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.
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.
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.
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.