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June 19, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 6/18/12

by Michael Street

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June is a tough month for waiver-wire pickups; all the early bargains are long gone, starting positions have largely solidified, and most of this season’s call-ups haven’t yet begun to arrive. That means even more patience is required from fantasy players, a virtue that paid off for owners of one VP this week and a lesson to those who are ready to drop a talented hitter after a prolonged cold spell. Patience can make for some nail-biting weeks and short-term statistical swoons, but it’s always good to remember the baseball cliché that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.

Departures
I’d said when adding Brett Wallace (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 2%, CBS 7%) to the VP list that he might not stay long, and sure enough, he was returned to Triple-A after Carlos Lee returned from the DL. Wallace’s .333/.429/.583 line in 42 plate appearances (despite a 33.3 K%) should assure him of the first-base gig if Lee is traded (if not sooner), making him someone to keep watching in NL-only leagues.

While several players are on the cusp of VP obsolescence, Lonnie Chisenhall (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 5%, CBS 18%) gets the preemptive axe. The return of Jack Hannahan (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) from the disabled list means a short-term time share between the two, and Chisenhall’s likely to get another bus ticket back to Columbus soon. Still, Hannahan could still reinjure himself, his .314 BABIP might catch up to him, or Chisenhall could stick around to split time between at third and DH. Hoping for so many things to break Chisenhall’s way isn’t a good use of a roster spot, though, even in such difficult times, so Chisenhall owners in all but AL-only leagues should prepare to cut bait.

Arrivals
In his return to the VP list, Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 12%, CBS 44%) enters amid similar circumstances to his last appearance: mashing a rare homer amid a hit streak. In May, that longball came in the midst of a nine-game run. This time it’s only a five-game streak, but his secondary stats remain solid. Since his first VP stint, his walk rate has remained steady at 9.5 percent while his strikeouts have ticked up from 15.8 K% to 17.9 K%. Both point to a better batting average than his current .256, as does his .312 BABIP. The latter might seem good enough, but Alonso maintained a .325 BABIP in the minors, so this could actually be low for him. And this month, when he’s hit .182/.224/.255, his  BABIP has been down at .209.

As always, his natural tendencies (.173 minor-league ISO) and PETCO Park will mute his power, although he hit last week’s jack in Safeco, a similarly power-suppressing ballpark. Despite his strong walk rate, he’s been more aggressive at the plate than the average hitter, swinging at more pitches inside and outside the zone while making better contact (91.9 percent) on strikes and worse contact (57.1 percent) on balls. Only the latter trend is a concern, and it could lead to diminished OBP returns down the stretch. For playing time and talent, though, it’s hard to find a better player available at this time of the year than Alonso, making him worthy of a roster spot before he disappears from your waiver wire like he did last time.

Incumbents
James Loney (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 6%, CBS 26%) sat against two of the three lefties that the Dodgers faced this week, but he picked up two hits against the third, C.J. Wilson. Loney has also made excellent contact this month, whiffing just twice in 46 plate appearances, helping him to a .310/.356/.357 June line that neatly encapsulates his two-category fantasy appeal.

Ownership numbers for Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 4%, CBS 22%) slid last week as he cooled off from a torrid stretch in which he hit .326/.322/.453 in 87 plate appearances between May 15 and June 6. For Pacheco, however, “cooling off” means hitting .290/.353/.387 in the 34 plate appearances since. He picked up only his third walk this season (in 148 plate appearances), however; such impatience will catch up to him sooner rather than later, as will his inflated .360 BABIP since May 15. Still, his plate discipline still draws favorable comparisons with another solid hitter:

 

OOZ Swing%

Zone Swing%

Contact%

Swinging Strike%

Albert Pujols

35.6

58.9

85.3

6.5

Jordan Pacheco

35.1

61.5

85.8

6.6

No, Pacheco isn’t Albert Pujols, but Pacheco’s aggressive plate approach won’t doom him to mediocrity either.

Ownership numbers also continue to slide for Todd Helton (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 14%, CBS 38%) despite his two jacks last week and a .286/.405/.571 line for June. His 12.7 percent HR/FB for the season suggests that he’s not going to keep hammering homers like this, but his .248 BABIP suggests the rest of his line should continue to march upward. I expect his numbers to rise too, pushing him closer to his inevitable VP graduation.

I’d hoped that more playing time would bring Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 16%, CBS 41%) confidence, and that patience has paid off; Belt lived up to his last name with three straight days of dingers. More impressively, all three came at AT&T Park, which is tough on hitters. Belt continued his hit parade in Safeco, another stingy ballpark, with four hits in 10 plate appearances. He has a .306/.409/.611 line this month and won’t stay on your league’s waiver wire for long. I expect him to graduate next week.

Scott Rolen (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 6%) came off the disabled list today, but that won’t be the end of playing time for Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 3%, CBS 16%). Rolen’s fragility and ineffectiveness this season (he’s hitting .174/.238/.304) likely mean that Frazier will start once or twice a week at third. Dusty Baker affirmed this, saying that Frazier will get a “healthy dose of playing time,” possibly in the outfield as well. That remains to be seen, and Frazier owners in shallower leagues will want to grab a replacement, but those in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues can wait to see how the playing time shakes out before making a move.

AL-only VP
A 0-for-16 skid from David Cooper (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 6%) led to a seat on the bench over the weekend. With Adam Lind raking at Triple-A and Yan Gomes available to play at first base or designated hitter, Cooper will need to step it up to remain in the majors and on the VP list. Impatient AL owners can look towards Hideki Matsui (see Playing Pepper below), but I’m giving Cooper another week to snap out of his slide.

NL-only VP
With Ian Stewart hitting the disabled list for a nagging wrist injury that might explain his poor performance over the past year, the Cubs called up Luis Valbuena (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) to take Stewart’s place. Valbuena has rattled around the minor leagues of three different organizations, accumulating a .281/.359/.438 triple-slash, largely as a second baseman, where he currently qualifies in all three leagues. His Triple-A numbers are especially strong (.304/.385/.476), but those have come over the course of six seasons.

Those gaudy stats have given him plenty of chances to stick in the majors over the past five seasons, highlighted by his .250/.298/.416 performance in 398 plate appearances for Cleveland in 2009. As tepid as those numbers are, they’re only decent because of his .286/.338/.464 line in July and August. Given a starting gig to begin 2010, Valbuena hit .193/.273/.258, which BP 2011 called “one of the worst offensive seasons imaginable.” Nobody’s given him much of a chance since then in spite of the 10.8 percent BB% and 15.5 percent K% underlying his minor league numbers.

Chicago claimed Valbuena off waivers at the start of the season and chose to promote him over prospect Josh Vitters, who is playing his first season at Triple-A and could come up if Valbuena lays another big-league egg. Valbuena squashed any talk of that option when he took fellow lefty Jon Lester deep Saturday night. Hit Tracker shows that the wind gave him a bit of a boost and that the dinger would have fallen short in other parks, but the homer was enough for Dale Sveum to endorse him as his third baseman of choice. PECOTA sees only a .251/.315/.393 in Valbuena’s 50th percentile, reaching as high as .296/.365/.463 in his 90th. His ability to take a walk (7.3 percent BB% in the majors) gives him a boost in OBP leagues, and that modest power projection can bring value even if you play him at third base.

Playing Pepper
Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) will play much more often with Luke Scott on the disabled list, and he could return to the VP list if his bat warms up.

If you didn’t grab Brandon Moss (Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 19%, CBS 20%) last week, you missed out on his laser show last week—five homers in four days—although you shouldn’t need a statistician to tell you he won’t stay this hot. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.

After his release by the Athletics, Manny Ramirez (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 10%) joins Vladimir Guerrero in the Old DH Home; neither are likely make a fantasy impact this season.

“Mary” Tyler Moore (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 8%) has hit well this month (.500/.563/1.071 in 16 plate appearances) when filling in for Adam LaRoche, whose injury history makes Moore worth stashing in the deepest of leagues, but last week’s playing time only came due to a minor injury after LaRoche fouled a ball off his foot.

The imminent return of Matt Carpenter (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 15%) from the disabled list and the impending return of Jon Jay will create a roster crunch between Carpenter and Matt Adams (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 4%, CBS 31%), with Carpenter’s defensive versatility making him the favorite to stick with the club.

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