One of my favorite sleepers before the season, Jedd Gyorko, the Padres third base prospect with the ridiculous .413 wOBA in AAA, rocketed up draft boards when it became clear that he was competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster. While Chase Headley was actually dinged up at the onset of the season, it wasn’t the prospect of Gyorko playing at the hot corner that got fantasy owners worked up, but rather, the notion that San Diego was considering playing one of their top prospects (not known as the most mobile or fleet of foot) at second base. Yes, they were that desperate to get some offense in the middle infield outside of Everth Cabrera‘s empty batting average and (admittedly copious) stolen bases. But hey, who am I to judge when defensive WAR isn’t one of my roto cats?
Well, if you owned him, you know the story by now. The second base job did become his and fantasy owners rejoiced. Positional scarcity! So where did all that sleeper slobber get us? 18th in Zach Sanders’ end of the year rankings. Eh, can’t win ’em all. It wasn’t a tremendously consistent season, either. He only put up a .247/.317/.323 triple slash in April, causing fantasy owners who bought him as that trendy sleeper to jump ship. Of course, everyone tried to scramble back aboard after a .907 OPS in May, but groin woes caused Gyorko to hit the shelf from June 10th through July 12th. After a brutal return in July (.218 OPS), he bounced back with wOBAs of .356 and .343 in August and September.
Even with all that variance aside, in some ways, it’s interesting he’s so low. In homers at the position, he’s only second to Robinson Cano, and without missed time in June, he’d likely top this list. The self-proclaimed “jerk” displayed even more power than his pre-season supporters envisioned, and his 23 homers (30 prorated for the time missed) is awfully impressive for a National League middle infielder playing half his games at Petco. Some may argue “that’s because they brought the fences in!” OK, they did. We also don’t have component park factors up yet, but in 2013, Petco’s run-scoring environment was the third lowest in all of baseball. Don’t hide behind the fences.
So where did the power come from and is it sustainable? This first part isn’t hard to answer; he’s had it all along. Other than a brief stretch at AA in 2011-2012, Gyorko has put up ISOs north of .200 (in some case, well north) during his minor league career. Leagues out west (I’m looking at you, PCL) have long been known to inflate power numbers, but even regressing Gyorko’s numbers 20% puts him in the upper echelon of minor league infield prospects. His 288 foot fly ball batted ball distance was 91st best in baseball, and fifth among all second basemen (behind Dan Uggla (surprising, but not really), Cano, Rickie Weeks (same parenthetical as Uggla), and Chase Utley).
So if we know he has elite (for middle infielders) power, what sapped the rest of his value? His 62 runs and 63 RBI, while not elite, are certainly well above-average in aggregate for middle infielders. Well, we need to look no further than the other two traditional roto categories. With only one steal on the season, he was virtually useless in one of the categories fantasy owners typically use middle infielders for. In fact, only Jed Lowrie and Neil Walker were among the top-20 second basemen equally futile on the basepaths. Unfortunately, this won’t be a case of “he just needs to run more.” Gyorko will never be a speed demon, only stealing more than one base at two stops in his minor league career (11 at high-A in 2011 and four at AAA in 2012).
His paltry .249 batting average also torpedoed his value this year. We can’t immediately point to batted ball luck as his .287 BABIP appears reasonable given that sometimes he looks like he’s running either A) in wet cement or B) with cement shoes (two cement analogies for the price of one!). He did have an above-average (and well above-average among 2B) 22.5% LD%, so we know he’s making good contact, and we know line drives roughly have a BABIP of ~.700. That’s good. The bad? It’s tough to keep a batting average high when you strike out nearly one-quarter of the time. Even nudging his BABIP up by a few points does little in the average arena because you’re only weighting that nudge upward by about 75%. However, there is a silver lining for those that own him in keeper leagues. Steamer projects the K% to drop by 3% next season (not an unreasonable estimate given his ~16-17% marks in the minors). When combined with a small uptick in BABIP, this leads to a slightly less terrible .261 batting average. If he can keep the whiffs under control and keep hitting line drives, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Gyorko make some decent strides in the last roto cateogory.
Another big question is whether he can stick at second base long term. Luckily for owners in redraft leagues, this is probably not a concern next year, he’s certain to start with 2B eligibility regardless of where he plays. Is there good news for those in keeper or dynasty leagues who want a young, cost-controlled infielder with power for the foreseeable future? Well, yes and no. In the “yes” department, most defensive metrics actually liked Gyorko at second base. He posted a 1.8 UZR/150, admittedly over 1008 innings. He also was highly rated subjectively, drawing rave reviews from both his manager and third base/infield coach.
On the flip side, Chase Headley has one year of arbitration left and there has been some chatter about potentially moving him this offseason. Unless he’s signed to a long-term deal in the next 12 months, there remains the possibility that, even with his increased value playing up the defensive spectrum, Gyorko gets moved to his “old” home in 2015. We’ll just have to wait and see, but it’s something to keep in mind. However, those who own him cheaply going forward shouldn’t worry too much. Second basemen who have 25+ homer power don’t just grow on trees.