Jason Bartlett, Marco Scutaro, J.J. Hardy: Was Last Year For Real?

Bryan CurleyCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

NEW YORK - AUGUST 10:  Marco Scutaro #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats against the New York Yankees during their game on August 10, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In the fourth installment of the series, I will be taking a look at the shortstop position.  While shortstop remained a relatively weak position last year, there were some interesting player developments.  Today I will be profiling players who deviated from their career norms, for better or worse, and determine if 2009 was the start of a new trend or simply an aberration.

Jason Bartlett

Can you say poster boy for this article?  Jason Bartlett was the surprise of the 2009 fantasy baseball season at shortstop.  He went largely undrafted yet posted a terrific fantasy line of 90/14/66/30/.320.  Prior to last year, Bartlett was a career .276 hitter whose previous high in HR was 5.

Before making Bartlett one of the first shortstops taken in the 2010 draft, we need to figure out if Bartlett’s new found power is legit.

Last year, Bartlett had the lowest ground ball rate of his career at 35%.  His previous low was 43.8%.  A low ground ball rate such as Bartlett’s indicates that he hit way more balls in the air last year.  Consequently, he had the highest fly ball rate of his career which resulted in a career high 14 home runs.  Not surprisingly, Bartlett also set career highs in HR/FB (8.7%) and ISO (.170).  These numbers indicate that Bartlett’s power from last year was a bit fluky.

Although Bartlett reportedly played last season 15 pounds heavier than in any previous year, it is unlikely for a player to develop so much power at age 30.  However, after looking at Hit Tracker, we can see that Bartlett did gain some pop in his bat.  According to Hit Tracker, Jason Bartlett hit 8 home runs that were “No Doubters (cleared the fence with ease)” and 6 home runs that were “Just Enoughers (just cleared the fence).”  This data suggests that Bartlett’s power was not a total fluke.

Now we must look at Bartlett’s BABIP and LD% to determine how real his AVG was in 2009.  Last year, he posted a career best BABIP of .368, besting his previous high of .354.  His LD% was also the highest of his career at 26%.  Although this is a little high, Bartlett’s career LD% is in the low 20s.  Also we know that Bartlett has gotten stronger so he is probably hitting balls harder then ever before, contributing to a high LD%.

After analyzing Bartlett’s 2009 season, it is clear to me that he is unlikely to repeat it.  Instead of being a .320 hitter, Bartlett is most likely to finish the season in the .290 to .300 range.  In addition, he is not likely to hit 14 HR again next year.  However, it would be reasonable to expect 8-10 HR to go along with nearly 30 stolen bases making Bartlett a lower tier starting shortstop in a 10 team league.

Marco Scutaro

I know what you think.  A 34 year old career utility player who had a career year in a contract year is not likely to repeat his performance.  Your argument is certainly not without merit.  Scutaro is a career .265 hitter who had never hit more than 9 HR prior to last year.  However, something clicked in 2009.  Scutaro posted career highs across the board and finished the season with a fantasy line of 100/12/60/14/.282 as well as a career high 574 at bats.

There are several factors in favor of Scutaro repeating his 2009 performance.  One is that he can finally call a position his home as he will be the Red Sox starting shortstop next year.  Last year was Scutaro’s first season of predominantly playing one position.  He played 1,252 innings as shortstop compared to a measly 4 innings at second base.  Not surprising, he had his best year in the majors.  Before last year, Scutaro bounced around the diamond as well as the outfield.  As a result of not getting consistent playing time and not knowing which position he was going to play that night, Scutaro was never able to get fully comfortable at the plate and showcase his offensive abilities.

Another factor in Scutaro’s favor is that his peripheral stats all seem to support his 2009 season.  His BABIP, LD%, and ISO were all in line with his career totals.

A third factor that Scutaro has going for him is that he is career .290 hitter in Fenway Park.  As a result, playing half his games there next year should be quite beneficial to him.

What I am most optimistic about though is Scutaro’s improved plate discipline.  Last year, Scutaro swung at a career low 12.3% of pitches outside the strike zone.  He also walked a career high 90 times, which was 33 more than his previous total.  This helped contribute to the highest OBP of his career (.379) which is in line with his career minor league OBP (.369).

All these factors lead me to believe that Scutaro’s 2010 will be very similar to his 2009.  The only difference will be less runs scored as he will be hitting towards the bottom of the Red Sox lineup and not the top of the Blue Jays lineup.

J.J. Hardy

Although J.J. Hardy looks an awful lot like Rob McElhenney of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame, Hardy’s 2009 was a lot less successful than Rob’s.  From 2007-2008, Hardy batted .280 and averaged 25 HR and 77 RBI.  Last year, Hardy failed to match those numbers and batted .229 with only 11 HR and 47 RBI before being demoted by Milwaukee.  Shortly after the season, Milwaukee washed their hands clean of Hardy and shipped him off to the Minnesota Twins for Carlos Gomez.

Hardy’s 2009 seems to be a classic case of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  Hardy’s peripheral stats were all way down across the board.  He posted a career worst in K%, ISO, and LD% and his BABIP was a deplorable .264, which was much worse than his BABIP in 2007 and 2008.

There seems to be no explanation as to why Hardy was much worse last year than in 2007 or 2008.  As a result, I am inclined to believe that Hardy’s 2009 was just a statistical aberration.  Maybe he just needs a change of scenery which the move to Minnesota will provide for him.  The Twins also have a reputation of being excellent talent evaluators so they must believe 2009 was an aberration as well considering they traded the best player they received in the Johan deal for him.

Therefore, I believe that Hardy will regain his 2007-2008 form and hit for a respectable AVG with good HR and RBI totals out of the shortstop position, especially hitting behind Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Fear not, it will be sunny in Minnesota next year for J.J. Hardy.

As always check out Baseball Professor for all your fantasy baseball analysis.