Are you all like me? Do you spend hours and hours contemplating how to maximize the value out of that last roster spot currently occupied by a fringe player you aren’t sure about? It’s crazy, we spend all this time leading up to the draft analyzing everyone, then, for me at least, once the season begins, it’s all about contemplating guys on waivers in bottom 20% ownership range. I know that if I can figure who, among these guys will climb up the ladder in value/ownership, he can either make my team’s season, allow me deal him to someone else in the league for an underperforming proven commodity, or potentially for an elite player as part of a package deal with a medium-value player. Thus, really understanding the bottom 20% of available players can actually allow you to drastically improve your roster if you know to leverage it.
Understanding that bottom 20% is easier said than done. Many can successfully deduce value in these unproven commodities through carefully looking at minor league stats and limited appearances at the MLB level, but these indicators often lead to limited predictive value due to sample size limitations (ugh even starting to get into stats is starting to bore me). Strong prospect writers will circumnavigate the lack of sufficient performance data by making reference to scouting reports (Prospect Mike, if you’re reading this, I think you’re great!). Therefore, understanding some key hitting mechanics can allow you to evaluate the bottom 20% without having to rely purely on stats scouting report.
With all that being said, I’ve been looking through ESPN’s player pool of guys who’ve generally been owned around 20% or lower for a good portion of the season and loosely categorized them into three themes incorporating mechanical and situational analysis: Drifters, Bar Flies, and Stellas. Since the comments from my prior articles have asked for an analysis on a multiple free agent pickup candidates, I thought rather than focus on just one player at a time as I’ve done thus far, I’ll give a quick and dirty on a few players (by no means is this post an exhaustive list) from each category.
Drifters: These are the players who have often bounced back and forth either between the majors and the minors, from one position to another, or in some cases from one organization to the next as the ball club’s management just doesn’t see enough talent to justify a full commitment to letting them run with a certain position. These players demonstrate potential, and usually have mechanics to their hitting approaches, but something in their professional circumstances thus far have prevented them from flourishing, whether it be access to an advantageous ball park, platoon situation, or positional assurance. At any point, these players can shift from drifting through their careers to taking off. Often a slight mechanical change can make the difference, which is what prompted my Chris Colabello post that started my contributions to this site a month ago. Here are some other examples of drifters:
- Scooter Gennett – solid fundamental approach with excellent balance, hand positioning and swing path that lead me liken him to a mini Bryce Harper, his swing has plenty of lift. I doubt that he’ll ever hit lefties very well as it might be more of a psychological issue from all the hype of him suddenly getting the opportunity to do it earlier this year, which perhaps caused him press too hard overall, but he’s got the tools excel as the larger share of a platoon for the Brewers and for you in deep leagues and dailies playing in a hitters park and as part of a high potential lineup that is finally healthy again.
- Justin Turner – He’s always had a nice stroke, which I used to enjoy rooting for him when he was in a Mets uniform, but he was often slow to get going in his attack in the past, which made him jump at the ball resulting in weak grounders. Similar to how Joey Bats got his motion going earlier after moving to Toronto, Turner appears to have made a similar adjustment in LA and maintains a short stroke keeping his hands inside the ball leading to lots of line drives and an occasional long ball. I see him maintaining a solid average (around .300) throughout the year. The only thing preventing him from solid, bankable higher-end production at this stage is playing time. He seems to have largely passed that difficult hurdle for drifters, though Mattingly continues to bench him once or twice a week. If he ever had a clear path to playing time in a right handed hitters park (say Pablo or Donaldson go down next spring training, the Dodgers bring up Olivera, and trade him) I’d be all over him. Until then, I’d happily add him in deep leagues, especially OPS leagues as he’s taking a walk well.
- Anthony Gose – Grey has touted him all he needs to be touted, but he’s still owned in only 17% of leagues. The Jays basically made him a regular commuter between Buffalo and Toronto over the past few years but Detroit has shown the confidence in him to get at least a consistent platoon. From looking at how he’s refined his hitting approach by shortening up his stroke he’s reminding me more and more of a young Michael Bourn at the plate. I see the success continuing and would look to trade for him wherever I have space for a platoon outfielder.
- Joey Butler – his approach reminds me a lot of Nelson Cruz’s, who also developed relatively late age-wise into becoming a Major League regular. He’s got solid balance and a good vertical bat angle at his trigger. The only issue I see is that his back elbow is also quite up at trigger and when he pulls it down, the bat head drops a little horizontally instead of maintaining a more direct path to the ball. I don’t view this slight inefficiency as that bad and think he’ll stick around this time in the bigs, but I also don’t expect him to maintain his level of production long-term and see him as more of a .260 or so hitter with 15-20 HR power.
- Ben Paulsen – If he were on any team beside Colorado (I suppose maybe the Yankees) I’d consider his value as very limited. If he played for San Diego, he’d be utterly useless except for away games at Coors. Specifically, I don’t like how he separates his hands so far from his body in his motion from his stance to his trigger. This causes the bat head to fall back significantly horizontally from the momentum of him bringing his hands back in creating an inefficient swing path. I think his success outside of Coors will not continue, but since almost anyone can succeed playing even semi-regularly in that park, I wouldn’t put it past him to put up decent numbers as he otherwise has a decent approach besides what he does with his hands early on. If he can refine his prep, he could blossom into a solid contributor down the line.
- Special consideration: Marcel Ozuna – His ownership percentage is way higher than would typically warrant my attention, but he generally fits the mold for this category as the Marlins bounced him up and down a bunch before finally letting him run with the center field job last season. I do see a mechanical flaw that hinders him from truly shining his outstanding physicality – he’s literally drifting. He has trouble keeping his weight back as he has a medium leg kick and will sometimes get caught in between with it leading him to slowly drift into off speed pitches, or being late on fastballs. He’s shown that he can get his timing into a groove at times and eliminate the issue, but the inconsistency creates inconsistent results. That coupled with everything having to go right to hit it out of Crayola Canyon explains his lack of power output. If you’re patient enough with him though, he can quickly rebound when he finds the ability to controls his balance with monster weeks from time to time but I wouldn’t depend on that happening.
- Graduate: Cameron Maybin – Experience and maturity has greatly helped his approach at the plate and I see him as a vastly improved player to what we’ve seen in prior years. He’s shortened his stroke considerably, and keeps his weight back well as it doesn’t look like he’s trying to prove his strength and muscle the ball out of the park anymore, which just produced bad habits and strikeouts in the past. He’s still running like he used to, so If he is still somehow on your wire, I’d grab him before he’s universally owned.
Bar Flies: Like the girl you first saw zooming around the bar and thought holy damn she’s hot, but later she got under the fluorescent lights and looked like a witch up close, these players can look awesome at a first glance from outstanding athleticism, putting up big numbers against inferior pitching in the minors, and even shine for stretches at the show. Like drifters they often can bounce between levels and organizations. However, due to mechanical shortcomings that I don’t see as easily reversible, I consider these guys more teases than players with sustainable value waiting to be tapped. Some examples include:
- Billy Burns – His ownership has shot way up from below 10% a month ago and I know he’s the apple of many a ‘perts eyes, but his swing is just plain putrid. He manages his balance well, which explains his limited k-rate, but the swing path itself is a herky jerky mess after which any time I see him hit the ball hard, I’m left thinking “how the hell did that happen?” He’s so fast that he can beat out a fair amount of his soft grounders, and he’s rosterable for steals and runs from hitting atop the order, but since he doesn’t walk much, in OPS leagues I’d either steer clear, or try and trade him high for someone who won’t pull my average and OPS categories down.
- Justin Boar – We all know he’s a big guy, but he sure likes to waive the bat around like he’s king of the castle up at the plate. With so much movement during the load, I’d put it on the player to prove it to me that he can succeed in spite of it, like Adam LaRoche has, rather than think that he will be able to produce. He has shown some power with long distance dingers when he’s gotten his timing right, but I would expect inconsistent results with such a large hitch in his swing and am not high on him breaking out.
- Brad Miller – I like Miller generally and could see him potentially shifting to the drifter category in my mind, but he’s got a few things I’m concerned with in his approach that he hasn’t seemed to refine despite considerable time in the bigs. First, he holds the bat with a box grip – generally hitters line their middle knuckles up vertically, but he grips the bat very tightly creating a box-like appearance as his knuckles form right angles (granted many successful hitters have done this, I’m just saying it less often leads to success). A seemingly silly little thing like his grip being too tight can cause big problems in my mind as the tight box grip leads him to bow out his elbows, which then straightens out his arms, elongating his swing path. In the past, I’ve seen his bottom arm become perfectly straight, the definition of an arm bar, which causes an very long path for the bat head to the ball. Now some freak show players can get away with arm bars (Todd Frazier) but most can’t (Mark Reynolds now that he’s out of his prime – another bar fly). Now Frazier (whom I view as Mark Reynolds in his 2009 peak) has developed into a physical specimen with outlandish bat speed who looks very relaxed at the plate. Miller, with his tension-filled strangling of the bat looks far from it, so I do not envision him overcoming his issues very soon but he’ll be worth visiting again down the line to see if he ever adjusts his approach as his good balance and raw power offer potential for improvement.
- Special Mention: Jeff Francouer – Frenchy always had unique athleticism, especially when you see him fire rockets from right field. When he first came up, he was so relaxed and spry that he overcame his terrible bat wrap, which has prevented him from hitting righties throughout his career. It’s too bad he’s had this flaw which he shares with Wil Myers and Carlos Gonzales (who seem to overcome it just by being insane athletes) because he could have gotten at least consistent playing time and production over his career with a shorter stroke.
Stellas: Like a Belgian beer, or a middle aged woman trying to get her groove back, these players have demonstrated success in the past, but injuries, age, or prolonged slumps have brought them back to the club seeking new attention again. Generally, these players have excellent mechanics born out in prior success and sometimes they just need to brush the dust off and get it going again and can provide excellent value cheap, but other times they may have permanently lost a step, developed an irreconcilable mechanical flaw, or lack motivation needed to work past an injury and tap into whatever reserves exist of past glory waiting to return. Examples of these players include:
- Carlos Beltran – his swing remains as perfect as it ever was. Leg injuries have thrown off his balance from time to time in the past, but it looks like he’s okay there right now. I’m mainly concerned that he’s lost a step. He’s frequently late on pitches and ends up driving them straight into the ground. It’s sad to see the shell of his former self run now because he could really fly just five years ago. His added weight and knee issues killed his speed. In spite of this, if he was motivated I could still see him swatting 25 dingers and getting up to .275 by this year’s end, but it doesn’t look like the motivation is there (although Girardi says it is). At this point, I wouldn’t count him out and if at all possible would definitely stream him for Yankee home stands as he can hit dingers in that ballpark in his sleep, but otherwise move on for guys with better upside – like Venable.
- Will Venable – he’s almost a tweener between a drifter and a stella, but the great season he had two years ago proved his capability. I’ve admired his approach since I played against him in college and always thought he’d achieve solid success as an MLB regular if given the chance. He often looks stiff and could likely benefit from some a little more fluidity in getting to his trigger but has no major risk areas in his swing – the key for him to remain relaxed. What I like about him returning to his 2013 form is that he’s running very well. The increased outfield competition that left him on the bench to start the year seems to have lit a fire in him to reprove himself and he’s on his way to doing that. The Padres will continue with a strict platoon for him as they appear to have given up on him hitting lefties and he’ll have trouble replicating his prior power numbers, but he’s about as good an option as you’ll find on waivers in deep OF leagues.
- Michael Bourn – In terms of his approach at the plate, he still looks much like the Michael Bourn who was immensely valuable just a few short years ago – patient, short to the ball. He just appears to have lost all ambition to run. Maybe he’s trying to avoid an injury, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t have my hopes up for him at all as a waiver pickup.
- Graduate: Kendrys Morales. I was dubious that he could hit for power in Kauffman’s pitcher friendly dimensions, but he’s proved that he can still hit with the benefit of proper spring training. I’ve never been very pleased with his swing from the right side as it just looks deflated, like when Panda hits from the right side, but from the left he’s got a great stroke. Sometimes he gets off balance shifting his weight a little early, but that’s not abnormal for a power hitter. I don’t expect him to put up monster numbers the rest of the way though as his ceiling isn’t near what it was in his prime, but I do think he can match or slightly surpass his respectable 2013. If you had taken a chance on him early on in the season when he was barely owned, it just goes to show that it often pays off to see if a stella can bounce back to his former self.
In scanning the waiver wire, I pay an equal amount of attention to the drifters and stellas and don’t let the ups and downs of the arm bar ridden and bat wrap bitten bar flies bother me. The keys with drifters is to check in on their at bats from time to time and see if they look like they’re clicking while looking at what’s going on with the rest of their team regarding a path to playing time. With stellas, I check in and see how they’re moving around. Typically these guys will get playing time out of respect as long as they’re healthy. If the ball still jumps off their bat, and as old-school as this sounds, if they look motivated they can very pleasantly surprise. Sometimes things like getting traded to a contender, or receiving some lineup help via a trade can reinvigorate these guys and help get them back to consistently performing at a top level.