August 28, 2012
First, Third, and DH for 8/28/12
While his talent is undeniable, Josh Vitters (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 8%) has also been slow to develop in the minors, something that appears to be translating to the majors. While Vitters picked up his first career homer last week, a no-doubter at Miller Park, he also recorded his fifth straight multi-strikeout game. In 51 plate appearances this season, he’s whiffed 16 times and walked just once, which is no way to start out your big league career, homer or no homer. Hang onto him in deep keeper leagues but wait for him to stabilize at the plate before counting on him in other leagues.
I’d added Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 10%, CBS 27%) to VP largely due to the absence of better options and his own hot streak. He’s cooled off, smacking just two hits to go with six whiffs in his last 21 plate appearances, and there are now other players to consider, so I’ll send Chavez packing, though he’ll still hold value in AL-only and very deep mixed leagues.
While his hit trajectories this season are in line with his rates in the past, the first anomaly to jump out of Scott’s performance this season is his 5.1 percent walk rate, which is roughly half of his career average. Scott had offseason LASIK surgery, so one would expect a player to see the ball better, not worse, after improved vision. In Scott’s case, however, he’s had trouble with breaking pitches and cutters this year, perhaps an indication that he’s still learning to recognize these pitches with improved vision (or maybe it’s merely random). The increased aggressiveness suggested by that reduced walk rate could even mean he’s seeing the ball too well, and every pitch suddenly looks hittable. (Sort of like how I play baseball videogames.)
Just as likely a culprit, however, are the back problems that led to Scott’s first stint on the disabled list. His season triple-slash line stood at .220/.281/.424 in 196 plate appearances when he went on the DL on June 9, but in the 81 plate appearances immediately prior to that, he hit just .194/.259/.292, suggesting that his back had been bothering him for a while. After returning from the DL, he didn’t pick up a hit in his first 25 plate appearances, then went on a 10-game tear, hitting .385/.415/.769 in 41 plate appearances before his latest injury (an oblique) laid him low again. An injury-hampered start, a bit of rust after returning, and the reason behind Scott’s weak season line become a bit clearer.
This time around, he’s hit in all four games since being activated, delivering doubles in the first three of those contests. The usual small-sample caveats apply here, but I’d look for a rebound in his batting average and OBP. It’s much more likely that the first-half of this season was an aberration as far as Scott’s plate approach goes. No matter the cause, some rebound should help offset his typical batting average weakness. Gambling on a player returning to career norms is a much better bet than expecting an aberrant trend to continue. Even if his batting average doesn’t rebound, his power could be a difference-maker down the stretch in your fantasy playoff hunt.
While fantasy owners are still largely ignoring Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 3%, CBS 18%), his manager has seen the value of having one of just four third basemen hitting over .300 in at least 350 plate appearances. Jim Tracy moved Pacheco up in the batting order this week—from sixth or seventh to second or third—and Pacheco responded with a five-game hit streak, including his first double since August 8. He’ll never deliver much power, but a shift to the top of the order should help you in runs scored while he maintains his strong batting average.
Another week, another homer for Chris Carter (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 5%, CBS 31%), although that was the highlight of a week when he whiffed seven times and walked once in 23 plate appearances. The first-base job is his, however, and he should keep hammering homers, even if his whiff rate continues to rise.
Looky, looky Yonder. Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 11%, CBS 42%) belted his seventh long-ball of the season, part of three straight two-hit games. He’s hitting .316/.357/.443 for the month, raising his batting average above the .270 mark and raising the question why he (or Nick Cave) doesn’t get more love. When you find the answer, bring it to me at O’Malley’s Bar.
Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 16%, CBS 38%) started the week weakly with an 0-for-7 streak, but he redeemed himself heading into the weekend by hitting in three straight games, including two doubles. He still hasn’t gone yard since June 23, but he’s hitting .362/.436/.493 this month, and the power will come eventually. For now, enjoy watching this young hitter continue to develop and bring you batting-average dividends.
I’ve been an advocate of LaPorta before as a VP, but he’s disappointed me too. So why add him again? Sometimes, it takes a player awhile to round into form; I’ve advocated Edwin Encarnacion pick-ups before too, but it wasn’t until this season that he finally broke out. Additionally, LaPorta’s Triple-A season doesn’t look that much different than his much stronger 2009 Triple-A campaign once you peel back the hood and look at secondary stats:
That 35-point difference in batting average and OBP comes largely from the 28-point dropoff in BABIP, with the rest attributed to a slightly elevated strikeout rate. But his walk rate is almost identical, and his 208 ISO this season isn’t too shabby, though it’s lower than the 231 he logged in 2009. So there’s still hope for LaPorta, whom Acta said will “get plenty of at-bats” and “deserves an extended look the rest of the year.” There are certainly better players to speculate on in mixed leagues, but AL-only owners looking to roll the dice on a turnaround from a former top prospect can do far worse than LaPorta, whose 90th percentile PECOTA is .288/.362/.481.
Meanwhile, Frandsen has picked up a hit in 20 of 26 games since coming to the majors, and he sports a .351/.402/.426 line that blows the roof off PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection of .297/.355/.412. His success has come from the high-contact hitting he’s always done (his 89.7 percent contact rate this season is just a bit above his 88.8 percent career average) as well as a gaudy .381 BABIP. Some fallback should be expected from Frandsen going forward, and the uncertainty of Polanco’s situation undermines his value a bit. Still, ride his bat while it’s hot, since it’s hard to find NL corner infield value right now.
Since August 19, Josh Donaldson (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 3%, CBS 5%) has hit five doubles in seven games, giving Bob Melvin a tough choice when Brandon Inge comes off the disabled list, possibly later this week.
The injury to David Cooper forced the early recall of Adam Lind (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 19%, CBS 28%), whose back wasn’t quite healed, so keep your Lind expectations low for the time being.
A player ignored in all the Boston news this week is Pedro Ciriaco (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 18%, CBS 25%), who has grabbed hold of the Boston hot corner with his awesome .360/.374/.500 line in 141 plate appearances. Still, I would expect pitchers to catch up to this free swinger (2.1 percent BB%) before he can solidify those gains.
The Boston trade also gives a fresh start to James Loney (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 4%, CBS 18%), who now hits in a friendlier park for lefties than Chavez Ravine. He’ll be in the heavy half of a platoon and is worth a flier in AL-only leagues for his dependable adequacy, even if he doesn’t step up his game in his new digs.
Former third overall pick Jeff Clement (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) is getting yet another shot in the big leagues, but his .276/.340/.486 line in Triple-A only looks good if you ignore the fact that it’s his seventh season at that level.
Since returning to the Mariners, Justin Smoak (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 3%, CBS 19%) is hitting .257/.357/.400 in 42 plate appearances—not terribly impressive, but his 16.7 percent K% and 14.3 percent BB% point towards continued improvement.