October 12, 2011
The Keeper Reaper
Second, Short, and Catcher for 10/12/11
The Keaper Reaper continues this week with more options for your middle infield and catcher positions. As you may have noticed from the last few editions, we have added a “Super Deep” category to satisfy you players with keeper leagues loaded with keeper possibilities. Once again, here are the categories we will be considering.
Shallow: 10-team mixed leagues with 3 keepers (30 total keepers)
The final category covers the 200 best players in mixed leagues, so hopefully that adds some assistance to those deeper league players. Let's get to the players from this week.
Last season, the Indians debuted a high-ranking rookie in Carlos Santana, and he provided excellent performance, which he followed up with a strong 2011 that rewarded keeper owners who believed the hype. This year, the Indians saw something similar happen to top prospect Jason Kipnis. He took no time impressing everyone, batting .279/.347/.603 before sitting out the rest of August with a right hamstring strain. He ended the year with a .272/.333/.507 line (.301 TAv) and should come into 2012 with plenty of hype.
Kipnis is not likely to be as powerful as he was in his first stint in the majors; his 20.6 percent HR/FB rate is begging for regression, and he averaged only about 16 home runs per 600 plate appearances in the minors, so his power numbers should take a hit. However, the skill at the plate is very real, as expected of a player who was ranked 15th in Kevin Goldstein's midseason top 50 prospects. Kipnis's 2011 strikeout (22.7 percent) and walk rates (7.3 percent) look appropriate for a player who struck out 17.6 percent of the time and walked in 10.2 percent of his plate appearances in the minors, so there should be little difference in that category. Similarly, the .313 BABIP looks believable from a player with a career minor league mark of .344. In short, everything from last season outside of his power looks like it is worth buying, and that package should be worth enough to be in the top 60 players in 2012. Given the likelihood that you were able to secure Kipnis for a below-market price as a prospect, he should be retained in all leagues where that kind of value impacts keeper decisions.
It is easy to remember a time when Jimmy Rollins was an excellent player and a top-notch fantasy option, but those seasons are far removed from the current, soon-to-be 33-year old incarnation of Rollins. Even in the last three seasons, however, Rollins's numbers have not been significantly worse compared to his career .272/.329/.432 line.
Rollins has suffered downturns in terms of his batting average primarily, but those changes have been partly due to a .258 BABIP over the same time period. Regardless, Rollins's .275 mark last year still only netted him a .268 batting average, and it would seem that counting on him to hit much better than his career average at this point may be hopeful at best. Still, he was worth about $18 in 12-team mixed leagues in 2011, and that value was not unprecedented; PECOTA projected a $15 value before the season began. Essentially, Rollins has performed about as well as we expected him to over the last three years.
How good was that performance? In 2011, Rollins ranked 61st in mixed-league value. This would put him on the borderline for medium-depth leagues, but the difficulty in listing him as a guaranteed keeper lies in his uncertain future. Rollins missed 18 games this season with a strained groin, and the year before he missed 87 games dealing with various ailments, including a difficult right calf strain. In addition, his status as a Phillie is still in question, and if he does move to another team, his counting stat and home run production may be affected as well. Combine the injury, teammate uncertainty, and the generally expected decline of a 33-year old player, and owners in moderately deep leagues may want to allow Rollins to slip into the draft in favor of other options.
In 2011, there were only 10 catchers (not including Victor Martinez) who stepped up to the plate at least 500 times. At the bottom of that list in value was John Buck at $3 in mixed leagues, while at the top of that list was Alex Avila at $19. If we were to prorate Ramos's 2012 numbers up to the average of 541 plate appearances that those ten catchers had, here is what he would have produced.
There is certainly no guarantee that Ramos will continue his line from 2011, but there are signs that say improvement could be on the way. Aside from his age (24 years old in 2012), Ramos showed significant improvement in his plate approach—a problematic area identified by Kevin Goldstein before the season. Ramos's swing rate decreased from his previous minor and major league marks, falling from 55 percent to 48 percent this season, which helped him to draw a walk rate three percent higher than his minor league career rate. This patience, combined with his already decent contact skills (career .285 minor league batting average with a .322 minor league BABIP) and decent power potential, provided a believable .267 batting average and power that has room for growth.
On the other hand, Ramos's power could remain static, as a regression in his HR/FB rate could be balanced by a decrease in ground balls; he had not posted a ground ball rate greater than his 2011 rate of 49.8 percent since his Double-A stint in 2009. Of the balls that did leave the yard last season, ESPN's Home Run Tracker has them being a bit above the National League average in distance, which could be another positive power sign. With veteran Ivan Rodriguez leaving in free agency and Jesus Flores falling out of favor, Ramos's playing time should be on the way up, and it would not be surprising if he accumulated over 500 plate appearances in 2012 and posted good keeper value for deep leaguers.
At this point, it has become an impossible task to figure out how well Soto will play in the coming season. The Cubs have few other options at catcher, however, and committed 474 plate appearances to Soto despite a down year, so playing time may not become an issue if Mike Quade remains at the helm. As far as his problems from last season, much of it was due to BABIP, as his .280 average did fall short of his career .303 mark. The concerning thing about his season, though, may have been his accompanying strikeout rate; after striking out consistently in the low 20 percent range, he struck out in 26.2 percent of his plate appearances this year, due in large part to an increase in both swings and whiffs outside of the zone.
The best guess at this point is that 2012 will see a return of someone resembling the career .258/.348/.455 hitter Soto has been. Given the recent increase in strikeouts and the swaying nature of his career BABIP, counting on a high batting average would be a mistake, but his home run rates have not changed significantly; he still hit 17 home runs with a 14.2 percent HR/FB rate despite his struggles last season. All of that adds up to a good keeper option for deep leagues but too risky a play for shallower leagues.
Hill was on his way to becoming a footnote in the minds of fantasy baseball players, but two things turned his season from being an abject failure to merely a terrible disappointment: Arizona and stolen bases. Hill hit .316/.386/.492 in 142 plate appearances after being traded to the Diamondbacks following a .225/.270/.313 2011 stint with the Toronto Blue Jays. The D'Backs have no middle infielders coming up in 2012 from their farm system, leaving them with few options other than Hill and a couple of other veteran gap-fillers at second base. General Manager Kevin Towers is interested in bringing Hill back, and this would do a world of good for the second baseman's fantasy options. Chase Field is one of the league's friendliest hitter's parks, especially when it comes to extra-base hits. Returning to Chase Field could help boost his suddenly diminished power numbers.
Stolen bases were never a major part of Hill's game before 2011, as he stole just 23 bases in 35 attempts through 2010. He took off 28 times in 2011, however, swiping 21 bags. While the success rate was good, we can tell very little about how effective Hill will be in the future with his attempts. Luckily, the attempt rate (13.8 percent in 2011) is much more suggestive of future performance, and this could add up to double-digit steals in 2012. If Hill returns to Arizona, those two factors should help bring his numbers back up to respectability and possible keeper status.
How the mighty have fallen. After last season, I thought Beckham was an interesting AL-only option, but after a second straight terrible season at the plate, it is best to just skip past him in all leagues. Expecting a bounce back in his power or batting average numbers remains a far cry, and at the prices you likely paid in AL-only or deeper leagues, it would be best to allow someone else to gamble on his potential.