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July 26, 2011

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 7/26/11

by Michael Jong

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Departures
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2.3%, CBS 18%)
Cozart just joined the Value Picks party, but now he is leaving it due to a hyperextended right elbow. It is unfortunate, as Cincinnati fans and prospective fantasy owners were looking at an interesting property before the injury; Cozart was hitting .324/.324/.486 with two homers before the injury. Since it looks like the injury is serious enough to keep him out of action for more than a few weeks, we will wave goodbye to him for now.

Arrivals
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 3.1%, CBS 33%)
Salty makes a quick return to an otherwise solid VP list in part because of one awesome week at the plate. Since getting the boot last week in favor of middle infielders (including Cozart), Salty made his mark against Baltimore and Seattle, hitting .438/.438/.813 with two homers. He also struck out six times in 16 plate appearances, so the good does come with a healthy dose of bad. Still, his season line of .259/.326/.454 is what most people expected he would do in the big leagues way back when he was a prized prospect and not a reclamation project. The strikeouts are going to be high on account of his poor contact rates and heavy swing rates, and that is not likely to change. What is likely to stick around is some of the power; his ground-ball rates have remained very low, thus elevating his power. The spacious center-field ground and the short Monster in left field are likely inflating his BABIP. Expect similar numbers—if not slightly depressed numbers—due to regression.

Incumbents
Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 10.9%, CBS 37%)
Bartlett was on an absolute tear away from Petco Park this past week, batting .368/.400/.421 with a steal and five runs scored while visiting Florida and Philadelphia. Bartlett's game is very heavily dependent on BABIP to inflate his batting average, as he has no power—and appears to have even less so playing in San Diego. It should come as no surprise that Bartlett has hit .305 on balls in play on the road and only .280 in Petco this season. Owners are still using him mostly for his speed numbers, and he continues to deliver in that department. However, if you have other options for home games, it would not be a bad idea to avoid him occasionally. The Padres are spending the next nine games at home, so this would be one of those weeks to hold back Bartlett against perhaps stronger pitching.

Mark Ellis, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 6.7%, CBS 17%)
The opposite goes for Ellis with regards to his home digs. He has hit .375/.388/.646 in Colorado so far, which is pretty impressive even within the confines of a mere 49 plate appearances. In comparison, he has only hit .250/.333/.281 in 36 road PAs. I would approach Ellis in a similar fashion to Bartlett, wary of who he is facing on the road and giving him starts when he is within the confines of Coors Field. If anything, this strategy should give you a solid batting average and counting stats, as Coors should help to inflate Ellis' BABIP.

Carlos Guillen, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 5%, CBS 13%)
Since coming off the disabled list and returning to the majors, Guillen has hit .360/.370/.480, good for a .318 TAv. More importantly than his first week's performance back on the job, we saw that Jim Leyland had a good deal of confidence in the 35-year-old, as he started him in all but one game during the week. Part of this may have been a reluctance to start Ryan Raburn and thus having no other options, but the idea that Guillen might get more rest than the typical starter may be out of the question, especially if he continues his hot hitting. Obviously we cannot draw much from just a week's worth of PAs, but owners looking for a second baseman should keep an eye on Guillen before diving in.

Jeff Keppinger, San Francisco Giants (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 5.2%, CBS 11%)
Keppinger had a bad week amidst being moved to San Francisco, but a four-game sample would tell you nothing about his game. He remains capable of limiting his strikeouts, but it has come at the expense of losing walks. However, he has more room to regress on his walks (PECOTA projects a 7.7 percent walk rate at the 50th percentile) than in strikeouts, so expect to see an increase in on-base percentage going forward. In terms of runs and RBI, the move from Houston to San Francisco seems sideways at best; the Giants actually rank lower in TAv (.246) this season than the Astros (.250), so it is likely that those teams are equals at the plate.

Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 19.1%, CBS 43%)
Nunez has been bumped up into the Incumbents in favor of a new AL-only VP. He also had a nice week, hitting .250/.357/.292 with four stolen bases in four attempts. During the week, he picked up four strikeouts and four walks, which indicates a decent knowledge of the strike zone. That should be helpful in getting his batting average up and getting him on base to steal bags. I would continue to expect that sort of performance from Nunez going forward, so owners should continue to go to him for stolen-base assistance.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 10%, CBS 33%)
Ramos' second week back on the VP list did not go so well, as he had just one hit in 17 PAs. Still, for the month Ramos is hitting a very respectable .260/.315/.520 with three home runs. The increased patience and contact at the plate have continued, and a slightly below-average line for the duration of 2011 is not out of reach. It would be more than acceptable for a waiver-wire catcher.

AL-only VP
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 22%)
Kipnis is following a long line of prospects who have received the call to assist the major-league team. Kipnis was a highly-regarded prospect, ranking as one of Cleveland's two five-star prospects in the eyes of Kevin Goldstein. Kipnis then rated as the 15th-best prospect in baseball in midseason, with Kevin saying this about him:

15. Jason Kipnis2B, Indians (Preseason: #28)
In 163 games at the upper levels, he's hit .304 with 72 walks, 21 home runs, and 18 stolen bases in 19 attempts. There is no weakness in his game.

His numbers lived up to his hype; he is a career .297/.377/.485 hitter in the minors and is coming off a .279/.361/.481 stint in Triple-A Columbus. So why is he on this list right now? Since being brought up on July 22, he has only made one start for the Indians, despite Orlando Cabrera being an old, run-down version of Orlando Cabrera. Right now, it seems Kipnis will share time with Cabrera, with the left-handed prospect getting much of the big half of a platoon. AL-only owners should be all over Kipnis if he is still available.

NL-only VP
Chase d'Arnaud, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 2%)
D'Arnaud is on his last gasps as a major-league option right now. The Pirates cannot afford to continue to carry his currently weak bat, but they are not ready to promote Pedro Alvarez to replace him at third base. It is not as if he hit all that badly last week; he hit .278/.263/.333 with a steal. Unfortunately, the Pirates’ offense just is not good enough to capitalize on even a pedestrian performance at the top of the lineup; d'Arnaud scored just one run during that time period. He should get the starts while he is still in the majors, but expect a demotion within the week and a prompt drop from NL-only VP status.  

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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