October 25, 2011
The Keeper Reaper
Outfielders for 10/25/11
For a baseball season which threatened to have about as little drama as an episode of Emeril Live until the final week, the high drama continues in a hotly contested World Series. For some leagues, keeper decisions need to be made by the time dessert is finished in the season, and so the other 28 teams get some attention before trading begins in earnest. Whether a deadline looms or not, keeper advice can help make a team into a dynasty.
Shallow (10-team mixed, 3 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6431
It's still unnatural writing about Lance Berkman, outfielder. Last December, he was covered in this column as a bargain for the upcoming 2011 season, with slight cautions about his inability to hit lefty pitching in the past. He ended up surpassing all expectations and clouting 31 home runs while scoring 90 runs and driving in 94. Expecting a repeat at his age would be overly optimistic, but he should be a strong contributor in that lineup and a force in leagues which use on-base percentage.
With Ike Davis due back, surprising power source Lucas Duda will be seeing most of his playing time in the outfield, though dual-eligibility will make him more valuable for 2012. Before 2010, there was little to suggest that Duda would be able to earn more than bench play for the Mets or any other team. He isn't a great defensive first baseman and plays outfield defense as if his primary position is first base (it is). He was coming off a typical .281/.380/.428, age-23 season in Binghamton, but in 2010, he quickly earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit .314/.389/.610 in 298 plate appearances. He picked up where he left off in 2011, hitting .302/.414/.597, and when opportunities arose on the injury-plagued Mets, he barely slowed down against major-league pitching. He's a big guy with a big swing, and the increase in power was to be expected. That he's been able to keep his batting average (and thus on-base percentage) as high as he did is a credit to the reduction in strikeout rate he's shown as he's progressed through the system. With such a big swing, he may never hit lefties enough to impact then, but if he can come close to the .380 on-base percentage and over-.500 slugging against right-handed pitching again, he'll be a force. He's still under the radar enough that protecting him in a deep league would be overkill, but he's certainly someone to target.
Ichiro has a .351 career BABIP in MLB. Yes, .351. He's arguably the best hitter ever at slapping the ball into play where he wants it and racing to first base before a play can be made. Or at least he was. His 2011 BABIP fell to a mortal .295, and he wasn't able to pick things up on demand to recover from his bad first half, as he's been able to do previously. He still stole 40 bases despite a .310 on-base percentage, but expecting him to continue getting 700 plate appearances is risky. Expect some rebound from his BABIP but not enough to vault him back into keeper territory in shallow or medium leagues. And in deep leagues, trading him would be the safe play, before he loses all his trade value.
Rajai Davis hit .238 with one home run and battled injuries and benchings to receive only 338 plate appearances in 2011. He'll be 31 next season and figures to be Toronto’s fourth outfielder, though he would probably be the fifth outfielder if Travis Snider and Eric Thames didn't both have options remaining. Davis is the poster boy for “what's wrong with most fantasy baseball leagues” as he racked up $11 of value in super deep formats last season on the strength of his 34 stolen bases. And given that he has stolen almost one full base per ten plate appearances over the course of his career, it wasn't a fluke either. If making moves today, he's probably a cut in all formats covered here (hence the asterists above), but with Colby Rasmus in town, expect Davis to end up on a team more in need of a fast center fielder, making him a great player to own in fantasy baseball.
Many fantasy owners seek values from players who put up an impressive dollars-per-plate appearance rate while playing less than full time, the logic being that when said player is inevitably given full-time work, his value will skyrocket. And that might actually be the case with Chris Heisey, as he was discussed in positive terms in this column before. The problem with Heisey is that while he has very good power, expecting him to double his 18 home runs with double the playing time is overly optimistic, and the expected batting average gains won't make up for it. Besides, he's not currently in line to receive full-time duty, despite entering his age-27 season. Too many risks here to take the chance, unless he receives a firm commitment to receive playing time over the offseason—a scenario which is extremely unlikely.
Like Duda, Andy Dirks has the arrow pointing upward after some good performance at Triple-A over the past two seasons. Unlike Duda, Dirks can play some defense, a good corner outfielder who can cover center field without much drama, and his speed also translates into valuable stolen bases. He’s only had 265 Triple-A plate appearances (albeit good ones), however, which were aided greatly by BABIP, and he hit like the fourth outfielder he is when he was given time in the Tigers outfield. If a decision had to be made today, Dirks wouldn't be a keeper, as Brennan Boesch will be back and Delmon Young is under contract as well. It's a long offseason, though, and if the news indicates that Dirks will get more time, he could find himself in a situation like Chris Heisey, and while he's far from a star, he could have some value in AL-only leagues or super-super deep mixed leagues.