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The Paperwork is In: Luke Scott Joins the Rays

Manny Ramirez is looking for a team, the Rays were looking for a designated hitter, could the two put aside the unpleasantness that was the 2011 season and work things out? Surely the sheer amount of unsold merchandise from last year had to be an incentive to let bygones be bygones — and to let Manny be Manny — down by Tampa Bay, no?

No. It was never going to happen, and the Rays confirmed that it wouldn’t happen by signing former Oriole Luke Scott to a one-year deal on Wednesday with a club option for 2013. Scott isn’t a bad first baseman and could see time there with the Rays, but it’s fair to assume that he’ll get a large share of his starts as the DH, a role he had in Baltimore before the arrival of Vlad Guerrero.

By and large, Scott has been a consistently good, if not quite great, since moving to the AL. From 2008 to 2010, Scott posted no fewer than 23 HR, 60 R, and 65 RBI. While his .266 average isn’t particularly remarkable, it’s not the worst average owners have suffered through to get a dose of power on their team. He does strike out with goodly frequency, 20 percent of his PAs for his career to be exact, but he does mitigate that somewhat with an 11 percent walk rate. He isn’t a three true outcomes player in the traditional sense, but his skills do tend in that direction. Overall, I like Scott to remain generally productive, but there are two numbers that sour me on him a little bit.

The first is 121, or the average number of games Scott has played since his first full(ish) season with the Astros in 2007. He missed nearly the entirety of the final three months of the season with a torn labrum after being slowed with knee and shoulder knocks during the first half of the season. I don’t see any of those injuries being particularly problematic in 2012 — especially if the Rays limit his time in the outfield — but 2011 wasn’t the first time Scott’s missed more than a little time. He has made at least one stop on the DL every season since 2008, and while he tends not to miss much time, projecting him to miss anything less than three weeks or so would be counter to his present arc and most players don’t suddenly find the fountain of health once they’re in their mid-30s. One thing that may mitigate this current run of decreased playing time is the fact that Scott is moving to one of the better medical staffs in baseball, as the Rays consistently rank among the best in the game at keeping their players on the field.

The second number is 29, the difference between Camden Yards’ left-handed home run park factor (118) and Tropicana Field’s left-handed home run park factor (89). It’s grossly unfair to say that Scott is little more than a product of his home park, but he certainly did take full advantage of his time in Baltimore. In 2010, Scott hit an excellent .338/.419/.671 at home, but just .228/.312/.393 on the road. The trend was true in 2009 and 2008 as well, though the gulf has widened as time has passed, and was on its way to widening further when Scott went down last season. If Scott was a lock for 30-35 HR, I don’t think the loss of 3-4 home runs would be so bad, but when he’s potentially falling from 25 down to 21 or 23 down to 18, that’s not a trivial drop when it comes with a drop in the other offensive categories as well.

I don’t see the move really changing the type of leagues where Scott is valuable — he’s still absolutely draftable and playable in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues — but I do think it pushes him down the draft board at least a bit. His ESPN mixed ADP last season was 216, which put him in a cluster with guys like Garrett Jones, Raul Ibanez, and Alex Gordon. Gordon will obviously move up a fair amount, but I like Scott to keep relatively similar company again in 2012, though of those three, I do like Scott the best. His three spot eligibility gives him some flexibility, which is always nice, but his value is probably highest in one of the outfield slots. First base isn’t exactly hurting for productive options.

In the past, Scott has probably been undervalued a little bit by fantasy players, and with his probable drop in home runs — and commensurate decrease in runs and RBI — he looks to have regressed to the point where he’s close to accurate valued. Getting him in the 210-220 is no longer so much a steal as it is a solid pick for a player whose value is a little lower now than it was this time last year.