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December 21, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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This was an unusually busy week in terms of moves for middle infielders and catchers, and Hot Spots is right on them with analysis.

Russell Martin showed that his power slump from 2009 was not as much of a fluke as fantasy owners would have liked. After logging 1738 PA of .285/.373/.434 baseball, his last 975 PA have been a very consistent and significantly uglier .249/.350/.330. This drastic change comes with a complete lack of power, as his 2009-2010 stretch consisted of a .081 ISO (compared to .149 from his first three seasons) and only 7.4 HR/600 PA (compared to 14.5 in his first three seasons). At this point, you have to figure that the change in Martin's game has some basis on his true talent, and expecting a bounceback to his old power levels is going to be farfetched.

Dodger Stadium seemed to have some small effect on the home-run hitting of Martin and other righties (park factor of 92 versus 100 according to StatCorner), so Martin should enjoy the move to Yankee Stadium, which so far has inflated home runs to righties by 10%. Perhaps what could help Martin's fantasy game even more than a boost in power is a return to a league average BABIP; after holding a .311 BABIP in his first three seasons, he has posted just a measly .285 mark since, which has contributed to the low .249 AVG. Martin is locked in as the Yankees' starting catcher, moving Jorge Posada to a more permanent DH role akin to Victor Martinez' role in Detroit, so playing time should be no issue assuming health. At around 500 PA, Martin at a .280 AVG in a loaded Yankees lineup would provide acceptable value for a fantasy catcher, particularly in AL-only leagues, but with Martin's lingering health issues and two-year struggles, he seems like a stretch on draft day and more of a candidate to follow as the season progresses.

The Jason Bartlett trade situation finally resolved itself this past week, but it while it garnered a lot of interest among the teams involved and their fans, it should garner significantly less attention to fantasy owners. Excluding a breakout 2009 (.320/.389/.490), Bartlett has been consistently unremarkable; before 2009, he was a career .276/.332/.362 hitter, and in 2010 his "slump" season was pretty close to that mark at .254/.324/.350. In short, Bartlett isn't the type of guy who can be counted for more than 10 HR or a high RBI count and is not the type of player who will get on base often enough to score a lot of runs, and this is only going to get worse with the move from Tampa Bay to the hitter's abyss known as Petco Park in San Diego. A repeat of 2010 given the move to Petco would not surprise anyone, but there is a category where a rebound can be expected, and that is in steals. Bartlett swiped just 11 bases in 17 tries (64.7% SB%), which is a terrible mark for a guy who thieves bags at a career 78.7% rate. This skillset plays right into the Padres' gameplan, as the Pads stole 124 bags last season (6th best in baseball) in 174 tries (also 6th in baseball), showing that they have an aggressive streak on the basepaths. It is reasonable to expect Bartlett to land around a .320-.330 OBP, and at that rate at least he can provide 20+ stolen bases, a mark he has reached in three out of the four years in which he has had more than 400 PA.

The Padres signed Orlando Hudson to join Bartlett up their middle infield, and while Hudson appears to be an excellent signing in terms of real baseball, this move too should have a minimal fantasy impact. For the past few seasons, Hudson has been plagued by the issue of not doing one fantasy thing well; he is capable of giving you a .270-.280 AVG with a decent enough OBP to garner run totals capable of making up for his his poor HR/RBI numbers. Even though Hudson remains a pretty fast guy, that speed has not translated on the basepaths, where he has not attempted more than 17 steals or succeeded in more than 10 attempts in any season. The power is only going to get worse playing in Petco, and the AVG certainly won't be helped (Petco suppresses singles by 3% to righties and holds back doubles by 28%), but maybe the aggressive approach on the bases employed by San Diego will help boost Hudson's steals totals past 10 for a second straight year. Otherwise, it is safe to treat Hudson as injury-insurance off the waiver wires in 12-team mixed leagues, a spot he has held for a few years now.

Alcides Escobar is the big name going to the Kansas City Royals in the recent Zack Greinke trade. While Marc Normandin has covered Greinke himself, Escobar prospective owners may be interested to see how he should fare in 2011. Escobar came highly heralded as a prospect, but it should be noted that he has never shown great hitting tools outside of contact and speed; Escobar's career minor league .293/.333/.377 slash line comes with a 5.0% BB% and a mere 4.1 HR/600 PA. However, expecting a .238/.288/.326 slash line before 2010 would have been hard to justify. Some of that awful line should be remedied by simple regression, as a guy with his speed (speed score of 6.4 in 2010) and decent contact skills (career minor league K% of 14.4%) should surely hit better than .264 on balls in play. As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs found in digging into his splits, it seems Escobar hit an unusually low number on line drives, which is sure to go up. However, the rest of his game seems about right in terms of patience (6.5% BB%) and power (.091 ISO), and a change to the harder AL league shouldn't assist in that. Where Escobar needs to improve is in his speed; in 2010, he only stole 10 bags after being expected to provide 20+ steals and a decent AVG. With an increased AVG/OBP, Escobar should get on base more often in 2011, but in order to take advantage of his skills on the basepaths (and assist desperate fantasy owners), he will have to take off in more than just 6.7% of his potential stolen base opportunities. Last season, the Royals ranked 8th in stolen bases and attempts, so it seems their approach on the bases should help Escobar more than Milwaukee's more tempered approach.

Yuniesky Betancourt tagged along with Greinke and joins the Brewers to replace Escobar in the starting lineup. It should be obvious that Betancourt is a poor shortstop option in real baseball, but one interesting development from late last season made him fantasy relevant, which was a strange conundrum for sabermetrically-inclined fantasy owners. In the second half of 2010, Betancourt hit 10 HR and slugged .421 with an ISO of .161, all solidly above average numbers for a shortstop. He ended the season with 16 HR after never finishing a year with more than nine. He likely is not going to hit 16 HR again, as his 7.9% HR/FB% was the highest of his previously consistent 4.5% career mark. Betancourt also dropped his infield fly ball counts, which should have helped his BABIP get back up to career norms. A slight regression in BABIP should push his AVG back up near .260-.270, and at that point he would be a passable waiver-wire pickup in NL-leagues if he could repeat double-digit home runs. However, given the fluky nature of last season's power surge, it is safe to say we can return to ignoring Betancourt even if he is slated to start full-time for the Brewers.

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:  Petco Infield

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