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February 15, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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This week, we welcomed back my old Monday morning friend Michael Street, once again bringing whole the triumvirate of Michaels BP Fantasy throws your way every week. We also welcome back a few names that I have discussed either in the old Hot Spots articles or in recent comments.

With the trade of Jason Bartlett to San Diego, Reid Brignac is finally slated to be a full time starter with the Tampa Bay Rays. A few years ago, he was a top prospect with a prime bat and potential defensive problems. Years later, he is a defense-first middle infielder with a questionable bat. Either way, he has the job for now, guaranteeing him full playing time, and as we have seen in the past, it just takes playing time to make many shortstops valuable in single-league play. How does Brignac stack up?

Last season, Brignac showed some of the problems that have persisted in his minor league career since he won the California League MVP way back in 2006. In 2008, he swung at 52.3 percent of the pitches he saw while playing for the Durham Bulls and, as a result of his hacktastic ways, he struck out 24.1 percent of the time. In 2010 for the Rays, Brignac swung at 52.4 percent of pitches and struck out 23.6 percent of the time as a result. The story of 2009 did not change much either, basically signaling little change in his approach. That sort of approach and strikeout rate will never yield a high batting average, which is why the GP2011 projects a paltry .247 AVG and PECOTA follows suit with a .237 mark.

Brignac could make up some of this deficit with power, and both projections see that redeeming value. The GP2011 projections were made when Brignac was still in a time-share with Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist at second base, but now with a full playing time slate, he could hit the 18 home run mark in 600-plus PA. PECOTA is less optimistic about his power, pegging him for 12 HR per 600 PA. In PECOTA's weighted means view, this would be just about average for a mixed league shortstop, though it would still hold some value in AL-only leagues. In the more optimistic GP2011 view, you would be looking at a solid one-category producer in AL-leagues. However, this production would mostly just absorb the damage done by his low batting average and cancel out, leaving a marginally useful player who stands out in no other categories and is at the mercy of his team. Try to avoid him if possible on draft day (depending on your league's depth of course) but keep an eye on if he makes any adjustments in season.

A discussion on Martin Prado's value seems somewhat meaningless: for the past two seasons, he has been essentially the same, consistent, high-BABIP guy. He will give you a high batting average and a good enough OBP to score plenty of runs in a good lineup like Atlanta's. The interesting point that was brought up in the comments section of last week's article was Prado's imminent fantasy move from second base to outfield. For keeper owners of Prado, this move will impact their 2012 season and beyond, and there is a question as to whether Prado's numbers will be sufficient to provide value in the outfield.

Here were the 2010 averages for both second basemen and outfielders in some fantasy-relevant categories, along with the PECOTA-projected rates for Prado in 2011:

 

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR/600 PA

SB/600 PA

R+RBI/600 PA

Prado

.293

.342

.421

10

5

141

2B

.261

.330

.389

12

11

128

OF

.267

.335

.426

16

14

142

 These numbers of course should be bumped up considerably given the more restricted pool of players from which fantasy players draft, but the general comparison points between categories stands. Outfielders as a whole do better in each category, including surprisingly in categories like steals and batting average. Fantasy owners know that players who excel in one category, primarily steals, can often forgo others and still provide good value. However, Prado's one-category skill set involves batting average, which is more difficult to project at significantly higher-than-average levels on a year-to-year basis. Thus, his primary fantasy skill set is unlikely to lead to enough value to offset the decline in relative value of his other categories. Keeper owners should be ready to cut bait either this season or next depending on your respective situations, because Prado's value should fall a significant amount with a move to the outfield.

I had this to say about Alex Avila and his game in the comments section of a past article:

I love Avila's power potential when compared to other catchers. He showed a bit of that in his early stint in 2009, when he knocked five HR out in just 72 PA. In his most extensive minor-league stint (Double-A in 2009), he hit 12 HR in 387 PA with an ISO of .185. Combine that with what seems like good plate discipline (even in his struggles last season, he still posted a 10.8% BB%) and he should be able to get you 10-15 HR in his PT (he look like he is in line to get a normal starting catcher's PT, with Martinez backing him up by starting 2 games a week). He's going to struggle to hit around .250 because he strikes out a bit too much (22.0%) and he's a catcher, but for an AL-league he would be an acceptable choice to start.

My general point still stands, but I was happy to see PECOTA generally agree with my assessment of Avila's chances. PECOTA sees a .245/.323/.372 slash line with 10 home runs in 450 PA, and Avila should be a safe bet to snag that sort of playing time since he is unencumbered by any other catchers (Victor Martinez will primarily be a DH. While such a line is not as optimistic as the GP2011 mark of 12 homers in 400 PA, there is a fair amount of reason to believe that Avila can hit closer to 15 home runs in his designated playing time. His HR/FB rate was an unassuming 9.0 percent last season, and the flyball rate he displayed in 2010 was not significantly different than his work in the minors. Detroit's Comerica Park seems to grade out average overall in home runs, though it tends to suppress left-handed power (StatCorner listed home run park factor of 90 for left-handed hitters). These factors should combine to form a repeat of the numbers we saw in 2010. The batting average will always keep him from being worthwhile in anything but AL-only and deep mixed leagues with two catchers, but he is someone to keep an eye on as a power-laden sleeper.

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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