I’m Still Wilin

I can’t say his name without thinking of the Lowell George song made famous by Little Feat, “Willin'”, but I’m partial to the cover by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Here it is, a soundtrack for player analysis.

We published our first pass at 2015 roto prices at pattonandco.com (you’ll need a free registration to see it all and comment) last week, and one of the biggest sore thumbs seems to be my robust price for Wilin Rosario. That price, $21, is the same I had for him in the Fantasy Baseball Guide, and is based on the fact that the Rockies catcher earned $20, $22 and $13 the last three years. Last year he struggled with a wrist injury and a viral infection, which explains some of the power dropoff, but commenters are struggling to see how he’s going to get at bats unless he’s traded. And if he’s traded he’ll lose the Coors Field advantage, which leaves him where?

How is Rosario as a catcher? Nobody thinks he’s a good catcher. In John Dewan’s +/1 rankings he was the fourth worst catcher in baseball last year, though over the last three years he escaped the bottom group. So he’s not the worst. But he’s bad enough that the Rocks say he will platoon with Justin Morneau at first base this year, taking the at bats there versus lefties. Losing catcher eligibility is a long-term concern, but nothing to worry about for 2015. This year he’s a catcher.

Rosario can’t hit righties. Against righties he has a career OPS of .707. That’s not so great compared to his spectacular OPS against lefties of 1.009, but it isn’t helpless. While 27 catchers with 500 or more PA over the past three years have a better overall OPS than .707, only six have a better combined OPS than Rosario’s .795. It would be better if Rosario was better against righties, obviously, but he’s been so productive against lefties that on past performance he ranks as a solid Top 10 catcher. He also has the third-best Slugging Average the last three years among catchers overall.  He’s a productive hitter, even if he only plays against lefties.

Rosario can’t hit on the road.  There are 29 catchers with 500 PA the last three years who have a better OPS overall than Rosario’s .690 road OPS. This is a point of some concern, since part of the worry about Rosario is that he’ll be traded to a team that won’t play its home games a mile high. But until that happens, Rosario is playing half his games at Coors. His overall numbers make him the seventh-best backstop in the game the last three years. You have to worry about a move, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Will Rosario be traded? If the Rockies had a catcher they could go to every day, I would worry about this, but so far Rosario’s competition is Nick Hundley and Mike McKenry. Hundley is a good defensive backstop with a pretty weak bat. McKenry hit last year like he never did before, in a limited number of at bats. At his age, he is an unlikely candidate to repeat. Rosario is a good platoon partner with Morneau and can serve as an alternate to Hundley behind the plate, at least part of the time. That adds up to another 400 AB season this year, I think, with home games in Coors. Which makes $20 or so dollars of earnings a no brainer.

Okay, it’s time for Little Feat’s live version of Willin’ in 1977 on German TV, which is really great.

What’s Rosario’s value? A healthy Rosario has shown $20 and $22 earnings, which dropped last year to $13 when he was sick and hurt. People talk about how he’s declined each of his ML years, but they’re not looking at the offensive context. Rosario earned more in 2013 than in 2012, despite hitting fewer homers. And in 2014 he walked more, if not a lot, improving his approach to the strike zone. It is because of all of this that I expect him to get 400 AB and hit 20 homers. That’s what he does. If he hits .274, that works out to about $17 in earnings, so maybe my $21 bid limit is a little too high.

Every Rosario Has Its Thorn. Wilin Rosario is a flawed hitter. Not so good versus righties, of whom there are way more than lefties, and not so good away from Coors Field, where he may not be a permanent fixture. So it’s easy to see why all the naysayers are dumping him. He’s not perfect, and he’s likely to have some rough times (read: slumps) at times.

Every Thorn Has Its Rosario. But this is a catcher with prodigious home run power, even when he’s not a Mile High. He’s hit 36 homers in 709 AB at Coors. He’s hit 29 homers in 659 AB away from Coors. In a counting game, give me the homers, and the discount of the naysayers.

Conclusion. My bid price in the Guide was based on what I thought Rosario would earn. And the fact is that even at that price, I thought you should want him. The comments, however, suggest I’ve wildly (and willingly) overbid Rosario. Cool! At $21 Rosario was par. At $17 he was safe. The bottom line for me is that 26 year olds with a history of success are good bets not to be terrible. And every dollar I don’t have to pay for them because the common wisdom hates them, is a savings for me. I’m dropping my bid price to $17, because that seems the more likely winning bid price, and better matches his predicted (by me) earnings in 5×5 roto. But his value as a catcher is greater than that, in Tucumcari and Tonapah.