March 22, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
* = Range at primary fielding position
Adam Lind’s 2009 slash line of .305/.370/.562 2009 was Toronto’s best ever full-time DH OPS. Alex Rios’s departure has opened up an OF spot for Lind, despite his stonework glove. This puts top offensive prospect Travis Snider in the DH picture, but Snider’s spring hitting has made that picture increasingly dim.
Snider exploded to hit 3 HRs in 2 days this weekend, but even that wasn’t enough for Cito Gaston to confirm his spot on the Opening Day roster, let alone as the starting DH. That could be because Snider was only hitting .200 before that outburst, and is showing a 70% contact rate. Instead, starting honors could go to Randy Ruiz, who hit .313/.385/.635 in 130 PAs last season, which including an elevated 30% strikeout and 45% hit rates, along with an unsustainable 31.3% HR/FB rate. Though he’s hit well against Triple-A pitching, PECOTA sees those numbers and doesn’t see Ruiz coming anywhere near his 2009 MLB production, not even in his 90th percentile.
After Lind and Ruiz, the Toronto DH pickings are mighty slim. Lyle Overbay’s decreasing ABs against lefties have improved his offensive ratios, but he’s already slotted for 1B and can’t platoon with Ruiz. Vernon Wells’ fluctuating hit and contact rates have led to his inconsistent recent performance, and he’ll need to hit above his 70th PECOTA percentile to be a decent DH option. Snider and Lind remain the best long-term fantasy DH options, but only Lind is a lock for enough playing time to be a good draft day bet in standard leagues; keeper owners will want to stash Snider away.
Milwaukee’s enjoyed small-market success by building from within, and Mat Gamel should be the next farm-team star. Last season, he had the perfect chance to shine after Bill Hall staggered out of the gate, but Gamel couldn’t capitalize, turning in an awful 42% strikeout rate and a .242 average. His .288 TAv hinted at his potential, however, so the Crew hoped he’d compete with Casey McGehee for the 3B spot in spring training.
Instead, Gamels’ torn lat muscle will leave him off the Opening Day roster, giving the job to Rookie of the Year candidate McGehee, who finished 2009 with a .305 TAv despite knee tendinitis. Offseason arthroscopic knee surgery made McGehee healthy, but it’s not likely he’ll put up numbers like he did in 2009. Though McGehee’s walk and strikeout rates matched his minor-league averages, his power production didn’t—his best SLG down on the farm was .429. And in the second half, McGehee slugged just .469. PECOTA sees him slipping back below peer average, but he only needs to reach his 60th percentile to exceed that average.
Gamel will be waiting in Triple-A if McGehee struggles, and the increased work should help solidify his skills. Craig Counsell is valuable to the Crew for his veteran presence and versatility, but he’s really only a good fantasy play at shortstop. McGehee will have a fairly short leash once Gamel is healthy, but should give you a decent batting average without last year’s power.
Needing a power-hitting first baseman, the Giants settled for Aubrey Huff after failing to sign Adam LaRoche. Huff, however, is a lefty “in a park that swallows left-handed hitters not named Barry Bonds whole,” as HEATER team expert Paul Bugala puts it. Additionally, Huff struggles to hit for power against southpaws, with a career 72-point platoon split in SLG that undercuts the power he’s supposed to bring.
The other 1B candidates’ Scoresheet splits show they can’t hit lefties, either—and Travis Ishikawa can’t hit anyone for power. Shifting lefty-mashing Posey to 1B makes little sense for his catching development, but swinging the bat rather than ride the pine will help his hitting. Based on Posey’s spring-training performance, Bugala sees Posey getting ABs in a double switch or occasional start at 1B.
The playing time will help Posey’s value more than the qualification, just as Pablo Sandoval’s 1B qualification shouldn’t change where you’ll play him. Eventually, Bugala sees John Bowker in a 1B platoon with Huff if Bowker can handle big-league lefties the way he did at Triple-A. Huff may not even succeed against righties, having slugged over .450 against them once in the past three seasons: in 2008, when a spike in fly ball and HR rate gave him his second-best SLG and HR production ever. PECOTA doesn’t foresee productive ratios for Huff no matter who he’s facing, giving him until his 70th percentile to get above peer average. Huff will have decent value in NL-only leagues, but remains a fringy option in all but the deepest mixed leagues.