March 16, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
Russell Martin was bound to regress a little after the fantasy nightmare that was the 2009 season. After posting batting averages in the .280-.290 range in each of his first three seasons, he batted .250 thanks to a career-low .284 BABIP. After hitting double-digit home runs in those three seasons, he hit just seven homers in 2009, posting a puny .079 ISO. And after averaging 20 steals in his last two full-time seasons, he only swiped 11 bags. Martin probably isn't the home run hitter he was in 2007 (HR/FB% of 12.2%), but neither is he the popless guy of 2009 (5.4% HR/FB%). With a regression to his career HR/FB% and BABIP, you could once again expect something close to the 2008 version of Martin.
But that will have to be put on hold as Martin will be out 4-6 weeks with a groin pull to start the year. Martin's replacements are fantasy duds. A.J. Ellis will get the bulk of the time at catcher, with Brad Ausmus serving his honorary backup/mentor role. In the minors, Ellis was known for one thing: drawing walks. In 1795 minor league PA, he's drawn 273 walks while striking out 248 times. He also has a minor-league ISO of just .100, with only 17 home runs. Essentially, he walks like Adam Dunn, with Juan Pierre power and Bengie Molina speed. Ausmus is a man who needs no introduction, because he should never be on your fantasy team.
Blake DeWitt and Ronnie Belliard are battling for second base, with DeWitt the early favorite but Belliard the PECOTA-preferred candidate. For a journeyman, Belliard has actually hit fairly well, and PECOTA expects a decent hitter again this season. In the last two seasons, Belliard has put up a 13.3% HR/FB%, producing back-to-back double-digit home run seasons; however, prior to 2008 he never cracked 10%. DeWitt, on the other hand, has shown very little power in the majors (.122 ISO in 474 PA) but better patience (10.1% BB%). Both players should have around average rate stats for their positions and similar RBI totals, with an outside chance at double-digit homers for Belliard.
As Rob McQuown alluded to late last week in his outfield coverage, utility infielder Sean Rodriguez may see some increased playing time at second base. Don't worry, Ben Zobrist's PA are safe; "Zorilla" will get his share of time at shortstop and right field. He is still a decent bet for a 20-20 season, and batting at the heart of a loaded Rays lineup should afford him plenty of runs and RBI. His batting average should be solid, and if your league uses OBP, Zobrist's excellent walk rate should boost you there as well.
Rodriguez has been raking the past three years in Triple-A, batting .296/.396/.620 in 750 PA at that level. However, in that time he has also displayed issues with contact, as his 21.0% K% and 75.2% CT% show. What he lacks in contact, he makes up for in walks and power; PECOTA's 50th percentile projection has Rodriguez posting a 9.7% BB%, a .189 adjusted ISO (adjusting triples to be weighted as doubles), and 25 HR/600 PA. In addition, Rodriguez' 60th percentile neutral batting line of .255/.343/.495 does not seem out of reach based on the peripherals, so there is plausible upside.
Even working from the 50th percentile, Rodriguez' line is around average for a second baseman, and his power should get you 10+ home runs at his Heater-projected playing time. Given said power, even Kelly Shoppach and Pat Burrell should be able to score on his hits, and batting in front of B.J. Upton and a decent top of the order for the Rays should get him to score more often than the usual #8 hitter. If you can handle his batting average, he's a player to consider in AL-leagues, even at 300-350 PA.
Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot are likely to end up platooning at second base for the Cubs. Both players bear striking resemblances to one another according to PECOTA, with both projected around mid-.250 in TAv for 2010. Baker holds the slightest of edges in the power department due to a few more home runs, but with both players expected to bat at the bottom of the Cubs' order, don't expect major differences in RBI or runs. Both are in line for some regression in BABIP, though in opposite directions; Baker isn't enough of a burner on the bases to hold up the .316 BABIP on ground balls from 2009, and Fontenot is equally unlikely to hit .191 on grounders again this season (the league average BABIP on ground balls is around .230-.240). The better bet for average would be Fontenot by a hair given his slightly better contact skills.
Neither player is much of a fantasy option except in NL-only leagues. Fontenot may get a little bit of extra credit if he gets enough playing time backing up Ryan Theriot at shortstop to qualify for the position, but Baker has the overall edge on playing time for the moment. Andres Blanco was to bethe utility middle infielder, but with Fontenot playing some backup shortstop, Blanco may be expendable.
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