Lawrie had an excellent 2011 major-league debut (albeit one tempered by two separate hand injuries that cost him more than a month’s worth of games), posting a .293/.373/.580 line with nine homers and seven steals in 171 plate appearances. Fantasy owners gobbled him up in the early rounds of the 2012 draft—even in expert leagues—and Lawrie seemed to be paying them off over the first half of the season. Through the end of June, he was hitting .293/.341/.438 with eight longballs and 11 steals in 320 plate appearances.
Signs of trouble were already emerging, though, as Lawrie’s 9.4 percent walk rate in 2011 had already been nearly cut in half to 5.3 percent, and his BABIP sat at .321. The latter was consistent with his elevated rates from the minors (where his BABIP averaged .341), but it was still high for the majors. Sure enough, Lawrie hit .244/.299/.355 the rest of the way, his BABIP falling back to a more expected .294 even as he regained some patience, walking 7.4 percent of the time. He again lost more than a month to an injury—this time to an oblique strain—which bears some of the blame for his .224/.297/.336 line when he returned.
Other indicators for Lawrie were a mixed bag in 2012. He balanced his eroding patience with a contact rate that rose from 77.9 percent in 2011 to 83.6 in 2012. His 9 percent HR/FB rate—more than cut in half from his 17 percent rate in 2011—shows that few of his 11 home runs were lucky. That, combined with his 30 percent flyball rate, doesn’t indicate a power breakout is on the horizon. And, as Derek Carty observed in December, his new manager could diminish his steals.
As always with highly touted top prospects, it’s easy to forget that Lawrie is only 22, so there’s plenty of time for development down the road, but that youth also makes his injury history that much more disturbing; health is a skill that Lawrie still needs to demonstrate at the big-league level. After ranking 195th overall in mixed leagues and 86th in AL-only leagues in 2012, Lawrie could end up being undervalued on draft day, but he’s unlikely to deliver top-notch value in 2013. His long-term outlook, however, remains good enough to make him a solid keeper in most leagues; owners in the shallowest of leagues or who want to win now are the only ones who should kick him back into the player pool.
It’s tempting to read Rizzo’s two divergent major league seasons as a product of two different hitting environments. In 2011, he only mustered a .141/.281/.242 overall line as a Padre in Petco Park, but as a Cub in Wrigley’s bandbox, he slugged .285/.342/.463 in 2012. A closer look, however, shows an emerging hitter, not one at the mercy of different ballparks.
In 2011, Rizzo had an OPS 289 points higher in PETCO than on the road, thanks largely to the .207 points of SLG he gained there. And in Wrigley last season, Rizzo’s OPS was 35 points lower than on the road, and his SLG was down 26 points. This difference says as much about small samples (he had only 153 plate appearances in 2011) and the unreliability of home-road splits as it does about easy answers to Rizzo’s improvement, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Rizzo did more than just shift to a new park in 2012; he grew as a hitter.
Rizzo was always patient in the minors, where he averaged a 9.5 percent walk rate, and that actually improved in San Diego in 2011, climbing to an excellent 13.7 percent. Because it was paired with a 30 percent whiff rate, however—a huge departure from his 20 percent average in the minors—it’s a better indicator that Rizzo was not so much patient as lost at the plate. With Chicago in 2012, he gave up some of that patience, walking at a 7.3 percent clip, but he made huge strides in strikeouts, dropping his whiff rate to 17 percent and making better contact on balls and strikes while swinging a bit more often on both.
His .310 BABIP likely boosted Rizzo’s overall performance a bit, and his slightly elevated 18 percent HR/FB and weak 30 percent fly-ball rate say that you shouldn’t expect his .178 ISO to suddenly jump higher in 2013. Though owners had to be disappointed at his August swoon, when he hit .252/.300/.342, Rizzo rebounded with a .281/.359/.474 September that should erase any immediate concerns about his approach. His great contact skills and batting eye will keep his batting average strong, but that diminished power will dilute his short-term value in shallower leagues. Just as with Lawrie, he’s young (just 23), so owners with long-term goals should wait for that power to come around.
I was bearish on Ike Davis in 2012 for a variety of reasons, from his apparent bout with Valley Fever to his moderate skill set. PECOTA, too, projected him as the 13th ranked first baseman (excluding multi-position qualifiers) and expected Davis to bring $6 in mixed leagues and $15 in NL-only leagues. He ended up slightly exceeding both of our expectations, ranking sixth overall among first basemen (out of just seven who earned more than $5) while earning $6.82 in mixed leagues and $17.09 in NL-only leagues.
If not for a resurgent second half, however, Davis would never have met those expectations, let alone exceeded them. On June 5, Davis was at the nadir of his season, hitting .160/.226/.274, and I advised in my Value Picks column a few days later that “I wouldn’t let Davis anywhere near my fantasy team until he or the team doctors figure out what’s wrong.” Whatever was ailing Davis, it cleared up soon afterwards, and he hit .261/.341/.562 from the day that column was published until the end of the season, clubbing 27 of his 32 homers and 68 of his 90 RBI in those 378 plate appearances.
This doesn’t make Ike a fully recovered and fully valuable first baseman, however. His low batting average is partly a product of his elevated 24 percent strikeout rate and (partially) his career-low .246 BABIP in 2012. Lest you chalk the latter number up to his weak start to the season, it’s worth noting that his BABIP was only .264 during the hot streak referenced above. As a pull hitter who often faces an infield shift, Davis could be subject to the same BABIP drop that has plagued Mark Teixiera. And regardless of BABIP, he continues to be baffled by same-side pitching, posting an awful .174/.225/.335 line against southpaws last season.
Whether or not his batting average returns to stronger levels, Davis should continue to deliver power, though perhaps not quite as much as he did in 2012. His fly-ball rates have held steadily around 40 percent over the past three seasons—a good level for continued power—but his HR/FB rate spiked to 21 percent last season. In support of this, Hit Tracker rates 11 of his home runs last season as “just enough.” Until he remains healthy and productive over a full season, I don’t like Ike in shallower leagues, but he’s still going to be a good second-tier fantasy asset worth keeping in other leagues.
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