This time of year, I’ll take baseball in almost any way I can find it up to and including writing up indoor whiffleball games. Perhaps a more traditional outlet for catching at least some glimpse of the boys of summer in the winter are the Dominican and Venezuelan winter leagues. There are others, the Australian and Mexican leagues feature some current major leaguers and a few interesting prospects, but the Dominican and Venezuelan leagues have been around for longer and have a great number of players worth watching.
There is a definite incentive for fantasy players to track the winter leagues and see if who is playing well. Prior to Francisco Liriano’s strong 2010 season, he dominated the DWL to the tune of a 3-1 record with a 0.49 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP over the course of 37 innings. While he didn’t exactly replicate that level of success once the MLB season began, owners who gambled on him got 14 wins, 201 strikeouts, a 1.26 WHIP and a 3.62 ERA, which is a strong payoff for a late-round grab.
The downside to scoreboard watching in the DWL is that not all success is carried back over to the states once the regular season begins. 2010’s batting champ, Hector Luna, spent the almost all of 2011 in Triple-A; runner-up Juan Francisco, who had a .939 OPS over the winter, managed just a 31 games with the Reds and hit just .258/.289/.452 for a much more pedestrian .741 OPS in the majors. So, while both leagues are a pleasant way to wile away the winter hours, if you place too much import on the results, you’re going to end up with a Joaquin Arias/Alexi Casilla platoon at second base and, to be frank, I think you’ll be nonplussed with that.
So there’s a balance to be struck, between believing in the pleasant lies that are winter stats and between rejecting them entirely, and what it often comes down to is the process by which success is achieved. In Liriano’s strong 2009 winter league season, he was burying his slider in the dirt and locating his fastball well, which are the same things he needed to do against major league hitters. For hitters, it matters little to me if they can feast on Double-A pitchers, every major leaguer should be able to do that. I tend to look for someone doing something out of their ordinary pattern: Drawing a lot of walks, stealing bases at a crazy rate, or showing heretofore unseen power etc.
To wit, I’m not head over heels for Brian Bogusevic because of his batting average, which is the third best in the DWL so far, or for his overall .317/.446/.500 line, solid though it is. What intrigues me about Bogusevic’s production is whom he’s doing it against. With the Astros in 2011, Bogusevic had just 15 of his 182 PAs against left-handed pitching and he hit just .154/.267/.154 in those limited chances, perhaps illustrating why he was used almost strictly against righties. Snap back to the island where outfield platoons aren’t typically part of the plan for most of the teams, meaning Bogusevic is getting his licks in against the southpaws. Make no mistake, Bogusevic is still definitely hitting righties a lot better than he’s hitting against lefties — .347/.484/.569 vs. .271/.386/.396 — but he isn’t completely foundering against left-handers.
Being passable against lefties doesn’t alter Bogusevic’s value much, he’ll still do the vast majority of his damage against righties and will generate most of his value thence, but it does change the leagues he’s playable in. If he’s a strict platoon player for the Astros, Bogusevic loses chances to accrue counting stats and definitely isn’t the type of set-and-forget player that a lot of owners like to use. Even if his average suffers a little from facing more lefties, if he can manage some semblance of respectability against them, he should add enough extra R and RBI to make up that lost value.
The Astros may choose to platoon Bogusevic again this season less because he can’t hack it against left-handers and more because it opens up semi-consistent playing time for one of their other young-ish outfielders, but that’s something that won’t be clear until after most leagues have drafted. Still, for NL-only and very deep mixed leagues, pay attention to whom Bogusevic is batting against during spring training. If the Astros give him consistent PAs against lefties, he may emerge as more than a simple platoon outfielder in 2012.
Print This Post