Keeper League Mailbag: Question #1by Jeffrey Gross
August 24, 2010
Over the next seven days, Brad Johnson, Derek Carty and I will answer seven Fantasy Mailbag questions with a strong focus on keeper leagues. We will attempt to cover one or two per day, with the series rounding out by Friday or Saturday. I hope these answers will help you during the offseason and as Aug. 31 trade deadlines arrive (at least for leagues that have such a late deadline). Thank you to all who sent in questions; we greatly appreciate your feedback and participation. We apologize to those whose questions weren't chosen for answering and hope you find answers (and solace) here nonetheless.
Without further ado, I present question No. 1, which comes from Amit, who writes:
League: 14 Team Mixed 5x5 Roto w/ 2 Catchers
Can keep 5 at listed prices (did a lot of trading for low priced rookies).
Any Sept. Call-ups to pick up now, and hold until next year?
C. Santana - $4
Arencibia - $4
Ike Davis - $4
Ian Stewart - $13
B. Wallace - $4
Aybar - $14
Walker (PIT) - $4
Coghlan - $5
Gardner - $4
C. Young - $6
D. Jennings - $4
Smoak - $4
D. Brown - $6
CJ Wilson - $4
Feliz - $4
Hellickson - $4
Bumgarner - $4
Amit, of the players you can keep, I would recommend you at least keep Carlos Santana, Neftali Feliz and Jeremy Hellickson.
Santana and Arencibia may have similar power upsides (though I give the edge to Arencibia), but in both AVG and OBP leagues, Santana will be the more valuable player. Arencibia's MLE production this season (per Minor League Splits equivocates into a .242 AVG and .286 OBP. Arencibia is a player with plenty of power (.235 MLE ISO), but his poor plate discipline (MiLB career: 350/92 K/BB ratio, 22% K%, 5.4% BB% in the minors), his extreme flyball ways (MiLB career: 47.4% FB%, good for ISO but bad for AVG) and an unhealthy popup propensity (MiLB career: 12.6 IFFB%) will forever limit his AVG/OBP upside and fantasy value. In AVG leagues, Arencibia is a Jack Cust-type eligible at catcher. In OBP leagues, he’s a John Buck clone. On the other hand, Santana’s numbers this year translate into an MLE of .275/.385/.500. Furthermore, Santana was producing a .260/.401/.467 line with six HR (and three SB) in less than 200 PA before going down with a knee injury. Of course, recovering from a knee injury has risks of its own, but in terms of productive upside, Santana clearly has the edge on Arencibia if for no other reason than his AVG/OBP potential. I personally peg the Indians offensive lineup to be much more potent in 2010 (especially with a healthy/productive Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo in the nucleus of the order), so there should not be lingering R/RBI concerns for Santana (assuming they slot him back in the middle of the lineup again next season).
Next, you have to take Hellickson because he is not only the best pitcher of the names listed above, but he’s also one of the best (pitching) prospects in baseball. Hellickson not only toyed with minor league hitters this season (2.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 123:35 K/BB ratio over 117.2 IP, 3.45 MLE FIP), but he also proved himself capable of holding his own in the majors. In four starts this season against the Twins (.344 wOBA, third-best in baseball), the Tigers, Orioles and A's, Hellickson produced a strong 2.05 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP and a ridiculous 25:4 K/BB ratio over 26.1 IP. Though Hellickson will be almost exclusively used in a relief role for the rest of 2010, there is a strong likelihood that he will garner a rotation spot in 2011—he has nothing left to prove in the minors.
Finally, I recommend Feliz as a “must keep” because he has been strong as a closer on a contending team that should also contend in 2011 (3.57 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 31-for-34 in save chances), but there is always the possibility that Texas returns Feliz to the starting role that he was born to play. Even with Cliff Lee and Colby Lewis hanging around, the Rangers' 4.36 xFIP ranks in the bottom half of baseball's pitching staffs. Rich Harden’s 2011 option is almost certain to be declined by the Rangers’ and Feliz compiled a strong 3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 325:119 K/BB ratio (2.73) over 276 innings (mostly as a starter) en route to a 2.87 FIP in the minors. MLS pegs Neftali career numbers as a starter as worth a 4.10 FIP in the Arlington. That mark would best all of the Rangers’ starters this year short of Lee and Lewis.
The rest of the keeps are personal suggestions. I like Gardner’s pricetag given his AVG/SB upside (7.9 speed score this year) and improving walking skills. If Gardner continues to get on base more than 35% of the time, he will easily bust the 50 SB mark in 550 PA. Swisher and Granderson will almost certainly occupy two of the three available OF spots for the Yankees in 2010, but there is no reason (short of Carl Crawford) that the 27-year-old Gardner (.357 wOBA, +21.6 UZR/150 as an OF this season, +26.8 career) won’t see the majority of the playing time in 2011—even if Thames (.388 wOBA in 2010, .338 career) or Kearns (.418 wOBA, .343 career), both of whom have expiring contracts, returns to wear pinstripes in 2011. If you think Crawford is going to sign with the Yankees (and not re-sign with the Rays), however, perhaps Domonic Brown (.292/.330/.472 MLE) would be a better OF keep.
With your final keeper spot, I would also recommend stashing away Desmond Jennings for 2011. He's torn up minor league pitching in his MiLB career (combined .300/.382/.443 line) and while "the next Carl Crawford" has not flashed much Carl Crawford power (MiLB career: .102 MLE ISO), he’s stolen his fair share of bases (168/200 in stolen base attempts over 413 MiLB games). MLS is bearish on Jennings’ career MLE (.241/.303/.343 (.646 OPS)), but Jennings’ increased line drive propensities in Triple-A this year, combined with an increased groundball rate, should lend to a higher MLE AVG (and OBP, when paired with his above average 10.5 percent walk rate in the minors).
Other guys like C.J. Wilson, Domonic Brown and Madison Bumgarner are certainly enticing options based on their minor/major league performances this year (as is Justin Smoak if for no other reason than his minor league career numbers), but some combination of xFIP splits, high xBABIPs and LOB%'s, a history of injuries or a lack of a proven track record in the majors makes these four guys more risky in my view. Brown is the most enticing keeper of the four listed here, as his MiLB numbers are nothing short of superb (plus, if someone won't trade you for Roy Halladay, you are probably pretty good). As someone who likes to evaluate players not absolutely, but in terms of profit (risk-production-cost analysis), I see Santana, Hellickson, Feliz, Gardner and Jennings as the best options to keep.
In terms of September call-ups to watch out for, at least in the AL, I would keep an eye on Dan Johnson, Ivan Nova, Chris Davis, Kila Kaaihue, Brandon Allen, Chris Tillman, Mike Moustakas and Lars Anderson. This will be the topic of this week’s AL WW column (No. 1), so I’ll leave this analysis for later in the week.
Jeffrey Gross is an attorney (and die-hard Cubs fan) who currently resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he also reviews tasty adult beverages as part of a side project titled "saBEERmetrics." He previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at saBEERmetrics AT gmail DOT com.
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