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May 2, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at First, Third and DH

by Michael Street

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Amid pomp and circumstance that has nothing to do with overdressed, self-important people named William and Kate, we graduate VP alumni who made the grade, while sending out acceptance letters to several others.

Graduating

Todd Helton (17 percent ESPN, 23 percent CBS)
Continued excellence—and a two-homer game—from the Toddfather pushed his ownership to the point that he is unlikely to be on your waiver wire anymore. With a batting line of .300/.359 /.514, there’s no reason he should be.

Brett Wallace (18 percent ESPN, 47 percent CBS)
I expected the Walrus to leave the Value Picks list soon, and a ten-game hit streak (including eight multi-hit games and seven doubles) fulfilled that prediction. There’s room for caution, thanks to his .471 BABIP and a hip contusion sustained while playing iceberg to Prince Fielder’s Titanic, but Wallace seems to be finally realizing his potential.

Kevin Kouzmanoff (<1 percent ESPN, 10 percent CBS)
Kouz is what he is: a one-category player whose strong suit—power—isn’t all that strong. He walked four times in his last six games, four more times than he has walked all year, so better times are coming, but I’m dropping him for another AL-only option with a tad more upside.

Casey Blake (7 percent ESPN, 18 percent CBS)
Celebrating his VP addition, Blake hit the DL (insert obligatory Kendrys Morales/Bill Gramatica joke here), knocking him out for six weeks with a staph infection in his elbow.

Matriculating

Hideki Matsui (12 percent ESPN, 23 percent CBS)
A traditionally slow starter, Godzilla puts up his worst OPS in the season’s first two months. This year has been no exception, as Matsui hit just .242/.303/.374 in April. Bad luck explains some of this, though his .290 BABIP is close to his .303 career average, while his peripherals are a bit rough. His 8.1 percent walk rate is well below his 11 percent career average, and his 20.2 percent whiff rate continues a four-year trend of increasing strikeout percentages.

In past Aprils, Matsui’s 14.6 percent strikeout and 12.1 percent walk rates have been consistent with his career totals, so some Matsui pessimism is appropriate. PECOTA’s 50th percentile gives him just a .254/.340/.409 slash line, but his .275 TAv is eighth among starting designated hitters. He’d have to reach his 90th percentile to match last year’s numbers, but he becomes a solid play in his 70th, where his slash line would sit around .268/356/.430.

He is unlikely to collect 20 dingers playing in Oakland, and PECOTA’s projected SLG is only better than Jack Cust among starting designated hitters. Hitting in the heart of the Athletics’ lineup will bring decent counting numbers, and Matsui’s playing time is secure, even if the DH designation drives his value down. I like Godzilla’s chances to at least damage a few buildings going forward, even if downtown Tokyo no longer fears his predations.

AL-only VP

Shelley Duncan (<1 percent ESPN, 0 percent CBS)
Travis Hafner strained a foot tendon last week and has been hobbling around in a walking boot in the dugout. Although Hafner is only expected to miss a few games, this injury could linger, and Duncan (who hit .417/.417/.750 in three starts last week) will play in Pronk’s absence. Duncan mashes southpaws (.279/.348/.508), but is hapless against northpaws (.201/.282/.365), so his value is limited, but I like his short-term chances to deliver power, and if you need a quick fix in a deep AL-only league, Duncan makes a nice gamble.

NL-only VP

Melvin Mora (<1 percent ESPN, <1 percent CBS)
Mora’s days of shallow-league fantasy relevance are long past, and I was baffled by the Diamondbacks’ two-year deal for him. He compounded that skepticism by hurting his foot and opening the door for Ryan Roberts, this season’s small sample-space sensation.

When Mora returned last week, Kirk Gibson pushed Roberts to another position, and Mora responded with a two-double day on Wednesday. I don’t expect him to keep bashing the ball like this, but Ben Lindbergh pointed out part of the reasoning behind Mora’s contract: his historically excellent contact rates mitigated Arizona’s horrific strikeout problems. Mora has beaten his 81.6 percent career contact rate in each of the past four seasons; this, plus his career 8.5 percent walk rate, should stabilize his batting average around .270. His average is fairly hollow, as he has slugged .422 over the past four seasons, with 13 homers, but Chase Field should bolster those stats. Assuming good health, Mora should deliver value just by starting, but his punch-less projection suits him best for single-league usage.

Perpetuating

Kila Ka’aihue (2 percent ESPN, 38 percent CBS)
Kila Monster’s ownership numbers keep plummeting after his recent cold spell and diminished playing time. Despite his overall line of .203/.310/.338, I’m keeping him. His job is safe, even if some may choose to view a recent vote of confidence for Kila as its ironic opposite. Kila’s upside is too big, and this sample size too small, to make snap talent judgments.

Daric Barton (<1 percent ESPN, 23 percent CBS)
Another struggling hitter, Barton is maintaining strong, consistent peripherals as he passes the 100-plate appearance mark. His 16.8 percent walk rate and 18.7 percent strikeout rate are a tick above his 14.4 and 16.1 percent respective career averages. His .265 BABIP (.298 career) and 0.0 percent HR/FB ratio (5.7 percent career) both say that he has been unlucky, so stick with Barton if he fits your team’s low-power, high-OBP needs.

Danny Valencia (3 percent ESPN, 27 percent CBS)
Valencia is one of the unluckiest Twinkies, with a .243 BABIP that only bests Alexi Casilla’s .189. Danny’s career minor-league BABIP was .343 and it reached .345 in the majors last season, so his luck will turn. Be sure he is on your roster when that happens.

Matt LaPorta (4 percent ESPN, 36 percent CBS)
Some things mystify me: why people dance the Electric Slide, why clothes in sci-fi movies don’t have pockets, or who put the bomp in the bomp, bomp, bomp. Add to that list why fantasy owners haven’t noticed Matt LaPorta. He plays on the hottest team in baseball, his .481 SLG is eleventh among starting 1B, and his 4 home runs ties him for ninth. His batting average is just .247, but his .254 BABIP tells you that should rise. For now, the mystery is your gain, but when other owners finally wake up, it will be solved—unlike the true origins of the bomp.

Related Content:  Espn,  Melvin Mora,  Shelley Duncan

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Prospectus Hit List: I... (05/02)
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