Last season when I did this preview, this part of the series seemed so easy. Once we knew that Dan Uggla would be returning for his fifth season with the Florida Marlins, it was simple to peg him for a certain amount of production. You could pencil in Uggla for 30 home runs and a .250/.350/.470 pretty easily; at the same time, you could also peg him to cost the team between five and ten runs in the field according to the advanced defensive statistics. So my projection of a 3.2 WAR season seemed appropriate. Of course, he blew me out of the water with a five-win campaign (according to FanGraphs) and impressed not only Marlins fans but apparently the Atlanta Braves brass.
So now Uggla is in Atlanta. Who do we have left?
The Marlins are likely to depend on Omar Infante to man second base for them this season. This should hand Infante his first full-time gig at a guaranteed position going into a season for the first time since his days as a busted prospect in the Detroit Tigers system. Infante is in the final year of his three-year pact signed with the Braves, so he should need no further motivation to play well; a third season in a row of surprisingly good performance and he should be in for a nice payday, at least compared to the salaries he was previously receiving.
Of course, after this eye-opening article by yours truly, you should no longer be surprised that Infante is as good a player as he projects to be. Yes, it came as a surprise to me too, but Infante is a pretty good player despite the type of skillset that screams “scrappy contact hitter that runs out every ball.” Since I discussed much of what I am expecting from Infante in that very linked article (really, you should check it out), I’m going to jump right to the projection I put on there.
Projection: 650 PA, 2.5 WAR
Note that that is using my crude projection of a .290/.344/.404 slash line. It does not seem to be all that different than some of the other lines I’ve seen so far.
In this case, surprisingly the Fans are the most pessimistic of all of the systems, which just goes to show more of the potential bias that I discussed in my previous article. No matter how Infante performs, people just are not going to believe that he is a decent hitter. It should not matter however, as the difference between the most optimistic and pessimistic of these projections is about five runs, meaning we would expect Infante to be worth at worst 2.0 WAR over 650 PA. Now that sort of performance is just below the league average, but it certainly makes that trade the Fish made with Atlanta look better when the stopgap we receive in return is at least a worthwhile player, Indeed, Omar Infante is not just a stopgap, but a deserving player to have on a roster.
I did some more digging around into the numbers to find out more about our 2011 second baseman and his hitting profile. His baseline skillset looks like that of a high-contact hitter who depends on balls in play for his success. In his past three seasons, he’s done well in that department, with a .343 BABIP. How likely is that to continue? I took a look at Infante’s batted ball breakdowns over the past three seasons to see how well he hit on each batted ball type.
The first three columns with numbers show Infante’s BABIP on those batted ball types, while the last column shows his overall BABIP for the given time period. What jumps out immediately is the BABIP on ground balls. The league average hovers around .230, so the 2010 season looks like a bit of an aberration. The other two seasons were also above average in terms of the ground ball, and his overall three-season mark has ended about 20 points higher than his career BABIP on grounders. I believe that is in line for regression. The other two batted ball types are not significantly over the league averages (about .125 to .130 for fly balls and .700 for line drives), so we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of regression there. The projection systems each have Infante hitting about .330 on balls in play, with the Fans projecting the lowest (.326) and ZiPS the highest (.338).
What may be even more interesting than Infante’s BABIP is his actual batted ball distribution. While I don’t put a whole lot of stock into those numbers, Infante’s career trends have been astonishing. According to BIS data, prior to arriving in Atlanta, Infante was surprisingly a heavy fly ball hitter, hitting fly balls in 44 percent of his batted balls. That changed drastically since 2008.
That is quite a significant change and it may be the reason for his uptick in BABIP in recent years. In 2008 and 2009, Infante hit a huge number of line drives; BIS data has him at 30 percent in 2008 and 27 percent in 2009. Then in 2010, after years of being a primarily popless fly ball hitter, Infante put the ball primarily on the ground again. It is possible that, since arriving in Atlanta, Infante has made an adjustment to his swing that his allowing him to get a more level swing plane on the ball, which has let him use whatever light power he has to good use. Naturally, we would expect hitters to get more hits on balls in play when hitting them on the ground and on a line, so if this is a mechanical development and not just a three-year aberration, it would signal good things for the Marlins in 2011, even with the expected regression.
Bonifacio should play the super utility role this season, backing up both center field in a pinch and both middle infield positions. With Bonifacio first in line for starts in the event of a middle infielder’s injury, the Marlins have even more incentive to keep their players helathy and away from fluky Chris Coghlan injuries. Bonifacio may be one of the best baserunners in baseball, but he has yet to figure out how to actually get on base, and until he does his baserunning value will just be a tease (really though, he is a thing of beauty to watch running the bases, pickoffs aside). It’s best the team leaves him on the bench.
Osvaldo Martinez figures to get time in Triple-A warming up his game for a potential 2012 trial at second base. Martinez’s minor league numbers actually resemble Infante’s major league qualities, except that Martinez has managed a better walk rate the past few seasons. He still depends on contact and balls in play, having little power to boost the value of his hits. He does have some value on the bases, but that is likely to be minimum and only important to fantasy players. Look for him possibly in 2012 if the team decides not to bring back Infante.