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January 18, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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As esteemed colleague Rob McQuown mentioned yesterday, Hot Spots will be moving to a new format in which we take a few suggestions for players at given positions to cover. On Tuesdays, I'll be continuing to cover the up-the-middle positions of catcher, second base, and shortstop, so if you have any requests from those spots, I'd be glad to get to them in the coming weeks. For now, let's look at a few names that avoided arbitration and resigned with their clubs this week.

Marc Normandin already mentioned the problem with the shortsop position in his shortstop review last week. The short version is that shortstops do not have much going for them offensively for fantasy; the position as a whole hit a pathetic .262/.319/.374, a tOPS+ (position OPS versus league average OPS on the OPS+ scale) of 91, the worse regular position in the majors. So while the performance of a player like the departing former MInnesota Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy, now a Baltimore Oriole, is not eye-popping in a pure fantasy standpoint, it remains valuable because every team needs one guy to soak up PA at the position.

Now that glowing review may not be the best lead going into a discussion of Hardy's successor Twins incumbent middle infielder Alexi Casilla, but it fits the bill for his value perfectly. Casilla just avoided arbitration with a one-year deal to become the team's primary shortstop, but his past history as a hitter is spotty at best. Casilla is a career .249/.306/.327 hitter, and if that was what we could expect from him in 2011, he would not even be worth mentioning. But take a look at how that career has broken down:

Year PA AVG OBP SLG BABIP TAv
2007 204 .222 .256 .259 .261 .199
2008 437 .281 .333 .374 .298 .260
2009 256 .202 .280 .259 .238 .208
2010 170 .276 .331 .395 .304 .272

Essentially, Casilla ended up with two acceptable seasons and two downright abysmal seasons. In his two bad years, the culprit of his atrocious slash lines were his BABIP, a paltry .249 mark in just 460 PA. Yet in the other 607 PA (discounting his six appearances in 2006), he has a very respectable and completely average .300 BABIP. If Casilla can manage a .300 or so BABIP, his high contact style of play (career 11.9% K%) should keep his AVG in the .270-.280 range. Given his .332 career BABIP in the minors and his obvious speed, an average BABIP does not sound like a stretch.

Casilla is an asset on the bases as well, with a career SB% of 89.7% (!) in the majors and 74.5% in the minors. Given a full season, his 8.7% attempt rate in stolen base opportunities should get him above 20 steals, making him helpful in that difficult category. Having said all of that, a hitter who hits near .280 and steals 20+ bases isn't going to win anyone's league, but a player of that caliber at the shortstop position can still hold a lot of value. As Marc mentioned in his review, when guys like Cliff Pennington (.250/.319/.368, 29 SB) and Ryan Theriot (.270/.321/.312, 20 SB) are bringing $10-12 in auction value in your AL/NL-only leagues, then you know the positional well is very dry. Casilla may not contribute much in the way of power (eight career HR, though his 2B+3B rates in his career are a bit below league average), but a speedy guy hitting at the top of a decent lineup with an average OBP who plays the whole year can be worth a decent penny in single-league competition. Do not forget Casilla as a late-round/low-dollar value pick if you are out of the running of the better AL shortstops in your next draft.

There is no need to expound on how good Geovany Soto is; last season's .280/.393/.497 season should do that for me. With his bout with BABIP behind him, we can look foward to more solid seasons of AVG in the .270-.280 range with plenty of counting stat producton and over 20 home runs. However, that comes with the caveat that Mike Quade, the manager who took over for Lou Piniella after Piniella retired last season, doesn't play the same games Piniella played with Soto's playing time. Inexplicably, Piniella went with an almost 50/50 split between the hot-hitting Soto and backup Koyle Hill, who is no one's idea of a starting catcher. That mismanagement was part of the reason Soto only managed 387 PA in 2010. Quade, however, seems content with Soto as his catcher; before his season-ending shoulder injury, he trotted Soto out there 17 times out of a possible 25 games, which appears tobe a normal rate for a starting catcher.

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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Prospectus Q&A: Paul H... (01/18)
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