Fantasy Baseball: Is A.J. Pollock a Good Value Pick?

Due to a fractured elbow, 2016 was a lost season for Pollock. How should we handle him in fantasy baseball drafts this year?

In 2015, A.J. Pollock produced video game numbers, hitting .315/.367/.498 with 20 home runs, 111 runs, 76 RBI and 39 stolen bases (all career highs) in 673 plate appearances.

This led to a strong 131 wRC+ and a 6.5 fWAR, making him a surefire top-tier fantasy baseball target heading into drafts last year. Unfortunately, a fracture his elbow sliding headfirst into home plate mere days before the Arizona Diamondbacks Opening Day sunk a lot of squads since he missed all but 12 games.

As of this writing, FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings have Pollock going in the third or fourth round in standard formats. We know what Pollock is capable of, but can we count on him to stay healthy? He has only made it through a full season once since 2014. Is he worth the risk?

What's That Contra Cheat Code Again?

Alas, there are no cheat codes in fantasy baseball if your pick goes down with an injury, so the first order of business is deciding how worried we should be about Pollock’s durability.

The good news is his shortened 2014 season was more due to bad luck after fracturing his hand from getting hit by a Johnny Cueto fastball. The bad news is 2016’s elbow injury was far more concerning, as it was a ticking time bomb from a 2010 elbow injury that never healed properly. The screws placed in Pollock’s elbow look more like some horrifying contraption from a Saw movie than something that belongs in a human body.

However, there is room for optimism that the elbow will be fine moving forward, as Pollock didn’t suffer any reported setbacks during his 12-game cameo at the end of last season, even hitting two home runs and stealing four bases. This is still a serious injury, but considering he produced a monster 2015 season with an elbow that apparently was never quite right, a full return to form is definitely possible.

Now You’re Playing With Power

If we assume he's healthy, the next question is whether we can expect Pollock to duplicate his 2015 numbers.

In particular, the increase in home runs stands out. Pollock must have used the Power Glove that season because his 20 homers were more than all four of his other MLB seasons combined (19). Of course, as anyone old enough to remember the Power Glove knows, it turned out to be pretty terrible. Should we expect similar disappointment from Pollock’s power moving forward?

For one thing, how often is Pollock trying to hit home runs? In his career, he has a high ground-ball rate (49.6%), above average strikeout rate (14.8%) and contact rate (84.2%), to go along with 70 stolen bases. All this points to a player trying to get on base for those behind him, rather than swinging for the fences, which isn’t surprising for someone who has spent most of his career in the 1- or 2-hole.

That said, Pollock did increase his home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB) to 13.5% in 2015, up from his 10.2% career average. And while not much can be read into only 12 games, he did have a 12.5% HR/FB in 2016. Even if he continues to stay in that range, barring an unlikely change in approach, 20 home runs is probably his ceiling. He should at least be capable of hitting double digits, which is exactly what his Steamer projections reflect (16).

Steamer also projects a .281 average, 79 runs, and 67 RBI. As a career .293 hitter supported by solid plate discipline and contact skills, along with a high spot in the batting order, Pollock should reach these baseline numbers easily.

Hit The Turbo Button

While those other numbers are nice, what we’re really hoping for is a repeat of Pollock's 39 steals in 2015, which ranked fourth that year and would have ranked sixth last year. There's a possibility of a slight decline given his age (29), but there's little reason to think he can't be a force on the basepaths again. Steamer projects 25 stolen bases, so reaching 30-plus again isn't out of the question.

It will be interesting to see if the league's big jump in home runs last year is a trend that will continue in 2017, but what about stolen bases?

Year Home Runs Stolen Bases
2010 4,613 2,959
2011 4,552 3,279
2012 4,934 3,229
2013 4,661 2,693
2014 4,186 2,764
2015 4,909 2,505
2016 5,610 2,537

While home run totals have fluctuated up and down until last year's leap, stolen bases have declined pretty steadily. This makes Pollock all the more valuable in an increasingly scarce category, and he won't deep-six you in other categories like a Billy Hamilton.

Check The Bargain Bin

There's definitely risk in drafting Pollock. We don't know exactly how his elbow will affect him moving forward, and in five MLB seasons, his 2015 breakout remains his only campaign with over 600 plate appearances.

He was in a platoon in 2013, and had the fluky hit-by-pitch injury in 2014, so I wouldn't say he's as injury-prone as it would initially appear. What is undeniable though is that this is a player with the ceiling to lead you to a fantasy championship. With around 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases being the floor, if Pollock nearly had a 20/40 season just a couple years ago, what's to say he couldn't do it again?

At what point you're willing to draft Pollock may depend on your level of risk tolerance, but if he drops anywhere past the third round, he has a great chance to exceed his draft day price.