by Eno Sarris //
You won’t find many fantasy baseball articles about the implications of Bill Hall joining the Houston Astros this off-season. That’s for good reason: Hall’s faults are well-defined, his upside muted, and his strengths not the kind that lead to fantasy dominance. What might be most notable about the acquisition is how well he will fit in that Astros infield.
Hall is who he is. Almost 3500 plate appearances into his career, we know he’ll take walks at about an average rate (7.8% career, 8.9% last year, average hovers around 8.5%), strike out way too often (28.7% career, 30.2% last year, average hovers around 20%), and put a charge into the ball (.193 ISO career, .209 last year, average hovers around .150). He’s versatile – in that he can play most positions without embarrassing himself, though he’s great with the glove. He’ll most likely start at second base for the Astros, but his history suggests he’ll rack up some games elsewhere by the end of the season.
Of course with that package, Hall’s usual place in fantasy baseball becomes clear. The lack of contact keeps his batting average too low to be a sought-after solution in mixed-league drafts (.250 career, .247 last year) but his ability to hit home runs and fill in at tough positions (Hall played 20+ games at LF and 2B, 5+ games at SS, CF, 3B, and RF) often becomes interesting at some point in the year. He’s mostly a waiver-wire, plug-in type. Maybe a late-round pick.
Remarkably, you might use that tag to describe each member of the Astros’ infield as presently constructed. On that infield, only Clint Barmes struck out less than 30% of the time last year, nobody walked
more than 9% of the time, and Hall’s 18 homers led the group. Dan Symborski’s well-respected ZiPs projections just came out for the Astros, and the projections for Brett Wallace (.261 BA, 17 HR, 59 RBI), Barmes (.245 BA, 11 HR, 8 SB), Hall (.234, 16 HR) and Chris Johnson (.269, 17 HR, 73 RBI) paint an ugly picture: The Astros are a good bet to field the worst fantasy infield in the game next year.
Caveats apply. The average qualifying second baseman put up a .276/.345/.414 line in 2010, and that resulting .138 ISO means that Hall will show well above-average power among his peers at that position. He could keep the starting second base job all year and hit 25 home runs with that short porch in left field, though he’s only once before hit more than 20 home runs. Even if he does top that power mark, the question remains how much losing those 30+ points of batting average will hurt your team.
If your league has corner infield spots, or you took a flier on a young or inconsistent third baseman ahead of Johnson, he could be a late-draft handcuff possibility – but in that case, there’s a chance that someone sees his batting average from last year and likes him better than they should. Wallace and Barmes – well, a wait-and-see approach is best for those two.