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August 14, 2012
First, Third, and DH for 8/14/12
Donovan Solano (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) picked up his only two hits of the week on Saturday and has been playing second base, where he’s far more valuable. He’s still a decent play in NL-only leagues at the hot corner, but this week brings a far more promising NL-only VP, so we say so long to Solano.
Instead of conforming to my tweener expectations, Chavez has continued that hot streak, starting roughly two out of every three games for the boys in pinstripes, although much of his recent production has come while wearing road grays. While starting four games in a row for only the second time all season, Chavez came alive last week in Detroit. All four games were of the multi-hit variety, and he hammered two doubles on Monday then homered on Tuesday and Thursday. This is a good trend for Chavez, since half of his 12 homers this year have come at home, but it’s a surprising one—he owns just a .247/.319/.388 career line at the new Yankee Stadium. Comerica, on the other hand, is much more friendly to Chavez. He owns a .357/.429/.652 line in 126 career plate appearances at Detroit’s home field, his best performance in any ballpark where he has at least 16 plate appearances. (Another example of why home/road splits can be misleading.)
His sudden surge of power in every park this season is unexpected, thanks to a 19.4 HR/FB rate that will be a career high if he sustains it—his best was 18.5 percent in 2004, when he hit .276/.397/.501. Chavez’s current .289 batting average would also be a career best, but it looks more sustainable than his power surge, judging from his .291 BABIP this season (.286 career). His secondary ratios also look solid. Chavez has improved his contact rate for each of the past three seasons, rising from 76.8 percent in his final season with the Athletics to 83.7 percent today, leading to a 16 percent K%, his lowest strikeout rate since 2003. Over that same four-year span, he’s also lifted his walk rate each season from a career low 3.2 percent to this season’s 8.3 percent. This is a far cry from the double-digit numbers he routinely produced during his peak, but it does show him adopting the patience of his fellow Yankees, who are third in all of baseball in walk rate.
This all adds up to good improvement for Chavez, who is likely to give back some of his power gains but still provide value in batting average and counting numbers. His 29 RBI and 27 runs already represent his best performances since 2007—not surprising since that was also the last season he played more than this season’s 77 games. He’s best suited for AL-only and deep mixed leagues, along with daily leagues where owners can work around the platoon he’s in.
Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 16%) kept his seasonal batting average over .300 last week despite oh-fers on Tuesday and Friday. That’s because he collected four hits in his other 11 plate appearances, including his 20th double of the season on Wednesday. That’s as many two-baggers as David Freese or Brett Lawrie, but until those turn into homers—he’s only got one on the season—he’ll probably still languish on your league’s waiver wire, despite that strong and consistent batting average.
Another week, another longball for Chris Carter (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 5%, CBS 30%), who also had three multi-hit games last week to push his batting average into more respectable territory. His .612 SLG is already quite respectable, as are his 10 home runs in just 125 plate appearances. Additionally, his batting eye remains strong, possibly due to the mechanical adjustment Jason Collette wrote about last week. This month, Carter has eight walks and 13 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances, good for a 17.8 percent BB% and 28.9 percent K% that will help owners in OBP leagues without hurting his average too much in standard roto. Owners have noticed Carter; his ownership rates have doubled in ESPN and Yahoo! since he became a VP, so get Carter while you still can.
Two VPs who are likely to graduate soon are Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 12%, CBS 42%) and Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 13%, CBS 41%). Alonso has been a VP since June 19, when he was hitting .254/.326/.350. Since then, he’s hit .292/.360/.461 in 172 plate appearances, collecting four of his six homers and 23 of his 41 RBI this season. His overall slash line now sits at a much more respectable .269/.339/.393, and his ownership rates have risen accordingly.
Similarly, Frazier began as an NL-only VP way back on May 15, when he had an already-strong line of .270/.325/.514 through his first 40 plate appearances. In the meantime, he’s graduated to mixed-league status (thanks to Scott Rolen and then Joey Votto hitting the disabled list) and has hit .281/.339/.526 in 274 plate appearances, clubbing 13 home runs and driving in 45 while making a strong bid for Rookie of the Year honors. Owners have been slow to react, and his ownership rates stayed well below our thresholds for months. Now, however, Rolen is having back problems again, further solidifying playing time for Frazier, who had four straight multi-hit games last week. In the past three weeks, he’s seen ownership rises of 9, 8, and 19 percent in Yahoo!, ESPN, and CBS leagues, respectively, and he should join the proud ranks of VP grads soon.
Though he can crush mistakes, Vitters tries to crush everything, leading to just 36 walks in 950 plate appearances below Double-A (a 3.8 percent BB%). Over two seasons with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, he only managed to raise that BB% to 4.9 percent, still below the major-league average. Fortunately for Vitters, he also has a short swing and quick hands, leading to strikeout rates at or below 15 percent much of that time. And he does crush quite a few pitches, mistakes or not, as shown by his cumulative 172 ISO.
Vitters looks like he put it all together in Triple-A this season, boosting his walk rate to 6.6 percent BB% while keeping his strikeouts at 17.0 percent K% while compiling a .304/.356/.513 slash line in 452 plate appearances. The usual PCL caveats apply, but the Cubbies—currently 25 games below .500—decided they might as well give him a look this season to see if he can continue developing at the big-league level. In his first six games, he has alternated starts with Valbuena, producing an unimpressive line of .125/.125/.188 in 16 plate appearances, and he should continue to platoon with Valbuena for now. Being in the short half of a platoon, plus his slow development, makes Vitters best saved for NL-only leagues, though keeper owners should also take notice of this highly regarded hitter.
Though he scrapes the border of VP ownership levels, Mitch Moreland (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 26%, CBS 25%) is a great add despite being in the heavy half of a platoon with Mike Olt. Moreland hit .400/.438/.667 last week and looks healthy and ready to mash.
Maybe Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 14%, CBS 31%) reads Baseball Prospectus. After my discouraging write-up in last week’s Playing Pepper, Belt finished a run of three straight two-hit games, capping a fine week off with a four-hit performance on Sunday in Colorado. He’s hit .464/.531/.679 in 32 plate appearances this month, walking four times and striking out twice—an excellent reversal of the 30 whiffs and eight walks he posted in 79 July plate appearances. He remains one to watch.
John Jaso (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 16%) has more plate appearances this season as a designated hitter, though the position doesn’t seem to suit him well. He’s hit .326/.398/.587 as a backstop but just .236/.395/.393 as a DH. No matter where you put him on your fantasy team, however, he’s being ignored, despite hitting .345/.474/.569 since the All-Star Break.
With Hafner on the shelf, lefty-masher Shelley Duncan (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) will get more time as the Indians’ designated hitter, which would make him a decent source of power; he’s collected a home run every 20 at-bats or so over the past three seasons.