Archive for May, 2009

The Scoop

Friday, May 29th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Chris Carpenter remains a huge injury risk, but it’s clear he’s back to being one of the game’s best pitchers when on the mound. Chances are he eventually gives up a run this season, but Monday’s start against the Brewers was one of the most dominant performances of 2009. Despite the shaky status of his arm, Carpenter is throwing harder than ever, as his current average fastball velocity (92.3 mph) is the highest of his career. Moreover, no NL pitcher has thrown a harder slider (87.8 mph average) this year, with only Justin Verlander (88.9 mph) besting him. Carpenter is filthy, and while not on the DL, he will likely continue to pitch like a top-10, if not top-five, fantasy starter.

While Jason Bay has been a very good, not great, player throughout his career, he’s performed like a superstar in 2009, posting a 1.018 OPS with good plate discipline. He’s hitting just as well on the road as at home, so the terrific start isn’t just a product of Fenway Park. Dating back to 2005, he’s been successful on 51 of his 55 SB attempts, which is a remarkable 93% rate. His defense is pretty terrible, but fantasy owners don’t care, and while he’s playing a bit over his head right now, only an injury will prevent a career-high in RBI, as only one AL batter (Vernon Wells) has come to the plate with more runners on base this season.

Tim Lincecum has seen a dip in velocity this season, and while that’s concerning after Bruce Bochy abused him so badly last year, the results remain strong, so hopefully it’s nothing to worry about long-term. In fact, he’s actually pitched better this season than during last year’s Cy Young campaign, with improved command (2.62 BB/9) and an even greater K rate (11.57 K/9). Lincecum has been unlucky, with the highest BABIP (.367) in the National League. However, he’s also been fortunate, evidenced by his 2.3% HR/F rate. He’s done an excellent job limiting homers throughout his short career, but that number is sure to increase. Still, his xFIP (2.68) is the best in baseball and suggests his ERA should continue to decrease.

It looks like Gary Sheffield isn’t finished, after all. Injuries have opened the door for regular playing time, and he’s rewarded the Mets by slugging three homers with 11 RBI over the past six games. Impressively, he’s also walked (22) more than he’s fanned (15), and with all the health problems in New York, Sheffield could be fixture in the middle of the lineup for quite some time. He obviously remains a liability with his glove, and at age 40, he’s an even greater injury risk than in the past, but it’s clear last season’s struggles had more to do with health than a sign of demise. Hitting behind David Wright and his .446 OBP has its perks as well.

After surrendering seven runs over one inning Monday, you don’t need me to tell you to worry about Ervin Santana. Unfortunately, that performance can’t be thrown out as an isolated incident in an otherwise long season, as Santana’s average fastball velocity has decreased from 94.4 mph in 2008 to 90.7 mph this year, which is significant and a big red flag. It’s unclear how long he’ll be able to pitch with his damaged arm, but at this point, it looks like it will affect Santana’s ability even if he’s able to remain on the mound. It’s not like fantasy owners can try to trade him right now, so benching him is probably the best method. Hope for a solid start against the Mariners on Sunday, and then see if you can get anything in return before the inevitable Tommy John surgery.

After a near perfect game Monday, Clay Buchholz is sporting a 1.30 ERA with 49 strikeouts over 48.1 innings. He also possesses an impressive 1.59 GO/AO ratio. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are reportedly in “no hurry” to trade Brad Penny and may soon have John Smoltz ready to join the rotation. I understand the theory of never having too much pitching, and it’s not like the Red Sox need to make changes sitting in first place, but Buchholz can’t waste away in the minors for much longer, and trade suitors should be lining up if a deal is the only way of getting him into a major league rotation. With David Ortiz’s performance, Boston could certainly use one more potent bat as well.

Remember all the puff pieces in spring training about Jeff Francoeur’s new approach at the plate? Those authors sure hope you don’t, because he’s looked worse than ever in 2009, sporting a .629 OPS. His name has recently been brought up in trade rumors, but it’s doubtful the Braves could get much in return with his trajectory going in the wrong direction. Francoeur has a 17:1 K:BB ratio during May, and his power has all but disappeared. The Braves’ outfield is holding back an otherwise good team.

I really like Wandy Rodriguez, but few pitchers have been more fortunate so far. For one, his miniscule 1.5% HR/F rate is the lowest in the NL, so surely he’ll start giving up more homers. Also, a retroactive scoring change made five runs unearned during his last start Monday, which was huge. Still, any pitcher with a 1.71 ERA has likely been “lucky” one way or the other, and I wouldn’t necessarily be shopping the talented lefty, as his breakout looks legitimate, especially since it appears he’s finally solved his troubles on the road.

I really don’t know what to make of B.J. Upton, who continues to disappoint in the power department. After hitting 24 homers as a 22-year-old over 474 at-bats in 2007, he hit just nine long balls last season. Still, he followed that up by going yard seven times in just 66 at-bats in the postseason, and a shoulder injury could explain the regular season output. He’s obviously been slow to recover from offseason surgery, and Upton still possesses about as much fantasy upside as anyone in the game, but a .283 slugging percentage is unacceptable. He’s helped offset the lack of power by stealing 14 bases, and it’s encouraging his success rate has climbed, and his current BABIP (.270) is nearly 100 points below his career mark (.359), so his BA is bound to improve soon enough. Still, is he a 10-homer guy or a 30-homer one?

Dusty Baker is at it again, as he brought back Aaron Harang to pitch the fifth inning Monday after a lengthy 123-minute rain delay. The decision is especially curious after a four-inning relief appearance, followed by a start on three days’ rest, essentially ruined his 2008 season. Hope Monday’s “win” was worth it.

Mike Jacobs has always had pretty extreme splits, but it’s gotten ridiculous this year. He has a .576 OPS versus southpaws and a .959 OPS against right-handers – nearly a 400-point difference. This makes Jacobs’ fantasy value entirely dependent on format, as he’s basically a negative in mixed weekly leagues, whereas he’s got plenty of value in daily ones.

Over his last two starts, Max Scherzer has posted a 20:2 K:BB ratio over 13.0 innings, revealing his high ceiling. He’s still too inefficient to pitch deep into games and remains an injury risk, but not many pitchers can flash that strikeout rate while inducing so many groundballs (1.31 G/F), which is the type of combo that leads to staff aces. More wins are sure to follow.

Quietly, Andruw Jones has posted a .992 OPS this season, with more walks (18) than strikeouts (16). It’s a small sample size with 73 at-bats, and his production has been solely Arlington aided (1.171 OPS at home, .728 on the road). Still, after hitting .205 over the past two seasons, it’s surprising to see some life back in his bat. He’s not all that valuable in fantasy circles as a part-time player, but there isn’t any good reason he shouldn’t start getting more action at Marlon Byrd’s expense.

Alexei Ramirez has really taken to batting second, and he’s raised his OPS more than 100 points over the past 10 games. His overall numbers still look ugly, but the opportunity to buy-low has probably passed, and there are signs of big things to come. After posting a 61:18 K:BB ratio last season, he’s at 18:12 this year in 330 fewer at-bats. Moreover, after getting caught on nine of his 22 stolen base attempts in 2008, he’s been successful on nine of his 10 tries this year. His raw power should resurface soon, and U.S. Cellular Field ranked as the second-best home run venue according to Park Factors last season.

James Loney is on pace to finish the year with 122 RBI. With a .380 slugging percentage…Ichiro Suzuki has more intentional base on balls (five) than regular walks (three)…Nick Johnson leads baseball in line-drive percentage (31.2), while Derrek Lee ranks dead last (11.7%)…Brad Hawpe leads the majors with a .474 batting average with RISP, while Troy Tulowitzki brings up the rear at .079…Bengie Molina has swung at an unfathomable 49.5% of pitches outside the strike zone in 2009, easily the most in baseball. Pablo Sandoval is second (46.6%), so the Giants must really be preaching patience at the plate this year…For those of you in NL-only leagues, take a look at Padres middle reliever Edward “the last of the Mujicans.” Over his last 5.0 innings, he has an 11:1 K:BB ratio, and he’s impressed all season. It seems the Padres always unearth a dominant middle relief performance from an unknown every year, and it looks like Mujica is that guy in 2009.

The Scoop

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Some pitchers, like Josh Johnson, come back stronger after Tommy John surgery, even seeing an increase in velocity. Sadly, Francisco Liriano is not one of these pitchers. In 2006, he was baseball’s best starter when on the mound, striking out 144 batters over 121 innings with a 2.16 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Always viewed as an injury risk, an arm injury followed, eventually leading to the surgery. Last year’s disappointing season could be forgiven, as poor command is a common theme among pitchers returning from Tommy John, and he finished strong, posting a 60:19 K:BB ratio with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP over the final 65.2 innings. Still, an extremely easy schedule contributed, as seven of his final 10 starts came against the Royals, Athletics and Mariners, who ranked as the three lowest scoring teams in the American League. So far in 2009, the optimism has vanished, as Liriano currently sports a 5.75 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.  His 7.30 K/9 IP mark isn’t bad, but it’s a far cry from his prime, and more is expected now that he’s 2.5 years removed from surgery. The radar gun has been even more telling than the results, as he’s averaged 9.14 mph with his fastball. In 2006, that number was at 94.7, so that’s a significant decrease. The same goes for his slider, which has dropped from 87.7 in 2006 to 85.5 this season. He’s also throwing that pitch far less frequently (37.6% down to 26.1%) due to its stress on his arm. Liriano’s numbers will improve, and he’ll no doubt retain plenty of fantasy value, but it’s too bad the injury affected his long-term prognosis so much, as another Cy Young type performance looks unlikely.

It’s safe to say the Nationals are pleased with the Adam Dunn signing so far. The Big Donkey has already knocked out 11 homers while posting a 1.082 OPS despite switching to a park far less hitter-friendly. Of course, there’s zero chance his current .310 batting average doesn’t sharply decline, and he’s still an absolute butcher with the glove, but it’s doubtful there’s a player with a career .905 OPS that gets less respect. Remember, Dunn was largely ignored on the free agent market. In fact, GM Brian Sabean thought it’d be a better idea to give Edgar Renteria a two-year, $18 million deal than sign Dunn for 2/$20 million. After all, it’s not like the Giants need a first baseman or anything (Dunn’s poor range would be less of a problem there anyway). Or a power hitter who gets on base.

Over his last four starts, Clay Buchholz has a 32:4 K:BB ratio over 26.1 innings with a 0.34 ERA. This after he was highly impressive in spring training. It’s completely illogical for a prospect this good to be rotting in the minors, while mediocrity like Brad Penny has a 16:15 K:BB ratio and a 6.90 ERA over 30 innings. Penny hasn’t been even average since 2006, and that was while pitching in the NL West. It’s not like Justin Masterson’s ceiling even approaches Buchholz’s either. Still, Time Wakefield has been solid, Daisuke Matsuzaka is about to return and eventually John Smoltz should enter the picture, so maybe a trade would be best for Buchholz.

As recently as April 21, Justin Upton had a line of .167/.250/.222. He now currently sports a .974 OPS that is more than 100 points higher than any teammate. He still strikes out too frequently, but he has a strong walk rate and few 21 year olds have ever possessed this kind of raw power. Over his last 163 at-bats, Upton has hit 11 homers, which is unprecedented for someone so young. While his success rate has been spotty, he’s also capable of contributing 20 steals as well. If a keeper-league held a draft today, Upton would be worth a top-five pick.

Randy Johnson currently has a 5.89 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, and at age 45, it would be easy to write him off. Still, a strong K rate (9.6 K/9 IP) suggests you shouldn’t, and horrible luck has greatly contributed to the slow start. In fact, he’s flashing a whopping 34.7% HR/F rate, which is almost 10 percent higher than the second highest mark (Roy Oswalt, 25.2 %). Of course, the Big Unit is hardly in his prime, and a decrease in fastball velocity could have something to do with his gopheritis. But to put his bad luck into perspective, the pitcher with the highest HR/F mark in all of baseball last year John Lannan at 17.5%, which is about half Johnson’s current rate, so it’s safe to expect a major correction soon. His slider still has bite and remains a terrific pitch, and he’s actually throwing it harder (85 mph) than he has since 2002 so far this season. Johnson, who has a ludicrous home/road split right now (32:3 K:BB ratio at AT&T Park versus a 7:13 K:BB ratio on the road), isn’t a bad buy-low target.

I’m beginning to sense Evan Longoria is pretty good at baseball. The sophomore had 11 long balls with a 1.114 OPS and leads the majors in total bases (95) and extra-base hits (27),  while placing second in Isolated Power (.368). He also has the second best UZR/150 (30.6) among all third baseman after leading in that category last season (20.1), meaning he’s likely the best defensive player at the hot corner in the league. His 31:13 K:BB ratio suggests he’s not quite in Albert Pujols territory just yet, but few players have impressed as much before reaching 600 career at-bats. Factoring in his age (23), Longoria would likely be the No. 1 overall pick if starting a franchise from scratch.

With 44 strikeouts over his last 29.1 innings, it’s safe to say Justin Verlander is back. The opportunity to buy-low is long gone, and any lucky owner should hardly be looking to sell even with the renewed value. Verlander looked like a Cy Young candidate entering last season, but instead delivered a disappointing campaign with a decreased K rate and inflated walk rate. In 2008, his average fastball velocity was down to 93.6 mph, but it’s up to 95.4 mph this season, which has obviously made a big difference. He can comfortably be considered a top-five fantasy starter from here on out.

Thursday’s golden sombrero notwithstanding, Jayson Werth has been a monster this month, batting .387 with four home runs, 10 runs scored, 10 RBI and five steals over the past 10 games. While continuing to mash lefties, Werth has improved against right-handers this season, posting a .917 OPS. Batting in a loaded lineup full of southpaws in a terrific hitter’s park, only an injury can prevent further success. Werth has a remarkable 89.5% success rate in stolen base attempts throughout his career, and he easily led all outfielders last season with a 35.3 UZR/150 rating and would have finished first by an even wider margin had he qualified in 2007, so he’s a fantastic defender. Entering Thursday, he also led the league in pitches per plate appearance with 4.58. Werth signed a two-year, $10 million contract during the offseason. Meanwhile, Aaron Rowand is in the second season of his five-year, $60 million deal.

One of the bigger surprises so far has to be Johnny Damon’s nine home runs. He’s only topped 20 long balls twice during his 15-year career, and he’s currently slugging 135 points higher than his previous high, set in 2000 with Kansas City. Damon’s power is sure to normalize, and it’s worth noting he hasn’t played in more than 150 games in a season since 2002, but he deserves credit for playing at such a high level at this stage of his career. I know it’s considered insane to give any labels or form any conclusions with the new Yankee Stadium, but Damon has hit six of his nine homers there over just 53 at-bats, and left-handed hitters figure to benefit the most if the early results are any indication.

After getting pounded once again Wednesday, Ricky Nolasco sits with a 7.78 ERA and 1.68 WHIP. His K rate remains strong, but he is walking more batters than last season, and the sluggish start is especially worrisome considering the hurler came somewhat out of nowhere in 2008, which included a huge increase in workload. Still, he was one of the most impressive pitchers in baseball last year, and he’s been one of the most unluckiest ones so far in 2009. His .387 BABIP is the third highest mark in the league, while his .531 strand rate ranks dead last. His FIP is 4.14, giving him the biggest discrepancy between that and his ERA (-3.64) by nearly a full run in all of baseball. Although his slider has seen a small drop in velocity, his fastball is exactly the same as last season, so he’s an excellent buy-low target. And now is the time to make some offers, as Nolasco’s next scheduled start comes at home against the Diamondbacks, who have scored the fewest runs in MLB.

Speaking of the Marlins, Chris Coghlan needs to be owned in all but the shallowest fantasy leagues. He was hitting .344 with a 10:12 K:BB ratio and was successful on nine of his 10 SB attempts over 96 at-bats in Triple-A before getting called up. While his three homers don’t jump off the page, he also had nine doubles, so he’s one of the league’s better prospects. With Cameron Maybin struggling mightily and getting sent down, it looks like Florida is going to give him a legit opportunity, something that’s unclear with other recent additions like Nolan Reimold, Gerardo Parra and Mat Gamel (although each of those prospects have plenty of upside as well). And even with the likelihood of Maybin’s eventual return, it’s not like Cody Ross is some long-term answer, and third base could also open up with Emilio Bonifacio showing his true colors, so Coghlan could become a fixture with a strong audition, and he’s even batting second in the early going. Frustratingly, I lost him by one measly dollar in NL LABR (I bid $28). That’s going to haunt me for the rest of the season.

The Scoop

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Posting a 1.239 OPS in Triple-A, Nolan Reimold was making a case to be called up even before Felix Pie left Tuesday’s game with a stomach issue. Pie has done nothing but continue to disappoint this season, batting .180 while looking overmatched at the plate. In fact, he has just two extra-base hits over 61 at-bats. No 24-year-old should be written off, but his major league sample size is growing. While Pie is fantastic defensively, that type of futility with the bat won’t cut it. Meanwhile, Reimold has nine homers and five steals over 106 at-bats. He needs to be added in deeper formats.

I feel bad for Casey Blake’s ribs the next time he faces the Giants. I’ll feel even worse for him if he tries to retaliate.

After a no-hitter with a 17:2 K:BB ratio Friday, Stephen Strasburg now sports an 11-0 record with a 1.24 ERA. He hit 101 mph on the gun while consistently working at 99 mph. Over 87.1 innings this season, he has an acceptable 164:17 K:BB ratio. I’m seriously considering stashing him right now even in redraft leagues. My only hesitance is the fact Washington isn’t a contending team, or then it would be a no-brainer.

Hopefully Frank Francisco’s recent bout with biceps tendinitis isn’t serious, because he was quietly becoming one of baseball’s best relievers, having yet to allow a run this season. He posted a crazy 11.8 K/9 IP mark last year and had fanned 13 batters over 14.2 innings so far in 2009, leading the AL with nine saves…Speaking of closers, Joakim Soria’s bum shoulder reveals once again how few can repeat yearly in such dominant fashion. Really, there’s Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez. It’s a crapshoot after that. Relievers are fickle.

I’m pretty pumped for “The Hangover.” Mainly because Zach Galifianakis is the best comedian alive.

I liked Aaron Hill as a sleeper entering the year, but in no way did I foresee this type of performance. How about a .357 BA with nine homers and 30 RBI over just 35 games? It’s safe to say he’s not quite this good, but there’s also no compelling reason to go selling hard…The Blue Jays as a team have really surprised, but they are clearly playing over their heads. It’s a nice story – they lead major league baseball with 204 runs scored, and I’d love to see the Yankees and Red Sox get competition along with the Rays, but it should be noted Toronto has played just four of its 35 games against division foes. For comparison’s sake, the Rays have already faced the AL East 21 times. Roy Halladay might be one of the 10 most valuable players in baseball, but expect the Blue Jays to come crashing back down to earth soon enough.

Take Your Pick

Monday, May 11th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Sorry for the lack of columns recently, I’ve been knee deep writing the running backs section for RotoWire’s fantasy football magazine. I’m almost finished, and I promise to have a “Scoop” column up Tuesday. But until then, I wanted to ask for help by bringing back “Take Your Pick.” There are a few backs I’m especially struggling with in the rankings, so any feedback and comments would be greatly appreciated and if convincing enough, could easily lead to changes in the mag. So I now open the floor to you:

Reggie Bush or Pierre Thomas?

LaDainian Tomlinson or Ronnie Brown or Kevin Smith?

Chris Wells or Knowshon Moreno?

Brandon Jacobs or Steven Jackson or DeAngelo Williams?

Marion Barber or Ryan Grant or Clinton Portis?

The Scoop

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I’m beginning to think Albert Pujols is pretty good at baseball. Entering Thursday, he led the NL with a 1.215 OPS and an outrageous 9:19 K:BB ratio, making a total mockery of pitchers. He has more homers (11) than strikeouts, which is a joke. Pujols is also one of the game’s best base runners, and his defense is terrific (8.5 UZR/150). The fact he’s also on pace to steal 22 bags is just unfair for those who don’t own him in fantasy leagues.

What do we make of Josh Beckett’s poor start to the season? His K rate (9.35/9 IP) is his best since 2003, but his control (4.41 BB/9 IP) has never been worse. Still, most of it can be blamed on bad luck, as his .405 BABIP is the highest in all of baseball and more than 100 points higher than his career rate (.301). He’s giving up too many line drives (26.4%), which is a disturbing trend dating back to last season, and it seems he gets into most of his trouble when he relies too heavily on his breaking stuff, and he’s currently throwing curveballs at the highest frequency of his career (29.6%). Fenway also remains a stumbling block, where his career ERA is 4.86. Still, Beckett’s stuff is among the best in baseball, and his hard luck to sure to change, making him an excellent buy-low target. It wouldn’t surprise if he pitched like a top-five starter from here on out.

Did you guys hear? Manny Ramirez tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. I also hear Brett Favre is considering coming out of “retirement.” It’s just too bad ESPN barely covers such interesting sports issues. In all seriousness, I wanted to write the column without mentioning Ramirez’s suspension, but it’s worth noting how it adversely affects Orlando Hudson and Andre Ethier. Hudson is currently in the midst of the best season of his career by a wide margin, posting a .342/.425/.538 line with an accompanying 12:17 K:BB ratio. Despite moving from an extreme hitter’s park to one that played as the second most pitcher friendly venue behind only Petco Park last season, Hudson’s slugging percentage is 84 points higher than his previous best mark, and he’s also 4-for-4 on the base paths. Most studies suggest lineup protection is an overrated theory that essentially doesn’t exist, but I think it’s safe to say Ramirez’s presence in the Dodgers’ order has benefitted “O-Dog” greatly. Because of his fragility and the fact he was playing over his head, Hudson was already a sell-high candidate, but now that’s unlikely to be easy to execute. Meanwhile, Either, who has been hitting cleanup and has also posted a career-high .995 OPS, might suffer even more from Ramirez’s 50 games off. After all, Ethier had come to the plate with more runners on base (119) than anyone in baseball, and it’s no coincidence James Loney ranks second in that department (113). Additionally, run, don’t walk to pick up Juan Pierre, who is now likely gone in all but the shallowest of leagues.

Brett Myers has once again become a human launching pad, serving up a whopping 10 homers over 37 innings pitched. That’s especially unacceptable with spotty control (3.65 BB/9 IP). His fastball averaged 92.1 mph in 2007, and after dropping to 90.1 last year, it’s all the way down to 88.9 this season. Not good when you call Citizens Bank Park home. With a .299 BABIP, it’s hard to blame his poor performance on luck. While his 26.2% HR/F is sure to drop, let’s take a look at his rates in that department from 2004-2008: 16.0%, 17.0%, 15.3%, 14.2% and 16.1%. It’s safe to call this a trend, so it would be a mistake to expect him to fall to the mean.

While Adam Jones never stopped looking like a future star, as a 23-year-old coming off a second half in which he posted a .663 OPS and a 28:4 K:BB ratio last season, his terrific start to 2009 has taken me by surprise. He’s not just beating up southpaws either, hitting .388 against right-handers. His walk rate is way up, and it looks like he’ll be a fixture in All-Star games for years to come, although some growing pains are still likely at some point this year. Remember, he went 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts over 20 spring training games, so more steals should follow as well. Since Jones is also a terrific defender in center field (11.5 UZR/150), it’s safe to say the Orioles aren’t regretting the Erik Bedard trade, no matter how well the soon to be free agent is pitching.

It’s time to go ahead and call Jonathan Broxton the No. 1 closer in fantasy baseball. Dating back to last season, he’s posted a staggering 14.2 K/9 IP mark over 39.1 innings. Not that save opportunities are predictable, but throwing for a good team in an extreme pitcher’s park also helps. While he’s sure to receive less work while now the full-time closer, this is a reliever who has fanned 187 batters over the last two seasons. Sure, his current .121 BABIP is unsustainable, but I doubt many are expecting him to finish with a 0.429 WHIP, either. Few, if not none, pitchers can match such a high strikeout rate with such a strong G/F (1.83) ratio, making Broxton the class of major league relievers.

I try not to pay too much attention to monthly splits unless the evidence becomes overwhelming, and in Mark Teixeira’s case, we may have reached that point. During his seven-year career, he’s posted a .790 OPS in April. In no other month is it lower than .882, and since his second worst mark comes in May, it’s safe to say Teixeira is a slow starter. Yankee fans and fantasy owners have no reason to panic, as he’s sure to rebound in a big way over the rest of the season.

Those still waiting for Lastings Milledge to reach his potential better not be holding their breath, as the toolsy outfielder is currently sporting an ugly .242/.277/.306 line in Triple-A. This after he posted a .397 OPS with a 10:1 K:BB ratio over 24 at-bats to start the season with Washington. Of course, that sample size is worthless, but this is a batter who has hit just one home run over his last 228 at-bats, counting spring training and dating back to last year. Since he’s also a terrible defender (-20.1 UZR/150) and a malcontent, Milledge is a long ways from helping the Nationals. Or your fantasy team.

The light might have finally turned on for Felix Hernandez, who is flashing a seriously improved K rate (10.13/9 IP) this season. Of course, he hasn’t pitched poorly over the last three years, especially when you consider his age (just turned 23!), but because he entered the league as one of the best pitching prospects ever, he hadn’t exactly met the sky-high expectations. Hernandez’s G/F ratio has decreased for the second straight season this year, but his 2.25 BB/9 IP mark and the aforementioned K rate are career-bests. It’s nice to see him harnessing such filthy stuff.

Chris Davis is on pace to finish the season with 255 strikeouts, which would shatter the MLB-record set by Mark Reynolds (204) last year. While Davis’ .211 batting average is sure to improve, it wouldn’t be wise to expect better than .240-.260 in that area. Still, Davis is also on a 41-homer pace, and the rest of his counting stats should be strong while hitting in a potent Texas lineup. Sticking with the Rangers, Hank Blalock has proven to be an excellent bargain at 3B, as he was unlikely to cost that high of a draft pick back in March and is on a similar 41-homer pace. His sub-.300 OBP isn’t helping the Rangers, but because he’s batting cleanup in that lineup, Blalock is also on pace to finish with 110 RBI. Of course, durability is always an issue with him, but maybe the full-time DH role will lead to continued health.

Minor league talk: There’s a lot of clamoring for Luke Hochevar to get called up, and with the immortal Sidney Ponson occupying a rotation spot for a team currently in first place, it makes perfect sense. Hochevar has an impressive 1.13 ERA with a 3.0 GO/AO ratio, so the former No. 1 overall pick may soon force Kansas City’s hand. Still, with just a 21:10 K:BB ratio over 32 innings, he doesn’t look ready to contribute in mixed leagues…During his last two starts, Homer Bailey has posted a 20:3 K:BB ratio over 13.1 innings. It’s time to turn Micah Owings into an outfielder…I understand the logistics of delaying a players’ arbitration clock, but the Braves are in fourth place with a roster capable of contending, so how much longer can they waste Tommy Hanson in Triple-A? The guy has a 1.65 ERA with 48 strikeouts over 32.2 innings. The franchise can’t afford to wait much longer…It’s unclear how much of a chance Arizona will give Josh Whitesell, but there are plenty of Diamondbacks who deserve benching, including first baseman Chad Tracy. Whitesell had a 1.028 OPS in Triple-A, with a 21:20 K:BB ratio. Especially while playing in Chase Field, he could be a sneaky add in NL-only leagues.

Scott Baker has a 9.15 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, making him one of the bigger disappointments so far this season. Still, nothing in his small sample size warrants panicking, and he has posted an 11:2 K:BB ratio over his last two starts. Baker is giving up more flyballs than ever, but his HR/F rate (27.2%) has been incredibly unlucky, as has his strand rate (.435). In fact, opposing batters are hitting a whopping .481 against Baker with runners on base, something that’s sure to regress to the mean. His 3.4:1 K:BB ratio was seventh best in the AL last season, so Baker is a decent buy-low target.

The Scoop

Monday, May 4th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

It’s safe to say Jorge Posada is recovered from his shoulder surgery, at least at the plate. Fantasy owners who gambled on the 37-year-old catcher coming off an injury ruined season have been rewarded big time, as he’s posted a .955 OPS in the early going. He’s hit five homers with 20 RBI and has already seen four starts at DH, so there’s plenty to like. Among all catchers, only Russell Martin has come to the plate with more runners on base, as hitting in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup has its advantages. He can safely be considered a top-five fantasy catcher.

Adam Lind already has 24 RBI this season, which puts him among the AL leaders. He had an .888 OPS throughout his minor league career, making him a good not great prospect. He hit a home run once every 28.8 at-bats, and last year in the majors he hit more groundballs than fly balls, so his early season power surge has been a surprise. After walking 16 times over 326 at-bats with Toronto last year, he has already drawn 15 base on balls over 107 ABs in 2009, so he’s clearly improving as a hitter. Still, he’s playing over his head (.360 BABIP), making him a sell-high option if possible.

After a slow start to the season, Kendry Morales has raised his OPS 271 points over the past 10 games. He’s hit all four of his homers over that span, and he’s clearly securing his place in the Angels’ long-term plans while doing so. He’s a fine option at CI for those who waited to address the position.

What is wrong with Carlos Marmol? His 9.8 K/9 IP mark remains elite, but 12 walks over 11 innings is about as bad as it gets. Maybe the knee injury is still an issue, as he’s walked a whopping nine batters over the past 3.1 innings. His fastball has averaged the exact same velocity (93.7) as last season, so that’s not the culprit. Marmol is likely to bounce back and certainly shouldn’t be dropped, but it seems like Kevin Gregg may be the Cubs’ closer for a lot longer than most anticipated.

Sticking with the Cubs, Ryan Theriot hit just one home run over 580 at-bats last season. He already has three long balls in 98 at-bats in 2009…On the opposite spectrum, there’s Lance Berkman, who is hitting .176 over his last 165 at-bats.

I’m not saying Delmon Young still can’t turn his career around. After all, he’s just 23 years old. However, with an 18:2 K:BB ratio and a .605 OPS, it’s safe to question when/if that talent will be realized. He’s now approaching 1,500 career at-bats, so it would be nice if it happens soon. Meanwhile, Matt Garza just posted a 10:1 K:BB ratio and nearly no-hit the Red Sox last week, giving him a 9.3 K/9 IP mark and a 1.06 WHIP for the season. The Rays ripped off the Twins in a big way with that trade.

Jack Cust has 1,352 plate appearances in the majors. Saturday marked the first time he recorded a stolen base during his entire career.

I’m not going to kill the Mets because it’s always silly to criticize after the fact, but it’s become clear the team’s offseason moves were terrible. They didn’t give up a ton a of talent in the J.J Putz trade, but he’s due $5 million in 2009 with an $8.6 million option in 2010, which is a lot of coin for a setup man. Especially one who isn’t all that good. Putz’s ERA (3.21) and WHIP (1.00) look solid, but he has a 6:6 K:BB ratio over 14 innings, and the huge decrease in K rate is even more disconcerting when you factor in the switch to the easier league. His fastball velocity is way down, averaging a career-worst 92.9 mph, so this clearly isn’t the same pitcher who once dominated in Seattle. He currently sports a .193 BABIP, so expect a huge hit to his ERA soon enough. After posting a .991 OPS after the break last season, no one could fault the Mets for exercising Carlos Delgado’s $12 million option, but his hip problem is supposedly incurable and chronic, meaning he may be a liability from here on out. And then there’s Oliver Perez, who was signed to a three-year, $36 million deal. He has a 4.84 BB/9 IP mark throughout his career. A decrease in velocity can’t help. This team is in trouble.

Round 2 Predictions

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Nuggets over Mavs 4-3

Celtics over Magic 4-3

Lakers over Rockets 4-1

Cavs over Hawks 4-0

The Scoop

Friday, May 1st, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

It’s obviously too early to make any conclusions, but Ryan Dempster owners can’t be feeling too comfortable right now. He was fantastic last season, which was a big surprise considering the switch to the rotation figured to result in a decline in performance, not significant improvement. The main problem with Dempster throughout his career has been command, and he’s regressed back to his norm this year (4.20 BB/9 IP). He hasn’t been unlucky (.296 BABIP), and his G/F ratio has gone from 1.23 in 2008 to 0.83 so far in 2009. His K rate has also dropped, although 7.50 K/9 IP remains above average. Bottom line, he’ll improve, but it would be unwise to expect him to approach last year’s numbers.

Can someone please explain to me why Ryan Spilborghs has received 17 starts, and Seth Smith has received just nine? Spilborghs has an .822 OPS. Smith’s is 1.084. Spilborghs has a 16:6 K:BB ratio. Smith’s is 9:12. Smith has the far superior minor league track record and is also left-handed, meaning he should be seeing the greater portion of any platoon. He’s also better defensively (2.8 UZR/150) than Spilborghs (-5.6 UZR/150). I might be bias since I own Smith in LABR, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right.

Dan Haren is currently one of the five best players in major league baseball. How about a 36:5 K:BB ratio with a 1.54 ERA and 0.74 WHIP over his first 35.0 innings this season? He’s been lucky with balls in play (.223), but it’s pretty much impossible not to have a crooked number somewhere with that low of an ERA. His walk rate (1.29 BB/9 IP), K rate (9.26 K/9 IP) and G/F ratio (1.23) are all currently career-bests. His 7.20 K:BB ratio easily leads the National League. And this has all occurred with four of his five starts coming at Chase Field, which has played as by far the most extreme hitter’s park so far in 2009.

Last week, Barry Zito was dropped in NL LABR. To put this in perspective, there are currently only two other starting pitchers available on the waiver wire – Livan Hernandez and Russ Ortiz. As it turned out, I was the only team (out of 13) who put in a FAAB bid for Zito. Now, I’m not here to say he’s worth adding in most leagues – in fact, it was a gamble even in this deep of a format, but it needs to be noted his velocity is way up this year. His fastball is still one of the slowest in the majors, but after averaging 84.7 mph over the past two seasons, he’s up to 86.6 this year, which is a fairly significant change and actually above his career average of 86.3. During his last start, he hit 88-89 a couple of times (not sure how reliable the radar gun was, though). His curveball’s velocity is also way up (73.6 mph compared to 70.9 last season), and he’s throwing a slider more than ever (13.1%). He posted a 3.15 ERA and 1.28 WHIP last September, so maybe he can become a league average No. 4 starter moving forward. Probably not, and maybe I’m just trying to justify spending FAAB on such a scrub.

Mike Jacobs is off to a slow start this season, batting just .236. Still, it’s worth noting the left-hander has faced an inordinate amount of southpaws in the first month of the year, as 42 percent (30-of-72) of his at-bats have come against them.

How can a basketball team not foul its opponent up three points with fewer than 10 seconds left? I just don’t get how this isn’t an automatic strategy.

This story continues to just get sadder.

It’s safe to say Marco Scutaro has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2009 season. His career-high for homers in a season is nine; he has five over his first 89 at-bats this year. He also leads all of baseball with 24 runs scored, and shockingly, only one player (Jason Bay) has more base on balls than Scutaro, who has already walked 22 times. He’s obviously a sell-high candidate, but it’s pretty doubtful there are many believers out there.