Slightly deeper keepers

This week I’m going to delve a bit deeper and look at some players who project to be drafted outside next year’s top 50. These players were seen as pretty reliable producers but have disappointed this year. Some of these players may have even been drafted in the top 50 this season. I believe all the players discussed here are good bets to bounce back, to varying degrees. Without speculating on potential keeper structures out there, suffice to say that although these players did not produce to their draft positions this year, if you were able to acquire them on the cheap, they may be worth considering going into next season.

You may notice a trend in that the position players discussed in this article are better counting numbers producers than they are percentage players. This is not a coincidence and should be considered yet another lesson in being cognizant of the peripherals underlying a player’s superficial star-level production. Beware of the reliability of poor percentage players.

Cole Hamels

Hamels is having, superficially, a pedestrian season to say the least. Those who drafted him in the early rounds ahead of the likes of Dan Haren have been kicking themselves all year, and his perceived value has likely taken a hit as a result.

While I was a bit worried about Hamels coming into the season because of his injury history and the ballpark he pitches in, those issues haven’t been his undoing. Hamels looks to be on pace to toss around 200 innings again, and his K, BB, and HR rates are all almost identical to last season’s. Frankly, Hamels has been the victim of BABIP. Hardly shocking, Brad Lidge has also blown two wins for Hamels; 10-8 would be a lot prettier than 8-8.

Hamels still has what it takes to be an ace, and his performance this year has been a lot closer to the Hamels we have come to expect to see than his numbers indicate.

Corey Hart

Hart looked to be reliable 20/20 outfielder with the potential to a emerge as true stud. This year he got off to a mediocre start and then had his season derailed when he was sidelined due to an emergency appendectomy.

Hart has a pretty reliable track record throughout his young career though. He should be considered a four- to five-category contributor and his outlook going forward should remain strong.

Hitting in an order with the likes of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder can only help, but Hart is a free agent after this season, so keep an eye out for where he ends up.

Alexei Ramirez

Although this season has been something of a disappointment for his owners, I’m not ready to give up on Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez kind of reminds me off Alfonso Soriano; especially in the sense that his fantasy potential is much higher than his actual potential. But, that’s what we’re supposed to care about here, right?

I thought Alexei was a little bit overhyped coming into this season and I view his “disappointment” as being a bit more of a recalibration of expectations than an actual failure. Taking this season at face value, the picture changes a bit. It’s hard to really label a season that looks to end in the vicinity of 20/20, 80/80 with a neutral batting average as a failure for a second-year middle infielder. Ramirez still has very strong fantasy potential, and a few circumstantial factors hampered this season as well.

First, Ramirez got off to a terrible start. Second, he seems to have something of a contentious relationship with Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has been displeased at times with Ramirez’s defense, effort, approach at the plate, or the way he puts the dishes away. It’s always something. Now, granted, most of these things are legitimate criticisms of Ramirez, but Ramirez has been benched at times, shuffled around in the order, and in general been at the mercy of Guillen’s whims. Originally pegged as a No. 2 hitter, Ramirez has played more time in the seventh, eighth, and ninth slots. Not surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of his runs scored came when hitting second, even though that accounted for only about half of his PAs.

Gordon Beckham is a natural SS, so who knows what the offseason holds for Alexei and the White Sox. If Ramirez is able to ingratiate himself to Ozzie and move himself toward the top of the order, or if he finds himself in a different situation next season, Ramirez could conceivably provide production not too dissimilar to Brandon Phillips.

Alex Rios

Rios has been somewhat enigmatic over his career. Many thought 2006 was the beginning of great things for him and he pretty much delivered in 2007. Then, in 2008 we saw the power take a step back, but he was able to make up for that, in terms of overall value, by swiping a career high 32 bags. This year has been considered a disappointment for Rios. The Blue Jays agreed, and now he’s in Chicago.

Like Ramirez, this season hasn’t been as bad for Rios as it looks at first glance. First of all, he’s been victimized by a terrible BABIP even though his GB/FB/LD percentages haven’t changed all that drastically from years past. His strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career averages too. So, the .250 batting average is surely misrepresentative of his performance at the plate. Since Rios does not walk very much, that has jettisoned his OBP to the point that it is difficult to score a lot of runs. Rios should still wind up hitting around 20 homers and stealing about 25 bases.

While it seems clear that his ceiling isn’t as high as we had once thought it may be, Rios is still 28 years old, and I don’t see his long-term prospects as being much different coming into next year as they were coming into this year. Expect at least a moderate rebound.

James Shields

In 2007 and 2008, James Shields had two key assets that pegged him as a great value among fantasy pitchers, strong peripherals and low name recognition. This season, Shields may have taken a step backwards, but not as far as his superficial numbers may indicate. All things considered, Shields is basically still showing the same overall skill set that made him a valuable asset over the previous two seasons.

One of the strengths Shields has been able to boast is a very low walk rate. In ’07 and ’08, he walked 1.5 and 1.7 batters per nine, respectively. This season that rate has risen to just above 2, which is still a very strong number. What has really bitten Shields has been a higher BABIP than the past two years. He’s already given up more hits this season than he had in either of the previous ones, despite having more thrown more than 20 fewer innings. Part of this is a result of Tampa’s defense not being as strong as it was last year, but part of it is also due to luck. His home run rate is in line with what it has been throughout his career as well.

The one element of his game that is mildly concerning is his strikeout rate, which has fallen again and now sits at just about league average. One other point of note is that Tampa Bay has Shields locked up for several years, which restricts his prospects of getting out the AL East.

However, I’m confident that Shields has what it takes to rebound in his upcoming age 29 season. Ratcheting the strikeouts back up would be great, but even if he floats around seven per nine, Shields should be in line for a favorable regression.

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Comments

  1. Steve said...

    I’ve got Rios in a 12-team league, keep 10 players. My desire to hang on to him after this season erodes by the day. On the other hand, recent pickup Carlos Gonzalez is looking mighty keepable. Do I need to be talked out of this potential swap?

  2. Todd said...

    Holy crap… you look at five potential keepers, and four of them are on my team (14-team league). Of course, they are all already under contract for next year, but reassurances are nice.

  3. Jason B said...

    Having owned Hart for the last two seasons, I second Steve’s notion. I’ll let someone else deal with overpaying for the disappointment next year.  Fool me once, etc…

  4. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Nev,

    I know Milwaukee bought out his eligibility for 2009, his status going forward may be in question.

    Still, I believe he is something of a “known-quantity” going forward. Beyond true studs, I think 20/20 guys are very valuable when it comes down to filling out your roster, as you want to do your best to avoid having to rely on one-trick-ponies to make up deficiencies in individual categories. Hart’s long term projection remains relatively static regardless.

    Steve,

    With 12 teams and 10 keepers per, I would think that if you’re considering Gonzalez, there may be somebody else with less upside to consider excluding instead of Rios – he does have two top 50-ish seasons under his belt already.

    I’d be curious to know the other players on your bubble besides Rios before making a recommendation.

  5. Steve @ MLB Fantasy Prospects said...

    I had Corey Hart in my sim league and I was happy to trade him. That guy disappointed me for a season and a half. I still have flashbacks to the playoffs last year when he pretty much swung at whatever a Phillies pitcher would throw, regardless if it hit the ground or if it was delivered underhand. I gotta disagree with you on this one!

    If you get a chance, check out our feature on Jarrod Parker today!

    http://www.mlbfantasyprospects.com/2009/09/24-mlb-fantasy-prospect-jarrod-parker-sp-arizona-diamondbacks-scouting-report.html

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Disappointment or satisfaction don’t exist in a vacuum; they are directly determined by price point.

    From ‘06-07, Hart hit .280 and averaged 81R, 22HR, 86RBI, 23SB.

    That’s not a disappointment; that’s a fine line with a lot of fantasy value. Whether you overpaid for that production, possibly because you were expecting more, is a separate issue.

    My point about Hart is that if you’re in a keeper league where you keep a lot of players, like 10, it’s somewhat likely you don’t have 10 players better more valuable than Hart, despite how you feel emotionally about his production.

    Lots of things that matter in real baseball don’t matter in fantasy; only the bottom line production counts here and Hart has been pretty productive, fantasy-wise, in his brief career. A year like 2006 or 2007 would be top 100 value and his ceiling is higher than that.

    If you’re in a re-draft league, Hart will come much cheaper than he did this year and last, so he represents a likely bargain on draft day.

  7. Jason B said...

    Derek—

    I don’t disagree, at all.  I’m just not sure his price will come down enough to generate any sort of sufficient value for the modest production he’s given in 2008-09, and/or I’m not sure I want to (again) (over)pay for a shot at the excellent production we saw in 2006-07.

    Such are the things that create value, I suppose; you get enough owners who are soured on a toolsy, yet underwhelming, player and perhaps his price drops enough to reach ‘value’ status again.

    (Of course, batting sixth ahead of the likes of Bill Hall and Jason Kendall doesn’t do much for the ol’ run totals, either…)

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