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April 18, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at First, Third and DH

by Michael Street

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The season’s second full week is still too soon for snap judgments, but we can start to look at how hitters are rounding into form, including some recent streaks. This week, Value Picks also debuts a new feature: AL-only and NL-only Value Picks. These players may have value in deeper or specialized mixed leagues, but they’re best suited for single-league owners.

Streaking Out
Dan Johnson (<1 percent ESPN / 6 percent CBS)

Despite his .149/.200/.234 line, Johnson’s job remains secure, and he has hit safely in his past three games. I wouldn’t call this mini-streak a total turnaround, since he only hit in two of his previous ten contests, but if he does pick up the pace, his low ownership means he’ll remain available. There are more consistent options to pick up in the meantime, so we’ll say good-bye to Johnson for now.

Streaking In
Daric Barton (2 percent ESPN / 30 percent CBS)

Baseball Prospectus 2011 called him Oakland’s most valuable player in 2010, though Barton’s 4.2 WARP had a lot to do with his 4 FRAA. Still, he provided solid two-hole production, hitting .273/.393/.405 while scoring 79 runs and driving in 59. He laid down more sacrifice bunts (12, tied for fourth in the AL) than a hitter of his caliber should do, however, something he won’t do on his own this season—a good thing, since his owners need him to swing away for extra bases and bolster his always-weak ISO.

PECOTA doesn’t see him beating his career-best .144 ISO in 2009 unless he blows past his 90th percentile projection of .137, which also happens to be his career average. Barton’s walk rate, on the other hand, has risen each year he’s been in the majors, all the way up to 16 percent in 2010, and it’s up to a small-sample 18.8 percent thus far this season. That, and his excellent 81 percent career contact rate, will keep his batting average strong.

PECOTA’s 50th percentile .245/.352/.368 slash line for him seems weak, and I think he’s a lock to at least beat that batting average, since he hasn’t hit below .269 in the past three seasons. He won’t bring you power, but his steady average and modest counting-stat production will help you in standard leagues and provide top-notch value in any league that counts OBP

Still Streaking
Todd Helton (3 percent ESPN / 16 percent CBS)

Though he missed time last week and will continue to sit occasionally, Helton has still clobbered to the tune of .353/.378/.471, with multi-hit games in each of his last three starts. His production is obviously diluted when his pants polish a spot on the bench, but active owners can use him effectively if they’ve got someone to rotate into his spot. Even if you don’t, Helton has value in deeper leagues, and more rest should bolster his overall productivity by keeping him healthy.

Danny Valencia (3 percent ESPN / 27 percent CBS)

His overall .229/.327/.313 line seems slim, but Valencia has hit in six of his last eight games through Saturday, maintaining a strong 5:4 K/BB ratio over that span. His extra-base hits have been slow in coming; he slugged a measly .357 over those previous eight games and reached second base for just the second time on Friday. He’ll keep improving, and the power will come around, so keep believing in Valencia and his chokehold on the Minnesota third-base job.

Brett Wallace (5 percent ESPN / 32 percent CBS)

Don’t look now, but the Walrus is waddling up on the leaderboards, too, as Saturday’s oh-fer broke an eight-game hitting streak. Like Valencia, those hits have mostly been singles, but he’s showing good contact (15 percent strikeout rate) and patience (12 percent walk rate) thus far. His ownership is surging along with his performance—get him while you still can.

Matt LaPorta (2 percent ESPN / 30 percent CBS)

The Indians’ strong start has included hot hitting from Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner, and LaPorta. (For a nice explanation of Pronk’s value and potential, check out Marc Normandin’s write-up this past week.) So far, LaPorta’s peripherals look to be in line with his career averages, from his .265 BABIP to his 17 percent whiff rate and his 11 percent walk rate. He just put together two multi-hit games, with extra-base hits in both contests, raising his average over the Mendoza Line without significantly budging his ownership rates. I don’t believe that the Indians will stick atop the AL Central, but I do think that LaPorta will remain near his current level of production, which pushes his 80th PECOTA percentile.

Mark Trumbo (2 percent ESPN / 22 percent CBS)

As Kendrys Morales keeps trudging back to health (he has yet to run the bases), Trumbo keeps hitting. He reached base in each of his last nine games, and last week collected his first homer, fourth double, third multi-hit game—and his first walk. That impatience will catch up with him if Morales keeps dawdling on the DL, but Trumbo’s a good play in deeper leagues or for those who like gambling on high-end rookies.

AL-only VP
Brent Morel (1 percent ESPN / 25 percent CBS)

The glovely Morel should keep his hold on Chicago’s hot corner, even if he continues to scuffle at the plate, though he’d better not add to his league-leading error total. He broke out of an 0-for-14 skid on Saturday with a single in the bottom of the eighth, after a rally-killing, inning-ending double play in the fifth. His value is highest in AL-only leagues, but third base is thin enough that he is worth a bit of patience in deeper mixed leagues, too. Don’t forget that he is a rookie, and you’ll have to endure more up-and-down action than a kid who forgets his Ritalin.

NL-only VP
Russell Branyan (<1 percent ESPN / 7 percent CBS)

Kirk Gibson is calling Juan Miranda his starting first baseman, but he keeps writing other players’ names in the lineup: Xavier Nady started both games this weekend, but The Muscle started four of five days before that. Branyan’s made the most of his time, hitting .348/.444/.565 in 27 plate appearances, including multi-hit games in four of his five starts. Branyan’s tendency towards streakiness like this, plus his frailty and unstable playing time, make him best for NL-only leagues, but mixed-league owners can also benefit from his power.

Related Content:  Espn,  Danny Valencia

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