Petco Park is best known for its pitcher-friendly dimensions. The extreme pitching environment even led to one embarrassed writer recommending volatile right-hander Edinson Volquez once or twice in 2013. After pitching to an abysmal 6.01 ERA in San Diego, Volquez is now a Pirate and that writer won't be making the same mistake again.
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On offense, San Diego was 25th in wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average), while ranking in the bottom third in runs scored (618) and home runs (146). Third baseman Chase Headley backed up a breakout 2012 (32 home runs, 115 RBI) with a sluggish 2013 (13 home runs, 51 RBI), and the team's leader in runs scored -- Chris Denorfia -- crossed home plate just 67 times. Everth Cabrera was the team's biggest surprise on offense (stealing 37 bases in 95 games), but a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs made him completely irrelevant in the second half. Will Venable provided unexpected value in the outfield with 22 home runs and 22 steals, but the player I'm most excited about in San Diego is second baseman Jedd Gyorko.
At a position with decreasing power, Gyorko blasted 23 home runs in his rookie debut (trailing only Robinson Cano's 24), adding 62 runs and a team-leading 63 RBI in 125 games. The number of second basemen to reach 20 long balls has decreased in each of the past three seasons, making a 20-plus home run threat up the middle a very attractive commodity. Only three at the position connected for 20 or more in 2013, down from four in 2012. Three seasons ago, eight reached 20. Cano is the last second baseman to top 30, but his move from New York to Seattle makes a repeat performance less likely. Could Gyorko be the next keystone to reach 30? His 162-game pace in 2013 put him on track to do just that, so it's definitely worth exploring.
Despite playing in 35 fewer games than Cano, Gyorko trailed the ex-Yankee by just one home run. He was second in terms of Isolated Power, trailing Cano by seven points (.202 to .195), and his 15.9 percent HR/FB rate was third best at the position, trailing Cano and Atlanta's Dan Uggla. Additionally, his 288 feet ranked 91st overall in batted ball distance. While Gyorko's power didn't come out of the blue (he hit a combined 30 home runs in 2012), it did come as a surprise in spacious Petco Park. Two seasons ago, San Diego was the 28th worst ballpark for home runs, according to ESPN Park Factors. After the team moved the fences in, Petco moved up 11 spots to No. 17. Gyorko did his best at home, blasting 13 of his 23 home runs at home. And after returning from a groin injury in August, he launched 15 home runs in the final two months.
The Padres recently traded Logan Forsythe to the Rays, so Gyorko's chances of retaining second-base eligibility in subsequent seasons is high. Alexi Amarista might see some time at second, but the majority of his games came in the outfield last year. Regardless of where he plays (he could see time at third), Gyorko should once again challenge upwards of 25 home runs -- which could lead all second basemen when it's said and done.
Of course, home runs aren't everything. There is a .249 BA and 23.4 percent strikeout rate to discuss. That batting average really killed Gyorko's fantasy value last season and it's hard to see it coming up to league-average levels without some major tweaking. His .287 BABIP was a lot lower than it's been in the minors, but he's pretty much a non-factor in the speed department -- he stole one base in 2013. While I expect his batting average to climb into the .255-.265 range on the heels of a very strong 22.5 percent line drive rate, I don't see it coming up much higher without a significant improvement in his strikeout and walk rates.
The areas I do see Gyorko improving in are runs scored and RBIs. He tallied 62 and 63, respectively, last season, but that was in 125 contests. If he can find 20-25 more games, we could see him approach 75 in each department. A second baseman with a .260 BA, 25+ HR, 75 runs, and 75 RBI is plenty valuable -- no second baseman reached those marks in 2013. If he can build on his power and approach 30 home runs, his value would skyrocket. Even when you factor in the batting-average downside, you should be able to build around a player who could help carry your team in power from the middle infield.
Rotobanter projection ($13.96): .272 BA, 75 R, 28 HR, 78 RBI, 2 SB
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