If you’ve been playing fantasy baseball for a while, there’s little doubt that you too haven’t fallen for a player and continue to go back to him year after year regardless of how many times he’s let you down. Whether you got the opportunity to watch him play and he impressed you or you owned him during a hot streak and was just able to follow him a little more closely than usual, there’s something about him that makes you believe that he is undoubtedly better than what his overall numbers are saying. You even find yourself making excuses for his poor performance, truly believing that had things just gone a little differently, then the guy could be a potential All-Star if you have a Lou Brown-ish sense of optimism. Nick Hundley is that guy for me and with Yasmani Grandal lost for the season and Hundley back in a starting role, I’m left with the question of whether or not to go back to that well just one more time.
A nasty injury history is what’s kept Hundley down all this time. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. I’m definitely not saying he’s the be-all, end-all of catchers, but if he could only stay healthy, his numbers would be comparable with many of the third tier catchers and thus be a legitimate long-term option even in single-catcher leagues.
I first noticed Hundley in 2007 when he smacked 20 home runs for Double-A San Antonio in the Texas League and improved his strikeout rate while continuing to maintain a 10-percent walk rate. In addition to the home runs, he hit 23 doubles and posted an improved .228 ISO for the year. He was never deemed a strong contact hitter and struggled to post a decent batting average, but the patience at the plate would help keep the on-base percentage respectable and the power was legitimate.
He struggled in his adjustment to the major leagues in 2008, but started out reasonably well the following season, his first full year. But from that start in 2009 to present day, every year has been marred by injury. He’s shown tremendous flashes of his talents at times, most notably, his final months in each of 2009 and 2010 for power potential and the final two months in 2011 (highlighted in this look at him I did back in December of 2011) where he not only showed strong power, but improved contact rates which helped increase his BABIP and push his batting average north of .300 for the first time in his pro career. But the constant flow of injuries has forced him to miss far too much time for those short stretches to make that much of an impact.
His ability to build off that end of 2011 and carry it over to 2012 was derailed by severe knee problems that he attempted to play through and while this year’s woes can’t be blamed on injury, we can look to the fact that, despite a strong first month, the trade talk increased as Grandal’s suspension was nearing its end and Hundley knew that no matter what he did, he was headed for bench duty should he stay in San Diego. He pressed to perform and the result was a huge drop in both power and average.
But since Grandal’s season-ending knee injury, Hundley has upped his game once again. Since the first of July, Hundley has decreased the strikeout rate, returned to a double-digit walk rate (hello, .389 OBP), and while he hasn’t shown much power, we still know that it’s there and ready to emerge. Small sample size? For sure. But you’ve got to start somewhere and the second half has traditionally been his strongest time. Could we be looking at a second half worthy of a waiver pick-up? With these improvements we’ve seen in July — should they carry over — we could be looking at a repeat of his late-season 2011 production.
As much as I have some sort of blind faith in Hundley and will likely take a shot on him in a couple of my two-catcher leagues, I’m not quite ready to fully endorse him just yet. Sure, if you’re deciding between him and say Chris Iannetta or Rob Brantly then I would say take the chance, but I’m not dropping anyone from the top four tiers to try him out. But keep a close eye on him as guys like Hundley always seem to fall through the cracks no matter how well they may be doing at the time. No one noticed him for a while during that two month stretch in 2011 and those who did, reaped huge benefits. Should he take off to open the second half of the season, he could be worth a pick-up and should injuries not derail his time, you could be looking at two and a half months’ worth of solid production from behind the plate.
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