January 6, 2012
The Keeper Reaper
First, Third, and DH for 1/6/12
This week was light on fantasy-relevant news, as general managers are still taking down their Christmas lights, putting the tree out on the curb, and waiting to see who can wrap Prince Fielder as a belated gift to their teams. But we at BP Fantasy can still start your New Year off right with a look at some under- and over-performing keeper options from 2011.
If you’d like to see someone else written up here, please leave your suggestions in the comments field—and if I’ve covered them before, I’ll point you towards the appropriate column.
Zim went from elite to meh last season—his BVORP fell from 39.5 in 2010 (fifth among third basemen) to 24.1 in 2011 (twelfth among third baseman, squarely between Chase Headley and Brett Lawrie’s one-third of a season). It wasn’t entirely unexpected, as Zimmerman’s .293 TAv matched perfectly with PECOTA’s 50th percentile projection. But PECOTA couldn’t see the abdomen injury and subsequent surgery that kept him out for over two months.
Even after he returned, Zimmerman’s power seemed diminished, and he posted his lowest SLG since 2008—another injury-shortened season; both represented nearly thirty-point drops from his career norms. In most other respects, however, Zimmerman was the same player as ever. His walk rate dropped a bit in 2011 to 9.3 percent after climbing for two years to a 10.9 percent average, but that 9.3 is right in line with his 9.2 percent career average. Zimmerman countered this slight impatience with a rise in contact rate from 81.1 percent to 82.9 percent, so he seems to have merely become more aggressive rather than losing his batting eye altogether.
All signs point to a return to top-shelf status for Zim, though it’s not enough to make him an elite keeper. Recent injury problems and his poor 2011 also mean that owners in shallower leagues might have a safer option, or they could consider cutting him loose for a draft day discount.
Not many analysts thought that Morse would continue crushing like he did 2010. Among the ones that did, however, are two members of BP Fantasy. Mike Petriello chose him as a preseason sleeper, noting his “potential, however small” to hit 20-30 longballs, and Rob McQuown followed this up with a writeup that noted Morse’s increased playing time with the trade of Nyjer Morgan.
Neither were enthusiastic endorsements, though, and Marc Normandin made him a one-star longshot in his preseason outfield rankings, while BP2011 said he was “an impatient sure to undershoot expectations that he'll keep slugging .500.” If you’d asked me, I’d have laughed at the idea that Morse would maintain his .330 BABIP and near-elite 19.5 percent HR/FB rate to reach that .500 SLG plateau.
But he did that and more—or Morse, if you prefer awful puns (which I do). Slugging .550 and launching 31 longballs, he lifted his BABIP to .344 and his HR/FB to 21.2 percent. His .303/.360/.550 (.311 TAv, 16.8 AB/HR) broke through PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection of .312/.374/.505 (.309 TAv, 26.4 AB/HR), especially in power. That overperformance could suggest that Morse is a poor keeper, but as Mike Petriello also noted later in 2011, Morse has sustained high BABIP levels before, and his potential may have been hidden by injuries and lack of playing time.
A player with a 21.5 percent K% and 6.3 percent BB% shouldn’t be able to sustain a .300 batting average without plenty of help from the BABIP fairy, and that scrambles the 2012 outlook somewhat for Morse. Players able to sustain a BABIP this high are typically speed merchants (Ichiro, Rod Carew), batting champions (Tony Gwynn, Miguel Cabrera), or both; Morse is none of these. It’s therefore unlikely he’ll keep hitting above (or even near) .300, and his sub-40 percent flyball rates mean he’ll have to keep on sustaining those elevated HR/FB rates if he wants to mash. His ability to do so thus far makes him a good keeper in deeper leagues, but owners in the shallowest leagues will want a safer pick for 2012.
If Yankees fans needed a clearer sign that Jesus Montero may be subjected to his own Joba-like coddling, it’s the contract that the club inked with former Gold Glover Jones, who has now become a bench asset for his wood, not his leather. In addition to pinch-hitting, Jones also saw time in the outfield and at designated hitter, serving in the latter capacity most often against southpaws. That’s the same role the team envisions for him in 2012, as a platoon partner for Montero and an occasional outfield sub.
Jones’s .247/.356/.495 line last season was helped both by those at-bats against lefties (.286/.384/.540) and by hitting at home (.294/.357/.559, versus .193/.355/.420 in away games). He was also served generous BABIP helpings in 2011, as his .296 mark was his best since 2004 (.303) and well above his .275 career average, and his 25.0 percent HR/FB ratio was second only to 2005’s 25.2 percent and above his 19.3 percent career average. None of these scream repeatability, and his incentive-laden deal indicates that the Yanks aren’t sure he can do it again, either.
On the bright side, his OBP should continue to be bolstered by a recent resurgence of patience, as Jones walked on more than 13 percent of his plate appearances over the past three seasons. But his 27.9 K% in 2011 is also around his 25.3 percent average since 2008, so his batting average should remain low. As a projected part-timer who looks to have spiked last season, Jones is someone you hope to scoop up off the waiver wire if Nick Swisher or Brett Gardner get injured or if Montero struggles; his Hall of Fame candidacy may be debatable, but his suitability as a keeper isn’t.
At the start of the season, most of us at BP Fantasy felt that Young would be notable in 2012 largely for his imminent trade to an NL team—a swap that, of course, never happened. Instead, Young stayed with the Rangers, shattering his 90th PECOTA percentile of .313/.366/.459 (.289 TAv) with a .338/.380/.474 (.305 TAv) and leading all of baseball with 213 hits while finishing third in the AL in batting average and fifth in RBI. And, just as important for fantasy owners, he showed one of his most defensively versatile seasons in years, appearing at every infield position (though he didn’t crest the standard 20-game mark at either middle infield slot, unfortunately).
While Young has always been a fantasy asset for his bat and multi-position qualifying, this season was exceptional—in the last six seasons, only 2009 was better for overall excellence. His RBI and batting average were career bests, and his OBP was second-best. Young’s average was, however, helped by a career-high .367 BABIP (.338 career) and a 26.2 percent line drive rate that was his best since 2007. The most dramatic jumps of all, though, came in Young’s batting eye. He put up his best marks in overall contact rate (85.6 percent), contact rate on balls (75.0 percent—miles above his 61.8 percent average), and swinging-strike percentage (6.8).
These all suggest a better approach, perhaps fueled by hitting third or fourth instead of second, where he’d primarily appeared the past four seasons. And since he’s likely to hit in the same spot in 2012, surrounded by the same players, Young may be able to sustain some of those improvements. The anomalous BABIP and line-drive rates suggest that he probably won’t continue to deliver such a juicy triple-slash line, but his continued multi-position qualifying will make Young a valuable keeper in most leagues.