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December 20, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

Outfielders for 12/20/11

by Rob McQuown

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How the mighty have fallen. This author's mock Scoresheet draft (you can see the results hereScoresheet drafts are very slow) provided an early holiday present, with Jason Heyward dropping all the way to the third round! Likewise, another hot outfielder a year ago, Colby Rasmus, dropped to the fifth round, though Freddie Freeman and Mike Moustakas seemed to be better fits for yours truly's team at the time, and another owner ended up with Rasmus. It's a good reminder that now is the time to go get those players who had “down” seasons but might rebound strongly.

Jason Kubel | Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP 239)
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers): NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers)
: NO
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: BORDERLINE

Before laying into the Diamondbacks front office like Randy Couture into a punching bag, it bears remembering that this brain trust won the division last year, flying in the face of all predictions. With that caveat out of the way, paying $15 million (for two years) to a not-yet-30-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder who has produced a total of 1.4 WARP over the past two seasons is bad enough. Blocking your dirt-cheap and not-yet-25-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder who produced 4.1 WARP in the same span pushes it into the realm of the absurd.

Fortunately for fantasy owners, Kubel's inability to play defense won't hurt a bit, and the ballpark in Arizona should help out a lot. Kubel never lived up to the expectations of being a great pure hitter, though his .300/.369/.539 batting line in 2009 made a few believe that he'd overcome his long string of knee problems to get close to his upside. Since then, he's stunk with the bat and is a big liability in the outfield. In 2011, the excuse was foot problems. All-in-all, there's a chance he could avoid injuries for a year, and he's always hit righties hard enough to have an impact (.282/.342/.490 career vs. right-handed pitching).  For fantasy leagues, the risk is far too high to bother keeping him, unless the team is a long shot, for which an 80th percentile year from Kubel (such as his 2009 season) could provide the bump needed to get into the money.

Mock Draft Results
Since they say “nobody cares about your fantasy team”, I didn't lead with my USA Today Magazine Mock draft, which took place last week, but here's the team I drafted. Comments, as always, are appreciated: (5x5 scoring, 15 teams):

Matt Kemp (1)
Ryan Braun (30)
Starlin Castro (31)
Felix Hernandez (60)
Pablo Sandoval (61)
Craig Kimbrel (90)
Joe Mauer (91)
Nick Swisher (120)
Chris Carpenter (121)
Neftali Feliz (150)
Jesus Montero (151)
Johnny Cueto (180)
Gordon Beckham (181)
Melky Cabrera (210)
Derrek Lee (211)
Hiroki Kuroda (240)
Doug Fister (241)
Aroldis Chapman (270)
Addison Reed (271)
Juan Rivera (300)
Hank Conger (301)
Nyjer Morgan (330)
Felipe Paulino (331)
Brennan Boesch (360)
Bill Hall (361)

Ryan Braun | Milwaukee Brewers (ADP 3*)
Shallow
: YES
Medium
: YES
Deep
: YES
NL-only
: YES
Super Deep
: YES

Clearly the question here isn't whether Ryan Braun is a keeper. But, as noted in my commentary for the draft (to go in the magazine):

“I think the Braun pick surprised a lot of people, but I think a part of that is a mistaken perception of how to account for a known outage from a player. My production from that roster spot will be 50 games of Brennan Boesch PLUS 100-plus games of Ryan Braun.  I feel very confident the summed value will be very representative of the expected value from a #30 pick.  And that's assuming he misses the whole 50.  In this, missing a known chunk of time is much different than missing time due to unknown factors, such as injuries.  Phrased another way, if this team can just stay in contention for 50 games, no other owner is going to want to be hunted down by the team with Kemp and Braun!”

Using that sort of calculation, the “slot” would produce 150 games of a player who hit .316/.378/.551 in 2011, with 24 SB and 27 HR, driving in 92 runs and scoring 98. Obviously, projected stats will be less than actuals, but anything approaching those levels is enormously helpful. The plan has the weakness of cluttering up a bench spot for 50 games, but hopefully, if they are in the front of the season, they can be planned around in all but the deepest leagues.

Without assuming guilt or innocence here, it's difficult to be pragmatic when figuring out just how great of a keeper Braun remains. Manny Ramirez saw a lot of power deterioration after he was caught using PEDs, but he was much older. And, as with Manny, there's little doubt about either Braun's natural hitting talent or his willingness to hone his craft. It seems that assuming anything more than a minor drop-off in rate stats would be overly pessimistic. If anything, this may be an ideal time to try to trade for him, using a “buy low” strategy.

Nick Swisher | New York Yankees (ADP 102)
Shallow
: NO
Medium
: NO
Deep
: BORDERLINE
AL-only
: YES
Super Deep
: YES

One thing that's incredibly difficult to quantify for fantasy value is “reliability”.  In five of the past six years, however, Nick Swisher has posted a TAv between .295 and .304. Other than not trying in Chicago (which appears to have stemmed from a personality conflict with Ozzie Guillen), he's been the model of consistency and is entering his age-31 season in 2012, so he's still in his prime. The fact that so much of his offense comes from walks—instead of the fantasy-rific singles of less “Three True Outcome”-oriented players—diminishes his fantasy value. But he plays his home games in Yankee Stadium. For the Yankees. And that gives him value upside only dreamed about by most players. It's this consistency which gets him ranked as “BORDERLINE” in a 90-keeper format despite having an ADP over 100. He's probably on the negative side of the borderline for most teams, but for a team whose other keepers make it a strong contender, lock in the sure contributor in the three power categories, and take chances elsewhere. 

Shane Victorino | Philadelphia Phillies (ADP 62)
Shallow
: NO
Medium
: NO
Deep
: YES
AL-only
: YES
Super Deep
: YES

Shane Victorino is a great baseball player. He's posted a .281 TAv over the past two seasons, contributed 10 FRAA in that span, and stole 53 bases since getting completely healthy again. His average draft position suggests that he should be considered as a potential keeper in some “Medium” formats, but don't be misled—if he's a team's best option, they should see if they can't figure out a way to trade up somehow. If that's not possible, he'll provide some surprising pop along with his speed and run-scoring.

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

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