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Digging to find MLB free agent bargains

11/10/2011

Much of the focus on the free agent frenzy this winter will be on the top tier of available players, such as Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes. However, there are several under-the-radar free agents that could provide significant value. Let’s take a look at a two players who had disappointing seasons on the surface, but who may be better than people think from a statistical perspective.

David DeJesus

One is former Kansas City Royals outfielder David DeJesus. Last year, DeJesus had his worst offensive season for the Oakland Athletics, setting career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

David DeJesusDeJesusHowever, some of his .240 batting average is likely a result of a .274 batting average on balls in play, well below his career mark of .316 and the lowest in a season for him.

Inside Edge does video tracking of every batted ball and discovered an interesting development for DeJesus; on balls categorized as “soft,” he hit .281 in 2010 (26-for-117), but just .136 (18-for-132) in 2011. That difference cost him more than 30 points on his overall batting average.

David DeJesus Last 2 Seasons

There were several positives for DeJesus last year, however. He showed good plate discipline, as his walk rate of 8.9 percent was just shy of his career-best, 9.1 percent in 2007.

Despite the low batting average, he still provided his usual power, with an isolated power (which measures extra-bases per at-bat) of .136 that was in line with his career mark of .137. And he was one of the best defensive outfielders, with 13 Defensive Runs Saved that was third among all right-fielders.

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano won’t be stealing any headlines this winter, but he could be a steal for a team needing a starting pitcher to fill out the rotation. Capuano’s 4.55 ERA for the Mets was partly inflated by a .311 batting average on balls in play (career average of .300) that rose to .338 with men on base.

He also allowed a career-high 1.31 homers per nine innings, but that was affected by a career-high home run-to-flyball rate, as one out of every eight flyballs he allowed became a home run.

Best xFIP, NL Left-Handed Starters
2011 Season

On a positive note, he struck out a career-best 8.1 batters per nine innings and walked only 2.5 batters per nine innings, the second-best rate of his career.

Looking just at the elements of his pitching that he can control – strikeouts, walks, home runs – and accounting for some bad luck on the flyballs he allowed, we see that Capuano pitched much better than his ERA may indicate.

His xFIP - Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, an ERA estimator that looks at strikeouts and walks, and presumes the pitcher will be league-average on his rate of fly balls per home run - was a career-best 3.66, just a few points higher than Jon Lester’s 3.62 last year.