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July 12, 2011

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 7-12-11

by Michael Jong

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Departures

Adam Kennedy, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 4.9%, CBS 15%)

Kennedy struggled a lot this week, batting .174/.269/.217 with just three singles and a double. A one-week struggle isn’t enough to merit getting booted off of Value Picks, though. The biggest reason why Kennedy is getting the boot this week is the sudden uncertainty in his playing time. The Mariners promoted third base prospect Kyle Seager this week and have installed him at the hot corner, relegating Kennedy to the role of DH and occasional backup at three different infield positions. Sure, it is possible that he still gets plenty of plate appearances even at this capacity, but given his limited upside, fantasy owners should look elsewhere in case he suddenly gets shut out of the lineup entirely.
 

Arrivals

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 2.9%, CBS 29%)

Ramos last appeared on VP on May 31 when he was booted in favor of, among other players, Adam Kennedy. It seems VP has gone full-circle as Ramos re-enters the list just as Kennedy finishes his stint. When we last left Ramos, he was experiencing a slump and a BABIP correction from earlier in the season. At the time he left, he was batting .252/.336/.403 with a believable .287 BABIP and three homers in 138 PA. Since that day, he has hit a very similar .250/.318/.450 with a .267 BABIP and five homers in 112 PA.

What has happened to Ramos's game since he left the VP list? His power surge has been very encouraging as he has hit 20 percent of his fly balls out of the park in June and July. This has brought him to a 12.9 percent HR/FB rate that is probably a bit higher than his true talent level given his minor league track record. Though it is possible that Ramos is still developing power at age 23, his minor league stats suggest a player who could hit 15 homers in 600 PA, a bit less than the 19-homer pace he is currently on. Nevertheless, the continued show of power is favorable for a young player.

The fact that Ramos has maintained a 17.8 percent strikeout rate since the start of June, matching his 17.6 percent seasonal mark, is also promising. That sort of performance consistency is good to see from a player who is essentially making the jump to the majors with a penchant for poor strike zone recognition. He is continuing to take enough pitches to draw walks, having drawn a base on balls in 8.9 percent of his plate appearances in June and July. It seems Ramos's new plate approach of swinging less is sticking enough that we can expect it (and the subsequent stabilization of his batting average) to stick in the future. Even if the power drops a little going forward, the improvement at the plate has been great enough to encourage owners to jump on the bandwagon again even with the BABIP correction.
 

Incumbents

Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 6.3%, CBS 33%)
Bartlett has struggled since the second he was added to the VP list, batting .167/.205/.214 since arriving on the list. At the same time, he has at least continued to provide the one thing fantasy owners knew they would get out of him: steals. Bartlett has stolen three bags in four attempts since his arrival, though, truthfully, all of those numbers were picked up this past week. It should come as no surprise that, even though all of Bartlett's peripherals are normal, his struggles with BABIP have been magnified while hitting in Petco Park; his .293 BABIP on the road has led to a far more palatable .257 batting average compared to the .264 BABIP and .216 batting average at home. At this point, you might have to live with the fact that San Diego simply is not a nice place for a hitter dependent on singles for his batting average. The Padres have a four-game set this upcoming weekend against the San Francisco Giants at home before hitting the road for seven games, so it might be best to stow Bartlett on your bench until next week.

Mark Ellis, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 14.3%, CBS 16%)
Well, Ellis could not hit like Superman throughout his entire tenure in Colorado, and this past week showed that going on the road can be a harsh reality for borderline players that look good at Coors Field. Ellis and the Rockies were on the road for seven games, and the second baseman hit .160/.250/.200 on his first road trip away from Coors. The week was not all negatives, though, as he managed to score five times and steal a base. At this point, it is too early to tell much from Ellis's time in Colorado other than to keep a constant eye on his performance; if he cools down, Jim Tracy will not hesitate to turn to another player, but if he succeeds, he could be a winning midseason pickup in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues. Colorado has a seven-game home stand coming up, so Ellis should be a nice play for the next week or two.

Chase d'Arnaud, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo 1%, ESPN 1.1%, CBS 3%)

d'Arnaud had a rough week, batting just .200/.200/.280. Still, there were things to like in his performance, particularly the two doubles and the stolen base. Right now, it seems like he has been swinging too much in his brief time in the majors (49.1 percent swing rate) versus his track record in the minors (43.7 percent rate in Triple-A Indianapolis this season). Combine that with similar whiff and called strike rates, and one can see why he has struggled with the strikeout so far in the majors. Still, these numbers should improve as he continues to adjust to major league pitching, and for now, the speed when he does get on base should help fantasy owners in deeper formats. Add in the demotion of the recently reactivated Pedro Alvarez to Triple-A following his DL stint, and it seems d'Arnaud will have a position to occupy even when Ronny Cedeno returns from his concussion.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 1.5%, CBS 29%)

Salty had a light week in terms of workload, making only four starts, but he made the most of his opportunities, batting .250/.250/.563 with his sixth homer of the season and a triple. There is no change in Salty's recommendations this week, so fantasy owners in daily leagues should feel free to stay the course with him.
 

AL-only VP

Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 3.1%, CBS 29%)

Nunez has actually seen a healthy amount of playing time given his utility backup position, and following his extended stay in the starting lineup in place of Derek Jeter, he might have impressed enough to earn the trust of the Yankees’ brass. Nunez has hit .333/.371/.515 with a high (but not absurd) .333 BABIP with six doubles and two homers since June 14. Jeter has returned from the DL, but Alex Rodriguez underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery to clean up a slightly torn meniscus and will be out four-to-six weeks. Nunez is presently in line to take the lion's share of that playing time.

What will he likely do with it? He has a career .274/.318/.369 minor league slash line that is representative of what he can do in the majors. He does not walk often, being more dependent on a believable .306 BABIP and a low 12.7 percent strikeout rate to get himself on base. Once on base, he can steal a bag or two, succeeding at a 74.3 percent rate and averaging 24.5 steals per 600 PA. His major league career numbers in a mere 186 PA do resemble those minor league stats very closely, but do not expect his strikeout rate to remain so miniscule (it is currently at 5.9 percent in the majors). That regression should cause his batting average to fall a bit, but a subsequent rise in BABIP could keep him around .270. He has not yet seemed shy about taking off on the bases, attempting a steal in 28.8 percent of his chances. Expect that sort of aggressiveness to continue, as Nunez has little else he can provide outside of speed and a decent batting average. That should be good for AL-only owners, but deeper mixed league owners can also consider taking a look at Nunez while A-Rod remains on the shelf.
 

NL-only VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 2.6%, CBS 10%)

Keppinger struggled over the past week, batting just .192/.185/.231. Perched in the middle of Houston's lineup, though, he at least managed three runs and three RBI despite the difficult week. He still has his job intact and will continue to hit for a high batting average despite the one-week slump, so fantasy owners can hold onto him for now.
 

One for the Road

Ramon Hernandez, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo! 23%, ESPN 10%, CBS 34%)

Hernandez is in a similar situation as Saltalamacchia in that he is in a well-established timeshare with another catcher. Hernandez and fellow backstop Ryan Hanigan have shared the catching duties essentially evenly; Hernandez has made 45 starts while Hanigan has made 47. However, while Hanigan has struggled to a .250/.351/.321 slash line, Hernandez has flourished to the tune of a .322/.377/.539 line. His strikeout and walk rates are right in line with his career marks, and the changes that we have seen are in his power and BABIP. This is the second season in a row in which Hernandez has hit over .320 on balls in play, but this follows an entire career of batting around .270 to .280 in that department. It is hard to imagine that holding up much longer, but he has been aided by a move to Cincinnati, having hit .353 on balls in play in Great American Ballpark for his career.

What should be avoided is expecting that first-half power to translate to the second half. In 2010, Hernandez hit a homer in 9.2 percent of his fly balls, but this season that number has skyrocketed to 21.3 percent, a number unmatched in any other season of his career. Yes, Cincinnati inflates home run power, but for a guy who has a career 46.7 percent ground ball rate and a 50.3 percent mark this season, his stroke is unlikely to deliver too many more round-trippers this season.

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:  Eduardo Nunez,  Batting Eye,  Espn,  Batting

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