Going for Broke – Catchers & Corners

I know I said podcasts were returning this week, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s really difficult to sit at the desk for 2+ hours to record and edit the show. I need to prop my broken ankle up all the time and it’s impossible to do so comfortably at my desk. What I can do is write in the meantime, so here is part one of a series.

Did you draft Joe Mauer this year? How about Grady Sizemore or Jason Bay? Jacoby Ellsbury? Javier Vazquez? Jake Peavy? Josh Beckett? You get the point. If you drafted one or more these guys (or a host of others not included) then your season isn’t panning out how you planned. Whether injury, lack of performance or both, these guys were all top 100 picks who aren’t putting up what you expected when constructing your team.

You may have offset your duds with a handful of the diamonds in the rough that have emerged in the first half of the season, but these things seem to snowball so it is more likely that you are wallowing in the middle to bottom of your standings with two or three of these guys wondering what in the world you should do with the rest of your summer. You could give up, ignore your team and become “that owner” or you could suck it up and try your hardest to get back in it. If you have been playing this game for length of time, you have heard stories about how a team was in last place at the All-Star break, but they surged all the way back to win it.

They may have had some crafty trades or their weak links started performing, but one thing is certain: they took some chances. They went out and got some guys whether via trade or waiver wire and just said, “Hey, what’s the worst that can happen? I’m already in last! This guy will either perform up to his talent or continue to flounder, but I’m in last so it can’t hurt!” You need to invest in some gambles who have a reasonable chance to pay off big time if you’re going to surge up through the standings.

Going out and trying to acquire the Evan Longorias and Josh Johnsons of the world will cost far too much and the gain, if there is any, will be minimal. You will end up damaging yourself too much in one category or another to get what those superstars bring. With that in mind, I have put together a team of lottery ticket guys you should be targeting for this strategy. Some are next-to-nothing cost lottery tickets, while others have a cost, but it is definitely not that of a Ryan Braun or Roy Halladay. The idea is these guys will be among the hottest in the second half and start leading teams through the standings.

Catcher – Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks

Last year after the All-Star break Montero hit .316/.366/.534 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 234 at-bats showing you just how hot he can get for a period of time. And it wasn’t one especially hot month that propelled him, either. His OPS totals by month were: 1.007 in July, .910 in August and .824 in September. In his tiny 81 at-bat sample so far this year, he has been excellent, but he is still returning from knee surgery and Chris Snyder has still been taking at-bats.

You should look to use the injury concern as leverage to drive the price down a little bit. He won’t be free by any stretch, especially since he was a highly touted sleeper coming into the season, but he is definitely worth targeting. Only four catchers have hit 11 home runs so far and only two of those have driven in 40 runs so if Montero can repeat or at least approach his second half numbers from 2009, then he will definitely be among the elite backstops in baseball.

First Base – Adam LaRoche, Arizona Diamondbacks

A perennial second half star, LaRoche has this odd knack for really turning it up as the thermometer jumps. In the last three years, he has a .246/.330/.440 line with 36 home runs in 925 at-bats before the break and a .309/.371/.537 line with 35 home runs in 685 at-bats after the break. Only one fewer home run in 240 fewer at-bats. He also goes from batting average anchor to batting average booster after the Midsummer Classic.

If he stays in Arizona, he could reasonably drop 20 home runs from here on out as Chase Field has been known for being a home run haven, especially for lefties like LaRoche. The honorable mention here would be Prince Fielder if your league’s Prince owner foolishly discounts him because of a ho-hum .265 batting average. It’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The point of this group of players is again to minimize cost while returning as much upside as possible. Generally, Fielder should still be at full price, but some people are dumb.

Third Base – Alex Gordon, 1B/3B/OF, Kansas City Royals

I seriously just put Kansas City Chiefs by accident. Whoops. I’m not even a football diehard, I prefer baseball by leaps and bounds over the NFL. I would be much higher on Gordon if he played for a competent franchise. Don’t cry about money disparity, Royals fans. You (and the Pirates and Astros, etc…) suck because of awful management. Many teams are able to overcome the financial disadvantage, but there is no defense against stupid.

Excuse the rant, it stems from the fact that Gordon is inexplicably stuck in AAA where he is annihilating pitchers with a .314/.439/.563 line including 12 home runs and even seven stolen bases in 229 at-bats. What is he proving down there? Why was he even sent down in the first place? Oh yeah, because he hit .194 in a whopping 31 at-bats. Joba Chamberlain thinks the Royals mishandled Gordon, that is how badly they have messed this up.

Anyway, he should be up soon and I think he is worth taking a chance on to see if he finally delivers #2 overall pick production. Depending on your league, he might not cost you anything more than a waiver claim. Those are probably the shallower 10 and 12 team mixed leagues in which case you probably don’t even need to consider him until he is actually called up. For those of you in those leagues, your gamble pick is Chone Figgins.

Remember in 2007 when Figgins missed the first month and then hit .160 in May? He ended the season at .330 thanks to a .376 average from June 1st on. That is the kind of crazy streak he is capable of going on if he gets himself right. And at the very least, he is on pace for 44 stolen bases.

Corner Infielder – Carlos Pena, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays

In need a power surge? Pena is your guy. In need a batting average surge? Ehhh, you might want to look elsewhere. Pena showed what kind of damage he is capable of in short order when he popped seven home runs in a six game stretch in June. He is on pace for “just” 31 home runs this year, but with the kind of streaks he can go on during a given month, he may very well approach 40 home runs as he has in two of the last three years (46 in 2007, 39 last year). A 40-home run season would mean he has 24 in the bank; for the sake of comparison Joey Votto leads all first basemen with 21 right now.

As I mentioned at the outset, he is a batting average anchor in fact he has been in every one of his 10 seasons except 2007 when he hit .282. He’s a career .244 hitter, but I think impact of one guy to a batting average is often overrated. Consider that he had 490 at-bats in 2007 when he hit .282 and 2008 when he hit .247 and the difference between those two was 17 hits. If you think he will get to his career .244 mark over say 260 at-bats in the second half, he would have to hit .292 in which case he would be a batting average boost.

Even if he hits the .227 he hit last year, he would hit .258 the rest of the way which won’t kill you. And .258 just happens to be his second-half average the last three years. He has 58 home runs before and after the breaks the last three years, but the latter 58 came in 643 at-bats while the former 58 were in 808.

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