Saturday, March 27, 2010

2010 All Undervalued Team

Well, time for my annual "picks to click" list. These are guys that strike me as being ready to take a step forward. Guys who are going to be better than their current valuation. It's easy to point to Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay and say that they're going to be studs in 2010. Barring injury, that's a virtual certainty. It's more fun and more valuable to focus on those under the radar guys who could step up in 2010. Guys who could be legitimate breakout candidates.

Daric Barton

Well, I've written on Barton before, but this will likely be his last appearance on here. Either he breaks through in 2010 or not, regardless he'll either graduate from this list or fall off it entirely. So, be it from breakthrough or flop, this is it for Barton.

Still, I can't help but really like his chances for 2010. While it seems like he's been around forever, in actuality he is still only 24 years old. The reason I like Barton is that he has perhaps the best plate approach of anyone in baseball this side of Albert Pujols.

1. Rarely chases pitches outside the strikezone. In 2009, Barton swung at pitches outside the strikezone only 13.5%, which was among the league leaders. Quite obviously, the fewer...

2. Barton makes contact at a 90% clip on pitches in the strikezone.

So, he rarely chases pitches outside the zone and when he swings at pitches inside the zone he makes contact 90% of the time. He doesn't go outside the zone and makes contact on the vast majority of the time on pitches in the zone. Those two factors help explain why Barton has the ability to walk more often than he whiffs, which is a rare combination in this day and age.

3. Barton hits line drives at a ~20% clip.

So, he rarely chases pitches outside the zone, he makes contact at a 90% clip on pitches in the zone, and when he does make contact he hits line drives 20% of the time. When you hit line drives at such a high rate, many of those balls in play will fall in for a hit.

In addition, Barton had Lasik surgery on his eyes this past offseason. If he does breakthrough in 2010, then people will likely point to that as a driving factor. However, through the miracle of modern technology, I watched basically every plate appearance Barton had over the final 5-6 weeks of the 2009 season. And, quite frankly, he looked good. He rarely chased a bad pitch, controlling the strikezone very effectively. When the pitchers worked him outside, he drove the ball with authority through the 5.5 hole on the infield. When he got a pitch on the inner half that he could handle, he did a nice job of dropping the head of the bat on the ball.

In September, Barton hit .310/.406/.488/.894 in 84 ABs. And, his performance could have been even more impressive, as he missed out on two additional homeruns by a grand total of about 4 feet. In a game against the Rangers in the Ballpark in Arlington, Barton hit a double off the top of the right-centerfield fence. If the ball was 2 feet higher, it would have been a homer instead of a double. Back home in Oakland for the next series, Barton was robbed of a homerun when Shin-Soo Choo jumped up against the rightfield fence to bring it back. Instead of 2 homers in September, he could easily have had 4 and maybe a bit more hype heading into the 2010 season.

Overall, I'm bullish on Barton for 2010. I think he's legitimately ready to pop. He controls the zone superbly and seems to have regained confidence in his swing. I'm not sure there is a better hitter in baseball at tilting the probability of success in an at bat in his favor. And, now he seems to have his refined his swing to enable him to better take advantage of those increased odds.

Sean Rodriguez

Rodriguez was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays in the Scott Kazmir deal. He's flown under the radar a bit, but he's a very interesting prospect due in no small part to the thunder in his bat. He has a nice righthanded swing and serious pop. In 2008, he slugged .645 at triple-A and in 2009 he followed it up by slugging .608. Now, admittedly, some context is required, as he put up those numbers in a very friendly Salt Lake City ballpark. Still, even if you knock 100 points off his slugging percentage, Rodriguez is still doing impressive work. In addition to his power, Rodriguez also does a nice job of controlling the strikezone. He is a disciplined hitter who is more than willing to work the pitcher and draw a walk. For his minor league career, Rodriguez has a slash line of .281/.380/.501.

In addition, Rodriguez is a baseball lifer. His father, Johnny Rodriguez, bounced around various professional baseball levels for decades, raised him as a ballplayer as much as a son. One of the things that gives him so much value is his versatility. He has the skills to play just about any defensive position on the field and is more than willing to do so. Whatever it takes to help the team win, Rodriguez is willing to do.

Personally, I think Rodriguez should get a long look at the starting second base job with Zobrist shifting to rightfield. But, even if he doesn't win the 2b job, Ben Zobrist already blazed a trail in Tampa Bay to great effect for a super-utility type role, so the Rays are likely to be more comfortable using Rodriguez in that manner than other organizations. That may open up more playing time and more opportunities than he might receive in another organization.

Overall, Rodriguez strikes me as potential impact player in the making. He could be a 20 homer player with a .280+ batting average. And, he can hold down second base without difficulty. Whether he wins the 2b job or the Rays elect to use him as a super utility player, the Rays did very well in taking him off Anaheim's hands.

Chris Dickerson

Yes, I'm still a believer.

I'm surprised more people don't see the value in Dickerson. Even if he is never anything more than he was in 2009, he's still a plus defensive player in a premier defensive position who boasts elite on-base skills. That's a pretty rare combination, as finding a true leadoff hitter who can provide plus defense at an up the middle position is of great value. And yet, I do think there's a bit more projection left to his game.

In his MLB career, Dickerson has a slash line of .283/.383/.440 and a career line drive rate of 20.9%. Those are pretty impressive numbers, even if the slugging percentage is driven by his Ruthian performance during his 2008 cup of coffee.

I do think he has more power projection in his game than he showed in 2009. If he manages to crank even a few more homers in 2010, then he'll become a true impact talent. If I was a GM for a different organization, I would most definitely have tried to take Dickerson off Cincinnati's hands last offseason. Fortunately, he's still in the organization and the best should be yet to come.

John Bowker

Bowker is a guy I've seen more than a few times and every time I see him at the plate I just can't help but like him. Part of it exists on a gut level. I read John Sickels' Minor League Blog and he talks from time to time about subconscious pattern recognition, basically how, when he sees a prospect, he forms an opinion on some aspect of his skills without really knowing why. Basically, watching so much baseball over the years you start to subconsciously pick up on patterns and tendencies that you can't really explain. It's an attempt to explain away why we like certain players and not others, but one that may hold some merit.

As for Bowker, he's got a unique swing. It's fairly short and compact, almost to the point where it makes him look like he's swinging with shorter arms, but is likely more the result of a somewhat abbreviated follow through. Despite the somewhat compact swing, Bowker still manages to generate substantial power. So, his swing path is quick to the ball, but the lack of length *should* make him a bit less susceptible to strikeouts. It's really an interesting combination.

To top it off, his swing generates line drives at a very good clip, as evidenced by Bowker regularly being up over 20% in his minor league days. So, his swing gives him a very good chance of popping the ball out of the park, but if it doesn't leave the park it still has a good chance of falling in for a hit. Overall, Bowker strikes me as being a good, well rounded hitter who needs an opportunity to show what he can do.

Another reason for optimism was his 2009 performance in the minors. For triple-A Fresno, Bowker posted a ridiculous slash line of .342/.451/.596/1.047. It certainly wasn't a sample size fluke, as he did it in 450 plate appearances, but the thing that really jumps out is his on base percentage. His OBP was over 100 points higher than his batting average, which is not the norm for Bowker. He's always been a good, intriguing hitter, but never an on-base maven. Still, it'll be interesting to see if he sustains it to any real degree. I suspect he was hitting the ball so well that pitchers worked him very carefully, issuing a lot of walks of the unintentional intentional variety. So, it remains to be seen whether his performance represents a breakthrough to a new level of discipline and controlling the zone. I am typically skeptical of the ability of players to make substantial improvement in plate discipline, as I tend to view it as a tool rather than an improvable skill.

Bowker's defensive skills relegate him to leftfield and first base, but his bat is rather intriguing and should be more than enough to carry him in an offense-first position. Unfortunately, the Giants brought in so many mediocre veterans that they may have blocked Bowker for 2010, which is unfortunate because he deserves a look. Even so, he's ripping the ball in spring training and on the verge of forcing his way into the Giants plans.

Ricky Nolasco

This one may be the most obvious one of the bunch. He was actually performing at a high level in 2009, but his overall stats are not reflective of it. Last year, he had a 5.06 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.14 BB/9, and a 9.49 K/9. The 5.06 ERA is appalling, but his component stats were very impressive. In fact, his Fielding Independent Pitching was a stellar 3.35. He was undone by his Strand Rate (61.0%) and his BABIP of .336, both of which should normalize in 2010.

The Marlin defense did him no favors, but 2010 should be a breakout season for Nolasco.

Sean Gallagher

Gallagher has long been a favorite of mine. He features good velocity and life on his fastball and a plus curveball that is a real swing and miss pitch. During both his Chicago and Oakland days, Gallagher was plagued by a lack of opportunity and a lack of health. However, now that he has landed in San Diego, it could be the perfect situation for him. He now resides in the ultimate pitcher's park and should be completely healthy.

When healthy Gallagher strikes out roughly 7.5 per nine and walks roughly 3.5. He may not break camp as a member of the rotation, but may not be long for the bullpen as San Diego doesn't have many better options in the rotation. Early in his professional career, Gallagher failed to take advantage of his opportunities, but could be poised to do just that in 2010.


  1. i love these posts, mostly because i blindly follow only the reds and dont know much about other teams prospects that fly under the radar.

    How is Bartons defense?

  2. Smitty,

    Thanks, I enjoy these types of posts. It was late when I was writing it up and somehow I forgot to include John Bowker, so I went back and added him in.

    I usually end up thinking about guys I would acquire if I was the GM of a small market team. Guys who can provide maximum production per dollar spent. The undervalued talent is where teams can really gain a competitive advantage on other organizations.

    As for Barton, he was drafted as a catcher and has learned 1b on his way up the minor league ladder. At this point, he's at least average with the leather and could be above average. He's made some real strides over there and definitely won't be a liability and could even be an asset.

    If we didn't have Votto currently crushing the ball at the MLB level, then I'd be up on my soapbox all day long advocating that we need to acquire Barton. Of course, he may not take the step forward that I'm expecting, but I'm bullish on him for 2010.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!


  3. Lark,

    Just curious on a few things here. Barton has the best approach outside of Pujols? Not that I am saying you are wrong as I haven't seen Barton swing the bat, or just don't recall it (watching the A's puts me to sleep). I am just stunned any fan of a team with Votto on it wouldn't put Votto right there with Pujols in that regard. Not to mention A-Rod, Utley, Berkman, Jeter etc. How would you break down a face off between Barton and Vottos' approaches?

    If you like Dickerson (and I do as well) then you have to recognize that Stubbs could also be an eventual candidate for your list. They have similiar skill sets and issues. They just have different reasons for where they struggle. So just wonder what your take is on Stubbsy the GG defender with potentially elite OB skills and very good raw power?

    I love the Rodriguez pick very astute selection. I'd maybe add Travis Snider to your list he seems like a likely candidate to bust out, as well as Asdrubal Cabrera. Along with my favorite guy to bust out in '10, Jay Bruce (.280/.360/.520+). Nolasco I'm sure is a popular choice of arms around baseball as he has been in the past as well, seems he needs to put it together. At this moment I am finding it tough to think of many arms to genuinely bust out but there will be improvements all over with increased emphasis on defensive play. But Cueto too me seems like it's time to get to that next level and with Price's help I think he will. Aside from him I'll take a shot in the dark with Manny Parra.


  4. Will,

    Interesting thoughts. I'll try this again. Last night, I had a complete comment typed up only to have my computer crash. By that time, I was too frustrated to do it over again. So, this time, I'm breaking my response down into 2 different comments.

    I actually like all of the guys you just mentioned, including Snider, Stubbs, and Jay Bruce, but I wouldn't consider those guys to be undervalued. In fact, as I recall, all are recent first round draft picks, so they seem properly valued. If we wanted to acquire them, then we'd probably have to pay pretty much the going market rate.

    I'm not sure why, but I tend to put myself in the shoes of a small market GM with a terrible 25 man roster. So, I try to identify players in other organizations whose production is likely to outpace their price. Guys I could acquire on the cheap and plug in to help me compete immediately. The guys who provide good bang for the buck. However, to be that type of player, you have to have a lesser reputation/valuation, but still have solid upside. I think Dickerson fits that bill, while Stubbs does not. Still, I'm very bullish on Stubbs for 2010 and plan on writing up a separate post setting forth the reasons why.

    Anyway, it's something fun to ponder and a bit of a challenge to spot value.

    Now, turning to the Barton issue...

  5. I suppose I should start by more clearly explaining what I meant by the Barton/Pujols comment. When I think about hitting these days, I break it down into two different components. First, you have the plate approach, which is everything that happens up to and until firing the swing. Second, you have the swing, which is everything that happens after the hitter decides to swing. The dividing line between the two is the "go/no go" decision.

    When I was comparing Pujols and Barton, I was talking about the first component, which involves pitch recognition, controlling the strike zone, tilting the probability of success in your favor, and maximizing your chances of success.

    I like Votto and think he has the best approach on the Reds. Even so, I think it falls short of Barton's, but should make for an interesting comparison. Now, I have to admit that the two components do overlap a bit, especially in the context of contact rate. The more disciplined you are, the better your chances of putting the ball into play.

    If you offer at a "hitter's pitch", then you are more likely to make contact than if you offer at a "pitcher's pitch." So, in that instance, pitch selection directly affects contact rate. At the same time, even if you get a great pitch to hit, a poor swing may result in a swing and miss. Still, let's see if we can break it down a bit.

    First, even though you have hitters like Ichiro and Vlad the Impaler, who swing at everything and are strong enough in the second component to make it work, I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's better to try to grind out the at bats to get a pitch in your happy zone.

  6. To start, let's take a look at their respective rates at swinging at pitches outside the strikezone. Votto has a career rate of 25.2%, while Barton has a career rate of 16.4%. Barton chases fewer pitches out of the strike zone, which is probably an advantage for Barton.

    Still, in and of itself, that's not necessarily a black mark on Votto. While I'd prefer hitters to only swing at pitches in the zone, I suppose we have to take into account that Votto might be a Vlad type hitter who is more productive by expanding the zone. If so, then his approach of expanding the zone may actually be a good thing. In addition, Votto has a more power/less contact approach, while Barton has less power/more contact. So, instead of just relying on the general rule that pitches outside the zone are "evil" (even though they clearly are ;), we should probably try to isolate the respective plate approaches a bit further to determine it's effectiveness.

    So, to really analyze their respective individual approaches at the plate, I think we need to compare each against himself, rather than compare the two directly against one another.

    For example, Votto swings at pitches outside the strikezone 25.2% of the time. But, is that a good strategy for Votto? Looking at his contact rate indicates that it's likely not. Overall, Votto makes contact at a 76.7% rate. On pitches outside the zone, he makes contact 57.3% of the time, while on pitches inside the zone, he makes contact 83.0% of the time. So, he makes contact 25.7% less often when he goes outside the zone.

    As for Barton, he swings at pitches outside the zone 16.4% of the time. Overall he makes contact at an 84.2% of the time. He makes contact 87.4% of the time on pitches in the strikezone, but contact at a 75.5% of the time on pitches outside the strikezone. So, he makes contact 11.9% less often than when he goes outside the zone.

    So, Votto goes outside the zone 8.8% more often than Barton, but his contact rate falls off 13.8% more than Barton when he goes outside the zone. So, if anyone could justify going outside the zone instead of focusing on pitches in the zone, it would likely be Barton, as he handles them better than Votto.

    Add in a few additional factors like Barton sees more pitches, actually has the potential to walk more often than he strikes out, and walks at a greater clip (DB 12.6% v. JV 11%) despite Votto getting significantly more intentional walks.

    Overall, I think it's tough to top Barton's plate approach. That said, Votto is clearly the better, more valuable hitter at this point, as the swing component trumps the plate approach component.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!