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Kubel and Alvarez: Waiver Wire

Posted By Dan Wade On May 3, 2012 @ 3:15 pm In Waiver Wire | 9 Comments

For the vast majority of fantasy leagues, outs are outs no matter how they come. For the leagues that do count strikeouts as a hitting category, the follow pair of players probably isn’t a good option as both of them see a third strike with great frequency.

Jason Kubel (ESPN: 89 percent owned; Yahoo!: 48 percent owned)

The first week or so of the season was unkind to Kubel as he was breaking in his new home in Arizona. He struck out in almost a third of his plate appearances over the first eight games of the season, which would be fine if he also walked in a third and hit home runs in the remaining third, but alas, he did not. Instead, he generally made a mess of things en route to a .200/.310/.240 start. During the 10 game hitting streak that follow his slow start, Kubel hit .421/.476/.737 with three home runs, and now has his overall line up to a far more respectable .338/.400/.532.

When the Diamondbacks are completely healthy, they truly have a surfeit of outfielders with Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Gerardo Parra forming a capable corps even before Kubel enters the conversation. In fact, Dave Cameron suggested this offseason that the addition of Kubel at Parra’s expense was a step in the wrong direction, which is why I think Kubel benefited indirectly from Chris Young’s injury. His playing time probably wasn’t in jeopardy just a week into the season, but with Parra available at a moment’s notice, Kubel had to know that a prolonged slide would have put his guaranteed job up for grabs. Young’s injury moved Parra, Kubel’s obvious replacement, into the starting lineup and allowed Kubel to work his way out of his slump.

He’s still striking out a ton, 28 percent is one of the 10 highest rates in baseball so far, but that’s only in keeping with his pattern of rising strikeouts that started in 2007. Sliders, curveballs, and change-ups have locked Kubel up, but he’s making hay on the fastballs he has seen. I suspect his strikeouts will fall sooner rather than later, as he isn’t really a three true outcomes player, and especially since his SwStr% is at a near-career low point. He’s swinging at a lower rate generally and specifically laying off pitches out of the zone, which bodes well for his future production. His walk rate looks good, of particular note to those in OBP leagues, and I suspect his power will be at least adequate the rest of the way. ZiPS now forecasts 21 HR for Kubel, which strikes me as a tad high, but for a hitter who won’t make a team’s average or OBP look cadaverous, 17-18 HR isn’t a bad return on investment.

Pedro Alvarez (ESPN: 11 percent owned; Yahoo!: 23 percent owned)

Like Kubel, Alvarez got off to a rancid start, hitting .067/.097/.267 through the Pirates’ first 10 games. His two hits during that time were both solo home runs — a silver lining! — but he had struck out in 15 of his 31 PAs, which is outsized even for a three true outcomes hitter. Over the next 10 games, Alvarez was much better, hitting .389/.436/.833, which brings his overall line up to a much more respectable .242/.286/.576 with 6 HR and 12 RBI.

This, to me, is Alvarez’s upside. His power is tremendous, which is why ZiPS’ updated projection of 28 HR isn’t laughable even though he hit just four all of last season, but batting average isn’t going to be part of his package. With Evan Longoria out, I can see the desire to play the hot hand, but Longoria is going to be out for the better part of two months and I just don’t see Alvarez lasting that long without another prolonged drought. His 35 percent HR/FB rate is so ripe for regression it looks like a piece of fruit one might see in a juice commercial.

As this heat map shows, Alvarez is unable to do much of anything with pitches down and away, but feasts on those left over the plate, which means he’ll be able to produce when pitchers make mistakes, but against a pitcher with good command, he’s going to get burned.

(The scale is for the average run value in a given area with some smoothing. More information can be found here)

Maybe it’s a holdover from his rotten 2011, but I am not buying Alvarez as a long-term solution at 3B. The shallowness of the 3B talent pool is a formidable foe, and depending on league depth, Alvarez may be a better-than-average choice, but I just don’t see him approaching 30 HR the way ZiPS does and in most circumstances, the 22-25 HR he could provide doesn’t seem to be worth the loss of batting average. Granted, if power is a major concern or if there are plenty of high average/low power hitters — Joe Mauer and his ilk — on a roster, then perhaps Alvarez becomes the type of player who makes sense, but as a plug-and-play replacement for either Longoria or Kevin Youkilis, I would rather take my chances with Chris Davis.


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