In what is likely to be my last hitter Pod Projection, Desmond Jennings topped the list of remaining vote getters. The sophomore was a bit of a disappointment last season and was hampered by a knee injury that cost him nearly a month. I have been a big fan of Jennings in the past. Let’s find out if we can expect him to rebound this year and enter the upper echelon of fantasy outfielders.
Jennings is the every day lead-off hitter for the Rays, which would normally lead to a 600 or so at-bat projection for a healthy player. But, as we know, he hasn’t exactly been the model of health and had issues staying healthy in the minors as well.
Contact Rate: 78% (a reminder, this is [at-bats – strikeouts] / at-bats, which differs from FG’s K%)
Jennings had typically posted contact rates in the low to mid 80% range in the minors, but has not been able to translate that level of skill to the Majors as of yet. He has posted just a 76% mark in each of his first two seasons in Tampa Bay. My projection assumes some improvement, especially since his SwStk% is actually better than the league average.
These rates are essentially his current career mark over 773 at-bats. Batted ball rates are pretty stable, so there’s no reason to project anything that differs drastically.
Over his short career, Jennings’ BABIP sits right around the league average. It’s somewhat surprising for a guy who has a nice blend of power and speed, hits more ground balls than flies and has consistently posted BABIP marks over .320 in the minors. The most obvious reason is his inflated IFFB%, which sits near 15%. It’s a tiny sample though, so I am projecting a better BABIP this year, assuming he gets those pop-ups down.
HR/FB Ratio: 9%
Jennings surprised us all by posting a nearly 16% HR/FB ratio during his rookie partial season in 2011. This past season, that rate dropped to a much less surprising 9%, which is the exact mark I am projecting again. His average fly ball plus home run distance actually increased by a couple of feet this season, but it remains in the high 270 range, right at the league average. I considered projecting a slight increase to 10%, but his low doubles total doesn’t give me hope that some of those will turn into homers. So another 9% rate it is.
RBI and Runs: 55 and 95
Jennings’ walk rate declined a bit last year after he posted above average marks in the minors and during his 2011 short season with the Rays. Given his mediocre contact rate driving a mediocre batting average, it is imperative that his walk rate rebounds to boost his OBP into respectable territory. That would go a long way into pushing that runs scored total to 100 and beyond.
Other than the missed playing time, the knee injury did not seem to affect his willingness to run or success rate on the base paths. The additional projected at-bats should lead to a higher steal total, but he has also attempted a steal more frequently in the minors. So that’s another reason to bet on an increase. However, he was amazingly caught stealing just twice last season. That kind of success is unlikely to be repeated. So he will have to run a little more frequently like I think he will in order to make up for the jump in caught stealings.
Below is my final projected batting line, along with a smattering of other projection systems for comparison.