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On an almost daily basis I get an email from someone asking me about Ryan Raburn. Usually they read something like 'this guy will hit 30 homers this year for sure if he gets 500 at-bats.' Well, let's take a look and see if (a) he is lined up for 500 at-bats, (b) if he 'will' hit 30 homers and (c) what his fantasy value is for the 2011 season.
Ryan Raburn will start in left field for the Tigers. The team will go with Austin Jackson in center, and Magglio Ordonez in right on most day, and it appears that more often than not Victor Martinez will serve as the DH. The Tigers made the decision to send Scott Sizemore down and give the starting spot at second base to Will Rhymes until Carlos Guillen is back at full strength and ready to play every day (if that will ever happen no one knows). What all of that means is that Raburn had better keep hitting or he could start to lose some playing time, especially with Casper Wells and Brennan Boesch around to take away some at-bats in the outfield if need be. Even with all of that, Raburn appears set to make 140 starts in 2011, so in terms of playing time you'd have to give him the thumbs up after he's appeared in 113 games each of the past two years.
A HOMER BINGE?
In his career, Raburn has hit 39 homers in 981 at-bats, or one every 25 at-bats. If he is able to keep that pace in the coming season he would need 750 at-bats to reach 30 homers. Clearly that isn't going to happen. However, he has upped the homer ante a bit the past two years leading to 31 homers in 632 at-bats. Still, it's pretty difficult to envision a scenario in which he blows past 600 at-bats this year, so that's going to make his run to 30 homers this season a bit difficult. He does have a slightly elevated carer fly ball rate of about 43 percent (the big league average is about 38 percent), and a slightly better than average HR/F mark of 12.5 percent. Again, neither of those numbers screams out 30 homers. I hate projecting actual numbers, but if you pressed me I would say 25 homers are doable for this fella with full time work.
2011 FANTASY VALUE
If Raburn hits 25 homers and plays everyday, he is going to be a mixed league asset, right? As an outfielder he would kind of blend in with the rest because (a) he won't steal many bases (14 in his career) and (b) because he strikes out in a quarter of his at-bats his batting average could settle in right around his career mark of .274. However, if he qualifies as a second baseman in your league, than it's bonanza time because a .270 hitting, 20 homer threat up the middle has a lot of value. Unfortunately, Jim Leyland must not play fantasy baseball as he allowed Raburn to play second base just 18 times last season, two short of the standard requirement of 20 games played for eligibility. Check your league rules on this as his fantasy value goes through the roof if he qualifies at second base (he could be a top-15 guy at second).
I've mentioned playing time in this piece, but I've only talked about the upside. You might have asked yourself 'if Raburn is such a solid hitter, how is it that he has less than a thousand at-bats even though he has appeared in five big league seasons?' One of the main reasons is that he is a vastly superior performer against left-handed pitching. It's not that he is awful against righties (.278/.323/.430) but his slash line is certainly inferior to his work against lefties (.269/.346/.514). In fact, in 561 at-bats against righties in his career he has a mere 16 homers. That number can't make you feel too good about his prospects of going deep 25+ times in 2011 can it? On top of that, the Tigers do have Brennan Boesch whom they'll want to get some at-bats, and though he looked awful for long stretches last year he did murder left-handed pitching (.337/.403/.548). If Raburn struggles a bit, could he lose some of his starts against lefties to the power hitting youngster which could mean trouble since Raburn is also a better performer against southpaws?
Ryan Raburn is an end game grab in mixed leagues as an outfielder. If he happens to qualify at second base he becomes a mid round grab. Either way he figures to produce solid numbers, but I would hold off in expecting him to blow it up in 2011.
By Ray Flowers