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Is Danny Valencia a Good Sleeper Target?

In 2010, Danny Valencia established himself pretty quickly as a fan favorite in the Twin Cities as he hit .311/.351/.448 after being recalled from the minors on June 3rd. In just 322 plate appearances, he hit seven home runs, drove in 40 runs and flashed a pretty solid glove by UZR standards.

He was no doubt on many fantasy radars entering 2011 given the relative dearth of talent at third base, and he rewarded believers with 15 home runs and 72 RBI, but a pretty disappointing .246/.294/.383 line, good for just an 82 wRC+. Probably not what you had in mind if you drafted him as your everyday third baseman.

There’s both reason to be optimistic and there’s some reason to be cautious when looking at his prospects for 2012.

For those of you that owned Valencia, you’ll remember his horrific start to the season and the Jeckyll and Hyde act from there. From April 1st to the end of June, Valencia had a triple-slash line of .218/.272/.359, and was dogged by a .238 BABIP. July and August produced a .294/.335/.448 line, and then he fell back to Earth again in September with pretty much a whimper to end the season. His inconsistency made him pretty difficult to manage.

In 2010, Valencia crushed left handed pitching, and while he didn’t manage the same pace in 2011, he still hit lefties very well to the tune of .309/.352/.470.  But the tale of his struggles really starts with how much he scuffled versus right handed pitchers. In 2010, he managed to get by, hitting  .280/.303/.410. But in 2011, he was striking out 18% of the time versus right handed pitchers and ended the season with a paltry .224/.274/.352 line. That simply has to improve in order for him to succeed.

Valencia’s BABIP in 2010 was .345 which was probably pretty fortuitous whereas his BABIP in 2011 dropped all the way down to .275. Based on his batted ball data, his expected BABIP in 2011 was .289, so he did get an unlucky hop here and there. And while he may have been bitten by a little bad luck, his ISO remained steady at .137, he walked at a greater rate than 2010, and his contact skills didn’t really take a nose dive.

While he was swinging at more balls outside the strike zone than he did in 2010, he was still about league average at 31%. It stands to reason that as a rookie, he was challenged more in the zone whereas pitchers may have been a little more careful with him in 2011. He did see more cutters and sliders than he did in 2010 and while he struggled to adjust, he didn’t completely fall apart. His swinging strike rate was 8.6%, which is also right about league average and his Z-contact% was a solid 89% although his overall contact rate fell to slightly below league average. One thing that stands out is his 14.8% infield fly ball rate, which is abnormally high for most players, and certainly high for a guy who puts darn  near half his batted balls on the ground.

Valencia is entering his age 27 year, and he now has over 900 major league plate appearances. If he can maintain the same consistency in terms of power with a little improvement versus right handed pitchers along with a degree of regression in the luck category, you could see something more in the realm of a happy medium between the 2010 and 2011 versions of Danny Valencia. Spit-balling a projection, if I were drafting Valencia, I’d expect something in the .270 range for a batting average with home runs in the high teens and RBI approaching 75. That’s not going to get your heart racing, but his profile lacks a real black hole anywhere other than stolen bases, so if you’re left out in the cold on draft day and you need someone at the five, you could certainly do worse.

But as far as sleeper status goes, I don’t see much in his profile that suggest there’s a breakout on the way, so there’s no reason to get upset if a rival manager beats you to him in round 25.