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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games Scoresheet
Daric Barton OAK 283 4 32 23 0 .283 .398 .429 .259 .357 .411 64 0 0 +3 –10 1.86
Russell Branyan CLE 152 8 20 20 0 .259 .331 .481 .236 .344 .442 37 0 0 +33 –92 1.84
Travis Hafner CLE 219 6 21 24 0 .246 .356 .404 .261 .350 .423 0 0 51 +26 –77
Kevin Kouzmanoff OAK 259 6 27 34 0 .287 .320 .406 .274 .327 .442 0 61 0 –11 +29 2.67
Gaby Sanchez FLA 239 7 31 28 1 .283 .357 .458 .260 .337 .422 57 0 0 –17 +42 1.85
Justin Smoak TEX 178 6 21 24 1 .220 .337 .387 .253 .348 .392 46 0 0 –4 +12
Mike Sweeney SEA 99 6 11 16 1 .258 .323 .483 .260 .323 .398 2 0 20 +29 –88
Chad Tracy CHN 34 0 3 2 0 .250 .294 .281 .247 .317 .369 2 5 0 +19 –65 1.85
Subscribe to Heater Avg for First Base .275 .359 .477   vRH = OPS v RH
Heater Magazine Avg for Third Base .269 .339 .434   vLH = OPS v LH
  Avg for Desig. Hitter .263 .350 .468   Rng = Range

Patience pays off for our Value Picks, as most of the current list had a good week, except for Mike Sweeney, who hit the DL and thus gets a VP pink slip. At the other end of the performance spectrum, Kevin Kouzmanoff’s 13-for-25 week (all singles) and 14-game hit streak attracted enough attention to push him above the 20% ownership threshold, making him an ex-VP, too.

Replacing Kouz is a challenge, as the hot-corner talent pool has dried substantially due to injuries on both Chicago teams and lack of production in Atlanta, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Several of these situations might produce VPs down the road, but the Cubs provides the best Value Pick option right now, as Jeff Baker-Chad Tracy platoon replaces the injured Aramis Ramirez.

Baker’s career .184 ISO seems enticing, but his 26% career strikeout rate and severe platoon splits—his career OPS is 214 points higher against LHP—should discourage any real excitement. The lion's share of the PT goes to lefty Chad Tracy, who has been ripping up Triple-A pitching with a .396/.427/.648 slash line and a great 90% contact rate.

Of course, since Tracy’s a 30-year-old with more than 2500 PAs in MLB, he ought to be going crazy in the minors. His problem has been doing the same in the majors, as evidenced by his .682 OPS over the past two seasons. Knee surgery and ribcage problems dragged down his SLG, which plunged from .454 to .389, even as he improved his contact skills, dropping his strikeout rates from 18.9% to 14.4%.

Like Baker, Tracy features dramatic platoon splits, with a career OPS 225 points lower against fellow lefties. Unlike Baker, Tracy offers very little pop, making up for it with that excellent contact rate. As a result, PECOTA gives him BA and OBP respectability above his 60th percentile, but he only provides good SLG value above his 80th percentile.

Citing Piniella’s reactionary tendencies towards streakiness and other issues, HEATER expert Rob McQuown isn’t confident that Tracy’s role is assured, and Ramirez’s DL stay shouldn’t be long, so keep that in mind if you pick up Tracy. He’ll boost your BA and—if he continues to bat in the middle of the order—counting numbers, making him suitable for NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues; just keep your expectations moderate in a tough market for valuable 3B.

First basemen have a deeper talent pool, and BP reader davelamb asked last week whether Justin Smoak might make a worthy VP addition. Owners were all over the switch-hitter after his April callup, but a .175/.291/.316 line through the end of May scared them off, and he’s available again in almost 87% of ESPN leagues. Since he’s raised his overall line to .220/.337/.387 with a hot .317/.428/.537 start to June, he could be turning a corner.

Right now, Smoak seems like Jack Cust without the long ball, since he walks a lot (16 BB% in minors), whiffs a lot (20 K% in minors), but doesn’t offer much pop (.461 minor-league SLG). That strikeout rate has risen to 25% so far this year, with last night's 5-K performance boosting it to 37% in June, though his walk rate remains the same. He continues to flail against left-handed pitching, widening a career 313-point platoon deficit to a 507-point chasm in 2010.

This tells you why PECOTA’s line isn’t bullish from a power perspective, as he’d need to pass his 90th percentile to help you in SLG. His OBP, on the other hand, becomes above-average in his 60th percentile, while his BA doesn't do so until the 70th. Smoak’s youth and expected power growth make him a good gamble for deeper mixed and NL-only leagues, particularly those that count OBP. His .283/.408/.485 performance against righties this year is already roster-worthy, and Texas isn't scheduled to face any southpaws this week. Expect the inevitable rookie ups and downs, but the former should outweigh the latter, especially after Smoak's cold start to the season.

In spite of strong weeks from the rest of the VP list, all of them remain available in at least 95% of ESPN leagues. Gaby Sanchez’s .471/.474/1.000 performance saw him add 7 RBI and 3 HR to his totals, and Daric Barton rebounded for a solid .283/.398/.429 week. In Cleveland, Matt LaPorta’s demotion means increased PT for Russell Branyan (.333/.391/.476 last week, with 1 HR) and Travis Hafner (.263/.318/.684 last week, with two doubles and two dingers). The Indians head away from home for interleague play after the 18th, making Hafner a good play until the weekend, but he’ll take a break from the VP list after that due to the absence of the DH.

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Is it worth it to drop Casey Blake for Barton?

As I recall, your league is power-friendly, and Blake should deliver more HR, XBH and RBI than Barton. So I'd stay with Blake, despite his recent rough patch.

One of the toughest thing to do in fantasy is stick with a struggling star when a hot bat is on the waiver wire, but patience is usually a virtue. Unless there's an injury or competition waiting in the wings, hang on to Blake.

Thanks for the question!

Two add-on thoughts. 1/ Reports out today say the Rangers are looking for a platoon-mate for Smoak. (Conor Jackson?) 2/ LaPorta once again mashing AAA.

Thanks for the updates. I think it's awfully early in his career to think about platooning Smoak, though that might seem like a good short-term fix. I wasn't all that impressed with CoJack's defense at 1B for AZ, although his metrics seem decent enough. And the D-backs are certainly ready to deal, so this could happen; I just think it's premature and misdirected if TEX does do this.

Good to know about LaPorta. Like Tracy, he ought to be mashing AAA pitching--even if he's hitting better than Tracy. Still, 5 HR in 23 ABs probably won't continue for LaPorta. I think that the Indians will let him mash for a while before bringing him up again (he's also whiffed 5 times), but it's certainly a situation that bears watching.

Thanks again!

One more for you... thoughts on a Ubaldo Jimenez for Miguel Cabrera trade?
Wow--that's a real blockbuster. I know that your league values power, so Cabrera's going to be (clearly) valuable. How do you score pitching?

From a keeper perspective, I have a slight inclination towards Jimenez, but these guys are really equal. It seems like a fair swap, depending on how your league reflects their value.

The scoring for pitching in our league is fairly high and driven by strikeouts and wins. The problem is, though, that everyone is focusing so much on pitching now that hitting has become undervalued. It has gotten to the point where even if a kid gets called up from Triple-A, he's immediately added as a starter. Now, pitching can be a boon if your guy can get the win, but if not you're in trouble, especially with a guy who is only going out once a week.

Anyway, I actually went ahead and pulled it off.

I took the PECOTA spreadsheet and came up with a "Expected Fantasy Points" column by pegging all of the projections to my league values, and by that measure Cabrera comes out a good 130 points higher for the remainder of the year projections.

Beyond that, the real concern I had with Jimenez is what he does moving forward. In our league Jimenez has been slightly more valuable to date, but every time he goes out I worry about sustainability. Here's a guy with a 13-1 record on a .500 team that plays in Coors Field, and when I run him through the aforementioned PECOTA spreadsheet, he comes out as "only" the 15th best pitcher in baseball. Obviously PECOTA isn't the word of God, but I tend to think there will have to be some regression to the mean there and there this is no way Jimenez' early start is sustainable. Based on that, I liked Cabrera more just because my thought was that he was more likely to keep his performance at his current level.
I don't think there's a bad side to this trade, but your end of it was the safer one. I don't like Cabrera's long-term future with his physique, but he's going to deliver at a high level for the next several years, anyway. And hitting is always more projectable than pitching.

You're also wise to sell high on Jimenez, as it's hard to imagine anyone sustaining his level of production, no matter how elite his skills are. He seems to have figured out Coors Field (lower ERA/WHIP at home) for now, but that is a scary place for a pitcher to struggle, which Ubaldo may do.

I like your thinking on this overall, and it should turn out well for you.