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July 5, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
The Value Picks list had a good week, so there's only one change needed, although Ike Davis makes up for it with the odd distinction of deserving a cut on two different fronts. We at BP and VP keep you ahead of the curve, and fantasy owners have yet to respond to Ike Davis' declining production. His ownership has actually grown to almost 22%, despite his .260/.297/.385 line over the past four weeks (and .182/.250/.182 in the past week). As if breaking the 20% ownership threshold wasn't enough, Davis has also shown a combination of strikeouts and plate impatience that's deadly for a light-hitting first baseman.
He struck out at a 24% rate last month while walking at a paltry 5% clip, results that tend to produce a .265 batting average, right about where it is now. His .319 BABIP and elevated 14.3% HR/FB for the month shows bad luck or excellent fielding hasn't hurt him. If anything, he's overperforming expectations, as shown in his .313 xBABIP for the year. And he'll lose his only real bonus-hitting cleanup-when Carlos Beltran returns shortly after the All-Star break.
Thus, we say farewell to Davis, which isn't a problem, since two solid 1B VP options still remain, and they're available in 95% or more of ESPN leagues. Daric Barton picked up eight hits (all of them singles) in 18 ABs last week, and he continues to lead the AL in walks. His .284/.368/.373 June line shows the hollow BA and OBP he brings to a lineup, which is why fantasy owners tend to overlook him.
Russell Branyan's low ownership level is more surprising, since he brings OBP plus power, as he did last week with a .267/.353/.467 line. That BA may slip, due to his elevated .314 BABIP, as well as 8.2 BB% and 29.6 K%, both rates above career norms. But his 17.2% HR/FB rate is also a bit depressed, which means his power should improve. His ownership numbers will rebound as his power does, however, so get him while you can.
Branyan's former teammate Travis Hafner is still shaking off the interleague rust, hitting .211/.250/.368 last week. But he picked up hits in three of the five games, all of them Cleveland victories. That win streak (and Hafner's production) will be hobbled now that Shin-soo Choo is out 6-8 weeks with a thumb sprain, but Hafner remains a good, light-hitting DH still available in almost 99% of ESPN leagues.
Joining Hafner as a VP DH is Matt Joyce, who picks up playing time after Tampa Bay DFAed Hank Blalock. Heater's Ricky Zanker sees Joyce benefiting with half the DH at-bats, and 10% of the time at each corner outfield spot. That adds up to a great opportunity for Joyce to live up to the high expectations he brought to the Rays in 2008 after being traded for Edwin Jackson.
Joyce spent 2009 in Triple-A, improving his plate approach to better leverage his power. He dropped his strikeout rate to 27%, his best since Single-A, and lifted his walk rate to a career-best 13.6%, en route to a strong slash line of .273/.373/.482. But he didn't improve against fellow lefties, as his career .84 OPS deficit against them widened into a .128 maw.
This should plant him in the long half of a DH/OF platoon, a role he might already have if he hadn't strained his elbow this spring. PECOTA's modest projections you see above reflect his high strikeout rate, but they jump to a valuable .260/.352/.483 in his 60th percentile. Even his weighted mean of .256/.343/.471 still shows the power that Joyce brings to a fantasy lineup. Power gets more valuable as the season progresses, so get the jump on your fellow owners by rolling the dice on Joyce, who should also have OF qualifications. He's available in 99% of ESPN leagues and should be a good addition in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues.
Third basemen Pedro Alvarez and Danny Valencia made some waves in the shallow end of the VP talent pool. Alvarez cranked his first MLB home run last week, part of a .304/.333/.478 line that could mean he's turning a corner. He's also moved up in the order, batting second or fifth, giving him more opportunities to provide value. He still strikes out too much (his K rate is now at 43%), but Alvarez remains a great speculative pick, and his 3% ownership is sure to rise quickly if he keeps hitting well.
Valencia has done well, too, although he had just one start last week. But he only plays against lefties, and the Twins faced just one southpaw: David Price, against whom Valencia went 2-2 with a walk. If he keeps producing, and Michael Cuddyer keeps butchering the ball at third, Gardenhire should play Valencia more, but expect him to collect the usual short-half platoon PT splits for now. Scarcity and potential continue to make him a good Value Pick, albeit one at the low end of the scale.