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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Our fantasy crew's favorite value picks at a spot where elite production is critical.
First base is a position that harbors many good fantasy players. These are some the aforementioned good players who we feel are comparatively more good than their peers.
Brandon Belt, Giants
Heading into 2013 there were legitimate concerns about Belt’s power and by extension his viability as an everyday major-league 1B. Belt answered those concerns with a strong season, complete with 60 extra-base hits, a solid walk percentage (9.1) and a pretty damn good 139 wRC+. Belt plays in extreme parks the majority of the season—AT&T and PETCO strongly favor pitchers, Coors and Chase Fields both favor hitters, and LA falls somewhere in the middle, depending on what time the game starts. He hit well on the road in 2013 and his production didn’t nosedive at home. Belt will be undervalued this year, and while he isn’t an elite-level 1B, he provides enough production to warrant being a starter in standard fantasy formats. —Mauricio Rubio
In addition to exploiting lefty-righty matchups, the A's also have a significant edge in the air.
The Oakland Athletics finished 2013 with baseball's fourth-lowest payroll, fourth-best offense, and best clubhouse chemistry. Debate hascentered on whether the latter two are related. There’s nothing objectionable about “good guy” genes—it’s a solid organizational goal to have. But chemistry alone doesn’t put runs on the board, and if a team is missing the talent, they better find the runs elsewhere. The 2002 Athletics discovered them in walk deities and college arms; once those methods pervaded front offices, the A’s slipped back into losing. Was chemistry the only undervalued commodity of their recent resurgence?
As the baseball community obtains more knowledge, roster construction strategies evolve. Previously undervalued talents like walks and defense are now accepted constructs. The A’s are Hollywood-infamous for adopting them before their competitors while prices were low. After a 74-win 2011, they cheaply signed Brandon Inge and Jonny Gomes, who Brandon McCarthy claimed bolstered the clubhouse DNA to the tune of 20 wins. But Inge and Gomes were two of several players who also bolstered a less-visible statistic: fly ball-to-ground ball ratio.
A power-packed middle of the order and a postseason darling on the mound are among the players who ought to pique your interest in Bob Melvin's bunch.
The Athletics were the surprise winners of the AL West last year, relying on a power-heavy offense and good, young pitching to conquer preseason favorites in Texas and Los Angeles (of Anaheim).
Fantasy owners who took gambles on some Athletics players last year were largely rewarded, as some oft-injured contributors stayed healthy, while some relative unknowns emerged as reliable fantasy assets. Were said performances sustainable, or should fantasy players stay away from the offense-suppressing environment in Oakland? We take a look in this early preview.
The A's bring up a power-hitting outfielder, though his window to contribute meaningfully may not open until next year.
The Situation: After posting a strong .302/.390/.445 slash line in 132 games at Triple-A Sacramento, Choice has received his first call to Oakland. It’s a true September call-up, as Choice isn’t being brought up with the expectation that he’ll receive regular at-bats in the club’s chase for a postseason berth. As reported by A’s beat writer Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Choice’s call “is a reward for a solid season by a high-profile prospect.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean Choice can’t make an impact or work his way into some playing time. Oakland’s outfield situation is tenuous at present, with Chris Young and Seth Smith underperforming while Josh Reddick is on the shelf for at least another week. As a result, regular first baseman Brandon Moss has taken over in right field––filling in for Reddick––with Daric Barton and Nate Freiman working the first-base platoon. While the unstable situation could yield a slight window of opportunity for Choice, it’s more likely that his first serious look comes next spring.
Looking at some first-time starters in 2013 to see which ones will stick.
For every top talent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado who claims a regular role from the moment he makes the majors, there’s a veteran who bounces around for years while he waits his turn for a chance to start somewhere. The following 10 players are looking to make the leap to full-time starter status this season. But do they have what it takes to succeed in their expanded roles, or will they be busted back to the bench?
Brandon Moss, Athletics, 1B
Moss’ power output was impressive last season, but it was partially a product of aggressive platooning by Bob Melvin, who limited him to only 62 PA against lefties. Chris Carter’s departure opens a path to more playing time for Moss (and speaks to Oakland’s confidence that he can repeat his success), but it will also make it more difficult to protect him against southpaws. Can he stick? No. A’s batting coach Chili Davis worked closely with Moss to get him to embrace his pull power, so it’s possible that his pre-2012 stats are deceptive. But the 29-year-old’s projection isn’t pretty: .238/.301/.421 with subpar secondary skills, which wouldn’t come close to cutting it at first base.
A look at 10 new managerial candidates, and a conversation with Mets manager Terry Collins.
The All-Star break is coming into view, yet no managers have been fired this season. In fact, there have been only a few reports of any of the 30 major-league skippers even possibly being in trouble. But it will eventually happen. Some owner will finally get fed up, drop the axe, and his club will begin a managerial search.
Though we had fewer trades this week than we've had in recent years, we did have more big-ticket trades, beginning with the CC Sabathia-to-Milwaukee deal, and culminating in the Manny Ramirez blockbuster trade to the Dodgers. This was overall a fairly satisfying trade period, even if there were more fizzles than trades on deadline day Thursday. When evaluating these deals from a fantasy perspective, often it's the ancillary effects that are the most interesting. After all, there's not much to analyze in terms of what Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, Jason Bay, or even Casey Kotchman might do. We'll instead train the vast majority of our focus on how the rest of the dominoes fall, starting with the two major deals on Saturday.
Transactions galore: the Yankees practice running in place; the Red Sox beef up their bullpen; the Giants aquire a starter for the postseason; the A's add a little power to their outfield; and the Reds throw up the white flag, but get some pretty good arms in return. All this and much more news from around the league in your post-Trading Deadline edition of Transaction Analysis.