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June 27, 2011

Value Picks

First Base, Third Base, and DH

by Michael Street

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None of the Value Picks did anything this week to merit removal, which is both good and bad news. A monster game usually leads to an ownership spike, and nobody experienced that, but all of the VPs produced enough to keep their hold on a spot, even if that hold is becoming tenuous. Some should leave the list soon, however, so I’m adding another VP in anticipation of those changes.
 

Arrivals

Jim Thome (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 11%, CBS 8%) was activated off the disabled list Friday, in time for Minnesota’s return to Target (and the allowance of the designated hitter) this week. With Justin Morneau remaining out of action even longer than expected, the Twins can use some of the pop Thome brings to their lineup. I touted Thome plenty last season, too, and his 25 longballs kept fantasy owners happy, helping produce a 3.4 WARP that was his best since 2007. As BP pointed out:

[It was] one of the greatest performances of his distinguished career, launching 25 home runs in just 340 plate appearances, becoming just the fourth player 39 or older (after Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, and Hank Aaron) to slug .600 or higher. It would be asking the impossible to expect more of the same from Thome this season, but it's clear that he still has some thunder left in his lumber.

Thome’s slugger-appropriate 24.4 percent career strikeout rate will hold his batting average down, and he’s only showing about half the plate patience he showed last season with a walk rate that’s fallen from 7.4 percent to 4.2 percent. The weakness of the aged hitter is apparent in both his diminished home run rate (13.8 percent against 20.4 percent career and 24.3 percent in 2010) and increased infield fly rate (his 19 percent is on pace to set a career high and is more than double last year’s 9 percent).

Still, PECOTA sees Thome hitting .241/.361/.477 with 13 home runs for the rest of the season, not a bad line for a fella his age and a decent fantasy return. With Morneau out, Thome should hit higher than sixth in the order, boosting his counting stats. Keep in mind that Thome has neither been in a strict platoon yet this season (70 plate appearances vs. righties and 25 vs. lefties) nor suffered from hitting in Target Field, where he’s batting .258/.410/.581 in a small sample of 39 plate appearances. He’ll help you with homers and OBP, though he could sandbag your batting average, and suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous age could lead to more missed time. He’ll still bring value, though, and should stick as a VP when others begin to fall off the list.
 

Sticking Around

Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 4%, CBS 16%) continued to defy expectations last week, extending his hit streak to seven games with a three-hit performance on Saturday, his second straight night with an extra base hit. Normally, that’s not much to crow about, but this is Kotchman we’re talking about. About the only bad element of his performance—other than the absent power—is the fact that he didn’t draw a walk all week. Regression is possible, but keep riding him while he’s hot.

In the new Jack McKeon era, Jose Lopez (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 18%, CBS 5%) got just one start at the hot corner, picking up his second hit as a Marlin. That’s not a great showing for his first week on the VP list, but given the tumultuous Marlins situation right now, I’m giving him another week to show his stuff.

Brent Morel (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.2%, CBS 8%) is also on the verge of a VP demotion, in his case to AL-only status. He started four of Chicago’s five games last week and hit in three of them, including a three-hit night on Saturday. That’s a decent but punchless .294/.278/.294 line from a player who has yet to draw a walk this month, a combination of skills that makes him best suited for AL-only and the deepest of mixed leagues.

As promised, Bob Melvin has played Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 9%, CBS 15%) in the outfield, and Godzilla acquitted himself well enough to start four games in left field, hitting .286/.450/.357. Even after interleague ends, that flexibility could help a team that just lost Josh Willingham to the DL and demoted a struggling Daric Barton to find his stroke. Having an extra outfielder could also help Matsui—who prefers to play the field—as well as his fantasy owners, who could use the outfield qualification. A .290/.465/.516 slash line over the past two weeks hasn’t budged Matsui’s ownership numbers much yet, so he should still be on your waiver wire, though I don’t expect him to be there much longer.

Juan Miranda (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0.6%, CBS 6%) seems to be past any lingering neck and wrist injuries as he picked up three hits in three starts last week, including a double and a 421-foot solo blast, his seventh of the season. Sharing time with an ineffective Xavier Nady diminishes Miranda’s value, and a recent rash of strikeouts (8 in his last 21 plate appearances) has dropped his batting average, but he’s still delivering that valuable power commodity.
 

AL-only VP

This should be the last week for Scott Sizemore (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 9%) on the list as it’s going to be hard for AL-only owners to ignore a starter who’s hitting .327/.400/.449 with his new club. His ownership numbers haven’t moved that much since his VP addition last week, but I’m betting another week of solid production will push those numbers high enough to graduate him.
 

NL-only VP

The VP days are also numbered for Daniel Descalso (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.4%, CBS 4%), who faces a two-headed threat now that both Nick Punto and David Freese are inching closer to rejoining the big club. Descalso has done his best to make a case to remain at the hot corner, hitting .308/.471/.385 and playing solid defense, but a .254 TAv from third base just isn’t enough for a contending club. I don’t want to jump the gun and cut him too quickly—and neither should NL-only owners—but this is likely Descalso’s last week as a single-league pick, too.
 

Playing Pepper

Both Orlando Cabrera (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 31%, CBS 32%) and Adam Kennedy (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 7%, CBS 16%) will be their teams’ primary third basemen going forward, although both offer better fantasy value as middle infielders.

Toronto promoted former VP Eric Thames (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.2%, CBS 3%) as part of a plan to shift Jose Bautista to third base, but Thames will play mostly in the outfield, not at designated hitter.

As Casey Blake continues to suffer from an arthritic neck, Juan Uribe (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 14%, CBS 33%) has been the Dodgers’ third baseman. Uribe’s all-or-nothing swing is typified by this week’s line: four hits in nineteen plate appearances, including one home run and four strikeouts. He hits dingers in bunches, so he could be heating up.

Garrett Jones (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 28%, CBS 21%) has been stealing at-bats from Lyle Overbay, supposedly to allow Overbay to work on his swing. This could be a sign of things to come as there isn’t enough time in the season—or the decade, for that matter—to get Overbay’s swing up to first base standards.

I’m reminded of a balky engine coughing to life when I watch Danny Valencia (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 3%, CBS 24%), who had a two-hit night Tuesday then went 0-for-8 over his next two games before cranking a three-run dinger on Friday. He’s figuring it out and should return to the VP list soon.

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