We've kicked off our RC/27 projections by ranking AL players at the power positions -- first base and outfield. Now we will turn our attention to the rest of the field. Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez and Alex Rodriguez are perennial top picks because of their high levels of offense at production-scarce positions, but there are plenty of other candidates to be taken in the early rounds from these less glamorous positions.
The visualization below will help you to gauge how Fantasy production, particularly in Head-to-Head, will be distributed within each position in the AL. More than just a pretty picture, these graphs can guide you in determining how much of a price there is to pay by waiting to draft a player at a particular position. Is there life at catcher after Victor Martinez? Should you grab Evan Longoria before he goes off the board? Take a look at where they sit on these ranked bar graphs and compare the dropoff against the other tradeoffs you are considering as you develop your draft list.
Mauer and Martinez are the clear leaders at the position, but is there anyone worth monitoring once they have been drafted? With Matt Wieters, Mike Napoli, Jorge Posada and Kelly Shoppach nestled just below the elite, at first glance there appears to be an ample second tier. However, Napoli and Shoppach will probably split a considerable share of their at-bats, Posada is no sure thing to play even 100 games, and Wieters has all of 354 major league ABs to his credit. Despite the risks, this foursome has the potential to leave the rest of the field in the dust. If you miss out on these first two tiers, there is little that separates the rest of the AL regulars. The lone exception is Jason Kendall, who once again stands out for his lack of potential to produce in Fantasy.
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Who should you target first among the second tier?
Wieters is the only catcher among this cohort who has both tremendous upside and the likelihood of regular at-bats. As a rookie, he already established himself as a middle-of-the-pack catcher, even after getting bogged down by a slow start after his callup. Given his minor league accomplishments and strong second half with Baltimore, it's not a stretch to forecast a .300 batting average with 20-plus home runs in his first full major league season.
Why is Kurt Suzuki absent from the second tier?
2009 was a very good season for Suzuki ... maybe a little too good. He made enormous strides in his power stats and strikeout rate, well beyond what his minor league stats would portend. Suzuki's .146 Iso at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum looks especially suspect. It's true that he compiled a .160 Iso in his rookie season, but that was accomplished in just 213 ABs and with an elevated flyball rate that sank his batting average. Because he was victimized by a low BABIP last year, there is still room for Suzuki to grow his batting average, but he won't show enough power to keep up with Wieters or Posada.
For a reputedly weak position, second base is surprisingly top heavy, with six regulars projected to produce at least 6.0 RC/27. Ben Zobrist stands out among this top tier, with Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, Ian Kinsler and Brian Roberts all clustered together just below. After a sizable second tier, Mark Ellis and Scott Sizemore represent the endgame options for AL-only owners. Owners in 5x5 leagues should leave Ellis for last, as Sizemore's potential for stolen bases gives him an edge.
Who gets the nod after Zobrist has been taken?
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The five names in this group are so similar in their projected production that you really can't go wrong with taking any of them. Still, each comes with his own set of risks, and this is what separates them from one another. Because Aaron Hill has produced at such a high level for just one season, he inspires the least confidence in a repeat performance. Ian Kinsler has had a longer run as an elite second baseman, but last year he traded off batting average in order hit more homers via an inflated flyball rate, a trend that could prove detrimental to his Fantasy value over the long haul.
The remaining three second basemen -- Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano and Brian Roberts -- are much safer options. Pedroia and Roberts have both been exceptionally consistent in terms of their overall production, though Roberts' age and decreasing steals trend should give owners pause. If not for a down year in '08, Cano could match Pedroia and Roberts for consistency. There are only minor differences in production among these options, so reliability is at a premium. That gives Pedroia a slight advantage over Cano and Roberts.
A-Rod is still tops at the hot corner, but Kevin Youkilis and Evan Longoria are worthy alternatives, good enough to snag within the first four rounds of a mixed league draft. As with the catching corps, the dropoff is steep once owners have grabbed the top players. Half a dozen third basemen compose a tightly-packed second tier in which all players are projected within 0.5 RC/27 of each other. If you have missed out on any of the AL's nine best at this position, you might as well wait until the endgame to fill this slot on your roster. There is little to distinguish any of the players in the latter half of this bottom-heavy heap.
Can Chone Figgins rejoin the top tier?
From a skills perspective, Figgins' 2009 season was not a reach by any means. He was the same speedy, patient hitter that he has been for years. Much of Figgins' value came from Mike Scioscia's aggressive approach to stealing and advancing baserunners, so his move to Seattle could have a negative impact on his value. In his first season as the Mariners' skipper, Don Wakamatsu showed no such tendencies. Figgins should be able to replicate a .300-ish batting average, but his ability to steal bases and score and drive in runs could be hampered if Wakamatsu continues to play it safe. The Seattle organization pays attention to sabermetric research, but their more recent acquisitions (e.g., Milton Bradley, Casey Kotchman, Jack Wilson) don't seem to indicate a move towards exploiting the benefits of a more aggressive running game.
A year ago, AL shortstops were characterized by mediocrity, but that was before the resurgence of Derek Jeter and the surprising seasons of Jason Bartlett, Marco Scutaro and Asdrubal Cabrera. All three should experience dropoffs in '10, but not to the degree that they will fall back to the pack. Once again, they will be the best AL options for Fantasy, and an improving Elvis Andrus could emerge as the AL's fifth best shortstop. The vast majority of AL shortstops will occupy the middle tier, with only Yuniesky Betancourt, Adam Everett and Brendan Harris earning the "avoid at all costs" label.
Can we really trust any of the top shortstops after Jeter?
While this year's AL top tier is five deep, Jeter is actually in a class all his own because of his extended track record of success. Bartlett's breakout at age 29 was unexpected, and the performance turned in by a 33 year-old Scutaro was downright freakish. No matter how much Bartlett's skills may have improved, he is highly unlikely to repeat a 27 percent line drive rate and the .320 batting average that resulted from it. Likewise, Scutaro's long-term trends suggest that he will give back much of the improvement that he made in his walk rate and line drive BABIP (the latter of which helped to increase his doubles total). Cabrera's doubles power looks legitimate, but we should expect him to take a step backward in batting average, as his strikeout rate and BABIP return closer to previous norms.
As a 20 year-old, Andrus also made surprising strides, improving on his Double-A Isolated Power, strikeout and walk rates as a major league rookie. It would not be surprising to see Andrus regress in some of these areas, though he should improve on the pedestrian .307 BABIP that he registered last year.
In short, none of these four should be counted on to approach Jeter's value, but Bartlett is the least risky of these alternatives. Even if he does not come close to replicating his career year, after showing such a high degree of line drive power, it would be an upset to see him return to the modest level of production that he displayed prior to last season.
| Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James |
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-fly out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
Al Melchior will be providing data-centric advice columns Fantasy owners all season. Click here to send him a question. Please put "Melchior" in the subject field.