Player Combinations and Average Value, Part 3/4: The Bounceback Edition

It might have crossed some people’s minds as to why I am doing a series on player combinations. This ties in with the article I did earlier this week on chasing The Great White Buffalo.


Fantasy sports is about accumulating the best numbers. It doesn’t matter how, who gave them to you or in what amount. All that matters at the end of the season is that you have the most home runs, lowest ERA and so on. Let me explain this a little bit more thoroughly.


You should always look at prior seasons in fantasy leagues and ask yourself “what do I need to win?”. I’ll give you the category leaders from a 12-team league I was in last year:



Another bounceback candidate.

Another bounceback candidate.

HR: 250 (kind of an outlier)

RBI: 877

Runs: 917

SB: 194 (that was kind of an outlier, too)

BA: .281



Wins: 108

Saves: 151

Strikeouts: 1339

ERA: 3.37

WHIP: 1.15


Now it’s important to remember that those are category leaders. You’re not going to lead every category. You might have 110 wins but just 93 saves. You might have 252 home runs but just 114 stolen bases. But let’s look at offense first for the sake of this article.


This league was pretty standard. One catcher, no extra infielders, no extra OFs, just one utility. So you had just nine hitter positions to accumulate your stats. So in other words:


250 Home Runs/ Nine Positions = 27.7 HRs per position

877 RBI/ Nine Positions = 97.4 RBI

917 Runs / Nine Positions = 101.8 Runs

194 SB / Nine Positions = 21.5 SBs

A .281 average at each position.


Now this is extreme. Like I said, you’re not going to finish at the top of each category, so you have to temper yourself a bit. Also, if you play in a league with each of CI/MI, two catchers, extra OFs and a second utility, then the stress for production on each position is reduced.


It’s important to remember that your team has to work together. When you look at the numbers from each position, they’re elite when taken together. How elite? Only Ryan Braun achieved each of the five benchmarks above. So that’s why it’s so crucial that your team “makes sense”. If you’re punting a category, that’s one thing. If you don’t realize that you took Cano, Pedroia and Reyes and have, at most, 60 home runs in your first three picks and then decide to draft Starlin Castro and Joe Mauer, you’re in a world of hurt. Your team doesn’t make sense.


You can avoid this for the most part by targeting power/speed guys. If you load with guys like Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward and others, you’re way ahead of the game.


Player Combination


This leads me to the point of this article. Who are good mid-round (mid-value) hitters to target (rounds 8-20, $5-$20) in the outfield if you’re taking a more balanced approach? I’m looking at two players looking for bounceback years for different reasons: Melky Cabrera and Ichiro.


Melky Cabrera
Please be off the crank... (Cabrera, OF-TOR)

Please be off the crank… (Cabrera, OF-TOR)


After being pretty much shamed off of the San Francisco Giants because of his PED suspension, the Melkman got a two-year contract for $8M per from my Bluejays. First thing, let’s look at his last two seasons (268 Games, 1117 ABs):


Overall: 29 HRs, 186 Runs, 147 RBIs, .323 BA and 33 SBs.

162-Game Pace: 17.5 HRs, 112 Runs, 88.8 RBIs, .323 BA and 19.9 SBs


Bet you didn’t think he was THAT good over the last two years, did you? Ok, he was on PEDs for at least 2012 (likely before that), that’s not in dispute. How much did it help him? Well if you look at his 2009 season, it wasn’t ALL that different from 2012. Melky only had 26 more official at-bats in 2009 compared to 2012 but had two more home runs and three more doubles. So either he was on PEDs for at least four years without getting caught, or more likely, he’s just pretty good.


So fast-forward to 2013. What can we expect? Well, he’ll be hitting second between perhaps the best lead-off hitter in baseball (Jose Reyes) and perhaps the best home-run hitter in baseball (Jose Bautista). Not a bad place to be. For the bulk of the season he’ll be looking to drive in Reyes or Emilio Bonifacio (possible #9 hitter) and will be driven in by Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. While I do think a 115/95 season is attainable, a more likely expectation is around 105/85.


What about the power/speed combo? Well over the last four years, the Melkman has had 45 at-bats at the Rogers Centre with two longballs, giving him his AB/HR rate of 22.5. For reference, his career AB/HR rate is 50.7 and his single-season highest is 36.6. He’s just coming into his power years now and I would expect 20 HRs easily from him this year if he gets to 600 at-bats.


Finally, his career SB rate isn’t excellent by any stretch, holding at 74% in the Majors. Also, with the Bats/E5 combo behind him, I’m not sure how often he gets the green light. But he does have double-digit steals in any season where he had at least 525 PAs, so I think we can expect at least 10 in a full season. I’m thinking more 12-15.


Where his batting average lands is anyone’s guess. I can tell you it won’t be the .346 from last year and even .306 would be a very good season. His Z-Contact% (the rate that he makes contact with pitches inside the strikezone) has been phenomenal the last two years at 92.3% in 2012 and 94% in 2011. For reference, neither Dustin Pedroia or Miguel Cabrera have had a Z-Contact% over 91% in either of the last two seasons. This is important because hitting between Reyes and Bautista, I expect the Melkman to get lots of pitches to hit. I will err on the side of caution and say .295 is a reasonable expectation.


One of the best ever. Period. (Ichiro, OF-NYY)

One of the best ever. Period. (Ichiro, OF-NYY)


A guy I wrote about in our Draft Guide, I expect a rebound from Ichiro in 2013.


One of the best hitters in baseball history managed a paltry .272 in 2011 and a pathetic .261 in his first 95 games of 2012. This was as dramatic a fall from grace as we’ve seen in recent memory.


What gets missed is this. In 2011 and 2012, while a member of Seattle and playing in Yankee Stadium, he hit .280 (7/25). While not great, it’s a marked improvement over his marks for those seasons. Also, he’s a career .350 hitter in new Yankee Stadium with 7 HRs in 180 at-bats. Those 7 HRs translate to a 20+ HR season if he played all his games at the House that Steinbrenner built. He had a BABIP of .337 with the Yanks in the second half(ish) of last year which might seem high, but considering his career BABIP is .347, it’s not extreme.


He’s healthy by all accounts, so I don’t see a reason why he doesn’t hit .305 with 10 HRs this year. Even the 10 HRs might be a little light, he could hit 10 just at home itself.


What about his legs? A lot of Ichiro’s value in the past has been tied to steals. Well he had 40 and 42 in 2011 and 2010, respectively before dipping down to 29 last year. But again, it was a tale of two cities. With Seattle, he was averaging a steal attempt ever 23.6 at-bats. With the Yankees, it was a steal attempt every 11.9 at-bats. While his success rate declined, at least Ichiro was forcing the issue. At the rate he was stealing last year, he would have 48 attempts in 575 at-bats. With a career success rate of 82%, that means 39 steals. Even if they don’t send him as often and he doesn’t succeed as much as he has in the past, there’s no reason to think he won’t get 30 steals.


The other counting stats will mean the difference between a top-30 OF season and a top-50 OF season. And these counting stats depend on where he hits in the lineup. With Brett Gardner healthy and Derek Jeter healthy (ish), it’s not a lock that Ichiro will hit at the top. Last year with Gardner out, Ichiro still hit first or second in the order only 14 times in 67 games. This led to him scoring only 28 times, or a 162-game pace that would see him post the worst run total of his career. The Yankees played a Spring Training game a few days ago where Gardner hit first and Ichiro hit second, but without Jeter in the lineup I don’t know how that shakes out. If he hits first or second, he could score 90+ runs easy. If he hits 7th/8th/9th, he could score 70 runs.


I only hope that manager Joe Girardi hits Ichiro at the top, relying on the proven future Hall-Of-Famer rather than Brett fucking Gardner. If this happens, Ichiro can score 90 runs and drive in 60. If it doesn’t, he could go 70/50. But considering his Yahoo! auction value is averaging at $3 and Mock Draft Central has him going off as the 58th outfielder, or around an 18th round pick, there is lots of value to be had if he hits at the top of the order. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll still return value.


So What Does It All Mean, Basil?
The Austin Powers Draft Room.

The Austin Powers Draft Room.


There are assumptions you need to make before going into drafts. You assume Troy Tulowitzki will struggle to get 550 at-bats, you assume Michael Bourn will steal at least forty bases. You assume Melky will stay in the two-hole in the lineup, you assume Girardi isn’t an idiot and plays one of the greatest outfielders of all time who has the better career on-base percentage, similar base-stealing prowess and light-years better career batting average at the top of his lineup. You assume both players will stay healthy and play at least 150 games. With these assumptions, this is what I’m looking for from these guys this season:


Melky Cabrera: .295/20 HR/85 RBI/105 R/10 SB

Ichiro Suzuki: .305/10 HR/60 RBI/90 R/30 SB

Aggregate #1: .300/15 HR/73 RBI/97 R/20 SB


Just so you know, there were three (3) outfielders in all of baseball last year who achieved each of those results in Aggregate #1: Ryan Braun, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen.


It looks like we fell short of our .280/27/97/101/22 marks, doesn’t it? That’s because these players will not produce at the level of the early-round players (duh). But now let’s say you grabbed Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton with your first two picks. A reasonable (healthy) line for these guys is


Matt Kemp: .300/35/110/105/33

Josh Hamilton: .280/35/115/100/7

Aggregate #2: .290/35/112/102/20


So for a total between Aggregate #1 and Aggregate #2…


Aggregate Total: .295/25/92/100/20

Target: .280/27/97/101/22


See how this all works together? Kemp and Hamilton give you excess RBIs and HRs which allows you to slack in these categories elsewhere. The combination of Melky/Ichiro will raise your batting average and maintain your run/SB targets while contributing enough RBIs and HRs to not be completely deficient. This, for the price of a 9th round pick and a 17th round pick, or maybe $20 total.


This is the point I’ve been trying to get across all along. Your team has to work together and it has to make sense. If you draft Kemp and Hamilton early, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to draft Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis (for around the same value as Ichiro/Melky) unless the runs and steals are made up elsewhere (and a lot of them). Also it’s important to remember, those targets are by position and assume 162 games. Only four players in all of baseball played all 162 and only 14 played at least 160. You will pick up extra stats from your bench that will fill in the couple of missing home runs or RBIs.


You probably will go into your draft with a plan. “I want this guy here, and this guy for this much, and this guy as my third outfielder” and so on and so on… But you have to be able to adjust on your feet. You need to know where the values are, who the guys are that can fit into your team as constructed on draft day and what this will cost you relative to what you have left. You might really want Melky and Ichiro, but if you have 10 roster spots to fill and $17 to do it, it’s probably not going to work. But Melky was on track to be at least a top-10 OF last year and was a top-10 OF in 2011. Why he’s going off as the 23rd OF on MDC is beyond me (other than people are scared). Ichiro could produce as a top-30 OF this year. For reference, Alex Gordon was the 29th ranked OF last year on Yahoo, and his numbers aren’t too far from what I expect from Ichiro this year.


If you get the high-end power/speed combos early, these are two guys I would be looking at later. I think both Ichiro and Melky are being undervalued right now. Also, Cabrera has the skills and opporunity to be a top-20 hitter by the end of the year and Ichiro can be a top-100 fantasy player. Not bad for a couple double-digit round picks or maybe $20 at the auction table.





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