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August 1, 2011

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 8/1/11

by Michael Street

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In fantasy baseball as in life, timing is everything. Sometimes we make fantasy moves a bit too soon, and sometimes we make them a bit too late. This week, I’ll look at both kinds of mistakes, although if either player means everything to your fantasy team, you may be beyond the help of even our crack Value Picks staff.
 

Departures
Timing has been particularly awful for Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1.8%, CBS 28%). After hitting .352/.455/.620 at three levels in the minors last season, the team didn’t call him up in September because they didn’t have room on the 40-man roster. Then, Belt began 2011 with the big club, but an ill-timed cold streak made him the odd man out when Cody Ross returned from the disabled list. Belt came back up a few weeks later but promptly broke his wrist. Belt finally returned after a minor league rehab stint—just in time for the Carlos Beltran trade that sends him back to the bench again. Belt will get his chance in the majors, but it won’t be anytime soon, so he’s off the VP list and should be off your fantasy roster, too, at least in non-keeper leagues.

I’ll blame my own timing for adding Nolan Reimold (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) to the list days before Vladimir Guerrero returned from the disabled list. The fantasy impact to Reimold isn’t too terrible as he’ll still get time in the outfield, but he won’t DH very often, pushing him off the VP list but not off AL-only fantasy rosters.
 

Arrivals
Jesus Guzman (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 9.3%, CBS 5%) appeared in last week’s Playing Pepper and in a response to a question from BP reader harderj. I told harderj that Guzman would be a “fine bat if he can get some playing time,” which has now been provided by the demotion of Anthony Rizzo and trade of Ryan Ludwick. Guzman has been getting the bulk of the playing time at first because he’s hit so well and because Kyle Blanks (see Playing Pepper, below) has been struggling.

Guzman has shifted from shortstop to less demanding positions as he’s matured but has retained or improved his core skills. He drew attention as a 20-year-old in High-A, where he hit .310/.393/.443 with a 20.5 percent strikeout and an 11.1 percent walk rate. As he rose through the minors, a more aggressive approach eroded his walk rate to around seven-to-eight percent, while his improved contact is reflected in strikeout rates that dropped as low as 13.8 percent last season. At the same time, his power blossomed, taking his ISO from .133 to an average of .187 in three Triple-A seasons—not elite for his position but still very good. 

This combination of power and contact has led to excellent MLB results this season as Guzman has ripped up the league to the tune of a .325/.372/.600 line in 86 plate appearances with a 7.0 percent walk rate and a 15.1 percent strikeout rate. His .349 BABIP suggests some luck, but a 21 percent line drive rate shows that this may be residue of solid contact. PECOTA expects some slippage and doesn’t quite believe his power, giving him a .287/.334/.439 line in his 50th percentile, but the .275 TAv shows the solid offensive package that this creates. His power is already above his .324/.373/.494 90th percentile, so he’s going to give some of that .375 ISO back. Still, Guzman’s a great pickup for owners looking to stabilize batting average while providing a dash of much-needed power—a scarce commodity at this point in the season.

Timing was good for Chris Davis (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0.5%, CBS 14%), who will get another chance to prove himself after Texas traded him to Baltimore; he will immediately slide into a starting role after the departure of Derrek Lee to the Pirates. Davis has proven himself abundantly in the minors but has yet to do so in the majors, as you can see below:

 

BA/OBP/SLG

K%

BB%

BABIP

2008 AAA

.333/.402/.685

22.8

10.2

.365

2008 MLB

.285/.331/.549

27.8

6.3

.351

2009 AAA

.327/.418/.521

20.1

12.9

.393

2009 MLB

.238/.284/.442

35.8

5.7

.324

2010 AAA

.327/.383/.520

23.6

8.3

.407

2010 MLB

.192/.279/.571

29.4

11.0

.275

2011 AAA

.368/.405/.824

27.6

5.2

.412

2011 MLB

.250/.296/.408

29.6

6.2

.327

While his primary stats show improvement in the minors, his underlying ratios show he was swinging at more pitches while hitting fewer of them. His rising BABIP doesn’t suggest a leprechaun hidden in Davis’s locker; it shows how hard he hits the ball when he does make contact, explaining his improving primary stats.

In the majors, Davis has yet to make consistent contact, creating strikeout rates that will damage his batting average, even as he tries to find a more patient approach. Since neither of those has improved in the minors, PECOTA acknowledges the wide disparity of outcomes with a slightly subpar .271/.320/.464 line in Davis’ 50th percentile, though his .303/.354/.519 90th percentile (with a home run every 22.7 plate appearances) would make him valuable, indeed. The potential fantasy impact of the latter projection creates an excellent opportunity for power speculation despite the move to a less hitter-friendly atmosphere at Camden Yards. He’s worth an add in AL-only leagues and for owners trying to make a move in mixed leagues.  
 

Sticking Around
Lonnie Chisenhall (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1.4%, CBS 23%) began the week with two games in which he picked up one hit in seven plate appearances while striking out five times, then walked four times while going hitless in seven plate appearances in his next two games. The lopsided .111/.385/.111 line over that span is discouraging, except to those in OBP leagues, just like his .216/.310/.351 line since the All-Star break. There aren’t a lot of other third base options out there, so I’m sticking with the sweet-swinging rook, as should you.

Jim Thome (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 9%, CBS 7%) went into Sunday’s game with a six-game hit streak, during which he’s maintained a .429/.455/.619 line. None of those nine hits were home runs—that strong SLG comes from four doubles—but he did manage one on Sunday night, and more will come in time.

I expressed some concern last week over the relative weak line put up by Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 8.4%, CBS 29%) since the break, and he rebounded for a .304/.304/.348 week. A weak week in power is what we expect from Kotch, but he continues to surprise in the batting average department. He could slide further, but his .299/.358/.414 line over the past month is enough to make him fungible for owners needing batting average in deeper mixed leagues.

Brandon Allen (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 12%) picked up his first hit that stayed in the yard on Saturday night, also walking twice for the second straight game. His power and patience made him a target for Oakland, who traded for him just before the deadline. He should start there over Conor Jackson, though his power may not play well in Oakland’s more spacious park. I’ll keep him on the list for now, but sapping Allen’s main strength isn’t the way to bring value.
 

AL-only VP
Seattle designated Jack Cust for assignment, allowing Mike Carp (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 2.7%, CBS 5%) to be their primary designated hitter. Carp’s 2011 line of .284/.361/.446 is supported by a .396 BABIP and a 28.9 percent strikeout rate, so regression is likely. His 90th percentile peak, according to PECOTA, is a relatively limp .280/.357/.466. The combination of these factors make him an AL-only value because of his increased playing time, but it’s a gamble to hope for a few more homers at the expense of batting average.
 

NL-only VP
Juan Rivera (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0.7%, CBS 6%) continues to steal starts from James Loney, appearing at first base twice this week while also picking up two starts in left field. His .267/.250/.467 line over that time makes him a better play at the latter position in mixed leagues or as a CI in AL/NL-only leagues.
 

Playing Pepper
My timing was poor with former VP Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 35.7%, CBS 23%), who hit so well last week (.478/.556/.739) and over the last month (.380/.463/.592) that he blew the ceiling right off the VP ownership thresholds, which explains his absence from this week’s list. Grab him if you still can and ride him as he recovers from an ice-cold start to the year.

Along with other writers, I expect Kyle Blanks (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 9%) to produce at some point, but he may not get much playing time until he improves on his .095/.208/.095 line unless the Padres decide to play him in Ryan Ludwick’s vacated spot.

Paul Goldschmidt (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) is Arizona’s starting first baseman of the present and future as a result of the Allen trade.

Related Content:  Jesus Guzman,  Mlb The Show,  Espn

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