By Eriq Gardner //
Not all fantasy baseball championships are determined by one’s prowess to evaluate player talent and pick winners. Sometimes, competitors suffer bad luck injuries and must demonstrate resiliency and an ability to manage assets when times get tough.
This week, owners of Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia were knocked hard when both superstars hit the injury shelf. It’s not the first time that high draft investments suffered this fate, but rarely do two top stars at a relatively thin position go down within days of each other.
Certainly, Utley/Pedroia owners will now be looking at the waiver wire to see who might be available. Some owners may contemplate making a trade to fill the gap.
One option might be to acquire Gordon Beckham or Ian Stewart. Both these players have been tremendous disappointments to their own owners this year. In some leagues, they’ve already been dropped and in other leagues, they might be available via trade for a lot less than draft day value.
But do they have any hope of rebound?
Gordon Beckham was fantastic in his rookie season. In just 378 at-bats, he hit .270 with 14 HR and 7 SB. This year, he’s hitting only .209 with just 2 HR and 4 SB.
Beckham is being less selective at the plate this season. His strikeout rate has risen from 17.2% to 20.1% and his walk rate has fallen from 9.5% to 7.1%. That’s largely due to the fact that he’s swinging at pitches outside the strike zone with greater frequency lately. Last year, he was swinging at 25% of pitches outside the zone. This year, it’s up to 31%.
Still, poor luck has also contributed to a miserable average. His line drive rate is roughly similar to last year, yet he’s hitting just .250 on balls hit into play. According to a calculation of Beckham’s xBABIP, it should be .303, offering hope we might see positive movement in Beckham’s batting average going forward.
Beckham’s lack of power is a likewise mix of lackluster skills as well as poor luck. On one hand, he’s hitting less flyballs and making more groundballs this season. On the other, his HR/FB rate stands at just 2.9%. The average player has a rate at about 10%. Beckham’s current HR/FB rate puts him in the category of powerless players like Alcides Escobar and Rajai Davis. With natural regression, we should also see better power numbers from Beckham going forward.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing in Beckham’s peripheral stats that indicate the type of 20/20 season that those who drafted him originally envisioned. But he’s shown the skills at the major league before and is young enough to make adjustments at the plate.
Ian Stewart hit 25 HRs last year and contributed seven stolen bases. He only hit .228, but many hoped that the Rockies infielder’s free-swinging ways would abate with maturity.
So far, it hasn’t happened.
Stewart is striking out 31% of the time this year, which ranks him 9th worst among those who qualify for a batting title. Not that Stewart will be winning one anytime soon.
This year, Stewart is hitting .248, which would represent a positive development for his fantasy value if he wasn’t aggravating owners by not living up to his power expectations. Stewart has just 9 HRs this season.
Unlike Beckham, poor luck doesn’t seem to be much of a factor in Stewart’s troubles. His BABIP is .316, so if regression is coming, his average might actually fall further. His HR/FB rate is 14.3%, off from his career rate of 16%, but still above league average.
Stewart, though, offers something that Beckham doesn’t — consistently good production in certain situations. As a left-handed batter, Stewart does well when facing right-handed pitching. Eight of his 9 HRs and all five of his steals this season have come against right-handers. If owners have enough roster room and can set their lineups daily, Stewart represents one part of a possible fantasy platoon.
It’s important to also note that both Beckham and Stewart have 3B eligibility on top of 2B eligibility. If either player does manage to turn around their season, this kind of positional flexibility could come in handy when Pedroia or Utley return from their injuries.
For more on options at the second-base position, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools