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April 6, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Fantasy Cleanup on Aisle 4

by Craig Brown

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How great is it to finally have real, live box scores?  I spent the morning checking the numbers, trying already to spot some fantasy trends.  While doing so, I stumbled upon three cleanup hitters with new homes for 2010 who suffered through rough introductions.  One is a solid fantasy option while the other two are less exciting.  All three will be counted upon to provide some runs for their new clubs.  Can they do the same for your fantasy team?  Read on...

Adam LaRoche

Plying his trade at a deep position stocked with huge names, LaRoche has often been an overlooked fantasy commodity.  He hit cleanup yesterday for the Diamondbacks and went 0-4 with a pair of strikeouts.  In the four times he stepped to the plate, he had a total of four runners on base.  Two of his whiffs came with men on... At least he didn't hit into a double play.  Still, not the best of starts. 

The slow start is something LaRoche should be used to.  Among players with more than 200 April plate appearances from 2007 through yesterday, no player struggles more to snag a base hit in the early going than LaRoche.   His .184 batting average during that time frame ranks him dead last.  He's also had difficulty finding his power stroke in the first month with just nine home runs and 30 RBI.  For his career going back to 2007, he’s bashed 71 home runs and collected a total of 256 RBI.  Averaged out, that’s 24 home runs and 85 RBI a year, with a 0.58 GB/FB ratio and a 9.9% HR/FB.  However, if he’s only hitting on average three homers and driving in 10 runs in the first month of the season, that means he’s needed to make up some serious ground over the course of the year to finish with those numbers.  The next pair of graphs show how his performance has evolved over the summers.


PECOTA projects a .276 BA with 23 HR and 84 RBI for LaRoche.  Again, solid numbers exactly in line with his performance of the previous three seasons.  In an ideal fantasy situation, you’d stash him on your bench and play him starting in June.  Given that you probably don’t have that luxury, if he’s already on your squad and you suffer through another poor April, keep him in your lineup for the full year so you can collect whatever benefits may fall your way.  And if he’s not on your team, you may want to make a note to contact his owner in late May.  Odds are good by that point he’ll be a little frustrated.

Aubrey Huff

The Giants said they would hit Aubrey Huff in the cleanup spot and that’s exactly where he was on Monday - sandwiched between Pablo Sandoval and Mark DeRosa.  In his first game of the year, Huff saw 13 pitches and swung at nine of them.  One of those swings was on the first pitch of an at bat with runners on first and second where he grounded into a double play.

Huff is generally owned in around 10% of mixed leagues, which seems odd given the fact he’s assured gobs of playing time and he’ll be hitting at a premium spot in the Giants lineup.  However, fantasy owners are understandably wary, given that in 2009 Huff had his least productive power season since 2001.  Last summer his .144 ISO and .384 slugging percentage were his lowest rates since his sophomore campaign in Tampa.  

His poor performance last year means his 2008 season where he hit .304 with 32 HR and 108 RBI looks to be an outlier while he’s been on the decline. 

2007 36.7 7.6 .442 .162
2008 18.7 5.5 .552 .247
2009 35.7 6.3 .384 .144

His power numbers weren’t that great in Baltimore last year and really dropped once he moved to Detroit.  His new address is AT&T Park, which is a similarly difficult yard in which to launch a home run.  Huff will get his RBI opportunities, but while the Panda does a fine job of getting on base ahead of him, let’s just say he’s not the most fleet of foot circling those bases.  Aaron Rowland and Edgar Renteria at the top of the order aren’t going to help an RBI man pad those stats either.  PECOTA projects a .270 average with 19 HR and 79 RBI.  Given the fact he’s reached those heights only once since 2005 (the aforementioned 2008 outlier) those numbers seem optimistic, even if he remains in the cleanup spot.  Huff is a candidate to avoid except in the deep leagues where you're scrambling for any kind of hitter.

Kevin Kouzmanoff

Like LaRoche and Huff, Kouzmanoff has a new home for 2010, moving from San Diego to Oakland.  And like LaRoche, Kouzmanoff is an extremely slow starter.  Over the previous three seasons, he owns an April slash line of .213/.253/.296 with just four home runs and 20 RBI in 277 at bats.  Yesterday wasn’t a good start to the 2010 campaign as he went 0-4 and bounced into two double plays.  

Owned in less than 50% of online leagues, Kouzmanoff doesn’t help your fantasy team.  He doesn’t hurt it, either.  He’ll bash 30 doubles, 20 homers and 80 RBI while hitting around .270.  He hits more fly balls than grounders, but owns a steady 8.5% HR/FB rate in his first three full seasons.  His contact rate of 75% could certainly be higher, but he’s always going to be a guy who whiffs once every five at bats.

However, unlike the Giants at the top of the order for Huff, the hitters in Oakland’s lineup know how to get on base.  Rajai Davis and Daric Barton reached base a combined five times yesterday. (Which leads to those pesky double plays sometimes.)  Kouzmanoff will have plenty of chances to drive in runs for the A’s with PECOTA pegging him for 82 RBI to go along with his standard 20 HR and .274 batting average.  

He’s fantasy vanilla, but sometimes a little vanilla can help.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

4 comments have been left for this article.

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