Like a seeing-eye-single, I will be moving out of the infield and into the outfield. Today I will be examining the outfield position and looking at players whose past year was different from their career norms. Then I will determine if last year represents the beginning of a new trend or a one year anomaly.
If you had the misfortune of spending a first round pick on Grady Sizemore last year, you probably now refer to him as Grady “insert derogatory name” Sizemore. His first round status was certainly warranted going into last year. He was a young, 30/30 candidate with a respectable average who you knew was going to score 100 runs.
Unfortunately, Sizemore posted un-Sizemore like numbers in 2009.
He managed to hit only 18 home runs and steal only 13 bases. He was also a batting average killer finishing with an average of .248, easily the worst of his career.
Fortunately for his fantasy owners, Sizemore was shut down for the last month of the season due to injury. I only say fortunately because many of you probably had a hard time benching your first round pick. With the injury, you could finally get him off your active roster.
Before trying to figure out if Sizemore will regain his All-Star form, we must look at his health. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer , Sizemore is almost 100 percent recovered from elbow and hernia surgery. That is good news and means he should be ready to go by Spring Training.
To determine if Sizemore can rebound next year, we must take a closer look at his 2009 stats.
Last year, Sizemore finished with the a BABIP of .276, the lowest of his career. To put that in perspective, his career average is .317.
Sizemore also had the lowest LD% of his career and the highest FB% of his career. This indicates that for some reason, Sizemore wasn’t driving the ball as hard as he usually does. Instead he was getting under the ball and popping it up. One possible explanation is that his elbow was bothering him for most of the year, inhibiting his ability to swing through the ball.
Despite last year’s bad numbers, there is some evidence suggesting that Sizemore may have improved as a hitter last year. He swung at less pitches outside the strike zone last year than he did in 2006, 2007, or 2008. Not surprisingly he also swung at more pitches inside the strike zone than in any other year. More encouragingly, Sizemore made contact on pitches inside of the strike zone 90.8 percent of the time, which was good for his best rate ever.
What this means is that, provided Sizemore’s elbow is healthy, he should be able to drive more balls next year than he has in any other year. This indicates that Sizemore should be able to post similar numbers in 2010 as he did from 2005-2008, thus regaining his status as one of fantasy’s best outfielders.
Don’t be afraid to draft Sizemore in the early rounds next year. If he falls past the second round, he will be a nice draft day bargain.
From 2002 to 2008, Soriano put up monster fantasy numbers. He batted .285 over that time span while averaging 102 R, 36 HR, 98 RBI, and 29 SB per year. In 2009, Soriano’s numbers took a steep hit. He batted .241 with 64 R, 20 HR, 55 RBI, and 9 SB.
Instead of blindly drafting Soriano next year and hoping for a rebound, we must figure out if last year was an anomaly or the beginning of a downward trend for Soriano.
We can do this by taking a look at how pitchers pitched to him last year.
Soriano is a notorious free swinger who murders fastballs. Opposing hurlers took advantage of this information and only threw fastballs to Soriano 46 percent of the time. This was easily the lowest percentage of fastballs Soriano has seen in a year.
He also was thrown more cutters last year than in any previous year. In addition, opposing pitchers threw sliders to Soriano 24.7 percent of the time. The average percentage of sliders he usually sees is 20.6 percent.
This data suggests that pitchers are now giving Soriano less pitches he can hit and more pitches that he can’t hit. Since Soriano does not take many walks and is unlikely to develop plate discipline at such an old age (34), he will be hard pressed to have a batting average as high as .285 again.
The most alarming stat to me last year was Soriano’s SB total. A lot of what made Soriano an elite outfielder was his speed.
He was one of the few players with 30/30 potential. But last year he only stole nine bases. In fact, he has not stolen more than 20 bases in any of his three years with the Cubs. Since Soriano is getting up there in age and has a lot of wear and tear in his legs, his days of stealing 20-plus bases are likely over.
In other words, what I’m saying is that last year represented a new trend for Soriano.
His average is likely to fall in the .260 to low .270 range. You can also kiss the high SB total goodbye. His run total will also be low because his days as a leadoff hitter are over.
The only stats that will remain the same are his power totals. He should still be able to hit around 30 HR, with most coming off the inevitable mistake by the opposing pitcher, and drive in around 90 runs hitting in the sixth hole.
In addition to a declining skill set, Soriano is not a good candidate to make it through an entire season healthy. In the last three seasons he has not played in more than 135 games.
Gone are the days where you can feel comfortable drafting Alfonso Soriano to anchor your outfield. Draft him if you wish but understand that he is no more than a third outfielder at this stage of his career.
What to make of Alex Rios. Is he ever going to reach his potential or will he keep teasing us with good, but not great, years?
This year a new question is presented. Will Alex Rios even get back to the his 2006-2008 level?
From 2006-2008 Rios batted .296 and averaged 91 R, 19 HR, 82 RBI, and 21 SB. However, he took a step back in 2009 and batted .247 with 63 R, 17 HR, 71 RBI, and 24 SB. Things got so bad for Rios that the Blue Jays just gave him away to the White Sox. Sure it was a salary dump, but the Jays didn’t even ask for a prospect in return for Rios.
The main culprit for Rios’s down year last year was a career worst BABIP of .277. From 2006-2008 his lowest BABIP was .324.
His walk percentage was also down last year. It was 5.8 percent compared to 7 percent in 2006, 7.7 percent in 2007, and 6.4 percent in 2008. Rios’s ISO and OPS were also way down last year.
All these signs point to a down year for Rios and do not suggest the beginning of a new trend.
As a result, I’m inclined to believe that Rios will regain his 2006-2008 form. However, I do not anticipate him ever reaching his potential and becoming a 30/30 player.
His career ground ball percentage of 42.8 percent is much too high if he is to hit 30 HR. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if he did steal over 30 bases. He stole 32 bases in 2008 and 24 in 2009, despite posting the worst OBP of his career.
Rios could provide a nice draft day bargain in the middle rounds of your upcoming draft. Just don’t overdraft him expecting big power numbers.
After all, he’s 29 years old and can’t be considered a young player anymore.
For the original article check out Baseball Professor .