April 7, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
Today's review of Carlos Gonzalez may come across as a Dick Vitale-esque rave, and if so, it's due to the fact that today opened the eyes of this author as to how undervalued this fantasy monster is. Matt Schwartz may have his E-BABIP system projecting “Car-Go” to post a BABIP of just .301, but that's not going to happen. He's loaded with raw power, and benefits mightily by playing in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains, expect something more in line with his career rate of .331.
Moreno's presence seems like a stretch, as he had just 101 PA entering 1982, while Gonzalez has over 600. And while these guys have had some disappointing seasons, there were also a lot of All-Star quality seasons compiled among them. Now, imagine if they had played in Colorado. Burks did for a while, of course, and hit .306/.378/.579 during his games with the Rockies. Sure, the humidor has dampened the park effect of Coors Field, but Gonzalez is going to rake. Manager Jim Tracy has enough confidence that he's leading off against a lefty who is historically tough on lefty batters, Randy Wolf. Trust the Coors effect; trust the power/speed combination which is still the cornerstone of fantasy success; and don't fear the limited playing time estimates – he'll play everyday and is someone to target in trade immediately before it becomes obvious to everyone else.
Banishing the spirit of “Dickie V”, Gonzalez playing everyday opens the obvious concerns about whose time he takes. Unfortunately, it's going to be Seth Smith. Gonzalez is a natural right fielder, who could be a defensive force there, and who can cover CF in a pinch. But the Rockies perceive themselves to be better with Fowler in Center Field, despite his lackluster fielding stats (e.g. -20 UZR/150 in his career, though no scout would agree that he's a liability). The natural move would have been to trade hard-hitting and ultra-consistent Brad Hawpe to a team in need of lefty power (e.g. either Chicago ballclub). But he's still there, and Jim Tracy has a “good problem”, with 4 starter-quality players from which to populate his outfield each game. Stay away from Smith, but keep him in mind if anything changes.
In reviewing the A's outfield situation in last Friday's Heater, it appeared as though team expert Melissa Lockard had been playing Tetris, there are so many oddly-shaped colored boxes. Since then, the outfield situation became a lot less of a fun game, as both Jack Cust and Coco Crisp's pinky failed to find an appropriate fit. Billy Beane is used to pressing “reset”, however, and so there are plenty more outfielders ready to play...
Fortunately, we were able to catch up with Melissa, and, well, things are about as clear as mud now. Rajai will be playing center field, and the extra playing time should make him even more of a fantasy force. Travis Buck was called up, and he's been considered a “professional hitter” since his amateur days. He hit .288/.377/.474 in 2007, at age 23, but has struggled since. His fielding is bad enough that he won't hold a job unless he has a torrid streak while Crisp is out, and perhaps not even then. So, if you need outfield at bats, Buck is worth a flier. But beware of the very high risk.
In the Oakland Tetris Game, Jake Fox is like one of those nasty “Z” pieces (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetris), in that it's always hard to get him to fit in. But he has excellent power, and will play some left field against lefty pitchers when he's not DH'ing or wearing catcher's gear. As cold and analytical as the A's are, his playing time will still stem from how he's doing, not from the modeling the front office does. If he's hitting, he's worth a pick up, especially in daily-move leagues, where he can be benched in games at home or in Seattle.
“Mr. UZR”, Ryan Langerhans (nearly +20/150 as a side outfielder for his career), made the team - somewhat surprisingly, as Matt Tuiasosopo at least showed himself able to stand in left field. He's not much of a hitter, but with Gutierrez and Suzuki, the Ms would be playing one of the best defensive trios in history. He has a history of missing time with injuries, however, and the M's will constantly be balancing playing time among all of Bradley, Byrnes, and him. Of course, Bradley is the only one of concern for most fantasy owners, and anyone who suggests that they know when he will decide to play is almost certainly kidding themselves. He's hit lefties a lot harder in his career, but Safeco is much more forgiving to lefty power. There isn't much “soft” pitching in the AL West now, though Texas and Los Angeles are parks which help a hitter. He's much less of a risk in sim leagues (e.g. Scoresheet Baseball or Strat-O-Matic), where playing time isn't so critical, and he would make a good trade target in these formats – especially Strat-O-Matic, where the ballpark effects will be backed out.
As an aside, you can win a free copy of Strat-O-Matic in Baseball Daily Digest's Bracket Challenge of all-time great teams (http://www.baseballdailydigest.com/contest/bdd-brackets/). It's scheduled to end tonight, though the tournament committee is in heated discussion about extending the deadline. Enter today to be safe!