Tough keeper decisions can come down to a number of concerns. Was the off-year due to aging, bad luck, or skill erosion? Can a player recover from injury? Will he continue to start or shift into a platoon? Is this young hitter for real? Sometimes, a more important question to ask is, “How will other owners assess his 2012 value?” Even when a player is expected to rebound, it might be wiser to cut him loose and rely on the short-sightedness of other owners to deflate his draft day price. Any gap between real and perceived value is worth exploiting, and I’ll look at all of those questions in this week’s column, headed by one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of 2011.
As always, please leave suggestions for other players you’d like to read about in the comments section.
Fewer players caused more fantasy frustration than Dunn this season, who celebrated his new four-year White Sox contract by hitting an anemic .159/.292/.277 with 11 home runs—easily the lowest mark of his career. Not only was it his first ever negative WARP or BWARP season, but he went from averaging around 3 WARP the past three seasons to -2.6 in 2011—a sharp reversal of fortunes. Even PECOTA could scarcely plumb the depths of his suckiness: his .219 TAv was well below his 10th PECOTA percentile TAv of .275 (which came from a projected .222/.338/.456 triple-slash line).
Looking at his underlying ratios, we see some trends but none that can entirely explain the complete cratering of a player with seven straight seasons at or near 40 home runs and 100 RBI. Always a Three True Outcomes force, Dunn averaged a 26.5 percent strikeout rate and a 17.1 percent walk rate from 2002 through 2009, with HR/FB rates well above 20 percent. In 2010, he declined to 30.7 percent strikeouts and 11.9 percent walks, although his HR/FB was still a well above average 21.3 percent. This season, he recovered some patience, but his 15.1 BB% was still subpar, and his K% continued to slide to 35.7. His 9.6 percent HR/FB was likely bad luck (at least in part) if his 20 percent line drive rate is to be taken as a measure of good contact. At age 31, Dunn could see some skill slippage, but his HR/FB rate and his .240 BABIP (.292 career average) point towards a decent bounceback next season.
Combined with that healthy dose of bad luck and a dollop of skill slippage, Dunn had to adjust to a new league, team, and a non-fielding role. Many hitters suffer as a designated hitter, when they spend most of the game on the bench. Despite his reputation for defensive indifference, Dunn likely had trouble making that adjustment too. Next year looks much brighter for Dunn, making him a good keeper option in deeper leagues, but owners in shallower leagues can cut him loose and look for a draft day discount.
The Braves’ first baseman had a fine rookie season, especially by PECOTA’s standards. His .282/.346/.448 slash line with 21 home runs represents a .280 TAv—just above his 80th percentile projection. While PECOTA tends to be a bit conservative on younger players, Freeman’s performance was nonetheless solid; he earned nearly $20 in NL-only leagues and $14 in deep leagues, and Michael Jong named Freeman his Rookie Hitter of the Year in our End of Season Awards. Freeman’s 8.4 percent BB% was an improvement over his minor-league rate of 7.6 percent, although his 22.4 percent K% represented a sharp rise from the 14.8 percent he logged on the farm. Even his .339 BABIP last season isn’t surprising from a guy who had a .331 BABIP in the minors. This is not a picture of a 22-year-old overwhelmed by his first full year in the bigs, and he should continue to improve.
Still, Freeman’s no multi-category fantasy stud, projected to deliver batting average more than power numbers. There’s much to be said for consistency, however, and Freeman should be someone the Braves write into the middle of their batting order for years to come, and playing time has value in fantasy. Just don’t expect him to carry your team.
Davis had a disappointing sophomore season, playing in only 36 games before ankle problems—undoubtedly more severe than the widely reported bone bruise—ended his season, though not without teasing his owners with a potential return. Recently, the Mets revealed that Davis would avoid microfracture surgery and should be ready for Spring Training. What might this mean for his fantasy owners?
Davis had a great rookie debut, though BP2011 wrote that he had beaten his 90th PECOTA percentile, seemingly unaffected by hitting at Citi Field or facing lefties. His 2010 platoon splits (.295/.362/.443 vs. LHP, .254/.348/.439 vs. RHP) were better than in the minors, where he never had an OPS platoon differential less than 251 points. Davis spent only a little more than two seasons in the minors, so he still could be refining his approach against same-side pitching. A more likely explanation, however, is small samples: those 2010 numbers were based on 79 plate appearances against southpaws, while in 50 plate appearances against lefties in 2011, he hit .163/.260/.233 (.372/.444/.698 against righties).
2011 also appears to be bolstered by both BABIP (.344 vs. a .325 career average) and HR/FB ratios (17.1 percent in 2011 vs. 12.0 percent in 2010), which could point towards lower numbers in 2012. This would come largely in batting average, although Davis did tweak his strikeout rate from 23.0 percent in 2010 to 20.8 percent in 2011. While he’s a young hitter with a decent future (BP2011 projects him as “the player people wanted Adam LaRoche to be”), it’s hard to see him maintaining his .302/.383/.543 in 2011. Moving in Citi Field’s fences should boost his power, though that shift appears to be aimed at helping the Mets’ right-handed hitters more than Davis. Regardless, his potential makes him an easy keeper choice in deep leagues, but small samples, modest ceiling, and injury recovery all rule against holding onto him in shallow leagues.
One of my first Value Picks successes, Sanchez had a fine rookie season for the 2010 Marlins, registering a .273/.341/.448 triple-slash line that included 19 homers and 85 RBI in 643 plate appearances—good enough for fourth place in Rookie of the Year voting. He looked like he was building on that start in the first half of 2011, hitting .293/.374/.472 with 13 homers and 50 RBI in just 394 plate appearances. Then he trailed off in the second half, hitting .225/.320/.359 with 6 home runs and 28 RBI in 267 plate appearances.
Much of the blame for that collapse lies at the feet of Sanchez’s .189/.253/.267 August, perhaps a product of the hamstring injury he suffered at the end of July. Many of his underlying ratios improved or remained stable this season, like his K% falling from 15.7 to 14.7, his BB% rising from 8.9 to 11.2, or his line drive rate lifting from 17.1 to 20.0 percent. Even his 8.9 percent HR/FB ratio climbed from 8.7 percent in 2010. The one indicator that didn’t improve in was his BABIP, which fell from .299 to .287.
So we should expect modest improvement from Sanchez in 2012, although he’s never going to be top-notch (BP2011 damns him with faint praise by saying he’s “as fine an organizational player made good as you might like to find”). On a different team, he might ride the pine against righties, against whom he’s hit just .257/.331/.411 in his career. And if Logan Morrison hadn’t ticked off Marlins management, we might have seen Sanchez, not LoMo, on the trade market this offseason, to shift Morrison to first base. Instead, in the absence of minor-league pressure at the position, Sanchez should remain with the Marlins, giving him the playing time essential to fantasy relevance.
With the arrival of Adrian Gonzalez in Boston, Youk’s fantasy owners salivated at the Greek God of Walks bouncing back across the diamond again. Unfortunately, injuries cut back on his production for the second straight season, and his value topped out at $14.55 in AL-only leagues—not bad, but disappointing for a player expected to produce twice that amount. His .258/.373/.459 final line produced a .299 TAv that was just below his 40th PECOTA percentile, but that ugly batting average (a career low in the majors) sat just above his 10th.
Youk’s injuries, which ranged from hip and back issues to the sports hernia that eventually ended his season, most definitely created those poor results. His strikeouts rose somewhat from last season, but his 19.3 percent K% is in line with his 18.1 percent career average, and his 13.2 percent BB% is completely consistent with his three-year average. We’re not looking at diminished skills, and we’d expect a healthy Youk to rebound to 2009 levels. The injury history on Youkilis’s PECOTA card, however, looks like the medical record of an arthritic senior citizen, not a player who just turned 32. Whether it’s his awkward batting stance or some underlying physiological weakness, Youk has looked more and more brittle in recent years. That definitely drops him from the top rank of keepers into the 60-keeper medium-depth league, where his owners will have to decide whether another top-flight third-baseman season is worth the risk of another injury-riddled disappointment.