Welcome to a “tax-free” edition of Fantistics’ weekly article on Value Picks! Hopefully by now everyone out there is squared away with the IRS, so instead of crunching numbers to avoid sending out money, you can start playing with numbers in hopes of bringing in some money! This is metaphorically speaking of course, as we here at Fantistics would never openly condone illegal forms of wagering. So with that disclaimer in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s edition of Value Picks and help work our way towards that wonderful metaphorical prize!
As always we’re going to identify a player at each position who is currently owned in less than 50% of leagues, according to ESPN.com. Ideally we’ll identify players that can contribute in traditional mixed leagues but are obscure enough to be available in deeper formats.
Catcher: John Buck
With recent recommendations Mike Napoli and Kurt Suzuki making their contributions for fantasy teams, we’re beginning to thin out the depths of the Catching position. But have no fear, there are still some good catching values to be had on your waiver wire! So today let’s talk a bit about John Buck. Buck was a popular 2nd catcher pick heading into the season, but has fallen out of favor with fantasy owners after a slow start. He’s barely owned at all, in just 0.2% of leagues, despite finishing 5th amongst catchers in HR’s last year. Along with the breakout in the power department, Buck showed improved plate discipline and suffered from an abnormally low BHIP% last season (.187) in 2007, suggesting there was more to be had from the young catcher in 2008. Buck’s off to a slow start this season, hitting just .216/.286/.324 through his first 37 AB’s, but the peripherals continue to improve. Buck’s cut his K Rate in the early going down to 16% from his 24% rate of a year ago and at the same time he’s shown an improving FB Rate that’s nearing 70%. He’s had some horrid luck in the early going, sporting a .208 BHIP% which will certainly show some improvement. Buck’s best attribute by far will be the power but in an improved Royals lineup he should provide a decent RBI total as well (decent for your 2nd Catcher position). Buck fits best in a lineup that’s starving for power and loaded in average, so if your team that has an Ichiro Suzuki type in your OF, Buck could help supplant that power while Ichiro lifts his average.
1B: Jason Giambi
It’s hard to imagine Giambi’s name showing up on this list, but he’s currently owned in just 12.4% of leagues according to ESPN.com. Giambi’s another guy whose slow start is a bit deceiving. The .107/.297/.357 line leaves a lot to be desired out of your 1B slot, but Giambi’s batting average has been severely impacted by a .000 BHIP%. That isn’t a misprint. Giambi hasn’t had a single 1B this season out of the 21 potential chances on balls he’s hit in play. While the luck has been bad, the skills have been pretty good. Giambi has posted a 1.75 EYE with 7 BB’s in his first 10 games. Similarly his power #’s have been solid in the early going, as he’s homered twice and doubled once in his first 28 AB’s, giving him an extra base hit rate of 10.7% with a HR once every 14 AB’s. Despite Giambi’s inconsistency the last few years, the power has always remained averaging 1 HR per every 14.5 AB’s over the last 4 seasons. Even with just 400 AB’s, Giambi would hit 27-28 HR’s at that pace. There aren’t too many times you can find a potential 30-40 HR threat sitting on the waiver wire, but according to ESPN.com that’s the situation we’re staring at with Giambi. The icing on the cake with Giambino, he happens to hit in a pretty good lineup, which helps boost his Run and RBI totals.
2B: Mark DeRosa
DeRosa’s a bit undervalued in fantasy circles because he doesn’t excel in any one category and he doesn’t run, which is a no-no for middle infielders in fantasy. But he also doesn’t hurt you anywhere and his incredible position flexibility makes for an extremely valuable bench player in deep leagues and daily transaction leagues. DeRosa’s hit above .290 and driven in 70+ runs in each of the last two seasons, making him one of only 6 players to do so at 2B. He’s shown an improving EYE and enough power to challenge the 15 HR barrier in a year as well. He’s not someone you’d want to rely on as your everyday 2B in traditional mixed formats because the lack of a true strength, but in deeper leagues and as a bench player that can fill in almost anywhere around the diamond, he makes for an undervalued commodity on your waiver wire. DeRosa is currently owned in just 29.8% of leagues.
SS: Stephen Drew
Stephen Drew’s miserable 2007 season has to be lingering in owner’s minds. For Drew to only be owned in 47.2% of leagues is pretty surprising, given his strong start to the season. Drew is a power hitting shortstop who suddenly stopped hitting for power last season and left many owners who invested off his strong 2006 rookie campaign with a sour taste in their mouths. Here’s what I recently wrote about Drew: “Drew showed good plate discipline skills (.60 EYE, led by a healthy 10% BB Rate) during his 2nd season, but the power he displayed in his call-up in 2006 went missing as his Slugging % dropped from .517 to a paltry .370. Early signs suggest the power has returned which should make Drew a viable .285-75-20-75 hitter in an improving DBacks lineup.” I may have understated just how good that DBacks lineup is going to be with the phrasing “improving lineup”. The DBacks have scored 89 runs in their first 14 games, leading the major leagues by more than 10 runs. Hitting 6th in a lineup like that should plenty of RBI opportunities and with Drew’s increased willingness to run I could see a 20 HR, 85 RBI, 10 SB season out of Drew. He’s Carlos Guillen-lite out of the SS position, and offers even better value in leagues that include OPS.
3B: Hank Blalock
Blalock actually just misses the criteria set above as he’s owned in about 55% of leagues, but I felt it was important to mention because the upside with Blalock is immense. We were on Blalock early in the preseason noting he could offer significant value late in drafts to those who got stuck missing the Top 7 or so 3B options. If you weren’t aware Blalock had surgery last May to remove a rib and immediately upon return the power stroke returned as Blalock hit .313/.405/.656 over his final 64 AB’s. Early in the ’08 season Blalock’s picked up where he left off to the tune of .292/.393/.479 with a very appealing 1.40 EYE. The improved EYE is a big indicator for Blalock and is one that showed up once he returned from the surgery at the end of ’07 as well when he posted a .82 EYE in 76 plate appearances. For a guy with a career .48 EYE, these are significant improvements and seem to suggest Blalock is on the verge of breaking out in a serious way. In my opinion he’s the first 3B you want after the established Top 8 (Wright, Cabrera, Braun, Atkins, Ramirez, C. Jones, Zimmerman, and Figgins), meaning he absolutely should be owned in all formats.
OF: Luke Scott
Baseball’s a funny sport sometimes. In a sport where Juan Pierre (career OPS of .720) can make $50+ Million dollars and Luke Scott (career OPS of .891) can barely find playing time you have to wonder sometimes what GM’s are watching. Scott has been unfairly pegged as a platoon player despite posting a respectable .808 OPS against LH pitching in his 121 career AB’s against it. Meanwhile he absolutely obliterates RH pitching to the tune of .282/.368/.540 in 582 career AB’s. In a division with only 3 LH starters, Scott is going to face his fair share of righties this year and he’s going to hit 25+ HR’s and drive in 90 runs with a solid average. Somehow despite his torrid start (.375/.444/.600) he’s only owned in 12.1% of leagues! In deep leagues it’s inexcusable that he’s on waivers as he could legitimately be a solid 4th or 5th OF in traditional mixed formats.
Two-Start SP for next week: Manny Parra
After John Danks (last week’s recommendation) 7 2/3 shutout innings yesterday and Wandy Rodriguez’s (Joe Ribando’s recommendation 2 weeks back) 14 1/3 innings of 1 ER ball, we’re going to have a tough time living up to the first two weeks recommendations. (Of course now that I’ve mentioned this Danks will probably give up 9 ER’s in 2/3 of an inning on Sunday against the Rays) But we’re going to try to keep the momentum going with our third young lefty in a row as this week’s recommendation (for next week) is Manny Parra. This is assuming Parra isn’t removed from the rotation with Yovani Gallardo’s return from the disabled list, but Parra should get two starts next week against St. Louis and Florida. While both of those teams have dominated RH pitching early in the season (both ranking in the Top 5 in OPS against RH pitching), they’ve both struggled a bit against LH pitching (ranking 12th and 30th respectively). Parra’s early season numbers don’t look particularly pretty (1-1, 4.82 ERA, 1.29 WHIP), but his K Rate (1.18) and BB Rate (.32) both look pretty good. Furthermore his BHIP% allowed of .321 seems to show he’s been a bit unlucky with balls in play. If Parra gets to make both his starts next week, I love him as a two start option and he’s owned in just 8% of leagues. I’ll go even further as to say I like Parra long-term in deeper leagues as a SP option as long as the Brewers keep him in the rotation. He’s got #2 starter potential and pitches in front of a loaded Brewers offense that should provide him plenty of run support.