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San Francisco’s Andres Torres has been featured in the last couple of Hot Spots, but I thought I’d give him a little more bandwidth here since he’s still owned in just 20% of ESPN leagues, although his number is up 8% from a couple days ago.  His increase in ownership is with good reason as Torres currently owns a .306 TAv and has a 4.1 WARP.  With Aaron Rowand scuffling along with a .223 TAv and the Giants in general struggling to score runs, they turned to Torres to jump start the offense.  In the 15 games since moving to the top of the Giants order on May 23, Torres is hitting .290/.362/.468 with six steals.  Overall, he’s hitting .290/.378/.343.  Not bad.

Torres sprays the ball to all fields and is currently stroking line drives almost a quarter of the time when putting the ball in play.  He will never hit for much power, but he can exploit his home ballpark and with 17 doubles and a pair of triples, he’s getting an extra base hit in roughly 12% of all plate appearances.  Torres is quality on the bases as well.  He’s second in the NL with 13 bases taken (advances on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, etc.) and has an 85% success rate on stolen bases.  That is good for a 2.6 EqBRR, which ranks him ninth in the league.  As you would expect, his overall value has increased since moving to the top of the order.  In addition to those six steals, he’s crossed the plate 12 times in his last 15 games.

If you're looking for a speed burst, or just an all around solid outfielder to round out your roster, Torres is worth a look.

Also moving up this week is Austin Kearns, who has seen a 5% jump in ownership and is now claimed in 15% of ESPN leagues.  With Travis Hafner still searching for his power, Kearns has settled into the third spot in the Indians batting order and is positioned for what could be the best year of his career.  (By the way, Hafner’s power? Gone and never coming back.  He currently has a .145 ISO and hasn’t posted an ISO over .200 since 2006.)  In the 15 games since May 24, Kearns is hitting .293/.388/.448 with a pair of home runs and 6 RBI.

Despite his solid play, I'm not sold that Kearns can maintain his current level.  He whiffs a ton (he strikes out once every 3.3 plate appearances) but will draw the occasional walk.  Because of this, his batted ball in play rate is extremely low at 59%.  His contact rate of 75% is on the low side as well.  However, when he has put the ball in play, it has been with gusto – he’s rapping line drives at a rate of 25% of all batted balls.  His .405 BABIP is the third highest in the AL, which makes his batting average – now at .301 – extremely unstable.  

Going forward, there’s no way he keeps his batting average above .270 for the year meaning tough times are ahead, but where Kearns could possibly help your team is in the RBI department.  This season, he’s brought home 16% of all base runners, which is slightly ahead of the league average.  With Shin-Soo Choo hitting in front of him (and to a lesser extent, Trevor Crowe) Kearns will continue to have RBI opportunities.  If he can maintain his current pace of driving in a run every 6.7 at bats, he will collect somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 RBI between now and the end of the year.  

Kearns’ .314 TAv ranks him seventh in what is shaping up to be a weak class of American League outfielders. He’s certainly worth a play in AL-only leagues or in a mixed league if you are starved for RBI, but if you are just now jumping onboard or thinking about dealing for him, know you’ll be buying high when it comes to his batting average.

Another mover this week is Jeff Keppinger, who was added in 12% of ESPN leagues which has pushed his overall ownership to 22%.

Why?

Keppinger doesn’t hit for power, he hits at the top of an NL lineup, so he doesn’t drive in runs and he plays on the second lowest scoring team in the league, so it is not like there are bushels of runs to be found.  (Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee have driven him in only nine times this year.)  His value lies in batting average and that’s tenuous at best.  Unlike Kearns, Keppinger puts a ton of balls in play – over 87% of his plate appearances end with the fielders doing some work.  Plus, he’s banging line drives 23% of the time which has pushed his batting average to .300.  Those two rates along with his .272 TAv are currently career highs. 

A month ago, Keppinger was hitting .250/.317/.337.  Since then, on the strength of 13 multi-hit games in his last 27 starts, he’s posted a line of .342/.381/.450.  That’s an impressive burst, but the time to buy was back in May.  If you’re just now thinking about adding him, don’t.  You’re too late.  Once his batting average starts to sink, his value will be riding shotgun.