From Ted Williams and Lou Boudreau to Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Moss, there's more to the shift than meets the eye.
Last week, Anthony Rizzo was the National League Player of the Week, batting .429 and driving in 13 runs. He hit two homers and had a fistful of clutch singles, many of them shot hard through the left side, even as teams persisted—and they will persist a while longer, until Rizzo really proves this is his permanent approach—in shifting or shading him toward the right side on the infield. It’s not why he won, but it’s dazzling to consider that he had that hot streak while handling the defensive responsibility of playing his 10th game at second base.
Obviously, that’s misleading. If you’ve paid much attention to the Cubs this year (or if you did so late last year, or if you just happen to play fantasy baseball), you know that the reason Rizzo has racked up brief appearances at second base is that he and the real second baseman switch spots in certain obvious sacrifice bunt situations. It involves Rizzo trading in his first baseman’s mitt (because the rules require as much), but it’s not a true position change. It’s just a defensive shift, with a little bit of extra pizzazz (or positional anarchy, if you will).
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Should you go with the veteran who enjoyed a 2014 renaissance or last year's breakout darling in drafts and auctions this spring?
Last week, I started the Tale of the Tape series with a pair of backstops, pitting Salvador Perez against Russell Martin. As we move on to first base this week, it appears we have another very close battle on our hands. This time around we’re presented with two players coming off the best performances of their lives. For one of them, it may have been the first great year in a string of many. For the other, it may have been the last great year in a tremendous career. It’s Anthony Rizzo vs. Victor Martinez. Let’s get started.
We start off with a category in which the winner is fairly straightforward. Obviously, average is always a tough stat to predict given the fluky nature of performance on balls in play. With that being said, Martinez has been consistently great in this area. Over his career, he’s played in at least 100 games nine times, and has put up an AVG over .300 in eight of those seasons. Rizzo, on the other hand, has been up-and-down over his short career. After stumbling to a .233 mark in 2013, he bounced back to .286 a year ago, mostly due to his BABIP coming back up to a more normal level. I still feel good about Rizzo’s future as a .280-plus batting-average player, but Martinez is too strong to overcome in 2015. Winner: Martinez
A look at the hitters who could outperform their PECOTA projections in the power department.
One of the fun ways we all try to outsmart our opponents in fantasy is by searching for hidden value in players who, for one reason or another, we suspect have the ability to outpace their projections (and, relatedly, their draft cost). Our Darkhorses series features staff picks for players who could very well outpace their PECOTA projections for the year and provide the top overall production in one of the standard five-by-five categories. We’ve all picked one player currently projected by PECOTA to fall outside of the top 10 and one longer shot player currently projected outside of the top 25. We’ll take a look at offense this week and pitching next. Yesterday’s look at batting average is here. And, without further ado, here are some players capable of teaching Chris Davis a thing or two about hitting dingers this year:
The senior-circuit bats might provide nice value on draft day.
Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs
Rizzo’s 2013 season boils down to a lack of singles. He notched 65 extra-base hits and generated a healthy 11 percent walk rate, but those types of things get mitigated in a big way fantasy-wise when you hit .233. His ADP is typically in the 100 range, and I think he can outperform that position this year. He has his issues with left-handed pitchers, but he also posted a .258 BABIP, which I think points to at least a bit of bad luck. If he gets the average in the .260 range, he makes a big jump in value considering the power potential. I think it’s a jump he can make considering the plate discipline and manageable 18.4 percent strikeout rate.
Rizzo is being judged off of what can only be described as a disappointing 2013, and that’s fair. But that assessment also creates an attractive value pick in the middle rounds of drafts.
You might want to let someone else gamble on these players in your fantasy drafts and auctions this spring.
First base is a very deep position, which affords fantasy owners plenty of opportunities to pad every offensive stat save for steals through their use. It also means that plays who whiff on their first base picks are automatically in a hole, an must make up for that lost ground elsewhere. Making up ground stinks, so be wary of these eight players.
Jose Abreu White Sox
This comes with a caveat, I’m not saying Jose Abreu will be a bust, but at a position like 1B, you have to get the production levels right. We don’t know what Jose Abreu will be in 2014; all we have are some reports and memories of his performance in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In deeper leagues he’s worth a shot, but in a standard 5x5 league, there’s too much risk here to pursue him aggressively. Sure, sometimes a gamble like this can pay off like Yoenis Cespedes did, but I would strongly advise against taking a huge gamble at a position that produces at the level 1B does. —Mauricio Rubio
Rick Renteria's lineup has a few intriguing bats, but you'll probably have to look elsewhere for pitching.
Last year was yet another tough one for Cubs fans, even if the Epstein/Hoyer/McLeod-led front office continues to stockpile assets. The win-loss record is a nagging source of frustration for the fans, and the on-field lineup might just be as frustrating for fantasy owners. With the potential to sport a platoon in the outfield and a defensive specialist in the infield, as well as a patient front office that will keep its drool-worthy prospects at bay, this Cubs tree isn’t likely to bear much fruit in the early going.
A fantasy-based look at how this position stacks up through 2016.
Everyone in fantasy sports loves the look-ahead. Even in the throes of a pennant race, you can fire up a conversation about next year’s first round and it will go on for an hour. With that in mind, the BP fantasy team will be taking a long view look at every position this offseason with three-year rankings (composite value at the position over the next three seasons). We continue our way around the diamond with first basemen today! First base is the storage locker for bad defenders who can hit, especially in the NL where there is no DH. The position is almost always adding staff, but their value at the position is mitigated until they’re done qualifying elsewhere.
For example, you would be insane to use a primary-catcher first-base-eligible asset anywhere but catcher. In no circumstance are they worth more playing first base, and if you carry two such assets and put one at first base, you’re not only robbing the value of this asset, but you’re also putting yourself behind in the counting categories of first base to teams who have full-time first basemen in their lineup. At any other position (though predominantly 3B and OF), they are never more valuable at first base. You could use them there in a pinch, but just like with the catcher, you’re sapping the value of the asset.
Anthony Rizzo may be making headlines, but the Cubs' much-maligned shortstop might their best hope for future success.
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Sahadev Sharmais a contributor to ESPN Chicago and ChicagoSide, where he regularly covers the Cubs and White Sox. Sahadev spent four years as a radio producer at ESPN 1000 in Chicago and often dabbled in the blogosphere. In the fall of 2010, Sahadev focused his attention on the writing side of the business and quickly realized that was where he belonged. If not spending his free time with his wife, one-year-old son, and two Italian Greyhounds, you’ll likely find Sahadev appreciating Starlin Castro’s ability to hit, defending Adam Dunn, or watching YouTube clips of the Illini’s 2005 NCAA tourney comeback against Arizona. Follow him on Twitter @sahadevsharma.