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May 22, 2012
First, Third, and DH for 5/22/12
Though fantasy owners always try to anticipate the next big call-up, those decisions often have more to do with immediate roster needs than long-term concerns. As a wise man once said about life, promotion decisions are what happens when a team’s busy making other plans.
So it was this week with Matt Adams, who started 2012 at Triple-A. While it was his first stint at Triple-A, Lance Berkman’s knee injury made his call-up a necessity, leaving informed fantasy owners scrambling to pick up the hot young prospect. If you had the roster space and the foresight to pick him up before now, congrats; otherwise, don’t beat yourself up for being unable to predict the future and grab Adams if you still can.
Clint Hurdle has been playing Casey McGehee over Garrett Jones (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 11%) at first base, even against righties. This is a bit surprising since McGehee is hitting only .198/.288/.264 with just two hits in his last 36 plate appearances, while Jones has a .231/.253/.429 line on the year. Whether Jones is hiding an injury or Hurdle is showcasing McGehee for a trade, there’s no room on the VP list for a player who’s not playing, so Jones leaves the list until that changes.
Last year, Loney hit .268/.311/.342 in the first half before catching fire in August and September, hitting twice as many dingers as he had before the All-Star Break for a .320/.380/.534 second half. At the start of May, Jason Collette showed how this late-season surge hadn’t yet translated to first-half excellence for Loney thanks to a lack of contact against strikes. Loney’s approach hasn’t changed much since that article, though he’s seeing a few more first-pitch strikes.
What has changed is what Loney’s done with the pitches he’s seen: his BABIP this month is .354, compared to .254 last month. That puts his BABIP at .299 for the season, which is still below his .310 career average, but his triple-slash sits at .288/.354/.373 for the month. This increase in production has happened largely at home, where he’s hitting .329/.410/.411 (versus .164/.220/.309 on the road), running contrary to the 100-point OPS boost he usually gets from leaving Chavez Ravine.
This all suggests some softening could be ahead for Loney, but his overall .250/.326/.363 (.245 TAv) lies between his 10th and 20th PECOTA percentiles, so the general trend should be upward. Playing to his 50th percentile would give Loney a .278 average and .337 OBP—very close to the league average rates of .271 and .345 for first basemen. Performing at a league average level is about all you can ask from a pickup at this point in the season. Loney will sit against tough southpaws, but owners in deeper leagues can find value in his consistency, even if it’s consistently average production.
As the Cardinals waited for word on Lance Berkman’s knee, they pulled Matt Adams (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 16%) from the lineup in the fourth inning of Saturday’s Triple-A game, tipping their hand as to the severity of the injury. Now that Big Puma won’t be back for a while (if ever), St. Louis has brought Adams up to the majors to take his place. Adams was one of the reasons that St. Louis felt okay with letting Albert Pujols walk this winter. He has raked at every level, showing remarkable consistency along the way:
Increasing his ISO while maintaining a good plate approach is one of the reasons that the Cards are so excited about Adams. Though he performed well in spring training, a full major league roster sent him back to the minors for more seasoning. Injuries to Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Berkman leave plenty of room for Adams now, however; he’ll get most of the starts at first base.
As is always the case with younger players, PECOTA is more bearish than bullish on Adams, but his .262/.296/.438 weighted mean projection includes 18 home runs in 457 plate appearances. That already-good line rises to .304/.341/.509 with 23 jacks in his 90th percentile, which would be a Rookie of the Year performance. Whether he reaches that or not, Adams has the playing time and the skills to benefit fantasy owners in most leagues and is definitely worth grabbing. Like Will Middlebrooks, Adams has a high enough profile that he won’t be unnoticed for long; he’s a must-add in NL-only leagues, keeper leagues, and deeper mixed leagues in which you need first base help.
After he was hit by Charlie Furbush last Thursday, Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 5%, CBS 32%) broke the Indians’ career record set by Nap Lajoie, who was hit by 79 pitches while in a Cleveland uniform. Despite this, he hasn’t had a base hit in 10 plate appearances since, but that’s more likely small samples than a hidden injury. Either way, I’ll keep a close eye on Pronk to see if there are residual effects, but the first two-thirds of his overall .238 /.380/.421 line make him hard to bench.
John Mayberry, Jr. (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 3%, CBS 18%) has started 13 of the past 15 games for the Phillies, mostly at first base. Over that span, he’s hit .280/.327/.400, so it looks like he’s turning things around. Whenever Ryan Howard returns, Mayberry should push Juan Pierre out of left field, but if Mayberry remains hot, he won’t be a VP when that happens anyway.
So when Manny starts being Manny again, he should push Kila out of the starting lineup, leaving first base to Barton, who has earned his spot with superior defense and greater aggressiveness at the plate. Though Barton made his name with patience—he led the league with 110 walks in his breakthrough 2010 season and has a career 14.2 percent BB%—he’s been pushed to swing more often at the first pitch, leading to a .556 average on such pitches through last week’s games. This hot hitting, plus Ka’aihue’s hamstring injury, have given Barton the edge at first base.
Barton’s appeal is limited since his career .123 ISO doesn’t compensate for a career 16.4 percent K% that has risen each of the past three seasons to 22.7 percent in 110 plate appearances in 2012. His new, more aggressive approach may keep this rate high, which is why Barton remains an AL-only VP, but those in OBP leagues love his career .360 mark in that stat. If you need a first baseman, he looks like the Athletics’ option for the foreseeable future, and that playing time will pay dividends for you.
Travis Ishikawa (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 5%) has been clubbing the ball to the tune of a .306/.405/.583 triple-slash line since Gamel went down, but that’s well above his 90th PECOTA percentile, so don’t expect that level of performance to continue.
After a slow start to the season, Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) might be rounding into form. Kotch is hitting .276/.348/.397 in May with six walks and seven strikeouts in 66 plate appearances.
Former VP Matt Carpenter (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 4%, CBS 16%) has managed to stick around with the big league club due to all the Cards’ injuries, but Adams’ promotion will squeeze him for playing time even more.