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March 21, 2012

Preseason Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 3/21/12

by Michael Jong

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Last week, a number of readers pointed out that some of the PECOTA ranks for the Value Picks series did not match up well with the ADP listed based on the name “Value Picks.” It should be noted that we do not necessarily fully agree with PECOTA and do rate players higher or lower depending on their prospects for the 2012 season, including any bonus (or potentially lost) playing time in addition to their skill set. Having said that, this week we bring players whose PECOTA ranks are higher than their respective ADP, with the smallest difference being four ranks.

John Buck | Miami Marlins | C
Mixed: $9 | NL-only: $11 | PECOTA C Rank: 13 | C ADP: 26

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

557

.234

18

1

63

62

Take a look at John Buck's PECOTA-projected 2012 batting line and compare it to this other player's very similar line:

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

498

.232

23

1

69

58

These numbers really are not all that different. They do come in a younger package but one that also has the same problems as Buck's. Take a look at their projected peripherals:

Player

K%

BB%

ISO

XB / H

BABIP

Buck

25.0

8.0

.165

0.701

.283

Player 2

25.7

6.6

.216

0.927

.266

The strikeout rates are almost exactly the same. Buck trades some OBP skill and BABIP for a power drop, but that gap in power is not represented significantly in fantasy baseball outside of the home run totals. “Player 2” is actually 26-year old J.P. Arencibia, who bashed 23 home runs last season while batting a meager .216. Buck was a lesser version of both the good and bad last year, having hit .227 with 16 homers.

Moving into 2012, it is unlikely that Buck tops Arencibia in performance, but it is not unbelievable to see these two playing similarly enough to justify a closer placement between them in draft status. Arencibia, being the young “prospect” among the two, is being drafted as the 11th best catcher in baseball this season despite very similar projected lines. Buck, on the other hand, is toiling next to A.J. Pierzynski, Miguel Olivo, and Rod Barajas. Such catchers were listed in the lower half of the “Two Star” and in the “One Star” tiers in Derek Carty's fantasy baseball catcher rankings. Buck will be benefiting from an improved offense in Miami, though there is concern that he could be moving into an even worse environment for hitting. He may not be quite at Arencibia's level, but there is no reason to believe that he cannot put up another 18-homer season (career 17.2 home runs per 500 PA) and gather another 500-plus PA for the Marlins this season. Such a performance should put him closer to a good second catcher choice rather than the poor one he is currently being valued as.

Daniel Murphy | New York Mets | 1B/2B/3B
Mixed: $9 | NL-only: $17 | PECOTA 2B Rank: 14 | 2B ADP: 18

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

591

.288

11

7

70

72

It is very easy to overlook what Daniel Murphy brings to the fantasy table because he does not excel at any one thing. His career line of .292/.343/.441 consists of a decent .141 ISO, a slightly above average but not alarming .319 BABIP, and low strikeout and walk rates seen in typical lighter-hitting contact-oriented middle infielders. Nothing he does ever really impresses, but Murphy's minor success in the majors thus far is still fantasy noteworthy because of one thing: position. As a first baseman, his numbers would be extremely pedestrian—even in a shallow NL first base pool—but because Murphy brings double-digit home runs and minor contributions on the basepaths with the “second base” position tag, he shoots up in value. If Murphy gets the playing time he should receive in a rebuilding Mets lineup, he would be a very good middle infield selection and a prime target for second base in NL-only leagues.

The only problem with that is whether he can stay healthy enough to do this. In each of the last two seasons, Murphy has missed time with knee injuries; he has hurt both his left and right MCL since 2010. Last season's injury did not prevent him from picking up enough playing time to impress and continue guaranteeing him a lineup spot, and the Mets do not have any good players who can take playing time away from him, provided he appears passable at the position. If there is an injury to a player other than Murphy, he is flexible enough to be moved around in the lineup, meaning he will find playing time no matter who is required to fill in. From last season, he already has position qualification at first and third base, adding slightly to his fantasy value as well. The major question again comes down to health, so owners who do draft him would be wise to stay on top of the waiver wire for likely infield pickups. But if he remains healthy, he should provide surplus value.

Rafael Furcal | St. Louis Cardinals
Mixed: $1 | NL-only: $13 | PECOTA SS Rank: 18 | SS ADP: 24

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

537

.266

7

16

51

61

If you were to examine Furcal's projected stats in rate form, this would not be the least bit surprising for him. Given his perennially low strikeout rates, one would expect at least a .260 batting average— though he has fluctuated around the number in recent years (three-year batting average of .269). He has lost a fair bit of speed due to aging and injury, but 16 steals in just over 500 plate appearances is more than reasonable even at this more advanced stage of his career; over the last three seasons, he has averaged 15 steals per 500 plate appearances.

Unfortunately, Furcal has not reached 500 plate appearances in either of the last two years, having missed 117 games since 2010. Furcal's checkered injury past in Los Angeles leaves doubt in his chances of even a moderately healthy 2012 and stifles the value that PECOTA has him at right now. Still, he is a better player than many of the shortstops currently drafted around him such as Alex Gonzalez and Ryan Theriot, and the Cardinals have little choice but to trot him out there given their lack of middle infield depth. If he can remain healthy, a season like PECOTA's projected year is extremely likely, and the little bit of help in steals and acceptable counting numbers would be worth a deep mixed or NL-only league pickup. The threshold for Furcal's usefulness ends at around 450 plate appearances though, even if he would then remain a decent waiver wire choice.

A.J. Pierzynski | Chicago White Sox | C
Mixed: $6 | AL-only: $12 | PECOTA C Rank: 18 | C ADP: 25

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

534

.265

9

2

55

57

Long has this author projected the demise of A.J. Pierzynski, but he refuses to let go of his spot on the rebuilding Chicago White Sox. He has stubbornly held on by doing the same thing he has for the past decade-plus: swing and make contact at everything. Among players with at least 1500 pitches seen in 2011, Pierzynski ranked seventh in swing percentage and 15th in contact percentage, and such a combination led to a career-low 6.6 percent strikeout rate. This marks the third straight season that he has struck out in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances, so it is a safe bet to see something like that happen in 2012 as well. His PECOTA-projected batting average is based on a .283 BABIP and 11.2 percent strikeout rate, which shows that there could easily be improvement on that mark based on the skills he has shown the last three seasons.

Even with his power decreasing below the double-digit home run mark, he has remained useful as a second catcher for fantasy teams each of the last two years. The only question is whether he can maintain his playing time in the face of Tyler Flowers, the power-hitting catcher prospect acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade. Flowers impressed in limited playing time last year, but our depth charts have Pierzynski slotted for 75 percent of the team's catching playing time, ensuring the necessary 500-plus plate appearances. His lack of injury history (he has missed just 30 games since 2003) should also assure the maximum playing time, meaning Flowers may have to wait another season before taking the reins in Chicago.

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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