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November 2, 2011
The Keeper Reaper
Second, Short, and Catcher for 11/2/11
Again, it is extremely difficult for this author to remain completely objective when it comes to Ramirez, who is perhaps the face of the (soon-to-be Miami) Marlins franchise. Ramirez's performance in 2010 was disconcerting but still well in the range of excellence for shortstops. Ramirez's 2011 performance, on the other hand, was an abject disaster. Not only did he post his worst batting line by far (.243/.333/.379), but he did so while suffering through his most injury-riddled year ever after going through two seasons of creeping minor injuries.
It is worth noting, however, that Ramirez did begin to perform significantly better by the end of his season. After his first start under the regime of interim manager Jack McKeon, Ramirez hit .291/.375/.473 with six home runs and nine stolen bases. This batting line mirrored his 2010 performance and is close enough to his preseason projections by PECOTA (.305/.383/.491). Owners were getting what they might have expected from Ramirez two and a half months into the season, which was frustrating but at least manageable. Unfortunately, the injury stole the remainder of his season, and we will not find out if Ramirez's bounceback was there to stay or was a fading mirage.
It is also worth mentioning a couple of things that will help fantasy owners put Ramirez in perspective among his shortstop peers. Last season, 13 shortstops made the top 200 ranking players in mixed league value according to PECOTA. Among them, there is a $4 drop in value between the sixth-ranked Jimmy Rollins (covered in this piece) and the seventh-ranked Erick Aybar. Taking a look at Rollins, his numbers were not impressive last year yet garnered good value because of a combination of home runs and steals and the lack of offensive prowess among shortstops. When you compare Rollins to Ramirez's numbers prorated to the same number of plate appearances, the two look very similar.
As mentioned before, Rollins was the 62nd ranked player in mixed-league value last year and had Ramirez played at his 2011 pace through the end of the season, his value would have been only a bit worse than that. Given the universal expectation that he will experience some reversion towards his established track record of excellence in his career, fantasy owners should not be deterred too much. At this point, we are two seasons removed from him being one of the best fantasy options in the game, but he remains a high value for most fantasy owners just because of his position and likely power and speed numbers. Combine the off chance of a great rebirth along with the tempered expectations of his return from shoulder surgery (the team is currently “hopeful” that he will be ready by Opening Day) and you have a player who should at least be on the radar for medium-depth keeper leagues.
Before the season, PECOTA projected a $14 dollar value for Zobrist in medium-depth mixed leagues based on a projection of 17 home runs, 19 steals, and a .246 batting average to go along with understandable counting numbers. The Rays offense performed better than expected, and Zobrist himself outdid his projections on his way to a season with 20 homers, 19 steals, and a .269 batting average.
Wait… that does not sound awfully far away from his projection. Sure, the batting average was significantly higher, but with some reversion to Zobrist's career .259 batting average, our 2012 expectation for Zobrist would not terribly different than what PECOTA projected for him a year ago. If the Rays' offense continues to perform, Zobrist could be in line for 90-plus runs once again. A regression in power—particularly in his doubles rate (6.8 percent in 2011 versus 4.1 percent before last season) —should drop his RBI count, but the rest of Zobrist's complete package remains mostly predictable. Expect a home run and steals count near 20 once again, leading to value that would be more than worth pursuing in almost every league as a keeper. Zobrist nearly broke the top 30 players in value this season with a $23 year in medium-depth leagues, and even with regression, he should remain near that $20 value again.
If there is one thing we can predict about Matt Wieters, it is how unpredictable he really is. Baseball Prospectus missed on him in legendary fashion two seasons ago, and in 2010 he only appeared to get worse. However, a lot of things seemed to click in 2011, beginning with a power surge that brought a career-high .188 ISO and 22 home runs. Power was not the only point of improvement in Wieters's game, however; despite a career-worst .276 BABIP, he hit .262 on the back of a vastly improved 15.2 percent strikeout rate.
The power he showed this season may be a bit on the high end, but it is unsurprising given Wieters's pedigree as a former uber-prospect. His 13.6 percent HR/FB rate may be on the inflated side given his previous career mark of around eight percent, but for a player who may be growing into form in terms of power, expecting that number to lean more towards his 2011 mark may be the right move. His plate discipline numbers, however, remain a mystery. He was well known for having a good eye in the minors and in college, but so far that has not translated to the majors; in 2011 he actually swung at a career-high 32 percent of pitches outside the zone, but his contact numbers (88 percent in zone, 73 percent out of zone) bailed him out and helped him drop his strikeouts. Given that he has yet to develop the patience to better discern strikes from balls, his batting average production will continue to be a bit limited.
The power will be the determining factor for the future of Wieters's game, both in Baltimore and for fantasy owners. Given his relative youth (he will be 26 years old next season) and the improvements seen this year, there should be excitement about Wieters's chances of looking like half the player everyone thought he was going to be—something that could not be said after 2010.
There is little that stands in the way of Cozart regaining the shortstop job in Cincinnati when he returns from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow. The Reds have very little major league-ready depth at shortstop—a fact that was quite evident given the presence of players like Edgar Renteria and Paul Janish in the starting lineup both before and after his injury. The question to be asked is how seriously can owners take his red-hot .324/.324/.486 start to his major league career
There was much skepticism about Cozart's power after he hit 14 home runs in 464 plate appearances in 2008 for Single-A Dayton. It appears that this output is realistic, even after considering his poor 2009 season in Double-A Carolina; in his 1501 PA since that 2008 year, he has averaged 14 home runs per 600 PA. Expecting a home run total in the low teens seems pretty reasonable, especially for a guy with average fly ball tendencies playing in a bandbox like Great American Ballpark. In addition, he has shown that he can steal a base once arriving in Triple-A; Cozart has swiped an average of 24 bases per 600 PA at the highest level of the minor leagues. His decent strikeout rate (16.5 percent in the minors) and BABIP (.305) indicate a player who can at least push a .260 batting average, and a package of double-digit steals and homers at the shortstop position should be worth selecting in deeper leagues in the same way that Cliff Pennington and Ian Desmond are good choices in those leagues.
Devin Mesoraco | Cincinnati Reds
Mesoraco is the man behind the plate in Cincinnati, without question. The Reds will run him out there in order to see whether they should hold onto fellow prospect Yasmani Grandal, and by the looks of his last two professional seasons, he would be good enough to force Grandal into a trade. Before last season, PECOTA was ready to project a .251/.304/.431 line from the former first-round pick, and that was before Mesoraco proved his worth again by batting .289/.371/.484. His strikeout and walk numbers indicate average plate discipline that should translate appropriately to the majors, and the power that he displayed (26 homers per 600 PA in the last two years) could make him an easy bet for a league average slash line and 15-plus home runs. Looking at him like perhaps a better version of 2011 Wilson Ramos seems fitting, and owners should be excited to hold onto him.
Salvador Perez made a late-season appearance on Value Picks this past season, but the uncertainty in his play will certainly keep his value down in terms of keeper status. Yes, he performed very well in a 150 plate appearance sample, batting .331/.361/.473. Just before that, however, he was batting a solid but unspectacular .290/.331/.437 between Double- and Triple-A, and the season before that he had hit a near identical .290/.322/.411. He does have youth on his side and is definitely worth a look in deeper leagues, but until he shows more upside or power rather than BABIP fortune, he cannot be recommended for keeper status for our designated formats.