The deep pool of early draft oversights and lesser-known players is drying up, as evidenced by rising ownership rates among nearly all of the VPs. As your fellow owners start giving up on some of their early gambles and as the injuries keep piling up, that pool will get even shallower. Grab your bargains while you can, before the mad rush for players begins.

As I warned last week, fantasy owners finally figured out that Luke Scott (Yahoo! 27%, ESPN 24%, CBS 49%) brings a great mix of power, patience, and playing time. Wednesday’s grand slam against Toronto might have had something to do with that sudden popularity—or it could be his Wolverine sideburns that have led to predictable imitators, even among those too young to grow a real set of chops (in case your efforts might lead to terrifying results, you can always buy this awesome accessory). Whatever the reason, he’s too cool for VP school now. I hope you got him when you could.

In last week’s comments, BPKevin noted that Matt Carpenter (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 8%, CBS 22%) might make a good Value Pick, and I replied that Lance Berkman’s calf would determine Carpenter’s value. Well, Berkman hit the disabled list Thursday, pushing Matt Carpenter into a starting role. Although Matt Adams is the bigger talent and the long-term solution at first base, he’s spending his first season in Triple-A. As apparent proof that the Cards’ first basemen seem to be hurting each other, Adams recently hyperextended his elbow, making Carpenter the first-base answer for now.

Carpenter is by trade a third-baseman—he played first base just once in his minor-league career—and that eligibility enhances his fantasy value. But even at the hot corner, where power expectations are diminished, he doesn’t offer much pop, so he’ll never be a fantasy superstar. His ISO in the minors was just .151, coming largely from doubles and triples (he hit one home run every 52 plate appearances). Still, his 11 three-baggers represent a strong 0.03 triples per hit rate, though that speed on the basepaths hasn’t translated into steals (just 19 in 27 attempts over 333 games).

Carpenter made his mark with his excellent plate approach, one of the reasons he’s zoomed through the minors to the top of the world, reaching the bigs in just his third professional season. On the way up, his walk rate rose from 10.7 to 15.7 percent, improving at each level, while his strikeout rate peaked in 2010 at 17.0 percent before improving to 12.7 in Triple-A last season. That’s given him a .300 minor-league batting average and a .408 OBP, both strong enough to balance out his tepid .451 SLG.

This all suggests that he won’t keep slugging .513, but the rest of his triple-slash (.282 BA and .318 OBP) are a little closer to what we can expect from him in the majors. PECOTA gives him a .249/.341/.361 in his 50th percentile, reflecting his excellent OBP skills, while his batting average becomes strong in his 80th percentile. But even in his 90th percentile, a .432 SLG with just nine home runs in 517 plate appearances isn’t enough for a corner infielder. And since Berkman isn’t expected to stay on the disabled list much longer than the minimum, he’ll be a temporary roster fix with somewhat limited appeal. Before you say goodbye to this Red Bird, owners in deeper leagues or those in leagues that count OBP, keep Carpenter close to you until Berkman returns.

Ian Stewart (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 2%, CBS 25%) had a rough week, picking up just three hits in 24 plate appearances, but the silver lining is that he struck out only five times, three of which came last night against Johnny Cueto. His otherwise good contact suggests luck more than skill, so I’m giving Stewart a longer leash to work things out.

While continuing to share time at first base with Casey McGehee to go with a few games in right field, Garrett Jones (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 10%) also picked up his second home run and second double last week, both in the same game. This improves his overall line to .242/.242/.485. Expect that OBP to rise; Jones owned a career 9.3 percent walk rate entering this season, and he has yet to draw a free pass in 33 plate appearances. Playing part-time makes him best suited to deep and NL-only leagues, but he’ll help you with a dinger now and again without killing your batting average.

Remember how I warned you about Luke Scott’s ownership rates? The rates for Chris Davis (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 9%, CBS 38%) are undergoing a similar spike, rising sharply from last week’s levels (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 6%, CBS 27%). The only warning sign for him is his 28.3 percent strikeout rate in the early season. His next power surge could spell the end of his tenure on the VP list, if the lack of contact doesn’t undermine his production first.

Ownership numbers for Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 2%, CBS 24%) also rose a bit after a .444/.630 /.556 week that brought his overall line to .357/.509/.571. He picked up a walk in five of his six starts; playing every day is another sign that Manny Acta is confident about Hafner’s health. This means increased playing time unless and until Hafner breaks down. Since he will only hurt you in batting average, Hafner should maintain solid value.

AL-only VP
Daric Barton (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) has been a bit slow out of the gates since being named the Athletics’ first baseman, but he did collect his first dinger of the season last week, something he didn’t do all of last season. This suggests his shoulder may indeed be healthy. Don’t expect Barton to hit a lot of these—his best output is 10 longballs in 686 plate appearances during his career year in 2010—but he should help you in OBP and with counting stats.

NL-only VP
Amid Fredi Gonzalez’s announcement that Juan Francisco (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 5%) might get 300 at-bats this season to keep Chipper Jones fresh, Francisco homered in consecutive games and doubled in two straight games as part of a three-game stretch during which Francisco went 5-for-11. Then, he homered again Sunday night, driving his seasonal line to .286/.310/.714 with one walk and six whiffs in 25 plate appearances. If Chipper goes down again, Francisco would earn enough playing time to make a difference in mixed leagues; in the meantime, he remains a very solid NL-only option.

Playing Pepper
Kila Ka’aihue (Yahoo! 0%,ESPN 0%, CBS2%) has picked up occasional starts behind Daric Barton, but there is no true platoon between the two lefties. This year’s version of Hawaiian Punch (.370/.414/.444) seems to be better than last season’s (.195/.295/.317), though the usual small-sample caveats apply.

Owners sometimes grab Placido Polanco (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 4%, CBS 26%) due to sheer name recognition, but he’s not the player he once was. That said, he’s not as bad as his .192/.222/.212 line suggests either; reaching his .281/.325/.360 weighted-mean PECOTA would make him a decent option in the deepest of leagues.

Much like the Bryan LaHair/Anthony Rizzo situation discussed in last week’s Playing Pepper, Lonnie Chisenhall (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 18%) is tearing up Triple-A (.319/.342/.583), but he won’t get the call until (not unless—it’ll happen) Jack Hannahan (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) cools down from his hot .341/.429/.488 start.

Tampa Bay claimed Brandon Allen (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) off waivers from the Athletics, but he’s just a left-handed bench option right now.

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Does Brandon Allen's value here decrease with Hideki Matsui possibly signing with the Rays in short order?
Allen's value is pretty marginal, even without the Matsui signing. Adding Matsui would just bolster their already-impressive collection of lefty bats, while also taking away what little value Allen might have.

Thanks for the comment!
Deep League Torment: I have actually lost sleep trying to figure out this Barton - Ka'aihue thing.
Yeah, pobo, it's leaving me puzzled, too. (In today's game, Kila was the DH and Barton played 1B). It would be best to have both, of course, as a mutual handcuff, but most of us don't have the roster slack.

I'll keep my eye on the situation to try and get you some sleep :)
Thanks, Michael. It's a burden, all this deep thinkin' I do. :)

And hey, Kila got himself a GW'er today, too.

Y'know, I thought it was telling that it was Cowgill who went down, not Kila, on the Tyson Ross promotion. They didn't want to do it. They needed him, with Crisp's soggy start. Then they cut Brandon Allen loose altogether. They're certainly intrigued by Kila. And it's a natural fit, isn't it, in a LaHair-West sort of way?

Meanwhile, it looks to me like Barton has changed his swing. He looks like Edmonds-lite now --- with a new back-foot, for-the-fences uppercut, as if he's intentionally trying to put some power into his game and change the way the front office perceives him.

I know it's nothing and nobody cares but you, me and Bob Melvin --- but I can't recall the last time a team tried to time-share two left-handed first-basemen. Can you?

I wonder if Melvin loses sleep over this.

Does anyone have any idea why ownerdhip of these players is so much higher in CBS leagues?
One of my projects this year is to do some research to find that out. If the leagues will give me their demographic data, I'll have all kinds of answers for this.

I have a feeling that CBS leagues are deeper and/or single-league; their owners seem much sharper or experienced, based on what I've seen in my VP work. It's pretty hard to find a good player with a sub-20% ownership in CBS, as compared to Yahoo! and ESPN.

Hopefully, I'll find out enough to clear this up, as it's just guesswork at this point.

Thanks for the comment!
No doubt the ESPN numbers are due to massive amount of dead leagues. I play in a couple of public-leagues every year just because I was in the mood to do some drafting back in March --- and those things are ghost towns by June 1.
My thought is that ESPN and Y! attract more casual/first-time gamers, which would explain the ghost-town effect. I remember one of my first years in ESPN (in the mid-90s) and one of my leaguemates was determined to field a team of only Yankees. He spent the second half of the season making silly trade offers to other (more competitive) owners to accomplish his goal. I was one of the stubborn jerks and wouldn't part with Chuck Knoblauch.
Nice to see someone stay consistent with a value picks post
If Carpenter pans out, will you be on top of the world? Seems to me we've only just begun to explore this.