June 9, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
What Have You Done For Me Lately? Mike Stanton's stay on the “Value Picks” list will be the shortest possible, getting the boot the day after his first game in the majors. His debut wasn't as ballyhooed as that guy who was protecting our nation's capitol from Pirates yesterday, but he not only had a good line score but belied most of the scouting reports by “staying within himself” in a key final at-bat against Brad Lidge, taking two sliders for balls and then hitting a “single” (aided by a questionable call, but the process was good, regardless of the result) up the middle. That sort of game-aware situational approach could serve him well, though it's obviously the smallest possible sample size. Maybe he'll go back to swinging from his heels most of the time, but showing that sort of discipline in his first game is a good sign. Anyway, the quandary with Stanton from a fantasy perspective is whether the power helps a team more than the batting average hit will hurt. For example, in yours truly's daily-move shallow mixed league, there are 5 standings points (out of 10 possible) available with just .005 more points of batting average. Playing Stanton full-time would make those much more difficult to attain, though the flip side is that the team is sitting at 2 batting average points now, and is at 7/7 (standings points) in HR/RBI, and just 7 HR and 49 RBI behind (Granderson, Reyes, A.Hill in rounds 6-8 haven't worked out quite as well as hoped). For most leagues, the time to grab Stanton was weeks ago. If he's still there, it's probably due to the league being shallow, and while he's still a good source of power, be aware of the batting average risk.
In a first for this column, Fred Lewis is being removed, neither for good play (which results in too many owners owning him to be relevant), or bad play. He's a victim of the brutal upcoming schedule which was forewarned about when he was first added to the list. Check back on him after the All-Star game, however, as the Jays will be facing Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit, Baltimore again, then Cleveland to round out July. August doesn't look very friendly, but a lot can happen between now and then.
Still Hanging Tough: Tyler Colvin is making progress, accumulating 15 plate appearances this past week, and appears to have latched onto the left-handed portion of a platoon, essentially switching roles with Kosuke Fukudome. It bears repeating that his power in 2010 is by all accounts due directly to his off-season workout regimen which added over 20 pounds of muscle. He is striking out a lot (28 times in 98 PA), and so the batting average can be expected to plummet. He also remains inept against lefty pitching (just .188/.235/.375 this season), so Lou Piniella's unwillingness to use him against Southpaws isn't hurting his fantasy owners. His walk rate has also started to resemble the numbers he (didn't) put up in the minors, as he's walked only 3 times in his last 55 plate appearances. As quipped when he first joined the Value Picks list, he resembles fellow Georgian Jeff Francoeur in many ways, but has the advantage of batting lefty (Francoeur also has a pronounced platoon split for his career, but his .303/.346/.484 line against lefty pitchers comes into play a lot less frequently than his .258/.299/.411 stats against righties).
There's really not much to add about Ryan Sweeney, other than it's useful that he can hit both handedness of pitchers well enough to stay in the lineup. At Baseball Daily Digest Roto Lunch, for example, he was actually picked as a daily-move player against Scott Kazmir on June 7 and delivered with 3 hits. Andres Torres' lack of youth has kept him under the radar, but that will end soon, now that he has 11 steals on the season. Delmon Young's ISO is up about 50 points from last year, and his BABIP is down almost 60 points off his career BABIP, despite only a 1% reduction in how many line drives he's hitting (from 2009). He's making much more frequent contact, albeit more often hitting playable balls, and the overall statistical “adjustment” should result in something like 20 more points of batting average and 30 more points of slugging this year. He could be a very good buy-low candidate now. Seth Smith has taken the Rockies team lead in home runs, and is 2nd in slugging percentage. He has just 20 strikeouts in 156 plate appearances. He remains a great fantasy target.
Arrivals: It's still difficult to envision Conor Jackson as an outfielder, even though he was moved there from first base midway through 2008. It begs a completely un-fantasy-related question of: “How many bad defensive first basemen have become acceptable outfielders?” And—ignoring his injury-plagued 2009—he's been acceptable afield since the move—not Eric Byrnes, but then again, he doesn't cost $10mil/yr and hit like Neifi Perez either. Ah, hitting... how does Conor Jackson hit? PECOTA projected him out at .287/.362/.452, with per-600-PA rates of about 75 runs, 15 homers, 75 RBI, and 7 steals. Since returning from the DL on May 8, Jackson has hit a miserable .229/.330/.361. But he's raised his line-drive percentage to a stout 26% in 2010, good for 17th among batters with 100 or more plate appearances. Combining that with the fact that he's always walked almost as much as he's struck out (208 to 228 in his career), and doesn't strike out much (2002 PA for those 228 K's), his batting average should pick up. His power is a long-shot to reach the projected heights and maybe even his career .146 ISO is unattainable at this point, but the hits should start coming. The D-backs are confident that his swing is still intact, as he's been allowed to continue batting near the top of their high-powered offense (1st or 2nd in 27 of his 32 games started, and yes, the D-backs offense probably only looks “high-powered” due to the park effects, but those don't get removed in fantasy games, either). Jackson is not without risk, but could probably be had for a song, even in deeper leagues.
While on the topic of corner infielders trying to play the outfield, Eric Hinske certainly has much more gaudy stats than Jackson, and he's not ancient, with a seasonal age of 32. He has a longstanding tendency to hit righties much harder (as the Scoresheet ratings in the chart suggest), and it's a safe bet that at some point while he's on a roster, he'll suffer an extended “0-fer” and end up hurting a team's batting average (put another way, that astronomical .384 BABIP will come down). But he has power! Even his 10th-percentile PECOTA projects a pace of 16 homers-per-600-PA. The trio of Heyward, Prado, and Glaus has been so potent this season that the Braves are 2nd in runs/game in the NL in spite of every regular from the center of the field left (C, SS, 3b, CF, LF) having a disappointing season. This seeming dichotomy should simultaneously open up plenty of opportunities for Hinske, and also provide him with runs and RBI when he produces. The upcoming inter-league games include three at Minnesota and three at Chicago. Even with a DH, Hinske is unlikely to start against lefties Liriano and Danks, which could work out for the best.
Odds and Ends: The “selection committee” (okay, really just this author) has some difficult calls with outfielders, and sometimes explaining the “near miss” guys is as informative as the ones who made it. Pat Burrell has shown he can hit over the course of a lengthy career. His career rate stats are .253/.362/.472, which are obviously beneficial to a major-league team. Despite his catastrophic 2009 season, his PECOTA rate stats were .249/.346/.455 (weighted mean). That said, his 50th percentile was only .237/.341/.413, as the upside influenced the weighted mean more than the downside did. He's moved to the easier league. The Giants appear to be trying to play him every day. But appearances can be deceiving, as Burrell has hit .321/.409/.605 in his career at Great American Ballpark and .266/.400/.506 against lefty pitching. It seems the most likely plan for using him at this point will be in “power” pallparks (such as GABP) and against lefty starters. That should help his rate stats considerably, but limits his utility in mixed leagues. On the other end, Julio Borbon has been getting cut in most leagues, but is still too good to grace this column with his presence. He appears to have overcome his early season woes, and while his weighted means PECOTA projection of .292/.340/.409, with ~30 SB-per-600-PA speed might not be reached, neither should he be left on waivers if he's there.