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Belt & Mayberry: Sleepers Who Remained In a Slumber

Every season, we fantasy owners could choose to bust our budget for a top first baseman who will contribute handsomely in four categories or spring for a cheaper option, perhaps one we might consider a sleeper. Brandon Belt and John Mayberry were two popular choices for the latter category, but unfortunately, they remained in a slumber all season. Based on Zach Sanders’ magical formula, Belt actually reduced the final value of a fantasy team by a buck, ranking 39th among first basemen, while Mayberry did even more damage, “earning” a strong -$5 (yes, negative), and ranking 46th. So what happened and is there post-sleeper hope for next season?

Brandon Belt entered the season without an assurance of full-time at-bats once again. While playing times concerns helped reduced his draft day price, it was obviously difficult to project his performance for the season. Well, those concerns were justified as Belt received just 411 at-bats on the season. Of course, if he had performed better, he may have wrestled away the starting first base job in the first place.

While there were many positives, including an excellent walk rate, improved contact rate, and nearly 26% line drive rate, his power went poof. Though he had regular posted ISO rates in excess of .200 in the minors in relatively small sample sizes, Belt’s ISO dropped to just .146 this year, after a respectable .187 during his 2011 debut. His HR/FB ratio was just 6.2%, a mark typically reserved for light-hitting middle infielders. A look at his average fly ball and home run distance reveals that it wasn’t just some poor luck either. His balls traveled an average of just 278.4 feet, versus a league average of about 274. AT&T Park is notoriously tough for a left-hander hitter to muscle one over the wall, as our park factors show an 89 mark over the last 3 years, so a disappointing power display shouldn’t have been too surprising.

Despite the lack of power, Belt did provide a nice helping of stolen bases, a rare contribution from a first baseman. Given that he has shown some stolen base prowess in the past, he should be good for another double digit mark again next year. Heading into 2013, it is still way too early to get an idea of how his playing time will shake out. We should obviously expect his power to rebound, but it’s possible 20 homers is his ceiling. However, he could potentially post a reasonably similar stat line to what we had expected from Eric Hosmer this year, given the speed. That has sneaky value and could mean that once again, Belt will be a decent sleeper option at possibly an even cheaper cost next year.

The 28-year old Mayberry was not exactly the potential breakout prospect that the 24-year old Belt was, but with the chance to at least open the season playing every day, he was another trendy sleeper. In 2011, he showed off his fantasy potential by swatting 15 bombs in just 267 at-bats, and even chipping in 8 steals. He also hit a respectable .273, showing off a broad array of skills that could lead to a four category contribution.

Then this season, in nearly 200 more at-bats, Mayberry actually hit one less home run and decided the running game simply wasn’t for him, as he stole just one base. As if that wasn’t enough, he also hit just .245. Some of his disappointing season could be blamed on an increased strikeout rate, but another major issue was a sudden propensity for the ground ball. In 2011, he posted about a 42% ground ball rate, but that jumped 10 percentage points to about 52% this season. That level is usually reserved for speedy slap hitters. Although his HR/FB ratio did decline, the majority of his power drop could be traced back to that ground ball rate spike.

Batted ball rates are usually pretty stable, but our sample of Mayberry at-bats isn’t very large right now, so whether he is closer to the 42% or 52% ground ball rate guy, we cannot be sure. The best bet is to project somewhere in the middle next season. Since he has the potential to enjoy a nice rebound in that department, his power could return and he might very well run again, since he has consistently done so in the past. Depending on his playing time situation, he should once again be a solid sleeper option who should come cheaply.

Of course, no analysis of Mayberry is complete without mention of his R/L splits. Over his short career, he has posted a wOBA of just .301 against right-handers versus a nifty .371 mark against southpaws. That could quickly turn him into a platoon player, on the bad side of the pair. The sample is still small enough so that he has an opportunity to prove he is better than this, but the Phillies might not have that much patience. He will be a risk, but one with enough upside to be worth taking the cheap gamble on.