By Eriq Gardner //
By Bloomberg Sports //
Man vs. Machine: Episode 2 — In a special from Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark
Figures, Mets legend Keith Hernandez sits down with Bloomberg Television’s
Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Analyst Rob Shaw, to discuss the Fantasy
Bulls and Bears for the second half of the season. In the second episode, the
focus is on corner infielders.
Today’s Position: Corner Infielders 1B and 3B
The Machine (Bloomberg Sports) says:
Mark Teixeira has long distinguished himself as a slow starter, and he’s done
little to shed that label in 2010. Let’s take a graphical look at the
trajectory that his OPS has taken over the past few seasons:
The pattern is clear; whether by chance or as a result of some inate
predisposition toward starting slowly, Teixeira has turned in his best work in
the second half over the course of his career. The Yankee has yet to surpass
that blue benchmark line by much in 2010, but history suggests that he’ll soon
be putting some distance between himself and the rest of the league.
At age 30, it’s possible that Teixeira’s best seasons might already be behind him, but very unlikely that the first baseman has simply fallen off a cliff. His walk rate and strikeout rate haven’t suffered during his slow first half,
and he’s been red-hot in July. Some of Teixeira’s struggles are attributable to
the fact that he’s been plagued by a low BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in
Play). Teixeira posted .301 and .316 BABIPs in 2009 and 2008, respectively.
His .248 figure from this season should continue to regress toward the mean as the
season progresses, bringing his other rate statistics up with it.
Our year-end projection isn’t fooled by Teixeira’s disappointing production
to date, foreseeing a .300/.393/.600 second half for the slugging first
baseman. Considering the .243/.352/.453 line next to his name as we near the
All-Star break, anything resembling that caliber of performance would qualify
as a resounding success.
The Man (Keith Hernandez) says:
“Well, I very seldom agree with the machine, but I have to agree this time. I’m going
to have to go with Mark Teixeira, and why, because A) he’s a switch hitter, and B)
his track record, he’s always been a slow starter. Now this is obviously a
real bad start for him, he’s had a bad first half, but normally his bad starts
are April. He’s carried over to June. I got to believe the three days off in
that all-star break and hitting left-handed more in Yankee Stadium (which is
conducive to left-hand hitters), [will help]. Even though he’s a switch-hitter, I think he’s going to have a terrific second half. He’s my man.”
The Machine says:
Justin Morneau has been one of the American League’s leading offensive
performers for several seasons, so the fact that he’s had a standout first half
is certainly no fluke. In every category except stolen bases (he has yet to
attempt one), Morneau has been quite a boon to his fantasy owners (not to
mention the Twins):
Morneau won the AL MVP award in 2006 and finished second in the voting in 2008.
But his performance in 2010, pro-rated over a full-season, would blow away both
of those campaigns. To say that we’re bearish on him is simply to say that we
expect his performance to be merely great, rather than otherworldly, going
Has the slugging first baseman truly attained a new level of performance? He
does seem to have become more selective: his 3.90 Pitches per Plate Appearance seen this season easily trump his career rate of 3.64. As a result of working
deeper into counts, Morneau is both walking and striking out more often.
However, these changes don’t seem to be driving Morneau’s inflated performance.
The All-Star’s career BABIP rests at .295; but his seasonal BABIP stands at a
lofty .385. A leap of that magnitude is extremely unlikely to be the result of
an improvement in underlying skill level, so we can conclude with a fair degree
of confidence that Morneau has been benefiting from a hearty helping of good
luck, which we shouldn’t expect to continue.
Assuming Morneau’s concussion symptoms (from his collision with John McDonald‘s
knee) don’t linger, he should be a safe bet to provide fantasy owners with his
customarily valuable production for the balance of the season; our
projection pegs him for a .282/.366/.534 second half. If you can find an owner
willing to believe that Morneau’s stratospheric BABIP is sustainable, he might
be a suitable sell-high candidate, especially if you can get a true superstar for him. Otherwise, he’s still a fine hold.
The Man says:
I look at the Atlanta Braves, and I look at Troy Glaus. And why, because he’s
a man who’s always had injuries his whole career. It’s all about Troy staying
healthy; can he stay healthy this year? I think that he’s going to start to wear down, maybe get a couple of minor injuries that are going to slow him down, even though he’s been terrific in the first half and one of the reasons why the Braves are on top in the National League East. I don’t think he’s going to have the second half he had the first
The Machine says:
Evan Longoria has had a fine first half, and deserves to be placed near the top of any list of the league’s most valuable players. Even so, we think there’s
room for improvement in Longoria’s near future.
Overall, he’s had his most productive season at the plate, walking more often
and striking out less often than he did in either 2008 or 2009. He’s also had
some elevated success on balls in play, enjoying a .341 BABIP before the break
(compared to a .319 career rate). Those factors have culminated in a stellar .
299/.381/.513 line. But despite the luck on balls in play, Longoria’s slugging
percentage is his lowest yet seen in the majors. His Isolated Power (SLG minus AVG)
has fallen from .259 in 2008, to .245 in 2009, to only .214 this season.
Our projection foresees a rise to unprecedented heights in the
second half, calling for the third baseman to post a .294/.380/.575 performance
down the stretch for Tampa Bay. Longoria has launched 13 long balls
thus far in 2010; the Machine expects 20 more over the remainder of the
Longoria’s fantasy owners have enjoyed the return on their investments so far, but the slugger’s best in 2010 may be yet to come.
The Man says:
I am going to go with Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake. Why?
Because he is just one of those players that I like. It’s just a hunch, I think
he is going to be one of the guys, on a hunch, one of the key players in the
second half for the Dodgers.
The Machine says:
Adrian Beltre is enjoying his best season since his monster 2004, and his
fantasy owners are reaping the benefits:
However, while the slick-fielding third baseman won’t disappear at the plate
for the rest of the season, his best offensive performance is likely behind him.
Beltre’s offensive talent was obscured by Safeco Field during his tenure in
Seattle. Fenway Park is a far better park for a hitter of his profile, so some
of Beltre’s improvement this season can be attributed to his environment–some,
but not all. Beltre’s walk and strikeout rates are hovering near their career
levels, and his Isolated Power is elevated, but not extraordinarily
so. Only one individual component of his production seems to be responsible for
the bulk of his uptick in overall productivity.
Beltre’s BABIP currently hovers at .372. His career rate is .293, and he’s
never finished a season with a rate higher than .325. Subtract his extremely
good fortune on balls in play, and his line would resemble a more typical
Beltre performance from the past few years. Beltre’s first-half performance happened, and no amount of
retroactive analysis can take it away. However, when forecasting future
performance, we shouldn’t expect a run of good luck to continue. Our projection does pegs a .273/.320/.463 line for
the rest of the way. If you’d be satisfied with that production from your third baseman, don’t hesitate to hang onto Beltre. If you can get a big haul in trade for him, though, do it.
The Man says:
Jose Bautista. I think that he had just a first half off the
charts. All the home runs he’s hit, I can’t imagine him matching the second
half. He’s been around a long time, he’s a veteran, he’s on the backside of his
career. He’s just had an awesome first half, I just can’t see him matching it.