Archive for ‘Second 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.

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Tuesday: 01.15.2013

Top 10 2B – Review

My DVR is more interested in doing what it wants rather than what I program it to do so I didn’t get a chance to watch the top 10 second basemen show over the weekend as it did not record Friday night. The replay schedule by the MLBN was odd as they re-showed the CF episode four or five times on Saturday and Sunday with no 2B replays thrown in. It is water under the proverbial bridge, though, since I have now seen it and I can present their lists to you compared to mine.

Harold Reynolds was the guest analyst and on Monday’s Clubhouse Confidential, we actually got a look at Brian Kenny’s personal list, too. As I mentioned in the CF post, Bill James is contributing his lists this year, too. Let’s start with MLBN’s machineamajig, The Shredder.

Shredder (my rank):

10. Daniel Murphy (UR)

9. Jason Kipnis (UR)

8. Howard Kendrick (6)

7. Neil Walker (8)

6. Dan Uggla (UR)

5. Brandon Phillips (4)

4. Ian Kinsler (5)

3. Chase Utley (9)

2. Dustin Pedroia (2)

1. Robinson Cano (1)

Three disagreements between my list and The Shredder, just like with the CF list. Jason Kipnis isn’t surprising as I mentioned how close he was to making my list, but ended up at 11 when it was all said and done. I’ll spoil something right here and tell you that this is the only one of the four MLBN-related lists with Daniel Murphy. He was never a consideration for me. He was really good in 2011 (in 109 games), but basically average in 2012. I think The Shredder was way off here.

Even though he wasn’t mentioned with Jose Altuve and Kipnis in my just-missed blurb, Dan Uggla was close. For me, there were just too many more complete players to find room for him especially as we get further and further away from his excellent 2010 season. His 2011 was salvaged by a big second half and the fact that his power was always there (career-high 36 HR), but last year he flopped again and only hit 19 homers.

Where the hell is Ben Zobrist? We know from the CF episode that they are considering where guys are slated to play for 2013 because they included Shin-Soo Choo on their list. And Zobrist actually played second base for 37 percent of his games last year with plenty of experience before 2012, too. Terrible omission.

Harold Reynolds (my rank):

10. Chase Utley (9)

9. Danny Espinosa (7)

8. Rickie Weeks (UR)

7. Aaron Hill (10)

6. Howard Kendrick (6)

5. Marco Scutaro (UR)

4. Ian Kinsler (5)

3. Dustin Pedroia (2)

2. Brandon Phillips (4)

1. Robinson Cano (1)

Only two differences between Reynolds and myself, should I be concerned? Ours were the only lists with Espinosa, too. We were more or less in lockstep on our agreements, too. I rarely agree with Reynolds’ ideas when he’s on Clubhouse Confidential or MLB Tonight so that’s why I find it so interesting how much we agree here.

Where the hell is Zobrist?

Bill James (my rank):

10. Dan Uggla (UR)

9. Rickie Weeks (UR)

8. Jason Kipnis (UR)

7. Aaron Hill (10)

6. Chase Utley (9)

5. Marco Scutaro (UR)

4. Brandon Phillips (4)

3. Ian Kinsler (5)

2. Dustin Pedroia (2)

1. Robinson Cano (1)

OK, I admit it, I should’ve had Kipnis on my list, but the Scutaro love is horribly short-sighted. I guess his great 61 games with San Francisco (plus playoffs) eliminate his terrible 95 with Colorado. Oh, and his entirely nondescript, below average decade of performance prior to 2012. The fifth best second baseman in baseball? I’m a big-time James guy, but that’s just bad.

There were grumblings throughout the show from just about everyone who appeared on it that second base is this wasteland, but I’m just not seeing it. I didn’t even have Kipnis, Altuve, R.Weeks, Uggla, Scutaro, or Murphy on my list let alone Darwin Barney, who is arguably the best defender at the position, and other capable guys like Omar Infante, Dustin Ackley, or Kelly Johnson who all deserve a modicum of consideration if we are putting Scutaro on the list. This is simply not a thin position.

Where the hell is Zobrist?

Brian Kenny (my rank):

10. Marco Scutaro (UR)

9. Brandon Phillips (4)

8. Rickie Weeks (UR)

7. Neil Walker (8)

6. Jason Kipnis (UR)

5. Aaron Hill (10)

4. Ian Kinsler (4)

3. Chase Utley (9)

2. Dustin Pedroia (2)

1. Robinson Cano (1)

Kenny let me down. I thought for sure he’d remedy the problem. Alas, where the hell is Zobrist? For someone as stats-oriented as Kenny who has touted Zobrist’s value in the advanced metrics, I’m surprised he missed him. There’s really no excuse for it from any of them. He wasn’t even mentioned on the show.

That’s a pretty aggressive ranking for Hill, but Kenny buys his 2012. He’s shown the power on more than one occasion before 2012 and the speed emerged in 2011 so it’s just a matter of whether he hits somewhere near his .302 from 2012 or the .225 he hit from 2010-2011. Obviously I liked a few guys more, but I don’t bring this up to quibble with it, rather to highlight it as a discussion point.

These lists caused some consternation among one All-Star second sacker and he took to Twitter to voice his concerns in a most-hilarious way:

I wonder if Phillips objects to my #4 ranking of him. I had him #3 initially, but eventually landed with Zobrist a bit higher. I was bummed to see Phillips’ walk rate tumble a full two percentage points as it really sliced into his OBP. If he had walked 44 times like he has the last three years on average, his OBP would’ve jumped from .321 to .346 and his output would look quite a bit better since he essentially matched everything else from 2011.

As I mentioned in the CF review, my SP and RP top 10s are coming up later this week to prepare for Friday’s shows.

Where the hell is Zobrist?

Friday: 01.11.2013

Top 10 Second Basemen Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will fire up the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will start with the both the centerfield and second basemen shows. 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!!

SECOND BASEMEN

This position isn’t nearly as crowded as centerfield. In fact I don’t even really see the need for detailed honorable mentions. I had Jose Altuve close and Jason Kipnis even a bit closer, but I was pretty set on this top 10.

10. Aaron Hill (ARI) – Kipnis could’ve taken this spot and for some, I’m sure he will. Kip’s first season started off nicely, but faded quickly and sputtered to the finish. Hill, meanwhile, has truly been all over the map since entering the league in 2005 sometimes looking like a superstar and other times barely deserving a starting role. Even at the times the bat has lagged, he has been pretty solid in the field throughout.

9. Chase Utley (PHI) – It’s not really about skill with Utley as he still has tons of it, but obviously the injuries have stacked up and conspired to limit him to just 301 games the last three years. That alone has him buried on this list.

8. Neil Walker (PIT) – You may not remember that Walker was a four-time top 100 prospect by Baseball America from 2005-2008, though that was a catcher then third baseman. He has settled in at second and really started to put together a nice career. He remains one of the game’s bests at the position, though somewhat overlooked as he doesn’t have that one standout skill.

7. Danny Espinosa (WAS) – The defense has always been there for Espinosa so being about a league-average bat the last two years has really heightened his overall value, though the Nats would no doubt love to see him swing-and-miss a good bit less. As is, the 26-year old remains a positive asset, but looking at his skills and seeing how good he can be when he’s on fire, it’s hard not to think there is more in there ready to be untapped.

6. Howie Kendrick (LAA) – While maybe he has failed against the lofty expectations that had him winning multiple batting titles, Kendrick is undoubtedly putting together a successful career. He finally appears to be past the injury bug and he delivers in all three facets of the game making him one of the best, but also most underrated second basemen in the league.

5. Ian Kinsler (TEX) – His struggles are clouded a bit by the fact that he was still a fantasy beast so you might not realize he was essentially league-average. His fielding and base running have been huge assets making him a complete second baseman and one of the best in the game.

4. Brandon Phillips (CIN) – The glove, oh man the glove. I love watching him play defense. His defense elevated him here, though he still has a quality bat and does tremendous work on the base paths. The biggest change in his game last year that led to a ho-hum offensive line was the drop in walk rate. He had established himself at the seven percent level for four years before dropping to 4.5 percent last year. Hopefully it’s an aberration.

3. Ben Zobrist (TB) – Baseball’s best Swiss Army Knife, Zobrist is usually pulling double or triple duty across the diamond for the Rays, but the addition of Yunel Escobar moves him to second on a more permanent basis. He may spend some time in the outfield, but with 189 of his last 313 games at second (60 percent), he is getting ranked at this position. Oh, and all that moving around the diamond has taken nothing away from his hitting as he has been one of the best players in all of baseball the last four years.

2. Dustin Pedroia (BOS) – What doesn’t this guy do well? He has it all: huge bat, amazing glove, and brilliant base running (including an 80 percent career success rate). When a 797 OPS is a “fade”, you know you’ve set the bar pretty high. He’s still better than all but one.

1. Robinson Cano (NYY) Duh-doy! Seriously, do I really need to expound on it? He’s lapping the field with the bat all while continually improving his defense to an above average level. He’s so good and he is just turning 30.

Thursday: 07.12.2012

The Second Half Hail Mary Team

Your team sucks.  Way to go, idiot.  You are wallowing near or at the bottom of the standings with seemingly no hope.  It’s a redraft league so you don’t even have the option of trading for the 2013 which can be a fun exercise once you realize a season is lost.  So what do you do with the second half?  Hint: ignore your team and start looking for sleepers who will definitely fail in fantasy football is not the answer.  No, the answer is you throw conservatism out the window and chuck some Hail Marys to see if you can make a run.  Cross-sport reference!!!!

As dire as the situation may look now, there is time.  It’s not exactly the halfway point, four teams have played 87 games and all but two have (Washington & Kansas City at 83 & 84, respectively) played 85 or more, but a lot of baseball is still going to be played.  There will be plenty of Cinderella stories in October about a team that was buried at the All-Star Break only to surge through the standings in the dog days of summer en route to an improbable victory.  Let’s make that your story.

Presenting the Hail Mary Team for 2012.  This group of strugglers contain a ton of upside if they can reach previously established heights in the coming months.  Honestly, if you are one of the teams looking up at most of the league in your standings, you probably have a couple of these guys on your team.  They came into the season with elevated expectations and have failed to meet them for a bevy of reasons.  Their price tags have lowered (and if they haven’t, just pass, because there’s no sense paying full price) and with nothing to lose, they could be your ticket to a much better slot in your standings.

CATCHER Carlos Santana

He’s been wretched this year after a great 2011 season.  And it’s not just the concussion that sidelined him near the end of May as he was horrible in that whole month leading up to the injury (.233/.314/.344).  The concussion may be exacerbating the situation, but it’s just been a rough go since a solid .262/.417/.446 line April suggesting that maybe something other than the concussion is in play.  Nevertheless, this is a power force at a scarce position who can be a big time run producer if he gets back to the guy we saw in his first 201 games spanning part of 2010 and all of 2011: .244/.362/.459 with 33 HR and 101 RBI.  Brian McCann got some consideration, but his surge before the break (.421, 4 game HR streak w/11 RBI) likely allayed the fears of many and ate into any discount you could’ve gotten previously.

FIRST BASE – Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer

Both guys have been hot of late, but such wretched starts have their overall lines still in shambles resulting in their appearance on waiver wires in shallower leagues and making them available for little more than a song in leagues where they are on a roster.  Davis has a very healthy .294/.351/.635 line with 7 HR and 28 RBI in the last month so his price might be one of the higher ones on this list comparatively speaking, but I’d be willing to pay it as long as it still represented a discount against preseason expectations.  He’s been a bit Dan Uggla-esque circa 2011 where the batting average was just awful, but the power was still present.  I’m not sure he’s going to run off a 33-game hit streak like Uggla did, but who cares?

Hosmer ripped off a 3-hit game in Yankee Stadium in late May, his first of the year, and that seemed to be something of a turning point for his season.  From that game on: .289/.352/.430 with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 7 SB in 165 plate appearances.  He is still toting a .231/.299/.371 season line, though, which is why he still qualifies for this team.  Like Davis, he will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum among this list of players, but he should still be available at a sharp discount compared to the preseason which is what makes him a worthy Hail Mary target.

SECOND BASE – The Weekeseseseses, Rickie & Jemile

The Brothers Weeks have been awful this year lending to the decimation of the second base this year which could’ve been a plentiful position had players met or at least been near expectations.  Surges from Aaron Hill, Neil Walker, Jason Kipinis and Jose Altuve are only masking failures of the brothers, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Ackley instead of adding depth.  Back to these two, though, with Rickie first.

Injuries have always been a problem as he has just one season with more than 129 games played, otherwise he has usually performed quite well as long as he is on the field.  Until this year.  Even a depressed offensive environment can’t mask his woes as he checks in just under the Mendoza Line at .199 with just 8 HR and 6 SB in 81 games.  He hit 20 HR in 118 games last year, so even doubling his current output would be short of expectations.  He’s running at the same clip as last year, but he’s not really a speed asset these days anyway, that’s his brother’s area of expertise.

Speaking of Jemile, he has been an abomination thus far.  Imagine he were even average, the A’s might be above .500.  As it is, they are right at the mark and his return could help them stay there or exceed the level going forward.  The real bummer is that his poor half has overshadowed the huge gains in walk rate (up from 5% last year to 11% this year) paired with a small improvement in strikeout (down 1% to 13%).  If Dee Gordon can lead baseball in stolen bases (30) with a .280 on-base percentage, Weeks should have more than 12 with a more palatable .312 OBP.  He is an easy target if steals is a category where you’re severely lagging.

SHORTSTOP – Alexei Ramirez

When Ramirez ended up April with a paltry .498 OPS, some may have seen that as a prime buying opportunity as he routinely takes a while to get going.  Over his career, April is easily his worth month checking in with a .561 OPS compared to .721 or better in every other month peaking with .822 in July.  He sputtered to a .581 mark this May.  He improved to .678 in June so he is progressing, but not nearly as rapidly as usual.  In a scant 7-game sample for July, he is at 1.057 so maybe he finally ready to let loose.

The power has been noticeably absent throughout with just two home runs.  He has run a bit more to help alleviate a bit of the damage checking in with 10 SB, three more than all of last year in a full season.  He has long been one of those guys who is much better as a fantasy asset than as a real life one with only one season over 99 OPS+ (104 as a rookie).  He had become a bankable 15-70-10-80 with an average around .270.  It will take a helluva rally to get there this year, but if he just performs to the levels we have seen in the past, he will be a positive asset at shortstop at a nothing cost.

THIRD BASE – Ryan Zimmerman

I was surprised the other day when I heard some fantasy analysts dismissing him as a non-entity.  The basic premise was essentially that he’s never been any good so why are folks still hung up on him?  That’s just crazy talk.  He was excellent in 2009-2010 and was tracking toward another great season last year when injuries cut it short.  He hasn’t been good this year and I think injuries are a big reason again as he had a DL stint back in late April through early May and then he took a while to get going once he was back.

I’ll grant that he isn’t the sturdiest guy around.  That seems to come with territory when dealing with defensive stalwarts like Zimmerman, but he is definitely a damn fine hitter capable of big numbers.  In fact, he has been hot of late starting with a Coors Field trip (always a nice remedy for a hitter) totaling 14 games in all during which he has hit .333/.394/.683 with 5 HR and 18 RBI.  He has a 1.003 OPS with 3 HR in the non-Coors part, so don’t worry that he is Brandon Mossing us.  His bottom line is still gruesome (.694 OPS) enough that the price won’t be too steep.

OUTFIELD – Cameron Maybin

Proponents of Maybin’s are pointing toward last year’s second half dash to the finish that saw him swipe 28 bases after the break with an improved .268 average (up from .259) and hoping he has another such run (pun fully intended) in him.  The talent is there in glimpses, but those are all too brief because even when he’s hitting the longest home run in Chase Field, he’s still only carrying a .212 average.

Ichiro Suzuki

This is probably just the decline of a 38-year old former star, but it’s hard not to look at his 39 SBs from just a year ago and dream of him stealing 20+ in the second half.

Shane Victorino

He has been a far cry from what we expect in the slugging department thanks to a precipitous drop in triples as he has just two after leading baseball two of the last three years and notching 10 in the third of those seasons.  Aside from that, he hasn’t been awful save a little batting average misfortune.  I think the perception of his struggling is stronger than the truth of it as he already has as many steals (19) as he did in all of last year and his eight homers are just off of last year’s pace.  Try to prey on the trade rumors swirling about and his benching the other day for not liking his slot in the order as well as the general Phillie malaise that has seemingly stunk up every non-Hamels entity.

Bes Jond Unnings and D.J. Jupton

Paired together for obvious reason, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton have been colossal disappointments this year, though like others in the list they have run enough to stem the tide a bit on their being fantasy sinkholes.  Both have 15 SBs, impressive more so for Jennings coming in eight fewer games, but both are still on the wrong side of .680 OPS to date.  It looks even worse if you extend back into September for Jennings as he jumped off a cliff after a blazing hot run from late July through August.

Meanwhile, no one is expecting anything batting average-wise from Upton, but what is with the power outage?  He’s been around a 20 HR hitter the last two years which combined with his speed and 80ish runs driven in and scored made the batting average plenty palatable.  He’s now on pace for 13, down 10 from last year, but he can string together some 4-5 HR months and rally to or above 20 if he’s right.  Both of these Rays have plenty of upside that make gambling on them easy, especially at a discount.

Nelson Cruz

He has been lying in wait just ready for a Cruzian streak.  It may be bubbling up near the surface, too, as he entered the break with three multi-hit games including four doubles, but no homers.  When he gets hot he can carry a fantasy team so he is an easy inclusion even though he hasn’t been as rotten as the others with a 99 OPS+.  You may have to package one of your few worthwhile assets to get him and someone else on this list.  It could pay major dividends with a monster like Cruz.

PITCHING

Tim Lincecum

Duh.  Just look at the track record, I don’t really need to tell you why he’s a Hail Mary candidate.

Dan Haren

Currently injured making it a nice time to strike.  For the purposes of this exercise it also helps that he was terrible for five starts (8.67 ERA) before finally hitting the DL with a balky back.  His brilliant track record and the glimpses of greatness this year when healthy make it clear that he is still someone worth targeting.  The rest will hopefully get him back to 100% and he will return to his previously established level of excellence.

Rickey Romero

Let’s be honest, he didn’t really earn a 2.92 ERA last year from a skills standpoint. He still got the 2.92 ERA and I’m sure it helped many a fantasy team, but expecting that this year would’ve been silly.  Similarly, he isn’t a 5.22 ERA pitcher, either.  The skills have deteriorated this year without question, but not 5.22 deterioration.  His control is all out whack with a career-worst 4.7 BB/9.  That points to a potential mechanical issue which hopefully can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague is sweeping across the Toronto rotation so injury could be an issue, too, but he doesn’t seem to be laboring or hurting when I view his starts with my amateur scouting eye.  A 3.50 ERA from a workhorse who will put himself in position for decisions (and ideally wins given their stout offense) can go a long way toward fixing your flailing staff.

Derek Holland

We saw last year, specifically in the second half and playoffs, what he can do when he is click.  His skills are in line with last year’s save a bit of home run trouble which has no doubt led to his inflated 5.05 ERA.  He quietly came off the DL just before the break and had a quality start, strike quickly before he strings a few together and saps up any discount via trade or starts getting scooped up off the waiver wires.

Doug Fister

The infield defense has struggled as planned and Fister has been a prime casualty, but that isn’t the only factor as a 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 1.2 HR/9 rate.  That factor should regress, especially for a groundball artist (2.2 GB/FB ratio), and that will cut into his 4.75 ERA.  Completing the Hail Mary pass would be a tightening up of the defense allowing him to pitch to a level on par with his skills which would be around 3.45 or better.

Francisco Liriano

Personally, I don’t think he should be trusted, but we are talking Hail Marys here.  He has a 3.12 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his seven starts since returning to the rotation.  We know the upside he has when everything is going perfectly.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Is he the next Liriano after his fall from grace last year?  Probably so, but like Liriano he is streaking in his last seven with a 2.93 ERA and 44 Ks in 46 innings.  In fact, they both started their streaks on June 5th so they are even more similar this year.  They both have ace upside.  Doesn’t mean they’ll will reach it, but the chance is there.

Ervin Santana

He likes to throw a stinker season in every once in a while to keep everyone honest I guess, but his capability is a commodity as proven in three of the previous four years from 2008-2011.  Unsurprisingly home runs were his issue in 2009, too, so figuring that out will be the key to his potential success going forward.  He doesn’t quite have ace potential because he peaks around 6.8-7.0 K/9, but with the Angels clicking, he can run off a bunch of wins with quality ratios if he gets himself figured out.

Clay Buchholz

Another guy I don’t really buy into, but people I respect do and besides, I’m trying to fix your crappy team not mine.  Even including the thrashing he suffered right before hitting the DL, he had 3.35 ERA and 5-1 record (including 4 straight Ws) in eight starts whittling his ERA from 9.09 to 5.53 in the process.  He is currently sitting on the DL with terrible bottom line numbers making now the best time to strike if you are interested.

Thursday: 06.30.2011

The Hail Mary Team, Part 1

As of right now 13 others are at 82 games, 11 teams are at the exact halfway point (81 games) and the remaining six are very close.  By Monday, every team will be at or beyond the halfway point so it’s safe to say the fantasy baseball season is also at the midpoint.  By now you should have a pretty strong feel for your team one way or another.  Unfortunately for some of us, that way might be “another” meaning lower end of the standings seemingly without a prayer.

You might not be like me, a guy who plays multiple leagues, meaning your summer could essentially be ruined before the fourth of July and with football (and with it fantasy football) in limbo, things look bleak.  But fear not, I am here to help.  While things may seem hopeless, they aren’t always as they seem and there may still be some hope or at the very least you can put in every last bit of effort and buy yourself at least another month to six weeks of fun trying climb back into the race.  Remember, while it best to win the league, many leagues still have a strong incentive to finish second, third or fourth (and sometimes fifth depending on league format) assuming there is a prize pool on the line (or a minor league draft which is often the reward for that first spot out of the money).

With that, I present to you the Hail Mary Team.  This team is for the owners who are down deep in the standings and for whom it looks like nothing short of a miracle will save them.  The Hail Mary Team is a list of currently underperforming (and thus almost certainly undervalued) assets who can reasonably be believed to be in for a major upturn in the second half of the season as they regress toward their career mean (regression to the mean isn’t always negative).  Whether they are dealing with a rash of bad luck, injury, flat out poor play or all three, their track record says they are way better than this and thus why not invest, especially at a discounted rate?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula to determine if a team is a candidate for this method, so you will have to base it on your league and the standings are stratified (though feel free to contact me in the comments or on Twitter if you want my opinion on the matter).  Ideally, you would want to have the most points to gain the counting categories (HR, R, RBI, W, SV, K) as opposed to the rate stats (AVG or OBP, ERA & WHIP) because the rate stats will be much harder to move at this point and going forward.  As you pile up innings and at-bats, great performances, even the best of the best, have less impact on those three categories.  That doesn’t mean you want to be dead last in the counting stats, but ideally a few (if not all) would be nicely clumped to where a surge could earn you several points instead of needing 6 HR for 1 pt but then another 20 for the next pt and still 10 more the third point, etc… you get the point.

The guys on the HMT should be available via trade at less than full price in your league (and some may even be waiver wire assets).  What you might do is trade one of your decent guys (not stars) for two or even three (depending on the players involved) of these players so the end result is still a net gain (assuming the Hail Marys [Maries?] connect, of course).  You may already have some of these guys which has led to your issues in the first place.  Hang onto them, add more and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.  The really fun part here will be the building of this team since actually winning is a longshot.  So if you team is on the ropes and you love trading, then this is a strategy for you.

Don’t be afraid to trade your stars in this strategy, but make sure you get a mint and that the extra assets are filling for zeroes or close to it.  Also make sure to get the upper echelon Hail Mary Teamers for your stars.  Don’t trade off your solid Hunter Pence for two “Also Keep In Mind” guys.  That will make more sense when you see the players, but the main point is that if you are getting several assets to plug some of the many holes that buried you in the first place, then don’t trade your star asset or at least don’t trade him to the owner who won’t pay.  Ideally you would like to keep your two or three best assets while adding a handful of the HMT’ers to the equation.  As always, I am available on Twitter (@sporer) clarification or for advice on potential offers.

One other thing before we get to the team of players, this is best executed in redraft leagues for obvious reasons.  If you are toast or near toast in a keeper league, you should be building for 2012 (and reading my Keeper Building Block series to help you with that) as opposed to taking a flier on winning the league or pushing your way into a money spot.

I will break this up a bit, but the entire team will be out by Monday so you can spend your fourth of July day off working the trade wires (or hanging out by the pool with some cold ones… either or).

CATCHER:

Carlos Santana (CLE) – Right or wrong, fantasy managers still pay a lot of attention to batting average and let that be the primary indicator as to whether or not a guy is playing well.  Santana’s batting average is .226 meaning he could be discounted.  However, some owners may realize he has 11 home runs already and he’s on pace for 23 with 74 runs scored and batted in along with an unexpected six stolen bases which is damn good from catcher even with a bad batting average.  If your league’s Santana manager is one of those realizing his full value, just move along, I have another name for you to fall back on.

Mike Napoli (TEX) – He is coming off of a busted month where he only played eight games before getting hurt.  He is slated to started his rehab assignment soon so now is the time to pounce.  His owner might look at the .221 average and think, “Man, I knew he wouldn’t be a batting average asset, but I wanted better than this, plus he only has 10 homers, dude’s weak.”  Dude’s not weak.  He’s toting an .836 OPS and .365 wOBA despite that garbage average because he’s walking at a near-career high clip (15%) and smashing a bomb every 14 at-bats.

Also keep in mind: Joe Mauer.  I can’t imagine he is anywhere near full price.  Some people never discount big names, though.  But check in on his team’s manager, you never know.  He won’t offer the power potential of the other two, though, and his primary asset (batting average) is the toughest category to fix.

FIRST BASE:

Coincidentally, both Santana and Napoli qualify at first base so you could use one of them or go with the obvious name…

Adam Dunn (CHW) – Do I really need to enlighten you on why he’s on this team?  Seven seasons of 38+ home runs including five with 40+, he didn’t just forget how to play.  He’s never been great against lefties, but a career mark of .234 with an .800 OPS is a helluva better than the 1-for-53 superslump he is current mired in against southpaws.  He might suck the rest of the year, there’s a real chance of that when you see him play.  That’s why it is a Hail Mary Team, because he might also smash 20+ home runs and getting some BABIP fortune to push his current .262 BABIP closer to his .294 career mark.

Also keep in mind: Aubrey Huff.  Should be dirt cheap and he was great as recently as last year.

SECOND BASE:

Dan Uggla (ATL) – Going with the obvious name here again, but it’s the best fit so there’s no reason not to put him on this “team”.  He does have 12 home runs so he isn’t terribly far off the pace of the 31 average he has set the over the last five years, but it comes with a .178 average and modest RBI and runs scored paces of 55 and 69, respectively, so he certainly shouldn’t be untouchable.  He is basically on pace for Aaron Hill’s 2010 season at this point right down to the absurdly low .189 BABIP so there is a precedent for this kind of season out of a proven player, but his power upside is worth the gamble for this experiment.

Ryan Raburn (DET) – He has become the second half surge posterboy over the last two years.  Last year he ended the first half with a .637 OPS and just two home runs.  He went on to rip 13 home runs, drive in 46, hit .305 and post a .900 OPS in the second half.  In 2009, it wasn’t so much that he languished through the first half, he was solid (.842 OPS, 6 HR in 50 G), but he took it to another level in the second half.  From the trade deadline to season’s end, he hit .350 (in 55 games) with 10 home runs.  Something about the dog days of summer puts a spring in Raburn’s bat.  He has the added benefit of dual-eligibility at second base and in the outfield.

Also keep in mind: Kelly Johnson & Hill.  Johnson is another guy who might draw a discount because of his .210 batting average, but a more savvy owner (or just one paying attention) realizes that his 26 HR/16 SB pace takes a lot of the sting out of that batting average.  You won’t know if you don’t inquire.  Hill’s comically low 3.2% HR/FB can’t  stick all year can it?  Not after years of 15% and 11%, right?  Although he did go a full season with a 4% rate back in 2004 plus he loves being the outlier of bad luck in metrics (see also: his 2010 BABIP mentioned above).  He can be a last resort at this position.

 

Next: Shortstops & Third Basemen

Wednesday: 06.22.2011

Second Base Addendum

After I posted the Keeper League Building Blocks for second base a reader mentioned a couple of names to me on Twitter that were to surprise exclusions for the reader: Dustin Ackley & Jemile Weeks.  The freshly called up prospects without 20 games between the two of them (17, 14 of which are Weeks’) weren’t included on purpose.  Anyone who has been reading this site for any amount of time since last year knows I am fan of both, so what gives?

A large portion of it has to do with their scant track records as we haven’t really seen how they will handle the majors leagues.  While I am bullish on both, I would certainly like to see more before recommending them as building blocks for a team.  Building block is the key phrase.  The point of this exercise is to identify the strongest and best players for your 2012 title run.  After all, you are trading your best 2011 pieces to your opponents so you need to get the best return possible.

Additionally, the fantasy profiles of each also contributes to their exclusion from a list that focuses so much on key contributors.  Ackley is supposed to be an on-base percentage monster (alas he’s yet to walk in his four games… so much for that, amirite???), but if you don’t play in an OBP league that hardly helps especially since he can have a great OBP based on walks with a batting average of .275 or below.

Let’s assume he does get on base at or near the 40% clip we’ve seen from him in his minor league career, who is going to drive him in?  They are less awful than last year’s historic futility, but they are still awful.  Beyond that, in the short-term he doesn’t profile to excel in any category whether as a pure hitter (batting average), a power producer (HR, RBI) or as a speedster (though he did get a 65 speed grade from Baseball America in their ’11 Handbook).  I think he can eventually become a .300+ hitter, but I don’t see it happening right away.

I really like Weeks, but like his brother Rickie he needs to show he can stay healthy which is something he has yet to do for a full season as a professional.  Initially he profiles as a speedster who could pile up SBs and use that speed for some extra hits en route to a good enough batting average (.260-.270).  Long-term his peak profile is a Ray Durham, but Durham didn’t start offering meaningful power or top .275 until his fourth year in the league.

The progression of youngsters isn’t linear so as hard as it is to project any player, it is even harder to project where Ackley & Weeks will go in 2012 and ultimately that is why I decided not to recommend them as essential building blocks for teams currently selling off their best players for foundational pieces.  If you have a deal lined up to get a building block, try to get one of these two thrown in, but don’t make them the centerpiece focus of a deal where you are trading your ace or $35 power bat.