The Annual “Why I Picked These Guys” Wrap-up

November 10, 2015



It may sound funny but November is one of my favorite months for baseball. The reason is that not only do I travel to Arizona to watch the up-and-coming prospects performing in the Arizona Fall League, but it is when the XFL holds their annual auction draft to replenish the rosters. It is the one time of year when all the members gather and not only talk baseball but just have fun and fellowship. The XFL draft is just the cherry on top.


OK, so down to brass tacks… I was coming into the draft with an expensive but talented core that had a number of question marks. Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Martinez, Brandon Belt, Jung-Ho Kang, Anthony Rendon and Giancarlo Stanton all have injury concerns to at least some degree. The other keepers included Joey Gallo, Taijuan Walker, Justin Upton, Paul Goldschmidt and Buster Posey. That group was understandably expensive which left me with only $49 to spend at the table.


So here’s what I came away with:


Trevor Bauer ($4) – In a conversation I had with Tim McLeod before last year’s draft his name came up, but I had not seen enough in 2014 to warrant a roster spot. But in 2015, I did. I use a stat called Game Score 60 (GS60) to determine how well a pitcher performed in the previous season. It’s not necessarily predictive but it is often revealing. Similar to Ron Shandler’s PQS scores, GS60 reveals that while end-of-season numbers might suggest a mediocre pitcher, that merely by mitigating bad outings that some pitchers have the potential to elevate to an elite level of performance. In Bauer’s case it revealed that he was wildly inconsistent last year: he was either very good or very bad and that there weren’t too many games in which he was merely mediocre. But the key for me was how often it happened. Bauer tossed sixteen GS60 games last year; the other starters who had sixteen GS60 starts were Corey Kluber, Garrett Richards, Jon Lester, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Francisco Liriano, more than Johnny Cueto, Collin McHugh or Jordan Zimmerman had. He also had more GS70 games than Gerrit Cole, John Lackey, Lance Lynn or Shelby Miller. The point is not that I expect Bauer will suddenly be great in 2016 - although he might well be; in those GS60 starts he posted a collective 1.57 ERA and a 0.947 WHIP – but that all of the guys listed are considered fairly safe bets to be very good. And unlike Travis Wood’s spectacular 2013 season, Bauer has enough raw stuff to succeed without everything going right. I don’t buy the upside of Cody Anderson or TJ House, nor do I think that what Josh Tomlin did at the end of last season is sustainable, so to me Bauer is a reasonably safe play with some upside potential.


Ender Inciarte ($8) – Stolen bases were down by a significant amount last year. Inciarte finished in the low 20s but missed more than a month due to a hamstring pull. What made him especially intriguing to me was that after the Break, he not only displayed good speed, but an on base of nearly .360 with a BB/K ratio of 18/28. There might even be more to him than that. Over that same time frame he produced more total bases than Andrew McCutcheon or Lorenzo Cain. I’m not so much worried about Yasmany Tomas taking playing time away from him because Tomas was brutal after the Break: .208/.228/.325 with only 4 walks against 55 strikeouts in 154 ABs.  Twice in his minor league career Inciarte has stolen more than 40 bases in a season so it would not surprise me to see him reach the 30s this year. That could be very valuable if SBs continue to drop.


Neil Walker ($13) – I was hoping to get Elvis Andrus here to fill my MI spot because I still needed speed. However I still didn’t have a closer at this point - which were apparently all going for $16 - so I could not afford to get into a bidding war with Gene McCaffery over Andrus who was already at $20. Still, Walker at $13 seemed like a deal too good to pass up, especially if he ends up playing in a park other than PNC. On the surface it looks like he suffered a significant drop in power but the reality is that some of the balls that went for homers in 2014 were merely doubles in 2015. The apparent erosion in walk and strikeout rates disappeared in the second half. This is still pretty much the same player and PNC Park was one of the toughest places to hit in. He’s a candidate for a modest rebound even if he doesn’t change teams.


Josh Harrison ($3) – So this was the direction I had to take because of getting Walker. The plan going in was to spend $3 on a third baseman with some pop – as there were plenty – but this worked out OK. Harrison missed time after getting hit on the hand but still showed many of his 2014 skills after his return. With Kang’s injury he might again achieve multiple position eligibilities, too.  He still has enough speed to steal 20 bases given regular playing time, but unlike 2014 where he played all around the field, most of his opportunities will have to come from the infield. The Pirates simply have too much talent in their current outfield and close to ready in the minors to let Harrison play there. With potential opportunities at third, short and second, that shouldn’t prove too much of an obstacle.


Hector Rondon ($11) – My hope going in was to land two top closers for a combined $24 but that went out the window when every good closer thrown out went for $16. Kimbrell, Jansen and Robertson all went for that, with Britton going for $15. Even Street and Osuna went for $14. Arodys Vizcaino, AJ Ramos and Rondon were the next tier at $11. Of those three, I prefer Rondon because after recovering the role mid-season he posted elite strikeout and walk rates. In fact, of the closers who netted at least 10 saves after the Break, only Jansen, Britton and Familia had better walk (1.93 per 9 IP) and strikeout rates (10.19 per 9 IP) than Rondon.


Desmond Jennings ($1) – The talent is here for a 15 HR/30 SB season or better. There has been some talk about trading him to a team that plays on grass in order to keep his knees healthy, and in the interest of accuracy it’s only his left knee that has proved problematic the past two seasons. But the reality is that he’s almost always battling some kind of injury. He’s never played as many as 140 games in a season and he’ll be 29 this season so just at the falling edge of his peak years. He makes contact at a pretty decent rate which makes him an attractive target for a team that needs such a player like Houston, or a team that focuses on that kind of player like Kansas City, St. Louis or San Francisco.


Michaels Saunders ($1) – See Jennings, Desmond. Well, not really. Yes, he’s coming off a knee injury but Saunders has been more inhibited by an inability to hit major league pitching early in his career than by injuries. It appeared, however, that he figured it out in 2014 and was poised for a breakout season before injury abbreviated last season. If given 500 at bats he’s a decent source of power and speed. Whether that happens in Toronto or not is another question. The team certainly seemed to gel with the speed of Revere at the top and Pillar’s defense in center so Saunders could be on the move but that might not happen until he proves completely healthy in the spring. I have to believe that some team will find his tools compelling enough to play full-time.


Caleb Joseph ($1) – Outside of Brian McCann, the catchers who were available were all iterations of basically the same player: 12-15 home run power with a fairly low on base. Sure, there were some that had more upside like Derek Norris but those players would have cost $10 more. I just didn’t feel like the low chance of upside outweighed the cost. Joseph was intriguing because he has been killed by BABIP over the last two seasons. With average luck he could be a .260/.320/.400 type catcher and his walk rate and strikeout rates both took positive steps forward in 2015.


R.A. Dickey ($1) – I didn’t plan on getting Dickey. He was my canary in a coal mine. I didn’t want to risk throwing out one of the players I really wanted and thought someone who needed pitching would bid $2. They didn’t. It’s not a big deal as he only cost $1, and there is reason to think that he’ll at least be decent. There was a significant drop in K rate but there was also a decent drop in walk rate that accompanied it. He was solid over the final two months of the season. I don’t know if that was due to some fix in mechanics or just good luck but the cost to find out next year wasn’t too steep.


Derek Holland ($1) – Honestly over the last two seasons there’s not a lot to like results-wise. But lefties with good control and a 93 mph fastball tend to become pretty decent pitchers. I chalk up last year’s bad results to rust from more than a year off due to a knee injury followed by a shoulder injury. If he’s completely healthy and given a normal spring training, I believe he’s a solid starter. I am a bit concerned that the departure of Mike Maddux could have a negative impact, and Doug Brocail’s track record isn’t very good after his stint as Houston’s pitching coach from 2011-2013. I’m more concerned about him going away from his four-seam fastball in favor of a sinker in order to get his home run rate under control. It hasn’t worked – he’s actually given up more homers and extra base hits with the sinker than he has with the four-seamer in roughly the same number of pitches thrown. If he goes back to using what actually works for him it won’t matter who the pitching coach is.


That’s all until the end of March when we complete the reserve rosters in the supplemental draft. Obviously, you don’t care about my team but I thought it would be useful to know how particular players are perceived in a mixed league context going into this offseason and before spring training. These values could and probably will change once the spring games commence.