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April 19, 2007

Fantasy Focus

Incoming!

by Alex Carnevale

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Snapping that new player up off of the waiver wire is the internet equivalent of Ferris Bueller's leap homewards over a fence--it just feels that good. If you're gifted with the number one waiver priority in your league, when do you reveal your interest in a guy? Which players are worth waiting for? Which will likely spend a few more weeks in the minors?

Two PECOTA tools guide us through this pool of impact prospects. The first is Marginal Value Over Replacement Player (MORP), a metric that looks at how much a player will be worth to his team over a replacement-level player in a given year in dollars. Year-by-year breakdowns are available on the new PECOTA cards, but to give you some idea, Albert Pujols' Five-Year MORP is a staggering $153.6 million, while Barry Zito's marginal value for the next five years is much lower at $34 million. In reality, Pujols will be paid $79 million real money over the next five years from the Cardinals, while the Giants drop $80,000,000 on Barry Zito.)

The second tool is the Stars and Scrubs chart on every PECOTA player card. It displays the relative probabilities that a player of that profile can have an impact over time. For those of you who are visual learners, green is good.

(Note: outside of our first couple of major leaguers on this list, the arrival dates below are purely fictive, representing educated guesses.)

---

John Danks, LHP, White Sox. Arrival: Now.
Five-Year MORP: $12,950,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy? A hard-throwing lefty who broke Rangers prospect guru Jamey Newberg's Texas heart when he got shipped to the South Side this winter, Danks is already at the big league level, and he's a free agent in most leagues.

Chances That He Struggles Right Away: We already have results to look at, and it's not a stretch to say that Danks is one of the more reliable starters the White Sox have. Kenny Williams deserves credit for making the best deal for his team, and going young instead of standing pat. Danks will have to avoid injury, but for now, he can start in most leagues.

Do You Take Him?: While the consensus that Danks is the real thing is already growing, I'd avoid starts against the righty-heavy Tigers lineup. Better to try to buy low on him, as there's no pitcher in the American League who isn't going to have one of those six runs allowed games.

---

Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Brewers. Arrival: May 23.
Five-Year MORP: $35,775,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy? Gallardo is a right-hander from the Brewers' organization who has a lot of indicators going in the right direction. First off, he's already performing at what may be his ceiling. Second, he strikes people out, more than anybody else in the minors in 2006. Lastly, it's not going to be long before the league realizes the Brewers are a contending team, and a few extra games in May pitched by Gallardo may be the difference on the other end of a wild card race.

Chances That He Struggles Right Away: He's in the easier league. Gallardo strikes people out and rarely walks them. Control is often the last adjustment a prospect has to make at the major league level, where he has to throw strikes to pitch innings. He should be effective right away.

Do You Take Him?: If you have a hole in your rotation, it's going to be hard to say no. Due to his low name recognition (for now), Gallardo may not require you to sacrifice your waiver priority.

---

Billy Butler, OF, Royals. Arrival: May 27
Five-Year MORP: $53,950,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy?: Butler's a goofball slugger who in time might show off a bat that can star, even at DH. Kevin Goldstein has chronicled Butler's misadventures as he tries to find a position on a Royals team that needs an outfielder more than another DH.

Chances That He Struggles Right Away: The guy hit .430/.490/.756 against lefties as a 20-year old in Double-A. He's ready for the bigs right now as a role player, with better things to come.

Do You Take Him? He's not in line for enough playing time to be an impact fantasy player...yet. If you're the Royals, a .314/.417/.549 line gets tough to ignore while your team captain, Mike Sweeney, is managing .172/.242/.172.

---

Philip Hughes, RHP, Yankees. Arrival: July 24.
Five-Year MORP: $51,900,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy?: The recipient of more hype than the Sermon on the Mount, he may actually be better than that. (Did the Sermon have a plus fastball with plus command? I think not.) Hughes has a complete arsenal, is a heady guy, and has been lucky enough to avoid injury so far in his young career. He's also the player your leaguemates are most likely to already know all about.

Chances That He Struggles Right Away: While there's no doubt that Hughes' long-term future is as bright as anyone mentioned in this article, it's time to come down to earth a little. Hughes is very young, he doesn't feature an overpowering fastball, and although the Yankees have said about one billion times that they're going to be cautious with their young stud, he pitches for a manager whose idea of managing his pitching staff is, "I guess Proctor can go again today." Plus he's in the tougher league, in a tough division, and 11 hits allowed in 16 innings at Scranton doesn't exactly scream "Start me against the Red Sox now!" On the other hand, Mussina, Pavano, and Wang are all already on the DL.

Do You Take Him?: You have to bid on him, but if you are lucky enough to get him on your roster in a non-keeper league, shop the dickens out of him. For this season, his value may never be higher.

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Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds. Arrival: July 30.
Five-Year MORP: $25,125,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy?: Another well-known name, Bailey is the same age as Hughes, but makeup-wise, they couldn't be more different. Mr. Hughes is a total pro who impressed Yankee regulars in spring training. Mr. Bailey is a bit of a lunatic who puts fear into the hearts of keeper-league owners. He's already available in Yahoo! leagues for some reason, so he may drop soon if owners get impatient.

Chances That He Struggles Right Away: The Reds' hot start and frustration with a particular starter will give GM Wayne Krivsky every reason to pull the trigger he wouldn't coming down the stretch during last year's wild card race. His pure stuff may be better than Hughes', and if they can get him on the mound, makeup is overrated. Sure, Bailey admitted he's no Greg Maddux: "You always hear about the greatest pitchers being a student of the game. I'll be the first to say I'm not. But I will do whatever it takes to be the best at what I do, whether it's finding how to command a changeup or breaking ball, whether it's making the adjustments I have to make now to make sure I get my fastball over for strikes. I think that's the biggest thing--to say, 'This is what I need to work on; how do I get it done?' And doing it."

Do You Take Him?: He might have a better chance than Hughes of making an early impact at the big league level. He doesn't rank as high in keeper leagues, but fantasy is all about meaningful risks. Take the chance that he can put together some really impressive performances against the NL Central, but MORP correctly values him below some others in this group.

---

Brandon Wood, 3B, Angels. Arrival: August 10.
Five-Year MORP: $68,500,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy?: Playing third base for the Salt Lake Bees this season, Wood has big league power and made a name for himself with a 2005 season generously laden with extra-base hits. However, it was the ultimate translation season, as it looked incredible, but was "just" a very good season by a young, improving prospect:

2005  Raw Numbers   .321/.383/.672   51 doubles, 43 homers
2005  Translation   .271/.320/.531   .282 EqA

Chances He Struggles Right Away: He's going to strike out a lot at the big league level, so much so that it may not be an immediate upgrade over current third baseman Maicer Izturis in the Angels' contact-heavy approach. Wood's bat is good enough to hold down third, but the Angels won't rush him. As you can see from MORP, he's a valuable long-term commodity, and he's raking .293/.373/.534 for the Salt Lake City Bees at Triple-A. He would already be an upgrade on Shea Hillenbrand's career .265 EqA.

Do You Take Him?: The Angels' usual pattern has been to give their prospets a brief trial and send them down once more before they become regulars. Chone Figgins' health may be a key here, but even if Wood comes up, you may be able to nab him on the next surfacing. In fact, this yearly Angels prospect ritual may already be going into effect with Howie Kendrick's injury to his hand.

---

Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants. Arrival: August 22.
Five-Year MORP: $53,500,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy?: This year's rookie pitcher class can match up at least a little bit with last year's Papelbon/Liriano/Weaver trio, thanks to Lincecum/Bailey/Hughes. The latter three might have the better pure stuff, and Lincecum, the first-round selection of the Giants last year, is ready for the big show right now. He hasn't allowed a run in 18.2 innings at Triple-A this year.

Chances That He Struggles Right Away: There's no sense that Lincecum wouldn't excel in a reserve role right now. Armando Benitez appears to have his mojo working for the moment, but a power bullpen would distinguish the Giants in a winnable division.

Do You Take Him?: The Giants starting situation bears watching here. If they need a starter, Lincecum could be very valuable. If not, he might be relegated to a bullpen role, in which he'd be effective, but not as interesting for fantasy purposes. It's possible service-time concerns could hold him in the minors long after he has nothing to prove.

---

Joey Votto, 1B, Reds. Arrival: September callup
Five-Year MORP: $56,850,000
Stars and Scrubs Chart:

image 1

Who Is This Guy?: Without much fanfare, the left-handed Votto did whatever he did to sate the PECOTA gods, resulting in a forecast of 29 homers and a .284/.366/.511 line. Even if Votto is half of what he's cracked up to be, the difference between him and Scott Hatteberg is growing. Votto hasn't helped his case so far, but he keyed a sixth-inning rally on Saturday.

So Farů               2007           PECOTA's MLB forecast
Votto             .190/.346/.333     .284/.366/.511
Scott Hatteberg   .273/.368/.364     .285/.372/.416
Jeff Conine       .296/.345/.556     .268/.334/.401

Chances He Struggles Right Away: Christina Kahrl entered the Reds into the "might not be as bad as previously thought" category in Sunday's Transaction Analysis. If they stay competitive late, it could actually hurt Votto's chances of getting to the big leagues, as it will appear the current situation is working. An out-of-contention Reds team might be a better fit for both Votto and fantasy players. A campaign to get Votto in the lineup might work-we can only hope Al Sharpton has a weekend free.

Do You Take Him?: There won't be anything in his way from a keeper perspective, but like Hatteberg, Votto doesn't hit lefties; he managed only a .262/.357/.399 line against them in Double-A last season.

Alex Carnevale is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Alex by clicking here. You can also find his Football Outsiders work here.

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The Foreigners (04/19)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: The Lim... (04/12)
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