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May 10, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Last week's Value Picks portfolio was a bit heavy on the catcher's side, and this week saw the loss of a previous staple to VP for the past few weeks. However, another staple returns as well, so let us visit some old and new middle infield options for this week.

Departures

Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres (6 percent ESPN / 29 percent CBS)
Hudson was placed on the DL last week with a strained hamstring just as his game was picking up for the Padres. He had just stolen his tenth base of the season before succumbing to the injury and heading to the DL on May 4. When he returns, it may be worth keeping an eye on for a week or two, because his current value has been in his surprising stolen base numbers—anything that could compromise that part of his game could also compromise all of his value.

John Buck, Florida Marlins (17 percent ESPN / 65 percent CBS)
The Florida Marlins catcher caught fire as soon as I suggested him, hitting .300/.393/.550 with one home run and two doubles. Perhaps more interestingly, Buck scored four runs, likely a product of his continuing plate discipline that was discussed last week. While he has not passed the threshold for VP selection, I am graduating in favor of an old VP member with better likelihood for availability. Pick up Buck if he is available in your one-catcher mixed leagues if you are in need of a backstop.

Arrivals

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (19 percent ESPN / 52 percent CBS)
Espinosa was a three-week member of the VP portfolio, and during his time on VP he hit .222/.329/.397 with two home runs, 11 runs scored, and 14 RBI in 77 PA. Since that time, however, he has not swung the bat as well, batting .171/.292/.317 in 48 PA. However, Espinosa is still receiving plenty of playing time, albeit at a decreased amount due to his recent move back down to eighth in the order. His recent slump was due to a dismal .212 BABIP, and his overall .265 BABIP is not a whole lot better. However, even with a 10.3 percent line drive rate, his xBABIP is still expected to be .296, which would be a welcome sight for fantasy owners. PECOTA sees a more reasonable .273 mark, but even at this level Espinosa should be able to manage a .230 to .240 batting average.

His power and speed potential are still there, though the recent move down in the order and lack of running early in his major league career has dampened those expectations. Still, there are few options for the Nationals, guaranteeing Espinosa all the playing time he needs to adjust to major league pitching, and there are good signs regarding that; his whiff rate is down to 23.9 percent on the season, and at this point of the season, fantasy owners in mixed league formats can take that as a potential positive portent of things to come.

Scott Sizemore, Detroit Tigers (8 percent ESPN / 20 percent CBS)
Sizemore lost the shot at the second base job in spring training, but last week he was promoted and handed the job back thanks in part to the awful play of incumbent and former VP Will Rhymes. Sizemore is a career .301/.387/.453 hitter in the minors, including a .408/.495/.605 start in Triple-A Toledo in 2011 and a career Triple-A mark of .315/.392/.487 in 764 plate appearances. However, he also holds a career .224/.296/.336 line in 163 PA in the majors, all from 2010. So far, he has done decently this season, batting .261/.370/.304 in 27 PA.

Sure, Sizemore has a .429 BABIP, and that will not stick around for long, but neither will that 33.3 percent strikeout rate. Once both rates regress to somewhere close to their minor league totals (.349 career BABIP and 16.1 percent strikeout rate in minors), they will even out and keep his batting average at a similar value as seen now. PECOTA projects a batting average of .258 off of a believable .312 BABIP, and those are numbers I would expect him to replicate. Take note of what I mentioned before the season regarding Sizemore's batting average capabilities.

In 2009, Sizemore missed on only 13.7 percent of swings, while that figure jumped to 21.7 percent in 2010, a rate which he also displayed in the majors. That propensity to strike out (24.5 percent in the majors in 2010) helped to bring about his demotion after a slow start to the season.

This season, he has maintained almost the exact same rate of swings and misses and taken strike rate as in 2009 and 2010, so expect similar strikeout results as in those seasons. Sizemore does have a decent minor league ISO, but he only has an off-chance at double-digit home runs. The key for him will be playing time: as long as he continues to get on base at a strong pace, something which seems within reach given his 11.0 percent career minor league walk rate, he will get time to bat second in front of Miguel Cabrera, which can only mean good things for his run totals. Expect enough counting stats and batting average to be a playable low-end option in mixed leagues and an obvious choice in AL-only formats.

Incumbents

Jamey Carroll, Los Angeles Dodgers (5 percent ESPN / 11 percent CBS)
A trio of three-hit games pushed Carroll's batting average past .300 on the season, but his week was otherwise uninteresting. He had no RBI and just one extra-base hit, though the abundance of hits combined with three walks (versus four strikeouts) got him on base enough to score four runs. The suggestion for Carroll is the same this week as it has been throughout his stay here on VP.

Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (3 percent ESPN / 15 percent CBS)
Lucroy had his first bad week of the season, getting just two hits in 18 PA and batting .118/.111/.118 as a result. But if you have read this piece before, you would know that Lucroy was bound for a regression. However, based on his minor league numbers, expecting a performance in line with the one John Jaso flashed in 2010 seems to be possible, which is more than you can ask for as a low-end catching option in mixed leagues if that skill set is combined with playing time and a decent offense. Both are the case with Lucroy, which is why he remains on the VP list.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (5 percent ESPN / 27 percent CBS)
Ramos too is regressing from his previous BABIP highs, hitting .188/.188/.313 over 16 PA last week. However, the encouraging news was that two of those hits were doubles, upping his extra-base hit count to eight on the season, including two homers. He may not be able to fully sustain a .174 ISO, but his early season power display is encouraging even as his batting average falls. As mentioned last week, he should be taking more and more playing time away from Zombie Ivan Rodriguez.

NL VP

Chris Snyder, Pittsburgh Pirates (<1 percent ESPN / 11 percent CBS)
Snyder's continued hot bat is moving him up the rankings in VP and on his own team. He garnered 16 PA last week, making four of the six starts available since last Monday. At worst, Snyder is in a platoon situation with backup Ryan Doumit, but it is likely that Snyder will get more and more time if he continues hitting as he is right now. The encouraging thing about last week's performance? His .250/.438/.500, complete with a Snyder-esque .250 BABIP, was just an inflated version of what we would expect from him every week.

AL VP

Hank Conger, Los Angeles (<1 percent ESPN / 22 percent CBS)
Conger continues to be a speculative pick as fantasy owners everywhere wonder whether Mike Scioscia will treat him as he did Mike Napoli previously. So far this season, Conger and Jeff Mathis have split playing time almost evenly, with Mathis receiving 70 PA to Conger's 65 and Mathis getting 17 starts to Conger's 15. One would hope that at some point Conger and his bat will receive the benefit of at least a 60/40 share of the catching duties given how well he has hit, but Scioscia has been loyal to Mathis in the past, so Conger remains an option for AL-only owners looking for a sleeper hit on the waiver wires.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

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