Even Jeff Keppinger might not have expected to be among the more interesting free agent possibilities this past off season, but after a (surprising?) impressive campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012, that’s exactly what he became. In signing with the White Sox there was some intrigue in fantasy circles about this guy who seemed to have double-digit power and could hit for average, all while qualifying at shortstop, second base, third base, and maybe even first base depending on your league rules. He was viewed as a great late-round or cheap flyer that could pay off when injury strikes or in deeper leagues, a handy guy to move all around your roster without the risk of killing you in any particular category.
What’s happened so far for Keppinger probably wasn’t what fantasy owners had in mind. Or the White Sox. Or, no doubt, Jeff Keppinger.
Keppinger is hitting .171/.167/.184 with no home runs and just a singular double. He has 13 hits on the season over 78 plate appearances, and 12 of them have been singles. One was an infield dribbler for a hit, but hey, line drive in the books, right? If you’re the White Sox or a fantasy owner, you probably liked Keppinger because of his positional flexibility and high contact rates.
But an interesting thing is happening early on this season.
Keppinger has historically been a pretty difficult player to strike out, with a career 6.5% strikeout rate. He’s been striking out almost 12% of the time this season, and with the White Sox using him in the 2 hole in the lineup, that’s particularly worrisome. But it’s not just the strikeouts that grab your attention, it’s the walks. Or lack of walks:
I actually put in 0.1% for 2013, just so it would register an image, but over his 78 plate appearances, Jeff Keppinger has walked exactly zero point zero times, invoking Dean Wormer. Not historically one of the more patient hitters in the game, Keppinger still owns a 6.4% career walk rate. But right now, he’s swinging at everything.
Keppinger is still seeing a lot of pitches in the zone at over 60% and he’s making great contact overall at darn near 98%. His hit trajectory is fairly consistent with his career numbers, and he’s even hitting a few more line drives than he has in the past. His xBABIP is up over .330 and his current BABIP is just .188. So clearly, something’s gotta give there. However, one rather glaring figure stands out to me. He’s swinging at balls outside of the strike zone 22% of the time, spot-on with his career rates. But here’s where we can account for some of those strikeouts:
Now, his O-contact rate in the last several years has been great. In fact it was third best in the league last season. But at 68%, Keppinger comes down much closer to league average, and he gives up a part of what made him successful. It appears he’s having more trouble with off-speed pitches than in the past. His whiff rate on sliders and curveballs last year to this year:
An increase from seven to nine percent on the slider and from one to six percent on the curve doesn’t represent absolute doom to Keppinger, but he’s historically been awfully stingy when it comes to swings-and-misses. While his swinging strike rate remains very low, early evidence from this season suggests that pitchers are figuring a way to fool Keppinger more than they have in the past.
This might be entirely too many words dedicated to Jeff Keppinger. If you’re in a standard league, chances are he’s sitting on the waiver wire. But many of you do the league-specific and/or deep roster thing, and there’s a good chance that you were relying on Keppinger for a middle infield or a super-duper-utility kind of role. There’s evidence that you might still want to rely on him, if you trust regression on balls in play and assume he might someday actually draw a walk. But if we have a new Keppenger who is going to slap at everything he sees, his value is essentially nil. The next couple of weeks should say a lot about whether the pendulum is going to swing his way or if these rates plan to stick around. If they do, he’s a sunk cost in fantasy baseball.
Print This Post