In this final installment of this year's RC/27 projections, we round out our forecasts for National League position players. First basemen and outfielders have already undergone scrutiny; now we turn our attention to catchers and the rest of the infield. The position summaries and visualization that follow can aid you in deciding which positions to fill as you progress through a draft or auction. Both are intended as guides for sizing up the tradeoffs you will face when deciding between players at the same position as well as players at different positions.
Drafting a catcher in an NL-only league is a little more nuanced than in AL-only circuits. There is no one of Joe Mauer's or Victor Martinez' stature dominating the field, as the NL's top catching tier includes five quality options: Brian McCann, Chris Iannetta, Miguel Montero, Ryan Doumit and Geovany Soto. There is also a larger cadre of midrange options, from Russell Martin to John Baker to Yadier Molina. The dropoff to the Ramon Hernandez-Rod Barajas class is substantial, so it pays to keep an eye on the supply of available middle tier catchers.
Once Brian McCann is unavailable, should you target Iannetta or Montero?
This call is about as tough as they come. Both backstops project to produce at a similar level, and they are of similar age and experience. We project Montero to receive more at-bats, but he also has the more productive backup to contend with. Iannetta provides more power, whereas Montero will give you a higher batting average, so if you feel that you need to counterbalance the weak categories of the players you have already drafted (e.g., taking Montero to compensate for low batting average players already on your roster), this is as good a tiebreaker as any.
Why is Bengie Molina ranked among the lower tier?
Remembering that RC/27 measures a player's per-game productivity, you will want to leapfrog Molina over likely part-timers, like Ronny Paulino and Chris Snyder, even though they have better batting skill profiles. That is, of course, unless you think the Giants will go to Buster Posey sooner than later. Large jumps in Molina's strikeout and flyball rates could spell trouble for his batting average, so the Giants could be tempted to cut into his at-bats early on.
Once again, Chase Utley is king of the keystone, making him as valuable as other position elites, like Joe Mauer and Ryan J. Braun. While Utley is a tier of one, the next tier of second basemen -- Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks, Brandon Phillips and Ian Stewart -- are not far behind the best of the deep AL crop. If you miss out on the NL's top five, there is not much risk in addressing your other draft needs. The spread between the Placido Polancos and the Adam Kennedys of the second base pool is not as great as you might think.
Is this the year of Rickie Weeks?
Owners can't be blamed for being hesitant with Weeks, given his history of injuries. Phillips, Stewart and Martin Prado are certainly safer picks, but you will pass on Weeks at your own risk. At various points in his career, he has shown the ability to hit .270 and set a pace to hit 20 home runs and steal 30 bases. All of this is still in the realm of possibility, but at age 27, the potential is very much still there. Because of the interchangeability of the bulk of the second base pool, you can take a risk on Weeks early and still nab Kennedy or Akinori Iwamura later on for insurance.
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The NL's top five are as good as any third basemen not in Yankee pinstripes, though each comes with his own risks. David Wright is coming off a power-deprived campaign, Mark Reynolds, Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval experienced major power spikes that they may not be able to maintain, and Aramis Ramirez has to prove that his shoulder woes are behind him. Nonetheless, these players -- and their risks -- are worth pursuing, because the rest of the field lags well behind. A still-unproven Ian Stewart and Jorge Cantu, who has health concerns of his own, are the best remaining options out of a large and uninspiring field.
Is there any good reason to draft Pedro Feliz?
Feliz may be a defensive whiz, but his bat has typically left Fantasy owners underwhelmed. He was ranked 28th among major league third basemen in 5x5 value last year, so this year's last-place spot in the third base RC/27 projections is no big surprise. However, Feliz did finish 16th in Head-to-Head Points in '09, so it raises the question of why he hasn't surfaced in this year's mixed-league Head-to-Head Average Draft Position rankings. Last season, Feliz' value came from a career-best 11.7 percent strikeout rate, which contributed to his career-best 110 singles. For a 25- or 26-year old, we could see this improvement as the jumping-off point for a positive trend, but for the 35 year-old Feliz, this looks like a one-year aberration.
In other words, Feliz' strikeout rate, singles total and batting average should all move in the wrong direction in 2010, rendering him with little value for owners in any format.
Hanley Ramirez' domination of the shortstop position makes him the most valuable Fantasy player this side of Albert Pujols. Though Jimmy Rollins (.250 batting average) and Jose B. Reyes (hamstring) both lost value last year, they should be back to join Ramirez in the Big Three, assuming Reyes does not miss much time due to his thyroid imbalance. In fact, we can make it the Big Four, because Troy Tulowitzki showed that his disappointing '08 campaign was just a blip on the radar after taking his game up several notches in '09.
Yunel Escobar and Stephen Drew are not too far off the pace set by Rollins, but don't think that these younger shortstops can be an adequate substitute for the inconsistent Phillie. Escobar and Drew have had ups and downs in their short careers as well. The NL's six best shortstops are miles ahead of a tight pack, so it's not worth reaching for Ryan Theriot or Alcides Escobar in order to avoid Christian Guzman or Orlando Cabrera. Just do your best to fill your shortstop slot before you're left with Edgar Renteria, Ronny Cedeno or Tommy Manzella as last-ditch options.
Will this be an up or down year for Rollins, and how can we know?
A scan of Rollins' skill trends tells us that it's reasonable to expect him to get back to his 2008 level of offense. Last year, his flyball and line drive power were roughly what they were the year before, as was his strikeout rate. He did take fewer walks and was caught stealing more often, but the real damper on his Fantasy value was a .253 BABIP that sank his overall batting average to .250. For someone who has as much power and speed as Rollins, this stat practically screams "fluke." Look for his batting average to return to the .270s. As he collects more base hits, Rollins' runs, RBI and steals will rebound, too.
If you miss out on the Big Four, whom should you target: Escobar or Drew?
Fantasy owners on CBSSports.com have given Escobar a resounding vote of approval so far, taking him an average of 42 draft positions higher than Drew. Escobar was decidedly superior on a per-game basis in '09, but there are some signs that Drew could eliminate that gap. Much of Drew's success in '08 was built on pulling the ball into right field for extra bases. According to Fangraphs data, he hit more ground balls last year when he pulled, resulting in fewer base hits to right. His batted ball tendencies to left and center didn't change much, so if he can make adjustments when he hits to right, we could see a return to form that would catapult him past Escobar. That said, the improvements Escobar made last year appear to be sustainable. While Drew has the potential to exceed Escobar's output, the Braves' shortstop is the safer bet.
| 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.