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April 12, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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The first weeks of the baseball season are hectic and exciting, but perhaps most importantly of all they are confusing. Look no further than this crazy tale of the first weeks of the 2011 season: Albert Pujols is hitting just .143/.225/.229, while Willie Bloomquist is batting a mighty .394/.429/.545.

The important thing to note is that fantasy owners should not get dragged in by great first weeks or be turned off by terrible openings. Much of what happens in those weeks can be a mirage, and helping you to tease out the good from the bad is the Value Picks series.

Departures

Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels (34 percent ESPN / 41 percent Yahoo)

Izturis's ownership also jumped 32 percentage points in the past week thanks in part to the Erick Aybar's left oblique strain. Aybar is now residing in the 15-day DL, which means Izturis should get the majority of looks at shortstop for at least another week. With Izturis qualified for second and third base in most fantasy leagues, a few more games at shortstop may push him to three-position status and make his stock a bit more valuable. The guaranteed playing time is also always useful at the tail end of either your utility or middle infield positions. Snag him for his versatility, steals, and playing time, before you can no longer do so.

Russell Martin, New York Yankees (60 percent ESPN / 89 percent Yahoo)

Last week I mentioned that Martin, who did not get drafted in a good majority of ESPN standard mixed leagues this season for understandable reasons (.249/.350/.330 slash line between 2009 and 2010, for starters), was a viable candidate for a bounce back year in both home runs and steals. Combine that with any increase in BABIP back to his early glory days in Los Angeles and owners would be looking at a more than viable catcher for mixed leagues. One power-laden game later (the two-home run performance on April 9 against the Boston Red Sox) and ESPN owners are now believers of Martin, whose ownership in standard mixed leagues shot up more than 40 percent this week. Aside from those early steals, we still haven't seen the base-swiping Martin in full force, but then again, he was only on first base three times this past week (.188/.278/.563 line for the week). Grab him while you still can if you're in need of catcher help in mixed leagues.

Arrivals

Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers (5 percent ESPN / 31 percent Yahoo)

Avila was tabbed as the starting catcher for the Detroit Tigers despite the arrival of Victor Martinez, who moved to DH. The book on Avila has always been about his power, and he has not disappointed in that regard; this past week Avila knocked three home runs out and drove in seven runs, batting .400/.438/1.067 in the process. Those numbers are accompanied by a modest BABIP (.267) and his expected high strikeout (25.0 percent) and walk (10.7 percent) rates, so the only major difference in his current resume is the home runs. Sure, he is not likely to continue hitting home runs on fly balls at a 33 percent pace, but he has major-league power, especially for a catcher, and that can translate into good home run production for your fantasy team.

Comparing Avila and John Buck (13.1 percent ESPN / 48 percent Yahoo) seems apt. Both players are power-heavy catchers with similar strikeout issues batting in parks that slightly suppress their potential (left-handed home run park factor of 90 for Comerica Park, right-handed park factor of 95 for Sun Life Stadium). If Buck is worth a look as a starter in mixed leagues, than Avila and his similar game should be worth investing in as well.

Chris Getz, Kansas City Royals (1 percent ESPN / 15 percent Yahoo)

Getz was discussed here in the preseason as an underrated candidate for AL-only leagues. However, for those owners in deeper mixed leagues or those more desperate to replace guys like Chase Utley at second base, you might consider the following:

  • Before this season, Getz attempted steals on 16.3 percent of his opportunities with an 89 percent success rate.
  • This season is the first time he will be under direction of Ned Yost, who is known to send runners from time to time.
  • Given Getz's career Speed Score of 6.5, you would expect him to at least reach base on an average number of ground balls, and yet his career BABIP on grounders is .202. This season, he is at a reasonable and completely unsurprising .231, meaning that some of the increase in BABIP could be projectable into the future

Getz's career 12.3 percent strikeout rate ensures that at least that aspect of batting average deflation is in check; he is not at risk of whiffing away his average. Getz hit just .545 on line drives last season, which explains much of why his BABIP fell to .270. Just putting him at .300 likely gives you a .260 batting average, and an improvement on hits via the ground ball could push that to .270. As long as he continues to play well, he should stave off Mike Aviles and Wilson Betemit for the lion's share of playing time at second or third base. With Yost's propensity for base stealing and Getz's natural success rate, 30 steals is a realistic possibility in a full season and should put him in your mixed league radar.

Jeff Baker, Chicago Cubs (<1 percent ESPN / 4 percent Yahoo)

Baker is this week's deep league / single league special, as his platoon situation with Darwin Barney is limiting his role in the offense. Still, when Baker has played, he has made fantasy owners take note. His four-RBI performance against the Milwaukee Brewers helped catalyze a .500/.500/.750 week in 12 PA.  Baker is being held strictly to his platoon early in the season, having seen lefties in 15 of 19 PA so far, and for good reason, as Baker is a career .314/.366/.552 hitter against lefties in 453 career PA.

The Cubs appear to be facing just one lefty (Wandy Rodriguez on Wednesday) through this Sunday, so Baker may be out of plate appearances this week. However, if you have bench spots and could use a decent spot starter for your primary middle infielder, he is a worthwhile choice.

Incumbents

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (7 percent ESPN / 48 percent Yahoo)

Espinosa rewarded owners with a confusing .188/.409/.375 line this past week, driving in four runs, scoring five, and hitting his first home run of the season. He did attempt his first steal of the season unsuccessfully, bringing his rate of steal attempts up to 6.2 percent. The encouraging news is that with his decent walk rate, he should improve on his opportunities, if not his success.

Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati Reds (5 percent ESPN / 8 percent Yahoo)

Our faithful Value Picks readers informed us on how exactly Hanigan was splitting time with Ramon Hernandez. The advice regarding the “nationality split” of Hanigan catching the veteran, white pitchers and Hernandez the inexperienced or Latin American hurlers helped yours truly extort some extra plate appearances from Hanigan, who unfortunately only hit .100/.187/.100 in 11 PA for my troubles. He's still a viable option in NL-only leagues provided you can rotate catchers, but he is on continual watch here on Value Picks in part because he would be a good option were he to receive more playing time.

Will Rhymes, Detroit Tigers (<1 percent ESPN, 4 percent Yahoo)

Rhymes disappointed potential fantasy owners and Value Picks with a .211/.318/.211 week at the plate. Rhymes's discipline bought him a passable but low OBP, but he failed to do anything with on the basepaths. Rhymes's early season struggles have bought him just 11 early opportunities to steal, and while he did take off once successfully, fantasy owners are going to need more to be interested. The BABIP and batting average should go up, but he can only provide value if he shows a propensity to run for the Tigers.

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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Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: G... (04/12)
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Fantasy Beat: Tout War... (04/12)
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