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January 20, 2012

The Keeper Reaper

Outfielders for 1/20/12

by Rob McQuown

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Welcome to the new Friday time slot, which is kicking off with some (overdue) responses to comments from last week

Following up on Chris Heisey, at present there's no real competition for a starting spot, and unless that changes, he should get about 90 percent of the playing time, which would be almost 600 at-bats, given his low walk rate and where he's likely to bat in the lineup. He hasn't been labeled a "proven veteran" yet, so there's always that chance that he could wash out, but Dusty Baker is loyal to players and sticks to his opinions, so it's more important that Heisey impress his manager in spring training than it is for him to post a 1.5 WARP in the first half.

Oh, and yes, I'd consider keeping Dayan Viciedo at $10, depending on other keeper options, league format, how much inflation there is (due to bargain keepers causing more dollars to be chasing less talent), and how much he'd cost the following season. I think he'll do well, but there's enough risk that I doubt he'll make an owner look terrible if he gets cut. $10 can usually buy some good talent later in the bidding, and I don't expect his auction price to be much different from that in AL-only leagues.

Regarding Kyle Blanks, Domonic Brown, and Jason Bourgeois, it's difficult to see them being keepers in many formats, though we'll try to write more about them before the season, as each is interesting in his own way. It's difficult to envision Bourgeois as a keeper, after he was arguably the worst Value Pick player reviewed in 2011, as noted in the year-end summary:

Jason Bourgeois was a disaster of a pick. Even the analysis when adding him pointed out that he's always hit lefties only and has padded his stolen base totals by pinch-running. To assume he'd hit righties enough to stay in the lineup was analysis based solely on opportunity; the Astros appeared to have no other options. Still, he should have done better than he did: .233/.275/.252 from August 3 onward with just nine steals to his credit.

More to come next week about Allen Craig, but here's a reprint of the 9/20 Value Picks commentary:

Obviously, this late in the season, it's unlikely that any full-time player is going to suddenly jump into the spotlight, but Allen Craig has been raking, and Matt Holliday has been breaking. PECOTA has a robust .281 TAv projected for Mr. Craig, and he's hitting .314/.362/.529 in 2011. With series against the Mets, Cubs, and Astros on the schedule and the still-potent Cardinals lineup around him, don't expect much let up, though he's not quite this good of a hitter. Still, he could be a true diamond in the rough to finish the fantasy season strong.

Marlon Byrd | Chicago Cubs (ADP 256)
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers): NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers): NO
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: NO

Showing that even numbers-heavy analysts can be influenced by the typical offseason gossip which passes for baseball news during the period where baseball-only fans are parched for any drink of information about their sport, a "best shape of his life" article at mlb.com about Marlon Byrd lent some optimism to this writer's outlook for Marlon Byrd yesterday:

Byrd, 34, has added a martial arts workout called Muay Thai (pronounced "moy tie") to his offseason program. The intense sessions, which he does three to four times a week, plus a dramatic change in his diet has helped the Cubs center fielder go from 255 pounds, which he weighed at the end of last season, to 215 now. That's the same weight he was his senior year in high school.

"Now, he's a lean, mean, fighting machine," said Robert Cole, Byrd's instructor at L.A. Boxing in Chicago and a retired national champion from England.

He used to box when he was younger, and also when he was in Philadelphia at Joe Hand Gym. But this offseason, Byrd was looking for more.

"I wanted a change of pace," said Byrd, who spent the winter in Chicago. "I did the boxing and I wanted to throw the kicks in. I heard about 'Muay Thai' training and I thought it was very intense."

It is. Muay Thai evolved from hand to hand tactics of the Thai army. A form of martial arts, it features punches, kicks, elbows, knees, standing grappling, and head-butts to wear down the opponent.

This needs to be balanced against a very low starting point in perception (from the BP2012 player information for Byrd):

After Byrd was hit in the face with a pitch on May 21, 2011, [the Cubs] may again be in need of a center fielder, as Byrd hit just .255/.311/.380 when he returned. It's too early to write him off entirely, but he didn't look the same at all after he returned.

As noted in the Adam Jones discussion on December 27, Byrd logged a .272 TAv between ages 23-25—better than B.J. Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Drew Stubbs, Curtis Granderson, and Shane Victorino (and many others) among currently active center fielders. While he's never really shown off the tools he was supposed to have when drafted (topping out at 11 steals back in 2003 and topping 12 home runs only once), he carries a .281 career batting average and plays his home games in a friendly park (104 BPF each of the past two seasons for Byrd). Perhaps it's a bit of an over-reaction to a bit of boxing and eating right, but it wouldn't seem surprising to see him return to the .290 batting average range while collecting double-digit homers and a few steals (he's averaged eight per 162 games in his career while obviously transporting some extra tonnage).

Byrd is in the final year of his contract, and that could be further motivation as he tries for a final contract push. If he's doing well, he's expected to be trade bait, as the Cubs don't appear to be ready for prime time in 2012, but that would most likely only be a concern for NL-only owners who might lose him if he wanders over to the American League. He's still not on the radar of keepers in many formats but could be a decent mid-round/mid-dollar profit-maker.

Alex Presley | Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP 234)
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers)
: NO
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: NO

In the 2011 summary article, it was noted that, "Alex Presley would seem like much more of a 'good' pick if he hadn't been injured so soon after being added. With just one game in the majors, he was boldly placed on the Value Picks list (on June 29), and he hit .286/.327/.442 this season with eight steals in just 206 plate appearances. For a player with 1 percent ownership in Yahoo leagues, 0 percent in ESPN leagues, and 6 percent in CBS leagues, he was quite a find... when healthy."

With the signing of fellow lefty outfielder Nate McLouth, Presley's role is still ambiguous, likely to be determined in a head-to-head spring training battle, with the loser filling the fourth outfielder role to begin the season. The review he received when first promoted seems to apply again for 2012, concluding with, "A decent fourth outfielder who steals lots of bases can always help a fantasy team." In other words, don't worry about keeping him in most formats, but follow the news closely to see how playing time shakes out.

Jose Tabata | Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP 222)
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers)
: BORDERLINE
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: YES

Compared to Lonnie Smith in this space in 2010 and still touted a year ago with "a run of .300+ TAv seasons (as Smith had from ages 24-27) [is] entirely plausible," it's fair to say that Tabata has been a favorite here for a while. So, it will come with little surprise that a player with an ADP outside the top 200 so far in mock drafts is being suggested as a sure-fire keeper in Super Deep leagues, and even a borderline keeper in NL-only.

The two things to keep in mind about Tabata are that he's still extremely young and that he was hurt in 2011. But even as an injured 22-year-old, he posted an OBP of nearly .350, making him almost a good leadoff hitter, despite such a disappointing season. Leading off in front of McCutchen should help him score plenty of runs, though he's likely to again be an RBI sinkhole, with the back end of the Bucs lineup being very soft.

Some leagues have members who won't pay a lot for steals. In an NL-only league like this, it would be wrong to keep Tabata. That's more of a market-based decision (and personal preference) than an absolute, however. He's a good candidate to hit .290 and steal 30, so take that for what it's worth.

Eric Thames | Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 249)
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
AL-only (60 keepers)
: NO
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: NO

Using very unscientific analysis, Thames isn't a keeper because people don't think he's as good as he is, generally speaking. Toronto fans who see him every day don't think he can play defense and don't appreciate his offensive game. And, as noted in the Rajai Davis report, Thames and Travis Snider have the unfortunate fate of having options remaining in an outfield with two spots firmly locked down (Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus) and Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco wandering around. Fans in Ontario are still hoping for a Prince Fielder signing (and why not? No other team seems to want him), which would force the Jays to either play Adam Lind in left field or to bench one of Lind or Edwin Encarnacion.

It's sort of a strange situation. As noted when Thames was first reviewed in July, he should hit (and he had the second-best slugging percentage on the team in 2011). But playing time is king in fantasy baseball, and right now, he's not a sure thing to receive the playing time required to make a player keeper-worthy.

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

Related Content:  Jose Tabata,  The Who,  Marlon Byrd,  No-no

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