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December 20, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter

by Rob McQuown

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One of the quirks of playing “replay” simulation games, such as Strat-O-Matic, is that when players are codified into “cards” based on the previous season, it's a lot easier to acquire “lefty bashers”.  This is especially true in league formats which don't use 30 teams (which is most of them, as with fantasy baseball).  Well, Neal Huntington and the Pirates aren't playing Start-O-Matic. But their lineup is starting to look like a “Strat” lineup, with all the lefty bats (lefty bats being coveted in sim games, because, well, it's often trivially easy to acquire platoon players to hit lefty pitching). But while Huntington isn't playing sim games, he's clearly looking at data, both simulated and real. PNC park suppresses righty homers, but is essentially neutral for lefty power. With Doumit (who bats lefty most of the time as a switch-hitter), Overbay, Walker, Alvarez, and Jones, the Pirates are building a lineup to match their environment. As with Carlos Pena in Chicago, Overbay is a good defensive first baseman who cannot hit lefties (career .259/.308/.402 against Southpaws). With all the lefties in the lineup, however, he should play virtually every day, especially since some of the other Bucs bats are even worse against lefties (Garrett Jones hit .220/.261/.360 vsL in 2010, for example). Even at age 34, it seems likely that Overbay will turn in his best season since his career year in 2006.

 

Yours truly shamefully admits to taking some amount of pleasure in the flop of the Seattle Mariners in 2010 – mainly based on the “we're smart and everyone else is not” attitude assumed by some of their fans on the Internet – admittedly, very petty on the part of this author. But even being petty, it's hard to argue that GM Jack Zduriencik isn't a good GM. The signing of Hideki Matsui to DH in Oakland is a minor example of this. Matsui has hit .281/.366/.474 the past four seasons combined (TAv of about .291). He'll be age 37 in 2011. Billy Beane, Inc. is paying him $4.25 million for his services in 2011. That's not so bad, you say, and what does this have to do with the Mariners? Well, see, the M's signed the guy the A's had playing DH before – for $2.5 million – and he's hit .247/.381/.457 over the past four seasons (in much tougher parks – for a combined TAv of about .301). Oh, and Jack Cust will be only 32 years old in 2011. So, the M's got the better, younger, hitter, and get $1.75 million to spend on a reliever (just guessing). Don't expect Matsui to match his 4-year totals, as Father Time beats on him for another round, and the ballpark does what it does to hitters (and for fantasy purposes, the lineup won't do him any favors, either). Long gone are his Iron Man days of playing every game, as well. He's still a good hitter, lest all the warnings give another impression, but he's nearing the end... and nowhere near as good of a “value” as that guy who will be playing in Seattle now.

When Ty Wigginton homered on August 9, 2010, it brought his season line up to .262/.336/.461, with 18 home runs and 60 RBI in 438 plate appearances. Considering his career batting line of .267/.326/.446, this was hardly newsworthy, and he even made his first All-Star game and was getting mentioned in rumors of contending teams looking for offensive help for the stretch run and playoffs. With the ability to play second base (poorly), third base (less poorly), and first base, he would have been a nice bench piece, but the Orioles didn't make a deal. That may have been a blessing in disguise for the teams which didn't trade for him, as he faltered down the stretch – hitting just .221/.261/.323 after that point.

In some ways, “Wiggy” does the same things as the other offseason pickup for the Rockies, Jose Lopez – both play second base and corner infield, bat righty, have power, and don't walk much. Mike Jong covered Lopez, as he's likely still able to play second base and might be in the mix for a starting job. Wigginton will likely get drafted for his second base eligibility in leagues where he's drafted, but he's here because, well, the Rockies have a lot of other middle infield options ahead of him on the depth chart. As with Lopez, Wigginton is likely “depth”, yet another power bat in the mix for a team which plays in a great home run park. With Lopez around, Wigginton's versatility will be less important, but his career-long tendency to have a platoon split will be important. He's hit a nifty .275/.351/.465 against lefties in his career. That's valuable for a team with lefty batters on both corners. And, while Todd Helton's past heroics and paycheck suggest a star-level player, it's even possible - not likely, but possible - that he'll be pushed aside by Wigginton at some point. Helton hit just .240/.345/.343 in road games last year, stats only Casey Kotchman would be happy about.

For fantasy purposes, the Ten-Year Trends graph shows that Wigginton clearly has the ability to hit for power, and obviously the move to Colorado won't hurt. He's entering his age-33 season, so he should have a couple good seasons left. In the thin air of Colorado, both his power and batting average will be aided, and if he wins manager Jim Tracy's favor in spring training, he could be one of the best bargains around, and a rare source of power among second base qualifiers

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

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