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MLB Skinny: Smoak monster

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

I got home late on Sunday after heading into Seattle to watch the soul-sucking Mariners flat line once again, losing 8-1 to San Diego. But despite not sitting down in front of my TV set until 10 pm, I couldn't stop myself from diving, first, into the two-hour "Lost" retrospective and, then, into the even longer series finale – thankfully, DVR cuts those times down quite a bit. Thoroughly dazed and confused, I finally stumbled to bed around 2:00 am, only to spend the next hour or so trying to make sense of what I saw.

I woke up on Monday feeling … well, tired. But I also felt pretty satisfied with the conclusion of the show. It wasn't the best ending in TV history as some claim. I give that honor to "Newhart" – Bob waking up next to wife Emily, as if it was the older "The Bob Newhart Show," and claiming he had a strange dream about being an innkeeper in Vermont surrounded by a lot of eccentric people was a major league curveball. The "Lost" final chapter didn't plug all the holes that it opened – not even close – but it tied things up enough that the ending won't detract from the game-changing ride that was the six years leading up to Sunday night.

Alright, so there's no clever "Lost"/fantasy baseball juxtaposition here. I just wanted to say my peace and offer a piece of real estate for other "Lost" fans of the fantasy baseball community to say theirs. With that, I'll move on to our weekly trip around fantasy island …

CORNER INFIELD

Adam LaRoche's(notes) .913 OPS as of May 23 is about 100 points higher than his career best on that date in any of his previous seasons, and we all know that his best is likely yet to come – his career second-half OPS is north of .900. But as well known as LaRoche is for his sizzling summers, it's surprising to see his Yahoo! ownership number sitting at just above half the leagues (54%). Since May 12, only Michael Young(notes), Justin Morneau(notes), Kevin Youkilis(notes) and "Iron" Mike Sweeney(notes) have been better in fantasy at the hot corner, according to BaseballMonster.com. Interestingly, he has 0 HRs in 70 ABs hitting someplace other than No. 5 in the order, and 7 HRs in 75 ABs in the No. 5 spot, where he's settled in of late.

Might not be a bad time to make a speculation play on Justin Smoak(notes). Although he's hitting just .165, there are some reasons to believe that better days are just over the next hill. Smoak owns a lofty LD% mark of 22.8, which ranks 37th among the 262 players with at least 90 ABs. Yet his BABIP sits at .160, which is hard to do when you're hitting line drives at Smoak's rate. In fact, Nick Johnson(notes) is the only other player with a LD% of greater than 22.0 and a BABIP below .255 (.213). For someone with Smoak's advanced plate approach (17 BB, 19 K) and plus power, his extreme misfortune thus far creates a very nice buying opportunity (11% owned).

Here's my top 5 of the 5-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Conor Jackson(notes) (He's tested our patience, but we are starting to see strong signs of progress – 7 2Bs in past nine games)
2. Lyle Overbay(notes) (The hits are starting to rain down – 14 in his past 10 games)
3. Hank Blalock(notes) (Not a bad way to go if you can afford to spot-start him against righties)
4. Matt LaPorta(notes) (K's have dwindled of late and he recently hit 1st HR – a breakout could be coming soon)
5. Adam Rosales(notes) (Versatility and hot bat – .391 in past 7 games – will keep him in the lineup even with Mark Ellis'(notes) return)

MIDDLE INFIELD

Considering how scarce the power supply is at the middle infield spots in fantasy, it's always a preferred place to mine your speed – that way you're not giving up too much pop, in search of SBs, at the more traditional power spots (Corner and Outfield). So, while Chone Figgins(notes) is still mired below the Mendoza Line, at least he's delivered a solid SB bottom line (9), which is tied for second among MIs. And it should be noted that his career batting average in June (.326) is 80 points higher than it is in May (.246). Figgins has been one of the most active names among the 2B-eligible in trades in recent days, which tells me that the buy-low market for Figgins is ripe.

Here's my top 5 of the 5-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Carlos Guillen(notes) (Coming soon: 2B-eligibility and a return from the DL)
2. David Eckstein(notes) (Might as well try to tap into his torrid streak – .417 in past 15 games – and see how far he takes it)
3. Mark Ellis (Back from hammy injury, he's a regular with 15-HR pop and a lower-middle spot in the order)
4. Reid Brignac(notes) (Has maintained productivity despite fluctuating playing time – 6-for-9 over the weekend)
5. Jeff Keppinger(notes) (Has multiple hits in 9 of 18 May games)

OUTFIELD

If, like me, you're a Drew Stubbs(notes) owner, you have to appreciate the patience Cincinnati is showing with him. Despite sitting among the league leaders in strikeouts (46) and owning a sub-Mendoza Line batting average for most of the year, the Reds have kept with Stubbs as a regular in the outfield, and it looks like it's starting to pay off. Stubbs hit his fifth home run of the year on Monday and went 3-for-4, giving him four home runs in May and a .218 batting average (his highest mark since April 12). Moving out of the leadoff spot seems to have relaxed Stubbs, as he's hitting over .300 in 51 ABs from the No. 7 spot in the lineup, where he was on Monday, compared to .145 in 83 ABs out of the top spot. As bad as things have gone, it's pretty impressive that Stubbs is still right on a 20/40 pace.

Here's my top 5 of the 5-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Coco Crisp(notes) (Fresh off the DL and into the leadoff spot in the A's lineup)
2. Carlos Guillen (See above)
3. Conor Jackson (see above)
4. Seth Smith(notes) (Hitting .327 in his past 15 games)
5. Lastings Milledge(notes) (Has raised BA 20 points during recent 8-game hitting streak)

CATCHER

Buster Posey(notes), who is currently ninth in the PCL with a .929 OPS, played first base twice in the past week for Triple-A Fresno. Given the recent report of a big lineup shuffle for the Giants in the near future, which includes first baseman Aubrey Huff(notes) moving to the outfield, you'd have to think of this as big news for patient-thin Posey proponents, right? Wrong. Apparently the Giants still are not considering Posey any time soon. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval(notes) is expected to slide over to first base, with Juan Uribe(notes) and Freddy Sanchez(notes) handling second and third base. Meanwhile, at catcher, Bengie Molina's(notes) job is supposedly safe – although he hasn't recorded an RBI or extra-base hit in his past 14 games, the team loves the way he handles the pitching staff.

STARTING PITCHER

If someone came to me looking to sell-high on Clay Buchholz(notes) after his sterling six-inning, one-run, eight-strikeout victory over Tampa Bay on Monday night, I'd be an interested buyer. He currently ranks in the top 25 among starters in Contact% and O-Swing%, which, respectively, tracks how often a batter misses when he swings at an offering and how often he swings at pitches outside the strike zone. His average fastball velocity, at 93.8 mph, is in the top 10 among starters. And in terms of pitch effectiveness, his changeup ranks as his best offering, clocking in just outside the top 20 among starters. Buchholz also induces a lot of ground balls, just another feather in the cap of the winningest pitcher (12 wins) in the majors since August 19 of last year.

Here's my top 5 of the 50-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Mike Leake(notes) (Mixmaster Mike hasn't had a bad start yet – earned victory in the only outing in which he allowed more than 3 ER)
2. Ted Lilly(notes) (Hasn't been that bad, thus far, and should only get better the further removed from shoulder surgery he gets)
3. Ian Kennedy(notes) (4-for-4 in Quality Starts in May)
4. Tom Gorzelanny(notes) (Has 7-plus strikeouts in 5 of 8 starts)
5. Kris Medlen(notes) (Taking Jair Jurrjens(notes) spot in the rotation – 3.00 ERA in two starts, thus far)

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