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September 25, 2013

Sporer Report

Under the Radar

by Paul Sporer

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Are you running out the clock on a title run? Fighting off a team or two nipping at your heels to hold onto said title? Are you the nipper? Perhaps your season was over in August when a rash of injuries made that comeback just too far-fetched.

I certainly hope the majority of you are taking part in one of the first three scenarios, but regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, you likely missed some nice seasons in 2013. I don’t just mean those by players who weren’t on your fantasy team. You may have missed them altogether, because they weren’t on a competitor’s team or playing a lot of games against your hometown team. Here is a closer look at 10 solid fantasy seasons from sub-.500 clubs, which may have missed your radar in 2013.

FIRST BASE

Brandon Belt, SF
Belt logged the sixth-highest wRC+ among qualified first basemen at 137 (tied with Brandon Moss), setting career highs in home runs (16), RBI (62), doubles (35), runs scored (74), batting average (.287), and slugging percentage (.472), and eclipsing last year’s 145 games played on Wednesday night. With a home run total that ranks 24th among first basemen, Belt is more of a corner infielder than a primary first baseman in the fantasy game, but he took a nice step forward at 25 years old and still has another level to jump before hitting his ceiling.

SECOND BASE

Daniel Murphy, NYM
Murphy improved on his 2012 season, which essentially boiled down to an empty batting average. He hit .291 last year, but offered just six homers, 65 RBI, and 62 runs scored in addition. This year, he lost just eight points on the batting average while doubling his home run (12) and stolen base (20) outputs, along with career highs in RBI (73) and runs scored (91).

SHORTSTOP

Brian Dozier, MIN
Dozier used up his shortstop eligibility this year as all 141 of his games have come at second base, but since he qualified at short this year, we are going with it for now. I didn’t see the kind of power-speed combo from Dozier that would land him in the top 10 of fantasy shortstops (and 13th for second basemen). His .249 batting average distracts from a 18 HR/13 SB season that had tons of fantasy value. His 72 runs scored and 65 driven in rank seventh and sixth, respectively, at shortstop. Both were 10th-best at second base.

Alexei Ramirez, CWS
Ramirez started his career with a trio seasons that saw him top double-digits in homers and steals with a useful batting average. Given his draft cost and the dearth of talent at shortstop, he was a rather valuable asset. Both the power and speed started to dip in 2011 and the power outage has continued, but he has maintained his value with back-to-back career bests in stolen bases, nabbing 20 a year ago and then 30 this year. The 31-year-old is a rock, too, having logged at least 606 plate appearances in each of the last five years and better than 620 in the last four.

THIRD BASE

Matt Dominguez, HOU
There wasn’t a lot to cheer for in Houston this year, but the 23-year-old Dominguez did some nice work as a low-dollar fantasy option. He earns a regular spot in the lineup with his sterling defense and he wasn’t expected to be much more than a defensive-first (-only?) third baseman, but he took major strides in his first full season, clubbing 20 home runs and logging 75 RBI. His .245 AVG and .288 OBP leave plenty to be desired, but as a scrap-heap acquisition for AL-only teams, these deficiencies are easily overlooked.

CATCHER

Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
Lucroy got off to a brutal start with a .687 OPS in April, but he improved monthly through July, peaking with a 1.054 OPS that month. He has sputtered to the finish with a .622 OPS in September, but it hasn’t stopped him from having a career year. He was headed for a big year last year before an injury derailed him and limited him to just 96 games. He has set career-highs in every counting category of note: games (141), plate appearances (544), runs (56), doubles (24), homers (18), RBIs (81), and even stolen bases (6). His triple slash is a solid .281/.338/.461, but well off the pace of last year’s .320/.368/.513.

OUTFIELD

Colby Rasmus, TOR
This season could very easily miss your purview since his 22 home runs and 66 RBI aren’t even better than last year’s 23 and 75 marks, but he achieved the latter in 625 plate appearances and this year’s in just 458. Meanwhile, his triple slash is markedly improved from last year’s wretched .223/.289/.400 to a far more useful .276/.338/.501 this year, which isn’t too far from his 2010 breakout of .276/.361/.498 that many saw as the start of something special. This year’s paces with last year’s playing time would’ve yielded a 30/90 season, something only three outfielders have done: Jay Bruce (30/107), Adam Jones (32/106), and Alfonso Soriano (34/101).

Will Venable, SD
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Venable’s season is that he spotted the league a month, as he got off to a horrid .206/.280/.353 start with just two home runs and three stolen bases. He’s now putting the finishing touches on a second straight career year, going 22 HR/22 SB with a career-best .268 average and 53 RBI while sitting just a run away from a new career-high (currently at 62). The speed total is actually a third straight drop from 2010’s peak of 29, but it’s been a slow and tolerable decline to 26, 24, and now 22 (with five games left to add to the total). Oh, and it’s worth noting that all of this comes while being something of a platoon player. His improvements against lefties have afforded him a career-high 107 plate appearances against southpaws, but he still sits often against them.

Michael Saunders, SEA
Saunders hasn’t even matched the totals from his surprise 2012 season, but his 11 HR/13 SB season is notable because he did next-to-nothing for three months with a .616 OPS through June. He’s posted an 837 in the three months since with seven of the 11 homers, 30 of his 47 RBIs, and 32 of his 58 runs scored. He will be 27 next year and I think there is still a special year in there somewhere if he puts it all together for a six-month stretch.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Adam Lind, TOR
Left for dead after three wholly unspectacular seasons, Lind rebounded to look a lot more like the guy we all fell in love with back in 2009. It’s not about his counting stats as he didn’t log the playing time to best his 2010-2011 HR/RBI totals as he sits at 23/64 this year, but his .283/.352/.497 line is light years better in three measures than it has been for any of the last three years.

The 30-year-old lefty was protected from southpaws logging just 99 plate appearances against them and smashing righties to the tune of a .923 OPS to negate the impact of his .559 OPS in those 99 PA against lefties. His season may have been enough to convince the Jays to pick his $7 million dollar team option, too, but if not, he all but guaranteed that his $5 million dollar salary from 2013 wouldn’t drop, as he would likely net at least that in free agency.

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

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