Shuffling The Deck: Shane Victorino
It was the Tweet Heard Round The
World Greater New England Region.
On December 4, 2012, noted ESPN analyst and prospect guru Keith Law unleashed the following quip when asked about Shane Victorino’s deal:
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) December 4, 2012
Most Red Sox fans took the criticism of said deal by Law at face value: It was clearly an exaggerated take, but one that was reasonably founded based on Victorino’s regression and the numbers involved.
Law was crucified for the statement by Sox fans and others around the baseball world as soon as he made it. He’s been loudly reminded of it ever since, as Victorino has had the second-best season of his career and an even better year than most of his biggest fans anticipated. Whether his detractors like it or not, he’s very likely to be worth the contract he was given.
So, 150 words and cries of “burying the lead” from every journalism teacher in North America later, why should fantasy owners care?
Because there’s little reason to believe Victorino can’t repeat most of his performance in 2014.
Through 483 PA this season, “Shanf” is hitting .295/.353/.456 with 14 homers and 20 steals in 23 attempts. He’s been worth 5.3 fWAR to this point, set to surpass his career-best mark of 5.6 in 2011 and good for the fifth-highest total in baseball among outfielders. Granted a good amount of that value is tied up in a ridiculous 23.5 runs saved, but even fantasy stats indicate that Victorino has been the 54th-most valuable player this season (courtesy of Yahoo).
So is this a one-year fluke, or is Victorino someone who should be considered a Top 30 outfielder headed into 2014?
Victorino’s BABIP this year is .318, which is notably higher than his career mark of .298 but not unreasonable for someone with his speed. His walk rate has decreased and his strikeout rate has increase this year, both from last season and his career averages, which is rarely a good sign. But Victorino’s LD% sits at 22.1 — up over three percentage points from his career average and over four points from last year – and his HR/FB has skyrocketed as well.
Strangely, this has all come as Shanf – normally a switch-hitter – has been forced to hit right-handed against RHP for the past six-or-so weeks. The result? A .333 average against righties, of course, compared to a .273 mark when facing righties as a southpaw. Because baseball.
I have no idea whether we can believe Victorino’s newfound ability to hit righties is sustainable, and if we’re being honest, neither do you. But jumps in LD% and HR/FB% are things I like to see, and even if you don’t count on Victorino to repeat his 2013 marks I don’t think we can assume he’ll revert back to 2012 either.
Victorino will enter 2014 once again batting near or at the top of one of the best offenses in baseball, playing half of his games in an batter-friendly ballpark and with enough speed to swipe 20-plus bases with ease. Let’s say this year’s improvements are a mirage, and he just hits .270 next season (below his career average of .277). If he can do that while scoring 75 runs, swiping 20 bases and knocking 10 homers, that’s still a deserving fifth outfielder.
And that, in my opinion, is Victorino’s floor. His upside would see him hit closer to .290 again with 10-15 homers, 80-90 runs and 20-25 steals, and suddenly that’s a player you should have plenty of interest in owning.
Victorino is a tough player to judge from a fantasy POV because of his uniqueness as a player, but don’t let that scare you off. Even if you don’t fully trust his 2013 stats you should be much higher on him than you were headed into the season, and try to remember that he’ll play all of 2014 at just the age of 33: the wheels haven’t completely fallen off here yet.
I’m comfortable listing Shanf as a Top 30 outfielder for 2014, as well as a Top 120ish fantasy asset. That won’t set the world on fire, but it’s a lot better than what almost anyone was expecting six months ago.