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
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In the debut edition, Jeff looks at the DH options of the NL clubs who will visit AL parks and the lineup changes for AL clubs losing the DH.
I am excited to introduce our weekly fantasy baseball Interleague Report. With interleague play now being year-round, we can benefit from keeping tabs on teams that have played or will be playing games in opposing leagues. The plan is to give you helpful info whether it relates to daily or weekly lineups, waiver or FAAB pickups, or changes in positional eligibility. The Interleague Report will cover last week, this week, and the following week.
These players are valuable fantasy hitters, but their versatility will be diminished in 2014.
For fantasy owners, nothing is quite so scary as the prospect of a good player taking a huge hit to his value thanks to a loss of positional eligibility. It happens every year, but it’s always tough to see a productive catcher move off the position, a great shortstop transition to third base or a floundering middle infielder make a shift to the outfield.
We tend to think of first base, in particular, as a position meant for mashers and as a fantasy gold mine. This is true, of course, but it’s also true because first base is the “back up” position for so many good players. If your catcher is a key cog in your offense, you try to sneak him PA at first. If your third baseman or corner outfielder is aging, you might try to get him some rest on the right side of the infield.
Health can play a big part in which teams win and which go home. In the AL East and AL Central, lost WARP can help explain the standings.
Driven by deep data sets, sophisticated technology, and collaboration between skilled statistical and scouting staffs, major-league teams have become increasingly adept at projecting player performance. In some respects, assembling a roster is the easy part of building a winning team. The hard part is making sure that roster remains intact. Speaking at Internet Week in New York earlier this year, Athletics General Manager Billy Beane stressed the importance of predicting and preventing injuries:
Michael Jong covers the catchers in Boston and St. Louis, along with the second basemen competing in Cleveland.
It seems the plight of Mike Lowell is affecting more than just the third base position. The inability to trade Lowell has forced the Red Sox to play him as a backup corner infielder. This saps the playing time that generally would go to starting catcher Victor Martinez, who usually backs up first base on his catching off-days. This practice has helped keep Martinez healthy and playing; Martinez has gathered 600+ PA in four out of the last five seasons. Heater expert Evan Brunell expects Martinez to pick up that slack playing more behind the plate at the expense of the husk of Jason Varitek. However, there is a risk with this move: Will Carroll mentioned in Boston's Team Health Report that Martinez' injury risk (he stands at "yellow" as of the report) is tied to his playing time behind the plate. Increased catching time may haunt the Red Sox, Martinez, and his fantasy owners.
While a big part of Martinez's appeal is his longevity, another major aspect is that he's just a good hitter. Outside of an injury-riddled 2008 season, Martinez has been consistently among the best offensive options at catcher. You can pretty much count on him posting an average around .300 because he is excellent at avoiding strikeouts; since 2004, Martinez boasts a superb 88.9 percent contact rate. PECOTA's 50th percentile projection of .286 is fair, but don't be surprised if he once again tops .300, as the 60th percentile on up has him hitting that mark. Martinez does not boast the best power, as his "Bash" (TB/H) are about average for a catcher. However, hitting cleanup OBP machines like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia should generate excellent RBI numbers. Martinez has reached 20+ homers four times in his career, but he is more of a ground ball hitter and will only reach that mark if he gets his maximum playing time as shown here. Varitek has shown little appeal for two seasons now, and PECOTA does not expect much change. Unless he begins starting regularly, you should avoid him.
A potential move to first poses the question of whether the Cleveland catcher can hit enough to play there.
Victor Martinez's top PECOTA comparables are both catchers who could hit incredibly well, but eventually bounced all over the diamond. Ted Simmons did not leave his catching duties permanently, but logged a few games at first, third and the corner outfield spots. Joe Torre played more combined games at first and third base than he did at catcher, with most of the games at first base coming during those years where he had time behind the plate. Victor Martinez is more than likely going to traverse that same road, as the Indians have already started to play him at first base. Whether his bat plays well enough there is the question at hand for the Tribe.