I hate the word sleeper. The very definition of the term in fantasy circles isn’t completely clear to begin with and the players typically labeled as such are just young guys with upside. I tend to define a sleeper as anyone I believe to be undervalued, resulting in strong profit potential. But then that simply makes sleeper and undervalued synonyms. So be it. Anyhow, Ryan Zimmerman…sleeper? It’s odd to consider slapping the label on an established veteran, but considering I drafted him 89th overall in an early slow mock draft, I’m thinking that he may end up falling too far after his injury-marred season.
Since his first full season in 2006, Zimmerman has been extremely consistent at the plate. Outside of his peak seasons at ages 24 and 25 back in 2009 and 2010, his wOBA has remained in a tight range. In fact, if you check out his wOBA trend, it represents a near perfect bell curve:
Coming off a season that earned him negative fantasy value, it actually surprised me a bit to see that his overall offense was actually right in line with his historical marks. I was under the impression that his offense had fallen off a cliff. But perhaps that perception was colored by his loss of power. While his .168 ISO was not a career low, his 7.8% HR/FB rate easily was. Previously, he had never posted a rate below the 10.9% mark he posted in 2011. But his batted ball distance didn’t completely collapse, suggesting that he deserved better than a sub-8% HR/FB rate. Check out his distance plotted against his HR/FB rate going back to 2007:
I did my best to get the two vertical axes to a point where the league average for distance and HR/FB rate lines up. You can see that in general, his HR/FB rate has followed his batted ball distance. And it’s true that his distance declined in 2014. But the graph suggests that his HR/FB rate took a more significant hit than perhaps it should have. We could probably blame his litany of injuries on some of his lost power and the last time his distance fell back in 2010, it rebounded by 14 feet the next season, followed by a career high the year after. So pencil me on for taking the over on Steamer’s projected .173 ISO.
Now let’s get back to those injuries I have been referencing. Just about two weeks into the season, he suffered a right thumb injury that knocked him out for more than a month and a half. He then missed another two months over the summer and into September with a hamstring injury. That thumb injury sure could explain a drop in power.
Excluding his power decline, all of his other metrics were right in line with historical averages. Except for one thing — his SwStk% improved and finished at the second lowest mark of his career, all the while the rest of baseball swings and misses more than ever before. The better ability to make contact led to a strikeout rate that also was the second lowest mark of his career.
Given the likelihood that his price will be depressed as the market factors in the power decline and a man suddenly on the wrong side of 30, Zimmerman suddenly has the chance to be undervalued for a change. In all my years of playing fantasy baseball, I cannot remember a time that I felt he wasn’t overvalued. This may finally be the year, but even better, as the pendulum may very well swing too far in the opposite direction.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.