Robinzon Diaz (C – Pirates)
The Pirates seem to be willing to ride the hot-hand at catcher, since neither Jason Jaramillo nor Robinzon Diaz has significantly out-played the other thus far. Diaz is currently the hotter of the two, as he has started 4 of the last 5 games, while going 7 for 15 with a home run. Perhaps most importantly, Diaz hit out of the number 5 spot tonight, which is a strong indication of John Russell’s confidence in the kid as a hitter. Diaz is definitely the more intriguing of the two from a fantasy perspective. He is a career .300 hitter in the minors and has the ability to make contact with almost every pitch he sees (4.8% BB rate; 7.7% K rate in minors). He has continued to put the ball in play at an incredible rate in the majors – has yet to take a walk and has struck out just once in his 25 at bats, which has been good for a 93.3% contact rate. Diaz is also a tremendous athlete and has played some 2B and 3B in the minors. This position flexibility gives him the potential to secure a few more at bats going forward. Diaz’s .400 BA will come down, as it has been inflated by a .368 BABIP; nevertheless, he is definitely capable of providing a .300 BA until Ryan Doumit returns, which is gravy at the catcher spot in nearly all leagues.
Orlando Hudson (2B – Dodgers)
The suspension of Manny Ramirez was supposed to put a dent into Orlando Hudson’s fantasy value; however, it may have done just the opposite. After moving Juan Pierre up into the lead-off spot, the O-Dog has batted in the 3rd spot for the past two games. If he can continue to hit in this spot, Hudson will be in line for more RBI opportunities, while the runs should only decrease slightly (he is losing Manny, but still has plenty of good bats behind him). People have speculated that hitting in front of Manny has increased the amount of good pitches the O-Dog has seen. Pitch data does not confirm this assumption whatsoever; in fact, Hudson has seen a lesser percentage of pitches thrown for strikes this season than in his entire career. Hudson’s BABIP (.360) has been somewhat lucky, which means that his .343 BA will fall back down toward .300 over the course of the season. Hudson’s EYE (1.25) has improved over his career (3-year average of 0.74), which is a great indicator of sustained success. Hudson won’t provide much meaningful power or speed, but if he can remain in the 3rd spot in the order, he will put up a good BA and great counting stats for a 2B.
Brad Hawpe (OF – Rockies)
The perpetually underrated Brad Hawpe was 4 for 4 with a home run and 5 RBI on Tuesday night. I get the feeling that Hawpe is so unheralded because people assume that Coors Field inflates his numbers. But, in actuality, Hawpe has produced remarkably similar statistics on the road vs. at home during his 6 year career (Home - .286 / .377 / .507 with 46 HR; Away - .283 / .377 / .488 with 46 HR). This year, Hawpe’s EYE (0.81) has risen over 20 points above his 3-year average due to reducing his K rate by roughly 8% this season against his 3-year average. If Hawpe can continue to maintain his current contact rate, he will surely exceed our BA projection.
Zach Duke (SP – Pirates)
Zach Duke picked up his 4th win of the season on Tuesday night by limiting the Cardinals to just 1 ER through 8 IP, while striking out 5 and allowing just 5 base runners. After three woeful seasons, Duke’s stellar debut in ’05 (1.81 ERA) has become a distant memory. But, thanks in part to pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, Duke is beginning to remind fans of the immense promise that he once showed. Back in ’05, Duke was called up after the all-star break, which meant that the Pirates coaching staff did not have sufficient time to ruin him, err I mean, to alter his mechanics. The off-season between ’05 and ’06 was more than enough time for the staff to “improve his mechanics”, which in Pittsburgh is synonymous with “destroy his effectiveness”. Thankfully, Kerrigan has preached a common sense approach with his pitchers, and has encouraged Duke to go back to the way he pitched throughout his impressive minor league career and rookie year. The results have been extremely encouraging so far, as Duke’s K/BB (2.55) has returned to where it was back in ’05 (2.52), which is a substantial improvement over the last three years. Now, Duke’s ’05 season was certainly aided by some luck, and so has been the case in his ’09 season. His BABIP is a touch low at .279, and his HR/FB ratio is very low at 4.1%. Some regression is definitely in order for his 2.52 ERA, but not as much as one might think, since his FIP is currently in the low-to-mid 3.00s. If Duke can continue to keep his K/BB ratio around 2.50, there is no reason to think that he won’t be able to finish the year with an ERA south of 4.00 and a WHIP south of 1.30.
Pablo Sandoval (3B – Giants)
Pablo Sandoval went 3 for 5 with a home run and 3 RBI on Tuesday night. Sandoval has overcome a couple of obstacles this year in order to have his BA sitting at .303. First of all, Sandoval has swung at more bad pitches than any hitter in the league (53%). Secondly, pitchers seem to be picking up on his free-swinging ways, as they are only throwing him strikes 41.2% of the time. This is a number that rivals that of Albert Pujols, but for vastly different reasons. On a positive note, Sandoval has increased his BB rate from 2.7% last year to 5.0% this year, which is still painfully low, but nonetheless it is progress. Nearly canceling out his improvement in the BB department is his increase in his K rate (9.7% last year to 14.9% this year). This increase in his strike outs is a direct result of pitchers throwing him fewer strikes than they did last year, and it is a number that could get worse before it gets better as the league continues to catch-on. Sandoval is an immensely talented hitter, but due to his lack of walks and the volatile nature of batting average, Sandoval will hurt your team more than most during those spells when the balls off his bat aren’t finding green.
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