December 13, 2011
The Keeper Reaper
Outfielders for 12/13/11
Scoresheet baseball is a completely different animal from standard fantasy baseball; it's a simulation, with the goal to win games (with actual box scores, batter-pitcher matchups, etc., as opposed to points and categories). But good ballplayers are good ballplayers, and participation in a mock draft starting last Saturday (http://bit.ly/rGQ4xS - Scoresheet drafts are very slow) has led to lots of discussion among the mock drafters about the relative “keeper values” of players. In standard Scoresheet, up to 13 players can be kept (more if you include minor-leaguers), and participants tend to play for the long term, though NBC Sports' Matthew Pouliot wrote about how now-GM Alex Anthopoulos turned a 49-113 disaster into a 111-51 champion the next season. With 32 picks in the books as of this writing, the outfielders taken so far are going to be guys with immense long-term potential, but stay tuned as the draft progresses (ever so slowly).
Bryce Harper | Washington Nationals (ADP 185)
With the first overall pick in the aforementioned mock draft, pre-draft discussion was everywhere, and yours truly received a Tweet asking if Harper was a top three overall pick. Top three overall!? He ended up going 18th in the draft, which is at least defensible, if still optimistic. Since 1950, five batters have had above-average age-19 seasons (TAv of .260 or higher) in 300 or more plate appearances:
And, indeed, the raves about Harper have kept up with these luminaries, though there are many who have received the raves without posting the TAv's, so to speak. And while Harper blasted his way through A-ball, he cooled off in batting just .256/.329/.395 at Double-A after a promotion. In league contexts where players can only be kept once, trade him or cut him. The likelihood of him performing at a level above a replacement player in 2012 is low, and an ADP of 185 suggests nothing more than mock drafters blinded by optimism.
The asterisks (*) beside the “NO” rating for Deep, AL-only, and Super-Deep leagues is for long-term leagues. Especially for teams which aren't likely to compete in 2012, Harper is one you don't want to let get away. While it would take nothing short of Griffy-esque exploits to live up to the hype, he'll be a frequent All-Star if he's only 75 percent as good as advertised, and the sort of massive power guy (with some speed) around which dynasties are built.
For someone with more years of playing fantasy baseball than most fantasy baseball writers, it's somewhat difficult to impress how amazing it is that Logan Morrison has an ADP of 159 this season. Here's a guy with 55 minor-league home runs (in 1964 plate appearances) and who was sent to the minors in 2011 in the midst of a .240 season.
The first question with Morrison is how his new ballpark will play (and with the trade rumors, it's not even certain where that new park will be). Miami still has one of the lowest elevations of any major-league city and a high average temperature (and while many swear that humidity suppresses run-scoring, studies have been fairly inconclusive). The biggest number at the new park is now “420” instead of “434”, but the 434-foot mark in the old park wasn't very significant in terms of results (as the wall jutted out for only a short portion), and the right-center power alley fence has been moved back from 385 to 392. The right-field foul line is a bit closer, though, and all-in-all the changes should have almost no impact on Morrison's home-run totals at home.
The primary reasons for optimism with Morrison are his good batting eye and his incredibly low BABIP in 2011. For a player who once posted a .372 BABIP in a minor-league season (2008, high-A, 555 PA), to go an entire season and get hits on just 26.5 percent of balls in play is amazing and essentially unrepeatable—unless he breaks a leg and insists on playing through it. He's listed as BORDERLINE for NL-only leagues, but if he can be kept for multiple years, he's much better than that and would warrant consideration even in “Deep” leagues. He may never hit for a great batting average but should have a long career of contributing in home runs, runs scores, and RBI.
There are some reasons for caution with Morrison, which is where the “NO” ratings come from. Namely, his new manager, Ozzie Guillen, doesn't have much appreciation for players who draw walks and has a disdain for poor defense. Morrison may be a solid defender if returned to his natural position of first base, but first base is currently occupied by Gaby Sanchez, and Morrison hasn't figured the outfield out yet, nor does he appear likely to do so. If he ends up as the first baseman for a team like the Cubs, his long-term outlook goes up quite a bit. It bears noting that he's hit lefties well for a left-handed batter so far, which bodes well for his playing time potential.
Nick Markakis | Baltimore Orioles (ADP 109)
Nick Markakis is one of the most overrated players in all baseball. He's compiled a total of -27.4 FRAA in his career yet is routinely regarded as a good fielder, if not a great one. He's a corner outfielder who has hit .291/.356/.431 over the past three seasons—years that should represent near-peak seasons for him, as they encompassed ages 25 through 27, and the trend line is alarming—while slugging just .406 in 2011. In short, if trades are possible, consider this an emphatic recommendation to trade him instead of keeping him; take advantage of the fact he's overrated.
Having showcased the negatives, Markakis does have some things going for him: he's been one of the healthiest players in the game (or at least one of the best at hiding injuries, if not). His stellar reputation extends to his managers, and he's not in any danger of losing playing time. He will probably even continue to be entrusted with a valuable slot early in the batting order (he batted second about two-thirds of the time and third the rest of the time in 2011). He makes great contact for someone with power (though his power has degraded almost annually) and rebounded to steal 12 bases this season. Hitting .291 with 15 home runs and eight steals (his 3-year averages) can help a fantasy team, of course, and given how spectacularly he hit early in his career (.303/.384/.488 for his age 23-24 seasons), it seems likely that a rebound of sorts should happen sometime. Then again, yours truly took him in a mock draft for USA Today Magazine last year and thought he would be a steal at pick number 109. Consider this author to be “twice shy” this season.
Perhaps because his name doesn't sound intimidating like, say, Seth Schwindenhammer or Gauntlett Eldemire, or perhaps just because he hasn't shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching yet, Matt Joyce hasn't received the mainstream acknowledgment of his talent that a guy who has blasted 41 homers in 936 career plate appearances against right-handed pitching should. Of course, the strong platoon bias (just .196/.280/.322 so far in his career against lefties) makes him much more useful in simulations, where his role can be defined. And if he doesn't figure out southpaws, fantasy owners are going to suffer through his games against C.C. Sabathia and Jon Lester—whether he's playing or on the bench. But he's entering his age-27 season and is a career .259/.345/.482 hitter, with no stats or scouting indications that suggest this is roughly his “floor” level, and there's still some upside. His ADP seems about right for his skills, and that makes him a clear keeper in “Super Deep” AL-only formats.