Chris Carter (ESPN: 21.7 percent owned; Yahoo!: 23 percent owned)
In the minor leagues, he never had a full season OPS under .800, nor has he hit fewer than 10 home runs in a season, yet Chris Carter has also never played even half a season in the majors. His power is not really up for discussion; he has hit at every level, including the majors, but his ability to contribute beyond 25-30 home runs a season is what has kept him from getting a serious shot in the majors until this year.
The move to Houston in the offseason was good for Carter’s value in a couple ways. First, unlike Oakland, who has designs on competing for the AL West title again this year, the Astros have a greater incentive to see what he can do given a full year of playing time than they have to sit him if he hits an extended cold spell. Second, given that the vast majority of Carter’s value comes from his HR and RBI potential, heading from one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors to a far more hitter-friendly one should be a boon for his value.
Interestingly, however, while Carter has hit plenty of home runs already – he’s presently tied for ninth in the majors with nine – he has hit more of them on the road than he has home despite having played seven more games there. I’m not worried that Carter will struggle in Houston, since Minute-Maid typically sports a right-handed home run park factor in the 112-115 range, which makes the fact that he isn’t hitting there yet almost a bonus; it means that, unless he defies the odds and refuses to hit there all year, there is meat on the bone for those looking to grab him off the waiver wire.
Much like the player Adam Dunn used to be, Carter is going to change in value greatly from league type to league type, albeit less than Dunn used to. In any league that counts strikeouts, for example, Carter’s value plummets. ZiPS projects him to finish with 192 strikeouts, and while Steamer is a little less pessimistic, I’m not sure in what universe 142 whiffs are considered an upside for a hitter. In point of fact, however, both projection systems see a decline in Carter’s strikeout rate over the rest of the season. If his present rate were to hold over the course of 600 PAs, Carter would strikeout about 225 times, which would break Mark Reynolds’ record of 223 strikeouts in 2009.
What differentiates Carter from Dunn is that while Dunn was a substantial asset in OBP leagues and a liability in traditional average leagues, Carter doesn’t vary nearly so much. While his 10.4 percent walk rate isn’t a poor mark in any objective sense, it is nearly 9 percent below the current league leaders and 10 percent below Dunn’s career rate. Following an 0-for-4 night on Monday, Carter is down to a .301 OBP, which isn’t helping anyone in that category in much the same way his .221 average isn’t a perk for those in average leagues.
So far this year, Carter has been most consistently beat by offspeed pitches down and away. Pitchers with good sliders or curveballs need not challenge him or even offer him a strike in some circumstances. Unless Carter can learn to take those pitches, opposing pitchers are simply going to pound him down and away until he makes them do otherwise. The only saving grace here is that Carter does do damage on pitches down but over the heart of the plate, which means that if he can stop expanding his strike zone on pitches he can’t reach, he could narrow the window in which pitchers can exploit him. I’m not remotely advocating adding him on spec, since I think it’s a long shot that he makes the changes necessary to drive an OBP spike, but with so little time in the majors to his name so far, I think it’s at least theoretically possible that he refines his approach and becomes a more complete hitter. Hoping that he’ll reverse course and start hitting for some average is probably hoping against hope. His career .268 average in Triple-A is indicative of his ceiling in the majors, and reaching it would likely involve giving up some of the home runs that form the foundation of his value. He’s presently sporting a .308 BABIP and a 17.6 line drive rate – ranking him 131st out of the 174 qualified hitters – so while he isn’t likely to get much worse, those looking for power off the wire should be prepared to deal with an average no higher than .235 for the rest of the season.
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