Don’t Ground The Flyin’ Hawaiian Just Yet

Ordinarily, I like to focus on prospects, or at least relatively young major-leaguers. However, Eno recently suggested that everyone take a look at the RotoGraphs Consensus Rankings to find players we think are underrated/overrated, and I was surprised to see how low our experts have Shane Victorino in the outfield rankings, way down at No. 52, in between Chris Carter and Ben Revere.

Last year, despite playing in just 122 games, Victorino finished the season as the No. 21 outfielder in standard formats, between Mark Trumbo and Allen Craig. He put up a .294/.351/.451 slash line while hitting 15 homers and stealing 21 bases, and his weighted offense was 19% higher than league average. So why do our experts have him ranked so low?

To be fair, I understand why Victorino is ranked where he is, I just happen to disagree. Let’s run down the negatives that likely contributed to Victorino falling out of our top 50 outfielders:

  • His plate discipline suffered last year, as his 4.7% walk rate and 14.1% strikeout rate were both career-worsts.
  • The .294 batting average was inflated by a career-high .321 batting average on balls in play.
  • He missed time with back and hamstring injuries in 2013, and the back injury lingered through the playoffs and into the offseason.
  • He’s 33 years old.

The Flyin’ Hawaiian has yet to appear in a spring training game for the Red Sox, as he has focused on strengthening his core to avoid the lingering back problems he dealt with last year, but he is working out in full and taking batting practice, so I’d expect to see him on the field very soon. Still, if you’re drafting today, you’re likely a bit wary of a guy who hasn’t taken the field in a game thus far.

As I said previously, these are all completely valid reasons for knocking Victorino down the draft board, but I think he fell too far. There’s certainly nothing all that sexy about Victorino as a fantasy option, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a highly valuable player.

The fact that he forgot how to take a walk last year is troubling, but it could be a fluke (his BB% was at least 8.0% in each of his previous four seasons) and it doesn’t really matter all that much if you’re not in an on-base percentage league. Additionally, his career-high 14.1% strikeout rate from 2013 still isn’t nearly high enough to raise concerns about his ability to sustainably hit for a decent average.

Speaking of his batting average, even if you factor in some regression from his .321 BABIP last year to something closer to his career mark of .299, he should still be fully capable of posting an average right around .275. Furthermore, Victorino is a very reliable power-speed combo guy. Over the last seven seasons, he has averaged just under 14 home runs and just over 30 stolen bases per year. In that stretch, he has never hit fewer than 10 homers or swiped fewer than 19 bases.

While he is a few years on the wrong side of 30, Victorino is coming off a 2013 season in which he set a career-high with his .294 AVG. One year prior, he stole 39 bases, also a career-high. It seems pretty clear to me that he still has plenty of gas in the tank, and I see him as a great value pick for 2014.

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Scott Strandberg has written for RotoGraphs since 2013. He is a film critic and entertainment writer for The Norman Transcript newspaper, and the co-founder of RosterResource Wrestling. Scott is also the bassist for North Meets South. Follow him on Twitter @ScottStrandberg.

10 Responses to “Don’t Ground The Flyin’ Hawaiian Just Yet”

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  1. NickGerli says:

    What was going on with his HBP last year? I thought that a .354 OBP was a little high for his walk rate, and lo and behold he had 18 HBP, 3x the amount in 2011 & 2012.

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    • Cuck City says:

      He was being a GRITTY BOSTON STRONG player

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    • Dan Greer says:

      Victorino gave up switch-hitting after a while (I forget why, may have been an injury), batting exclusively from the right side. His HBP ratio went completely nuts from that point forward. From what I saw, he basically stood right on the plate and never moved when people pitched him inside. A lesser factor could be unfamiliarity with seeing right-on-right and the slight loss of reflex time making him more susceptible to being drilled.

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        The data supports this explanation. In 115 PA as RHB versus RHP, Victorino had 11 HBP. In 417 other PA, he had 7 HBP.

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      • benagain123 says:

        too small a sample size for HBP

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      • Cole says:

        It was a hamstring injury that caused him to bat from the right side for the rest of the 2013 season. Go Boston Strong!!!

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        It is not too small a sample. That’s false, and it’s lazy to throw it out there.

        In the rest of his career, Victorino has 64 HBP in 4712 PA, for about a 1.36% rate. Let’s assume that is his true talent. What are the chances that we would randomly observe 11 HBP in 115 PA? The probability is 0.0000565%, when (depending on the field) a number smaller than 5% or 1% is often considered a statistically significant finding. The formula is 1-BINOM.DIST(11-1,115,64/4712,TRUE) if you are using Excel.

        Note that this test ignores the fact that we also have an observation that helps to explain it too.

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  2. Kevin says:

    I agree that Victorino should be ranked slightly higher but I think it’s definitely not clear that he has plenty of gas left in the tank. I think it would be fair to say that he might have some gas left in the tank.

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  3. james wilson says:

    Victorino is indeed planning to hit exclusively from the right side. HBP is clearly part of his strategy as anyone who watches the Red Sox can see. The Tigers were not shy about that saying so either.

    His hitting from the left side was deteriorating over time anyway, and he expects to slug better going all right. He’s holding out the switch hitting option in case he flops with this, but that’s the plan. I think he’ll make it. The guy clearly has no fear of the ball.

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