After tearing it up in his rookie season in 2010, Danny Valencia experienced a sophomore slump in 2011 and finished the year on manager Ron Gardenhire’s bad side. Part of Valencia’s issue in 2011 could have been fatigue, as he played 154 games, 69 more than he played the year before, but he didn’t start the year out hot and slowly fade, he just kind of drifted through 2011 hitting an occasional home run. His slash line in 2011 was just .246/.294/.383, and his OPS was 122 points lower than it was in 2010. Valencia nearly doubled his doubles, triples, home runs, strike outs, and walks in his 2nd season with the Twins, but he played significantly more games, and the numbers are in line with the increased playing time. What Valencia failed to do in 2011 was to hit singles and make it to first base, and he reached base 16% less frequently in his sophomore season. Valencia’s inability to reach base were compounded by his inability to make plays on the defensive side of the ball. After creating .5 WAR in just 85 games in 2010, Valencia was worth -1.9 WAR in 2011, leading to an overall negative WAR of -1.1. If Danny Valencia is going to fend off Luke Hughes and maybe even Jamey Carroll and keep his spot at the hot corner, he’s going to have to start seeing the ball better, both at the plate and in the field.
Bill James, RotoChamp, and FanGraphs all predict a Danny Valencia rebound in his third season. Bill James predicts that Valencia will play just 114 games in 2011, but projects that he will increase his batting average, on base percentage, and slugging to finish the season with an OPS of .748. An OPS of .748 doesn’t make Valencia the over achiever he was in 2010, but it is more in line with his Triple-A numbers, meaning that James expects him to rebound back to expected levels. A key component of Valencia’s rebound is a Batting Average on Balls In Play that James projects to be at .313, compared to just .275 a year ago. That will result in more opportunities for Valencia to be on base, score runs, and help a Twins team that struggled to put men into scoring position in 2011. The fans at FanGraphs project Valencia to play 146 games, I think that is too high given the nature of the Twins’ projected utility infielders (Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Luke Hughes), I expect Ron Gardenhire to give Valencia more time off to rest, especially if his fielding doesn’t come back to league average levels. I expect Valencia to play 125 games at 3B, and maybe even a handful as a DH or late game pinch hitter. He should get around 425 plate appearances and to hit 12-15 home runs. He should have 35 walks to go along with 60 strike outs, and I think his BABIP will rebound to .305. Assuming he can play defense and run the bases just below league average, Valencia stands to create 1.7 WAR (Simple War Calculator) and be a pretty average Major League regular. The key to Valencia’s value will be his ability to get on base, and make plays at third base.
With Jamey Carroll expected to turn in another average season, and Alexi Casilla‘s opportunity to improve on his 2011 numbers, the Twins will have a pretty solid infield if Justin Morneau is able to remain at first base.