McCann had a down year in 2012 but still managed to reach 20 home runs for the fifth straight season. He retained his plate discipline but finished with an ugly .230 average. His BABIP was well below his career mark, yet his batted ball data fell right in line with his norms. This would seem to indicate he was unlucky last year and should rebound this year, but it isn't that cut and dry.
McCann played through a frayed labrum and cyst last year and received multiple cortisone shots to stay on the field. He underwent surgery on October 16 for which there is a four-to-six month recovery timetable. In late October, shortly after McCann's surgery, Braves general manager Frank Wren said he was hopeful he'd miss only the first few weeks of the season. Even if he is able to fulfill Wren's hopes, it's unclear how long he'll need to round into previous form or if he'll be able to return to his previous level of play at all. McCann's keeper worthiness varies greatly from team-to-team and is largely dependent on the number of health risks already being kept.
Desmond enjoyed a breakout season last year, finishing in the top 50 in player rankings and fifth at the shortstop position. He blended power (25 home runs) and speed (21 stolen bases) with a career-high .292 average, offering a bit of everything to his fantasy owners. He was very efficient in his base-stealing, getting caught just six times in 27 attempts (77.8 percent success rate). It's likely that he'll eclipse 20 stolen bases once again this year, but I'm less bullish on his home run and batting average output in 2013.
The 25 home runs he hit in 547 plate appearances last year were three more than he hit in his first 1,302 plate appearances in the majors. Desmond is approaching his peak power years, so some gains last year were to be expected, but the leap his HR/FB rate took looks fluky to me. I'd expect a few more of his flies to stay in the yard this year, and that will have a trickledown effect on his batting average if those fly balls find gloves.
In addition to the uptick in his HR/FB rate, Desmond also enjoyed a few of his groundballs turning into line drives last year. His 19.5 percent line drive rate was a career best, but line drive rate can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year, and a few line drives reverting back into worm-burners would have a negative impact on his average.
Further hurting Desmond's chances of retaining a batting average north of .290 are his plate discipline numbers. Desmond is a free-swinger. Amongst batters that saw at least 1,000 pitches last year, he ranked ninth in swing rate behind noted hackers Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young, and Pablo Sandoval. He doesn't have the pop that Hamilton has or the ability to barrel up balls like Sandoval does, so this approach is a dangerous and volatile one for him to take. All of his swinging came with a career-worst swinging strike rate and a career low contact rate, and if he doesn't reverse course, he'll probably finish 2013 with an average closer to the .270s than the .290s.
I've clearly stated that I expect regression for Desmond this year, but that doesn't mean I dislike him. He's a shortstop that can hit for power, steal bags, and, even with a drop in average, not be a total drag on the category. When compiling my shortstop ranks recently, I slotted Desmond seventh, so look for him to continue on as a top 10 option at the position.
Kipnis's 2012 season was a tale of two halves. Prior to the All-Star break he was the toast of the fantasy town, scoring 53 runs with 11 home runs, 49 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and a .277 average. Following the All-Star break he scored just 33 runs with three home runs, 27 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and a .233 average. He's not as good as his pre-break numbers suggest, nor as bad as his post-break numbers indicate. Because his struggles came at the end of the year, there may be a discount buying period on a talented young keystoner.
Kipnis is a patient hitter that packs some punch and doesn't often offer at many pitches out of the strike zone. He rarely pops out and rattles off line drives often. He had an ugly .215 average against southpaws last year, but his minor league track record suggests there is little to worry about. Perhaps more importantly, his walk, strikeout, and batted ball rates weren't out of line with what he posted against right-handed pitchers. Kipnis has enough thunder in his stick to reach the teens in home runs, and this go-round I expect him to do so with a higher average.
The biggest surprise in Kipnis's stat line last year was his 31 stolen bases. He's not a burner, but he's a smart base stealer that was successful 82 percent of the time last season. The volume of stolen bases was new to his game, but the efficiency wasn't. In 2011, between Triple-A and the majors, he stole 17 bases in 18 chances (94.4 percent stolen base success rate). New Indians manager Terry Francona isn't opposed to sending base runners, and that bodes well for Kipnis stealing over 25 bases again this season. Kipnis offers the total package and is a top five player at second base.