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September 22, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Outfield

by Rob McQuown

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If was one thing to read Michael Street's list of disappointing corner infielders Monday, but it got personal yesterday, when Mike Jong reminded this author of the two biggest disappointments on his FantasyPros911.com AL Expert League team – Matt Wieters and Aaron Hill. Not that anyone cares about anyone else's fantasy team, but it's a good reminder that fantasy owners are human too, and sometimes getting burned by one of these players will make it harder to believe that they are a rebound candidate.

(Note: All preseason dollar predictions were taken from the Graphical Player 2010. All year-to-date dollar values were taken from Heater Magazine.)

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In one of the most amazing fantasy-league performances ever, Jason Collette is running away with the aforementioned Expert League... despite spending full price ($32) on this year's #1 outfield disappointment, Jacoby Ellsbury. Such a gambit is definitely not recommended, but who's to blame someone for bidding so much on an impact roto player? Sure, Marc Normandin only gave him “Four Stars” - due mostly to a modest 533 PA projection - and the team health report listed him as “Yellow”, with this quip: “He's not that big a risk, barely in the yellow, but I keep coming back to one fact. The Red Sox have never had a speedy left fielder. There's really no need with that wall so close, so I'm wondering—will Ellsbury sprint back one night and smash into the Monster? It's an image I'm oddly focused on. I really hope I'm wrong.” Furthermore, Lee Panas chose him as “Most Overrated”, while Mike Street tabbed him for “Most likely to disappoint” in the Pre-season Fantasy Predictions. Still, there's “disappoint”, and then there's “post negative $2 of value based on a $30 projection.” Grinding stats for a player who clearly had his season wrecked by injuries is pointless and misleading. In all likelihood, the lost season will return his auction value to where it belongs, and he may even be a bargain in some leagues. With all the talk about the team pursuing Carl Crawford, Ellsbury could lose his friendly home park or else lose some of his playing time, so be conservative if bidding early, and attentive to the news on him leading up to later - March – drafts. If he does change teams, pay careful attention to the pattern of attempted steals for his new manager; for example, a Ken Macha type could really cut into Ellsbury's steal attempts.

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Others would assert that Grady Sizemore was the most-disappointing outfielder of 2010 (GP 2010 prediction $25, actual 2010 returns: -$2). Marc Normandin had him tabbed as a “Five Star” outfielder (one of just five such players), based on an entirely reasonable 678 plate-appearance projection (he averaged almost 750 plate appearances from 2006-2008, before his 2009 injuries). Well, Grady's knees had another idea in mind. The microfracture surgery puts him in the bargain bin for 2011, as a high-risk play for sure (as noted last week). The risk-averse should just stay away.

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Another Four-Star outfielder on The Normandin List, few Mets fans would argue about him being a zero ($0 returned) in 2010. In fairness to Marc, that list was posted on March 4th, and the first really worrisome news about Beltran – as captured on BP – was on March 22: “The timeline on Carlos Beltran's return is sliding back a bit. We're already near the eight-week postmark since his knee 'scope, and he's not running yet. He won't even try for another couple weeks, so his return is now targeted for May, at best.” Beltran has hit .278/.365/.495 in 3201 plate appearances for the Mets, with 131 homers, 489 RBI, and 97 steals, while mostly playing great defense in center field. His player card page has him at +34 WARP for his six years so far, and assuming he makes another “contract push” in 2011, that healthy free agent contract he received (7 years, $119 million) may actually turn out to be a huge bargain. With two abbreviated seasons in a row, and entering his age-34 season, it's very possible that Beltran will slide far below his fantasy value in 2011, and become a huge bargain for fantasy owners, as well. Don't expect the speed of his youth to miraculously reappear, so counting on more than 10 (maybe 15 if you're an optimist) steals would be unrealistic, but his BABIP should improve from the .265 figure he is posting this season, helping all his rate stats. And the 30-HR power should return as his legs get fully healthy.

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McLouth is a difficult player to decipher. Long tabbed as a good 4th outfielder type who hit well enough to be an asset in center field, but didn't quite have the range teams wanted in the middle, he improved his game in 2007 – hitting .258/.351/.459 – and then took a dramatic leap forward in 2008, hitting .276/.356/.497, making the All-Star team, and winning a Gold Glove in center field. He was en route to a similar season in 2009 when the Braves gave up some promising – though not top-flight - players for him (Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke). McLouth cooled off after going to Atlanta, hitting just .257/.354/.419. That didn't deter projections, and his on the Normandin List (where he was rated with “Four Stars”) was a robust .277/.370/.479, with 102 runs scored, 23 home runs, 80 RBI, and 23 steals. This earned a $22 predicted value in Graphical Player 2010, and similar expectations in all fantasy projections. This is important information to keep in mind for McLouth – that just 6 months ago, he was considered a $20+ outfielder, and his projected 10-year MORP was $90mil. It's important because he cost his owners $2 in 2010, as in – his -$2 return was worse than grabbing some random waiver wire player. But hitting skills rarely just “disappear”, barring serious injuries. He's hit .275/.348/.625 since returning from a demotion, and he's now in a platoon role in center field, starting against righties. His contract contains a $10.65 million club option for 2012, so expect him to have added motivation to perform well in 2011 (the option seems unlikely to be exercised, in which case he's playing for a free agency deal). With the thorough collapse of Jordan Schafer (.201/.255/.254 in AAA – in 209 PA), the Braves don't have anyone challenging McLouth for the position, so he's likely to get a Mulligan, including playing against LHP, in 2011. Be forwarned that the leash won't be as long, with Melky Cabrera being an always-adequate, if unexceptional, option.

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I won't pretend to be an injury expert. But BP's injury expert, in first commenting on the Bay concussion, concluded with “I don't have any idea which way this one will go”, on July 28. He hasn't played since then, and personally, I'm not even going to consider him in any format until I see him playing every day in spring training games. At his best, he should be able to hit in any park – Pittsburgh's PNC park wasn't any friend to hitters, and he did fine there.

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Another case of taking a SWAG, if I pretended to have knowledge of how he'll do in 2011. The treatment by some in the media of the similar cases of Nick Swisher “quitting” on the Chicago White Sox in 2008 and Manny “quitting” on the Boston Red Sox is sort of fascinating; oh, how we – fans and media – do love to psychoanalyze players from a distance. Like Swisher, it seems that if a new team can find some way to inspire Manny, he'll be a fine hitter in 2011. His seasonal age will be just 39, which sounds old for a typical ballplayer, but Manny is a career .313/.411/.587 hitter, and still posted .299/.411/.466 in 2010. His comparable players include guys like Edgar Martinez, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, and Mike Schmidt. His pre-2010 PECOTA projection for 2011 was .278/.378/.493. Don't expect more than about 500 plate appearances in 2011, as he gets up there in years, but make no mistake about whether he can still hit or not, though his flop as a White Sox player (1 HR and 1 RBI in 74 PA) reinforces the idea that he has to “want to hit”, and figuring out what might make that happen is well beyond the scope of this column.

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After delving into leg injuries, head injuries, and “Manny Being Manny”, it's almost refreshing to consider a standard “disappointing young player”, like Nolan Reimold. But wait, in reading Craig Brown's fine article on Reimold's 2010 struggles, it seems that the Orioles slugger-to-be managed to combine issues, “he apparently still hadn’t completely recovered from off season surgery on his left Achilles', battled undisclosed personal issues and continued to struggle in the minors.” Craig leaves the reader with, “Here's to next year...”, but it seems likely that Reimold will have to win a job in spring training if he wants to be a major-leaguer in 2011. He has the power to be worth keeping in mind.

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Yes, LaPorta is a first baseman now. But he's played some outfield (though perhaps not enough to qualify in most leagues – just 8 games), and it seemed that he should be mentioned where disappointments are being discussed. As Value Pick regulars are aware, Mike Street had him on his list for a while, before “trimming the fat” on August 23. As Mike pointed out at the time, there are still some reasons to keep an eye on the big slugger whose PECOTA was .262/.344/.462 entering the season. But LaPorta has gotten 78 plate appearances since that article, and has posted a .152/.282/.348 batting line. He'll be entering his age-26 season in 2011, and has hit .233/.306/.388 in 591 career PA so far. He's earned $3 so far in 2010 fantasy values, against a projection of $15 in GP 2010. While Cleveland is still playing for the future, and they won't mind unproductive players in the lineup, it's entirely possible that they will find some other option for first base in 2011, with the hope that more time in the minors will help LaPorta.

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

Related Content:  2011,  Fantasy Drafts

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