For one brief moment this week, the Astros were better than the Rangers, Justin Maxwell was the early leader in the American League MVP race, and Bo Porter was the early favorite for Manager of the Year. Up was down, down was up, cats were dogs, dogs were cats.
Then Yu Darvish struck out 200 Astros (approximately, I stopped watching after five innings, like an idiot), came within an out of a perfect game (so I’m told), and order was restored to the universe.
Early season baseball is filled with stories like these every year. It’s part of what makes the games fun, and part of what makes the waiver wire in the early going a vast wilderness for me to hyperbolize.
Last week we touched on three recently named starting pitchers. This week? Three sort-of big name American League middle infielders who are widely available.
Stephen Drew | Red Sox | SS | ESPN: 1.6 percent ownership | Yahoo!: 9 percent | CBS: 33 percent
Oliver ROS: .243/.320/.381 in 467 plate appearances
We’ll start with the bad. Injuries have limited Drew greatly over the past two seasons, with the shortstop playing just 86 games in 2011 and 79 in 2012. His numbers during that time were not very good, and there’s no way around that (wOBAs of .315 and .291, respectively). He’s also getting a late start to this season, his Age 30 campaign, because of lingering concussion symptoms (an injury for which forecasting recovery time is virtually impossible). This is why owners passed on Drew during drafts this spring, and this is why his ownership levels are so low for a (somewhat) big name player, who should still be in his prime.
The news that Drew went on a rehab assignment Thursday and could be back in Boston by Monday presents owners with a chance to take advantage of a market inefficiency. When Drew is healthy he’s a useful player. From 2008-2010, playing in 152, 135 and 151 games, Drew posted wOBAs of .355, .321, and .355. He’s provided solid pop, especially at a thin position, and can provide a nice boost in leagues that reward walks (posting rates between 8.2 percent and 11.3 since 2009).
As Marc Normandin pointed out in December, Drew probably will not pepper the Green Monster, given his career pull/center field/opposite field ISO splits of .303/.185/.099, but there is reason to believe his bat can play in Fenway Park. And while the Red Sox lineup is not quite the modern day Murderer’s Row it once was, a healthy Drew could rack up RBI and runs at a healthy pace.
Of course all of this depends on whether or not Drew is healthy, and only time will be able to tell that.
Recommendation: He’s worth adding now in AL only leagues and deeper mixed leagues that use multiple shortstops or middle infielders. Shallower mixed league owners can take a wait-and-see approach to feel out Drew’s health, how much his skill has diminished over the past two years, and what effect Fenway Park will have.
Yunel Escobar | Rays | SS | ESPN: 4.7 percent ownership | Yahoo!: 11 percent | CBS: 39 percent
YTD: .125/.125/.250 in two games
Oliver ROS: .261/.327.351
If injuries are the reason Drew is undervalued right now, the same cannot be said for Yunel Escobar, who basically ran himself out of Toronto last season, after basically running himself out of Atlanta before that. So who stepped up and saw value there? Why, the Rays, of course!
Always searching for any edge, Tampa Bay acquired him from Toronto over the winter for
peanuts Derek Dietrich. He’s been enigmatic on the field as well, posting wOBAs of .360, .301, .348, and .284 from 2009-12. Of particular concern, however, is the 4.5 percent drop in his walk rate from 2011 to 2012, which Ian Malinowski from D Rays Bay dove into in January.
There’s considerable upside here, including help in average, on-base, and possibly HRs (at least relative to the shortstop field). With that, of course, comes considerable risk.
Recommendation: Worth a gamble if you have a need. As long as expectations aren’t sky high, he could provide some valuable depth at a position that sorely lacks it.
Gordon Beckham | White Sox | SS | ESPN: 9.1 percent ownership | Yahoo!: 7 percent | CBS: 37 percent
YTD: .200/.333/.200 in two games
Oliver ROS: .247/.312/.376
Full disclosure: Beckham is on this list mostly because he was on my dynasty team after the White Sox made him the eighth overall selection in the 2008 draft. I had him for all of his enticing 2009 rookie season, when he triple slashed .270/.347/.460 in 103 games. His WAR in those 103 games was 2.5, and unbelievably bright things seemed to be on the horizon.
This did not turn out to be the case. His combined WAR in the three years since is a meager 1.9. His batting numbers seem to have bottomed out with remarkably similar 2011 and 2012 lines of .230/.296/.337 and .234/.296/.371.
There’s a hint of hope in those 2012 figures, with a 34 point increase in slugging percentage due to a 30 point jump in ISO. He also managed to carve 4.6 percent off his strikeout rate and had a seemingly unlucky BABIP of .254. He’s still just 26, and there’s talk this spring (again) about a change in batting stance that might help him be more useful.
I’ll need to see it to believe it, though.
Recommendation: Beckham provides value in the sense that he’s generally healthy, and will get enough playing time to post decent counting statistics. He’s real life bad, but fantasy useful in a pinch. Expecting him to be the player he teased us with in 2009 seems increasingly unrealistic, so picking him up hoping for a breakout is something to avoid until he shows something to make those batting stance stories seem believable. Until then he’s a capable, if unsexy, injury fill-in.
Popsicle Stick Joke of the Day:
Question: Why did the cookie go to the doctor?
Answer: He was feeling crummy.