We’ve covered tiers one and two for the NL (and tiers one and two for the AL, and yes, we’ll collate them into mixed league rankings soon), but the position has bountiful keeper options and this third tier is not terrible. The best thing is that these guys are in their peak age ranges — the worst thing is that they each have at least one flaw that may keep them from superstardom.
Let’s leave the speculation about Stanton’s new home park to my Wednesday slot. Instead, let’s marvel in the fact that this gigolo with gorgeous chest hair has the led the National League in isolated slugging percentage since he debuted in 2010. He even got more powerful in his second season, pushing his ISO from .248 to .275 and his home run per fly ball rate from 22.9% to 24.8% (which led baseball). He did all of this while hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls, which may seem somewhat odd. Then again, Albert Pujols (1.17 GB/FB), Prince Fielder (1.16), teammate Braun (1.11) and Joey Votto (1.17) all have similar batted ball profiles to the Florida outfielder who doesn’t turn 22 until next week (1.18). Dude has “80 power.”
So why a tier three player with a flaw that might keep him from superstardom? It’s obvious — his contact issues. He struck out in 31.1% of his 2010 PAs, and even though he improved there last season (27.6%), his swinging strike rate went the other way (12.8% in 2010, 15.2% in 2011). In fact, he led the league again there: No National Leaguer missed on more swings than Stanton last season. Strangely enough, he’s not a line drive guy either (16.4% career, average is about 19%). It’s sheer power that’s floating his xBABIP (.307) to the level of his BABIP (.314). It might be enough to keep his batting average above .250, but without a full season of great luck, he’ll never even flirt with .280.
Also, since he was only successful on half of his stolen base attempts, he’s not likely to continue adding any value there. He’s young, so you might see him make more contact, but he’s had that problem his whole career. Could he develop even more power? He’s already atop the game there. What can improve is not even in his control — the Marlins’ lineup could improve around him (don’t laugh, they are moving into a new stadium) and with more runs and RBI, Stanton could move into the second tier and past the $15 mark.
They can’t all be beautiful. Sometimes winning is ugly. Well, are Pence’s numbers really that ugly? He suffers mostly from not having one elite skill, but look across his line and everything is average or above. His walk rate (8.4%, average was 8.1%) and strikeout rate (18.6%, average was 18.6%) are remarkably average even. He has some power (.188 ISO, .144 was average), some speed (4.6 speed score, 5.1 was average), and has hit more than half of his contact on the ground (51.8% career), so the risk of a poor batting average season is… slightly better than average.
Then again, if you whittle away at speed — as age tends to do — you suddenly have a guy that will hit .280+ most years, with 25-homer power. His speed was never no-doubt to begin with. Pence has pilfered second at a 63% success rate, which is below the break-even rate. At 28 years old, Pence is also the most likely among his tier-mates to be headed south. Being average or better across the board is a valuable skill, but he’s no slam-dunk keeper, especially once his value is taken into consideration. A year past his peak season in 2010, he was worth $19 last year.
It’s tempting to put Bruce in the same category as Stanton. Big powerful guy with a bad batting average — it seems to pass the sniff test. The problem is that Bruce has a very different batted ball profile, and nowhere near the same amount of raw power. Bruce’s ISO was .217 last year, and it’s been .217 over his career. His best power season (.246 ISO in 2009) would have been as good as Stanton’s rookie season. Bruce also hits more fly balls (.78 GB/FB in 2011, .89 career). He strikes out more than league average (23.1% Ks, 12.2 swSTR% career), but not like Stanton.
Add it all up, and Bruce’s xBABIP (.305) and BABIP (.297) were close enough to say that Bruce also “deserved” his .256 batting average. But still it’s not the same as Stanton. Bruce has had years on his ledger in which he’s hit more line drives than the league average — he could improve his BABIP with line drive work next year. At 24, he could also push the power a little more before he hits his peak. He’s not already atop the league there, so there might be more room to grow. And Bruce’s team helped him to more runs and RBI than the Marlins did for Stanton, and that’s why he was worth a $1.50 more last year. You can’t forget about context when you draft.
Speaking of context, a full year in Atlanta might help Michael Bourn improve his value next year. In 2011, he was on base 252 times… and scored 94 runs. In Houston the year before, he was on base 206 times and scored 84 runs. Over two years, that means he’s scored 38.9% of the time he’s been on base. Curtis Granderson scored 54.1% of the time he was on base in 2011. Ian Kinsler (47.1%) and Jacoby Ellsbury (43.2%) were also driven in by their teammates more often last year, but they were on offensive juggernauts. Instead, Bourn might be okay with being driven in as much as Kemp was last year (41.8%). That would have meant for another 11 runs in 2011.
The soon-to-be 29-year-old has an xBABIP (.378) that might seem to suggest that his BABIP (.369) is sustainable, but that expected number was pushed north by his outrageous line drive rate in 2011 (26.6%). Line drive rate has poor year-to-year correlations. Give Bourn more runs in 2012, though, and his value could survive a slight drop in batting average. He should be able to put up another season worth close to $20 since he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any yet.
All 2010 auction values come from Zach Sanders’ new and improved auction value tool.
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.