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April 19, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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This week we'll look at some names heading in and out of the Value Picks portfolio because of interesting recent performance. Of course, as my colleague Mike Street pointed out yesterday, we'll also be debuting a new feature in which we look at one AL- or NL-only option for you deeper league players.

Departures

Jeff Baker, Chicago Cubs (1 percent ESPN / 4 percent Yahoo!)

Baker got the nod last week with his solid performance against left-handed pitching, and if he were still in a strict platoon situation with second base partner Darwin Barney, Baker would still be endorsed in this space for NL-only players. Unfortunately, it seems like Baker might be on the short end of a playing time squeeze; Barney seems to have won manager Mike Quade's trust for now, meaning Baker might see fewer plate appearances, even against lefty starters. The Cubs have no other real spots available, as they have a healthy logjam of outfielders in addition to a set of full-time starters in the infield, leaving Baker without a regular position. Until he can squeeze his way back into a favorable platoon, Value Picks will let him move on.

Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati Reds (2 percent ESPN / 8 percent Yahoo!)

Hanigan has spent two weeks on Value Picks and hasn't had the greatest results, going just .095/.174/.143 in that time period. Combined with the somewhat sporadic playing time (catching only for Bronson Arroyo consistently) and the availability of a hot Ramon Hernandez (.303/.361/.545 in 2011), Hanigan's bad two-week stretch should buy him less playing time and a temporary ticket off of Value Picks.

Will Rhymes, Detroit Tigers (<1 percent ESPN, 4 percent Yahoo!)

Rhymes is currently mired in a bit of a slow start, batting just .222/.286/.222 with no stolen bases to start the season. While Carlos Guillen has yet to resume baseball activities, Rhymes’ job may still be on the line with Scott Sizemore tearing up the minors in a small sample (.387/.472/.548 in 36 PA). Given that Rhymes has less major league upside than Sizemore, Rhymes could be on the chopping block in the next few weeks, and unless he heats up, Value Picks will bid him farewell for now.

Arrivals

Jed Lowrie, Boston Red Sox (4 percent ESPN / 54 percent Yahoo!)

Fantasy fans everywhere have been keeping their eye of Lowrie, as evidenced by his high Yahoo! ownership rate. However, Monday's afternoon game against the Toronto Blue Jays may have been the stroke that sends mixed league owners scurrying to acquire him. Lowrie went four-for-five against Toronto on Monday, including a home run, two runs, and four RBI. For the four-game series, he gathered nine hits, two homers, and eight RBI.

But do not think that this hot streak is an isolated event. As Marc Normandin reported over at Red Sox Beacon, Lowrie has been hot for a while ever since he returned from a bout of mono in late July of 2010. Since that time period, Lowrie has hit an astonishing .310/.396/.543, good for a .354 TAv (!). How many shortstops beat that ridiculous TAv in that same span of time?

None. Not even Troy Tulowitzki, he of the .331/.407/.672 line inflated in part by Coors Field, could best Lowrie's TAv, though Tulo clocked in at an equally amazing .349 mark.

Lowrie has always been a rare breed of middle infielder, with power to spare (career minor league ISO of .161) and the type of swing that takes advantage of it (career fly ball rate of 50 percent in the majors). However, he does not run the bases particularly well and has had a history of strikeout problems that only recently stopped in 2010. Whether or not those strikeouts will continue and hinder his batting average remains to be seen, but PECOTA's 50th percentile projection has him hitting .246 with a reasonable 19 percent strikeout rate and a .286 BABIP.

If Lowrie has indeed turned a corner and realized some of his upside, there is a good chance that a .260 batting average and double digit power are in store for the remainder of the season. If he is in line for a breakout performance even halfway as promising as his recent three-month hot streak, then it will essentially be impossible for Terry Francona to continue benching him, removing the only remaining obstacle to Lowrie's full-time play.

Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres (16 percent ESPN / 43 percent Yahoo!)

Hudson has been the epitome of a “replacement level” position player in standard mixed leagues; he never excelled in any category but had just enough power, batting average, and speed to be worth plugging into fantasy lineups in case of injury. After battling through injuries and struggles in Minnesota last season (yet still managing to score the second most runs in his career), most fantasy players felt that a move to San Diego and Petco Park would be a downgrade to Hudson's mixed-league usefulness.

However, the move so far has worked wonders. Forget the fact that he is currently hitting .300/.403/.360; that .383 BABIP is not going to last throughout the season. What is most intriguing is Hudson's steals totals so far this year. So far, Hudson has made off with six steals in the first 63 PA this season, a career-high pace. In fact, before the 2011 season, Hudson only ran in 4.5 percent of stolen base opportunities, but so far this season, he has taken off in six of 28 opportunities, an absurdly high 21.4 percent. That pace is not likely to continue, but it is not as if it is unprecedented, as San Diego manager Bud Black was somewhat above average in sending runners in 2010. If Hudson is being influenced to run more often under Black's regime than he has been in seasons past, he could break 15 steals easily and possibly threaten 20 by the end of 2011.

Hudson still is not a prime option, given that he is batting in Petco half the time and in a decidedly weaker lineup than the Adrian Gonzalez-led Padres of last season. Still, a decent average is almost a guarantee (from 2008-2010, Hudson had a .284 batting average and a .326 BABIP) and playing time is plentiful, so if he stays healthy, he is an acceptable choice for your middle infield slot. With more steals on the way (PECOTA projects eight more by year's end) Hudson should be worth your time in deeper mixed leagues.

Incumbents

Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers

Since being endorsed by Value Picks, Avila got only 12 PA and hit decently well, batting .364/.417/.364. Of course, fantasy owners are more interested in his power stats, and it was a slow week for Avila, as he missed out on extra-base hits and mustered only one RBI. He is still worth in mixed leagues if you own some of the lesser catchers in the league, but note that Avila will sit often times against lefties in favor of Victor Martinez behind the plate. The Tigers face lefties twice this week, on Friday (Mark Buehrle) and Sunday (John Danks) so sit Avila accordingly.

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (8 percent ESPN / 51 percent Yahoo!)

Espinosa had a great week for fantasy baseball, hitting .235/.263/.588 with a homer and eight RBI. The power potential is clearly there: out of his 11 hits, six of them went for extra bases. Unfortunately, he still has not attempted another steal since the previous week. Most fantasy owners would be happy to take a potentially 20-homer middle infielder with decent plate discipline on their roster, however, so mixed league readers should still be interested.

Chris Getz, Kansas City Royals (3 percent ESPN / 17 percent Yahoo!)

Getz did not get much going this past week, hitting .158/.200/.158 with no stolen base attempts. He is still getting the consistent playing time he would need to break into mixed league play, but that status will ultimately be dependent on how successful he is on the basepaths. If he can continue to force himself on base, Ned Yost should allow the steals to start flowing.

NL-only VP

Jamey Carroll, Los Angeles Dodgers (2 percent ESPN / 6 percent Yahoo!)

Carroll is about as safe a player as you can find with the right amount of playing time. Since 2008, Carroll has hit .281/.363/.342, and he hasn't strayed below a .277 batting average or above a .291 mark. He swings very little (below 40 percent swing rate each season since 2008) and does not miss much when he does, hovering around one whiff every ten swings. All of those combine to yield average strikeout rates (16.3 percent since 2008) and strong walk rates (10.4 percent since 2008). He is a good bet for a .280 batting average and double-digit steals (provided enough playing time), and since he serves as the primary backup shortstop to Rafael Furcal (already out with a broken thumb), he should see at least 300 PA by season's end.

AL-only VP

Jayson Nix, Toronto Blue Jays (1 percent ESPN / 5 percent Yahoo!)

Last season, Nix spent 363 PA split between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox and hit 14 home runs with an entirely non-fluky 11.7 HR/FB rate. This season, finding spare playing time with Toronto, Nix is doing the same thing, hitting two homers in 42 PA playing primarily third base for the Jays. Nix has mediocre plate discipline as his 23.7 percent strikeout rate and eight percent walk rate show, but that power alongside the hitting environment of Rogers Centre (five-year regressed home run park factor of 1.06) and the Toronto approach seems like a match made in heaven. With Rajai Davis still on the DL and Juan Rivera in the doghouse, Nix has gotten a full-time load so far in 2011, and he might have a good chance to hold onto such a role if he continues to hit this well. His batting average will fall, but expect that power to continue to flourish.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

Related Content:  Orlando Hudson,  Jed Lowrie,  Time,  Espn

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