I am in the midst of a series examining the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams in the AL East, on a position-by-position basis. The players at each position are being ranked in relation to their peers within the division, with each team being assigned points based on where their player ranks in comparison to the other players.
Today, the series continues with a look at the center fielders.
The best player will earn 10 points for his team, with the remaining players being assigned points as follows: seven-five-three-one.
At the end of the process, I will accumulate all of the points for each team and create a divisional power ranking.
Here are the 2010 statistics for each of the five projected starters entering the 2011 season. The chart presents the five basic stats used in fantasy baseball, plus OPS+ and Runs Above Replacement (RAR).
The rankings contained herein are based on these stats, plus projections as to what the upcoming year may have in store.
During an early-winter ranking I compiled for another website, I slotted Jacoby Ellsbury ahead of Granderson; but, "on further review," I am reversing my initial determination.
The New York Yankees expected big things from Granderson last year during his first season in the Bronx, but injuries limited his playing time (136 GP) and hampered his production.
The New Yankee Stadium is the best home run park in the major leagues for left-handed hitters. Granderson took advantage of his new home park by establishing a career high in his HR/FB ratio (15 percent) and by slugging the second-most home runs in his career (14 at home, 10 on the road).
But at the same time, he set career lows in batting average, runs scored and on-base percentage—largely as the result of a drop in his contact rate (75 percent) and a .277 BABIP (well off his 162-game average of .314).
His batting average over the last two years (.248) has been well below his previous career average, and can be explained (at least in part) by a drop in his hit ratio (which averaged 34 percent over his first four full seasons, but has been just 28 percent in each of the last two years).
For fantasy owners: Granderson scuffled for much of last season, but made some adjustments to his swing and showed flashes of his old skill set during the second half of the year—he hit .262 after the All-Star Game and hit nine HR and drove in 25 runs during September/October.
It’s possible his value will diminish in your auction/draft, but it isn’t likely to be a big slide, as your fellow owners will want to take a chance on him playing well in the softball field in ‘da Bronx.
After combining for 120 SB and 192 runs scored in 2008-09, Ellsbury was utterly useless in 2010 due to a combination of rib injuries. He compounded the problems by rehabbing away from the team, creating some palpable resentment in the clubhouse.
Ellsbury should be healthy as the 2011 season gets underway and will likely return to his pre-2010 skills—elite speed, an elite contact rate (88 percent) and an excellent hit rate (33 percent). He has routinely out-performed his xBA, largely because he hits ground balls and line drives and then uses his speed to get on base.
While he will never hit many home runs, his on-base skills and speed should continue to provide lots of stolen-base opportunities.
For fantasy owners: Many pundits are warning fantasy players to avoid Ellsbury due to last year’s injury issues—that advice could create a great buying opportunity in your league.
Assuming good health, you should expect Ellsbury to exhibit the skill set mentioned above and return to his 2008-09 performance threshold—a .290+ average, 50+ SB and 90+ runs scored.
Many pundits would be tempted to put B.J. Upton here, but I would prefer to go with Jones. Both players have largely failed to live up to their immense physical talents, but Jones’ performance has been far more stable.
While his upside may not be as high as Upton's, his downside certainly appears to be much higher.
Last year, I conjectured the gains Jones made in his 2009 contact rate and batting average were likely not sustainable, as they were brought on by uncharacteristic improvements in his strikeout and walk rates.
He then went out and improved his batting average and sustained his contact rate (at 80 percent) while reverting back to a higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate. The best way to describe his 2010 season is: paradoxical.
For fantasy owners: As I believe lightning can’t strike the same spot twice, I’ll repeat what I said last year—Jones’ 2010 performance is not sustainable over the short-term or long-term unless he shows a marked improvement in his plate discipline.
I do not believe he can continue to hit .270+ and maintain an 80 percent contact rate while striking out 20 percent of the time and walking at a rate that is one-half the major league average.
2011 projection: .260 BA, 17 HR, 55 RBI and 65 R.
Sorry, Upton fans. While B.J.’s overall performance is going the wrong way, Davis’ overall game is trending in the right direction.
It is inarguable that Davis won’t give the Blue Jays much in the way of power (his career-high home run total is five, established last year), but his performance is progressing in most other respects.
He has demonstrated the ability to make consistent contact (84 percent contact rate over the last three years) and, like Ellsbury, he hits lots of ground balls and line drives and then relies on his speed to reach base safely (33 percent hit rate over those same three years).
His batting average in 2009 was boosted by an excellent BABIP (.361) and higher than normal walk rate (6.7 percent), but when his BABIP settled back to a more reasonable number last season (.322), he managed to maintain a solid batting average (.284).
Davis has demonstrated better plate discipline over the last few years, although his walk rate is still lower than it should be for a leadoff hitter. He has lowered his strikeout rate over the last three seasons from 17.7 percent, to 16.2 percent, to 13.9 percent and has shown an increasing willingness to take a walk.
His .305 batting average in 2009 was accompanied his highest walk rate (6.7 percent) since 2007.
For fantasy owners: Davis should be mindful of that last number, and come to grips with the fact that his best overall season was the one in which his walk rate came closest to being a league-average walk rate.
Patience, Rajai. Patience.
Davis will get lots of opportunities to get on base and steal bases atop the Toronto lineup this season. I expect he will be able to sustain a .280+ batting average and steal upwards of 60 bases.
I also expect new Jays manager John Farrell and his staff will tell Davis to take pitches, and that, with increased patience, it’s possible he could hit .300 and steal even more bases.
He will be a nice sleeper candidate in 2011.
Upton’s physical tools are extraordinary, but it has become clear that his 2007 season is an outlier that was brought on by an absurdly high 40 percent hit rate (in spite of the fact that it was combined with a brutal 68 percent contact rate).
(Speaking of paradoxical...wow!)
Now that Upton’s ratios have settled in to a more normalized pattern, it is safe to say we are seeing the real B.J. Upton. His contact rate has averaged 71 percent and his hit rate has averaged 31 percent over the last two seasons. His batting average has been .239 over the 2009-10 biennium.
He walks more than the league average, but he is increasingly unable to make contact—his strikeout rates have increased in each of the last three years (20.9 percent, 24.3 percent, 26.9 percent).
At a given point, the word “potential” starts to mean less and less.
For fantasy owners: The upside on Upton is tremendous, but it is becoming apparent that he is regressing further and further away from the kind of player who will realize his full potential. The speed is real and the power potential is ever-present, but his batting average is brutal and he will never drive in as many runs as he should as his K-rate climbs and his BA plunges.
You are playing Russian Roulette if you have him on your fantasy team...except there are bullets in three of the six chambers. You should expect a stat line of: .240, 20 HR, 60 RBI, 45 SB and 75 R—at best—when the 2011 season comes to an end.