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December 21, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

Second, Short, and Catcher for 12/21/12

by Michael Jong

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The Keeper Reaper returned earlier this month, but the up-the-middle positions were suspiciously absent due to previous commitments by yours truly. However, the up-the-middle Keeper Reaper is finally back, bringing Baseball Prospectus readers a few more names to consider for their keeper leagues.

Jose Reyes | Miami Marlins
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: YES
Deep (90 keepers)
: YES
NL-only (60 keepers)
: YES
Super Deep (200 keepers)
:  YES

Last season, Reyes had a career season at the plate, notching a .311 TAv with a .337/.384/.493 line, stealing 39 bases along the way. That career-best season was good for only 30th best in fantasy value, which shows you just how difficult it was to crack the “Shallow” league keeper designation. Nevertheless, as Derek Carty put it in his more timely piecefollowing the move, the move to a stronger lineup in front of excellent hitters like Hanley Ramirez (*crosses fingers*) and Mike Stanton can only improve Reyes's stock. What will likely happen is a regression to the mean from that .337 batting average, but expecting something along the lines of his .306/.352/.452 slash line since 2009 seems appropriate. The power numbers are not likely to return to pre-2009 levels; a combination of deep parks (the Marlins' new ballpark has dimensions as hefty, if not more so, than Citi Field) and injuries should keep Reyes from 10 home runs once again

Reyes may also never steal 60 bases again with his injuries, but you can count on him getting plenty of opportunities to take off with Ozzie Guillen steering the Marlins' helm. Another 30-plus performance in that category should continue to assure Reyes’ status as a keeper in medium-depth leagues, even as his injuries sap the world-breaking speed down to merely dynamic levels.

Kelly Johnson | Toronto Blue Jays
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: BORDERLINE
AL-only (60 keepers)
: YES
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: YES

Johnson has sandwiched one good season in between two bad ones, but there was still something to be liked about his otherwise atrocious 2011 campaign. While he is not especially due for a heavy BABIP bounce back after a .277 mark in 2011, he should still end up closer to his career .311 mark than he did last season, and that should only improve his awful .222 batting average. Additionally, Johnson still managed to hit 21 home runs on a pretty typical 40 percent fly ball rate last season, and with him returning to Toronto, he will get a chance to go deep at one of the friendliest home run parks in baseball. Finally, Johnson himself impressed in his short stint in Toronto much like Aaron Hill did in his stay in Arizona; Johnson hit .270/.361/.417 (.296 TAv) with the Blue Jays.

Johnson has averaged 20 homers per 600 PA since 2009 and has hit a respectable .248/.331/.442 since then. His decent OBP has him averaging 79 runs per 600 PA in that time frame, and that number sounds realistic for the 2012 season given Toronto's decent offense. A performance like his three-year average would easily be equal to that of Neil Walker and Dustin Ackley—two players whom I described earlier as second basemen who were on the border of deep league keepers—and with the probable upside of a full season of Johnson enjoying Toronto, it is possible that we could see another bounce-back campaign akin to the 2010 season he had in Arizona. Owners should have to think carefully on whether to drop Johnson in deep leagues because of that looming upside.

Jed Lowrie | Houston Astros
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers)
: NO
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: BORDERLINE

Lowrie has always enticed owners with his intriguing play, and the 2011 season was no different. He started off on fire and earned himself a week-long stay on the Value Picks list before taking a leave due to heavy ownership. By the end of the first month of the season, Lowrie was batting .369/.384/.574 following a very impressive .287/.381/.526 stint in 2010. Unfortunately, the rest of the season went down the drain, as Lowrie hit .220/.280/.328 and missed 68 games along the way due to injury. Those injuries only added to his reputation of being injury-prone; Lowrie had missed around 120 days to injury in each of the previous two seasons.

Now Lowrie will get a fresh start away from Boston and in a relatively low-expectation zone in Houston. The Astros are looking to get a starting-caliber player out of Lowrie, and it should be noted that over the last three years he has produced about league-average work. Since 2009, he has hit .250/.316/.412 with 17 home runs. That batting line was good for a .270 TAv and a performance that would have been more than acceptable for a shortstop over a full season. Moving from Boston to Houston should decrease his batting average on balls in play a tad, but his home runs should almost certainly go up, and this should only be aided by his natural flyball style (career 49.8 percent fly ball rate). Expecting something similar to Lowrie's career line with 15 to 20 home runs would make him worth a look in deeper leagues.

Of course, the reason why he is not getting the nod right now is that, despite the likely reversion to somewhere around his career line, he may very well find himself posting limited at-bats due to injuries again. The Astros have no players at risk of usurping his position if he can stay healthy all season, but at this point only “Super Deep” leagues should even consider betting on that happening.

Marco Scutaro | Boston Red Sox
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
AL-only (60 keepers)
: BORDERLINE
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: YES

The man who benefits most from Lowrie's absence is Marco Scutaro, who now re-inherits the full-time starting role at shortstop for the Red Sox. Despite the promising Lowrie posing a constant threat to his position over the last two seasons, it is pretty intriguing to see just how well Scutaro has performed. His numbers over the previous three seasons have been excellent for a shortstop.

Scutaro

PA

R*

HR*

RBI*

SB*

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

2009-2011

1820

83

10

56

8

.284

.356

.404

.273

* Stats listed as per 600 PA

The numbers indicate a player who is a decent, unspectacular fantasy option at shortstop. In comparison, Yunel Escobar has hit a similar .282 over the last three seasons with almost identical per-600 PA counting stats and is being drafted significantly higher than Scutaro according to the latest MockDraftCentral ADP report. Scutaro has missed only 33 games to injury since 2003, so he is not much of a risk to lose playing time to either competitors or the DL.

Scutaro's lack of home runs and steals make him limit his appeal, but “Super Deep” league players can get $10 to $12 in value from Scutaro in 2012, and he should be on the border for AL-only leagues as well. That is not to say that this is great, only that Scutaro's lack of name value should not preclude you from considering him.

Rafael Furcal | St. Louis Cardinals
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers)
: NO
Deep (90 keepers)
: NO
NL-only (60 keepers)
: NO
Super Deep (200 keepers)
: NO

Furcal has re-signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in the wake of the Albert Pujols defection, locking in a starting job with the Cards at shortstop. Over the last three seasons, Furcal has hit .269/.335/.393 with 17 steals per 600 PA, which would be mediocre numbers indicative of a league-average shortstop (.263/.317/.380 with 14 steals per 600 PA in 2011), not one who is a tremendous fantasy asset. Add on the fact that Furcal has not been able to rack up 600 PA more than once since 2008, and you have the makings of a completely uninteresting player for fantasy owners. Furcal missed 69 games last season with various injuries and did not look good all year. PECOTA did not project him to hit any better than his three-year average before the season started, so fantasy owners should avoid his name on their keeper lists.

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

Related Content:  Marco Scutaro,  The Who,  Jed Lowrie

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