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October 7, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

First, Third, and DH for 9/7/11

by Michael Street

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So if a team makes the playoffs, all of its players are keeper studs, right? Wrong. Among the corner infielders, Brandon Inge and Wilson Betemit of the Tigers are barely fungible redraft fantasy options, let alone keepers, and Casey Kotchman’s Bizarro World 2011 season isn’t enough to make him a keeper, either. In between these definite non-keepers and no-brainers like Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, or Mark Teixeira, quite a few keeper enigmas took the field in the four 2011 Divisional Series.

As Rob McQuown did, I’m taking my dollar values from lastplayerpicked.com, and we’ll all be adding the extra “Super Deep” category (20 teams with 10 keepers) for BP readers in the deepest of leagues. Think of it as an even deeper Keeper Reaper.  If you missed it earlier this week, read the beginning of Rob's column for an introduction to what Keeper Reaper is all about.  Remember, here are how league depths are determined:

Shallow: 10-team mixed leagues with 3 keepers (30 total keepers)
Medium: 12-team mixed leagues with 5 keepers (60 total keepers)
Deep:
15-team mixed leagues with 6 keepers (90 total keepers)
AL/NL-only
12-team with 5 keepers (120 effective keepers)
Super Deep: 20-team mixed leagues with 10 keepers (200 total keepers)

Alex Rodriguez | New York Yankees
Shallow: NO
Medium: BORDERLINE
Deep: YES
AL-only: YES
Super Deep: YES

A-Rod earned just $7 this season after two years around the $20 mark, disappointing his fantasy owners, who drafted him 18th overall in ESPN leagues. He missed over fifty games thanks to surgery on a torn meniscus and a nagging August thumb injury, failing to top 30 home runs for the first time since 1995 (and the first time ever in a season with at least 150 plate appearances). Those aches and pains muffled his .276/.362/.461 slash line with a SLG below his 10th PECOTA percentile, but his OPS and OPS+ have declined in each of the past five seasons, and he’s missed at least 25 games in each of the past four seasons.

Whether this comes from age or PED hangover, A-Rod is no longer the top-ranked fantasy stud he once was. Even at a tough spot like third base, A-Rod is a risky keeper choice in shallow leagues, where you might be able to redraft him at a discount due to his subpar 2011. Nine third basemen and more than a hundred hitters brought more than A-Rod’s $7 in 2011, and I expect that at least thirty will do so again in 2012. Risk of further injury and decline make him iffy in medium leagues, although his talent and position tip the scales slightly in his favor.

Adrian Beltre | Texas Rangers
Shallow: BORDERLINE
Medium: YES
Deep: YES
AL-only: YES
Super Deep: YES

Beltre set a record by becoming the first player to hit three home runs in a divisional series on Tuesday, capping a powerful first year in a Ranger uniform. Like A-Rod, Beltre lost time—37 games—due to injury in 2011, but he still brought his owners $23—only a slight drop-off from the $25 he brought in 2010. Beltre’s .296/.331/.561, 31-home run performance blew the roof off PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection of .306/.356/.499 and 26 home runs in both power (his 16.4 PA/HR is well above that 90th percentile 27.5) and TAv (his .321 also exceeded PECOTA’s 90th percentile .294 projection).

Beltre’s power bump came from his 16.4 percent HR/FB (his highest since the 23.3 percent in 2004’s 48-home run spike) and a career high 44.1 percent fly ball rate. That overperformance is balanced by a career-best 93.4 percent contact rate on strikes, with his unlucky .273 BABIP explaining the relatively low batting average. Just as A-Rod might come at a discount due to his down 2011, other owners are likely to overpay for Beltre in 2012, failing to notice how much he outperformed PECOTA and other metrics. Trading Beltre now for undervalued talent could exploit his newsworthy performance and the short-term vision of other owners, another excellent keeper strategy. Injury and regression make him a dicey keeper in shallow leagues, but if you can’t move him for a good price or if you play in a deeper league, Beltre should still bring a decent return in 2012.

Mitch Moreland | Texas Rangers
Shallow: NO
Medium: NO
Deep: BORDERLINE
AL-only: YES
Super Deep: YES

Moreland burst onto the scene in 2010, hitting 9 home runs in the final two months of the season to help the Rangers win the AL West for the first time in a decade and reach the World Series for the first time ever. While his .255 batting average underwhelmed, Moreland’s .364 OBP was 15th among first basemen, and his .469 SLG ranked 14th. 2011’s full-season line was a real disappointment, however, as he boosted his batting average a whopping four points but saw his OBP fall to .320 and his SLG to .414—levels down in his 30th PECOTA percentile. In nearly three times as many plate appearances, he only launched 7 more home runs and doubled his RBI from 2010. An awful .230/.264/.345 July hurt, along with continued struggles against southpaws, against whom his OPS was 206 points lower.

Sophomore adjustments are to be expected, and 2011 was Moreland’s first full season in the majors, so he could recover in 2012, although he’ll need to improve his approach against off-speed stuff. He’ll also need to recover his patience, since his walk rate fell from 14.5 percent in 2010’s small sample to 7.6 percent this year. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that this year’s 10.6 percent HR/FB ratio will reach the 21.4 percent that boosted his 2010 batting line. He’ll could wind up in a potential platoon situation in 2012, making Moreland a good AL-only keeper but iffy in all but the deepest mixed leagues.

Casey McGehee | Milwaukee Brewers
Shallow: NO
Medium: NO
Deep: NO
NL-only: BORDERLINE
Super Deep: YES

We haven’t seen much of McGehee in the first three games of the NLDS, small wonder for a player who delivered -$5 to his fantasy owners in 2011, a letdown after his $1 return in 2010 and $3 in 2009. The Cubs castoff seemed to have found a place in Beertown in 2009 after replacing an ineffective Bill Hall, but his OPS and OPS+ have both fallen the past two years. This season, however, was McGehee’s first season with a negative VORP since 2008’s 25 plate appearance cup of joe. His .223/.280/.346 performance fell well below his 10th PECOTA percentile, spoiling the plans of his fantasy owners.

Explaining this collapse doesn’t come from his walk and strikeout rates—which were in line with last year’s—but from BABIP and hit trajectory. His BABIP fell from .306 to .249 while his 40.4 percent fly ball rate in 2009 fell to 33.8 percent in 2011 (with a corresponding rise in ground balls). Bad luck on balls in play (or poorer contact) plus more ground balls will diminish power and batting average, as it has done with McGehee. The arrival of Taylor Green at the end of the season as well as the acquisition of Jerry Hairston could foretell the end of McGehee’s time in Milwaukee, but he’s likely to catch on elsewhere if that happens. Betting on a rebound could deliver value, but that’s a keeper bet to be made in the deepest of leagues only, and his uncertain destination in 2012 makes that a tougher, not easier, bet in NL-only leagues.

Paul Goldschmidt | Arizona Diamondbacks
Shallow: NO
Medium: BORDERLINE
Deep: YES
NL-only: YES
Super Deep: YES

Goldschmidt, the USA Minor-League Player of the Year, skipped Triple-A and stepped into Arizona’s first base role just in time to seize the reins down the stretch and tie a franchise record with 5 RBI to stave off elimination Tuesday night. Not a bad start to a career and one that few fantasy owners saw coming—he remained well under Value Picks thresholds for the whole season. He’s got a clear path to a starting gig in 2012, but will the 6’3”, 245-pound monster continue his success in 2012?

Goldie clubbed minor-league pitching to the tune of a .317/.407/.620 slash line with the kind of supporting ratios expected for a patient power-hitter: a strikeout rate of 23.6 percent and a walk rate of 12.6 percent. Facing better pitchers in the bigs, Goldschmidt remained patient (11.3 BB%) but whiffed more (29.9 K%) while maintaining the power that made him Arizona’s 10th best prospect according to Kevin Goldstein. He wasn’t higher than that because Kevin—along with other scouts—see power as his only calling card. Certainly the falloff in his ability to make contact is a concern, although that comes more from swings on balls (62.5 percent) than strikes (75.9 percent). Pitchers will certainly exploit this tendency in 2012, along with his struggles against breaking pitches, but Goldie has already showed that he can adjust to new levels in the past and should do so in the future. There’s sophomore-slump potential if the learning curve proves too steep, but his prodigious power somewhat offsets this risk. Depending on your needs and your predilection for gambling on young talent, Goldie could be a keeper in medium-depth leagues, but he’s definitely a keeper in leagues deeper than that. Potential for patience and power like this doesn’t come around very much, and you should hang on to Goldschmidt, especially if you managed to get him at a discount.
 

Next week, I’ll look at some keeper options from some of the teams that just missed the playoffs, but please leave requests in the comments section for other corner infielders and designated hitters you’d like to see covered.

Related Content:  Casey McGehee,  Mitch Moreland,  A-rod

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Premium Article Prospectus Playoff Qui... (10/07)
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Fantasy Article The Keeper Reaper: Sta... (10/06)
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