April 6, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
With the lack of depth at shortstop, many fantasy players who missed out on the early-round names are filling the position with one-category speedsters like Elvis Andrus and Alcides Escobar who will not kill you in AVG and runs and will contribute heavily in steals. Lost in this legitimate strategy is Marco Scutaro, a guy who does not have speed to burn but provides better balance in his categories. As of this writing, Scutaro is owned in only 62% of ESPN leagues, despite coming off a career year in which he scored 100 runs, batted .280+, and stole 14 bags. None of those stats are groundbreaking in traditional roto leagues, but they are worthy of a player who should do a bit more than ride the fantasy team pine.
The reasoning against Scutaro lies in the outlier 13.2% BB% which fuelled Scutaro's impressive .379 OBP and got him on base to score those runs. Since he had never walked at that kind of rate before, I imagine many wrote him off as bench fodder for 2010. The truth is that Scutaro only changed one thing in his approach: he stopped swinging at pitches both outside and inside the strike zone, a very repeatable change. Scutaro dropped his swing rate in the zone from the low 60% to 55.2%, allowing him to see more pitches and draw more walks. When he does swing, he has no issues making contact, yielding a consistent, if unimpressive AVG. PECOTA projects the move to Fenway should keep his AVG inflated in the .280 range. Batting with his OBP skills at the bottom of the Red Sox lineup puts him in front of good hitters in Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, ensuring that Scutaro will once again provide decent run totals. Given the consistency of Scutaro's contact and plate discipline, his contributions should be more assured than the performances of younger, upside-laden shortstops.
Of the two catchers on Oakland's 25-man roster on Opening Day, one is an unusually sturdy and unexciting choice, while the other is a strange player with some interesting potential. Marc Normandin ranked Kurt Suzuki in the three-star tier in his catcher rankings primarily because of his excellent durability; Suzuki has gathered up 588 (3rd among all catchers) and 614 PA (second) in 2008 and 2009 respectively. He is a solid bet for another 600 PA, which would give a strong boost to his counting stats despite a below-average offensive repertoire. Unlike the average catcher, Suzuki's decent contact skills (career 87.2% contact rate) guarantee him a solid AVG even with a low BABIP. ESPN has him owned in only 72% of leagues, which means he and his durbability (with perhaps even slight upside, if you believe PECOTA) may still be underrated.
Oakland is probably counting on that durability as well, because Jake Fox cannot be considered more than a part-time option defensively at catcher. Fox spent last season with the Cubs and showed one major tool: power. In just 241 PA, he drove 11 HR (off a not-absurd 13.3% HR/FB%) and drove in 41 runs. He doesn't do much else well, and that includes displaying plate discipline; Fox swung at 56.7% of all pitches he saw, including 37.7% of pitches out of the zone. This manifested in an awful 5.6% BB%. Still, PECOTA likes the power enough to project 14 HR in only 327 PA. Lacking other skills, he would be a poor option at first or third base, but at catcher he looks far more appealing as a waiver wire pickup in AL leagues or in deeper mixed leagues. Even with Suzuki in front of him, Heater Expert Melissa Lockard has him spending a lot of time covering first and DH, and with Jack Cust recently designated for assignment, this can only increase Fox' playing time.
When Ian Desmond tore up the final month of the season with a .298 TAv, most fans expected him to start Opening Day in 2010. That made the offseason signing of free agent second baseman Adam Kennedy all the more confusing. It seems Desmond's continued torrid pace in Spring Training won him the shortstop job, squeezing Christian Guzman to the bench. Heater expert Paul Bugala has Guzman still taking 25% of the playing time at second and 20% of the PT at short along with snagging 10% of the PT in both corner outfield spots in an effort to fit his bat into the lineup.
While Desmond has done nothing but rake at the big league level, PECOTA is unimpressed, pegging him for a below-average season for a shortstop. His biggest contributions are likely going to be in HR (projected at 15.5 HR/600 PA) and steals (projected 15 steals in 580 PA). But with just a .248 projected AVG and a lack of extensive track record for success in the minors, you are probably better off getting one of the one-category speedy shortstops even in your deeper NL leagues. Desmond also has some concerns on defense, where he is generally considered poor at shortstop; an early ugly performance on defense may leave him on the bench and with less playing time. Guzman has always been good for a solid AVG between .280-.300, but he is allergic to walks (career BB% of 4.5%) and thus struggles to post even an average OBP. With playing time, he'll benefit from batting in front of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, but that is in limbo at the moment. Keep an eye on Desmond's continued performance, as he may be worth a bench spot in NL leagues if he can stick at short. If he declines, Guzman can help in two categories if you're in dire need.
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