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July 10, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 7/10/12

by Michael Street

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If you want to make fantasy decisions, you could always consult your Magic 8-ball, but we’re a bit more scientific than that here at BP. Just as with this classic toy, however, there’s some amount of randomness in baseball, whether it’s the behavior of a ball in play or the chance that a fly ball will go over the fence.

Often, the best way to combat this randomness in your fantasy team is to be patient when a player’s performance isn’t supported by his secondary stats. Sometimes, the poor performance is for real, but more often, the player will regress to the mean and deliver statistics to compensate for his weak numbers to that point. Here at BP Fantasy, we’re here to tell you the difference—and though we don’t use an 8-ball, my advice this week is couched in the language of that familiar toy.

Departure
Outlook not so good
Todd Helton (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 10%, CBS 31%) has seen his playing time gradually erode over the past several weeks, though the reasons weren’t always clear. Now they are: his right hip and leg have been bothering him, which also explains his weak power production this year. Tyler Colvin and Michael Cuddyer will continue to give him time off to rest, which could revive Helton once again; until that happens, he’s off the VP list.

Arrival
As I see it, yes
After missing more than a month due to right knee surgery, Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1%, CBS 6%) returned to the Indians last week, earning him immediate VP reinstatement. He was hitting .242/.380/.439 when he left with six home runs and 24 RBI in 166 plate appearances, supported by excellent rates of 15.1 percent K% and 15.7 percent BB%. Only a .250 BABIP—much lower than his career .315 mark—kept his batting average below his 40th percentile PECOTA.

In BP’s awesome new Pitch-F/X hitter cards, Hafner shows an interesting trend on strikes down and away in recent years. Pitchers have worked him—like other sluggers—in that quadrant for the past five years, including this season. Though he hasn’t hit that pitch well over that five-year span, he’s shown steady improvement from 2009 to this season, with his batting average rising steadily from .054 to .242 to .290 and .389 in 2012. Just as impressively, his ISO on pitches in that part of the zone rose from .000 in 2009 and 2010 to .033 in 2011 and .167 this year. Pronk is not only looking to hit the ball the other way, but he’s doing so with authority; his line drive rate has also risen in that quadrant.

His power is elevated this year thanks to a 16.3 HR/FB—his best mark since his heyday in 2006—despite a 35 percent fly ball rate that’s his lowest since his awful 2008. I would expect his power to normalize, but Pronk’s patience and strong contact rate will improve his batting average and keep his OBP consistent. Hitting in the middle of the order for the sixth-best-scoring offense in baseball should deliver counting numbers, bringing his owners value in most leagues.

Incumbents
You may rely on it
Owners haven’t awakened to Adam Lind (Yahoo! 25%, ESPN 25%, CBS 39%), perhaps due to his .206/.287/.388 overall line. But Lind hit two home runs last week, part of a .318/.375/.682 triple-slash-line performance that lifted his OPS by 29 points. His whiffs are disturbing, as he’s struck out in more than a third of his plate appearances since returning, but his power looks like it’s for real.

Without a doubt
Though his production softened during Colorado’s road trip last week, Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 15%) indubitably remains the Rockies’ starting third baseman. Keep him active in your lineups for batting average, but not for power, though his .090 ISO should rise closer to the .109 in PECOTA’s weighted mean projection.

Yes. Definitely
After starting 0-for-15 in his return from the disabled list, Luke Scott (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 13%, CBS 29%) busted out this weekend with home runs on Friday and Saturday and two doubles on Sunday. His swoon had scared some owners off, but he looks like he’s definitely back and is a great play for power in the second half.

Outlook good
At the break, Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 7%, CBS 35%) is second among rookies in doubles with 20, five more than both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. That speaks volumes about how much Petco suppresses his power, since 12 of Alonso’s two-baggers have come at home. Only one of Alonso’s three doubles last week came at Petco, part of three straight two-hit games, and he’s already boosted his walk total by 20 percent in the first six games of this month. The patience of Alonso owners is being rewarded; while he won’t bring power at home, he will bring you batting average and OBP anywhere he hits.

It is decidedly so
On top of hitting .212/.257/.333 since returning from the DL, Scott Rolen has started just one game this month due to back spasms, an 0-for-4, three-strikeout performance that led Dusty Baker to remark that “eventually, the job’s going to be Frazier’s.” That “eventually” sounds more like “now.” In Rolen’s place, Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 3%, CBS 11%) continues to rake, posting four multi-hit games already this month while lifting his batting average 10 points and adding two home runs to his total. His .278 ISO leads the Reds—ten points better than MVP candidate Joey Votto. Bank on Frazier taking over Rolen’s spot sooner rather than later.

Signs point to yes
AL-only owners would have to be asleep at the wheel to miss Jim Thome (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 2%, CBS 12%) coming over to Baltimore, and his ownership rates have risen enough that he’s unlikely to be available in your AL-only league at this point. Thome’s a bit of a fantasy tweener for VP purposes. He’s too well-known to sit on AL-only waiver wires, but his fragility and 30 percent strikeout rate this season (on pace for his worst ever) will scare many owners off. Owners in OBP leagues and those hungry for power, however, can find value in the final two slashes in his .234/.350/.457 50th percentile PECOTA projection. I’m graduating him to deep mixed-league VP status for those owners; take a flier to see if he can make his 90th percentile and hit a homer every 17.6 plate appearances.

AL-only VP
Yes
“Yes” is what Joe Girardi has increasingly said to Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%), who has begun to spell Mark Teixiera as well as Alex Rodriguez, starting nine of the Bronx Bombers’ last 21 games and appearing in five others. He’s picked up a hit in seven of those starts; combined with his pinch-hitting, he’s batting .351/.432/.730 over those 44 plate appearances.

Chavez was a VP last year while filling in for A-Rod, hitting .263/.320/.356 in 175 plate appearances for the season with two home runs and 26 RBI. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but they are a valuable hot-corner supplement for AL-only owners. Chavez’s .282/.336/.504 line this season has been bolstered by a blistering 22 percent line drive rate and an unlikely 17.5 HR/FB rate. Except for that power spike, the rest of his supporting rates look solid, as his 17.1 percent strikeout rate is an exact match for his career line, his 8.2 percent walk rate is consistent with his performance last season, and his .294 BABIP is nearly the same as his .293 average over the past three seasons. Expect good batting average but diminished power from Chavez, who should continue to spell veterans on a team that’s offense is ranked fourth in the majors.

NL-only VP
It is certain
One thing that seems to be certain about Luis Valbuena(Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) is the stagnant ownership level he enjoys despite a .425 SLG and second base qualification. His .225 batting average comes in part from his .221 BABIP—46 points lower than his average—though his 14.9 percent line drive rate indicates some weak contact too. He’s not walking much (3.8 percent BB%), but his great 87 percent contact rate should help his batting average rise, and playing time alone makes him an easy add.

Playing Pepper
Don’t count on it
After the Carlos Lee trade, Houston opted to give Chris Johnson (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 13%, CBS 20%) a crack at playing first base, but his .359 BABIP (elevated even by his own standards) and his 26 percent K% make him a bad bet for batting average, while his .132 ISO is too weak to compensate for these deficits.

Concentrate and ask again
Houston could have promoted Brett Wallace (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) instead of sticking by Johnson, but Wallace remains in the minors for now, continuing to concentrate on improving his game. Brad Mills said he’s “in the mix” for a second-half call-up, so stay tuned.

Very doubtful
Part of the Lee trade, Matt Dominguez (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) has become Houston’s starting third baseman, offering plenty of leather but little wood (.252/.321/.410 in the minors and .247/.302/.396 in two Triple-A seasons).

Reply hazy, try again
As reader CS3 and I talked about in last week’s comments, Brandon Moss (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 17%, CBS 9%) and Chris Carter (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) are in a first-base platoon. Moss looks to be running hot again (.467/.500/1.133 in 16 July plate appearances), just as Carter is heating up too (.400/.438/1.067 in 16 plate appearances since his call-up). The platoon might help both shine, but Moss gets the heavy half of the platoon, making him the best value of the two for now.

Most Likely
Seattle manager Eric Wedge hinted that Justin Smoak (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 5%, CBS 12%) could be among several hitters be sent down to improve their approach, a suggestion emphasized by the announcement that Mike Carp (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 9%, CBS 5%) would play exclusively at first base during his upcoming rehab.

Related Content:  Batting Eye,  Espn,  Batting

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