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February 29, 2012

Preseason Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 2/29/12

by Michael Jong

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The purpose of Preseason Value Picks is to focus on names that may be lacking in interest early in the draft season. Even if the names involved here are providing only slight edges in dollar value compared to market value, these small incremental edges could be the difference between a championship and second place. Even in draft season, getting an edge using PECOTA and Value Picks can contribute to the bottom line. Here are some names of interest in the up-the-middle categories.

Ian Desmond | SS | Washington Nationals
Mixed: $13 | NL-only: $20 | PECOTA SS Rank: 10 | SS ADP: 17

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

650

.266

12

23

70

72

There is a lot to dislike about Ian Desmond's game. His struggles to discern the difference between pitches in and out of the zone has led to a strikeout-to-walk ratio that was sixth-worst in baseball. As a result, he does not get on base enough to take full advantage of his speed. He does not hit for a lot of power. He does not play great defense.

Only some of those things matter in fantasy baseball, though, and there are plenty of things to like about Desmond. He was more aggressive on the basepaths last season, taking off on 14 percent of his times on base, and with that approach he was still able to swipe 25 bags last year. He maintained an exact replica of his 2010 BABIP of .317 in 2011, and this helped to downplay some of the problems with his strikeouts and batting average. Desmond was also more discerning at the plate last season compared to 2010:

Desmond, Season

Swing%

O-Swing%

Contact%

O-Contact%

2011

45

29

82

64

2010

49

32

78

59

While he improved in both contact and swing rates for pitches outside the zone, he found himself in a higher number of two-strike counts in 2011, up from 44 percent of his plate appearances in 2010 to 49 percent this year. This may explain why he struck out more in 2011 despite improving in contact and discipline. So what does PECOTA think?  PECOTA projects Desmond’s strikeouts to drop down to 19.3 percent this year, which is closer to his 2010 rate, and his walks should stay around 5.3 percent, closer to the 2011 rate.

If we do see some improvement in his discipline at the plate, it may lead to a few more times on base, and that is where PECOTA sees an advantage for Desmond. If he is able to maintain at least a .300 OBP, he should be a lock for 20 stolen bases and possibly more if manager Davey Johnson unleashes him a bit more frequently. The other category of interest should be the run totals, as PECOTA is projecting a bump of seven runs from last season. An OBP above .300 would certainly help in this regard, but so would the return of good hitters such as Adam LaRoche (projected .268 TAv, up from .208 in 2011), Jayson Werth (.288, .259), and Ryan Zimmerman (.293, .278) to the lineup. If these three hitters, all expected to be within the first five slots of the lineup, return to decent form in 2012, Desmond as the team's leadoff man could benefit in a legitimate way in terms of scoring. Expecting him to drive in 70 runs may be out of reach for a leadoff man, but Desmond's stock should be a little higher than it was in 2011 with the return of a stronger Nationals offense and some improvement in his play. He may be closer to the $10 range in mixed leagues than he was last year.

Jonathan Lucroy | C | Milwaukee Brewers
Mixed: $5 | NL-only: $11 | PECOTA C Rank: 17 | C ADP: 21

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

514

.258

11

3

52

57

The best thing about a player like Jonathan Lucroy is his pedigree; he was a career .298/.379/.459 hitter in the minor leagues and is a former third round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are committed to him as a full-time player for them this season, and last year he slipped past a lot of fantasy owners due to his injury recovery at the start of the season. As a result, owners missed out on a double-digit home run campaign that was worth $7 in medium-depth mixed leagues.

Of course, $7 is no great shakes, and Lucroy's $5 projected value in 2012 isn’t either, but owners are currently drafting him alongside lesser names like Miguel Olivo and Carlos Ruiz or part-timers like Ramon Hernandez in mixed leagues. Lucroy's batting average is not built on an absurdly high BABIP, and his ability to suppress strikeouts is at least decent, as evidenced by his career strikeout rate of 14 percent in the minors and 19 percent in the majors. As seen in his PECOTA projection, a repeat performance of 2011 is not out of reach with a little luck, and at 26 years old, there may still be a small amount of development left in terms of power. He is not a first catcher in mixed leagues, but he is a solid second catcher and a decent backstop in NL-only leagues. He appears to be slightly undervalued among catchers in this year's draft class.

Yunel Escobar | SS | Toronto Blue Jays
Mixed: $9 | AL-only: $13 | PECOTA SS Rank: 12 | SS ADP: 16

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

641

.286

11

7

66

79

It is difficult to imagine Escobar as a “Value Pick,” since fantasy owners generally know what to expect of him. Last season, he quietly had a bounce back year, batting .290/.369/.413 with a career-best .288 TAv, and yet in terms of fantasy value, he still put up a typical 11 home run season with a little speed on his way to a $5 campaign.

So why is he valued so highly by PECOTA this season? His counting numbers are projected to tell a different story than they have in the past, his RBIs in particular. Batting at the top of a good lineup in the Toronto, he is expected to drive in a few more runs than the 48 he knocked home last season. This season, the Jays may be populating the bottom of the order with some improved players; Brett Lawrie could be batting as low as seventh, while one of any number of potential outfielders such as Eric Thames or Travis Snider could bat eighth ahead of J.P. Arencibia. Compare that to the likes of Rajai Davis (.273 OBP in 2011), John McDonald (.274), and Jayson Nix (.245), and you can see why even the slightest regression for some of their lower lineup hitters can lead to more baserunners in front of Escobar. It certainly was not his fault that he did not drive in runs last year, as he continued to bring home 14 percent of runners on base when he was at the plate, equivalent to his career average.

With an increase in RBI and the same treatment in terms of run-scoring at the top, Escobar should be in line for a very nice fantasy season. He is not on the level of top-notch, multiple-category contributors like Derek Jeter or Asdrubal Cabrera at this point, but he should be closer to those names than to the likes of Cliff Pennington and Marco Scutaro.

Johnny Giavotella | 2B | Kansas City Royals
Mixed: $1 | AL-only: $9 | PECOTA 2B Rank: 21 | 2B ADP: 23

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

578

.271

5

11

56

64

Giavotella struggled in his first taste of the big leagues in 2011, but a solid minor league track record remains strong proof that he should at least provide a decent batting average for fantasy owners in 2012. He is a career .305/.375/.437 hitter in the minors who displayed strong control of the strike zone at each level, as evidenced by his minor league strikeout rate of 12 percent and walk rate of 10 percent. We’d expect those tools to translate into enough zone-controlling skill to muster a solid batting average in 2012, and sure enough, PECOTA projects a modest .307 BABIP and 14 percent strikeout rate combining to create a decent .271 batting average.

The rest of his contributions to fantasy baseball are admittedly light, hence the dollar value in mixed leagues, but he could be a solid source of runs if the Royals commit him to the number-two spot in the order. Among AL-only second basemen, he ranks behind the likes of Dustin Ackley and ahead of less interesting “proven” commodities like Alexi Casilla and Gordon Beckham. While Giavotella may never hit double-digit home runs, he will get every chance to play second base for a Kansas City Royals team that is undergoing a youth movement. His upside may be minimal, but it is at least present compared to those other options.

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:  Johnny Giavotella,  Year Of The Injury,  Names

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