Picking out sleepers seemed so simple years ago. All you had to do was look into the stats. Now, there is an almost-unlimited supply of literature surrounding the fantasy game. To go further, social media has really changed the game. Everyone’s thoughts, discoveries and opinions are floating around on the web. Really, what is a sleeper anymore? Advanced metrics and projections paint a picture but throwing the correct dart takes some analysis and some luck. I was much too high on Brad Miller last year (Editor’s note: hindsight is 20/20, Greg!), and it did burn me, not only in my own fantasy leagues but with my readers as well. I also took a flier on Semien in a couple of leagues. Both of them tanked in 2014 and while this article is focused on Semien, I think Miller is a post-hype buy for 2015 as well. Why you ask?
“Like dreams, statistics are a form of wish-fulfillment.” Jean Baudrillard
I have been working on projections, which is a tiring and difficult process that requires number consumption and formulating a range of outcomes for various players. First, a player needs opportunity. With the trade to Oakland, Semien is the obvious candidate to start at short. Check.
Semien was a popular sleeper last year that disappointed fantasy owners which could depress his value entering 2015. Check.
He could finally blossom into the interesting blend of speed and power in Oakland with guaranteed playing time. If he can hold on to the gains from his small sample size in the second half last year, he may become the sleeper we are looking for. A year early maybe, but better late than never. Check.
Before getting to deep into Semien himself, let’s paint the picture of a league average shortstop. According to Fangraphs’ 2014 major league position page, the average shortstop had a slash line of .251/.303/.363, a 6.7 HR/FB%, a wRC+ of 87 and a BABIP of .295. While the numbers seem sort of generic, they do tell a story. Without picking on a player, the closest comparison I found was Jordy Mercer. His 2014 statistics featured a .255/.305/.387 slash line, an 8.9 HR/FB%, a wRC+ of 91 and a BABIP of .285. But no one goes into a draft hoping for Jordy Mercer, I have to be honest. While his 12 home runs, 55 RBI and 4 stolen bases were nice to those desperate to replace a Troy Tulowitzki after his inevitable injuries, he was nothing to brag about.
wRC+ refers to weighted runs created, which his nice because it takes out ballpark effects for a measurement of a player’s value. According to Fangraphs, if you want a rate statistic for hitters that weights each offensive action and controls for league and park effects, wRC+ is for you. 100 is league average. There were 9 shortstops who were able to produce a wRC+ over 100 in 2014 with qualified at bats. Remember that when I get to Semien’s advanced metrics forecast.
So if you do not want to end up with Mercer as your fantasy target for 2015, why Semien? He had a chance to win the third base job with the White Sox early in 2014 and was demoted after a slow start. Looking at his 2014 and career big league numbers is interesting:
Marcus Semien 2014: 64 G, 30 R, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 3 SB, .234/.300/.372
Marcus Semein Career: 85 G, 37 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 5 SB, .240/.293/.380
While not overwhelming, Semien’s slash lines do provide glimmers of hope, especially when you factor in that over his minor league career he had a .374 OBP and .465 SLG%. Since I have made it a point to focus on his wRC+, his total for 2014 was 88 while his career number is 86 (in just over 300 at bats). Oakland must see something in him to believe that he is a viable starting option for their 2015 club. Semien matched Jed Lowrie’s home run output in 202 fewer at bats and his wRC+ only trailed Lowrie by 5. Going a bit deeper into Semien’s 2014 shows he had very different splits prior to and after his demotion to AAA Charlotte:
Marcus Semien 1H: 43 G, 22 R, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 3 SB, .218/.283/.367
Marcus Semien 2H: 21 G, 8 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .273/.333/.485
It is not earth shattering by any means but here are some of his advanced metrics along with his Steamer and ZiPS projections:
Although Semien will not have shortstop eligibility to open the season, if you took his 106 wRC+ against the other projected shortstops Semien would rank fifth in that category. Only five shortstops were able to achieve double-digit home runs and steals last year as well: Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubel Cabrera. Here are Semien’s projections from three different sources:
I understand that it is a small sample size, but over Semien’s 21 games in the second half he hit for a higher batting average with a lower BABIP than the first half and increased his wRC+ to a very respectable 129. More importantly, he was able to increase his OBP to .333 and SLG% to .485 for a tantalizing .818 OPS. It would be a mistake to think he could do that over a full season, especially his first full season as a major leaguer. But three different projections seem to agree that Semien can reach double-digits in home runs and stolen bases. Here is Semien’s prospect grades according to Fangraphs.com:
Changes in scenery and opportunity can create fantasy goodness. Semien is returning to California with the chance to be a starting shortstop in the major leagues. Unlike Brad Miller, Semien was able to go to the minor leagues and refine his game before getting another shot to play in the majors and has a clearer path to playing time. While his numbers may resemble Asdrubel Cabrera’s 2014, his ceiling could be more than the projections indicate. I am willing to pay for 15 home runs and 12 steals if Semien can hit .240 or better. That holds great value at a position where only five others were able to accomplish that feat in 2014. With the lack of offense presently in Oakland, he may even be able to steal more than the projections are saying which provides more appeal for Semien moving forward. Semien won’t be a fantasy star, but he is a player with the opportunity to be a staple at a position where average numbers are common. Whether or not Semien can fulfill my projection will remain to be seen, but a guy can dream.
My 2015 Marcus Semien Projection: 72 R, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 12 SB, .247/.323/.430
Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, CBSsports.com, MiLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/5nWR16, http://goo.gl/f1b1tt
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!