If You Like...

If You Like Elvis Andrus, Try Derek Jeter

One gratifying aspect of playing fantasy baseball is drafting a player heading into a breakout season.  It's one reason Brett Lawrie is being drafted in the fifth round and Matt Moore in the ninth.  Unlike those two, Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus has 443 big league games under his belt, and he's only 23 years old.  However, I still think Andrus is being drafted in the fourth round (43.75 ADP on Mock Draft Central) because of what he might do rather than what he has done.

Andrus is one of the game's best shortstops, but his value comes from defense as well as the ability to get on base pretty well for his position.  We're looking through the lens of a standard 5x5 league here at RotoAuthority, so we only care about Andrus' batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs scored, and stolen bases.   He excels in runs and steals, and shouldn't hurt you on batting average (.271 career).  There's no reason to expect him to develop power, so the speculating seems to be based on potential for a higher average or an increase from last year's 96 runs or 37 steals.

That speculation is valid, but also risky for such an early pick.  As Baseball HQ has noted, Andrus had a second-half uptick in his walk and contract rates, which if maintained might lead to a .290-.300 average.  The run total is fairly unpredictable, but it's easy to envision five extra swipes, especially if he's on base a bit more.  Give Andrus a .295 average, 95 runs, and 40 steals, and I'm sold - he's easily the fourth-best shortstop, and is flirting with Jose Reyes value.

It seems just as likely to me, however, that Andrus' second half wasn't a sign of anything, and he continues along at his current level.  Peg him for .276-4-53-88-35 in 583 ABs - completely reasonable - and you've got a shortstop who offers little advantage over those taken much later, including Derek Jeter, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jimmy Rollins.

As a 37-year-old, Jeter is the most boring of those three, and despite his fame he's being drafted in the 11th round on average.  Boring can help win fantasy leagues.  Last year a calf strain cost Jeter some June ABs, leading to his lowest total in a long time at 546.  He'd been at 630+ in each of the two previous seasons, so a 615 projection isn't crazy for 2012.  That comes out to a .287-9-65-90-17 line, which seems conservative in runs and average.  This projection gives Jeter a $9.19 value, only $1.34 below the aforementioned Andrus line.

I understand the appeal of Andrus -- he's exciting, and who's to say he doesn't hit .310 with 50 steals and 110 runs?  The bottom line is that there's too much hoping going on for a player who is 44th off the board, and as early as 26th in some leagues.  In our recent RotoAuthority mock draft, Tom Warman did not have to reach for Andrus, and I respect the pick in the sixth round.  As you might expect, I was the one taking Jeter, and I actually did reach by grabbing him in the ninth round.  That's a bit misleading, because due to my draft position, I wouldn't go again for 21 more picks.

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If You Like Mark Teixeira, Try Paul Goldschmidt

Earlier this month, RotoAuthority's Tom Warman talked about Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira as an overrated hitter in fantasy baseball.  At a 27.47 average draft position on Mock Draft Central, Tex is going in the third round, before Edwin Van Bibber-Orr favorite Matt Holliday as well as a slew of staff-anchoring starting pitchers.

Heading into the 2010 season, Teixeira seemed a lock for a .300 AVG, 35+ HR, 120 RBI, and 100 R.  But over the 2010-11 seasons, Teixeira hit .252 over 1396 plate appearances.   Last season, in particular, he failed to hit .265 in any month.  Baseball HQ suggests this is an opportunity, as they project a .278 average for him in 2012.  Averaging the results of HQ and three other projection systems, we get a composite line of .268-33-104-92-2 for Teixeira if he has 585 ABs.  While it's true Tex has generally been good for more like 35 HR, 110 RBI, and 100 R, the composite projection still contains areas of optimism, as it assumes a tolerable AVG and yet another 155 game season.  If you like the composite projection, Tex looks like a $19-20 player in a 12-team mixed league.

Then we have Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, for whom I'm testing a quite optimistic 540 AB projection.  Playing time is a concern with Goldschmidt, as the team re-signed Lyle Overbay to a Major League contract.  Overbay came to Arizona last season on August 13th and made ten starts at first base.  As a left-handed hitter, all of Overbay's starts came against righty pitchers, including less-intimidating ones such as Livan Hernandez, Aaron Cook, and Ross Ohlendorf.  Goldschmidt, a left-handed hitter, was platooned in this way even though he raked against righties and struggled against lefties in a small 43 plate appearance MLB sample.

D'Backs manager Kirk Gibson knows that Goldschmidt hits lefties plenty; he slugged .871 against them in Double-A prior to his call-up.  You have to be worried, though, that Overbay will take 30 first base starts in 2012 against righties.  That'd leave 132 for Goldschmidt, plus the D'Backs will have a DH for nine interleague games.  If Goldschmidt plays 140 games at 3.5 at-bats per, we're looking at just 490.  So, yes, Overbay presents a big obstacle, one reason you can draft Goldschmidt in the 13th round.  It's not even easy to predict when Overbay will start, since most pitchers are right-handed.

Another factor hurting Goldschmidt's value is that he has just 177 career plate appearances above Double-A.  We've seen better-regarded young players completely bomb following similar promising two-month debuts.  Then there's his batting average, which most expect to remain below .260 given a healthy strikeout rate.

All that said, Overbay is not a good hitter.  Against righties the last three years, he's hitting .231/.314/.364 in over 300 plate appearances.  Is that the reason you're going to pass on Goldschmidt?  Maybe Goldie's debut overstates him, and he's not the 30 HR, 90 RBI first baseman he appears to be.  But it seems even more likely that Overbay is not the .286/.388/.452 hitter he was in 49 D'Backs plate appearances, even if it earned him a roster spot for 2012.

My point in drawing the Teixeira-Goldschmidt comparison is not that they are equally safe bets at first base in 2012 --  far from it.  It's that if Goldschmidt does somehow find 540 ABs, he's a $15 player, and not all that far below Tex.  You'll notice that Goldschmidt ran a little bit in 2011, with 13 steals including Double-A.  Five added steals closes some of the value gap with Tex, who is likely to provide better power counting stats.  Goldschmidt is going 12th among first basemen, and if you can handle a batting average hit, he's a fine addition for your CI slot.

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If You Like Buster Posey, Try Miguel Montero

Ever notice that sometimes the Aldi brand tastes just as good as the name brand, at a fraction of the price?  In my new "If you like..." series, we're looking for that kind of value in fantasy drafts.  Today, I suggest that if you like Buster Posey, try Miguel Montero at catcher.

Posey currently has a 59.55 average draft position at Mock Draft Central, while Montero is at 102.42.  Think of the players you could take instead of Posey in the fifth or sixth round -- Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg, James Shields, Pablo Sandoval, Mat Latos, and Madison Bumgarner, to name a few.

Posey, of course, unfortunately took a big hit at home plate in late May last year from the Marlins' Scott Cousins.  He endured a broken fibula and severely strained ligaments in his left ankle, and the surgery ended his 2011 season.  The latest word is that he's on track to be the Giants' Opening Day catcher, and will play first base at least once a week.  But with a 24-year-old potential superstar who is under team control through 2016, the Giants have every reason to be cautious with Posey in 2012.  First base appearances will help keep his ABs up, but he's probably going to need more days off.  Projection systems, which generally assume no dropoff in performance after an injury like this, call for around .280-16-65-60-3 if Posey is to get 475 ABs.  Are you comfortable projecting more ABs than that and assuming no rust from the injury and time off?

Then there's Montero, who had a big year for the 2011 Diamondbacks.  He set a career high with 140 games, and entering a contract year has every reason to push himself for a repeat.  But if we cautiously reduce his 493 AB total to, say, 460, we get something like .277-17-70-59-1.  Aside from Posey's potential first base eligibility, it's entirely possible the two players are very similar in value in 2012.  Even if Montero brings 75% of Posey's value, isn't that worth taking him 43 picks later?

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