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 369)
- What I Said: “If you’ve built a nice ratio base to your pitching staff, Doubront is one of the last strikeout pitchers available in drafts… if you’re going to take an endgame flier on a pitcher, why not do it on someone who also underperformed his xFIP by more than a run (4.86 ERA, 3.81 xFIP).”
- What Happened: With 11 wins and 139 strikeouts in just 162 1/3 innings, Doubront gave a solid return to those who invested in him. And it could have been better, as he underperformed his 3.78 FIP by more than a half a run.
- Grade: B
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 391)
- What I Said: “I went into Donaldson in more detail back in mid-February here, but essentially, I think he can carry forward the adjustments he made in his third stint in the majors last year, when he hit .290/.356/.489 with eight homers, 26 RBI, 29 runs scored, and three steals in just 194 plate appearances. Don’t be surprised if Donaldson is this year’s Todd Frazier.”
- What Happened: Consider those adjustments carried forward. Donaldson hit .301/.384/.499 with 24 homers, 93 RBI and 89 runs on his way to receiving what is likely to be a lot of MVP votes. He was more Jose Bautista than Todd Frazier.
- Grade: A+
Joe Blanton, SP, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 400)
- What I Said: “I know, it’s Joe Blanton, but he’s going to a better park with a great outfield defense, and his underlying skills are solid. You could do a lot worse around the 400th pick.”
- What Happened:
Ted Lilly, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 426)
- What I Said: “People seem to have forgotten about Lilly, but you shouldn’t… his dip in strikeout rate (5.7 K/9) from last season appears to be a fluke, given that his velocity and swinging-strike rate both stayed constant from the 2011 season, when he had a 7.4 K/9.”
- What Happened: On the bright side, Lilly did bring his K/9 back up above 7.0 this season. Unfortunately he threw just 23 poor innings sandwiched between two injuries.
- Grade: D
Derek Norris, C, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 450)
- What I Said: “Norris has the potential to hit 20-plus homers and steal 10-plus bases if he’s given 450 at-bats, and while he’s not likely to get that many, he should get enough to be plenty valuable as a second catcher.”
- What Happened: If you take what Norris did in 2013 and project it out over 450 at-bats, he’d have 15 homers and nine steals. Not quite what I predicted, but still good enough to earn $8 in AL-only formats.
- Grade: B-
Patrick Corbin, SP/RP, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 468)
- What I Said: “Corbin, who has outgunned Tyler Skaggs for the fifth starter job in the desert, is solid from a skills perspective. Last season, he had a 3.4 K:BB, mostly as a starting pitcher, but gave up a few too many hits and home runs, en route to a 4.54 ERA. However, a 4.00 ERA and seven strikeouts per nine innings are possible with Corbin, if he’s given the opportunity.”
- What Happened: Turns out I was under on both of those numbers, as Corbin finished the season with a 3.41 ERA and 7.7 K/9. Oh well, better luck next time, Bret.
- Grade: A
AL-Only Format, Reserve Picks
Zach Britton, SP, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 584)
- What I Said: “Britton may start the season in Triple-A, but any time a pitcher can post a ground-ball rate above 60 percent and a strikeout rate close to 20 percent, I’m very interested in taking a flier.”
- What Happened: I will never give up on Britton, but 18 strikeouts and 17 walks in 40 innings isn’t going to keep him in the majors for long.
- Grade: D
Martin Perez, SP, Texas Rangers (ADP: 614)
- What I Said: “Perez is essentially Teheran without the hype and 300 players deeper in ADP. I still like his chances of finding a spot in the Rangers rotation by June, and although there are plenty of knocks against him, he still possesses the stuff to succeed in that role.”
- What Happened: He found that spot in the Rangers rotation in June and with a sub-4.00 ERA, 10 wins and 86 strikeouts, he had a huge return on his ADP, earning $9. All that for someone who wasn’t even drafted in the reserve round of AL Tout Wars.
- Grade: A-
Cody Allen, RP, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 855)
- What I Said: “A deep, deep endgame pick, Allen is (at best) third in line for saves in Cleveland… Regardless, he’s a guy to keep an eye on, as he could return some value just from potential strikeouts and ERA.”
- What Happened: A 2.43 ERA and 88 strikeouts later, Allen did exactly that. And he even picked up two saves for good measure—making him an $11 earner in AL-only formats.
- Grade: A
NL-Only Format, Reserve Picks
Mark Rogers, SP, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 522)
- What I Said: “Rogers is probably seventh on the depth chart right now, behind Wily Peralta, but keep in mind that this isn’t another Michael Fiers: Rogers was the fifth-overall pick in the 2004 draft and has been delayed by a slew of injuries.”
- What Happened: Shoulder fatigue kept Rogers from throwing a pitch at the major league level in 2013.
- Grade: Incomplete
Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants (ADP: 669)
- What I Said: “He’s nowhere near the prospect, or stolen-base threat, that Billy Hamilton is, but an extra 400 picks later, you can grab another potential mid-season call up who could steal 20-25 bases in relatively limited time.”
- What Happened: Brown did steal 17 bases… for Triple-A Fresno in 137 games. While getting caught 11 times. I’ll show myself out.
- Grade: F
Jeff Locke, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 683)
- What I Said: “He’s not a high-upside pitcher, but being a southpaw who gets to pitch half his games in PNC Park has its advantages. With 34 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 34 1/3 innings last season, he has shown the ability to succeed at the major-league level, and at this stage of drafts, we’re really just looking for a pulse with a job.”
- What Happened: Locke had a monster first half (eight wins, 2.15 ERA and 73 strikeouts) before succumbing to the regression monster that had been on his tail since Opening Day. Still, he had a job and a pulse and he got lucky—if you drafted him, you sure did as well. Nine dollars worth of lucky.
- Grade: A
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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