Welcome back to the 2 Up, 2 Down series. Today, we’re tracking the outfield, which is normally one of the trickier positions to fill in your draft because of the sheer number of options and the question about the quality of the position from top to bottom. In last season’s 2 Up and 2 Down, Andre Ethier and Nelson Cruz proved to be big hits while Carlos Quentin and Ryan Ludwick were proven to be correct misses. This year, it’s yours truly alone who will run around the warning track in identifying two outfielders you should move up your cheat sheet and two outfielders you should move down.
Let’s open this discussion with a little game of “Guess The Player” based off 2009 statistics:
Player A: 102 R, 10 HR, 62 RBI, 25 SB, .292 BA on 620 AB
Player B: 97 R, 8 HR, 68 RBI, 23 SB, .311 BA on 578 AB
What if I told you that Player B has been frequently going for an early 11th round pick while Player A is regularly being taken as an early 8th round selection? Surely, you would think that Player B is potentially better value than Player A, given similar counting stats and a higher batting average in Player B’s favor.
If you did not cheat by peeking down, then you should be pleasantly surprised that Player B is…
Denard Span – Minnesota Twins
I know what you’re thinking: Denard Span? The name just screams club soda, doesn’t it? Even the average person’s palate is educated enough to know the difference between club soda and Coca Cola, even in a blind taste test; club soda usually tastes watered down and has less fizz while Coca Cola is a bit sweeter, has a bit more of that carbonated “oomph” that you just can’t quite put your finger on. Surely, Player A has to be Coca Cola? Surely Player A has to have that “oomph,” that justification to be drafted as an 8th rounder, right? Well, I will argue that the difference between Span and Player A isn’t quite as pronounced and besides, reasoning by analogy with regards to fantasy baseball or anything in life for that matter is an unhealthy practice, just like it is bad for your health to drink too much club soda and Coke.
Analogies aside, Denard Span snuck up on a number of fantasy managers last year, hitting leadoff for a Twins lineup that flexed its Mauer Power and its share of lumber from the likes of Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel. In his short time in the big leagues, Span has exhibited terrific on-base skills. In 411 plate appearances through 93 games in 2008, Span posted a .387 OBP and followed that up with a .392 OBP and a contact rate a trace under 90 percent in 2009, which just about validated Span’s leadoff role. While it remains to be seen how the Twins’ new home ballpark, open-air Target Field, will affect the Twins’ big boppers, Span does not figure to display 15+ home run power nor does he need to in order to justify his value. While Span’s success rate on the base paths does not scream efficiency, it is not a stretch to pencil in the 26 year-old Span for 30 stolen bases, given his excellent knack for getting on base frequently. For a potential 11th round value, the prospect of 100 runs, a .300 batting average, and 25 stolen bases makes Span a great target, ideally if your team is in need of some batting average support later in the draft.
Alex Rios – Chicago White Sox
Around the same median draft position of Denard Span is Alex Rios, and while in recent years Rios has carried the perception of being overvalued and overrated in some fantasy managers’ minds, this has to be the one season where this five-category threat is coming into the year as underrated and, in my humble opinion, he’s being criminally underrated. Rios’ 2009 season was marred by bad luck, and even though a waiver deal with the White Sox held promise for Rios’ flailing fantasy fortunes, Rios wound up hitting a point under the Mendoza Line as one of the Pale Hose. Despite a .247 average and a rough transition with a new team and a new setting, Rios still managed to slug 17 home runs and swipe 24 bags.
Taking into account his 2009 campaign, Rios is a lifetime .319 BABIP hitter and it is relatively safe to say his .273 BABIP from last season has nowhere to go but up. The key for Rios is to spray more line drives this year, a season removed from a 16.4 percent line drive rate, a career low for a batter who is expected to post at least a 20 percent line drive rate. Rios’ plate discipline is relatively unchanged from past seasons, and in fact, he made inroads to cutting down his hacks outside the strike zone (27.2% O-Swing in 2008 to 26.1% in 2009; 61.6% O-Contact in 2008 to 58.5% in 2009). The 29 year-old Rios figures to carry a solid stolen base success rate into 2010 as well, and moving into the home run haven called U.S. Cellular Field, Rios could reasonably push 20 home runs again. Put it all together and you’re getting Rios’ 20/20 or 25/25 potential dab smack in the 10th-11th rounds. Don’t let Rios’ putrid 2009 faze you from recognizing a possible big-time bargain.
Alfonso Soriano – Chicago Cubs
Odds are if you see me hovering around the Draft, Trade, Keepers, & Waivers board, you can find me replying to the Alfonso Soriano-related questions stating that Soriano is on my personal avoid list in this year’s drafts. Soriano might be the best example of an aging slugger who gets by on his name value when his underlying skills seem to suggest that his upside is limited while the downside is real and apparent. The 34 year-old outfielder has been known to be a hacker by nature, as evidenced by an outside swing percentage usually in the 37-40% range, but tends to make up for it by being a prolific dead red fastball hitter. Last season, Soriano saw a dramatic drop in fastballs seen, a decrease by more than seven percent from 2008 to 2009 (53.2% FB in 2008 to 46% in 2009). Opposing pitchers seemed more inclined to pitch around Soriano by going down and away with their offspeed pitches, exploiting Soriano’s hacking ways. Hampered by a bothersome left knee, Soriano’s bat speed slowed down considerably, and while he still mustered 20 home runs in 477 at-bats last year, he finished with a .241 batting average and sat out 45 games.
It seems that Soriano’s effectiveness will simply come down to his health, namely how his knee holds up, which could be the main factor as to why his bat speed dwindled the way it did in 2009. Given his history of nagging leg ailments and the fact he has not cracked 20 stolen bases in his three years as a Northsider, Soriano is a doubt to steal 10 to 15 bases. There are also murmurs that Soriano could hit 6th or 7th in the Cubs order, which will decrease the number of his plate appearances and his R/RBI stats. One cannot rule out a significant chunk of games with which Soriano has to sit out from, especially if the knee becomes an issue. Considering all these factors, Soriano can be fool’s gold in the 10th-11th rounds, right around where Alex Rios and Denard Span are going for.
Shane Victorino – Philadelphia Phillies
If you have a keen memory of putting a name or a face to a player’s stats, then you would have deduced that Player A in the Span comparison was Shane Victorino. I’m going to be really candid here by saying I dislike Shane Victorino. In the last couple of NLCS hosted at Dodger Stadium, Victorino gets the biggest jeer of all the Phillies at the Ravine, but in truth, that’s me booing through a loudspeaker. If I ever bump into Victorino at one of my favorite local Hawaiian restaurants, Back Home in Lahaina, you better believe I’d give him a good heckling. Yours truly was even duped into taking Victorino in the fifth round of last season’s Experts Challenge League, all because Victorino is also a fan of their delectable fried chicken at Back Home in Lahaina (it’s almost as good as another L.A. local favorite Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, and that’s saying something), only for him to stop well short of the 10-15 home run and 30-35 stolen base threshold I would have otherwise hoped for. So much for the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em… without betraying your hometown team’s allegiances totally” approach.
In the spirit of impartiality, however, I’m down on Victorino’s fantasy value for a couple of constructive reasons. One reason has to deal with the idea of Placido Polanco taking up Shane Victorino’s perch of batting second in the Phillies’ potent lineup. This would slot Victorino in the 7th spot and while he could have the RBI opportunities to knock in the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez, The Flyin’ Hawaiian’s run total and his number of plate appearances are likely to decrease. For some reason, Victorino’s stolen base opportunities diminished noticeably despite logging in nearly 700 plate appearances in the regular season.
The other reasons I’d knock down Victorino’s value have to do with where he’s drafted with respect to some out of his outfield peers, and because some of what he brings to the table can be replaced later. The Flyin’ Hawaiian for an eighth round pick sounds fairly reasonable, but he has a slightly higher MDP than the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Carlos Quentin, Nate McLouth, and Jay Bruce, all of whom either have more upside than Victorino or can in some way replace what Victorino brings to the table. Most notably, let’s think of Andrew McCutchen as a younger Victorino type with the upshot of 40 stolen bases and 90-100 runs hitting leadoff for a Pirates offense that’s not quite as lucrative as the Phillies, but given McCutchen’s solid OBP, he can score 90-100 runs. As noted before, you could wait a few rounds and get a comparable average and stolen base total from the likes of Denard Span. There are also a couple of stolen base specialists in attractive situations such as Nyjer Morgan and Julio Borbon who figure to lead off and have 45-50 stolen base potential. While Victorino could have a fair shot at 15 home runs playing half of the season in a bandbox, I prefer to lock up a high upside outfield choice in, say, Carlos Quentin or Jay Bruce, and pair that selection with a Span, Morgan, Borbon, or Dexter Fowler type, without losing anything of what Victorino can provide.
That’ll about do it for the outfield edition of 2 Up, 2 Down. Stay tuned tomorrow for another 2 Up, 2 Down, as we preview starting pitchers. Until then, be champions.
True to his Cafe name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan with an epicurean taste for everything, especially when it comes to comparing fried chicken. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, consultant, and you can find him in a luxury suite at Dodger Stadium, disappointed not only by the team's performance but disappointed that the Dodger Dogs in the luxury suites aren't that different from the all you can eat outfield bleachers.
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