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July 5, 2011

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 7/5/11

by Michael Street

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As I expected, rising young talent lets me cut some struggling VPs as the All-Star break approaches. At this point, it’s tough to find Roman candles to light up your lineup, but a few skyrockets can help you avoid limp sparklers or M-80s that demolish your stats.
 

Departures

Activating David Freese from the DL means Daniel Descalso (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.2%, CBS 3%) is no longer a starter. Descalso hit .268/.380/.341 as a VP, offering decent single-league production, but Freese brings much better numbers.

My gamble in adding Jose Lopez (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 17%, CBS 5%) didn’t pan out. He picked up just one hit in 12 appearances as a Marlin before Florida designated him for assignment.

Juan Miranda (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.4%, CBS 5%) proved Chase Field is overrated as a hitter’s park by going hitless there in June. Rookies have their ups and downs, but he’s been more down than up, which is no way for a VP to behave.

Brent Morel (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.2%, CBS 8%) brought value as the White Sox’s regular starter, but both Mark Teahen and Omar Vizquel picked up a start last week, showing even Ozzie can’t overlook Morel’s .231/.239/.262 line over the last month. With three better AL hot-corner options, Morel rides the VP pine too.
 

Arrivals

This week, Cleveland finally called up Lonnie Chisenhall (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 6%, CBS 31%) after Jack Hannahan, Adam Everett, and Orlando Cabrera combined for a chilly .221/.308/.322 at the hot corner. Kevin Goldstein named Chisenhall Cleveland’s number-two prospect, a sweet-swinging five-star third-baseman he also called “one of the top third-base prospects in the game.” BP 2011 says “it's impossible to find a scout who doesn't think he'll be an above-average everyday player.”

Cleveland’s burning need for a third baseman means they’ve rushed Chisenhall, however. This was his first year at Triple-A, and his overall minor-league line is “only” .271/.344/.451. This explains PECOTA’s .253/.299/.407 (.251 TAv) 50th percentile projection, which rises to .289/.337/.464 (.283 TAv) in his 90th. He has strong secondary stats behind those minor-league numbers, however, like a 15.2 percent strikeout rate and an 8.6 percent walk rate, giving him a decent shot to beat that batting average projection. Playing time and potential make him an instant add in all AL-only and keeper leagues, and mixed-league owners will find few chances to get another top prospect this season.

Regular VP readers have heard me talk about Danny Valencia (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 3%, CBS 24%), who has bounced on and off the VP list with sporadic production. He looks more focused lately, though, making solid contact and giving the ball a ride for a .286/.286/.510 line over the past two weeks. The elevated strikeout rate (52.8 percent) over that span and the nonexistent walk rate (none since June 11) are troubling trends, but I’ve been waiting for him to bounce back from season-long underproduction, and this looks like the turnaround point. If you missed out on Chisenhall and need a third baseman in deeper leagues, give Valencia another chance.

The callup of Anthony Rizzo (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 11%, CBS 47%) brought plenty of attention, but a .164/.300/.328 start to his MLB career cooled that enthusiasm. The 136-point separation between his batting average and OBP shows he’s not completely overmatched, however, and 80 plate appearances is too soon to give up on a guy Kevin Goldstein rates as the Padres’ third-best prospect and sixty-ninth overall.

Neither of those are overwhelming endorsements, but the kid’s only 21 and was diagnosed with a mild form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008. He returned to the Sally League the following season, rising to Triple-A this year thanks to 2010’s .263/.334/.481, 20-homer performance at Double-A. His cancer recovery, his youth, and his home park all mitigate against him cashing in on that power potential quickly, though he’s hit .241/.305/.552 in 37 home plate appearances.

PECOTA projects just .240/.294/.394 in his 50th percentile, but he’s young and inexperienced, also explaining his bumpy ride so far. Still, keeper-league and NL-only owners should have Rizzo rostered, while others can consider gambling on a promising rookie. His patience should reap batting average rewards as it also boosts his OBP, and the power will come around sooner rather than later.
 

Sticking Around

Playing in the outfield wore down Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 8%, CBS 14%) as he hit just .167/.278/.233 in interleague play.  He bounced back on Friday at designated hitter, though, walking twice, knocking in two, and even swiping a bag, and he has hit in both games since. Expect Matsui to return to being productive as he returns to the more familiar designated hitter role.

Jim Thome (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 10%, CBS 8%) picked up two hits in ten plate appearances after coming off the DL, then rocked career home run number 594 on Friday and 595 on Sunday. He’ll keep shaking the rust off as he heals, remaining a good AL-only and deep mixed league option, especially in those that count OBP.

Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 6%, CBS 20%) continues defying expectations, hitting .335/.393/.457 overall and .324/.378/.471 last week, including five doubles. His production might remain a sabermetric mystery, or he could tank in the second half, but keep starting him unless the latter happens.
 

AL-only VP

I keep expecting the ownership numbers for Scott Sizemore (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0.7%, CBS 8%) to rise, but they haven’t done so yet. He broke out of a 2-for-16 mini-slump by picking up 7 hits in his last 12 plate appearances, so those ownership numbers should pick up soon.
 

NL-only VP

NL-only owners have a tough time finding corner infield help, but playing time brings value, and the Mets’ Lucas Duda (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.2%, CBS 5%) has been splitting time at first base. When reader harderj asked me about Duda last week, I told him that Duda’s been hot lately (.364/.400/.545 over the last 14 days), though his overall line is a weak .240/.289/.347. He’s not in a strict platoon, alternating starts lately with Daniel Murphy, and Duda’s starts could begin to rise.

Duda has made good contact (82.7 percent), leading to a 19.1 percent line drive rate and a great 1.6 percent popup rate. Though his power hasn’t emerged, his solid contact rates should produce dividends in that department, too. Given Duda’s .286/.383/.473 minor league slash line and the absence of many other options out there, this adds up to a solid NL-only option.
 

Playing Pepper

Nick Punto (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) was activated along with David Freese last week, but sporadic playing time and PECOTA’s .233/.309/.286 50th percentile projection make him a better play up the middle.

Several readers have asked about Chris Davis (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 13%), whom the Rangers are reportedly contemplating calling up. Davis has been hitting .363/.409/.852 at Triple-A Round Rock and would play in left field.

Former VP Matt LaPorta (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 3%, CBS 30%) was supposed to get some batting practice heading into this weekend, but his ankle is still bothering him, delaying any potential return.

Reader sgtvane asked me to identify an undervalued corner infielder, regardless of ownership rates. I like Freddie Freeman (Yahoo! 31%, ESPN 48%, CBS 64%), the consensus prediction of BP writers (including me) as NL Rookie of the Year. A slow first month (.217/.314/.380) dilutes his overall numbers, but Freeman has hit .299/.351/.460 since then, improving his OPS each month. His 22.3 percent strikeout rate is weaker than his 14.8 percent minor-league average while his 8.4 percent walk rate is an improvement over his 7.6 percent in the minors.

That tells me his batting eye is intact as he adjusts to major-league pitching, and his whiff rate has declined each month. PECOTA projects just 18 homers in his 90th percentile, but hitting in the middle of Atlanta’s order should bring RBI, and his 25-35 projected doubles will create an acceptable SLG. He’ll be great in OBP league while delivering value from the CI slot in other leagues; those ownership numbers suggest he’ll be either available or a potential trade target in your league.

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