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June 26, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 6/26/12

by Michael Street

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I griped last week about tough times on the waiver wire, but a few recent roster moves have led to an increase in available talent. Top prospect Anthony Rizzo should be promoted any day now, while the fate of a few other players—highlighted in Playing Pepper—hangs in the balance. The coming weeks should bring some more clarity to those situations, while I remain patient with other members of the current VP list.

Departures
Recommending James Loney (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 6%, CBS 25%) each week has felt like recommending vanilla at Ben and Jerry’s—it’s better than vanillas made by other companies, but it can’t really compare to more exciting flavors like Karamel Sutra or Chubby Hubby. Loney has only hit .222/.279/.254 over the past four weeks and .255/.309/.294 in June. Both are due to low BABIPs (.241 and .277, respectively), and he’s valuable in NL-only leagues for his playing time, although his ownership levels indicate he’s unlikely to be available in those leagues. With tastier, higher-ceiling options to sample in Playing Pepper, I’m cutting Loney loose.

An 11-game hit streak that includes four home runs has a way of opening owners’ eyes, and that’s certainly happened with Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 26%, ESPN 31%, CBS 55%). Given confidence by the demotion of Brett Pill, Belt has also gotten more playing time from Aubrey Huff hitting the disabled list, joining the infamous list of celebration-related injuries. This should be the time for Belt to shine, and he’s raised his batting average 42 points and his slugging 116 points since June 10. Keeper owners in particular should be happy they stuck with Belt; everyone else can also enjoy the ride.

I gave David Cooper (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 5%) a little time to turn things around, but his weak hitting at the plate has led to a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. He’s someone to watch for the future, but the Jays have some corner infield roster decisions to make before that happens.

Arrivals
Bryan LaHair started playing in right field last week, ramping up the rumor mill about the long-expected promotion of Anthony Rizzo (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 9%, CBS 52%). By the time you read this, Rizzo could be in the majors and in the starting lineup, giving Cubbies fans yet another reason to raise their hopes. Since the team is wallowing in the basement of the NL Central, now is the time to try out prospects—or, as in Rizzo’s case, to give them another shot to prove themselves.

Rizzo has been a Value Pick before, after the Padres called him up last season, but he underwhelmed, hitting .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances. That separation between his batting average and OBP shows his 13.7 percent BB%, but his strikeout rate crested at thirty percent. He mashed curveballs but struggled against everything else—in particular, fastballs—and his 2011 performance can’t be blamed on the usual suspects of Petco or same-side pitching:

vs. LHP

vs. RHP

Home

Away

.172/.273/.345

.131/.283/.212

.173/.328/.365

.118/.247/.158

 

 

Despite hitting better against his fellow southpaws, Rizzo was quickly protected against them, almost immediately sliding into a platoon with starter Jesus Guzman. Returned hastily to Triple-A after a little over a month, he was called up again in September but still got the platoon treatment and never started against a lefty.

Whiff problems were clearly at the heart of Rizzo’s struggles, and his 14.3 percent swinging-strike rate last season was sixteenth-worst in the majors among all batters with more than 150 plate appearances. His 78 percent contact rate on strikes placed him twelfth-worst among the same hitters. Pitchers recognized this and, despite that gaudy walk rate, only threw 40 percent of pitches in the zone to Rizzo.

He’s worked on those tendencies in the minors, posting his best strikeout rate (18.3 percent) since his 24 plate appearances in rookie ball in 2007. That has come at a price, however: he also posted his lowest walk rate (7.9 percent) since Single-A in 2008. Despite this, his triple-slash line of .349/.410/.710 this year shows career highs in OBP and SLG, while that batting average is only topped by the .373 he posted in 87 plate appearances in 2008.

This all suggests good development, and the Cubs seem committed to giving him a real shot this time around. Wrigley in the summer is obviously a much friendlier environment than PETCO in virtually any season, and only time will tell if his reverse platoon splits will continue or smooth out. Kevin Goldstein ranked him sixth among Padres prospects before the trade that sent him to Chicago—though he was still a four-star prospect—and 75th overall after the trade. Rizzo is an excellent pickup for upside and opportunity and could deliver both average and power to fantasy owners hungry for both at this point in the season. Get him while you can, though he’s surely off the table in most keeper leagues.

Incumbents
Ownership numbers for Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 3%, CBS 18%) slipped a bit due to a power outage. He’s hit in 10 of his last 12 games but is only .290/.329/.348 in June, showing both his strong batting average and his weak power (only three of his last 20 hits have been for extra bases, and none of them have cleared the wall). He’s not expected to deliver power, however, so hang onto him for that batting average and don’t panic.

Todd Helton (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 13%, CBS 38%) has been sitting lately, yielding starts to both Tyler Colvin and Michael Cuddyer for no apparent reason. Helton seems healthy and has been productive, hitting .240/.406/.520 over his last eight games. Fortunately for Helton, this decrease in playing time has come with the team on the road, and the Rockies come back home this week, where Helton’s career OPS is nearly 200 points higher. If he continues to sit so much at home, I’ll reconsider, but for now, keep your friends close and keep the Toddfather closer.

I’m remaining patient with Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 9%, CBS 41%) too. His OPS has slipped seventy points this month, but his BABIP is also .224 and his strikeout rate remains steady at 17.9 percent (17.7 percent before June). About the only negative trend is his patience, as he’s walked only three times in 78 plate appearances (3.8 percent BB%). Upcoming games at Colorado, Houston, and Arizona could be just the thing to light a fire under Alonso, something that’s worth waiting for.

For now, Dusty Baker has lived up to his promise of finding playing time for Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 14%), giving him three starts in left field and one at designated hitter since Scott Rolen’s return from the DL. Baker is known for riding his veterans like a Harley on a bad piece of road, and Rolen started five straight games before Baker started Frazier last night. Whether Rolen will stay productive and healthy under such usage—or if Dusty will give him a break more often—remains to be seen, but Frazier has stayed hot, delivering two doubles and three hits in his last three starts and will stay on the VP list unless and until he cools off or hits the bench more often.

AL-only VP
With both Luke Scott and (recently) Matt Joyce on the disabled list, Joe Maddon has continued to use Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) to fill in the gaps. Godzilla played in the outfield during recent interleague play and should be their primary designated hitter after the Rays return home this week. Matsui’s .169/.239/.277 overall line this season isn’t too impressive, bolstered by the hot start that earned him his first VP appearance, but his secondary ratios are near his historical averages and a .180 BABIP (.298 career) indicates at least some bad luck involved in his slow start.

A 15 percent line drive rate shows Matsui is still working on making solid contact—and explains part of that low BABIP—and his 46 percent ground-ball rate isn’t going to help a lumbering lizard like Godzilla pick up a single. He’s also struggling with sliders, which pitchers have been feeding him more than ever.

Given more playing time, a veteran like Matsui should make adjustments and improve that triple-slash. Simply rising to PECOTA’s .257/.339/.402 weighted mean would deliver good value for his owners. He won’t have long to prove himself, though, since Luke Scott is expected to return next weekend, but I’ll gamble on the improvement of an experienced vet over anyone else likely to be on your AL-only league’s waiver wire this week.

NL-only VP
Although the Cubs hoped that Ian Stewart would return as soon as eligible, recent news about a possible impingement in his wrist suggests that surgery could be on the horizon. In his absence, Luis Valbuena (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) continues to get the call at the hot corner, even against fellow lefties. He hit his second homer of the year after I delivered last week’s column and then clubbed another double Friday in Arizona. His 22.6 percent strikeout rate remains a concern unless he sustains his small-sample .225 ISO, which isn’t very likely; his 90th percentile PECOTA gives him just a .167 ISO. But playing time is vital, and Valbuena should continue to get that at least through this week, and NL-only owners can benefit from the modest production that he’ll provide.

Playing Pepper
With Mitch Moreland on the DL, Ron Washington is reportedly expected to share time at first between Mikes Napoli and Young, plus Brandon Snyder (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%). Reader Cromulent asked about Snyder almost two months ago, and you can read some of my analysis of him there, but Snyder’s .304/.347/.522 line this season has come despite a 36.0 percent strikeout rate and directly due to a .440 BABIP. He’s gotten very few starts at first since Moreland first took a seat last week, so I’d expect Snyder’s fantasy impact to be minimal.

Last week, Gaby Sanchez (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 21%, CBS 29%) picked up his first three-hit game since April 18 and his first home run since April 26, but it will take more than that to prove that Sanchez is ready for the VP list—or your fantasy roster.

As I expected last week, Matt Carpenter (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 2%, CBS 15%) got the roster nod over Matt Adams, but Carpenter is a VP tweener—his ownership rates means he’s unlikely to be on your NL-only waiver wire, but he’s not going to start enough to deliver value in most mixed leagues.

Lonnie Chisenhall (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 5%, CBS 18%) fell a double short of the cycle after being cut from the VP list last week and has been edging out Jack Hannahan (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) for playing time at third base. If this continues, expect Chisenhall to return to VP status.

Former VP Justin Smoak (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 11%, CBS 47%) continues his streaky ways, but he’s boosted his secondary skills this month, which should indicate future improvement:

Period

K%

BB%

March-May

22.6

6.2

June

19.5

12.2

Former VP John Mayberry (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 15%, CBS 29%) is heating up again, hitting .344/.382/.844 over his last eight games, and Ryan Howard is still weeks from returning. Mayberry’s more valuable in the outfield, but his skills make him a good fantasy first baseman in deeper leagues if you can ride out the inevitable rough spots.

Adam Lind (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 24%, CBS 32%) has returned to the majors with the demotion of David Cooper, and his improvement at Triple-A (where he hit .392/.448/.664) makes him worth a flier in most leagues, tempered by his big league inconsistency in recent seasons.

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