Often times we find ourselves spending all our time talking and thinking about the elite players. People always want to know who to take in the first round or when they should grab their ace on draft day. At the same time, people rarely talk about those glue guys that often make the difference between winning and losing. Think back to the draft table in 2011. How many people cared when they called out the names of Asdrubal Cabrera, Alex Gordon and Jhonny Peralta? Yet when all was said and done all three had impressive seasons that helped many a squad to a championship. Today I’ll highlight one of those players who you might want to think about late in drafts (especially in mixed leagues that use the corner and middle infield positions).
Cliff Pennington, for those of you who don’t know, plays shortstop for the Athletics, you know, that green and yellow team on the west coast that seemingly trades away it’s best players year after year. A decent little ballplayer, Pennington has a couple of things going for him. First, no one really cares about him. That means he will be extremely cheap to add to your squad on draft day. He’ll also likely make a solid addition if your starter at shortstop comes down with an injury early in the year forcing you to hit the waiver-wire looking for a warm body. Second, Pennington steals bases. He’s not going to push Jose Reyes for the positional lead in steals but he’s swiped 43 bases the last two years, a total only five other shortstops can better (Reyes 69, Elvis Andrus 69, Erick Aybar 52, Hanley Ramirez 52 and Jimmy Rollins 47). In an AL-only league, or a 15 team mixed league, 20+ steals from a middle infielder is a decent addition to any club.
Now I’m not going to sit here and blow soft kisses to you to hide the fact that Pennington isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse. The owner of 18 career homers, Pennington has nonetheless knocked in an average of 51 runs the past two seasons while scoring an average of 61 runs a campaign. Those numbers are all blah, I agree, but when combined they’re really not that bad a set. Guess how many shortstops, the past two years, have scored 120 runs, knocked in 100 and stolen 40 bases? Rather shockingly the answer is just four: Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Ian Desmond and Pennington.
While consistent playing time helps with the counting numbers (Pennington has appeared in an average of 152 games the past two years), it will also allow his less than impressive batting average to drag your club down. A .259 career hitter, Cliff has hit .250 and .264 the last two years. There is some hope for a potential run at .280. After all, Pennington does own an impressive 22.1 percent line drive rate. One would expect a pretty high BABIP given that impressive LD-rate, but instead Pennington owns a .310 career mark that is only .010 points above a league average number. As we all should know by now, players set their own benchmarks in this respect, so while it seems like Pennington should post a higher BABIP maybe he won’t though his .342 mark from 2009 does give some hope. Toss in a 0.47 BB/K mark for his career though and the prospects of any substantial batting growth should be concerned a bit of a long-shot.
Pennington is not going to pull an Asdrubal Cabrera in 2012. He’s not going to morph into a difference maker, but if he shows only some slight improvement, let’s say to the .270-10-60-70-20 range, he could be an extremely useful up the middle depth play in deep mixed leagues. Don’t reach on Pennington at any point in your draft, but when you’re sitting there in the 25th round wondering whose name you should call out consider the shortstop of the Oakland Athletics.
By Ray Flowers