By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise & Regression Alert: Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson was a revelation in an otherwise poor season for the Astros; Houston scored the third-fewest runs in baseball in 2010. His .308/.337/.481 rookie batting line is in the books, but can he make a repeat performance in 2011? It’s not likely. His minor league isolated power (ISO) was only about average (.152, major league average is .150), so the power he showed last year (.173 ISO) was a little high – not impossible to replicate, but don’t bet on it either. The bigger issues: Johnson’s plate discipline (4.2% career BB%, 26.7% career K%) and elevated 2010 batting average on balls in play (.387 BABIP last year, a number that trends towards .300 across baseball), point to a big potential drop in batting average next year.
Biggest Bust: Lance Berkman
Tommy Manzanella was terrible, but he was mostly known for his defense anyway. Carlos Lee also had a poor season, but turned it on late to get to 24 home runs and some respectability – at least from a fantasy perspective. Michael Bourn didn’t have a great batting average, but still stole 52 bases. That leaves Lance Berkman. He was injured much of the season, and didn’t crack 500 plate appearances for the first time since his sophomore season in 2000. His knee condition may be degenerative, and he’s seen a three-year decline in slugging and on-base percentages now. He’s best left for the deepest of leagues until he shows life again.
2011 Keeper Alert: Brett Wallace
Hunter Pence is the only no-doubt keeper on this offense, but Brett Wallace is the only interesting player who has yet to establish himself in the major leagues. Coming off his minor league record, in which he put up a .304/.375/.487 batting line, more was expected of him than his rookie-year stats (.222/.296/.319). Then again, many of his better power years in the minor leagues came in high-run environments, so his power might be suspect. In his 159-plate appearance major league debut, he didn’t show the ability to take a walk (5%), struck out too much (34.7%) and didn’t show any power. He’s a deep-league sleeper and an NL-only dynasty keeper at most, but he’s also a name worth remembering, if only for potential help in the batting average category if and when he gets going.
By R.J. Anderson //
With Chipper Jones slated to miss the rest of the season, the big question is how fantasy owners and the Atlanta Braves can replace the future Hall of Famer.
Let’s begin with Atlanta. Jones’ injury further complicates an infield depth chart already stretched thin by Martin Prado’s presence on the disabled list since early August. All-Star reserve Omar Infante’s attention is focused on replacing Prado, leaving Brooks Conrad at third base. The 30-year-old has an interesting back story. A former eighth-round pick of the Houston Astros, Conrad made his major league debut with the Oakland Athletics in 2008 after qualifying for minor league free agency. He joined the Braves’ system before the 2009 season. In 128 plate appearances this season he’s hit .241/.315/.500, including a memorable grand slam to complete a comeback against the Cincinnati Reds.
If you’re an owner in a deep league, Conrad has the benefit of playing time, and has shown some power, socking seven homers with an impressive .259 Isolated Slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) to date. Here are two other options to consider in deep fantasy leagues:
The Astros’ shining star this season, 25 year old Johnson is hitting .360 with 34 RBI in just 190 plate appearances. He’s owned in only 83% of ESPN leagues, suggesting he might be available in yours. It’s unreasonable to expect this level of performance to continue, as Johnson’s BABIP is well over .400, and his minor performance over five seasons was a mediocre .277/.315/.429. That’s probably closer to reality than his 2010 to date, but it is worth noting that Johnson was hitting .329/.362/.570 in Triple-A this season before getting the call.
Minnesota’s newest attempt at finding a solid hot corner holder since the Corey Koskie days is hitting .329 with a .375 on-base percentage. He’s owned in only 3% of ESPN leagues, yet over the last 30 days. Valencia is hitting .322/.361/.444, which dwarfs Evan Longoria’s .235/.336/.382 and Michael Young’s .257/.314/.477 offerings. That’s not to say Valencia is on their level, just that his performance over the last 30 days should have incited at least some interest.
Valencia is the better option if all things are equal, but Johnson playing in the weakest pitching division in the league should be given some thought too. If you’re looking for power rather than batting average help, Conrad’s your best bet.
For more on Danny Valencia and other potential pickups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits