Low-Expectations Signings | Rob Leibowitz
Before I get into this latest edition of the Diamond Exchange, I want to take a moment to welcome aboard our KFFL readers. The Diamond Exchange, for almost a decade, has been my regular column. I focus on the latest key transactions, taking a more detailed approach than standard news feeds. I look at the ins and outs of roster impacts at both the Major and minor league level and analyze the involved players from both a scouting and statistical approach to give a good sense of their future performance and their fantasy impact. This column will appear on KFFL on Wednesdays, but you can catch it regularly at Mastersball.com too.
And now, let's get into it!
A Harden man these days
With the Greinke deal behind us, we are starting to enter the phase of lesser, but yet still consequential signings, though perhaps sometimes mindboggling signings and skills that ignore a fundamental tenant of baseball - getting on base. Well, one in particular stands out from the past few days and that was the signing of Bill Hall by the Astros with the idea that he could serve as their everyday second basemen, moving Jeff Keppinger, and rightly so, to a utility role. Yes, the nearly 31-year-old Hall old has power. He has always had power. That has never been the issue. He has generally had pretty decent tools in fact. He even still has pretty good speed and was successful in 9 of 10 stolen base attempts last year. The issue is we are talking about giving regular playing time to a player with a career .310 OBP and a negative ultimate zone rating at every position he has ever played. He strikes out about a third of the time on a regular basis and is a streak-hitter. So to sign a player with the idea of starting him when he cannot be relied upon on defense and that there will be wide periods of time you won't want him anywhere near your lineup is basically a self-fulfilling prophecy that will see Hall lose a starting gig. Also, there will be regression. As I noted before, Hall has always had pop in his bat, but given the context of his career, his 17.4% HR/FB rate looks like an outlier when compared to the rest of it. Only once before has he ever produced a HR/FB rate at that level or above and that was nearly 5 seasons ago. Do not under any circumstances pay for last year's power performance. Instead, keep your expectations at around the 2007 and 2008 levels and you should not be disappointed.
Next we are brought to a trio of low-risk outfield signings. All three players were once thought of as potential stars, though one as a pitcher. Two continue our theme of disregard for on-base skills, but still have some tools; our other still has his OBP skills, but has lost his power.
Austin Kearns revived his career a little with the Indians to the point that the teams in contention were interested in him as a right-handed bat off the bench. He ended up on the Yankees late in the year via such a trade. Now he is back with the team that traded him for another go-around. The Indians would probably prefer he does not play as much as he did in 2010. In fact they would probably love to trade him late in the season again for cash or a middling prospect. What they would really prefer is that he plays a lot less, spot starting against tough left-handers and giving their starters a rest here and there. They would also prefer that Michael Brantley or perhaps even another young player like Nick Weglarz ultimately claim the left field job. They also hope that Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo stay healthy all season rather than have to play him semi-regularly. In other words, they would be very happy indeed if Kearns received less than 250, if not 200 plate appearances. All that said, Kearns is actually still in his prime at 30-years of age. He is a patient hitter, but one who strikes out consistently more than a quarter of the time, rendering him a consistent .250 to .260 hitter, though one with a career .353 OBP and no substantial platoon split versus righties or lefties meaning he has more utility than just as a right-handed hitter off the bench. The key factor keeping him in a bench role has been the disappearing act of his power. At his peak his isolated power was over .200. Since 2007, it has been below .150 and was at .132 last year and there does not seem to be any sign that the 20+ home run power once expected of him will ever return especially given fly-ball rates that now rest in the lower 30% range. At this point he is now a $1 or end-game player for AL-only league play.
Our second outfielder is Corey Patterson who signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays on Wednesday. At 30, he has established a pattern of being used as a stop-gap/short-term starter. It makes plenty of sense - he still has power/speed tools and plays above average defense, including in centerfield, but his streakiness and career .296 OBP clearly make him an undesirable option to keep in the lineup for an extended period. In Toronto, unless other signings or trades are made, he looks like an almost sure bet to make the club and could have an opportunity, though not necessarily a great idea on part of the Blue Jays to be the left-handed side of a platoon with Rajai Davis in left. In the unlikely event that lasts all season, he could receive upwards of 400 at-bats. That said, Patterson is not a good platoon player. Yes he fairs better against righties, but career .259 .300 .417 player does not stand out and say "give this guy some at-bats." So, the Blue Jays, if the decide on such a platoon, would be ill-advised to do so for an extended period. Using Patterson and Davis as back-ups would be a much smarter move. All that said, Patterson still deserves a look as a last outfielder on AL only roster. If he plays - he steals. His career stolen base percentage stands at a very solid 79% meaning he will have the green light when his OBP skills allow him to get on first base.
Finally we come to Rick Ankiel who signed a one-year deal with the Nationals. It is hard to believe he, like Patterson, is actually older than Austin Kearns. Unlike Patterson, the 31-year-old lefty does have platoon splits that make him useable on a part-time basis. Last season he hit just .164 against lefties and over his career he is just a .240 hitter against them with a 30% strikeout rate, .287 OBP and .404 SLG. In other words he is not really useable against them. Against righties, while not particularly great, he is a .254 hitter with a .327 OBP, but with a .468 SLG, and .214 isolated power. Last year he converted over 16% of his fly-balls against them into home runs while only hitting fly-balls 33% of the time - a fairly low figure. Prior to his injury-plagued 2010 campaign, he was an extreme fly-ball hitter doing so well over 40% of the time, producing similar home run per fly-ball percentages. Right now he is a potential platoon partner with Mike Morse in either right or left field. Given good health, his 2007/2008 skills are very much still there. He did not need to post extraordinary batting averages on balls in play to hit into the .260's then and he still does not. He just needs to avoid the lefties. If he can beat out Roger Bernadina (and the Nationals do not continue to spend and sign another outfielder), he is not a bad speculative play in the end-game.
In more interesting news, Rich Harden has returned to Oakland. Insert injury caveat here. Any analysis of him begins and ends with it. The most innings he has thrown in a single season stands at 189.1 and that occurred in 2004. Since then he has eclipsed 100 innings in just three other seasons and has yet to even return to the 150 inning level. At least, however, over most of that time Harden produced strikeout and control skills - he still has a 9+ career K/9 - that made him worth spending a few bucks on in your auction or a decent late-round gamble in a draft. Well 2010 changed that as his strikeout rates dropped to a career low 7.3 and his walk rates to a career high of 6.1. His velocity on all of his pitches was down 2 to 3 mph across the board to boot. And guess what. It could have been worse. He actually managed a .284 batting average on balls in play, suppressing an ERA that could easily have been over 6.00. Harden did pass his physical despite shoulder and knee injuries suffered last season. His role is undetermined, but he will be in contention for the fifth spot with fellow oft-injured starter Brandon McCarthy. It is also possible, in a effort to perhaps preserve his health going forward, that he could be moved to a bullpen role, though I do not see how he could be used on back to back days given his history. For 2011, he is a last around or $1 gamble in AL only leagues unless he has a fantastic spring training.
Mastersball, founded in 1997, is a leader in providing in-depth analysis, research, projections and applications to the advanced fantasy baseball player. A 2010 merger brought the writers of CREATiVESPORTS into the fold, widely known for 15 years of insightful fantasy analysis and commentary.
Don't miss these great reports....