June 7, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
The Value Picks list is looking into changing how its players celebrate, since Mark Teahen pulled a Kendry Morales, breaking his finger the same day he was named a VP. He’ll be out for the next six weeks, and certainly off the list. Though Jim Thome is healthy and has a long history of mashing and walking, another lackluster .250/.357/.333 week with diminished playing time and interleague play just around the corner means we wave bye-bye to him, too.
In their places, we welcome back two VP alumni who have turned it around. I often find that cold batters seem to miraculously heat up as soon as I bench them on my fantasy team, and Kouzmanoff pulled this same trick by homering in three straight games last week after the A’s (and the VP list) gave him some time off. He returns to the list so quickly in part because of his own streakiness over the past month, following a 2-23 stretch with a six-game hit streak where he clubbed those three dingers and hit .333/.364/.810 overall. Despite that streakiness, he’s maintained his improved contact skills, beating his career 80% contact rate with an 84% rate overall and 86% in the past two weeks. He also doubled his walk rate to 10% over that same span. In 2009, he increased his OPS each month from May to August, so I’m going to be a bit more patient with Kouz this time around on the VP list.
He’s also come back because the third-base pool has become very shallow, with scant value to be found between underperforming regulars like Chipper Jones and Aramis Ramirez or well-known, high-performing commodities like Evan Longoria or Alex Rodriguez. With the struggles of guys like Jones, Ramirez, and Andy LaRoche, as well as the Angels' muddle at 3B, we may see some new faces to choose from as managers adjust. In the meantime, Kouz should be a great pickup in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues, as he remains ignored by 84% of ESPN owners.
First base, on the other hand, remains fairly deep, as long as you’ve got power elsewhere. Daric Barton returns after a strong three-week period that shows his finger doesn’t seem to be bothering him after all. In 17 games since departing the VP List, he’s hit .281/.403/.484, with a 16% walk rate that’s better than his season and career averages, while his 23% strikeout rate is worse than both. The power burst comes from an increase in fly balls from 40 to 47% during May, combined with a return to a more normal 10% HR/FB. His line drive rate also fell three points, which is why his BA declined to .267 last month.
Assuming his hit trajectory doesn't continue to feature more loft, Barton’s skills will make him a light-hitting first-baseman with a decent contact rate and a low homer total, especially at home. This makes him a nice CIF option in deeper mixed leagues and a lower-tier 1B option in AL leagues, while any league that counts OBP will get even more value from him. He can be had in almost 95% of ESPN leagues.
Looking at the rest of the list, Branyan put up another solid week, hitting .278/.381/.500 with a double and a home run. Both his strikeout and walk rates remain solidly above his career averages, meaning some regression is possible down the road. But for now, he remains hot, failing to get a hit just once in his past 11 starts. His teammate Travis Hafner hit a rough patch, with a .121/.216/.182 line over the past two weeks, but his core skills remain solid. His 19% strikeout rate over the last three weeks remains below his 23% career average, while his 12% walk rate is right in line. Keep him in your lineup, as the Indians don’t head out on the road for interleague play until the 18th.
And Mike Sweeney has been nursing an Achilles tendon strain, reducing his playing time to just three games, in which he went 1-12. Given Sweeney’s injury history, this bears watching, and it means he won’t play in the field anytime soon. [Update: Sweeney hit the 15-day DL for his back Sunday night. Expect a new VP to replace him next week!]
Lastly, I’m preaching patience with Gaby Sanchez, who improved slightly last week, hitting .250/.308/.375, amid a month where he’s hitting just .260/.321/.400. But there are signs of life, as he’s hit in 11 of the past 13 games, with a 83% contact rate and 8% walk rate that are just a touch below his career averages. He should turn it around soon, although he may not have long. The recent callup of Mike Stanton shouldn’t affect him, but Logan Morrison is healthy again and hitting .282/.417/.436 over his past ten games in Triple-A. If Sanchez’s luck doesn’t improve, he could be warming the bench on more than just the Value Picks list.