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Bring Out Your Dead: Edwin Encarnacion and Chipper Jones

Opening day always seems like it’s full of surprises.

We had just hours to absorb the news that Edwin Encarnacion went from waiver candidate/fantasy obscurity to starting third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays and while I was fully expecting Chipper Jones to break his (insert body part here) on his first on-deck circle practice swing, it’s clear that the geezer doesn’t want to go on the cart just yet. Sure, Jones is perhaps not a hot commodity in dynasty leagues and Encarnacion won’t get the hearts of folks who tabulate errors or count OBP all-a-flutter. But Encarnacion and Jones, from a standard league standpoint, aren’t quite dead yet, and your fantasy squad might want to take notice.

Yes, Chipper is an old, fragile man who doesn’t like the mom-basement types, that’s all been very well documented. But even though he’s hobbling around on reconstructed knees, he has managed to average 122 games over the past five seasons and he’s just two full seasons removed from a .364/.470/.574 campaign that saw him hit 22 HR’s and drive in 75 in just 128 games. When the decline comes, it can be rapid, and 2010 was so mediocre that even Chipper used the “R” word more than once. But consider the following two projections from Bill James for 2011:

Chipper: .288/.401/.481, 17HR, 66RBI in 119 games

Player “X”: .287/.320/.466, 18HR, 71RBI in 146 games

Player X was rated higher at 3B in every tier sheet I could find, including our own and his name is Chris Johnson. Now, think what you will of Chris Johnson as a fantasy option and Bill James as a magic 8 ball, but in 27 fewer games, you just might get the same level of production from Chipper Jones, who is probably free of charge at this very moment as he’s rostered in just 53% of Yahoo leagues and 39% of ESPN leagues. If you’re stuck with a Kevin Kouzmanoff or an Omar Infante or an Alberto Callaspo for some reason, why not consider picking up Jones and squeezing every last bit of Larry Wayne magic out of him until he finally gives out.

Encarnacion, on the other hand, isn’t terribly old, isn’t terribly fragile, and hasn’t yet complained about stat heads to the best of my knowledge. He also brings with him a full time gig for the first time in two years and a bat that could be quite useful for you should you be looking for power numbers on the cheap. Projection systems are spotty on E5 largely because his role was so totally undefined headed into the very last day of Spring, so relying on them as accurate measures of home runs and RBI isn’t advised unless you’re the ultra conservative type.

In his last year of relative full time status, he was with the Reds and hit .251/.340/.466 with 26 HR’s and 68 RBI and if he’s given the opportunity to approach the plate 550 times in 2011, I think that’s not a bad place to start when thinking about what he could do for your fantasy team.

He owns a career.280 BABIP, so it stands to reason last year wasn’t particularly normal for him at .235 and his average should rise a bit this season. In fact, looking at hit trajectory last year, it appears he was getting an awfully raw deal across the board, but in particular check out his BABIP on fly balls (click to view like normal human being):

If he wasn’t hitting a home run on fly balls, he was committing an out. Yeah, I recognize the sample size is a little small because Encarnacion only played in 96 games, but for a guy who is a 50.5% fly ball hitter to have a BABIP so far below the AL average, it’s reasonable to assume that the pendulum ought to swing back.

Whether he’s available appears to really depend on what site you’re using as he is on 93% of rosters in ESPN but just 15% of Yahoo leagues (??). Regardless, if you’re able to absorb what will be a difficult batting average to manage, he could provide your squad with some power that you may be in dire need of. And there was much rejoicing.