Sunday, January 30, 2011

Will Danny Valencia Continue Improbable Success?

Danny Valencia was drafted in nineteenth round of the 2006 draft. He was going to be one of those organizational picks that teams make to keep the minor league rosters full. But Valencia kept hitting and held his own with the glove. He had an .816 OPS in 2007 and an .866 OPS in 2008 and then in Double A and Triple A in 2009, he put up an .803 OPS. But even prior to the 2010 season, Baseball Prospectus stated that he had no real stand out tools and would be at best, a lower division, every day player. BP called him a two-star prospect (in a four star system). The Twins didn't feel all that strongly either and started 2010 with journeyman Joe Crede at third base. When that didn't turn out well, the Twins turned to Valencia. The 26-year old from Miami, Florida, hit the ground running and never looked back.

He now enters the 2011 season as the Twins' established third baseman. And still skeptics abound. Bill James predicts Valencia will have a .771 OPS season with only ten homers and 139 hits. The Fans projection system is even less bullish, predicting he'll finish with a .748 OPS season. Neither expect him to repeat his .799 OPS from  his 85 games in 2010. Why do so few believe in Valencia? James and Fans both expect Valencia's strikeout rate to increase. Will they be right?

As we have already seen, Valencia has already beaten the odds. It's a funny thing about prospects. Despite how good Keith Law's projections and Top 100 lists are, many of those top picks will never pan out and others, drafted low in the bottom rounds turn out to be very good players. There was no part of Valencia's game that looked like it could take a dive in 2011. He fielded his position very well (5.9 rating by Fangraphs) and he hit a solid .315. His .351 wOBA falls right in line with his minor league average. Why shouldn't he be able to keep up this pace?

Valencia needs more patience at the plate. He swings at about 25% of balls outside the strike zone. The Yankees used that weakness against him a bit in the playoffs when he only batted .222. His aggressiveness leads to few walks, but not an over abundance of strikeouts. His season in 2010 projects to about 90 strikeouts over a full season, again in line with his minor league career. If he can limit his swings to the strike zone--something he can do with experience--he puts the ball in play 91% of the time he swings, which is excellent. Fangraphs gives his pitch value in the positive numbers for every pitch type besides the curve, which had a slightly negative value.

Yet, despite his fine play in 2010, when he finished with a 2.7 WAR, good for a value of $10.8 million in half a season, he isn't projected to be worth more than a 2.4 WAR for the entire season in 2011. Ah, those doubters. Valencia has proved the doubters wrong his entire baseball career. Barring injury, 2011 won't be any different.

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