June 16, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
Lou Piniella: [thinks to himself: Look, I know Steve Stone is on on on on on on the television, but this kid can't hit lefties to save his life, and you need a leash to get him to take a walk, but I can't say that about my player on the air, so...] “Why don't you talk to me so I can explain this off the air.”
Lou Piniella (continues): [thinks to himself some more: Hey! My outfielders are hitting .291/.358/.511 as a group this year, what more do you want?! If my stars in the corner infield were hitting at even their 20th percentiles, we'd be scoring some runs...] “I'm no dummy, look at all the games I've won!”
Steve Stone: “Lou sure is a doddering old fool, isn't he?” (chuckles)
Okay, Stone's primary role is to entertain now, and Lou's is to position the team to have the best chance to win each baseball game. Both seem to be doing their jobs effectively [Michael Jong will be happy to field comments about Lou's handling of Geovany Soto in his "Catchers" column - you're welcome, Mike], with the “entertainment” coming at Lou Piniella's expense since he's clearly not going to win a war of words with a slick – and beloved - orator like “Stoney.” Obviously, Colvin's problems with lefty pitching aren't going to be helped by never seeing them, but it's a tough ask for a manager to sit a guy like Xavier Nady, whose career line against lefties is a cool .300/.374/.458 - especially when others aren't hitting.
For fantasy purposes, assume that Lou's going to get his way on this one, and his way involves starting Colvin against almost all righty pitchers. Fukudome got a spot start against Jake Peavy, based on career batter-versus-pitcher stats, but those will be rare. Even if the Cubs ship out Nady or Derrek Lee, don't expect much improvement in fantasy value from Colvin, as the extra AB will come against pitchers he's less able to handle.
Eric Hinske looked a lot more solid last week, but Melky Cabrera seems to have found his misplaced bat, posting three 2-hit games in the past week. Hinske is still in the lineup against righty starters for now, though, and he had a good week as well.
The Seth Smith rave has to quiet down a bit, as he's being benched sometimes for Ryan Spilborghs. Spilborghs is a career .282/.355/.451 hitter (with a weighted-means projection of .280/.353/.462), so it will be no small task to fend him off. The difference in batting average is something the Rockies appear to take very seriously (just ask Chris Iannetta). Smith will keep his spot as a Value Pick for now, as the better player should emerge with the playing time, and Spilborghs has hit just .276/.343/.425 in his career against right-handed pitching (calling Coors home all the time), so Smith should be able to get the big half of the platoon.
Ho-hum, Ryan Sweeney played every game this week and dropped his batting average 15 points. But he did score eight(8) runs.
Exit Stage Left: Conor Jackson becomes another quick-yellow on Value Picks, as the move to Oakland can't help his cause any. Playing his home games in a hitter-happy ballpark was a big part of the allure, and in addition to playing in a pitcher's park (though now only mildly so) and going to the tougher league, the AL West has some excellent pitching talent now. The one factor in his favor is that there are many lefty starters in the AL West rotations, and Conor is a career .298/.396/.468 hitter against Southpaws.
Happy Trails: As noted last week, Andres Torres' steals have caused him to get on the radar for many, and he's “graduating” from the Value Picks. Pick him up if he's still there in your league. Likewise, mainstay Delmon Young is finally being kicked out of the nest, with his ownership in most public leagues doubling in the past week. The .295-8-41 line, with a .500 slugging and 3 steals for good measure finally couldn't be ignored. Continue to be excited about him, as the much-reduced strikeout rate portends the batting average staying around .300, as has been discussed in past columns.
Ahoy, Mates! Jose Tabata is well-equipped to become a Pirate. He drastically improved his speed over the offseason, allowing him to pursue his larcenous ends in Indianapolis this year, utterly destroying all his previous speed metrics, as he swiped 25 bases in just 252 plate appearances en route to leading the league in runs scored with 42 in 53 games. Even with very modest speed expectations, he was considered a great long-term prospect due to his age-related-to-league (weighted means has him at 12 steals per 483 PA, a pace of about 15 for a season). But with his improved speed, he could perform at the 10th percentile PECOTA for rate stats (.258/.318/.359), and could even see his SB-per-time-on-base fall from 27% in AAA to 18% in MLB (33% less), due to tighter defensive batteries (it's safe to assume he didn't see anything like Chris Carpenter/Yadier Molina, or Carlos Zambrano/Koyie Hill, or Wandy Rodriguez/anyone in AAA)... and still end up with over 20 steals the rest of the season. Note that multiple “negative” scenarios were presumed here, and the SB total is still high enough for him to have good fantasy value in most formats. Additionally, the Pirates have shown a keen sense of perspective to their place in the “build cycle”, and are very patient with ballplayers. So, expect Tabata to get ample playing time, even if he goes through periods where he's struggling.
You were right: Writing at Baseball Prospectus is challenging, since the level of sophistication (and, really, intelligence) of the readers is so high. Someone suggested in a comment a few weeks ago that Austin Kearns was worth a look, an idea which seemed uninspiring, given his .240/.339/.366 batting line from 2007-2009 (1242 PA, a good sample size), his move to the tougher league, and his sky-high BABIP. But fantasy baseball is nothing if not making adjustments. Kearns has made some adjustments, clearly. But the most important thing is that he appears to be fully healthy and is in great shape, resulting in a 4.5 speed score, after spending 2007-2008 in the 2.5 range. It's not like he's going to steal a ton of bases, but it's a positive health indicator, and will help buoy the sub-.300 BABIP he's sported the past three seasons. On the topic of that BABIP, however, it would be good to assume that his stat line is currently at a more luck-neutral .255/.340/.445 when assessing his value in waiver claim or trade. He's striking out in 30% of his plate appearances, a rate at which it's virtually impossible to maintain a fantasy-helpful batting average.
A short summary of things to like about Kearns: