Fantasy Baseball Advice: Digging Deeper into Fringe Outfield Options

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Chris Hawkins - RotoBaller

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Justin Ruggiano on June 10, 2011Justin Ruggiano (OF, MIA) - Despite the fact they are on pace for only 40 wins this year, the Marlins actually do have an under-the-radar option in the outfield. And no, we aren’t talking about the slow-starting Giancarlo Stanton, but rather 31-year-old Justin Ruggiano. After bouncing around between the Dodgers, Rays and Astros since 2006, Ruggiano hit the scene about halfway through the 2012 season and went on to produce a nifty power/speed combination which prorated out to a full-season line of about 23 HR and 25 SB. Combined with a likely spot in the middle of the order, the former Aggie was a popular sleeper on preseason draft lists until he appeared to be in a platoon with the underwhelming (post-2009) Chris Coghlan to the start the season. Fortunately for fantasy owners, it appears manager Mike Redmond has identified the superior OF option and has started Ruggiano in each of the last 10 games.  Ruggiano has responded, producing respectable numbers (9R, 10 RBI, 3 SB, 3 HR and a .236/.286/.431 slash).

Now let’s get a few things on the record:  hitting in the Marlins’ lineup this year is not going to generate ample run-producing opportunities (Ruggiano is responsible for 33% of his runs and 30% of his RBI on his 3 HR alone).  The talent is sparse at best, the division is filled with elite arms, and the ballpark (albeit with only one year of data) appears neutral at best for hitters. That said, Ruggiano has flirted with 20/20 seasons all through the minors, so the power and speed should be real, and these are stats that he can generate regardless of what you think about lineup protection, as pitchers won’t be working around anyone in that order (except perhaps Stanton once he figures things out). He’s not going to win any batting titles, but his current BA is going to improve once his .259 BABIP corrects and aligns with his career mark of .341.  There’s nothing to indicate he’s changed his approach at the plate– both his batted ball profile and swing metrics are on par with his career levels, save the fact that he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone, which you could expect to help over the long-haul if it keeps up.
Durability is an unknown as he hasn't logged more than 550 PAs in a year since 2007, but if he can maintain his career metrics and get even 80% of the PAs he is on pace for, that suggests Ruggiano could put up another 20 HR by season’s end. Coupled with another 15 SB and a .270-.280 BA, you could do a lot worse with the backend of your outfield than this quietly producing Marlin owned in only 26% of Yahoo leagues.

Jordany Valdespin on July 25, 2012Jordany Valdespin (2B/OF, NYM) – Probably just a play for those in very deep or NL-only leagues right now, Valdespin is one to keep an eye on to see if he starts getting enough PAs to make an impact. So far in 2013, the sophomore 2B/OF owned in just 5% of Yahoo leagues has logged only 45 PAs which puts him on pace for around 360-- that would be 150 more than he earned last season, during which Valdespin stole 10 bases and hit 8 HR (5 of the pinch-hit variety). Having appeared in each of the Mets’ last 12 games (as a starter in half of those) and batting at the top of the order, it’s clear Terry Collins wants to get Valdespin's bat in the lineup one way or another, “The only way to keep him sharp is you've got to get him out there. He's a talented kid. And certainly, when he's swinging the bat like he can, he can be real dangerous.”

While he did have a clutch grand slam earlier in the week, a realistic over/under on HRs for the rest of the season is 9.5, and the young Metropolitan is likely more an asset for fantasy owners in the runs and steals department. Owning a SB success rate across all levels of 66%, no one is going to mistake him for Ricky Henderson anytime soon, but he has averaged 1 steal every 20 PAs since coming up and while in the minors. Having stolen 37 bases as recently as 2011 between AA and AAA, he’s a solid bet for another 12-15 bags with the potential for 20 if given the chance.

The other rub on Valdespin is he’s not special at drawing walks (BB% of 4.5%) and he strikes out more than you would like to see (K% of 20%), which is consistent with his plate discipline numbers and is reflected in both his BA and OBP. Expecting anything more than a BA in the range of .250 might be a reach. His splits don’t reveal too much of a difference, but getting deployed in a platoon might not be the worst thing as it should protect his BA somewhat. Being on the good side of the platoon, he would likely see the lion’s share of those PAs, too. Hitting at the top of the order will translate into a few extra PAs when he gets the start, which should help with the counting stats, too.

For owners willing to temper expectations and trade some power for speed, Valdespin has the ability to be a poor-man’s Ian Desmond, but the bigger question is opportunity. Should any injuries strike the Mets’ OF, Valdespin would quickly be worth a look, and for owners in deep leagues or with big benches, he could be a smart stash now.


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