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November 30, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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As fellow Hot Spotter Rob McQuown alluded to yesterday, Hot Spots is back in the offseason to cover some of the various moving parts of Hot Stove season and how they might affect your fantasy teams. Moving parts means more to fantasy players than just a new team name in front of their favorite stars. It also can bring more (or less) playing time, increased opportunities for success, and all sorts of other considerations that fantasy players should keep in mind. We hope that we can provide that for you this offseason.

It is fitting that the first three names discussed here are related to the Florida Marlins, as this author happens to spend a lot of time thinking about that team. But while each of these moves has a definite effect on the future of the Marlins, what will they mean for your fantasy teams?

As a fantasy player, you should always be happy about Dan Uggla. For the past five seasons, he has been a lock of 30+ home runs, and even with his occasional struggles, he always puts up a strong enough OBP and excellent power numbers to go over 80 R and RBI every year. As a second baseman, those qualities are quite a rarity, even if they are buttressed by typically low AVG and no speed game. Meanwhile, his real-world weaknesses with the glove have almost no effect on fantasy players; Uggla has played every game in his major league career at the keystone and doesn't figure to move from the position in his new home with the Atlanta Braves.

So with all this consistency, what figures to change between 2010 and 2011? First off, you cannot expect the sort of performance Uggla put up in 2010 to happen again. His .330 BABIP was a career high, and his FB% does not lend itself to high BABIP (career FB% of 45.9%). It does not surprise you that Uggla's AVG is not likely to stay at around .280. A mark closer to .250-.260 is much more likely. However, the move to the Braves should not affect his other traditional 5x5 stats. While he suffered a decrease in walk rate, that was simply a regression from his career-high 13.8% from 2009; his ratio of swing percentage on outside pitches compared to the league average remained solidly in the 70-80% range. The quality of his teammates should not change much either; what Uggla loses in moving away from Hanley Ramirez, he should gain by hitting with the likes of Brian McCann and Chipper Jones. His calling card of power has remained strong for five seasons with no signs of decline (17.2% HR/FB% since 2008), though the old wives' tail that power can fall off at any time still lurks in the minds of all fantasy owners of Three True Outcome sluggers. Still, considering his age of 31 years, he should still be in line for 30+ HR and better than 90 R and RBI along with that more typical AVG, and that sort of production is more than worth it for his offense-light position.

John Buck was one of the beneficiaries of the Marlins' clearing of Uggla's salary from their payroll, signing for three years and $18M in one of the busiest days in Marlins offseason history. Hot Spots has actually discussed Buck a couple times during his breakout 2010 season, mostly adivising fantasy owners that there was almost no way that he would maintain the .280 TAv that he sported. His .335 BABIP was a career high and the basis of his excellent .281/.314/.489 slash line. However, this doesn't mean that the rest of his line is representative of a one-year fluke. The power has always been there for Buck, who has sported a career 12.7% HR/FB% and .178 ISO. He has also once before reached power levels of 2010's magnitude, posting a .207 ISO in 399 PA in 2007.

Buck's move to south Florida from Toronto should come with more than just warmer weather. The Marlins signed Buck for three years and $6M annually with the intent for him to start full-time for the Fish. With Ronny Paulino likely to be non-tendered, the only "competition" for Buck will be John Baker, who is returning from an elbow injury. With no prospects in the immediate horizon, Buck should get an opportunity to collect 500+ PA for the first time in his career, which will do wonders for his raw counting stats. With Buck's power, 20+ HR at that sort of playing time is almost a given. There is some concern that his HR production will drop in the move from the cozy Rogers Center (five-year HR park factor of 1.06) to the more spacious Sun Life Stadium (HR PF of 0.97). However, before 2010, Buck played in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, which was never all that hitter-friendly either (HR PF of 0.95), and he still managed to knock 12.2% of his fly balls out of the park . Given the Marlins' young, improving offense, Buck's RBI count should also be above average for the shallow catcher position. Where he will likely hurt your fantasy team is in the AVG department, where he should hit in the .240-.250 range. If you can withstand that sort of production from the catcher spot, Buck is a good option for supplementing your HR totals.

Omar Infante was one of the two names that arrived in Florida as part of the Dan Uggla trade, and he is the more interesting of the two players going to the Marlins. In the last edition of Hot Spots, Infante was mentioned as one of the surprises of 2010, netting $19 in auction value despite starting the season on the bench in a super-sub role. While his .320/.358/.412 slash line is not likely to be repeated, he still should be a solid contributor if he garners enough playing time. It seems he has grown into his game since arriving in Atlanta in 2007, having hit .307/.353/.411 in those three years. This should not come as much of a surprise, as Infante was 26 years old when he arrived in Atlanta and just finished his age-28 season, meaning he hit his peak on what suspect is more or less the right time. And while that means he is not likely to improve much more on his excellent work in Atlanta, he should still be a serviceable player for the 2011 season for Florida.

Fantasy players and the Marlins are getting a pretty well-known commodity in Infante. He does not pack a huge punch (career HR/FB% of 5.1%), but his role will hardly ever be one of driving in runs. His OBP is fairly dependent on his AVG, as he does not walk much (6.4% BB% since 2008) either. But this is not a terrible omen, as his career .313 BABIP appears more than sustainable given his recent past (.343 BABIP since 2008). His drop in strikeout rates since his days as a Detroit Tiger also are favorable for an inflated AVG. If he can hit the GP2011-projected line of .294/.342/.398, which appears very plausible when compared to his Atlanta seasons, he would be a capable fill-in for your fantasy team at the given playing time. However, with his move to Florida, Infante will be given all the playing time in the world to accumulate the counting stats necessary to approach a repeat of his 2011 value. Provided he stays healthy, this season should provide Infante with his first full-time starting gig since his early years in Detroit, and his fantasy value should benefit from the increase in counting stats alone. Last season, the Braves batted Infante near the top of the order when he took over as a full-time starter in early August, and he responded with solid R totals and a high AVG. Even with a drop to a .290 AVG, a .340+ OBP and more than 600 PA should give Infante enough runs to be worth a later-round selection and/or a starting role in an NL-only league despite moving to a weaker offensive team overall.

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

Related Content:  Florida Marlins,  Time,  John Buck,  Omar Infante

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