Players Steamer and I Like More Than You Do

Steamer and I are good friends. It’s true – even though I don’t know Steamer’s gender, Steamer isn’t upset. We don’t always agree – often, we disagree – but that’s part of what keeps the fire alive.

Yesterday, I wrote about a couple of players whom I like more than the crowd does and, because of injuries, a lot or a little more than Steamer does. Brett Talley has blogged this month about some sleepers and busts derived from values calculated based on Steamer projections, and one of those entries is on sleeper position players, kind of an All-Sleeper Team.

To build on those things a little, and to focus on the good times Steamer and I have had, I cherry-picked from my spreadsheet of values some other position players whom Steamer projections suggest are sleepers or undervalued compared to early ADPs. I’d like them like quite a bit at their prices and would highlight them as probable targets.

OF Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers

One of last year’s free-agent disappointments is another, like Brandon Moss and David Wright, who played through pain for significant portions of the season. Steamer doesn’t know that, however, so 2014 appears to its system like serious decline. Even then, it offers a fair projection: .264/.369/.417, 16 HR, 11 SB. That somewhat easily makes the Ranger a top-100 player.

At 32 (33 in July), Choo certainly doesn’t fall into the “all’s forgiven” category. But he gets some part of a pass, especially because neither of the procedures he underwent was overly invasive, and his rehab has been finished. The conservative Steamer already calls Choo a steal, basically. I could see dinging the outfielder for a homer or two, although that might not be necessary. I’d add a few steals and give him the fans’ projected average (.274), too.

It’s not hard to imagine the vet doing a bit better than the projection, either. Fantasy owners don’t like older players unless they’re already doing well, though. I get that they’re in decline. The curve tends to be a little more gradual than 2014 makes Choo’s appear. This year is shaping up as a good one in which to take him, because he shouldn’t burn you even if he doesn’t prove the crowd wrong.

1B Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

Last year, Belt lost two months to a broken thumb and basically about the same amount of time to concussion symptoms. This isn’t a case in which Steamer misses the mark because it’s missing information, though. The player missed the time. Poor health may have affected his performance, at least during the periods in which things were foggy for him, but it’s not in the driver’s seat for this projection.

Therefore, to some degree, Belt’s 2015 price reflects “I kind of forgot about him” mode. (Yes, there’s also a touch of “He might get injured again” in there.) This is good, because if things like his 2014 shift in batted-ball data and gradual rise in ISO don’t actually hint at a breakout, then he’s still likely to be an adequate player at a reasonable cost.

Yet Steamer thinks that there’s more in store for Belt (.268/.346/.454, 20 HR, 7 SB) in 2015. The fans, at this time, are even a touch more enthusiastic. A power surge is difficult to project for a player who calls AT&T Park home. Scott Spratt observed an important reason to doubt such a bounce-back in batting average for Belt.

But Eno’s July 2014 interview of Belt tells the story of a hitter in the process of consolidating skills in the batter’s box. That could even bode well for Belt’s chances to beat the shift. Then there’s this fun-to-read post at McCovey Chronicles, which isn’t really evidence of anything, but it hints at the player’s adaptability. Plus, the organization has incentives to urge Belt to try to beat the shift, and Belt has reasons to comply.

All these things are what-ifs, of course. The player’s price point, right now, is scratching its head and asking “What if what?” however, so Belt is worth a shot.

OF Austin Jackson, Seattle Mariners

Fantasy owners seem to view A-Jax as barely a top-250 player, if he’s one at all. He was considerably better than that last season, his worst as a regular. Steamer (.256/.322/.371, 8 HR, 15 SB) gives him enough of a pass for him to rate as something similar going into 2015. I could see a homer or two fewer and several more steals. I could split some differences with the fans. No matter what, I could easily come out ahead by drafting him.

Yes, Jackson, with four home runs, disappointed in the power department last year. Yes, he hit only .229/.267/260 in 236 plate appearances after his trade to the M’s. (He’d batted .273/.332/.398 in 420 PA with Detroit.) The campaign just didn’t go well, as Michael Barr recounted.

Jackson, 28, had a topsy-turvy 2014. Not just because he was traded. Jeff Sullivan detailed how some of the center fielder’s old habits at the dish showed up early last year. It’s possible that Jackson felt as if his responsibilities in the order had changed and thus he allowed them to affect his methods. The before (Sullivan) and after (Barr) together suggest significant process changes, probably for the worse, perhaps even throughout the season. Reportedly, Jackson will try to rediscover the simpler mechanics and approach that his manager in Seattle helped to instill when each was still doing time in Motown, among other things.

Will changing again help Jackson? I don’t know. It probably won’t hurt. Besides, I’m definitely willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because, as far as I can tell, no one in the roto crowd is going to force me to risk much of anything in order to find out if it does.

A couple of follow-ups:

I speculated awhile back that Leonys Martin would be a decent target in 2015. Steamer’s projection for him (.264/.318/.387, 10 HR, 28 SB) confirms, basically making him a borderline top-100 player. That’s practically true even if you give him the fans’ HR total (8), which is fine. He’s not a great real-life hitter, but he’s a low-risk, medium-reward fantasy choice.

I did a similar thing with Mike Napoli. Steamer did a similar thing with him (.244/.352/.444, 22 HR), too. That’s worth about $9 in a 15-team mixed league, according to my sheet. The Boston Red Sox’s first baseman might outdo that line thanks to some advances in his everyday health, and, based on the public’s early wagers, will cost hardly anything.

Not the most exciting stuff to use as segue into hiatus. I have more, but I wish I’d had more to give you, but I didn’t, and that makes me sad, but it’s one way to know. I want to give myself to other things. But, never know, I may see you again.

Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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9 years ago

Nick rides off into the sunset. Good luck in your new adventures.