May 24, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
A few guys are on the Value Picks bubble this week, so we’ll bid one farewell and offer a warning to two others, while adding some hot bats to replace the hotter one who’s going away.
Andy LaRoche has disappointed expectations once again, responding to his VP invite by going frigid, with a .146/.205/.220 line and .211/.250/.316 this last week. That isn’t going to cut it, so we cut him loose. Luke Scott, on the other hand, continued his hot hitting after becoming a Value Pick. Last week’s .409/.500/.773 line included two home runs, two doubles, and a huge jump in ESPN ownership to over 40%, so we had to let him go, too.
Sometimes new Value Pick opportunities knock quietly; other times they lean on the doorbell. Edwin Encarnacion did the latter when returning from the DL to collect five hits in 17 ABs, all of them longballs, raising his TAv to 52nd overall, 6th among third basemen. He followed Friday’s 3-HR performance with jacks on Saturday and Sunday, but lest you write those up to Chase Field, hittrackeronline classifies all five as solid home runs in any park.
His line suggests Encarnacion’s an all-or-nothing guy, but his career contact rate is just under 80% and his career 9% walk rate went over 10% in the past two seasons. This projects him for a good BA, while his recent power surge adds to his value. PECOTA pegs him at well above average in every department, especially SLG, in his 50th percentile; you’ve got to drop down to his 20th before he falls below average for third basemen across the board.
The Scoresheet rating shows he’s a butcher at third base, but Toronto’s outfield is too crowded to move him there. It’s so crowded, in fact, that Toronto will face a tough call if Encarnacion and Jose Bautista both remain hot when Travis Snider comes off the DL. But his upside outweighs this and injury concerns, so I expect Encarnacion to be too popular to remain on this list for long. Take advantage of the fact that a shocking 97% of ESPN owners haven’t noticed him yet.
Last week, I considered adding Mike Sweeney, who followed his infamous Napgate rant by homering in three straight games, but wasn't sure it would continue. He convinced me by hitting .429/.452/1.000 over his past eight games. I hesitated because missing nearly 300 days in the past five years due to injury has earned Sweeney a pessimistic PECOTA line, where he’d have to exceed his 80th percentile to be a power asset at DH, and his 70th to bring above-average OBP, though he’ll bring BA value in his 50th.
Nonetheless, he could reach those higher peformance levels if he stays healthy and keeps improving with Seattle. Last year, he put up his best OPS since 2006 and turned around two years of diminishing platoon splits, trends he’s continued this year. His other peripherals are a mix, however, as his walk rate has risen to 7.2%, and his .271 BABIP shows his hits haven’t been lucky. But his 16.1% strikeout rate and 17.9% HR/FB ratio are both higher than usual, meaning a power correction is likely.
Sweeney’s playing time rose during Milton Bradley’s anger-issue timeout, but now that Bradley’s back, Sweeney started Sunday at 1B, where Casey Kotchman’s awful .228 TAv ranks third worst among regular first basemen. If Sweeney can stay hot, he’s definitely a plus on AL-only rosters, and qualifying as 1B would make him a good CIF mixed-league play. DHs are a shallow talent pool by nature, so ride him while he’s hot, but be aware of the probable cooldown and injury risk.
Speaking of injuries, a bum ankle and back have kept Jim Thome out of the lineup, so I’ll give him another week to heal. Gaby Sanchez had a tough week, hitting .100/.280/.150, but he’s been moved up to second in the lineup and should return to form once #3 hitter Hanley Ramirez does. Regardless, he can consider himself on notice, too.
Kevin Kouzmanoff’s .250/.250/.450 line last week doesn’t seem impressive, but he’s riding a six-game hit streak, and has only failed to collect a hit in four games this whole month. And Travis Hafner had an awesome .375/.423/.625 week that included three multi-hit games, three doubles and a home run. He has an eleven-game hit streak and has only gone hitless three times in May. Why he’s still available in over 98% of ESPN leagues is a mystery; expect that to change this next week, so get him while you still can.