The Drool-Inducing Fantasy Baseball Potential of George Springer
So, there's this guy I like a lot in fantasy baseball. Last year, he hit 20 home runs, had 5 stolen bases, and a .231 batting average. He struck out on average 1.5 times every game. Oh, and he plays for a team with a .358 winning percentage over the past four years.
Right now I know what you're saying, "Holy crap. I didn't know a player like that could even exist on this plane of reality. I'm 100% sold, but at what exorbitant cost will it take to acquire this fantasy baseball ubermensch?"
Well, it's a good thing you asked. The past few months, he had only been going in the fourth rounds of standard fantasy league drafts.
If you couldn't tell, I'm talking about George Springer. While everything I've uttered thus far is true, I'm also very serious about grabbing him on all of my teams.
Last year, Springer posted 45 runs, 20 home runs, 51 runs batted in, 5 stolen bases, and a .231 batting average. However, that was in only 78 games, as a rookie, and he was possibly battling a leg injury for much of the season -- he was shut down in August for re-aggravating his left quadriceps. If projected over a 162 game season, his line would have been closer to 93 runs, 41 home runs, 105 runs batted in, 10 stolen bases, and a .231 batting average.
Okay, so right now he's looking good, like an Adam Dunn-type player plus 10 stolen bases, and yet still I think that's severely underestimating his talent on the basepaths. It might not have looked like it last year, but in 2013 (his final year in the minors) he stole 45 bases at an 85% success rate. He swiped 32 bags the year before that. The few stolen bases last year are concerning, and it is much easier to steal in the minors, but such a significant drop off is rare.
In 2013, across AA and AAA, in 589 at bats, he had 106 runs, 37 home runs, 108 runs batted in, 45 stolen bases, and a .303 batting average. If you can't tell how amazing that line is -- he was only three homers away from being the first minor league player to post a 40/40 season since 1956. Have I got your attention yet? Yes, that's right, George Springer has serious 40/40 potential.
I'm fairly confident his power numbers are real. His xHR/FB ranked ninth in baseball last year and was backed by a batted ball distance that ranked third. In the humid air of southeast Texas with a left-field porch just 315 feet from home plate, he plays half his games at one of the historically best parks for a right-handed power hitter. While his strikeout numbers will likely remain consistent, he still should be able to put up high numbers. His strikeout rate last year was around 33%, but during his almost 40/40 season, it was also at a high 27.3%.
His average last year was also surprisingly low compared to his minor league career average of .302. This could be due in part to a little bad luck -- he posted a .294 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year but has a career minor league average of .379. Again this could be more evidence that he was slowed down last year by a nagging leg injury. If he's healthy, his speed should improve and, beyond just seeing more steals, he should hit for a higher BABIP and, in turn, a higher batting average.
Additionally, his on base percentage has always been more impressive: .105 higher than his average last year with a .336 on-base percentage, and a minor league career on-base percentage of .398. So while he may strike out a lot, he should still be able to put himself in situations to steal bases and generate runs.
As far as runs and runs batted in are concerned, I do think he's in a good position with the Astros. The Astros look far removed from a team that finished dead last in the Majors just two years ago. Springer will be moved to second in the lineup this year, behind last year's batting champ, Jose Altuve (.341 average, .377 on base percentage, 56 stolen bases), and in front of last year's home run league champion runner-up, Chris Carter (47 home runs, .491 slugging, and .799 OPS). It's hard to get much better than that.
This spring, Springer hit .291 with a .391 on-base percentage and had 3 homers and 2 steals in 55 at-bats. This would have put him on pace to join the 30/20 club without hurting your fantasy team in average.
You don't want to pay for steals if there's little chance of their materializing. It is possible that his legs were fine until August and that he just wasn't stealing bases for another reason entirely. Still, based on his past success and raw speed, we should at least see an increase. It is a possibility his manager was overly-cautious with him on the bags last year.
He attempted only seven stolen bases, getting thrown out just twice. Perhaps the Astros' new manager, A. J. Hinch, will be more brazen. It is not yet known what Hinch's philosophy on the basepaths might be in 2015, but he did manage to get 20 stolen bases out of Justin Upton (who only ever beat that number once with 21) and 24 stolen bases out of Mark Reynolds (who never came close to that number again) in 2009 (Hinch's longest stint as a manager).
A few words of caution. Springer's ADP was in the 40s, but our rankings have him pegged as the 95th-best overall player.
If Springer is able to realize his fullest potential -- to play like his minor league and college stats suggest he can -- this year in the Majors, then he can certainly play closer to 40th than 95th. However, other owners who spent a high draft pick on him might be unwilling to part ways easily if they buy into the hype as well.
Projecting His 2015
Springer has the potential to put up first-round caliber numbers this year. In a long fantasy season with a well-stocked reserve of quality options in your player pool, sometimes it's okay to chase the potential in fantasy baseball. Springer contributes strongly to four out of five standard categories. Even if you're concerned about him in the base stealing category, he should at least reach double digits. The potential of a 30/20 season is there, and that's rare to find from anyone not named Mike Trout.
To look at Springer's 2015 potential, let's first turn to numberFire's own 2015 projections. These numbers are generated by using a similarity scoring algorithm that looks at a player's last three years (if applicable) of advanced statistics and finds the most similar players historically, playing on the most comparable teams and uses those comparables to generate a final projection adjusted for run environment, park factors, and playing time among a few other factors. We project him with the following line: 562 plate appearances, 77 runs, 28 home runs, 80 RBI, 14 steals, and a .244 batting average.
A line like that would put him among the top-65 overall fantasy hitters despite ranking 105th in plate appearances and, as impressive as those numbers are, it still might be a tad pessimistic. To maximize Springer's historic minor league production while projecting his 2015 potential, we can look at another projection system: ZiPS.
ZiPS is a projection system created by Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory used for predicting season's end numbers by utilizing recent (and in this case, also minor league) data while adjusting for aging trends based on similar players.
According to ZiPS, Springer projects to hit the following: 493 plate appearances, 72 runs, 26 home runs, 74 RBI, 17 steals, and a .238 average.
A High Ceiling
Okay, I know you're not impressed yet, but bear with me. His shortened season last year weighed heavily on both projections, and ZiPS had him playing only 113 games next year, which I think is gross underestimation. Last year's injury-shortened season definitely skewed the results, but it should not have.
He's had over six months to recover from his strained quad and dating all the way back to high school he's only ever missed, at most, a handful of games in any year. If he puts up the kind of numbers we're projecting, there should be no reason to take him out of the lineup. The Astros know he is a future star of their franchise and were gladly trotting out Chris Carter -- and his .227 average -- last year for the third most plate appearances on the team.
Indeed, with the exception of Altuve, their starting lineup looks like it was amassed by some Sabermetric obsessed madman who think batting average is as useless a stat as time of possession for a relief pitcher.
So I'm tweaking his ZiPS line to see how he'd project if he played every game in 2015.
In 162 games, we'd see him hit 37 home runs, 103 runs, 106 runs batted in, 24 steals, and a .238 batting average in 707 plate appearances.
*drools onto laptop*
The .238 average is glaring, but it's hard to take your eyes off of that super-sexy 100+/35+/100+/20+ line. If he put up those numbers last year, he would have finished fifth in the Majors in runs, second in home runs, sixth in runs batted in, and 22nd in steals.
The 707 plate appearances, if we assume 162 games, is about as accurate as you can get. Altuve had 707 in 158 games last year. If he had played in every game, that would have been 725 plate appearances. The number two hitter typically has between 15 to 20 fewer overall plate appearances than the leadoff hitter, so that makes sense.
However, the Astros look even better than last year, so that number could even increase. For my own projections, he likely won't play all 162 games next year (only four hitters did that last year), so we'll knock that number down and adjust his overall plate appearances by giving him some games off. It's not unrealistic to think he can play 148 games, which would have tied him at 24th among outfielders last year, a pretty modest total.
Since he's batting in the two-spot this year, I think 106 runs batted in is a bit optimistic, but his runs scored should increase. I also think he'll improve in average once his BABIP inches close to his minor league career norm.
In 148 games, he could realistically manage to put up 101 runs, 32 home runs, 88 runs batted in, and 21 stolen bases while hitting .256.
Even with some disagreement on how many plate appearances he will actually get, I can't stop fawning over the guy. The ceiling is too high.
If you're yet to draft, target him. If you were lucky enough to already score him on one of your teams, you should be confident. If you haven't, he's someone you should be exploring in trade talks.