Ian Stewart Loses His Altitude

I’m not even going to try and pretend that I knew this already, so I’ll just cut straight to the chase. ESPN.com’s Christina Kahrl passes along some extremely useful information in her latest article for the Sweet Spot.

“…the thing to keep in mind in evaluating this deal is that playing at altitude depresses strikeout rates for everybody, by roughly 15 percent as Joe Sheehan noted in Baseball Prospectus. That fact has helped given us breakthroughs such as Preston Wilson– the more strikeout-prone hitters who struggle with breaking stuff get an outsized benefit from playing in a park where big benders bend less and all pitches lose a bit of wiggle. In his brief big-league career, Stewart has struck out in 32 percent of his at-bats everywhere but Denver, but “just” 24 percent of the time when he’s been batting in Denver.”

When the trade was initially announced, I thought it was a nice coupe for Theo’s crew. Stewart has 20-plus home run potential and plays a solid third base. He also has shown the ability to draw walks frequently enough to post a .350 OBP if he can keep his AVG above .250. However, he has a ton of swing-and-miss in his swing (his career whiff rate is about 28 percent), which is the biggest component to his high strikeout rates. Sheehan’s research indicates that Stewart’s strikeout problems could worsen without the advantage of playing home games in a park where curveballs curve less.

The other issue that Stewart has faced throughout his career is his lack of success against left-handed pitching. For his career, Stewart holds a .726 OPS and 30 percent strikeout rate. For fantasy owners, that factor alone could limit his impact as Jeff Baker and his career .886 OPS and .217 ISO against right-handed pitching could get platoon at-bats.

Kahrl suggests in her article that Tyler Colvin could see his value increase with the move to Colorado. Colvin did hit 20 home runs in only 358 at-bats in 2010, but some of that output can be explained due to a quite high 19.4 percent HR/FB rate. Like Stewart, Colvin has some swing-and-miss to his game, but he is far less patient as indicated by his 39 percent chase rate and below league average walk rate. For those reasons, I remain low on Colvin. Then there is the question of where he can get playing time. Unless the Rockies trade Seth Smith, which is something they have explored, Colvin enters an outfield of three players who also swing from the left side.

I still think Stewart has some sleeper potential due to this deal. He was messed with a bit in Colorado, having been asked to move around the infield and sent down to the minors in favor of Ty Wigginton last season. The Cubs are likely to give Stewart a long leash, as he represents a cheap option at third with the potential for 20 home runs and a .350 OBP. He shouldn’t be drafted outside of the late rounds in mixed leagues or garner anything more than a dollar or two in mixed auction formats.

Colvin’s value is a wait and see at this point. He needs a clear path to playing time before he has any fantasy relevance anyway. As for now, consider him a player to keep on your watch list.