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Expectations are often filled with despair. You think you’re getting that new bicycle for Christmas but all you get is a tricycle. You see the gorgeous brunette at the end of the bar, the sexy one with the most alluring look you have ever seen, and think you’ve hit the mother load when she waves you over. That elation quickly evaporates when she starts talking and you realize she’s a raging bigot. You draft a young player expecting him to be a superstar and he ends up being very good. In all three instances you feel let down, but in at least two of the instances things aren’t as bad as they seem (I’ve got no defense for the bigot). Being that I’ve been totally off topic for this entire paragraph I’ll leave the bike thing alone (at least you got a gift from someone who cares) and the lady situation as well, and focus on the situation in baseball. Expectations can be a b – - – h.
In 2012 how many players had 10 homers with 85 runs scored and 30 steals? The answer is six players. I could keep the name of the 6th guy secret, but given the title of this piece I’m pretty sure you can figure out that one of the guys was Desmond Jennings. The others: Jason Kipnis, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Ryan Braun and Mike Trout.
In 2013 how many players had 10 homers , 50 RBIs, 80 runs and 20 steals? The answer is 14. One of them was obviously Jennings.
Granted those numbers aren’t huge, but the question with Jennings and his production needs to be re-framed. It’s not that he isn’t a good fantasy performer because he is. The issue with Jennings is why isn’t he respected for what he does on the field? The answer is obvious – expectations. That’s what you get when you’re named the #6 prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2010.
Jennings has moderate power. He hit 10 homers in 63 games in 2011 and somehow everyone became convinced that he would be an annual 20 homer bat. Where is the data to support that? Jennings has never hit 20 homers in a season. Per 500 at-bats during his minor league career he hit 11 homers. Per 500 at-bats in the big leagues he’s averaged 14 homers. His career HR/F ratio is also 10.2 percent with his fly ball rate being 37 percent. Uh, the big league averages are about 9-10 percent and 36 percent for those two categories. Jennings has done exactly what his track record suggests. It’s your expectations that were out of whack in terms of his power.
Jennings has stolen 20 bases in 3-straight seasons. Only 16 men in baseball are in that group. It should also be noted that Jennings has yet to appear in 140 games in a major league season (more on that below). He’s averaged 24 steals a season while averaging 111 games played. That’s impressive. Well, at least it’s very good. Per 150 games his rate would equate to 31 steals a season. Those are all good numbers. However, people were expecting more. Jennings does have two 40+ steal seasons as a minor league so I get being slightly disappointed with his base path production to this point (especially when he averaged 55 steals per 150 games in the minors). The disappointment with his speed component is understandable, even though his production has been solid as a Ray in the steals column.
Jennings hit .294 as a minor leaguer. He’s been a .250 hitter in the big leagues. Again, disappointing, or it? Jennings isn’t the first guy to lose points off his batting average upon arrival in the majors. At the same time that minor league average is weighted heavily toward his first couple of minor league seasons. From 2010-13 Jennings had 770 at-bats in the minors which produced a batting average of .274, twenty points below his career minor league mark. That closes the gap significantly when compared to his major league work. Jennings has also posted a .297 BABIP as a big leaguer with a 0.48 BB/K ratio and 1.23 GB/FB ratio. Basically Jennings has been league average in those three measures.
So let me return to my original point about expectations. If Jennings had been the 106th best prospect in baseball in 2010 his production to this point would be seen as the natural progression and outgrowth of his talent. However, since Jennings was the 6th best prospect in baseball we are disappointed. I get that. At the same time it’s time for us to accept Jennings for what he is. I don’t know about you, but when I can legitimately look at a player and think a 15/25 season with 90 runs is possible there’s room for that guy on my team (there’s even the potential for a run to 20/40 but expectations like that have always been at the heart of the problem with Jennings). The only issue I have concerns with when it comes to Jennings, because I accept him for the player he is and not the player he could be, is the injury situation. Jennings is always hurt. Here are his games played marks since 2007.
This is the biggest issue for the righty. He’s always picking up one injury after another and that, as much as anything, kills his value. If he can stay healthy, a big if as you can see from his games played totals, Jennings will be ownable in every league this season. If he can combine good health with his skills working at optimal levels we might have a difference maker in the fantasy game on our hands. But, instead of expecting that to happen why don’t you just do yourself a favor with Jennings. Realize what he is and not what he could be. Draft him for what he is not what he could be. Take him at a spot where he won’t hurt you (I’d suggest tabbing him no higher than a 3rd OF in mixed leagues with my preference being that you take him as your 4th outfielder). There’s always a chance the skills coalesce and he blows up, but even if he doesn’t he’s still a really productive players, albeit one who may never live up to expectations.
By Ray Flowers