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December 7, 2007

Fantasy Beat

Winter Meetings Wrapup

by Marc Normandin

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With the one blockbuster deal between the Marlins and Tigers and a slew of smaller signings and trades, there is plenty for the fantasy owner to consider from this year's Winter Meetings, whether they are in a keeper league or just trying to get a head start on their draft or auction.

Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis were both expected to be dealt sooner rather than later by the cost-conscious Marlins, and the Tigers picked up both in exchange for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, along with a few other minor leaguers. Kevin Goldstein covered each of the six prospects earlier, but now we'll take a look at the trade from a fantasy perspective.

Maybin gives the Marlins a credible center fielder, something they have lacked for the last few seasons. Of course, Maybin had his own struggles last season when pressed into action, as he hit just .143/.208/.265 in 53 major league at-bats while striking out 43 percent of the time. Combine the strikeouts with the fact that he managed just a single line drive, and it's easy to see why his batting line was so poor.

In Maybin's defense, he has all of 69 at-bats above High-A, and he'll begin his age-21 season in 2008. The Marlins could stick him in Triple-A to begin the year, but chances are good he'll be in the Opening Day lineup patrolling center. In the National League, this might not be such a bad thing; NL rookies have performed at a higher level than AL rookies during the 2000s, although whether that's a reflection on the leagues or the rookies isn't crystal clear. However, from 2000-2007, the average VORPr--"Runs/game contributed beyond what a replacement level player would produce," according to the BP glossary--for a National League rookie (150 minimum plate appearances) was .087, whereas it was .037 in the AL. The difference has been even more pronounced the past two seasons, with the NL posting figures of .130 and .109 versus the AL's .045 and .025.

The quality of minor leaguers for NL teams isn't significantly different than their AL counterparts, so what is causing this difference in VORPr? The National League is widely known to be the weaker of the two leagues right now, and that gap in talent can potentially be viewed through the success of each circuit's respective rookie classes. The NL rookies on average adjust to the major leagues with a higher level of success than AL rookies have the past few seasons; add to it that the NL is loaded with more hitter-friendly parks than the AL, and all of a sudden you know which league to look at when it comes time to pick up some rookies for your squad.

If Maybin can reel in some of his free-swinging tendencies, there's a good chance that he may perform above expectations. Starting pitcher Andrew Miller may not have the same sort of luck though, as NL rookie pitchers--as measured by VORP/PA--have not met with success in the majors the same way their positional counterparts have. In fact, the AL has matched or exceeded the NL's VORP/PA each season from 2000 to 2007. This may be due to the adjustments within VORP that level out the playing field--i.e., AL pitchers face tougher opponents than NL pitchers--but as stated earlier, it isn't as if the National League is without its own hitters or parks designed for them.

Miller's problems have more to do with his lofty walk and homer rates; if he isn't able to lower those appreciably, he is going to struggle this year, less powerful league or not. Miller is a far riskier pick than Maybin for fantasy owners, and his QERA of 5.01 does not alleviate any of my fears regarding his short-term future performance. He has all the right stuff to turn himself into a frontline pitcher, but he'll need to show that he can actually do it before you can invest too much faith in him, in real life or in fantasy.

Kazuo Matsui's three-year deal with the Astros was finalized this past weekend, which means that Houston is really committed to paying him to replace the outs Craig Biggio will no longer be making. Matsui essentially hit a $16.5 million grand slam against Kyle Lohse in the Division Series, because his regular season performance offers few positives. Matsui's overall line is a product of Coors Field--humidor or not, it's still far and away the friendliest hitter's park in the majors--as his road line was just .249/.304/.333.

Matsui is a switch-hitter, meaning he spends most of his at-bats hitting from the left side of the plate. This is unfortunate, since Minute Maid--only a hitter's park for those with power--punishes singles and doubles hitters from the left side. Combine this with that pesky oxygen-rich air at home games, and Matsui could put up some awful lines. Whatever utility he had on your fantasy team as a decent batting average source has now disappeared, and remember, he's not a stolen base threat if he's not on base.

Finally, we come to the most recent name-transaction: Andruw Jones to the Dodgers. Jones was signed for a nifty two-year, $36.2 million deal. The implications for the rest of the Dodger outfield are not yet known, but one of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Juan Pierre will lose out on playing time because of it. While losing Juan Pierre on a real baseball team is cause for a three-day feast with a carnival-like atmosphere, losing him on your fantasy team can be somewhat depressing, because of his stolen base numbers. Ethier is really the only player who does not make that much impact on a fantasy team out of this group of four, though he is the third-most qualified for real games.

As for Jones, there isn't much difference between playing at Turner Field and playing in Chavez Ravine, though LA is a tad friendlier for homers to right-handed hitters. Jones will have to hope for improvement from his Triple Crown rate stats, which were pretty poor last year--though as Joe Sheehan pointed out yesterday, still slightly better than Juan Pierre when you consider EqA. Jones hit just .222/.311/.413; the Isolated Power of .191 is nice, but the batting average needs to climb in order for him to be productive offensively.

Taking a look at his BABIP, we see that he was well below-average at .248, and that his 17 percent liner rate should have resulted in a BABIP in the area of .290 (line drives correlate with hits on balls in play better than any other batted-ball type); throwing him those 40 points, you get somewhere around .262/.351/.453, which isn't too shabby for a down year, especially when you consider the adjustment assumes all of the missing hits were singles. Add in that he was playing injured during parts of 2007, and you have yourself a potential steal at draft time--depending on how wary your league-mates are of him, and as long as you pounce at the right time. Jones is perfectly capable of churning out a .265/.355/.490 as a Dodger, which should be more than good enough for your team's center fielder.

Related Content:  Rookies Of The Year,  Rookies

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