San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt will never be more valuable than he is now. Many expected his breakout, and it seems those who invested in the late bloomer will be rewarded handsomely, depending on how much they paid for him or in which round they drafted him. He leads MLB tied for most home runs (5) with Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Mark Trumbo, a free-swinging, powerful fella. Those are important words, because that is exactly what Belt has been so far.
The sample size is very small — 35 plate appearances — but the statistics are telling: He has 10 strikeouts and zero walks. Meanwhile, Belt is batting .343, which is buoyed by a .350 batting average on balls in play (BAbip). Savvy readers will be quick to point out that his 2012 and 2013 BAbips were both .351, so perhaps that’s his baseline. And it’s possible. But that would be his saving grace. If his BAbip fell to a league-average level around .300, we’re looking at Trumbo numbers, or maybe even (Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman) Pedro Alvarez numbers.
It’s realistic to think he will walk a little more and strike out a little less. His fly ball rate is conducive for home runs given his power, but it’s unrealistic to think he will hit a third of all fly balls out of the park. That’s territory reserved for, well, no one. Only a dozen batters hit 15 percent of fly balls as home runs (15% HR/FB), all of them fabled power hitters. Even Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz notched HR/FB rates of 14.0 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively.
I think projecting a HR/FB rate of 13 percent is fair, and it would afford him 30 to 35 home runs for the season — a tremendous performance, indeed. But the batting average is bound to plummet (not that it took a rocket scientist to know he can’t sustain a .343 batting average), and it’s entirely dependent on his plate discipline and whether or not his BAbip is actually real. Today’s power hitters have pretty polarized BAbips, and it mostly comes down to their plate discipline: Ortiz, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout and Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt all struck out in, at most, 20 percent of plate appearances last year, and all of them posted BAbips above .320. Meanwhile, Alvarez, Oakland Athletics third baseman Brandon Moss, New York Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano, and Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn all strike out in at least 25 percent of plate appearances, and only Moss posted a BAbip above .300 (fun fact: it was .301).
It’s possible that Belt is a unique breed of hitter that can strike out a lot and hit for a high batting average on balls in play, and it’s certainly possible he sustains it for the rest of the season. But strikeout-prone power hitters tend to be batting average liabilities — one of the reasons why Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is, I think, due for some heavy batting average regression.
This has all been a long-winded way of me saying: Belt’s batting average will regress to the mean, but it’s impossible to know whether he’ll end up hitting .295 or .245. Even somewhere in the middle means it’s a long way to fall for Belt.
I would absolutely sell high on Belt, depending on the format. If I’m in a dynasty league, or I can keep him next year at a discount, then I would be inclined to keep him. But if I owned him and had the opportunity to swipe Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce from a panicked owner, I would pull the trigger. Bruce will probably hit more home runs the rest of the way, and his batting average will only trend upward while Belt’s trends downward.
When it comes down to it, I think Belt will hit about .275 and end up with 32 home runs. But I also think the possibility of him pulling a Justin Upton or Domonic Brown circa 2013, during which both players hit 12 home runs in one month and slept the rest of the year, is very real.
Meanwhile, Trumbo has also hit five home runs. This isn’t anything new from him, although the frequency and earliness of the bombs is surely delightful for owners. It’s worth keeping in mind that Trumbo hit no fewer than five home runs and no more than seven in any given month last year. It’s possible he surpasses his monthly high from last year by next week, but it’s also worth noting he hit seven, nine and eight home runs in May through July of 2012, only to go cold in the other three months. Every player has ups and downs, and I would be wary that such a high in April will lead to, say, an equally low August, as he regresses to the mean.
It probably sounds like I’m super down on these guys, but I’m not. I swear! It’s just that smart fantasy owner knows when to sell high and buy low, and even Trumbo can be a sell-high candidate. He will probably also hit 32 home runs, just like Belt, but if you can somehow trade him for a slow-to-start Encarnacion, who has the potential to hit 40 bombs, I would again pull the trigger. That’s at least 10 more home runs you would have otherwise gotten had you kept Trumbo all year, and Encarnacion will hit for a better average in the long run.
Other home run leaders, per ESPN’s MLB home page: Blue Jays outfielders Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista (both at 4), Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter (3), White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza (3), Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun (3), and Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (3). Bautista, Braun and Gonzalez are legit. Cabrera is not legit, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have power. I projected him for 14 home runs and 11 stolen bases, but at this point I think he’s well on his way to a 15/15 season supplemented by a .280 batting average at the top of Toronto’s batting order. De Aza and Hunter also have pop, but they are not noteworthy hitters — go ahead and sell high, but they are still valuable commodities otherwise.
You’ve probably heard a hundred times this month alone: spring training statistics don’t mean anything. Too many times a player has had a monster spring only to completely flop during the season (do Aaron Hicks or Jackie Bradley circa 2013 ring a bell?). Still, in disbelief we all watched Julio Teheran‘s monster spring last year, and he humiliated batters and baserunners throughout his rookie campaign.
Ultimately, spring stats do tell a story, albeit a short or biased one. But if you know where to look — that is, if you know the stats on which to focus your attention — you can maybe decipher which spring performances are legit and which are not.
Dee Gordon, LAD 2B
Important stats: 12 for 42 (.286 BA), 9 SB, 8 K
Why they’re important: Well, holy smokes. Look at those steals. We’ve always known he’s fast, but wow. Also, he has struck out in only 19 percent of at-bats, which certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world. What I’m looking for here is if he can hold his own at the plate, even if it’s just for a month or two, and right now he’s hitting .286 — nothing spectacular, but not miserable, either. Oh, and did I mention he has four triples already? Gordon isn’t a top-10 second baseman, but handcuff him to Alexander Guerrero (or simply jump ship when Guerrero finally gets the call) and this could be a great draft strategy.
Billy Hamilton, CIN CF
Important stats: 10 for 33 (.303 BA), 9 SB, 4 K, 6 BB
Why they’re important: Not only is Hamilton stealing bases at an unfathomable rate, he is also barely striking out (only 12 percent of at-bats have ended in a K) and has actually walked more times than he has struck out. Everyone and their mothers were worried Hamilton would be overpowered at the plate. Don’t get caught in the hype, I hear them saying. Yet I can’t help myself. If he keeps putting the bat on the ball the way he’s doing, he will get on base, he will steal, and he will score runs.
Billy Burns, OAK LF
Important stats: 8 SB, 13 K in 52 AB
Why they’re important: OK, maybe I was little too obvious when I sorted MLB.com’s spring training stats by stolen bases. Burns is getting way more hype than anyone in spring training right now, or at least it seems that way. He’s effectively blocked in the A’s outfield, but his speed, plate discipline and glove-work will fast-track him to the majors. Unfortunately, 25 percent of at-bats are ending in strikeouts, so he may be overmatched. No skin off our backs, though, especially if he doesn’t start this year in the majors.
Mike Moustakas, KC 3B
Important stats: 17 for 35 (.486 BA), 4 HR, 4 K, 6 BB
Why they’re important: Moustakas has been mostly a letdown during his major league career. He’s crushing home runs right now and has walked more than he’s struck out, and people are starting to be optimistic about the guy. I’m hesitant, and I would still leave him undrafted in standard mixed leagues, but he could be worth an extra couple of dollars in AL-only leagues. I’ll watch his name as the season progresses, though. He’s worth following if you’re picking a risky or injury-prone third base asset such as Ryan Zimmerman or Aramis Ramirez.
Brad Miller, SEA SS
Important stats: 14 for 34 (.412 BA), 2 3B, 4 HR, 1 SB
Why they’re important: Guys… are you serious. I cannot love this guy any more. And he’s still hitting triples!!! It’s not a fluke, people. I think Miller is the second coming of Ian Desmond.
Jason Heyward, ATL RF
Important stats: 14 for 40 (.350 BA), 3 HR, 1 SB
Why they’re important: …Jason Heyward? Is that really you?
Javier Baez, CHC SS
Important stats: .297/.297/.703, 4 HR, 1 SB, 11 K, 0 BB
Why they’re important: Is Baez even a real person? The split between his slugging and on-base percentages is impossibly large. Meanwhile, zero walks and 11 K’s in 37 at-bats. This kid is going to be amazing, if not occasionally frustrating at first.
Other business-as-usual home run hitters: Russell Martin (kind of — he had a huge spring last year, too, if I remember correctly), Hunter Pence (4 HR), Giancarlo Stanton (4 HR), Jose Bautista (3 HR), Miguel Cabrera (3 HR), Chris Davis (3 HR), Andrew McCutchen (3 HR).
Nick Castellanos, DET 3B (formerly LF)
Important stats: 18 for 45 (.400 BA), 7 2B, 2 HR, 2 SB, 16 RBI
Why they’re important: Castellanos is a highly touted prospect with very little major-league exposure with which we can form solid opinions about him. But nine multi-base hits in 45 at-bats, plus a pair of bombs and swipes, makes it look like this kid is the real deal, regardless of his sort of lackluster minor-league stats. Don’t get too enamored with the RBI total, but clearly he’s not afraid of so-called clutch situations, either.
Dustin Ackley, SEA LF (formerly 2B)
Important stats: .432/.462/.703, 1 HR, 6 K in 37 AB
Why they’re important: Maybe the former No. 2 pick can recoup some of his losses. He had a somewhat strong showing in the latter half of 2013. It will be interesting to see if it carries over. As the Magic 8-Ball might say, “All signs point to yes.” Or something like that.
As for players who scare me right now, Corey Hart is batting .129/.250/.161 with 16 strikeouts in 31 at-bats; B.J. Upton is batting .297/.366/.351 but with 14 strikeouts in 37 at-bats, an unsustainable rate for that batting average; and Domonic Brown is batting a miserable .171/.326/.229 with 12 strikeouts in 35 at-bats, albeit with eight walks.
Do your own research, form your own opinions. This is just a sampling of the many names that are shining bright or falling flat. And, of course, it’s simply too risky to make a decision on such a small sample size. But it never hurts to remember a name or two.
Rankings based on 10-team standard 5×5 rotisserie format.
Name – R / RBI / HR / SB / BA
- Mike Trout – 119 / 91 / 31 / 39 / .320
- Ryan Braun – 98 / 103 / 30 / 28 / .308
- Andrew McCutchen – 102 / 90 / 23 / 27 / .298
- Adam Jones – 97 / 91 / 32 / 15 / .283
- Jose Bautista – 101 / 96 / 37 / 6 / .276
- Carlos Gonzalez – 92 / 86 / 24 / 20 / .299
- Matt Holliday – 95 / 97 / 24 / 5 / .300
- Carlos Gomez – 95 / 69 / 24 / 39 / .268
- Alex Rios – 91 / 82 / 21 / 28 / .284
- Hunter Pence – 88 / 99 / 23 / 14 / .275
- Jay Bruce – 86 / 101 / 33 / 8 / .253
- Jacoby Ellsbury – 84 / 56 / 13 / 45 / .286
- Justin Upton – 95 / 77 / 24 / 15 / .270
- Josh Hamilton – 79 / 92 / 28 / 8 / .272
- Austin Jackson – 105 / 53 / 16 / 13 / .292
- Alex Gordon – 90 / 76 / 19 / 12 /.281
- Shane Victorino – 91 / 62 / 16 / 26 / .278
- Yoenis Cespedes – 78 / 87 / 26 / 12 / .265
- Michael Cuddyer – 86 / 84 / 21 / 10 / .271
- Giancarlo Stanton – 75 / 85 / 31 / 5 / .259
- Bryce Harper – 88 / 60 / 21 / 15 / .273
- Yasiel Puig – 91 / 73 / 19 / 16 / .256
- Carlos Beltran – 75 / 80 / 22 / 3 / .286
- Torii Hunter – 79 / 83 / 17 / 6 / .283
- Curtis Granderson – 81 / 63 / 32 / 15 / .250
- Jayson Werth – 68 / 62 / 23 / 13 / .298
- Starling Marte – 89 / 51 / 14 / 43 / .249
- Adam Eaton – 98 / 45 / 10 / 29 / .274
- Norichika Aoki – 87 / 47 / 11 / 25 / .289
- Matt Kemp – 70 / 68 / 20 / 13 / .294
- Jason Heyward – 82 / 65 / 25 / 11 / .263
- Melky Cabrera – 77 / 66 / 14 / 11 / .297
- Michael Bourn – 94 / 52 / 7 / 31 / .269
- Alfonso Soriano – 72 / 99 / 27 / 7 / .241
- Carl Crawford – 81 / 62 / 12 / 20 / .284
- Shin-Soo Choo – 77 / 66 / 17 / 19 / .272
- Nelson Cruz – 66 / 81 / 25 / 10 / .267
- Coco Crisp – 84 / 59 / 11 / 29 / .264
- Wil Myers – 82 / 86 / 17 / 8 / .258
- Nick Markakis – 83 / 75 / 13 / 1 / .281
- Khris Davis – 74 / 74 / 23 / 8 / .254
- Desmond Jennings – 87 / 51 / 14 / 26 / .255
- Rajai Davis – 68 / 44 / 8 / 47 / .267
- Billy Hamilton – 77 / 39 / 2 / 68 / .241
- Brett Gardner – 92 / 48 / 7 / 27 / .263
- Justin Ruggiano – 63 / 63 / 22 / 18 / .253
- Angel Pagan – 70 / 51 / 8 / 22 / .285
- Domonic Brown – 68 / 79 / 19 / 6 / .251
- Michael Brantley – 66 / 59 / 8 / 17 / .285
- B.J. Upton – 72 / 60 / 15 / 27 / .224
- Christian Yelich – 80 / 53 / 11 / 21 / .246
- Josh Reddick – 71 / 66 / 19 / 8 / .240
- Will Venable – 61 / 51 / 12 / 24 / .265
- Josh Willingham – 67 / 77 / 21 / 3 / .237
- Andre Ethier – 60 / 64 / 15 / 3 / .281
- Dayan Viciedo – 61 / 68 / 21 / 0 / .264
- Colby Rasmus – 75 / 63 / 19 / 4 / .244
- Corey Hart – 64 / 61 / 16 / 3 / .272
- Kole Calhoun – 61 / 65 / 16 / 5 / .269
- Gerardo Parra – 66 / 51 / 10 / 10 / .281
Thoughts, lots of ’em:
- Full disclosure: I have NO IDEA what to do for Billy Hamilton. I did a brief bit of research to see how a player’s stolen base trend changed throughout the minorsand into the majors, and for the most part, a player still attempts to steal at about the same frequency in the majors as he did in Triple-A. As for Hamilton’s on-base percentage, that’s the million-dollar question. He’s a game-changer, but I don’t know if he’s worth taking in the first five or six rounds, as I’ve clearly shown above.
- Ryan Braun, folks. He’s being drafted 17th on average in ESPN mock drafts right now, but I don’t see how he won’t be a top-10 or possibly top-5 fantasy player by year’s end. On their Fantasy Focus podcast, Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft argued about how many bases Braun will steal. My projection is lofty; Karabell is pretty negative about it, thinking closer to 15 swipes. Still, give him a mere 10 stolen bases and he’s still the game’s second-best outfielder. He’s a rich man’s Andrew McCutchen formerly on PEDs. So… not quite McCutchen, but you know.
- Speaking of PEDs, it’s weird to see Melky Cabrera’s name on that list, yeah? A look at his peripherals last year shows he may have suffered some bad luck beyond any PED regression (if such a thing exists), including a horrid AB/RBI rate that’s all but out of Melky’s hands. I’ll give it another season before writing him off completely; we tend to have too short of memories when it comes to players in fantasy. He was solid for two years, and I’ll take a two-year trend over one. Considering he’s being drafted 52nd overall, I guess this officially makes him a sleeper.
- CarGo is ranked uncharacteristically low, but my projection took the under on his games player. I maintain if he can play a full year, he’s actually a smidge better than Braun. If you’re cool with risk and can build a roster around the possibility that CarGo will be sidelined at any given moment, he’s worth the massive upside of staying healthy just once. Please, CarGo. For us.
- Speaking of guys with built-in injury risks: Ellsbury, Stanton, Harper, Granderson, Werth. If you want to construct a risky, huge-upside team, make these guys your five outfielders. Don’t forget the Grandy Man hit more than 40 home runs in 2012 and 2013, and Stanton can hit 40 home runs with his eyes closed. He’s, what, 24 years old? That’s insane.
- Touching on Harper again, I know he’s pretty low here. If he can play a full 162 or a close to it, he’s a 30/20 guy who will crack the top 10. I think the MVP talk can be put to rest before the season starts, though.
- Wait, guys — WHAT? Jose Bautista? Yeah, dude. He’s a monster and, like Granderson, he still has huge power. It never left, and he was on pace for big things last year before it got derailed. Take a leap of faith. One of these guys has to stay healthy this year, right?
- Puig will naturally be a topic of discussion all year. I paid careful attention to Puig’s projection; let me be very clear that I think this is his absolute floor. This is looking at huge regression in BAbip (batting average on balls in play) and HR/FB (home runs per fly ball). Honestly, he’s probably better than a .300-BAbip batter, and if the power and speed is real, this is a huge undervalue. I’m well aware that every other projection has him snugly in the top 30 or so players, so this is likely falling on deaf ears.
- I wrote about Cruz’s immense power potential that is perpetually muted by his inability to stay on the field. You know what’s super interesting? He’ll likely be used in some weird rotation with Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia all at left field and the designated hitter, with him seeing the lion’s share of at-bats at DH — all but removing his injury risk. Give him another 150 at-bats and he’ll gladly reward you with eight to 10 bombs. Now, to remove that PED risk, too.
- Khris “Krush” Davis is interesting because it’s hard to tell if his power is super-for-real or just regular for-real. Like Puig, I think this is more of a floor projection — and that’s saying a lot. The strikeouts might be a problem, but if you’re drafting him for his batting average, you’re not doing it right.
- Yelich at No. 51 was really interesting to me. He’s a sneaky speed guy with something like a 15-homer, 25-steal upside and a solid batting average, making him a must-draft outfielder. If only there were Marlins on base for him to knock in…
- Honorable mentions for cheap power Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse
Honorable mentions for cheap speed: Leonys Martin and Ben Revere. I actually like Martin a lot more than his lack of projection here indicates. He’s got pop, and a full season in the Texas Rangers’ outfield makes him 100-percent draftworthy.
- P.S. I don’t have much faith in Marlon Byrd. But take a chance on him if you want.
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis is 95th on the ESPN player rater this year with a whopping 45 stolen bases in only 349 plate appearances through Sept. 22. To compare, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Brandon Phillips is No. 94 on the player rater, and he has amassed 646 plate appearances. That’s almost double the playing time Davis has seen. Although it’s not as simple as I’m about to state it, one could claim Davis has been doubly effective in his limited playing time compared to Phillips, even with Davis’ modest batting average and low RBI count.
By the way, Davis was 96th on the player rater in 2012. I’m starting to think this is no coincidence.
I’m being facetious. It’s totally not a coincidence. Davis has swiped 216 bags in the past five years alone. He has more steals than Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury since 2007, the year of their rookie seasons, and more steals relative to playing time (measured by plate appearances or games, your choice).
OK, you get it. He’s fast. That’s not the question here. The question is, and has been, since 2007: What will Davis’ playing time look like? And that is a question that has been difficult to answer for years — hence why Davis has gone undrafted the past two years.
And the answer to the question, at least for next year, is pretty apparent: Melky Cabrera in left, Colby Rasmus in center, Jose Bautista in right. But is it really that simple?
Brett Lawrie has, again, disappointed owners this year, but it’s not like Munenori Kawasaki (or whoever is manning second base nowadays) is any better. If Lawrie moves back to second base, Bautista to third and Encarnacion to first, it would leave room for Davis to play left field. This situation completely disregards Adam Lind, but he can slot in as the designated hitter if he does not pursue arbitration. If he does, that leaves even more space for Davis.
Moreover, I think it’s about time to let Joey Bats assume the DH role, at least until he can prove he can stay healthy. Even with Lind at first, Lawrie at second and Encarnacion at third, it still leaves a spot open for Davis. And even if this doesn’t happen, Davis has been more productive than Cabrera now that the speedster has been showing some pop (six home runs this year), which he showed last year as well.
So if I’m a Davis owner, which I conveniently am, I’m considering keeping him for next year. If he’s a free agent, I’m adding him.
Because if Davis earns a full-time role, he is not only a top-100 player — remember, he’s No. 95 right now, on limited playing time — he could be something like a top-50 player, or maybe even better than that. Even in a platoon role (he has smoked lefties to the tune of .330/.395/.491 this year) he would be plenty valuable, and he always has the chance of inheriting playing time with every Joey Bats at-bat.
Now, even with all these scenarios, there’s one last caveat: Davis is a free agency this offseason. While he could stay in Toronto, where he seemingly has the green light, he could sign with a team that is looking for a Billy Hamilton type — a speedy, spark-plug pinch runner.
In all scenarios — a full-time role, a platoon role, even a pinch running role — Davis deserves to be drafted. In which round is a question for another day, but it’s a question I plan to revisit. Davis could theoretically warrant a 10th-round pick in next year’s draft based on his performance the past two years. Otherwise, the incredible value he provides via stolen bases alone is worth a late-round draft pick whom you can stash on your bench until his playing time is sorted out.
In the meantime, keep abreast of Davis’ offseason. Any and all developments will have profound fantasy implications. There are only a handful of players about whom I can say that and mean it — and, until recently, I hadn’t even considered Davis a candidate for discussion. But he is. He’s a fantasy game-changer.