Cockcroft: Stats you might not know
I've got a sim baseball draft coming up on Friday night.
Go ahead, laugh, I'm taking the statistical angle of our game to its utmost geek-ery. I've heard the taunts before, I'm used to it. Still, there's a lot you can stand to gain, research-wise, from the practice of analyzing the full gamut of baseball statistics. In sim, how a hitter fared in a certain ballpark, against left-handers and right-handers, how he fielded, and how effectively he ran the bases are all important.
They might seem like minor things, but it's those little tidbits that help provide you advantages in unearthing sleepers in straight fantasy. Besides, one of the primary benefits is as I'm compiling my stat spreadsheets in preparation for the draft, I come across countless little numerical nuggets, things I might not have noticed this early otherwise.
Today, I'd like to share some of those stats, those oddities, with you. Maybe some of these won't feel particularly fantasy-relevant, but in a game so numbers-based, there's always something to be gained by breaking out the microscope.
• Ryan Braun's .450 batting average, .516 on-base percentage and .964 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers represent the best rates in all three categories -- among players with 125-plus plate appearances -- of anyone since Barry Bonds had .384/.556/.976 numbers against them in 2002. I don't know what surprises me more, that Braun fared that well as a rookie, or that Bonds was that productive against what traditionally would be considered his weaker side.
• Mike Lowell had a great year, for sure, but look at his home/road splits: .373/.418/.575 at home, .276/.339/.428 on the road. Suddenly all those teams readying themselves to plunk down $15 million a year don't look quite so smart. Not that I doubt Lowell's talent, but which do you think is more reasonable, a repeat of his .324-21-120 level of 2007, or a drop back to his .280-20-80 career trend?
• Curtis Granderson might have pulled off the "quadruple double" (double-digit doubles, triples, homers and steals), but among players with at least 450 plate appearances, only Nick Punto (.483) had a worse OPS against left-handers than his .494. Fortunately, he picked up the pace to .607 after the All-Star break, so there's clearly room for growth.
• David Ortiz against left-handers through July 30: .252/.356/.322. David Ortiz against left-handers from July 31 on: .403/.453/.701. So much for the knee problem! Besides, he had surgery on Nov. 6, so not much reason to worry anyway.
• Among qualified hitters, Reggie Willits saw the most pitches per plate appearance (4.44). The kid got on base nearly 40 percent of the time (.391), and he did register a career .395 minor-league OBP. That's a pretty decent mix for a speedster.
• Josh Bard allowed 121 opposing baserunners to steal successfully against him, most since Mike Piazza's 125 in 2002. Bard actually nailed only 10 runners attempting to steal (7.6 percent), so if he's back as San Diego's starting catcher, NL West speedsters like Juan Pierre, Willy Taveras and Chris B. Young couldn't be happier.
• Matt Holliday had .301/.374/.485 road rates, so the notion that his statistics are entirely Coors-driven is now looking pretty ridiculous.
• Gary Sheffield batted .191 with four homers in 50 games after the All-Star break. Suddenly, it doesn't seem so surprising that his early-October shoulder surgery turned out to be a pretty serious one. He'll bear close watching when spring training gets underway.
• Favorite preseason Rookie of the Year candidate Kevin Kouzmanoff didn't have a total throwaway year. From Aug. 10 forward he batted .356 with a .968 OPS. That'll help provide a glimmer of hope heading into his sophomore season.
• Carlos Marmol had a 1.17 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 12.62 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio in 26 appearances from Aug. 1 on. Compare those to Bob Howry's 1.82/0.91/8.80 numbers in 29 games, and Ryan Dempster's 7.07/1.64/6.11 rates in 29 appearances, and we could be talking quite the spring battle for saves in Chicago, though it has been announced that Dempster is moving to the rotation.
• Jeremy Bonderman kicked off the season 10-1 with a 3.53 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in his first 18 starts, then slumped to 1-8 with an 8.23 ERA and 1.81 WHIP in his final 10. If he reports to camp with the same elbow trouble he experienced in September, I'm going to be pretty worried about his chances at a bounce-back 2008.
How often do we see this: Player endures a pretty forgettable career, capped by an ordinary regular season, then, on the national stage, enjoys a stellar postseason. Everyone gets acquainted with him, even raves about him, he walks into free agency, ready to parlay a brief month's success into a bloated contract elsewhere.
Such is the story of Yorvit Torrealba, the former Rockies catcher who managed nine RBIs in 12 games in October (postseason included), now slated to replace the overrated Paul Lo Duca behind the plate for the Mets. According to The New York Times, Torrealba is set to sign a three-year, $14.4-million contract, benefiting from what is a terribly weak catcher market this winter.
For fantasy, though, there's not a lot to like. With Coors Field helping him, Torrealba managed a .255 batting average, eight homers and a .376 slugging percentage for the season, .212, 2 and .326 numbers in his road games. Plus, those came in only his first season as a big-league regular, in a year where he turned 29 in July, hardly an indicator that there's room for growth. Shea Stadium is a ballpark much less conducive to lofty hitting totals, so if Torrealba the Rockie couldn't offer you anything significant, why should we believe Torrealba the Met will fare any better?
I'll stop short of calling Torrealba a fantasy throwaway; NL-only owners will have to at least take a look. Still, hitting eighth for the Mets, a .260 batting average and perhaps 10 homers might be about the best he'll offer. Frankly, Ramon Castro might be a better bet should he re-sign, since he's the more talented option with the bat.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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