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July 3, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 7/3/12

by Michael Street

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We’re almost to the traditional midway point of the season, and Value Picks has already alerted you to early-season bargains like Adam LaRoche, Chris Davis, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Carpenter, and Todd Frazier. As the teams meet their own midway points and decide on their near- and long-term futures, we could see more high-profile call-ups like the departing Anthony Rizzo or trades like the one that brought Jim Thome back to the American League. Stay tuned to Value Picks for all the latest developments to keep your fantasy team ahead of the pack!

Departures
I didn’t expect Anthony Rizzo (Yahoo! 43%, ESPN 63%, CBS 76%) to stick around very long as a VP. When you’re someone who causes a big fuss in Chicago, it’s hard to sneak in under anyone’s radar. Collecting three extra-base hits among his first four hits makes anonymity that much harder. As a result, the smallest rise in ownership was the 24 percent rise in CBS leagues; hope you got him while you could.

The return of Luke Scott (both to the Rays and to the VP list) makes Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) expendable. Godzilla will get a start now and again and a handful of pinch-hit appearances, but it will take another injury to make him produce valuable fantasy numbers again.

Arrivals
Already pushing the upper boundaries of VP ownership, Adam Lind (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 24%, CBS 37%) returned to Toronto from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he was demoted a little over a month ago to work on his swing. What made this demotion surprising, of course, was that Lind had signed a four-year, $18 million deal two years ago after hitting .305/.370/.562 with 35 home runs and 114 RBI in his breakout 2009 season. But that’s been Lind’s best season by far, representing peaks in full-season walk (8.9 BB%), strikeout (16.8 K%), and home run (19.8 HR/FB) rates.

He’s done more than just slip a bit from that peak; he’s plummeted to the point where he reportedly passed through outright waivers after his demotion. Between 2010 and 2011 he hit a combined .243/.291/.432 with a 21.7 percent K% and a 6.1 percent BB%; his 46 total home runs over those two years represent the lone bright spot in his performance. Despite the .185/.271/.311 line he sported prior to his demotion this season, Lind was already showing signs of improvement: his K% had fallen to 18.2 percent and his BB% had risen to 10.6 percent. The problem was in his ability to make solid contact and hit the ball for power; his 17 percent line drive rate this season is his lowest mark ever, and his .159 ISO is his lowest since 2008.

In Triple-A, Lind hit .392/.448/.664, maintaining walk and strikeout rates virtually identical to this season’s major league levels while boosting his ISO to a career-best .272 (excluding three Single-A rehab games last season). That’s not surprising in the offensively inflated environment of Las Vegas, but he proved that the power stuck by belting two 400-plus foot home runs on Friday night, one over the center field fence and the other to the opposite field. Both are good signs that he’s not trying to pull the ball too hard, which has been a problem these past two seasons. Lind’s inconsistency and weak start has suppressed his ownership rates so far, but those numbers are sure to rise quickly, so you should pick him up in all leagues to see if this change will stick.

Luke Scott (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 16%, CBS 34%) was among my first VPs this season, becoming the second VP graduate two weeks later thanks to his combination of power, patience, and playing time. At the time of his graduation, he was hitting .298/.340/.638, a line that had slipped to .220/.281/.424 when he hit the disabled list for back stiffness. Since the injury only occurred shortly before his DL stint, that cold spell can’t be blamed solely on injury. Instead, Scott’s patience had evaporated, and his platoon splits had widened:

 

K%

BB%

OPS vs. LHP

OPS vs. RHP

Career

20.3

10.7

.753

.853

2012

20.2

5.8

.510

.765

 

On top of this, Scott’s weak career performance at the Trop has continued this season. Take it for the small sample size data it is, but heading into 2011, he’d hit .202/.291/.365 in Tampa’s home park, and thus far this season, he’s hit a nearly identical .213/.285/.361 there… not that he’s been that much better in other parks; his road splits this year are .200/.247/.450. Clearly, his power will come on the road when it returns. in Scott’s career, he’s hitting .265/.350/.498 in parks not named “Tropicana.” Juicebox, it ain’t.

Both his career line and his strikeout rates will tell you that his batting average will remain low no matter where he hits, but I expect his walk rates and platoon splits to return to career norms—these changes undoubtedly aren’t trends. When these ratios do regress, Scott will come much closer to PECOTA’s .240/.325/.437 weighted mean projection, boosting your team’s power stats in the process.

Incumbents
A three-hit performance by Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 17%) boosted his batting average back over .300, and he hit .302/.362/.349 during the month of June. His 50th percentile PECOTA slugging percentage is .360, so that’s not surprising, but owners expecting more have been slowly giving up on him. Nolan Arenado remains in Double-A, hitting .293/.348/.424, and the Rockies have little incentive to rush him, so Pacheco should keep bringing punchless batting average, adding to his value with two swipes in June.

Pacheco’s teammate Todd Helton (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 13%, CBS 36%) continues to lose playing time, lately to Tyler Colvin (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 2%, CBS 13%), be it directly or indirectly (when Colvin plays right field, Cuddyer often plays first). Despite this, Helton has hit in each of his last six starts, raising his batting average six points, and he insists he’s not injured. So I see this as a temporary blip and not a long-term trend, especially with Helton and Cuddyer comprising nearly 20 percent of the Rockies’ payroll; they won’t be benched often. Helton’s .263 BABIP (on pace for a career low that’s more than 70 points below his average), combined with his 27 percent line drive rate, suggest bad luck, which should turn around soon.

Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 8%, CBS 37%) has hit in six of his last nine starts, good for a .281/.395/.281 line, though that weak power reflects his .087 ISO this year. As with other Value Picks, you won’t find a four- or five-category stud on the waiver wire, so you should be happy with Alonso’s batting average and OBP contributions. His secondary stats remain solid, and he should continue to improve.

Although Scott Rolen continues to get most of the starts at third base, he hasn’t picked up a hit in his last four starts, and he left last night’s game in the first inning with back spasms, which might lead to a DL stint. Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 11%) started four times last week, picking up two hits, including a long triple off of Zack Greinke on Wednesday and a long-ball off Ryan Vogelsong last night. Patience, grasshopper. Rolen’s nearing the end of the line, and Frazier’s talent will prevail.

AL-only VP
The Orioles lost Nick Johnson to the disabled list this week, an event about as unique and noteworthy as another inane story about the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Far more newsworthy was Baltimore’s subsequent trade for Jim Thome (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 2%), bringing Thome back to the AL and adding a sixth team to his Hall of Fame resume. Without Ryan Howard, the Phillies leaned on the 41-year-old Thome this season, particularly during interleague play, and Thome responded with a .242/.338/.516 triple-slash in 71 plate appearances—on pace for his second-best OPS since his magical age-39 season in 2010.

This season’s line comes despite Thome’s third straight year of rising strikeout rates and falling walk rates. His 29.6 percent K% is on pace for his worst ever, while his 11.3 percent BB% would be his weakest since 1992. Those whiffs, however, are forgivable in the light of his .274 ISO, itself a product of a 50 percent HR/FB rate and a 24 flyball rate, both indications that his SLG will fall from its current position just below his 90th percentile PECOTA. Still, Thome’s 50th percentile triple-slash of .234/.350/.457 is strong for AL-only leagues, while increased playing time should allow him to reach double-digit dingers as he has each season since 1993.

Thome’s age and history also point toward fragility (though not to the extent of Johnson), which keeps him from mixed league status, but he’s expected to be the Orioles’ primary DH unless and until he breaks down. Thome should be a fine addition to your AL-only squad as well as teams in deeper leagues desperate for a skosh of power.

NL-only VP
One of the minor mysteries of the season for me is the absence of Luis Valbuena (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) from NL-only rosters. His ownership rates have barely budged since Ian Stewart hit the disabled list, and the recent news that Stewart will go under the knife means Valbuena could keep the job for even longer. Valbuena has hit .220/.264/.480 since his promotion, .278/.316/.611 in his last five games, and added his third home run to the opposite field last week. About the only shadow looming over Valbuena is Josh Vitters, the Cubs’ top third-base prospect, but Kevin Goldstein doesn’t expect Vitters to come up until September, giving NL-only owners plenty of time to collect powerful returns from Valbuena, who also adds value with second base qualification.

Playing Pepper
The latest horse to join Oakland’s first base carousel is Chris Carter (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%), the powerful prospect whose .167/.226/.254 line in 124 big-league plate appearances before this season have dropped him off many fantasy radars. But his .279/.367/.486 line at Triple-A demonstrated better contact, and his two home runs in his first two games with Oakland could mean he’s finally figured things out enough to succeed at the big league level.

I dropped Placido Polanco (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 3%, CBS 22%) off the VP list after doctors discovered a torn wrist tendon, but Polanco has rebounded in his last six starts to a .381/.480/.476 line highlighted by an unexpected surge in patience. Since returning to the lineup, he’s doubled his seasonal walk total in just 64 plate appearances, possibly boosting his batting average as well as he waits for better pitches.

Another former VP, Garrett Jones (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 10%), surged in June to a .300/.342/.557 line while playing first base and right field. If he can sustain this, he’ll be back as a VP.

A third former VP, Lonnie Chisenhall, looked like he was taking control of the third base job before sustaining a broken arm that will sideline him for most of this season. With Jack Hannahan (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 6%) hitting more like Jack Hannahan should, Jose Lopez (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) could continue to pick up more starts and edge his way into AL-only relevance.

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