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.
Take a look at stat lines by two different shortstops since July 22.
Player A: 205 PA, .267/.348/.352, 1 HR, 25 R, 8 RBI, 17 SB (7 CS)
Player B: 209 PA, .241/.268/.322, 1 HR, 19 R, 13 RBI, 14 SB (8 CS)
Can you guess who they are?
Is it going to blow your mind? (Probably not — if you’re the owner of the more popular player, you’re well aware of his recent performance.)
Like I said, Segura’s owners know he has been struggling, which raises a legitimate question: What should fantasy owners expect from Segura next year? I’ll guess most projections will split the difference between his first and second halves, but honestly, that may be too optimistic considering how long his struggles have lasted.
Meanwhile, Villar continues to fly under the radar for the lowly Astros. As you can see above, he has more stolen bases, more attempts and a better success rate across almost the same number of plate appearances as Segura. But that’s not anywhere near the most important part of this post. Look again at their on-base percentages from the sample:
Villar: .348 OBP
Segura: .268 OBP
Villar has gotten on base 8 percent more often than Segura has, which is a huge margin. Villar strikes out way too much — compare his 58 K’s to Segura’s 33 since July 22 — and that will likely weigh down his batting average. But his 10.8 percent walk rate is helping him get on base, which equates to runs and stolen bases.
The Astros batted Villar lead-off for 12 games, but he struck out in one-third of his plate appearances before they pushed him down to the bottom of the order. Eighteen games and a .313 batting average later, they moved him back up to the lead-off spot.
I’m probably alone in thinking Villar deserves any kind of hype for next year. He’ll be playing for a terrible team (which, really, won’t be as bad in 2014 as it was in 2013), so the potential for counting stats is not as promising. But a lead-off batter who can at least hit .250 and walk 10 percent of the time deserves a look, especially when the dude tries to steal basically every time he reaches base.
Villar is the poor man’s Everth Cabrera, and I think he will at least rival Cabrera’s performance next year, if not exceed it. Villar will be among the top of my bold predictions when I make them next year, but you can have the spoiler alert now: Villar is a top-10 shortstop in 2014 with top-5 upside.
As for Segura… I don’t know, man. Flash in the pan?
As of yesterday, 25 players have at least 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases. Predicting players who will finish with at least 10 homers and 20 steals shrinks the group down to 15. Take a look at that list and you’ll see an unlikely name: New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy.
I’m a fan of Murphy. I owned him for most of last year because of his adequate counting stats coupled with his high batting average; I considered his flirtation with double-digit homers and steals icing on the cake.
Early in the year, I dismissed Murphy because of the relative strength at the position at the time, especially compared to how Murphy was playing, which was underwhelming. But he has taken flight since, and his 2013 line looks as such:
.277/.309/.396, 10 HR, 75 R, 61 RBI, 18 SB
There are some disturbing trends: ignoring the small sample size of his 2008 debut, his strikeout rate (13.8 percent), walk rate (4.2 percent), on-base percentage (.309) and slugging percentage (.388) are all career worsts. His wOBA (weighted on-base average) is only .303, and his wRC (weighted runs created) is 94, tied for a career worst.
Yet the year he’s having now is eerily similar to 2009, when he hit a career-high 12 home runs and batted a career-worst .266. The major difference is his plate discipline has trended negatively ever since.
I don’t think this year is an outlier, though. Looking more deeply, Murphy has been hitting way more fly balls than usual, and that is something a hitter can mostly control. His fly ball percentage (FB%) is the second-highest of his career behind — you guessed it — his 2009 season. It’s up to 36.7 percent, from 24.9 percent in 2012 and 31.1 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, his HR/FB rate is right in line with his career mark, indicating they’re not flying out at an unsual rate.
Additionally, Murphy’s attempting more steals, another facet of his game completely in his control. He has successfully stolen one-and-a-half-times more bases than he had attempts last year. That says a lot. He has been plenty successful, too, succeeding in 18 of 21 attempts. He rarely stole in the minors or in his first four seasons, so the bags are certainly a pleasant surprise.
The verdict? I mean, you can’t ignore him if he keep doing next year what he’s doing now. Martin Prado immediately comes to mind as someone who started stealing bases out of the blue (from four steals in 2011 to 17 in 2012) but again suddenly stopped (three in 2013). If he pulls a Prado, he becomes nothing more than a low-end or deep-league option. His batting average is nice, and the potential double-digit power is nice, but the steals are what’s setting him apart right now.
St. Louis Cardinals pending second baseman Kolten Wong is expected to get the call today from AAA Memphis. He’s the No. 79 and 84 prospect according to MLB.com and Baseball America, respectively, and I’m not overly excited about him.
I don’t expect Wong to make an immediate or profound impact this year unless he can immediately uproot Daniel Descalso and force manager Mike Matheny to move Matt Carpenter over to the hot corner. Even if this move happens in 2014, I would be more than pleased as a Wong owner to get 10 homers and steals apiece out of him.
In his defense, though, he recorded consistently low strikeout rates at each level and got on base at a .369 clip in AAA, consistent with his .365 minor league OBP. I could see him turning into a less prolific Carpenter, hitting for average from the No. 2 spot and racking up a ton of runs because of he will likely be followed up by some combination of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Adams and Oscar Taveras.
Wong has stolen 20+ bases each of the last two years and is starting to flash more power as he develops, but I would give him until maybe 2015 to really hit his stride. I predict he’ll be a serviceable option in 2014, but as far as second-base prospects are concerned, I would rank him behind the San Diego Padres’ Jedd Gyorko, the Seattle Mariners’ Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, and the Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon. However, given Carpenter’s propensity to reach base and score as part of a lethal St. Louis offense, I predict Wong could have a similarly high upside, but with more speed than power.
If I’m in a rotisserie league with an auction draft, which I am, I would gladly drop $1 on Wong as a flyer — but if the four other aforementioned prospects are available at the same price come draft time, I will more readily take a chance on one of them first.
As far as 2013 is concerned, I wouldn’t bother with Wong unless he quickly makes an impact. I think Wong’s debut will look more like the debut of Texas Rangers’ Jurickson Profar rather than of Franklin.
Jack Moore of CBSSports.com expressed concern July 17 about Seattle Mariners shortstop Brad Miller striking out too much. At the time, he was batting only .246 with an understandably disconcerting 23.5 percent strikeout rate, and Moore was concerned Miller was overmatched.
Perhaps Moore’s words were prophetic (in a reverse psychology kind of way), or perhaps the All-Star Break did Miller a bit of good. Since the Break, Miller’s strikeout rate has been only 11.4 percent, less than half of what it had been up until the Break and well below the MLB average. His strikeout rate now splits the difference at 16.2 percent — exactly the same as his minor league rate. Meanwhile, his walk rate declined only slightly, from 10.3 to 8.6 percent.
Although Miller has only batted .271 over the same span (raising his season average to .261), his low strikeout rate means he has been putting a ton of balls in play, and his BAbip (batting average on balls in play) is a lowly .275.
Miller’s minor league BAbip? .388. That’s right — .388.
It sounds crazy, and I understand if you are quick to dismiss Miller’s more-than-impressive minor league batting average of .334, but hear me out. His .388 BAbip (and .334 average) is the result of 999 minor league plate appearances — equivalent to, what, a season and a half-worth of MLB games? Not exactly what you’d call a small sample size. Also, players do post crazy-high BAbips. Well, one player does. His name is Mike Trout, and he posted a .383 BAbip in 2012 and a .371 BAbip so far in 2013. I can guarantee you Miller is not the next Mike Trout, but still, it can be done.
At a fundamental level, a sub-.300 BAbip is the norm for power hitters such as Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion, not speedy guys like Miller. If Miller boasts a .330 BAbip for the rest of 2013 and even the rest of his career, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised — and his batting average would greatly benefit from such a massive boost in average on balls in play.
A middle infielder who has 15-homer, 15-steal, .300/.400/.500-slash line potential? Sign me up. I’m in love.
Now, for my favorite part: Brad “The Triple Machine” Miller has five triples in a mere 165 at-bats. Take a look at which hitters have hit triples most frequently this year, in terms of at-bats per triple:
- Brad Miller, 33.0
- Freddy Galvis, 37.5
- Munenori Kawasaki, 45.5
- Carlos Gomez, 46.6
- Starling Marte, 51.4
- Stephen Drew, 52.5
- Will Venable, 54.5
- Mike Trout, 57.1
- Jean Segura, 58.1
- Jacoby Ellsbury, 60.3
Just look at the names on that list. Like I said, “The Triple Machine” is fast — even if he isn’t the most proficient base stealer — and I would hesitate to dismiss his lofty BAbip so quickly.
And I don’t care if “The Triple Machine” doesn’t roll off the tongue. It’s the best nickname. EVER! You can thank me later, Brad.
If you’re a contending team who could use a few more runs and steals, look no further than Houston Astros shortshop Jonathan Villar.
Clichéd introduction aside, DUDE JUST STOLE HOME. Ran in Wei-Yin Chen’s face. When’s the last time you saw something like that from someone who wasn’t Bryce Harper trying to show up a veteran pitcher? (Answer: Probably last year still, or maybe 2011, but that’s not the point.)
Anyway, Villar is fast. He has recorded five steals in seven attempts through eight games (well, seven and a half, considering today’s isn’t done yet). He has also recorded six runs in only 31 plate appearances. That makes him on pace for, what, 130 runs? On a team that doesn’t really score.
I hesitate to call the guy a “spark plug,” as badly as I want to: the ‘Stros are a mere 2-5 in his first seven games. However, three of those losses came in one-run games. That’s more heartbreaking than anything else, but at least they made the A’s sweat a little, yeah?
Basically, his legs make him a legitimate fantasy asset in all rotisserie leagues because he will be continually productive on the bases (when he reaches them, that is). He also has some pop, averaging 10 or so home runs a season in the minors. He will ultimately be a batting average liability — he hit only .260 in the minors and has struck out in exactly half of all his at-bats so far — and may not be rosterable in head-to-head formats until he his adequately warmed up to major league pitching. However, don’t knock his eye too much: he has walked in roughly 10 percent of his plate appearances, as few as they may be, exceeding the MLB average of 7.8 percent. And, frankly, I don’t care how much he strikes out if his on-base percentage is .350.
On any other team, Villar might be confined to a platoon or bench role like Tony Campana or Stephen Lombardozzi. But the terrible, awful Astros will be sure to get their new starting shortstop plenty of playing time.
In other news: Don’t look now, but the Astros already have a lot of young talent…