February 15, 2012
Preseason Value Picks
Second, Short, and Catcher for 2/15/12
Value Picks returns this week for another exciting season of Baseball Prospectus Fantasy. As mentioned yesterday by one of my Mike partners-in-crime, Michael Street, we will be taking a look at a few players we believe will see a hefty increase in fantasy value and how they can help you in 2012. In order to determine projected 2012 value, we will be using the Player Forecast Manager backed by the power of PECOTA.
Earlier this off-season, I voiced a relatively negative opinion on Hanley Ramirez based primarily on the large fall in production combined with the uncertainty of his health. Nevertheless, PECOTA's very fair .301/.377/.491 slash line (not far from his career .306/.380/.506 line) would rank him as the second-best shortstop in baseball behind only Troy Tulowitzki. Add on the third base eligibility that could be useful if you find yourself with some DL-bound players, and Ramirez's value should once again be strong compared to his ugly 2011. The truth is that the shortstop position is light enough that even Ramirez's second-worst season of his career is still worlds better than most that play the position, so as long as he remains shortstop-eligible, his true value should still fall within the first few rounds of the draft.
There are a few things to continue to keep an eye on, however. Ramirez has had two consecutive seasons with a groundball rate over 50 percent, indicating a difficulty in lifting the ball that may have affected his power. It is unlikely that he will ever again launch 30 homers like he did in 2008, so at this point you should be happy with anything over 20. His continued injuries combined with his increasing bulk may have limited his effectiveness on the bases, as his success rate has fallen each of the last three years. Ozzie Guillen is as aggressive a manager as they come, but it remains to be seen whether the Marlins will risk further injury by sending Ramirez consistently in 2012. These questions are a bit worrisome, but they are countered by Hanley’s still-immense talent.
Phillips is among the most interesting of PECOTA's choices in 2012. Last season was his best year at the plate, hitting .300/.353/.457 with 18 homers and 14 steals—good for $21 in deep 12-team leagues. Despite having not eclipsed 20 steals or 20 homers for two seasons, PECOTA projects a huge jump up to 23 home runs and 20 steals to go along with a subsequent drop in batting average to a figure closer to his career .272 mark.
Phillips’s fly ball rate has remained steady in recent years, but his HR/FB rates have slowly fallen from a peak in 2008, so expecting him to outperform his three-year home run average seems a bit farfetched. He has managed to average 92 runs scored since 2007, however, and has not hit any worse than .261 due to a level .296 BABIP over that period. What you ultimately expect from Phillips in 2012 may be very similar to what you saw in the last five seasons from him.
Ranking Phillips next to players like Dan Uggla ($19 projected in 2012) among the top 50 or so fantasy players seems more appropriate than putting him next to the top 15 players, but that is still is a little better than where he is currently being selected by mock drafters. Phillips proved last year that he’s still capable of putting up a decent batting average with double-digit homers and steals, and at second base, that is worth at least $20.
Last year, Doumit did what’s become commonplace for him: he performed well during his time on the field, but that time was heavily cut into by injuries. In 2012, he may not have to worry as much about the rigors of catching, as he is slated to spend most of his time at DH for the Twins, occasionally spotting the even-more-often-injured duo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Last year, Doumit hit eight home runs with high (but not alarmingly high) fly ball and HR/FB rates, and he did so while playing in one of the tougher home run parks in the game in PNC Park. Target Field may be a bit tougher than PNC, but it is not as if Doumit is moving from a hitter’s haven to a black hole for fly balls. Expecting a .260 to .270 batting average and double-digit home runs seems about right for him in part-time duty based on his three-year history, and while he may not rack up the playing time to get the $15 PECOTA is projecting, none of its other rates seem very far off. Doumit is moving to a tougher park and league, but without the stress of regular playing time behind the plate should keep him healthier and better able to survive the season to mash for the Twins and fantasy owners. There is no reason not to consider him next to catchers like J.P. Arencibia ($11 projected in 2012) and Russell Martin ($11).
Fantasy owners have taken my previous advice to heart and have stayed away from drafting Ramirez high, but PECOTA sees a return to form for the 30-year-old shortstop. In particular, the system sees more steals and a return to 18 home runs, one of which looks appropriate. The home runs should come back, though they may not necessarily lead to more RBI, as Ramirez has driven in no more than 70 baserunners in the last three seasons. But with the lack of success on stolen bases (career 63.5 percent success rate) combined with the presence of a new manager who may not be as aggressive on the bases as Ozzie Guillen was, Ramirez may be asked to keep still a bit more often. If he does not get to 12 steals, it will be much harder for him accumulate this kind of value and would likely fall closer to $12 or $13 rather than $17. This would still make him more valuable than the 164th player drafted in mixed leagues, but it undershoots his PECOTA projection significantly.