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March 22, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Luis Hernandez, New York Mets

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Luis Castillo being the incumbent for the New York Mets' second base job and how, despite his clearly declining skills, there were not significantly better options for the team. It seems the Mets took this statement as a challenge, releasing Castillo on Friday and opening the way for a full-on battle at second base. Luis Hernandez and Justin Turner are the only competitors we did not cover last week in the article, though this is what I said about Turner in the comments section:

From the minor league numbers, Turner appears to be very similar to Emaus in that he has below average power and doesn't excel in any other major categories. He has less of an eye at the plate, but still can limit strikeouts enough to muster a decent AVG. I'd put both of them on the same boat.

As for Hernandez, he seems to be the worst of the bunch, even though he apparently remains a favorite of Mets manager Terry Collins. Consider that Hernandez is a career .255/.302/.331 hitter in the minors, including a .249/.286/.314 slash line in 755 plate appearances in Triple-A. Most recently he managed a solid .290/.332/.403 line in 2010, splitting time in Double- and Triple-A, but that performance barely graded out around average when compared to the league performance. It is likely that the two major candidates are Hernandez and Brad Emaus, with Turner heading back to the minors and Daniel Murphy serving as a left-handed bench bat, and among the two competitors mentioned, Emaus would be the overall better choice. Any one of the Mets second basemen would be a late-round selection in NL-only leagues, but among them, Emaus seems like he could give you an acceptable performance; PECOTA projects a .257 TAv and there is decent upside on his 50th percentile projected .251 average.

Scott Sizemore, Detroit Tigers

Will Rhymes, Detroit Tigers

Danny Worth, Detroit Tigers

With Carlos Guillen expected to miss the start of the season recovering from his knee surgery, the Tigers still have a vacancy open at second base. Both Wil Rhymes and Scott Sizemore bring interesting skill sets into the battle for the keystone. Sizemore is a career .296/.382/.446 hitter in the minors and a .303/.373/.472 batter in 672 PA in Triple-A since 2009. Though his Triple-A lines from 2009 (.308/.378/.473) and 2010 (.298/.378/472) look eerily identical, be forewarned: his strikeout rate jumped from 14.8 percent to 22.5 percent, and that change was almost strictly a result of swings-and-misses. In 2009, Sizemore missed on only 13.7 percent of swings, while that figure jumped to 21.7 percent in 2010, a rate which he also displayed in the majors. That propensity to strike out (24.5 percent in the majors in 2010) helped to bring about his demotion after a slow start to the season.

Unlike Sizemore's roller-coaster season, Rhymes's 2010 was much more even-keeled. Following his best performance in the minors in Triple-A (.305/.370/.415), he followed it with an almost identical major league performance (.304/.350/.414) that saw him duplicate his absurdly low minor league strikeout rate. Rhymes is a heavy contact hitter with a career minor league strikeout rate of 10 percent and a strong 8.5 percent career walk rate. He has improved at preventing whiffs as the seasons have passed, going from missing on 18.0 percent of his swings in 2008 to just 7.5 percent in the majors in 2010. That has lead to a career .289 batting average in the minors that should translate fairly well to the major leagues.

Your preference in fantasy categories should determine which second baseman you would want manning second base for the Tigers to open the season. Sizemore has more power upside, with a career minor league ISO of .150, while Rhymes is mostly a punch-less wonder. Rhymes, however, will give you the more consistent .280 to .300 average due to his low strikeout rates, while you would expect more variance in Sizemore due to his increased dependency on BABIP. The tiebreaker may come in steals: Rhymes has swiped 20 or more bags in four of his six career minor league seasons, though he did not take advantage of this asset in the majors last season. With a career success rate of 79.6 percent in the minors, I would expect Rhymes to swipe 15 to 20 bags given enough playing time, and given Guillen's current recovery and propensity for injury (our Team Injury Projections have him at high risk to miss more than 30 days), that sort of playing time should be available. Sizemore will give you more upside, in that his high-variance skill set and better power should yield close to double-digit home runs and an outside (70th percentile projection) shot at a .270 average. However, if Rhymes starts, he should be good for a .280 AVG and more steals than what PECOTA is currently giving him credit for.

As for Danny Worth, while he is the superior defensive option over the other two players, he also comes with significant offensive problems. The minor league shortstop is a career .251/.317/.346 hitter with only minor impact on the basepaths, leaving him a fantasy non-entity.

Chris Getz, Kansas City Royals

Getz is a known commodity at this point in his young career. Looking at his 2009 season with the Chicago White Sox more or less sums up his yearly expectancy: that year he hit .261/.324/.347 with 25 steals in 27 attempts, adding up to a not-so-respectable .246 TAv (though that translates a bit better when it comes to fantasy value thanks to the base thefts). After an injury plagued 2010 season (he lost 36 days to injury), BP's Depth Charts and the news coming from camp agree that he will be starting at second base, with Mike Aviles shifting to third base. PECOTA's projection at Getz's projected playing time has him hitting almost exactly as he did in 2009, at .262/.321/.349 with 21 stolen bases. There is not much upside to that line, though he could stand to improve on the projected .292 BABIP given his speed. With his speed, he can certainly improve on his career .207 BABIP on ground balls. The PFM has him valued at $13 for AL-only leagues, and that sounds appropriate given his steals and playing time.

Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals

Aviles was a surprisingly valuable player last season coming back from a terrible 2009 season that was cut short by Tommy John surgery. Not only did he return to a form similar to his breakout 2008 campaign, but he also displayed a new skill on the bases as well. Following a career 63.9 percent success rate on 72 steal attempts in the minors and a 6.3 percent rate of attempted steals before 2010, Aviles increased his rate of attempts to 9.9 percent and swiped 14 bags in 19 tries as a result. Given the aggressive baserunning preference of manager Ned Yost, as clearly evidenced by this boldest of statements, this positive fantasy trend can only continue. Expect Aviles to be more aggressive on the bases this season, at least duplicating his nearly 10 percent rate of attempted steals from 2010.

As for the other categories, Aviles is at the whims of the BABIP gods: when they smile upon him, as they did in 2008 and 2010, his average looks excellent and his performance is dragged up along with it. When they do not favor him, as they did in the injury-riddled 2009 year, his game is difficult to watch. PECOTA takes a midline stance, projecting a very believable .281 AVG with an accompanying .310 BABIP. While he will never bring any value in an OBP or OPS league given his poor walk rates, he brings just enough power to hover around a .400 SLG and provide close to double-digit homers. The newfound steals and his positional eligibility at second base and third base (and, in leagues with more lax positional requirements, shortstop as well) should make him a useful commodity late in mixed league drafts.

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

Related Content:  Mike Aviles,  Steals

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