Welcome back to the Hot/Cold, which best describes your feelings about the end of the regular season and especially the end of the road for this column in 2009. Like I hinted last week, today is practically graduation day and school’s out for the winter, which makes it a good time to crack open the Dom Perignon as we make a toast to the 2009 season and to the Dodgers, who finally did the business of wrapping up the NL West pennant (and home field advantage in the NL playoffs). For those of us who are looking far ahead to better days from a disappointing fantasy baseball season (like yours truly, oddly enough), we’ll look forward to 2010. We’ll look at a few select players who have outproduced their value this season and to get some idea if they can sustain this year’s roaring success for a higher draft price next year. We’ll also spotlight a few players who haven’t produced to expectation and as a possible result, their perceived value figures to take a hit for next season’s drafts; we’ll see if they’ll make for fine bargain draft targets. Because I’ve been sick for the better part of a week since coming home from Las Vegas and all I had was chicken soup on the mind, I’m calling the first group of players as “Hot Soup” because their stock or value will likely be hot for next year and the second group, “Cold Bouillon Cubes”. Alright then, onto this last bit of business…
Matt Kemp – 2009 Season: 602 AB, 96 R, 26 HR, 100 RBI, 34 SB, .299 BA
One can make a fine case for Matt Kemp to be named as fantasy baseball’s most valuable outfielder in 2009, but in the Yahoo game, Kemp is currently ranked second only to Ryan Braun for that unofficial title. Following up on a terrific 2008 breakout campaign, Kemp bested that in 2009 by a good deal, as the 25-year-old right fielder enjoyed the first 100 RBI season of his young up-and-coming career, while adding some bulk to his home run total with a career-high of 26 round trippers. “The Bison” continued to romp on the base paths, just about matching last season’s tally of 35 stolen bases, and etching his name as a fantasy stud with the promise of a 30-30 season year in and year out. Kemp’s continued flourishing can be derived from his steadily improving plate discipline, as he had shaven nearly three percentage points off of last season’s strikeout rate while cutting back three full percentage points in his outside swing percentage from 2008. Kemp’s production and improved baseball IQ have finally compelled Joe Torre into slotting “The Bison” at the heart of the Dodger order, which can only boost his fantasy stock heading into 2010, as a 110 R/RBI, 30 HR/SB campaign could be a mouthwatering possibility from young Matty. Prepare to shell out a first- or second-round pick on Kemp in 2010, but unlike a pick on B.J. Upton, Kemp has shown that he can back up his immense hype and figures to be on the right track in panning out as an elite fantasy hitter.
Aaron Hill – 2009 Season: 673 AB, 103 R, 36 HR, 107 RBI, 5 SB, .288 BA
Odds are that even in a year that has had a myriad of bargain hitters, arguably none has been more valuable for the buck than Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill, who has posted Chase Utley-like home run and RBI numbers, a tremendous return for a player who was likely a late-round pick in a number of leagues. The numbers Hill has put up seems auspicious on the surface, given that in two 155-plus seasons in his previous four campaigns, Hill hit a total of 23 home runs in 315 games. This season, the 27-year-old two-bagger posted an astounding 15.1 percent HR/FB rate, which is definitely noteworthy because Hill has never had a HR/FB conversion within shouting distance of cracking a double-digit mark. What does this mean for Aaron Hill’s 2010 power outlook? For what it’s worth, according to Hit Tracker, Aaron Hill hit 12 home runs that were in the “Just Enough” category, which implies that he has had enough loft in his swing to clear the fences on those flyballs. Hill’s tendency to pull the ball for measurable power, as well as a past season in which Hill mashed 17 home runs (2007) can indicate that his true power ceiling lies within the 20-25 home run range and not beyond the 30 home runs he has surpassed this year. Hill’s unprecedented power output as well as his position scarcity could inflate his draft value in 2010 if he is believed to be the perennial power threat he made himself out to be in 2009.
Kendry Morales – 2009 Season: 562 AB, 86 R, 34 HR, 107 RBI, 3 SB, .306 BA
Practically the club soda version of Mark Teixeira, Kendry Morales has provided plenty of pop for the Angels, and in fact, he has performed similarly to the Yankees’ high-priced first bagger. Entering 2009, the 26 year-old Morales was a bit of an enigma, given that he only amassed 377 at-bats in his previous three seasons in either yielding his playing time to Casey Kotchman or for a time, Mark Teixeira. In his first season with a full-time gig, Morales has more than taken advantage, but has mashed his way with nearly 35 taters. The interesting thing to note is that Morales has the same number of “Just Enough” home runs as Aaron Hill while only registering three no doubters. However, it seems that Morales will pan out as the prototypical low-walk, high flyball rate hitter, and that he can be a 30 home run threat year in and year out. Because Morales probably won’t be listed as an elite option among first basemen in 2010 (i.e. Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez), it is likely he can be had in a reasonable round in 2010 drafts.
Carlos Gonzalez – 2009 Season: 275 AB, 53 R, 13 HR, 29 RBI, 16 SB, .287 BA
Making quite an impression and making way in the Rockies’ crowded outfield is Carlos Gonzalez, who has thrived at the top of the Rockies’ order, to the extent that he just might have the makeup of a 20 HR/30 SB hitter for the 2010 season. Failing to make a prodigious impact in Oakland, a change of scenery has done wonders for Gonzalez in exploiting the power/speed potential he carried in the salad days of his minor league career. In a rough first big league season with Oakland, Gonzalez slugged for a paltry .119 ISO, but has more than doubled that with Colorado (.244 ISO) and in the process, he has received the green light with 16 stolen bases in 20 attempts. Assuming that he can enter 2010 with a full-time starting job and earn a top-of-the-order spot in the Rockies lineup, Carlos Gonzalez could be listed on many a clean sheet heading into 2010 drafts.
Adam Wainwright – 2009 Season: 233.0 IP, 19 W, 212 K, 2.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Obviously, the best mid-tier pitcher from draft day who has made the ascent into the fantasy elite is Royals ace and AL Cy Young contender Zack Greinke, but that other team in Missouri has two NL Cy Young contenders in the shape of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and it has been Wainwright in particular who has made the biggest performance jump in his career. Although the 28-year-old Wainwright isn’t thought of as a strikeout pitcher, seeing how he’s not a pure power pitcher, he still managed to whiff 212 batters in 233 innings of work, good for a career-high 8.19 K/9, a substantial improvement of about two strikeouts for every nine innings last year. The key to Wainwright’s success, particularly in recording the gaudy total of punchouts, has been his devastating curveball, which he has thrown 24.1 percent of the time (a 6.2% increase from 2008) and it is through his slider/curve combo that Wainwright has gotten more outside zone whiffs than ever before (27.2% O-Swing). Consequently, Wainwright has laid off the fastball more than he had in previous years, throwing it four percent less of the time than he did in 2008, seeing how his fastball doesn’t necessarily have great movement. It seems that with this breaking ball-intensive approach that Wainwright has thrived with and figures to be a top-ten ace in next season’s drafts because of the results.
Andrew Bailey – 2009 Season: 81.1 IP, 6 W, 26 SV, 89 K, 1.88 ERA, 0.90 WHIP
By far the best value closer of the season was the A’s stopper Andrew Bailey, who had gone undrafted in the vast majority of leagues, with owners believing that either Joey Devine or Brad Ziegler had the inside track to the A’s closing duties. Instead, Bailey has been one of those “deus ex machina” closers, and he practically lived up to that label, as only Jonathan Broxton was listed as statistically better than him in the Yahoo rankings. The 25-year-old Bailey figures to have some staying power heading into 2010 as a top-ten closer with his excellent assortment of pitches and although he won’t be had for a late-round flier, Bailey could go in the middle rounds, taking into account the risk of taking a young electric closer on the basis of one stellar year and hoping for no sophomore jinx of any form.
Cold Bouillon Cubes
Josh Hamilton – 2009 Season: 336 AB, 43 R, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 8 SB, .268 BA
It has been a brutal season for a good portion of this year’s elite crop of outfielders and in particular, Josh Hamilton returned to his injury-prone ways by spending much of the season sidelined and/or on the disabled list. His laundry list of injuries, which included a bruised rib cage, an abdominal strain, and a pinched nerve in the lower back, may sour Hamilton’s value in 2010 as fantasy managers are reminded about the injury risk that comes with the possibility of a high-reward power producer. The aim for Hamilton and the Rangers is to get the slugger into conditioning this Winter, which will give him a head start for Spring Training. One would expect Hamilton’s value to drop a round or two from his first round valuation heading into 2009, but he might just be a steal again if his fitness is back up to the level it was at in 2008.
Alex Rios – 2009 Season: 573 AB, 62 R, 17 HR, 68 RBI, 22 SB, .243 BA
Having a rather pedestrian season 108 games in for the Blue Jays, one would have thought that Alex Rios being waived and picked up by the White Sox would be an immediate shot in the arm to Rios’ value and production potential. Instead, Rios has only had a trio of home runs and a trio of stolen bases in 137 at-bats with the White Sox and has hit for a miserable .175 batting average. It seems that at 28 going on 29, Rios is bound to fall short of the perceived high potential expected of him. This season, in particular, Rios has hit for the lowest line drive percentage of his career at 16.7 percent whereas in previous seasons, one would expect Rios to sport a firm 20 percent line drive rate. It’s Rios’ tendency in being unable to adapt to pitchers who aren’t willing to give him pitches he can pull on for power that has proven to be his downfall.
Manny Ramirez – 2009 Season: 348 AB, 62 R, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 0 SB, .290 BA
It’s probably a harsh knee jerk reaction on my part to list Manny Ramirez as cold stock for 2010, but when you’re a Dodger fan antsy about cracking open the Dom Perignon, you’re bound to air out frustration with the way the Dodgers, and in particular, Manny, have closed out the season. Since the start of September, Ramirez is hitting for a stone cold .216 batting average with four home runs and 13 RBI to offset that in some way. It seems that opposing pitchers are daring to challenge Manny more with fastballs and of late, even the dreadlocked one has been fooled, having struck out eight times in his last ten at-bats. The silver lining is that despite serving a 50 game suspension, Manny had still mashed 19 home runs in 348 at-bats, which puts him within reason of hitting 30 or more in 600-plus at-bats. If he is going to be had for a bit of a discount in next season’s drafts (third round), Manny should be worth the pick, as he should be technically superior enough to post a productive 2010.
Stephen Drew – 2009 Season: 524 AB, 70 R, 12 HR, 64 RBI, 5 SB, .261 BA
OK, raise your hand if you picked Stephen Drew over Troy Tulowitzki in your draft? Supposedly, Drew and Tulowitzki’s upsides were just about close to a wash, but it seemed that Drew carried the momentum of a fantastic second half in 2008 for a fine 2009. Instead, it has been a really uneven year for Drew in that his away splits have been horrible (.224 BA away) but oddly enough, he had double the amount of home runs away from homer-friendly Chase Field. The fascinating aspect to highlight with Drew is he tends to perform better when he’s taking a more proactive approach to his hitting. Although Drew scaled back about six points off his outside swing percentage (28.2% O-Swing in 2008 to 22.1% O-Swing in 2009), his numbers were otherwise disappointing, somewhat similar to his 2007 season when Drew had just a 21.8 percent outside swing percentage. It seems that if Drew becomes more aggressive in pouncing for pitches to hit, the better his chances to perform well. However, if Drew can only be had for a seventh-round pick next season, that can still be a flirtation with disappointment once again.
Jake Peavy – 2009 Season: 101.2 IP, 9 W, 110 K, 3.45 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
It’s self-explanatory that Jake Peavy won’t be perceived as a top-ten starter by many fantasy managers, considering his move to the American League and home-run launchpad U.S. Cellular Field, and the raised injury-prone perceptions in light of missing a substantial chunk of his season with a tendon strain in his ankle. That said, Peavy could be a fine bargain if his health holds up. Sure, Peavy had tended to give up his share of home runs away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park and a home run-allowed spike might be in order. However, Peavy can prove to be a boon in strikeouts and perhaps in ratios as well. It’s a small sample, but in three outings as a White Sock, Peavy had maintained a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings and in particular, he held the Tigers to 15 innings of shutout ball. For what it’s worth, I’ll be putting Peavy on my target list, especially if he drops out of the top 5-6 rounds in a number of mock drafts.
Well, that about wraps it up for me this week and for well, the year really. I’ll be honest, it’s surreal to see the first Hot/Cold series wrap up, as if the last six months really felt more like six weeks. Whether you felt like the season was a blur or a crawl, I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did. Thanks to Chris and R.J. for filling in for me on the weekends I declared sanctuary or vacation on. Lastly, thanks to all of you who have read this column at one time or another, especially for those of you who read religiously. Thanks for the support and for having patience with my football (erm, soccer) analogies. I’ll be roaming around in the offseason and I encourage you all to drop by the Cafe because there will be new things to see and read in every Cafe nook and cranny. Once again, thanks for reading and until then, be champions. Didn’t win your league? Then, act like champions, but whatever you do, be champions!
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a disgruntled Dodger fan, who makes up for it by supporting his hometown Lakers, Manchester United F.C., and FC Barcelona. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, a part-time fantasy football blogger (the game actually played with feet), and head "Wicked Wikitect" of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
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