Commentary

Victorino's value up slightly

Updated: December 5, 2012, 2:44 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

The Boston Red Sox makeover continued late Tuesday night, as outfielder Shane Victorino agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract.

With that, the Red Sox have spent $88 million on three free agents -- Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes being the others -- after having traded $262.5 million in contracts in last July's deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But is the team really that much better, and is it truly done with its winter shopping? The answers are key to analyzing Victorino's 2013 fantasy prospects.

[+] EnlargeShane Victorino
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesShane Victorino set a career high with 39 stolen bases last season.

Fantasy owners might hear "Red Sox" attached to a free agent's name and immediately assume a value boost. After all, this has been one of the most successful teams of the past decade, with two World Series championships, six playoff appearances, the second-most wins (908) and second-most runs scored (8,651) during the past 10 seasons. There's an assumption these days that to join the Red Sox -- or, for that matter, the New York Yankees -- means an instant, substantial boost to a hitter's value.

It's not necessarily the case here.

Victorino's fantasy value is rooted primarily in two categories: stolen bases and runs scored, as evidenced by 2012 and 2011 values calculated by our Player Rater. Those categories, however, are influenced by a player's role, and in Victorino's case, we cannot be absolutely certain that he'd consistently be a top-two hitter for the 2013 Red Sox, which is important in that it'd result in additional plate appearances (and with it, chances to get on base, and therefore opportunities to steal bases). We also cannot assume that the 2013 Red Sox will be any more productive a lineup than the 2012 model, which was the franchise's worst since the 1994 player strike, scoring 84 fewer runs than in any other year in the past decade. (That's in regard to the lineup support necessary to drive him in and pad his run total.)

Don't discount the chance that the Red Sox could have a lineup top four of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Napoli, relegating Victorino to the lower half of the order. In fact, those rooting for a bounce-back year for Victorino should now be rooting for a Jacoby Ellsbury trade, which has been rumored, as it'd practically guarantee Victorino a one-two spot every day.

This is also a Red Sox team with a lot of health questions, which was the problem that plagued the 2012 (and 2010) squads. Ellsbury, Napoli, Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks all missed time last season, Pedroia has missed time in the past as well, and Ortiz is now 37 years old. It is far from a slam dunk that these Red Sox will lead the league in runs scored, and they'll need to rank among the leaders to boost Victorino's runs total to 100 and beyond.

Let's assume that Victorino is properly used: He should be a top-two hitter for this team against left-handed pitching, having boasted .318/.396/.550 triple-slash rates against them the past three seasons combined, but should also be a bottom-four hitter against right-handers, possessing .244/.311/.390 rates against them from 2010-12. Overall he has hit more ground balls and hit for diminished power in the past year-plus -- that dates to the 2011 All-Star break -- so even if he bounces back, the smart bet is that he'll be a 90-run, 30-steal candidate.

But Victorino's batting average might not rebound to its past .290 levels, and as it has been beneath .280 in each of the past three years, he might be more .270-hitting, .330 on-base performer in the best-case scenario.

Home runs might also be a problem for him. Consider: From 2009-11, Red Sox players posted a 16.5 home run/fly ball percentage on fly balls to left field at Fenway Park -- that's where the Green Monster stands -- and visitors have a 14.2 number in the category. On fly balls to right field, a more spacious portion of the ballpark, Red Sox hitters sported an 11.1 home run/fly ball percentage, and visitors had a 9.4 number. The major league averages, to compare, were 14.9 on fly balls to left field, and 12.6 on fly balls to right. In other words, Fenway is a marginally better-than-average venue for power to left, and it's well below average to right.

Victorino's prospects for power might be mostly fly balls he pulls down either line, and as he's more of a ground-baller than fly-baller, it's smart to place his over/under for homers at 11, his number from 2012. Homers are not really his thing.

Sum it and Victorino probably isn't much more of a fantasy option than he was in 2012, when he finished 94th on our Player Rater, much of that fueled by his career-high 39 stolen bases. Originally my No. 39 outfielder and No. 128 player overall, he improves only to 36th in the outfield, and 114th overall.

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