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April 13, 2012

Value Picks

Outfielders for 4/13/12

by Rob McQuown

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Back from a writing hiatus, your source for obscure outfielder observations returns with the baseball regular season, and a return to the usual format for Value Picks, as described by Michael Street Tuesday.  Before we get started, however, since I received so much mail (thanks, Mom) asking about my draft in the Fantasy Pros 911 Expert League on Wednesday, here's the squad.  Wish me luck; first place prize is a cruise:

Team McQuown
C Curtis Thigpen $10
C J.P. Arencibia $12
1B Carlos Pena $14
2B Jemile Weeks $17
3B Evan Longoria $38
SS Eduardo Nunez $8
2B/SS Alcides Escobar $10
1B/3B Alberto Callaspo $1
OF Coco Crisp $15
OF Dayan Viciedo $7
OF Colby Rasmus $13
OF Delmon Young $20
OF Eric Thames $12
UTIL Jarrod Saltalamacchia $9
P Colby Lewis $15
P Ervin Santana $11
P Michael Pineda $7
P Clay Buchholz $9
P Phil Hughes $6
P Francisco Liriano $9
P Joel Peralta $4
P Jason Vargas $8
P Josh Tomlin $5

I couldn't resist pasting the draft as-is to make sure people were reading...  “Curtis Thigpen” is really “Jesus Montero”, who is eligible only at UTIL until he catches 10 games.  I picked up Kevin Gregg and Brian Fuentes with my first two reserve picks but am still probably toast in the saves category. Batting average is also going to be hard to come by with this crew, but I feel pretty good about the other eight categories despite not having a real top-of-the-rotation starter.  Having blown my first two reserve picks on much-needed reliever, I—like you—will be reading the Value Picks columns carefully to find some depth in position players.  Comments are welcome, and yes, I know $20 is ridiculous for Delmon Young; it was late in the draft, I had money left over, and I thought the second-best option was a clear downgrade.

Derek Carty thought Jordan Schafer  (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 1%, CBS 27%)  was good enough to give him a star on the NL Outfielder Tiers Rating List and yours truly wrote, “it's too early to count him out” in the Baseball Prospectus 2012 annual.  Fantasy owners have to be a bit more reactionary to current performance than PECOTA is, but while a recent 3-for-5 game with three steals isn't why Schafer is here, it doesn't hurt.  The exciting thing about Schafer is that he finally looks 100 percent healthy after years of injury woes.  And while the Grady Sizemore comparisons of 2008 aren't going to prove realistic, he does have the same 40-steal potential, as suggested by his 22 steals in 338 plate appearances in 2011 (with just a .309 on-base percentage). 

The Depth Charts currently suggest only 65 percent playing time for Schafer this season, but he's easily the team's best defender in center field, and it's going to take a prolonged slump to get him out of the lineup.  While there's little other than renewed help to assume he's going to start hitting, his predecessor in Houston's center field role, Michael Bourn, was only a career .263/.331/.348 hitter entering the 2011 season. Considering Bourn had an ADP of 51 in mock drafts before the season, the chance to get a “lite” version has to be considered tempting for a team in need of speed.

Dayan Viciedo (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 1%, CBS 43%) is:

Etcetera, etcetera. How Yonder Alonso, as an example, has double the ownership rate (in Yahoo! leagues) is beyond comprehension. He's almost so good that even if your team can't use a power-hitting outfielder, it is worth considering stashing him on the bench to keep him away from other owners.

An aside: I was going to suggest that I must sound like a “broken record” about Viciedo, but I realize that dates me. So anyone who can help me get up to date and can suggest a 21st-century replacement for this saying (something unavoidably repetitive and annoying/broken—like the use of  the term “regress” in baseball articles) will get, um, my gratitude and a mention when I first use the phrase in an article. Thanks.

Sometimes, strange maneuvers by teams end up creating playing time for players in unexpected ways.  Take David Murphy (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 1%, CBS 43%), for example.  He has been the ideal fourth outfielder for years now, hitting well enough to start in a corner for most teams and almost fielding center field well enough to warrant playing there full-time. But the Rangers have always had a fleet of fleet-footed center fielders who they wanted to have patrolling the middle of the outfield. With the sketchy offensive contributions of such guys as Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry and the frequent shelf time required for the thumpers in the corners—Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton—Murphy was assured of a lot of playing time no matter what. Now that the team wants Hamilton patrolling center (and he’s on board with it), left field opens up for Murphy. He’ll be a plus both offensively and defensively in left and will get more playing time than ever as a result.

With a career batting line of .282/.340/.451 and an offensive environment which should be among the highest-scoring in baseball this year, there's really not much reason to avoid Murphy.  He has never hit lefties very well in his career, and more exposure to them could drop his batting average a bit, but the extra runs and RBI should more than make up for it.  As long as he's in line to start (almost) every day, he's worth having in almost any format.

In honor of colleague-in-fantasy Michael Street, this week's deep league picks will have a distinct Japanese flair…

AL-only VP
No, we're not lifting the needle off the L.P. which is playing “Dayan Viciedo” over and over, but if we’re being honest, Viciedo really isn't good on defense. Alejandro DeAza may be the flavor of the day, but he still has the pedigree of a fourth or fifth outfielder.  Toss in Alex Rios' baseball amnesia (he's “forgotten” his way to a .225/.266/.349 batting line since 2010 ended), and there's fertile soil in Chicago for someone with baseball skills to earn some playing time.  While Kosuke Fukudome (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) wasn't worth the contract the Cubs gave him, he does have useful baseball skills.  Unfortunately for fantasy managers, not many of them help in the categories traditional leagues use, but if he plays, the runs and RBI will add enough value to make him worth the roster spot.  He's a career .260/.361/.399 hitter with 42 home runs and 29 steals in 2230 plate appearances.  Oh, and he's been fantastic in April over the course of his career, for people who like such split statistics (not that we’re advocating them).

NL-only VP
Norichika Aoki (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) can't exactly be called a younger version of Kosuke Fukudome since he didn't show nearly the power in Japan that Fukudome did, but he was a perennial batting title contender and won the award multiple times.  He was the fastest player in the history of Japanese baseball to reach 500 hits (in terms of games played)—a pretty astonishing feat when you consider how Ichiro has done stateside.  But, like Fukudome, Aoki's skills don't seem likely to translate into robust fantasy values.  He may add some batting average, but it won’t be a lot, and unless playing time opens up for him somehow, he's not going to rack up enough at-bats to be worth much as a result of pure quantity either.  Still, he's on a strong offensive team, in a relative hitter's park, and has enough skill that if things break right, he could suddenly be in the wide-open NL Rookie of the Year discussion.  That's a (very) long shot, but if Gamel starts struggling and the Brewers try Corey Hart at first base or someone gets hurt, keep Aoki in mind.

As a bonus, don't sleep on Kirk Nieuwenhuis (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%), who should be more than adequate as the large part of the center field platoon while Andres Torres is out. Additionally, he has the basic skills to win the fourth outfielder job away from Scott Hairston with a good showing.  Kevin Goldstein ranked him #11 on the Mets Top-11 List, and while he's no star, he doesn't have to be in order to have value in an NL-only league.

Rob McQuown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rob's other articles. You can contact Rob by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy Tiers,  The Who,  Dayan Viciedo,  Michael Bourn

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