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August 21, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 8/21/12

by Michael Street

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Departure
Ownership rates for Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 40%, ESPN 62%, CBS 60%) are finally starting to match his 2012 production. He entered last week hitting .280/.339/.528 with 14 home runs and 28 RBI in 310 plate appearances. He burnished those credentials with 10 hits last week, including three home runs, and six RBI, for a .370/.379/.741 line that finally caught the eye of other fantasy owners—probably because of Wednesday’s monster blast to deep center field. Value Picks readers have been hearing about Frazier since May 15, so there’s no excuse for having missed out on this Rookie of the Year candidate.

Arrival
I’ve covered Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 17%, CBS 37%) in three of the last four Playing Pepper sections in an up-and-down pattern that has resembled Belt’s season. First, I noted that Belt could be primed for a turnaround at the end of July, then I observed that Brett Pill’s promotion seemed to dash those hopes before returning to optimism about his strong performance in the first two weeks of August.

Belt continued his fine month this past week with a .348/.423/.391 line that balanced three strikeouts with two walks in 26 plate appearances. That small sample reflects several positive trends in August, when he’s hit .412/.483/.529 with an awesome 8.6 percent K% and 10.3 percent BB% that more closely resembles the Brandon Belt who spent seven weeks on the VP list this season. During that earlier VP stretch, he hit .271/.397/.490, but it was supported by a 23.1 percent K% and a 17.3 percent BB%.

So it looks like Belt is becoming more aggressive at the plate while making better contact—an excellent combination for a young hitter and an indication that he’s seeing pitches well and attacking them. As further proof, Belt whiffed more than twice in a game 24 times this year, including an eight-game stretch to finish out July when he fanned 15 times in 32 plate appearances. In his 16 games in August, however, Belt has yet to strike out more than once.

His improved contact is further illustrated by his 33 percent line drive rate and 26 percent ground ball rate this month—both representing season bests. A .457 BABIP since the calendar turned from July points towards a potential correction in Belt’s future, which will become part of a season that’s been the kind of roller coaster ride one expects from a young hitter. Belt’s .296/.400/.563 June is sandwiched between a .203/.338/.313 May and a .186/.266/.214 July—OPS swings of more than 300 and 400 points that have frustrated impatient owners and returned him to many league waiver wires.

Despite those low marks, Belt has shown his ability to adapt amidst pennant-race pressure, rumors of a trade-deadline swap to Seattle, and the presence of Pill (who is probably a bitter Pill after starting just once since August 4). Belt’s power has yet to show itself—he hasn’t homered since June 23—but I take that as a sign he’s not trying to pull everything. Players with Belt’s talent and opportunity are tough to find at this time of the year, making him a great pickup in all mixed leagues, while keeper owners should already have him rostered.

Incumbents
Starting four of Houston’s six games last week, Brett Wallace (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 10%) hit .286/.333/.500, including a 430-foot blast at Wrigley that was his longest of the season. He has also started five games and played eight at third base this season, giving him hot-corner eligibility in CBS and Yahoo! The only question mark is whether new manager Tony DeFrancesco will flip Wallace back to the other side of the infield, disappointing ESPN owners who need two more appearances at third base for eligibility there. He remains someone who can help you in power and counting numbers, but his 33 percent K% could drag down your batting average.

The starting third baseman for the league’s second-best run-scoring team, Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 3%, CBS 17%), remains below the radar of most fantasy owners despite hitting .367/.403/.517 in August and .312/.343/.413 on the season. He’s picked up a hit in 15 of his last 18 games and had an eight-game hitting streak before it snapped on Monday. He’s even begun to help out in other categories than just batting average, hitting his second home run of the season on Sunday and boosting his RBI total from 21 to 33 this month. Todd Frazier was similarly ignored before becoming last week’s hot commodity; don’t be on the losing end of this deal too. Get Pacheco before someone else in your league discovers him first.

Chris Carter (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 7%, CBS 32%) didn’t hit a home run last week, but he did pick up three doubles as part of his .333/.435/.500 line. He entered this month hitting .273/.400/.667—a performance well above PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection of .281/.375/.525—but he’s improved on the first two-thirds of that triple slash without giving away too much SLG; he is currently hitting .281/.405/.595. That’s not so far above his PECOTA ceiling that Carter can’t sustain it, but even if he settles back to just his 70th percentile, a .256/.346/.477 line is pretty awesome production to find this late in the season. That’s the kind of production that could be the difference maker in your fantasy league down the stretch.

Another overperformer, Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 21%, CBS 31%), started the week hitting .293/.350/.540. That hitting and OBP are a skosh above PECOTA’s 90th percentile of .290/.354/.469, but he’s slugging off the charts. A spate of lefties last week pushed him to the bench Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, cooling him off after six straight multi-hit games including Tuesday’s two-hit, one-homer effort and Wednesday’s three-hit, one-walk line. But even his 0-4 performance on Sunday would only drag his overall triple-slash down to .300/.357/.536—still better than where he started the week. The Yanks face at least two more southpaws this week (Francisco Liriano and Chris Sale), so Chavez will pick up a few more splinters, possibly cooling him off further. He’s still worth waiting around for, but owners should be aware of this expected downtime and plan accordingly.

Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 12%, CBS 42%) added another double to his rookie-leading total last week, though that was the only extra-base knock he collected among his six hits in 22 plate appearances. Nonetheless, he’s provided power of late; about the only disappointing aspect of his four-week line of .322/.344/.489 are the two walks he had in those 93 plate appearances. Though he starts the week at home (where he’s hit .284/.364/.412 despite PETCO’s lefty-snuffing reputation), Alonso heads to Arizona to finish the week, where he’s hit .308/.400/.692 in 15 career plate appearances (not that this is particularly meaningful). He could gain some ground in power if he manages to take advantage of the hitter’s park, but his excellent 16.1 percent K% on the season (12.9 percent this month) will help bolster his batting average even if his power doesn’t rise. Either way, he belongs on your roster if you need some first-base help.

AL-only VP
Adam Lind continues to slowly make his way back from the disabled list, and David Cooper (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) continues to play well in Lind’s absence. Coop had a hit in four of his five starts last week (he missed Sunday due to back spasms), including a double on Tuesday and Wednesday. Lind could begin a rehab assignment on Tuesday, but the Jays have no reason to rush him back to the bigs, which should extend Cooper’s VP stay for at least another week.

NL-only VP
Josh Vitters (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 9%) gave way to former VP Luis Valbuena for three of Chicago’s four games at Cincinnati, though this might have been a chance for Vitters to get his head together after starting his major-league career with three hits in his first 30 plate appearances. There’s no indication that this benching is due to an injury, and Vitters is definitely the Cubs’ long-term solution at the hot corner, so I expect Vitters to return to regular starting duties soon. He needs to both perform and play to remain a VP, but I’m willing to cut him some slack for another week to see if he can get things headed in the right direction. He’s a strong enough talent that NL-only owners should remain patient too.

Playing Pepper
Kevin Frandsen (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) has filled in well for Placido Polanco (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 14%), hitting .329/.363/.395 in 80 plate appearances. With Polanco activated from the DL Monday, however, Frandsen returns to the bench, while Polanco makes a decent add in NL-only and very deep mixed leagues.

In other DL news, Luke Scott (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 9%, CBS 19%) is due back soon and will likely resume full-time DH duties, which would put Evan Longoria back on the diamond and push Ryan Roberts to the bench. Scott remains a good pickup for his patience and power, while Roberts owners couldn’t have been too happy with his .230/.333/.365 performance anyway (though I have to say “I told you so” about Roberts).

Hitting .300/.407/.640 in August, Mark Reynolds (Yahoo! 34%, ESPN 29%, CBS 47%) looks ready to repay his owners for their patience in him, adding a third of his 12 home runs over those 59 plate appearances. Reaching PECOTA’s 10th percentile preseason projection of 29 home runs for this season still remains a stretch, however.

The injury to Mike Carp gives Justin Smoak (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 3%, CBS 18%) another shot to redeem his 2012 and, perhaps, his career. Smoak’s shorter stroke could be key to that redemption, and it’s already led to two doubles and a home run with just three whiffs in 19 plate appearances.

I wrote about Josh Donaldson (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) in this season’s first Playing Pepper, noting his low chance to deliver any value. His .153/.160/.235 line in his first 100 plate appearances made me look smart and led to his demotion. Upon his return—due to Brandon Inge’s sprained shoulder—Donaldson has looked like a different hitter, batting .417/.440/.625 in 25 plate appearances. This, plus Donaldson’s .335/.402/.598 line while back at Triple-A, could indicate a breakthrough.

Former VP James Loney (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 4%, CBS 16%) has been hot lately, hitting two home runs last week, although he’s hit just .256/.273/.419 in August. That line only looks good in comparison to his .255/.303/.347 performance this season. A late-season surge (.375/.438/.644 over his final 180 plate appearances) saved Loney’s line in 2011, but a repeat performance in 2012 seems unlikely.

Related Content:  Brett Pill,  First Month,  Espn,  Stretch Run

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Premium Article Collateral Damage Dail... (08/21)
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