We’ve got a pair of AL Central outfielders on the docket today; two players who are coming off down and/or injury-hampered seasons and are poised for strong rebounds…
Alex Rios | White Sox | Owned: 46% Yahoo!
Whenever you think of Rios, you can’t help but think of his mammoth contract — owed $38 million through 2014. Thankfully his real life contract situation means nothing in fantasy. The 31-year-old had the worst season of his career in 2011, posting an unfathomably bad 59 wRC+ in 570 plate appearances. His walk rate (4.7%) was a career worst but not completely out of line with prior years (6.1% from ’08-’10), though his strike out rate (11.9%) was by the far the best of his career (16.1% from ’08-’10). The most interesting thing about Rios’ 2011 season was his batted ball profile…
Rios has seen much change in his ground ball, fly ball, and line drive rates over the last half-decade, however last year he managed just a .237 BABIP after coming into the year with a career .317 BABIP. His infield fly ball rate did spike last season — 12.9% after career 7.3% coming into the year — and that certainly contributed to the BABIP drop, but it shouldn’t have cost him 80 points worth of balls in play love.
Rios is off to a very hot start, hitting .333/.396/.511 with a .350 BABIP through his first 53 plate appearances while settling in as the regular right fielder after spending two seasons in center. He’s not ever going to be the guy he was expected to be based on his tools and athleticism, but he can still be a useful second or third fantasy outfielder if his BABIP returns to normal and gets his average back into the .280 range. If he does that, you’re looking at a potential 20-20 producer.
Denard Span | Twins | Owned: 18% Yahoo!
Concussion problems wrecked Span’s season a year ago, making it easy to forget that his 2010 season — .328 OBP and 94 wRC+ in 311 PA — wasn’t nearly as good as his 2009 effort — .392 OBP and 118 wRC+ in 676 PA. Part of it was a BABIP drop, part of it was a BB% drop, and part of it was the new and vast expanses of Target Field.
Span, 28, has come out of the chute with a .328/.368/.422 batting line in 68 PA this season. His walk rate (5.9%) is way down compared to both his career mark (9.7%) and his 2009 peak (10.4%) even though he’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone than ever before (16.1%). Sample size is an obvious culprit as an 0-for-2 with two walks showing tonight suddenly bumps his walk rate back up to 8.3%. The most important thing for Span from a fantasy perspective is his batting average, because sitting in .300-.310 range with his stolen base potential makes him very valuable. If he hits .260-something again, it’s not worth it given his utter lack of power.
So far this year Span has just stopped hitting the ball in the air, ranking next to last among all qualified hitters with a 10.9% fly ball rate. At some point that will get back into his usual 25-30% range, but line drives and ground balls are conducive to strong BABIPs, especially for speedy players. Span is healthy and capable of contributing a solid batting average and stolen base total as a cheap waiver wire grab and could be even more valuable in an OBP league if he beefs up his walk rate to previous levels.
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