Smart fantasy baseball owners know that the game is won not in the opening rounds, but at the end of the draft. Barring catastrophe, our early picks should perform well, but it’s our final selections or the guys we find on waivers, who propel us to victory. One of the general strategies I employed going into my drafts this season, was to use two outfield slots for 2nd tier power guys, while filling out the rest with speedy, low cost lead-off men for the most part.
Two of the young outfielders who I targeted are Drew Stubbs and Austin Jackson. In my H2H league, I drafted Stubbs in the 22nd round. Coming out of the draft, I felt that my team was a little thin on starting pitching, but pretty solid in the SB department. This is a competitive, 12 team mixed keeper league, but as history has taught me, there are always steals to be had as the season progresses. I then proceeded to flip Stubbs and speedy SS, Everth Cabrera to another owner for Mark Buerhle. I probably could have gotten a little more for that combination, but there was a reason why I acted so quickly on the deal: Austin Jackson was on waivers and he had just been named The Tigers starting CF and lead-off man.
Drew Stubbs was The Reds 1st round pick (8th overall) in the 2006 draft. The 25 year old outfielder debuted in the majors in August of ’09, slugging 8 HR in 196 PA, while displaying great speed with 10 SB. On the surface, those numbers sound nice. When you look at Stubbs .439 SLG though, you’ll see that he only had 6 XBH to go along with those 8 HR. That’s pretty strange for a guy with his speed. Stubbs has never really displayed a particularly good eye for the strike zone, striking out at a 25.3 % clip in 472 AAA PA, before coming to the bigs and striking out 27.2% of the time. Stubbs began and spent the majority of 2008 at the High A Lynchburg, where he had a paltry .087 ISO. and 5 HR, but a professional career high 14% BB rate in 358 PA. In 2009 Stubbs spent the majority of time in AAA Louisville, where his ISO climbed ever so slightly to .092, with 3 HR and his BB rate fell to 10.8%. So while he hit 8 HR in limited time last year, there is little to suggest that Stubbs has sustainable power. There is little question of Stubbs speed however, as he swiped 46 bags in 54 tries at AAA in 2008.
Bill James gives the most optimistic projections for Stubbs: 76/11/51/51/.263/.336 This is over the course of 152 games and 601 PA. What stands out are the 51 steals. The second highest SB projection is ZiPs with 30, based on 605 PA. I think .263/.336 parts may be somewhat overly optimistic as James sees a 25% K rate, a significant improvement over his rate from the limited time seen last season. In his first 20 AB, Stubbs has K 8 times. A miniscule sample size, but still somewhat troubling for Stubbs in the early going.
Austin Jackson takes over at CF this season in Detroit, having been shipped over from The Yankees in the Curtis Granderson deal. The 23 year old Jackson was drafted in the 8th round of the 2005 draft and projects to display a similar mix of modest power and speed to Stubbs. In full seasons at AA and AAA in ’08 and ’09, Jackson had 9.6% and 7.2% BB rates while his K’s climbed from 21.7% to 24.4% respectively. A .384 BABIP helped him to a .300 Average in 557 AAA appearances last season, while his OBP remained static at .354 over the last two years. His .135 ISO rate at AA Trenton in 2008 fell to .105 last season when he climed to AAA. This was good for only 4 HR in 557 plate appearances. Like Stubbs, Jackson is a legitimate base stealing threat, amassing 43 steals on 53 chances over his two latest minor league season.
Stubbs is not the only young speedster that Mr. James was rather bullish on in the off season. Austin Jackson’s projected line of 40/4/27/14/.294/.356 projects over 309 PA, or roughly a half season. Multiply those numbers by two and you have counting numbers of 80/8/54/28. Comparable to Stubbs, minus 31 SB and a considerable advantage in both AVG and OBP.
What struck me about Jackson this spring was the copious amounts of praise heaped upon him by both his current and former teams. I can’t find the direct quote, but I remember hearing a report this spring that The Yankees felt that Jackson looked like a much improved hitter with a greater command of the strike zone. Perhaps Jackson’s exposure to his new hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has changed his approach to the plate for the better.
What really set Jackson apart from Stubbs to me has perhaps little to do with their own performances and more to do with their current circumstances. While Stubbs is currently starting, he plays for the historically mercurial Dusty Baker, who has no qualms over pulling a struggling rookie. Compounding that, Stubbs plays in a far speedier outfield than Jackson. If Stubbs falters at the plate, his defensive range can be compensated somewhat by the guys around him, Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson, with Lance Nix a serviceable outfielder as well. Jackson roams centerfield, flanked on most days by an aging duo of Magglio Ordonez and Johnny Damon. With considerable skills in the outfield, Jackson’s glove is integral to Detroit’s run prevention and removing his speed for super-sub Ryan Raburn is a significant downgrade defensively at the position. Jim Leyland seems to be giving his young outfielder the keys to the job and telling him that it’s his to lose. If Detroit contends this year, Jackson will be a big part of that success.
While I expect both players to have their highs and lows and eventually end up decent end game speedsters, I see Jackson getting more playing time in 2010 and ultimately being a more significant contributor to my fantasy team. In a full season of play, I can actually see Jackson exceeding James’ projected run total. Again, these are both OBP leagues and that is really where Jackson outpaces Stubbs. In The Big Ballers Auction League, which uses OBP instead of AVG, I nabbed Jackson for $3, while another owner took Stubbs for $4. Small risk for what could be big rewards for both of us. I’m high enough on Jackson to have placed a gentleman’s wager over the two players, with Kelly at Fantasy Game Day, so you’re not alone if you think I’m mistaken here. Time alone will tell, but I feel like I made the right decision. What do you think?