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June 28, 2011

Value Picks

Second Base, Shortstop, and Catcher

by Michael Jong

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Departures

Jemile Weeks, Oakland Athletics (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 39.4%, CBS 62%)

Weeks's early success has landed him on a lot of fantasy teams, and even though much of it is BABIP driven (.362 mark on the season so far), the speed game, at least, is legitimate. In just 26 possible stolen base opportunities, Weeks has already attempted eight stolen bases, succeeding six times. His minor league track record suggests this sort of prolific stealing should continue, especially given how difficult it has been for Oakland to move runners. He is still better as an AL-only or deep-league selection, though, as his batting average should drop going forward and his power contribution is minimal, but if you need the pick-me-up in steals, he is a fine choice.
 

Arrivals

Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 8.3%, CBS 37%)

Here at Value Picks, we are approaching a critical low in terms of available talent at the up-the-middle positions, and in desperate times, we call upon desperate measures, which is why Bartlett's name has appeared in this space. When he was finally traded to San Diego this past offseason, I had this to say about Bartlett's game:

 

A repeat of 2010 given the move to Petco would not surprise anyone, but there is a category where a rebound can be expected, and that is in steals. Bartlett swiped just 11 bases in 17 tries (64.7% SB%), which is a terrible mark for a guy who thieves bags at a career 78.7% rate. This skillset plays right into the Padres' gameplan, as the Pads stole 124 bags last season (6th best in baseball) in 174 tries (also 6th in baseball), showing that they have an aggressive streak on the basepaths. It is reasonable to expect Bartlett to land around a .320-.330 OBP, and at that rate at least he can provide 20+ stolen bases, a mark he has reached in three out of the four years in which he has had more than 400 PA.

 

Well, here is what Bartlett has done in 2011 compared to what he did in 2010.

Year

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

SB/600 PA

2010

532

.254

.324

.350

12

2011

316

.253

.322

.314

28

As mentioned above, Bartlett's production has been almost on par with his 2010 work with the Tampa Bay Rays. Of course, that season was not very good, either from a real-life or fantasy productivity perspective. But as expected, a move to San Diego did not help Bartlett's batting but rather his speed game. He is back on pace to steal almost 30 bases this season, and considering his attempt rate is right around his 2007-2009 mark of 14.5 percent (he is at 16.7 percent this season), it is very likely that he will approach 30 again with full-time play. While the overall package of a .250 batting average and 30 steals without strong counting stat totals does not sound highly appealing, consider that Bartlett is doing the exact same thing he has done most of his career while the rest of the league's offense is sliding. Your fantasy expectations should slide a bit as well, and that may put Bartlett in the deeper mixed league range.
 

Incumbents

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 10.5%, CBS 36%)

Gordon had one bad week last week, grabbing just one hit in 15 plate appearances and losing two starts to former VP Jamey Carroll. With Rafael Furcal on his way back, Gordon has just about a week left to impress Don Mattingly and company before likely seeing his time in the majors end. Right now, he has mostly been relegated to the bottom of the order, and it is clear that unless he rights his short slump, he will return to the minors once Furcal is finished with his rehab assignment that began on Sunday. Squeeze any life you can get out of Gordon and his speed, but it looks like he is on his way out next week.

Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 3.8%, CBS 20%)

Hudson has been upgraded to mixed-league pickup status, though his numbers and outlook have not changed all that much. Yes, his strikeout rate should be regressing any time now, though that did not happen last week (five strikeouts in 23 PA last week). Once those strikeouts come down a bit, we should expect to see Hudson's batting average return to a .250 mark that would be completely unsurprising within the confines of PETCO Park. The good that came out of the .211/.348/.211 week from Hudson was his continued aggressiveness on the basepaths; in eight turns on the bases, he attempted two steals, getting caught once. The early signs of an aggressive, speedy version of Hudson seem to have held even after two separate disabled list stints. If that basestealing prowess remains, Hudson's value should be comparable to Bartlett's in terms of deeper mixed-league play.

Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1.2%, CBS 5%)

Once again, Jim Tracy and the Rockies are attempting to confuse everyone by not consistently playing one second baseman. Nelson went cold this week, going hitless in 12 PA and ceding two starts to former VP Jonathan Herrera. Tracy has said that he would like to fit both players into the lineup at some point, but with Ty Wigginton hitting well, it is unlikely that third base will open up for either player soon. This leaves a potential time share at second base, and though Nelson is more likely to be the better player, Tracy might very well play the hot hand and go with whoever is currently succeeding, meaning Nelson's playing time and VP viability are on the chopping block.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo 11%, ESPN 2.2%, CBS 32%)

It was a quite week for Saltalamacchia, who picked up four hits, including two doubles, in 12 PA. He lost two starts to Jason Varitek, but that has been a common trend. If he can continue to hit with the decent power he has shown so far, the rest of the Boston Red Sox lineup should do the rest for him in terms of run scoring and RBI. Salty remains a deep-league or AL-only option.
 

AL-only VP

Adam Kennedy, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 6.5%, CBS 17%)

The Kennedy demotion is not necessarily bad news; this is much more of a match for his talent level and current situation. The best news to come out of an otherwise uneventful .238/.273/.286 week is that Kennedy has secured himself consistent playing time at third base in place of the struggling Chone Figgins. Kennedy should contribute a few more steals to your fantasy team, especially if he continues to garner this kind of  playing time, and double-digit steals with a .270 batting average and qualification at second and third base should be good for your AL-only leagues.
 

NL-only VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1.5%, CBS 12%)

Keppinger continues to swing a hot bat, batting .450/.429/.700 and driving in four runs while scoring four as well. Clearly he will not continue hitting .340 on balls in play, but with Keppinger continuing his extremely low whiff and strikeout rates, he will not have to maintain a great BABIP to hit for a decent batting average. If that and a warm body to pick up counting stats are all you are looking for, you could do worse in NL-only formats. Again, the point regarding the league-wide drop in offense should be noted; fantasy players can take advantage of consistent skill sets and known commodities in these struggling offensive times.
 

One for the Road

Every week, I will try to tack on a quick, additional blurb about a name that I found interesting that simply did not fit into any of the above VP categories. The names will change every week, and they will either be players who did not fit VP ownership criteria but were otherwise interesting or prospects who are not quite ready to be promoted but should be tracked.

A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox (Yahoo! 27%, ESPN 15.8%, CBS 62%)

Once upon a time, Pierzynski was a very valuable fantasy catcher, but as the years have passed, his power and home run totals have steadily declined. Last season, a fluctuation in BABIP landed him in the fantasy doghouse, but his return to normalcy in terms of balls in play has returned his batting average to a valuable level. But his improvement has gone a bit beyond simple regression; not only has his BABIP returned to a .304 mark (.302 career BABIP), but his strikeout rate has fallen to a miniscule 5.7 percent, his lowest since 2004. Like Keppinger, Pierzynski can fill a hole in terms of sucking up playing time as a warm body with a good batting average due to that strikeout avoiding skill, and he should be on mixed-league radars because of his catcher position in a season filled with bad offense.

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:  Espn,  Jason Bartlett

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