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July 21, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Options In The Outfield

by Craig Brown

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Three outfielders are set to return to action (or have already) after missing time to the disabled list.  All will resume their starting roles, but that doesn't mean all three are viable options.

Begin in San Diego, where Will Venable returns after missing time due to a lower back strain.  The Padres owns a lofty .323 BABIP, yet puts the ball in play in just 55% of his plate appearances.  That’s Prince Fielder or Adam Dunn territory, which would be OK, but Venable doesn’t have the pop to make it so.  The low contact rate means his overall average is a depressed (and depressing) .238.  Still, Venable is doing a couple of things that may provide some value to fantasy owners.  First, he’s running - a lot.  He’s attempting to steal bases in over 22% of his opportunities and with 14 steals in 17 attempts, he’s been successful 82% of the time.  While he doesn’t have the “pop” of a Fielder or Dunn, with eight home runs and a .178 ISO, his power remains modest.  His 11.6% HR/FB rate aligns with his career rate.  Mix it all together and his .273 TAv indicates he’s been a better offensive player than his individual numbers may suggest.

After a seven game rehab stint in minors (where he stole three bases) Venable will resume his duties in right field, which relegates Aaron Cunningham to the bench. Cunningham performed well as the understudy and hit in 11 consecutive games, but was never a fantasy option. Venable would be a good add for the speed and power combo if you can afford to take the inevitable hit in batting average.

Meanwhile, after missing the entire month with a hamstring injury (an injury suffered while circling the bases after hitting a home run) Luke Scott returned to the Orioles lineup on Monday and picked up exactly where he left off, banging a pair of home runs in just his second game back to push his TAv to .304.  That’s exactly what you’re going to get with Scott (.264 ISO) who has always been an underrated source of fantasy power.  As I mentioned in my article when Scott landed on the DL, even with the power production, he has been quite the let down in the RBI department with just 33 runs driven in this year.  He’s cashing in just 11% of the runners on base when he’s at the plate and owns an abysmal .145 BA with runners in scoring position.  

With Scott’s return, he’ll resume his designated hitter role and would be a great add if you’re scouring for power.  That means left field for the Orioles will be a mix of Felix Pie and Corey Patterson.  Pie has hit .263 with one home run and three RBI in 41 plate appearances since returning from the DL with a shoulder strain.  Meanwhile, Patterson has hit .273 with one home run and 10 RBI with four steals since the beginning of July.  Both players are battling nagging injuries.  Patterson's heel kept him out of action for a couple of days and Pie missed some time just ahead of the break with a mild quad strain.  Figure Patterson to get most of the time in left with Pie making some spot starts to keep both players fresh and healthy.  Thankfully, that means Patterson should keep running.   

Finally, word out of Kansas City is outfielder Rick Ankiel could be activated prior to Thursday’s visit to New York after missing three months with a quad strain.  Putting the ball in play in just 55% of his plate appearances, Ankiel has Venable-like ratios yet has more power potential.  Potential being the operative word as his power numbers dropped precipitously from 2008 to 2009 where he lost nearly 120 points off his slugging percentage and 90 points off his ISO.  With three home runs in just 69 plate appearances (small sample size!) before landing on the DL, he was splitting the difference in 2010.  

Ankiel, who hit .270 with four home runs on a rehab assignment in Triple-A, will move back into center field and will likely resume his spot in the middle of the Royals lineup - a lineup starved for power.  Unless you’re similarly starved for power, there’s little reason to consider adding him to your roster. 

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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