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January 3, 2011

Analyze This

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

by Rob McQuown

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Welcome back from the Holidays, everyone. As the calendar turns to a new year, it's time to start thinking about hearing those four words: “Pitchers and catchers report”. And fantasy owners can start gearing up for the new fantasy season right around the corner, as well. For owners in “dynasty” formats, the offseason may already have been busy. For instance, this author has had a Hot Corner Hot Stove League so far – drafting Mark Reynolds in a mock fantasy draft (for publication in USA Today fantasy magazine) and trading for him in a Strat-O-Matic league. And just today, the inquiries about Ryan Zimmerman in Scoresheet Baseball began (no, Passan, you can't have Zimmerman for “depth and prospects”, sorry). Today, not so much news about the Hot Corner, but some interesting first basemen did sign these past couple weeks.

Derrek Lee has a bulging disk in his neck. He's also had some recurring back issues and muscle strains, though those were always reported as being routine and not serious. And he's already 35 years old. That's the bad news, and it seems likely that his increased strikeout rate (over 24% in 2010 after being under 21% in each of the previous three seasons) is due to a combination of those factors. The good news is, well, just about everything else. Lee's still an excellent defender at first base, with his agility and wing span leading to three Gold Glove awards in his past. His graceful, flyball swing is still lofting nearly 40% of balls in play into the air, with some of these fly balls going for majestic, towering home runs. He has a good eye and decent discipline at the plate, drawing 771 unintentional walks in 7416 (unintentional walk) plate appearances for his career. He has a “normal” platoon split, meaning that his batting has been fine against righty pitching, for the most part - .280/.359/.394 against RHP in his career.

Finally, any league adjustment should be more than counterbalanced by his move to Baltimore. Consider these 2010 RHB HR factors (from statcorner.com):

 

Wrigley Field: 102

Atlanta: 92

Baltimore: 126

Toronto: 116

Boston: 95

Yankee Stadium: 110

Tampa Bay: 94

 

Now, as far as team context, it's pretty easy to assume that things will remain the same, and Baltimore will again be woeful on offense. But even though they were 2nd-worse in runs/game in 2010 (3.78), they were almost as close to league average as they were to last place (Seattle 3.17, Average 4.45). And, without wearing rose-colored glasses, it's still very easy to envision the O's producing more offense out of every position besides DH (where Luke Scott powered a .277/.358/.505 batting line for Baltimore DH's in 2010). A full year of Roberts leading off, and the expected rebound by Markakis batting 2nd should provide D-Lee with lots of “ducks” batting in the heart of the order somewhere.

 

There was some discussion of Xavier Nady and the Diamondbacks in the comments from two weeks ago, and the bottom line is that he should play a lot. If Brandon Allen excites manager Kirk Gibson in spring training, though, Nady could end up starting only against lefty pitchers in either left field or at first base. And in that role, he should excel, as he's a career .297/.367/.451 hitter against Southpaws. For years, Nady was overrated, with the zenith coming in 2008, when he was having a career year for Pittsburgh, and they managed to get Jose Tabata and some arms for him (and Damaso Marte) from the Yankees at the trade deadline. But, overrated or not, he did step up his game in Pittsburgh, where he hit a combined .301/.353/.482 in parts of 3 seasons (1050 PA total). Considering that PNC Park is death on righty power, that's a good batting line, even for a player of his defensive shortcomings. He'll be 32 in 2011, and hasn't been healthy since 2008, so how he'll perform is an open question. But there's definitely upside, though the risk is very steep.

 

Stop the presses – the Pirates signed Garrett Atkins! To a minor-league contract. Since he's being added to the e-version of Graphical Player 2011 (where the nifty charts come from – click on one for ordering information), yours truly was just writing his short blurb for that book. Here's an unedited preview:

Playing in Colorado, Garrett Atkins hit for average and extra-base power in his prime years, collecting 75 homers and 115 doubles from ages 26-28 while playing adequate defense. The thin air has given way to lean years, and he'll be 31 and hoping his preference for lefty pitching will get him a spot on the lefty-heavy Bucs roster.

Oh boy, right? Dan Wade did some digging into statistical tendencies when he was cut in June, and – while informative - nothing there lends itself to much optimism, either. As noted with Nady, PNC Park isn't going to help a righty's power stats any in home games, either. The obvious advice would be to stay away, but everything depends on context, and it's not beyond possibility that Atkins will re-discover some of his Rocky Mountain highs. But as a fantasy risk, he warrants consideration only in the dregs of a very deep draft where the other options are bad middle relievers and backup middle infielders.

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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