Fantasy Baseball

Powerless, but Still Productive

When it comes to the outfield, everyone knows the importance of the top guys.  Trout, Harper, McCutchen; those names are staples at the top of everyone’s draft sheet.  The same holds true with the next tier of players; guys like Cespedes, Dickerson and Puig are drafted as a second outfielder to bolster the power of your fantasy team.  Even as you head further down the list, players like Trumbo, Bruce and Gattis are rostered simply because they can hit for power.  There is nothing wrong with this, except for the fact that you could be passing on a player who can be of more value to you.

Denard Span is the perfect example of such a player.  At the start of the 2014 season, Span was lightly owned, and available in many leagues.  Even by mid-season, Span was available in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.  Owners saw one home run and 19 RBIs and kept moving.  What they ignored was the fact he had scored over 50 runs, had 15 stolen bases and was hitting for average.  Home runs and RBIs are only 2 fantasy categories, people.  By seasons end, Span had a .302 batting average, scored 94 runs and stole 31 bases.  The fact that he only hit five home runs and drove in 37 doesn’t negate the fact his other numbers earned him a ranking inside the top 20 for the outfield.

His 94 runs ranked 5th among outfielders, the 31 stolen bases ranked 7th, and a .302 average ranked 4th for qualified outfielders (over 420 at bats).  That’s three categories he finished inside the top 10 – two in the top five, and yet he wasn’t universally owned by the end of the season.  I know chicks dig the long ball, but players can still be productive and hold value even without a power stroke.

Ender Inciarte is one of the more recent examples.  Just like Span, many owners ignored him coming into the 2015 season.  He was only drafted in about 3% of leagues despite finishing strong over the final two months of the 2014 season.  By the time June rolled around, Inciarte had scored 39 runs, stolen nine bases and was batting .287.  He was a top 30 option for the outfield, and his ownership had finally risen about the 50% mark.  An injury derailed his season, otherwise he had the potential to match the numbers put up by Denard Span in 2014. 

You would think Inciarte’s success would garner him a little respect, but judging by where he placed in our upcoming dynasty outfield rankings, owners still don’t see the value.  I can somewhat understand that given the fact that Inciarte was not drafted, nor was he a blue chip highly touted prospect.  He struggled with his batting average right up through A ball, but once promoted to A+ he hit .319; that earned him a promotion to AA where he hit .282 over a full season.  After hitting .312 over 109 at bats in AAA the following season he earned a promotion to the majors, and he has not looked back. 

So far Inciarte has 40 stolen bases over the past two seasons.  He stole 21 this season, but he was caught 10 times.  Some will see the success rate as a negative, but keep in mind he stole 139 bases in the minors and was only caught 46 times – a much better success rate, and a rate that improved at each minor league stop.  Inciarte just turned 25 so there is plenty of time for improvements at the major league level.

He has also held his own in the batting average department.  Inciarte batted .278 in 2014, and this season he hit .303.  A 22.6% line drive rate over the past 2 seasons help fuel that (36th in the majors over that span).  Another thing fueling his average is his contact rate which stands at 89.1% for the past two seasons.  Among all major leaguers, that rate is the 8th best, being bested by Michael Brantley, Ben Revere, Nick Markakis, Jose Altuve, Daniel Murphy, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler.  The Z-Contact% is even better, standing at 94.8%; that’s good enough for 7th place over the past two seasons.  Add on an 11% strikeout percentage along with a 5.2% swinging strikeout rate and you’ve got all the makings for a very disciplined hitter. 

Now Inciarte is not without his faults.  He has a 5.1% walk rate that ranks outside the top 100, though he is capable of doing better judging by his 2014 and minor leagues seasons.  Inciarte also struggled versus lefties in 2015 (.227), but he did hit .278 against them in 2014 and held his own in the minors.  If he can make slight improvements on both these fronts then you’re looking at a very solid 3 category player.  As is, Inciarte put up a 3.3 WAR in 2015; that puts him just outside the top 50 which isn’t a bad place for a guy with limited power potential. 

Inciarte is a scrappy hitter capable of hitting .300, stealing 25+ bases, and could easily score 90 or more runs batting in front of A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt.  In redraft leagues I would target him in the mid teens when others are snatching up the likes of Evan Gattis and Josh Reddick.  In dynasty leagues I would make a move to acquire him now before he gets a full season worth of numbers under his belt and that owner realizes what they have on their hands.  You might even be able to get Inciarte as a throw in on a bigger trade; the lost time hides his value and the lack of home runs and RBIs make him look less valuable than he is. 

Stephen Piscotty is another player that fits this mold.  Piscotty was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft after hitting .341 during his three years and Stanford.  He hit .292 or higher in his time at A, A+ and AA ball.  That average went down some in AAA to .282, but he showed enough patience and contact ability for the Cardinals to give him a shot this year.  Just like Inciarte above, Piscotty hit the ground running. 

Piscotty hit .305 after being called up after the all-star break.  I know some will point to his .372 BABIP and say it was luck driven and he’s bound to regress, and that could be true if a few things don’t revert back to what he did in the minors.  Piscotty’s walk rate was 7.8%, but he showed in the minors and in college he is capable of 9% or higher.  The same holds true with his strikeout rate.  In the majors this year it was 21.9%; that’s way too high for a player like Piscotty, but in the minors and in college it was in the 12% range.  Piscotty is only 24 (25 in January) so there is plenty of time for him to improve and adjust on both these fronts.

That brings us to his contact.  This is another area that showed poor numbers during his major league debut.  A 77.6% contact rate doesn’t even rank inside the top 100, but Piscotty has been a contact hitter for his entire career so expect that to climb into the 80% range as he gains experience.  Now assuming Piscotty improves here as well (and I believe he will) he should be able to maintain a .300 average, especially with a LD% above 20%. 

Now being a .300 hitter isn’t going to raise any eyebrows, and neither will the numbers in the next two categories.  Piscotty is not a stolen base guy.  He stole 11 bases in both 2013 and 2014 and 7 this season, but 10 is around his ceiling.  Piscotty is capable of hitting home runs, but he’s not a home run guy.  He hit 9 home runs in 2014 and 11 in 2015 while playing at AAA, but that was in the PCL where the pitchers can hit 10 home runs in a season.  He did manage to hit 7 homers in the second half, but realistically I would not expect more than 15 on a good year.  So we’ve got a player that will hit between 10-15 home runs and maybe give you 10 steals.  That’s not what fantasy owners are looking for, but just like Inciarte there is hidden value here staring you in the face. 

The Cardinals batted Piscotty second for almost half of his at bats.  That’s a prime spot to hit regardless of the team you’re on, and it could be a goldmine in St Louis.  Batting second gives him ample run scoring opportunities, somewhere in the 80’s range.  The same can be said (to a lesser extent) about RBIs.  Both Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong hit in the leadoff spot in 2015 (132 games combined) and the two of them scored 94 runs out of that spot.  While that number is unrealistic as far as potential RBI numbers from Piscotty, it represents the potential that will be there for him.  Expecting around 70 RBIs seems reasonable here from a number two hitter. 

Fantasy owners will look at the categories individually.  They will see limited speed; they will see limited power, and they will move on.  Don’t make that mistake.  Piscotty is a future .300 hitter, very similar in fact to teammate Matt Carpenter (the one we saw in 2013 and 2014).  That average will earn him a prime spot in the batting order which will mean better than average numbers in runs and RBIs.  That’s 3 categories; add in 20+ combined home runs and stolen bases and you have the makings for a great number four outfielder, and a must own for those that use five outfielders.  For redraft leagues you should be able to snag him late since he will be undervalued and underestimated.  In dynasty leagues he should be available just as cheap, and just like Inciarte I would target him now before the price goes up.

There are numerous players out there in the mold of Span, Inciarte and Piscotty.  They aren’t home run hitters; they aren’t stars, but they can be highly productive players even without power.   Don’t dismiss Inciarte and Piscotty on draft day or undervalue them in dynasty leagues.  Who are your underestimated under-appreciated players for the outfield?  Let me hear about them in the comment section below.


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By Jim Finch

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.