January 3, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
First, Third, and DH for 1/3/12
A late start and slow fade kept Todd Frazier from doing better in the Rookie of the Year balloting, but the Reds’ third baseman still had a fine season, earning $13 in NL-only leagues and $2 in mixed leagues. From the start of May to the end of August, Frazier hit .290/.347/.540 with 18 homers in 369 plate appearances. Among players with at least 450 plate appearances for the season, his .225 overall ISO ranked him 27th overall and sixth among third base qualifiers.
Even better, he lifted his walk rate from 5.8 percent in 121 plate appearances in 2011 to 7.7 percent in 2012. As Kevin Goldstein noted in his Future Shock before last season, Frazier “needs both walks and power to make up for his below-average hitting skills.”
He remains an aggressive swinger, in the top 35 players in swing rate on both strikes and balls, and his league-average contact rate will continue to dilute his batting average unless he can develop more patience.
On the other hand, his reasonable 13.2 percent HR/FB rate suggests that his power is for real and not luck-assisted, while his solid 22 percent line drive rate shows that he’s hitting the ball hard when he does make contact. Fantasy owners will also like his eligibility at either infield corner, though he’s obviously worth more at third base. With the departure of Scott Rolen to either free agency or retirement, Frazier should get a full season to show his stuff at third base, where he has the skills to be a modest fantasy asset, especially in the power department. The scarcity of both third basemen and power makes him a good keep in deeper leagues, but his modest ceiling and still-developing skill set keep him from consideration for other owners.
Unlike Frazier, Seager offers a more balanced package, albeit on a weaker offensive team, though both players offer similar value overall. Seager posted a modest .259/.316/.423 line last season, bolstering that middling production with 13 swipes and 20 homers to earn owners $19 in AL-only leagues and $11 in mixed leagues. Though neither dollar return is eye-popping, both are close to the top ten among third basemen, part of what gives Seager his value.
Seager’s contact skills and line-drive stroke make him look more like a middle, not corner, infielder. His solid 17 percent K% reflects an excellent 90.8 percent contact rate on strikes, but that dips to just 62.2 percent when he goes fishing outside the zone. A .286 BABIP shows that luck kept his batting average lower than expected for a contact hitter with his modest 7 percent walk rate. Hitting 70 points higher on the road points to his home park as another source of his diminished production.
Seager’s moderate power comes as much from doubles as homers, and those two-baggers could turn into four-baggers as Seager ages in Safeco’s new dimensions. He added another fantasy dimension with those steals, but it was his best performance in that department since High-A in 2009. And even though he won’t displace Dustin Ackley at the keystone, Seager played 18 games there in 2012, enough to qualify him at the position in many leagues, though he’s unlikely continue to qualify there in the future. In the rarefied environment of fantasy third basemen, however, he offers just enough to make him an above-average commodity, which isn’t enough to make him a keeper in anything but deep leagues.
In my write-up of Morneau before last season, I noted the question marks surrounding his concussion problems and advised that “unless you can get him at a discount, I’d keep away from Morneau until he shows he’s healthy again.” That turned out to be good advice, since the Twins’ once prodigious slugger ranked at the low end of fantasy first basemen, earning $13 in AL-only leagues and under $5 in mixed leagues. He slightly exceeded PECOTA’s projection of $12 and $3, respectively, but he was probably drafted for more than his return in most leagues.
That’s not to say that 2012 was a lost season for Morneau in the way 2011 was. Not only did he drift in and out of the lineup in 2011, he posted a .227/.285/.333 line that would have made a utility infielder blush, by far the worst output of his career. In 2012, he improved to .267/.333/.440 with 19 home runs while amassing 570 plate appearances. Neither his 18 percent strikeout rate nor his 9 percent walk rate reached his career averages, but they showed signs that his batting eye was returning, one of the most important post-concussion skills to monitor.
Other signs are not as good. He struggled against sliders and curves, pitches he mashed in his prime, an indication that his batting eye is still not what it was. And his 37 percent fly-ball rate, a career worst, points to future declines in power, one of the primary assets for a fantasy first-sacker. Although I wouldn’t advise players to keep their hands off him in 2013 the way I did in 2012, he’s still a diminished asset, particularly in keeper leagues, which reward either consistent performance or a promising future. At 31 years old, Morneau offers neither.
I promoted Dunn as a good preseason value pick before last season for two related reasons. First, it’s rare for a player with a long and consistent performance history to suddenly flatline like Dunn did in 2011. Second, the short-term memories of most owners meant his price would likely be low. Sure enough, Dunn exceeded PECOTA’s $8/$13 projection by delivering $13 to mixed-league owners and $18 to their AL-only counterparts.
Some of those same reasons cut against his keeper status this offseason. From a skills perspective, Dunn took some steps backwards and experienced a mixed bag of help from Lady Luck in 2012. Let’s look at the trend of Dunn’s core skills from the last four seasons:
Looking at just his strikeout rate, walks, and BABIP, Dunn seemed to have much the same season in 2011 and 2012, implying that weak hitting and bad luck drove some of his miserable 2011 performance. The overall trend in those three categories, however, is of greater concern.
His first season with a strikeout rate over 30 percent was in 2010, and even 2012’s bounceback didn’t arrest that statistic’s downward slide. His walk rate in 2012 matched his career average exactly, which tells me that his batting eye hasn’t eroded, but his ability to make contact with the ball has. This is confirmed by his performance against breaking and offspeed stuff, which rebounded from 2011 lows, but he’s still hitting them poorly; his ability to hit fastballs was also among the lowest in his career.
The violent swing of his home run luck doesn’t just show how unlucky he was in 2011 and how lucky he was last year; 2012’s HR/FB rate exceeds his previous career high by 14 percent. Because of the downward trend of his flyball rate, I have to chalk this change up more to luck than physical strength, and a decrease in home runs is likely. Similarly, his BABIP decline from marks consistently above .270 suggests that the Big Donkey is inching closer to the glue factory.
Greater than all of these factors could be his relative value in the eyes your fellow owners. Just as he was undervalued in 2012 for falling off the table, he is more likely to be overvalued in your 2013 draft. While that could lead to a “keep” recommendation since it would be more expensive to reacquire him, Dunn’s package of slipping skills says he’s not a good investment. If you’re in a deep league—or can keep him cheaply because of shrewd 2012 drafting—then do so, but otherwise let someone else pay for the name.