Thursday, April 28, 2005

 

A Lineup of Slow Starts

I made a bit of a lineup of guys who have had slow starts:

1. Ray Durham (2B) - .203/.346/.250
2. Erubiel Durazo (DH) - .214/.295/.286
3. Mike Lowell (3B) - .187/.225/.320
4. Victor Martinez (C) - .221/.308/.368
5. Steve Finley (CF) - .169/.259/.338
6. Carlos Pena (1B) - 167/.328/.259
7. Jermaine Dye (RF) - .181/.213/.319
8. Todd Hollandsworth (LF) - .214/.313/.339
9. Jack Wilson (SS) - .157/.192/.171

Some big names, as always, are getting off to slow starts. It begs a few questions: are these bad omens, the first signs of irreparable aging or unfulfillable potential? Are they typical?

The nine guys listed above are nine players who have had slow starts. Let's take a look:

C - Victor Martinez: Martinez was the beneficiary of the $15.5 million, 5-year contract with an option for an extra year and was widely viewed by people in the know as the rising "best catcher in the game." Considering that, the Indians got a steal for his services, which should carry the 26-year old through his prime. But Martinez has been disappointing so far this year. However, 50 points in batting average would go a long way (literally, if two line drives had fallen in, his line is around .250/.330/.426, which doesn't look so bad). Martinez has had the best year among our slow starters, thus far, but the concerning thing to me is the lack of isolated power. To put it into perspective, he's got an ISO of .147, which is far off of his .209 from last year and fits in right around what Lew Ford and Larry Bigbie did last year.

Outlook: The walks are there in the early going, so I'm not too worried about Martinez as a productive catcher. Even if his peak was in '04, he hangs around that level of production, he's going to be one of the best catchers in the AL for an extended period of time. I love the EBHs from back in 2002 in Akron; Martinez had 62 in 443 at bats. There's some real talent here and he's only 25.
FLAGS: He's a young catcher, and young catchers have been known to flame out.

1B - Carlos Pena: We'd have to go back to the Ted Lilly-Jeff Weaver trade to talk about Pena. I wrote Pena down on my imaginary list of players to watch this year because Pena put up the quietest 27 homers I've seen in a while. As all the stathead-folk (myself included) were high on Hee-Seop, Pena was doing something similar in the AL.

Choi: .251/.370/.449
Pena: .241/.338/.472

Choi's year was a bit better, but Pena was solid for the Tigers. I thought he could be due for a big year. Early returns aren't looking too hot, but the walks are way up: Pena currently ranks 8th in the bigs in BB/PA, which is a bit of an abberation.

Pena's problem has been a low batting average moreso than anything else. His power hasn't arrived, yet, either. Pena jumped out at me b/c of his isolated power in 2004, which ranked ahead of such sluggers as Hideki Matsui, Alex Rodriguez, and Derrek Lee.

Outlook: I don't know about Pena nowadays. His highest batting average ever was a .299 in the hitter-friendly Texas League. He's also 27 now, so if he doesn't emerge soon, when will he?
FLAGS: Potential "old player skills" candidate, rising K/PA.

2B - Ray Durham: There's an age for second basemen, for some reason, which tends to show a decline....33-34 seems to be a cliff for 2nd basemen; Robbie Alomar and Joe Morgan are the two biggest examples (and I erroneously mentioned Robin Yount as a 2nd baseman in a blog entry and don't know why). I assume it's just the skillset....

I was doing a fantasy draft this year and was looking for a second baseman. Durham, whom I've liked for a while, was only 33, so I opted to take him a bit superstitiously.

I don't know what it is about 34, and I doubt that there's much credence to it. But, for some odd reason, good second basemen seem to die at a certain point in their careers.

Durham's year ain't looking too good right now. He's exhibiting his best skill at this point, OBP, but his average and power are also down. Fantasy owners, like myself, are quite annoyed.

I expected a bit more from Durham on the power front:

Crude Park-Adjusted IsoP

2001: .196
2002: .158 (411, 248)
2003: .157
2004: .200

I didn't expect the .200 IsoP to just be a blip; there's more to it than that. In the early going, Durham's run into some troubles, though, and he's not hitting for power at all.

He's old enough to note that April is usually one of his best months, too, so he's not an "historical slow starter." (I don't know how much stock I put into that, but I assume that some players have tendencies in that direction....for example, the Lo Duca 2nd half drop off is fairly consistent.)

Outlook: I'm shifting on this pretty quickly, I guess. Enjoy the Durham while he lasts; he's becoming fairly one-dimensional (OBP) as a solid career winds to a close. He's lost a step, unfortunately, and I'd say that this could be the last good year.
FLAGS: Extraordinarily low power early on, aging second baseman, 17/28 in steals in 03-04 (losing speed).

SS - Jack Wilson: There are few players for whom a slow start would scare me as much as Jack Wilson, but he's at the top of that list, IMO. Here's a split:

A: .332/.354/.501
B: .223/.291/.324

That's Wilson's 2004 first half v. the rest of his career. Looks awfully flukish.

Outlook: I don't have anything else to say on Jack. Maybe he'll turn it around and pull himself close to his 2004 first half. But Wilson's not a kid anymore; he's 27. .279/.313/.407 wouldn't be unattainable (his 2nd half last year), but Wilson's nowhere near the star he was in the first half of last year.
FLAGS: Read description.

3B - Mike Lowell: Lowell always seems to get off to a fast start, so when I caught a glimpse of his stats in a recent Mets-Marlins game, I was a bit surprised. Sure enough, April is his best month across his career; he's put up a .915 OPS.

I like Mike Lowell. 2003 looks like a typical peak year for him as he posted spikes in OBP, IsoP, and batting average. (At some point, I'm going to look back at that unusual Marlins-team of '03, but that'll be something down the road.) But he's never really had a "bad year," per se, at least since his rookie season.

2000: .270/.344/.474
2001: .283/.340/.448
2002: .276/.346/.471
2003: .276/.350/.530
2004: .293/.365/.505

Mighty impressive. Notice the consistency in Iso-OBP since '02:

2002: .070
2003: .074
2004: .072

Lowest batting average in that little stretch was a .276, lowest slugging was a .471.

Outlook: I see nothing to expect a significant decline this year. Chalk it up to a bad slump. I also think that Lowell is a prototype if you're looking to get into some simple projection-studies. Weight the years and then age-adjust, and you've got something.
FLAGS: None on my watch, and if you're weak at third base and you've got anyone who is a bit impatient in a larger fantasy league, steal him.

LF - Todd Hollandsworth: Hollandsworth's interesting because it's hard to fathom that he won rookie of the year a few years back. He's 32 and, since that season, he's never really held down a starter's job for an extended period of time. He's got a line of .279/.336/.447, on his career, and, outside of Coors', he's less impressive. His 148 at bats last year at Wrigley yielded some impressive numbers, but that's a quirk of sample size, I think. Career OPS+: 101.

He did get the job for the Cubbies...and the results aren't great.

Outlook: DuBois's coming....
FLAGS: Nothing specific...he's just not very good.

CF - Steve Finley: 40 year old centerfielders scare me, but....well, Finley's numbers haven't been all that conventional:

BB/PA

2001: .086
2002: .113
2003: .098
2004: .086

IsoP

2001: .156
2002: .212
2003: .213
2004: .220

Declining walks, but increasing power. Hmmm...another metric:

OPS+

2001: 92
2002: 120
2003: 113
2004: 110

Realize that a lot of Finley's stats were accumulated at the very friendly BOB, and he's not there anymore.

I don't think that Finley's done yet, but I think he's due for a bit of a drop-off.

Outlook: Finley's poor start has to raise some heads, and I'm worried, too. Finley could conceivably collapse this year; those OPS+ figures are worrisome. I think that here on out, he'll be about average, making his stats slightly below. But counting on that is a problem, and it might hurt Anaheim a lot in a tough division race down the stretch.
FLAGS: Age. Collapsing plate discipline??

RF - Jermaine Dye: It's trendy to say that Jermaine Dye was Billy Beane's worst signing. And this is probably true. According to Baseball Reference, Dye made $30.5 million over 3 years. If I recall correctly, after a torrid stretch with the A's in 2001, he suffered a gruesome injury in the playoffs, and they signed him anyway.

The ChiSox are winning in spite of Dye's disastrous opening stretch of the season. Dye's not all that impressive at this point in his career; I find it interesting that Fanball says, "Dye has proven himself to be a top-25 AL outfielder so far this season and should be your fantasy lineup every week." Maybe I'm missing something, but Dye seems like an expendable type, right?

Dye's OK...his last 3 SLGs were in a range of .459-.467, so I assume he'll be somewhere relatively close to there. I don't see any overwhelming trends, except that he tends to miss some time every season.

Outlook: No way does Dye stay where he is, but he's a replaceable player.
FLAGS: Injury-prone. Rising K/PA.

DH - Erubiel Durazo: Final one of these! I do like this kind of analysis...it's relatively subjective at times, but I try to keep it very stat-oriented.

Durazo's a bit weird....his 2004 could be interpreted as a few things:

1. A breakout year: Billy Beane is always right and he nailed it with Durazo. He should come close to that for the next few years, and they'll get a lot in trade for him if they decide to give the job to Dan Johnson.
2. A peak year: he was 30 last year and that's the best we'll ever see from him.
3. My interpretation: most of his improvement from 03-04 was a product of an enhanced batting average stemming from a bit of luck.

Here's some information:

- Durazo's percentage of hits that went for extra bases dropped from '03-'04.
- Durazo's K/PA rose.
- Durazo's BB/PA dropped.

I don't know what to make of that, but, coupled with some data from The Hardball Times, I'm going to make the following conclusions:

- Durazo's a good hitter. He's not a great hitter.
- Durazo's extreme levels of production were the combination of a more aggressive approach at the plate and a lot of luck.
- I suspect that he will return to Earth this year while keeping that same aggressive approach. I think this will hurt him.

Take what you will...I wonder if the A's brain-trust missed an opportunity to dump Durazo for very high value to slide in Johnson.

Outlook: He'll be better. Not nearly as good as last year.
FLAGS: Read description.

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