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April 25, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at First, Third and DH

by Michael Street

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Finding fantasy value means being ahead of the curve, but that curve eventually catches up with you. Nearly all the Value Picks enjoyed ownership surges, moving one VP off the plane and spelling the imminent departure of several others.

Buh-bye... Buh-bye…

Mark Trumbo (19 percent ESPN, 30 percent CBS)

Trumbo’s three-hit, four-RBI night on Tuesday woke up owners, though he has gone 0-13 since then. He’ll keep collecting value and owners until Kendrys Morales returns (whenever that might be), busting the 20 percent threshold and making him an ex-VP for all the right reasons.

Brent Morel (<1 percent ESPN, 19 percent CBS)

Morel sank from regular VP to AL-only VP and now drops off the list for all the wrong reasons. His start has been so slow that Ozzie played Mark Teahen at the hot corner for three straight games. Playing time is almost as important as performance in fantasy, and Morel isn’t bringing either right now, so we’ll drop him off the list to see if he turns it around.

Russell Branyan (<1 percent ESPN, 6 percent CBS)

Production and playing time are also a factor for Branyan, who can only deliver Three True Outcomes when he starts, which has happened sporadically. This marginal production suits NL-only owners, but I’m dropping him for a single-league option with more playing time.

Welcome aboard!

Kila Ka’aihue (3 percent ESPN, 43 percent CBS)

PECOTA’s shiny, happy .262/.385/.470 projection for Kansas City’s new flavor of Hawaiian Punch led many owners to speculate on Ka’aihue, especially after his game-winning homer in the season’s second game, but ownership plummeted when he hit .130/.255/.174 in his next 56 plate appearances. So far, the Kila Monster is whiffing at a 27 percent rate, consistent with a rookie learning a new league, while his 14 percent walk rate shows that he isn’t pressing too hard, and his .188 BABIP suggests some bad luck.

Ka’aihue ended last week with a four-game hit streak, doubling in two straight games and homering Saturday, boosting his production to a .194/.304/.343 line that reveals the corrosive effects of his whiffs and extols his OBP value. As Baseball Prospectus 2011 points out, Kila doesn’t hit many doubles (177 in 4148 minor-league PAs), so those doubles—both in the outfield gaps—show him using the whole field instead of being pull-happy. The future-focused Royals will give Kila a long look, making him a great investment in any league with moderate depth.

Please remain in your seats

Todd Helton (13 percent ESPN, 19 percent CBS)

Starting every day but Sunday last week, Helton hit .250/.375/.450, production he and manager Jim Tracy ascribed to limiting his playing time. Banking on the anticipated dividends from this strategy, fantasy owners increased Helton’s ownership by 10 percent last week, so he may depart the VP list soon. Get him while you can.  

Daric Barton (1 percent ESPN, 28 percent CBS)

Barton’s 22 percent strikeout and 18 percent walk rates are higher thus far this year than his career averages, explaining both his .227 batting average and .278 OBP. It also shows why Barton is the specialist’s specialist, helping your team in OBP while diluting your power and batting average. He is marginal in standard roto, but top-notch in on-base percentage leagues. Use accordingly.

Danny Valencia (3 percent ESPN, 27 percent CBS)

Valencia hit in four of his last five games last week, when twos were wild: he had two two-hit games and smacked his second dinger of 2011. That raised his overall line to just .239/.316/.338, and he didn’t collect a walk, but Valencia remains valuable at a thin position.

Brett Wallace (4 percent ESPN, 31 percent CBS)

Saturday night, Wallace hit a check-swing double over third base, the kind of hit that makes baseball traditionalists say, “That is what happens when you’re hot,” while sabermetricians agree and point to the importance of BABIP. Wallace’s five-game hit streak last week included four multi-hit games and a tiny-sample .625 BABIP. He attributes the streak to an adjustment in his stance, and pitchers will soon adjust right back, as will the BABIP fairy. Ride him while he is hot before other owners notice (his ownership rates actually fell since last week), but expect those adjustments soon.

Matt LaPorta (6 percent ESPN, 36 percent CBS)

His ownership more than doubled, but LaPorta remains under most owners’ radars, despite hitting in five of his last seven games at a .333/.429/.500 clip, while drawing a walk in four of those games and fanning just twice. He is also hot enough to continue rising in ownership, possibly pushing him off the VP list soon.

AL-Only VP

Kevin Kouzmanoff (<1 percent ESPN, 10 percent CBS)

The epitome of the single-league, single-category player, Kouz owns a career line of .256/.300/.422, averaging 19 home runs while accumulating only 4 stolen bases over the past four seasons. Always a slow starter (his .565 OPS in March/April is his lowest monthly split by far), Kouz tried to change his plate approach this year, but that patience may have made matters worse (just ask Jeremy Giambi).

After starting the year hitting .171/.182/.293 over his first 44 PAs, Kouz has turned it around, hitting .333/.316/.556 over his next 19 PAs. Hot or cold, he has yet to draw a walk. His 4.5 percent career walk rate undercuts the decent batting average suggested by his 19 percent career strikeout rate, making him just a one-category producer, where his projected 15-20 homers isn’t much. This limits him to AL-only leagues, but a thin position drives up his marginal value a smidge.

NL-Only VP

Casey Blake (<1 percent ESPN, 9 percent CBS)

After coming off the DL on April 6, Blake missed about a week to a deep thigh bruise, but he has hit .297/.366/.432 in 41 PAs since then. He’ll keep missing a time now and again, and PECOTA projects him for a .260 TAv that’s 11th among starting NL third basemen, while his 15 home runs are 10th. That is not much, but Blake’s projection gets better in just his 60th percentile, when his TAv rises above .260 and his SLG crests .400. His home park will prevent him from cracking the 20 home run mark, something he hasn’t done since 2005 anyway.

Blake’s strikeout rate, rising above 20 percent two of the past three seasons and sitting at 23 percent now, will deflate his batting average, but he is still an above-average player hitting in front of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, two of the hottest hitters in baseball. That will give him lots of good pitches and plenty of runs scored, making him an excellent NL-only Value Pick.

Related Content:  Ownership,  Espn

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Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: Suzyn ... (04/25)
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