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July 31, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 7/31/12

by Michael Street

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The non-waiver trade deadline is almost upon us, and the most predicted corner infield swap doesn’t look like it will come to pass, but there’s been plenty of other action on my Value Picks beat, even if it has erased more VPs than it created. Take last week’s significant hot corner injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Pablo Sandoval, for example. Kung Fu Panda’s replacement will be Marco Scutaro, who’s more valuable as a fantasy middle infielder and who moves to a park that will hurt his production, and VP Eric Chavez actually graduates from the list due to A-Rod’s broken wrist. The trades of Chris Johnson and Ryan Roberts aren’t all that significant either; neither player is a good VP, for reasons you can read about in Playing Pepper. Fear not, however, since the list had a fine week, and there are still other options to help your fantasy team as the final two months of the season begin.

Departures
Ryan Wheeler (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 7%) didn’t last long in Arizona’s latest attempt to heat up their hot corner. After just four starts, Wheeler found himself riding the pine again after Arizona acquired Chris Johnson. Wheeler could be in the VP picture down the road, but he’s lost his shot at fantasy relevance for now.

A-Rod’s injury made Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) into a VP tweener—too well-known and widely owned for single-league value but not productive enough to bring value in all but the deepest of mixed leagues. Chavez’s overperformance—mentioned last week—began to correct itself this week too, as he went hitless in 15 plate appearances. AL-only owners can be happy with him, but everyone else can find third base value elsewhere.

Arrivals
Most savvy fantasy owners know the name of Chris Carter (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 22%), whose power potential made him a hot enough commodity to be part of trades for Dan Haren and Carlos Quentin, all in an 11-day stretch in 2007. Past issues of Baseball Prospectus have called him “the best power hitter in [Oakland’s] system,” “their best offensive prospect,” and possessing “all the characteristics of a prototypical cleanup hitter.” In his four Top Prospects columns since Carter arrived in Oakland, BP prospect guru Kevin Goldstein has ranked him fourth, first, and first before dropping him to eighth before this season.

That precipitous fall from grace came due to his inability to translate his minor-league success to the majors, much of it due to his plate approach:

Year

Level

AVG

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

2010

AAA

.258

.365

.529

25.0

13.2

2010

MLB

.186

.256

.329

26.9

9.0

2011

AAA

.274

.366

.530

24.7

12.2

2011

MLB

.136

.174

.136

43.5

4.4

2012

AAA

.279

.367

.486

22.8

11.7

2012

MLB

.268

.379

.714

22.7

15.2

 

As he became more aggressive in the minors, he made better contact and posted higher batting averages. But in the majors, that aggressiveness worked against him, leading to astronomical strikeout rates and weak stats in all three slash categories. He seems to have found a balance in 66 plate appearances this year; his whiff rate is acceptable for a power hitter, and his much-improved patience has paid dividends in power.

Initially tabbed for a platoon role with Brandon Moss, Carter has begun to squeeze out his suddenly cold counterpart, starting at first base against Phil Hughes and at designated hitter against Tommy Hunter on Saturday. Thus far this season, Carter has hit better against fellow righties (.333/.419/.889) than southpaws (.207/.343/.552), a reverse-platoon split that’s unlikely to continue. And while his absurd 42 percent HR/FB ratio also suggests a power correction, his .212 BABIP could help mitigate any damage to his batting average. Still, he’s a great talent and a worthy addition to any team looking for power—always a scarce commodity this deep in the season. 

Incumbents
Jim Thome (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) picked up two more hits in an Orioles uniform last week, bringing his batting line with Baltimore to .261/.354/.391. That falls into his 90th PECOTA percentile for average and his 10th percentile for power, so I’d expect that to even out as his plate appearances pile up; his current BABIP with his new team is .390. As those extremes move closer to the middle, Thome will begin to bring the power that’s most of his owners expect, while owners in OBP leagues will be happy with his 12.6 percent walk rate, just a bit below his 15.5 percent average over the last three seasons. But fragility—his other calling card—could be rearing its ugly head: he’s in Baltimore for an MRI for the neck spasms that kept him out of weekend action.

Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 13%) picked up a hit in each game he played in last week except Sunday; one of those hits was his 12th double of the year. He also had his first two-strikeout game since June 15, indicative of the great 87 percent contact rate underlying his batting average. His 27 percent line drive rate is sixth among hitters with more than 200 plate appearances and first among third basemen in that same group. Unfortunately, his .085 ISO is fifth-worst among those same third basemen—undoubtedly the reason he’s so widely available. Take him for batting average and be happy with it; you won’t find a more consistent hot-corner hitter on the waiver wire anywhere.

Cracking into double digits in home runs with his ninth and tenth longballs last week, Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 10%) reminded us of why he’s still a valuable fantasy commodity. One of those shots came against Justin Verlander, just sneaking over the right center field wall, but it still counts the same way in the scorebook. Pronk even started against lefty Scott Diamond, picking up two hits in the process, and banged his second (you’re reading that correctly) triple of the season on Tuesday. Power and patience are his strong suits; use him accordingly.

Two straight two-hit days snapped an 0-for-20 skid from Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 8%, CBS 35%), and he followed it with an upper-deck, game-tying dinger last night. Better yet, all those hits came in Marlins Park, which is proving to be almost as stingy as PETCO. Eight of his 25 doubles this season have come in July, another sign that his power is coming around. Games at Great American Ballpark early this week could help that power along before another homestand puts the kibosh on it. Either way, Alonso is slugging .464 this month, his best performance in that category all year long; he’d make a solid pickup this late in the season.

Owners woke up to Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 8%, CBS 30%) this week after Joey Votto’s knee surgery opened the door to full-time play for the corner man. Frazier homered on Saturday, part of his eighth multi-hit game this month. The longer Votto lingers on the DL, the more owners will notice Frazier, who is a good play at either infield corner, boosting his fantasy value even further.

AL-only VP
Adam Lind has hit the disabled list, so Toronto has recalled David Cooper (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) to take his roster spot. Cooper has been a VP before, filling in when Lind was in the minors finding his stroke, and he’ll share time at designated hitter while Lind is out. Cooper hit a very respectable .292/.333/.431 in 69 plate appearances during his earlier stint with the Jays; he’s spent the rest of the season tearing it up at hitter-friendly Las Vegas, posting a .321/.395/.540 triple-slash in 304 plate appearances.

Cooper has offered a nice mix of power and contact in the minors with an 11 percent BB% and an excellent 13 percent K%. His .172 ISO has remained fairly steady across the levels, and power remains his calling card. As BP2012 points out, however, most of that power has come from doubles. He has 169 two-baggers in 2243 minor-league appearances but only 54 home runs, and he’s only hit 20 once in a full season. That has dampened his long-term outlook, but it makes him a worthy gamble for the two-week period that the team will be Lind-less. He’ll most likely be back in Vegas when Lind returns, but AL-only owners can squeeze a bit of value out of him until then.

NL-only VP
As Derek discussed in his analysis of last week’s moves, the trade of Hanley Ramirez could boost the stock of a lot of players, including Greg Dobbs (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) and Donovan Solano (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 2%, CBS 1%). So far, Solano has been the starter at third, though he doesn’t offer the potential production of Dobbs. Playing time is the most valuable commodity in fantasy, though, and Solano looks like he’ll have that in spades.

Solano’s combined minor-league line of .260/.314/.319 is diluted by poor performance at the lower levels; his .275/.320/.354 line in four seasons at Triple-A might be more indicative of his talent. His 13 percent K% in the minors shows his ability to make strong contact, but his impatient 6 percent BB% has sandbagged his average and OBP somewhat. He lacks the speed to compensate for that absence of power, having picked up just 26 steals in eight minor-league seasons. This all keeps Solano from mixed-league relevance and reduces his appeal in NL-only leagues. For now, however, few other strong options are out there on waiver wires, and you know what happens when you can’t get what you want.

Playing Pepper
A combination of Adam Lind’s back problems and J.P. Arencibia’s broken hand has given Yan Gomes (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) another shot to prove that his .340/.392/.584 line at Triple-A this season isn’t a Las Vegas-induced mirage. I’ve mentioned Gomes before; he was mostly noteworthy for his Brazilian heritage (he’s the first MLB player born in the Land of Carnival) and his fantasy catcher qualification, where he remains most valuable.

Although his new team offers a chance for better production, Chris Johnson (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 14%, CBS 10%) has a shaky skill set. He’s hit well despite a career 25 percent K% and sub-5 percent BB% by sustaining a high BABIP (.343 before this season, .360 thus far in 2012). I don’t like gambling on high BABIP from a non-speedster, and his improved walk rate this season (6.3 percent) remains below the league average of 8.1 percent.

As Derek also mentions, Brett Wallace (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 4%) could benefit from the Johnson trade; it’s hard to imagine the ‘Stros banking on Scott Moore (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) and Steven Pearce (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) in the long-term. If you have room in an NL-only league, give the Walrus a chance to build on his strong minor league triple-slash line of .300/.379/.506 this season.

I wasn’t a fan of Ryan Roberts (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 31%, CBS 41%) in Arizona, since his success is largely based on a small sample of good production in 2009 and 2011. Moving him to Tampa Bay doesn’t make me like him any better, though he does have the advantage of playing time, as Evan Longoria will return as a DH, at least initially.

Former VP Todd Helton (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 7%, CBS 21%) was activated off the disabled list on Friday and could return as a VP if he proves he’s healthy and productive, though he will share time for now with a slumping Tyler Colvin (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 22%, CBS 39%).

The Twins recalled another former VP, Danny Valencia (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%), after they placed Trevor Plouffe on the disabled list. I’ll watch Danny to see if he wants to be good, but it will take a lot for him to overcome his weak .185/.198/.287 start to this season and unseat Plouffe in the long term.

Mike Carp (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 9%, CBS 7%) has been tearing the cover off the ball since his return from the disabled list, hitting .381/.391/.619 in 23 plate appearances, with a home run and two doubles among his eight hits. All of them came at stingy Safeco, so if he stays hot, he could be a VP too.

Related Content:  Hot Corner,  Cold Corner,  Designated Hitter,  Power,  Espn,  A-rod

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