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April 6, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Outfield

by Rob McQuown

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Making Marc Normandin's Right Fielder Rankings, albeit very near the bottom, is Brennan Boesch, and his nine home runs and 35 runs batted in (according to PECOTA), accompanying his .249 batting average to the tune of -$21 in mixed-league value.  Yes, as with last April, Boesch is forcing his way into more playing time, and the flexibility of other Tigers has allowed him to play instead of not only fellow outfielder Magglio Ordonez, but also utility man Ryan Raburn and catcher Alex Avila.  He didn't go on an offseason workout binge, so the cliché of choice is: "He's more relaxed and hitting the ball hard", according to Jim Leyland.

Like most smart fantasy owners, R.J. Anderson dismissed Boesch summarily before the season, with this bearish outlook in the AL Central preview:  

Player Who Could Disappoint:Outfielder Brennan Boesch is a given; his rookie season included a half where he looked like a future Hall of Famer (.342/.397/.593) followed by one where he looked like a future minor leaguer (.163/.237/.222). Fans hoping for a bounce back to the first half are out of luck, as Boesch is projected to hit .249/.297/.407.

But, alas, a good spring (.347/.413/.542), and a Bart Colon (and New Yankee Stadium)-aided big game, and suddenly some owners are wondering if Ryan Raburn's somewhat modest career line against right-handed pitchers (.279/.323/.430), combined with even more modesty in Alex Avila's batting skills (.249 TAv projected by PECOTA), are enough to open up at-bats for Boesch. 

Every year, there's a guy who pushes his way into more playing time from a reserve outfield role, ala the Xavier Paul mention last week.  And while Boesch has shown that his hot streaks are indeed as good as anyone's, let Jim Leyland ride those waves—if Boesch finds his 90th percentile performance this year, tip the cap to the lucky owner who rostered him.  Better to play it safe, and to keep that -$21 projected value in mind, considering all the while that not all lefty batters can feast on right-handed pitching.  Boesch's career line of .242/.300/.392 against “normal” hurlers (who he's seen many more of—406 of 525 career PA), isn't even good enough to force out Raburn or Avila, nor worth risking a roster spot to include.

Unlike Brennan Boesch, Jeff Francoeur gets to use the “best shape of his career” line, dropping to 207 pounds this year.  As he notes of his earlier years with Atlanta:

“My best year was 2007 when I hit .293 with 19 home runs and drove in 105 runs,” he said. “But my home runs dropped from 29 to 19, and everybody kept asking me why they dropped.

“I had been playing around 215, but I bulked up to 242 going into (the next) spring. It just never was the same.” - Kansas City Star interview, February 17, 2011.

Now, “Frenchy” was also in the “One Star” tier of Normandin's right-field list, and was projected to earn positive values in mixed leagues ($1).  But this was based on an identical (to Boesch) .247 TAv, with a similar lack of stolen-base expectations.  The difference?  Twice as many plate appearances!  As crazy as it may seem from a sabermetric vantage point to start a corner outfielder every day who has hit .255/.296/.402 against right-handed pitching in his career, there is little reason to expect less than 600 PA from Francoeur.  Lorenzo Cain is the only real threat from “below” (including bench players Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson), and there are plenty of question marks swirling around the other two starting outfielders (Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera).  Don't be deceived by ups or downs here, or tales of fitness abounding, Francoeur is very likely to settle into his .268/.310/.425 career batting line, but with so much playing time, that means about 20 homers and a decent RBI totals, batting behind the improved offensive core in Kansas City.

There's a player on many waiver wires right now who is likely to be a difference-maker in almost every format in 2011.  He was acquired to bat second in the order against right-handed pitching by a team with one of the best #1, #3, and #4 hitters in all baseball.  His career batting line against righty pitching is .308/.361/.387, and–here is the kicker–he's stolen 92 bases in just 1409 career PA.  But, naysayers may argue, “Isn't Carlos Gomez the starting centerfielder for the Brewers?  Nyjer Morgan has a bad attitude and wore out his welcome on the woeful Nationals.”  The best reply to these concerns is that the Brewers are playing for 2011, and are likely to shed Morgan after this year, before he can wear out his welcome (so they can live with one season of his 'tude), Carlos Gomez has hit .251/.297/.345 against right-handed pitching in his career, and managers have a tendency to play the better player, “intangibles” aside.   Anyway, he's as cheap as he's going to get right now, with Ron Roenicke and Bob Melvin insisting that Carlos Gomez is the starter, and visions of bench-clearing brawls and offensive comments being evoked by the mere mention of Morgan's name (or even his gentleman's name—"Tony Plush”). 

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:  Brennan Boesch

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