When it comes to identifying the next fantasy baseball breakout players, Mr. Cheatsheet’s method helps narrow the field. I use a data-driven method to filter the draft pool to a small number of potential sleepers that are worthy of deeper consideration. As I laid out in the research behind this, my method here has been successful in finding breakout players as 64% of the sleeper candidates identified over the past five years returned value much greater than expected from their draft slots. In 2013, there are four players who meet the criteria. Today, we’ll look at one of those four as we try to determine if Andy Dirks (OF, DET) could be one of the 64%.
Why He’s Here
Dirks was drafted in the eighth round of the 2008 draft by the Tigers after a successful college career. In 2009 (his first full minor league season), he showed some initial promise of good defense, speed and contact ability. The power wasn’t there initially but started to manifest in 2010. In that year, he posted a .296 AVG with 15 HR and 22 SB over 476 AB which earned him the Detroit minor league player of the year award. He continued that domination early in the winter leagues and at the start of the 2011 season where he earned Detroit’s minor league player of the month in April. The Tigers had seen what they needed to see by that point so they called Dirks up to the big leagues in May.
Despite his call to the majors, he was limited in his role and was mainly a part-time player. He started off quite well during that stretch but his numbers dipped a bit as the season went on. In 2012, he started the season with the big league team and was expected to serve in a platoon role. By May, he was playing in nearly all of the games and hit .343 with 3 HR’s over the course of that month. However, the injury bug bit after that and he was shelved for the next couple of months. He returned in August and picked up right where he left off as he hit .317 over the final 51 games with another 4 HR’s as well.
It seems that he is poised to be a regular player for the Tigers in 2013. He remains under the fantasy radar because of the fact that he was never a major prospect and has yet to play a full season in the majors. If he can continue to hit above .300 with his previously evidenced mix of power and speed then we might have a valuable asset on our hands for deeper fantasy leagues. This makes Mr. Dirks a potential narco candidate around these parts.
Why He Might Fail
At first blush, the good thing about Dirks is that he seems to have the ability to do a little bit of everything. At the minor league level, he stole bases at a rate that would roughly equate to 25-30 SB’s in a full major league season. Meanwhile, he hit .289 in his minor league career with a home run rate that suggests a 15 HR hitter. If that translates into the majors, you’d have someone giving you plus contribution in AVG and SB’s with decent HR numbers as well. Runs and RBI’s are a result of opportunity so are harder to gauge but he’s shown 80 R/RBI potential as well. However, there’s some big reasons pointing to why it might not work out so beautifully.
The stolen bases have not followed him into the majors thus far. Over two seasons, he’s had nearly 600 PA’s and has only managed 6 stolen bases. For whatever reason, it seems that the Tigers don’t want him running the basepaths. This was even more evident last year as he only had two stolen base attempts. It may have been due to his Achilles’ injury but regardless it’s not a good sign. Despite his speed shown in the minors, we cannot count on that to continue unfortunately. Couple that with the fact that Detroit has consistently had the least amount of SB attempts in the league under Jim Leyland.
The biggest asset for him last season was hitting for .322 over that half-season. That won’t happen again. His BABIP was extremely high which is the first evidence that he was lucky here. And, if we crunch the numbers to come up with his xAVG, we can see that he should have hit around .285 in a luck-neutral world last season. That’s not a bad AVG but it is quite a drop from what we saw. As evidenced by his minor league production, the .285 AVG seems like a much more reasonable expectation.
While his HR rate seems sustainable, Dirks is not a valuable fantasy asset in most leagues if he hits .285 with 15 HR, 0 SB and a speckling of R’s and RBI’s.
In addition, his full-time role is not assured. He could slip right back into a platoon if he struggles against lefties.
Why He Might Come Through
As noted above, the speed factor is the wild card here. The fact remains that Dirks stole over 80% of his bases in the minors (which is far above the MLB average of 73%). While the Tigers didn’t let him run last year, he did have 7 attempts in his first stint with the team in 2011 (successful on 5 attempts) so I think his injury played a factor in their decision to hold him back last season. While they might not turn him completely loose, getting 10-15 SB’s seems like a real possibility for a healthy Dirks.
While his .322 AVG seemed a bit out of place last season, Dirks did hit .326 in his Triple-A career (306 PA). A slight regression may certainly be in store but it may not be as harsh as it seems. Last season, he showed a good contact rate of 86% (league average is 81%) which is evidence that he’s got the skills to be a high AVG hitter.
In 2013, he was on pace for about 15 HR’s in a full season and that coincides nicely with his minor league numbers. It’s a fairly safe bet to assume that he should continue at that rate.
With a return of his speed and maintaining his contact percentage, we should see Dirks as a 15/15 hitter with an AVG close to .300. There’s definitely a spot for that type of production in most roto lineups.
I have my doubts about Dirks. He showed up on this sleeper list as a result of his high production from last season in limited time but that was heavily influenced by fluky BABIP rates. He may have some value in deeper leagues but he won’t be relevant in most leagues unless he gets a little bit of luck. In addition, he’s still fighting for a full-time role and could easily get stuck in a platoon position all year without getting a shot to accumulate enough plate appearances to be fantasy relevant. I think Dirks is a player worth watching but I wouldn’t invest highly in him this year.