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December 22, 2010

Analyze This

Hot Spots: Outfield

by Rob McQuown

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When considering the high-average hitters in baseball today, few think to include Magglio Ordonez.  But he's hit .327 over the past four seasons, including his batting title of 2007.  That raised his career batting average to .312, good for 11th among active players.  When healthy, he's one of those contact/power guys (his career K/PA rate is just 12%) who can be so exciting for fantasy teams and frequent readers know this author likes.  The problem, though, is that while he's slugged .511 for his career, he's only managed 42 homers the past three seasons, hitting more singles and doubles and spending more time on the DL.  At his age, expect the four-year trend in declining batting averages to continue, and for him to hit under .300.  The power may rebound somewhat with better health, but Vic Martinez's presence is a mixed blessing for him, as the offense will improve but his potential to get “off days” at DH will essentially disappear.  When contemplating how much to invest in Ordonez on draft day, consider that even in his lousy 2009 season, he hit .375/.438/.540 in the second half, and it's possible that his first-half struggles were due almost entirely to his wife's battle with cancer.  She was – mercifully – proclaimed cancer-free in August, and “Maggs” had a spectacular finale to the season (.439/.486/.571 in 107 September plate appearances).  


Monday's Matsui commentary may have come across as a backhanded snipe at Billy Beane, but it wasn't meant that way - “Godzilla” should be fine for the price, as noted.  And Beane remains true to form, zigging and zagging to try to exploit “market inefficiencies”.  New Athletics left fielder Josh Willingham doesn't zig or zag nearly as quickly as the last one – Rajai Davis – did, but he's drawn 302 walks and hit 103 homers in 2602 plate appearances in his career.  And while speed and defense are becoming more pricy in this marketplace, Willingham's relatively moderate strikeout rates combined with the walks and homers have left him with a .265/.367/.475 career batting line – and the A's gave up little more than assumption of his salary to acquire him.  His platoon splits have fluctuated back and forth, and he now has a very typical 827/.885 R/L split for his career.  He's often missed time with nagging injuries, and the ability to switch off with Matsui from time-to-time at DH should allow him to stay in the lineup more.  Expect his new home park to cut down on his power, as it's reduced right-handed homers by over 20% in recent years, and the batting average will be dragged down a bit with it.  But  Willingham should still provide a solid-if-unspectacular power bat, who is much more valuable in OBP leagues.  


Since converting to the outfield, Rick Ankiel has hit .251/.316/.451, with 53 homers in 1297 PA.  He's shown a large platoon split,  while Mike Morse has hit .313/.375/.518 against left-handed pitching in his career.  With some positional shuffling, the two should make a decent platoon situation for Jim Riggleman, who's shown the willingness to use left/right platoons in the past.   Given his injury-influenced struggles the past two seasons, Ankiel could end up providing very nice value if acquired late in deep league drafts (or cheaply in an auction). 

Both Ankiel and Lorenzo Cain were dropped from the Value Picks the same week in 2010 (tip - By pulling up the article, the navigation at the bottom allows the reader to see the previous articles, thus getting a timeline of events leading to them being dropped.)  Both were removed for the same reason – lack of playing time.  Cain's skill set is the opposite of Ankiel's, providing speed and – hopefully – on-base skills.  Some discussion of Cain's minor-league history is discussed in this column the week he was promoted, but the short version is that Cain should be very good for fantasy purposes.  Keep in mind that Ken Macha is the bane of base thieves, and also that KC's centerfield situation was wide open before Cain arrived.  Barring Cain laying an egg in spring training, he's a good bet to hit something like Coco Crisp – a career .277/.332/.410 hitter – and steal 30 bases. 

Also signing this past week are Austin Kearns, Endy Chavez, and Matt DiazManny Acta likes Kearns, so if the other guys struggle with health (Grady Sizemore) or batting (Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley), Kearns could quickly get more playing time.  That's only a positive in AL-only leagues (or extremely deep mixed leagues).  The Rangers are a bad choice for Endy Chavez if he wants playing time, so – barring a spring injury – expect him to end up somewhere else, flashing his crazy-good defensive skills and hitting enough that if a team is forced to start him as their #8 hitter for a while, it's not such a bad thing.  Matt Diaz is intriguing.  Certainly signed to counterbalance some of the glut of lefties in the lineup (as mentioned Monday),  Diaz is actually a career .301/.350/.456 hitter who hasn't been awful against righty pitching.  If he's working his P90X program vigorously, he could be a nice surprise – he hit .313 and stole 12 bases in 2009, when he first helped popularize the fitness program.  There's little reason to assume he'll do something good, but keep an eye on him (and, notably, Garrett Jones) as someone who can sneak on to the radar with a good spring and April. 

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

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Premium Article Future Shock: Milwauke... (12/21)
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