March 14, 2011
Value Picks at First, Third and DH
This week, Michael looks at first base battles in both Los Angeles teams, along with the possibilities if Adrian Beltre’s calf injury lingers.
In the comments section of my column last week, Hickjim wanted to know what might happen if Adrian Beltre’s calf injury lingers, while pobothecat asked about rising prospects Mark Trumbo and Gerald Sands, in the light of Kendrys Morales’ jubilance-related leg fracture and James Loney’s increasing mediocrity. Both Morales and Beltre should make their spring training debuts this week, but the situations are worth discussing, regardless.
I covered the ripple effect of Beltre’s calf two weeks ago but not completely. In addition to boosting Young’s keeper value and giving more DH time to Mike Napoli, Mitchell Moreland could spend time there, too. Even if Beltre stays healthy, Moreland could regress, since he had only 173 PAs last season.
I think regression is doubtful, something Rob McQuown agreed with in his January column; if anything, Moreland’s .275 BABIP last season suggest better things are ahead. The 14 percent walk rate in his Graphical Player 2011 mini-browser above continues his minor-league trends of walk rates over 10 percent, with the exception of his seven percent Double-A performance. His 20.8 percent whiff rate was above his 14.1 percent minor-league average, but that’s to be expected from a player rising so quickly to the majors. I expect him to cut those strikeout rates in 2011 and continue to be the kind of overlooked fantasy commodity that made him a Value Pick at the end of last season.
Davis, on the other hand, brings increased power, but at significant cost to his other rates, according to PECOTA’s projections. Check out this table of each player’s projected averages, along with its rank among expected starting first basemen:
While Moreland could collapse in the majors, Davis already has. BP 2011 calls him a “one-hit wonder” after he followed his 2008 peak by plummeting precipitously into the statistical valleys of 2009-10, when he put up a combined .227/.283/.407. That came with an astonishing 34.2 percent strikeout rate and a middling 7 percent walk rate, neither of which should inspire confidence in Davis, either by Ron Washington or fantasy owners. Even if Beltre’s hamstrings snap like Yngwie Malmsteen’s guitar strings, Washington would be well advised to keep Davis on the bench or even in Triple-A.
Another player whose injury could impact his team is Kendry Morales, who told the baseball world this week that his name is really Kendrys. The spelling of his name, however, has much less impact than the health of his fibula, which he broke in last year’s infamous celebration. Marc Normandin rates Morales as a three-star first baseman, but he’s got to play to produce any value. The latest reports are conflicted about whether he’ll be at full-strength for Opening Day; SI’s John Heyman said he wouldn’t, but Scioscia said Morales was progressing well. Maybe Heyman’s worried about that extra consonant weighing Morales down.
Brandon Wood should fill in if Morales has short-term problems, but Wood’s bat hasn’t carried him at third, let alone at the more offensively demanding spot across the diamond. Despite a strong minor-league .284/.352/.536 line (burnished by hitting 43 percent of the time at Salt Lake City), Wood has hit .169/.198/.260 in the majors, thanks to a cumulative 30.3 percent whiff rate and a woeful 4.0 percent walk rate. PECOTA’s projection of .229/.283/.399 (.247 TAv) would make Wood a longshot in the middle of the diamond, let alone the corners. While he’s shown enough talent to make a turnaround possible, it’s highly unlikely. If there’s valuable long-term insurance for Morales, it’s Mark Trumbo.
In Spring Training, Trumbo has raked, hitting .375/.390/.800 in 41 plate appearances. Kevin Goldstein ranks Trumbo eighth among the Angels’ prospects, giving him three stars because of his light-tower power and generally patient approach. Last season’s .301/.368/.577, 36-homer performance at Triple-A might make Trumbo seem ready now, but (as BP 2011 notes), this happened at high-‘n’-dry Salt Lake, where even limp-noodle Peter Bourjos slugged .498.
Lying behind Trumbo’s performance is his 21.2 percent strikeout rate, a dip from his 17.2 percent in Double-A the year before. His 9.7 percent walk rate, on the other hand, is better than his 6.3 percent in 2009, so it isn’t as if his development has stalled. There’s time to let this 24-year-old sharpen his one tool in Triple-A, and the Angels are likely to give him that chance to begin 2011.
BP’s new CHIPPER system rates Morales as likely to miss 30 or more games (Abreu’s unlikely to miss more than a game or two, however), so Trumbo’s worth watching for a policy activation or a mid- to late-season callup. But unless Morales suffers a serious setback, Trumbo won’t start the season in the bigs, making him just a keeper pick for now.
James Loney once had fantasy relevance back when his TAv hovered around .300—in other words, his first two years at the big-league level. In the three seasons since, he’s averaged .279/.341/.409, delivering decent returns in batting average but nowhere else. You need more than an average of 12 home runs from your fantasy first-sacker, even if he does help you a bit in other areas. Loney’s durability provides value for an owner willing to use a contrarian strategy, but he’s a known quantity unlikely to slip under most owners’ radars. As little value as Loney provides fantasy owners, he brings even less to the diamond, where his FRAA has been -4 or worse for those same three seasons. So what can the Dodgers—and fantasy owners—do?
Behind Loney on the depth chart is fellow lefty Jay Gibbons, who can mash a tater now and then, though last season’s 21 percent HR/FB rate was clearly an aberration. But he hits from the same side as Gibbons, so swapping Loney’s miserable .261/.321/.381 career lefty platoon splits for Gibbons’ .265/.300/.423 doesn’t add much. Gibbons’ strong 86.7 percent career contact rate and 7.0 percent free pass rate are still weaker than Loney’s 87.5 and 8.3 rates. There’s not much upside to the Dodgers in starting Gibbons, a potential bench player, so he shouldn’t merit much fantasy attention, either.
Behind both Loney and Gibbons lurks Gerald Sands, the guy that pobo asked about last week. Sands is the Dodgers’ fifth-best prospect according to Kevin Goldstein, who also points out Sands’ great 35 home-run season in 2010—and his problems with the breaking ball. Sands is opening eyes in Spring Training by hitting .412/.524/.882 in 21 PAs (as compared to Loney’s .353/.389/.353 and Gibbons’ perversely symmetrical .050/.050/.050 in 18 and 20 PAs, respectively).
Despite this, however, Sands has yet to see pitching above Double-A, and the Dodgers would have to make room for him on their 40-man roster. He’s going to replace Loney eventually, since his feet and glove won’t hack it in the outfield, but only keeper owners should be looking at him now—and then only in deep keeper leagues, since he won’t arrive until 2012 or late 2011, at the earliest.