July 7, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
Do Run Run: In another fantasy column last September, this author quipped: “Just pretend his Triple-A batting average says .310, since there's no way his stats support a continued .288 BABIP.” Though that seems to be obvious now, since he hit .315 at AAA in 2010, he'd hit just .267 in 2009, and most thought his .313 average in the majors in September was a bit of a fluke. The acquisition of Russell Branyan coupled with the desire to see more of Matt LaPorta got Brantley his ticket to AAA despite a .400 OBP in spring training. Unfortunately for Brantley, his hot September last year didn't continue in his first few at-bats in Cleveland this year (he broke camp with the team due to Branyan being on the DL), nor was he really tearing up AAA when Grady Sizemore went down, so former first-round pick Trevor Crowe was installed into the outfield, and has hit like the fourth or fifth outfielder he is.
Most worrisome for fantasy purposes has been Brantley's lack of steals in AAA, however. After swiping 46 bags with just 5 times caught stealing in 2009 (despite his modest .350 OBP), he's stolen just 11 bags in 2010, while already being caught as many times. That's the bad news. The good news is that Brantley hit .353/.412/.480 in June, with 7 steals. While his April and May stats can't be disregarded, most every other data point about him suggests potential fantasy stardom (though the Indians' lack of offense certainly doesn't help his Runs and RBI totals). Brantley's minor-league contact percentage has been almost 90%, which – in concert with his slap-hitting style, tremendous speed, and lefty batting side – suggest a player who could help a team batting average a lot, in addition to the valuable stolen bases.
Close, but not quite: Since the goal of this column is to recommend players who should be picked up, it will differ from other sources, which look at things like 3-day hit streaks and other similarly insignificant trends. The difficulty comes when a player continues to out-perform (or under-perform, for that matter) his well-defined level of ability. It's fairly uncommon among hitters, barring some external factors (usually injuries). Garrett Jones 2009 was the classic exception proving the rule. He was a 28-year-old proven AAAA hitter who came out of nowhere to hit .293/.372/.567. He's back down to .276/.345/.432 this year, which is a step up from AAAA, but nowhere near the impact player he was in 2009. Corey Patterson doesn't fit the Garrett Jones mold. He's been good before. His Tav was .280 in 2003. As a very rangy center fielder who has the ability to steal a ton of bases (he has stolen 200 in his career in 3951 PA), he has had value in both real-life and fantasy contexts. But that's ancient history. His only two seasons with a .320 on-base percentage were 2003 (.329) and 2004 (.320). He's topped a .276 batting average only once (.298 in 2003). Still, he has 16 steals already in 201 PA, and has shown this sort of 40-SB speed in the past, though not consistently. But a few steals and an occasional home run are all he offers. Yesterday, he went 0-for-6, dropping his batting average a full 10 points. Expect more days like that. For teams in dire need of speed, he might be worth the risk – just keep expectations low. [Patterson was included in the table in yellow for context, showing that he'll be removed next week.]
Fire the GM, fire the manager, fire the left fielder? It can't be a good sign for an outfielder when Tony Abreu pinch hits for him, as happened to Gerardo Parra yesterday. For now, it appears that new manager Kirk Gibson is going to stick with Parra against righties (with Cole Gillespie – not the same “Gillespie” from this Ryan Howard Boy's Club commercial – getting the starts against lefties). If he doesn't start hitting a bit more in the next couple weeks, don't be surprised to see Brandon Allen wearing an outfield glove in Arizona, or the righty batters – Gillespie, Rusty Ryal, or even Jeff Bailey – getting starts, with Parra reduced to defense and pinch-hitting duties.
Recaps: The games in Colorado proved much less advantageous to Pat Burrell than anticipated, and he seems to be in one of those aforementioned cold streaks. Worse for his owners, the soft part of the schedule – which made him such a tantalizing pick – is coming to an end after Sunday. Four games in Arizona July 22-25 make him reasonable to keep for another 2 weeks, but August features mostly the better-pitching teams. If he gets hot in the next couple weeks, he's a prime trade candidate (in fantasy ball)
The offseason workout program which has added power to Tyler Colvin can't be mentioned enough. His .278 ISO is higher than all but 6 qualified batters this season, though he doesn't qualify yet. And it's not like it's totally unexpected, as he had power before 2010 and slugged .514 in high-A ball in his first full season of professional baseball (2007), and then topped .500 (.524) again in 2009 in his 3rd attempt to figure out AA pitching – a classification which has often serves as a winnowing fork, separating the wheat from the chaff among prospects. The addition of at-bats against lefty pitching has had the expected result of dropping his batting average, but his .189 average the past 2 weeks is accompanied by 4 homers, 10 RBI, 6 runs, and a steal, and unless low on-base percentage factors into a fantasy system, he's still a big asset.
Coco Crisp appeared to be bringing back the “Curse of the Value Picks”, leaving Sunday's game with a hamstring injury – not good for a stolen base guy, obviously. But he's back, and running, stealing two bases the past week. His ownership percentage has rightfully soared over 20%, as he's one of the few 30-steal types who can actually be considered a viable offensive player even without his steals.
Eric Hinske had a rough week, collecting just 2 hits in 15 at-bats, though being the part of the platoon who gets to face Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay can do that to the best of hitters, and he did have a homer and 4 RBI, so it wasn't a total loss. After the All-Star break, he'll miss Yovani Gallardo (DL), but might have to face Mat Latos, Josh Johnson again, and Stephen Strasburg. None of the other potential matchups seem too difficult.
Tabata remains valuable as long as he leads off for Pittsburgh, as he will keep racking up the steals. Felix Pie came off the DL as anticipated yesterday, and rapped out two hits. He won't be enough to prevent the O's from picking first in the 2011 draft, but could help a fantasy team, as detailed last week.
Mile High thoughts: Value Pick fave Seth Smith is hitting an unbelievable .538/.625/.846 over the past week, certainly validating the faith placed in him by this author. In a world where Todd Helton wasn't such an organizational icon, Brad Hawpe would return to his former position (1b – he was moved to RF because of Helton) when he returns from his injury. With his dominance in AAA extending into his first week back in Colorado, Dexter Fowler is going to be difficult to remove from center field, and Carlos Gonzalez may not be walking much, but he's every bit the fantasy monster discussed (nay, raved about) back in April.
Three for the show: Last week, a reader asked about thoughts on Josh Hamilton, Carlos Lee, and Carlos Quentin. With Josh Hamilton, there are a lot of different factors in play here. As noted, he received much more playing time in the “first half” of 2008, due to the schedule (he played every game all season). In 2010, he appears healthy. If unworried about his health, there are still reasons to “trade high” on him – first, his BABIP is an unsustainably high .381, and he's also benefited from Vlad Guerrero's hot first half, which seems unlikely to be repeated in the second half. With Carlos Lee, it seems realistic that he'll “play to the back of his baseball card”, as they say. He's not old. His top 4 PECOTA comps are: Vlad Guerrero, Harold Baines, Harry Heilmann, and Jim Rice. That resulted in a “Weighted Means” projection of .314/.364/.526 before the season. Obviously, the dreadful first half can't be totally ignored, but Lee has long had a great combination of contact ability and power, and writing him off after a couple bad months would be as much of a mistake as writing off Magglio Ordonez after his bad first half last year (which most people did). Carlos Quentin is a very good hitter playing in a great hitting environment (Weighted Means: .277/.353/.535). By all reports, he's been 100% healthy this year, and his slow start has been somewhat mystifying. His career BABIP is an amazingly low .250, but he's been “unlucky” even by that standard (.234 BABIP this year). It's probably time for yours truly to give up on the idea of him being a “plus” batting average player (since it doesn't appear that the BABIP will ever normalize), but as long as he stays healthy, he should post good on-base percentages and power numbers.