2012 projections review: second base

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This is the third entry in a position-by-position review of my 2012 projections. Along with looking at my top preseason top 10 (for fantasy purposes) from each spot, I’m highlighting some other interesting players. Any requests for players not covered can be made in the comments.

1. Robinson Cano – Yankees
Projection: .309/.362/.520, 30 HR, 110 R, 123 RBI, 4 SB in 638 AB
2012 stats: .313/.379/.550, 33 HR, 105 R, 94 RBI, 3 SB in 627 AB

I thought Cano would have a real shot at leading the league in RBI after moving up in the Yankee lineup, but he came in well shy of his 2010 and ’11 totals, even though he finished with a career-high slugging percentage. The biggest problem was hit .268/.393/.436 line with RISP, but it also didn’t help that Yankees’ No. 2 hitters weren’t on base as much as expected.

2. Ian Kinsler – Rangers
Projection: .285/.373/.490, 25 HR, 109 R, 74 RBI, 25 SB in 571 AB
2012 stats: .256/.326/.423, 19 HR, 105 R, 72 RBI, 21 SB in 655 AB

Kinsler spent most of the season hitting .270-.280 before really fading in the end. It hardly seems like a good sign that he went from a 71/89 K/BB ratio in 2011 to a 90/60 K/BB ratio this year.

3. Dustin Pedroia – Red Sox
Projection: .291/.371/.450, 17 HR, 103 R, 89 RBI, 17 SB in 598 AB
2012 stats: .290/.347/.449, 15 HR, 81 R, 65 RBI, 20 SB in 563 AB

Pedroia wasn’t the problem for Boston this year, but with all of the disappointments surrounding him in the lineup, he fell well short of the run and RBI projections.

4. Brandon Phillips – Reds
Projection: .277/.335/.446, 21 HR, 96 R, 76 RBI, 20 SB in 610 AB
2012 stats: .281/.321/.429, 18 HR, 86 R, 77 RBI, 15 SB in 580 AB

If only everyone were as easy to project as BP. He’s hit 18 homers three straight seasons now, and aside from his .810 mark in 2011, his OPS has been between .750-.770 each of the last five years.

5. Howie Kendrick – Angels
Projection: .299/.345/.455, 15 HR, 90 R, 73 RBI, 14 SB in 569 AB
2012 stats: .287/.325/.400, 8 HR, 57 R, 67 RBI, 14 SB in 550 AB

Kendrick didn’t hold on to 2011’s power spike, and he still hasn’t turned into the .300-.320 hitter it looked like he’d become when he was younger. Of course, he may yet turn in a career year come 2013 or ’14.

6. Ben Zobrist – Rays
Projection: .257/.356/.427, 18 HR, 85 R, 82 RBI, 21 SB in 557 AB
2012 stats: .270/.377/.471, 20 HR, 88 R, 74 RBI, 14 SB in 560 AB

Zobrist hit .203 for two months and then .299 the rest of the way. He should have driven in a few more runs, but three-quarters of his homers came with the bases empty, even though he spent most of the year hitting third or fifth.

7. Rickie Weeks – Brewers
Projection: .273/.361/.480, 25 HR, 87 R, 64 RBI, 11 SB in 523 AB
2012 stats: .230/.328/.400, 21 HR, 85 R, 63 RBI, 16 SB in 588 AB

And Zobrist still had nothing on Weeks’ start. Fortunately, Weeks recovered to hit .269/.350/.478 with 15 homers over the final three months.

8. Chase Utley – Phillies
Projection: .282/.380/.460, 18 HR, 78 R, 71 RBI, 11 SB in 465 AB
2012 stats: .256/.365/.429, 11 HR, 48 R, 45 RBI, 11 SB in 301 AB

Utley was still pretty darn good while healthy, but it was a far cry from the MVP candidate of old. He’ll play next season at 34 and knee problems are likely a fact of life for him now, so the Phillies should be hoping for similar production over 120-130 games. Anything more would be gravy.

9. Jemile Weeks – Athletics
Projection: .287/.354/.401, 5 HR, 80 R, 51 RBI, 32 SB in 579 AB
2012 stats: .221/.305/.304, 2 HR, 54 R, 20 RBI, 16 SB in 444 AB

At least his big brother bounced back as the year went on. There was nothing encouraging to take from Jemile’s season. He didn’t hit the ball with authority, and he didn’t even turn his grounders into hits with any regularity. He’ll face an uphill climb to win his job back next spring.

10. Dustin Ackley – Mariners
Projection: .279/.357/.443, 15 HR, 83 R, 77 RBI, 13 SB in 594 AB
2012 stats: .226/.294/.328, 12 HR, 84 R, 50 RBI, 13 SB in 607 AB

I didn’t think I was that high on Ackley, but that was just a dreadful season. Still, there’s better reason for optimism here than with Jemile. For one thing, the Mariners are firmly in his corner, and he’ll almost certainly be the Opening Day starter again, even if bringing in some competition would be a good idea. For another, he did lower his strikeout rate some from his rookie season. I still think he’ll settle in as an above average offensive second baseman next year. However, he doesn’t project as a star.

11. Dan Uggla – Braves
Projection: .252/.343/.470, 31 HR, 82 R, 90 RBI, 2 SB in 560 AB
2012 stats: .220/.348/.384, 19 HR, 86 R, 78 RBI, 4 SB in 523 AB

Uggla had 36 homers in 600 at-bats in 2011 and finished with 88 runs scored and 82 RBI. In 2012, he had 17 fewer homers and still essentially matched those run and RBI totals, taking off three or four of each to account for the fact that he played in seven fewer games. Anyway, his contract is looking really, really lousy at the moment. Still three years and $39 million to go.

12. Aaron Hill – Diamondbacks
Projection: .267/.319/.456, 24 HR, 75 R, 71 RBI, 13 SB in 570 AB
2012 stats: .302/.360/.522, 26 HR, 93 R, 85 RBI, 14 SB in 609 AB

Hill is maybe baseball’s most inconsistent player. His career OPS is an average enough .759, but he hasn’t finished with 70 points of that mark since 2007. His last five years: .685, .829, .665, .655 and now .882.

13. Neil Walker – Pirates
Projection: .281/.341/.438, 16 HR, 77 R, 83 RBI, 6 SB in 566 AB
2012 stats: .280/.341/.426, 14 HR, 62 R, 69 RBI, 7 SB in 472 AB

14. Jason Kipnis – Indians
Projection: .265/.337/.440, 17 HR, 73 R, 78 RBI, 13 SB in 532 AB
2012 stats: .257/.335/.379, 14 HR, 86 R, 76 RBI, 31 SB in 591 AB

I had Kipnis ranked ahead of Walker most of the spring, only to make the change at the last minute because the Indians decided to start off the season with Kipnis hitting eighth. Of course, that ended up lasting for all of a week. Kipnis’ season actually ended up being a bit of a disappointment thanks to the second-half swoon, but that wasn’t the case for fantasy purposes, as all of those steals made him very valuable.

15. Danny Espinosa – Nationals
Projection: .244/.325/.416, 22 HR, 78 R, 67 RBI, 17 SB in 579 AB
2012 stats: .247/.315/.402, 17 HR, 82 R, 56 RBI, 20 SB in 594 AB

With RISP and none or one out this year, Espinosa hit .182 with one double, no homers and 12 RBI in 77 at-bats. With RISP and two outs, he hit .246 with four doubles, five homers and 23 RBI in 57 at-bats. That’s a .453 OPS versus a .937 OPS. In 2011, he was basically the opposite, struggling with two outs and doing a terrific job with none or one out.

I’m not sure I have a point here, except that I’m sick of Joe Buck harping on a guy’s RISP stats like it really tells us something about the player.

17. Jose Altuve – Astros
Projection: .287/.327/.385, 6 HR, 71 R, 50 RBI, 20 SB in 571 AB
2012 stats: .290/.340/.399, 7 HR, 80 R, 37 RBI, 33 SB in 576 AB

Altuve’s OPS dropped pretty steadily after his strong April, and I’m guessing fatigue played a role. If not for the league switch, I’d project him to hit a bit over .300 next year. The AL West makes for quite a bit tougher competition than the NL Central, though.

19. Gordon Beckham – White Sox
Projection: .262/.330/.414, 15 HR, 67 R, 64 RBI, 7 SB in 512 AB
2012 stats: .234/.296/.371, 16 HR, 62 R, 60 RBI, 5 SB in 525 AB

Beckham was able to cut back on the strikeouts this year, but it didn’t result in any more hits. A change of scenery seems like a must after three straight disappointing seasons, but he has little trade value remaining and the White Sox don’t have a replacement in house. Plus, he’ll still be pretty cheap, even though he’s off to arbitration for the first time. Maybe he’ll stay.

36. Jeff Keppinger – Rays
Projection: .282/.335/.382, 4 HR, 37 R, 32 RBI, 1 SB in 280 AB
2012 stats: .325/.367/.439, 9 HR, 46 R, 40 RBI, 1 SB in 385 AB

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Previous 2012 projection reviews: catcher / first base

Some equal time for the Rays defenders

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Yesterday I came out pretty sharply against the Rays recent moves. I stand by all of those comments, but I think it’s worth giving equal time to dissenting views.

Each of those posts contain analytically-based looks at each move and, for the most part, defends them on their baseball merits. I’ll let them stand on their own on their specific merits and not go in with point-by-point rebuttals (a) because that’s tedious; and (b) because I’m not the best-suited person to rebut analytical points.

There’s a (c) here, though, which is more important in my mind: no matter how many good points those articles make — and they do make many — it’s sort of beside the point. Because it seems to me that those of us slamming the Rays and those of us defending the Rays are talking past one another.

Sullivan, Drays Bay and others are arguing that the Rays front office was able to make some good moves. And they make those arguments pretty well in a vacuum. What they don’t address — and what I’m mostly concerned with — is the assumption that they HAD to make those moves. From where I’m sitting — and the credulousness some have for front office spin notwithstanding — Rays transactions in recent years, and certainly lately, seem to be pretty clearly mandated by ownership in order to either cut payroll or to keep it from growing and to shed arbitration-eligible dudes. That the GM and his team have made decent lemonade out of those lemons does not vindicate ownership’s mandate to cut payroll and shed arbitration-eligible dudes.

What’s more, such arguments — “hey, here’s the x, y, z of why trading away the face of the franchise is good!” — do not address the largest issue facing Tampa Bay Rays baseball, now and for the club’s entire history: fan apathy. Yes, they do relatively well in the TV ratings and their stadium and its location are a big hurdle to overcome, but the fact of the matter is that the Rays, as an organization, have rarely if ever done things which can be best explained in terms of giving the fans an entertaining product on the field. They have had some excellent teams, but they have, more than most clubs, let their baseball decision making be determined by the bottom line rather than making baseball decisions aimed at creating a consistently-winning and entertaining product.

A much simpler way to look at this is from the perspective of casual fans, families and the sorts of people who are not hardcore statistically-inclined diehards. What have the Rays done to attract these people? How does a 12-year-old kid get excited about the fact that they traded away Evan Longoria for payroll purposes and cut Corey Dickerson, an All-Star last year, because his 115 wRC+ far outpaced his projected 103 wRC+? That’s a consideration that a diehard fan who has, through big-time immersion, come to appreciate as a second-level thing, but it’s not how anywhere close to a majority of fans enjoy and experience the game. They like stars and familiar names and they want to believe that, if they go to a game, the team has a good chance to win it and that it’s fun in the process.

I’m not seeing any appreciation from the Rays’ defenders for that dynamic. I’m not seeing any acknowledgement that the Rays moves are making the team less familiar and less enjoyable for a casual fan and how that, when you take away some of your team’s better players and replace them with guys who might be better at some point down the road, there’s a good chance that the team will take a step back in the short term and how that that may turn off a lot of fans.

There’s an argument in the DRays Bay piece that those of us criticizing the Rays are doing so from some sort of pre-Moneyball, luddite perspective. This is ridiculous. Most of the folks who are leveling this criticism — and Drays Bay links our articles on this in their piece if you want to read them — are well-versed in team building theory. Many of us were deeply immersed in sabermetric reading and writing before the Rays even existed as a franchise. We’re well-aware of what motivations and incentives exist for general managers and the manner in which one builds a team for sustained competitiveness.

The point is that most people do not root for general managers. They do not care about long-term, sabermetrically-sound theories of team building. They want an entertaining team in which they can, over time, invest some loyalty and forge an emotional connection. If a club cannot serve those fans — which are, again, most fans — while also building their team for sustained competition, they need to explain why they can’t, given how many teams are able to do this. They are not entitled to the deference they and their defenders expect as a matter of course.