May 17, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
Our first ex-Value Pick has been at the top of the list, at least alphabetically, since Day One. Daric Barton broke his right middle finger on April 25, and he’s played through it, but maybe he shouldn't have, as he's hit just .221/.289/.368 since then. His strikeout rate rose to 22% over that span (vs. 20% in his career) and his walk rate fell to 9% (13% career); neither are good signs. As I warned last week, Barton was on the edge, and even his second dinger of the season couldn’t rescue him from the cut list after another subpar week.
At the other end of the spectrum, Troy Glaus has hit so well that owners have finally taken notice. A week when he exploded for a .368/.478/.737 slash line caught the attention of enough ESPN owners to drive his ownership to 29% and bump him off the list.
After being thin on good designated hitter candidates, this week presented quite a few possibilities. Tampa Bay DFAed Pat Burrell this week, bringing up Hank Blalock, who’ll play 1B and DH. Since he only made his debut yesterday (going 0-3), we’ll wait to see how he does before assessing him. Jack Cust also got called up from Triple-A to give Oakland an offensive boost, and his Three True Outcomes style can deliver good value in the right league, but he also needs to show what he can do in the bigs before he merits the Value Pick label. And Russell Branyan could be back on our list next week if he can prove that this week’s 3-HR, .357/.400/1.000 performance is real.
Two other DHs make much better Value Picks. Luke Scott returns to the list after both Nolan Reimold and Rhyne Hughes were demoted to AAA, leaving Scott as Baltimore’s primary designated hitter. The demotions recognized a lack of production from the other two players as well as Scott’s hot start to May, when he’s hit .286/.306/.657, including 4 home runs and three straight multi-hit games last week.
This performance isn’t a solid as it seems, as indicated by Scott’s 26% strikeout rate and 3% walk rate, both out of line with his respective career rates of 23% and 11%. His 37% FB/HR ratio is also clearly out of whack. And he’s still playing for Baltimore, the second-lowest scoring club in the AL. But his return to more expected production and regular playing time should start putting him back on fantasy rosters, as he remains available in 97% of ESPN leagues.
It’s hard to imagine that Travis Hafner is even more available than Scott, as 98% of ESPN owners would rather do without Pronk. As I discussed in a Spring Training Hot Spots, Hafner’s overlooked because of the crater he fell into between 2007 and 2009. We’re never going to see Hafner’s halcyon days of 2005-6, but he’s been climbing out of that crater a bit this season.
In 2009, he started out hot (.318/.423/.659 in his first 52 ABs), then skidded to a .264/.337/.416 line the rest of the way. This season, he hit .189/.303/.311 in his first 74 ABs, but has produced .414/.575/.552 in his 40 PAs since then, with a hit in 8 of his last 9 games. What’s missing is power, and PECOTA doesn’t see him with an above-average SLG until he exceeds his 80th percentile, when he should hit 20 HRs.
But Pronk will provide OBP in his 50th and BA in his 60th, thanks to walk and strikeout rates that are in line with his career averages, something we haven’t seen from him since 2007. His injury history makes projections difficult, and his comps are largely players in the final years of their career, but Hafner turns 33 in a few weeks, and he’s not ready for the scrap heap yet.
In last week’s comments, I discussed older players who are slow starters like David Ortiz (who hit .444/.444/.778 last week). Hafner looks like he's warming up, too, and makes a great pickup for his BA and OBP upside. Hitting in the middle of the Cleveland order will bring him some decent counting stats; just don’t expect him to turn into the slugging Pronk we once knew.
As for the rest of the list, a mix of kudos and warnings. Gaby Sanchez had a great week, hitting two homers and .360/.385/.680 and continuing to hold off a raking Logan Morrison in the minors. With the Twins facing several lefty starters, Jim Thome only started one game, but remains a good play in deeper leagues.
I don’t like to overreact to small samples, so Kevin Kouzmanoff (.208/.208/.250) and Andy LaRoche (.111/.200/.167) each get another week to show that this was just a bad stretch for them, not a cause for concern. Kouz is the better bet for season-long production, while LaRoche may just be proving that his prospect status is a thing of the past. Tune in next week to find out how they do!