Earlier this week, George Bissell broke down the general OBP landscape, and then yesterday Greg Wellemeyer walked you through some over- and under-achievers in the category. Today we’ll travel a little further down into the weeds, with a look at some down-ticket guys who saw significant value fluctuations between their standard and OBP-league production last year.
Robbie Grossman, OF, Minnesota Twins
Grossman seized on an opportunity for some extended playing time in Minnesota, and brought his carrying tool of strike-zone management to bear. The switch-hitter has always run a short-side split, hitting better against left-handed pitching, but that discrepency snowballed last year. His ISO is traditionally (and recently) much stronger against southpaws, but he also manages to get on base at a strong clip against righties, even while he struggles to drive the ball with nearly the same authority. His 16.5 percent walk rate against righties last year created opportunity for OBP leaguers in particular. He gained $3.60 in OBP leagues relative to standards, in a wee 332 part-time plate appearances. Eddie Rosario represents his biggest roadblock to increasing his at-bat allotment this year, and Rosario hasn't exactly set the world on fire though 800-plus big-league plate appearances to date, with a sub-.300 OBP and below-average .250 TAV (and negative defensive ratings in left last year, to boot). He’ll make for a solid OF4 target in most OBP leagues, especially in the kind of daily setting that better rewards part-time players.
Luis Valbuena, 3B, Free Agent
Valbuena’s lack of a home as of this writing is one of the bigger surprises of the offseason to me, as he’s proven to be a nice, versatile corner man over the past few seasons in Chicago and Houston. He didn’t earn a ton more in OBP leagues last year, but he still turned a nominally poor batting average into a category asset in OBP leagues and banked $11 in those formats. He’s run a walk rate of around 12 percent across more than 2,000 big-league at-bats over the past five years, and he’s produced reasonably enough against lefties that he can be deployed more consistently even in weekly leagues. He’s not an exciting name, but he provides the kind of roster depth in –only and OBP formats that makes him a very useful later-round bench target. Obviously the value her could fluctuate pretty significantly depending on where he ends up signing and what kind of role is involved. If he goes to a poor team with potential for everyday reps keeping an early-season seat warm for a rookie or something to that effect, he could sneak up target lists in a hurry.
Matt Joyce, OF, Oakland Athletics
If ever there were an organization and player destined to wind up together, it’s probably Oakland and Joyce. He’s always shown a keen eye and strong approach at the dish, but holy hell did he take it to the next level last year, posting the lowest O-Swing rate in baseball and leading the league in walk rate among players with 250 plate appearances. George got into him a bit the other day, but it bears emphasizing that Joyce’s patience tacked over five bucks of additional value onto his tab in OBP leagues, where he produced $14 of return value in NL-onlies. He is, of course, historically terrible against left-handers, but he’ll go from one organization in Pittsburgh to another one in Oakland that is nothing if not supportive of platoon deployments. Last year’s comeback after his tire fire of a season in 2015 should allay some concerns about his ever-creeping age, and his situation for the next two years is a favorable one for keeping him firmly in the mix of outfield depth in deeper OBP formats.
Danny Espinosa, SS/2B Los Angeles Angels
I’ve always had a soft spot for Espinosa in OBP leagues, and he didn’t disappoint last year with a full-time gig. Where his terrible .209 batting average gave back a huge chunk of the value his power created in standard leagues, his not-terrible .306 OBP allowed a bunch more of that value to play in on-base leagues. Espinosa has steadily rediscovered his early-career patience over the past couple seasons, posting his lowest swing rate since 2011 last year. Some caution on the gains is warranted, as he found himself in an inordinate number of good counts early in at-bats last year, but there does appear to be legitimate growth on the margins. The Angels literally ran Johnny Giavotella’s negative-1.5 WARP production out to second base for nearly 100 games last year, and there’s nobody within an Orange County rush hour drive’s distance of threatening Espinoza for everyday at-bats at the Keystone. Yes those at-bats will occur in a nominally worse ballpark and probably worse lineup for his counting stats than what he was surrounded with last year. But the impending both-sides eligibility up the middle makes Espinosa and his pop a likely popular target in deeper standard leagues even in spite of his poor batting average, and he’ll be that much more interesting in OBP formats.
Paulo Orlando, OF, Kansas City Royals
Orlando was a nice little player in AL-only leagues last year, earning almost $18 in standard formats with longterm utility during the season. But he gave back over four bucks of that value in OBP formats, where his strong .302 average tuned into a mediocre .329 OBP. He demonstrated some interesting year-to-year growth in maximizing his skillset last year, pounding the ball into the ground with quality exit velocity and working up the middle with greater efficiency. There’s certainly some cause for optimism that his insane BABIP last season was at least partially supported by the batted ball profile, though expecting a repeat performance on a .380 mark is asking a lot – particularly out of 32-year-old legs. Unfortunately, those are the kind of batted-ball outcomes a guy who walks less than three percent of the time needs in order to justify OBP league investment. The acquisition of Jorge Soler gums up the works a bit for Orlando’s playing time projections, and broadly there’s just too much risk here to bother investing a draft pick even in most AL-only OBP leagues.
Adonis Garcia, 3B, Atlanta Braves
Garcia managed to return $15 of standard NL-only value, and at $9 in mixed he still offered some replacement-level utility. But he walked just 4.3 percent of the time, and his NL-only value dipped down to $11 in OBP formats and turned him into mixed-league flotsam. His approach took steps in the wrong direction with extended playing time last year, as he took more strikes and chased more often as pitcher got more exploitative of his aggressiveness against secondaries. He’s ostensibly penciled in as Atlanta’s starter again at the hot corner next year, but he was terrible there with the glove, and given their place on the win curve he’s realistically just not someone that should or likely will stand in the way of the organization seeing what big-leaguer Rio Ruiz is made out of. This has all the trappings of a guy who early drafters will want to avoid, especially in OBP leagues, where the gamble just isn’t worth whatever pick you’re going to spend on him.
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