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March 19, 2010

Fantasy Beat

The Prodigal Oriole

by Craig Brown

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When Miguel Tejada wrapped up his 2008 season with a slash line of .283/.314/.415, it marked the second consecutive year of declines across the board.  The shortstop seemed to be on the downward spiral, hastened by off the field issues including taking a plea agreement that he withheld information from Congress in their steroid hearings and the revelation he was playing under a false birth certificate.  The decline was steep.

Year PA BA HR RBI OBP SLG TAv VORP
2006 709 .330 24 100 .379 .486 .293 66.1
2007 568 .296 18 81 .357 .444 .275 28.2
2008 666 .283 13 66 .314 .427 .253 19.4

A couple of things should be noted before we move on.  First, the 2008 season was his first in the National League after spending his entire career (11 seasons) in the junior circuit.  Second, he turned 34 (not 32 - as he would have under his forged birth certificate) in 2008.  In other words, his decline, while sharp, wasn’t unexpected.

Tejada turned back the clock during the first couple of months in 2009.  He rode a hot start to a final line of .313/.340/.455 with 14 HR and 86 RBI along with a .284 EqA and 44.4 VORP.  He moved from a fringe fantasy player to one who suddenly had an impact at his position.

Much has been made over the home cooking he took advantage of while playing in Houston.  Certainly, there’s some merit in this point.  The next chart breaks down his home and road splits during his two years with the Astros.

Split PA BA HR RBI OBP SLG
Home 671 .318 18 76 .344 .474
Road 667 .278 9 76 .310 .395

I love it when the splits feature identical playing time.  Normally, the significant differences between his home and road numbers (along with his advancing age and one year reversal of a decline) would be a legitimate warning sign now that he’s moved on to a new team.  Except in Tejada’s case, his new home is really his old home.  The Prodigal Oriole.

Here are his home and road splits for his four years as an Oriole:

Split PA BA HR RBI OBP SLG
Home 1341 .324 62 225 .370 .539
Road 1365 .298 40 174 .354 .463

Of course, no one is suggesting Tejada will be as productive as he was his first time through Baltimore.  Those days are over.  The point is, he’s comfortable at Camden Yards - presumably as comfortable as he was in Houston.  If you’re looking for a reason not to have Tejada on your team, the home/road split argument doesn’t hold water.

Moving forward, Tejada has never been a patient man at the plate, but he funnels that aggressiveness into a lofty contact rate.  Last year, he put the bat on the ball 87% of the time, his highest rate since way back in 2003.  He’s expanding his personal strike zone, swinging at over 32% of pitches that, according to Pitch f/x, would have been called balls.  That’s well above the Major League average which has been around 25% the last few years.  Compared to a mortal player, Tejada offers at far too many pitches.  Except for the last three years, Tejada made contact over 70% of the time when he offered at a pitch out of the zone.  We think of Vladimir Guerrero as the poster child for the art of bad-ball hitting.  Perhaps we need to change as Tejada has been the standard bearer in expanding his strike zone for the last couple of years.

However, his free swinging ways are coming at a cost.  Tejada is hitting more ground balls than ever and even when he does generate loft with his swing, the ball just isn’t carrying anymore - his HR/FB rate was at 5.2% in 2008 and 5.5% last year.  He’s held off a wholesale power outage by continuing to drive the ball into the gaps - he led the NL with 46 doubles last year.  

PECOTA has Tejada accumulating 551 plate appearances with a .302 batting average, 15 HR, 70 runs and 66 RBI.  Take the under on the home runs and the over on the RBI.  All of Tejada’s power comes when he pulls the ball and he still has enough bat speed to get around on a pitch.  His ability to make contact indeed makes him a stellar candidate to top .300.  And by hitting in the fifth or sixth spot in the Orioles lineup, he’ll easily surpass 80 RBI.  

He’ll shift to third for the first time as a major leaguer, giving him some fantasy positional versatility for this year which only helps his value.  In his shortstop rankings, Marc Normandin bestowed three stars upon Tejada.   His home splits won’t suffer in the move back to Baltimore and the AL, and his consistent contact rate keep him as a solid mid-round play in your draft.  Positional scarcity pushes him even higher.  There are certainly a plethora of quality shortstops in the National League, which decreases his value in mixed leagues, but for AL-only leagues, draft with confidence.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Positional Scarcity

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