Happy Holidays (and Hollidays) from the Outfielder Keeper Reaper. Here's hoping you received all the five-category players you could dream of during this festive season!
Cameron Maybin has a career BABIP of .332 and checked in at .331 in 2011, suggesting his improvement in batting average might be sustainable. The real question for fantasy owners is whether the doubling in stolen-base rate he evinced is his true level of ability. Hitting in the .260s with 40 steals makes for a decent keeper candidate in “Deep” leagues, and he's young enough that his long-expected power should improve. Petco has crippled his stats, though it usually doesn't treat right-handed batters nearly as harshly as the 806-vs-618 OPS split Maybin produced in 2011. So, despite the fact that Maybin isn't even a top-90 pick in mock drafts this year and the chance that his stolen bases could taper off somewhat in 2012, his youth makes him a reasonable keeper in “Deep” leagues, and though San Diego has said they want to keep him, the possibility of a trade away from his hostile home park adds yet another form of potential upside to his value.
The early favorite for “Rob McQuown's Fantasy Sleeper for 2012”, the age 23-25 stats for some current center fielders are shown in the (sortable) table below. For those who might be wondering, ex-centerfielder Torii Hunter posted a .249 TAv in that age range, hitting .264/.310/.431 in 1383 PA (41 HR and 23 SB).
A lot of people seem to focus on what Jones has failed to do so far in his young career (take walks, stay healthy). And he's not likely to get confused with Matt Kemp or Andrew McCutchen or Grady Sizemore. But for this age range, he's shown a higher slugging percentage than all but Sizemore and Kemp and a batting average (slightly) higher than either. And all of this has been accomplished in a three-year span during which he's had 16 entries on his “Injury History” chart (available on his player card page), including a 60-day DL stint in 2009. It's always risky business to predict a year of health from a player who has shown frequent injuries, but Jones plays in a friendly ballpark and has shown his value even when getting dinged up. He's a bargain at his ADP of 75 and should seriously be considered for a “Medium”-depth league keeper slot in 2012, especially if he can be kept beyond the one year after he breaks out in 2012.
Torii Hunter | Los Angeles Angels (ADP 158)
Super Deep: NO
It's often with a tinge of regret that fantasy owners give up on an old warhorse. Torii Hunter has carried trusting owners to victories for years but is getting long in the tooth. He's collected 21 or more home runs in 10 of the past 11 seasons, has stolen 18 or more bases six times, and has hit .261 or better in 11 of the past 12 seasons with a composite average of .275 in those dozen years. He contributes with the glove, is highly paid, and is considered a positive influence in the clubhouse, so he's not likely to lose playing time unless his bat goes ice cold, even with superstar-to-be Mike Trout chomping at the bit. Add to this the expected boost to the team’s run scoring and the natural desire to do well in the final year of a contract, and he doesn't sound half-bad.
So, why not keep him in a “Super Deep” league? First, Angel Stadium of Anaheim (speak up if you knew this is what their park was called these days and don't live in SoCal… crickets?) plays as a pitcher's park, and the bar is automatically higher for batters in such parks. Then we need to realize that Hunter will be 36 this year. This is an age where—before the popularization of PEDs—ballplayers very infrequently had seasons which were both high-caliber and high-PA. There have been 48 seasons since 1969 where a 36-year-old batter has posted a .260-plus TAv and logged 600-plus plate appearances. And while a few of the members of this list could be considered comparably-skilled batters to Torii Hunter (Jose Cruz, perhaps Dewey and Dwight Evans—though both walked a lot more frequently—Andres Galarraga, Raul Ibanez), the top of the list is dominated by players with Hall-of-Fame caliber hitting skills and/or strong suspicions of illegal drug usage (Bonds, Manny, Edgar Martinez, Dave Winfield, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Paul Molitor are the top seven names on the list). Only 15 players managed both eight home runs and eight stolen bases, and with Torii stealing just 14 over the past two seasons combined, he's a poor bet to become number 16.
Hunter finished 2011 strong, going .324/.396/.537 in August and September. While many would point to this as a positive sign (this author's Strat-O-Matic team is happy, at least—with 30 teams in the league, he's very playable), he's now in an environment where the team has to win now and has many extra options available. The reason his strong finish wasn't widely noticed is that he was hitting just .232/.307/.378 through the end of July. If he's not feeling the desperation right from the get-go in 2012, there's the possibility that he could end up losing playing time. A player who rates to hit around 20 homers with contributions in almost no other category may be a “BORDERLINE” keeper on some teams, but when he's on the way down and the team is in a situation where they are likely to be impatient, it's better to take a risk on someone younger with similar expected returns and more upside.
What you see is what you get with Josh Willingham. He's hit .264/.356/.470 in his career against right-handed pitching. He's hit .254/.372/.489 in his career against left-handed pitching. He's always been stuck in pitcher's parks, though when he connects, the ball is likely to exit regardless. He's been slightly injury-prone but has recovered from the knee surgery he had in 2011 to the extent that the Twins are expected to use him in left field. The Twins offense should improve somewhat in 2012, though Morneau's status will determine if it's a large improvement or just a “Joe Mauer is healthy again” bump. If Morneau is producing, “Hammer” (Willingham) could post some nice run and RBI totals batting between the lefties.