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June 28, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
Fantasy owners are finally catching up with Value Picks, forcing us to drop two good bats and putting another one on the brink. Fortunately, the end of interleague play allows the return of a designated hitter, while another third baseman surfaces in the shallow hot-corner talent pool. Let’s look at things position by position.
First Base: Gaby Sanchez has been one of the most consistent Value Picks producers since his VP list debut. Over the last four weeks, he’s gotten even better, hitting .427/.591/1.019, finally shooting his ESPN ownership past 24% this week and pushing him off the list. Similarly, Justin Smoak’s .298/.400/.512 line this month hiked ownership to the 23% level, leading to his VP departure, too.
Another first baseman on the brink of ex-VP status, Ike Davis has seen his ownership hover around the 20% cut line lately, and his skills have also been on the fringe. Since moving to the cleanup spot, his RBIs per PA have increased 42%, but his walk rate has plummeted from 15% to 6%, dragging down his OBP and denting his value. The RBIs are nice, but that more aggressive approach could continue eroding his other numbers, putting him on the VP bubble in two ways. Offsetting low-OBP guys like Davis is the other VP 1B, Daric Barton, whose 48 walks lead the AL. Barton remains solid, picking up 6 RBI this week, and his 20 doubles are only four off the league lead. Grab him before he’s gone, too.
Third Base: Because your league’s waiver wire may lack solid third-base options, I added Pedro Alvarez to the list last week, based on his prospect status and playing time. His production has been weak thus far: he’s struck out in nearly half his ABs. I’m hoping he’ll adjust to big-league pitching soon, and he remains on the VP list due to scarcity and potential.
A more well-balanced, if lower-profile, prospect than Alvarez, Danny Valencia joins the list. Though his tools are modest, Valencia’s the best third baseman in a Minnesota organization paper-thin at the position. After Nick Punto and Brendan Harris showed they couldn’t handle the hot corner, Minnesota is giving Valencia a chance to seize the role.
The Twins promoted Valencia to replace Michael Cuddyer when he hit the bereavement list, and many expected Valencia to return to the minors soon after Cuddyer’s return. But the Twins outrighted Brendan Harris this weekend instead. This happened partly because Cuddyer proved himself adequate at third base during interleague play; moving him freed up an outfield spot for Jason Kubel. It’s unlikely this move is permanent, however, since they’d have sent Valencia down instead of Harris if they didn’t intend to give him regular ABs.
As for his modest skills, Valencia showed a good 81% contact rate in the minors, where he hit .300/.354/.472. PECOTA reflects his moderate power with its 60th percentile projection, where his .269/.321/.444 line would provide replacement-level value in every area but OBP, but he shouldn’t crack the 20 HR barrier until his 80th percentile.
Like other young, streaky hitters, Valencia is going to hit rough patches, and a full-time gig is far from guaranteed. But it’s such a tough time to find a good third baseman that a part-time prospect who plays for the AL’s sixth-best scoring offense should be good for owners in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues.
Designated Hitter: With interleague play over, we welcome back Travis Hafner, who’d been hot before riding the pine in NL parks, hitting in six straight games, including three homers and a double. He’s not likely to continue mashing like that, and his walk and strikeout rates for the season, while solid, are slightly depressed from his career averages. But he’ll deliver OBP and RBI along with a batting average that’s a bit below—and SLG that’s farther below—expected DH levels.
Russell Branyan’s trade to Seattle shouldn’t affect Hafner much, unless Matt LaPorta’s return provides more RBI opportunities or better protection to Hafner than a swiftly cooling Austin Kearns. Branyan, on the other hand, could be hurt by a move to the lowest-scoring offense in the AL, one of just three teams with a limper lineup than Cleveland.
There is upside for Branyan in the move, however. He’s hit .243/.357/.532 in his career at Safeco, more robust than his .251/.330/.509 line at The Jake in Cleveland. He faces similarly slugging-friendly venues in the AL West, with strong lines at Anaheim (.276/.377/.569), Texas (.213/.284/.525), and even .333/.429/.639 in cavernous Oakland. His splits at AL Central parks were nowhere near this favorable.
In addition to boosting his slugging potential, the move could help Hafner’s health, since he could get a day off at DH without Hafner clogging up the spot. Don Wakamatsu didn’t do that in Branyan’s last Seattle stint, possibly causing his injury-induced late-season fade, so let’s hope he learned his lesson. Overall, Branyan, who hit .333/.368/.611 last week, remains an excellent addition to nearly any fantasy roster.