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December 6, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter

by Rob McQuown

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The long-anticipated trade of Adrian Gonzalez is now official, after the Twitter-fueled rumor mill had it stopping and starting again all weekend like a car in rush hour traffic. Christina Kahrl offers baseball insights on this move, describing Adrian Gonzalez as the eighth-best batter in the major leagues While various critics or supporters might quibble about that exact ranking, few (as in virtually no one) would disagree that he's a top-10 hitter, and none can dispute that Boston is a great place to hit. Even if one assumes that “Gonzo” has no control over his hit location (which is a very conservative assumption), his hit chart for games at Petco (from MLB.com) has a blur of red “f”s (fly outs) in left field that would certainly have all been hits of some flavor if he'd called Fenway Park home.

Being dropped into a high-functioning lineup in a park which helps hitting is no doubt going to immediately make Gonzalez an MVP candidate, and thoughts of him posting Papi-esque totals of 50 and 140 are not just dreams (David Ortiz averaged 50.5 and 142.5 between 2005-2006). And that makes him a fantasy MVP candidate, as well, even without any speed. The only slight caution is that the last in-prime lefty bat the Red Sox brought in was J.D. Drew, who had similarly great park-adjusted career stats when he arrived and has posted an OPS of just 853 in Boston, compared to his career OPS of 886 (yes, OPS is a lame stat, but it demonstrates that his base stats didn't improve with the move to Boston). Gonzalez has two notable advantages over Drew, however. First, he's reliably healthy, playing 160 or more games every year for the past four. And – despite leading the league in walks in 2009 – he draws fewer (unintentional) walks than Drew: 788 UBB in 5867 PA (14%) for Drew vs. 320 UBB in 3630 PA (9%) for Gonzalez. This means that more of Gonzalez's value is derived from his power, definitely an edge for fantasy players.

By all rumors, the Adam Dunn signing should have been long-anticipated as well. The “buzz” was that Kenny Williams tried to trade Daniel Hudson for Dunn, and when Mike Rizzo didn't have (that much) interest in Hudson, he traded Hudson for Edwin Jackson, with the intent to “flip” Jackson to the Nats for Big Donkey. Well, he ended up “trading” the team's first-round pick, with the Nats netting a couple early picks, due to the quirks of the compensation system. There are all sorts of expectations for Dunn in the great home run park which is US Cellular Field. Around Chicago, it seems that anything shy of 45 homers will be considered a bust season, and most are expecting more like 50. Don't pay for 45 homers in fantasy bidding.  US Cellular will help Dunn, yes. But shorter dimensions are less helpful to a guy like Dunn than a player with medium power (envision a probability distribution curve for his fly balls, and since his span is so much larger, relatively few balls – area under the curve – would turn into home runs with a small change in fence location). He hasn't played in that park, but his stats in Great American Ballpark are .254/.384/.556, barely different from his career stat line.

On the plus side, Dunn is a known commodity. He'll hit 40 homers, almost like clockwork, and he'll struggle to hit .260. Depending on who's around him (there have been constant talks of trading Carlos Quentin, the team's best remaining hitter among the full-time players, and Konerko won't repeat his 2010 stats even if he returns), Dunn will either see a lot of intentional walks or a huge amount of intentional walks. He's healthy, and has very little downside.

Andy Marte signed a minor-league contract with Pittsburgh.

The best prospect in baseball and a future superstar. As a 20-year-old toiling in the mostly hitter-unfriendly Southern League, Marte hit .269/.364/.525. In only 387 at-bats, he smacked 52 extra-base hits. He's got monstrous power and a broad base of hitting skills. In his prime, expect a few seasons of Adrian Beltre, circa 2004. [Baseball Prospectus 2005]

The 20-year-old superstar-to-be is now 27, and his some would point to his big 2009 numbers in AAA and suggest that he still has a future as a full-time player. But he's turned into a questionable defender, and his .340 BABIP in AAA in 2009 is 88 points higher than his career BABIP in the major leagues (.252 in 924 PA). The Pirates don't have a spot for him, other than as a corner infield backup and competition for their weak first base options (yes, that's you, Garrett Jones). But they are still in the “try to catch lightning in a bottle” phase, and there's no risk here. Similarly, if he's around after the auction (or when the dregs of the $1 options are being taken), he could fill an NL-only team's bench slot and have more upside than a lot of players.

Another former top third-base prospect, Eric Hinske, also signed this past week. He re-joined the Braves in the same role. Really, nothing has changed from his prognosis last June, added to Value Picks when he was riding high at .317/.390/.558. He has always hit righty pitching harder, and can hit some valuable home runs. He's also a danger to go into a long slump at any time. He's 33 and his 2010 rate stats are about the same as his career rate stats (as were his 2009 rate stats and 2008 rate stats). What you see is what you get with Hinske.

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

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