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September 29, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
Continuing the theme from Mike and Mike (Street and Jong, not Golic and “Greenie”), some outfielders you're bound to hear a lot about this offseason – as they've overperformed expectations - will be the focus of attention this week.
Diverging somewhat from the template, little new information would be provided to the reader by rehashing already-stated analysis, so more players will be covered, with links to previous writeups, where available.
Refresh your browser to see how many home runs Jose Bautista has now – the image box above changes with his current stats, and he just keeps cranking them out. As of “press time”, he has 52... and just 26 hits to the right of center (only 2 of his home runs have been “oppo”). All sorts of suppositions have been made about Bautista's breakout season and the reasons thereof. Watching him hit and looking at the resultant spray chart data, it's clear that he's no longer trying to get “inside the ball” and slap singles up the middle, as he'd done previously in his career. He's more-or-less defying teams from trying to prevent him from getting base hits and extra-base hits (including home runs) down the left-field line. Causality is always a bit nebulous at best in these cases, though manager Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy have to be credited with some of the improvement in his approach. Another statistical difference from the Bautista of the past is that he's laying off the high-inside fastball, which had always been the “book” on how to get him out. So far, these appear to be his adjustements, to which pitchers and pitching coaches haven't found ways to counter yet. With his resounding success, expect some serious research to be done across the AL to find some said counters over the offseason. It would be ridiculous to suppose that he'll have another 50-HR season in 2011, but the trick will be calculating the correct amount to depreciate his value for 2011 auctions... he's likely to remain a “value pick” for next year in some leagues where consensus is that he is totally a fluke. As a guideline, pay for 35 HR, let someone else have him if they're willing to pay for 45.
Carlos Gonzalez is at $47 in fantasy value and counting. His projection was just $12, but hopefully the “Dick Vitale-esque rave” on April 7 right-set those expectations for Value Picks readers. His frequent nicks and scrapes are annoying for fantasy purposes, and he won't post a .390 BABIP again, but he's a legitimate fantasy MVP challenger for the foreseeable future (read: he's under Rockies control for 4 more years even without an extension).
Drew Stubbs and Andres Torres burst onto the Value Picks list on the same day, May 26. It was pointed out at the time that Drew Stubbs was a good fielder despite his lousy defensive metrics at the time (-15 UZR/150). He ended the season in the black (+1.1 UZR/150), so the metrics started to catch up with the reality of the situation. Both players were projected at slightly below $0, and are at $23 as of today. Stubbs has legitimate 30/30 potential, and in OBP leagues, his walks temper his lack of batting average skill somewhat (with 165 K's already, his contact percentage barely tops 70%). Meanwhile, Torres is probably not quite as good as his 2010 stats, but should again be undervalued on auction day 2011, due to his age and widely-regarded flukiness.
Way back on March 10, Angel Pagan was discussed as part of the Mets outfield battle: “He's the sort of player a shrewd fantasy owner picks up before the other owners realize what hit them.” Carlos Beltran's return didn't slow him down, and the Mets acknowledged Pagan's superiority by shipping Jeff Francoeur to Texas. He's always hit well from the left side (.298/.351/.446 career) and plays good defense, so expect projections to tab him for full-season at-bats in 2011, and for his auction price to reflect his true ability in most leagues – with the lack of SB standouts in the NL, that value is quite high for the league's 2nd-leading thief (despite having just 35 SB). In fact, with his injury issues and struggles against left-handed pitchers, he might even be over-valued in some leagues.
Brett Gardner was tabbed as having 50-steal potential in spring training Hot Spots: Outfield. He started off on a torrid $32 pace through the first two months and hit .383/.472/.533 in June, while battling through thumb and wrist injuries (limiting him to just 60 AB for the month). From July 1 through the end of the season, Gardner hit just .232, but his patience and groundball ways kept his on-base percentage at .362 during this span, in spite of the scarcity of hits. Being on the Yankees presents owners with an ambivalent situation. Obviously, it can't be bad to be part of a great offense. But on most teams, he'd bat leadoff with his skills, and “replacement level” is a lot higher for a team willing to spend $200 million than for one with a more typical budget in the $100 million range, so days off come more frequently for Gardner when he's in pinstripes. Given his gung-ho style of play, it's feasible that having days off maximizes his output, as he's able to recuperate from minor injuries but most fantasy owners would take their chances on him getting 700 PA. Another sub-600 plate appearance season seems likely for 2011, leading to another 40+ stolen bases and nearly 100 runs scored.
Value Picks readers had more than enough Delmon analysis this season, as he was the longest tenant of the Value Pick Hotel, starting on April 24. It took a long time for enough leagues to grab him up to get him evicted, so he remained a bargain long into the season. Expect some of his 45 doubles to morph into home runs in ensuing years as his power develops even more. If that happens, he could end up having prime years similar to Carlos Lee, another righty slugger with good contact skills who doesn't walk a lot.
Let's see... .258/.341/.457, with 27 HR and 27 SB in 646 PA on a .298 BABIP. Or was it .268/.355/.482, with 22 HR and 25 SB in 634 PA and a .321 BABIP? Or maybe .267/.353/.480, with 25 and 34 in 633 PA? Who could have predicted that Chris Young would post batting lines like Mike Cameron (hint: everyone)? The latter two lines are Cammy '01 and '06, both posted in pitchers' parks. Young should continue to develop a bit, so he could still eclipse Cameron's production – and Cameron was a perennial 4-category fantasy force. Young's ability to keep his contact percentage around 75% without losing his power is key, as for him it usually signifies better pitch recognition. Manager du jour Kirk Gibson, despite batting lefty, was a similar type of offensive player when healthy, and he had his first great full season at age 27, which is how old Young will be in 2011, so at least Young should have a manager who can relate. (Gibson hit .268/.352/.463 for his career - in a tougher era and environment for hitting – and struck out well over 20% of the time, but also stole 30+ bases three times.)
Injury-prone superstars can be maddening. Read health reports carefully before investing $30+ in Josh Hamilton next year, even though he's earned $43 in just 507 AB in 2010. His batting average won't stay in the stratosphere, and he doesn't steal much – in addition to being a constant injury risk.
Crawford was projected for $30 and has racked up $40 in value (so far). With his widely-anticipated departure from Tampa Bay, it's hard to predict his 2011 value, but some guidelines will include whether he ends up with another good offensive team (TB scored .58 runs more than the AL average), whether he goes to a good offensive park (Either New York or Boston should aid his batting stats mightily, and his power could emerge more in Chicago), and whether his new manager likes to run a lot (for example, Joe Girardi runs a lot with his leadoff and #9 hitters and less with other guys, as has been mentioned in this column. Ozzie Guillen – however - runs gung-ho with everyone, and Crawford's power-speed numbers could be crazy in Chicago). It also bears noting that he was playing for a contract this season, and – like Paul Konerko in Chicago – responded with his best season. While he's going to be a great fantasy player for several more years, his 7.1-WARP season in 2010 eclipsed his previous high (5.3 WARP in 2009), and Crawford seems much more likely to return to a 5-WARP level than to maintain his 7-WARP 2010 production. Note that the above team/park/manager effects shouldn't impact his WARP much, but could skew his fantasy value significantly.
Thus ends “Hot Spots: Outfield” for 2010. It's been a privilege working on this column with the Baseball Prospectus Fantasy crew – led by Marc Normandin and John Burnson.- of Mike Street, Mike Jong, Bill Baer, and Mike “advanced state of 'being toast'” Petriello. I hope all your teams did fantastic this season, and your offseason is great!