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December 14, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Another week is in the books, and Hot Spots is once again covering offseason moves and how they affect the fantasy game. Let's take a look at some changes in the world of catchers, second basemen, and shortstops.

J.J. Hardy was once again the subject of an offseason trade, this time heading to the Baltimore Orioles after a disappointing stint with the Minnesota Twins. Hardy's problem in a Twins uniform was staying on the field, as he struggled with a sprained wrist for much of the early portion of the season. When he returned to the Twins lineup on June 3 following his second DL stint, Hardy stuck and finished the rest of the season strong, batting .302/.356/.436 with 14 doubles and three homers in 202 PA. With that tear, he brought his slash line from an ugly .217/.265/.333 to his season total of .268/.320/.394 line. While the slash line may look mostly unimpressive, it adds up to a slightly better than average performance when park-adjusted (.262 TAv) and compares favorably when pitted against the league average shortstop line of .264/.313/.374.

Between 2007 and 2008, Hardy hit 50 HR and was one of the better power threats at the shortstop position. However, after two years of below average power (2009-2010 ISO of .121), it is unlikely he returns to being a 20+ HR performer in 2011. However, there are two positive signs that should point towards a resurgence in Hardy's power numbers. One factor should be a return to full health; a healthy wrist should go a long way towards helping Hardy drive balls out of the park in 2011. The second factor is the move away from Target Field, which by all early accounts appears to be a run-suppressing park, to one of the hitter-friendliest parks in baseball in Camden Yards. Particularly intriguing about the move is the change in HR park factor. Patriot's five-year regressed factors have Camden Yards inflating home runs by eight percent (after accounting for home team players playing only half of their games in the park), while StatCorner's park factors have Baltimore's park inflating dingers by upwards of 20%. These two factors should combine to get Hardy over the 15 HR mark, which would put him in decent company; only nine shortstops hit the 15 HR mark in 2010. The rest of Hardy's game should remain mostly static, as his K% and BB% peripherals have remained mostly similar throughout his career (14.4% K% and 7.5% BB% in 2010 compared to 14.3% K% and 8.1% BB% career), so expecting another .260-.270 AVG with around a .320 OBP is a safe bet. In other words, barring an unlikely 2008-like collapse, Hardy should provide only improvement in 2011, and that should put him in the lower tier of starting-caliber shortstops in mixed leagues.

The man Hardy will be displacing is Cesar Izturis, who starte 142 games at shortstop for the Orioles last season. No matter how poorly Hardy played in the last two seasons, he could not possibly match Izturis' level of play in 2010. Up until last season, Izturis was a career .259/.298/.331 hitter, your classic light-hitting backup infielder. In 2010, he took that to a whole new level, batting just .230/.277/.268 in 514 PA, yielding a terrible .204 TAv and totalling -1.4 WARP on the year. Izturis resigned with the Orioles this offseason, but thankfully for them he will be manning the bench as a utility infielder and late defensive replacement rather than throwing over 500 PA down the drain.

Brendan Ryan was best known for being chewed out quite publicly by Chris Carpenter after a series of gaffs during a game versus the Cincinnatti Reds, but along the way he also happened to have a very poor season at the plate. In 2010, he hit just .223/.279/.294, worth a measly .220 TAv, in 486 PA for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards decided they were best with Ryan Theriot at shortstop, trading Ryan to the Seattle Mariners for minor leaguer Maikel Cleto. Ryan's bat will never be fantasy worthy (career .254/.314/.344 hitter in 1332 PA), but given enough playing time, he can contribute double-digit steal totals at an efficient rate (39-for-52 career, 75% success rate). He should get plenty of playing time for the Mariners, who need someone to man second base before Dustin Ackley arrives, but he should not make it onto your fantasy team anytime soon.

Ronny Paulino spent last season as the primary catcher for the Florida Marlins, as he was thrust into the situation due to John Baker's season-ending elbow injury which required Tommy John surgery. Given the first opportunity to start full-time since his stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates ended, Paulino showed why he is not a full-tme catcher, batting just .259/.311/.354 for the season, a far cry from his effective .272/.340/.423 season in 2009. Of course, in 2009 Paulino had the luxury of platooning with Baker and forming an effective two-headed catching monster, but in 2010 he was once again exposed when facing right-handed pitchers. While Paulino smashes lefties to the tune of a career .338/.390/.498 in 531 PA, he is inept versus righties, owning a career .245/.301/.335 line in 1189 PA.

Luckily for Paulino and the Mets, a platoon role seems to be in the plans, as the team signed him to be the primary backup to Josh Thole. Though Thole has amassed just 267 PA in his young career, the 40 PA that came against left handers did not look pretty (.158/.200/.211). While that does not mean much for his true talent estimation against lefties, there is a good chance that the Mets will give Thole time off against lefties for the time being in favor of Paulino. The only fantasy importance this will have is for potential NL-only owners looking for a catcher past the Buster Posey and Brian McCann types. Being stuck in a platoon situation likely means that Thole will be a bit stretched as a fantasy option at catcher in terms of playing time, and that goes double for Paulino.

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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Premium Article Another Look: Marvin M... (12/13)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (12/13)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (12/15)
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