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May 22, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 5/22/12

by Michael Street

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Though fantasy owners always try to anticipate the next big call-up, those decisions often have more to do with immediate roster needs than long-term concerns. As a wise man once said about life, promotion decisions are what happens when a team’s busy making other plans.

So it was this week with Matt Adams, who started 2012 at Triple-A. While it was his first stint at Triple-A, Lance Berkman’s knee injury made his call-up a necessity, leaving informed fantasy owners scrambling to pick up the hot young prospect. If you had the roster space and the foresight to pick him up before now, congrats; otherwise, don’t beat yourself up for being unable to predict the future and grab Adams if you still can.

Departures
Although Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 25%, ESPN 34%, CBS 53%) had just three hits in 18 plate appearances last week, he’s hit .328/.397/.459 this month with a 10.3 percent BB% and 14.7 percent K%, improvements on his already-strong 9.8 percent BB% and 16.3 percent K% this season. When I added him last week, I said his ownership rates were at a temporary low, and they rose back above VP thresholds as the fantasy world continues to catch up to the VP writers. Petco will mute Alonso’s power, but his secondary skills will keep his batting average and OBP high enough for use in most mixed leagues.

Clint Hurdle has been playing Casey McGehee over Garrett Jones (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 11%) at first base, even against righties. This is a bit surprising since McGehee is hitting only .198/.288/.264 with just two hits in his last 36 plate appearances, while Jones has a .231/.253/.429 line on the year. Whether Jones is hiding an injury or Hurdle is showcasing McGehee for a trade, there’s no room on the VP list for a player who’s not playing, so Jones leaves the list until that changes.

After the return of Justin Morneau from the DL, Minnesota demoted Chris Parmelee (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 6%) to the minors, removing what little fantasy value he had.

Arrivals
His mediocrity makes him the regular focus of Jay Jaffe’s Replacement Level Killers, but James Loney (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 9%, CBS 28%) has playing time plus a career 87.5 percent contact rate (93.5 percent on strikes) and a 8.2 percent walk rate, which equaled two stars from Derek Carty before the season began. Loney usually offers a strong batting average—2010 was his only season below .281—but his ISO has never been higher than his rookie year mark of .275.  Over the past four seasons, that number hasn’t climbed above .145 (2008).

Last year, Loney hit .268/.311/.342 in the first half before catching fire in August and September, hitting twice as many dingers as he had before the All-Star Break for a .320/.380/.534 second half. At the start of May, Jason Collette showed how this late-season surge hadn’t yet translated to first-half excellence for Loney thanks to a lack of contact against strikes. Loney’s approach hasn’t changed much since that article, though he’s seeing a few more first-pitch strikes.

What has changed is what Loney’s done with the pitches he’s seen: his BABIP this month is .354, compared to .254 last month. That puts his BABIP at .299 for the season, which is still below his .310 career average, but his triple-slash sits at .288/.354/.373 for the month. This increase in production has happened largely at home, where he’s hitting .329/.410/.411 (versus .164/.220/.309 on the road), running contrary to the 100-point OPS boost he usually gets from leaving Chavez Ravine.

This all suggests some softening could be ahead for Loney, but his overall .250/.326/.363 (.245 TAv) lies between his 10th and 20th PECOTA percentiles, so the general trend should be upward. Playing to his 50th percentile would give Loney a .278 average and .337 OBP—very close to the league average rates of .271 and .345 for first basemen. Performing at a league average level is about all you can ask from a pickup at this point in the season. Loney will sit against tough southpaws, but owners in deeper leagues can find value in his consistency, even if it’s consistently average production.

As the Cardinals waited for word on Lance Berkman’s knee, they pulled Matt Adams (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 16%) from the lineup in the fourth inning of Saturday’s Triple-A game, tipping their hand as to the severity of the injury. Now that Big Puma won’t be back for a while (if ever), St. Louis has brought Adams up to the majors to take his place. Adams was one of the reasons that St. Louis felt okay with letting Albert Pujols walk this winter. He has raked at every level, showing remarkable consistency along the way:

 

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

K%

BB%

2009

.355

.400

.547

.192

15.2

7.4

2010

.310

.355

.541

.231

15.3

6.5

2011

.300

.357

.566

.266

17.5

7.8

2012

.340

.375

.603

.262

17.8

5.9

Total

.318

.366

.558

.239

16.3

7.1

 

Increasing his ISO while maintaining a good plate approach is one of the reasons that the Cards are so excited about Adams. Though he performed well in spring training, a full major league roster sent him back to the minors for more seasoning. Injuries to Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Berkman leave plenty of room for Adams now, however; he’ll get most of the starts at first base.

As is always the case with younger players, PECOTA is more bearish than bullish on Adams, but his .262/.296/.438 weighted mean projection includes 18 home runs in 457 plate appearances. That already-good line rises to .304/.341/.509 with 23 jacks in his 90th percentile, which would be a Rookie of the Year performance. Whether he reaches that or not, Adams has the playing time and the skills to benefit fantasy owners in most leagues and is definitely worth grabbing. Like Will Middlebrooks, Adams has a high enough profile that he won’t be unnoticed for long; he’s a must-add in NL-only leagues, keeper leagues, and deeper mixed leagues in which you need first base help.

Incumbents
Bruce Bochy has been shifting his batting order around, trying to jumpstart the Giants, who are currently 11th in the NL in runs scored per game at 3.88. In that spirit, he tried Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 16%, CBS 42%) in the two-hole before deciding that Brandon Crawford was a better fit there. The shifting has still kept Belt out of the lower third of the order, though. While batting out of the sixth spot, Belt has posted a triple-slash of .300/.417/.420. This—like his overall line of .241/.354/.354—highlights his lack of pop thus far. Belt has reversed his earlier impatience, though, walking twice as often this month as last, and is another player you will regret leaving on your waiver wire once he gets hot.

After he was hit by Charlie Furbush last Thursday, Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 5%, CBS 32%) broke the Indians’ career record set by Nap Lajoie, who was hit by 79 pitches while in a Cleveland uniform. Despite this, he hasn’t had a base hit in 10 plate appearances since, but that’s more likely small samples than a hidden injury. Either way, I’ll keep a close eye on Pronk to see if there are residual effects, but the first two-thirds of his overall .238 /.380/.421 line make him hard to bench.

John Mayberry, Jr. (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 3%, CBS 18%) has started 13 of the past 15 games for the Phillies, mostly at first base. Over that span, he’s hit .280/.327/.400, so it looks like he’s turning things around. Whenever Ryan Howard returns, Mayberry should push Juan Pierre out of left field, but if Mayberry remains hot, he won’t be a VP when that happens anyway.

AL-only VP
With designated hitter Manny Ramirez making his minor-league debut, Oakland manager Bob Melvin seems to have figured out whom he’ll replace. After waffling between Kila Ka’aihue and Daric Barton (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) at first base and designated hitter, he’s penciled Barton’s name into the lineup at the cold corner for 13 of the last 15 games, while Hawaiian Punch has settled in at DH.

So when Manny starts being Manny again, he should push Kila out of the starting lineup, leaving first base to Barton, who has earned his spot with superior defense and greater aggressiveness at the plate. Though Barton made his name with patience—he led the league with 110 walks in his breakthrough 2010 season and has a career 14.2 percent BB%—he’s been pushed to swing more often at the first pitch, leading to a .556 average on such pitches through last week’s games. This hot hitting, plus Ka’aihue’s hamstring injury, have given Barton the edge at first base.

Barton’s appeal is limited since his career .123 ISO doesn’t compensate for a career 16.4 percent K% that has risen each of the past three seasons to 22.7 percent in 110 plate appearances in 2012. His new, more aggressive approach may keep this rate high, which is why Barton remains an AL-only VP, but those in OBP leagues love his career .360 mark in that stat. If you need a first baseman, he looks like the Athletics’ option for the foreseeable future, and that playing time will pay dividends for you.

NL-only VP
Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) celebrated his arrival on the VP list with a two-home run game on Wednesday. That still hasn’t lifted his ownership rates much, though, even after Frazier followed it up with hits in his next two games, lifting his overall line to .268/.317/.554. That gives him a .301 TAv that is close to his 90th PECOTA percentile. Even when his performance slips, Frazier will still hold down the Reds’ hot corner until Scott Rolen returns—something that may not happen this season. An entire season of production would give the Reds a real look at what they have in Frazier, who is still 26 and should offer valuable pop in a shallow third-base talent pool, possibly giving him mixed-league value. Talent and opportunity continue to make Frazier a strong NL-only option at the hot corner, and he won’t be on your league’s wire for long.

Playing Pepper
I was ready to add Ian Stewart (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 18%) to the VP roster before Adams’ promotion. Stewart has hit .246/.338/.456 this month, lifting his batting average nearly thirty points and his OPS nearly a hundred while shaving five percent off his strikeout rate. He’ll be ready for a VP slot soon if he keeps this up.

Travis Ishikawa (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 5%) has been clubbing the ball to the tune of a .306/.405/.583 triple-slash line since Gamel went down, but that’s well above his 90th PECOTA percentile, so don’t expect that level of performance to continue.

Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) continues to hit more at DH. With Brett Gardner lingering on the DL, Chavez makes for a marginal AL-only play.

After a slow start to the season, Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) might be rounding into form. Kotch is hitting .276/.348/.397 in May with six walks and seven strikeouts in 66 plate appearances.

Former VP Matt Carpenter (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 4%, CBS 16%) has managed to stick around with the big league club due to all the Cards’ injuries, but Adams’ promotion will squeeze him for playing time even more.

Tampa Bay plans to promote Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) soon, and he may play in the outfield or at designated hitter, but he’s too rusty to be a good fantasy add just yet.

8 comments have been left for this article.

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