Think about the Giants’ infield, and inevitably you wonder if the large mound at third can rebound from a disastrous year at the plate. Of course, there’s a breakout candidate at first base, and two deep leaguers up the middle, but you can’t help thinking about Pablo Sandoval first.
The crib notes summary of the contract year phenomenon is that it doesn’t exist, but that might not be fair. Most studies that included a look at plate appearances and innings pitched have actually found a small effect — take a look at Dayn Perry’s chapter in Baseball Between the Numbers for a good example of this kind of research. So while it doesn’t make much sense that a player would suddenly find great results in his contract year — after all he’s just another year older than he was the year before — it does make sense that a player in a contract year would play through minor injuries and try to stay on the field as long as possible. That’s much more under his control than his results on the field, actually.
All of this is fantastically important to valuing Pablo Sandoval. We know that heavier players hit the DL more often and stay longer, and we know he has an injury history already. Over the last three years, he’s averaged 122 games, and if he could bump that up to the 150+ he put together in his first two years, he’d suddenly be a top third baseman again. Steamer believes he can manage 651 plate appearances — perhaps they have a contract year bonus, or perhaps his age (27) bodes well for his chances — and a .289 batting average, 22 homers and the runs and RBI (84 and 88) that come with a full season. You might believe in a projection like that if you think Sandoval will do all he can in order to stay on the field. Reports like this one — that he’s lost 42 pounds already and more’s on the way out — would make you smile if you’re in that camp. Then again the list of Best Shape of His Lifers is fairly unimpressive. The best approach is always to hope for the nice numbers, pay for the lesser ones.
Across the diamond sits another breakout candidate in Brandon Belt. The key to his potential must lie in Philadelphia. In 2012, it was a low point in Philadelphia that convinced Belt to make the first big change of his career and re-evaluate his swing plane. A more level approach led to the best three months of his career. This year, batting practice in Philadelphia after hearing Domonic Brown‘s success story led to the second big change of his career, and another three-month stretch that has us dreaming on the future.
With a level swing, a new grip, and a new place in the batter’s box, what can Belt do this year?
It’s easy to get lost in his second-half OPS split (.326/.390/.525), but that nigh-.400 batting average on balls in play is a huge asterisk. Instead, focus on the strikeout rate in the second half (19.8%) and the power (.199), even if the latter didn’t come in a big enough sample to really believe. The overall batted ball distance didn’t change much in the second half, but the max distance did increase. A few moon shots and a couple adjustments at the plate could be a good enough reason to believe in the most optimistic projections for the first baseman, which come from the fans — a 20.4% strikeout rate, a .196 ISO, and the resulting .289 batting average with 22 homers. Just don’t count on the steals much. He’s an opportunistic base stealer and we know stolen bases age terribly.
What sort of analysis can we offer potential Buster Posey owners? Obviously, if you’re looking at him, you value catchers highly and are willing to pay the cost. The 27-year-old catcher is being taken 38th in Couch Managers drafts, and he’s moving up the ranks slowly. He’s obviously an excellent hitter and his track record suggest a bounce-back in power is coming. The rumors that he is next in line at third base for the Giants should only help his bat play up in the meantime should they come true, even as that move would hurt his value in keeper leagues. If he moves, Hector Sanchez still has the upside to have league-average power with better-than-league-average contact rates, but the plate discipline he’s showed in the majors doesn’t seem super hopeful to date.
While the corners and catchers offer some upside, there’s precious little fantasy value in the men up the middle.
Brandon Crawford will be 27 this year, and though he made incremental improvements in many important categories (strikeout rate, walk rate, isolated power), the resulting numbers (17.5%, 7.6% and .114 respectively) were all so mediocre that even projecting him for further improvement won’t produce usable mixed-league starter numbers. He’s shown more power and better patience before, but push those projections as far as they can go and you can barely get a .260 hitter with 12-homer power. At least Scoresheet and Diamond Mind players can enjoy his plus defense.
And though Marco Scutaro is god-like in one aspect of his game — he leads all of baseball over the past five years in contact rate — that aspect doesn’t lead to fantasy godliness. Contact without power or speed leads to an empty batting average, as his four (!) combined homers and steals in two-thirds of a healthy 2013 season attest. At 38, you can’t expect a healthy season, which further downgrades the chances he helps your fantasy team in 2014.
Joaquin Arias will be there, mostly to look like a spider and take some at-bats against lefties away from Crawford, but he won’t be useful to you. The only backup plan that might rise to the level of waiver acquisition is Joe Panik. At 23, and now a second-baseman and no-longer a top prospect, he might make the team as utility infielder, or be the first man up after an injury. The shine is off of him, but he makes a ton of contact and has a bit of speed. A full major league season at his peak could look mighty Scutaro-ian.
Plenty of flaws in this group. Plenty of chances for arbitrage, too, depending on how you feel about the available research in a few cases.
Print This Post