May 31, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
I mentioned last week that the DH pool is shallow, but this week three of them make the Value Picks list. I also shed two third basemen, one for overperforming, the other for stinking up the joint. I also predicted Edwin Encarnacion would be off the list this week, since his three-day, 5 HR blitz was too big to ignore. Even though he only jacked one longball this week, his ESPN ownership rose by more than 20%, and we bid him a fond farewell. Kevin Kouzmanoff, on the other hand, had another down week, hitting .105/.261/.211, dragging his overall line below acceptable levels. He could turn it around and return to form, but he’s not someone I’d recommend right now.
Former VP Russell Branyan did return to form, so we welcome him back to the list. He swatted the ball this week to a .389/.421/.778 tune, cranking two long balls and a double among his seven hits, for a very sweet 2.00 BASH (TB/H) rate. He’s not going to sustain that rate or that slash line, but it’s the kind of week you can get from him when he’s on a roll.
Branyan’s first VP appearance discusses his PECOTA performance and what he can deliver; the short version is that he’ll bring low batting average, high slugging, and injury risk, which means a high-risk/high-reward package that’s great for saber leagues or those who can absorb the BA hit.
Branyan’s value comes down to his health and (hence) his playing time; for now, he’s strong on both fronts. Manny Acta had been easing him into his duties, but a struggling Matt LaPorta has meant more and more at-bats for Branyan, who’s even started against lefties John Danks and Mark Buehrle, so he’s not in a platoon.
That’s not to say that his healthy ways will continue, or that LaPorta might not figure things out. Fellow VP Travis Hafner means there’s no room to give Branyan a rest at DH, either. Regardless, Branyan’s a good guy to ride until a cold streak or—more likely—a back injury sits him down. If you pick him up, just be sure to have a backup plan.
Mark Teahen has also been swinging a hot bat, showing glimpses of the talent that produced a .290/.357/.517 line in 2006. On April 12, he fell a double short of the cycle, and a pinch-hit single on April 27 briefly lifted his OPS over .900. Like the rest of the White Sox, however, he’s had difficulty being consistent, hitting .137/.228/.176 in a fourteen-game stretch since that single, before collecting a hit in the next eleven games for a.333/.375/.472 line.
Behind those slash lines, Teahen has positive indications that he could be as good, or even better, for the rest of the year. His 11.6% walk and 21.5% strikeout rates would be career bests, and his .288 BABIP is well below his .325 norm. His HR/FB rate of 8.3% is also off his 10.4% standard, a bit surprising in a more homer-friendly park like The Cell.
Since his fly ball percentage is his best since 2006, a more normal HR/FB would be great, but it’s been declining for the past three seasons, along with his ISO, now near a career low at .126. That explains PECOTA’s power expectations in his 50th percentile, though he’d be near respectability in BA and OBP. It only takes a slight jump to his 60th percentile to make him a good play in all three categories, even if his diminishing power projects less than 20 dingers until his 80th percentile.
BP calls him “a placeholder, and not a very good one,” a fair assessment as far as big-league standards go, but Teahen makes a very nice AL-only play at 3B, and a decent CIF option in deeper mixed leagues. He’s been fairly healthy and can throw in a few steals, both nice sweeteners to a package that’s not as good as it once was, but better than disgruntled Kansas City fans might think.
Looking at the rest of the list, half of Mike Sweeney’s hits last week cleared the fence. Unfortunately, he only got two hits, giving him a .222/.222/.556 line, but he also picked up another 1B start. With Milton Bradley’s return, Sweeney will take playing time where he can find it, and the additional qualifications boost his fantasy value.
Travis Hafner had a good .286/.444/.429 week, though he only got three starts because Acta chose to sit him against lefties John Danks, Mark Buehrle and C.C. Sabathia. Acta’s insisted he’s not platooning Hafner, and those are tough lefties, so this is probably an anomaly. He’d still be productive as the bigger half of a platoon, but further reductions in playing time will obviously mean reductions in Hafner’s value.
Gaby Sanchez had a tough .190/.190/.238 week, which included Halladay’s perfecto, but the Marlins have all hit poorly, losing four straight while scoring eight runs total. Still, he’s sliding below replacement value and needs to turn it around. After playing two straight games this weekend, Jim Thome should now be healthy enough to return to form, so I’m postponing last week’s warning. Unless he can start bringing some healthier counting numbers, however, he could find his VP invite rescinded, too.