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August 8, 2011

Resident Fantasy Genius

Players to Think About

by Derek Carty

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J.P. Arencibia | TOR | C (Yahoo! 54%, ESPN 65%, CBS 79%)
Pop quiz: Who leads the majors in home runs among catchers? J.P. Arencibia? Wrong! It’s a tie between Brian McCann and Mike Napoli. You thought it’d be Arencibia since his name is in the heading, didn’t you? Oh, all right, fine. You guessed correctly. Arencibia is tied with McCann and Napoli with 18 home runs this season. He has done so quietly, though; his ownership numbers are low for a catcher with 18 homers.

The big detractors from Arencibia’s value are his .216 average and 29 percent strikeout rate. Many fantasy owners still look to batting average first, and some don’t feel they can, in good faith, roster a player who’s hitting near .200. But PECOTA projects a .245 average the rest of the way, and it’s the extremely rare catcher who can flash both power and average. Even some backstops without power aren’t capable of hitting .245. Every catcher is going to have a weakness, and fantasy owners should be happy to take on a poor batting average to get such excellent power production from a spot as weak as catcher.

Arencibia bats eighth in a stacked Jays lineup, and the power looks to be legit. If you’re in search of some power down the stretch, catcher is an easy spot to make up ground since most backstops are good for a handful of dingers at most.

Zach Stewart | CHW | SP (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 4%)
Pitching can be very hard to come by this time of year, especially in deep leagues and AL-only formats. Yet Stewart is one name that is available on most all waiver wires, and he could be a promising addition in these sorts of leagues if the White Sox do go back to a six-man rotation, as they’re saying they might.

Scouts debate what Stewart profiles to be. ESPN’s Keith Law thinks he could be a third or fourth starter, but BP’s Kevin Goldstein feels that a “No. 4 or 8th inning guy is more realistic.” I’m closer to Kevin here, but I think Stewart is close enough to reaching his potential to make for a decent addition now.

Stewart has thrown his fastball 91 mph through his four major-league starts this year, showing some sink that will lead to an above-average ground-ball rate. It’s not the kind of fastball that will overpower hitters, but Stewart has a plus slider that will help him manage a league-average strikeout rate, especially once he refines his other secondary pitches. He has a changeup and a curve, but he’s used them very infrequently in the majors thus far.

The big thing for Stewart will be his control. It’s been pretty good in the majors (2.4 BB/9) and at Double-A this year (2.6 BB/9), but Stewart has struggled with control in the past, posting a 3.6 BB/9 at Triple-A in 2010 and a 4.9 BB/9 in limited time at Triple-A in 2009. In terms of ERA, this likely puts Stewart in the mid- to high-4.00s. That’s not special, but it’s usable in AL-only where pickings are slim.

Wily Mo Pena | SEA | DH (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%)
I’ve discussed Pena and his prolific power before, but I thought that he would be worth revisiting. The reason why lies in the position tag above: DH. Pena is now in the American League, and while he’s in the minors, we might see him in Seattle later this month. The problem now is an overcrowded outfield/DH situation—crazy for a team like the Mariners, I know. Ichiro Suzuki is entrenched in right field, and controversial trade deadline import Trayvon Robinson will be given near regular playing on the other side. Franklin Gutierrez currently mans center, but it doesn’t make sense for a flailing team to keep playing a flailing veteran every day. That still leaves the talented Casper Wells (another trade deadline import) looking for playing time and Mike Carp DHing most days. If I had my druthers, I’d love to see Casper take over for F-Gut and Pena take over for Carp, though the latter seems less likely. I’m not a big believer in Carp, and if he struggles, we could see The Incredible Hulk Pena recalled in September.

Dan Uggla | ATL | 2B (Yahoo! 95%, ESPN 100%, CBS 99%)
Don’t look now, but Uggla is surging. He’s hit .325 with 12 homers and a 24.4 percent strikeout rate since the beginning of July, and .415 with 6 homers and a 21.4 percent strikeout rate since July 27. Those are the kind of numbers that make you say, “What early-season slump?” Uggla was hitting under .200 through June, leading many to write his 2011 season off as a lost cause. His strikeout and power numbers are in line with what they should be, and his BABIP has come alive. Uggla isn’t popping up much so far this month like he was earlier in the season, so perhaps he has righted himself.

Jon Niese | NYM | SP (Yahoo! 37%, ESPN 25%, CBS 72%)
Niese is a guy I wanted to call attention to due to his excellent performance of late. While his numbers look to be similar to what he was doing last year—a few more strikeouts here, a couple fewer walks there, a bit more contact coming on the ground—he’s been steadily improving each month and has posted a 9.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 55 percent ground-ball rate over his past eight starts. Those are downright ace-like numbers. I don’t believe that Niese is a true ace, and regression is likely, but he does have four above-average pitches and an arsenal built to generate some grounders. Niese is owned in far too few leagues given his stuff and his numbers, and he’s worth rostering to see if he can be an above-average starter.  

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