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March 18, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Bobby Abreu vs. Rajai Davis

by Jason Collette

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I have been on staff for just about two months and, by far, my favorite part has been the comments you all have left for the articles I've written. I have enjoyed the complements and enjoy the criticisms even more because both help me continue to improve both as a writer and as a fantasy “expert.” Don’t get me wrong, it is great to get affirmation from your customers when you’ve done a good job but I find more value in the critics that question the way something was written or in the advice I have doled out to others. The beauty of this social media generation we are all in is that we can have these discussions with just more than one friend or someone at a bar and that we can come in and out of the discussion as time permits or facts present themselves.

A great example of this happened earlier this week in reaction to my last article about the slow mock draft hosted by the Fantasy 411 crew over at mlb.com. In that draft, I was picking at the wheel at the top of the 16th round and was debating between two players: Bobby Abreu and Rajai Davis. In order to be up front, I will freely admit that I treat speed specialists how I treat saves: I will pass on the studs in the categories to speculate in later rounds. I have tried to go the other way in the past and in fact spent $31 on Jacoby Ellsbury in Tout Wars last year as my biggest buy of the draft—just in time for his injuries to make it wasted money. Still, at that point in a mixed draft, you are looking to fill holes in your projected stats while at the same time looking for value and minimizing risks. It was those last two factors that played loudly into my decision to take Abreu over Davis when the projected values for each player was clearly in Davis’ favor.

Bobby Abreu has a lot of quality known merits. He has played in at least 152 games for each of the past 13 seasons so he has an impeccable health history—CHIPPER considers him a low risk player for 2011 as well. He has driven in 100 or more runs in seven of the past eight seasons. He has scored 88 or more runs in each of the past twelve seasons and until last season, had not hit below .283 in any year in which he was a full-time player. Not to mention he’s a consistent source of stolen bases as he has swiped at least 22 bases in each of the past twelve seasons and continues to put up decent totals, even at an advanced age under a manager who loves to put runners in motion and trusts his veterans to pick their spots.

Most seasons Abreu is a contributor across all five categories. Last season was his lowest fantasy value in recent memory and he still earned $20-plus dollars in AL-only leagues. Looking back at least season, he showed signs of slowing down at age 36 as his line drive rate fell to 16 percent, which is six percentage points below his career average. Additionally, 2010 saw his fly ball rate go up for a third straight season as some of those crisp line drives became fly ball outs that fell into gloves rather than green grass or seats. Even in that down season, he was on base 35 percent of the time and was a solid four category contributor rather than his customary five categories. Mock drafters at mockdraftcentral.com still respect Abreu’s production as his current ADP is 119 while they continue to overlook Rajai Davis who comes in at a very low 289.

Davis enjoyed a mixed bag of success with the A’s over the past two and a half seasons. He hit .305 in 2009 and stole 41 bases in under 400 at bats and followed that up with a .284 average last season stealing 50 bases. Sadly, the A’s offense hindered him because, despite 50 stolen bases, Davis scored just 66 times in 2010. Davis now moves east into the suddenly offensive-friendly Rogers Centre where extra base hits were struck at an alarming rate, fueled by Jose Bautista’s breakout season and a team embracing the grip-it-and-rip-it approach put forth by Cito Gaston and Dwayne Murphy. Both Abreu and Davis went for $19 in the recent AL LABR draft two weeks ago so while the recent ADP reports do not see these two as close, the first round of experts that drafted certainly do. Those results came out right about the time I was debating which outfielder to choose so I decided to talk myself out of drafting Davis by looking for reasons why mock drafters were overlooking him and why there was a wide range in the projected value for Davis amongst the pundits.

Since Davis was switching divisions, I wanted to see how he had done in his career against the pitchers from Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay—this dive into his splits was not rosy. Since coming over to the American League, Davis has had 226 plate appearances against pitchers from those teams and he has a slash line of .213/.242/306—226 is a small sample size, but that slash line is well below his averages for his career which is .281/.330/383. If you slice it down to some of the better pitchers in the division, the line gets worse. Against the likes of CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, David Price, John Lackey, and Brian Matusz, his line is an anemic .194/.206/226 in 63 plate appearances (even smaller sample size caveats apply). Overall, Davis has a .287/.329/392 slash line as an American League hitter so his slash line against American League East pitchers stands out.

Secondly, Davis has been on a bit of a hot streak concerning his batting average on balls in play in recent seasons. The table below shows Davis’ batting average, BABIP, as well as xBABIP over the past three seasons in the American League.

















2008’s underperformance was a nice pre-cursor of what he could do in 2009, and 2010 made it two straight seasons where his BABIP was better than it should have been. In all, he’s been anywhere from 41 points below expectations to 44 points above expectations. The other issue is he is moving to a club that is rather aggressive at the plate from an organization that emphasizes working counts. Toronto was below league average last season in both pitches per plate appearance and team walk rate—maybe John Farrell, who comes from Boston, will change that, but we haven't seen whether this is true yet.

If you are a believer in Saberhagenmetrics then Davis could be in for a good year in getting on base. In 2007, he reached base at a .361 clip and in 2009 he got on base at a .360 clip. However, in even years, he has been at .272 and .320. His walk rate has bounced around from as high at 10 percent in 2007 down to four percent the following year while he was just under six percent as a member of a team that values the walk. If Davis does suffer a BABIP correction in 2011, he will have to improve his walk rate to make up for the loss of stolen base opportunities.

For all of his speed, Davis gets his steals from the frequency in which he steals bases and not the frequency he is on first. Davis’ stolen base opportunities last season were right at the 25 percent league average but he took off for second 43 percent of the time he was standing on first base. Oakland manager Bob Geren was aggressive with both Davis and Cliff Pennington last season and in fact; Oakland was slightly above league average as they had 2293 stolen base opportunities as a team last season. An opportunity is defined as a runner being on first or second base with the base in front of them unoccupied. Toronto had the fewest opportunities as well as the fewest stolen bases in the American League which is one of the reasons they targeted Davis’ services.

New manager Farrell brings an unknown quantity into the equation, as we don't know his habits on the basepaths. His old bos Terry Francona showed a willingness to utilize the speed when he had it. When Ellsbury was healthy in 2009, Francona put runners in motion 10 percent of the time when they had stolen base opportunities. Compare that to last season when Ellsbury was out of commission for most of the season when Francona sent Red Sox stealing just five percent of the time when the league average last season was nine percent.  

The Blue Jays struggle enough to put runners on base on a consistent basis and as one subscriber deftly pointed out, our PFM has a good portion of the Jays’ regular lineup projected for OBP’s below .320. In fact, Davis’ own career on base percentage is .320 and that’s a danger spot for him if he repeats that. The PlayIndex tool at Baseball-Reference shows us just three players age 30 or older that have stolen 40 or more bases in a single season with an OBP below .325: Steve Sax, Tony Womack, and Vince Coleman. In order for Davis to achieve the lofty projections some have out there for him, he has to continue his hitting ways from Oakland to get on base at a high enough to fully utilize his speed. That speed is starting to leave him these days as his Speed Score has gone from 9.3 to 8.0 to 6.9 over the past three seasons. That Womack season is the vision that I cannot get out of my head as I look at Davis and think about what could go wrong in 2011. Womack had 617 at-bats in 2000 and hit seven home runs, scored 95 runs, and stole 45 bases while earning $22–in NL-Only leagues—none of the campaigns that followed for him went nearly as well.

Again, in those mid to late rounds in a draft, you are looking to fill holes in your projected stats while at the same time looking for value and minimizing risks. The need for speed was there for me, but the value of a sliding Abreu and his excellent track record made his selection a more comfortable choice for me at pick 181 than Davis whose upside in 2011 is nearly as high as his floor would be low.

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

Related Content:  A's,  Stolen Base

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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My two cents? In the mid-late rounds, you start collecting lottery tickets. Davis is a lottery ticket for 2-3 points in a category all by himself. If he fails, you'll know it by June and can mitigate the damage with a waiver wire pickup of a mediocre outfielder.

Mar 18, 2011 06:54 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

I typically go that path with rounds 20-23 or my final $10-12 in an auction

Mar 18, 2011 07:06 AM

I wish I had read this before I traded for Davis the other day.

Mar 18, 2011 07:06 AM
rating: 0

Anyone want to speculate on Davis working with a swing coach this past offseason? Seems interesting that he says he now has an approach at the plate. I don't trust spring numbers at all, except when they portend possible power breakouts.

Mar 18, 2011 08:09 AM
rating: 1

For context:

Mar 18, 2011 14:35 PM
rating: 0

It all depends on the context of your team of course. My teams seem to solidify into either mostly balanced players or a mix of specialists depending on how the draft/auction is playing out. All things being equal, I have Abreu as a much more valuable fantasy player who is chronically underrated. He's a value in the 16th round, Davis is probably still a reach there. There are a lot of other speed options very late if you're looking to catch up in steals. Also, having seen Rajai here in Oakland quite a bit the last few years, I agree that there are reasons to be concerned. He looks pretty overmatched against plus fastballs and doesn't have good plate disipline. There's not much margin for error there and a dip in his luck he could really struggle to get on base enough to add value. Also, Toronto is about to find out that he's not nearly as good a centerfielder as he might be advertised to be. If Podsednik gets healthy, there's some playing time risk with Rajai. Abreu for me, no contest.

Mar 18, 2011 08:13 AM
rating: 0

I'm not sure Davis and Womack are really that similar. The numbers look the same but Tony Womack was never much of an athlete. He was 5'9" and 175 soaking wet. Davis is 5'10" and plays at almost 200 pounds, is a much stronger player, and a much more well rounded athlete.

Also, I think that moving out of Oakland can only help his BABIP and his power numbers. If you look at his spray chart I think those flyballs he pulls to LF could easily turn into HRs in Toronto, where in Oakland they died on the warning track.

Mar 18, 2011 08:42 AM
rating: 1
Brian Oakchunas

Speed guys tend to beat out their BABIP. It makes sense because they can get down the line and beat out groundballs a lot more often. I recalculate every player's batting average to eliminate luck. Here is what Davis should have hit the last three years:

2008 .277 rather than .260
2009 .274 rather than .305
2010 .249 rather than .284

2010 looks low, yes, but Raj hit far fewer line drives than he has in previous year and was well below average which has not been his M.O. Similarly, he hit far more infield flies than in the past. That is something he is quite unlikely to repeat as he is getting away from the coliseum's expansive foul territory.

In fact, Rajai "lost" 27 points of BA (vs. a league average hitter) because of those two types of balls in play. By way of comparison he had a net +3 on line drives and pop-ups the year before. I'd expect him to get that back and ultimately regress to his true talent level which lies in the .270s.

Mar 18, 2011 09:05 AM
rating: 2
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

FYI - the hit chart data from katron.org

By that data, he would have lost one of his home runs from home last season and all of his pop-ups would have still been in play even with the smaller foul territory.

Mar 18, 2011 10:40 AM

Only if all things are equal which they're not. Can we assume that the wind patterns from the bay may have prevented some of those fly balls from carrying? I'm not saying for sure but we do know that the ball jumps in Toronto and dies in the air in Oakland. The AL East also has 4 of the more hitter friendly parks in the AL rather than playing games in Oakland and Seattle.

I'm I saying he's going to turn into Barry Bonds? No. However, I think 7-10 HRs might be attainable. If he can hit 40 SB and 10 HRs he could be very valuable in some formats.

Mar 18, 2011 11:48 AM
rating: -1
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

He has 12 home runs in 1455 plate appearances as it stands now. I think 10 is really pushing it.

I know he has 3 home runs this spring, but living in Florida, I'm going to call some park factor issues into play. Sean Rodriguez hit six last year and look at what happened in season. A lot of these parks are right on the coast in the Grapefruit League where there is always a breeze blowing off the coast. Dunedin's park is less than a mile from the water. Szymborzki's 3 year weighted multipliers (http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/oracle/discussion/2010_minor_league_park_multipliers/) show that Dunedin has a 1.13 factor for home runs.

If we consider the fact Davis has a 35% career flyball rate and that his HR/FB ratio has been anywhere from 3-6% over the past three seasons, I feel looking for 10 is pushing it. Since 2000, here are some guys with that <36% flyball rate with a 5% HR/FB rate:

2003 - Jimmy Rollins - 8 home runs in 689 PAs
2003 - Brian Roberts - 5 home runs in 512 PAs
2007 - Ichiro - 6 home runs in 736 PAs
2008 - Ichiro - 6 home runs in 749 PAs
2007 - Coco Crisp - 6 home runs in 591 PA's

Those are all about the same type of guy that Davis is which is why I am pessimistic in the move to Rogers Centre having any kind of improvement on his home run total. If anything, not having to hit 9 times a season in Safeco and getting to replace those with 9 games in Camden Yards or Fenway will be more noticeable, IMO.

Mar 18, 2011 13:33 PM

This article is exactly why the PFM needs a complete overhaul. I hate using words like "useless", but PFM is...lacking in use...because it doesn't seem to weight the categories in a way to discount Davis, who gets the majority of his value from 1 stat (SB)

If you go to PFM and just run it with the default parameters, Davis is "worth" over $20. Abreu is worth $4. Some other guys right behind Davis? Longoria. Josh Hamilton. Posey.

PFM is giving terrible advice.

Mar 18, 2011 12:18 PM
rating: 2

Tools like the PFM are not that useful in my opinion because the values lack context. I don't think that you should necessarily discount Davis' value just because the majority of his value comes from 1 stat, but you certainly aren't going to pay $20 for him if you already have Juan Pierre. You might if you're power heavy though. It's all context. Once a player's value has been reduced to a single number, you lose information about how that number was derived. Player valuation is really all about resource allocation and how much you'll pay or where you'll draft and those things are constantly in flux during your draft as players come off the board and your and other rosters are constructed. Even though the PFM seems designed to take some of those things into account, it's really too complicated a process and all the inputs the algorithm would need to make sense are not going to be there. You have to be aware about all kinds of stuff about stat scarcity, positional scarcity, and roster construction (yours and theirs).

Mar 18, 2011 13:18 PM
rating: 1

Two weeks ago I ran the PFM for my 8-team mixed 5x5 league that conducts a snake draft and uses the five standard pitching categories and substitutes run production (R + RBI - HR) for RBI in hitting. We have 16 active hitters and 12 active pitchers, with a 6-man bench usually composed of 1 corner, 1 middle, 1 OF and 3 pitchers. We also have minimum innings of 1,600 and minimum at bats of 8,000.

The top 10 hitters, in order, were: Hanley, Albert, Braun, CarGo, Crawford, Kemp, Holliday, Tulo, Votto and Pedroia. All 10 are projected to be double digit in both SB and HR.

Nishioka Tsuyoshi, also projected to be double digit in both categories, ranked 18th overall, one slot ahead of a pitcher named Halladay, two ahead of some 2B named Utley and eight ahead of the new Boston 1B, Adrian Gonazlaez.

There were many other interesting rankings. Here is but a small sampling: Rajai Davis 50th overall, ARod 57th, Shin-Soo Choo 58th, Chris Coghlan 59th, Longoria 60th, Ka'aihue 66th, Youkilis 74th, Posey 96th, Weeks 100th.

Abreu? 211th, two spots behind Colby Rasmus -- but 3 ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez.

I shall not be relying on the PFM projections this year.

Mar 19, 2011 10:59 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

Siano took Rajai Davis at $20 this morning and I bought Abreu at $21, just for the record.

Mar 19, 2011 13:43 PM

Jason: What is your take on PFM? I use it to give me an idea of how to compare players who are apples and oranges e.g. who do I want Max Scherzer or Ian Kinsler (or some such) using a single number that is "unbiased."

Mar 19, 2011 15:03 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

I find it to be a bit pessimistic but since I'm still rather new here, I am not fully in touch how it runs its evaluations.

Mar 19, 2011 19:26 PM

Compliments would be praise or flattery. Complements are something that go well with something else.

That being said, I would like to compliment you on your start here at BP. This article complements some research that I was doing.

Mar 20, 2011 06:21 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

Thanks. Don't know how I overlooked that. My 2 spelling bee trophies need to stay in hiding.

Mar 20, 2011 20:43 PM

They won't run. The reason to run is to score on a single or sac fly. They will be converting 2 run homers into solos. There's just no point. Besides being just another speed guy who can't hit, Davis will be locked down pretty quick once this reality sinks in. Davis is a big waste of a draft pick.

Ellsbury's worth the premium. The only speed guy who CAN hit on a great all-around hitting team. His injuries were flukish. Been durable through career even without the popular hamstring setbacks. Beltre is a lunkhead who can't be called off the ball, and Ellsbury's no longer in danger (playing center and Beltre's gone).

Mar 20, 2011 16:04 PM
rating: 0

Farrell says he's aiming for base-path aggressiveness. That should count for something.


Mar 21, 2011 09:38 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

That's good....because his news of moving Eyechart to the bullpen made me shout loud noises over the weekend.

Mar 21, 2011 13:06 PM
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