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May 24, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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The Value Picks portfolio is an ever-changing one that has occasional graduations and demotions, with new faces coming in every week. This week, Value Picks graduates two members, one tenured and one fleeting in attendance, and brings in two more names you should be aware of in the upcoming weeks.

Departures

Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (22 percent ESPN / 44 percent CBS)
Lucroy leaves the VP portfolio after another strong week in which he hit .278/.350/.444 and added his fourth home run of the season. His current pace of 22 home runs per 600 plate appearances is not going to last, especially given his minor league numbers, but the increase in power in intriguing in a promising 24-year-old catching prospect. With guaranteed playing time now, he is a solid low-end option in mixed leagues if he remains available, but right now he is too rich for VP's blood.

Justin Turner, New York Mets (42 percent ESPN / 38 percent CBS)
Turner also leaves the VP portfolio on an absolute tear, batting .375/.423/.583 during the past week and driving in six runs along the way. Part of the reason behind that outburst was the five doubles he hit during the week, encompassing 55 percent of his hits in the week. Turner surely is not as good as this, as that .364 BABIP is hiding what is otherwise an average batting line, so if you are at an advantage or have other options in the middle infield, see if you can part ways with Turner via trade and get a more permanent option.

Arrivals

Jonathan Herrera, Colorado Rockies (14 percent ESPN / 23 percent CBS)
VP is jumping on the Herrera bandwagon just as fantasy owners are jumping off. Since his hot .341/.482/.477 start, he has hit just .250/.301/.313 in 105 plate appearances. Owners are seeing a downward trend, but when comparing Herrera's total line to his PECOTA projection, some similarities arise: 

Player

AVG

OBP

SLG

SB/600 PA

BABIP

TAv

Herrera, 2011

.279

.365

.364

15

.316

.259

Herrera, PECOTA

.276

.336

.355

14

.301

.238

The BABIP between the two projections are not drastically different, and the batting averages are very similar as a result. Neither the real 2011 Herrera nor his projected counterpart appear to be in line to flash much power, and both look like they could steal 15 or so bases given decent playing time. The major improvement in TAv appears to be in Herrera's walk rate, and while his approach at the plate has not changed a whole lot, he has cut down on his swings pretty drastically since his Triple-A days. Given a change in swing rate, a true-talent difference in both walk and strikeout rates may result.

Other than that slight change, it seems like Herrera has basically been the player PECOTA expected him to be, and such a player with decent playing time is a passable low-end pickup in mixed leagues and a must-have in NL-only leagues. Right now, his only competition is Alfredo Amezaga, who is of no threat to steal significant playing time. Herrera also benefits from batting directly in front of Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Todd Helton, three excellent hitters placed in the best hitter's park in the game. If anything, expect double-digit steals going forward along with a good batting average and plenty of runs for Herrera.

Incumbents

Jamey Carroll, Los Angeles Dodgers (15 percent ESPN / 20 percent CBS)
Initially I was planning on removing Carroll from the VP list given his increased popularity and the likelihood of him returning to the bench with the return of Rafael Furcal from injury. However, he may have just bought himself another week on the list with another strong performance (.308/.333/.385, five runs scored this week) and the news that Juan Uribe will head to the disabled list with a strained abdomen. As long as Carroll is playing, he is a safe bet for runs and batting average.

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (15 percent ESPN / 56 percent CBS)
Espinosa owners were treated to a special week from the second baseman, as he belted two home runs en route to a .300/.364/.800 week. He tacked on seven RBI (five from one game) and four runs scored as well, and he did all of this despite a meager .237 BABIP for the week. Espinosa is delivering everything that we have expected from him, and his batting average can only go up from here.

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (19 percent ESPN / 39 percent CBS)
Not much to say about Hardy's week other than it was awful (one hit in 24 plate appearances), but at least he drew three walks and was somehow able to drive two runs in. He is neither the monster at the plate that he showed the previous week nor the inept hitter he was this past week, but somewhere in between. Hardy's opposition this week boasts three left-handed pitchers, two of whom (Jeff Francis and Josh Outman) are not particularly strong, which should bode well for Hardy: his career ISO stands at .213 against lefties versus just .142 against righties.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (2 percent ESPN / 29 percent CBS)
Ramos owners were treated to a special week, highlighted in particular by his three-for-five performance with five runs scored and two RBI. Outside of that, Ramos's performance was forgettable, as he had just two more hits in 16 plate appearances. On the plus side, he drew three walks and only struck out three times, managing an unassuming .286 BABIP in the process. He remains a borderline candidate for mixed leagues who will be worth holding onto if he continues his power stroke.

NL VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (<1 percent ESPN / 1 percent CBS)
In case you were not aware, Keppinger has missed all of the 2010 season so far recovering from foot surgery, but he may be in line to return by the end of this week despite continued discomfort. So far, he has looked decent in his minor-league rehab stint, batting .314/.359/.429 in 40 plate appearances.

Last season, Keppinger was one of the lone bright spots for the Houston Astros offense, and that says a lot more about the (lack of) strength of the Astros offense. He hit .288/.351/.393, good for an above-average .269 TAv. What makes Keppinger's game interesting from a fantasy perspective is that it is very predictable: while he offers little upside in terms of power or steals, what he yields is a consistent track record in terms of batting average. With a career strikeout rate of 6.3 percent, he is one of the few players in the game that actually boasts a lower strikeout rate than walk rate; in fact, from 2008 to 2010, he is one of only nine players with at least 1,000 plate appearances and more walks than strikeouts. During that time period, despite just a .281 BABIP, Keppinger hit a very acceptable .272.

For players like Keppinger, playing time will always be their primary value, as they otherwise only contribute in single categories. Luckily for him, the Astros should be more than willing to oblige in that department. Houston planned initially to begin the season with a middle infield of Bill Hall and Clint Barmes. However, Hall has been atrocious, batting .221/.275/.336 and striking out at rates that put him on the brink of the unemployment line in 2009. Meanwhile, Barmes just returned from his own injury problem, and promptly began being Clint Barmes by batting .211/.325/.324. The Astros will likely send Angel Sanchez to shortstop and slowly allow Keppinger into the fold at second base, which should give him the playing time he needs to rack up counting stats, especially given Houston's improved offense (the team currently has a .258 TAv).

AL VP

Jayson Nix, Toronto Blue Jays (<1 percent ESPN / 3 percent CBS)
Nix obviously had a bad week since his return from the disabled list, but it was encouraging to see that he received 14 plate appearances and the majority of the playing time at third base for the Jays upon return. Given that Adam Lind headed to the DL with a sprained back and is only just now getting reps in extended spring training, Nix and his power stroke should still be safe for another week. He should not post a blank batting line again this week. Of added benefit for Nix is the fact that he will be facing three left-handed starters this upcoming week, which should help his chances a good deal.

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

Related Content:  Jeff Keppinger,  Espn,  Clint Barmes,  Batting

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