Posts tagged ‘third base’

Saturday: 02.9.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 14 Days – Jeff Keppinger

Only 14 days until live game action…

Just two weeks to game time! Well, 13 days. This is Friday’s entry.

Sorry for the delays, I’m stretched a little thinner than anticipated, but it’s a good thing because it’s extra writing work and of course the SP Guide which is coming along nicely.

JEFF KEPPINGER

There are more impactful players on the White Sox I could’ve written about, but I’m intrigued by Jeff Keppinger in 2013. He is going to be the everyday third baseman batting second for them. Third base has been an issue for quite some time in Chicago. The position has been a hole for the Sox for quite some time. It was temporarily filled last year with at least adequate production when Kevin Youkilis came over via trade, but he was far from the Youk of old. Gordon Beckham was above average there for 103 games in 2009, but the last time they had a full season of above average production at the hot corner was Joe Crede in 2006. Keppinger is far from a star, but he should bring some much-needed stability to the position.

On the fantasy landscape Keppinger’s appeal comes from the fact that he has an everyday job and he qualifies at three infield positions: first, second, and third base. That of course adds corner and middle infield for fantasy purposes, too. He even had 20 games as a DH with Tampa Bay last year so those leagues that require you to use an actual DH will like Keppinger even more. His offensive profile isn’t particularly special, but the flexibility he brings your lineup helps the modest production play up. It’s like a pitcher with a modest fastball, but pinpoint command. Yeah, that’s it… best comp ever.

Honestly, Kepp should be a platoon player and not the good side, but the Sox are giving him the role in full perhaps heartened by his work against righties last year (.302/.352/.403) which was well above his career level against righties (.269/.321/.358). The White Sox got nothing out of their #2 hole last year so even falling back to his career level versus righties combined with his sparkling .333/.376/.487 mark against lefties is going to yield a massive improvement over the .221/.296/.354 performance that the White Sox saw batting second last year. The 650 OPS was tied for third-worst in all of baseball with Minnesota and Seattle, just barely topping Oakland’s 649.

With Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Alex Rios making up the heart of the order behind Keppinger (career .337 OBP), he should be in line to score plenty of runs. He had a bit of a power surge last year popping nine home runs which could jump up past double digits in his new ballpark. That said he is a groundball/line drive hitter which drives his batting average. His flyball rate is actually on the way down dropping to 27.4 percent last year after a 29.6 percent mark in 2010. His 9.2 percent HR/FB rate – his highest since 2006 when he played just 22 games – was responsible for his power surge last year.

I’m not recommending Keppinger as a shallow mixed league play, there is no need to go that deep, but super deep mixed leagues and of course AL-Only leagues can get some sneaky value with a guy like Keppinger. His batting average will be the meal ticket, but if he maintains everyday play all year we could see 80 runs scored, 10-12 home runs, 60 runs driven in. Think of him as 2012 Marco Scutaro-lite without the speed.

Friday: 02.8.2013

Top 10 Third Basemen 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 third base and shortstop 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!!

Both Kyle Seager and Brett Lawrie were heavily considered, but in the end they had to be left off this year. I think both will take a step forward in 2013, but not enough to merit a spot. Seager specifically has to combat Safeco Field where he was 200 OPS points worse last year (632 to 835) and I’m not sure the moved fences are going to make that much of a difference. Lawrie was just edged out by #10.

THE LIST

10. Pablo Sandoval (SF) – Two straight years shortened by injury is worrisome, but he looked plenty healthy in the World Series (that jerk!).

9. David Freese (StL) – More than adequately followed up the World Series generated hype with his best season yet. It also happened to be his first full season. There probably isn’t much growth left at 30 years old, but he should sustain in 2013.

8. Chase Headley (SD) – A jump from 4 to 31 home runs is excellent, but how sustainable is it? The power surge came out of nowhere, but Headley as a remarkably talented player isn’t new. He completely understands what Seager is dealing with in Safeco.

7. Martin Prado (ARI) – He was inexplicably included in MLBN’s LF list given the precedent they set with Shin-Soo Choo as he will be a third baseman this year with the D’Backs. A bit underrated because he doesn’t do any one thing extremely well, but instead holds his own in every facet of the game adding up to a damn fine player.

6. Ryan Zimmerman (WAS) – Essentially lost the first three months to injury. Sure, he was playing, but he wasn’t himself carrying a sub-700 OPS through June and even a week into July. That he ended at 824 tells you how great he was the rest of the way.

5. Aramis Ramirez (MIL) – One of the more underrated players in the game in my opinion. He is a fantastic hitter who has been below league average just twice since becoming a full-time player in 2001. He’s a capable third baseman, too.

4. David Wright (NYM) – Simply one of the best in the game. He does it all and he’s still just 30. He really cut into his strikeout rate last year, too, hopefully that’s a skill that has returned because the three years of 20+ percent wasn’t serving him too well.

3. Evan Longoria (TB) – We know he’s a superstar, we’ve seen it, but we haven’t seen that transcendent year yet as his last two have been cut short by injuries. It’s coming.

2. Adrian Beltre (TEX) – It’s so close, but his defense doesn’t do enough to make up the gap between he and #1. My little love letter to him was part of the Spring Training Countdown.

1. Miguel Cabrera (DET) – Far from the best defender at the position, but easily the best hitter. Plus he wasn’t the overwhelming disaster on defense that most people expected. There may be no finer hitter in all of baseball.

What do you think? Any major misses?

Tuesday: 02.5.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 17 Days – Alex Gordon

Only 17 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.

Just under the wire! It’s still Tuesday for me. I went to dinner with my podcast co-host and long-time friend Jason Collette and I was pumping out SP Guide work all afternoon so the Countdown got short shrift until after dinner.

Stupid sidenote: the last four Countdown entrants have first names that start with “A”. Isn’t your life better now?

ALEX GORDON

Drafted with the second overall pick in 2005, Alex Gordon was tabbed as the savior of the franchise almost immediately. He was a mix of George Brett, Ryan Gosling (not yet a mega-star, but he’d done The Notebook so throwing him into the mix was betting on the come back then), and a unicorn. He started his pro career in Double-A and obliterated the league in 2006 vaulting himself to the top of the prospect heap heading into 2007 according to Kevin Goldstein and #2 overall according to Baseball America.

He wasn’t even Gosling circa “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” posting an uninspired .247/.314/.411 line in 601 plate appearances. It got better in 2008, but only because he had set the bar so low. Things actually got worse in 2009-2010 resulting in trips back to the minors in each season where he ended playing 30 and 75 games, respectively, split across a few levels. A hip injury in 2009 cost him three months and that was sandwiched by quadriceps and thumb injuries in 2008 and 2010 that both required time on the disabled list. He was not only failing to live up to the lofty expectations, but through 2010 it was hard not to see him as a bust. He’d had a career 95 OPS+ in 1642 PA.

It all turned around in 2011. He finally stayed healthy again and not only had his best season yet (not a difficult feat given what he’d done to date), but also had a legitimate star-level season. He registered a 7.1 bWAR and 6.9 fWAR in his first full season as a leftfielder, having switched over from third base. He proved to be not only adequate out in left, but exemplary as his 12 kills doubled the next best from a leftfielder (Gerardo Parra, 6) and led all of baseball as he narrowly edged teammate Jeff Francoeur by one.

Finally.

Last year’s follow was a bit off the pace, about a full win at both sites, but still a star level offering. Gordon has hit .298/.372/.478 the past two years in 1411 PA with 37 home runs and 96 doubles, including an MLB-best 51 last year. Are his 37 home runs a disappointment? When he was expected to become Georygos Brettunicornling, I think many were looking at 30 bombs a year. Brett only averaged 17 during his career with a 162-game average of 20, but he never struck out (career 7.8% K rate) so Gordon was supposed to trade those Ks for more homers. It took Brett 9196 PA to strikeout out 634 times; Gordon has fanned 641 times in 3053 PA. Different eras and Gordon isn’t Brett so I’m not holding him to that standard, just showing the incredible gap.

In the midst of his prime at age-29 with back-to-back seasons of 45 and 51 doubles, some are still expecting a home outburst as there is an adage that believes a player with a ton of doubles could start translating some of them into home runs with some added strength and/or a bit of good fortune. The thinking being that with 45+ doubles, several are banging off the wall and just missing their exit from the yard. It’s not a terrible notion, but it’s not a birthright if you are a big doubles hitter, either.

Looking at Gordon’s 2011 with 45 doubles and 23 home runs, there are 79 players with seasons of 45+ and 23 or fewer, but only 12 others including Gordon to have pulled off the feat more than once.

gordon1

Hey, it’s George Brett! Gordon is fulfilling the expectation after all! What does this group of players have in common? They never really translated the doubles into an abundance of home runs. Brett’s 30 in 1985 are highest of anyone in that group and he didn’t do it after either of his 45 double seasons. The second name on that list is the one that rings truest when I think about Gordon.

In fact, when I was making my list of which players I wanted to cover for the countdown, I was thinking about Gordon and trying to come up with who he reminded me of after his two big seasons in a row and I kept coming back to Nick Markakis and Shin-Soo Choo. There is nothing with that as both as high quality MLB players. Markakis had run off six straight full season of well above average play (117 OPS+) before being limited to just 104 games last year.

The bottom is that the home runs aren’t coming, not at the quantity that was expected of him as a prospect. He’s going to live in the 15-20 range and may have another season or two where he pushed 25, but barring a major change in his approach, 30 just isn’t happening. He is the prototypical line drive hitter with gap-to-gap power. His line drive rate hit a career-high at 25 percent last year and has lived at or north of 20 for his entire career save that 2009 washout. His flyball rate is on a four year decline hitting a nadir of 32.7 percent a year ago, a far cry from his career-best 47.6 back in 2008.

After spending 172 of his last 312 games as a leadoff hitter, he is currently slated to hit third again with Lorenzo Cain leading off. Hopefully this switch doesn’t prompt Gordon to unnecessarily change his approach thinking he has to be “the man” and go for power in that spot. His work in the 3-hole has been 101 points worse from an OPS standpoint than his leadoff work (883 to 782) and 64 points worse in slugging percentage (.501 to .437).

He needs to stick with his approach from 2011-2012. The move to third in the batting order puts 100+ RBIs into play even if he only hits 14 home runs again. That would be a career high by 13 RBI (2011). Meanwhile he could still score 100 as he did in 2011 (101) provided he maintains or improves his 10 percent walk rate. I think he still viewed as an overall disappointment by some which depresses his fantasy price. Current NFBC draft data has him as the 94th guy off the board, inexplicably behind teammate Eric Hosmer. Don’t be afraid to pay for Gordon, especially at this current discounted rate, but even for a little more should your league price him higher. What he lacks in home run power, he makes up in batting average and runs scored, the two most underrated categories in standard 5×5 leagues.

Thursday: 01.31.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 22 Days – Adrian Beltre

Only 22 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.

ADRIAN BELTRE

For today’s countdown piece, I’m going to do things a bit different. With Adrian Beltre, I’m going to offer 22 stats about him to celebrate the 22 days left until game time. He’s been excellent and yet somewhat underrated recently both in “real” baseball and on the fantasy landscape.

  • Since getting out Seattle (where he was criminally underrated), he his 19.1 fWAR is second among third basemen to only Miguel Cabrera. Considering Cabrera has played third base just one of those three years, I think it is fair to declare Beltre the best overall third basemen by fWAR since 2010.
  • His 19.1 fWAR also lands him fifth on the overall list behind only Cabrera, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, and Ryan Braun.
  • His fielding is no doubt aids his lofty ranking, but his 138 wRC+ is the 13th highest total in the same span (and sits 17th after factoring in ties) so it’s not like he’s been anything but spectacular with the bat, too.
  • Over at Baseball-Reference, he rates 4th overall in the 2010-2012 time period with a 19.7 bWAR topped by three of the four from the Fangraphs list. This time Cano sits atop the list followed by Cabrera and then Braun.
  • He is pacing the position in all three Triple Crown categories the last three years with 96 home runs, 309 RBIs, and a .314 batting average. He leads by four in home runs over Mark Reynolds, by 28 in RBIs over Aramis Ramirez, and by 19 points in average of David Freese.
  • For good measure he’s also leading in runs with 261 over David Wright (238)…
  • …and doubles with 115 over Ramirez again (106).
  • His last season in Seattle was really the only dismal one despite the entire tenure often being thought of as a bust because he never reached the heights of his .334-48-121 season in 2004, his last year with the Dodgers. Even factoring in the 8 HR/44 RBI swan song in Seattle, he still averaged 21 HRs and 79 RBIs per season with a 162-game average of 24/90.
  • Imagine if he hadn’t been stuck in Safeco Field for half of his games those five years. He hit a paltry .252/.304/.411 in 1595 plate appearances in his home yard.
  • That park remains hell on righties with an 84 park factor for doubles/triples and a 70 park factor for home runs. Only singles are favorable for righties at a modest 102.
  • Since transitioning out of Seattle and into a pair of favorable home ballparks the last three years, Beltre is averaging 32 HRs and 103 RBIs with a 162-game average of 36/116.
  • Not mention his average has risen from .266 to .314 the last three years.
  • He’s handled his early 30s like an all-time great. His 19.7 bWAR is the 7th-best age 31-33 WAR since 1970 and the 12th-best since 1940. He even tops Rickey Henderson and Alex Rodriguez, who tied at 19.6 apiece.
  • The greats to top his 19.7 since 1940 include: Willie Mays (31.1), Joe Morgan (25.9), Barry Bonds (25.3), Roberto Clemente (24.8), Jackie Robinson (24.5), Hank Aaron (23.5), Stan Musial (22.1), Mike Schmidt (21.3), Sammy Sosa (21.1), Craig Biggio (20.6), and Pete Rose (20.2).
  • Beltre’s 985 OPS versus righties in 2012 was 5th-best in MLB.
  • His .609 slugging percentage versus was 3rd-best as were his 30 home runs.
  • His 965 OPS in the second half of 2012 was the 8th-best in baseball and that’s with a 697 OPS in July.
  • Beltre tied Kyle Seager for the major league lead with nine home runs on 1-0 counts. Don’t get behind to these guys or they will attack.
  • Surprisingly, his 1448 OPS in those 1-0 counts was only 7th-best last year. Nick Swisher had an insane 1995 OPS including a .605 batting average.
  • But if Beltre got way ahead, he wasn’t as effective. On 2-0 counts he hit just .167 with a 333 OPS. Of course part of that is because of the meager 18 plate appearance sample. So it’s probably better stated that if he got way ahead in a 2-0 count, he wasn’t as aggressive.
  • Any plate appearance where he was ahead, he had a .405 batting average with a beastly 1274 OPS and 15 of his 36 home runs.
  • His 17 home runs with men on tied him for 4th-most with five other players including Cabrera, Braun, Chase Headley, Josh Willingham, and Alfonso Soriano.

These facts aren’t intended to inform you that Beltre is a good player. You already knew that. Instead, they should help you realize that you’re watching a generational talent. He is building a legitimate Hall of Fame case and if that fact has been lost on you to date, well, now you know and you can appreciate the greatness you’re watching at a premium defensive position.

Additionally, these gaudy statistics may help you figure out the answer to the question, “Who should I draft near the end of the first round in my draft this year?” Especially if you are in a bigger mixed league that runs 14+ teams deep, but even you 12-teamers should give him legitimate consideration. Third base isn’t the sinkhole it was a few years ago, but it is a still a premium infield position and filling it with a superstar is a great way to start your team. Hell, Evan Longoria has maintained the lofty draft status without coming close to Beltre’s numbers the last three years. I understand why people are lured in by his potential, but maybe you’d do better with Beltre’s consistency over Longoria’s promise.

Wednesday: 01.30.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 23 Days – Todd Frazier

Only 23 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.

TODD FRAZIER

Todd Frazier, drafted 34th overall out of Rutgers in 2007, hit immediately as a pro posting a 943 OPS in a 47-game stint after the draft earning him the #5 spot on the 2008 Reds Top 11 prospect list from Kevin Goldstein. He went two levels per year in 2008 (Single-A, High-A) and 2009 (Double-A, Triple-A) holding his own at every stop earning the #2 spot in 2009 and #3 spot in 2010 on Kevin’s lists. He only had 16 games in Triple-A in 2009 so he needed more seasoning there and despite the fact that he was being used all over the diamond in the minors, the Reds were locked up at every one of his eligible positions leaving him in Triple-A for the entire season.

He wasn’t exactly dominating Triple-A on the stat sheet in 2010 or 2011, but he was clearly ready to be tested at the major league level yet he still logged another 90 games with Louisville before finally getting the call. His 41-game showing wasn’t too bad as he showed some pop (.438 slugging), but little else (.232 average, 5.8% BB rate) and thus couldn’t earn an Opening Day roster spot last year. Thankfully it took just 10 games in Triple-A before he was up with the big league club for good.

He had a strong rookie season (only 121 PA in 2011) showing even more power than we saw in 2011 (.498 slugging percentage), but also an improved average at .273 and a jump in discipline with a 7.7 percent walk rate. His season would’ve been great had he avoided the wall in September during which he hit just one homer with five RBIs and a 491 OPS. In fact, he had a 900 OPS through August.

frazierOPSmonth

He is slated to open the season at third base batting sixth and I think he can top his 2012.

First, he was an old rookie at 26-years old so while I’m often careful to point out that youngsters aren’t guaranteed to progress in a linear fashion, his case is a bit different than your average 23-year old who hits the ground running. He’s logged 1007 plate appearances in Triple-A and another 586 at the major league level in the last three years with a combined line of .262/.333/.465 and he’s actually been better as a major leaguer with an 808 OPS compared to 788 in Triple-A, so this isn’t a young pup in need of high level reps. He is pretty close to a finished product. There is still some more growth in his plate discipline as I believe he can be a 10+ percent walk rate guy at his peak, but his 7.7 from last year was right at league average for third basemen.

The power is the calling card in his bat and a near-.500 slugging percentage at the position is elite as only Miguel Cabrera (.606), Adrian Beltre (.561), and Aramis Ramirez (.540) topped the mark. He wasn’t just feasting off of that friendly home park, either. In fact he had a .526 slugging percentage on the road compared to a .469 in Cincy and his home run totals were nearly identical (10 home/9 road). There is 30-homer upside in this bat. The .273 batting average we saw last year is likely a ceiling of sorts, but that’s not why you’re getting him.

Pay for the power and enjoy the hidden speed as well. He had just six total stolen bases between Triple-A and the majors last year (including a meager 3-for-5 in MLB), but 17 the year before (in just 90 games) and 14 in 2010. He had a rough start to his pro career from a success rate standpoint (24-for-41, 59%), but since then he’s been excellent with an 86 percent success rate (38-for-44) the last two years between his Triple-A and major league work. There is a lot of value in Frazier’s profile especially compared to the investment.

Go the extra buck.

Monday: 01.28.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 25 Days – Kyle Seager

Only 25 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.

KYLE SEAGER

When you look at Kyle Seager’s 2012 line of .259/.316/.423, you jaw will most certainly stay firmly in place. There is nothing particularly special about those rate stats and while they were above average (110 OPS+, 108 wRC+), they don’t lead many to identify Seager as a hot fantasy commodity. Shifting over to his counting stats changes the equation a bit as his 20 home runs, 86 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases were all top 10 at the position (note: he was tied for 10th in home runs with David Freese and Mike Moustakas). All of a sudden he is a bit more appealing.

Now imagine if he weren’t stuck in the anti-Coors? Though Seager bats left-handed and southpaws generally fare better at Safeco, he couldn’t wait to leave town. He was an All-Star on the road as his 126 wRC+ outside of Seattle was just a tick behind Adrian Beltre’s 127 and sixth-best among third basemen. He was essentially an American League Chase Headley. Headley finally found a way to do some damage in Petco Park this year en route to an amazing season, but he still led all third basemen with a 154 wRC+ on the road and he has a career 695 home OPS compared to 836 on the road.

Seagerhm-aw

Ouch, that is rough. He gets 75 percent of his home runs and 70 percent of runs batted in on the road. He does his best to bring something to the table at home by walking twice as often and steal more than three times as often, but that can hardly paper over his incredible home struggles. I’m 89 percent certain that Seager was on site, hard hat in tow, helping the construction crews bring in the fences at Safeco.

For those wondering, this isn’t a one-year thing, either. He only had 201 plate appearances in 2011, but 91 of them were in Safeco and they were terrible: .188/.256/.263 with zero home runs. Meanwhile in his 110 on the road he posted a .314/.358/.471 with three home runs. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Safeco Field doesn’t kill lefties on home runs nearly as much as righties? For those who didn’t click, it’s a 91 HR park factor for lefties compared to a 70 for righties.

That is borne out in Seager’s numbers as well. All five of his Safeco home runs (which all came in 2012) were pulled. In fact, to right and right center fields Seager is excellent at Safeco over his career with a .339 average, 901 OPS, and those five bombs. His .565 slugging percentage also includes 13 doubles. If he is doing that well to the pull field, can you imagine how bad it is when he goes opposite field? You may want a barf bag nearby.

When going to leftfield in Safeco, Seager’s line is an abysmal .195/.191/.248 in 117 plate appearances. He actually improved in 2012. After a 312 OPS–yes OPS, that would be a horrible on-base percentage–in 2011, he jumped all the way up to 482 a season ago. He is being especially obliterated when he tries to “go with the pitch” on the outer third of the zone and just outside the strike zone hitting just .152 (9-for-59) in those instances.

seageroppo

(click to enlarge)

Now we ask the obvious next question as we did when discussing Yonder Alonso: how much might the moved in fences help this issue? Thanks to SportsPressNW.com, we can look at a very nice picture of the new dimensions and we see a 10-foot move in the leftfield corner, a big jump of about 12-15 feet in that leftfield power alley, and some minor moves in center and right centerfield.

safeco-dimensions

(click to enlarge)

Using the Katron.org spray chart from 2012 for Seager and comparing it against the new Safeco, it doesn’t look like his current batted ball profile is set to gain massively from the move. The dots are his flyouts (lighter orange) and lineouts (darker orange). None of his doubles were anywhere near the edge of the wall so they weren’t included.

seagerspraycomp

(click to enlarge)

But as I mentioned with Alonso, this is also assumes he will have the same batted ball distribution again in 2013 and that isn’t happening. It is worth looking at though because if we saw that Seager was dotting the warning track time and time again to leftfield, we would have reason to be quite optimistic with these moved fences because even if he didn’t have the same exact distribution, he would likely hit at least a few out that way again and they’d be more likely to sail over and into the stands.

Seager, like many young left-handed batters, also struggles against lefties. Those problems, as you might guess, are you really exacerbated at home. He has a 646 OPS against lefties as a whole for his career (compared to 766 against righties), but that drops to 545 at home while sitting at a formidable 748 on the road. Another hallmark of youth is struggling with off-speed stuff and that is mostly how lefties handle him at home.

We’re slicing the data pretty thin at this point, but this is at home versus lefties by pitch:

  • Fastball: .253 AVG, .333 SLG, 14% K, 10% BB in 89 PA
  • Curveball: .176 AVG, .353 SLG, 37% K, 11% BB in 19 PA
  • Slider: .130 AVG, .130 SLG, 21% K, 0% BB in 24 PA

None of these samples are big enough to mean a ton, but it’s all we have to work with right now. These thin slices of the data won’t stabilize for some time, but there is no denying from his larger samples that Seager struggles in Safeco, with lefties, and in Safeco with lefties. The moved in fences will likely add more relief via placebo effect than in improved numbers, but Seager is just 25 years old so he still learning. If he focuses on improving against lefties regardless of venue, that will drive his biggest net positive.

As long as he continues to steal bases, his fantasy value will remain substantial aided by his 81 road games where he does his best work. Given his age, above average composite work in 2012, and the fact that the M’s just don’t have a viable backup worth sitting Seager for, he should hold the job for the duration of 2013 giving him a chance to tackle those lefty issues. He is currently slotted in the 3-hole of their lineup which is always a good thing, even in a down lineup like Seattle’s.

I love Seager as a corner infielder in a mixed league especially if you end up with a superstar 3B early on. His price could be on the rise by the time draft season hits in AL-only leagues as it thins out quickly after the superstars (Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, and Evan Longoria) and moves into the youth bracket with Seager, Moustakas, Brett Lawrie, and Will Middlebrooks.

Sunday: 01.27.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 26 Days – Pablo Sandoval

Only 26 days until live game action…

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. (Ed. note: I shortened the intro from previous versions and I’ll probably eliminate after this week as I’m sure you get the point)

PABLO SANDOVAL

I am way late on today’s countdown offering. In fact, it’s Monday in some places already. I just had one of those days where my body refused to stay awake so I slept through a large chunk of the afternoon after waking up early this morning. Shortly after I woke up from my nap sleep, I had a birthday dinner for my brother. At any rate, no one cares about that, so let’s talk Sandoval. If you believe in what Razzball terms “Saberhagenmetrics”, then Sandoval is a big time target for you in 2013.

In short Saberhagenmetrics is a hilarious term named after pitcher Bret Saberhagen that describes a player who has a one-up, one-down statistical “pattern” to their career. Saberhagen himself won a Cy Young in 1985 with a 20-6 record, 2.87 ERA and 1.06 WHIP inciting the following see-saw:

saberhagenmetrics

He finally snapped the pattern in 1994 (evens were the bad years) with a 14-4 record, 2.74 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP in 177.3 innings. Putting blind faith into these types of patterns will leave you burned more often than not, but if you analyze the underlying factors that led to the underperforming seasons, you should be able to determine whether or not betting on the rebound is worth your time.

Sandoval lost his rookie status in 2008 with 154 plate appearances, but calling that a season is a stretch, since then he has four seasons on his ledger: two full and two injury-shortened but still north of 440 plate appearances. As a 22-year old in 2009, he exploded onto the scene with a .330 average, 25 HR, and 90 RBIs. His 2010 follow-up was mired by fitness and conditioning issues that ate into his production yielding a .268, 13, and 63 season. He eventually lost his job resulting in just 19 playoff plate appearances including just three against Texas in the World Series.

He came back in 2011 with a vengeance and only a broken hamate bone could slow him down. Still, he almost matched his 2009 production despite 167 fewer PAs. He managed a .315 average, 23 HRs, and 70 RBIs. He broke the other hamate bone in 2012 in addition to another DL stint caused by a strained left hamstring and this time he was slowed resulting in a .283-12-63 season in 108 games which was certainly better than 2010 by a good bit (115 wRC+ to 96), yet far from the star turns in 2009 and 2011.

With no more hamate bones to break, Sandoval is poised for another big season. In his 2011 return from hamate hell, he posted a .557 slugging percentage the rest of the way in 375 PA; in 2012 it was just .419 in 338 PA. But if the 2012 playoffs are any indication, his power is already back on track and ready for 2013. Sandoval put together a .364/.386/.712(!) line in 70 playoff PAs with six home runs including three in game one of the World Series against Justin Verlander (*Paul falls to the ground and starts convulsing in a fetal position*).

Sandoval doesn’t need to top 2009’s 25 HRs to be a fantasy stalwart. He just needs to show some consistency at or around that figure and he can become an elite asset in the game. Playing a premium infield position already enhances his value, but the combination of mid-20s power with a huge batting average is rare. Since 2009, Sandoval’s first full season, he is one of just six players with two or more seasons of .315+/23+. Miguel Cabrera leads the pack, completing the feat all four times and Ryan Braun is close behind missing just once (he “only” hit .304 in 2010) while Joey Votto and Robinson Cano join Sandoval.

Those thresholds are admittedly arbitrary, they represent Sandoval’s marks in 2011, but even if you round down to .300/20 he is still in an exclusive group of just 19 players to have completed the feat twice in the last four years. A lot of big names in this list (courtesy of B-ref):


Rk                     Yrs From   To                Age

1        Robinson Cano   4 2009 2012 26-29 Ind. Seasons

2       Miguel Cabrera   4 2009 2012 26-29 Ind. Seasons

3           Ryan Braun   4 2009 2012 25-28 Ind. Seasons

4           Joey Votto   3 2009 2011 25-27 Ind. Seasons

5       Aramis Ramirez   2 2011 2012 33-34 Ind. Seasons

6          David Ortiz   2 2011 2012 35-36 Ind. Seasons

7            Matt Kemp   2 2011 2012 26-27 Ind. Seasons

8      Troy Tulowitzki   2 2010 2011 25-26 Ind. Seasons

9         Paul Konerko   2 2010 2011 34-35 Ind. Seasons

10     Carlos Gonzalez   2 2010 2012 24-26 Ind. Seasons

11       Adrian Beltre   2 2010 2012 31-33 Ind. Seasons

12      Pablo Sandoval   2 2009 2011 22-24 Ind. Seasons

13      Hanley Ramirez   2 2009 2010 25-26 Ind. Seasons

14       Albert Pujols   2 2009 2010 29-30 Ind. Seasons

15     Victor Martinez   2 2009 2010 30-31 Ind. Seasons

16       Matt Holliday   2 2009 2010 29-30 Ind. Seasons

17       Shin-Soo Choo   2 2009 2010 26-27 Ind. Seasons

18        Billy Butler   2 2009 2012 23-26 Ind. Seasons

19        David Wright   1 2012 2012 29-29 Ind. Seasons

Let’s be clear that 70 playoff PA isn’t a big enough sample to determine if a displayed skill is something to bet on with certainty, but it did show us what Sandoval is capable of when healthy. With an offseason to heal and no more hamate bones to break, I’d favor a 2009/2011-type season 2010/2012-type especially since the price to do so isn’t egregious as Sandoval is currently the 9th third basemen off the board and 100th player selected overall according to early Mock Draft Central data.

Third base has some depth to it this year so while the superstars will still go early, you needn’t rush to lock one up for fear of being left with Kevin Youkilis’ rotting corpse.

Thursday: 07.7.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Third Base

If you thought things were sparse elsewhere on the infield, wait until you see what third base is offering for potential keeper building blocks.  Before the season started, I saw third base as easily the second-worst position on the diamond behind shortstop.  There has been some nice improvement in the middle tiers of shortstop to the point where you could reasonably make a case that the two have now flip-flopped.

If it weren’t for Jose Bautista qualifying at third base, the position would be in really big trouble.  It is still a troubled wasteland primarily because it started thin and has since been ravaged by injuries.  Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo  Sandoval, Martin Prado, Scott Rolen, David Freese and Placido Polanco have all missed time due to injury this year.  All but Polanco have hit the disabled list, while Polanco is currently day-to-day with back pain that has been troubling him for a month and has no doubt impacted his modest output this year (.274 batting average, a category you draft him to excel in).

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

I came up with six potential candidates, though one will take an arm and a leg (literally) to pry away from a leaguemate:

Jose Bautista (TOR, 30) – Yes, this of course is the arm & a leg guy.  He is probably no more than $10 in any league depending on how free agents are acquired and how their contracts work and when you couple that incredible price with the fact that he has been arguably the best player in the game (Matt Kemp’s speed might put him #1), you have a helluva price tag.  Unless it requires several of the keepers you were planning on for 2012, it might not be a bad idea to pay the hefty price to get Bautista.  It would take a unique set of circumstances to acquire him from a leaguemate, but given how cheap he should be in keeper leagues, you have to take a shot.

Pablo Sandoval (SF, 24) – The Kung Fu Panda is back after a rough season in 2010 and if it weren’t for his missed time on the disabled list, he probably would have made a serious run at the starting third base gig for the NL All-Star team.  He should still be cheap from any initial contract in your league, but if for some reason he was on the open market this March, he is probably still at a fair keeper price given the reaction to his modest output last year (.268/.323/.409 with 13 HR, 63 RBI).  The most games he can play this year is 121 and yet he is still on pace for 21 home runs, not bad considering he hit 25 in 153 back in 2009.

Adrian Beltre (TEX, 32) – He was coming off of a down season in 2009 which caused his value to be depressed even as he headed into Boston last year.  Thus he could be on a nice contract in your league.  This won’t apply to all leagues, but I had to include him just in case.  He will be a bit older, but he’s got great power at a scarce position.  That’s keeper-worthy.

Martin Prado (ATL, 27) – Nothing against Prado, but when he is our fourth potential keeper at third base, you know it is thin.  He has definite value, but it is tied to his batting average which can suffer in a year due to luck.  I just think we might have the next Placido Polanco on our hands, which isn’t bad, but hardly a great building block.  Remember, Polanco had back-to-back double digit home run seasons at 27 & 28 years old sandwiched by seasons of nine at 26 and 29.

Mike Moustakas (KC, 22) – In a dynasty league, he probably moves up a spot or two on this list, but even when building a keeper list during a lost season, I’m still gunning to win the very next season so I have him down here because there is no certainty he will be all that fantasy relevant in his second season.  We saw ups & downs in his minor league career and I suspect we will see the same as a big leaguer so at 23 next year, we might see more growing pains than fantasy-worthy production.  But like I said, dynasty leaguers who can keep him forever might want to invest in him over a Beltre or Prado.

Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE, 22) – Even though he will be the same age as Mous next year, I think he will be more fantasy relevant, but his ceiling isn’t as high.  He doesn’t profile to have game-changing power and of course there is still the fact that he cannot hit lefties worth a lick.  He is someone to look at for AL-Only and deep mixed league players.  I don’t think he is someone you want to invest in as a keeper for 10 & 12-team mixed leagues right now.

I don’t think I forgot any deserving candidates, but please feel free to let me know if you think I have made any egregious omissions.

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