June 20, 2011
First, Third, and DH
Like other unmentionable things in life, injury happens, sometimes affecting just one player, other times creating a cascade effect that changes the picture for other players too. This week sees a bit of both, while gamblers will like the look of two new Value Picks.
Casey Blake (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 2%, CBS 13%) missed most of last week due to neck pain that required a cortisone shot on Wednesday, although he pinch hit plenty. I wouldn’t recommend owners cut Blake loose since this looks to be fairly minor, but with such a fragile player, I’m going to wait until I see more signs of life before returning him to the VP list.
Matt LaPorta (Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 5%, CBS 37%) sprained his ankle trying to get to third base on Friday, leading to a DL stint expected to last 2-3 weeks. He’ll likely return as a Value Pick soon afterwards, but he is off the VP list until then.
Travis Buck (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) was optioned to Triple-A when Travis Hafner was activated, but Buck didn’t even get out of town before being recalled to fill LaPorta’s spot. Manny Acta said that Carlos Santana will be the team’s primary first baseman with Buck backing him up, since Buck has only played five games at first base, all in the minors. Buck is getting a crash course at the position, but given LaPorta’s timetable for his return, Buck is likely to settle in just in time to get demoted again when LaPorta returns.
Casey Kotchman (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 9%) has been tearing it up this season, and I’m reluctantly acknowledging that his production might be for real. I’m reluctant because Kotch has hit .259/.326/.392 in 2328 plate appearances before entering into Bizarro World this season and hitting .339/.400/.468 in 190 plate appearances, including .318/.370/.500 over the last four weeks. Kotchman’s .359 BABIP this season is well above his .275 career average, suggesting regression, as would PECOTA, where his .324 TAv is currently miles above his 90th percentile .278 (which includes a .281/.350/.418 slash line).
Cutting against this expectation are Kotchman’s improved (but decidedly non-Bizarro) peripherals in 2011. He has always been a good contact hitter (88.4 percent career), but he boosted that to 90.7 percent this year, thanks to a 90.8 contact rate outside the zone that is well above his 76.2 percent career average. This improvement has led to an 8.4 percent strikeout rate that’s also his lowest since 2007, while his identical 8.4 percent walk rate reverses two straight years of declines and matches his 8.3 percent career mark.
Boosting these rates while remaining within career ranges suggests Kotchman is experiencing a mild renaissance which, at age 28, wouldn’t be out of the question. I still think he will sink more than he rises over the rest of the season, but given his performance thus far (and low ownership rates), AL-only and deeper mixed league owners ought to see how long he can retain this level of production.
Jose Lopez (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 17%, CBS 5%) was one of Derek Carty’s “Players to Think About” this week, and Derek makes a good case for Lopez reviving his power in Florida’s Sun Life Stadium. Lopez’s primary competition for the starting job, Greg Dobbs, has quieted down over the last month, hitting just .275/.318/.325, while Dobbs’ platoon partner, Wes Helms, has hit only .216/.275/.270.
The new manager in Florida—still unclear as I write this, though rumors suggest it’s Jack McKeon—could be the catalyst to a Lopez resurgence (see Matsui, below), and it could open the door for greater position competition, giving Lopez a chance to show what he can do. Lopez’s 11.1 percent strikeout rate and 1.4 percent walk rate this season are consistent with his 11.2 and 3.7 percent career averages, even as the latter number is part of a decline since 2009’s 3.8 percent peak.
That extraordinary impatience—his two percent unintentional walk rate is 10th worst in baseball, right behind Vladimir Guerrero—will lead to batting average fluctuations and streaky performance, but streaks work both ways, and his .207 BABIP points towards a possible turnaround. He is not a lock for either playing time or increased production, but a thin NL pool for third basemen makes Lopez a good gamble for single-league owners, while mixed league owners can take a flyer on him to see what a new Marlin regime might bring.
Brent Morel (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.4%, CBS 9%) continues as the regular third baseman in Chicago’s South Side, hitting in three of four starts last week. Only one of those hits went for extra bases, and Morel remains impatient, so he is still best suited for AL-only and the deepest of mixed leagues, but he’ll stick on the VP list unless he begins to crater.
Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 9%, CBS 14%) has benefited from the Great Bob shift in Oakland as he has hit .321/.447/.643 in the nine games since he went from playing for a Geren to a Melvin. On top of this, Melvin has said that Matsui will play in the outfield during interleague play, boosting Matsui’s confidence and his counting stats, while hopefully maintaining his hitting groove. Matsui has been primed for a turnaround all season, so grab him now.
Juan Miranda (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0.4%, CBS 8%) continues to experience intermittent playing time and production, getting one hit in his last 22 plate appearances entering Sunday and starting four of Arizona’s past ten games. Some of both have been due to neck and hand problems, as well as the ups and downs expected from a rookie. I’m not ready to give up on him just yet, but owners might want to bench him until he plays—and hits—a little more.
Scott Sizemore (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 8%) appeared in Michael Jong’s column shortly before his demotion, and Michael offers an excellent analysis of Sizemore’s potential in Detroit. In Oakland, Sizemore pushed Kevin Kouzmanoff to the minors before hitting .287/.472/.548 in an Athletics uniform. A better play at second base due to his lack of pop, Sizemore still makes a nice AL-only addition, at least until he cools off again.
Daniel Descalso (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.4%, CBS 4%) started six of the last eight Cardinals games, and his short-term job security was further cemented by the demotion of Matt Carpenter. Descalso cooled off over that span, hitting .188/.263/.250 in 19 plate appearances, and David Freese has begun his rehab assignment, possibly returning around July 1, so Descalso may not have the job long. He remains a good single-league option because of his playing time, but keep in mind that owners (and Value Picks) might need a replacement soon.
Former VP Brett Wallace (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 19%, CBS 49%) has seen his ownership rates slip, though he has hit .306/.432/.431 over the last month. Those ownership rates are too high for VP, but don’t let him linger on your league’s waiver wire.
Last week, commenter prs130 asked about Casey McGehee (Yahoo! 64%, ESPN 72%, CBS 84%), and I mentioned some cautious optimism coming from the Milwaukee clubhouse about McGehee. Sure enough, McGehee hit in every game this week, and he is seeing the ball well, working deep into counts, and hitting the ball solidly—get him if you can.
Adam Lind has largely yielded the designated hitter spot to Edwin Encarnacion (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 20%, CBS 20%), who has hit .292/.358/.479 over the last month. With ownership rates right at the VP threshold, E-3 is worth a roster spot in deeper leagues.
Former VP Danny Valencia (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 3%, CBS 24%) has looked better lately, hitting in four of his last five games with back-to-back homers on Friday and Saturday. Only a strained right bicep kept him off the VP list, but he is one to watch for a rebound.