After capturing fantasy owners' hearts with his impressive debut in 2011, many fantasy managers spent big on the young Canadian in 2012 drafts. Unfortunately Lawrie did not live up to the high expectations, however, one down year often times presents a great buying opportunity the following fantasy season.
Many owners could not wait to roster Brett Lawrie following his short stint in the major leagues in 2011. Drafted on average in the 5th round (7th third basemen off the board), I personally watched Lawrie fly off the board as early as the third round in some leagues. Needless to say he did not return value on that pick, finishing the season as the 17th ranked third baseman according to the ESPN player rater.
So what went wrong?
Owners let not only let his 43 game cup of coffee cloud their vision, but his entire 2011 AAA season spent in the Pacific Coast League. In 69 games for the Las Vegas 51's, Lawrie slashed his way to a .353/.415/.661 line with 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases. With the wealth of knowledge baseball and fantasy fans have access to these days, everyone knew the numbers were inflated due to the increased offensive production the Pacific Coast League has been spitting out, but it's what happened next that made all that available knowledge, and what should have been caution, fly out the window. He just kept hitting. In those 43 games the 22 year old Lawrie would hit 9 homers, score 26 runs, drive in 25 and swipe 7 bags, all while hitting .293 and slugging .580. This led some fantasy owners to question everything they knew about small sample sizes, the PCL, and hype brewed over the winter and it was reflected in the ADP data previously presented.
It also didn't help Lawrie had some injuries throughout the season, including an oblique injury that put him on the DL in August. While his style of play has led some to question if injuries will always be a part of his seasonal stat line, I'd argue most professional ball players are playing at close to max effort and Lawrie is no more susceptible to injury than your typical mid 20's athlete.
While Lawrie didn't turn out to be the top 10 third baseman many hoped for on draft day, he was still valuable enough to be a corner guy in 12 team mixed leagues. There will be a percentage of owners however that either owned Lawrie last year, are not putting in enough research, or are not targeting a steal contributor at third base, that Lawrie should be obtainable in 2013 drafts for a much more reasonable price. Our consensus rankings currently have Lawrie 10th overall, and his ADP won't sniff the extreme third round reaches we witnessed last year, instead I see him going around the 8th or 9th round in 12 team mixed leagues.
So let's get right down to it. What can we expect from the young Canadian third baseman in 2013?
The easy answer is a safe batting average with a power/speed combination that is difficult to find at third base. To get a little more specific, I currently have Lawrie projected for a .282 BA, 17 long balls with 18 stolen bases. The power numbers are not ideal at the hot corner, but if his ADP does fall into the 8th or 9th round, you should have time to load up on power early, with the intention to acquire some steals at third base with Lawrie later in the draft. In fact, only Hanley Ramirez is projected to steal more bags at third base (per my personal rankings) than Brett Lawrie next season, and odds are you're drafting Hanley at short stop. If you're an owner who prefers to zig while others zag, Lawrie should be highlighted on your draft board.
Lastly, let's touch on the runs and RBI's for 2013. It seems most are in agreement when it comes to RBI's, projecting Lawrie for 70-73 RBI's next year. It's the runs scored that seems to vary depending on which projections you look at. These projections range from 96 - per the Bill James Projections on fangraphs, to the 77 I currently have Lawrie projected for next year. Quite the difference, and for me it all comes down to where I expect Lawrie to hit in the lineup next year. I know, it's still early, and managers are known for shuffling their line up based on the hot bat, opposing pitchers, etc. With all that said, I still see Lawrie hitting in the six hole next year, instead of leading off or hitting second. With the additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera, I also don't see Lawrie moving up for extended periods of time, which allows me to feel better projecting most of his at bats coming from a lower spot in the order.
Let's take a quick look.
In the 49 games Lawrie hit in the 5th, 6th or 7th spot in the order, he scored 24 runs, or .49 runs per game. In the 76 games he hit 1st, 2nd or 3rd, he scored 49 runs, or .65 runs per game. As logic would dictate, Lawrie also had more multiple run games (12) while hitting in the upper third of the order, as compared to when he hit 5th, 6th or 7th (4 multiple run games). Just using last year's runs per game of .49 while hitting towards the bottom of the order, and extending them over the course of a 155 game projection, we end up with 76 runs. The runs per game may change in 2013, the total games played can obviously change, but the fact remains, if Lawrie is hitting towards the bottom portion of the line up in 2013, owners need to adjust their run projection accordingly.
It's been standard practice for years to target post hype sleepers as well as established players coming off a bad year. Brett Lawrie doesn't quite fit in either category, however his draft day price tag should be much closer to the production you'll receive for your fantasy team. He'll certainly go for a bargain in some drafts, and you need to be ready to jump at the buying opportunity if presented.