May 1, 2012
First, Third, and DH for 5/1/12
A compulsive lineup tinkerer, I have a rule with my fantasy teams to mess with them as little as possible the first month of the season, except in the case of injury or outright demotion. It’s too easy to overreact to small sample sizes, hot and cold streaks, or that tweet suggesting the manager’s secret man-crush on an obscure player in Double-A.
Many other fantasy managers exercise similar restraint, but now that the first month of the season has passed, they’ll start making moves too. Batters are nearing 100 plate appearances, signaling that their secondary rates are beginning to stabilize, and pitchers can no longer claim that they’re still working out spring training kinks. We’re already seeing the effects on Value Picks rates, as two players are bumping up against their ownership ceilings and less talent is available on the waiver wires. Just around the corner is the long dry season before midseason prospect call-ups, so grab those values while you can!
As pobothecat and I talked about in last week’s comments, the Athletics have been sharing time between Daric Barton (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) and Kila Ka’aihue (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) at first base. Barton provides better defense and on-base skills—the only positive part of his .196 /.275/.348 line, which has been weak enough to give Kila six of the last 10 starts. Despite his increased playing time, Kila’s .289/.333/.333 line only looks good next to Barton’s. Until one of these guys seizes the reins and starts producing, I can’t really recommend either of them as a VP, though owners in the deepest of leagues can hang onto both to see what happens. In the meantime, you can find a better AL-only VP below, as well as some other options in Playing Pepper.
As the best raw Italian import since beef Carpaccio, Liddi spent parts of three seasons at Single-A Wisconsin trying to refine that plate approach. He managed a 24.9 percent strikeout and 8.0 percent walk rate in his time there but could only manage a .125 ISO. That changed at High-A High Desert (in the offense-friendly California League), and his power breakout remained when he advanced to higher-level, lower-octane leagues, even as he gave back some of his gains in patience and contact:
Those strikeout rates are sure to remain in the majors—he’s currently striking out at a 25.6 percent clip through a small-sample 39 plate appearances—but he’s also maintained a .189 ISO. Eric Wedge likes what he sees enough to keep giving Liddi the nod, and Liddi’s intriguing enough to become a Value Pick this week. His lack of stateside polish will make him more volatile than a comparable 23-year-old, but his upside and opportunity are solid enough for owners in need of the precious commodity of third-base power to take a shot on Liddi in deeper leagues.
In the realm of deep shots, Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 9%, CBS 35%) hit a 481-foot bomb on April 15 that remains this season’s longest by any player. He hasn’t hit a home run since, but that’s okay; he’s near the top of the AL with a .450 OBP, and his .295 average is reminiscent of his 2005-2006 form. That kind of statistical nostalgia won’t last (everything but his .459 SLG is above his 90th PECOTA percentile), but it does bode well for Pronk’s 2012 campaign. OBP leagues will obviously find value here, as will AL-only and deeper league owners; he’s currently pushing the ceiling of VP ownership rates.
Also at the edge of VP ownership rates, Chris Davis (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 10%, CBS 46%) crushed three home runs since Wednesday, one to each field—a great sign that he’s not becoming too pull-happy. That four-day .462/.533/1.231 burst drove his overall line to .313/.352/.582 on the year (it currently stands at .319/.373/.580), meaning it’s only a matter of time before your fellow owners wake up to a hot power hitter who should qualify at either infield corner. Get him now.
Matt Carpenter (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 8%, CBS 23%) celebrated his Value Picks addition with a four-game hit streak last week, collecting three doubles and three RBI. Lance Berkman is eligible to return from the disabled list on May 4, and his return will spell the end of Carpenter’s fantasy value, so I hope you—and Carpenter—make the most of his opportunity.
Although Eldred’s promotion was tied to the release of Brandon Inge, the timing was fortunate, as Jim Leyland announced the next day that Eldred would be the Tigers’ regular DH “for a while.” This could give the powerful Eldred the shot he hasn’t gotten since 2005, when he hit .221/.279/.458 for the Pirates in 208 plate appearances while striking out at a Vornado-worthy 37 percent clip. In two other cups of coffee with the Pirates (47 plate appearances in 2007) and Rockies (27 in 2010), Eldred never improved that rate much, consigning him to the Quad-A bin of failed power prospects.
Eldred continued to mash in the minors, despite those diminishing major league opportunities, and he owns a minor league .268/.336/.547 triple-slash, thanks in part to a 26.7 percent K% and 7.2 percent BB%. He’s improved in both areas over the past four seasons, however, which is a promising sign:
His .231/.285/.440 PECOTA weighted-mean projects 22 long-balls over 456 plate appearances, but he could approach 30 jacks above his 90th percentile (although his batting average would still be only .269). With a clear path to playing time and a good—if limited—skill set, Eldred could even sneak into the realm of relevance in deep mixed leagues. For right now, he’s certainly worth an addition to your AL-only squad.
Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) has two hits in his last 36 plate appearances, while Matt LaPorta (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) has a great .389/.458/.722 line at Triple-A Columbus. Kotch’s .143 BABIP looks like an overcorrection from last season’s .335, but if he can’t find the handle soon, LaPorta might get one more chance to stick in the bigs.
A hit in eight of his last nine starts brought the seasonal batting line for Brent Morel (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 10%) from .103/.146/.128 to .178/.221/.205; he’s creeping up into AL-only viability.
With Chris Nelson (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) still scuffling at the dish (.224/.296/.286), Jim Tracy has started Jonathan Herrera (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) at third base in three of the past four games, keeping Colorado’s continuing carousel of third basemen spinning.