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March 5, 2008

Fantasy Beat

The Infielders

by Marc Normandin

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For those who missed last week's outfield rankings, the explanation of how these lists were created can be found there. With five positions to cover this time around, this is a meaty piece, so it's time to dive right in.


Catcher
Rnk Player                  AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI    R  VORP  Beta
 1. Russell Martin         .284/.370/.439   13   14   63   75  29.9  0.85
 2. Victor Martinez        .293/.369/.457   18    2   86   75  31.7  0.94
 3. Jorge Posada           .287/.380/.479   19    4   78   74  37.1  0.88
 4. Brian McCann           .281/.344/.471   19    3   79   65  29.7  0.81
 5. Joe Mauer              .295/.375/.420    9   10   62   79  30.4  0.94
 6. J.R. Towles            .268/.334/.433   13   12   55   61  20.0  0.89
 7. Geovany Soto           .273/.352/.470   19    2   69   60  23.5  0.77
 8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia  .269/.337/.447   16    3   61   54  15.1  1.23
 9. Josh Bard              .286/.364/.409    7    3   50   52  26.7  1.00
10. Jason Varitek          .255/.352/.420   11    2   49   45  13.1  0.94

Martin is an obvious #1 thanks to his steals; there aren't many catchers who are going to nab double digits in base thefts for you, and Martin's other numbers are all good enough that you don't take a hit because of prioritizing his speed. Victor Martinez is #2 thanks to his ability to play first base as well, which can come up in big in leagues with daily roster changes. Posada and McCann can be flipped back and forth in the rankings, depending on your faith in Posada keeping it up as he ages; both players are going to give you some power, and the lineups they are in should generate some Run and RBI opportunities.

Joe Mauer may seem low, but PECOTA isn't too thrilled with him. He's got the batting average and he'll steal some bases for you, but his power is lacking (not as big of a deal at catcher as other positions thanks to the overall lack of offense at the position), and the Twins lineup this year is awful. If he weren't hitting in the middle of it, I'd scoff at those run and RBI forecasts. If Houston goes through its plan to start Towles, he'll provide a huge boost to a position lacking in offense, and even he will swipe some bases for you.

PECOTA loves Soto; his Beta of 0.77 should show the faith it invests in that forecast. It's a tasty-looking line even before noticing that. Jarrod Saltalamacchia may or may not sit behind the plate much this year, but he's listed at the position. Think of him as the poor man's version of Victor Martinez that you draft much, much later. Josh Bard doesn't have much in the way of power or steals, but he should hit high enough in the Padres order to snag some R and RBI, and he should hit for a solid batting average. Jason Varitek is #10 not because he really earned it, but because there's almost no one else who is going to get significant playing time and produce at the same time.


First Base
Rnk Player            AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI    R  VORP  Beta
 1. Albert Pujols    .327/.427/.577   32    8  115  120  73.1  1.02
 2. Prince Fielder   .287/.384/.560   38    7  111  106  49.3  0.98
 3. Ryan Howard      .273/.381/.574   44    2  100  122  42.7  0.95
 4. Mark Teixeira    .295/.394/.547   32    3  103  102  48.8  1.06
 5. Lance Berkman    .281/.389/.515   30    7   99   99  42.0  0.97
 6. Derrek Lee       .303/.387/.527   25   13   91   94  37.7  0.86
 7. Adrian Gonzalez  .281/.348/.492   28    4   99   84  36.9  0.94
 8. Carlos Pena      .259/.372/.500   33    3   99   92  30.6  0.96
 9. Todd Helton      .309/.415/.488   15    5   75   86  24.1  1.15
10. James Loney      .290/.353/.461   18    6   84   81  21.9  0.91

Before I say anything else, let me mention that the #10 spot is sort of a three-way tie. Justin Morneau must have done something to offend PECOTA this winter, because his forecasted line is just .271/.339/.465 with 24 homers. If you need the home runs, then Morneau could be your #10, but remember that, like Mauer at catcher, there isn't much help for his RBI and R. The other guy who could be at #10 is Conor Jackson, with a forecasted line of .298/.385/.493. The only reason he is not on the list above instead of Loney is playing time; on our fantasy Depth Charts, he's listed for 80 percent of the playing time with two other players sharing duties, while Loney has 85 percent and only has to deal with the brittle Nomar Garciaparra as competition.

As for the rest of the list, consider Pujols the #1 unless you (A) fear his elbow problems so much that you think drafting him is a fool's errand, or (B) the Cardinals throw him under the knife before your draft. It's a sketchy proposition; personally, if I'm placed in a situation where I get to pick between Pujols or someone else at another position, I'm going to go with that other position. However, his production is too lofty to rate him anywhere besides #1 at his own position.

The only real difference between Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard are their specific strengths; Fielder will probably hit for a higher average, and Howard will most likely hit a few more homers. They will both be driven in and drive in plenty of runs, thanks to their own abilities and respectively stacked lineups. Mark Teixeira is probably the more well-rounded player than they are, but he fails to dominate in any specific category the way those above him do. Lance Berkman is a another asset of this sort, but I trust the Braves lineup to produce more than Houston's.

I'm not so sure about Derrek Lee's forecasted SLG, since last year his ISO was just .196, so his overall slugging was propped up by his batting average. Even if he repeats last year's performance, you shouldn't rank him any differently. He'll help you out a little everywhere, and probably boost your team's batting average. Adrian Gonzalez and Carlos Pena can be flipped depending on whether or not your team needs help with homers or batting average. Last, we have Todd Helton, who isn't going to add to your homers much, but he'll hit for a high average and, at least at home, will put up some all-around solid offensive numbers.


Second Base
Rnk Player              AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI    R  VORP  Beta
 1. Chase Utley        .298/.377/.522   27   10   94  102  51.1  0.86
 2. Brian Roberts      .284/.366/.439   14   35   69  101  33.5  0.91
 3. Brandon Phillips   .274/.325/.444   20   20   75   83  22.4  0.86
 4. Kelly Johnson      .279/.375/.466   17   11   69   89  36.0  0.80
 5. Rickie Weeks       .265/.368/.454   16   18   55   79  27.2  0.96
 6. Ian Kinsler        .267/.341/.441   19   20   72   82  22.5  0.85
 7. Jeff Kent          .287/.368/.493   17    3   69   60  32.1  0.79
 8. Robinson Cano      .299/.340/.455   15    6   82   78  31.1  0.90
 9. Dan Uggla          .260/.336/.470   25    7   88   83  31.7  0.91
10. Dustin Pedroia     .295/.361/.430   10    7   70   81  26.2  0.89
There's another clear #1 at this position, with Chase Utley forecasted to drive in plenty of runs in the middle of a deep lineup. He'll easily hit the most homers at the position, and he's even projected to steal 10 bases and hit almost .300. If he's still eligible at first base in your league, then he's even more valuable, especially since he can hold his own there against actual first basemen. Brian Roberts gets the nod at #2 thanks to his solid line and his steals; he's the best early option in the draft for stolen bases.

I have more faith in Brandon Phillips this year than PECOTA's weighted mean forecast, as I was thinking more along the lines of his 75th and 90th percentile projections; that looks pretty similar to last year, and he's just 27 years old, so a repeat is possible. Kelly Johnson is the solid pick at #4, as PECOTA's Beta for him is a convincing 0.80. Rickie Weeks has a few more question marks around him, but like Joe Sheehan, I'm thinking Weeks is in for a big season.

Ian Kinsler is a nifty package of speed and power at a position that has a lot of both; if the Rangers offense can do something worthwhile, his value will increase. Robinson Cano and Dan Uggla are a matter of preference; if you need the batting average, go with Cano, but if you need homers, Uggla's your second baseman. Dustin Pedroia and Freddy Sanchez are somewhat interchangeable here as well, but Pedroia gets priority due to his team's stronger lineup.

Second base is ridiculously deep this year, as I left plenty of productive players off of the list: Freddy Sanchez, Matt Antonelli, Placido Polanco, Orlando Hudson, and Mark DeRosa can all help you on draft day, depending on your team's individual needs in the later rounds.


Third Base
Rnk Player              AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI    R  VORP  Beta
 1. David Wright       .305/.395/.540   31   21  105  119  69.3  0.87
 2. Alex Rodriguez     .294/.401/.550   36   23  116  120  63.3  0.97
 3. Ryan Braun         .300/.367/.575   39   16  117  111  60.6  0.98
 4. Miguel Cabrera     .300/.376/.515   28    5  104   96  47.8  0.82
 5. Chipper Jones      .315/.410/.547   24    7   89   99  57.1  0.92
 6. Aramis Ramirez     .301/.363/.536   28    3  103   85  40.7  0.93
 7. Ryan Zimmerman     .291/.355/.490   24    8   95   92  41.0  0.98
 8. Chone Figgins      .284/.359/.393    6   33   44   83  15.8  0.96
 9. Edwin Encarnacion  .285/.356/.493   23    8   81   80  30.2  0.91
10. Evan Longoria      .266/.339/.459   25    6   87   83  25.4  0.98

If I have the first pick in my draft this year, I'm probably going to take David Wright. His combination of power and speed is amazing, and his lineup is stacked. Alex Rodriguez is the reason for my "probably," as he is basically the same package, just a bit older. Ryan Braun may be #3 at third base, but he's the #1 outfielder, as many of you asked me via e-mail over the past week.

Miguel Cabrera won't get much of an offensive boost by switching parks, but he's as valuable as ever, especially if keeping some weight off turns him into a better overall player. That Tigers lineup won't hurt things either. Chipper Jones is the best hitter in this article today after Albert Pujols, but his lack of steals and this year's "annual injury TBD" keep him from being ranked where his bat otherwise belongs. Make sure to draft a second third baseman at some point if you do snag Jones.

Aramis Ramirez is forecasted for a good batting average and plenty of power, and that Cubs lineup is going to give him plenty of opportunities for RBI and R. Ryan Zimmerman should bounce back from last year somewhat according to PECOTA, and an improved Nats lineup makes him a more attractive pick as well.

After that, I'm not sure about the order of eight through 10, to be honest. Figgins should be on the list since he can help your batting average and is one of the top guys for steals. If PECOTA has its way, Edwin Encarnacion should finally come around to being a productive player. Evan Longoria's weighted mean isn't that pretty to look at, but his 75th- (.283/.359/.498) and 90th (.302/.380/.541)-percentile forecasts make him as attractive as almost any other player on this list. Longoria would outrank both of them if you could guarantee he'll start Opening Day and that he would beat out his weighted mean. Encarnacion ranks below Figgins due to his question marks about being in the lineup and productive as well.


Shortstop
Rnk Player              AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI    R  VORP  Beta
 1. Jose Reyes         .290/.350/.438   14   60   70  110  44.5  0.97
 2. Hanley Ramirez     .306/.371/.501   21   38   86  111  59.7  1.06
 3. Jimmy Rollins      .291/.346/.472   20   29   79  102  42.8  0.95
 4. Carlos Guillen     .293/.362/.465   17   13   80   89  37.8  0.90
 5. Derek Jeter        .297/.365/.407    8   13   64   89  31.7  1.12
 6. Troy Tulowitzki    .292/.358/.479   19   10   80   83  28.3  0.99
 7. Felipe Lopez       .271/.344/.396   11   23   59   87  24.2  0.90
 8. Rafael Furcal      .280/.350/.389    8   25   53   87  23.8  0.97
 9. J.J. Hardy         .273/.329/.441   17    3   66   62  22.7  1.17
10. Julio Lugo         .275/.337/.384    6   21   46   65  12.5  0.96

Shortstop is an odd position this year. Offensively, it's about as deep as catcher, which is mildly depressing for all of us come draft day. After three potential first-rounders in Reyes, Ramirez and Rollins, you get Carlos Guillen, an above-average shortstop but batting at his new position, first base. Then there's the remains of Derek Jeter, who is now an average hitter with a few steals and little in the way of power. Troy Tulowitzki is an intriguing pick thanks to his role as a young and talented player, but his H/R splits from last year (.256/.327/.393 away vs. .326/.392/.568 at home) make me nervous for his utility over the course of a full season.

That's what brings us to three of the last four on the list. They're hitters who aren't going to give you much offensively, which is a serious problem for a game centered around offense. What they will do however is boost your steals totals. While I do not advocate overdrafting for steals at certain power positions like the outfield, at a position where the offensive average is as low as it is at shortstop-last season, shortstops combined for a .255 EqA, below league average, and ahead of only catchers-the strategy makes more sense, as you aren't punting away other categories. For those who do not want to get their steals from shortstop later on in the draft, you have a few other options, like Hardy, who can hit a little and is surrounded by a powerful Brewer lineup.


Shortstop
Rnk Player              AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI    R  VORP  Beta
11. Khalil Greene      .253/.310/.443   22    6   82   68  28.5  0.97
12. Stephen Drew       .270/.340/.463   19    6   68   72  22.3  0.91
13. Miguel Tejada      .290/.340/.428   14    4   74   67  24.0  0.97
14. Michael Young      .289/.340/.411   11   10   69   76  23.0  0.96

As you can see, the drop in offense from these players to the ones with the steals isn't as drastic as the difference in their steal totals, which is why I like to focus my stolen base energy on positions like this. It all depends on your needs of course; if you manage to nab Reyes, Hanley, or Roberts, you're golden, and if you went out of your way to draft Carl Crawford before someone else could, then you might want to draft someone with a better bat here. Otherwise, this is one place to find your team's steals.

Pitchers will be going up next week; continue to send me your suggestions for formatting. As of now, I'm thinking 40-50 starting pitchers broken up into tiers to separate their production, and then a short list of closers and pitchers who will get Holds, another stat that is oftentimes used in leagues. You can e-mail me your ideas, or just submit a question to today's chat, where I will be answering your fantasy questions.

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