Fantasy Baseball: Widely Available Middle Infielders

Max BorlandContributor IIIApril 16, 2011

Fantasy Baseball: Widely Available Middle Infielders

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    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Jhonny Peralta #27 of the Detroit Tigers throws against the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on March 31, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Often the key to winning your fantasy baseball league is making the right additions as the season wears on. There are only so many Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki types to go around. If you have a middle infield spot to fill due to injuries, or if the guy you picked in the draft isn't working out, here are some players who you may be considering.

Juan Uribe (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    LOS ANGELES - APRIL 14:   Juan Uribe #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits an RBI double in the third inning against the St Louis Cardinals on April 14, 2011 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Worth a look in any league as a backup with power and multi-position eligibility.

     

    Eligible at every infield position other than first base, Uribe figures to see a lot of playing time in Los Angeles. He hits home runs and should drive in some runs hitting around the six hole in that lineup. A reasonable expectation would be somewhere around 18 to 20 home runs and 70 to 80 RBI.

    Not known as guy who can hit for average or get on base (career marks of .255 and .299 respectively), Uribe is off to a rough start this season with only seven hits through his first 12 games. This may look bad, but Uribe seems to be healthy and is going to play. His only real competition comes from Aaron Miles, who isn’t really any better.

    A .156 average for Uribe is likely to have risen by 80 to 100 points by the time the season draws to a close. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s what shrewd fantasy owners need to be looking for. To get his average up to .240 or .250 (where it’s probably going to wind up), he will go through short periods of time where he hits .300 or .350 for a week or two at a time. That helps.

    Uribe is the kind of guy you want as a backup for your regular infielders. Home runs are always possible, and the average could come in short bursts.

Ryan Raburn (Detroit Tigers)

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 16:  Ryan Raburn #25 of the Detroit Tigers connects on a second inning two run home run against the New York Yankees on August 16, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Worth a look in deeper mixed leagues and any AL-only league; keep an eye on his playing time.

     

    Raburn has been competing with Brennan Boesch for playing time in the Tigers’ outfield. Raburn looked like a good fantasy sleeper to some, having hit .285 over the last two seasons with 31 home runs in 701 plate appearances.

    The upside comes from his power potential, as he could hit 25 HR in a full season’s worth of plate appearances. The average seems to have been slightly lucky given that he strikes out more than most and takes walks at an all right rate.

    I think he’s more of a .260 to .270 hitter, but he is eligible in the outfield and second base, and he’s a reasonable fourth OF option, especially in leagues of 12 teams or deeper.

    With Carlos Guillen out, playing time hasn’t been a problem for Raburn, but I think he’s likelier to keep his job than Boesch is.

Angel Sanchez (Houston Astros)

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    HOUSTON - APRIL 12:  Angel Sanchez #36 is forced out at second base as shortstop Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs avoids the slide at Minute Maid Park on April 12, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Worth a look in deeper NL-only leagues only; unlikely to maintain .327 average but won't necessarily have a bad season.

     

    Sanchez has bounced around some, but he seems to have found playing time with the struggling Houston Astros. Off to a hot start (.327 average through 55 at-bats), Sanchez is a trap novice fantasy owners are likely to fall into.

    There is little reason to believe the 27-year-old has suddenly figured things out. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .370, which is unsustainable for a guy with average speed. He doesn’t take walks and had almost no power in the minor leagues.

    Sanchez seems to have taken over the second spot in the Astros’ lineup, hitting in front of their top two run producers, but I doubt he maintains the pace he’s on.

    It is possible that Sanchez winds up with a fine season when all is said and done, but if you think you just discovered a hidden gem of a hitter, you may be disappointed if he ends the season hitting somewhere around .280 (meaning he will have hit around .270 the rest of the way to get there) with fewer than 10 home runs and steals.

Miguel Tejada (San Francisco Giants)

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 09:  Miguel Tejada #10 of the San Francisco Giants collects the game winning hit in the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park on April 9, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Image
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Worth a look for the potential of a higher batting average than last year’s but is something of a shot in the dark.

     

    Even at age 36, Tejada can probably still raise his average from last year’s mark of .269. He’s at .265 now, but with a BABIP of .261, he can probably raise that. He has modest power and could wind up both knocking in and scoring 70 runs.

    Not much value as an everyday fantasy infielder, especially if you play him at third base, but he works nicely as a reserve or a fill-in. He won't steal many bases for you either.

Mike Aviles (Kansas City Royals)

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    MESA, AZ - MARCH 09:  Mike Aviles #13 of the Kansas City Royals at bat against the Chicago Cubs during the spring training baseball game at HoHoKam Stadium on March 9, 2011 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Worth a look because his low batting average won’t last, but beware low run totals, RBI totals and power potential.

     

    Aviles’ rough start to the season has scared some of the few fantasy owners who were willing to overlook his team on draft day.

    An injury threat, Aviles takes so few walks that he can hit .300 and still get on base at a rate only a few points above average. Say what you want about a guy who can hit .300; if he isn’t taking those walks, he’s significantly less valuable than a .270 or .280 hitter who is. His strikeout rates have been inconsistent in years past, so Aviles could just as easily hit .310 as .250.

    What I do know is that he may be a worthwhile stopgap (if you need to replace Rafael Furcal or Tsuyoshi Nishioka or are waiting on Chase Utley).

    Aviles’ .167 start is partly a byproduct of his .179 BABIP. We know that, in general, major leaguers will see the pitches they make contact with go for hits at a rate between .270 and .330 with some fluctuation for speed, line-drive rates and power. Aviles will see more hits fall in and his average rise, so he may be worth having while that average rises from its .179 start. If you hold on to him until his average climbs past the Mendoza line, you will get some value from him.

    This is my regression to the mean argument. In general, all baseball players see their successes ebb and flow. A guy who hits .280 on the season will go through brief periods in which he hits .250 and brief periods in which he hits .310. If you know a guy has the ability to hit for a reasonably good average, you can grab him while he’s underachieving and hold on to him when the hits start falling in.

    I did this last year when I picked up Juan Pierre. He was hitting .200 at the time; when I dropped him, he was hitting .270. That means that for a period of a couple of months he was batting somewhere around .300 for me. Aviles could do something like that, and he probably will because his BABIP is so low. Even the worst and slowest MLB hitters post BABIPs higher than that.

Maicer Izturis (Los Angeles Angels)

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    ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 08:  Maicer Izturis #13 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim fields a ground ball and throws to first base in the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 8, 2011 in Anaheim, California. The Blue
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Worth a look if you need someone to back up your injured middle infielders or if your team doesn’t hit for good average.

     

    Izturis is a good bet to hit for average. He has struck out 11.3 percent of the time in his career (MLB average tends to be around 20 percent) and has walked 8.5 percent of the time (around MLB average). His .333 mark will probably fall, but he could finish the season around .300.

    He’s going to play, which means double-digit steals but not more than a few home runs. Batting leadoff means run-scoring opportunities, but he only has four at the moment due to the Angels' middling run-scoring performance thus far.

    Izturis is a sneakily good player, meaning he’s better than most people think, but he is probably one of those guys who means more to a real MLB team than a fantasy team. Still, he's not without his uses; he can help you in batting average and maybe in runs scored. He might slump some, but I don’t think he will completely fall apart.

Freddy Sanchez (San Francisco Giants)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 31:  Freddy Sanchez #21 of the San Francisco Giants fields the ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium on March 31, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Worth a look if your league is deep enough that a second baseman who does little more than hit for average, but won't kill you in the runs scored department, represents an improvement over what you have.

     

    Guys who rely more on hitting for contact than on plate discipline tend to be more unpredictable in terms of OBP. Sanchez could therefore be either surprisingly valuable or downright useless. He could hit for average and net a reasonable number of runs scored and RBI.

    The injury risk made him an unattractive choice on draft day, and even though he hits high in the batting order for the Giants, it’s unreasonable to expect an especially high total of runs scored. The high walk rate Sanchez has shown early on is unlikely to continue. Sanchez does post respectable line-drive rates for a guy without much power, so the batting average receives a boost there.

    I expect most teams to have a better second baseman already, but in deeper leagues or NL-only leagues, Sanchez might be worth considering.

Alex Gonzalez (Atlanta Braves)

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    ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 9: Alex Gonzalez #2 of the Atlanta Braves slides at home plate to score a run against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on April 9, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Phillies won 10-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Worth a look if you think you can sell high to someone in your league.

     

    Unlike most guys who refuse to take walks, Gonzalez strikes out almost as often as the average MLB player. His power output last year—23 home runs and 88 RBI—is very unlikely to be repeated, but if he pursues those numbers he is likely to hurt his batting average even further. Already a .248 career hitter with an awful .294 career OBP, Gonzalez is one or two bad seasons away from being out of a job.

    Some owners are banking on his power making a reappearance and his teammates boosting his RBI and run totals, but I’m not a believer. The damage he could do to your batting average is not worth the possibility of 15 to 20 home runs, and if his average pokes its head above .260, it’s probably due to an unsustainable hot streak.

    He isn’t worth adding in the hope that he improves on his start to the season because what he’s doing isn’t that much worse than what he is capable of.

Orlando Cabrera (Cleveland Indians)

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    GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 27:  Orlando Cabrera #20 of the Cleveland Indians fields a ground ball against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark on February 27, 2011 in Goodyear, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Worth a look if you have some crazy desire to add a Cleveland Indian to your team and Shin Soo-Choo, Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta, Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Carlos Santana, Chris Perez and Travis Hafner are unavailable.

     

    This longtime shortstop will get his 2,000th hit this year as well as his 1,000th run. Off to a solid start this year, hitting .271 with six runs scored and seven RBI, Cabrera is not going to do much for fantasy teams. For a guy who rarely strikes out and often hits for a respectable average, he gets on base at such a low clip that I’m surprised he still has a major-league job.

    Cabrera will probably finish the season with a batting average, OBP and slugging percentage around their current marks. He should be good for about 40 to 50 more RBI, 50 to 60 more runs scored and a few more home runs. There are better options, probably even in the deepest leagues.

Jhonny Peralta (Detroit Tigers)

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    DETROIT, MI - APRIL 08:  Jhonny Peralta #27 of the Detroit Tigers hits a first inning RBI in front of Matt Treanor #15 of the Kansas City Royals during Opening Day at Comerica Park on April 8, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Ima
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Worth a look because he really isn’t that bad if you’ve missed out on the top 10 MLB shortstops, but probably just an AL-only option unless your league is especially deep.

     

    It seems like Peralta has been around forever, but he’s only 28 years old. His .275 average is a reasonably good start to the season and probably is toward the high end of what he can sustain for the next five months.

    His .367 OBP, which is a very good mark to go with an average of .275, seems high. His career-high OBP was .366 (in 2005) during what was arguably a career year, but Peralta’s walk rates have steadily decreased since then. His highest OBP of the last two seasons was .316, which could speak to difficulty in scoring runs.

    A good fantasy player as recently as 2008, Peralta could knock in 80 runs, as he has for the last three seasons, and should score more runs than he has in recent years, but beware the potential for an average around .250 and very few steals. Peralta is not as bad as some other guys on this list, but he is the No. 7 hitter for the Tigers and seems to have passed his prime.