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Marco Scutaro and Perils of Playoff Performance

Marco Scutaro was a unstoppable hitting machine in August and September, and was a postseason hero for the World Champion San Francisco Giants. His hot finish, however, shouldn't fool you into thinking he's anything other than a fantasy insurance plan in 2013.


For anyone who believes that Marco Scutaro will carry his torrid late-season hitting on into 2013 and remain a plus fantasy contributor, I have two words for you: Shane Spencer. Remember that guy?

Well, if you don't, Spencer was an organizational soldier for the Yankees in the late-90's who finally got something resembling major league playing time in September of 1998 (the year the Yanks won 114 games), and proceeded to hit eight home runs in 42 plate appearances down the stretch. No one could get him out, and he became a sort of folk hero in the Bronx. He hit two more home runs in the first round of the 1998 playoffs, and some (mostly Yankee fans) thought they had unearthed a secret weapon. Of course, Spencer was on the major league roster the following season and was nothing like a star, and he spent the rest of his short career as a backup outfielder, leaving behind a legacy as a living embodiment of the perils of late-season small sample sizes.

Spencer is just one of many. Mark Lemke, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Leyritz, Delmon Young. The list goes on. Peter Kozma would have been one had he not lost his mind in Game 7 of this year's NLCS. Scutaro is just the latest addition to the storied annals of so-so players who have amazing postseasons and see their fantasy draft stock artificially rise because of it. This isn't even the first time he's done it. In 2006, he took over the A's starting shortstop job and hit well as they rolled to a division title, then tore it up against the Twins in the ALDS to earn a label as a "clutch" player. The next season he finished with an 88 OPS+.

This year, as August dawned, Scutaro was doing his usual thing: being an unspectacular infield option and a decent injury fill-in. Scutaro entered the year coming off of a fine 2011 season as the Red Sox's starting shortstop. He missed most of May due to injury, but still contributed a .299 average and .781 OPS (second best of his career), making him a decent shortstop option in an incredibly weak pool. The Sox then traded him to the Rockies, and he immediately picked up that added Coors Field shine that made him a bit more intriguing in fantasy circles.

Unfortunately, the altitude didn't do much for Scutaro's bat, and he hit only .271/.324/.361 as the Rockies' second baseman. You'd have forgiven fantasy owners for dumping him at mid-summer, as Scutaro wasn't contributing much and most managers would rather try a younger sleeper alternative than stick with a 36-year-old and pray that he starts playing around with the aliens from Cocoon.

Of course, those who did dump Scutaro regretted it very quickly. The Giants acquired Scutaro at the trade deadline for the low, low price of Charlie Culberson, and Scutaro set about recasting himself as a fantasy asset. While the move from Coors Field to AT&T Park would seem to intuitively hamper Scutaro's [roduction even further, the exact opposite happened. Perhaps spurred on by playing for a contender again, Scutaro hit .362/.385/.473 after donning a Giants uniform. In the month of September, he hit a scorching .402/.421/.518, and that hot streak might have helped more than a few erstwhile second base-starved fantasy owners to a championship.

Scutaro, as we all know, maintained the hot hitting into the playoffs, winning the NLCS MVP and knocking in the World Series-winning run in Game 4 against Detroit. Once upon a time, this kind of performance on the national stage might have been dangerous to unenlightened fantasy owners, as those not in tune to the vagaries of small sample sizes might have had some idea that Scutaro was some sort of star. Luckily, I think we're long past that, and frankly, these days, anyone who drafts Scutaro several rounds too high based on his postseason heroics deserves to see their fantasy team go down in flames.

However, we still have to ask how much of Scutaro's hot finish was real and how much of it was worth ignoring. It's obvious that he won't hit .362 over a full season. I don't even need to bring up his sky-high September BABIP for you to know that (though I guess I just did). Scutaro is a free agent at this moment, and some of his value will change depending on where he lands, but he's likely to be generally the same player he always has been. That means he's a high-contact hitter who will give you a decent average and won't kill your fantasy team, but he won't especially help it either. Since he's getting closer to 40, his production only seems destined to wane further.

Our Fake Teams consensus rankings had Scutaro at #18, which I think is about right. Second base is a generally weak position, but there are still a lot of better options, and others with way more upside (like Jurickson Profar, who we had at #17). Scutaro is a good end-draft insurance policy and a good guy to have should you be saddled with a bunch of injuries (he'll likely be eligible at more than one position), but if you come away from the draft with him as your starting second baseman, you've probably failed. He's a fine player, always has been, and as a die-hard Giants fan, I'm forever grateful for his postseason heroics. Hell, I'd buy the man a beer right now. Make it two beers. That being said, if even I, in my rose-colored Giants haze, can see Scutaro's fluke hot stretch for what it is, you definitely should too.