April 27, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
We have some movement in our latest edition of Hot Spots' Value Picks portfolio. Going away for now are Akinori Iwamura and A.J. Pierzynski (in the table, our leaving players are always highlighted in yellow). Pierzynski has continued to struggle in Chicago and while I do think he will regress to his normal self in due time, there are enough available catching options outside of AL-only leagues to allow you let someone else wait for Pierzynski's regression. Even if he does return to form, with his age and skillset, there appears to be little upside in his pickup. Iwamura is still a solid option as well, but a combination of his struggles and the Pirates' relatively inept offense could stifle his runs scored, which remains the best argument for Iwamura.
Replacing them this week is a pair of players who look to provide production in similar niches as the departing players. One catching option of interest to players in deeper on NL-only leagues is Florida's John Baker. Baker was a surprise call-up two years ago when the Marlins were in a desperate search for anyone who could wield the tools of ignorance, and he stuck because of an inflated AVG (.299 of a .367 BABIP) and decent pop for a catcher. Since 2009, Baker has been the big half of a platoon with Ronny Paulino, which has allowed him to mostly stay away from lefties; as you can see on the Scoresheet section of the Value Picks table, staying away from lefty pitchers should be high on Baker's priority list.
Baker's game and his value in fantasy is reliant upon his BABIP and strikeout rates. In his first two seasons in Florida, he struck out in 20.9 percent of plate appearances, yet managed to still pull off a respectable (and good for a catcher) .281 AVG in that same span. The reason for this is his oddly high BABIP; for those two seasons, his BABIP was .344, very high for a slow-footed catcher. While some of that may have been luck, our own Matt Swartz' E-BABIP equation has Baker actually running an expected .315 BABIP based on his expected batted ball distribution. Baker primarily hits the ball on the ground (career ground-ball rate of 49.5 percent), which limits his power, but he has decent gap/line drive power and will pick up plenty of doubles in his plate appearances. The other major aspect of his game is his plate patience, as he has a career walk rate of 10.7 percent. Currently he is batting in front of the slumping Cody Ross and Gaby Sanchez, but the struggles of Chris Coghlan may also give him PA in the number two slot in the lineup, ahead of Hanley Ramirez and Jorge Cantu. Expect decent runs scored and RBI given the potent Marlins lineup. Scoresheet owners, however, should be extra wary of picking up Baker; not only does he display those frightening platoon splits, but Baker is a notoriously poor defensive catcher who struggles to control the running game.
Felipe Lopez was prominently featured in this space during the offseason, and much of the analysis from back then remains the same. Lopez lives and dies by BABIP, but E-BABIP suspects a .332 BABIP based on his batted ball distribution. With Lopez batting at the top of the lineup when playing, he will have plenty of opportunities to score while batting ahead of such luminary bats as Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. The question was in how much time Lopez would get, and the answer is beginning to become clear early in the season. As fellow Hot Spots writer Michael Street mentioned in yesterday's piece, starting third baseman David Freese is struggling, and Lopez is ready to take more time away from him should the opportunity arise. Lopez is already in a time share with shortstop Brendan Ryan as well, along with stealing approximately 20 percent of the playing time at second base according to Heater team expert Erik Manning's estimates. With Freese's struggles, Lopez might pull just enough time away from him to essentially be a full-time player playing multiple positions on the diamond, and as a full-time player, he is well deserving to be taken in more than 2.2 percent of ESPN mixed leagues.
The rest of the Value Picks had a bad week at the plate, but were able to hang onto their spots. If either Alberto Callaspo or Orlando Hudson is still available, snatch them up quickly, as neither player is likely to last another week being readily available in the waiver wires. The two shortstops are still available in more than 97 percent of ESPN mixed leagues (unsurprisingly) and remain decent options in AL-/NL-only leagues, especially given the absolute dearth of shortstop depth this season.