March 9, 2012
Preseason Value Picks
Outfielders for 3/9/12
Some of us have been sleeping this spring, including this author, who has been sleeping on baseball goingsons more than I'd like, due to other obligations. But, in researching Value Picks this week, the real sleepers have been those fantasy owners who have allowed Dayan Viciedo's ADP to move from 215 to 283. If that includes you, dear reader, then wake up! He was a bargain at 215!
The fantasy news service Rotoworld writes of J.D. Martinez, “He'll likely play left field regularly and bat third or fifth,” which agrees with the crack crew of depth chart experts at Baseball Prospectus, who show him as the primary number-three hitter. Now sure, it's only the Astros, but how many “third or fifth”-place hitters are going to be around at ADP 261? Without recapping all the points from August 17 Value Picks, Martinez is a great pick for as late as he's going.
Even assuming that PECOTA accurately predicts Martinez's rate stats, he's a better strategic pick than his Weighted Means PECOTA indicates. In most mixed-league formats, cutting a fifth or sixth outfielder like Martinez is a low-cost write off. And if Martinez is playing only 75 percent of the time while hitting like PECOTA predicts, it will be difficult to resist trying to trade up using the waiver wire. But if Martinez is closer to his 80th Percentile PECOTA (.304/.357/.476), he not only will improve his per-PA value, but his playing time will increase from the 75 percent projection to over 90 percent—and it's not out of the question that he'll play 90 percent of the time even if he's at his 50th Percentile PECOTA (.271/.321/.424).
Now, PECOTA takes a lot of things into account, but as mentioned last August, one aspect leading to hitter development which can be underappreciated is the amount of time they've played full-season professional baseball. J.D. began doing that in 2010, when he mashed Sally League pitchers at a .362/.433/.598 clip (.347 TAv) before being skip-promoted to Double-A. Cold, hard analysis is going to see a pedestrian .302/.357/.407 line at Double-A to finish out the 2010 season (208 PA), and the 2011 heroics (.338/.414/.546, .325 TAv) at Double-A aren't considered a good indicator, as any scout will tell, due to repeating a level. Again, in 2011, Martinez skipped a level, finishing the season with 226 MLB plate appearances. Considering all the skipping of levels and the limited professional experience, posting a nearly-average TAv (.259) in that time is extremely promising.
Speaking of Dexter Fowler, he's another player for whom the “wake up!” declaration could apply. While not all Baseball Prospectus writers are quite as high on Fowler as Daniel Rathman—who had him standing beside Matt Kemp in his recent Lineup Card entry… and not just because they were scheduled to be workout buddies this offseason—but he's still a very good fantasy pick. While 688 plate appearances may seem like a high number, he's stayed relatively healthy in his career—when he's not running into walls. He obviously won't lead the league in homers, but he won't drag a team down in that category too badly. Meanwhile, it's easy to envision more batting average and runs than the PECOTA projection, as Coors Field aids batting average and run-scoring. While he strikes out a lot, he's no Austin Jackson in that regard, and a strikeout rate over 20 percent is no longer startling, even in a leadoff hitter. Fowler combines all the aspects a fantasy owner could want in a middle-round pick: a great environment, job security, good projected value, and quite a bit of room for upside to top it all off.
If you believe the Resident Fantasy Genius—and why wouldn't you? —Jason Bay rates to clobber fully 100% more home runs at home due to the ballpark changes. The concern, of course, is whether his head will be clear enough (of concussive symptoms) to make that 2x multiplier count for much of anything. After he slugged under .400 in 2011 with just 18 combined home runs between 2010 and 2011, it is hard to believe that he'll rebound to anywhere near his past levels. His past levels were very strong, though, especially when you consider the fact that he was in either a more difficult ballpark or a more difficult league until this upcoming season. He did at least look a bit better in the second half of 2011, when he hit .256/.339/.419 (compared to .237/.320/.336 in the first half).
Bay may not be drastically undervalued as the 73rd outfielder, but he has some upside there, and really, that's what you're hoping for with later picks: the possibility for a high ROI. Unlike J.D. Martinez, if Bay is hitting, he's still unlikely to expand on his 80 percent playing time projection (per our depth charts); his injury list is long and varied, and it seems unlikely to change this season.