On Ethier and Werth and Keepers

Two National League outfielders didn’t quite make the final keeper tier, and they’re likely to be strong bounce-back players next year with statistics that would put them in the fourth or fifth tier. Why didn’t I put Andre Ethier and Jayson Werth in those keeper tiers if that’s the case?

It has more to do with perception and relative value, or the ins and outs of keeper leagues, than it does with those actual players.

With some caveats, it does seem like Ethier and Werth should have better seasons in 2012. The caveat might even be the same for both players: they may not be as good as we thought they were when we were looking at their peaks. But they’re still likely to be better in the coming season.

Ethier’s probably not going to hit 31 home runs again. His minor league record, combined with his non-2008 power numbers, suggests more of a .180-.200 ISO guy. His career ISO is .176. His career HR/FB is 12.3%. His career GB/FB is 1.14. Here are a few other guys that fit that kind of description over the last three years: Lyle Overbay (.167 ISO, 11.3% HR/FB, 1.23 GB/FB, 60 HR), J.J. Hardy (.175 ISO, 12% HR/FB, 1.19 GB/FB, 71 HR), Victor Martinez (.157 ISO, 9.3% HR/FB, 1.18 GB/FB, 57 HR), Aubrey Huff (.186 ISO, 11.7% HR/FB, 1.17 GB/FB, 85 HR), Ben Zobrist (.193 ISO, 12.5% HR/FB, 1.16 GB/FB, 69 HR), and B.J. Upton (.158 ISO, 10% HR/FB, 1.13 GB/FB, 61 HR). None of those guys will be projected for 30 home runs this year, so let’s not project Ethier for that kind of power.

Since he won’t steal any bases either, the rest of his value comes from his batting average. Admittedly, the career .291 hitter is likely to help your team batting average, but now you’re talking about a two-or-three category outfielder who will be 30 next year. If it’s him or the much younger Logan Morrison, the choice is clear.

The 33-year-old Werth is a little more complicated. At his best, he provided across-the-board value. Even his batting averages, in Philadelphia at least, were always good enough that he was a five-category stud. Yes, he’s older, and he’s post-peak, but he’s also falling from a better peak than Ethier. Shouldn’t he be a keeper?

Well, maybe. If he can get his strikeout rate closer to the 22-23% level (24.7% last year) and his BABIP back up to the .320ish level (.286 last year) that he enjoyed from 2008-2010, he’ll get that batting average back up over .250. With a .250+ batting average, and a little bounce-back in power, probably driven by a few more fly balls (his 43% ground-ball rate was the worst of his career from a power perspective), he could once again approach 25/20 numbers. Golebiewski had more on him earlier this week if you want to read on, but Werth could easily be better in 2012 than he was in 2011. Given how bad he was last year, it’s even probable.

So both of these guys will be better next year. And by the end of the year, they might have similar value to some of the guys in tier five like Drew Stubbs, Chris Young, and the afore-mentioned Morrison.

They still don’t belong in that tier.

First, there’s the matter of age. Ethier and Werth are older than any of the tier fivers and that adds risk to the package. And risk is really the thing — you want your keepers to be devoid of risk. Sure, both of these guys might recover some of their value next year, but wouldn’t you feel safer with a 27-year-old with the upside to improve rather than a 33-year-old looking to recover old levels of production?

The second reason to keep the younger guys is perceived value. This may seem like a paradox — if two players are likely to put up similar statistics, but one is higher in perceived value, shouldn’t you trade the one who others like more and keep the guy you like as much? Yes. With a twist — you should trade away your Drew Stubbs if you think Jayson Werth is going to give you similar value, absolutely. But you still shouldn’t keep Jayson Werth.

Because you should draft him. That’s where you get bounce-back guys on the fringes. And we’re not talking about Hanley Ramirez here. If he bounces back, you get a first-rounder. But if a guy might bounce-back to middle-round value, he’s a guy to draft, not keep. If you’re in a dynasty league, sure, keep the older guys. They’ll have more value in the midst of a better season then they would now.

But if you’re keeping five, six, eight keepers, and you have younger outfielders to choose from, drop Ethier and Werth into your draft pool. You can always get them back later, and you might even get to choose from a tastier option.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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10 years ago

Agreed. It makes keeper decisions easier when you expect to redraft the player. You can even intend to reach a bit for someone you wanted to keep (assuming non-auction), and the act of not keeping them might cause some people to think you are not as high on them as you really are.