January 4, 2012
The Keeper Reaper
Second, Short, and Catcher for 1/4/11
Joe Mauer | Minnesota Twins
Mauer had his most disappointing season in 2011, batting a career-worst .287/.360/.368 (.272 TAv) and receiving just 333 plate appearance while battling knee problems and pneumonia. Fantasy owners were undoubtedly disappointed, and enough question marks surround Mauer that he should be considered carefully in keeper leagues. What should owners do with the 2009 AL MVP?
The first question has to be regarding Mauer's health. Prior to the season, CHIPPER had labeled him as only a moderate threat to miss more than 30 days of playing time, but he ended up skipping more than two months with ongoing leg issues that brought up subsequent questions about his ability to stay behind the plate. It turns out that Mauer is “healthy” and cleared for baseball activitiesafter that injury-plagued season. While the pneumonia is not something we can project to recur, the knee problems are troubling given his position of catcher. The promising news is that he did not require any surgery or procedures that would interfere with his training this offseason, which theoretically should help him maintain his strength heading into the 2012 season.
So he is an injury risk, and it is likely he will miss time, but what about how well he will do when he is playing? The 2012 season was a lost one, but it should be noted that, after the start of June, Mauer hit a power-light but otherwise Mauer-esque .312/.393/.403. It is conceivable that some of his power was sapped due to injury, so expecting something just short of his usual doubles and home runs rates seems reasonable. Mauer's place in the Twins lineup likely ensures RBI numbers that are decreased but similar to his old rates as well. When healthy, he is an absolute cinch to hit at least .300, and this is usually where much of his value comes from.
A .300-hitting catcher with high single digits in home runs and RBI/run totals in the 60s over a 500 PA season might be a realistic guess for Mauer in 2012. Yadier Molina posted similar numbers in 2011 with more home runs but fewer counting stats, providing $13 of value in deep leagues last year, and it is easy to see Mauer matching that sort of value next season. Molina was ranked 101st in deep leagues, and with Mauer's upside in a healthy season, owners should be willing to take a chance on him as one of the 90 best players in fantasy baseball.
Over the last three seasons, McCann has hovered consistently around an OPS+ of 122 and a TAv of .287. In other words, he has sat very close to his career numbers (OPS+ 122 and TAv of .286). His RBI numbers, however, have fallen from a career-high of 94 in 2009 to a non-rookie year low of 71 in 2011. It seems the offensive struggles of the rest of the Atlanta Braves really ate into McCann's production from the cleanup spot. Is this matter a concern for fantasy owners?
Last season, the Braves provided McCann with the fewest runners to drive in of any season in his career; he came up to the plate with only 311 runners on base. He did drive them in at a lower rate, though, as he plated those runners at a 15 percent clip compared to his career 17 percent mark. He had similar problems in 2010, as he drove in runners at a 13 percent rate that season.
In 2011, he hit significantly better with runners on than he did with the bases empty, and in 2010 he hit about even in both situations. Yet in both cases, the Braves simply did not score for him. With regression in players like Jason Heyward and Martin Prado along with a full season of Michael Bourn instead of the likes of Nate McLouth, the RBI numbers should be on the upswing, but do not expect McCann to break the 90 mark again.
As for the rest of his game, much of it should remain static with 2011. His batting average is no longer likely to reach the .280 region given his increased strikeout rate (16.4 percent in the last three seasons compared to 12.0 percent from 2005 to 2008). Numbers very similar to the ones we saw from Miguel Montero this past season are indicative of what we can expect of McCann given the offense around him.
Before the season, PECOTA projected Ramirez to hit 19 homers and steal 14 bases while hitting .275. The total package was to be worth a .258 TAv. He actually turned in that TAv, but he did so with significantly worse fantasy numbers. The home runs were an unsurprising 15, and expecting a number a bit higher than that would be a safe bet for 2012. The problem this past season was that Ramirez failed to steal more than seven bases while being caught five times. This is concerning in terms of 2012 not only because he is a traditionally inefficient base stealer (career 64 percent success rate) but also because he will not have Ozzie Guillen aggressively sending him on the basepaths like he did before. New White Sox manager Robin Ventura is unlikely to be as gung-ho on the bases as his predecessor was.
The rest of Ramirez's game seems perfectly predictable, so expecting him to do a little better than last season seems legitimate. Before the season, former BP Fantasy overlord Marc Normandin had Ramirez rated in the same star category as Starlin Castro, Derek Jeter, and Jimmy Rollins. Without as many steals as he provided in the past, that should not be the case in 2012.
Since 2009, Aybar has averaged 583 plate appearances per season while hitting .280/.327/.391, which is not all that far off from his career .279/.319/.379. He has also averaged 22 stolen bases per season, and it is not difficult to see him getting 25 swipes in 2012. Aybar has been the most consistently healthy member of the Angels' middle infield, having missed no more than 21 games the last three seasons. He is a solid bet to come close to repeating his 2011 performance, which was worth $14 in deep auction leagues. Whereas Alexei Ramirez has upside in steals and home runs, Aybar can provide a consistent presence with a guarantee for 70 runs, more than 20 steals, and a .280 batting average without much fail. Just do not expect 10 home runs again and you should be fine.