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August 24, 2011

The BP Trading Post

Top Catchers and Resurgent Shortstops

by Michael Jong

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Since my weekly stint on Value Picks deals with the land of up-the-middle defensive positions, it seems only fitting that my article in this week's BP Trading Post also deals with the valuing of trades involving some of the top names in terms of catchers, second basemen, and shortstops. Here are a couple of names at each position who have performed radically different than their preseason expectations, along with how fantasy owners are treating them trade-wise as the season winds down. For the sake of reference, the details about the cards and what they mean have been copied from Derek Carty's inaugural piece and pasted below.

Trading Post Card Explanation
Each player discussed in Trading Post will receive a “Trading Post Card.” This card will be jam-packed with useful information about each player’s trading profile. It will list information about the player himself, look at every trade the player has been involved in over the past two weeks and every player he’s been traded for, and give information about the average player he’s been traded for. Hopefully these cards will be self-explanatory, but if you’re not sure what anything means, here’s an explanation of everything:

  1. League Type tells whether we’re looking at the player’s value in a mixed, AL-, or NL-only league
  2. Rest-of-Season tells us:
    a. The player’s PECOTA-projected dollar value for the rest of the season
    b. The average PECOTA-projected dollar value of the players received in trades
  3. Year-to-Date tells us:
    a. The dollar value worth of the player’s performance to date
    b. The average dollar value worth of the performance to date of the players received in trades
  4. ROS Forecast tells us what PECOTA projects the player to do over the rest of the season
  5. ROS Return (Hit) looks at all trades in which the player was swapped one-for-one for a hitter and tells us the average PECOTA projection for those hitters
  6. ROS Return (SP) looks at all trades in which the player was swapped one-for-one for a starting pitcher and tells us the average PECOTA projection for those starters
  7. ROS Return (RP) looks at all trades in which the player was swapped one-for-one for a relief pitcher and tells us the average PECOTA projection for those relievers

Joe Mauer | Minnesota Twins | C
A couple of seasons ago, Joe Mauer was coming off an MVP year and was being considered a first-round draft pick of the highest order. After a 2010 that looked suspiciously similar to his (strong) 2008 season, however, injuries have taken a toll on Mauer. His power has been sapped with just one homer in 281 plate appearances and a .063 ISO. For fantasy purposes, Mauer's batting average is not all that far from where it should be, and he is still scoring runs at a 30 percent clip, very similar to his 31 percent career mark. Still, he has walked a lot less than usual despite not changing his swinging habits; he is receiving more called strikes and whiffing more often, but this has eaten more at his walks than his strikeouts, which are high for him but not the least bit alarming. 

Fantasy owners seem to have given up on Mauer in 2011, valuing him far below what PECOTA expects. While PECOTA still sees a three-year weighted average of Mauer's performances—including both his 2009 highs and his 2011 lows—fantasy owners are well aware that Mauer is still hurt and may need the offseason to fully recover from his injuries, making him a meager shell of his previously established career bests. Given what we have heard about Mauer's ongoing health issues this season, fantasy owners may be in the right on this one in devaluing Mauer's 2010—though maybe not to the extent they presently are.

Alex Avila | Detroit Tigers | C
Avila has bust out in a big way for the Tigers, batting .302/.397/.521 en route to a very valuable fantasy season for owners. Sure, some of those numbers are a bit on the fluky side—particularly the .302 batting average from a catcher with a .280 average in the minors and a 2011 BABIP of .371—but it seems that while PECOTA thinks a good deal of Avila's 2011 performance is convincing enough to continue projecting a .143 ISO and a .259 batting average, fantasy owners seem a bit more skeptical, at least in terms of multi-player trades.

Looking at Avila's card, one can see that while owners are pretty evenly valuing him with other players based on their rest-of-season PECOTA projections (remember, these come from one-for-one trades, which there is a smaller sample of), their overall dollar values (which are based on both one-for-one and multi-player deals) show a distinct discrepancy which does not go away when considering either his current or rest-of-season performance. It seems some owners are not yet believers of Avila, and a wise fantasy owner may be able to squeeze a bit more value out of a multi-player trade by including him as part of the package. 

Ben Zobrist | Tampa Bay Rays | 2B/1B/OF
Zobrist is quietly having his second MVP-caliber season, batting .286/.375/.498 with 15 homers and 41 doubles. His strikeout and walk numbers remain within reason given his career marks with the only major changes being a rediscovery of his previously absent power and some good BABIP luck. Once again, however, fantasy owners do not seem impressed, valuing him at $3 going forward despite his top-notch 2011 performance. Part of it is understandable, as PECOTA projects him to hit .247 until the end of the year, but his value in terms of power and baserunning should be able to carry his likely low average. But it seems fantasy owners are over-regressing his numbers, perhaps in fear of a late-season performance more akin to his popless 2010 turnout. 

As was the case with Avila, it does seem like Zobrist is being more undervalued in multi-player trades than in straight one-for-ones. Looking at the averages among position players, those trades do seem to be fair in terms of the 5x5 numbers, though they do not consider the positions involved. Once again, if you have the opportunity to acquire “Zorilla” from an owner who is devaluing him due to his most recent seasonal results, take advantage, as he should outperform his average trade return. 

Darwin Barney | Chicago Cubs | 2B 
Barney, on the other hand, is an example of a player who is likely to regress but is being dealt as he’ll continue performing at his present level. PECOTA sees a mediocre .276/.309/.343 from Barney going forward—not all that different from his career .285/.325/.360 line. Along with that .276 batting average, PECOTA sees just one stolen base, which goes jives with Barney's lack of basestealing prowess. His .326 BABIP is not terribly outlandish, but his minor league mark was .318, and he should eventually drop a bit below that mark.  

Despite all of this, Barney is netting trade returns with expected slash lines similar to those being dealt for Zobrist despite being leagues behind him in terms of real or fantasy value. It is as if he is being judged as a .290 hitter who scores runs on 37 percent of his times on base, when it is far less likely that he can keep up this pace. Barney is one of the few sell-high candidates on this list. He is on his way to regression eventually, and it will not hurt to extract some extra value for a player who is essentially just a good singles hitter from an owner desperate for middle infield help. Even a beneficial one-for-one return seems likely. 

J.J. Hardy | Baltimore Orioles | SS 
Hardy is having a resurgent season for the O's, hitting .269/.312/.512 with 24 homers to his name. Sure, that power pace is not going to last given his career high 17.0 percent HR/FB rate, but his increase in fly balls this season (up to 44.8 percent from a career 38.6) has undoubtedly helped him lift a few more balls out of the friendly confines of Camden Yards. Every other number has remained very static; his batting average and OBP are very similar to his career standards, and he is scoring (31 percent of times on base) and driving in runners (15 percent of baserunners) at about career rates as well. 

All of these changes seem pretty explainable, particularly thanks to the move to a new hitter-friendly stadium (Hardy is hitting .309/.354/.525 at home), but fantasy owners remember quite well how awful his previous two seasons with Milwaukee and Minnesota were and are not willing to get burned in a deal for him. Despite a season in which the shortstop hitting is once again at the bottom of the positional barrel (shortstops own a collective .260/.314/.374 line), Hardy and his fantastic season are still fetching a little more than half of his projected value. PECOTA's .266/.318/.424 projected line is an almost dead ringer for Hardy's career line, and that should fetch more as a shortstop than what owners are paying right now. Acquire him while the price is still cheap.

Jhonny Peralta | Detroit Tigers | SS 
Peralta is in a similar boat as Hardy's. Three years ago, he hit .276/.331/.473 with 23 home runs for the Cleveland Indians. Two terrible, almost identical seasons later, and Peralta had become a borderline acceptable shortstop option: someone who could hit double-digits in home runs and bat .250 with plenty of playing time. Those who “settled” for Peralta on draft day ended up with a steal, as he is in the midst of a career best season, hitting .315/.361/.512 and once again unlocking the power that made him a good fantasy shortstop in 2008. 

As is the theme of much of this article, fantasy owners have not bought into Peralta's improvements, as well they should not have. While the power return may have had something to do with an increase in fly balls, there was no change in park between late last season and this year or an injury recovery to signal positive things to come, as was the case with Hardy. The rest of Peralta's improvements were in BABIP, as his .345 mark is the second highest of his career. PECOTA expects a .268 batting average with three homers and decent counting stats, and it seems that total is far more in line with the expectations of fantasy owners buying and selling Peralta. Everyone is in agreement that a lot of regression is coming for the Tiger shortstop.

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:  Trades,  PECOTA,  The Who,  Player,  Darwin Barney

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