Fading (most of) The Rangers Infield

The left side of the Texas infield will look the same as it has the last three seasons, but the right side will be completely different with Ian Kinsler being shipped to Detroit for Prince FielderJurickson Profar will slide into Kinsler’s spot. The real baseball implications of the deal are complicated on Texas’ end, but it was definitely a good thing for fantasy owners in that we have three guys who are fantasy options instead of two.

But is Profar a good option? In 324 plate appearances last year, Profar had just a .291 wOBA and 75 wRC+. From a roto perspective he hit just .234 with six home runs and two steals. Profar’s best skills in the minors were his plate discipline and ability to make contact. Of the two, his contact translated better as his contact rate was basically what it was in the minors. And he didn’t just make contact, he made good contact with a 23.4% line drive rate.

His plate discipline, however, didn’t translate immediately. Of course, he’ll never be able to replicate the single digit O-Swing percentages he posted in AA and AAA the last two years. But we can expect his strikeout and walk rates to improve because Jeff Zimmerman has showed us that K% peaks around age 25 and BB% peaks around 27 while ISO and BABIP tend to peak immediately. That’s a long-winded way of saying that an adjustment period was to be expected. Profar’s going to get better quickly, probably a lot better.

Don’t be scared off by Profar’s L/R splits. He was literally twice as good from the left side last year with a 90 wRC+ vs. RHP and a 45 wRC+ vs. LHP. But his strikeout and walk rates were fairly similar from both sides of the plate, and his splits weren’t nearly as severe in the minors. The main reason for the poor performance against lefites was BABIP driven. He had a .230 BABIP vs. LHP despite a decent line drive rate of 20.5%. Extremes like that can happen when you’re only talking about roughly 80 balls in play.

Assuming he improves in the areas discussed, he should hit for much better average this year. Steamer has him projected to hit .248, but the Fan projection is much more optimistic at .272. I’d land somewhere in the middle, but if forced to pick one of those projections, I’d go with the fans. The kid’s plate discipline and contact skills are too good to expect a sub-.250 average. And the rest of his roto numbers seem fairly projectable. He should be in the 12-15 range in both homers and steals and his R+RBI total should be in the 130 range.

Those counting stats look similar to what Ben Zobrist and Brian Dozier did last year. And the difference between those two was essentially the batting average difference between the Steamer and Fan Profar projections. Zobrist finished as the 12th most valuable 2B and Dozier was 14th. That’s the range in which I expect Profar to finish. He’s currently being drafted as the 14th second baseman.

Fielder will join Profar on the left side of the infield, even though you could make an excellent case that Mitch Moreland should continue to play first and Fielder should just DH. By any measure, Moreland is better in the field than Fielder. Because the Rangers have no other real options at DH, Moreland is going to play pretty much everyday anyway. As a Rangers fan, this is the thing I expect to lead to the most hair pulling this season.

As for Fielder’s fantasy value, you’ve surely heard about the fact that his numbers have declined in each of the last three years. The most prominent declines have come in his power and his walk rate. Below are a few charts to illustrate the decline.

fielder wobafilder bb

fielder isofielder slg

With Prince’s swing percentage rising, swinging strike rate rising and contact rate lowering last year, it’s hard to see much a of a bounce back in walk rate. But you’re definitely going to hear people saying his power could bounce back because of the move to Texas.

Texas has long been favorable to left-handed power hitters in some part due to a jet stream that occurs when wind blows in from center and then streams back out to right field.  But the Rangers made some construction changes to the Ballpark prior to the 2013 season, and it had an effect on the jet stream. The change was opening up the area right behind home plate and connecting it to the concourse via a big new food court. This food court happens to contain a waffle fry stand from which I purchased waffle fry nachos about ten times last season. Delicious. But more importantly, the food court allows the air coming in from center to flow out into the concourse as opposed to getting pushed back out in the jet stream. Below are a couple of pictures that show the change.

old ballpark

Old construction – area behind sections behind home plate is closed off to concourse

 

new ballpark

New construction – view of new food court behind home plate open to sections behind home plate

Peter Ellwood of shutdowninning.com recently took a look at whether the data backed up a reduction in the jet stream. In the last section of his article, he shows that fly balls were about 1% shorter last year than they had been before. And as Peter pointed out, it wasn’t just because the Rangers didn’t have Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli anymore. Fly ball distance for Ranger opponents was equally reduced. The HR as L park factor for Rangers ballpark didn’t change last year, but park factors are based on multi-year samples, so it might take a year or two for the change to show up in that measure.

Early drafters are clearly expecting Fielder to bounce back as he’s going 16th overall on average in NFBC drafts despite finishing 86th overall in our end of season valuations last year. Needless to say, I’m not nearly as optimistic. I would avoid him at anywhere near that price.

Considering that we’re almost 1,000 words in at this point and I’ve failed to more than mention the left side of the infield yet, let me quickly explain why, like Fielder, I’m fading Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus.

With Beltre, I’m simply concerned about age. He’s currently going 19th overall on average, and he’s the only player being drafted in the top 30 who was in his 30s last year. He’ll be 35 this year. Since MLB started the using 50/100/lifetime penalties for failed PED tests, only four players that were 35 or older had a wRC+ higher than 137, which is about what it takes to be a top 20 hitter. I’m not as wary of Beltre as I am of Fielder, but I’m with Steamer on him declining a bit and having a 125-ish wRC+, which would make him more of a top 40 hitter as opposed to top 20.

With Andrus, I don’t necessarily object to his current ADP of 53 overall and sixth among shortstops. I’d have him more in the 60-65 range overall, but it’s close enough. The reason I object to taking him there is that you could wait and get Everth Cabrera about 30 picks later. At worst, they are dead even in my opinion, but I actually like Everth a bit more. Here’s a comparison of their Steamer projections.

And finally there is Moreland. Moreland had a monster May, but absolutely tanked in June and July before a nice rebound in August and then tanking again in September. Moreland has historically had a pretty big L/R split, but the reason he struggled so much last year was that his performance against lefties and righties wasn’t that different. Normally that’s said as a good thing to mean a hitter improved against the specific handedness he struggles against. But in Moreland’s case it means that he didn’t perform as well against right-handers.

The struggles against RHP were primarily BABIP driven. Moreland’s BABIP against right-handers was just .235 compared to .278 for his career. Assuming that corrects, Moreland’s batting average should rebound at least to his career .250-ish average. If you feel like you need to find some power late, Moreland is a good option currently going outside the top 300.

 




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You can find more of Brett's work on TheFantasyFix.com or follow him on Twitter @TheRealTAL.


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