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Ian Stewart: Between the (Stat) Lines

By: Bryan Curley (Email)

Navigating the Draft Day waters is difficult. Few managers have the skill and foresight to assure they get a quality starter at every position, maximizing their team’s output while minimizing its weaknesses.

Your team’s success this season will largely be due to how you handle the limited depth at third base.

Once you get past the sure producers, guys like Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds, Pablo Sandoval and Kevin Youkilis, there’s a steep drop off to the next tier of talent. Those seven sure-things all have ADPs of 40 or better (according to couchmanagers.com), so they’re going early. If you’re in a 12-team league, or even a 10-team league, you need to be careful if you’re approaching round four and you haven’t grabbed your third baseman yet.

So who should you target? Let’s take a look at the candidates:

PLAYER
ADP
R
AVG
HR
RBI
SB
Proj. PSR
Ramirez, Aramis54.476.292269723.69
Figgins, Chone55.397.287551374.07
Young, Michael69.388.299168083.36
Beckham, Gordon85.293.2882196104.49
Jones, Chipper99.978.296217832.81
Tejada, Miguel112.684.299189143.41
Cantu, Jorge120.767.277188721.68
Stewart, Ian127.277.255247682.18
DeRosa, Mark132.876.260177130.91

(ignore arrows)

All stats are projections courtesy of Bill James Projections. Players are sorted according to their ADP with their projected PSR in the last column (check out our PSR Rankings Explained page if you have no clue what this is).

The players we see here are being drafted over a wide range of rounds from the sixth (Ramirez) to the 14th (DeRosa). Also, with the exceptions of Beckham and Stewart, they’re veteran players with stable career trends, the only knocks on whom are their injury concerns (mainly Ramirez and Jones).

This brings us back to the question at hand. If you missed one of the top seven (or even if you got one of them and are just looking for a backup), who are the best players to target in this group? ADP is a huge part of this discussion because if you are choosing between two similar players and they have vastly different ADPs, the question on who to take really isn’t a question at all. We see this occur with Young and Tejada. Both players have nearly identical PSRs and are actually projected to perform almost identically across the board, but Tejada has an ADP over 40 picks later. In comparison to Young, this makes Tejada a great value pick.

But Tejada isn’t my favorite player in this group. That honor belongs to Ian Stewart.

With a Projected PSR of only 2.18, Stewart certainly doesn’t jump out at you. If all of these players performed according to the Bill James Projections, he wouldn’t be anything special, but this is one instance where the projections are wrong.

Popular opinion among fantasy owners is that Stewart provides a good power option in the mid-to-late rounds, but he’ll never have the batting average to be given serious starting consideration. Anyone who thinks this hasn’t looked closely enough at the numbers:

  • Stewart had his best production batting 6th last season, actually managing a respectable 46/.277/16/45/5 in only 58 games. Given Garrett Atkins’ relocation to Baltimore and Stewart’s assumed development, he should see much more time at this spot in the lineup than he did in ’09.
  • While he’s only a career .238 hitter in the Majors, did you know he batted .293 in 2297 career minor league AB?
  • You also probably didn’t know he posted a line of 92/.319/30/101/19 in 131 minor league games in 2004.

Sure, that great season was ages ago when Stewart was only playing at class A, but he actually carried a .300+ average all the way to AAA, batting .304 in 112 games in 2007. In 2008 at AAA, he batted .280 with 19 HR, 57 RBI and 7 SB in only 69 games.

Believe it or not, that’s the kind of production we’ll be seeing from Stewart in 2010. No, he probably won’t hit 40 HR, but I’m seeing a .270+ AVG and 30+ HR. Do I have anything to back this up? Of course I do. This is Baseball Professor after all.

BABIP, LD% and Other Metrics

Stewart batted only .228 last season, but his BABIP was just .275. In his other two Major League seasons, Stewart posted BABIPs of .320 (’07) and .364 (’08), so even if those are a bit high, we can see that .275 is a bit low. His 2009 BABIP was probably depressed due to his LD%, which fell to 14.1 percent (his previous career low was 19.2%).

Interestingly, the drop in line drive frequency almost solely resulted in an increase in ground ball frequency. Stewart’s GB% rose from 31.4 percent to 40.2 percent whereas his FB% only rose from 43.6 percent to 45.7 percent.

He also saw an increase in his HR/FB rate for the second straight season, up to 18.8 percent from 13.3 percent. Because Stewart has shown a steady increase over his three Major League seasons and demonstrated good HR numbers in the minors, the 5.5 point jump isn’t unexpected.

Plate Discipline

Stewart has also been showing improved plate discipline ever since he made it to the Big Leagues. His O-Swing% (percent of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone) has fallen for three straight seasons (35.6%, 28.5%, 22.0%), and as a result his first-pitch strike rate has fallen accordingly.

Lower first-pitch strike rates lead to better walk rates. Over Stewart’s minor league career, his walk rate, batting average and HR rate showed great positive correlation.

Year League BB PA HR BB% AVG AB/HR
2003 Rook 29 257 10 11.3% .317 22.4
2004 A 66 581 30 11.4% .319 16.8
2005 Adv A 52 499 17 10.4% .274 25.6
2006 AA 50 528 10 9.5% .268 46.2
2007 AAA 49 474 15 10.3% .304 27.6
2008 AAA 34 298 19 11.4% .304 13.5

Notice how as his walk rate fell, his batting average and HR rate fell as well. Let’s look more closely at his batting average as a function of his walk rate.

This best fit line gives us the most accurate illustration possible of the effect Stewart’s walk rate had on his batting average in the minors, and clearly there is a strong positive correlation between the two. Given Stewart’s wildly erratic batting averages, GB%/LD% rates and BABIP in his short time with the Rockies, it’s difficult to tell exactly what his trends are, however we can clearly see he has improved his plate discipline each year and that his walk rates have been increasing. Despite the disappointing .228 average last season, his past tells us he should improve greatly from that. In 2009, Stewart had a walk rate of 11.4 percent, a rate he achieved three times in the minors (11.3% in ’03, 11.4% in ’04, 11.4% in ’08). Each time he maintained a batting average over .300.

2010 Outlook

Do I think Stewart will bat .300 for the Rockies in 2010? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I do think that with a little more luck and an improved LD%, Stewart should be able to bat at least .270. Couple that with more playing time in light of Atkins’ departure, his 30+ HR power, and the little speed he has, and Stewart clearly becomes a bargain in the 13th round.

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About the author: Bryan is the co-founder of Baseball Professor and works as a consultant specializing in operational metrics and efficiency analysis. When he’s not working, blogging, or tending to basic human needs, he enjoys pondering the vastness of the universe, rewatching episodes of Breaking Bad, and avoiding snakes. (@BaseballProf)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • FenwayPUNK

    NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!!!! Best article to date Mr. Curley! But seriously… SHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

  • Bryan Curley

    Hah I take it you’re a big Ian Stewart fan.

  • Dude

    Have you considered that his poor split vs lefties will see him on the bench in favor of Melvin Mora?