OpinionJuly 19, 2007

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Total Eclipse of the Park: Major League Edition

By Matthew St-Germain

Welcome to this week’s Total Eclipse of the Park: Major League Edition. My hopes are to identify possible breakouts, help you avoid upcoming catastrophes and set your sights on lesser known players of the future. I will also answer a few of your questions each week, so feel free to write in with any queries you may have!

Kason Gabbard – LHP – Boston Red Sox
In order to fully put Gabbard into perspective, let’s first take a look at his stats over the course of his professional career:

200422High Single-A Sarasota103243.018543  2171316302.703.56
200422Double-A Portland143653.024261  5423726356.287.13
200523Double-A Portland27911132.2581128  10806865964.615.43
200624Double-A Portland139273.229851614262125682.573.18
200624Triple-A Pawtucket91751.222051808313026485.235.40
200624MLB Boston71325.211124500111016153.513.86
200725Triple-A Pawtucket147275.03136610010292725643.243.48
200725MLB Boston53029.111921402111114253.383.38

And let’s take a look at a few of his metrics:

200422High Single-A Sarasota8.6%16.2%.328 3.88  
200422Double-A Portland10.7%14.5%.347 4.95  
200523Double-A Portland11.2%16.5%.315 4.61  
200624Double-A Portland8.4%22.8%.24061%5%3.202.61
200624Triple-A Pawtucket11.8%21.8%.32166%16%4.745.50
200624MLB Boston14.4%13.5%.30462%0%3.903.65
200725Triple-A Pawtucket8.0%20.4%.27260%11%4.284.24
200725MLB Boston11.8%21.0%.25355%6%4.113.16

While that is a lot of information to take in, it’s easy to pry out the important stuff. Kason Gabbard showed great adjustment at each level of the minors while maintaining high-level strikeout rates (averaging about a 21% K/PA rate), all while keeping the ball on the ground nearly two-thirds of the time. Notice how he struggled in each promotion, and the following season adjusted and flashed great skills. He’s now showing those same great adjustment skills with the big club while significantly raising his K% over his last call-up (13.5% to 21.0%). The bad news: before his complete game shutout, he had a 1.3 command ratio combined with a 47% ground ball rate for Boston. He will pitch on a short leash; that’s a tough road to hoe in the AL East, especially considering that he also has an injury history. The good news: those low rates were directly linked to facing both Detroit and Seattle. He’s also been healthy for awhile now, has earned subsequent starts independent of the return of Curt Shilling, and his career groundball rate is 62% – meaning that the 15% discrepancy from his career average this year is due to correct itself with some adjustments (not fully due to the level increase) – and Gabbard has a history of successfully adjusting. A big reflection of this success can be found in his career BABIP rates. As he adjusts, batters hit less balls in play. This is an awesome sign.

Currently, he’s pitching well and looks to be able to keep the ball on the ground and in the park, which, when mixed with a high dominance rate, is a blessing. His command ratio jumps to 2.0 after his July 16 start, and his dominance rate went from an already respectable 7.5 to a 8.0, which is excellent for a rookie pitching against teams such as Detroit and Atlanta. While he’ll get New York and Toronto, he’s also pitching for the team with the best record in the majors, meaning he could become a great spot-starter who not only won’t hurt your ERA and WHIP, but also stands a great chance of getting you wins.

One word of caution dear reader: he hasn’t pitched over 150 innings in his professional career. He stands at 104.1 innings pitched between Pawtucket and Boston this season. If he remains hot, those in redraft leagues may want to look to move him after a few more starts if fears of a September shutdown dance in the head. With his injury history this could very well occur. His future success will be based upon the adjustments he’s going to have to make over the course of the next few seasons to gauge his overall value, but it’s not absurd to compare him to Brandon Webb.

Andruw Jones – CF – Atlanta Braves
Can his value get any lower? For the record, he stands at .211/.312/.425 with 18 home runs and 62 rbi’s. Certainly not what one would expect out of a second to fourth round pick. However, his fortunes have brightened over the course of the last two weeks, so your time is running out to get this perennial 30+/110+ monster for substantially less than his real value. Sure middle-fielders wear down over the course of their careers quicker than the corners, and his defense is sliding just a bit, but this kind of offensive slump is unprecedented. Plenty of former all-around players could keep batting even after their defense wore away (which is not what I’m saying is happening to Jones, but, he’s not getting any younger). While Jones’ contact rate will always keep his batting average suppressed, his established batting average over the last three years is about 50 points greater than his current .211 average.

But why is it so low? His hit rate is an abnormally depressed 23% for the season. Keep in mind that with this metric that most players hover around their average hit rate percentage from last three seasons (as do many other averages). Over that period of time, Andruw has averaged a 34% hit rate, far off of this years 23%. One to two points of hit rate can represent a significant amount of hits, and thus have a substantial impact with a power hitter, so a regression to the mean of 34% from 23% will be massive.

I’m a firm believer in going after stars at their absolute lowest value (ie. Chris Carpenter), and while Jones’ bottom has likely been reached already, he’s still just two weeks removed from it. If there ever was a time to strike, it is now. During Atlanta’s contest against the Padres on July 8, Jones’ last before the All Star break, Joe Morgan commented in the first inning that Andruw’s preparation for, and at bats against Greg Maddux might kick-start him to swing more intelligently, rather than for the fences, as Maddux was too crafty for that type of approach. Andruw responded by going three for three, with two runs scored, one walk, and no strikeouts. In fact, Andruw had been showing signs of life in the three games heading into the break, going six for eleven with two extra-base hits, two walks, and no strikeouts.

Coming out of the break (as of July 17), he has already hit three home runs while batting .211. More of the same you say? Hardly. His batting eye is 1.00 (3 walks/3 strikeouts), his contact rate is 84%, but most importantly, his hit percentage is 22%. He still is getting incredibly unlucky while vastly improving his plate approach. His contact rate for the month of July is 82%, up from April and May’s 70.5% average. He’s also brought his walk rate with him from earlier in the season (18% in April, 8% in June, 14% in July) suggesting that he’s been able to maintain his power while showing increased plate patience and pitch recognition. All signs are pointing to Andruw really putting things together, if he hasn’t already. When all you’re waiting on is luck to come around for a guy who hit 92 lasers over the last two seasons, you’ve got yourself a season-changer (or coffin-nailer).

If there were a Steal Low article this week, it would have been about Andruw Jones. Addendum: Andruw went three for six today, with no strikeouts and another walk. BUY BUY BUY!!!

BJ Upton – CF – Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Don’t look now, but since he’s been back from injury, he’s amazingly manifested plate presence out of thin air, to the tune of a five to two BB/K rate. It’s a very small sample size, but this was the one major batting skill that Upton had not yet developed in his career. Warning signs were abound when earlier in the year, despite his high average, he was striking out at a phenomenal rate (averaging 30% for April and May!). His expected batting average resided somewhere in the high .280’s despite the mid .340’s clip where it was residing. This was due to his unsustainable strikeout rate and an incredible 49% hit rate prior to his injury.

His July numbers are such an anomaly to his growth rate as to be suspect. I mean, this is not a lot of at bats, but, I can’t help but wonder if this is the first signs of an elite batter developing another primary skill. This already has been a season of anomalies for Upton. He’s progressed by leaps and bounds, so finally developing some plate discipline wouldn’t be out of the question. What we could be seeing is a truly great player putting together all of his elite skills into one awesome package, or yet another aberrational tease and statistical cannibal. I’d bet on the over for the future, as Upton’s raw skills are just too good to pass up on. You could be sitting on a future second-rounder next year if he stays at second base, and possibly at least a top 60 to 70 pick if he remains in center field.

Addendum: BJ Upton again continued this trend on Wednesday, to the tune of three walks to one strikeout. Another week of this and he makes more believers.

Richie Sexson – 1B – Seattle Mariners
Also could be called the second Steal Low feature for this week, Richie Sexson is likely at his lowest possible point. His base skills have already turned the corner. It’s only the statistical representations of those skills that have not yet caught up. The proof of this can be found in his splits from last season. 14 home runs in the first half isn’t anything to cry over, but 20 in the second half is incredible. But that’s not all! He raised his batting average 86 points, his on base percentage 93 points, and his slugging percentage 271 points! This season? While he has improved his contact rate significantly, it really is a problem with bad luck. His BABIP is only .207 and that’s 93 points off his three year average. All of his other peripherals are in line with his priors, and he’s even drawing more walks. Regardless of what he does from this point forth, his trade value now compared to his average draft position is greatly deflated. This flight is about ready to take off, so get on board the tarmac rather than at 20,000 feet.

Corey Patterson – CF – Baltimore Orioles
The buy low time is officially over, as Corey has been very valuable in the month of July, with a .340 batting average, three home runs, and five stolen bases. Do his owners buy into it? Perhaps, but some of you can probably still get him on the cheap if you moved now. Would that be a good idea? Let’s take a look at some of his peripherals. He’s always had contact rate issues, but not this season, where he’s up to a career high 83%. He’s also ticked up his walk rate. While his hit rate for the season is very sustainable at 29%, it’s inflated by a 42% rate over the last month, something that is not likely sustainable. Going along with his inflated hit rate is his Hindenburg-esque BABIP of .385, where his three year average has rested around .305, suggesting a possible regression to the mean, even in spite of batting improvements.

Outside of the contact rate and isop spikes, the rest of the skills are lagging. His batting eye is gone, a .00 over the last week. If you’re an owner of Patterson, you’ll likely not get what you are valuing him at, but this could be close to his high point. Whether or not he can sustain this hit rate remains to be seen, and is what will ultimately determine his market value. I’d bet the under. It is important to note that he is still only 27 years old, and just three years ago he was projected to be a 30/30 guy. Will this guy ever be not frustrating and confusing? Probably not.

Adrian Beltre – 3B – Seattle Mariners
It’s well known he is a notorious second-half hitting monster. 2004 is long gone and should be viewed as the aberration, but the splits last year are pretty huge. He hit seven home runs in the first half, and 18 in the second. Seattle’s offense looks renewed, Ichiro is having a monster season, and Seattle could be contending down the stretch. All signs point to taking a chance on Beltre. As well, the window for buying Jimmy Rollins for relatively cheap is closing. You of course would have to go top level, but it really would be worth the investment. Philly could be battling all season and this guy is the definition of Second Half Superstar.

Chris Carpenter – RHP – St. Louis Cardinals
Two weeks ago I highlighted Chris Carpenter as a guy to attempt to buy as low as possible in my July 6 Steal Low article. His minor league starts were promising and his value was arguably still at a very low plateau. However, since his last rehab start, there have been complications with his elbow assumed to be caused by arthritis, a problem that existed before his bone spurs. It is conceivable that the bone spurs were masking a larger issue, and the jury is still out on his condition. While this advice won’t sit very well with those in redraft leagues, those of you who were looking for Carpenter’s bottoming out point, it’s here. Panic has likely got the Carpenter owner in your league ready to out and out drop him, so he or she would likely be willing to part with him for pennies on the peso. I’m big on low-cost risks, and Carpenter qualifies at this point due to his huge devaluation. You can likely get him for a tenth round or lower guy, easily. He very well could be shut down for the season, but if you can get a third-round pick this year for cheap, that value could certainly expand for you down the line. I will admit, this consultation stuff is a bit disconcerting, but we still have to wait out the results with level heads.

Jon Rauch – RHP – Washington Nationals
Rauch is the next in line once Chad Cordero is dealt. Dominance level is great at 7.4, command ratio is solid at 3.3, and he’s keeping the ball in the park with .7 hr/9 rate. His 1.09 WHIP won’t hurt you either. Despite Washington’s horrible offense, he could still net you 12 saves. His home park will keep the ball in play, and the fact that the Nationals cannot score many runs but are staying in games, should mean his save opportunities will be there. In the meantime, if your league counts holds, he’s a great guy to own.

Dan Wheeler – RHP – Houston Astros
Same deal as Rauch once Lidge is moved, though Qualls could challenge if Wheeler’s approach and demeanor don’t improve. Dominance rate is 10.0 and command ratio is 3.0 in July, while his BABIP is .421, suggesting a large regression is due in that metric, and that his WHIP and ERA should fall. One more interesting thing to note: Wheeler’s ground ball rate hovered around 31.5% in April and May, and his ERA was in the 3.04 range. Come June, he gets the ball on the ground more, something we look at as a big positive, and raises his ground ball rate up to 45%, but for whatever reason (we’re getting to that), his ERA skyrockets to the 10.43 level. He’s reverted back to his lower gb rate level in July (26%) and his ERA has returned back to under three.

This is completely strange, but the likely culprit is his low strand rate and is also probably due to a fear of batters stringing together base hits. For the season, his strand rate stands at 63%, suggesting that he’s been substantially unlucky on balls hit in play. Bet on much better numbers in the second half, most likely with him closing for the Astros down the stretch. Considering how strong Houston has been in the second half over the last few seasons, 13 saves as a floor is not out of the question.

Don’t Believe The Hype

Adam Jones – CF – Seattle Mariners
Don’t get me wrong, I think Adam Jones will become a pretty good baseball player… Just not this season for your team. And I wouldn’t start casting his ballot for the HOF just yet based on this season’s gaudy Triple-A results.

Consider his call up numbers from last year juxtaposed with his 2006 and 2007 Triple-A numbers (as of July 17).

2006Triple-A Tacoma4163806910919416622778.287.342.484826
2007Triple-A Tacoma4033616611022523752992.305.371.584955


2006MLB Seattle76746164018222.216.237.311548

He is definitely putting up better numbers in Tacoma this season than he did in his last stint, including a 20-point difference in batting average. He’s slugging at the highest rate of his career, getting on base at a much higher clip, and hitting a lot more home runs than last season. These are all great signs of a 2003 first-round pick developing at the young age of 21. However, in spite of the superb power he’s showing off for Tacoma in the PCL (a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league), he has a major problem: K rate. He still does not have great plate patience, which is something to be expected for a 21-year-old in Triple-A, but also something that does not translate well to the majors.

He’s striking out 22.8% of the time, while walking only 7.4%. Although his walk rate is up from last season, so is his K rate. But he’s hitting all these home runs! Well, that’s not likely to translate to the majors just yet because of his poor batting eye of .31. He’s sacrificed his plate discipline in order to hit more home runs, plain and simple. Flowing from this peripheral is his basement-level contact rate of 75% this year in Tacoma. Major league pitchers simply won’t throw him anything to hit, just like they did in 2006. This is simply not sustainable in the majors, and numbers in line with his 2006 major league appearance seem a whole lot more likely (with perhaps a 15% improvement – meaning not much) to me than trying to extrapolate the current Triple-A numbers up a level. He’ll be good one day, but not this fall. That BB/K rate is downright scary.

If you do happen to own him, especially in keeper league with a minor league roster, now would be the perfect time to trade him if you were looking to upgrade to say a Jay Bruce or Cameron Maybin (you’ll of course have to up the offer some). He will not be as good as these gentlemen, but because of his hot streak and potential for impending call-up, his value is over-inflated. For those in redraft leagues, trading him now can likely net you someone of value. Throw out the feelers; because once he’s up, he could become worthless to you.

Up next: TEP Minor League Edition

Matthew St-Germain is trying his hardest not to purchase a copy of 'Who Let The Dogs Out?' Ask him a question for next week's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'. You can reach him in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bloodface.
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