Ah, Opening Week. It’s time to kick back and ease into the new season. That is, if you’re a relatively patient and sane owner who’s not going to go nuts over 16 unimpressive at bats from a good player. Opening Week Panic is an annual tradition marked by mass adds of this year’s Emilio Bonifacio or Chris Shelton as well as mass drops of guys like Jay Bruce or Julio Borbon. Being the informed fantasy player that you, the reader, are, you’re not going to suffer the knee-jerk reactions that thousands of others will inevitably fall victim to. Instead, you’re going to take advantage of it and create your own path to victory
Oh yeah, and one more thing before we begin. If you’re not familiar with sabermetrics yet, be prepared to learn. If you see an acronym you don’t recognize (BABIP, xFIP, etc.), a quick web search will give you the answers. They’re an invaluable resource when determining whether or not a player’s stats reflect his true ability, which is the basis of buying low or selling high.
Geovany Soto: Yes, he may be 1/9 on the year, he may be coming off a terrible sophomore season, and he may have sat two out of the Cubs’ five games in favor of famous slugger Koyie Hill, he of unparalleled baseball ability (in case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic), but Soto owners, don’t give up yet. His .218/.321/.381 line last year was indeed horrendous, but that was largely influenced by midseason oblique and shoulder injuries that sapped his power and a long streak of very bad luck that crashed his AVG. In 2009, his BABIP was .246, a full 68 points lower than his xBABIP. Taking into account the 37 games he missed to injury last year as well as the lingering effects, it may be surprising that his ISO was only .015 behind Victor Martinez, the consensus
#2 catcher coming into 2010. Not only that, but Soto’s walk rate climbed to 12.9% last year, tops among all catchers. Also, he’s 27 years old and reaching his physical peak. There’s a lot to like about Soto, and as far as I’m concerned, the only question is how long of a leash Cubs manager Lou Piniella will give him.
Jay Bruce: He singled in his second at-bat of the year and has gone 0-16 since, giving a new crop of fantasy owners the same headaches he gave to those that had him last year. He’s gone from the back end of the 9th round to the deep, dark corners of your league’s bench or waiver wire. Barely 23 years old, he’s already teetering dangerously on the edge of Bust Canyon in the eyes of many. But again, the story goes back to BABIP. Last year, Bruce put up a .221 mark against a .293 xBABIP, putting him in the same company as Soto. Bruce still cracked 22 long balls last year despite missing over a third of the season, which extrapolates to a 35-HR pace over a full year’s worth of trips to the plate. So without the added factors of injury and terrible batted ball luck, Bruce becomes a .275/35 player who can throw in 7-10 steals. Just for funsies, remember that Jason Bay’s line in 2009 was .267/36 with 13 SB, and he’s a fourth rounder this year moving to a possible pitcher’s park. Despite this lofty comparison, don’t set your expectations too high for Bruce, but there’s no reason he should be rotting on someone’s bench. Please give this neglected outfielder a good home.
Jason Heyward: I’ll be honest here; I could be looking back on this call at the end of the season with egg on my face. But before you picture me dipping my head into an omelet, remember what happens to pretty much every “can’t-miss” prospect in their rookie years. Following are Baseball America’s top prospects by year:
Five of those players have been busts so far (and we can probably declare Ankiel’s career legally dead now). The other four have indeed ended up as bona fide superstars. However, not a single one of these players put up significantly more than pedestrian numbers in their rookie seasons. Go on, look up their stats: Teixeira’s .259 AVG, Mauer’s single digit home runs, and Beckett’s 4.00-north ERA. I mean, scroll up to see the fate of 2008’s #1 prospect! Now, it may be unfair to lump Heyward in with the Ankiels and Ben Grieves of the world, but we have to approach prospects with a certain degree of sensibility. Heyward has also been a little injury-prone in the minors, so that might be something to monitor. Keep in mind though, I’m not saying dump him for nothing. Find your target and milk him for as much as you can. Per Yahoo’s transaction trends, Heyward changed hands 120 times on Saturday, by far the most out of any player. If you own him, see what you can do to join that club.
Garrett Jones: This guy has done nothing but hit homers since being promoted to the majors in 2009. Since his July 1 debut, he’s hit 24 big flies in only 86 games, which translates to an insane 45 HR pace over 162 games. But once glance at his peripherals has me jumping ship. Pretty much everything points to 2009 being an outlier. That 21.2% HR/FB rate he posted was 10th among all players with over 350 PA, ahead of Pujols, Dunn, Lind, Braun, Teixeira, and company. There’s no way someone with that kind of power would go unnoticed the way Jones did. His ISO in 2009 was a sky-high .274, good for 7th in the league, right next to Adrian Gonzalez. In the minors, his ISO never strayed from the .192 to .205 range, which is respectable but unexciting. That level of power production is occupied by 20-25 homer guys like Mike Cameron (.202), Cody Ross (.199), and Michael Young (.196). So where did this huge power bat come from? If I were to guess, I’d suggest a ton of fly ball luck (I’ve heard steroids and witchcraft work too). Jones’ three homerun head start to the season help boost his value, so try to shop him now before he reverts back to his normal self.
Fowler Watch 2010
Welcome to the first installment of Fowler Watch 2010, where we will be tracking the progress of Dexter Fowler, one of baseball’s budding stars. Unfortunately, we must begin the year on a sad note. Rockies manage Jim Tracy has strongly hinted at benching Dexter regularly in favor of Seth Smith or even Ryan Spilborghs. Dexter’s .222 AVG so far (heavily influenced by an 0/6 Saturday game) might influence Tracy to sit Fowler a few days in the coming week. As much as I want to hate Smith and Spilborghs, I can’t escape the fact that Brad Hawpe’s horrific UZR is my true enemy. Tune in next week for Fowler Watch 2010: Part 2!
André Walker of Delta Upsilon is a hat-wearing, card-carrying, hyphen-overusing anarcho-Communist who happens to be a huge baseball fan. When he's not busy railing against capitalism or stalking Dexter Fowler, he makes brilliant, insightful posts under the name Neato Torpedo. Don't be intimidated.
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