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May 31, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Departures

Jamey Carroll, Los Angeles Dodgers (14 percent ESPN / 20 percent CBS / 22 percent Yahoo)

Carroll makes his exit this week not necessarily due to his meek performance this past week but mostly because he is likely on his way out of the lineup once Juan Uribe returns from the disabled list with his strained hip flexor. Even though Uribe has not played well enough to deserve his spot and Carroll (.293/.354/.351, 5 SB) has played decently, Carroll may be the odd man out due to the Dodgers preferring Carroll as a utility backup infielder. Nothing offensively has changed for Carroll, and expecting more of a high BABIP and decent on-base skill is warranted. This week, Carroll simply makes way for more potentially interesting names.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (2 percent ESPN / 27 percent CBS / 6 percent Yahoo)

Ramos also makes his exit this week after a disappointing hitless week in 16 plate appearances. He has shown flashes of power throughout his time on the VP portfolio, but ultimately the regression he saw in his BABIP and batting averaged far outweighed the other aspects of his game.
 

Arrivals

Adam Kennedy, Seattle Mariners (7 percent ESPN / 7 percent CBS / 7 percent Yahoo)

It is hard to suggest a player like Adam Kennedy, particularly when he is coming off a year like Kennedy had in 2010. Last season, Kennedy hit just .249/.327/.327, worthy of just a .256 TAv. Fantasy fans saw the .249 batting average, the bad projections (PECOTA had him hitting .256/.308/.330 at his 50th percentile before the season) and figured the worst, but it is worth asking why we were really all that concerned.

Year

AVG

OBP

SLG

SB/600 PA

BABIP

2008

0.280

0.321

0.372

11

0.312

2009

0.289

0.349

0.410

20

0.326

2010

0.249

0.327

0.327

22

0.274

3-year total

0.275

0.334

0.376

18

0.307

Over the past three years, Kennedy was never a particularly good hitter, but fantasy fans chasing categories often employ bad hitters to achieve their means. A player who averages something close to .275/.334/.376 with 18 stolen bases in full season would be worthy of a selection if playing middle infield, and that sort of performance is pretty much what Kennedy has been providing his entire career.  In fact, he is a career .275/.330/.388 hitter who averages 19 stolen bases every 600 plate appearances.

Kennedy was not slated to be a starter in Seattle this season, having initially been behind Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson at the start of the season. However, with both players being awful batters and the Mariners desperate for hitting, they turned to Kennedy and stuck him in the middle of that lineup, batting as low as seventh and as high as fourth. He has delivered so far, slugging a career high .452 backed by four home runs. Whether or not that power is real is just gravy; fantasy owners should not continue to expect a 9.5 HR/FB rate, even if Safeco Field does not tend to depress home runs to lefties (94 home run park factor for lefty hitters according to StatCorner) as much as it does to righties (84 park factor). Still, the current .290 batting average is not as much of a mirage as the PECOTA projection claims it to be, as Kennedy's current .305 BABIP is surprisingly similar to his career .308 mark and his 2008-2010 mark of .307. He is just about playing at his career level, which is that of an unremarkable hitter who steals just enough bases and hits for just enough average to be of use in fantasy baseball. He is a fringe option in mixed leagues and obviously worth his weight in AL-only leagues due to his consistent playing time.

Chris Snyder, Pittsburgh Pirates (<1 percent ESPN / 9 percent CBS / 1 percent Yahoo)

When Snyder left the VP list a few weeks back, I had this to say:

Snyder is also a victim of a playing time crunch leading to a loss of his spot on the VP list. He ceded some playing time this week to Ryan Doumit, and though the two are in something of a platoon, Doumit's switch-hitting capabilities allow manager Clint Hurdle to throw him against righties instead of Snyder if he so chooses.

That hurdle has been cleared with Doumit being placed on the disabled listwith a sprained ankle this week. That eliminates any competition for the catching position for Snyder until Doumit returns, and that is a good thing for fantasy fans looking for a low-end catching option. Snyder has not quite established his power yet, despite a .455/.600/.727 week that included a home run. He does, however, own a career ISO of .163 and has hit 19 HR per 600 plate appearances. PECOTA is projecting a 20 HR per 600 plate appearance pace, which would bode well for Snyder owners in the coming weeks. That batting average will fall from .275, but with a full slate of playing time and that power potential, Snyder can be considered a low-end catching option in mixed leagues.
 

Incumbents

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (19 percent ESPN / 55 percent CBS / 17 percent Yahoo)

Espinosa had just three hits this past week, but one of those hits was his seventh home run of the season. His HR/FB rate is a perfectly unassuming 11.7 percent, meaning that his home run power could very well be legitimate, especially if he continues to drive fly balls at a 47 percent clip. Alternately, he could help fantasy owners by delivering a few more line drives and banging out some singles to help that batting average. These two statistics will always drive Espinosa's ownership, as his skill set paired with even a .240 batting average could be tantalizing.

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (11 percent ESPN / 37 percent CBS / 11 percent Yahoo)

Hardy had a hot week as he saw his ownership drop down to 11 percent from a season-high 18 percent last week. He hit .333/.440/.476, continuing his strong plate discipline with four walks in 25 plate appearances. His current line of .247/.330/.388 might appear to be too brutal for consideration, but few shortstops in the league can match his .262 TAv on the season thus far, and the power that he flashed in the early going should return as he receives more plate appearances at the hitter's haven of Camden Yards. He remains a good low-end middle infield or shortstop option.

Jonathan Herrera, Colorado Rockies (10 percent ESPN / 20 percent CBS / 12 percent Yahoo)

Herrera had a rough .200/.200/.267 week that did not bring much in the way of fantasy value for owners. However, he still is mostly in line to meet his PECOTA projections, and playing in front of a Rockies offense that boasts some strong (if not slumping) hitters should be of benefit to his counting stats. If there is one thing owners would like to see, it is Herrera taking off a bit more often, as his current 7.7 percent stolen base attempt rate seems a little low for a known minor league speedster.

Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (4 percent ESPN / 18 percent CBS / 4 percent Yahoo)

Murphy was a forgotten man last week, in the sense that I literally forgot to bring him up despite not dropping him from VP.  A .429/.478/.571 week (including two three-hit games) propelled Murphy up to an unsurprising and completely projectable .268/.329/.412 line, quite akin to the current PECOTA projection of .271/.327/.407. In other words, Murphy is as predictable as it gets, and in this new world of decreased run scoring, fantasy owners could use second basemen who post unassuming batting average numbers with typical middle infield power.
 

NL VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (<1 percent ESPN / 2 percent CBS / 2 percent Yahoo)

Keppinger returned this past week and received three starts at second base, promptly dominating with a .375/.444/.500 line that included an uncharacteristic home run and five RBI. Obviously Keppinger will not keep up this pace, but these sorts of performances are going to be crucial for him to gain a foothold on some playing time. The Astros may not be ready to drop Bill Hall or Clint Barmes from the starting lineup in favor of Keppinger, but performances like these could at least force Keppinger into a time share at either second base or shortstop.
 

AL VP

Jayson Nix, Toronto Blue Jays (<1 percent ESPN / 2 percent CBS / 1 percent Yahoo)

Nix bailed himself out with a two-hit performance in his last start to avoid another hitless week. Still, he continues to lose playing time to John McDonald and Edwin Encarnacion despite their own paltry hitting to this point in the season. Nix is obviously an AL-only choice, but his hold on playing time (and thus fantasy viability) is tenuous and dwindling.

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:  Daniel Murphy,  Espn,  Jamey Carroll

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