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August 14, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 8/14/12

by Michael Street

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Departures
In my write-ups of Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 0%, CBS 9%), I often reference his fragility, but Hafner’s owners still have to be disappointed at the news that his injured back could sideline him for the rest of the season. If that’s true, Pronk finishes the year with a .239/.355/.453 triple-slash with 11 home runs and 32 RBI, respectable totals in all categories but batting average.

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.

Arrivals
When I dropped Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 11%, CBS 18%) from the list two weeks ago, I called him a VP tweener: too well known for NL-only leagues and not productive enough for mixed-league play. Since that article, the Yankees also traded for Casey McGehee, giving New York another third-base option. Already in a platoon with Jayson Nix, Chavez looked like he’d be further squeezed for playing time at a time when he was also swooning at the plate, having hit .205/.311/.359 from July 13 to the end of the month. As bad as that production was, most of it came in the final two days of July, when Chavez picked up three hits in seven plate appearances, including his ninth home run of the year.

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.

Incumbents
Brett Wallace (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 10%) had his second three-hit game of the month last Thursday, including a ripping double against Jordan Zimmerman. He’s looked confident at the plate, nearly doubling his season walk total with three free passes in the two games following that three-hit performance, although he continues to whiff about a third of the time. That latter tendency will erode his .307 batting average if it continues, but it’s tolerable if he can also keep walking and slugging. He started three games at third base last week, acquitting himself well there while pushing him closer to qualifying at the hot corner. His talent, playing time, and the potential for an additional qualification make him a great add this late in the season.

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.

AL-only VP
Toronto had a tough week, losing five straight, but David Cooper (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) knocked in his second home run of the month and fourth of the season while filling in for Adam Lind. Lind was eligible to come off the DL this weekend, but his back has still been bothering him on days after batting practice. Last place Toronto has no reason to rush Lind, so Cooper could stick with the big-league club for a while longer. They’ve been starting Cooper every day at either first base or designated hitter, just as owners in AL-only leagues should be doing.

NL-only VP
As Kevin Goldstein explains in The Call-Up, Chicago turned to Josh Vitters(Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 10%) after failing to get production from Ian Stewart and Luis Valbuena at the hot corner. Cubs fans may be wondering what took the club so long to promote their sixth-ranked prospect and third overall pick in 2007, but Vitters has developed slowly in the minors. It took him three years just to get to Double-A, in part due to his poor fielding but also due to his plate approach.

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.

Playing Pepper
With Will Middlebrooks likely done for the season, Boston called up Danny Valencia (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) to replace him. After faltering in roomy Target Field, Valencia could be worth an add in AL-only leagues if he can find his stroke in cozier Fenway.

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.

Related Content:  Ownership,  Hot Corner,  ESPN New York,  The Who,  Espn,  Home Plate

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