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May 16, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at First Base, Third Base, and DH

by Michael Street

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This season is still at that awkward tweener stage: too soon for prospect call ups, but too late find any overlooked regulars. It’s also too soon to believe in some guys, with whom I’ll play some pepper at the end.

Losing Value

Allen Craig (<1 percent ESPN, 5 percent CBS)
I tried to predict the Cardinals’ future last week, since Craig seemed to be taking over the hot corner. Craig’s shin affliction held him out of the lineup, while the shingles-afflicted Tony La Russa and his fill-in Joe Pettini elected to start Craig at second base—not third—when he returned, making Craig’s 3B qualification a ways off.

Juan Miranda (<1 percent ESPN, 3 percent CBS)
Here, too, my prediction went awry—after starting four games in a row two weeks ago, Miranda started just once last week, though, he did pinch hit in three other contests. The only sure thing in Arizona’s first-base rotation is Xavier Nady starting against lefties, while Kirk Gibson prefers to play matchups with Miranda and Russell Branyan. This makes playing-time prediction difficult, but if we all had crystal balls, they’d make protective cups out of stronger stuff.

Newly Valuable

Scott Rolen (17 percent ESPN, 42 percent CBS)
After initial concern that he might be out much longer, Rolen returned from the DL on Friday with a three-hit game, then picked up two more hits on Saturday and Sunday. He is no longer a fantasy stud, and he has had trouble with that joint throughout his career. CHIPPER gives him the dreaded red skull-and-crossbones for all but the longest of injuries this year, a prediction that has already come true and may come true again.

But he has been productive while healthy, and PECOTA pegs him for a .268/.339/.421 line in just his 50th percentile, with 15-20 home runs if he exceeds that baseline. Given his name recognition, Rolen’s ownership will rise quickly, so his stay on Value Picks should be brief. Consider this more of a heads-up that he is healthy again, but we all need a good dope slap now and again.

Ty Wigginton (7 percent ESPN, 23 percent CBS)
Wigginton also returned from the DL, and Colorado promptly optioned Ian Stewart to Triple-A, where he’ll remain for some time. That (and a .153/.172/.235 start to the season by Jose Lopez) throws the door wide open for Wiggy to step into the third-base job, something he’ll also be given some time to do, since Colorado’s pitchers (.164) have had a higher batting average than their third basemen (.141).

Wigginton is a much better play at second base, where he qualifies in most leagues, but his power will deliver value at the hot corner, too. His 50th percentile .440 SLG puts him just ahead of Chipper Jones (.439) and behind Adrian Beltre (.452) among third basemen. Much of that comes from doubles (around 20) than home runs (15-20), but both of those are solid, especially in a Colorado lineup ranked third in the NL in runs scored per game.

Wiggy hits sixth or seventh in that order, diminishing his counting stats, and his career rates of 7.1 percent in walks and 17.3 percent in strikeouts have slipped a bit to 6.4 percent and 18.0 percent, respectively. That will hold down his batting average, which PECOTA still projects falling between the high .260s and low .280s. Like Rolen, he won’t stay on this list long, but he makes a fine hot-corner play in all but shallow mixed leagues.

Still Valuable

Hideki Matsui (10 percent ESPN, 21 percent CBS)
Matsui started twice last week and has been seeing less time against lefties this year, despite strong contact rates; he struck out only three times this month in 33 plate appearances, but walking once suggests he is pressing. Matsui won’t play in next weekend’s interleague series against the Giants, but the Athletics will face nearly all righties next week, with the possible exception of Thursday’s Twinkies tilt. Matsui will turn it around, although if he keeps sitting against lefties, his value will drop.

Danny Valencia (4 percent ESPN, 29 percent CBS)
Valencia alternated two-hit games with goose eggs last week, but he hit .297/.366/.459 over the past two weeks in his return to respectability. His 15 walks and 17 strikeouts for the season (147 plate appearances) are both very solid, so keep believing in Valencia.

Matt LaPorta (7 percent ESPN, 41 percent CBS)
Each time I read about Gaby Sanchez’s incredible productivity this season, I remember how long the former VP languished on waiver wires last season, and I think of LaPorta. LaPorta has slowed down in the past two weeks (.207/.281/.276), but his overall ratios remain solid. His 19.2 percent strikeout and 9.6 percent walk rates will keep his batting average tolerable, while his .202 ISO is nothing to sneeze at. The LaPorta Ignore-O-Meter remains high for now.

AL-Only Value

Daric Barton (<1 percent ESPN, 19 percent CBS)
Although Calledstrike3 pointed out last week that Barton is likely unavailable in most AL-only leagues, his ownership rates leave me unconvinced. Barton has hit in four of his last five games and seven of ten games this month, so the consistency is coming and that ownership may change. His 16.5 percent strikeout ratio is returning to his career norm of 16 percent, and his 15.2 percent walk rate remains nicely elevated. This many walks runs the risk of inducing Jeremy Giambitis, but I expect stronger stuff from Barton in the weeks to come.

NL-Only Value

Melvin Mora (<1 percent ESPN, 4 percent CBS)
As Ryan Roberts returns to mediocrity (.214/.371/.321 in May), Mora continues to amass time at the hot corner, making Mora marginally more valuable. If you’re concerned by Mora’s skimpy 2.4 percent walk rate (8.5 percent career) and 19.1 percent whiff rate (15.5 percent career) thus far, you may find a replacement NL-only player below.

Playing Pepper

Nick Punto has started nearly every game playing at second at third since returning to health, though his .255/.364/.382 slash line makes him more valuable at the keystone than the hot corner.

You can ride Brad Hawpe’s hot bat, but his 30.4 percent strikeout rate and suddenly impatient 6.3 walk rate means he is going to come crashing down sooner rather than later.

Casey Kotchman may own a .333/.407/.420 slash line, but his .356 BABIP is 85 points higher than his career average. Don’t believe this year’s 91 plate appearances—trust the 2328 in which he hit .259/.326/.392.

Jack Cust has hit .294/.442/.441 in May, but has yet to go yard. He is striking out and walking as much as ever, but until that Third True Outcome starts to come out, his value is limited to OBP leagues only.

Related Content:  Hot Corner,  Espn

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jhardman

Free Chris Davis! Be ready for the upcoming trade that makes him an Oriole, a Ray, a Diamondback, etc. Just giving notice to my friends looking for some decent FAAB investment dollars...

May 16, 2011 08:56 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

My position remains the same on Davis: wherever he plays, his 32.6% K rate this season (in line with his 31.9 K% career) is going to create too much BA instability.

Like Hawpe, he might catch fire for a time (and Davis has at least retained a 9.3% walk rate this year, unlike Hawpe), but he's going to be too up-and-down to be reliable.

And I don't think Texas is going to trade him unless and until their outfield gets healthy again. He's started 7 of their last 12 games, and that's a lot of PAs to fill. Hang on to those FAAB dollars until a move is made, and even then, don't pay too much.

May 16, 2011 10:04 AM
 
stately

Hm. Maybe jumped the gun on Ryan Roberts' "return to mediocrity." Also, a .371 on-base is pretty serviceable in OBP leagues, especially with his multi-infielder qualification.

May 16, 2011 09:19 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

I watched Roberts' homer about an hour after I'd submitted my column, and knew I'd catch some flak for that :)

You're right about Roberts' OBP, but he's a better play at 2B with a .321 SLG over that same span (though last night's HR boosted that to a .419). Regardless, his 16.7% HR/FB ratio is more than twice his career norm, so the power he's flashed should disappear, too.

May 16, 2011 09:57 AM
 
pobothecat

Speaking of flashes and hot-streaks and inevitable returns to the norm --- I don't know where else to ask this --- has there ever, EVER, been a mid-career change-of-form like the one we're witnessing from Jose Bautista?

May 16, 2011 12:15 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

No. No, there hasn't been. In fact, there have been few stretches in anyone's career, regardless of talent history, that can rival what Bautista (the most interesting man in the world) has done since September, 2009.

May 16, 2011 13:22 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

I don't have the bandwidth to run this down completely right now, but I'll agree that nobody's ever done what Bautista is doing after the start of Bautista's career. It's not unprecedented in terms of HR, as the 'Roid Boys (McGwire, Sosa, Bonds) hit more than Bautista's 70 HR over a two-plus year span (clearly, they all his at or near this level in a single season). Bonds also beats Bautista's current 7.1 AB/HR pace with 2001's 6.52.

If Bautista can maintain his .868 SLG all season, it would edge out Bonds' .863 SLG in 2001. Even if you want to go with the non-steroid era, Ruth hit 114 HRs between '27 and '28 and had SLG of .847 and .846 in '20 and '21. His best AB/HR was "just" 8.58 in 1920.

So his turnaround may well be singularly unprecedented--but his HR surge is not (yet) record-breaking.

May 16, 2011 14:48 PM
 
BP staff member Michael Jong
BP staff

I'll say this in Mike's defense re: Barton and AL-only availability: the week he dropped him to AL-only status, I scoured the wires of my own ESPN AL-only and found him sitting on the waiver wire. I went ahead and added him for a small amount.

It's not inconceivable to see him available, especially given how little Barton contributes normally to non-OBP leagues: he's a career .255 hitter and PECOTA projects a .245 batting average from a first baseman with no power. When Mike brought him up, he was slumping (but with bounceback potential) and was losing some PT to Conor Jackson; that sounds like the type of player who might get some love from VP.

May 16, 2011 12:29 PM
 
moremoose

Third straight addition with Melvin Mora. Past three weeks two players have struck out 13 times except one did it in nine few at bats, Mora did it in 46 AB, Hawpe had 55 AB.

Using ESPN player rater over past 30 days. Hawpe (1.04) while Mora (-2.43).

Walk rates, K-rates, whatever rates, in fantasy land you pick up the player that is hitting right now, if you need him right now. In the last few weeks, Hawpe has done all those things but still no love, your comment is more of an insult to his recent production. You even suggest not buying into Chris Davis even though he has produced in limited at bats, at least he isn't hurting his owners.

Baseball is all about hot and cold streaks especially when your dealing with the bottom of the barrel. Keeping faith in players with rates that say BUY just isn't practical when other players are hitting right now. When Hawpe does go cold there will always be some other scrub to pick up that has caught fire.

May 16, 2011 15:16 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

I appreciate the heat, Sarge, but allow me to explain:

Mora is in the NL-only category at 3B, a very shallow position, and Hawpe is in a deeper offensive position. That's part of my reasoning for including Mora in this latest edition. I'm not crazy about Mora, either, but he's been playing and has been fairly productive at a shallow position.

Further, trying to predict a hot streak is well-nigh impossible (if you can do so, you'd be well advised to move to Vegas or Reno and make your living there :D). If you saw Hawpe's streak coming before (and not after) it started, kudos to you. You'd be alone in the analytical community; most of us have said (and continue to say) to stay away from Hawpe, regardless of current production.

Instead of the futility of trying to predict a statistical anomaly like a hot or cold streak, the best we analysts can do is look at underlying skills and recommend accordingly. Mora's skills are stronger than Hawpe's in BA production, a stat that's highly dependent on K% and, to a lesser degree, BB%.

Mora's ratios are slipping from his career norms, which may make this his last week on VP, but Hawpe's are not only much worse than his career averages, they're highly damaging. Statistical studies have shown that a player with a 30% K rate (like Hawpe and Davis) will end up the season with a batting average in the .240-.250 range.

I don't know how my comment on Hawpe was an "insult" to his recent production--I said he was hot and you're welcome to ride him. Check back in a few weeks and let's see whether Hawpe's still hitting at a .387/.472/.645 (as he's done over the past two weeks). I'm betting that, since his production has only now driven his average into the above-predicted range, he'll begin to cool off very soon.

You're welcome to ignore my advice and pick up Hawpe, Davis, or any other red-hot hitter, and try and guess when he'll cool off. I've played fantasy for nearly twenty years, and I spent a few seasons thinking I could do that. Eventually, I found that I was chasing past production, instead of looking forward and trying to see what a guy will do next week. More often than not, the "hot hitter" strategy leaves you holding onto a guy who was hitting out of his skull the week before and now has returned to (or sunk below) his predicted norms.

That's what we do here at BP Fantasy: look at underlying (secondary) rates to try and predict future production. Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong, but over time, that approach works. You can pick outliers like Hawpe and show me where I'm wrong, and I'll freely cop to that; prediction and projection aren't perfect.

It's easy to look back and point out guys I've missed, small-sample production blips from Davis and Hawpe that neither I nor any statistician could have seen coming. Sometimes guys (like these guys, or Jose Bautista) do stuff that nobody would predict--if you want to play Armchair Quarterback and point out my failings, that's awfully easy to do. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

But look at my VPs as a whole, and I'll put 'em up against any five guys you'd like to collect with ESPN ownership rates under 20% who you think are currently "hot", and we'll see whose numbers are higher at the end of the season.

May 16, 2011 16:07 PM
 
moremoose

Hawpe is also eligible at OF and to my knowledge most leagues start 5 outfielders and with a 10 team NL only league I would guess it is harder to find Outfield help at this point in the season.

I commented back when Hawpe had a 5 game hit streak. Small sample size but hey take a flier if an owner has studs sitting on the DL, nice production thus far. Guys like Hawpe are nice short term additions while injured players get healthy, hence the title of your articles "Value Picks." These aren't guys that are going to carry your team all year, if an owner is looking for that then good luck because it isn't going to happen.

I noticed Hawpe after his little streak and said well he put up nice production before 2010 and is only 31, still in his prime, maybe he provides some nice production short term. Hawpe could of tanked after my first comment but your right I got lucky. If/when Hawpe fell back to earth then drop him for some other player who shows warming possibilities. Owners have to take chances on guys and get lucky to win these days. All the info out there puts owners on the same level.

About your value picks up against mine, this isn't who can pee the farthest. I am simply trying to shed some light on the fact that no matter the underlying skills a player shows, he can put up good short-term production from time to time and end up adding value to a fantasy team. Over the course of entire season is a totally different story. As ownership shows almost all these guys are dropped/added week to week throughout the year and usually provide little value over the entire season.

Your comment more or less saying that Hawpe will soon turn to mud, is insulting to those who want to add him to his/her fantasy team. A more practical statement would be to say; owners should be cautious with Hawpe since his underlying stats show he probably won't continue his current production over the course of the season.

BP has been great in adding more and more fantasy content over the past couple years. I hope more is added to help compete with the likes of baseballhq which I find years ahead everyone else, albeit at a premium to subscribers. Above average advice from fantasy experts isn't easy to come by when everyone is looking at the same "secondary skills." Sites have to innovate and look beyond the horizon along with establishing a consistent track record. Hopefully BP will continue to improve on there fantasy content and begin to set there own standard for success.

May 16, 2011 17:34 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Value Picks is not intended to offer guys who will bring short-term value, unless we indicate otherwise. It's meant to find undiscovered value, particularly the kind that will help you over the long term.

I quite understand and absolutely agree with you that players can put up good short-term value despite poor secondary skills. Those aren't the players I'm recommending, nor are my BP compatriots. How would you predict such a thing? Again, if you can predict the statistically unpredictable, you need to play Powerball, not fantasy baseball.

Besides, it takes zero skill to say "This guy's been putting up good stats. Pick him up." Most fantasy sites provide a way for owners to do just that (ESPN has its Player Rater or its "Last 7" or "Last 15" stat tabs). A computer (or a monkey) could do that.

It's far more difficult--and in the long term, far more rewarding, statistically--to find guys who aren't producing yet, but soon will be, or hot hitters who will continue to be hot, not suddenly peter out at some indeterminate point in the future. The whole point of Value Picks is to distinguish contenders from pretenders, to say "This guy's hot streak is for real" or "This guy's hot streak is hollow." Or, sometimes, "This guy should improve from his current numbers, and represents a good investment."

I don't see how saying "You can ride Brad Hawpe’s hot bat . . . he is going to come crashing down sooner rather than later" is less insulting (or less practical) to his owners than your wordier construction, but if any owners have been insulted by my player commentary, I apologize. In the interest of snappier prose (and a 1000-word limit), I strive for brevity (something that's clearly not the case with my comments :D).

Thanks for your thoughts, Sarge.

May 16, 2011 18:16 PM
 
moremoose

Your definition of value during the season, when most leagues have very shallow benches most of which are taken up by players on the DL and not so hot one category players, is hardly plausible. To use simplistic information and suggest players that could be of some value at some point during the season takes zero skill. As I said the playing field is leveled and any monkey can run an excel spreadsheet and see who should be performing at a higher level or vice versa.

I subscribe to fantasy websites to discover more in-depth information about players, not to read short comments about who has a low strikeout rate or who is deviating from their career norms. Fantasy experts are trying to determine what they can from the data they have and increasingly using at least a few underlying stats that show what should be that isn’t, not just throwing out K rate or the stats most are aware of. Hard hit ball data is now the current stat that alot of experts are trying to incorporate into their analysis. If you want to provide suggestions worth taking into consideration I would suggest using more in-depth analysis and not being so brief. In short, step your game up, Mike.

May 16, 2011 19:34 PM
rating: -3
 
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