May 16, 2011
Value Picks at First Base, Third Base, and DH
This season is still at that awkward tweener stage: too soon for prospect call ups, but too late find any overlooked regulars. It’s also too soon to believe in some guys, with whom I’ll play some pepper at the end.
Allen Craig (<1 percent ESPN, 5 percent CBS)
I tried to predict the Cardinals’ future last week, since Craig seemed to be taking over the hot corner. Craig’s shin affliction held him out of the lineup, while the shingles-afflicted Tony La Russa and his fill-in Joe Pettini elected to start Craig at second base—not third—when he returned, making Craig’s 3B qualification a ways off.
Juan Miranda (<1 percent ESPN, 3 percent CBS)
Here, too, my prediction went awry—after starting four games in a row two weeks ago, Miranda started just once last week, though, he did pinch hit in three other contests. The only sure thing in Arizona’s first-base rotation is Xavier Nady starting against lefties, while Kirk Gibson prefers to play matchups with Miranda and Russell Branyan. This makes playing-time prediction difficult, but if we all had crystal balls, they’d make protective cups out of stronger stuff.
Scott Rolen (17 percent ESPN, 42 percent CBS)
After initial concern that he might be out much longer, Rolen returned from the DL on Friday with a three-hit game, then picked up two more hits on Saturday and Sunday. He is no longer a fantasy stud, and he has had trouble with that joint throughout his career. CHIPPER gives him the dreaded red skull-and-crossbones for all but the longest of injuries this year, a prediction that has already come true and may come true again.
But he has been productive while healthy, and PECOTA pegs him for a .268/.339/.421 line in just his 50th percentile, with 15-20 home runs if he exceeds that baseline. Given his name recognition, Rolen’s ownership will rise quickly, so his stay on Value Picks should be brief. Consider this more of a heads-up that he is healthy again, but we all need a good dope slap now and again.
Ty Wigginton (7 percent ESPN, 23 percent CBS)
Wigginton also returned from the DL, and Colorado promptly optioned Ian Stewart to Triple-A, where he’ll remain for some time. That (and a .153/.172/.235 start to the season by Jose Lopez) throws the door wide open for Wiggy to step into the third-base job, something he’ll also be given some time to do, since Colorado’s pitchers (.164) have had a higher batting average than their third basemen (.141).
Wigginton is a much better play at second base, where he qualifies in most leagues, but his power will deliver value at the hot corner, too. His 50th percentile .440 SLG puts him just ahead of Chipper Jones (.439) and behind Adrian Beltre (.452) among third basemen. Much of that comes from doubles (around 20) than home runs (15-20), but both of those are solid, especially in a Colorado lineup ranked third in the NL in runs scored per game.
Wiggy hits sixth or seventh in that order, diminishing his counting stats, and his career rates of 7.1 percent in walks and 17.3 percent in strikeouts have slipped a bit to 6.4 percent and 18.0 percent, respectively. That will hold down his batting average, which PECOTA still projects falling between the high .260s and low .280s. Like Rolen, he won’t stay on this list long, but he makes a fine hot-corner play in all but shallow mixed leagues.
Hideki Matsui (10 percent ESPN, 21 percent CBS)
Matsui started twice last week and has been seeing less time against lefties this year, despite strong contact rates; he struck out only three times this month in 33 plate appearances, but walking once suggests he is pressing. Matsui won’t play in next weekend’s interleague series against the Giants, but the Athletics will face nearly all righties next week, with the possible exception of Thursday’s Twinkies tilt. Matsui will turn it around, although if he keeps sitting against lefties, his value will drop.
Danny Valencia (4 percent ESPN, 29 percent CBS)
Valencia alternated two-hit games with goose eggs last week, but he hit .297/.366/.459 over the past two weeks in his return to respectability. His 15 walks and 17 strikeouts for the season (147 plate appearances) are both very solid, so keep believing in Valencia.
Matt LaPorta (7 percent ESPN, 41 percent CBS)
Each time I read about Gaby Sanchez’s incredible productivity this season, I remember how long the former VP languished on waiver wires last season, and I think of LaPorta. LaPorta has slowed down in the past two weeks (.207/.281/.276), but his overall ratios remain solid. His 19.2 percent strikeout and 9.6 percent walk rates will keep his batting average tolerable, while his .202 ISO is nothing to sneeze at. The LaPorta Ignore-O-Meter remains high for now.
Daric Barton (<1 percent ESPN, 19 percent CBS)
Although Calledstrike3 pointed out last week that Barton is likely unavailable in most AL-only leagues, his ownership rates leave me unconvinced. Barton has hit in four of his last five games and seven of ten games this month, so the consistency is coming and that ownership may change. His 16.5 percent strikeout ratio is returning to his career norm of 16 percent, and his 15.2 percent walk rate remains nicely elevated. This many walks runs the risk of inducing Jeremy Giambitis, but I expect stronger stuff from Barton in the weeks to come.
Melvin Mora (<1 percent ESPN, 4 percent CBS)
As Ryan Roberts returns to mediocrity (.214/.371/.321 in May), Mora continues to amass time at the hot corner, making Mora marginally more valuable. If you’re concerned by Mora’s skimpy 2.4 percent walk rate (8.5 percent career) and 19.1 percent whiff rate (15.5 percent career) thus far, you may find a replacement NL-only player below.
Nick Punto has started nearly every game playing at second at third since returning to health, though his .255/.364/.382 slash line makes him more valuable at the keystone than the hot corner.
You can ride Brad Hawpe’s hot bat, but his 30.4 percent strikeout rate and suddenly impatient 6.3 walk rate means he is going to come crashing down sooner rather than later.
Casey Kotchman may own a .333/.407/.420 slash line, but his .356 BABIP is 85 points higher than his career average. Don’t believe this year’s 91 plate appearances—trust the 2328 in which he hit .259/.326/.392.
Jack Cust has hit .294/.442/.441 in May, but has yet to go yard. He is striking out and walking as much as ever, but until that Third True Outcome starts to come out, his value is limited to OBP leagues only.