BP Fantasy kicks back into gear today as the football season begins to wane and attentions begin to turn back toward baseball. For the next few weeks, the BP Fantasy team will spend time examining the keeper league value of various players that may be on the fringe of keepability in certain leagues. We know that every keeper league is different, so while we’ll talk in broad strokes, we’re happy to answer questions specific to your league or cover a particular player if you ask nicely 🙂 The analysis, of course, will be focused on each player’s 2013 prospects, so even if you’re not in a keeper league, this should still prove valuable to your draft preparations. We've got some exciting things in the works for the coming season, and I'm happy to be able to kick it off today. —Derek Carty, Fantasy Manager
The final stat line Wieters finished with last season would be considered a resounding success for most catchers, but Wieters isn't most catchers. He has been saddled with hefty expectations since entering professional baseball as a first-round pick and immediate blue chip prospect. In 2011 he surpassed 20 home runs for the first time in his career, and it appeared that may be the opening act to an even grander act last year. Instead, he duplicated his home run production, lost some average, but offset that by tallying more combined runs and RBI.
Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment—that's the real reason I gave him a “Fringe” endorsement as a Medium keeper instead of "No"—but there is reason to believe his best is yet to come. Wieters has established he can hit more than 20 home runs in a season, having done so in consecutive years. As an integral part of the Orioles lineup, Wieters found himself slotted fourth or fifth for the majority of his at-bats last year. His position in the lineup should lead to run and RBI totals that rank in or near the top five at the position annually.
Where Wieters can really step forward, however, is in batting average. Last year he posted a .249 average, 16 points below his career mark entering the year in spite of posting the best line drive rate of his career. Prior to 2011, the switch-hitting catcher had substantially more success against right-handed pitching. That changed in 2011, and he crushed southpaws while hitting just .235 against right-handed pitching. He continued to beat up on lefties last year and regained his pop against right-handed pitchers, but his batting averaged slipped further, dropping to .224. There wasn't a substantial difference in his batted ball data against each handed pitcher, and any gains he makes against right-handed pitching portend well to a big jump in batting average this year. Maybe Wieters will continue to tease, but he's only 26 years old, and it's not unfathomable that he'll kick it up a notch.
In the world of fantasy baseball, Molina is the anti-Wieters. His prolific defense overshadowed his steady offense and developing power for years. He reached double digits in home runs for the first time in 2011, smacking 14, and his line drive stroke helped him hit over .300 for the second time in his career. Last year, he further tapped into his power, ripping 22 home runs while hitting more line drives, leading to a career-best .315 average. Just for hoots, he stole 12 bases as well. Overall, our Player Forecast Manager ranked him as the 20th most valuable player in 12-team mixed leagues.
A handful of his line drives could turn into flies or groundballs, which would likely hurt his average, but most of his gains look sustainable. According to ESPN's home run tracker, only one of his 22 home runs qualified as lucky. His average true home run distance jumped from 386.7 feet in 2011 to 397.6 feet last year. In combination, it makes his power gains look real, for the most part. The reason Molina fails to get the “Yes” nod in Medium leagues is that catcher is a demanding position that carries inherent risks not associated with other positions.
Performing at a high level on baseball's biggest stage has a funny way of sticking in people's memories. Postseason heroics and a red-hot finish with the Giants aside, Scutaro is a 37-year-old middle infielder with middling home run power and stolen base speed. What Scutaro does very well is make contact. Setting the bar as low as 100 pitches seen, Scutaro led the majors in contact rate. When he's at his best, that contact is of the hard line drive variety. That said, expecting him to keep up his 23 percent line drive rate from last year is wishful thinking.
In the end, Scutaro should be able to hit a handful of home runs and add a handful of stolen bases. A batting average north of .280 isn't an outrageous expectation, and if he continues to slot second in the Giants order he could push 100 runs scored. Add his position versatility (he played in over 20 games at second base and shortstop and over 10 at third base), and he has value. That value isn't worth tossing back a younger, higher upside player in most league formats, though.
Owners that invested in Hill bouncing back last year were rewarded handsomely. Hill's production has oscillated wildly from year-to-year, but he has consistently hit for power in the last four years, topping 25 home runs in three of them. Last year, his power came with an unexpected .302 average, 14 stolen bases, and a gaudy 178 combined runs and RBI. That stellar play earned him a 25th ranking according to our PFM.
Hill struggled through most of 2011 but finished strong after a trade sent him from north of the border to the desert. The shocking part of his 2012 campaign was his ability to put everything together in one season. It's hard to imagine him carrying over his full robust stat line to this year, but the beauty of his play last year is that the bar has been set high to regress from. He can give back some of his batting average or a few home runs and stolen bases and remain one of the best fantasy players at the keystone. Hill falls a bit short of being a slam dunk keeper in medium settings given his inconsistent track record, but he does remain a possibility in those formats depending on the other options his owner has on the roster.