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December 7, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Welcome to yet another week of Hot Spots' coverage of the offseason. As more moves pour in, the staff here at BP Fantasy is going to be covering the moves for you with an eye towards fantasy production. Let's go over some of this week's moves.

Hot Spots apologizes for the oversight of having not covered Victor Martinez last week, but he is of course an important name worthy of discussion this week. Martinez signed a four-year deal worth $50M a few weeks back, and he figures to remain a constant mixture in the fantasy catching world in 2010. Of course, the important news for Martinez owners in 2011 is that while he remains a backstop for fantasy baseball purposes, his role in Detroit is a good deal different. According to Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, Martinez will serves as the Tigers' primary designated hitter, catching only two to three times a week. Not only does this afford more time for young Alex Avila (who could be an interesting name for 2011 as well), but it keeps Martinez and his 32-year old body away from the tools of ignorance. Martinez' primary fantasy concern since 2007 has been injury; he missed much of the 2007 season and missed time this past season with thumb and toe injuries directly related to his catching duties. Going from being primarily a catcher (he started just 12 games at first base last season) to DHing in more than 50% of his games may hurt his real-life value but significantly improve his fantasy value in 2011, provided he holds onto catcher eligibility.

The move to Detroit and Comerica Park could certainly have an effect on Martinez' offense. For a guy who lacks towering power (2010 average true HR distance by HitTracker of 392.7 feet, about three feet below the AL average), one would expect his power to be drained slightly. In addition, the obvious effect of moving away from Fenway Park's Green Monster should have a depressing effect on his doubles. However, some of this decrease may be mitigated by the fact that, according to StatCorner's individual stat park factors, Comerica actually promotes HR slighlty. Even with a decrease in power numbers, Martinez' peripherals (particularly his annually low K%) should maintain another season of a .300 AVG, and his position as one of the best hitters on the 2011 Tigers roster should guarantee him a high batting order position and lots of opportunities to score and drive in runs. Expecting a slight decrease in RBI and possibly HR, Martinez would still be a prime option in any league, especially with the DH-induced decreased injury risk.

Much of Derek Jeter's value has been discussed this offseason well before he signed his three-year extension over the weekend; this is probably the best link that one can provide for that type of news coverage. But now that he has resigned with the Yankees, his fantasy value is once again of interest to owners for 2011. Much has been made of Jeter's (relatively) terrible 2010 (.270/.340/.370, 10 HR, 111 R, 67 RBI, 18 SB), but it was only a year before that that the Captain hit 18 HR and batted .334/.406/.465. Neither of those Jeters should make an appearance in 2011, as both have anomalous numbers behind them; Jeter's BABIP is not likely to stray as far from his career average of .356 as it did in 2010 (.307), but his HR/FB% should not approach 14.6% again after hovering around 9.5% since 2007. However, one alarming aspect of Jeter's game was drastically pronounced last season; he posted the highest GB% of his career at over 65%. The increased GB%, up from his typical percentage around 57.0%, could be random variation, but it could also be the sign of significantly poorer contact by Jeter.

The suspicion is that Jeter still has a season or two left of solid hitting, and fantasy fans know that to be a "solid" hitter as a shortstop, you do not have to do much. Last season, shortstops batted .262/.319/.374, and a bit of regression to mean for Jeter should get him above those marks. At the very least, expecting an AVG close to or just above .300 seems like a given barring complete collapse of Jeter's game. With his plate discipline numbers essentially static with his career standards (14.3% K% and 8.5% BB% compared to career 14.9% and 9.0% respectively), an AVG around .300 should get Jeter on base often enough to score over 100 R again and pick up his usual steal totals.

Jose Lopez had one of those seasons which was astonishing in absolutely horrendous way. After posting a respectable .285/.313/.453 slash line from 2008-2009 as a right-handed power hitter in Safeco Field of all places, Lopez' offensive production bottomed out with his move to third base in 2010. Lopez owners don't need to be reminded that he hit just .239/.270/.339, losing his power (ISO of .100 in 2010 versus .168 in 2008-2009) while suffering a hefty drop in BABIP and subsequently AVG in the process. In other words, Lopez' 2010 season was a complete train wreck, both fantasy- and reality-wise. It came as no surprise that the Seattle Mariners were willing to trade him, dealing him to the Colorado Rockies for minor-league righty Chaz Roe.

Lopez looks to be a depth option for the Colorado Rockies, but he could end up back at second base next season if the Rockies do not have enough confidence in younger players like Chris Nelson or Hot Spots favorite Eric Young Jr. If Lopez ends up earning significant playing time for the Rox, expect his numbers to receive the prototypical Coors bump. Lopez is undoubtedly not as bad as he showed last season, and a friendlier hitting environment along with some regression to the mean could help spark a return to at least the level we saw in 2009, when Lopez hit .272 and knocked 25 HR out. If anything, he is someone to keep an eye on for NL leagues as we enter Spring Training and the 2B competition heats up in Colorado.

Rod Barajas came over to Los Angeles in a late-season deal in 2010 and had a very impressive first week with the team, batting .400/.478/.950 and belting three HR from August 24 to August 31. After that, he returned to being Rod Barajas, batting .250/.306/.409 and hitting two more HR in his remaining 49 PA. However, that apparently was enough to get the Dodgers to agree to a one-year deal worth $3.25M, much to the ire of Hot Spots' very own Mike Petriello. Fantasy-wise, Barajas is a decent power-hitting catcher who has no other discernible tools at the plate. He has slugged above .400 in six of the past seven seasons and has belted more than 10 HR in each of those six seasons despite fluctuating playing time. However, he has broken a .300 OBP in two seasons in his career and is not exactly the type of guy who will hit for an AVG above .250 consistently. While that is acceptable for a free agent catcher on a one-year deal for the Dodgers, fantasy owners can do a good deal better than Barajas. Barajas figures to be the starter for the Dodgers and gain over 400 PA if he remains on the team, but unless you need the HR help badly, let someone else get stuck with this backstop on their NL-only team.

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:  Rod Barajas

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