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December 28, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

Second, Short, and Catcher for 12/28/11

by Michael Jong

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Robinson Cano | New York Yankees
Shallow (30 keepers)
: YES
Medium (60 keepers)
: YES
Deep (90 keepers)
: YES
NL-only (60 keepers)
: YES
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: YES

Last year, Cano was the tenth most valuable player in deep leagues according to PECOTA, registering $31 in auction value. The best part for fantasy owners is that he did so without doing anything unusual.

Cano

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

2011

681

104

28

118

8

.302

.349

.533

.315

2010

696

103

29

109

3

.319

.381

.534

.313

2009

674

103

25

85

5

.320

.352

.520

.291

2009-2011*

684

103

27

104

5

.314

.361

.529

.306

*Counting stats represent three-year seasonal average

In other words, the sort of season Cano had in 2011 has become the norm for the best position player on the Yankees. There is no reason to expect any different, so owners should continue to treat Cano like fantasy royalty.

Chase Utley | Philadelphia Phillies
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers)
: YES
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: YES

Once upon a time, Chase Utley was the sort of fantasy royalty that Robinson Cano now is. From 2005 to 2008, he averaged 672 PA a season with 29 homers, 110 runs, and 103 RBI yearly. But over the last three seasons, Utley has only had one good year (2009) followed by two injury-plagued seasons. As a result, his yearly average numbers look significantly worse.

Utley

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

2009-2011

551

80

19

67

17

.273

.380

.465

.298

2005-2008

672

110

29

103

14

.305

.385

.541

.306

Even if you extrapolate the data to Utley's old playing time norms, he still comes out as significantly worse than his past peak. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the ravages of age, but one suspects that a good deal of this also has to do with the injuries he has sustained since 2010. Utley has missed 51 and 68 games due to injury in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last season, CHIPPER projected him to have a significant risk to miss at least 15 days, and one suspects that this season the risk level of him missing at least 30 days will be significant as well.

How good is Chase Utley if he misses time? It appears that, at the very least, his stolen base game has not deteriorated; despite his awful 2011, he still swiped 14 bags without once being caught. While he may not be a pure .300 hitter any longer, his strikeout rate (13.3 percent since 2009) is still low enough that a regression in BABIP should put him solidly in the .280 range; he managed a .273 batting average off of a .287 BABIP for the last three seasons. The major area of loss is clearly in the power department. From 2005 to 2009, Utley hit homers on 14 percent of his fly balls, but that number has dropped to 11 percent since 2009. Furthermore, in his two injury seasons, his groundball rate has increased as well, up to 41 percent from a previous 36 percent mark. That sort of loss further diminishes his value.

He is also in the middle of a Phillies lineup that looks much emptier than it did in years past and will be missing Ryan Howard for a good chunk of the season. So what might Utley’s season look like? If he hits that 550 plate appearance plateau again due to missed time, his counting stats could look like a smaller version of what Howard Kendrick did in 2011. Kendrick just made the cutoff of the top 90 players in fantasy baseball last season, and with Utley unlikely to put up 18 home runs and given his additional injury risk (he has not hit 550 PA in each of the last two seasons), I would be uncomfortable recommending him for “Deep” leagues. He is still a decent player who should be on your NL-only radar, but there are likely real changes in his game that have sapped the great talent he once had.

Asdrubal Cabrera | Cleveland Indians
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: YES
NL-only (60 keepers)
: YES
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: YES

Last year, Cabrera ended up as the 34th most valuable player in fantasy baseball, valued at $23 in “Deep” auction leagues. That put him right in between Ben Zobrist and a quintet of 40-save closers. The comparison to Zobrist is interesting because he was discussed earlier this offseasonand thought of as a borderline shallow-league keeper candidate. Cabrera's performance fell very much in line with Zobrist's in 2011, but it is the future that fantasy owners need to consider.

The uncertainty in Cabrera's future obviously lies in his 25 home runs in 2011. The number came completely out of nowhere, as he had only hit 18 homers in his previous 1610 career plate appearances and 27 in his 1874 minor league plate appearances before that. One cannot expect a simple reversion all the way back to his pre-2011, single-digit home run seasons, but expecting another 20-plus home run campaign would be equally incorrect. Expecting 17 home runs in a full season may be understandable, especially given the recent nature of his big home run year.

Not many shortstops ended up hitting more than 15 home runs and stealing more than 15 bases in 2011, which makes finding a comparable player for Cabrera a bit of a challenge. Jimmy Rollins stole 30 bags and hit 16 home runs, but Cabrera should trump his RBI and batting average numbers in 2012. Overall, an $18 value may be appropriate in deep leagues, and that would put Cabrera firmly around the medium-depth keeper league border.

The reason why fantasy owners should balk at keeping him in those leagues is because of his past injury history. Prior to this season, CHIPPER projected a similar injury profile for him as they did for Utley, and while Cabrera's full season should help to quell some concerns, he is still a year removed from missing 69 days to a left forearm fracture, among other injuries. With a little more missed time, I would feel just uncomfortable enough to take him off of the borderline value and keep him only in deeper leagues despite his “breakout” 2011.

Chris Iannetta | Los Angeles Angels
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers)
: NO
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: NO

The Angels finally got rid of Jeff Mathis and acquired a catcher who was perennially stuck in “Mike Napoli” zone in Iannetta. Presumably, Iannetta will be the team's full-time starter, and he should be a major upgrade to the Angels. A move from the Rockies to the Angels, however, will do the seventh-year catcher no favors. Iannetta's game has always been about the Three True Outcomes, so while the home runs will always be appealing to fantasy owners (he hit 18 per 500 PA for his career), the walks bear little fantasy impact and the strikeouts will always be a major deterrent to his batting average. A change of scenery is not likely to change how he plays the game.

This does not factor in what happened in Iannetta's prior career in Colorado, which may not carry over to Los Angeles. His home/road splits may only encompass 870 PA to either half and may not mean a whole lot, but they are rather drastic.

Iannetta, Career

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

Home

863

.262

.377

.492

Road

870

.208

.338

.369

The biggest differences are in his power and batting average, as Iannetta hit .292 on balls in play and launched homers in almost 16 percent of his fly balls when playing in Coors Field while hitting .251 with an 11 percent HR/FB rate on the road. This does not mean that Iannetta is truly as bad as he has been outside of Coors, but given Colorado's ability to inflate both BABIP and home runs, one suspects a move to a more neutral (even slightly pitcher-friendly) environment like Los Angeles is unlikely to help.

The increase in playing time will undoubtedly help Iannetta's fantasy prospects, and he should still be a valuable enough real-life contributor for the Angels. However, with all the potential pitfalls on the fantasy side, it may be best to leave other owners to enjoy the “free Iannetta” campaign.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

Related Content:  2011,  Chase Utley,  Year Of The Injury

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