StrategyFebruary 26, 2008

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Two Up, Two Down ’08: Center Field

By Michael Stephens

Although center field looks like it has few established fantasy superstars, plenty of great values are ripe for the picking after the top players are off the draft board. You aren’t likely to get great value out of Carlos Beltran or Ichiro, and everyone will be on the lookout for the unique talents of Grady Sizemore and Chris B. Young – my aim is to give two great middle-round values who are poised for bounce-back seasons, and also bring into the light two breakout players from 2007 who will not repeat the production of their stellar seasons.


Andruw Jones

Jones suffered through easily the worst season of his 11 year career in 2007, posting career lows in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.


He turns 31 in April, however, so concerns about deterioration of his skills are unfounded. Before last season, he only posted a batting average under .261 and OPS under .833 once (in 2001). Below, Jones’ 10-year averages paint a much different picture than the previous table suggests:


Jones’ 2005 and 2006 seasons, when he hit 51 and 41 home runs respectively, should be a much more accurate ceiling than the abysmal numbers he posted in ‘07. His speed on the base paths has lessened – you can only count on 7-10 SBs this season – but the power numbers should jump from last year’s totals. With a talented, young lineup around him in Los Angeles, I fully expect Jones’ production to progress much closer to his career averages, making him a great buy-low candidate in the middle rounds.

Vernon Wells

In 2007, the Blue Jays’ 29-year-old center fielder, after signing off-season contract extension, posted his worst season since joining the major leagues in 2002. The only updraft to his 2007 – he stole double-digit bases (10) for the second straight year. Wells, much like Jones, turned in career lows in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.


However unlike Jones, who seemed to have no tangible reason for his regression, Wells’ dip in numbers looks more and more like the product of a nagging shoulder injury that was fixed when doctors repaired a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He has full range of motion in the shoulder now and is on track to begin the season healthy and re-energized. I would expect a progression toward the five-year averages Wells established prior to last year:


His injury status and decline in numbers will cause many to take pause when considering Wells. This should give you the perfect opportunity to snatch him up a few rounds later than he should be taken and enjoy increased production for a reduced price!


Aaron Rowand
Rowand enjoyed a career year in 2007, posting career highs in runs scored, runs batted in, and home runs. He also saw significant increases in his on-base and slugging percentages and batting average from his two-year averages established in 2005 and 2006.


Targeting Rowand on draft day will be problematic, not because of a decline in skills, but instead from a change of venue and teammates that will affect his production (but likely not his draft day price). Rowand left the home-run-happy confines of Citizen’s Bank in Philadelphia for AT&T Park in San Francisco in the off-season. On top of that, he joins a Giants team that scored 209 fewer runs than the Phillies last year, and will consistently face tougher pitching in the NL West, with no one to protect him in the lineup. Instead of being surrounded by the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, Rowand will hit in the geriatric, anemic lineup of the Giants. The Phillies finished as either the first or second ranked team in the National League in all categories below, while the Giants ranked in the bottom three of all NL teams in R, HR, RBI, and OPS.

Phillies892 (1st)213 (2nd)850 (1st).812 (1st)
Giants683 (15th)131 (14th)641 (16th).708 (16th)

Keep in mind also that Rowand also posted his lowest stolen base total of the last 3 years in 2007, and he is hitting an age bracket (30+) where speed begins to decline.


He won’t post terrible numbers in 2008 by any means, but expecting anything near his production from last season is a pipe dream. You could do worse than Rowand as your fourth outfielder, but you can get much better value from a higher-upside player in a better lineup (like Matt Kemp).

Juan Pierre

Pierre makes the list of downers mainly because of the fact that his playing time has come into question for the 2008 season (due to the aforementioned acquisition of Andruw Jones). With fierce battles in the outfield between Pierre, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp for the corner outfield spots in LA, Pierre stands to become irrelevant in fantasy with a loss of at bats.

When you are a one-trick pony like Pierre, you must get as much playing time as possible – if he cannot get the 600+ at bats that he requires to steal the 50 or more bases (which hold the majority of his value), you’re better off grabbing someone like Shane Victorino, Corey Patterson, or Willy Taveras with your late-round pick. Below are projections (based on Pierre’s 3-year averages), if he gets fewer at bats this season:


I would argue that Pierre is almost worthless in new-age leagues that use SLG% or OPS as extra categories, because his glaring lack of power production is even more preeminent when more than the traditional 5 criteria are used. Regardless of your scoring system, I would avoid Pierre on draft day unless you can talk everyone down and snag him for $2 or a late round pick, as he is bound to be over-valued for his fabled 60 steal upside. If you think he can get those 600 ABs, then Pierre might be worth market price, but I wouldn’t bank on that fact – and neither should you.

Michael Stephens is an avid fantasy sports enthusiast who writes for the Cafe. He hails from the Pacific Northwest and is a die-hard Mariner fan to the core! You can find Michael in the Cafe's forums where he actively posts under the name WaCougMBS.
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