Hear me out.
Yeah, I know. Corey Patterson redefined the word awful last year. He was abysmal. Atrocious. Embarrassing. But you should still keep a close eye on him in 2009.
Patterson is a unique player: he is much better in fantasy baseball than he is in real life, thanks to his combination of power, speed, and lack of OBP. Last season, Patterson hit a disastrous .205/.238/.344 in 366 at bats for the Reds, but still somehow managed to hit 10 homers and steal 14 bases. Of course, these homer and SB totals do not justify the terrible batting average. But there is hope for the future.
Patterson’s expected BABIP last year (according to a new model I introduced [http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/batters-and-babip/]) was .262. His actual BABIP was a mere .210. The ~24% difference between expected and actual BABIP was the second-highest difference of all qualifying players (behind only Brandon Inge). If we credit Patterson for his “lost” hits, his overall batting average rises to .248. Still not great, but certainly far more palatable than .205.
Interestingly, Patterson’s walk rate in 2008 was right in line with his career rate (granted, that career rate is terribly low, but still), and his strikeout rate was almost 7% below his career average. His line-drive/ground ball/fly ball splits were well within reason and nothing else seems very strange about his season. Furthermore, he was 28 for most of the year (he turned 29 in August), suggesting that age-related decline is unlikely. It appears that Patterson simply suffered from a tremendous amount of bad luck.
If that is indeed the case, it follows that Patterson is likely to bounce back from it in 2009. Or, stated more accurately, Patterson’s poor 2008 season doesn’t make it more likely that he will also struggle in 2009. Don’t forget: as recently as 2006 and 2007, Patterson was a fantasy stud: he hit .276 and .269 those years, and totaled 24 homers and 82 steals in 267 games. Patterson’s career batting average is .253, and he has 182 career steals.
Unfortunately for Patterson, he accepted a minor league deal with the Nationals and an invitation to spring training. Jim Bowden has a particular fondness for outfielders, and the Nationals currently have Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, Josh Willingham and Willie Harris. Even if Patterson returns to form, there’s almost no way he vaults ahead of three of those guys on the depth chart to make the team, let alone accumulate significant at bats.
However, there’s always room on some for a toolsy player who can play a mean center field. This is the exact type of player that sets the great fantasy owners apart from the good ones – Patterson can be had off of the waiver wire in just about every league, and if he gets even semi-regular playing time he will almost certainly rack up enough stolen bases to help you.
Keep your eye very closely on Corey Patterson.