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March 16, 2012
Preseason Value Picks
Second, Short, and Catcher for 3/16/12
This week on Value Picks, we look at some names that may have been overlooked because of a recent fall or the fact that they were never highly regarded to begin with. For many of these players, one category provides enough value for them to be worth a look at their respective projected dollar values, despite what their checkered past may show.
A couple of seasons ago, Suzuki was a sure-fire late-round catcher selection who would provide decent counting stats because he could rack up plate appearances and batted in the middle of the Oakland lineup. Last season, however, saw him hit .237/.301/.385 and fail to break 50 RBI for the first time since 2008. Given that it was his second straight season batting .240 or below, fantasy owners have dropped him below more promising, younger names like Devin Mesoraco and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
But there are some things to point out about Suzuki. Despite his struggles with batting average, he has maintained his power and his contact abilities. He is still making contact on over 87 percent of the pitches at which he swings, meaning the precipitous two-year fall in batting average is heavily tied to a fall to a .244 BABIP over the last two seasons. In the last two seasons, only Aaron Hill has posted a worse BABIP than Suzuki, and barring an extreme collapse, Suzuki should regress to something closer to his career .271 BABIP. PECOTA is projecting a .277 BABIP and putting him closer to his career .258 batting average.
The other advantage is that, despite the loss in power, Suzuki is still capable of putting up double-digit home runs, having averaged 14 home runs per season over the last three years. Those 42 total home runs rank 11th in baseball among catchers, right alongside players like Miguel Montero and Matt Wieters. In other words, despite batting average problems that are primarily tied to BABIP lows, Suzuki still produced decent numbers, and with some regression from his career lows from the last two years, he could even return to decent counting stat form, though he will likely never reach his 2009 peak again.
Last season, Casilla finally fulfilled his destiny of being a mediocre, powerless speedster type by stealing 15 bases and batting .260. He even provided a decent 52 runs scored despite only 365 plate appearances. After a perfectly unsurprising .294 BABIP, he finally performed as his career line indicated, providing some value to fantasy owners.
This season, he is in line to start at second base opposite another mediocre middle infielder (and constant 2011 Value Picks member) Jamey Carroll as the Minnesota Twins' up-the-middle duo. As Derek Carty mentioned in the second base rankings, these two players hold some value:
The hitting skills of Minnesota’s middle-infield duo would be nothing to gawk at if you saw them walking down the street, but these two players are going to provide a little speed, decent average, and probably some runs if they manage to bat at the top of the order a little bit (say, in the case of a Denard Span injury). For guys with stigmas attached to them (Carroll being a part-timer for most of his career and Casilla just being awful), you could do worse than getting double-digit value for potentially half the price in AL-only leagues.
Casilla should be expected to provide more of the same in 2012. He does not strike out often, and this serves to help his batting average remain decent despite the absence of home run power and a merely average BABIP. His speed numbers do not qualify him for one-category status in mixed leagues, but he does provide value on the bases, having averaged 21 steals per 600 PA. In 2011, he was a little more aggressive after reaching first, taking off in almost 14 percent of his stolen base opportunities after posting a career 10 percent mark prior. His rate of success during his limited career has been excellent, so fantasy owners can at least expect good things when Casilla has his mind set on running.
Casilla is really only an option for AL-only owners given his production and potential for job insecurity. But if he plays as well as he did last season, he should hold the job for much of the year and have a decent chance at more than 20 steals. Very few things have to go right for him to hit his 60th or 70th percentile projections and swipe 20 bags, and that sort of unspectacular production is still quite worthy, especially since Casilla will certainly qualify for shortstop as well as second base in most leagues.
Scutaro was surprisingly traded to the Colorado Rockies this past offseason, simultaneously opening a hole at shortstop for the Boston Red Sox and closing a gap in the Rockies' second base position. Any time a player moves from one environment—even an offense-heavy one like Boston's—to Colorado, it is worth mentioning. Scutaro is not, however, the type of player who we’d expect to suddenly thrive in the thin air of Coors Field. Scutaro's career fly ball rate is a decent 38.4 percent, and while that number has generally been higher the last few seasons (40.6 fly ball percentage since 2009), he has never hit home runs at a very high rate. Even when he hit a career-best 12 homers in his breakout 2009 campaign, he still only hit homers on 5.5 percent of his fly balls, a rate almost identical to his career mark.
Of course, even Toronto and Boston cannot hold a candle to Colorado's home run inflation, so there is definitely reason to believe that Scutaro could pull off a double-digit homer season when he has actually done so in two of the past three years. Plus, he is only one season removed from scoring over 90 runs for a packed Boston lineup. While that number is far less likely to be repeated in the National League, Scutaro's position at the top of a good Colorado lineup should guarantee him decent counting stats, provided he remains healthy and in the lineup. Out of 728 total plate appearances last season, Colorado's paltry set of second basemen were still able to score 77 runs despite a collective .256/.305/.351 line. Scutaro will not garner all of the plate appearances at second base, but he should be able to match or better his runs projection by PECOTA and post a decent fantasy batting average in 2012.
In the world of fantasy baseball second catchers, the pickings are always slim. So when you can find a player who can garner playing time and do one thing well, you may have found yourself a playable second catcher. Josh Thole does not quite fit that bill for shallower leagues, but he is a fringe candidate for a role on your fantasy team in deeper mixed leagues. With good contact skills (career 11.5 percent strikeout rate) and above average discipline at the plate (career 9.8 percent walk rate), Thole meets some of the above listed requirements. The low strikeout rate has been something that has kept certain powerless catchers fantasy-relevant for years; players like Yadier Molina and A.J. Pierzynski have made a living being late-round choices on the basis of an acceptable BABIP and a low strikeout rate. In that respect, Thole is not much different.