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The Waiver Wire: Small Sample Size

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The Waiver Wire: Small Sample Size

Posted on 11 April 2012 by Daniel Aubain

Most teams have played about five games so far in this young season and most fantasy owners are already chomping at the bit to make changes to their rosters. But here’s a bit of free advice; slow down and take a deep breath. Don’t go blowing up your entire roster or destroying a perfectly good draft strategy to pick up a player who is off to a fast start unless you’re dealing with an unexpected injury or bailing on a late-round pick or “sleeper” who isn’t going to pan out any time soon. You’ll surely regret making a huge mistake this early in the season.

Here’s a look at some players widely available in most fantasy baseball leagues who may be worth targeting if you already find yourself with an early season need:

  • 2B Omar Infante, Marlins – Infante has gone 6-for-18 with a double, triple, three home runs, four RBI and five runs in his first five games of the season. He’s stuck in the bottom third of the batting order for now but a continued hot streak could see him move the top third sooner than later. He’s a career .276 hitter but hit .305 in 2009 and .321 in 2010. He’s only owned in 58.1% of ESPN leagues, 35% of Yahoo! leagues and 52% of CBS leagues.
  • SS Zack Cozart, Reds – Cozart was mentioned on many “sleeper” lists this offseason and his hot start is showing why. He’s gone 8-for-17 with five extra-base hits (two doubles, two triples, one home run), two RBI and five runs scored. He’s currently batting second in front of Joey Votto and reaping the benefits early. He’s only owned in 35.6% of ESPN leagues, 48% of Yahoo! leagues and oddly, 80% of CBS leagues.
  • 1B Adam LaRoche, Nationals – A career .215 hitter in March/April, LaRoche’s hot start is a welcomed surprise for fantasy owners. He’s gone 8-for-20 with two home runs and six RBI. He could be a nice filler on a roster utilizing a corner infield, infielder or multiple DH/utility spots. He’s only owned in 22% of ESPN leagues, 24% of Yahoo! leagues and 50% of CBS leagues.
  • OF David Murphy, Rangers – It wasn’t clear what Murphy’s role in the Rangers outfield was going to be heading into the season but a hot start should keep him in the lineup against all righties and even some hittable lefties. He’s opened the season going 8-for-15 with a home run and only owned in 12% of ESPN leagues, 14% of Yahoo! leagues and 25% of CBS leagues. He may not be worth the pickup in shallower leagues but mixed and AL-only owners should be paying attention at this point.
  • SS Rafael Furcal, Cardinals – Furcal is off to a 10-for-23 (.435 BA) start with three RBI, three runs scored and two stolen bases batting atop the Cardinals lineup. A career .283 hitter with a .348 OBP, if healthy, he could steal 20 to 30 bases. He’s owned in 65.6% of ESPN leagues, 55% of Yahoo! leagues and 63% of CBS leagues so check your league’s waivers now because he may not be available much longer.
  • 3B Chone Figgins, Mariners – Okay, we’ve all been burned by Figgins in the past but he seems to have figured something out here in the early goings of 2012. He’s 8-for-24 with three runs, four RBI and a stolen base and working on outfield eligibility with five games played already due to the Mike Carp injury. He’s 21.6% owned in ESPN leagues, 34% owned in Yahoo! leagues and 42% owned in CBS leagues. Tread wisely, my friends. Tread wisely.
  • RP Hector Santiago, White Sox – So, guess who’s emerged as the White Sox closer? Yep, not Matt Thornton. Santiago has recorded two saves so far and will likely keep the job until he proves unworthy. He’s only owned in 29.8% of ESPN leagues, 54% of Yahoo! leagues and 54% of CBS leagues. If you’re the “trolling for saves on waivers” type, give Santiago a look.
  • RP Jonathan Broxton, Royals – Broxton recorded his first save as the Royals closer by striking out the side. Both positive signs if you are still looking for saves. He’s owned in 59% of ESPN leagues, 63% of Yahoo! leagues and 63% of CBS leagues.
  • RP Fernando Rodney, Rays – Still looking for saves? Rodney has recorded two and the Rays are the kind of team that would play matchups for saves (um, closer by committee?) while Kyle Farnsworth is out. Rodney’s owned in 20.8% of ESPN leagues, 48% of  Yahoo! leagues and 47% of CBS leagues. UPDATE: Rodney just recorded a save against the Tigers is now 3-for-3 in save chances.

Again, I’m not recommending you blow up your roster to chase any of these players. These are small sample sizes but each player may provide a short-term benefit to your roster, so be sure to weigh the player being dropped, accordingly. Most are going to be useful in your deeper mixed leagues or a league-only version. Shallow leagues are already playing out as All-Star teams and, in my opinion, hardly even worth joining unless you are new to the game and are trying to get a feel for the process.

What moves have you made that have benefited your team already? Have you grabbed a “star” off of waivers that some owner dumped as a knee-jerk reaction to fill a need? I was able to pick up B.J. Upton off waivers the day after he was placed on the DL and he’s a player I actively avoided in my drafts. I wasn’t interested in him at his 80.3 ESPN ADP but for free off waivers, yes please.

Be sure to connect with me on Twitter @DJAubain to continue the fantasy baseball discussion and more all season long.

NOTE: All statistics and ownership numbers quoted are as of games played through April 10th, 2012 unless otherwise noted.

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An increasing trend in baseball: 40 steals, 100 strikeouts

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An increasing trend in baseball: 40 steals, 100 strikeouts

Posted on 21 March 2012 by Graham Womack

For a speedy center fielder, Cameron Maybin must have been swinging for the fences in 2011. Besides stealing 40 bases last year, more than he’d swiped in his four previous seasons combined, the Padres outfielder struck out 125 times, also a career-high. It wasn’t the greatest of feats for Maybin, a long-heralded prospect and a centerpiece of the Tigers-Marlins Miguel Cabrera trade in December 2007 who’s been known more since then as something of a baseball vagabond.

Thing is, Maybin’s far from alone in the amount that he struck out and stole bases last year.

Ninety players in baseball history have recorded at least 40 steals and 100 strikeouts in a season, all but two having done so since 1960. Numbers have spiked in recent years, with 30 men accomplishing the feat since 2000 including five each of the past two seasons, a record.

A full list of the men with at least 40 steals and 100 strikeouts in 2010 and 2011 is as follows, courtesy of the Play Index from Baseball-Reference.com:

1 Matt Kemp 39 40 159 2011 LAD 689 602 115 195 33 4 126 74 11 .324 .399 .586 .986
2 Drew Stubbs 15 40 205 2011 CIN 681 604 92 147 22 3 44 63 10 .243 .321 .364 .686
3 Cameron Maybin 9 40 125 2011 SDP 568 516 82 136 24 8 40 44 8 .264 .323 .393 .716
4 Emilio Bonifacio 5 40 129 2011 FLA 641 565 78 167 26 7 36 59 11 .296 .360 .393 .753
5 Michael Bourn 2 61 140 2011 TOT 722 656 94 193 34 10 50 53 14 .294 .349 .386 .734
6 Carl Crawford 19 47 104 2010 TBR 663 600 110 184 30 13 90 46 10 .307 .356 .495 .851
7 B.J. Upton 18 42 164 2010 TBR 610 536 89 127 38 4 62 67 9 .237 .322 .424 .745
8 Brett Gardner 5 47 101 2010 NYY 569 477 97 132 20 7 47 79 9 .277 .383 .379 .762
9 Michael Bourn 2 52 109 2010 HOU 605 535 84 142 25 6 38 59 12 .265 .341 .346 .686
10 Chone Figgins 1 42 114 2010 SEA 702 602 62 156 21 2 35 74 15 .259 .340 .306 .646

What’s behind the surge?

I put the word out on Twitter on Tuesday and got a variety of responses. My friend @dianagram reminded me that, in general, strikeouts are up in baseball; teams whiffed 1,150 times apiece on average in 2011, in contrast to the MLB average of 801 strikeouts in 1960. Heck, it was 496 per team in 1930. There’s talk of the strikeout being less destructive, which sounds backwards to me. I miss the days of Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial striking out roughly five percent of their at-bats. Tony Gwynn did this in recent years, but he was a throwback.

Other followers in my Twitter feed pointed to an increased use of specialized relievers with high strikeout totals, less emphasis on contact hitting, and more emphasis on power. Josh Wilker, author of Cardboard Gods, replied to me, “Fewer slap-hitting lead-off types nowadays? GMs avoid the ol’ Omar Moreno style of contact ‘hitting,’ maybe.” There were other ideas as well, with my friend @figurefilbert suggesting that expansion has diluted talent levels, and @MikeGianella countering that the US population has nearly doubled since 1960. It’s part of a broader question about if baseball’s gotten better or worse over the years, a question I couldn’t answer in one post.

Whatever the case, the trend of high strikeout and stolen base totals doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. This comes even with Bill James and other baseball researchers showing in recent years that the caught stealing rate can be no more than 15 percent before base stealing efforts become counterproductive. Old habits die hard, I guess. That being, I would doubt that teams are all that concerned. After all, the Padres just signed the soon-to-be 25-year-old Maybin to a five-year, $25 million extension two weeks ago.

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The Roster Report – March 10, 2012

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The Roster Report – March 10, 2012

Posted on 10 March 2012 by Bryan Grosnick

Hey there, hardball fans. In this edition of the Roster Report, we’ll cover a couple of those exciting Spring Training position battles. We’ll keep things on the West Coast, with positional battles in the Bay Area and over by Puget Sound. One battle is due to the fact that there just plain aren’t any good players available, and another is due to an unsurprising injury.

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The San Francisco Giants Middle Infield

I thought for sure that the Giants would take the opportunity over the offseason to make a move and address the team’s biggest weakness: a lack of talent in the middle of the diamond. Instead, the Giants reloaded with veteran retreads in an attempt to patch their hole, and now project to have very poor production from the middle of the infield. Ostensibly, the starters for this team are veteran 2B Freddy Sanchez and rookie SS Brandon Crawford, but one has to expect that backups Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot will see plenty of time in the middle as well. And that’s not a good thing.

We’ll start with Crawford, who certainly has his good points. He’s a solid defensive shortstop, and has done well from both a scouting and an analytical standpoint.  In about 500 innings at short in 2011, Crawford managed to be worth about three runs with the leather, according to FanGraphs. That’s not half bad. Unfortunately, the glove (and arm…and range…and decent baserunning skill) is all Crawford has going for him. His bat is a work in progress, but even when that work is finished, it may not be any good. Brandon flashes virtually no power, makes fairly weak contact, and his burgeoning on-base skill can’t make up for his offensive failings. With a 60 wRC+ last season in limited action, he projects to be sub-par with the bat, and could be a real drain on an already soft Giant lineup. You have to play terrific D to hit as bad as Crawford does and stay a starter.

At second base is the veteran Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez is easily the best middle infielder on the Giants, capable of mixing above-average defense at the pivot with a bat that’s roughly league-average. At second base, that combination will certainly play. The Giants would have to be thrilled with a repeat of his 2010 performance, in which he was worth a full 2.5 FanGraphs WAR. But alas, Sanchez has become terribly injury-prone, and he’s on the downward slope of his career. Freddy only managed 111 games in both 2009 and 2010, then a meager 60 games in 2011. A late-season shoulder surgery should be recovered enough to have him start the season off the DL, but it remains to be seen if it affects his offensive output. Since Sanchez doesn’t hit for power or draw walks, his offense is tied to his ability to put balls in play, and if that skill fades, it will be a long season at second for the Giants.

The Giants are going to party like it is 2008 (and they’re the Cubs) with the combo of  Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot in the middle infield. I can already predict how this is going to work: Theriot will get the first call at short when Crawford fails to hit, and Fontenot will get the first call at second when Sanchez needs an injury breather. The trouble is, neither player is a plus defender, and both posted similar wRC+ scores in 2011. Theriot managed an 84 wRC+, while Fontenot managed an 87 wRC+. Unfortunately, both those scores put them as below-average hitters. Neither player hits for any power, or provides substantive walk totals. Do you see a pattern forming here? They may hit better than Crawford, but not by enough to offset their defensive shortcomings.

I wouldn’t get too worked up though, if I were a Giants fan. I personally believe that the team’s long term answer at second base is already on the team’s roster! If you want to try and hazard a guess at who I’m thinking of, take a minute. I’ll wait.

That’s right. Buster Posey. I had the opportunity to watch him play while I attended FSU, and I can attest that he has the footwork and defensive chops (he played shortstop for the ‘Noles…as well as every other position on the team) to make the Biggio-transition if the need presents itself. And from a realistic standpoint, I truly believe that it will. I think we all want Posey to stay behind the dish for as long as possible, but his bat is just too talented to risk the near-constant wear and tear that inevitably leads to injury. Posey’s bat would certainly play better in a position like second or third base rather than first, which should be locked up for the foreseeable future by Brandon Belt anyways.

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The Seattle Mariners Outfield

Before Spring Training began, the Mariner outfield looked pretty much set. Since Jesus Montero projects to get many of the at-bats at DH, the Mariners looked to run out a glove-friendly outfield of Ichiro Suzuki (RF), Franklin Gutierrez (CF), and Mike Carp (LF). Alas, Gutierrez proved his reputation as an injury-prone player, and wound up with a torn pectoral muscle. With Gutierrez looking to miss about a month (if not more), the Mariners are looking for a new defensive anchor in the outfield.

Given that the Mariners aren’t poised to be top contenders this season, it seems unlikely that they’d look for an outside option. The team has several interesting, if not earth-shattering options to fill in at center until “Death to Flying Things” returns. Those options, in no particular order, are Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Michael Saunders, and Chone Figgins. Robinson had a terrific stat line at Triple-A last season hitting 26 homers, but he makes precious little contact. His numbers were likely inflated by the positive run environment in the PCL, and he looks more like a Triple-A hitter or occasional bench bat. His defense probably isn’t good enough to keep him in a regular CF role anyways. Chone Figgins…is Chone Figgins. I’m not even sure why his name has come up as a potential CF option, given that he hasn’t played the position since 2006, and wasn’t particularly good there anyways when he did play in center. Figgins’s bat has completely disappeared (.218 wOBA in 2011) since coming to Seattle, and there’s virtually no way he’d be a positive upgrade over any other player with the lumber.

That leaves Casper Wells and Michael Saunders as the two most likely options in center. Both players play solid defense, and they are both young(ish) and have shown promise in the minor leagues. Each player strikes out too much (28.3% K-rate for Saunders, 26.5% for Wells), but shows flashes of power, and each could play passable center field given the opportunity. In fact, the biggest difference between the two players is their handedness: Saunders hits lefty while Wells hits righty. Given that both players are likely to make the team (as utility outfielders, if nothing else), the best bet for the Mariners might be to take the platoon advantage and alternate the two young players. By mixing and matching, they may be taking ABs away from the young hitters, but they’ll also be maximizing their advantage in each game. Given that neither Saunders or Wells is a real blue-chip prospect, the idea of playing each guy against their best opponent could be a strategy that pays dividends in the short-term. And if either player gets hot and cements himself as a starter, all the better.

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