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Shane Victorino to Rebound in Boston?

Still pending the turn-and-cough from the team trainer, the Boston Red Sox have apparently come to a handshake agreement with Shane Victorino on a three year, $39 million dollar contract. The dollar figure is irrelevant to fantasy mavens, but the scenery is. Though typically more valuable in real baseball than fantasy, Victorino has certainly been solid contributor over a half dozen seasons in the major leagues, and it’s worth wondering if we can expect a bounce back season, if only in the short-term.

But let’s start with what we know. In fantasy circles, Victorino was handy because he was good for 30-plus steals, he got on base, scored runs, and wasn’t a black hole in the power department either. In standard leagues, you wanted Victorino as a second or third outfielder. He was a complementary piece, not a put-your-team-on-his-back kind of bat. But last season proved to be a disappointment for fantasy owners.

The 2012 version of Victorino was on track to resemble the career version of Victorino with nine home runs and 24 stolen bases in 101 games, amassing a .261/.324/.401 line. The power and speed were right on par with what you expect, but the slash line was a tad below career norms. His walk rate wasn’t to blame, but he was getting a bit of a raw deal on batted balls with a .278 BABIP where his career rate sat right at .300 prior to the season.

His final line was affected by a pretty big drop off in production in Los Angeles where Victorino just never got anything going. In 235 plate appearances, he put up a .245/.316/.351 line with just two home runs, although he still had value on the base paths with 15 swipes. He was still making excellent contact when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone, but his approach as a Dodger seems to suggest a degree of “pressing,” though standard sample size warnings apply:

O-Swing% O-Contact% SwStr%
Philly 31.8% 81.6% 4.8%
LA 36.7% 71.7% 7.2%
Career 29.7% 76.5% 5.4%

Victorino was swinging pretty wildly by his standard in Los Angeles and making far less contact than we’re accustomed to seeing from him. The swinging strike rate is probably an anomaly, but worth pointing out since he’s been so stingy when it comes to strikeouts.

Looking further at the six most common pitches he’s seen, Victorino improved over 2011 against only the sinker, which he saw just 11% of the time. The three pitches he saw most frequently, the four seam fastball, two seam fastball, and change, which comprised almost 60% of the pitches he saw, Victorino took a step backward. In the case of the four seam and change, the step was a big one:

But then again, there’s Fenway. It’s not as if Citizens Bank Park isn’t a nice little place to hit in, certainly if you’re capable of hitting left handed. But for a guy like Victorino, who is more of a doubles and triples threat than he is a home run hitter, Fenway might be a pretty interesting fit. Looking over at Stat Corner, comparing doubles and triples at Citizens Bank, Dodger Stadium, and Fenway looks like this:

LHB RHB
Citizens 100 99
Dodger 90 85
Fenway 135 126

Well hey now. When it comes to extra base hits, Fenway turns out to be an awfully friendly place to hit — and it just so happens that Mr. Victorino can do both the LHB and RHB thing. And if you’re thinking about that big ‘ol wall in left field, well it turns out that Victorino has not only hit left handed pitchers better in his career with a .301/.373/.508 line, but on balls pulled to left field, he has posted a .408/.405/.800 line over 461 at bats.

Victorino just turned 32 and what we know about aging curves tells us that his best years are likely behind him. I think the ballpark will help him, and perhaps help him a lot. But even if his O-swing rates revert back to career norms in Boston, Victorino is going to need to address the issues with the four seam fastball and slider from 2012 in order to return to being the guy that was a solid contributor across four categories. When looking at his 2012, however, I’d cast off most of what happened as a Dodger, and I’d expect something in the range of a .275 batting average, 15 home runs and 30+ steals. Where he bats in the order will obviously be important, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Victorino score 90 runs or more should he hit second in that revamped lineup. If he can do that, it’s a pretty nice little rebound for a player you might be able to get on the cheap.