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January 29, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Bashing, and Not Bashing

by Marc Normandin

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One of the more intriguing situations for fantasy owners each offseason is keeping tabs on the players who have switched leagues. For teams that play in AL- or NL-only leagues, players you normally could not acquire have become available to you, or those who you're used to taking a chance on have moved on to greener pastures (though in this winter's baseball economy, "different" pastures may be more accurate).

Regardless of any limitations your league may or may not impose on the talent pool, you now have players in different contexts than those they were in before; new park factors to consider, new teammates who could affect their numbers, and what their presence might mean to other players on the team. It could be a high slugging-percentage hitter who now makes the OBP guy in front of him more valuable, or a defensive stud who makes the team's starting pitchers more attractive to you on draft day. These are some things to consider before making your draft rankings (and I promise mine will be coming in February) in preparation for the big day.

Though he did not have a set position for much of 2008, Ramon Vazquez was an important part of the Rangers' lineup last year. He ended up with 347 plate appearances and hit .290/.365/.430, a vast improvement over his 2007 line in Texas (.230/.300/.373 in 345 PA), while spending time at second, third, and shortstop. The 32-year-old utilityman signed on with the Pirates this winter after making himself relevant on the fantasy scene for the first time since, well... forever.

It's hard to imagine a situation where Vazquez will remain useful though, given both his track record and the settings that helped to boost his value last year. While he's now in the National League, where the level of competition is lower and there are more hitters' parks to help bump up his stats than there are in the American League, he's also leaving the Ballpark at Arlington, one of the league's premier offensive havens, where he hit .308/.389/.449 last year, as opposed to just .271/.340/.410 on the road. That second line isn't bad for a utilityman in the major leagues, but if you're going to draft a utility player in your league, you'll want someone who puts up better numbers than that.

What keeps him from seeing more playing time is his awful track record against left-handers; he hit .188/.259/.208 against them last year, and .191/.260/.229 from 2006-2008. Along with the expected dip in offense he'll get from leaving Texas, this should keep you from considering Vazquez, since you'd need a platoon player to spell him against southpaws, and in many leagues the rosters simply aren't big enough to accommodate such a move.

Edgar Renteria was a disappointment once again in the AL after two solid years spent in Atlanta patching up the damage he had done to his reputation during his one season in Boston. He hit .270/.318/.382 in '08, even lower than PECOTA's pessimistic weighted mean of .279/.344/.394 heading into the year. There is some good news for owners hoping to give him another shot though, as he is now back in the National League with the Giants. Like Vazquez, Renteria is heading to the circuit where the pitching is not as good and there are more parks that favor hitters (though his new home is not among them). The most important bit of information on Renteria may be his half-season splits; he hit .254/.301/.326 before the All-Star break, and a significantly better .296/.343/.469 afterward. Renteria was supposedly out of shape when he reported to camp last year for the Tigers-not a big surprise, since he had done the same with the Red Sox just a few years before-but he has worked out harder this winter to try and run with his performance from the second half, instead of spending the first three months of the season getting back into playing form.

If Renteria is in shape, he should hit, though relying on him to slug .470 may be a bit optimistic. Keep an eye on him as spring training begins, and see if any news leaks out about his conditioning (or lack thereof), since that may be the single biggest factor in determining his value on draft day. Other than that, there are his home/road splits to worry about (.216/.270/.313 on the road, though that might be a one-year blip), as well as his struggles to hit well against right-handers. If you're not hitting righties, you're probably not a very good hitter overall, but his performance against southpaws along with his improved overall performance may make him worth a shot anyway; he's a shortstop after all, and the position isn't exactly bursting at the seams with top-tier talent. Just know that in head-to-head leagues, he may drive you crazy whenever a righty is on the mound.

The Raul Ibanez signing by the Phillies may have been silly on their end, as there were similar, less expensive, defensively more adept, and much more younger options on the market, but none of that should matter to you on a fantasy level. No, instead, you should be focusing on the fact that Raul Ibanez has hit .291/.351/.480 and .293/.358/.479 the past two seasons, and he's now coming to a park in the weaker league that will boost his statistics; the bandbox in Philly is one of the better parks for offense in either league.

Don't expect Ibanez' power numbers to skyrocket though, as Safeco's reputation as a pitcher's park stems from its being death to right-handers; left-handers like Ibanez have a short power alley in right-center (13 of his 14 home runs at home last year were to right-center and right), and while Citizen's Bank Park is known for being snug, its right-field dimensions are actually no smaller than Safeco's. Any boost he may see is going to come from facing less talented pitching on a consistent basis, though the teams that he faced most often in the AL weren't all that (Texas and their embarrassing league-worst staff, anyone?)

Essentially, you're going to want to avoid underrating Ibanez because of all the flak the Phillies got for signing him, but avoid overrating him just because he's moving from a pitcher's to a hitter's park; his left-handedness kept Safeco from hurting his numbers as much as they would a righty. He's solid, but unspectacular, a decent pick for the later rounds if you missed out on some of the bigger bats.

The man Ibanez is replacing, Pat Burrell, also switched leagues, but unlike the others in today's article, he's moved on to the American League, and out of a severe hitter's park into one that fits more into the neutral/pitcher-friendly category. Burrell lives on his patience and his pull power; 11 of his 12 round-trippers at home last year were pulled. Moving to Tampa Bay will restrict some of that pull power, as it is one of the worst parks in the league for right-handed power hitters-notice that Tampa Bay has constructed a lineup where half or more of the starters are left-handed or switch-hitters.

If those 12 home runs at Citizen's Bank Park seemed low to you, it's because they were. Burrell hit 21 homers on the road, with an impressive .270/.387/.577 line, and strangely enough, he hit just .230/.348/.439 at home. That's not to say that getting out of Philadelphia is going to be good for his home numbers, but rather that the move to Tampa Bay won't necessarily hurt him all that much; if he hits exactly like he did last year overall, he's going to have immense value both to your team and to the Rays. Keep in mind that his home/road splits from 2008 are the polar opposite of 2007's numbers, and it's hard to put much stock into single-season splits. He should be better than he was at home last year, and even if he's not as good on the road, he shouldn't be significantly worse; there are parks that boost right-handers' numbers all over the AL as well-in Chicago, in Baltimore, in Texas-and he's going into a lineup that may be one of the best in the league this season thanks to another year of development and improved health.

Related Content:  Raul Ibanez,  The Who

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