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May 9, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at First, Third and DH

by Michael Street

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Despite what Eliot says, May is actually the cruelest month for fantasy baseball. Positions have calcified, so the waiver wire is generally empty of starters, and it’s too early to expect promising prospects to be called up (impatient teams with deep farm systems notwithstanding). On top of that, players with early hot starts are gone, leaving plenty of backups or poorly performing starters. What’s an owner to do?

Read Value Picks, of course.

Departures

Kila Ka’aihue (2 percent ESPN, 25 percent CBS)
I was surprised that Kansas City sent down Kila Monster after just 96 major-league plate appearances. It’s also puzzling since future stud Eric Hosmer, called up to replace him, has just 118 plate appearances at Triple-A (all this season), albeit with a .439/.525/.582 line. If Hosmer struggles, Kila could return, but the next time you see Ka’aihue in the majors, it may be in a different uniform.

Shelley Duncan (<1 percent ESPN, <1 percent CBS)
I named Duncan as an AL-only VP after Travis Hafner missed several games with a strained foot tendon , but Pronk looks healthy now, returning with two straight two-hit games. I’m dropping Duncan for now, but if Pronk’s hoof requires more attention, look for the lefty-mashing Duncan to garner more frequent play.

Arrivals

Allen Craig (<1 percent ESPN, 5 percent CBS)
With David Freese on the DL, Tony La Russa could play David Descalso, Nick Punto and Craig at the hot corner. Of the three, Craig has by far the most offensive potential: he played more at third base in the minors than any other position, although the .927 fielding percentage there shows why he has been playing in the outfield with St. Louis. La Russa once swore he wouldn’t use Craig at the hot corner, but he has softened of late.

If La Russa can tolerate his rough leather, Craig could repay him with some solid offensive numbers. In the minors, Craig had a triple-slash line of .308/.369/.517, with a strong 16.6 percent strikeout rate and slightly impatient 7.9 percent walk rate. Those point to PECOTA’s 50th percentile batting-average projection of .276, but the .448 SLG should also whet your appetite. If he plays full time, PECOTA projects 15-20 homers from Craig, similar to Chipper Jones, Casey Blake and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Craig has missed the last two games after fouling a ball off his calf, an injury that shouldn’t linger. He’ll share time even when healthy, but La Russa needs Punto and Descalso to fill Skip Schumaker’s spot at second, so Craig could seize the lion’s share of the starting role, even remaining there after Freese returns. If you pick him up, stay patient for the next week or two to see how things shake out.

Juan Miranda (<1 percent ESPN, 3 percent CBS)
In my VP write-up for Russell Branyan, I said that Miranda was Arizona’s nominal starter at first base, despite not starting there much. That has changed in the intervening weeks, with Miranda starting five of the last six games, including four in a row, hitting .235/.409/.471, thanks to five walks and one strikeout.

Once his .262 BABIP (over a small-sample 69 plate appearances) turns around, Miranda’s patience will continue to pay dividends to his owners, especially those in OBP leagues. Miranda displayed these skills in the minors, where he logged a walk rate of 11 percent, remaining consistent or improving at each new level. A 20 percent minor-league strikeout rate will sandbag his batting average, explaining some of PECOTA’s .251/.328/.429 triple-slash projection. His SLG should approach .500 above his 90th percentile, where he will also push towards a .290 batting average.

Miranda’s unstable playing time and age make him a gamble, but Arizona’s gaping hole at first and friendly home park could provide a nice reward for moderate risk. All but the shallowest leagues should find value in Miranda, who might be one of the last early-season pickups who could pay off significantly down the road.

Staying Put

Hideki Matsui (11 percent ESPN, 22 percent CBS)
Godzilla went 5-for-21 (.238) last week, but didn’t whiff, so I’m chalking this up to bad luck (.200 BABIP). A home run and two doubles among those hits gave him a .476 SLG, showing what he can do when he makes contact. As I explained last week, he is a slow starter, but he’ll warm up soon.

Danny Valencia (2 percent ESPN, 25 percent CBS)
With five doubles in his last seven games (including three straight games with a two-bagger), during which he has hit .250/.333/.458, Valencia is beginning to heat up. His .220/.298/.330 overall line still doesn’t look impressive, but he has struck out once since April 27, a span of 34 plate appearances during which he walked four times. Stick with him; he is starting to pay off.

Matt LaPorta (10 percent ESPN, 44 percent CBS)
Last year, I touted Gaby Sanchez from April 12 until June 28, and his ownership never crested 20 percent, despite his .301/.366/.462 line over that span. LaPorta may be this year’s VP sleeper. After an 0-5 performance on April 13 that dropped his triple-slash to .189/.295/.378, LaPorta has hit .316/.365/.544 in 63 plate appearances, walking 5 times and striking out nine times. After weeks of static ownership, his ownership rate doubled last week, and these rates snowball, so grab him before someone else does. He won’t be a VP much longer.

AL-Only

Daric Barton (<1 percent ESPN, 21 percent CBS)
Though Barton’s core skills remain strong, he is scuffling enough for me to drop him to AL-only status. Conor Jackson has been hot enough to steal time from Barton, starting two of the last four games at first base, giving Barton incentive to turn it around. Barton’s hit in four of his past seven games, but only one of those was a multi-hit game, so his line over that span is a wimpy .172/.250/.241. He’ll get better, but until he does, his struggles and marginal skill set makes him best for AL-only owners.

NL-Only

Melvin Mora (<1 percent ESPN, 4 percent CBS)
Unlike his single-league counterpart, Mora has been moderately productive, hitting .286/.333/.286 this past week in three starts. Uncharacteristically, he has whiffed five times in those fifteen plate appearances, so his contact skills could be slipping. Still, he is sharing time with the overrated Ryan Roberts, so Mora should deliver decent, if underwhelming stats, to his NL-only owners.

Related Content:  Espn,  Shelley Duncan

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