December 14, 2012
The Keeper Reaper
Outfielders for 12/14/12
Yoenis Cespedes | Oakland A’s
Cespedes, Oakland’s big free-agent splash of last offseason, debuted in the spring to a multitude of swirling questions. Would his Cuban League stats translate to the majors? Does his viral training video of him doing four-foot squat jumps substantiate his baseball abilities? Is he really the perfect combination of speed and power? Fairly early into the season it became clear that the answer to all of these questions was, indeed, yes. By the end of April, he was batting .250 and had already tallied five homers and four steals, proving himself a valuable fantasy asset.
After a DL stint that encompassed most of May, Cespedes caught fire in June and stayed hot for (mostly) the rest of the season. His age-26 rookie-year stat line ended up looking like this: 70 R, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 16 SB, and a .292 average—one potentially worthy of hardware in most years.
The comforting aspect of Cespedes’ numbers is that there are virtually no red flags hiding in the periphery. His biggest question mark coming into the year was his ability to make contact, and that proved not to be a major issue with his slightly above-average 19 percent strikeout rate. To anyone who got to watch him play, the ball truly does jump off his bat. His .328 BABIP is not alarmingly high for a player with his speed and batted ball profile, and he draws his fair share of walks.
The only thing, it seems, that can stop Cespedes is himself, with injuries limiting him to 130 games last year. Besides landing on the DL for 24 days with a strained hand, Cespedes was also limited at times by thigh, knee, thumb, and wrist ailments throughout the year. While none of these were major injuries, they also weren’t of the fluky variety either. All players pose injury risks, but Cespedes does appear especially prone to small tweaks and strains, which should be taken into account.
Having said that, Cespedes is still a physical specimen in his prime with a productive season under his belt. His injury risk and the Oakland environment prevent him from being a top-30 player, but his five-tool talent assuredly lands him somewhere in the 30-to-60 range.
With stars Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and newly healthy Victor Martinez headlining the Detroit lineup, it’s easy for a sneakily valuable guy like Austin Jackson to get overlooked. Nevertheless, Jackson played like a star in 2012, batting .300, scoring over 100 runs, and even developing his power game to throw 16 homers into the mix. Contrary to Cespedes’ innocuous stat line, though, Jackson’s numbers have more red flags than a competitive round of Shy Guy Says.
Coupling with his mildly suspicious uptick in homers is an even more mysterious drop in steals from 27 and 22 in previous years to just 12 swipes last year. Even worse, Jackson didn’t trade quantity for efficiency, instead getting thrown out nine times for an abysmal 57 percent success rate. Also, once again, Jackson tripped the BABIP alarms with a .371 mark, fifth in the majors. Despite all of these warnings, I remain optimistic about Jackson heading into next year.
First, scouts have been talking of Jackson’s potential to develop his power stroke since his minor league days. Next season he will turn 26 years old—an age often near a player’s power peak—making it not unreasonable to assume he can sustain last year’s improvements there. While the drop in steals is puzzling, it can be partially explained by a late-May abdomen injury and a minor ankle injury in September. Even without explanation, I would still expect Jackson’s stolen base numbers to revert back near his career norms rather than assume a loss of speed or instincts on the base paths at his age. Finally, those BABIP alarms may be fading into background noise; Jackson has routinely posted high BABIPs for three years now. His .371 mark isn’t even the highest of his career, dwarfed by a ridiculous .396 mark during his rookie season. As a result, I wouldn’t expect any major regression to his batting average.
Along with putting up average-or-above marks in runs, steals, and homers, Jackson has the potential to put up a gaudy run total this season by leading off the potent Tigers lineup. Also factoring in his relatively clean bill of health (one DL stint in three years), Jackson is a player I’m willing to rank aggressively and advise be kept in the majority of Medium-sized leagues.
Over the past two seasons, no one has hit more home runs than Granderson. In fact, his 84 bombs over the past two years are 10 more than the next closest batter. Despite his recent prolific output, there are signs pointing towards Granderson not remaining a top-30 player for next year. Here is a look at his first- and second-half splits from last year:
While Granderson still managed to hit a healthy dose of homers in both halves of 2012, his batting average and strikeout rate took serious turns for the worse in the second-half. There are several explanations for this: declining skill set, mechanical flaw from trying to pull the ball over that short porch, or simple random variation. Given how this is a trend dating back to the season prior, I’m more apt to believe there is more than just noise here.
Instead of a five-tool player, Granderson is devolving into a one-trick pony and a severe liability in batting average as well. The projected Yankees lineup for 2013 is looking a heck of a lot less scary than it did in years past, limiting his run and RBI potential. With his stellar health record, Granderson is still a nice player to own next year, but be wary of paying top dollar for what could end up as a slightly-glorified version of Adam Dunn.
Josh Reddick | Oakland A’s
Reddick had nothing short of a breakout year in his first full season, most notably by launching 32 homers over 156 games. He did not accomplish this feat particularly efficiently, putting around 50 percent of his batted balls in the air—one of the higher rates in the majors. This meant only 14 percent of his fly balls had to clear the fence to total those 32 home runs—a rate he is likely to maintain.
This fly-ball approach is generally not batting average-friendly, though his .242 average still managed to be palatable. There were concerns coming into the season that Reddick would need to be platooned, but his near-even platoon split (and stellar defense) put those concerns to rest. Batting third in Oakland’s lineup gives him ample run and RBI opportunities, and the fact that he can chip in low double-digit steals pushes his value into the top-90 players for next season.