Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1
January 30, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
First, Third, and DH for 1/30/13
Adam Lind is fantasy’s version of Michael Corleone in Godfather Part III: just when you think he’s out, he pulls himself back in. Lind has bounced in and out of fantasy relevance—and the minor leagues—tantalizing with just enough (occasional) productivity to keep him in a big league uniform (well, that, and the misbegotten four-year, $18 million deal he signed after his breakout 2009 season). It would be easy to call BABIP his Joey Zasa, the nemesis who keeps him down, since Lind’s seasons since 2009 are paralleled by diminishing BABIP returns, but there’s more to the story than that:
Clearly, 2009 came courtesy of plenty of blessings from Lady Luck—or Lucky Luciano—with both BABIP and home run rates well above his career averages (.293 and 15 percent, respectively). He followed his breakout year with decreased patience and contact skills, as evidenced by his strikeout and walk rates in 2010. Both were sharp reversals of a trend that had helped him succeed in 2009, when he posted career lows in swing rate on balls outside the zone and overall swing rate. The former leapt almost 10 points from 2009 to 2010, and the latter jumped over six points. Like Zasa, Lind was forgetting his place and pressing to repeat his 2009 success, but the measly $2.44 Lind earned in 2010 couldn’t compare to his $21 season in 2009 (you can now see both numbers in PFM's new capability to provide values from earlier seasons).
In 2011, Lind improved slightly, upping his return to $7.55, though BABIP muffled those gains in a case of true bad luck and not just weak hitting; he set a career best line drive rate of 22 percent in 2010. Last season’s poor .255/.314/.414 triple-slash can be partly blamed on a bad back, since Lind’s secondary stats show him returning to more patient ways, and his batting eye improved on nearly every pitch from the previous two seasons. Chris Lund at THT suggests that weak mechanics could be the culprit behind both Lind’s mediocrity and his back injuries, which have kept him off the field for about a month apiece in 2011 and 2012.
While it’s heartening to see Lind improving his plate discipline, his recent injury history and inconsistency far outweigh any optimism created by these statistical improvements. And no matter how well he did, whether in 2009 or 2011, Lind has never figured out southpaws, sporting a career deficit of 229 points against them; the platoon splits on his BP Player Card show that this hasn’t changed much over the past four seasons. He’s shown enough talent to merit a spot in “Super Deep” leagues, and he could be a good bargain buy on draft day, but there’s little in his recent performance for most owners to use a keeper spot on.
Plouffe’s owners have to wonder if they’re seeing a Lind-like breakout from Plouffe, who has taken a long time to get to the big leagues. The Twins drafted Plouffe out of high school in the first round of the 2004 draft, but he was slow to advance, taking three years to reach Double-A and then spending parts of five seasons at Triple-A before his promotion in 2012. Past editions of the BP annual have called him a “busted pick,” “the next Dick Schofield,” and twice noted that his name sounds, appropriately enough, like a fallen souffle. At best, he was expected to catch on as a utility infielder.
The busted signing that was Tsuyoki Nishioka opened the door for Plouffe’s extended major league look in 2011, and while the souffle didn’t fall, it wasn’t terribly tasty either. In 320 plate appearances, Plouffe hit .238/.305/.392, the one saving grace being his .154 ISO. That at least established he knew which end of the bat to hold and what to do with a mistake pitch. So when Danny Valencia and Sean Burroughs were turning the hot corner into a cold pile of meh, the Twins shifted Plouffe from right field to third base.
From May 10, Plouffe’s first game as their primary third baseman, until he was sidelined with a thumb injury on July 20, he hit .282/.336/.583 in 235 plate appearances. At one point between May 16 and June 15, he hammered 13 home runs in 22 games, including a stretch in which he hit at least one long-ball in six of seven straight games. He also offered fantasy owners positional flexibility, eventually starting at every infield position and both outfield corners.
After he returned from that thumb injury, however, Plouffe wasn’t nearly as effective, hitting just .196/.254/.344 in his final 177 plate appearances of the season. With such relatively small samples on both sides of the split, it’s hard to know whether this decline was due to improved scouting or lingering problems from Plouffe’s thumb. Neither his .244 BABIP nor his 17 percent HR/FB reflect huge helpings of luck, though, so it’s a good bet that he can bring some modest power from the hot corner next season. Plouffe doesn’t offer a whole lot more, since his 44 percent fly ball rate and 20 percent strikeout rate will suppress his batting average, and he only swiped one bag in four attempts last season.
A good power asset at third is valuable, though, and Plouffe’s hot streak could make him overvalued on draft day—a good reason to keep him in the deepest of leagues. But his short stretch of success amid such a long stretch of mediocrity (he hit just .257/.320/.405 in those nine minor league seasons) spells “hands off” in most other leagues.
No transaction gave a stronger indication of the tectonic roster shifts of the Dodgers and Red Sox than the mega-deal in which Boston unloaded the toxic assets of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett at the cost of losing A-Gon too. Los Angeles, on the other hand, looked like the worst kind of nouveau riche ownership, buying up every available asset on the market to bolster their team’s future. Those deals didn’t help them reach the postseason in 2012, but they are certainly poised to contend in 2013.
Fantasy owners are far more interested in the effects of the move on Gonzalez, who nearly fulfilled predictions that he’d hit 50 doubles off of Boston’s Green Monster by banging 47 of them in 2011 while also leading all of baseball in hits. 2012 wasn’t nearly as kind; A-Gon got off to a slow start, hitting just .283/.329/.416 with just six home runs in 371 plate appearances in the first half of the season. This might have been due to lingering shoulder issues from 2011, since he was stronger in the second half, improving to hit .317/.361/.517 with 12 homers in 313 plate appearances. His home run rate of 9.6 percent, his worst since his rookie season and well below his 16 percent career average, points to some strength issues related to that shoulder.
Shoulder issues aside, Gonzalez showed a sudden impatience last season, putting up a walk rate of just 6.1 percent, more than a 40 percent decrease from both last year’s 10.3 percent level and his career average of 10.6 percent. Aside from a slightly elevated swing rate, his overall plate approach didn’t seem to change much, and his strikeout rate remained right in line with his history. This would suggest that this is a correctable anomaly and not a sudden dropoff in his ability to see—or reach—pitches.
Of greatest concern to fantasy owners might be his shift from a hitter’s to a pitcher’s park, but A-Gon hit .312/.349/.455 in Chavez Ravine after the trade—an improvement from the career .212/.309/.376 line he had before this season—though it did seem to sap his power stroke. I would expect his home park to keep diluting his power stats, making him somewhat less valuable than he was in a Red Sox uniform.
It’s worthwhile to note (again, on PFM’s new previous-season capability) that Gonzalez has cracked the top 50 in “Medium”-depth fantasy earnings just once in the past four seasons, and that was with Boston in 2011. Earning $25 next season wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Gonzalez, and this would put him in the Top 30 of fantasy earners. Given that he’s brought an average return of $20 over the past four seasons, that may be too big of a stretch for more conservative owners in the shallowest of leagues. But for the rest of us, he’s a good gamble to return to his more productive ways. It’s hard to let A-Gon be bygone.