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June 14, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
Patience pays off for our Value Picks, as most of the current list had a good week, except for Mike Sweeney, who hit the DL and thus gets a VP pink slip. At the other end of the performance spectrum, Kevin Kouzmanoff’s 13-for-25 week (all singles) and 14-game hit streak attracted enough attention to push him above the 20% ownership threshold, making him an ex-VP, too.
Replacing Kouz is a challenge, as the hot-corner talent pool has dried substantially due to injuries on both Chicago teams and lack of production in Atlanta, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Several of these situations might produce VPs down the road, but the Cubs provides the best Value Pick option right now, as Jeff Baker-Chad Tracy platoon replaces the injured Aramis Ramirez.
Baker’s career .184 ISO seems enticing, but his 26% career strikeout rate and severe platoon splits—his career OPS is 214 points higher against LHP—should discourage any real excitement. The lion's share of the PT goes to lefty Chad Tracy, who has been ripping up Triple-A pitching with a .396/.427/.648 slash line and a great 90% contact rate.
Of course, since Tracy’s a 30-year-old with more than 2500 PAs in MLB, he ought to be going crazy in the minors. His problem has been doing the same in the majors, as evidenced by his .682 OPS over the past two seasons. Knee surgery and ribcage problems dragged down his SLG, which plunged from .454 to .389, even as he improved his contact skills, dropping his strikeout rates from 18.9% to 14.4%.
Like Baker, Tracy features dramatic platoon splits, with a career OPS 225 points lower against fellow lefties. Unlike Baker, Tracy offers very little pop, making up for it with that excellent contact rate. As a result, PECOTA gives him BA and OBP respectability above his 60th percentile, but he only provides good SLG value above his 80th percentile.
Citing Piniella’s reactionary tendencies towards streakiness and other issues, HEATER expert Rob McQuown isn’t confident that Tracy’s role is assured, and Ramirez’s DL stay shouldn’t be long, so keep that in mind if you pick up Tracy. He’ll boost your BA and—if he continues to bat in the middle of the order—counting numbers, making him suitable for NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues; just keep your expectations moderate in a tough market for valuable 3B.
First basemen have a deeper talent pool, and BP reader davelamb asked last week whether Justin Smoak might make a worthy VP addition. Owners were all over the switch-hitter after his April callup, but a .175/.291/.316 line through the end of May scared them off, and he’s available again in almost 87% of ESPN leagues. Since he’s raised his overall line to .220/.337/.387 with a hot .317/.428/.537 start to June, he could be turning a corner.
Right now, Smoak seems like Jack Cust without the long ball, since he walks a lot (16 BB% in minors), whiffs a lot (20 K% in minors), but doesn’t offer much pop (.461 minor-league SLG). That strikeout rate has risen to 25% so far this year, with last night's 5-K performance boosting it to 37% in June, though his walk rate remains the same. He continues to flail against left-handed pitching, widening a career 313-point platoon deficit to a 507-point chasm in 2010.
This tells you why PECOTA’s line isn’t bullish from a power perspective, as he’d need to pass his 90th percentile to help you in SLG. His OBP, on the other hand, becomes above-average in his 60th percentile, while his BA doesn't do so until the 70th. Smoak’s youth and expected power growth make him a good gamble for deeper mixed and NL-only leagues, particularly those that count OBP. His .283/.408/.485 performance against righties this year is already roster-worthy, and Texas isn't scheduled to face any southpaws this week. Expect the inevitable rookie ups and downs, but the former should outweigh the latter, especially after Smoak's cold start to the season.
In spite of strong weeks from the rest of the VP list, all of them remain available in at least 95% of ESPN leagues. Gaby Sanchez’s .471/.474/1.000 performance saw him add 7 RBI and 3 HR to his totals, and Daric Barton rebounded for a solid .283/.398/.429 week. In Cleveland, Matt LaPorta’s demotion means increased PT for Russell Branyan (.333/.391/.476 last week, with 1 HR) and Travis Hafner (.263/.318/.684 last week, with two doubles and two dingers). The Indians head away from home for interleague play after the 18th, making Hafner a good play until the weekend, but he’ll take a break from the VP list after that due to the absence of the DH.