Why do I like Cliff Pennigton so much? I have found myself asking this question often during the 2010 offseason. Every time I come across his name in either my projections or rankings, I can't help but think that he could be one of those unsuspecting players that comes off the waiver wire to help a team win a championship.
First things first, the position he plays.
Shortstop is one of the thinner fantasy positions heading into the 2011 season. After Hanley and Tulo (Reyes, if healthy), the level of expected fantasy production drops off significantly, especially in the home run department. This means that many fantasy GMs will be looking to pick up shortstops late in the draft that can help them in the stolen base department.
In 2010, Cliff Pennington stole 29 bases in 156 games and his minor league track record suggests that 30-35 stolen bases in the future would not be out of the question.
As for the AVG...
Last season, Pennignton got off to a slow start, but hit .338 in June and .293 in July before fading late in the year. Overall, he finished with a non-factor .250 AVG. However, there were a few indicators pointed in the right direction that could foreshadow more success in 2011.
Pennington's BABIP was .296, which was just about the league average, but given a 21.5 percent line drive rate, which was above the league average, perhaps he should have seen better results. The problem is this: Pennington needs to put the ball on the ground more often and use his speed to his advantage. His line drive rate was weighed down due to a 43 percent fly ball rate and an 11.5 percent infield pop-up rate. If he can lower both of those rate stats, increase his ground ball rate and maintain a line drive rate around 20 percent, I don't see any reason he can't hit .275-.285 or better over a full season.
Contact wise, Pennington is very good, posting an 86 percent contact rate in 2010 while not chasing too many bad pitches. He had shown the ability to draw plenty of walks in the minors, so he could even see a rise in walk rate going forward.
There's nothing flashy about 27-year-old Cliff Pennington, he's just a solid ballplayer. While his game is more geared around defense--he posted a 9.9 UZR in 2010, the third best rating in baseball by a shortstop--his ability to hit line drives and steal around 30 bases could give him some, if even just a small amount, of mixed league value this coming season. In standard 12 team leagues, it is very likely that Pennington starts the season on the waiver/free agent wire. It certainly wouldn't hurt to click that little flag icon next to his name and keep him in mind should the need arise for a shortstop who can steal 30-plus bases.