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July 25, 2011

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 7/25/11

by Michael Street

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In the week before the trade deadline, fantasy moves and news usually come from pennant-race wheeling and dealing, but this week’s news consisted mostly of injuries, promotions, and demotions. My next column will undoubtedly reflect some of those yet-to-be-made deadline deals, but for now, I’ll look at some moves that have already been made while repaying my colleague Rob McQuown by poaching a few outfield qualifiers.

Departures
In the only departure that’s unrelated to a roster move, I’m dropping Matt LaPorta (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 2.1%, CBS 25%), who doesn’t yet look fully recovered from the ankle sprain that landed him on the DL. He sat twice this week—the fourth time in eight games, three of them against southpaws. LaPorta’s career 69-point OPS reverse platoon split isn’t the worst of his problems, however. Since returning from the DL, he has hit .214/.239/.286 in 46 plate appearances, thanks in large part to an 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with only three doubles counting as his extra-base hits. Without power, LaPorta can’t offset the lack of batting average and the decreased counting numbers from the diminished playing time. Regular VP readers know I’m a LaPorta believer, but he’ll have to work harder to earn that belief back.

As expected, David Wright’s return pushed Lucas Duda (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 4%) into a part-time role. Terry Collins has said he’ll look to get at-bats for Duda, but that’s often manager-speak for, “We’re not going to demote him—yet.” Whatever Collins’s meaning, the Duda abides on the VP list no more.

Less than two weeks and seven games after calling up Kyle Seager (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 3%), the Mariners demoted him again. Without commenting on an apparently rudderless team, I’ll merely note the “vast improvement” offered by Adam Kennedy (.257/.304/.392) and Chone Figgins (.182/.236/.240) over Seager’s small-sample .136/.240/.136 and then cut Seager loose, too, without further editorializing.

Arrivals
It’s only fair that, after “giving” some players to Rob McQuown, I take back Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 3.9%, CBS 32%),whom Rob wrote up last week shortly after Belt’s promotion. I shouldn’t need to spill too much ink over a guy Kevin Goldstein ranked eighth on his recent midseason Top 50 prospect update, noting that “Belt might be the second half's biggest addition to a contending team,” but I’ll give you a quick snapshot of Belt, just to remind you.

PECOTA gives Belt a .270/.359/.459 line in his 50th percentile with 11 home runs in 350 plate appearances; this swells to a 90th percentile of .310/.404/.526 with 14 homers in 394 plate appearances. He hit .192/.300/.269 in his cup of coffee earlier this season, was demoted for a month, and was then recalled just in time to break his wrist on a Trever Miller pitch in his second game.

During his demotion and injury rehab, he hit .335/.475/.548 in 202 plate appearances—nearly all at Triple-A—showing his solid core skills. In the minors this year, Belt played more games in the outfield (32) than at first base (14), and he could see time in both places with the Giants, giving him valuable multi-position qualification. No matter where he plays, his minor-league stats of a 17.0 percent walk rate, a 17.8 percent strikeout rate, and a .255 ISO should translate to big-league success. Only uncertain playing time makes him less than a lock for success in mixed leagues, but he is certainly an immediate add in NL-only and keeper leagues, and mixed-league owners won’t find better opportunities for power speculation this late in the season.

Sticking Around
Lonnie Chisenhall (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1.4%, CBS 24%) limped out of the post-All-Star break gates with two hits in 18 plate appearances, but he does have the excuse of a fractured sinus bone. After sitting against two lefties, Chisenhall rebounded to pick up four hits (including a double and a homer) over his next two games. His high strikeout rate (24.6 percent in his first 57 MLB plate appearances) remains an issue, but you should remain patient with this talented rookie.

Jim Thome (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 9.1%, CBS 7%) could be feeling the effects of starting 15 of the Twins’ last 24 games while hitting .178/.302/.400, though he demonstrated his power with a three-run, 464-foot jack last Sunday. The return of Jason Kubel will give Thome some more rest, possibly reviving the 40-year-old slugger. Use Thome in AL-only leagues, OBP leagues, or anywhere you have enough batting average to offset his statistical drag.

Is Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 9.7%, CBS 28%) beginning to regress? Since July 8 (49 plate appearances), he has hit .238/.347/.381 despite a decent .290 BABIP, dropping his batting average eleven points. He is still hitting .329 overall, though, which is good enough for second in the AL and fifth in MLB after recently qualifying for the crown. His 12.2 percent walk rate over that mini-swoon doesn’t suggest an altered plate approach, so I’m keeping him as a VP, but this high-flying anomaly has to come back to earth sometime, and that time could be soon.

Brandon Allen (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1.3%, CBS 17%) didn’t accumulate many plate appearances last week—Arizona faced three lefties—but he did crush a 400-foot blast on Tuesday and drew two walks (one intentional) on Friday. That dinger and his home run three days prior represent his only hits in fifteen plate appearances. Like Thome, Allen brings value with power and OBP, not batting average, but the power should remain impressive. 

AL-only VP
Nolan Reimold (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) benefits the most from Vladimir Guerrero’s absence, and losing Luke Scott opens the door further for this occasional slugger. BP 2011 called his 2010 season “a disaster picture that would rank with any film in the Irwin Allen oeuvre” thanks to lingering Achilles problems, not towering infernos or inverted ocean liners. Dropoffs in BABIP (.236) and home run rate (8.3 percent) in 2010 also point to a combination of bad luck and weak contact as culprits.

This season, both Reimold’s BABIP (.258) and home run rate (15.6 percent) have bounced back, though these may be related to his increase in fly balls (this season’s 45.1 percent comes after a rise from 37.3 to 39.1 percent last year). Increased playing time combined with the increased fly-ball rate and the injury rebound should equal increased value, and PECOTA reflects this with a .261/.339/.432 50th percentile projection, including 12 home runs and four steals in 350 plate appearances. This should provide excellent single-league value, particularly since Reimold appears to be ignored in nearly all leagues—at least for now.

NL-only VP
Another outfield crossover, Juan Rivera (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0.8%, CBS 6%) is the Dodgers’ latest attempt to fill the Vortex of (Home) Suck that is first baseman James Loney. On the surface, Rivera appears similar to, or marginally better than, the limp Loney:

 

BA/OBP/SLG

(career)

BB%

K%

2011 PECOTA (50th percentile)

PECOTA PA/HR

(50th percentile)

Rivera

.277/.327/.453

6.7

11.9

.263/.310/.437

26.0

Loney

.284/.342/.423

8.1

12.4

.276/.338/.396

59.1

What Rivera gives up in average and OBP he makes up for in power, projected to hit longballs at twice the rate of the homer-challenged Loney. Even more pronounced, however, are their platoon splits and performances at Chavez Ravine (below), suggesting some strange lefty/righty, home/road platoon, even if Rivera’s performance against righties isn’t all that much worse than Loney’s.

 

vs. LHP

(career)

vs. RHP

(career)

Dodger Stadium (PAs)

Rivera

.293/.339/.504

.270/.321/.428

.352/.397/.667 (58)

Loney

.253/.311/.362

.295/.353/.444

.267/.328/.370 (1394)

Don Mattingly, however, has used Rivera in nearly every game since acquiring him, at home and on the road, against both righties and lefties, and Rivera has repaid him with a hit in all but one of those seven games. Rivera’s projected performance is a bit light for a first-baseman, but PECOTA gives him a .299/.349/.497, 25-home run line if he can reach his 90th percentile. Unless he can do this, Rivera is best suited for NL-only leagues, though multiple position eligibility boosts his value.

Playing Pepper
New Tiger Wilson Betemit (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 7.9%, CBS 17%) represents a good fantasy upgrade over Brandon Inge, but Betemit remains a fantasy tweener: too heavily owned for AL-only usage, too unproductive as a corner infielder to help in all but the deepest of mixed leagues.

Former VP Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 7.9%, CBS 12%) hit his 500th professional home run this week, following it up with another longball two games later, all part of a seven-game stretch during which he has hit .370/.433/.630. The All-Star break could have reenergized Godzilla, whom I’ve expected improvement from all season long, but I’ll wait before reconsidering Matsui for VP status.

Another former VP, Anthony Rizzo, was demoted to Triple-A last week, opening the door for Jesus Guzman (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.6%, CBS 3%) and Kyle Blanks (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 11%) to take over first-base duties for the Padres. The pair represent a fantasy pick-‘em: Guzman has gotten most of the playing time while lefty Blanks would get more of any potential platoon situation and has the higher ceiling. Neither will be a VP until the picture clears up more, but both are strong candidates.

Scott Rolen’s second DL stint this year opens a Reds lineup hole to be filled by a combination of Miguel Cairo (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) and Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%), though neither offers more than single-league value.

Josh Bell (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 2%) could take over third base if Mark Reynolds shifts to designated hitter, or Bell could assume DH duties himself, but Bell’s power (.190 minor-league ISO) has yet to show itself in the bigs.

Adrian Beltre’s grade 1 hamstring strain allows me to fulfill my contractually obligated Chris Davis (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 11%) reference this week, as Davis was called up to fill Beltre’s spot. Like Beltre’s DL stint, Davis’s stay with Texas is likely to be brief, but he could provide short-term fantasy value.

Related Content:  Brandon Allen,  Kyle Seager,  Espn,  Juan Rivera

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