March 29, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
Adrian Beltre will hold down Boston’s hot corner in 2010, replacing the aging, increasingly fragile Mike Lowell, whose offseason thumb surgery prevented an offseason trade and scared Boston enough to acquire Bill Hall. Heater’s Evan Brunell says Lowell should get as much playing time as his health allows to showcase him for a trade, and he could miss the start of the season after fouling a ball off his knee. Brunell points out that Lowell’s offense hasn’t suffered from his increasing immobility, and PECOTA agrees that he’ll have very little ratio dropoff from 2009.
Whatever PT Lowell gets won’t be at third, where the Red Sox have utilityman Hall, whose offense is barely acceptable at MIF and not at all at third base. Hall’s high K% explains his weak BA, and his SLG has plummeted from a .437 EqSLG in 2007 to last year’s .350 EqSLG. With plenty of position qualifications, Hall is an acceptable MIF option in a deep AL-only league, but not anywhere else.
Beltre's PECOTA projection places him in average third-base territory, though there’s room for optimism. His EqSLG won’t return to its 2007 peak of .501, but 2009’s power was depressed by a second shoulder surgery and a painful DL stint. Assuming a return to health, Beltre’s power history and recent drop in strikeout rates gives him a good shot to beat PECOTA. His elite days are behind him, but Beltre is a mid-range third-base option who’ll deliver good results in several categories, including SB, with a possible power upside.
In the past three years, Atlanta mixed Adam LaRoche and Mark Teixiera at first base with the less-productive Casey Kotchman and Scott Thorman. They "solved" this in 2010 by sharing time between the more equivalent talents of Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske, and Hinske’s strong spring training performance has allowed Atlanta to keep Martin Prado at second base, where he’s a much more valuable asset.
Troy Glaus will be the primary first baseman, an unfamiliar position, but any position might feel a little unfamiliar after missing most of 2009 due to shoulder surgery rehab and back problems. Because of this, Heater’s Braves expert Martin Gandy doesn’t think Glaus is ready for full time, and PECOTA’s low SLG projections further depress his value; he needs to get into the 80th percentile to be a good 1B play. Other projection systems give him a better SLG, but still not enough to climb above average.
Gandy sees Eric Hinske keeping Glaus rested, perhaps even pushing him to perform better, while Hinske will also back up Chipper Jones. Given the age and health histories of both CIFs, Hinske could be in for even more playing time. Though he brings more HRs and a tad more SBs, Hinske’s a step down from Glaus, since his lower contact rates deflate his average. Also, Hinske’s delivered a .741 OPS in his only other NL experience with Pittsburgh in 2009, which doesn’t bode well. This all makes Glaus a decent end-game pickup in NL-only and deep mixed leagues, while Hinske’s roster flexibility carries some value in the deepest NL-only leagues.
Gaby Sanchez's strong spring training tells Heater’s Michael Jong that Florida’s corner infield situation has come into focus around Jorge Cantu, who will share time at first base with Sanchez but spend most of his time at third, with Wes Helms as his primary backup.
Cantu finally repeated his 2005 breakout season in 2008 by cutting his strikeout rate by five percent and returning to career HR/FB norms. These improved rates boosted his BA by about 20 points when he also increased his FB rate by 11 percent, and Cantu sustained that production in 2009 despite a dropoff in HR rate. When that rate rebounds, he should beat PECOTA, making him even better third-base option. The same can’t be said for Helms, who wouldn’t be a good option even in his 90th PECOTA percentile. Helms’ glove will make him a late-inning replacement for Cantu, and he’ll get starts during interleague play, when Cantu is DHing, or when Sanchez needs a break against tough pitching. And if Cantu needs to replace Sanchez, who’s in his first full MLB season, Helms would slide into third base nearly full-time.
All that PT upside still doesn’t improve Helms’ ratios enough to make him acceptable, no matter how deep your league. Super sub Emilio Bonifacio brings steals, but Gandy agrees that he’s so one-dimensional that he’ll damage your other categories. Cantu’s clearly the guy you want out of this bunch, a very good hot-corner choice in any league, though he’s a bit underpowered at first base in standard mixed leagues.