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May 31, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at First, Third and DH

by Michael Street

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It’s time to bid farewell to two Oakland VPs who have been stinking up the joint long enough. Fortunately, there are other VPs for owners looking for corner infielders as the calendar turns to June.
 

Departing

Hideki Matsui (10 percent ESPN, 17 percent CBS)

Always a late starter (career .268/.359/.425 in April, .276/.338/.444 in May), Matsui has come out of the gates even slower in 2011 (.242/.303/.374 in April, .219.268/.328 in May). Optimists will wait for a regression to the mean, since he’s down around his 10th PECOTA percentile and has a BABIP of .254 (career .302), but realists look at that BABIP and his lack of power (.120 ISO in 2011 versus .188 ISO career) as a sign he’s not making good contact. Until he validates the optimistic stance, he’s not delivering enough value to be a VP.

Daric Barton (<1 percent ESPN, 17 percent CBS)

Another scuffling Athletic, Barton hasn’t produced despite core ratios (13.9 percent walk rate, 16.7 percent strikeout rate) that have been very close to his career averages (14.1 percent walk rate, 16.1 percent strikeout rate). His .257 BABIP is well below his .294 norm, something that should portend a rebound, but I’ve been waiting in vain for several weeks for that to happen.

Eric Hinske (10 percent ESPN, 6 percent CBS)

Consider Hinske a fantasy tweener: he doesn’t start enough for mixed-league owners, and his ownership rates are too high for him to be on NL-only waiver wires. Ride him if you’ve got him—as I pointed out last week, he’s due for a fall—otherwise, look for a potential replacement below.
 

Arriving

Eric Thames (<1 percent ESPN, 4 percent CBS)

Thames arrived in the big leagues last week when Adam Lind went on the DL and has picked up a hit in five of eight starts as Toronto’s designated hitter and left fielder. As Baseball Prospectus 2011 noted:

Thames has made adjustments and shown power, patience, and the ability to hit for contact. . . He still has room to grow more patient, as his on-base percentage was supported by an unusual number of hit by pitches . . . If Travis Snider lays an egg in the first half, it’s not impossible to imagine Thames seeing big-league time.

Snider has already laid that egg, and Toronto has tolerated poor performances from Edwin Encarnacion while Corey Patterson is more likely to return to his career norms than he is to continue hitting like he did in 2004. Though Lind is due back at the end of next week, continued production from Thames could force Toronto to demote someone else when he returns.

Despite a weak line of .241/.333/.310 and 13 whiffs in 33 plate appearances, Thames is a good short- and long-term gamble, ranking 12th in the Blue Jays’ system (and Kevin Goldstein admits he could be higher). PECOTA projects a .250/.308/.437 50th percentile from Thames with a top end line of .289/.352/.506 with 22 home runs in his 90th. His .303/.381/.529 minor-league line certainly looks good, especially when you consider that 2011 is just his third year as a pro. If Toronto decides to see what they have in Thames, he could turn into an impact fantasy player.
 

AL-Only VP

Travis Buck (<1 percent ESPN, 1 percent CBS)

The left-handed half of the designated hitter platoon filling in for Travis Hafner, Buck has come out swinging with a .294/.368/.706 line, striking out just twice in 19 plate appearances. Buck has never delivered on his 2007 breakout as injuries first kept him off the field and then led to multiple unproductive swing adjustments.

His .310/.389/.486 minor-league line always hinted at more, especially since it was supported by a very nice 16.2 percent whiff rate and a patient 10.6 walk rate. He’s come close to those ratios in full-time major-league action in the past but has been horribly impatient in 2011, walking just once in 59 total plate appearances. While currently in a platoon, he has nearly identical career splits—.253/.335/.423 against righties and .245/.299/.434 against lefties—so continued production might lead to increased playing time.

For the time being, however, Buck is merely a part-timer.  That, the possibility of a regression to his formerly unproductive ways, and a modest ceiling (.278/.358/.425 90th percentile PECOTA) all mark him for AL-only usage only. The Indians have made a season of surpassing expectations, though, and Buck could turn out to be yet another Cleveland surprise.
 

NL-Only VP

Steve Pearce (<1 percent ESPN, 1 percent CBS)

With Pedro Alvarez on the DL and Lyle Overbay being Lyle Overbay (read: currently hitting .235/.303/.376), Pittsburgh has turned to Pearce to fill in at the corners. A former Minor League Player of the Year, Pearce made it all the way from High-A to the major-league club in 2007 but never could prove himself in the bigs. He’s received numerous cups of coffee, from the 38-plate appearance demitasse last year to the venti-sized 186-plate appearance in 2009, but he has averaged just .240/.313/.394 in 416 plate appearances before this season.

He mashed in the minors, hitting .292/.367/.519 over six seasons and even swiping 44 bags (albeit getting gunned down 27 times in the process). His 15.3 percent strikeout rate in the minors shows strong contact skills, and his 9.5 percent walk rate displays equally good patience. He hasn’t repeated that performance consistently in the bigs, but he did walk 11.3 percent of the time while fanning 23.1 percent during his longest big league stint in 2009, so the skills seem to be there. Playing time is king in fantasy, and Pearce should get that until he falls flat.  Going into his age-27 season, he’s worth a spot in NL-only leagues to see if he finally delivers on his talent.
 

Remaining

Juan Miranda (1 percent ESPN, 8 percent CBS)

Although Miranda had a scare after being hit on the wrist last Sunday, he’s been productive after a brief rest, cracking two dingers Friday. Xavier Nady’s lackluster line (.275/.330/.336) could give Miranda even more time if the Cuban power-hitter keeps developing.

Ty Wigginton (7 percent ESPN, 22 percent CBS)

Now that Jose Lopez has been designated for assignment, the path to playing time is even clearer for Wigginton at third base. Wiggy hit in every game he started this week, finishing with a three-hit game on Sunday. As a productive hot-corner hitter, he could be graduating from the list soon, so get him while you can.

Danny Valencia (6 percent ESPN, 34 percent CBS)

Valencia has hit in 9 of his last 11 games, but the power’s not there just yet. He’s not expected to be a power threat, but PECOTA’s SLG projection rises from just .397 in his 50th percentile up to .448 (and double-digit homers) in his 90th. His current .350 SLG is subpar (barely above his 10th percentile), so I expect that to rise; otherwise, VP will be looking for a new third-base option.

Matt LaPorta (9 percent ESPN, 45 percent CBS)

LaPorta is falling into a troubling all-or-nothing pattern.  He’s picked up hits in just four of his last 13 games, all multi-hit efforts. Of the 10 hits in those 46 plate appearances, two were doubles and two were homers—hence the .238/.304/.429 line over that span—but fantasy owners (and VP) would like more consistency.
 

Playing Pepper

When the Diamondbacks cut Russell Branyan (<1 percent ESPN, 3 percent CBS) loose, the Angels grabbed him to complement Bobby Abreu, giving Russell the Muscle a chance to flex two of his Three True Outcomes, though Anaheim will suppress some of his power.

After going deep twice on the day that Harmon Killebrew died, Jim Thome (13 percent ESPN, 12 percent CBS) has picked up one hit in 13 plate appearances since, and his shoulder doesn’t look healthy yet, so hold off on adding him.

Jack Cust (<1 percent ESPN, 4 percent CBS) went yard last Monday for the first time this year, has hit .279/.388/.441 in the month of May, and could creep onto the VP list soon.

St. Louis finally seems to have found a third baseman: Daniel Descalso (<1 percent ESPN, 5 percent CBS), who has started the last ten games there and is hitting .282/.349/.410.  That’s pushing his 90th PECOTA percentile, though, and I expect him to sink back down soon.

Former VP Casey Blake (1 percent ESPN, 13 percent CBS) returned from the disabled list, buthe’s too fragile to recommend now to anyone but NL-only leagues.

Related Content:  Eric Thames,  Espn,  Steve Pearce

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