Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sleeper and Busts Fantasy Baseball

Chase Headley

First and foremost, I must ask you above all else to forgive the incredibly lame title of this post. It popped into my head, and once it got there, I had no choice but to go with it. It was as if someone waved a hand in my face and told me, "This is the title you're looking for." I'm profoundly sorry.
Now that that's out of the way, on with the post!
I've done several mock drafts over at Mock Draft Central already this January (it's never too early!) and each time I've been surprised at how low a couple of middle infielders' ranks are. I'll bet you could never, ever guess who they are based on the aforementioned brilliant title!
Jed Lowrie, SS, HOU - ADP 244
Lowrie cracked a career-best 16 homers last season despite appearing in just 97 games and totaling 387 plate appearances. That's pretty great production from a shortstop, and he'd probably be ranked higher if the 97 games and 387 PAs weren't both career-highs for the injury magnet as well.
He isn't going to have much of a supporting cast (at least Jose Altuve is good), and he's been injury-prone throughout his career. However, if you look at the list of maladies that have afflicted Lowrie, there isn't a recurring theme. He's been plagued by a wrist injury and a shoulder injury, and this past season was the victim of an unfortunate slide at second base that wrecked his ankle. He's even missed significant time with mono in the past.
Maybe Lowrie is just plain brittle, but it seems that a lot of his missed time can be chalked up to bad luck.
A look at Lowrie's skill-set shows a pretty disciplined player. He walked in 11.1% of his PAs last season and swung out of the zone 10 percent less than the league average. When he did swing out of the zone, he was well above the league average in contact rate. And, his swinging strike rate of 6.2% is nearly three percent below league average.
Lowrie clearly has good strike zone knowledge. His largest problem is that he's one of the most extreme flyball hitters in baseball. His 51.3% rate was second among hitters with at least 350 PAs last season, and flyballs are easier to turn into outs than grounders or line drives. His .257 BABIP is low enough to hope there's  room for improvement, but expecting more than a .260 average is probably a reach.
Lowrie has good power for a shortstop, as evidenced by his career .167 ISO and .194 mark last season. He mashed 14 homers through the season's first 66 games and was a good bet to finish in the mid-20s had he stayed healthy.
By no means is Lowrie someone who I'm going to predict as a slam-dunk Top 12 shortstop. He's been injury-prone throughout his career and doesn't carry a ton of batting average upside despite plus plate discipline. However he could hit 20-25 homers from the most power-deprived position in fantasy baseball. Despite that, he's being drafted after names like Everth Cabrera, Jean Segura and Jurickson Profar -- none of whom even have guaranteed full-time jobs.
In a keeper league, I see Profar's allure. In a re-draft league, I'll take the guy with 25-homer pop who's opening the season with an everyday job, even if he's an injury risk.
Final Ruling: Sleeper
Jedd Gyorko, 2B, SD - ADP 335
Following Chase Headley's breakout, any chance that Gyorko would reach the Majors at his natural position of third base went out the window. Luckily for fantasy players, the Padres elected to shift him to second base in the latter portion of 2012 for that reason.
Gyorko, a 2010 second-round pick by the Pads, entered 2012 as Baseball America's No. 98 prospect. Apparently he took offense to his low ranking on the list and decided to up his stock by hitting .311/.373/.547 with 30 bombs between Double-A and Triple-A (with most of the damage coming at the latter level).
The Padres are bringing the fences at the cavernous Petco Park in for the 2013 season, meaning that it might not be quite as damaging to power stats as it has been in recent years. Gyorko recently landed as the No. 50 prospect in all of baseball over at, with prospect guru Jonathan Mayo writing:
"His quick and compact swing is built for average and power, showing an outstanding ability to drive the ball to all fields."
The main reason that Gyorko appears in the middle of the list and not more toward the top is that he lacks a true defensive home. That doesn't matter for fantasy, as long as his glove is close enough to passable to keep him on the field. He's consistently shown that he can walk at an above-average clip, and his strikeout numbers haven't been that unsightly throughout the Minor Leagues.
Despite the pedigree and offensive upside, Gyorko is being drafted after low- or no-upside names like Darwin Barney, Johnny Giavotella, Daniel Murphy, Gordon Beckham and Omar Infante. For my money, Gyorko's ADP could literally vault 100 spots (moving him in front of Marco Scutaro), and I would applaud the risk. There isn't much upside to the names between the last of the serviceable second baseman and Gyorko. And if Gyorko busts, names like Barney, Murphy, Giavotella, etc. will likely be available as free agent replacements anyhow. I see no sense in drafting proven mediocrity over a potential Top-12 talent.
Final Ruling: Sleeper

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