As mentioned in yesterday's debut article, the Value Picks crew has transformed into The Keeper Reaper crew for the next two months, though we will be remaining in our classic weekly beats as seen on VP all season. Remember, here are the definitions for the different categories, as set out by BP Fantasy Editor Derek Carty.
Shallow: 10-team mixed leagues with 3 keepers (30 total keepers)
Medium: 12-team mixed leagues with 5 keepers (60 total keepers)
Deep: 15-team mixed leagues with 6 keepers (90 total keepers)
AL/NL-only 12-team with 5 keepers (60 total keepers from one league)
The Keeper Reaper colleague Rob McQuown used lastplayerpicked.com's Roto Price Guide in his piece yesterday, and this article will be following suit by using the same auction prices set out there. Let us take a look at some names of interest for keeper leagues in 2012.
This year, Napoli shattered all hitting expectations, batting .320/.414/.631 with 30 home runs in only 432 plate appearances. He will still be a catcher for next season, having played the majority of his games behind the plate, so he should maintain his positional advantage as well. But part of the 2011 success lies in his .344 BABIP that came seemingly out of nowhere. Part of that could have been the Rangers' park (StatCorner has the Rangers' park as inflating every type of hit for right-handed batters), except that Napoli actually hit better on balls in play on the road (.351) than at home (.336) this season. His BABIP was inflated compared to his career average against both righties and lefties as well. All of these signs point to a classic case of a fluky performance that should be on the way to regression.
One major difference related to his batting average, however, was his improved contact. Prior to this season, Napoli had been striking out at about a 25 percent clip pretty consistently through much of his career. This season, however, he was able to tone that down to 19.6 percent, in part because of a drastic increase in contact on pitches thrown outside the zone. In 2010, Napoli made contact on just 50 percent of those pitches; in 2011, that number went up to 65 percent. This change gives us reason to suspect that Napoli may maintain a level higher than his career .264 batting average.
In all other categories, he remains the same player: an absolute masher who is held back only by playing time. Even in a monster season like this one, playing time held him to being just the 25th best player in shallow leagues at a value of $24. The new change in contact along with what will likely be a bump in playing time following a strong season pushes him up to a borderline shallow keeper candidate despite the necessary regression. At the sort of prices he was likely picked up for in auction leagues prior to 2011, he should be a slam-dunk keeper.
In 2010, Rickie Weeks hit .269/.366/.464 with 29 home runs and 112 runs scored. That year he was valued at $23, putting him 29th in baseball in medium-depth mixed leagues. This year, Weeks hit a remarkably similar .269/.350/.468, and were it not for an ankle sprain that kept him out for more than a month, he was on pace to hit 29 home runs and score 112 runs again this season. In other words, Weeks's last two seasons have culminated in glaringly similar and strong fantasy performances, with only playing time to blame for his problems. Yes, Weeks has a significant injury history (coming into the season, CHIPPER rated him as a significant risk to miss 30 or more days), but in the past, his problems were due to injury and uncertain performance. We have a sample of 1431 plate appearances in the past three years that says that he is an elite hitter at second base that only needs health to go his way.
Kendrick was valued at $16 this season. A comparison of his stat lines between 2010 and 2011 shows that the major differences between those two years were primarily an eight-home run bump in power production and an increase in runs scored. The runs scored are neither anomalous nor particularly exciting; Kendrick scored runs at a rate (38 percent) a bit higher than his career mark (35 percent), but the Angels have an offense that is clearly in decline with the exception of a few young parts. Even with a healthy bounce back from players like Vernon Wells, next year's Angels lineup is not likely to produce numerous runs and should cut into Kendrick's scoring. As for his home runs, it is entirely possible that he simply ran into a few extra pitches this season. His 16.5 percent HR/FB rate looks very out of place next to his career 8.8 percent mark. With a batted ball profile that is heavy on ground balls (53 percent ground ball rate for his career), he will not have many opportunities to hit long balls in general. PECOTA projected Kendrick at a $7 value coming into this year, and with a steep regression in power, it would not be surprising to see him fall to somewhere near that $10 range again in 2012.
The BP Fantasy crew just named Espinosa as a major competitor in this year's “Best Rookie Hitter” category in its awards piece, so his name should be in line for some keeper attention. The good news is that his power numbers are legitimate and his steals picked up steam as the season progressed; eventually, Espinosa put up home run and stolen base numbers that met and exceeded PECOTA's expectations while matching the scouting profile he had coming into this season. He should benefit from improvement from players like Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, both of whom had disappointing offensive seasons and are in line for bounce back campaigns. The problem of his batting average remains very prevalent, however, as he struck out a lot (25.2 percent) and hit .232 despite a roughly league average BABIP of .297. Expect a bump in counting stats that should make him very close to keepable in deeper leagues.
Pennington was a late-season addition to the Value Picks column because he was streaking after a terrible start to the year. My thought was that he would regain his ability to steal bases, and he did at the end of the year as he picked up eight steals with no caught stealings over the final two months while hitting .265/.324/.404. If he puts up those numbers next season, he will once again look like the player he was in 2010, when he was valued at $16 in AL-only leagues. He should remain on your radar given his positional value, but he is still a borderline play.
Buck was on the outer skirts of mixed league selection after his great year in Toronto, but his 2011 season with the Marlins left much to be desired. His BABIP and, subsequently, his batting average should be on the rise in 2012, especially given his increased selectivity, and he should once again be good for almost 20 home runs. Unfortunately, there is not too much more to his production than that, and it is likely that he will fall in drafts after a very poor season, so let him come back to you on the cheap, if anything.