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July 13, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games Scoresheet
Jeff Keppinger HOU 347 3 36 31 2 .284 .335 .385 .280 .343 .380 0 73 0 –40 +94 4.26
Bill Hall BOS 188 7 23 24 3 .239 .332 .423 .227 .294 .409 0 18 5 –33 +68 --
John Jaso TBR 211 3 25 29 3 .274 .393 .377 .250 .346 .368 50 0 0 +23 –67 .62/.22
Felipe Lopez STL 236 5 30 22 5 .269 .338 .401 .263 .337 .375 0 16 20 –4 +11 4.27
Ronny Paulino FLO 250 3 25 30 0 .282 .324 .380 .270 .328 .384 60 0 0 –23 +48 .67/.28
Skip Schumaker STL 310 2 42 20 4 .255 .318 .324 .277 .338 .360 0 72 0 +48 –158 4.22
Neil Walker PIT 154 3 19 12 2 .275 .318 .423 .268 .323 .459 32 0 0 –4 +11 --
  Avg for Catcher .256 .324 .397   vRH = OPS v RH
  Avg for Second Base .274 .337 .409   vLH = OPS v LH
  Avg for Shortstop .272 .329 .396   Rng = Range

The Changes

Heading out of the VP portfolio is Ronny Paulino, who seems to finally be falling back to earth. With last week's morbid 2-for-16 performance, Paulino's season AVG has dropped to .282, and his OBP and SLG are beginning to look eerily familiar to PECOTA's projected line. With his power looking more and more like his career before 2009, a .270 AVG may not be enough to warrant play. He had started 24 straight games before getting a breather on July 4th, so some of this regression may be a result of fatigue from wearing the tools of ignorance for an extended period of time. VP will keep an eye on him, but drop him off the list for now.

Coming into the VP portfolio is Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger is not the most exciting player in the world of fantasy options, but he does have a few things going for him. Keppinger can contribute in AVG, where a .270-.290 AVG would not be out of line. This is because, for his career, he has struck out in just 6.4% of non-IBB PA, one of the only strengths to his offensive game. He walks at a below average rate but, due to the high AVG, ends up with a decent OBP. Playing for Houston is a double-edged sword for Keppinger: it guarantees him playing time, but also has him surrounded by one of the worst offenses in baseball, diminishing the value of his PT. Keppinger does not provide much in power or on the bases, so he is your typical empty-BA type, a filler in case you are one of the many unlucky owners of oft-injured second basemen (more on some of them later). As a bonus, however, Keppinger does bring some worth in that he also qualifies for shortstop and third base, making him a versatile filler option. Only consider if you're out of options in deep NL leagues.

The Incumbents

Bill Hall had a nice .278/.333/.556 week, belting two doubles and another homer amidst his five hits. Hall's value will depend on whether he can keep up that OBP and continue to walk at a decent rate, His power and strikeouts will be there, but a 10% walk rate going forward will be the key to keeping Hall from making an unacceptable number of outs, both in fantasy and reality. He is still a worthwhile pickup in AL leagues if you need the power boost but can handle the horrible AVG.

John Jaso, the recently dubbed Californian God of Walks, has kept up the pace in terms of OBP, but has seen a continued decrease in power. At this point, we have an idea of what Jaso is: a power-light catcher with great plate discipline (18.3% pitches swung at out of zone) and contact (87.1% contact rate on all pitches swung at), so expecting a line similar to this one going forward seems acceptable. The strikeouts and walks should regress accordingly, but at this point the concern is not in performance but in playing time. Jaso picked up only 16 PA since Tuesday, losing time at DH to newcomer Matt Joyce and continuing to platoon at catcher with Kelly Shoppach. At this point, Jaso is still a valuable option in AL leagues due to performance, but this PT situation is warrants close following.

Felipe Lopez cooled off a bit after last week's ridiculous tear, but even his mediocre .250/.250/.393 line netted plenty of counting stats. Despite the bad line, Lopez got on base enough to score four runs and had enought pop to drive in another four, making it a valuable fantasy week. Lopez has maintained his role at the top of the St. Louis lineup, garnering him plenty of opportunities (26 PA last week) to perform. In addition, with David Freese hurt, Lopez is expected to hold all the playing time at third base for St. Louis, according to Heater team expert Erik Manning. Meanwhile, Skip Schumaker remains on the VP portfolio with a tenuous hold on his position. While he remains a major part of St. Louis' offense (in that he is more or less the everyday second baseman), he continues to struggle while he is on Hot Spots. Right now, there is still optimism for Schumaker's AVG to go up as his BABIP should increase, and all other peripherals have mostly been average compared to his career rates, so there is still hope for some regression to the 2008 and 2009 versions of Schumaker. Still, he is on notice for this week.

Finally, Neil Walker had a bad week upon his return to full-time play. A .174/.269/.261 slash line for the week seems disappointing, especially in the power department. Walker could only muster two doubles this week, and fantasy owners are banking on his plus power to help given the dearth of power options among MIF. However, the sample is still small for Walker, so there is still plenty of time for him to tap that power well. For now, a .260-.270 AVG and a league average ISO seem reasonable, with PECOTA's listed projected line being a great bonus.

Looking to the Future

As we move towards the second half of the season, there are a few players worth mentioning who are expected to get renewed playing time and are not owned in an abundance of leagues, even though they don't quite fit the VP threshold of 20% ownership in ESPN leagues. Here are a few second half names to take a look at.

Asdrubal Cabrera: Cabrera has begun working his way back to Cleveland, having begun playing in a rehab stint in Clevalnd's short-season affiliate. The plan is to ahve him work tehre for a few games before moving to Double-A and eventually to the big leagues. The Indians sure could use the help; while shortstop Jason Donald and second baseman Jayson Nix have performaed admirably so far, neither is likely to continue playing at their respective levels. Nix has slugged the ball well so far this year, but he acnnot be expected to continue hitting home runs at an almost 10 per 100 PA pace. Meanwhile, PECOTA projects merely a .232/.308/.391 (.239 TAv) at his 50th percentile projection. PECOTA projects a similar line for Donald, meaning the infield going forward will not provide much offense for the Indians.

When Cabrera returns from injury, PECOTA expects good things, citing a .284/.345/.408 slash line (.273 TAv) and five steals to boot. Cabrera is most certainly not the .308/.361/.438 hitter from last season, but if he can pull off his PECOTA projected line and pull off close to double-digit steals, he would be a decent option for mixed leagues and a must have for AL leagues. Right now, Cabrera is owned in just 26.0% of ESPN leagues, but he is someone to consider once his arrival time at the majors becomes more imminent. When Cabrera arrives, expect Donald to shift to second base and Nix to be out of a starting job, provided third baseman Jhonny Peralta has not been traded.

Brian Roberts: Roberts was once again drafted this year as a top-flight second baseman, but injuries have cut his season down to just 16 PA. Roberts, however, has begun his rehab assignment and is aiming for a return in early August. When he does return, expect most of the typical Brian Roberts back, with some slight decline. Roberts has lost steals in each of his past two seasons, but remains a speed demon compared to the other mediocre options available on the waiver wires. That and a typically solid AVG would be more than enough to get Roberts into any league. Right now, due to the length of his injury, he is owned in just 44.8% of ESPN leagues, but expect that number to skyrocket the closer he gets to the big leagues. Make sure you are there first, if only to get the help in the speed department and the guaranteed playing time.

Jason Castro: You've heard of Buster Posey and Carlos Santana, since both were top prospects who were called up recently and are tearing it up offensively. You may not have heard that Jason Castro, whom Kevin Goldstein ranked as Houston's #2 prospect, was also called up and has collected 54 PA so far this year. Now, he has struggled since his arrival, which is not surprising, but he is a name to look out for in deep NL leagues, if only because in Houston will be giving him all the time in the world to learn on the fly. In addition, you have to like the early walk rate (13.7%) and decent plate discipline (23.7% swings out of the zone). If he can make more contact on those out of zone pitches, the BABIP and strikeout rates can regress to palatable levels.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

Related Content:  Jeff Keppinger,  Time,  Brian Roberts

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