February 23, 2011
Value Picks in the Outfield
“I don't like Gomez”, quipped a fantasy expert who shall remain anonymous. Said expert isn't alone, as Gomez has gone from a two-time BA top-100 prospect for the Mets to a player so miscast in Ken Macha's “system” that one has to wonder how the two survived the season together. Oh, wait: they didn't. On the other hand, during his brief stop in Minnesota, Gomez made such an impression on Ron Gardenhire, that Gardy still speaks highly of him. It would be simple to dismiss Carlos Gomez as a “glove” and expect that someone like Chris Dickerson or Brandon Boggs would push him aside. After all, he's never had a season in which he's posted even a .300 on-base percentage, despite getting 1420 career plate appearances so far.
But let's don the rose-colored glasses for a bit. Before 2010, yours truly suggested that Gomez could rack up 40 steals, given full-time duty. This was purely fantasy with Ken Macha around, but he's gone now. And Gomez “improved” his ground ball rate to a career-high 48 percent in 2010, and his BABIP predictably rose with it (to .313). He's not a good contact hitter, which is frustrating for someone with his wheels, so the batting average will always be a problem. Rostering him in an OBP league would be akin to punting that category. But the speed remains. His speed score was 7.5 in 2010, despite being held back by his manager. He stole five of his 18 bags coming off the bench, so it's not as though he was close to that pace in 2010, but his 79 stolen base opportunities could more than double in 2011 (he had 186 in 2008), with just a modest OBP increase and more playing time. In short, if he's playing well enough to keep playing, 40 steals is still a very reasonable expectation. Considering how overlooked he's likely to be on draft day (Marc Normandin rated him as a one-star centerfielder, for example), there's a wealth of possible “profit” here.
Dexter Fowler was on his way to anonymity at the end of last May, hitting just .216/.327/.317 while Carlos Gonzalez was fielding well enough to cover center field, and Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith were providing all the accompaniment Brad Hawpe required in the side fields for the Rockies. Except that Mr. Fowler was having none of it. He'd hit .335/.431/.515 in 2008 in Double-A, after all, and he tuned up Triple-A pitching even more convincingly after his demotion in May—.340/.435/.566 over 124 plate appearances. When Hawpe went out with an injury, the Rox reinstated Fowler in center field at the end of June, where he had two 0-for-4 days to close out the month. But from July 1 onward, he hit .288/.362/.466, powered in part by a .356 BABIP. He's going to be a high-BABIP hitter, with his slashing stroke, good speed, and the thin air in the mountains. Just entering his age-25 season, PECOTA is bullish on him for 2011, and the only real worry is that his stolen base output dropped to just 14 (total between MLB and Triple-A) in 2010, but he was fighting various injuries all season, and his league-leading 14 triples suggest a return to 20-steal territory in 2011 now that the ankle and ribs have had an offseason to heal.
The Player Forecast Manager says that Nate McLouth will be worth negative 85 cents in 2011 12-team mixed leagues (standard 5x5 scoring), hitting .243 in 500 plate appearances. In reviewing his 2010 center fielder tiers, Marc Normandin concludes that “he has turned into a joke to many because of his 2010, [and] will most likely be available cheap and late.” That's good advice, but before drafting him, make sure his injuries are healed. With the addition of Dan Uggla and the expected growth of Jason Heyward, this is a team which should score enough runs to afford to carry Jordan Schafer's glove if push comes to shove. It shouldn't, if McLouth is fully recovered, and that negative-85 could get some serious helium, as Nate is a power/speed threat who hit .256 or better the three previous seasons.
Drew Stubbs is six-foot-four and weighs 204 pounds. His isolated power in 2010 (.189) was higher than Adam Lind, Hideki Matsui, Hunter Pence, and Jason Heyward, to name a few. His 32.7 percent strikeout percentage (per plate appearance) “topped” all qualifying batters in MLB besides Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn. Yet, Dusty Baker led Stubbs off 148 times in 2010. BP's own David Laurila liked this concept enough to make it his second of Four Suggestions for the Cincinnati Reds. See, Stubbs also posted the fifth-best speed score and stole 30 bases in 188 opportunities with just six times caught stealing. One can almost hear Dusty muttering to himself, “but he doesn't look like a leadoff hitter... and all those homers...”
Before his power surge in 2010, Stubbs was starting to profile somewhat like a more-walks version of Devon White, with the great defense in center field, the stolen bases, moderate power, and the strikeouts. And perhaps that's all Stubbs will ever do, as White hit 24 homers in his first full season in the majors before settling into the 10-17 range for the next nine seasons. It's also unlikely he'll be as good as White afield, as that's a very tall order, but Stubbs' -1 FRAA projection by PECOTA isn't taking into account that he was outstanding from June onward (as noted on May 26, he started badly on defense due in part to lower back troubles). Anyway, unlike the situation with leading off, Stubbs does look like a good defensive outfielder, and that should be enough to keep him in the lineup. And that's good news, as the “more walks” part of his offensive package won't win points with this manager. Further, those walks aren't likely to help in many fantasy formats, either. But Baker is loyal to players almost to a fault, and it appears that Stubbs has Dusty's blessing, so playing time shouldn't be an issue going forward. Though the power isn't a certainty, and the batting average won't be good, he has a good shot to reach 20 HR and 30 SB. And if he does stay in the leadoff role, he should score plenty of runs atop the potent Reds offense.