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April 13, 2012

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 4/13/12

by Michael Jong

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The first week of Value Picks is all about staying your ground with regards to a lot of players. Even guys in the Value Picks range struggle compared to their expectations in the first week of the season, so it is difficult to judge them based on a sample of just 10 plate appearances. For those rooting around the waiver wires early on for treasures, do not expect the guy who is tearing it up to suddenly be available. A lot of the dumpster-diving goodies available right now are the guys who were among the players reviewed in this offseason's Preseason Value Picks.

Arrivals
Josh Thole (ESPN 2%, Yahoo! 4%, CBS 10%) is not the type of hitter who will suddenly win you a league, but he is someone who can provide solid playing time as the only major-league caliber catcher on the New York Mets. When we last discussed him, we basically defined him as a playing time stopgap that would provide a decent batting average and some counting stats from your second catcher position. As mentioned before, players like A.J. Pierzynski have been making a fantasy living as second catchers by doing this, and the start of the season has only magnified the sort of performance Thole can flash. Obviously, he is not likely to hit .429/.529/.571 going forward, but Thole's playing time status and his ability to avoid strikeouts makes him a safe bet in three categories, which is more or less what you should expect from your second catcher.

We discussed Mark Ellis (ESPN 2%, Yahoo! 2%, CBS 7%) in our last outing, stating that he is a useful piece who is going to get something similar to full-time play at second base. He excels in no categories, though PECOTA projected him to have 10 home runs and 12 steals in 2012. His batting average fell precipitously in 2011, but that followed a fortuitous BABIP mark in 2010 that was equally unrepeatable. He still strikes out at a small rate (career 13.5 percent) and thus should provide a league-average batting average, even if it is low for the typical fantasy second baseman.

As always, the importance of playing time will be key, and it seems for now that Ellis has the second base job in hand. He started in four of five games for the Dodgers so far, so they must want him in that position for the time being. For a middle infield spot, you could do worse, though you should keep in mind that there is little upside with Ellis.

Willie Bloomquist (ESPN 2%, Yahoo! 4%, CBS 6%) is not a good player. This is Baseball Prospectus, so we know this to be generally true. Last season, however, Bloomquist hit a respectable .267 and stole 20 bases in 381 plate appearances. In 2009, the season in which he logged the most plate appearances of his career, he hit .265 and stole 25 bases. In other words, if Willie Ballgame gets enough playing time, he basically plays very similarly to hitters like Alcides Escobar (career .251 hitter with 19 steals per 600 PA). Escobar is owned in 10 percent of ESPN leagues and 43 percent of CBS leagues, and right now Bloomquist seems to be the only player the Diamondbacks will go to at shortstop while Stephen Drew continues to heal up from last season's ankle injury. With Drew likely out through at least April and possibly May, Bloomquist should spend lots of time at shortstop around a decent offense in Arizona (tied for seventh in projected TAv in the National League according to PECOTA). He may not hit anything in the way of home runs, but being surrounded by sluggers should help score enough runs to make the stolen bases and passable average worth playing in deep mixed leagues.

Cliff Pennington (ESPN 2%, Yahoo! 7%, CBS 24%) was discussed in an offseason edition of The Keeper Reaper, and he was described as a shortstop with good potential for 20-plus steals and a .265 batting average. PECOTA has him projected for just a .253 average, but the 25 projected steals will certainly help provide some value for deeper mixed leagues and AL-only affairs. None of that has really changed over the offseason.

Right now, owners are dropping him because of a slow first week in which he hit .158/.200/.211. He still managed to steal a bag, which is a positive note, but was otherwise useless. Of course, this is coming off a strong spring training, so these two small samples may cancel each other out (if you’re one to pay attention to them at all).  Instead, focus on Pennington's career body of work and expect him to hit somewhere close to his career .258/.322/.368 line while stealing plenty of bases.

AL-only VP
Robert Andino (ESPN 5%, Yahoo! 11%, CBS 10%) showed last season that he was an acceptable player to plug into the lineup due to injury, and given the fact that his role is as the primary backup to Brian Roberts, said injury comes fairly often. This season, he is again starting off as the Orioles' everyday second baseman, and as evidenced by his ownership rate, his stock is actually decent already, enough so that he may not quite warrant the “AL-only VP” designation in terms of ownership. In terms of the caliber of player he is, however, Andino qualifies. He is a player with a decent batting average (career .247) who has a little speed (19 stolen bases in 974 career PA) but no skills really worth writing home about. Last year's .263 average came off of a reasonable .318 BABIP, and while his current .318 batting average is inflated by a monstrous .500 average on balls in play, his strikeouts this year (34.8 percent) are also likely to dip and even out as he sees more at-bats. Basically, expecting more of last season's Andino is fine for this year, and last season's Andino was not a bad waiver wire pickup in deep mixed and AL-only leagues. With Roberts having no timetable to return to the Orioles, Andino's spot in the lineup is secure.

NL-only VP
Any time that the player receiving the majority of the playing time at a position is being ignored, single-league owners should take note. This is especially true when said player calls Great American Ball Park home. Of course, when they are catching for Dusty Baker and his Cincinnati Reds, things become a little more complicated. For a long time, Ryan Hanigan (ESPN 0%, Yahoo! 2%, CBS 4%) served as the backup catcher in Baker's odd  playing time split, but with incumbent Ramon Hernandez moving on to Colorado, Hanigan becomes the first man on the depth chart in front of tantalizing prospect Devin Mesoraco. While Mesoraco's bat promises to be something big in the future, we know a good deal about what Hanigan is right now. He is a career .273/.370/.365 hitter who, like Thole, can provide a solid batting average and plenty of counting stats as a second catcher. Once again, this is not necessarily a great package, but since he is the primary catcher (he has made four of the team's six starts through Wednesday), he deserves attention in catcher-starved NL-only leagues. Hanigan's home runs have increased to an 8.6 percent HR/FB rate, which is acceptable for an offense-starved position. He will never get enough playing time or hit enough homers to warrant mixed-league play, but while he remains the top playing time getter, NL-only owners could do much worse.

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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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Can Dee ... (04/13)
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