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December 6, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

Outfielders for 12/6/11

by Rob McQuown

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Per the Wikipedia entry, author Ray Bradbury “has stated that the novel [Fahrenheit 451] is not about censorship, but a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of factoids, partial information devoid of context.” In a world where the very notion of a “book” may soon go the way of the rotary phone and the “LP”, can people really relate to “Hot Stove” anymore?  When a well-known national media personality makes the mistake of tweeting that a team re-signed its own superstar shortstop, it's patently obvious that most analysis these days is of the microwave variety. But Keeper Reaper is back to provide more information, complete with context, and is the best protection against getting burned this winter in fantasy league preparation.

Shallow (10-team mixed, 3 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6431
Medium (12-team mixed, 4 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6430
Deep (15-team mixed, 6 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6432
AL-Only (12-team AL-only, 5 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6434
NL-Only (12-team NL-only, 5 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6435
Super Deep (20-team mixed, 10 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6433

All draft information is from mockdraftcentral.com’s mock draft reports.

Colby Rasmus | Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 185)
Shallow
: NO
Medium
: NO
Deep
: NO
AL-only
: BORDERLINE
Super Deep: YES

As owner of one of the worst 2011 stat lines that will be under consideration for keeping, Colby Rasmus still earned over $8 in Super-Deep leagues and scored 75 runs in just 526 plate apperances. Of course, he won't have Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman bouncing him around the bases in 2012, but Joey Bats is a one-man wrecking crew, and he doesn't have to do it alone, with Lind contributing 84 homers the past three seasons and Brett Lawrie looking like the real deal at third base. The problem, therefore, isn't with Rasmus's teammates. The problem is that Rasmus himself hit .172/.201/.316 after the move north.

As much as it's tempting to assume that this game can be broken down to the basics of a batter facing a pitcher and that all such matchups are created equal, there are obviously human factors in the game. Certainly, something was amiss in St. Louis, as Rasmus was unceremoniously run out of town. And, unlike Tony Plush in Milwaukee, the divorce from a bad situation didn't immediately result in renewed performance. From afar, one has to wonder about many unreported possibilities. Did Tony LaRussa's over-the-top style break down Rasmus's confidence? Was some other off-field issue undermining Rasmus's ability to perform? Was the rejection from a good team too shocking for him? Did the move to Toronto—not just another city, but another country—unsettle him? The fact of the matter is that none of his stats really offer much insight. He took a lot of pitches in 2010 (4.04 pitches/PA, up from 3.61 in 2009), and struck out a lot more for it (strikeout rate up to almost 28 percent in 2010 from 18 percent in 2009). In 2011, he was a bit more aggressive (3.8 pitches/PA), and struck out less (22 percent). His plate discipline stats from 2011, 2010, and 2009 don't show any dramatic shifts, either. 

Moving to Toronto—psychological impact aside—should help Rasmus significantly from a ballpark standpoint. Having to face top-tier lefties such as C.C. Sabathia, David Price, and Jon Lester won't be good for him, but he's not inept against southpaws and is still young enough to become much better. From an advice perspective in AL-only leagues, Rasmus is the sort of player that an owner with a good fantasy team shouldn't let destroy his season. Trading him along with another keeper to consolidate into one better keeper is the conservative play for teams which are ahead of the pack already. On the flip side, in the case of a marginal team, his upside is certainly alluring, and he should probably be kept, as he's unlikely to fetch more than 50 percent of his potential value in trade after his time in Toronto.

Juan Rivera | Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 268)
Shallow
: NO
Medium: NO
Deep
: NO
NL-only
: NO
Super Deep
: NO

There's a strong temptation to write absolutely nothing about a player like Juan Rivera, just listing him as a “NO” in every format and letting the silence speak. But even after hitting a mere .264/.315/.428 over his past 1872 plate appearances (and taking five years to get that many PA), he's still a career .277/.327/.449 (.271 TAv) hitter entering his age-33 season. The average National League outfielder hit .264/.335/.426 in 2011, so Rivera could have a little value, but his recent struggles and constant injury issues place him well outside the top 200 range where players are even in consideration for retention.

Melky Cabrera | San Francisco Giants (ADP 186)
Shallow
: NO
Medium
: NO
Deep
: NO
NL-only
: YES
Super Deep
: YES

Looking at 2011 Player Forecast Manager (PFM) values, Melky Cabrera was worth almost $32 in 2011 in Super-Deep contexts. That bears repeating: THIRTY-TWO DOLLARS!

Right.

Maybe PFM got distracted by Ben Murphy's brilliance and did something wonky to get this result, so let's check out the less elaborate, yet useful, evaluation from lastplayerpicked.com, where we find... $30.  THIRTY DOLLARS!

Why does this deserve the compositional equivalent of shouting? Cabrera entered the season as a .267/.328/.379 hitter who had stolen just 51 bases in 2657 plate appearances. His previous high in slugging percentage was .416 in 2009. He hadn't stolen more than 10 bases since 2007. Of course, his season was one to make fantasy baseball haters chortle about how ridiculous the various statistical categories are weighted, as he almost never walked, thus indirectly boosting the value of his .305 batting average (since walks reduce at-bat totals, which is the weighting factor for batting average), and his 20 steals came at the cost of 10 times caught stealing, but this is fantasy baseball, not reality.

The knee-jerk reaction to his season is one of staggering skepticism that he'll be able to do anything like this again.  But he's never been on the disabled list, so it's reasonable to assume that his playing time will remain very high. The Giants, much-ridiculed of late for their lack of offense, should show quite a bit of improvement with Buster Posey's return and Brandon Belt's maturation. Also, Aubrey Huff is entering the last year of his deal, so the pressure to stick with him if he struggles again won't be nearly as great as it was in 2011 (plus he’ll be more motivated to play well). The main cause of concern with most analysts is the high .332 BABIP that Cabrera posted in 2011, but he was hitting the ball much harder than he had in the past, a fact some might attribute to his aggressive approach at the plate (we did mention he almost never walks, right?) The 67 extra-base hits he collected was exceeded by only 18 batters in 2011. For comparison, 26 batting title qualifiers had a higher BABIP than his .332 mark, and the average BABIP for batters with 67 or more extra-base hits was .328. In short, there’s reason to believe his BABIP will stay where it is and not revert back to his career mark of .299. Finally, Melky can be expected to continue to get the green light on the basepaths—Pablo Sandoval and Huff combined for 14 stolen base attempts in 2011, reinforcing the notion that manager Bruce Bochy will send anyone anytime.

Melky Cabrera is not the same player he was before 2011. Melky has taken a step forward, and while some decline is almost inevitable, he is entering his peak years, and if he continues to stay healthy, don't be surprised if it turns out the naysayers are predicting a few too many nays for him.

Shin-Soo Choo | Cleveland Indians (ADP 70)
Shallow
: BORDERLINE
Medium
: YES
Deep
: YES
AL-only
: YES
Super Deep
: YES

“Ichiro has a .351 career BABIP in MLB.  Yes, .351...”  Oh, wait, that's a line from the previous edition of Keeper Reaper.  Well, believe it or not, Choo has a higher career BABIP than the amazing Ichiro: .353.  This mark is good for third in our database among players with 2000 or more plate appearances in their careers. Few would get Choo confused with Rod Carew (#1, .359), Derek Jeter (#2, .355), Ichiro (#6), or Ron Leflore (#9, .347), and all the rest of the top ten are active players in their primes except Reggie Jefferson, whose presence on this list is beyond explanation. So, despite the large sample of high BABIP Choo has produced, history suggests it will come down. But by how much? He's not as fast as Bobby Abreu, but both are well-rounded offensive contributors who bat lefty, and Abreu's BABIP was .356 through age 28 and .330 thereafter. With just over 400 balls put in play each year, Choo would lose about eight hits if he dropped 20 points of BABIP (.333 instead of his career mark of .353), which would result in about 14 points of lost batting average.

Choo is reported to be 100 percent healthy after a rough 2011 season, and the civic duty of serving in his homeland's military will be completed this offseason. As noted, expecting continued BABIP heroics is overly optimistic, but knocking something like .014/.012/.018 off his career stats still leaves him at .277/.372/.455, and there's neither a good reason to expect him to see all that drop-off in one season, nor any real reason to expect that he won't be able to collect more extra-base hits to compensate for any singles he loses due to a falling BABIP.  He's only listed as BORDERLINE in Shallow leagues because he should be able to be picked up a little under his true value based on his off year in 2011 (for which there are well-documented reasons, starting with a DUI and including two injuries). If it's known that someone in the league will snipe him, don't risk cutting him.

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

Related Content:  2011,  Melky Cabrera,  Colby Rasmus

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