By Eriq Gardner //
As spring training heats up in earnest, this is the time of year where we all play, “What if…”
For most optimists, this entails taking a player with potential — say, Jay Bruce — and imagining a forthcoming season where production finally matches potential. Bruce has never hit 30 HRs in a season before, but he’s only 23 years old, and given the glowing scouting reports and teased power prowess of the past, it’s easy to see Bruce knocking 35-40 HRs out of the park this season.
But that’s not the only way to play the game.
We can also look at a player who has already shown the skills and production, but simply can’t stay healthy. And what if…
Perhaps the best example right now is Carlos Quentin.
In 2008, Quentin had a fabulous year where he put up 36 HRs, 100 RBIs, 7 steals, and a .288 average. Going into the 2009 season, he was a hot commodity, but health didn’t cooperate. These past few seasons, Quentin has suffered from various ailments including a bruised hand, a sore knee, a fractured wrist, a plantar pasciitis, shoulder and hamstring problems, etc.
As a result, Quentin has missed considerable time these past two seasons and has developed the reputation as being brittle. That said, there’s hardly conclusive medical evidence out there that supports the idea that some batters are more injury-prone than others. And even if a tendency towards getting injured is real, that hardly means that a brittle player can’t have a healthy season every once in a while. Just ask Josh Hamilton, who entered 2010 with the same sort of injury-prone reputation as Quentin and then delivered an enormously productive, able-bodied year.
Quentin’s missed time has certainly impacted his projections, as most services lay the foundation of their projections on a three-year historical sample that factors past playing time. Bloomberg Sports projects just 459 at-bats this coming season for Quentin. Given his injury history, it’s certainly not an unreasonable call.
And yet, Quentin still represents a potential value this upcoming season. Bloomberg Sports also projects 29 HRs, 65 RBIs, 4 SBs, and a .268 AVG for Quentin in 2011, which translates as the 70th best player in standard 5×5 leagues. As for where he’s going in drafts, Quentin’s average draft spot is 157th overall.
And remember, that’s just with 459 at-bats. Quentin is the only non-catcher in Blooomberg’s top 100 with less than 500 at bats.
What happens if Quentin stays healthy this season and gets 500 at-bats or even 600 at-bats? Simple math spells a possible 35-40 HR season. Potentially like Bruce, who is going in drafts around the 70th pick.
Quentin has also been bedeviled by a poor hit rate these past couple years. In 2009, his batting average on balls in play was .221. Last season, his batting average on balls in play was .241. Because he hits the ball in the air so often, we might expect a lower-than-normal BABIP, but those numbers still scream flukiness. Since his breakout 2008 season, no player with at least 800 plate appearances has suffered a more miserable hit rate than Quentin. His luck-neutral batting average these past two seasons was roughly .275, instead of .240 he actually hit.