- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Phillies Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

We’re plowing through the rest of the Depth Chart Discussions (<– excellent link to them all on one page!) this week as we continue our preparation for the numerous drafts we have in the coming weeks. And with that, it’s now time to bust out your AARP card and make sure your Blue Shield policy is up to date, because we’re talking Phillies infield now. The average age is 34, considered prehistoric in relative terms, and the total number of trips to the DL can only be rivaled by the number of gray hairs you find once you wash all the Pomade out from Chase Utley’s hair. Sure you’ve got some quality players but risk/reward is the game you’re playing here.

As always, a quick look at the current depth chart:

Starter Back-Up Reserve Waiting in the Wings
C Carlos Ruiz Erik Kratz Humberto Quintero
1B Ryan Howard John Mayberry Laynce Nix Darin Ruf
2B Chase Utley Freddy Galvis Yuniesky Betancourt
SS Jimmy Rollins Freddy Galvis Yuniesky Betancourt
3B Michael Young Kevin Frandsen

Let’s focus on the starters first…

Catcher: At the ripe old age of 33, Ruiz enjoyed a breakout season in 2012 in which he batted .325 with 16 home runs, 56 runs scored and 68 RBI, all career-best totals. Now while numerous jumped on his bandwagon, I remained skeptical, citing his unusually high BABIP which finished the year at .339 after missing most of August and September due to injury. Little did we know then that he would soon be suspended for 25 games after testing positive for Adderall, a drug which, “can cause feelings of energy and invigoration, similar to the high often experienced after exercise. Users frequently report improvements in focus and concentration [and it] has also been reportedly used by athletes to improve sports performance.”*  And so, Ruiz’ season begins with a 25-game suspension and then he gets to try and repeat his performance sans medication and with a nagging case of plantar fasciitis, a condition that had Chipper Jones in and out of the lineup regularly for his last few seasons. Something tells me Chooch is going to have a tough time living up to any favorable expectations this year.

First Base: Discussing Howard, the 33-year old lumbering lefty slugger, can be quick and easy. After recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, he returned last season and showed off that trademark power once again. Unfortunately, that delicious .200-plus ISO comes with a hefty side order of strikeouts. In fact, his 33.9-percent strikeout rate last season was a career-worst. With any luck it will drop back to it’s usual 25-30 percent range this season while he works his way back to the 30-homer plateau. There’s really not much more to his game than that, so if you’re looking for big power and can withstand a batting average with roughly a .250 ceiling, then he’s your guy.

Second Base: It’s a tough time for Phillies fans and for those fantasy owners who owned the now 34-year old Utley between 2005 and 2009. He was so great for that five year stretch that you just don’t want to believe that he’ll never be that player again. But smack yourself in the face with a little reality here, people. Hip surgery between those final two years of tasty stats, a thumb injury in 2010, chronic knee issues, it all adds up. It would surprise me to see him actually play in 120 games this season. The notion that he can return to that pre-hip surgery form is borderline delusional. It’s time to let go. He may still have a little left in the tank, but it’s not what it was. You’ll probably be able to grab him at a discounted rate this season which will help his overall return value should he live up to Bill James’ projections, but just make sure you’ve got a good contingency plan in place if you choose to roll the dice with him.

Shortstop: Seriously, what’s not to love about J-Roll? The more fantasy folk that talk the 34-year old down because of his age, the better the bargain it would seem. Sure, I’d like him to hit higher than .250, but a 20-30 season ain’t nothing to sneeze at. Decreased walk rate? Sure, over the last three seasons, but even where it was last year, it was better than it had been in any year prior to 2008, so it’s hard to complain. Increase strikeout rate? Yes, a bit of a bummer, but it was a spike we hadn’t seen since 2002 and it came with a solid increase in power. Both should level off into a happy medium this year. Obviously, at his age you expect a certain amount of slowing down, so you have to keep your expectations in check. But if people are avoiding him because they think he’s just getting too old to keep doing what he’s doing, then let him slide and scoop him up later on. You won’t get vintage J-Roll but you’ll still get something pretty helpful at a normally weak position.

Third Base: So I’ve seen the numbers and I’ve heard what people have said, but I’m just not buying it. I don’t think Young is finished as a player and I certainly don’t think he’s finished as a fantasy baseball commodity. Call it one man’s opinion, but I think there’s plenty of life left in him and I don’t think it ends with an increasing ground ball rate and a decreasing HR/FB. What I’m about to say is pretty un-FanGraphy, so brace yourself. I think Young turns in a great season this year regardless of what the numbers and trends may be telling you. He has been so unhappy in Texas over the last few years, feeling mistreated with all the position switches, betrayed with the eventual phase-out and has been pretty vocal about it in the media. My personal opinion is that Young uses all that pent up anger as motivation and tries to stick it to the Rangers with a fantastic first season in Philadelphia. I don’t have anything to back it up other than gut feeling so take it for what it’s worth. He’s slipping far enough in drafts right now that it’s easily worth the risk.

Back-Ups/Reserves

Erik Kratz — Weak average, weak OBP, but solid ISO numbers. Gets early-season relevance in deep two-catcher and NL-only leagues, but will ride the pine most of the way after April.

Humberto Quintero —  On the roster now with barely minimal value. Will vanish from the fantasy Earth once Chooch is reinstated.

John Mayberry — Despite a poor spring, he is still in contention for some starting work in the outfield, according to a report on the Phillies’ web site. Since he’s just a contingency plan should Howard get hurt, I’ll leave him to J.P. Breen who will be covering the Phillies outfield soon.

Laynce Nix — Also in contention for some playing time in the outfield; probably a last resort at first.

Darin Ruf — Competing for playing time in left field but struggling defensively. Likely to start the season in Triple-A.

Freddy Galvis — Minimal power, modest speed, needs to learn to take a walk every now and then. Almost no fantasy value until unless Utley gets hurt and even then, the value is questionable.

Kevin Frandsen — Should be the team’s utility infielder to open the season. Could see some better-than-average time on the field as a late-game defensive replacement and spot starter when the geezers need a breather. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much of a track record with the bat.

Yuniesky Betancourt — Ugh. Could make the team if they decide that Galvis is better served with more time in the minors. How bad does your team have to be to include this clown?

*from The Coalition Against Drug Abuse