In OPS leagues, you generally have a higher level of tolerance for guys that strikeout a lot and produce a low batting average. Guys who walk a lot and have a good slugging rate can be overlooked due to some of their flaws, but carry value in OPS leagues. Here are a few high strikeout guys and their likely value in these leagues:
Rickie Weeks – Since taking over second base for the Brewers full time in 2005, Weeks has been a consistent fantasy option. Four out of the past five seasons he’s posted an OPS over .800, but this year he’s disappointed with an OPS that only recently topped .700. However, as his July suggests (over .900 OPS), he looks like he’s finally turned things around. The main factor that may have contributed to his struggles is his strikeout rate, which is currently a career-high 27.5% compared to a career rate of 23.2%. One reason why I’m optimistic that he will improve is his strikeout rate by month: 27.2% in April, 33.9% in May, 27.6% in June, and 22.1% in July. Assuming he maintains a strikeout rate near his career rate, he should be able to get back to his .800 OPS self. Other factors in his favor are a BABIP and a home run to fly ball rate that are below his career average, indicating room for improvement. For the rest of the season, I expect .340/.460/.800.
Mike Napoli – Like Weeks, Napoli is another consistent performer that has really picked things up lately. This year he has a 29.2% strikeout rate, which is the highest of his career despite him being a high strikeout guy. He also has a 13.7% walk rate in 2012, which is the highest he’s had since his rookie year in 2006. Amazingly, Napoli has decreased his strikeout rate while increasing his walk rate each month of the year. Small sample caveats aside, this is illustrated by his 1.000 OPS since the All-Star Break. This is also known as the OPS that he produced across 2011. I expect Napoli to maintain his current .350 OBP and increase his slugging by at least 50 points for the rest of 2012, with a line of .350/.500/.850 easily attainable. He has tremendous slugging potential, especially playing in the Rangers ballpark. Now if he only could bat higher than eighth…
Ryan Howard – I don’t trust this guy at all. His OBP and slugging have been trending in the wrong direction for years and his OPS no longer has the upside of being that of an elite first baseman. I know he’s only had 74 plate appearances this season, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s struck out in a whopping 36.5% of them. To exacerbate the concern, he’s hitting more ground balls at the expense of line drives and fly balls, not the best thing you want to hear when you’re hoping to see him get some extra base hits. I think his upside is last year’s .835 OPS and I have a hard time projecting him for anything better than .340/.480/.820 for the rest of the year.
Mark Reynolds – He might be a completely different hitter. This year Reynolds is hitting a lot fewer fly balls and more line drives, resulting in a decreased home run to fly ball rate and an increased BABIP. Unfortunately his sky high strikeout rate is still lingering, and I’m afraid that it is too high to allow him to be successful if continues to hit fewer fly balls. His OBP is in line with his career average, but his slugging is 100 points below his career rate, likely the result of this change in approach. Going forward, I do not see Reynolds improving much if he continues to use this approach, with a line near .330/.400/.730 for the rest of 2012.
Danny Espinosa – Given his shortstop eligibility in most leagues, I want him to do well. However, his career-high strikeout rate and career-low walk rate have me concerned. In addition, his BABIP has been helping his OBP and he may see some decline. One positive is that his home run to fly ball rate has room for improvement and that may result in more slugging. On the other hand, he has been hitting fewer fly balls compared to his career rate, which may limit the upside on his slugging. In light of these many factors, I believe that he will approach his .310/.410/.720 career line going forward.