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July 5, 2011

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 7/5/11

by Michael Jong

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Departures

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 6.4%, CBS 31%)

Gordon actually did not have a terrible week for fantasy owners, despite the .235/.235/.294 slash line. He stole three bases, which provided the majority of his value. With Rafael Furcal returning from the disabled list on Sunday, however, Gordon was sent to the minors to work on his hitting, thus he gets a demotion from Value Picks as well.

Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0.4%, CBS 2%)

Nelson gets the boot this week as part of his demotion to Triple-A as the Rockies continue their search for a second baseman who can play something resembling full-time. Of course, when one Rockie second baseman leaves, another one is bound to enter the Value Picks list.
 

Arrivals

Mark Ellis, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 4.1%, CBS 14%)

At this point, readers might as well assume that whoever is currently starting at second base for the Rockies will get a look here at VP. The Rockies gave Ellis a try over the weekend after acquiring him for essentially a bag of balls from Oakland, and he delivered in a big way. Ellis hit .533/.533/1.200 with four doubles and two homers over the weekend, undoubtedly convincing Jim Tracy to let him start for the rest of the month. With Jonathan Herrera, Chris Nelson, and Eric Young Jr. all struggling in their extended auditions at second base, Tracy has ridden the hot hand and gone with whomever was swinging the bat best at the time, and that should bode well for Ellis for at least a couple weeks.

As with many early-season strugglers, the major difference we can see between the Ellis of old and the Ellis of 2011 is BABIP; in this case, the comparison is between a .267 BABIP in 2011 versus a career .292 mark. Last season, Ellis had a .321 BABIP as an A, but his three-year mark from 2008 to 2010 of .284 is a much more likely indicator of future performance, leaving Ellis as a bit of an empty batting average. However, if there is one place where BABIP magic can shine, it is in Coors Field, the stadium that continues to house the one of the highest BABIP marks in baseball; even in a depressed run scoring environment with an average BABIP of .292, Coors still ranks second behind Fenway Park with a .313 BABIP this season. The spacious fields and thin air should help Ellis find a few more gaps and pick up a couple extra base hits from the move away from Oakland Coliseum (.281 BABIP this season).

Ellis will not help out with many other categories. He has a little bit of power remaining, but he cannot be expected to hit the ball as far as he used to in his prime in Oakland. This season, he has taken off in 10.5 percent of his stolen base opportunities, which is much higher than his career 5.6 percent mark. If he continues taking off this often, he can squeeze out a few more steals, but his value is going to reside on whether he can take advantage of Coors and pump that BABIP to get on base often enough for the powerful run producers behind him to plate him. Ellis has played for some bad offensive clubs in the past and still scored at an above average league pace (34 percent career runs scored rate), so that should increase with the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton behind him. I have been willing to bet on Coors in the past, and I will do so (albeit cautiously) once again. Ellis should be a good NL-option and a fringe mixed-league play.

Chase d'Arnaud, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0.2%, CBS 2%)

d'Arnaud was recently brought up by the Pirates due to the injuries and general ineffectiveness of their third basemen. However, d'Arnaud is a shortstop by trade who was given an opportunity to try out second and third base this season at Triple-A Indianapolis before being brought up to the big leagues. Now with the disabled list stint of Ronny Cedeno, d'Arnaud will get his crack at the shortstop position. Given that Cedeno has no future with the Pirates long-term, one has to figure that the team could allow d'Arnaud time to develop there.

Right now, however, d'Arnaud's .233/.267/.326 line is not impressing anyone. There are positive signs, though, within that line. A .278 BABIP could be a bit higher given his minor league career .318 mark and his .325 BABIP in Triple-A this season. Overall, d'Arnaud's .272/.356/.414 minor league slash line points to the type of player who could have the skill set to maintain a .250 to .270 batting average with around a league average OBP. His 10.6 percent career walk rate should translate well despite his early struggles, but he doesn’t have much power to speak of.

The most exciting thing about d'Arnaud is his game on the bases. He has already displayed this talent while in the majors, stealing four bases in just 20 stolen base opportunities, showing a willingness to run when given the chance. Indeed, he showed that in the minors as well as he took 95 bases in 115 attempts (82.6 percent success rate) and averaged just over 41 steals per 600 minor league plate appearances. It does not seem like manager Clint Hurdle will be holding him back, so he should at least be able to provide steals and playing time for your NL-only and deeper mixed leagues.
 

Incumbents

Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 7.2%, CBS 35%)

Bartlett had a poor debut week for VP, batting .053/.100/.053 and reaching base just twice on the week. His prognosis has not changed since last week, and indeed what he brings to the table is similar to what PECOTA sees in d'Arnaud: a player with a below average batting average who can pick up a lot of steals. Both players warrant selection, but at least d'Arnaud has possible upside thanks to his successful 2011 campaign in Triple-A; Bartlett is who he is at this point, and no amount of thinking back to his 2009 season will change that. Just take the steals and be happy.

Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres (Yahoo 4%, ESPN 2.9%, CBS 17%)

Bartlett's teammate Hudson had an uneventful week as well, batting .143/.143/.143 with only two singles to his name. As mentioned before, Hudson's value at this point in his career really can only come via stolen bases as his baserunning game was revived early in the season. However, he has only attempted two steals since returning from his latest DL stint, and he continues to be an injury risk. Expect the batting average to continue to improve (he has a .268 batting average with a .333 BABIP since June 19) as that strikeout rate falls a bit, but keep an eye on him primarily for his baserunning.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 1.8%, CBS 30%)

Salty split the starts at catcher this week with Jason Varitek, and he helped his team by getting on base in five of his 13 PA. Unfortunately, most leagues will not award their owners for those four walks this week, and otherwise Salty's week was uneventful even in counting stat terms. He is still the primary starter, but note that his share with Varitek is larger than the average catcher split, so he remains relegated to deeper league status.
 

AL-only VP

Adam Kennedy, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 5.8%, CBS 17%)

Kennedy had a pretty typical Kennedy week, batting .250/.348/.450 with a home run and four RBI along the way. Again, the most encouraging thing about him this week is not necessarily the numbers (when is he going to try and steal a base?) but the playing time; he racked up another 23 PA this week and is firmly entrenched as the team's third baseman for the time being. Fantasy owners should expect decent playing time and a .260 to .270 batting average: numbers that are more than worth their while in AL-only leagues.
 

NL-only VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 3.2%, CBS 11%)

Keppinger sat out two games this week with an illness and only pinch hit for two other games, limiting his effectiveness for the past week. As long as he keeps the strikeouts down and Houston keeps running him out there, though, he should be worth your NL-only league's time. Take the batting average and be happy you are not currently running Dan Uggla out there. Fun fact to keep in mind: despite being completely bereft of power, Keppinger has actually driven in baserunners at a league average rate (15 percent) for his career thanks in part to that contact-based approach.

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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