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July 6, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games Scoresheet
Ian Desmond WAS 275 4 28 34 6 .255 .292 .380 .243 .299 .380 0 0 75 –12 +29 4.75
Bill Hall BOS 163 6 21 19 3 .227 .327 .404 .227 .294 .409 0 12 4 –33 +68 --
John Jaso TBR 191 3 24 26 3 .274 .398 .389 .250 .346 .368 45 0 0 +23 –67 .62/.22
Felipe Lopez STL 208 4 26 18 5 .272 .348 .402 .263 .337 .375 0 16 20 –4 +11 4.27
Ronny Paulino FLO 230 3 25 28 0 .299 .343 .407 .270 .328 .384 55 0 0 –23 +48 .67/.28
Skip Schumaker STL 293 2 40 19 4 .255 .316 .327 .277 .338 .360 0 64 0 +48 –158 4.22
Neil Walker PIT 128 3 18 12 2 .294 .328 .454 .268 .323 .459 26 0 0 –4 +11 --
  Avg for Catcher .256 .324 .397   vRH = OPS v RH
  Avg for Second Base .274 .337 .409   vLH = OPS v LH
  Avg for Shortstop .272 .329 .396   Rng = Range

The Changes

Not much in the way of changes this week on Value Picks, as the portfolio mirrors the pool of available "underrated" players and remains fairly stagnant. While two major injuries to big middle infielders (Dustin Pedroia and Troy Tulowitzki) have infused new blood into the pool of available players, not many of these new names are all that interesting. Meanwhile, few catchers who are predicted to get more than 80% playing time from our Heater short-term projections are available in more than 80% of ESPN mixed leagues, meaning that most catchers are either taken or not good enough to be full-time starters for their real teams.

The one player (re)joining the VP portfolio is Neil Walker, who only needed a clean bill of health to return to the list. There was concern that Walker would have to go to the DL after suffering a concussion a week and a half ago. He missed most of last week recovering from concussion symptoms before returning for two games. In those two games, Walker went 2-for-7 and scored a pair of runs, signaling a return to full-time play. The Pirates have few options and little need to go to anyone but Walker, so expect the full playing time load at second base and reap the benefits of his power. PECOTA's current projection, adjusted for Pittsburgh's environment, calls for a very strong .459 slugging complete with eight more home runs in 285 PA. The OBP projection seems a bit optimistic given Walker's lack of patience, but even a .260/.300/.450 slash line would be more than acceptable out of a second baseman.

Leaving Value Picks this week is former VP mainstay Ian Desmond. The choice between Desmond and Skip Schumaker was a difficult one, and ultimately boiled down to a few factors. Nationals manager Jim Riggleman has attempted to fit more playing time in for Adam Kennedy, which resulted in squeezing some PT out of Desmond. Desmond is also hitting at the bottom of the Nationals lineup, whereas Schumaker bats at the top of the superior Cardinals lineup. This affords Schumaker more PA even when both are in the lineup. Finally, PECOTA favors Schumaker going forward, pegging him for a .268 TAv for his 50th percentile projection. If Desmond could show something on the basepaths, this discussion would be a bit different. However, because he bats eighth in the lineup and has had a prolonged difficulty drawing walks, he is often neither on-base enough or in the correct situation in which to steal.

The Incumbents

Felipe Lopez was put on warning for the second week in a row after uninspiring performances had dropped his season AVG to .248. He seemed to have listened to my warning, as he responded with a monster week. Lopez had 26 PA since June 29 and went .435/.500/.478 in that timespan, scoring seven runs in the process. This jump-started his AVG from .248 to .272, dragging his slash line up accordingly. With that, Lopez' BABIP stands at .322, essentially right at his career mark (.320). At this level, you would accept his production, and reaching his 60th percentile projection of .288/.363/.420 is not terribly farfetched either. Add to that double-digit steals (which should happen given his likely playing time) and you can get a nice package that is still available in 93% of ESPN mixed leagues.

Bill Hall had a poor first week as the replacement to Dustin Pedroia in Boston, as he started the gig going 2-for-13 with two walks. Luckily for him, at least one of those hits was a home run, and he drove in two runs as well. All this in only 15 PA, as Hall was given a day off during the week as well. Heater expert Evan Brunell expects Hall to get the vast majority of playing time at second base while Pedroia is on the DL even though the Red Sox also acquired uitlity man Eric Patterson from Oakland. Given Hall's presence in the best offense in baseball (Boston has a team TAv of .278) and his power, he is worth a look in AL-only leagues.

Ronny Paulino finally had a bad week, batting .235/.235/.235 after being the model of .300/.330/.420 consistency the last month. Finally, that average may be on track to regression, but his power should also trend upwards after a down year so far in 2010. One thing to watch with Paulino are his platoon matchups; even though he has played full-time every since John Baker went on the DL in May, Paulino still has not figured out right-handers, batting an unsurprising .268/.329/.348. It still is not as bad as his career .254/.309/.347 line, but it is not atypical and certainly not good for a full-time starter. Still, Paulino is one of the best hitting catchers in the NL right now, and he projects better and/or with more playing time than all but four other NL catchers.

John Jaso continues to get on base for the Rays, batting .308/.400/.308 last week and scoring four runs for the team. At this point, it should be obvious that power is not Jaso's strong suit, and batting leadoff for the Rays is not going to help the RBI totals much. In addition, expect a slight dropoff in AVG as a result of regression in his strikeouts. Right now, Jaso has maximized his value by avoiding strikeouts, but PECOTA has him whiffing in about 15% of his PA at his 50th percentile, so expect a few more K's in the future. His current .289 BABIP is around where PECOTA has him, so there is no concern of regression in that deparment. Still, with his solid plate discipline, he should still post a good OBP and provide plenty of value for a catcher.

Quick Addendum: In response to friel27's question from last week's Hot Spots: yes, I do believe that Kinsler will be pretty good going forward. If you own, you should have no concerns. The power will be back, as will the steals. Don't expect 2009-level power, however; that performance was bound to regress. Rather, expect the higher averagea and the lower power output, somewhere in between his ridiculous 2008 and his solid 2009. I apologize for not getting to your question earlier.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

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