Archive for ‘Outfield’

Friday: 04.12.2013

Adam Jones Can’t Outfield & Chew Gum at the Same Time

Evidence:

ajonesbubbledrop

Wednesday: 02.13.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 10 Days – Norichika Aoki

Only 10 days (technically 9, but that’s coming later tonight) until live game action…

I have to go with a new format for the rest of the countdown.

I know we are almost done, but unfortunately I don’t have enough time for the full essays right now. The reason is a very good one for me, though: work! I’ve been getting freelance work assignments that have combined with the SP Guide to take up my Countdown time and then some. Since I am trying to make writing a full-time thing, this is very much good news, but the Countdown is a bit of a casualty. Originally the Countdown was set up to keep the daily content flowing and also gave me a chance to hit on some hitters since most of my focus in on pitching.

I’ll finish out the Countdown, but the format will be a little different. I’m not necessarily going to follow my offensive players list for the final eight days (starting tomorrow). Some days I will. But my post of the day, whatever it is, will serve at the Countdown entry. When it does happen to be a Countdown player, it will be some stats about the guy and occasionally a GIF or video to go with them.  Essentially the posts will be closer to 400-500 words instead of 1500-2000. Just some nuggets on info on a player, strategy, or general baseball topic.

NORICHIKA AOKI

aoki

-Did you know that Aoki led baseball with 34 infield hits? His 34 were the third-most over the last three years. Top two? Ichiro, of course, with 36 in 2011 and 53 (!) in 2010.

-He hit just .653 on line drives. And yes, it’s only because the league hit .718 on them. If he had matched league average he’d have gained 10 points pushing his average up to .298 last year.

-Though his final year before coming to MLB saw him hit just four home runs, he hit 14 in 2010, 16 in 2009, 14 again in 2008, and 20 in 2007. He is a heavy groundball hitter (55 percent) and his 17 percent line drive rate is modest, but there may be some home run growth from his 10 in 2012. We are talking 2-3 more here, but every bit helps, especially when it’s add-on value. You’re drafting Aoki for speed, batting average, and runs scored so even a repeat of his 10 home runs works.

-Imagine if the Brewers had used their sneaky star all year long. In fairness to them, their Ryan Braun-Carlos Gomez-Corey Hart setup was pretty formidable which made it difficult to find space for Aoki. Mat Gamel tore his ACL on May 4th shifting Hart to first and Aoki into a permanent role. From that point on he went: .289/.354/.433 with 9 HR, 48 RBI, 77 R, 30 SB in 557 PA.

-And finally, Aoki is going 140th overall in the NFBC drafts that have been conducted thus far. That’s just into the 10th round for those leagues. Not bad value for someone who put up that across-the-board effort. The 31-year old import is still a bit underrated.

Monday: 02.11.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 11 Days – Denard Span

Only 11 days until live game action…

DENARD SPAN

It isn’t too difficult to be excited about the Denard Span move to Washington. He was traded there this offseason for prospect Alex Meyer. Here is big reason why the Nationals were high enough on Span to trade their 2012 #6 prospect who now becomes Minnesota’s 2013 #4:

spandefense

His sparkling defense is ever-present and adds a lot to his value. He gives the Nats the true centerfielder they’ve been after for years. Bryce Harper and Roger Bernadina turned a strong combined effort last year, but the five years before were mediocre or worse:

span1

Compare that with Span producing fWAR totals of 3.1, 4.1, 2.6, 2.2, and 3.9 from 2008 through last year with the 3.1, 2.2, and 3.9 coming in 94, 70, and 128 games, respectively. The primary challenge will be staying healthy enough to give the Nats a full season so he can return to his 4-win levels. While he gets plenty of value from his defense in center, he also has a solid bat, especially for a leadoff man. His walk rate started at 11 percent over his first two seasons before dipping a bit, but it has held steady in the eights every year since with last year’s 8.3 still holding above the 8.0 league average.

Span isn’t special in either of the flashy offensive categories in fantasy: homers or steals, but he has a chance to deliver big value in the two overlooked categories: batting average and runs scored, especially the later. He is a career .284 hitter and he hit .283 a year ago, but his line drive rate is on the rise moving from 18 percent in 2010 to 21.3 percent a year ago and he is speedster with a heavy groundball lean posting a career high of 54.4 percent last year (compared to 53.8 for his career) so he has the makings of a greater than .300 average. Last year he was just 10 hits from a .302 average. It’s not a stretch to see him hitting or exceeding .300 as soon as 2013.

He could be ready for his first 100-run season in 2013, too. His career-best was 97 back in 2009 in just 145 games. Last year, the Nationals leadoff spot scored 96 runs which were right about league average ranking 14th in baseball despite the fact that only Jayson Werth carried an OBP over .312 in that role. This bodes well for Span.

(Courtesy of ESPN)

(Courtesy of ESPN)

Even at his worst, Span carried a .328 OBP (2011) and the heart of the Nats order is stacked this year. Even if you factor in some regression for Adam LaRoche on the heels of his second-best season, it is offset by a full seasons of Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Harper started 2012 in the minors while Zimm started 2012 like he was in the minors carrying a sub-700 OPS into the All-Star break, though he eventually finished with a strong 824. Now batting fifth again, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Werth focus on bringing the power aspect back into his game in full force. It all adds up to one of the deepest groups of 2-5 hitters in the league.

A healthy Span – and he seems to have finally put the frightening concussions issues behind him – is looking at a .300-100-7-55-15 season with the high-powered Nats.

Thursday: 02.7.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 15 Days – Ryan Doumit

Only 15 days until live game action…

The backend of the doubleheader to catch up from yesterday’s missed piece and as I mentioned in the Napoli piece, I’m hoping to get several done this weekend to avoid any more delays as we head into the second half of the countdown.

RYAN DOUMIT

For years, fantasy managers would always wonder aloud “what if Ryan Doumit just stayed healthy one year and got 500+ plate appearances?” We finally know the answer. In 2012, he had a career-high 528 PA and put together a .275/.320/.461 line with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs, in other words he did exactly what we should’ve expected once extrapolating his previous numbers out over 500 PA.

The extrapolation game is dangerous with small samples, but after a while Doumit’s several similar small samples became a large body of work. Only twice in his seven seasons before 2012 did he top 450 PA with the other five yielding 304 or fewer each time. His triple slash stats bounced around a bit as he hit .318 one year and .208 in another, enjoyed a .357 OBP one year and .299 the next, and even had a .501 slugging percentage only to fall to .406 two years later (the .318/.357/.501 are all from his 2008 season).

Through it all, his 528 PA pace (number equals his 2012 total) in homers and RBIs was just about the same:

doumit

While not really a catcher in the conventional sense, he has maintained eligibility behind the dish throughout his career giving him a special appeal to fantasy managers. Offensive upside at catcher often costs a pretty penny and in 2008-2009 so did Doumit. He had an 813 OPS in 2007 leading to a high price tag in the spring of 2008. He backed it up with the season of his career which sent his price sky high heading into 2009. He tanked. He tanked hard. Ever since then, he’s been kind of an afterthought with most resigning to the fact that he’s just never going to play enough.

His value was always in his catcher eligibility, but at his value peak the tantalizing thing about him was the fact that he was only a part-time catcher – playing first and outfield as well – so if he could stay healthy he could rack up the playing time that other catchers wouldn’t since he didn’t need so many off days. That finally came to fruition in his eighth year in the majors.

He started at catcher 56 times, but also logged starts as a DH (48), LF (16), and RF (6). He got some time at first base in one game, too. Can he repeat? At 32 years old, can he log a 500+ PA season, a feat that eluded him for seven years, for the second straight season? The smart money is on “no”. I like smart money. I’m even more likely to avoid the bet this year because the price is once again on the high side. His current NFBC ADP is 170th overall.

I’d rather wait 60 picks and take Alex Avila.

Monday: 02.4.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 18 Days – Allen Craig

Only 18 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ALLEN CRAIG

You had to know this was coming.

I mean seriously, who else would I choose for St. Louis? I basically already wrote his Countdown piece back in December, I just didn’t know it yet. So I’m going to rely heavily on that for today’s entry as I don’t need to simply regurgitate what I said there or what I’ve said on Twitter (and elsewhere) since November. Allen Craig is my player in 2013. That much is clear. The wagon is hitched. Next stop: promised land.

I’ve taken him just about everywhere in mocks (missed getting him in just one) so far this winter though it appears I’m driving a relatively full bandwagon. Looking at this ADP data from NFBC provided by Baseball HQ we see that Craig is slotted 53rd overall and while I’ve been taking him higher–I’m actually the 21 that qualifies as Craig’s earliest pick which I did here (Team 10) in a November draft during the Arizona Fall League event by Baseball HQ–usually in the 30s, others have are seeing the upside within The Wrench.

Since I did this write up about two months ago and some of you have likely already read it, I made something for you to still get your daily baseball fix on the day we* officially turn the page from football to baseball.

*I never closed the book personally, I just had both open.

Enjoy:

Sunday: 02.3.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 19 Days – Adam Jones

Only 19 days until live game action… and many folks officially turn their attention back to baseball tonight after the Super Bowl (Go Niners!)

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ADAM JONES

I talk often about how we can’t expect linear growth (and I’m hardly the only one) from young players. As exciting as it is to see a big age-22 season as a 380 PA/100 game call-up, we can’t just assume that they’ll take the experience and expound on it the following year as a full-time player. Hell, even if they log 500+ playing 140-something games as a full-time player in that age-22 season, there are still no guarantees that, even with good base skills, they’ll improve the following year.

It just doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes it does and it’s magical, but often we see players experience a series of ups and downs in the early 20s as they amble about like a baby goat trying to establish themselves on firm ground. Regardless of their pedigree coming up, they may bounce around statistically for multiple seasons before finally becoming what we saw in the minors. And of course, they might not ever reach those minor league expectations. Adam Jones fits the former description.

Jones, a supplemental first round pick of the Mariners back in 2003, was a well-regarded prospect landing in the Baseball America Top 100 in both 2006 (64) and 2007 (28). He had a few cups of coffee with the Mariners, but was eventually traded to Baltimore in that huge Erik Bedard trade. His 2008 Oriole debut wasn’t particularly special as he showed just a bit of the power and speed that we’ve now come to expect from him yearly. He’s now headed into what he hopes will be his sixth straight *full* season (500+ PA) and fifth straight of better than league average performance.

ajones1

He surged forward in his second full season adding 10 home runs and improving his strikeout and walk rates, all in virtually the same amount of playing time. Despite adding 102 plate appearances the following year his production was essentially static in the counting number while his walk rate plummeted while the strikeout rate ticked back up. He rebounded at age 25 and then took another step forward last year for his best year yet. And depending on how you delineate it, he either just entered his prime or has yet to do so, either way the future is bright.

Is 2012’s power jump for real? The 18.8 percent HR/FB rate isn’t outlandish given his 2009 and 2011 rates. He did a lot of his home run damage in May hitting 10 with a 31.3 percent HR/FB rate, but at the other end of the outlier spectrum he had just a 9.1 HR/FB rate in August when he hit just two home runs so they cancel each other out a bit, though it’s reasonable to say May’s outburst contributed a good bit to his surplus over 2011. Nothing within his profile loudly screams that the 32 home runs were a fluke, though I’d probably land in 25-28 range for a projection. He didn’t hit a ton of flyballs (32.6 percent), but his 21.5 line drive rate offset that a bit.

Jones now has three straight seasons of established performance averaging a .284 batting average, 25 HRs, and 12 SBs, with the latter two categories on the rise year over year. The 2012 season may be the best of his career, but there is legitimate room for improvement given his skills and age especially since we’ve seen him do better with the walk rate in the past. I happen to think he can take another step forward with his batting average and put together a handful of .300+ seasons. It’s not much of a jump from the .280s anyway so I’m not exactly going out on a limb, just outlining something that is a reasonable expectation in the near future. Taking it a step further, a .320 or better season where he contends for a batting title in the near future wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Bet on a big batting average jump before another 32 HR season.

Friday: 02.1.2013

Top 10 RF – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Rightfielders Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host Eric Byrnes, and special guest to the series Bill James. In the LF review I mentioned my issue with MLB Network lists including guys who weren’t slated to play the particular position next year and we have a few of those on in rightfield with Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist.

I included Upton in left and Hamilton in right because that’s where they are going to play and the change for Upton was known when they presented the show because they discussed Upton’s trade to Atlanta. And I listed Zobrist at second base because that’s where he was slated to play this year before the Rays brought Kelly Johnson aboard. For those unaware, Johnson wasn’t a Ray when the 2B lists were unveiled.

Here are all four lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:

top10RFlists

I told ya Andre Ethier was going to be on all most of these lists.

The Shredder

Apart from our three known differences that occur on every list as outlined above, Ethier is the split between lists. It was tough leaving him off. In the end, I went with Jayson Werth because of his all-around game and how good he looked upon returning from injury. Jay Bruce was a bit underrated at 10, though had I included Upton and Zobrist, he’d have been at least seventh for me so the difference between The Shredder and me looks bigger than it would’ve been with Bruce.

My inclusions they didn’t list: Werth, Josh Reddick, and Josh Hamilton

Eric Byrnes

If given the option, I’d have bet all of my money on Byrnes listing Hunter Pence. Pretty easy bet, though, right? It’s not a terrible listing, especially at 10. Overall, I really like his list to be honest as I did with his leftfield list. He gets a lot of crap from the baseball community, especially on Twitter, but I don’t think he’s so bad. My friends over at Productive Outs cannot stand him. Perhaps it’s the Spiccoli-esque way he speaks and that dialect is often viewed as just generally stupid, especially in California where both live. That’s just speculation on my part. I just think that Byrnes is actually one of the better player-analysts on the network, even if you think the bar is really low.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Werth, Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Bill James

Bill, Bill, Bill. Jeez. I mentioned in the LF review that James’ lists have really puzzled me and this one was no different. Stanton at 6???? Sheesh. I was so focused on that ranking that I barely paid attention to the Alex Rios and Nick Markakis inclusions, neither of which I like that much. My fanboydom aside, how is Stanton sixth?

My inclusions he didn’t list: Werth, Swisher, Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Brian Kenny

In fairness, I chastised Kenny in the LF review for including Carlos Quentin, who played just 86 games a year ago, only to then include Werth on my list in his 81-game season. The difference as I see it is that Werth played half a season after three straight 150+ game seasons where Quentin has rarely even been within 20 games of 150. We both had Werth on our lists, a move I obviously support. I don’t have any major quibbles with Kenny’s list this time around outside of Markakis and that’s not even a major quibble. He had consideration, but the position was just too deep to find room for him. In fact, he’d be third behind Ethier and Norichika Aoki on the honorable mentions.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Coming up this evening: my first base and catcher lists!

Tuesday: 01.29.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 24 Days – Jose Bautista

Only 24 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

JOSE BAUTISTA

It will be a quicker countdown entry today which actually works out quite well because Bautista isn’t someone in dire need of a deep-dive analysis. We know he is a power stud coming off of his two amazing full seasons of MLB-leading home run totals in 2010-2011 plus another 27 in 92 games during an injury-shortened 2012. The common analysis after 2010’s insane breakout was that his HR/FB was aberrational to his career levels so he was sure to come down. The problem with analysis isn’t projecting regression after an amazing season, it’s the certainty with which it’s done.

Granted this is easier to do in hindsight, but I’ve always had an issue with guaranteeing regression on a new level of performance. Again, it is a safe bet gravity being what it is and all, but speaking in absolutes has no real upside. He was “sure” to regress in 2011 and while he gave back 11 home runs, he added 42 points of batting average up to .302 and 68 points of on-base percentage up to .447 while actually improving his HR/FB rate from 21.7 to 22.5 percent. What changed to yield the performance is the first question you should ask before instantly declaring it will regress and moving on.

For example, his 2011 batting average stood out almost as much as his 2010 home run surge. After all, his flyball-heavy batted ball profile isn’t exactly conducive .300 batting averages. Of the 74 players to hit .300 or better since 2010, only Bautista did it with a flyball rate north of 45 percent. Only three others were at 44 percent. The average of the set was about 35 percent and 60 players were on the other side of 40 percent.

His .260 in 2010 was just above league average (.257) and his .241 last year wasn’t too far from league average (.255) so what happened in 2011? First off, he shifted the mix on his batted balls a bit taking from the flyballs and adding to both the line drive and groundballs. Secondly, he just smacked the ever-living-piss out of the ball year long, especially compared to league average.

bautista2011bbavg

His .309 BABIP compared to the league mark of .295, but given his batted ball profile compared to league average, it isn’t out of bounds to suggest he also had some good fortune. But when you barrel up the ball and smack rockets all over the place, you’re bound to create some of your good luck.

His dip back down to .241 last year wasn’t terribly surprising as he took a bit from 2011’s line drives and padded his flyball rate again back up to 49 percent. His batted ball profile as it stands over the last three years is far more conducive to .250 batting averages than .300 ones so prepare yourself for that and take anything else as an added bonus.

The worst part about last year’s left wrist injury that effectively ended his season in mid-July is that he had just ripped off nine and 14 home run months in May and June after a mere three in April. While he’d only had one in 12 July games, I was really eager to see what he had in store for us during the dog days of summer.

Over his three year explosion into superstardom, Bautista has posted a composite HR/FB of 21.6 percent, fourth in baseball behind Giancarlo Stanton (25.8), Mike Napoli (23.1), and Ryan Howard (22.3), but his 50.6 flyball percent and 15 percent infield flyball rate are the highest among anyone in the top 30 of HR/FB rate. What that tells me is that he’s selling out for power all day, every day. The 15 percent infield flies are likely a lot of “just missed” missed pitches that fall harmlessly into the shortstops glove on the back of the infield and contribute to his .256 BABIP during that time which is second-lowest among the top 10 in HR/FB (Andruw Jones .244) and third-lowest overall (Carlos Pena .251).

That is the long way of say that all the data suggests that 2011’s .302 really was an aberration and likely one of epic proportions. To repeat the feat, he will likely need to dramatically shift his hit profile or find the double rainbow for a second time. I have seen Bautista go as high as the late-first round. I’m not vehemently opposed to the idea as long as you realize you’re investing in a pure power source and not trying to rationalize the pick by saying, “well, he’s only a year removed from a .302 average so I have that upside, too.”

Sure, technically you do as one a skill is displayed it is owned (Shandlerism!), but you also have to understand the probability of said skill returning once gone and with Bautista, as his skills are currently constructed, chances are scant. There have been just 10 seasons of 40+ homers the last three years and he owns two including the best (54) and third-best (43) and he was on pace for a third which would’ve extended his 12 home run lead over Miguel Cabrera (124 to 112) for the most in the majors during that span. So if you are drafting him for that bankable power and understand his deficiency with batting average, then by all means proceed with your pick.

Friday: 01.25.2013

Top 10 Leftfielders Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall***”. They will air both the left and right field shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

This is not a fantasy list!!

***I will not be doing a top 100

I felt I was getting a little verbose on these lists given that they’re really just about having some off-season fun, so I’ve cut the explanations down a bit on these.

The leftfield list was one of the easier ones as the 10 came pretty easily to me. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will not be included because they were included on the centerfielder list. We saw MLB Network put Shin-Soo Choo on the centerfielder list as well, so they’re going with where guys are expected to play in 2013 thus you won’t see Martin Prado on the list, either, as he will now play third base for the D’Backs. Nor will you see Desmond Jennings as he shifts over to center to replace B.J. Upton. Oddly enough, MLBN was counting new position for guys like Choo and Aroldis Chapman yet they still included Trout with the CFs and he is slated to play left with Peter Bourjos in center.

HONORABLE MENTION

Jason Kubel (ARI) is the only leftfielder who was close for me. His NL debut was impressive, but he just missed out as he lags a bit behind defensively and his bat was good, but not overwhelmingly so.

THE LIST

10. Alfonso Soriano (CHC) – A punching bag for many fans, Soriano hasn’t been the 40-40 guy from his Washington season, but he’s not exactly Vernon Wells, either. In fact, by fWAR he’s earned $98.5mm ($5mm/WAR) on the field while being paid $97mm. Even if you don’t buy the defensive gains, he’s been a plus-hitter for five of six seasons with the Cubs.

9. Melky Cabrera (TOR) – How much do you think PEDs helped Melky? And do you think he’s taken them consistently for two years? Those are the two questions to be asked when analyzing him. I lean toward “some, but not overwhelmingly so” and “no”, so he makes my list. I doubt he’d be the 2012 version of himself even if he kept using, so look at 2011 as a guidepost for his performance.

8. Brett Gardner (NYY) – Speculating a bit here since Gardner missed most of 2012, but when he plays he does everything except hit for power. He plays incredible defense, has game-changing speed, and he’s the Van Gogh of walks—he draws ‘em like crazy!

7. Josh Willingham (MIN) – Staying on the field has been the only real issue with Willy during his career and he’s improving in that avenue improving his games played from 114 in 2010 to 136 and 145 the last two years. Regardless of how often he plays, he’s always raked at the dish and done so enough to cancel out his below average defense.

6. Yoenis Cespedes (OAK) – What an incredible debut! I don’t think anyone saw that coming. He was the commensurate five-tool player hitting .292 with a .505 slugging percentage, playing elite defense in left using his arm to terrify runners into staying put, and stealing 16 out of 20 attempts while also taking extra bases at an above average clip. Imagine if he tops 130 games this year.

5. Justin Upton (ATL) – New to both his team and his position, Upton was finally traded after approximately 212 years of speculation. The potential is overwhelming, but we need to see it more consistently and since we don’t yet, he lands lower than you probably would’ve expected to see him.

4. Matt Holliday (StL) – Only two LF, both regarded among baseball’s best, have topped him with the bat at the position. He pairs the first-rate bat with better defense than you think. Unless you think he plays good-not-great defense boosted by his solid arm and ability to freeze runners.

3. Carlos Gonzalez (COL) – He’s failed to repeat that stunning 2010, but he hasn’t exactly been a slouch in the meantime and his rising walk rate bodes well for his late-20s. He’s yet to play more than 145 games in a season which only make his three straight 20-20 (all w/22+ HR) seasons that much more impressive.

2. Alex Gordon (KC) – The unquestioned best leftfielder in the game defensively speaking whether you trust the metrics or simply use your eyeballs. Mind you, that’s not the only reason he rated this well, he’s also come around big time with the bat including an MLB-best 51 doubles last year. Took him a while, but he’s finally paying dividends on the savior tag that was slapped on him before the ink dried on his contract in 2005.

1. Ryan Braun (MIL) – Duh-doy!

Wednesday: 01.23.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 30 Days – Desmond Jennings

OK, so the first actual Grapefruit or Cactus League game doesn’t take place until February 22nd, but the Red Sox are splitting up their squad and playing a couple of colleges on February 21st so we’re just 30 days away from organized professional baseball. So why not a countdown of this final, grueling winter month that includes some fantasy analysis?

Obviously my primary focus at this site is on pitchers and you’ll get quite a bit of my analysis on them in late February when the SP Guide drops, thus I was thinking of something surrounding hitters. With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

DESMOND JENNINGS

Always a tantalizing prospect, the Rays slow-cooked Jennings to the tune of 1004 plate appearances in Triple-A including 397 in 2011 despite the fact that his predecessor, Carl Crawford, had left for Boston via free agency that offseason. When he finally came up that year, he hit the ground running with a 1000 OPS in his first 175 plate appearances which included eight homers, 20 RBIs, 14 SBs, 24 runs scored, and 19 walks. He was doing everything.

Regression, which was probably inevitable, hit and hit hard as he shaved nearly 200 points off of that OPS down to 805 with a .162/.259/.253 line in his final 112 plate appearances. He still scored 20 runs and maintained his 11 percent walk rate, but the hot start caught up to him a bit and since the production came in two so distinct halves of amazing and crap, it generated discussion. It would be an interesting experiment to (travel back in time and) mix up the distribution of his production to small ups and downs that eventually land on the 805 OPS and see if it generates a different discussion. I’m sure it would.

He followed it up with a 2012 that looked more like the 112 PA sample than the 175 PA sample. He was a viable power-speed combo, only one of five players to reach or top 13 home runs and 31 steals*, but the walk rate fell nearly three percent to 8.2 while the strikeout rate remain steady at 21 percent. His home total was well off the 2011 pace which would’ve seen him hit 20 had he amassed the same 563 plate appearances he got in 2012. The doubles and triples held essentially even for those curious. So what happened?

*the other four were Mike Trout, teammate B.J. Upton, Carlos Gomez, and Jason Kipnis. All but Kipnis lapped him with either a lot more home runs or steals (or more of both in the Trout & Gomez cases). 

It is a bit too simplistic to just say that his home run per flyball rate regressed and that ate up his home runs. To a degree, that is exactly what happened, but without digger deeper it isn’t a helpful bit of information. He actually hit a larger percentage flyballs in 2012 moving from 35 to 38 percent and improved his line drive rate by 2.5 percent up to 20.1 percent.  Both of those factors can be good for a power spike, but the flyball contact was far less effective in 2012 as his infield flyball rate nearly doubled from 9.4 to 18.1 percent.

In his short 2011 sample, his flyballs hit off the inner third of the strikezone yielded a 5-for-12 (.417) mark with all five hits leaving the yard. He hit .297 (11-for-37) off the inner third as a whole in 2011. In 2012, he hit just four home runs off the inner third accounting for all four of his flyballs hit in nearly twice as many tries as he went 4-for-23 (.174). He still did plenty of damage off the inner third as a whole going 26-for-76 (.342), but pitchers got better at jamming inside to limit the damage to mostly singles (15 of the 26 hits). He wasn’t turning on those inner third meatballs like this one from 2011:

djennings

It’s one thing to drop your HR/FB rate because you are crushing warning track shots on gusty days or hitting the base of the wall for doubles and triples, but Jennings saw his HR/FB rate evaporate and shift into infield flies, the least successful contact a batter can make thus aiding a 61-point drop in slugging percentage and 47-point drop in isolated power (slugging minus average).

At 26, he is just about to enter his prime and doing so with 874 plate appearances under his belt should give him enough of a base to work from to make adjustments in order to fulfill his immense promise. The potential and youth will keep his price high, but the payoff is massive and even the downside was at least somewhat palatable despite massively underperforming his cost (51st ranked OF; 23rd most expensive) thanks to the steals.

He was the 92nd player drafted last year and his 2012, though under expectations, hasn’t really deterred anyone as he is tracking at 90th overall early on this winter. The composition of my team to that point would determine whether or not I’m willing to pay that eight round price tag.

If I have a foundation of guys with three-four years of track record, maybe Robinson Cano in the first, Adrian Beltre in the second, plus a Billy Butler, Cole Hamels, you get my point, proven veteran rocks; then I’d be more inclined to take Jennings. If you have team centered around Andrew McCutchen (just the one transcendent first round year), Jason Heyward, and Chase Headley, then you should probably go with Austin Jackson or Alex Rios who are being drafted 88th and 91st, respectively.

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