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Ruben Tejada: How Much More Can He Do?

In real life, Ruben Tejada had a decent season, especially at his cost. For a half mill, the Mets got a player that put up average defense at a premium position. He added a stick that was only eight percent worse than league average, and actually above-average for his position (86 wRC+). All of that together added up to a league-average player getting paid just about the league minimum.

Fantasy baseball doesn’t care. Linear weights, 4×4, 5×5 — there’s virtually no format in which Tejada’s offensive contributions last year were above replacement in a mixed league. Even in deeper leagues, his skills just don’t translate. In 5×5 roto leagues, he was the 27th-best shortstop and worth negative four dollars this year.

Dude’s still only 23 years old. It seems his remaining projection could push him into deep league usefulness.

Maybe not.

He’s just so far away from helping in either the power and speed categories, and without those, his ability to make contact can only take him so far.

He has a career .061 isolated slugging percentage. Had he qualified for the batting title, he would have had the third-lowest ISO in baseball last year. That’s about half the ISO of the average shortstop (.120), so it’s not even really passable in his weight class. Among the 177 batters that hit more than 70 fly balls and home runs combined last season, only Ichiro Suzuki and Rajai Davis averaged less than the 257.2 feet that Tejada did. He had to start pulling the ball to get that distance over 250 feet late in the season. There’s no hope in these graphs, which show his batted ball angle on the left and his batted ball distance on the right:

He might be pre-peak in terms of power, and it probably doesn’t matter.

But he’s svelte, right. Five-foot-eleven, less than two hundred pounds, plays a lithe shortstop — that seams like a player that could steal a few bases. Over the span of his 1132 career plate appearances, or his 380 times on base, he’s stolen 11 bases in 18 tries. That 61% success rate doesn’t suggest he should get the green light more often (the break-even is closer to 70%), and the attempt rate doesn’t suggest he’s pushing the envelope on that anyway. He once stole 19 bases in Double-A. Four years ago. His Bill James four-component speed score for his career is 3.1, and five is average. He’s not going to add stolen bases to the package.

If we know anything about a player’s batting average on balls in play, we know that it’s tied to his ability to hit the ball on the ground, show speed, and hit line drives. Tejada had a .339 BABIP last year and hit more grounders than fly balls, but we know about his power and speed. His batted-ball xBABIP was… hey! .369! That’s not bad, but there is bad news. That xBABIP was built on his 30% line drive rate, and that’s just not sustainable.

Then again, there is hope here. Ruben Tejada has the highest line drive rate since the beginning of the 2010 season among hitters with more than 1000 plate appearances. If power is no object, maybe you can more easily find a batted-ball trajectory that produces 25+% line drives? Let’s throw 25% back in that xBABIP formula — there are four or five players that are within shouting distance of that line drive rate over the past three years, after all — and we get a .350 ‘normalized’ xBABIP.

Ruben Tejada has no power or speed. He has the ability to hit line drives, and he might use that to show a great BABIP one of these years. The problem is, he already had a .339 BABiP last year, and all that produced was a .289 batting average. Pair that with one home run and four stolen bases, and you’re still hurting for value. Let’s say he plays to his best walk rates, though (8.6% and 9.3% in his first two years), and the Mets put him in the second spot in the order, and he stays healthy all year, and he shows that same line drive rate, and he gets the commensurate nice BABIP, and the Mets offense improves some… You might get a .295 hitter with 80+ runs, 40+ RBI, one or two home runs, and five or six stolen bases in 650ish plate appearances.

According the Zach Sanders’ calculator, that would have been worth $4 in 2012 and would have made Ruben Tejada the 19th-best fantasy shortstop in 5×5 leagues, just a hair above the decrepit Rafael Furcal. And that’s with some serious wishcasting, considering the fickleness of line drive rates and the fact that Tejada didn’t really ever show plus walk rates in the minor leagues.