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By the Numbers: Infield, catcher hits and misses

by | Data Analyst
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Last week, we kicked off a four-part review of our 2011 Fantasy baseball player projections. Now that we've pored over the projected and actual stats for outfielders and designated hitters, our tour will make a stop at catcher and the infield positions. We will take a look at how close -- or how far -- my projections came for key players at each of these positions.

The graph below plots the projected and actual 2011 Fantasy point totals for every player who had at least 400 at-bats this year and was projected to accumulate at least 100 Fantasy points. If you’re looking for players, such as Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and David Wright, who failed to meet projections because of missing a large portion of the season, you won't find them here. Also, players are shown only at their primary positions coming into the season (e.g., Kevin Youkilis is among the first basemen, Martin Prado is at second base, etc.)

Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let's take a look at the key hits and misses at each of the positions at hand. Though we could learn a lot from looking back at many of the projections, I will focus on one critical hit and one critical miss for each position.

Catchers

Critical hit: J.P. Arencibia, Toronto

Underestimating the prowess of the hitters at the bottom of the Blue Jays' order, I was far short of predicting Arencibia's 78 RBI, but I did see that his power would carry over from the minors to the majors. It was also apparent that his all-or-nothing approach would limit him in the batting average and runs categories. Coming close to nailing those numbers allowed me to predict his Fantasy points per at-bat accurately, though I projected Arencibia for 43 too few at-bats. Even with a low batting average, the 25-year-old proved that he can be trusted as a No. 1 Fantasy catcher in most formats.

Other hits: Victor Martinez, Russell Martin, John Buck.

Critical miss: Kurt Suzuki, Oakland

I thought Suzuki would experience a resurgence in his batting average, which would help him to build on last season's 71 RBI. Neither development panned out, as the A's catcher did not turn around his sky-high popup rate. He matched his 13 percent infield fly rate from 2010, and that helped to keep his batting average under .240, well below the .272 mark I predicted for him. I also didn't see Suzuki hitting .204 with runners in scoring position, so he barely made half of his projected 82 RBI, driving in just 44 runs instead. That rendered him as a low-end No. 1 catcher in standard mixed leagues, rather than as the top six option that I thought he'd be back last spring. Especially with the emergence of young catchers like Arencibia, Carlos Santana, Alex Avila, Matt Wieters, Wilson Ramos and the returning Buster Posey, Suzuki will be a borderline No. 1 option at best in 2012.

Other misses: Alex Avila (increased power, playing time), Brian McCann (decreased walks, runs), Geovany Soto (increased strikeouts, popups).

First Basemen

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Critical hit: Carlos Pena, Chicago Cubs

Pena's disappointing 2010 season had its roots in an unusually-high 46 percent ground ball rate. The slugger didn't get all the way back to his extreme flyball-hitting ways, but he got far enough to boost his doubles output by 50 percent. That helped Pena to make the projected improvements in his batting average and run scoring. His days as a 40-homer threat are likely over, but Pena showed that he still has enough pop to be useful as a low-end 1B option in standard mixed leagues.

Other hits: Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Gaby Sanchez, Freddie Freeman, Todd Helton.

Critical miss: Aubrey Huff, San Francisco

Coming into 2011, Huff's production had tumbled in each of the three previous odd-numbered years. As if to prove that the pattern was mere coincidence, I projected that Huff would experience only the slightest of downturns this season. Instead, Huff experienced the single worst year-to-year dropoff in his roller-coaster career. Everything moved in the wrong direction, as Huff hit for less power, launched more popups, struck out more often and walked less. Maybe he has one more even-numbered year turnaround left in him, but after such a miserable offensive display, Fantasy owners should let someone else take that chance in assuming that.

Other misses: Adam Dunn (decreased power, increased strikeouts) was the biggest miss by far, though not many people pegged his horrible disappointment of a season. Also Albert Pujols (decreased power), Lance Berkman (increased power), Kevin Youkilis (increased strikeouts, injury), Derrek Lee (injury), Justin Smoak (injury), Mark Trumbo (increased role).

Second Basemen

Critical hit: Neil Walker, Pittsburgh

Projecting him for 18 home runs, I was too optimistic about Walker's power, as he hit only a dozen. Still, I was able to come close on his overall value (428.5 projected FTPS, 416.0 actual) by being accurate in the other categories. Walker did not have a history of being a great line drive hitter, so I didn't fully trust last year's 23 percent rate. As his rate regressed this year, so did his batting average, and he bested his .267 projection by only six points. It's probably not realistic for Walker to toy with a .300 average like he did in his rookie year, but there is still room for Walker to hit with more power, just as he did in the minor leagues.

Other hits: Brandon Phillips, Howard Kendrick, Omar Infante.

Critical miss: Martin Prado, Atlanta

Gordon Beckham was actually an even bigger miss in terms of the discrepancy between projected and actual Fantasy points, but Prado's disappointment meant more, as he was projected to be the fifth-most productive second baseman. Missed time had something to do with Prado's depressed production, but a lack of gap power played an even bigger role. Normally a decent line drive hitter, Prado had the third-lowest line drive rate (12 percent) in the majors this year, and it translated into a .260 batting average. That was surprising for a player coming off of three straight .300-plus seasons, especially given that struck out less often this year. He had been hitting well prior to going down with a staph infection in June, so there is reason to think that, after an offseason of rest, he could be poised to make a comeback in 2012.

Other misses: Ian Kinsler (increased power), Aaron Hill (decreased power), Rickie Weeks (injury), Gordon Beckham (decreased power).

Third Basemen

Critical hit: Mark Reynolds, Baltimore

I didn't exactly go out on a limb for Reynolds, but I did see some mild improvement in his batting average. He has always been prone to strikeouts and popups, but his 2010 rates were just too far from his norms. Having restored both rates in 2011, Reynolds rediscovered his doubles power, coming just one short of his projected total of 28. Improving his batting average from .198 to .221 may not seem like a big deal, but it was enough to make him relevant in standard mixed leagues again.

Other hits: Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion, Chipper Jones, Danny Valencia.

Critical miss: Casey McGehee, Milwaukee

After two solid years of good power production, I thought that McGehee would stay the course this season, but the signs of a power decline were there in 2010 for those who looked for them. Despite a sharp drop in his flyball rate, McGehee hit 23 homers last season, but according to ESPN's Hit Tracker, only eight of them were classified as being "no doubters" or having "plenty of distance." A typical 23-homer hitter would have had about twice as many in those categories. McGehee's 2009 flyball rate of 41 percent was the highest he had posted at any level in his career by far, so there is no reason to expect that he will repeat that -- or another 20-plus home run season. In fact, he may have just played himself out of a regular role for good.

Other misses: Evan Longoria (decreased line drive rate, batting average), Aramis Ramirez (increased line drive rate, batting average), Michael Young (increased line drive rate, batting average), Pablo Sandoval (injury), Placido Polanco (injury, decreased power).

Shortstop

Critical hit: Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia

I was more accurate in predicting shortstops than players at any other position, and Rollins was among my most accurate hits at the position. The key was guessing that he would not lose as much time to injury as he had in 2010, and banking on rebounds in BABIP and overall batting average, which were foretold by a consistently solid line drive rate. It also helped that I didn't look for a return of his 20-plus home run power. Going forward, we shouldn't expect Rollins to perform like an elite shortstop, but there is still enough skill there to keep him among the top five.

Other hits: Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar, Alcides Escobar.

Critical miss: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

I actually missed Asdrubal Cabrera's Fantasy point total by a larger margin, but coming off of an injury-hampered season in 2010, there were some legitimate reasons to question his production in 2011. On the other hand, Castro gave us a glimpse of what he could do in his 2010 rookie campaign, but I was entirely too skeptical. I didn't think Castro could hit for .300 again, as I thought that his .350 rookie BABIP was a fluke, and double-digit homers looked like a pipe dream. I was wrong on both counts, as Castro hit .307 with 10 home runs. The 21-year-old continued to utilize his speed to build a high batting average on ground balls, but he increased his flyball rate just enough to improve his power. You won't see me doubting Castro going into 2012.

Other misses: Asdrubal Cabrera (increased power), J.J. Hardy (increased power), Erick Aybar (increased power, steals), Derek Jeter (injury), Orlando Cabrera (decreased power, playing time).

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