May 11, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
This week, Value Picks graduates two players and demotes one, all while bringing in three fresh names in completely different situations. Cliff Pennington's usage shot up in ESPN mixed leagues, as he is now owned in 33 percent of leagues, up 17 percent from last week. As it is, he's no longer undervalued, and why should he be? His unexpected hot star finally caught fantasy players' eyes, but note that he has been in decline for the last few weeks, especially in the power categories. Chris Snyder only spent a week in this space, and it was not a pretty one. Snyder hit .154/.421/.154 during that week, with only two hits. Still, he too saw his ownership jump up to 22 percent of ESPN leagues. With Miguel Montero still not available, Snyder should provide pop and playing time at the catcher position for a little while longer. If either of these players are still available in your deeper leagues, go ahead and snatch them up. The one demotion is John Baker, who slumped through a .125/.192/.208 line in his two weeks in the Value Picks portfolio. Baker can and should regress to his norms in due time, but with limited upside in terms of both talent and playing time, Baker should take a back seat in your search for a catcher.
Entering the portfolio are two catchers in completely different scenarios. Value Picks may be a bit late to the John Jaso party, but better late than never. Jaso took the starting role for Tampa Bay when Kelly Shoppach went down with injury and has not looked back since. While that .314/.479/.486 line Jaso put up in 48 PA is a mirage, it's certainly a hot one. Jaso has been good in the minors at avoiding strikeouts (minor league career strikeout rate of 12.2 percent in eight seasons), so he will certainly strike out more than in 4.1 percent of his plate appearances. With the increase in strikeouts, that batting average will fall, though PECOTA projects an above average contact rate of 83 percent that should help keep the AVG afloat. Jaso has never shown much power, but in the Rays lineup, you do not need a whole lot of power to drive in runs. His solid, patient approach at the plate should get him on base to score runs as well, even near the bottom of the lineup. Jaso's skill set compares favorably with Shoppach, with less power and more contact ability, but the results should be similar. With the lion's share of playing time, he's a good player to have on AL-only leagues and leagues with two-catcher requirements.
The same can be said of Carlos Ruiz, though Ruiz' predicament is entirely different. Unlike Jaso, who established himself thanks to an injury, Ruiz was assured playing time as a defense-first catcher for Philadelphia. But so far Ruiz has been all offense as well, batting an absurd .325/.465/.429. Despite the torrid start, the lack of counting stats for Ruiz display his problems; he bats eighth in the National League and has almost no power, particularly outside of Citizen's Bank Ballpark (.101 career road ISO). Furthermore, despite Ruiz' decent knack for avoiding strikeouts (11.3 percent career strikeout rate), he has a naturally low BABIP that deflates his AVG. Matt Swartz' E-BABIP formula pegged him for an expected .286 BABIP, which helps explain his low career AVG of .251. Still, the benefit of guaranteed playing time with a good offense, even in the NL, should give NL-only owners enough reason to consider Ruiz. If he continues his wicked hot streak, all the better for fantasy owners.
The last name joining Value Picks is Royals infielder Mike Aviles. First, it is important to recognize what Aviles is not. He is not obviously going to hit at this pace. He is not the guy who batted .325/.354/.480 (.285 TAv) as a rookie in 2008, but neither is he the guy who was badly hurt during a .183/.208/.250 (.154 TAv) 2009 season. Aviles has proven decent at avoiding strikeouts, striking out in only 14.6 percent of PA for his career. Combined with an average BABIP, and a .270-.280 AVG is not out of reach. Unfortunately, Aviles is allergic to walks, as many Royals are, and is not likely to get on base much. Add on a pathetic Royals lineup outside of Billy Butler and there is good reason to suspect that runs should come with difficulty for Aviles. Aviles does not have the greatest power stroke, but he did hit 10 non-fluky homers (homerun-to-flyball ratio of 8.3 percent) in 2008 and already has two this season. Any power stroke you can get should be a nice added bonus. Aviles is currently sharing playing time at shortstop and second base with Yuniesky Betancourt and Chris Getz according to Heater team expert Jeff Parker, so counting stats should be harder to come by, but he is clearly the best of the three Royals infield options and is a fine addition in AL-only or deeper mixed leagues.
The remaining three names on the Value Picks portfolio have varied in performance since their arrival. Ian Desmond had a nice week last week, tacking on two home runs and adding to his surprising power. Cristian Guzman hit .429/.467/.429 with a run and an RBI last week, but may have lost some playing time to Adam Kennedy according to Heater team expert Paul Bugala. Skip Schumaker continues to struggle with St. Louis, but given his current batted ball profile (including a 28.1 percent line-drive rate), his BABIP should regress to a more suitable range.
The results of the first month of Value Picks have come in, and the up-the-middle guys I suggested have been a bit subpar. A lack of power was to be expected given that these were the three worst offensive positions in the game, but the low batting average was particularly frustrating. A couple of good suggestions that stayed on Value Picks for a while (Pennington, Orlando Hudson, Alberto Callaspo) were couched among some one- or two-week choices that did not turn out well (A.J. Pierzynski, Jeff Clement). All of these players were underrated for a reason, primarily because of slow starts and mediocre projections. Guys like Schumaker and Pierzynski are bound to bounce back given their track records, so patience needs to be exhibited to reap the rewards of these undervalued players.