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August 23, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
We trim the fat this week, cutting back the extra man after a continuing slump from one Value Pick and a failure to launch from another. Matt LaPorta’s spiraled downward since July 22, hitting .179/.259/.284. A strong 9.4% walk rate and 83% contact rate in that time indicate that his batting eye is fine, while his .195 BABIP points to either bad luck or poor execution. Both of these are correctable, but there are better VP options while LaPorta works towards his potential.
The same can be said of Brett Wallace, who has hit .071/.133/.071 over his last 30 PAs after hitting .333/.448/.417 in his first 32. Those are small slices, but he hasn’t walked in his last 41 PAs, while whiffing 14 times. He's one to watch for the future, but as with LaPorta, there’s too much available talent to wait for him to find his stroke.
One of those talents is Mitch Moreland, who’s currently sharing first base with Jorge Cantu and picking up an occasional game in the outfield. As I pointed out last week, Moreland has very good power credentials (.313/.383/.509 in the minors) and he’s supporting that with solid MLB peripherals thus far. His 23% strikeout rate is a bit high, but the 14% walk rate is excellent.
Though his .394 BABIP shows that he’s hitting over his head, PECOTA is optimistic that any correction won’t be too severe. Despite his unimpressive 50th percentile for a first baseman, his BA becomes serviceable above his 60th percentile, thanks to his 15% strikeout rate in the minors. He approaches good power numbers in his 70th and is a solid play across the board above his 80th.
His playing time and counting numbers could increase if Cantu keeps hitting .250/.302/.300, and there’s no reason to pigeonhole Moreland as a platoon hitter. He showed a reverse split in the minors, hitting .328/.415/.515 against LHPs, while hitting “only” .318/.377/.519 against righties. He’s available in more than 99% of ESPN leagues, and his role on a team seeking a power-hitting first baseman gives him great keeper potential, so roll the dice if you’ve got roster room.
Instead of gambling on a young gun, you could grab veteran Branyan, who busted out his whupping stick and slugged four longballs this week, allaying concerns about his back. Those were his only four hits all week, but he’ll bring you OBP and SLG, not BA. Encarnacion also had a week poor in BA but rich in other categories, picking up 2 hits (one a HR) in 9 ABs for an overall line of .222/.364/.556. EEE missed the last three games due to a sore wrist, and is expected to return this week. Tread cautiously until it's clear whether his swing or power is affected; a thin 3B talent pool keeps him in the mix for now.
The other VP third baseman, Danny Valencia, had a great week, hitting .391/.417/.565—with Nick Punto hitting the DL, only Justin Morneau’s eventual return will drive his value down. Morneau’s return will also affect Thome, who hit .385/.529/.769 in four games last week. Despite sitting against southpaws, Thome’s a great short-term pickup, and Morneau’s lingering concussion symptoms could increase his long-term value, too.
Fantasy owners give Matt Joyce no love, with ESPN ownership rates around 1% despite the OBP and SLG production you can see above. He’s a part-timer, but a valuable one, with a solid batting eye and good pop for a thin DH VP field.
On The Bubble
A weak 2009 and slow start to 2010 has depressed Jack Cust’s value, making him available in over 96% of ESPN leagues. He's run hot and cold in July and August, and his 40% whiff rate over the last 30 days improved to 29% this past week. He’ll stick on the VP fringe until that better contact trend brings him back above his 60th PECOTA percentile.
Another bubble DH, Travis Hafner, has hit .333/.429/.556 in 21 PAs since returning from the DL, including a grand slam in his first game back. He’ll play 4-5 games a week, and if it keeps him healthy enough to keep hitting like this, he’ll return to the VP list.
Trading Derrek Lee opens the door for Micah Hoffpauir to take his career .293/.356/.509 Triple-A line to the majors. He can’t come up until Monday and could stay down even longer to help the Triple-A Cubs reach the playoffs. When he arrives, he’s worth a look in deeper leagues.
Mark Teahen continues to accumulate ABs since returning from the DL last week, but on Saturday, he bruised the same middle finger he fractured. If he proves himself healthy and productive, he’s got value in deeper and AL-only leagues.