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June 6, 2011

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH

by Michael Street

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Third base is a tough position to fill in most years, and injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Pedro Alvarez, Pablo Sandoval, and David Wright have made matters even tougher for fantasy owners in 2011. Although I try to cover all three positions on my beat, this week features an unusual number of valuable third-base options for your fantasy squad.

Departures
Eric Thames (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN <1%, CBS 3%)
As we discussed in last week’s comments section, Toronto had to make a roster move when Adam Lind returned from the DL, and Thames ended up being the odd man out. He could be back if injury strikes again, or when Corey Patterson starts hitting more like Corey Patterson, but for now, we’ll bid him a fond farewell.

Steven Pearce (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN <1%, CBS 0%)
Another laurel and hearty handshake goes to Steven Pearce, who didn’t even get a chance to produce as an NL-Only VP; he hit the DL the same day he made the list. His torn calf muscle isn’t expected to keep him out for very long, but his playing time is likely to be diminished when he returns as Pedro Alvarez is expected to return any time. Pearce could replace Lyle Overbay instead, but for now, he is just another ex-VP.

Arrivals
Casey Blake (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 4%, CBS 18%)
Blake has been a Value Pick before, and I mentioned him in last week’s “Playing Pepper” section, referencing his fragility as well as his potential production. Even though age has eroded his power and goosed his strikeout rate, Blake showed he’s still got something left in the tank last week, homering Tuesday and doubling on Friday. His whiffs remain a concern, however, as he has struck out seven times in 25 plate appearances since returning to the Dodgers.  Over that period, he has walked only, and his 25.0 percent strikeout rate this season is his highest in ten years.

His .385 BABIP this season (91 plate appearances) and 17.6 percent HR/FB (12.7 percent career) also show that Lady Luck has been hanging out with Casey plenty in 2011. This, and his frequent DL stints, make him more marginal than name recognition might indicate, but he’ll be valuable at a tough position in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues.

Remaining
Juan Miranda (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 4%, CBS 11%)
His neck has been bothering him, cutting down on his playing time, but Miranda managed to return last night and remains a quality VP. Unless it turns out to be something more serious, this isn’t the kind of injury that should affect his swing, so stick with Miranda if you’ve got him.

Ty Wigginton (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 17%, CBS 33%)
Not only has Wigginton hit in 10 of his last 11 games, he also got a rare start in right field this week. His ownership numbers are rising quickly, so this is probably his last week on the list. Grab him while you can.

Danny Valencia (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 6%, CBS 32%)
As I pointed out last week, Valencia has been consistent, hitting in eight of his last 10 games, though the power has yet to come around. Given the injury-ravaged Minnesota lineup and his own offensive improvements, Valencia has been hitting higher in the order, batting as high as fourth on Saturday. That should allow him to produce more RBI, assuming there are healthy Twins in front of him to drive home.

Matt LaPorta (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 8%, CBS 43%)
When discussing LaPorta, I feel like I’m flogging a stock in some shady boiler room in Jersey. But really, guys, his .293 TAv this year is 17th among first basemen, above names like Todd Helton, Brett Wallace, Mark Trumbo, Justin Morneau and, yes, Albert Pujols. His .470 SLG is 17th, while his 27 RBI tie him with Adam Lind for 13th. His price-to-earnings ratio is top-notch, the industry is realizing huge profits, and he paid dividends for eight straight quarters... Hello? Is this Mr. ESPN Owner? Hello?

AL-only VP
Travis Buck (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN <1%, CBS 1%)
Buck collected four hits in four starts last week, boosting his batting average fifteen points (easy to do when you’ve only recently cracked 80 plate appearances). He played in left field to allow Grady Sizemore to ease back in via the DH slot, showing how much Manny Acta wants Buck in the game. He won’t face tough lefties and will lose time when Travis Hafner returns sometime in the next two weeks, but he’ll bring good value to AL-only leaguers until then.

NL-only VP
Daniel Descalso (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN <1%, CBS 5%)
A marginal third baseman, Descalso has grabbed hold of the Cardinals’ hot corner, where Tony LaRussa likes his glove. Descalso played mostly at second base in the minors and has appeared there and at shortstop in his brief major-league career.  He’s not well known for his bat, but in the positional vacuum that is third base in St. Louis, LaRussa would be happy even for Descalso’s tepid .276/.347/.406 minor-league production. Over the past two weeks, however, Descalso has paid his manager back with a .341/.341/.477 slash line, boosting him overall to a .245/.302/.367 line that looks remarkably similar to PECOTA’s 50th percentile of .264/.310/.366.

Clearly Descalso is not going to keep hitting the way he has over the past 14 days, but his timing was perfect. This hot streak bought Descalso the starting gig for at least the near future, and playing time is crucial in fantasy. His major-league rate stats—14.9 percent strikeout rate and 7.1 percent walk rate—are consistent with his respective minor-league rates of 11 percent and 8.6 percent. This points to a decent batting average, while his .130 minor-league ISO shows he has a smidgen of pop in his bat too.

Whether he can cement his hold on the job remains to be seen, and his utter futility against lefties (.042/.207/.042 in 30 plate appearances in 2011) dilutes his value. Recent callup Matt Carpenter, despite being a lefty, has better stats against southpaws (.291/.425/.364 in the minors this season) and will likely eat into some of Descalso’s playing time. David Freese is healing faster than expected, but he still isn’t due back until July 1, giving Descalso the chance to supplant him, or at least deliver decent value to NL-only owners for the time being.

Playing Pepper
Jack Cust (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN <1%, CBS 4%) continues to heat up, going yard again last week for his second homer of the season. He has hit .250/.400/.563 since that first dinger (40 plate appearances) and has gotten his walking shoes back, picking up five free passes in his past three starts (12 plate appearances).

Since I dropped Daric Barton (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN <1%, CBS 15%) from the Value Picks list, the A’s benched him for a couple of days, and he responded two two-hit games in a row. He could be primed for a turnaround.

The callup of Brett Lawrie (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 10%, CBS 51%) was delayed by a bruised hand, but his arrival is imminent. When promoted, he’ll slide into Toronto’s starting third-base job, making him well worth a speculative pick at a thin position.

Speaking of weak hot corners, the Brewers’ Casey McGehee is hitting .239/.298/.347 this season, including a .211/.255/.300 line over the last month. In the minors, Mat Gamel (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 4%) is hitting .311/.385/.524. Too bad Milwaukee chose to move Gamel across the diamond in anticipation of Prince Fielder’s departure (and in recognition of Gamel’s famed Hands of Stone).

In Cleveland, their third basemen have hit .237/.327/.344 this season, thanks to Jack Hannahan returning to Earth with a .185/.274/.246 slash line over the past month. Lonnie Chisenhall (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 14%) is hitting .273/.367/.434 in Triple-A Columbus. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

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