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October 21, 2011
The Keeper Reaper
First, Third, and DH for 10/21/11
One of the toughest calls in keeper leagues come from players whose values have been diminished by injuries or shaky play. Does a strong September erase the memories of a weak season? Did that long cold streak come from injury or diminished skills? Will a delicate player finally put together a healthy year? As we know (and Collateral Damage analyzes) remaining healthy is a skill, while other skills neither evaporate entirely, nor do they suddenly improve. I’ll try to answer some of these question marks in response to reader requests; as always, feel free to offer suggestions of your own in the comments field.
Our latest Keeper Reaper twist provides links to BP’s PFM dollar valuation for 2011 player performance, courtesy of our own fantasy/programming guru, Rob McQuown. You’ll find those values linked to the names of each league depth next to the player’s name below, for easy reference.
I considered including Freese (with whom regular Value Picks readers are all too familiar) in my first Keeper Reaper column, but I didn’t feel like Freese had shown his stuff this season after missing two months to a broken hand. Then he went out and hit .278/.278/.556 in the NLDS and .545/.600/1.091 in the NLCS, the latter performance earning him MVP honors. Perhaps he’s shown his stuff after all.
Along with other analysts, I’ve touted Freese based on the strength of his .307/.384/.531 minor-league line, which included 101 doubles and 68 homers in 1675 plate appearances, along with a 9.7 walk rate and 19.5 strikeout rate. But Freese’s development has been frozen by a series of unfortunate events—er, surgeries: left heel debridement in 2009; tendon reconstruction on his right ankle and left ankle debridement in 2010; and this season’s broken left hand. In between those stints on the operating table, Freese hit .298/.354/.429 in 604 plate appearances, maintaining a 7.1 walk rate and 21.1 strikeout rate that’s only slightly lower than his minor-league rates.
Pessimists would remind you that Freese has yet to play more than 97 games or collect more than 363 plate appearances in a single season, while optimists would point out that he’s increased his playing time each year. Freese’s postseason explosion, along with his production when healthy, shows his talent as a solid and occasionally spectacular third baseman, but staying healthy is a skill, and playing time is crucial in fantasy. His decent upside makes him a keeper in deeper leagues, but his fragility makes him iffy in shallower leagues, where you want a better bet with a higher ceiling.
Another player who often elicits comments—and write-ups—in my Value Picks column due to his power/patience potential, Davis has seen his path to fantasy relevance blocked by both personnel and personal performance. After failing to distinguish himself in 953 plate appearances with Texas (hitting just .248/.300/.455), Davis was eventually traded to the Orioles. But shoulder problems and inconsistent playing time (he started only 30 of the team’s final 58 games) held him back in his Baltimore debut, where he mustered only a .398 SLG. This is not only weak for a corner infielder, but it’s also terrible for a player whose power is his calling card. Davis got slightly better towards the end of the season, playing more often (he started all but seven games in September) and hitting .301/.341.434 over the final four weeks. This enabled him to end the season with a .266/.305/.402 line—not great, but a nice improvement over last year’s .192/.279/.292.
His September was bolstered by a .421 BABIP during a season when he hit .366 on balls in play (.390 with the Orioles)—well above his .335 career average (.374 in the minors). That, along with his 25.0 percent line drive rate, could indicate solid contact as well as good luck, but I’d expect some batting average regression, particularly from a guy whose strikeout rates are consistently around 30 percent. He has to mash a lot of home runs to make up for that, and Davis’s shoulder problems—for which he elected against offseason surgery—may diminish his power. It’s also worth noting that, in southpaw-friendly Camden Yards, Davis has hit only .248/.307/.390 in 114 career plate appearances. That’s too many question marks to make Davis a solid keeper in all but the deepest of leagues. Power is critical at the hot corner, so you can roll the dice on him, but I prefer keepers with a stronger track record, not Davis’s history of struggles.
Another head-scratcher for his frustrated owners. Lind looked like he’d finally broken through in 2009, cranking 35 dingers and hitting .305/.370/.562 thanks to then-career bests in strikeout rate (16.8) and walk rate (8.9). Since then, Lind has never reached any of the offensive marks he achieved that season—not in batting average, slugging, home runs, RBI, K%, or BB%. In addition, he’s been maddeningly inconsistent. In 2010, he snapped out of a .214/.271/.370 first-half funk to hit .267/.309/.498 the rest of the way. His owners hoped that trend would continue in 2011, and Lind hit .300/.349/.515 before the All-Star break, then collapsed to post a sub-Mendoza .197/.233/.356 in the season’s second half.
It’s tempting to blame this season on the back spasms that knocked Lind out for most of May, but he returned to post a .311/.385/.644 in June. Moreover, many of his 2011 statistics have remained eerily similar to last year’s, suggesting that 2009 may be the anomaly and not the standard. Lind posted a .188 ISO in each of the past two seasons despite a fly ball rate near 40 percent and a home run per fly rate of 15 percent each year. His 21.8 percent line drive rate this season—better than 2009’s 20.2 percent—makes his .265 BABIP seem like bad luck, were it not for last season’s .277 BABIP and 18.7 percent line-drive rate. And in 2009, his .323 BABIP was also a career high (excluding 2006’s small-sample .435). Furthermore, Lind struggled with southpaws this season, hitting 10 points lower and slugging 132 points lower against them, entirely consistent with his career split of .283/.334/.508 against righties and .223/.266/.349 against lefties. Even his 2009 breakout was overshadowed by his OPS platoon splits, which were 212 point higher against righties.
These problems, plus the presence of David Cooper, means Lind’s days in Toronto—if not as a full-time hitter—could be numbered. He earned $16 for his AL-only owners (79th overall) and $13 in super-deep leagues (151st overall), making him a borderline keeper even in those leagues. If you want to bet on Lind, your best chance may be to cut him loose and see if you can grab him cheaply on draft day in 2012.
Morel was my late-season miss in Value Picks, since I dropped him just before his eight-home-run, .220/.333/.549 September outburst, which also earned him one of Derek Carty’s “Championship Creator of the Year” votes. As I pointed out in my season review, Morel walked more times in September (14) than he had all season (8). It’s also instructive to look at the first line of that triple-slash and to note that, even in the super-deep and AL-only leagues, Morel earned just above $5. A month does not a season make, particularly for an impatient hitter like Morel.
Despite that outburst, Morel finished the season at .245/.287/.366, yielding a .247 TAv near his 40th PECOTA percentile, despite slash numbers closer to his 20th. That could mean the best is yet to come for Morel, though BP2010 notes that he’s “more of a double and line-drives power guy.” Additionally, his HR/FB in September was 29.6 percent—miles above his 10.1 percent career average—and five of his longballs came at home, a place where righties love to hit. His 12.8 K% this season echoes the strong contact hitting approached he displayed in the minors (14.8 K%), and he further showed batting-eye improvement by swinging at just 30.5 percent of pitches outside the zone in 2011. Some of Morel’s patience could carry over to 2012, while his good contact and long-term upside make him a nice keeper in deeper formats. He just hasn’t shown the consistency or ceiling necessary to make him a keeper in shallower leagues.
Owners were teased all spring with hints that Morales would return from the embarrassing end to his 2010 season—after all, it had been nearly a year since he broke his tibia celebrating a walk-off grand slam on May 29. But the rehab proved too difficult to rush Morales back, and Mark Trumbo stepped into the first base void to have an outside shot at the AL Rookie of the Year award. Next season, however, the Angels face a lot of roster cholesterol, as they may have to find playing time for (or deal away) Trumbo, Morales, Mike Trout, Bobby Abreu, Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells, and Torii Hunter at just five spots (outfield, first base, and designated hitter). Mike Scoscia discussed shifting Trumbo to third—in the same breath as he said they’re assuming that Morales won’t return. And even that plan could be shelved due to Trumbo’s season-ending stress fracture.
Imagining Morales in the heart of an order that includes Trumbo and Trout plus Bourjos, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar is enough to make any fantasy owner salivate at the juicy counting stats that could come Morales’s way. If all this can happen, Morales should bring at least $15 in most leagues, with a batting average close to .300 and 30-40 home runs. But so many moving parts—some of them in Morales’s lower leg—make him a shaky keeper in shallower leagues, where timid or forgetful owners may downgrade him on Draft Day.