January 30, 2012 posted by Todd McMacken

2012 Fantasy Baseball Pre-Season Position Battles: Mike Aviles vs. Nick Punto

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Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox SS

When the Boston Red Sox traded away Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies in return for Clayton Mortensen, they created an interesting platoon situation at the shortstop position.   Shrewd fantasy players are always looking for an edge, and with shortstop or middle infield generally providing limited value relative to other spots around the diamond, let’s take a quick look at the competition between Mike Aviles and Nick Punto, both of whom are expected to fight it out to win reps at short in FantasyPros911’s first installment of 2012 Pre-Season Position Battles.

Mike Aviles

Following a nice rookie season in 2008, in which he put up a .325/.354/.480 triple-slash with ten bombs, 51 RBI, 68 runs and 10 steals in 441 PA’s, then-Kansas City Royal Mike Aviles quickly crushed fantasy dreams by putting up a lousy 2009 that culminated in his suffering an elbow injury at the end of May and being lost for the rest of the season.

Coming back from reconstructive (TJ) elbow surgery, he put up a decent but relatively unspectacular .304/.335/.409 slash in 2010 with 8 HR, 63 runs, 32 RBI and 14 swipes in 448 PA’s. Knowing full well that a bevy of bats were waiting in the minors, the Royals traded power for defense that winter by acquiring Alcides Escobar, and thus effectively ended Aviles brief reign manning the six in KC.

After a mid-season trade to Boston for minor league prospects Yamaico Novarro and Kendal Volz, Aviles found new life playing nearly every position on the field.  In 101 plate appearances and hitting towards the bottom of the order with the Red Sox, he slashed a .317/.356/.436 line with 2 HR’s, 8 RBI, 17 Runs and 4 stolen bases  through August and September. Those sorts of numbers will certainly play in fantasy at  short or a middle infield spot (where we prefer somebody like Aviles), though his final 2011 line of .255/.289/.409 and his career .323 wOBA and 96 wRC+ appear marginally adequate. (In all fairness, Avile’s final 2011 line was suppressed by a low .276 BABIP and a measly 15.7% line drive rate.)

Aviles now finds himself mired—or so it appears—in a full-blown positional platoon as we enter spring training with the recently-acquired Nick Punto as Boston GM Ben Cherington has decided to trade both Jed Lowrie and Scutaro to help solidify their bullpen, free up some payroll, and perhaps even send a message to shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias that his time is coming soon.

Nick Punto 

Nick Punto, Boston Red Sox SS

Free agent-signee Nick Punto has a much longer track-record in the majors though his value has been built primarily around defense rather than his stick.  That said, hitting in a much more potent offense in St. Louis than he had historically in Minnesota, Punto had one of his more productive offensive seasons, albeit limited to only 166 plate appearances. In part-time duty with the Cardinals,  he put up a .350 wOBA and 123 wRC+ with a .278/.388/.421 triple-slash on a .319 BABIP (about 20 points higher than expected). Punto’s career line of .249/.325/.327 is less interesting but statistically more significant, though the Sox are hoping that along with his better defense he can retain some of the hit tool he appeared to possess in St. Louis’ lineup. It remains to be seen if last years modest jump in production (in an admittedly small sample) is a career outlier.

How will the Red Sox approach the platoon? The question immediately becomes Aviles’ better bat against Punto’s superior defense. If we look at platoon splits, we see Aviles hitting .299/.344/.470 (.814 OPS) in 416 career PA’s against lefties while Punto manages only .256/.322/.326 (.648 OPS in over 2000 plate appearances). The switch-hitting Punto doesn’t get any better against righties, with a line of .244/.326/.326 (.652 OPS in 938 PA’s) isn’t any better while Aviles hits a more pedestrian .283/.307/.396 )(.703 OPS). Punto is essentially the same hitter regardless of what side the ball is coming from, while Aviles’ hundred-point-spread in OPS shows him a good bit better against lefties and still better than Punto against RHP. Advantage, Aviles.

Based on his defense and his switch-hitting ability we see Punto in line to scavenge 150-200 plate appearances if defensive inadequacies at shortstop or injuries don’t force Boston to play both of them, but the majority of the starts should be Aviles’ to do what he will with them…and makes the kid from Middletown High School (NY) draftable again in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues.

The Winner: Mike Aviles

We expect around 400 plate appearances from Aviles with at least 10 HR’s, 50+ RBI and 50+ Runs and 8-10 Steals if he remains healthy and plays up to some of the potential he’s shown during his short career. Aviles is a right-handed, pull-happy hitter playing in a park that plays small to left field, heats up significantly as the summer wears on (Aviles owns a .276 wOBA in April/May but .340 wOBA in other months) and moves to a very-solid lineup where opportunities to both drive-in and score runs should be much more plentiful than he found in Kansas City.


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