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March 30, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Boston PECOTA 2007-09 Scoresheet Short-Term PT%
Catcher Age PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG K% BB% TB/H vRH vLH Rng CA 2B SS All
Victor Martinez 31 638 21 80 90 1 .286 .366 .453 11% 10% 1.57 –11 +29 .62/.19 85 90
Jason Varitek 38 188 5 17 18 0 .230 .328 .376 23% 12% 1.70 –22 +61 .67/.18 15 15
Heater team expert: Avg for Catcher .256 .324 .397 17% 8% 1.55 vRH = OPSvR Figures by Heater
Evan Brunell Avg for Second Base .274 .337 .409 14% 8% 1.49 vLH = OPSvL New upgrade
  Avg for Shortstop .272 .329 .396 13% 7% 1.46 Rng = Range New downgrade

 

SPRING TRAINING AB H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG K/BB SB/CS
Victor Martinez 47 15 4 0 1 .319 .347 .468 1/2 0/0
Jason Varitek 15 5 2 0 0 .333 .444 .467 2/2 0/0 Spring training stats per Heater

It seems the plight of Mike Lowell is affecting more than just the third base position. The inability to trade Lowell has forced the Red Sox to play him as a backup corner infielder. This saps the playing time that generally would go to starting catcher Victor Martinez, who usually backs up first base on his catching off-days. This practice has helped keep Martinez healthy and playing; Martinez has gathered 600+ PA in four out of the last five seasons. Heater expert Evan Brunell expects Martinez to pick up that slack playing more behind the plate at the expense of the husk of Jason Varitek. However, there is a risk with this move: Will Carroll mentioned in Boston's Team Health Report that Martinez' injury risk (he stands at "yellow" as of the report) is tied to his playing time behind the plate. Increased catching time may haunt the Red Sox, Martinez, and his fantasy owners.

While a big part of Martinez's appeal is his longevity, another major aspect is that he's just a good hitter. Outside of an injury-riddled 2008 season, Martinez has been consistently among the best offensive options at catcher. You can pretty much count on him posting an average around .300 because he is excellent at avoiding strikeouts; since 2004, Martinez boasts a superb 88.9 percent contact rate. PECOTA's 50th percentile projection of .286 is fair, but don't be surprised if he once again tops .300, as the 60th percentile on up has him hitting that mark. Martinez does not boast the best power, as his "Bash" (TB/H) are about average for a catcher. However, hitting cleanup OBP machines like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia should generate excellent RBI numbers. Martinez has reached 20+ homers four times in his career, but he is more of a ground ball hitter and will only reach that mark if he gets his maximum playing time as shown here. Varitek has shown little appeal for two seasons now, and PECOTA does not expect much change. Unless he begins starting regularly, you should avoid him.

St. Louis PECOTA 2007-09 Scoresheet Short-Term PT%
Catcher Age PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG K% BB% TB/H vRH vLH Rng CA 2B SS All
Jason LaRue 36 136 4 12 13 1 .211 .284 .350 22% 7% 1.61 –9 +23 .48/.19 20 20
Yadier Molina 27 510 8 49 55 5 .291 .362 .393 8% 8% 1.31 –17 +43 .39/.26 80 80
Heater team expert: Avg for Catcher .256 .324 .397 17% 8% 1.55 vRH = OPSvR Figures by Heater
Erik Manning Avg for Second Base .274 .337 .409 14% 8% 1.49 vLH = OPSvL New upgrade
  Avg for Shortstop .272 .329 .396 13% 7% 1.46 Rng = Range New downgrade

 

SPRING TRAINING AB H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG K/BB SB/CS
Jason LaRue 32 7 1 0 1 .219 .297 .344 7/1 1/0
Yadier Molina 35 11 6 0 0 .314 .351 .486 5/1 0/0 Spring training stats per Heater

With Yadier Molina suffering from a strained oblique, Heater expert Erik Manning expressed some doubt about Molina's ability to start come Opening Day. Though the injury is not severe (no more than a couple of weeks time missed at most), the possibility of seeing Jason LaRue take the helm at the start of the season must depress St. Louis and fantasy fans alike. While Molina is no stud at the catcher position (Marc Normandin ranked him in the three-star tier in his catcher rankings), it is very rare to find catchers who profile as league average or better hitters, and PECOTA has him firmly in that category with a .275 TAv. Molina's primary contribution in standard leagues is batting average. Like we saw with Martinez, Molina too avoids the strikeout, allowing for modest BABIP to produce very good AVG for fantasy. Molina takes this to an extreme, however, with a career contact rate of 90.9 percent and a three-year K% of just 7.8. Even with a PECOTA-projected modest .301 BABIP, he still projects with an AVG close to .300. Molina also walks a good deal more than his fellow Molina brothers, leading to a decent OBP as well.

Where Molina really struggles is in the power categories, where he is well below the average even for punchless positions like shortstop. He is generally a ground ball hitter (career GB% of 47.3) who lacks the power to put it out of the park (career HR/FB% of 5.2), meaning he will not be moving many runners over too far. His advantage is the chance to hit a few spots behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, players who will not require a whole lot of moving to score. Of course, don't expect a lot of runs; he is hitting near the bottom of the order and is, after all, a Molina (though PECOTA's five projected SB are a nice touch). LaRue and his .211 TAv should not be approached for whatever reason.

Cleveland PECOTA 2007-09 Scoresheet Short-Term PT%
Second Base Age PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG K% BB% TB/H vRH vLH Rng CA 2B SS All
Mark Grudzielanek* 40 182 3 17 14 1 .266 .319 .379 12% 5% 1.38 25 25
Luis Valbuena 24 589 13 67 61 11 .252 .321 .387 21% 7% 1.63 +16 –56 4.27 75 5 80
Heater team expert: Avg for Catcher .256 .324 .397 17% 8% 1.55 vRH = OPSvR Figures by Heater
Brian La Shier Avg for Second Base .274 .337 .409 14% 8% 1.49 vLH = OPSvL New upgrade
  Avg for Shortstop .272 .329 .396 13% 7% 1.46 Rng = Range New downgrade

*PECOTA-projected stats for Grudzielanek not team-specific

SPRING TRAINING AB H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG K/BB SB/CS
Mark Grudzielanek 30 7 3 0 0 .233 .258 .333 6/1 0/0
Luis Valbuena 32 6 1 0 0 .188 .297 .219 4/5 2/0 Spring training stats per Heater

Raise your hand if you guessed that Mark Grudzielanek would make an Opening Day roster. I didn't think so, and yet Grudzielanek "feels confident" about his chances of making the Indians' Opening Day roster. This does not mean that fantasy players should feel confident with either Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena opening up their 2010 fantasy season at second base. Valbuena is scheduled to take up the majority of the playing time in 2010 after flopping in 100+ games as the starter last season. His issues in 2009 involved contact, as he posted a contact rate of 77.4 percent that yielded a .250 AVG despite a respectable .296 BABIP. Valbuena's low walk rate did not help matters, leaving him with a sub-.300 OBP. When Valbuena did make contact, he showed surprisingly decent power (adjusted ISO of .158), and though PECOTA is skeptical of a repeat performance.

Marc Normandin ranked Valbuena as a two-star candidate in his second base rankings, based mostly off of the possibility of a full season of playing time. Based on Heater's short-term PT projections, that full-time job may not come to fruition. Valbuena certainly has not helped himself by playing poorly in spring training, though Grudzielanek has not been impressive himself. Valbuena is only an option in your deepest of AL-only leagues, as he is likely the worst projected starting second baseman in 2010. Grudzielanek's game has not changed for quite some time: he offers little in the way of power, but always makes decent contact (87.1 CT% since 2007), which should keep his batting average high. As late as 2008, Grudzielanek was still an above average hitter (.265 TAv in 2008), but PECOTA is pessimistic about the 40-year old's chances at returning to 2008's.299/.346/.399 line, pegging a similar line as his 70th percentile projection. Still, he too is of little fantasy interest, especially without playing time.

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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