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Fantasy impact of position changes

6/25/2014

Most times that I’ve talked to a baseball player about the potential effects a position change will have -- or is having -- on them at the plate, they’ve looked at me like I was an alien from outer space. In other words, although these guys are human beings and have feelings and all that, they tend to separate their work in the field from what they do with the bat. I ask the question not expecting some new answer -- among the people I’ve asked over the years include Ryan Braun, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Billy Hamilton, and I spared Joe Mauer in March because he laughed at others who asked -- but because perhaps one day an athlete will admit that there is a mind game at play, and both the MLB teams that employ them and the fantasy owners that rely on statistics should know better.

Boston Red Sox youngster Xander Bogaerts was dropped to the No. 7 spot in the struggling lineup for Tuesday’s game in Seattle, and he responded merely with a single in four at-bats. Bogaerts has told reporters the switch from shortstop, where he was doing awesome, to third base is no big deal. I believe him! I’m a huge Bogaerts fan and think he’ll be a fantasy monster in two years and a league building block in time. However, the numbers tell us he’s either in a massive slump that might have happened anyway, or it’s pure coincidence he’s hitting .296 with a .816 OPS at short, and .167 with a .522 OPS through 84 plate appearances at the hot corner. I’m still investing in Bogaerts, and think he'll hit at least .280 this season with 15 home runs. The best is yet to come, though he’s been a popular drop recently in standard leagues. Bogaerts’ OPS while at shortstop, incidentally, is among the top-5 at the position among qualified hitters.

Then there’s Cleveland Indians walker/slugger Carlos Santana. He transitioned from a catcher/first base hybrid over to third base this spring, when the organization had mostly given up on Lonnie Chisenhall; Santana appeared competent enough defensively. He didn’t hit well, though. Chisenhall really got on a roll, and now it appears Santana is mainly a first baseman and occasional designated hitter. Is this why the talented switch-hitter is now hitting? I haven’t seen anyone ask Santana if defensive responsibilities at third base affected him at the plate, but what athlete, in retrospect, would admit that? They’re supposed to be strong and impervious to outside distractions, right? Santana homered among his four hits in five at-bats Tuesday, and also drew a pair of walks. I’ve never given up on him, as a strong walk rate and unlucky BABIP have been obvious signs of future success, and now he’s hitting .371 in June with a 1.190 OPS. In April and May, he hit .151 and .167, respectively. Add them up and it’s not .371. Oh, and Santana is hitting .129 at third base and .397 at first base with more power. Coincidence?

I think not, but then again, I think about investing in talent and skills -- offensively, of course -- and want to believe these athletes will ebb and flow but eventually reach statistical expectations, unless something else is at play. Defensive assignments aren’t really “something else at play.” Santana is thriving now, like he was going to anyway, and Bogaerts will be fine, as well. Fantasy owners love to overthink things, and I don’t want them giving up on Bogaerts just because his recent plate struggles happen to coincide with the foolish, needless Stephen Drew signing -- he’s hitting .133, though like Bogaerts in June, it’s a small sample size -- and it wouldn’t be a shock if Bogaerts is back at shortstop, where perhaps he is more comfortable, any day now. After all, third baseman Will Middlebrooks is on the mend. I wonder how he feels about taking fly balls recently in left field? Will that make him hit better and avoid injury? You know the answer to that!

By the way, here are the offensive splits for a few other fantasy relevant options handling multiple positions this season.

Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays: At 2B, .809 OPS; At 3B, .671 OPS. He likes third base better, he says, but the numbers say he’s hit better at second.

Michael Morse, San Francisco Giants: At 1B, .915 OPS, At LF, .823 OPS. I think he’s just happy to be healthy and hitting. Brandon Belt's return will push him back to outfield, but I wouldn’t sell.

Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals: At 1B, .657 OPS; At RF, .705 OPS. He’s disappointed this season regardless of position, though better days are ahead. They’d better be in case Oscar Taveras forces his way into the picture.

Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals: At 2B, .769 OPS; At 3B, .824 OPS. Ryan Zimmerman will need to move to third base when Bryce Harper is healthy, but Rendon is so good, he’ll hit anywhere. And Zimmerman hasn’t hit much in left field, but also didn’t even get 10 games in at third base. No worries here.

Live from Philly!: I was able to see Miami Marlins lefty Andrew Heaney in person at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia Tuesday, and while the final line isn’t impressive -- five earned runs, two wild pitches -- he threw strikes, seemed composed and it was just a few mistakes that hurt him. One was a home run by Marlon Byrd. Another was a gap triple by Ben Revere. Heaney gave up only four hits. I think this is a fine time to buy low if an unsuspecting owner cuts Heaney in a deep league. He’s not among my top 50 starting pitchers for the rest of the season, and the Marlins likely will shut him down before the end of September, but this is a strikeout guy in an NL East devoid of decent offenses. … Marlins outfielder Jake Marisnick is a mess at the plate, and isn’t long for the big league roster. He drew a walk in five plate appearances, but pitchers are blowing fastballs by him, and he has nary an extra-base hit in nine games. Christian Yelich should replace him by Monday. … Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins stole two bases, putting him on pace to approach 30 this season. Not bad for a 35-year-old who attempted 28 steals in 2013. … The Phillies signed outfielder Grady Sizemore to a minor league contract, after the Red Sox -- with arguably the majors’ worst outfield -- dumped him. Sizemore doesn’t seem to have much left, though it’s worth noting his numbers (.216/.288/.324) are awfully similar to Phillies starting left fielder Domonic Brown (.217/.271/.323). One man’s treasure is another’s, well, you know. Avoid Sizemore.

AL report: The Texas Rangers are so desperate for anyone to play first base -- Pete O’Brien is not an option -- that Carlos Pena, signed to a minor league deal last week, batted sixth on Tuesday. Pena, somewhat predictably, struck out twice in four at-bats. He hit .207 in 2013, and .197 the year prior. Avoid him even in AL-only formats, for the handful of home runs comes at a steep batting average price. … Things went poorly for the Oakland Athletics at Citi Field on Tuesday, but at least outfielder Josh Reddick, the no batting champion himself, was back in the lineup. Reddick missed three weeks with a hyperextended knee, and he is worth adding in AL-only formats. His current .212 batting average will rise, and he offers power potential. … Athletics lefty Scott Kazmir never pitched in Citi Field before, and he didn’t like his debut. Kazmir was lit for seven runs in three innings, and served up his first home run to a lefty (Curtis Granderson). Still, don’t overrate one bad outing versus three excellent months of work. … I’m keeping an eye on Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Brandon Guyer, because he’s been the choice of manager Joe Maddon to bat third recently, and he’s been getting hits. Guyer, in a Justin Ruggiano type of way, produced several double-digit homer/steal seasons in the minors.

NL report: New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon won again, beating the Athletics, baseball’s highest scoring team, with eight innings of one-run ball. Colon’s June ERA is 1.75, the WHIP 0.917. He hasn’t lost since May 6. So why is he available in more than half of ESPN’s standard leagues? … The Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed back second baseman Neil Walker from his appendectomy, and he assumed clean-up duties in the lineup, but outfielder Starling Marte was lost to concussion symptoms after a failed stolen base attempt. Walker is one of the leaders in home runs among middle infielders, and isn’t 100 percent owned. For now, don’t panic on Marte, even if a short one-week DL stint is warranted. … The Los Angeles Dodgers announced shortstop Hanley Ramirez is dealing with shoulder irritation and could miss a few days. Even if he needs a DL stint, you should buy low. Ramirez is one of five players to reach double digits in home runs and stolen bases already. … You were warned on Tuesday’s Fantasy Focus podcast to sit Cardinals’ right-hander Shelby Miller at Coors Field that night, and he was terrible, allowing six hits, five walks and three runs in 2 2/3 innings. With these command issues, it’s risky using Miller even in pitcher’s parks.