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March 8, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter

by Michael Street

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Arizona PECOTA 2007-09 Scoresheet Short-Term PT%
First Base Age PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG K% BB% TB/H vRH vLH Rng 1B 3B DH All
Brandon Allen 23 171 6 21 19 1 .251 .321 .448 34% 10% 1.90 +28 –84 1.83 0 0
Conor Jackson 27 582 13 71 70 9 .283 .374 .441 11% 10% 1.54 –20 +52 2.07 5 95
Adam LaRoche 29 630 22 71 83 2 .283 .364 .479 21% 10% 1.76 +32 –88 1.85 95 95
  Avg for First Base .275 .359 .477 17% 11% 1.74 vRH = OPSvR Figures by Heater
  Avg for Third Base .269 .339 .434 18% 9% 1.61 vLH = OPSvL New upgrade
  Avg for Desig. Hitter .263 .350 .468 19% 11% 1.78 Rng = Range New downgrade

The Diamondbacks have never had a full-time 1B with a .500+ SLG, an offensive hole that widened into a chasm in 2009, when the team hit only .228/.321/.396 at that position. Arizona filled that hole by signing the atypical power-hitting Adam LaRoche, who delivers SLG with doubles, not dingers. He’s averaged 38 doubles since 2006, but has only hit more than 25 HRs once, a 32-HR performance in 2006 driven by a career-high 21.2 percent HR/FB.

A consistently slow starter, LaRoche’s career OPS rises steadily from 660 in March to 933 in August, so manager A.J. Hinch must learn patience with him as future 1B Brandon Allen hones his skills at AAA, trying to corral his hefty K% to leverage the power evident in his Bash (TB/H) rate. Allen did well in his first year in AAA in 2009, shrinking his K% from 26% to 19%—further improvement would make him an excellent late-season callup. But Allen won’t be up sooner unless LaRoche hits the DL, where he’s been just once since 2004.

A more likely short-term fix would be Conor Jackson, who has more playing time at 1B than anywhere else, but the peer comparison shows he’s a poor play at a power position. LaRoche’s southpaw struggles could mean a limited platoon with Jackson, but Arizona lacks a front-line LF replacement, so it’s not a long-term solution. Both LaRoche and Jackson make serviceable NL-only 1B options, but are just CIFs in mixed leagues.

Houston PECOTA 2007-09 Scoresheet Short-Term PT%
Third Base Age PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG K% BB% TB/H vRH vLH Rng 1B 3B DH All
Geoff Blum 36 253 7 23 31 0 .257 .320 .397 14% 7% 1.56 –7 +26 2.67 15 15 30
Pedro Feliz 34 470 11 47 58 0 .264 .310 .402 11% 6% 1.57 –19 +49 2.73 85 85
  Avg for First Base .275 .359 .477 17% 11% 1.74 vRH = OPSvR Figures by Heater
  Avg for Third Base .269 .339 .434 18% 9% 1.61 vLH = OPSvL New upgrade
  Avg for Desig. Hitter .263 .350 .468 19% 11% 1.78 Rng = Range New downgrade

Teams like Pedro Feliz for his leather, not the wood, but that tradeoff has become weaker lately. Last season was his first since 2002 with a sub-.400 SLG, a power outage that comes from his groundball tendency. His FB% fell from a career-best 43.3 percent in 2005 to 34.9 percent, second-worst in his career, and he converted those fly balls to home runs at a 6.7 percent rate in 2009, also his worst rate since 2002. That HR rate should return to career levels around 10 percent, but PECOTA shows this barely helping him reach .400 SLG and double-digit HRs. He’s improved his contact rate from 81 to 88 percent since 2006, nudging up his OBP, but a 29-30 percent hit rate will continue to hold down his BA.

Feliz remains well below his peers offensively, and his Astros backup Geoff Blum offers comparably weak skills. Owners who believed Blum’s 2008 power didn’t note his career-high 11.6 percent in HR/FB, double his rate over  the three preceding years. Because he produces HRs at a lower rate than Feliz, this FB trend is bad for Blum in both SLG and BA, and he regressed to an OPS 13 points below Feliz in 2009.

PECOTA’s one of the few projections giving Blum the edge over Feliz in AB/HR—I’d say the reverse is more likely, though they remain very similar players. HEATER’s Brian Joseph expects Blum to spell Feliz occasionally, but not enough to drive up Blum’s value, making Feliz the only one of the Houston pair worth a flier in NL-only or deeper mixed leagues.

Tampa Bay PECOTA 2007-09 Scoresheet Short-Term PT%
Desig. Hitter Age PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG K% BB% TB/H vRH vLH Rng 1B 3B DH All
Willy Aybar 26 186 5 18 20 1 .258 .334 .423 14% 9% 1.63 –19 +43 N/A 10 15
Pat Burrell 32 513 20 53 65 1 .235 .354 .435 22% 16% 1.91 –10 +25 N/A 90 90
  Avg for First Base .275 .359 .477 17% 11% 1.74 vRH = OPSvR Figures by Heater
  Avg for Third Base .269 .339 .434 18% 9% 1.61 vLH = OPSvL New upgrade
  Avg for Desig. Hitter .263 .350 .468 19% 11% 1.78 Rng = Range New downgrade

Tampa Bay brought in "Pat the Bat" to help at a position where the Rays produced a 751 OPS in 2008, a level Burrell had exceeded 9 of his 10 MLB seasons. Instead, Burrell disappointed, losing a month to herniated discs in his neck that dogged him the whole season and may explain his career-worst 2009. Always patient at the plate, Burrell slipped from averaging 17.4 BB% from ’06-08 to just 12 percent in 2009. His K% had dropped from 24.3 percent in 2004 to 21.1 percent in 2008, but it ricocheted back up to 25 percent in 2009. And he went from clobbering lefties at one of the league’s best rates (.286/.426/.550) to looking lost against them (.202/.336/.252).

Burrell also had a poor second half in 2008, but players don’t suddenly regress across the board like this at age 32. It’s far more likely that he was hampered by his injuries, priming him for a rebound that would surpass that PECOTA projection. In case he doesn’t, the Rays will look to Willy Aybar, a versatile switch-hitter, whose lower K% should help him beat Burrell’s BA, though he hasn’t shown any power since his small-sample 2005 debut.

Aybar could garner playing time if Maddon grants Burrell's request to play in the OF more often. If Burrell’s struggles persist, Aybar could play more, too, but only until they found a longer-term replacement. Aybar's youth gives him a touch of upside, so he could be worth a late flier in deep leagues. The real steal is Burrell, however, whose 2009 struggles may have soured other league owners, giving you the chance to snag him at a substantial discount.

Related Content:  Conor Jackson,  Brandon Allen

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

hessshaun

Terribly insightful. Thank you.

Mar 08, 2010 06:49 AM
rating: 1
 
dianagram

"The Diamondbacks have never had a full-time 1B with a .500+ SLG,"

Reading this made me remembering Tony Clark's aberrational 2005, and made me look this up ...

Thanks in large part to Clark, in 2005, the Snakes' composite 1Bs slugged .574
http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/split.cgi?t=b&team=ARI&year=2005#defp

There was Chad Tracy
http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?n1=tracych01&year=2005&t=b#defp

And this contribution from Tony Clark
http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?n1=clarkto02&year=2005&t=b#defp

(talk about catching lightning in a bottle)

Mar 08, 2010 06:53 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Not sure if you're contradicting or expanding here, but the D-backs have had several guys contribute to a .500+ SLG at 1B. Guys like Greg Colbrunn (99 games in 2000), Erubiel Durazo (44 games in '99, 26 games in '01, 56 games in '02), Richie Sexson (23 games in '04) have slugged over .500, but only in part-time roles. Some of them have played more at 1B than anyone else, but that doesn't equate to "full-time."

Chad Tracy's 2005 was also just a part-time gig at 1B, as his 145 games featured only 80 (72 starts) at 1B. Tony Clark played the other 83 games at 1B (with only 70 starts).

Arizona's been able to get production from the position with cobbled-together (and aberrational) seasons like this, but the hope is that LaRoche can do it all by himself.

Thanks for the comment!

Mar 08, 2010 09:20 AM
 
dianagram

Not contradicting, Michael. I just remembered Tony Clark having a monster year in '05, and couldn't remember if he was "regular" enough in terms of PAs to be considered full-time.

Nice article!

Mar 08, 2010 15:38 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Thanks, dianagram--I've seen your comments elsewhere, and appreciate the input (and compliments) of a BP regular commentator!

Mar 08, 2010 16:09 PM
 
davelamb

Is the point of "Hot Spots" to highlight changes in BP's playing time assumptions during the month of March?

If that's the case, I love the concept of you guys calling them out instead of forcing me to find them. Again, assuming this is the point of Hot Spots -- are you just going to call out changes that you find interesting, or are you going to call out all the significant changes?

Mar 08, 2010 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

The PT changes in "Hot Spots" actually come from writers at HEATER, John Burnson's weekly online magazine, which features team specialists and fantasy experts (like me) from across the web. We follow our teams and update PT based on news, roster changes, Spring Training playing time, or our own educated assumptions. Those are the changes highlighted in color at the right end of the team profiles. Marc brought us on board at BP because he loves the consistent, deep, wire-to-wire team and player coverage we provide.

"Hot Spots" will come out M-F, with each day focusing on a different cluster of positions and the ongoing battles there, each one covered by a different HEATER writer. Mondays, I'll write about the CIF and DH spots; Tuesdays, Michael Jong will write on MIF and C; Wednesdays, Rob McQuown covers OF; RPs by Lee Panas will run Thursdays; and Bill Baer rounds out the week with a Friday post on SPs.

Each of us will focus on recent significant changes, as identified by the HEATER team experts. We'll continue this format through the regular season, as position changes are always in flux, affected by injury, call-ups, poor performances, managerial decisions etc.

The judgment about what's "interesting" vs. "significant" are (of course) subjective ones, and we're looking at three teams per column. So "Hot Spots" can't talk about every change every week, since that would be nearly impossible, but there are loads of other BP fantasy writers to round out the coverage.

I didn't include KC's situation now that Alex Gordon is out, for example, because I was well into the column by the time the news broke, but Craig Brown was all over it.

Thanks for your question, Dave, and we at HEATER look forward to helping BP provide you with the best fantasy coverage on the web!

Mar 08, 2010 11:02 AM
 
iorg34

Wow -- sweet. BP needed a major upgrade in the relevance, coherence, and timeliness of its fantasy analysis. Looking forward to your updates and hope to follow them all summer.

An excellent move that might quell some of the outcry over Baseball Prospectus losing Sheehan and a perceived emphasis shift from BP to Beanie Propeller. Thanks BP!

Mar 08, 2010 11:13 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Thanks right back atcha, iorg (and shaun above)--

We like the opportunity to write for such a savvy BP audience, and look forward to your comments, questions, and feedback throughout the season!

Mar 08, 2010 11:31 AM
 
anderson721

Is it safe to assume that Burrell is 100%?

Mar 08, 2010 15:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

I don't think it's ever safe to assume 100% for injuries like this, even when Burrell claims he's healthy (as he does). Guys trying to bounce back in a contract year aren't going to be terribly honest.

That said, I think he's healthier than last year, and bears watching in ST to see if he's for real. It was Burrell's first time on the DL since at least 2005, but he's had back problems in the past.

That the Rays continue to pursue Blalock could indicate how much they believe Burrell's claims of health. The latest I've heard is that they're close to a minor-league deal with Blalock; don't be shocked to see them in a platoon if both prove healthy, which could drag Burrell's value down significantly.

Thanks for the question!

Mar 08, 2010 16:21 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

The Rays might also be going for Blalock as a backup for Carlos Pena who was hurt for part of last year.

Mar 09, 2010 13:45 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Good point, Richard. In an ideal world, Blalock could fill in at both corners and at DH, assuming he stays healthy. Throw enough injury-prone guys on the field, and you figure one's gonna stay healthy.

Mar 10, 2010 17:23 PM
 
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