As long as I have played fantasy baseball, I have always felt it is not the stars that win leagues; it is the scrubs that become stars within a season. After all, who had Melky Cabrera earning more fantasy dollars than Joey Votto or Prince Fielder in standard 15 team 5×5 leagues in 2011? In previous seasons, Andres Torres was a big surprise in 2010, Ben Zobrist shocked many in 2009, and Ryan Ludwick did the same in 2008.
The baseball off-season is tough on fantasy baseball players because it seems to take forever. Unless you are one of the lucky ones that works on off-season publications and articles, the off-season can drag on for an eternity while you wait for the first draft guides to hit the shelves (or your favorite electronic device) in January. The only other way to pass the time in the off-season is via mock drafts, and thankfully, those are starting up in earnest these past few days.
I have done more mock drafts than I can remember over the past few seasons as I have worked on a variety of off-season fantasy publications and have found both couchmanagers.com and the more well-known mockdraftcentral.com to be very easy to use and, more importantly, friendly to most web filters in office-like places. MDC has the leg up because their standard Average Draft Position reports are freely available, or one can pony up a few dollars and get more robust reporting. Either way, I find these reports incredibly fascinating to follow throughout the off-season to see how different players are trending among draftees. After all, those drafting in November are either your hardcore fantasy player types unphased by amateur football, professional football, or the start of the college hoops season or are your published writers that are putting together mock drafts for their periodicals and/or websites.
A collection of bright minds I interact with daily on Twitter got together to run a mock draft the other day and did a 15-team, 5×5 draft, the full results of which can be found here. When I come across these types of results, the first thing that I do is comb through them in search of players I intend to take a closer look at to see what fantasy minds that I respect think about those same players. Of course, I am going to look at where favorites such as Edwin Encarnacion are going (20.08) and Ricky Nolasco (17.04), but one guy that I have been looking closely at lately almost went unpicked in this draft that took 450 players.
Wilson Betemit just turned 30 years old earlier this month, but I am guessing you thought he was at least three years older than that. Truth is, he made his first major league appearance in 2001 at age 19 and has been in the majors for part or most of every season since the end of 2003. For all of the hype that once surrounded him, he has never hit more than 18 home runs in a season, never driven in more than 53 runs, and has only hit above .270 twice in his career. Despite the overall unimpressive numbers he’s posted throughout his career, he has quietly done rather well for himself over the past two seasons in limited roles for Detroit and, most recently, Kansas City.
He is a switch-hitter in name only as he has had rather large splits throughout his career. Against right-handed pitching, he has a career slash line of .277/.348/.469 in 1477 plate appearances, but that line falls to .246/.299/.385 against left-handed pitching in 472 career plate appearances. He had his best fantasy season in 2010, in part because (out of nowhere) he hit .312/.398/.532 against lefties in 88 plate appearances after going 13 for his last 58 against them in his previous two seasons. That line, however, reverted back to a .236/.281/.326 line in the 96 plate appearances the Royals and Tigers threw at him as a reward for his outlier of a season in 2010. If we focus on what Betemit does well, we find some fantasy potential for him.
If we use the selective endpoints of the last two full seasons with a minimum of 250 plate appearances, Betemit ranks in the top 40 overall in OPS against right-handed pitching with an 869 mark. That figure is higher that notable names such as Alex Rodriguez, Mike Stanton, Mike Napoli, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Dustin Pedroia. If you want left-handed names he bests, you can include Carlos Pena, Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Alex Avila, Chipper Jones, and Carlos Beltran, among others. That figure includes 54 extra base hits and 69 runs driven in over 490 plate appearances—nice numbers if you were looking at them across a single season, especially when you add in a .298/.367/.501 slash line.
He is a free agent this off-season, so if he could land on a team that does a better job of recognizing his shortcomings against left-handed pitching and platoons him with a right-handed hitter, Betemit would have a better chance of holding his improving batting average and TAv from recent seasons. In 2010, he hit .297 with a .313 TAv, and last season, he hit .285 with a .284 TAv between Kansas City and Detroit. In looking at his batted ball outcomes, Betemit is developing into more of a flyball hitter as his flyball rate has moved up each of the past three seasons from 33 percent to 38 percent to 45 percent this past year. His walk and strikeout rates are pretty much in line with where he has been in the past, but his batting average on balls in play sticks out. He had a .361 BABIP in 2010 with just a 15 percent line drive rate and a .391 rate this season with a 19 percent line drive rate. He has had somewhat similar fortune in the past, as he had a .376 BABIP in 2005 with Atlanta and was up at .344 with the Yankees in 2008. The expected drop-off for that (and, thus, his batting average) could be controlled by a manager that limits his plate appearances against left-handed pitching.
Betemit only has third base eligibility because the Royals were not going to give him at-bats at first at the expense of sitting Eric Hosmer, but fantasy players will take it. Betemit could get in-season positional flexibility by signing with a team that has a murky first base situation and thus qualifying at both corner positions. He has only seen more than 350 plate appearances in a season twice in his career, but signing with an American League team could help that, as it would open up the DH role for him to fill. Last season, eight different left-handed batters with known splits issues saw at least 400 plate appearances, and ten saw at least 350 plate appearances. One of them was David Murphy, who hit .275/.328/.401 on the season with 11 home runs while driving in 46 runs. Betemit should easily best that slugging percentage next year while matching the rest of that line from a thin third base position.
He was taken 443rd overall in the aforementioned mock draft, and he does not even appear on the ADP reports for 5×5 mixed leagues with 38 drafts run so far in November. There have only been four AL-only mock drafts run so far, and Betemit’s ADP shows up at 164, making him the 10th third baseman taken—ahead of only Andy LaRoche, Jack Hannahan, and Scott Sizemore. It is early, and it is a small sample size, but I believe there is value to be found here if he is starting off the drafting season this low on the ADP reports.