I’ve written about Luis Valbuena a couple of different times this winter: once in regard to the third basemen available on the free agent market and then again as a comparison against Chase Headley, as it looked like the New York Yankees were in pursuit of the veteran third baseman. With Valbuena now suiting up for the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) thanks to a recent two-year deal, now comes the time that we evaluate whether or not he’ll be a fantasy asset in the coming year.
Valbuena’s signing is interesting for the Halos in that there doesn’t appear to be an obvious position for him. He’s a third baseman first and foremost, but has appeared at first base, second base, and shortstop throughout his career, with a couple of random stints in the outfield for an inning or two. Short and the outfield are likely out at this point, but he can still provide innings at the corners, as well as at second base if necessary.
But, as of right now, the Angels would appear to have a starter just about anywhere that Valbuena could claim a consistent spot. Yunel Escobar is penciled in at third, Danny Espinosa is at second, while C.J. Cron and Albert Pujols will consume much of the playing time at first, once the latter is completely healed from an injury. One can infer that the Valbuena signing was partly as an insurance option should Pujols experience any setbacks in said recovery.
Valbuena only notched 342 plate appearances in 90 games overall in 2016 due to injury. But even in battling through multiple nagging issues, he still managed to post extremely respectable numbers in comparison with his peers at the third base position.
The following represents some key statistics and where he ranked among players with a minimum of 300 PAs, a group which includes 40 players who logged time at the hot corner:
|.260 (27th)||.357 (10th)||.199 (17th)||23.7 (10th)||12.9 (3rd)||123 (11th)|
There’s plenty to like here, even among a third base group that has some elite performers. He’s always demonstrated a quality approach, hence the high-OBP figure, as well as the walk rate. His strikeout rate is higher than you’d like, but that’s partially a byproduct of working deep counts. There’s some pop there, with the isolated power of .199 as a followup to a 2015 season in which he posted a mark of .214. His wRC+ represented a career high, but park-adjusted offense has liked him in each of the last three years, where he’s been painted as an above average offensive performer.
His deployment with the Angels obviously has the ability to impact whether or not Valbuena carries any intrigue on the fantasy side. The important thing to keep in mind is that all of Escobar, Cron, and Pujols are right-handed. Additionally, while Danny Espinosa switch hits and is the only current starting infielder that can hit from that side, he hit .212 and posted a wRC+ of only 78 as a lefty last year. His backup Cliff Pennington can also switch hit, but is almost exclusively on the roster for his glove. Not has bat.
Which really leaves Valbuena has the lone left-handed option that brings any offensive value whatsoever. While he only hit .258 against righties, he reached base at a rate of .362 while going for a wRC+ of 129. His ISO against right-handed pitching was up at .221. Even against left-handed pitching, he was still considered an above average offensive player, with a wRC+ of 104 and a cool .341 OBP. So should something happen or one of the current starters performs below expectations, Valbuena should be able to provided value regardless of pitcher handedness.
Just for the sake of visuals, here’s how Valbuena stacks up against his competition for playing time in Anaheim, with wOBA serving as the focal point:
Among those options, he’s probably the best offensive performer. It’s probably not even question that there’s offensive value to be had there. But what makes him a worthy target depends on a couple of aspects: playing time and versatility. The two really go hand-in-hand, but it’ll be interesting to see how much Valbuena is deployed at each position in order to potentially gain eligibility at multiple positions. That alone would make him valuable. But he’ll have to earn playing time first.
Will that come at third? Maybe. He’ll likely see a handful of starts there, especially as Yunel Escobar has only appeared in 145 or more games twice in his career. Will he see enough playing time to maintain his eligibility there? This especially becomes a question if he’s able to pry a starting first base gig away from C.J. Cron, something that he may have the opportunity to do in spring training. In order for us to make a proper assessment of his value, there’s an element of waiting that needs to take place so that the positions can be ironed out over the course of the spring. In any case, his offensive value alone makes him an entity worth monitoring, even while maintaining a patient approach toward the 31-year-old.