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March 29, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels

By all accounts, Izturis appears to be the leading candidate to start at third base for the Los Angeles Angels, and he should be taking over at the leadoff position as well. But while Izturis will be playing third base in real life, fantasy owners should take note that the former super-utility man qualifies in most leagues for both third and second base going into the season. In addition, should anything happen to further the Angels' infield injury problems (Kendrys Morales is already going to be starting on the DL), Izturis should be the first player to move around the diamond given his defensive flexibility. Though Erick Aybar is considered a fairly strong bet in terms of health, an injury to Aybar would yield playing time at shortstop for Izturis.

Izturis's peripherals are as consistent as can be: through 2100 career plate appearances, he owns a walk rate of 8.6 percent and a strikeout rate of 10.0 percent, and in each of the past five seasons he has not deviated from those career norms by more than a percentage point here or there. Those low strikeout numbers typically help him in batting average: Izturis has hit .280 or better in three of his first five seasons since he became a regular in 2006. In each of those three seasons, he managed a BABIP greater equal to or greater than .308, but such a number does not sound out of line given a player with a career 5.9 speed score. In addition, last season Izturis recorded a BABIP on line drives of just .594, well below his career .673 mark. A regression upwards should lift that BABIP to closer to his career .295 mark and should push his average closer to the .270 range. Izturis is ready and willing on the basepaths, taking off in 10.4 percent of stolen base opportunities and succeeding in 76 percent of those attempts, so a full slate of playing time should yield more than 20 steals.

The problem is whether he'll acquire that playing time. While Izturis is lined up to start, his medical history suggests he won't stay in the lineup for long. Aside from a fluky 2009 season in terms of health, Izturis has been a mainstay on the disabled list, missing 184 days in the past three seasons, including 94 last year due to various problems related to his right arm and shoulder. Baseball Prospectus's CHIPPER injury projection system has him at high risk for missing 30 or more days, and that seems quite believable. Despite his starter designation, he could miss enough time to collect just 400 PA. With this in mind, PECOTA has him nailed correctly at a $4 auction value in AL-only leagues. However, he is going late in mocks (177th in AL-only ADP according to Mock Draft Central) and teams selecting Izturis should be looking at a player with double-digit dollar value upside if he can stay healthy.

Brendan Ryan, Seattle Mariners

Where Izturis is a high-upside pick with injury risk, Ryan is pretty much the opposite. While both players make most of their impact on the basepaths (Ryan runs on exactly 10.0 percent of his stolen base opportunities as well, with a 75 percent success rate to boot), Ryan represents medium injury risk at best but very little in the way of success in other categories. Ryan moves from batting at the top of a loaded St. Louis lineup to batting at the bottom of the worst lineups in recent memory. With punch-less hitters like Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins batting “behind him” as the lineup resets, Ryan is not as likely to score at the 37 percent pace that he maintained since 2009.

There is reason to expect Ryan's batting average to climb in 2011. His 2010 mark of .223 represents a drop in BABIP in each batted ball type from his career totals, and given the similar conditions between Busch Stadium and Safeco Field according to StatCorner's park factors, we should see regression trend positively for Ryan in 2011. Don't expect the .292 from 2009, but his 70th percentile PECOTA projection of .258 seems reasonable. Given his steals, Ryan seems like a reasonable shortstop selection (he will play shortstop primarily instead of Jack Wilson, who has been moved to second base) in the later rounds and smaller dollar values in your AL-only leagues. Given his likely playing time, he is an acceptable fit to add to your steals count as a middle infielder but is better suited for your bench or as an injury replacement.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox

“Salty” has finally made his way back to a starting major league gig as the Red Sox' primary catcher. Unfortunately, his shine as a former top prospect and as one of the prized pickups of the first Mark Teixeira deal has worn off, and his well-publicized struggles at the plate and behind the dish have kept him to less than 400 PA in each season in his short major league career. Our Depth Charts don't have him getting more than 350 PA in a timeshare with Jason Varitek, due to injury problems (he is at high risk to miss more than 30 days according to CHIPPER) and Boston's insistence Varitek would see more time than your regular backup catcher.

Salty had a couple of acceptable seasons in the minors, but aside from his one monster year in High-A in 2005, he has been a good-but-not-great hitter in the minors. His career .271/.366/.458 minor league slash line contains the same problems he's displayed in the majors, most notably the fact that he struck out in about 20 percent of his minor league plate appearances and hasn't shown the ability to reduce that total in the majors. The power that he flashed in the minors hasn't translated much either despite his decent fly ball numbers: his career 10.0 percent HR/FB rate has only yielded a paltry .138 career ISO, and that was garnered playing the majority of his home games in Texas.

Moving to Boston provides a friendly enough hitting environment, but Salty simply has not shown that he can hit major league pitching with authority yet. PECOTA is skeptical at best, meaning fantasy owners should not pay to find out if he can change that trend. Unless you are in the market for a second catcher in your AL-only league, Saltalamacchia should not earn more than a furtive glance on draft day. Players like Russell Martin (167th on AL-only ADP on Mock Draft Central) and John Jaso (188th) are being drafted ahead of Salty, and rightfully so.

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:  Maicer Izturis

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