Fantasy fallout: Laird to Detroit

A ton of moves have been made in the past week and just about every one has an impact on the fantasy side of things. Although it is tough to cover them all, we’re trying to analyze a large percentage of them.

Today, I am going to look at a deal from last week, when the Rangers deal sent catcher Gerald Laird to Detroit for two minor league pitchers. Although Laird was the only major leaguer included in the transaction, several players—Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, Max Ramirez and Brandon Inge—were directly affected.

Fallout: Laird

We will start by looking at Laird, who will be the Tigers’ starting catcher in 2009.

| Season |  Team   |  G  | PA  | HR | R	 | RBI | SB |  AVG  |
|  2006  | Rangers |  78 | 260 |  7 | 46 |  22 |  3 | 0.296 | 
|  2007	 | Rangers | 120 | 448 |  9 | 48 |  47 |  6 | 0.224 |
|  2008	 | Rangers |  95 | 381 |  6 | 54 |  41 |  2 | 0.276 |

Laird will assume the tough job of replacing Pudge Rodriguez as the Tigers’ catcher. (Icon/SMI)

As you can see, Laird does not have much speed and does not hit for much power. He does, however, have the ability to hit for a good average at times. Laird is not a .300 hitter like he was in 2006 nor is the .220 hitter of 2007. Laird’s true average ability is around .260, and I’d expect him to hit near that in 2009.

The move from Rangers Ballpark to Comerica Park will not noticeably affect Laird’s production. Both parks were hitter-friendly in 2008, but both also have jumped around in the rankings—becoming pitcher-friendly in years past. The talent level around Laird should not change much, either. The Rangers did lead the American League in runs per game last year at 5.56, but the Tigers were also a potent offensive group, putting up more than five runs a game. So Laird’s new supporting cast should not negatively affect him.

This trade does help boost Laird’s stats, though, mostly because in Detroit he will be the bona fide No. 1 catcher. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski reportedly said of Laird, “We have talked to him already and we will give him the opportunity to catch a lot of ballgames.” With regular playing time, Laird’s run and RBI totals figure to increase some, though not dramatically. Think an extra 10 runs and RBI. With that type of production Laird can be a serviceable second catcher in 2009, but not someone you should be targeting in your drafts.

Laird was expendable to the Rangers mostly because they have not one, not two, but three promising young catchers in their system: Jarrod Saltalamaccia, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez.

Fallout: Saltalamacchia

| Season  |  Team      | AB  | HR | R  | RBI | SB | AVG   |
| 2006    | Braves(AA) | 313 |  9 | 30 |  39 |	1 | 0.230 |
| 2007	  | ATL-TEX    | 308 | 11 | 39 |  33 |	0 | 0.266 |
| 2008	  | Rangers    | 298 |	3 | 27 |  26 |	2 | 0.253 |

Saltalamacchia will turn 24 in 2009, in what will be his third season in the majors. Although Saltalamacchia enjoyed success in Single-A and for a brief time in 2007 Double-A ball, he has yet to translate that success into the major leagues. That he was jumped straight from Double-A to the majors did not help his development.

| Season |  Team   | BB%  | K%   | BABIP | LD%  | HR/FB% | CT%  |
|  2007	 | ATL-TEX | 5.8  | 24.4 | 0.320 | 16.7 | 12.0   | 73.6 |
|  2008	 | Rangers | 13.5 | 37.4 | 0.388 | 27.2 |  5.8   | 70.2 |

Note: The contact percentage (CT%) I am using is the one Fangraphs shows, which is per pitch instead of per at bat.

The most concerning aspect of Salty’s game is his inability to make contact. He made contact with only 70 percent of the pitches he swung at (league average about 82 percent) and stuck out in 37 percent of his at-bats, one of the worst percentages in the majors.

If you are going to strike out in over one-third of your plate appearances, it is a good idea to walk a lot and hit a lot of fly balls for home runs. Salty did actually walk a lot because of his patience at the plate, but did not hit a high percentage of fly balls for home runs. In 2007 he posted a respectable 12 percent HR/FB percentage, but in 2008 that number sliced in half to 6 percent.

Saltalamacchia may not have been good at making contact with the ball, but he certainly knew how to smack the crap outta it. His video game-esque 27.2 line drive percentage somewhat justifies his inflated .388 BABIP. However in 2009 it would be unwise to expect a repeat line drive rate, therefore making it unwise to expect a similar BABIP. A downward shift in BABIP is not going to help his already distressing batting average. Bottom line, if Salty needs a .388 BABIP to hit for a .253 average, he will never consistently hit for a good average.

Still, Saltalamacchia is young and has the potential to improve his skills.

Fallout: Teagarden

Taylor Teagarden, besides an awesome name, does have some meaningful stuff going for him. The soon-to-be 25-year-old catcher is cut from the same mold as Salty. Both have good eyes and power potential, and they strike out too often. I’m not going to go into as much detail with Teagarden because I do not believe he will get the starting job in 2009. If you do look at his minor league numbers, he did perform well in Single- and Double-A, but struggled mightily in Triple-A.

His name gets thrown out due mostly to the 53 plate appearances he had in the majors in 2008, in which he hit six home runs. Nobody seems to be taking note of the 215 Triple-A plate appearances he accumulated in 2008, hitting only seven homers.

Apparently, Teagarden does play spectacular defense, but if I were the Rangers, I would start him in the minors in 2009 to let him develop his offensive game a little more.

Fallout: Ramirez

Max Ramirez, the only one of these catchers without a last name to comment on (although I just commented about the lack of a comment), is young (24) and, like his Ranger counterparts, succeeded in the lower levels of the minors. Ramirez had a tremendous year in Double-A in 2008. In 280 plate appearances, he batted .354 and blasted 17 home runs. A common theme in this article, Ramirez struck out plenty—in 23 percent of his trips to the plate—and also walked—drawing walks 13 percent of the time.

In very limited time in Triple-A and in the majors, though, Ramirez was overmatched and his numbers reflect that.

Final thoughts

I expect that Salty will start out as the Rangers’ starting catcher in 2009, but I am skeptical about his ability to produce at a high level in the majors. His leash will be short as a starter, with Ramirez and Teagarden banging on the door behind him.

This is pure speculation on my part; several different scenarios can play out. One of the three remaining Texas catchers can be traded—several rumors are circulating involving Saltalamacchia and Ramirez. It will not be until spring training that we know who will be the team’s starting catcher, and even then the situation can change without notice.

Overall, this trade benefits Laird and all three remaining Texas catchers because of the increase in playing time it presents. One player it does not help: Brandon Inge. Inge did it all for the Tigers last year with his glove, playing catcher, third base, and even some outfield, but did nothing with his bat. With the addition of Laird, Inge figures to be squeezed out of playing time significantly in 2009.

Oh, and I almost forgot about the two pitchers the Rangers received in the deal, Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. They figure to benefit from this trade as I would imagine it is easy to move up through the Rangers’ farm system as a pitcher.

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  1. Petr said...

    As Chris stated, Inge is the 3B for the Tigers. The team has little depth at 3B so he’ll likely hold the position until his contract expires or he cannot maintain a BA of at least .200. He’s a huge hole offensively, but he’s all they have and they can’t afford to add another 3B when they have such greater needs. Thanks for the analysis on the Texas catcher situation.

  2. Chris said...

    The Tigers had already announced (long before this trade) that Inge would be their full-time 3B next year, with Carlos Guillen slated for LF, so Inge doesn’t stand to lose anything but long-term C eligibility from the deal. The guy who “loses out” is Dusty Ryan, who should start the season in the minors, but that was already expected as the team was intent on nabbing a veteran catcher this offseason.

    And the Rangers system is absolutely loaded with young arms. Moscoso has a chance to arrive and establish himself before most of them get there, but he doesn’t have much of a window before Feliz and Holland and the rest of the horde start breathing down his neck. Melo, on the other hand, has a whole lot of extra competition if and when he’s ever ready for the Show.

  3. Paul Singman said...

    Chris and Petr thanks for commenting and notifying me about the Inge situation. You are correct in saying Inge will be a huge hole offensively next year (especially at third) although he should put up better numbers than last year. Obviously.

    I am aware, Chris, that the Rangers have a solid group of pitchers in the minors—one of the best actually—but I would not take my half-joking remark about Moscoso and Melo so seriously.

  4. Chris said...

    If you want to mention Moscoso and Melo at all, it really is worth noting the fact that the Rangers’ pitching depth is mostly in the low minors, and it’s entirely possible that Feliz will be kept down for another full year to delay arbitration and free agency even if he is ready for an audition in June.

    That means that Moscoso really does have a window to claim a major league job in the near future, and if he can stay healthy, he may well do so. He’s not likely to be a factor in many fantasy leagues, admittedly, but neither are Laird or Inge.

  5. Paul Singman said...

    Yup, I totally agree with what you said in the last post Chris. Pitchers, no matter how dominant in the lower levels of the minors, are still disappointingly unpredictable.

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