August 4, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
Returning: Rick Ankiel's RBI possibilities should get a boost with the shift in leagues, even if manager Bobby Cox keeps batting him behind Alex Gonzalez, since the players batting in front of Gonzalez have some of the better on-base percentages in the National League. Brian McCann is 7th, with a .388 OBP and Chipper Jones (.373) and Troy Glaus ( .355) are also among the top 31 qualifiers. He started against Johan Santana, but Johan has historically been tough on right-handed hitters, and it remains to be seen whether Ankiel will start against lefties who are tough against left-handed hitters. Given Cox's history, it seems most likely that Ankiel will start as often as he's physically able to play.
Hitters generally don't improve their walk rates dramatically, but maybe there's something about right field in Wrigley, as Sammy Sosa did so, and Tyler Colvin is now coming off of a 5-walk week, and is up to 22 in his 278 PA. For a player whose minor-league walk rates could best be called “Francoeurian” (as in 105 walks in 1868 PA), this is cause for guarded optimism in Chicago. There wasn't much other good news for the week with Colvin, but he's become a safe enough fantasy option for the rest of the season – he'll play every day, and his power will continue to make up for his low batting average. His L/R splits are catching up with expectations, and even if Lou Piniella starts him against lefties, this practice should be avoided wherever possible in fantasy leagues.
Jose Tabata managed to hit 11 singles on the week without stealing a base. Reviewing the box scores, this appears to be a case of smart baserunning for a variety of reasons. For the Rockies and Cardinals, the opposing batteries were tough to steal against – Miguel Olivo has thrown out 41%, and Yadier Molina leads the league at 46%. Tabata went hitless in the first of two Reds games so far, and the Pirates took an early 6-0 lead in yesterday's game, which generally reduces steal attempts. For the season, the Cardinals (fewest – 33 SB), Reds (4th best – 49 SB), and Rockies (6th best – 54 SB) are among the best teams at theft prevention, and Chris Iannetta is responsible for 20 of the steals the Rox have allowed, so with Olivo catching they are better than their ranking indicates. So, it's a bit early to worry about him slowing down; keep in mind that he stole 25 bases in 252 PA in AAA, and expect him to run rampant against some of the teams which aren't featuring such strong defense against the running game.
Logan Morrison hasn't started out like Starlin Castro's debut (6 RBI in his first game), but he did collect three doubles for the week, and is striking out in fewer than 25% of his at-bats. Neither is especially great, but they suggest he's not totally overwhelmed, inasmuch as such small samples can show anything at all. With Jorge Cantu in Texas, Morrison should be in no danger of losing playing time, as the team is ready to return Chris Coghlan to the infield when he's healthy, which may not be until 2011. Felix Pie hit .333 for the week, and even stole a base [ed – www.rotolympus.com – John Burnson's latest - is very convenient for finding such stats]. Coco Crisp had two more steals in an otherwise bleak week (.192 with 0 HR and 4 walks).
New Faces: A few weeks ago, John Jay was reviewed, despite not being added to the list at the time. The opening salvo of information included this summary: “... it's hard to argue too much with his ability to make a difference on a fantasy team if he plays.” Clearly, the St. Louis Cardinals also thought he could make a difference, and opened up a lot of playing time for him with the seemingly loopy indirect trade of Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook. The only real update is that while Jay has been attempting steals (5 attempts in 138 PA), he's only succeeded once so far, and the 20-steal upside he appeared to have might need to be tempered somewhat, at least until he learns the pitchers and catchers at this level. Don't expect him to keep hitting .366, but do expect him to keep hitting well. A batting average above .280 range, with a 10-HR and 10-SB full-season pace would seem like a “floor”, and on the Cardinals, that should be good for a decent haul of Runs and RBIs as well.
Rotisserie baseball – as initially created – was destined to be won by owners who pick up players like Shelley Duncan and Peter Bourjos. A warning in advance: neither player will help every team. But both have had doors open wide to expanded playing time, with Austin Kearns being shipped out of Cleveland, and the Angels being far enough out of the race that they want to get a good look at their future, and are certainly dreaming of being able to trade one of their older bats who is underperforming. With nobody paying attention to the Indians, Duncan is certainly available in most formats, and Bourjos is a disproportionately good fantasy option, due to his speed, though his defensive skills mean that he should also be a good contributor to the real-life club, as well.
Despite having full-time jobs, the two players are ranked just 86th and 104th on a rotoworld.com August ranking of outfielders. While this is probably too low even in a vacuum, it also certainly doesn't (and can't) consider the fact that some teams need certain categories desperately at this point in the season. Duncan may be a “AAAA player”, yet the biggest reason is due to the fact that he is a liability in the field. But he can hit. He has hit 36 homers in his last 693 AAA plate appearances (2009-2010), and his 70th-percentile PECOTA projection indicates 28 HR per 514 PA for him in 2010. There simply aren't many options to get a player who has a reasonable chance to hit ten more homers in 2010. He's likely to cost a fantasy team in batting average, and if he struggles enough, maybe Michael Brantley gets another chance, but his power is legitimate, and is the winning play for certain teams.
At the risk of being facile, parallel analysis can be applied to Bourjos as to Duncan, replacing “home run” with “stolen base”, with the damage coming to the RBI category instead of the batting average category. Bourjos obviously makes a much better keeper candidate than Duncan - his 10-year MORP is over $50 MM, and he should be able to steal 20 bases per season in his sleep.
At the risk of having an unwieldy chart, there's bonus coverage this week, as all of the incumbant players are still in limbo. Expect wholesale housecleaning next week.