April 28, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
Carlos Gomez wasn't pushed off stage last week, despite being relegated to a platoon situation with Jim Edmonds. And anyone who “trusted the process” (or at least had a desperate “need for speed”) was rewarded with a useful .318/.423/.409 week with 3 steals and 6 runs scored. Of course, the historically epic beat down that the Brewers continued to put on the Pirates was responsible for these numbers being so fine in spite of Gomez being on the wrong side of a platoon, so he gets dropped this week along with Carlos Guillen, who fell prey to “Curse of the Value Picks” by hitting the DL shortly after being spotlighted.
Replacing los Dos Carlos, a couple platoon players join the list this week, Jeremy Hermida and Will Venable. Also noteworthy is the fact that Austin Jackson has not been featured here, as he has a .520 BABIP and 61% contact percentage (32 K in 83 AB/91 PA), suggesting he's soon to go off the precipice into a steep decline. He has a lot of job security, as he's a rangy center fielder on a team with old side outfielders and no other viable options for center field, but he's one of the best “sell high” candidates among outfielders now.
The obvious question with a player like Will Venable is: “Why waste a roster spot on a player who can't hit lefty pitching and is a power hitter playing home games in Petco?” Frankly, if there are no bench spots available, the answer is, “You don't.” Even with bench spots, he's very unlikely to help a team in on-base percentage. Playing "old school" roto rules isn't much better as his batting average is likely to cause some mild consternation with his owners because he's never going to do much there. But most leagues do have bench spots. And Venable has power and speed, the two hallmarks of Rotisserie stars since the game began. He's already blasted 4 homers and stolen 5 bases so far in 69 AB.
Leveraging Geoff Young's preseason research, former Padres Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Grady Fuson is quoted as saying that he thought Venable would be a better big leaguer than a minor leaguer, a rare comment from Fuson. And, given Venable's focus on basketball (and presumably academics) during his time at Princeton, it's reasonable to believe that he'd have much more growth remaining than most 27-year-old players. When his professional track record is examined, it's not like he was a bad minor-leaguer, either. He played his first full-season league in 2006 (Midwest league, “normal” A ball), skipped high-A to play AA in 2007, hit well at AAA in 2008 (.292/.361/.464 in Portland), before starting his onslaught against right-handed pitchers, slugging over .500 against them in 2009 (with Petco as his home park!). Prior to Tuesday's game, his speed score was a staggering 9.5 for the nascent 2010 season. Skeptics would note that he's been closer to a 5.2 speed score the past two years (MLB and AAA combined), but anyone who has seen him run knows that when he's fully healthy, he has plenty of speed to surpass 20 steals, even in a platoon role (seriously – viewers have to wonder if he's going to score from first on some of Blanks' singles). He's posted a 21-2 SB-CS season in AA, so it's not without precedent.
The Padres don't seem to be interested in helping Venable learn to hit lefty pitching anymore. His career batting average of .248 and on-base percentage of .320 against Southpaws isn't much worse than his .260/.327 stats against right-handed pitchers, but his slugging is just .301, compared to a massive .489 total against righties (by year, this has progressed: .395 in 2008, .505 in 2009, .554 in 2010). The silver lining here is that fantasy owners can relax knowing that he's not playing against the tough lefty starters, instead coming in to pinch-hit (often against inferior righty middle relievers), pinch-run, or to play defense in those games. As for home/road splits, he's showing some improvement at Petco – slugging about as well at home this year as on the road. This is in contrast to a .369 slugging percentage at home in 2009 (compared to .514 on the road). At the very least, all efforts should be made to play this guy against righty pitchers in road games and against the non-elite righties at Petco. Having a player who performs at superstar levels 50% of the time and scrambling for “filler” the other 50% is better than a marginally good player 100% of the time.
It's always difficult to come up with new analysis for Red Sox players because so much media attention is focused that way. The challenge, then, is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Starting with the obvious, there are two things which are clear about Jeremy Hermida: 1) even in a platoon role, getting playing time for the Red Sox is great for a fantasy player, and 2) any investment in him has to be considered high-risk, for a variety of reasons.
On the plus side, Hermida was considered the best high-school hitter in the 2002 draft by many and was selected 11th overall. From there, he progressed with fits and starts but posted a robust .296/.369/.501 batting line in 2007 for the Marlins at age 23 (.300 TAv). Using the logic of “once a player shows a skill, he owns it” and trusting Theo Epstein to make smart investments, it would be easy to get excited about a guy playing his home games in friendly Fenway Park, surrounded by a good lineup which has nonetheless seen the rapid deterioration of its DH and major injuries to two starting outfielders. Toss in that he bats left-handed and has shown a normal platoon split (career .273/.350/.444 vs righty pitchers), that his seasonal age is just 26, and that he's started off 2010 well, and what's not to like?
In the “glass half empty” camp, Hermida hit .253/.335/.400 his final two years in Florida (1050 PA total). He's still the fourth outfielder on paper and when everyone is healthy, and despite early returns that his fielding may be sufficient for LF in Fenway (+0.1 UZR so far in 2010, compared to -15.6 career total), he's still being pulled for defense. Mike Lowell is hitting enough that the DH spot may not be available when Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron return, even if “Papi” becomes “floppy” this year. The bottom line is that Hermida probably gets a month to convince Terry Francona to make room for him the remainder of the year.
This is a case where the advice has to be tailored to the situation. Players rarely “forget” how to hit, and when a guy wows the scouts like Hermida did for years and also posts a very good statistical season, there's much historical precedence suggesting that he'll be able to make whatever adjustments are required to recapture at least a large portion of his previous performance and possibly build upon it. Michael Cuddyer was another talented high-school hitter (drafted 9th overall), and he hit just .260/.330/.428 for his career through age 26 and has hit .277/.351/.474 since. But there are also cases like Ben Grieve and Sean Burroughs, guys who showed significant performance levels with glowing reports from scouts... and then flat-lined. Even if it was certain that Hermida would turn things around, it's never certain when. Hermida is striking out more than ever this year, but a 65% contact rate through 51 AB isn't enough data to worry, and his actual percentage of pitches swung at and contacted is 83.5%, higher than any rate he's shown in the past. In a high-flux setting like shallow leagues, Hermida is the sort of player to pick up for spurts when the Red Sox are facing multiple mediocre righty pitchers. In deeper leagues, where he'd require an investment in trade, he's someone to consider for teams which are very unlikely to win without an influx of power – in these cases, gambling on the 20+ home-run potential is an idea worth considering.
Random note: Kyle Blanks got 2 innings at first base with Gonzalez being pulled during a blowout. He does seem likely to end up with dual-eligibility if the rampant trade rumors of Gonzalez become reality, but with the Padres playing well, don't expect anything soon.