March 23, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
Any time Mike Napoli gets a bump in playing time in Los Angeles, it is a time for celebration for fantasy fans. Napoli is a good hitter in his own right (career TAv of .287 in 1294 PA), but he is even more highly considered given his status as a catcher. PECOTA is projecting similar rate stats to his career numbers (career slash line of .256/.358/.493), meaning once again that Napoli will be among the most wanted fantasy catchers in the game. With a projected BABIP in the .280-.290 range, Napoli will be only passable in batting average, though his ability to draw walks (career 12.3% and projected 10.7%) should make his OBP solid. Power is where his game shines; how many other catchers could give you an ISO above .230 and almost 33 HR/600 PA?
Of course, Napoli would never garner anything close to 600 PA. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former major league catcher, does not tolerate Napoli's sloppy defense and game-calling behind the plate. The concern is not without reason; BP's own FRAA measures Napoli as 17 runs below average in his career, and other measures are similarly unkind about his defense. As a a result, despite the fact that both Jeff Mathis and Napoli are right handed and show similar platoon splits, Mathis will still sap playing time from a superior hitter. However, with Napoli receiving some PA at DH as well as a 60% share at catcher, 460 PA seems very likely. At that PT, Napoli should still be an excellent option for both AL-only and mixed leagues. Mathis is the typical real-life backup catcher: good defensive reputation, but a black hole on offense that should be avoided by your fantasy team at all costs.
Of the two players competing for playing time at catcher for the Rays, Kelly Shoppach projects as the superior overall offensive player with a projected TAv of .264. However, that production comes with a major fantasy caveat: Shoppach strikes out a lot. For his career, Shoppach has been sat down on strikes 32.5% of the time! With those kind of numbers, it is no surprise he has a career batting average of .241; no player who makes contact less than 63% of the time could ever consistently muster the BABIP necessary to get even a league average AVG. Shoppach nullifies his contact issues by drawing walks and sending pitches a long way when he runs into one; in that respect, he is kind of like Napoli-Light.
Dioner Navarro's fall from 2008 All-Star to 2009 super-dud was precipitous. His 2008 season was exactly league average (.295/.349/.407, TAv of .260), fueled by a .318 BABIP. Going into 2009, you had to figure that number would drop a bit given Navarro's physical shape, but expecting a .231 BABIP would have been absurd. With Navarro's good contact skills, PECOTA projects a regression in BABIP and a more reasonable .260 AVG. Unfortunately, that is about all Navarro brings to the table in fantasy. His low walk rates make his OBP dependent on his AVG. His batted ball profile favors ground balls (career GB% of 41.1%), and when the ball does go in the air, it rarely flies out of the park (career HR/FB% of 6.2%).
If you can withstand Shoppach's AVG, he should give you close to 20 home runs and 50 RBI with 60% PT share at catcher. Shoppach's average OBP should also get him on base for a decent Rays bottom of the order that can drive in their fair share of runs. Consider him a decent option for AL-only leagues, while you should only look towards Navarro if he gets the bulk of the playing time with the Rays.
Those of us waiting for the blazing fantasy comeback of Jose Reyes (myself included) will have to wait a few more weeks, as Reyes is still sidelined from any baseball activity due to his recently diagnosed thyroid condition. PECOTA expects good things upon Reyes' return; pegged now for 70% of the playing time at shortstop, he is still projected to bat .290, steal close to 40 bags and score over 80 runs. The question will be whether he returns on time tor receive that sort of playing time. The time lost to the condition may be difficult to predict, as there is not a lot of precedent from which to draw. Will Carroll recently mentioned that once he returns to the field, he will face an adjustment, perhaps to medication for the condition, but no major problems athletically.
Replacing Reyes in the lineup are two light-hitting players of little fantasy interest. Alex Cora should get the bulk of the playing time at short with Reyes gone, but with the way 20-year old Ruben Tejada has been playing, he might get a decent amount of time there as well. Heater team expert Jon Lewin mentioned that there is a good chance Tejada makes the team because of the recent departure of backup infielder Anderson Hernandez. While Cora will receive the bulk of the time at short, Kevin Goldstein said earlier this month that, if the Mets were to go to Tejada for significant time, it might not be a bad idea because of Tejada's odd status as a relatively polished, if not uninspiring, prospect. Neither of these players should hold much value, especially batting at the bottom of the Mets lineup. You can find better placeholders at shortstop than the Mets currently have.
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