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Erick Aybar: Not As Bad As You Might Think

Erick Aybar is a perennial sleeper. You might make a joke about never waking up here, except that just last year he hit ten home runs and stole thirty bases and looked like a reasonable starting shortstop in every fantasy league. This year’s work was a step back — only eight home runs and 20 stolen bases — and left him on the outside of the top twelve in our end-of-season rankings.

Here’s the thing though. He was still a decent starting-level shortstop in most leagues — when he was in the lineup.

Let’s play the “Player A / Player B” game. What we’ll do, though, is pro-rate both players to 600 plate appearances.

Player A 600 0.290 9 73 49 22
Player B 600 0.286 3 72 52 18

It might be tough for you to tell who’s who, but that’s the point. Player B — I’ll let you guess the name — was a highly-drafted shortstop who ended up in the middle of the pack and probably didn’t upset his owners too much. The other was Erick Aybar, who may not have cost a ton, but probably did let some owners down if they looked too hard at his season’s worth of counting stats.

Playing time matters, though. And Aybar did miss 21 games that forced his owners to find a replacement. Well, we have a replacement in the rankings themselves. Yunel Escobar was worth exactly zero dollars this year, and he had a little power, and a little speed, and was on a decent team. Let’s use him as a replacement and play Player A (plus replacement level dude) / Player B (with real-life stats) again.

Player A + Yunel 711 0.272 10 82 58 21
Player B 711 0.286 3 85 62 21

Now you’ll pick Player A’s line in most lineups. Not bad for a player that spent most of the year on and off the waiver wire, and finished the season on the outside of the top fifteen. Using him the right way would have produced a top-twelve shortstop even.

That doesn’t mean he’s a great sleeper with upside or anything. He’s going to be 29 next year, so he’s just useful in the middle of his peak, is how I might describe him. And his peak might be passed — he had a 7.2 Bill James‘ four-component speed score in 2010, which was his best ever, and then returned to exactly his career level last season (6.4). If he’s returned to his career level, then he’s probably no more than a 20-steal guy most seasons, even with a decent career success rate on the basepaths (76%).

Otherwise, Aybar did what he always does last season. He made contact (4.7% swinging strikes, 5.6% career), didn’t walk much (4.0% walk rate, 4.8% career), hit the ball on the ground (1.78 ground balls per fly ball, 1.54 career), and muscled a few balls out of the yard (6.4% home runs per fly ball, 4.5% career). He might be in the middle of a power peak, considering his HR/FB and isolated slugging numbers have been better over the last two years than over his entire career, but would his owners really notice the difference between ten homers and seven homers?

You own Erick Aybar to tread water, you own him to stay away from owning the Robert Andinos and the Clint Barmeses of the world. Along with a well-timed replacement-level caddy, the strategy can produce workable results in anything deeper than a ten-team league, as we’ve seen here. That might be more valuable than he seemed at the end of the year.