In the stretch between the non-waiver trade deadline and September call-ups, new talent is thin, and fantasy decisions depend more than ever on the simple metric of playing time. It’s hard to budge ratios much one way or the other, but guys can still help your counting stats if they’re getting chances to hit. As such, this week will look at some guys who could be—or already are—picking up plate appearances vital to your fantasy success.

Owners are finally hep to the groove of Jesus Guzman (Yahoo! 35%, ESPN 96%, CBS 46%), who snapped his twelve-game hit streak on Friday. He hit .408/.453/.571 over that stretch and has hit .366/.416/.573 over the past month, the latter line boosted by a .409 BABIP. Guzman’s excellent 14.4 percent strikeout rate should keep his batting average high, mitigated somewhat by his 6.5 percent walk rate, so any impending correction shouldn’t be catastrophic, but his ownership levels are way above Value Picks thresholds, so we graduate him for all the right reasons.

Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 28%, CBS 40%) is gathering enough attention to make him a VP graduate, too. It doesn’t hurt that Kotch has hit .439/.511/.756 in August, doubling his home run total with four longballs, including an upper-deck shot against CC Sabathia on Friday. Even with that surge, his OPS has been 149 points lower in the second half, but Kotch has exceeded all fantasy expectations and should continue to deliver batting average—without quite so many home runs—for the remainder of the season.

The trade of
Mark Teahen in the Edwin Jackson deal has given Brent Morel (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) more playing time and possibly more confidence. Since the July 27 deal, Morel has hit .292/.306/.417, losing just two of fifteen starts to Ozzie Guillen hombre-crush Omar Vizquel. Morel’s line is almost identical to his .273/.307/.415 50th PECOTA percentile, which means Morel isn’t overperforming but producing exactly as expected. 

Morel’s impatient, high-contact approach also hasn’t changed much since his return to a starting role—his walk last Saturday was just his fourth of the season, part of a microscopic 1.4 percent walk rate (but much higher than the 0.0 percent he sported over his first 117 plate appearances this season). Fortunately, he’s only struck out in 10.2 of plate appearances, accumulating a strong 84.8 percent contact rate in the process. This swing-first, ask-questions-later methodology makes him even more subject to the vagaries of BABIP, and his sits at a depressed .282 (.289 during the above-mentioned streak). That also suggests that what you see is what you get from Morel, who should be valuable in deeper mixed leagues for batting average without much pop.

Another former VP, Lucas Duda (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 3%, CBS 15%) lost his spot on this list due to playing time, which happens to be the same reason for his return. The scythe of injury has once again swung through the Mets, now felling David Murphy for the season and opening the first-base job again for Duda.

In the brief five-game spell since Duda resumed first-base duties (try saying “Duda’s duties” five times fast), he has hit .368/.429/.421—a nice shot in the arm to a batting average that had sagged into the .260s. He hasn’t shown much power this year, but PECOTA is expecting him to more than double his home run total by the end of the season—from 3 to 7. He’s lifted just 5.4 percent of his fly balls over the fences, so he could beat that the rest of the way, though it’s mitigated by a fly ball rate of only 39.2 percent. Duda has been hitting fourth or fifth, behind David Wright and (when he returns) Jose Reyes, further adding to the chance that he can deliver some RBI for your fantasy squad, even if the power continues to be underwhelming.

Sticking Around
Paul Goldschmidt (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 5%, CBS 36%) has drawn attention from CBS owners, but the other two leagues have largely ignored the hulking righty. He picked up a hit in four of five games last week, and Arizona lost Xavier Nady to a broken hand on Saturday, making Goldschmidt’s primary backup the recently signed Lyle Overbay. That should open the door to even greater playing time to Goldie, who may struggle as pitchers learn his tendencies, but he should also bring powerful rewards to owners willing to stick with him.

It looks like the shoulder of Chris Davis (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 15%) is just fine, as he picked up three hits in four games last week, including a two-double performance on Wednesday. While his playing time is secure—and increasing with each Josh Bell whiff—Davis presents his own concerns with strikeouts. He has whiffed ten times in 33 plate appearances for Baltimore and must provide plenty of power to overcome that strikeout rate, which hasn’t yet happened, making his place on this list rather shaky.

The consistently tepid ownership rates for Jim Thome (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 9%, CBS 8%) come from his infrequent play and batting average-blunting strikeout totals—he’s on pace for his sixth straight season with more strikeouts than hits. The rest of his Three True Outcomes package remains steady as he creeps closer to career home run 600 and continues to walk at a 14.4 percent clip, but use him judiciously. The one real benefit of his part-time status is that he won’t tank your batting average while he bolsters your home runs.

Mike Carp (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 22%, CBS 13%) saw ownership rates surge, particularly at ESPN, thanks to a .389/.421/.667 week when he continued his thirteen-game hit streak. Justin Smoak hit the DL Saturday after taking a grounder off his nose, making Carp their main first baseman while Wily Mo Pena takes over the DH role. Carp will cool off eventually, but ride him hard until then—assuming you know how to ride a carp.

AL-only VP
This should be the last week on the VP list for Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 3%), who has filled in for the injured Alex Rodriguez and stepped in as the righty-hitting half of a designated hitter platoon after Jorge Posada’s demotion. A-Rod should return this week, however, and Jesus Montero is also expected to arrive in the bigs soon, significantly diminishing Chavez’s role. He’s made the most of his longest stretch of productive playing time since 2007, hitting .289/.333/.400, which will make him a frequent pinch-hitter and infield corner fill-in, especially if A-Rod spends time at designated hitter, but most of Chavez’s AL-only value will soon be gone.

NL-only VP
Juan Rivera (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) is approaching single-league ownership ceilings and has been on the VP list long enough for NL-only owners to recognize his hot streak, so he should be moving off the list soon, too. He hasn’t gone hitless in a start since July 26—a stretch when he’s hit .381/.426/.571—but Don Mattingly still won’t yield first base to him entirely, finding room for him in the outfield more often than as a replacement for James Loney. You should find room for him in your lineup, though, where his positional flexibility makes up for his projected lack of punch.

Playing Pepper
Jimmy Paredes (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) had a nice .318/.318/.545 week and has even attempted three steals since his callup—too bad for his smattering of fantasy owners that he was caught two of those times.

Casey Blake (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 6%) is baseball’s version of Waterford crystal—valuable, but extremely fragile. Use him as a short-term fill-in or bench player if you want batting average or OBP help (he’s hit .314/.381/.343 in his recent ten-game healthy streak), but have a backup plan.

Michael Martinez (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 3%, CBS 2%) and Wilson Valdez (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 2%) will keep filling in for Placido Polanco if his sports hernia lands him on the DL. As the heavier half of the platoon, Martinez has more value, and his minor-league steal numbers (82 swipes in 549 games) look tasty, though they have yet to materialize with the Phillies—maybe because Charlie Manuel noticed that those 82 swipes came in 124 attempts.

With Chase Headley on the DL, the Padres are turning to a platoon of Logan Forsythe (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) and James Darnell (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 5%). Lefty Forsythe would get most of the at-bats, but Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks see Darnell as a more intriguing project, though not by much. Kevin ranks Darnell #15 (against Forsythe’s #19) in San Diego, and Parks isn’t terribly passionate about him either.

The Reds are working out Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 14%) at the hot corner, an experiment that one scout deems unlikely to succeed—if it does, however, he’d be a great fantasy pickup.

As Emilio Bonifacio slides over to fill in for Hanley Ramirez, third base has opened up again for Greg Dobbs (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 3%, CBS 7%). Playing time gives Dobbs a skosh of value, but now that his BABIP is dropping from its .367 midseason peak, he’s come down to earth, too, hitting .188/.235/.281 in August.

Wily Mo Pena (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) becomes Seattle’s latest designated hitter—if that’s what you call a position that’s “hit” for a .231/.330/.336 slash line this year. PECOTA’s .240/.293/.377 50th percentile projection for Pena would at least be an improvement over that limp line, though I doubt your fantasy team can use that kind of statistical drag.

Thank you for reading

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Does CBS tend to have more keeper/dynasty leagues than ESPN/Yahoo? Just tend to find the %owned discrepancies interesting.
I often thought about the same thing. My guess is that it has to do with their internal calculations. It's just my thought, but I would assume that they all have different calculations on defining what a "dead" league is. I think that's what always makes the numbers disparate.

Then you have Kotchman and Guzman, and their numbers make no sense whatsoever. I always read these articles for just this exercise, glad you mentioned it.

That's not to say I don't enjoy the content because the streaks of Carps and Guzmans are always interesting.
I'm actually looking into a study of fantasy league demographics to answer just such questions, since we're not always sure ourselves. We suspect that CBS has more single-league and keeper leagues because they tend to be skewed towards lesser-owned players, but we'd like to have hard numbers to confirm this.

Sites like ESPN--which I've been on since they began fantasy sports--can be very trendy, with sudden shifts based on +/- levels or players who are featured in analysis articles. All sites have both tools, but ESPN tends to follow those trends more than others, IMO. (Witness Guzman's +89% ownership rate over the past two weeks as an example of this).

I don't think the sites discriminate between active and dead teams/leagues, since I don't know how they'd do that. Earlier in the season, Billy Wagner and Jermaine Dye had small ownership percentages. Are those dead teams or clueless owners? Frankly, figuring out which is which is far too much work for the sites, for little return.

Anyway, if we can get the sites to cough up some numbers for us for our study, all these questions should be answered. Stay tuned for more information as the project develops.
Awesome idea, I've often wondered about all of those things.