Reader requests are the best part about keeper columns, since they show me what the BP market is interested in hearing about and offer a nice cross-section of talent to look at. This week features all reader requests from last week, and you’re welcome to add more in the comments section below.
The second overall pick in the 2008 draft, Alvarez held out before signing his current deal, not surprising for a player BP 2010 called “the most highly touted hitter to come into the Pirates' organization since Barry Bonds.” Kevin Goldstein ranked him the top Pirates prospect, noting “Alvarez could be poised for a massive 2011.” That didn’t quite come true—a product of bad health and a stubbornness hinted at by his obstreperous holdout.
In between neck and quad issues and two stints in the minors, Alvarez ended 2011 well below the Mendoza Line, hitting .191/.272/.289 thanks to a 71.4 percent overall contact rate (81.5 percent on strikes) and a 55.2 percent groundball rate. He murdered fastballs but flailed at everything else, though this wasn’t just a function of major-league pitching. He hit only .246/.365/.423 in his time in the minors, a far cry from his .278/.372/.516 career line there. Though his .272 major league BABIP points toward some bad luck, it’s telling that the Pirates gave a punchless Josh Harrison more time than Alvarez down the stretch.
A player as talented as Alvarez can’t be this bad, but it’s hard to recommend someone who alienated his organization by refusing to play winter ball to work on his swing and seems to be stuck in a swing-first, ask-questions-later rut, resulting in a major league strikeout rate over thirty percent in the past two seasons. His talent is too big to cut bait on in the deepest of leagues, but you should be able to pick him up in shallower leagues for a discount and hope for a rebound.
Like Mark Twain, reports of Paul Konerko’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Dodgers and Reds gave up on the first-round pick early in his career, and BP has continually forecasted his collapse. BP 2005 said, “His value won’t get any higher.” BP 2007 noted his Tino Martinez comp pointed to a decline after age 31. BP 2010 said he “isn’t going to get any better as he ages.” Konerko has continually defied these low expectations, even if his 2.9 WARP in 2011 was a dropoff from last year’s career-best 4.8 WARP. Still, a .300/.388/.517 season with 31 homers and 109 RBI wasn’t too shabby, even if it tickled his 90th PECOTA projection. Lady Luck had a hand in it, as his .304 BABIP was above his .286 career average and the .280 BABIP he’d put up over the four previous seasons. His 16.4 percent HR/FB, on the other hand, is consistent with both his 16.8 percent career mark and his rates over the past four years.
The concern with Konerko, as with any aging slugger, is twofold: injury and sudden collapse. CHIPPER projected moderate caution for Konerko this season, hardly surprising for a player who’s missed a game here or there in his career but has only been on the DL once. His skills seem solid, however, despite this season’s slight spike in contact rate on strikes (90.7 percent versus a career 89.1 percent) and jump in walk rate (12.1 percent against a career 9.9 percent). Age and regression suggest that Konerko may have a worse season in 2012, dropping him from this season’s top-tier ranks, but that’s not enough to cut a guy who’s made a career of defying expectations.
In fantasy, Pena is a lot like a good, peaty Islay single-malt scotch: it takes patience to appreciate this exotic variety, and he’s definitely not for everyone. In standard roto, Pena earned $9 this season, $3 in 2010, and $14 in 2009, his power production deflated by a batting average of .216 over that span. If you switch batting average to OBP and home runs to SLG for a saber league, those values jump to $12 this season and $19 in 2009 (he still earned just $3 in 2010 saber leagues, due to a career-low .407 SLG). And, as Pena’s owners this year know, using him takes plenty of patience, since he started out the season with a homerless .159/.289/.175 April, in part due to thumb problems, before rebounding to hit .235/.367/.505 the rest of the way.
As the now-tired saying goes, Pena is what he is. He’s going to strike out in over a quarter of his plate appearances (he exceeded his career 26.4 K% in each of the last four seasons) and walk about 15 percent of the time (15.9 BB% since 2007). The defensive shift teams typically employ against him has helped suppress his BABIP to .246 over the past three seasons (.267 this year), and Pena has said he won’t change his swing because of the shift. He’s also getting worse against lefties, hitting 122 points lower (298 points of OPS) against them this season. About the only thing that may change about Pena next season is his home park, where he hit 19 of his 28 home runs this season, making him a toss-up in NL-only leagues. As with Laphroaig, don’t fiddle around with Pena if you don’t know what you’re getting into, and while his specialized skills are more valuable for those in saber leagues, his power is worth something to those who can appreciate it for what it is.
As someone who follows the Diamondbacks, I like Tatman, not for all that ink but for his scrappy play and versatility—the same traits that have endeared him to manager Kirk Gibson. I’ve never believed, however, that he’s the overlooked, underappreciated fantasy stud that had owners drooling over his .284/.404/.537 line on May 15 that came with 7 home runs in 114 plate appearances. Sure enough, over his next 441 plate appearances, he hit just .240/.324/.401 with only 12 more longballs. Nonetheless, he swiped 19 bags, qualified at second and third base in many leagues, and earned his owners $19—a tidy sum for a player drafted 260th overall in ESPN leagues.
Roberts did all this by finding the patience and contact skills he’d exhibited in his 2009 breakout, returning to an 11.9 walk rate and 17.7 strikeout rate while also stinging the ball at a 24.3 percent line drive rate. His 12.1 percent HR/FB rate was a touch above average while his .275 BABIP and line drive rate suggest he hit a lot of ‘at-em’ balls. PECOTA had him pegged correctly in 2011 in all areas but power and steals, with a .258/.338/.402 50th percentile projection that’s nearly spot-on with Roberts’s line after May 15. All of this points to a power spike that’s unlikely to be repeated, particularly from a 31-year-old with this much time in baseball, although Gibson’s aggressive attitude could lead to a similar steal total next season.
Roberts’s fantasy value in 2012 may depend most on Arizona’s offseason moves, as GM Kevin Towers wants to bring back Aaron Hill, blocking Roberts’s most valuable fantasy position. That leaves third base, but Roberts’s overperformance in power makes it hard for me to expect him to equal this year’s numbers, but I’ve been wrong about him before. Either way, he’s sure to find a regular spot in Gibby’s lineup to start the year, providing some value for those in deep leagues, while medium leagues will like him if he retains that 2B designation.
I picked the Moose as my “Championship Creator” in 2011 on the strength of a .352/.380/.580 final month during which he hit four home runs and 12 RBI and because he’d been one of my late-season Value Picks. The latter choice was a bit easy, as Moustakas had been underperforming all season long, and he was in the midst of a 14-game hit streak. Moose has been at the top of most analysts’ prospect lists, including Kevin Goldstein, who named him the top Royal and seventh overall. Kevin’s writeup contained a bit of prophecy, however: “He's such a good hitter that he rarely works the count.”
Moose walked in just 6 percent of his plate appearances in 2011, consistent with his 6.9 walk rate in the minors. This subpar walk rate made Moose’s value more dependent on BABIP, which plummeted to .179 during his .160/.198/.223 July doldrums. That’s not to write off Moose’s struggles to luck alone, however, as rookies often struggle to make solid contact, which is reflected in Moustakas’s 14.3 percent line drive rate that month—a rate that rose to a sizzling 27.3 percent in September. That tells me that Moose may have begun adjusting to big league pitching and could continue his gains in 2012, albeit with the usual cautions about low walk rates, which remained constant for him most of the season.
You can’t read a Moustakas writeup without a reference to his “plus-plus power” in the minors (.503 SLG with 84 homers and 117 doubles in 1910 plate appearances), something he only hinted at with his .564 SLG from mid-August until the end of the season. That potential alone makes him an easy pickup in deeper leagues, while those in the shallowest leagues must decide if they want to gamble on what could be an up-and-down sophomore season.