Rather than another preamble in our second part of a series on the bubble boys of 2008, let's respond to some reader e-mails and assess additional hitters who didn't make the cut last week.
Then we'll examine the pitchers who are being heavily invested in relative to how they were valued just one year ago. Again, the key question is whether their 2008 level of performance warrants the price you need to pay to acquire them in 2009. Is the market suffering from irrational exuberance with these guys? Should we just pass and wait for the investment bubble to blow up in the faces of their new owners?
Queries were received about outfielders Shin-Soo Choo (Indians), Xavier Nady (Yankees), Andre Ethier (Dodgers), Nate McLouth (Pirates) and first baseman Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox).
Aside from the elbow soreness that's limited him in the World Baseball Classic, Choo is a guy who strikes out too much (you can say that about so many hitters today). He has teased before, only to disappoint. Verdict: don't pay for the second half last year of .343, 11 homers, 43 RBIs.
Nady is more likely to hit the .268/.320/.474 he posted with the Yankees rather than repeat his 2008 full-season stats (career averages are .280/.355/.458). He also could end up losing time to the switch-hitting Nick Swisher, who takes a lot of pitches, which the Yankees like, and is a better fit for the geometry of the new Yankee Stadium, which is just like the old one.
I do buy Ethier as a modern Paul O'Neill. He'll never be a premium source of power, but will hit .320 a couple of years. He's also slated to bat third in front of Manny Ramirez, meaning no one will ever pitch around him.
McLouth's isolated slugging in his Minor League career was only about .130, which is subpar. Plus he's short (5-foot-11) and scouts will tell you that short hitters have to really load up to generate bat speed, which makes it harder to center the ball. I fear August/September (four homers in 205 plate appearances) is a harbinger.
Youkilis is another easy call. When a guy is 30, you just can't buy off a career year. His isolated slugging was about .150-to-.170 and then it jumps suddenly to .250. Expect a regression to his mean.
Now, on to the bubble pitchers.
Kevin Slowey, Twins: He was a great deep-league spec play last year off a 2007 with a 47-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Then, in 2008, the ratio was an incredible 123 to 24, though the ERA still lagged (3.99). He's reasonably a top-30 starter and I approve drafting him as one.
Chad Billingsley, Dodgers: Some are still carping about the lack of control, but he reduced his walks from about 4.0 per nine innings to 3.6. Friend Gene McCaffrey of WiseGuyBaseball.com says that a pitcher with stuff like Billingsley should have an ERA that about tracks his walk rate. So the 3.14 ERA of last year probably a little lucky, though the WHIP (1.336) at least a little high given all those K's.
Andy Sonnanstine, Rays: He's a crafty righty. How many can you name who've had long-term success? His average fastball velocity last year according to our friends at Baseball Info Solutions was 87 mph -- below the bare-minimum requirement. If he had a great change, I might accept some growth potential, but only about four percent of his offerings are those. Pass.
Cliff Lee, Indians: Last year, Lee reminded me of Esteban Loaiza in that breakout 2003 because the stuff was clearly top shelf. My caveat in 2004 with Loaiza was that muscle memory would work against him after the long offseason. Similarly, I think the projections for Lee now are too generous. He does not have the high floor you'd expect from the defending Cy Young Award winner. A steep regression is likely.
Justin Duchscherer, A's: Easy call now that his elbow is barking and he might be moved back to the pen. Last year was a mirage. Like Sonnanstine, he's a righty salad-tosser who must rely on impeccable control within the strike zone.
Frank Francisco, Rangers: The fastball has always been there (94.3 mph on average since 2006). Last year, the results finally followed. He's the best closing candidate because C.J. Wilson isn't dominant and has too big a platoon disadvantage as a lefty closer. So Wilson will again be a setup man (where managers prefer lefties). Remember, too, that it's not hard to close even without top-shelf stuff like Francisco. Most saves are so easy that anyone can do it. In fact, last-man-in-the-pen types have about the same save percentage as closers when managers are forced to use them with multi-run leads (typically in late extra innings).