A compulsive lineup tinkerer, I have a rule with my fantasy teams to mess with them as little as possible the first month of the season, except in the case of injury or outright demotion. It’s too easy to overreact to small sample sizes, hot and cold streaks, or that tweet suggesting the manager’s secret man-crush on an obscure player in Double-A.

Many other fantasy managers exercise similar restraint, but now that the first month of the season has passed, they’ll start making moves too. Batters are nearing 100 plate appearances, signaling that their secondary rates are beginning to stabilize, and pitchers can no longer claim that they’re still working out spring training kinks. We’re already seeing the effects on Value Picks rates, as two players are bumping up against their ownership ceilings and less talent is available on the waiver wires. Just around the corner is the long dry season before midseason prospect call-ups, so grab those values while you can!

With just four hits in his last 52 plate appearances, Ian Stewart (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 0%, CBS 20%) is obviously struggling, whiffing 12 times and walking three times over that two-week stretch. Eight of those strikeouts have happened since April 21, suggesting that things are getting worse, not better. I still like him as a bounceback candidate, but those odds are getting longer and longer. The Cubs don’t have any options to push him out of the lineup, but Value Picks certainly does, so we’ll boot him off the list until he turns things around.

As pobothecat and I talked about in last week’s comments, the Athletics have been sharing time between Daric Barton (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) and Kila Ka’aihue (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) at first base. Barton provides better defense and on-base skills—the only positive part of his .196 /.275/.348 line, which has been weak enough to give Kila six of the last 10 starts. Despite his increased playing time, Kila’s .289/.333/.333 line only looks good next to Barton’s. Until one of these guys seizes the reins and starts producing, I can’t really recommend either of them as a VP, though owners in the deepest of leagues can hang onto both to see what happens. In the meantime, you can find a better AL-only VP below, as well as some other options in Playing Pepper.

Seattle’s Justin Smoak is hitting .187/.238/.320 at first base, so Alex Liddi (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 2%, CBS 9%) has been picking up starts at both ends of the diamond, since he also offers more punch than third baseman Kyle Seager. Liddi has been Seattle’s heir apparent to the third-base throne, in part because his bat won’t carry him at the cold corner. As Kevin Goldstein noted when ranking Liddi just outside Seattle’s Top 11 Prospects this year, “Liddi has tremendous power, but it comes with poor hitting skills, tons of strikeouts, and questionable defense.”

As the best raw Italian import since beef Carpaccio, Liddi spent parts of three seasons at Single-A Wisconsin trying to refine that plate approach. He managed a 24.9 percent strikeout and 8.0 percent walk rate in his time there but could only manage a .125 ISO. That changed at High-A High Desert (in the offense-friendly California League), and his power breakout remained when he advanced to higher-level, lower-octane leagues, even as he gave back some of his gains in patience and contact:


































Those strikeout rates are sure to remain in the majors—he’s currently striking out at a 25.6 percent clip through a small-sample 39 plate appearances—but he’s also maintained a .189 ISO. Eric Wedge likes what he sees enough to keep giving Liddi the nod, and Liddi’s intriguing enough to become a Value Pick this week. His lack of stateside polish will make him more volatile than a comparable 23-year-old, but his upside and opportunity are solid enough for owners in need of the precious commodity of third-base power to take a shot on Liddi in deeper leagues.

Garrett Jones (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 11%) picked up three hits in the second game of last Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Rockies, including this deep shot to right field—a 436-foot bomb that was his third of the season. The previous game, however, Jones picked up his first free pass of the season, and he’s striking out 25.5 percent of the time. The walks should rise and the strikeouts, and Jones’ .510 SLG will keep him in the lineup against most righties. 

In the realm of deep shots, Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 9%, CBS 35%) hit a 481-foot bomb on April 15 that remains this season’s longest by any player. He hasn’t hit a home run since, but that’s okay; he’s near the top of the AL with a .450 OBP, and his .295 average is reminiscent of his 2005-2006 form. That kind of statistical nostalgia won’t last (everything but his .459 SLG is above his 90th PECOTA percentile), but it does bode well for Pronk’s 2012 campaign. OBP leagues will obviously find value here, as will AL-only and deeper league owners; he’s currently pushing the ceiling of VP ownership rates.

Also at the edge of VP ownership rates, Chris Davis (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 10%, CBS 46%) crushed three home runs since Wednesday, one to each field—a great sign that he’s not becoming too pull-happy. That four-day .462/.533/1.231 burst drove his overall line to .313/.352/.582 on the year (it currently stands at .319/.373/.580), meaning it’s only a matter of time before your fellow owners wake up to a hot power hitter who should qualify at either infield corner. Get him now.

Matt Carpenter (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 8%, CBS 23%) celebrated his Value Picks addition with a four-game hit streak last week, collecting three doubles and three RBI. Lance Berkman is eligible to return from the disabled list on May 4, and his return will spell the end of Carpenter’s fantasy value, so I hope you—and Carpenter—make the most of his opportunity.

AL-only VP
A day after Delmon Young’s latest brush with the law—in which he did his best Mel Gibson impersonation—Detroit placed Young on the restricted list with an uncertain return date. That same day, Detroit promoted Brad Eldred (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 5%) from Triple-A Toledo, where he was hitting an absurd .388/.444/1.013 in 80 at-bats, including five home runs over the three games before his call-up.

Although Eldred’s promotion was tied to the release of Brandon Inge, the timing was fortunate, as Jim Leyland announced the next day that Eldred would be the Tigers’ regular DH “for a while.” This could give the powerful Eldred the shot he hasn’t gotten since 2005, when he hit .221/.279/.458 for the Pirates in 208 plate appearances while striking out at a Vornado-worthy 37 percent clip. In two other cups of coffee with the Pirates (47 plate appearances in 2007) and Rockies (27 in 2010), Eldred never improved that rate much, consigning him to the Quad-A bin of failed power prospects.

Eldred continued to mash in the minors, despite those diminishing major league opportunities, and he owns a minor league .268/.336/.547 triple-slash, thanks in part to a 26.7 percent K% and 7.2 percent BB%. He’s improved in both areas over the past four seasons, however, which is a promising sign:

















His .231/.285/.440 PECOTA weighted-mean projects 22 long-balls over 456 plate appearances, but he could approach 30 jacks above his 90th percentile (although his batting average would still be only .269). With a clear path to playing time and a good—if limited—skill set, Eldred could even sneak into the realm of relevance in deep mixed leagues. For right now, he’s certainly worth an addition to your AL-only squad.

NL-only VP
Juan Francisco (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 6%) only had one start this week, but he appeared as a pinch-hitter twice, so his absence isn’t health-related. Or, to be more accurate, it’s not related to his health, but to the health of Chipper Jones. Thus far, Larry has been productive and able to play—something that won’t always continue. Though physical breakdowns are hard to predict, fewer things seem more certain than the eventual return of Jones to the DL, and even if he doesn’t, he will get plenty of rest in favor of the powerful Francisco. Still, production and value depend on playing time, and if Francisco doesn’t get more of both soon, we’ll find a better single-league option in a very shallow NL-only talent pool.

Playing Pepper
Don’t look now, but Pedro Alvarez(Yahoo! 5%,ESPN 1%,CBS 22%) hit four doubles and three home runs last week, including a dinger at both ends of a double-header when he went a combined 3-for-8, his first two-game hit streak this season.

Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) has two hits in his last 36 plate appearances, while Matt LaPorta (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) has a great .389/.458/.722 line at Triple-A Columbus. Kotch’s .143 BABIP looks like an overcorrection from last season’s .335, but if he can’t find the handle soon, LaPorta might get one more chance to stick in the bigs.

A hit in eight of his last nine starts brought the seasonal batting line for Brent Morel (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 10%) from .103/.146/.128 to .178/.221/.205; he’s creeping up into AL-only viability. 

With Chris Nelson (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) still scuffling at the dish (.224/.296/.286), Jim Tracy has started Jonathan Herrera (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%) at third base in three of the past four games, keeping Colorado’s continuing carousel of third basemen spinning.

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As an owner of Berkman and Carpenter in a 12 team NL-only league, I kind of need to hang on to Carpenter all year as insurance?
Allen Craig is probably the right answer, but I would have to trade for him.
I don't know if you need to hang on to him all year, since Matt Adams is the heir apparent at 1B, and there was talk of bringing him up instead of Carpenter this time around. Carpenter got the nod because Adams needs more seasoning and had just hyperextended his elbow.

As the year goes on, the scale will undoubtedly tip more in Adams' direction (he's currently hitting .325/.365/.538 in AAA Memphis). He's a surer long-term bet, but Carpenter makes a suitable handcuff for now.

Thanks for the question!
Thanks for the nod, Michael. Not sure it's a good idea to encourage me, though.

On Pedro Alvarez -- prime candidate, maybe, for an in-depth analysis of what's changed and whether it lasts? Absolutely no idea what to make of this guy. He's a toggle-switch, abysmal to beast. Help us.
I've been rocking the Chris Davis experience at 3B in my AL only all year - he's been a godsend for given I waited waaaay too long to fill 3B in the draft.

Really sad that my 10 team AL-only squad is beating the snot out of my 12 team mixed team.
Thanks for the confidence that I can untangle the knot of Alvarez--he's as much of a glyph to me as he is to you. Some things don't appear to have changed, however. He's started 17 games this year, and has struck out in 15 of them, adding up to 23 whiffs (and just 3 walks) in 62 plate appearances. On the other hand, 9 of his 12 hits have gone for extra bases.

He still looks like an all-or-nothing hitter, but at least he's making better contact thus far (his 90% contact rate on strikes is well above his usual levels. But I'll keep an eye on him (or keep keeping an eye on him, really) and see if these trends continue.
thanks, Michael.
Gamel or Chris Davis in non-keeper points league ROS? Thanks.
Assuming this is standard roto, I'd take Davis, who's got more power. If you count OBP, I'd go with Gamel, who whiffs less and walks more. Both seem pretty even in other areas--secure job and qualification at both infield corners.

Thanks for the question!
And I'd *really* go with Davis now that Gamel is out for the year--one day after I'd picked him up on one of my fantasy teams. Hope you went with Davis :)