With Kevin Youkilis headed out the door and the third baseman market looking pretty bleak, the Chicago White Sox opted to go for the relatively cheap but always reliable Jeff Keppinger to fill their vacancy at the hot corner for 2013. He got a three-year deal worth roughly $12 million and word has it that his final decision was based on the fact that he was guaranteed a starting job as opposed to keeping a spot warm for someone else, as would have been the case with the Yankees. So what does this move to the Leroy Brown’s neighborhood do for Keppinger’s fantasy value? Is he worth drafting?
The beautiful thing about Keppinger is that you know exactly what you’re getting. You’re looking at six to eight home runs, a batting average north of .275, virtually no strikeouts, and despite a poor walk rate, a solid OBP thanks to high contact rates and some typical in-season BABIP help. Even a move to hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field isn’t really going to change those final numbers. In terms of reality, managers love him and are happy to have his level of reliability. In fantasy, he’s a guy you use when you want to go cheap at an infield position (he qualifies at first, second and third base) and you just want to plug a guy in who plays regularly and won’t hurt you. He won’t really help you much either, but he won’t hurt you. Not really that glamorous, is it? Well, you get what you pay for and in this case, it’s safety.
Of course, while he will play third for the Pale Hose this season, you obviously shouldn’t be drafting him there no matter how little you want to spend. Even a simple dollar at the position can land you someone with more power or more speed. If we go back to the Third Base Rankings we’ve been using to cover players over the past month, you’ll see that he was all the way down at number 29 with an end-value of $-1 and that was after he posted career-highs in home runs and batting average. No, you want to use him at second base where, according to the rankings we’ve used, he is number 25 but with an end value of $2. It’s not a huge swing, but a positive one nonetheless. His lack of power and speed don’t jump out at you as much at the keystone while at third, he sticks out like a turd in a punchbowl.
But one of the things that helps boost Keppinger’s value in fantasy is his position eligibility. While few people will actually draft him as a starter, his eligibility at three infield positions makes him a fantastic bench player, especially in leagues with daily roster moves. If you can find a solid second or third baseman on the waiver wire early on, you can move Keppinger to your bench and use him all over the place in case of injuries or just routine days off. It may sound silly, but it’s not always easy to find reliable plug-and-play guys. Maybe you luck out and have him active for one of the seven home runs he’ll hit; maybe you don’t. But at least you know that you’re putting in someone who can offer a touch of help on a daily basis without draining you in batting average or on-base percentage.
Again, it ain’t sexy, but it is reliable. Keppinger, despite excelling in any of the standard roto categories, can still be one of the prime reasons you are able to win a championship. Injuries happen all of the time and having a bat as reliable as his to help patch holes in your lineup could be bigger than you thought. Just something to keep in the back of your mind at the tail-end of your draft when deciding how to use your 23rd round pick. Sometimes playing it safe can be your best bet.