Prior to the season, I spoke with a number of scouts and talent evaluators to try to get a read on the various international imports fantasy players would have to make decisions on in their drafts. Today, I wanted to take a look back and see how well we were able to predict their performance here in the United States.
Yu Darvish | Texas Rangers | SP
Darvish was the most hyped international product to make the jump to Major League Baseball in years, and for the most part, I advised optimism in regard to his chances for success, and I even wound up drafting him on one team. As I summarized when I did my midseason check-in, my preseason Darvish sentiment boiled down to three main points: “1) He has ridiculous stuff and upside, 2) He has just average command, and 3) He has terrific makeup, which should help with the multi-faceted, often-difficult transition to MLB.”
Darvish wore this assessment like a glove. His stuff was absolutely ridiculous, leading to a 10-plus K/9. As billed, he threw a ton of different pitches, none worse than average. By Harry and Dan’s Brooks Baseball count, Darvish threw seven different pitches this year, and I see a second curveball in the data that they don’t have a label for, bringing the total to at least eight.
Of course, even with all those strikeouts, Darvish’s surface stats were slightly underwhelming thanks to some midseason struggles, and the control and command issues that we expected. Still, despite a mediocre 3.90 ERA, his 3.55 xFIP was still top 10 among AL starters and shows how good he really is. If he can take even a little step forward with that control next year, he could be a great fantasy asset.
Conclusion: Preseason evaluation was spot on.
Yoenis Cespedes | Oakland A’s | OF
Unlike Darvish, my preseason take on Cespedes wound up being pretty far off in some regards. My final evaluation read: “Despite the hype Cespedes has received, the consensus seems to be that he’ll merely be a solid regular to start off his MLB career and will be best-suited for the bottom half of the order. If he’s able to make the necessary adjustments, his upside is a veritable middle-of-the-order threat… Still, all of the hype Cespedes is receiving could drive his price up in fantasy leagues beyond where I’d be comfortable drafting him.”
While all scouts I spoke with last offseason ceded that Cespedes had ridiculous tools—all that he’d need to succeed and then some—some questioned his makeup, his plate approach, and his ability to avoid an Adam Dunn-like strikeout rate, leading me to advise caution as he adjusted to the majors. While he posted a 25 percent strikeout rate in April, it steadily declined throughout the season, culminating in a mere 16 percent mark this month—quite a bit better than average. His .289 average is a pretty big surprise and not something I saw coming.
His power and speed, however, are pretty much what I expected. I mentioned that, despite paltry steals totals in Cuba, his raw speed scored out in the 70-75 range (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale) and that double-digit steals were a possibility; he’s stolen 16 this season. And, of course, I noted how the raw power was ridiculous, so the 21 homers shouldn’t be surprising; that total may even sound a bit light. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that figure creep up above 30 in 2013.
Conclusion: Solid feel for what he’d do in the power and speed categories, but way off on the batting average.
Wei-Yin Chen | Baltimore Orioles | SP
Chen started off the season very strong for the Orioles, posting a 2.66 ERA through the first six weeks of the season. At that point, however, I noted that I wasn’t buying into him as anything near a front-line starter: “Chen isn’t a 2.66 ERA pitcher, but a 4.25 ERA will be plenty useful for AL-only owners. That might sound a little high given his quality 2.3 K/BB that shouldn’t worsen much, but he’s been an extreme fly-ball pitcher this year, and his repertoire suggests this will continue.”
From that point forward, Chen posted a 4.63 ERA, although his 4.24 xFIP was right in line with what I expected, as was his 2.8 K/BB. The best news, though, is that his stuff seemed to get better as the year went on. Before the season began, I expressed concern over Chen’s diminished fastball velocity and less effective slider that accompanied his 2011 groin and hamstring injuries. I said that if Chen was healthy and got his stuff back to pre-injury levels, which scouts spoke highly of, he could be a useful pitcher. Chen started the season averaging just 90 mph on his heater but increased his velocity each month until it crested over 92 mph in July, remaining there through August and September. He was touching 95 as he reportedly used to, and his average velocity was actually a mph higher than NPB Tracker recorded him at in his best season.
Chen, for the most part, lived up to the “plus command” report scouts delivered, posting a 7 percent walk rate this season. I see a lot of the same for Chen in 2013 but with better results, especially if he can keep his fastball velocity up. A 7.0 K/9 and 4.25 ERA should make him an attractive option
Conclusion: Chen overcame the post-injury concerns and proved to be the kind of pitcher we said he’d be if healthy.
Norichika Aoki | Milwaukee Brewers | OF
I didn’t expect much out of Aoki this year, in part because he was only going to be a part-time player on a team with several fourth-outfielder types already (see: Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez). Aoki played his way into more playing time, though, in a way I wasn’t sure he was capable of (though Corey Hart’s move to first helped). I said Aoki’s batting average would be his best way to contribute to a fantasy team, and he did at least make good on that with his .285 mark this year.
The power and speed have very surprising, though, and are two things I said you shouldn’t expect much of. Oops. Scouts had said Aoki was losing foot speed with age, and he had been attempting fewer steals as a result. The Brewers went crazy on the basepaths this year (did you know Aramis Ramirez has stolen eight bases? From 2002 to 2011 he stole just 11 total!), and Aoki consequently swiped 28 bags. His speed only clocks as above-average, but if Ron Roenicke keeps running, Aoki could contribute in the category again next season, even if he doesn’t repeat approaching 30.
Scouts didn’t like Aoki’s power to translate to the US, and when Japan switched to a baseball that resembles MLB’s in 2011, Aoki’s homer total dropped to just four, making his nine this year all the more surprising. I’m still not really buying it, though. All of his homers were chip shots down the right field line, just scooting in over the fences on the favorable side of the fair/foul line where the fences are shortest. There’s no upside on his power, so if you’re buying him in 2013, be prepared for another sub-10 total and quite possibly a sub-five tally.
Conclusion: Fine with the batting average, but not with the power and speed.
Conclusion: We’ll have to wait until 2013 for him.