If every team in baseball played their absolute best, if every player played at their ceiling for an entire season, which teams would look the most different? It’s an interesting thought experiment in its own way, but it also shows which teams are stocked with underachievers and could be hiding bargains. Granted, the term “chronic,” which frequently proceeds underachiever is a warning that some players never find that ceiling, but some do and there’s value to be had in that search.
If I had to guess, I’d say the team that would change the most would the Blue Jays. There is so much talent on that team right now in players like J.P. Arencibia, Colby Rasmus, and Brandon Morrow just to name a few — and this is not to say those three are terrible underachievers, they’re just less good than perhaps they ought to be — that if everyone were to hit their strides at once, the Jays would be a force to be reckoned with.
One of the players that would make the biggest differences is Travis Snider. The powerful lefty received just over 200 PAs in 2011 despite breaking camp with the team as their opening day left fielder, hitting only three home runs as part of a rather underwhelming .225/.269/.348 line that included almost as many strikeouts (56) as total bases (65). Snider once again tore up Triple-A, hitting .327/.394/.480 — though he missed time with a concussion as well as with tendinitis in his left wrist while in the minors — but couldn’t seem to translate that success to the majors.
Unlike many other Triple-A heroes who struggle in the pros, Snider’s issues weren’t limited to offspeed pitches. He had the normal trouble with sliders and sinkers, but he also couldn’t seem to catch up with fastballs, fouling off 31 percent of them compared to the 18 percent he put into play. His a long-standing wrist issues might help explain why he was late on so many fastballs — the pitch he should be making hay on — but I also wonder if his slow start made him start second guessing himself at the plate. Hitting .184/.276/.264 with a single home run in a month’s worth of starts is enough to get inside anyone’s head, let alone a player who hasn’t established himself yet.
Even if he turns the corner and hits the way it seems like he ought to, Snider is going to be a free swinger. The strikeouts and chased pitches aren’t going away, but as long as he hits something approaching the way he did in the minors — .901 OPS across six seasons at a variety of levels — then he’ll have enough fantasy value to be rosterable in all but the shallowest mixed leagues. If those extra swings mean that he isn’t getting good pitches to hit, however, then he could be digging his own grave. There are plenty of undiscerning hitters out there who still do good damage, but Delmon Young is out there, too, and I can’t shake the feeling that if Snider doesn’t correct his declining walk rate, Young will become one of his top comps.
In keeper, I still like Snider. He’s young, turning 24 later this week, and his power is legit. I’m not ready to give up on someone who hasn’t gotten a full season of PAs just yet, but that leash is getting shorter and shorter; I might be looking to trade him this year if I felt I could get good value coming back.
In redraft, I have concerns. Howard Bender touched on Snider’s platoon issues earlier this afternoon and he’s right, Snider really struggles against lefties — .212/.260/.314 versus .257/.318/.449 against righties for his career so far — which will ding his playing time. More than that, I’m concerned about a second straight season of wrist issues. He missed more than two months with a right wrist sprain in 2010 and a month at the end of 2011 with left wrist tendinitis. This isn’t a Mark DeRosa situation where I expect these injuries to kill his 2012 numbers, but wrists are important to hitters and Snider’s don’t look particularly durable. Add in the fact that he isn’t guaranteed the starting job, which adds another element of risk to his profile, and I’m making other plans. If you grab him as a late-round flier, I can’t say that’s the wrong play, just have a wire option in mind if Eric Thames beats him out for the starting job.
I want to like Snider more than I do, but I really need to see a healthy year from him in 2012, even if part of it is spent in Triple-A, before I make a final judgment on him. Obviously it would be great to see him have a definitive year in the majors where he either rakes or fails, but I’ll settle for what’s realistic. He’s definitely young enough to put a few more of the pieces together this year, breakout next year, and go on to a long, fruitful fantasy career, and I think most keeper owners would find that a livable result.
For redrafters, taking Snider this year is a gamble, as you’re hoping he reverses almost every trend he showed last year with a better walk rate, strikeout rate, lower groundball rate, and higher line drive rate. Impossible? No, not entirely, but you’re hoping against hope. Roll the dice if you’re feeling lucky, but have fail-safes in place behind him.