Archive for June, 2009

The Scoop

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young last year, but he’s been an even better pitcher this season, despite a 7.56 ERA after his first two starts. His K rate is ever so slightly down compared to last year, but 10.42/9 is still an acceptable number, and his walk rate is down significantly (2.21 BB/9). His xFIP (2.80) is the second best in baseball, so despite a decrease in velocity (92.5 mph), Lincecum remains one of the three best pitchers in the game. And he’s becoming more efficient too, averaging a staggering 8.75 innings pitched over his last four starts, never throwing more than 110 pitches in the process. The choice between Lincecum or Dan Haren starting the All-Star game is a tough one.

During June, Brett Gardner has posted a .918 OPS with a 4:9 K:BB ratio while swiping eight bags without being caught. He’s also recorded a fantastic 19.3 UZR/150, and for a speedster (he has a remarkable 91% SB success rate throughout his career), Gardner’s three homers have been a nice surprise. Considering he also posted a .955 OPS in May, a slow start in April has really clouded just how good of a player Gardner has been over the past two months.

After a 132-pitch outing on June 16, Gil Meche has been pounded, allowing 13 runs over his last two starts spanning 8.1 innings. There may or may not be causation, but since he’s now dealing with a shoulder injury and decreased velocity, it’s safe to question the decision to leave him in so long (it did result in a complete game shutout), especially since Meche has a history of arm problems when in Seattle.

Do you realize Iran is 11.5 hours ahead of the west coast? I had no idea there were areas in the world that were different on the minute hand. Shows what I know.

Before flying out in the third inning of Tuesday’s game, Jayson Werth had reached base safely in 11 consecutive at-bats.

What has gotten into San Diego starters Kevin Correia and Chad Gaudin? Over his last five starts, Correia has recorded a shocking 29:3 K:BB ratio, including a 9:1 mark against the Rangers in Texas during his latest outing. If you date back to his previous eight starts, he’s posted a 42:7 K:BB ratio, so this sample size is starting to grow. Watching him pitch for the Giants over the past couple of years, the recent success is pretty hard to consider real, but it’s becoming difficult to ignore the numbers – his .281 BABIP has been fortunate, but he’s got an unlucky strand rate (.680), and he’s increased his G/F ratio (1.23) quite a bit. Pitching in the NL West and in Petco Park, Correia is worth adding in deep leagues. As for Gaudin, how about a 28:5 K:BB ratio over his last three starts? With a 9.42 K/9 mark on the season, only terrible command (4.58 BB/9) keeps him from being highly intriguing. Still, what are they putting in the water in San Diego?

In honor of Billy Mays dying, here are my two favorite recent infomercials: The Comfort Wipe. And The Smart Mop. Truly outstanding.

Maybe it was his name and my unfamiliarity with Shin-Soo Choo, but I really missed the boat here, as he’s becoming one of the most underrated fantasy commodities in 2009. Choo posted a .946 OPS last year, and he’s on pace to finish this season with 21 homers, 25 steals, 93 runs scored and 93 RBI. He hasn’t been caught on any of his 12 SB attempts, and while his .365 BABIP appears high, that number sits at .369 over his 509 career at-bats. Choo is just 26 years old, so he looks like a keeper.

Joel Zumaya brings the heat.

Lastings Milledge has a bunch of potential, and no 24-year-old should ever be written off, but there’s no way the Nationals should automatically be considered losers in the Nyjer Morgan trade. (On a side note, the Mets look really good right now with the superior Ryan Church). Milledge, who by all accounts is a punk, had a .247/.297/.345 line in the minors before getting injured this year and has a reprehensible -15.8 UZR/150 over 242 games during his major league career. Morgan is five years older and isn’t some piece to a championship puzzle, but he has a .351 OBP during his career (terrible baserunner though, especially for someone with his speed), which is more than acceptable for someone playing the best outfield defense (23.5 UZR/150) in all of baseball, something he’s consistently done throughout his brief career. When you consider that has come while manning center field, an extremely important position that Elijah Dukes has been butchering (-23.8 UZR/150) all season, the Nationals just got better.

Before singling in the first inning Tuesday, Mike Jacobs had one RBI over his past 101 plate appearances (h/t Joe Poz).

I’m starting to believe in Joel Pineiro. Under almost all circumstances, I’d call a pitcher with such a good ERA yet a 3.81 K/9 rate a fraud, but his control has been impeccable (1.09 BB/9), and most importantly, no one has induced more groundballs (61.9%) this season, and it’s not even all that close. Pineiro has been lucky with a 4.6% HR/F rate, but it’s not like a ton of balls will start flying over the fence when that normalizes considering how few actually get there, and a 3.81 xFIP reinforces his legitimacy. His .300 BABIP is right in line with his career mark, and a .693 strand rate should only improve. Normally you wouldn’t have to recommend picking up a pitcher with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP, but I was able to do so in three of my leagues this past week, including one that is 15 teams deep. Dave Duncan has done it again.

I’ve been participating in a fantasy basketball mock draft over at Yahoo’s Roto Arcade. Here’s round 1. And here’s round 2. If you’re interested.

Mock Draft

Monday, June 29th, 2009

I’m currently doing a mock fantasy basketball draft over at Yahoo’s Roto Arcade. Here are the results of round one.

Third Base Rankings – Update

Monday, June 29th, 2009

1. Evan Longoria
2. Alex Rodriguez
3. David Wright

4. Mark Reynolds
5. Chipper Jones
6. Aramis Ramirez

7. Pablo Sandoval
8. Mark DeRosa
9. Ryan Zimmerman
10. Chone Figgins

11. Michael Young
12. Hank Blalock
13. Garrett Atkins
14. Edwin Encarnacion
15. Ian Stewart
16. Casey Blake
17. Brandon Inge
18. Scott Rolen
19. Mike Lowell
20. Emilio Bonifacio

First Base Rankings – Update

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

1. Albert Pujols

2. Mark Teixeira
3. Prince Fielder
4. Miguel Cabrera

5. Justin Morneau
6. Joey Votto
7. Adrian Gonzalez
8. Ryan Howard
9. Kevin Youkilis

10. Lance Berkman
11. Carlos Pena
12. Paul Konerko
13. Todd Helton
14. Derrek Lee
15. James Loney
16. Adam LaRoche
17. Russell Branyan
18. Jorge Cantu
19. Aubrey Huff
20. Kendry Morales

The Scoop

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Over his last six starts, Felix Hernandez has a 1.00 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Three games against the NL West have certainly helped, but after back-to-back seasons with WHIPs approaching 1.40, Hernandez may finally be realizing all that potential, and it’s easy to forget he’s still just 23 years old. While his command could still use some improvement, his 8.68 K/9 mark is a career-best, and despite Seattle fielding one of the better defenses in baseball, Hernandez’s BABIP (.311) has hardly been lucky. While his G/F ratio has dropped from a remarkable 2.67 in 2007, of the top-30 starting pitchers who have induced the most groundballs in 2009, Hernandez has the best K rate by a wide margin, which is the type of combination that could eventually lead to a Cy Young.

Quietly, Brad Hawpe has developed into a superstar this season. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more overlooked hitter with a .900-plus OPS over the past four years. Sure, he’s probably the worst defensive outfielder in baseball (-46.6 UZR/150 last season!), but his current .338/.411/.605 line more than makes up for it. And while Hawpe has certainly taken advantage of Coors Field, he’s actually posted a .912 OPS while hitting three more homers on the road than at home this season. He’s also shown marked improvement against lefties, with a .977 OPS. He can safely be considered a top-20 fantasy outfielder.

Speaking of Coors Field products, it’s safe to call Billy Beane the loser in the Matt Holliday trade. While Holliday turned in a fine May, he currently looks like a league average corner outfielder, which is the same player he always was when outside of Coors Field throughout his Rockies career. Because he’s continuing to run and bats in the middle of the lineup, Holliday remains a productive fantasy option, but it’s highly doubtful Beane could get a similar package as Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street in return right now. An excellent defender and terrific base runner, Holliday is no scrub, but he’s also about to become quite expensive, and because of the change in economy and disappointing A’s season, Beane may be forced to deal him soon, as his alternative (letting him sign elsewhere after the season and getting draft picks in return) may no longer be an option, as there’s a real chance Holliday would now accept arbitration (which Oakland would have to offer in order to get compensatory picks) during the offseason, and his price would unlikely fit in the Athletics’ plans.

The Dodgers have the best record in baseball and may very well not have one starter in the All-Star game.

I hesitate to recommend Homer Bailey, who has done nothing but disappoint when given opportunities in the majors, but the same could be said about Edwin Jackson entering 2009, and some pitching prospects just take longer to “get it” than position players. Since adding a split-finger fastball, which the organization had previously prohibited, Bailey is 4-0 with a 0.47 ERA and a 38:7 K:BB ratio over his last five starts. Finally junking the changeup, Bailey is also regularly working in the 96 mph range, so while I wouldn’t necessarily start him Saturday against the Indians, I would stash him if possible.

With Carlos Beltran sidelined with a knee injury, Ryan Church is looking at a lot of time in the middle of the Mets’ lineup. He doesn’t offer a ton of power/speed potential, but he is running more than ever this season (five steals), and remember, he had nine homers over just 42 games before a second concussion ruined his season last year. Church has a strong .309/.381/.491 line in June, and he stands to benefit while finally getting some job security.  There are worse options for those in deeper leagues.

I was high on Ricky Nolasco entering 2009, and through two months, he was so bad, a trip to the minors was rightfully in store. Sure, a crazy high BABIP was partially to blame, but that certainly didn’t ease the damage he caused fantasy owners. With a 1.80 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and a 25:5 K:BB ratio over four starts since rejoining Florida, it looks like a nice second half could be in store. While his BABIP is likely to continue to go down, it’s worth noting the Florida defense is pretty awful, so he’ll have to deal with that over the remainder of the season, but it’s safe to say Nolasco deserves better considering his current 3.94 xFIP. Obviously it’s too late to buy-low, but hopefully frustrated owners didn’t cut bait, as the 8.13 K/9 and 3.44:1 K:BB ratio are legit.

NBA Mock Draft

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

1. Los Angeles Clippers – Blake Griffin
2. Memphis Grizzlies – Hasheem Thabeet
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Ricky Rubio
4. Sacramento Kings – Tyreke Evans
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – James Harden
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – Stephen Curry
7. Golden State Warriors – Jordan Hill
8. New York Knicks – Jonny Flynn
9. Toronto Raptors – DeMar DeRozan
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday
11. New Jersey Nets – Terrence Williams
12. Charlotte Bobcats – Gerald Henderson
13. Indiana Pacers – DeJuan Blair
14. Phoenix Suns – Earl Clark
15. Detroit Pistons – B.J. Mullens

The Scoop

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

There have been a lot of rookies who have failed to impress this year, but Colby Rasmus isn’t one of them. His .772 OPS doesn’t jump out, and his .114/.220/.182 line against southpaws is an abomination, but Rasmus is hitting .358 in June, and his defense in center field has been the absolute best in baseball (30.1 UZR/150). Moreover, he recorded 74 steals with an 81% success rate over four abbreviated seasons in the minors, so more activity on the basepaths should be expected (he has just one steal this season). Better plate discipline is a must, but Rasmus looks like a keeper.

Troy Tulowitzki has been a star during June, posting a 1.146 OPS with five homers and five steals over 18 games. After some trepidation with a slow start following last season’s disaster, it’s clear Tulow’s true skill resembles the player he was back in 2007. His walk rate has skyrocketed, and despite a terrible 53% success rate throughout his career, his nine steals in 2009 already represent a career-high. With Coors Field aiding him and an obvious green light on the basepaths, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call him the second most valuable fantasy shortstop.

I like playing golf, but I’m one of those spectators who only pays attention during the majors. But this is pretty impressive.

While he’s suffered a couple of minor injuries in the process, Khalil Greene has hit three homers over his first three starts since rejoining St. Louis. Notably, he’s also yet to strike out since returning from his bout with anxiety. His absence was short enough to question whether the issue has been truly solved, but judging from comments, it seems his frame of mind is finally in the right place. And there’s absolutely a spot at third base for him. Remember, Greene hit 27 homers with 97 RBI just two seasons ago while playing half his games in Petco Park, and with a .226 BABIP this year, there’s room for plenty of improvement from here on out. There’s actually a decent amount of upside, and there’s no way he shouldn’t be owned in any league that isn’t extremely shallow.

I just don’t understand why the Celtics are shopping Rajon Rondo – and make no mistake, they are. Even Danny Ainge didn’t deny this Tuesday, only arguing against the reason WHY he was (Rondo showed up late to a playoff game, etc.). Am I missing something here? It’s not a stretch to call Rondo one of the best young players in the NBA or the most valuable commodity on Boston’s current roster…As someone who lives 90 miles from Sacramento, the Kings BETTER not pass on Ricky Rubio.

Elijah Dukes has to be one of the worst base runners I’ve ever seen. He’s a stellar 2-for-9 during SB attempts this season. And he’s not any better from station to station either.

Over 59 at-bats from the right side in 2009, Randy Winn has posted a .102/.115/.136 line – he had a .934 and an .812 OPS from that side during each of the past two seasons, respectively.

Sticking with my beloved Giants – and this may only interest SF fans and NL-only players – but I’ve read a lot of misinformation recently regarding their infield alignment. Let me be clear, the team could definitely upgrade, but based on the current roster, the best lineup features Travis Ishikawa at first base. The only reason he was benched for a 10-game stretch earlier this month is because Pablo Sandoval, the team’s best hitter by far, had to move to 1B because he was hurt and couldn’t make the throws from 3B. Well, he’s healthy now and back to the hot corner, and Ishikawa, who currently has an MLB-best 25.0 UZR/150 rating at first base and slugged seven homers during spring training, has hit three long balls over the past four games. Ishikawa is no star, but he can be useful despite the terrible April, and Juan Uribe should never be in the lineup at his expense.

Not to go too overboard on SF news, but it looks like there’s a real chance Madison Bumgarner will be pitching for the Giants this season. Still, those in redraft leagues shouldn’t feel the need to roster him right now, as his recent performance (12:6 K:BB ratio over the past 20 innings) suggests the learning curve remains fairly steep.

Howie Kendrick has hit .333/.385/.556 with a homer and two steals over nine games since getting sent down to the minors, so he needs to be picked up if any impatient owner dropped him.

During Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, Steve Phillips had this to say: “Juan Pierre is a difference maker in this lineup. They are different with him in the lineup.” And he was absolutely correct – they are worse.

So I’ve tried to trade for Alex Rodriguez in a couple of my leagues to no avail. He’s actually a pretty interesting case. On one hand, he’s an excellent buy-low target, entering Tuesday batting .153 in June and with a .198 BABIP on the season. And with his recent benching for “rest” in the news, including the fact he’ll sit at least once a week from here to the All-Star break, his owners may be willing to move him. Rodriguez was coming off a big May and is now playing in the most HR-friendly park in the majors, so he could be a monster from here on out. However, as Tom Verducci recently noted, ARod has hit just .246 since he turned 33 last July 27. Over that span his OPS is .880 (compared to .969 beforehand). He’s also stolen just five bases over those 96 games. And the hip is a pretty important part of hitting, so he definitely carries risk. Usually I make a claim, then back it up by numbers, but that isn’t always applicable. To me, Rodriguez just FEELS like someone who could go nuts from here on out.

Worst. Article. Ever.

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Harold Reynolds made a recent blog post talking about those kids and their wacky statistics ruining baseball. What stat does he have a problem with in particular? VORP? WPA? UZR? xFIP? No, what really gets under Reynolds’ skin is the crazy, convoluted, new stat known as “OPS” – that’s on-base plus slugging for those of you who haven’t watched a baseball game since the 80s.

I would carry on killing this idiocy, but Joe Posnanski already took care of that.

The Scoop

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

With just six wins on the season and playing for a last place team, Dan Haren is getting a little overlooked, as he’s quietly become one of the three best pitchers in baseball since coming to Arizona. His 7.38:1 K/BB ratio ranks best in MLB, and his mediocre record obviously can’t be held against him, since his run support (4.72) ranks 106th among qualified starters, and his bullpen has done him no favors either. Haren has held opponents to a collective .539 OPS, which is a full 50 points lower than the second best mark (Josh Johnson). He’s been fortunate with his hit rate and LOB%, but considering his home park currently ranks second only to Coors Field in boosting run scoring according to Park Factors, Haren’s performance is all that more impressive. Arizona’s defense also ranks in the bottom-10 in efficiency, so it’s not like he’s been getting a ton of help with the gloves behind him either. The guy’s WHIP is 0.82! He was No. 2 on my NL Cy Young ballot last season, but he’s currently atop my list so far in 2009.

Russell Martin has yet to homer this season, and while his stolen bases haven’t made him a total waste, it’s safe to question how much he’s been overworked behind the plate throughout his young career. His OPS dropped 122 points after the break last year, and he’s caught 351 games out of a possible 391 since 2007. His 2009 has been even more frustrating if you read the offseason stories about his rigorous workout routine during winter. Dating back to last year and through spring training this season, Martin has hit one home run over his past 535 at-bats.

Speaking of power outages, Jhonny Peralta has been one of the bigger disappointments so far this year, with just two homers on the season. His on-base percentage is an identical .331 as 2008, but his slugging has dropped from .473 to a miniscule .338. He’s certainly been unlucky with a 4.7% HR/F ratio, but that’s to be expected when you are nearly halfway through the season with two homers. While that rate has been 14.0% and 13.7% over the past two seasons, respectively, the optimism of a correction there is outweighed by a huge increase in groundballs (57.0%) this season, as he’s putting fewer balls in the air than at any time in his career. After finishing with 104 runs scored and 89 RBI in 2008, he’s on pace to end this season with 45 runs and 62 ribbies.

With two wins and a modest 4.30 ERA, Koji Uehara’s debut in the states has hardly overwhelmed, but he actually makes for a decent short-term add with upcoming starts against the Marlins and Nationals. His 3.83:1 K:BB ratio is quite impressive, and with a 1.25 WHIP, Uehara has more than held his own, despite pitching in the tough AL East. He does need to start inducing more groundballs, however, as his current GB% (29.4) is pretty atrocious.

Jayson Werth is on pace to finish the year with 30 homers, 25 steals, 110 runs scored and 88 RBI, and that’s without him really playing up to his potential yet. He’s been injury-prone in the past, but this is possibly the best defensive outfielder in baseball who has been successful on 89% of his stolen base attempts throughout his career. Werth has finally been given a chance to be an everyday player, bats in a good hitter’s park and is a right-hander situated in the middle of a fantastic lineup loaded with lefties. I can’t think of a better under-the-radar 30/30 threat.

Rich Harden remains one of the bigger injury risks in the game, has seen his average fastball velocity drop for the second straight season and has now become an exclusive two-pitch pitcher – he throws his fastball 67.7% and his changeup 32.3% of the time. As recently as 2006, he threw a changeup with just 5.7% frequency, while featuring a split-finger and slider (31% combined) far more often. He was also extremely fortunate after joining the Cubs last season, with a .229 BABIP and .873 strand rate. Moreover, his current 4.17 BB/9 mark would rank in the bottom-10 among starters if he qualified. I note all the negatives to Harden owners because he’s toward the top of my current target list, as there’s still plenty to like. His K rate (11.23/9) easily leads all of baseball, and his ERA sits at 4.53 largely because of a ridiculously high 20.3% HR/F ratio. Harden has typically been around league average in that area throughout his career, so when (a lot) more of those flyballs start finding gloves opposed to going over the fence, a precipitous drop in ERA will follow. Trading for Harden admittedly comes with plenty of risk, but he’s one of the rare pitchers who could be a true monster from here on out, so go get him.

After a 4-for-4 night Thursday, Chris Young has two homers and three steals over his past seven games, so while his overall numbers remain suppressed, the opportunity to truly “buy-low” has all but past. He’ll never be a batting average asset, but there’s real power/speed upside, and since Conor Jackson appears closer to death than returning to the field combined with Young preventing a bunch of runs with strong play in center field, his spot in the lineup is secure. Of course, he ended up leaving Thursday’s game with a leg injury, so that situation needs to be monitored.

I remain skeptical, but at least keeper-leaguers can take solace in the fact Homer Bailey has posted a 30:5 K:BB ratio over his past four starts (31.1 innings). He’d hardly be the first pitcher to develop (far) later than expected (see: Jackson, Edwin). Sticking with the minors, free Clay Buchholz! He has a 1.90 ERA with 65 punchouts over 71.0 innings in Triple-A this season, with a strong 1.35 GO/AO ratio to boot. Sure, Boston needs to find a spot for John Smoltz in the rotation right now, but why must we pretend Tim Wakefield (47:35 K:BB ratio) and Brad Penny (5.96 K/9, 1.96:1 K:BB ratio) are anything less than unacceptable for a team with World Series aspirations like the Red Sox?

The Scoop

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Most of the spin coming out of Cleveland is the “good news” regarding Grady Sizemore, but if you actually read the article, I’m more pessimistic about surgery being in his future than ever. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d think about selling him for 70 cents on the dollar right now. Maybe even 60 cents.

There isn’t a player having a quieter monstrous season than Prince Fielder, who currently leads major league baseball with 62 RBI. Of course, a .344 batting average with RISP isn’t too sustainable (he’s batting .255 with the bases empty), but it’s clear his true ability is that of the hitter he was in 2007 rather than last season, which mainly consisted of a terribly slow start.

David Wright is on pace to finish the year with 10 home runs, 47 stolen bases and one awkward appearance on “Joe Buck Live,” my favorite new show. Buck ordering a whiskey sour?! How preposterous!

As president of the Jay Cutler fan club, I’ll take great pleasure in watching the Broncos quite possibly finish in last in the AFC West. Of course, the Raiders reside there, so third place is more realistic, but I can’t remember ever seeing a worse offseason than Denver’s. I actually think Brandon Marshall is a little overrated and looked better because of Cutler, but wow, now he’s the next to be traded? On a side note, Eddie Royal is going to be a fantasy monster in 2009. Mark it down. If a draft were held tomorrow, I’d take him ahead of Marshall.

Playing in two keeper leagues – one where I’m currently a buyer and the other a seller – I happen to own Madison Bumgarner in both. I recently entertained dealing him in the former, and luckily the deal fell through, as that would have been akin to selling my first child. There’s actually a slight chance this kid could be pitching in San Francisco in September, and I can’t think of a minor leaguer I’d rather own. Except for Stephen “Jesus Christ” Strasburg, of course.

With another bomb Tuesday, David Ortiz has four homers over his past seven starts. I was more on the side of “he’s done” rather than “buy-low,” but this is highly encouraging. I’m not really sure how to treat this recent surge, but at the very least, owners should feel more comfortable including him in trade offers. There’s also the chance this portends a nice second half.

Let me get this straight, Donte’ Stallworth was sentenced to 30 days (he’ll only have to serve 24) in prison for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk (.126 BAC) at 7:30 am?! (Just curious, is there any state where the legal limit is NOT .08?) Listen, I get it, the victim wasn’t in a crosswalk, Stallworth immediately called for help and stayed at the scene, he has zero history of trouble in this area, will also have two years of house arrest, driver’s license suspended for lifetime, 1,000 hours of community service and paid off the victim’s family, but this is a bit absurd, no? According to this logic, Plaxico Burress is looking at approximately 3 hours in the clink. And how must Michael Vick feel? 24 days?!?! He killed a human being!

I’m only going to say this one more time, Joe Blanton needs to be owned in all leagues. He has a 5.17 ERA, but I view him as a top-30 starting pitcher.

Jeff Francoeur is so terrible, the Marlins rejected a swap of him for Cody Ross. And that was absolutely the right call too. Remember all those puff pieces about Francoeur’s new approach at the plate during spring training? The writers certainly hope you don’t.

Apropos of nothing, I’ll now leave you with a classic piece of writing by Larry David.

The Scoop

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

With 14 homers and six steals, Alfonso Soriano has hardly been a bust, but his on-base percentage is now below .300, and he doesn’t have a multi-hit game since May 19. He’s actually been a pretty terrible player since April ended, and it’s clear he’s not 100 percent physically. Soriano’s current .261 BABIP is a career-low, as is his shockingly bad .128 BA with RISP. There’s not much fantasy owners can do other than ride out the cold streak, and it’s doubtful his price tag will be discounted all that much if trying to acquire Soriano, but at age 33, it’s worth noting his OPS has dropped in three consecutive seasons.

Sean Rodriguez is a popular add with Howie Kendrick sent down, and while he’s certainly not a bad gamble after hitting 21 homers in 205 at-bats this year in Triple-A, expectations should be tempered. Manager Mike Scoscia may be just as likely to play Maicer Izturis at second, and if you combine last year’s stint in the majors with this year’s Triple-A stats, Rodriguez has struck out 123 times over 372 at-bats, so he’s hardly a polished product. I’d much prefer Chris Coghlan.

Dear Manny Parra: I hate your guts. That is all.

If there’s a funnier movie than “The Hangover” in 2009, I’ll be shocked.

Did Joe Torre really have Matt Kemp batting ninth Saturday? Was this just a bad joke? Because he can’t be serious. This is the same Kemp with the second best OPS on the team. Mark Loretta, meanwhile, was hitting seventh, he of the .632 OPS. During Kemp’s 234 at-bats this season, 200 of them have come from sixth or lower in the batting order.

If there’s been a better album so far in 2009 than “It’s Blitz” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I’ve yet to hear it.

Zach Duke has been a pleasant surprise, with a 3.10 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. It’s easy to forget, but he did post a 1.81 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 84.2 innings as a rookie back in 2005. His command has been strong (2.03 BB/9) and he’s done a terrific job keeping the ball on the ground (1.35 G/F), but a 4.55 K/9 simply won’t cut it, making him an easy sell candidate. I doubt he’d bring much in return, and I’m not saying he’ll be a huge liability from here on out, but I would use Duke as a throw in if trying to make a bigger deal, and with his current .268 BABIP way below his career mark (.330), an ERA more along the lines of 4.0-4.5 should be expected over the rest of the season. Of course, Duke is likely to establish a career-best BABIP in 2009 with the Pirates fielding a fantastic defense, but his strand rate is also artificially high, so he’s due for a pretty severe correction if he doesn’t start missing more bats.

While what he’s doing as a 20-year-old is highly impressive, a similar profile as Duke could be written for Rick Porcello, although his groundball rate is more extreme (2.22 G/F). However, while Porcello has been lucky with his hit rate (.263), he’s been unlucky with flyballs turning into homers (17.4% F/HR), so his xFIP of 4.29 suggests his correction in ERA won’t necessarily be drastic, especially since he has room for improvement at his age. It’s disappointing to see such a low K rate (5.03 K/BB) from a pitcher with his stuff, but that dates back to his minor league days as well, and that kind of groundball rate is special.

Grammar Police: In this week’s edition, we’ll highlight the misuse of “I could care less,” when actually meant as “I could NOT care less.” You see, by saying you could care less, you are in fact stating there is a level of care there, since you could have less and all.

Podcast

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

I was on Fantasy Focus over at Blog Talk Radio on Friday. I enter for the second half of the hour.

The Scoop

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I really don’t know what to make of Ben Zobrist, but it’s impossible to ignore what he’s done so far in 2009. While uncommon, it’s not entirely unique for a 28-year-old to burst onto the scene like this, and he more than held his own in the big leagues during 198 at-bats last season. Zobrist was never considered a top prospect, but he did post a .887 OPS throughout his career in the minors, always exhibiting terrific plate discipline. His power surge will no doubt decline (only two players finished with a higher HR/F rate last season than Zobrist’s current 23.5% mark), but his 30:31 K:BB ratio shows he’s for real, and he can somewhat negate the inevitable drop in power by continuing to steals bases. Between Zobrist and Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay has two of baseball’s biggest surprises playing in its infield.

It’s no secret Javier Vazquez has always been one of the most frustrating pitchers, with his strong peripherals rarely matching a seemingly disappointing ERA. Call him the anti-Tom Glavine. While it fundamentally makes sense for a pitcher to struggle out of the stretch compared to the windup, Vazquez takes it to extremes, as his BAA goes from .246 with the bases empty to .277 with runners on throughout his career. Moreover, his K/9 falls from 8.8 to 7.0, and his BB/9 jumps from 2.1 to 2.8. That said, he’s been unbelievably durable, averaging a remarkable 216.1 innings over the previous nine seasons entering 2009. The move out of homer-prone U.S. Cellular Field has obviously helped, as has the switch to the easier league. After another flat-out dominant performance Thursday – eight innings, two baserunners, 12:0 K:BB ratio – it’s past time to consider Vazquez among the 10 best fantasy starters. Although he entered Thursday with easily the best xFIP (2.57) in baseball even before his gem, it’s safe to assume based on his past a sub 3.50 ERA may not be forthcoming, but a fantastic WHIP and 250 strikeouts should be expected. His current 11.2 K/9 mark is the best among all starters in baseball.

The only real significance I see regarding the Red Sox winning the first seven games against the Yankees this season is the shift in the standings. I wouldn’t read much, if anything, into the head-to-head discrepancy so far.

Chris Coghlan has hit just .230 since getting called up by Florida, but he’s someone who should still be owned in deep leagues. He’s picked it up since June started (.290/.371/.419), and with a 19:19 K:BB ratio, he’s hardly been overmatched. Remember, he had a .970 OPS with nine steals in 25 Triple-A games before getting called up earlier this season and is a legit prospect. With Cameron Maybin hardly impressing in Triple-A (.733 OPS), Dan Uggla a strong trade candidate and Emilio Bonifacio being terrible, Coghlan should have plenty of job security, making him a fixture atop Florida’s lineup. Since he’s also eligible at 2B in most formats, he’s a sneaky MI option.

More proof not to project wins based on team context – after finishing in the bottom three in run support each of the past two years, Matt Cain has gotten 6.14 runs per start in 2009, which is the sixth-best in the National League. This despite the fact the Giants have scored the fewest runs in the NL. Speaking of which, San Francisco has drawn a whopping three walks from its cleanup hitters in 2009 – the second lowest is Seattle with 14 base on balls.

With three multi-hit games in a row, maybe Rick Ankiel is finally coming out of his slump. It would be nice if he were actually healthy for once, as a sports hernia contributed to him batting .169 over the final two months of 2008, and it’s taken some time for him to fully recover from crashing into the wall earlier this season. Remember, Ankiel has only been a full-time hitter for three years, and he had 20 homers at the All-Star break last year. He strikes out too often to ever hit better than .270, but there remains a lot of power potential. Hitting directly in front of (or behind) Albert Pujols should pay dividends as well.

Despite hitting just three homers over his first 81 at-bats and batting .200 at the end of April, Mark Teixeira is on pace to finish the season with 52 homers, 115 runs scored and 143 RBI. It’s safe to say he’s been hot since May started.

I’m tired of writers speaking negatively about Stephen Strasburg simply because no other No. 1 pick has succeeded much as a starter. Michael Wilbon is hardly the only one taking this stance, but some of his arguments are especially outrageous: Strasburg will only play every fifth day, and he isn’t any different from any of the other 13 pitchers selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft since 1973. Say what now? This isn’t Kris Benson, Ben McDonald or Tim Belcher, folks. Strasburg just posted a 195:19 K:BB ratio over 109 innings! He regularly works at 97-100 mph with good command and has a curveball that breaks like most pitchers’ sliders do. Oh, and he also possesses a changeup, only he rarely threw it in college because reportedly the hitters there weren’t good enough to be fooled by it. This is a prospect on an entirely different level. And how preposterous is the premise of not taking Strasburg because no No. 1 pick has won a Cy Young? So if no third baseman drafted 12th has ever made an All-Star game, should they all be scratched off the list at that draft slot every year? And whom are you going to take otherwise in a relatively weak class anyway? Dave Cameron makes an intelligent argument for Dustin Ackley here, but come on, Strasburg has the chance to be a true difference maker. Listen, I understand throwing a baseball is an unnatural act, and position players are far more likely to stay healthy, but this is a risk that simply must be taken. And while I don’t necessarily agree with players getting paid so much before proving anything, giving Strasburg $50 million is hardly more egregious than Mark Sanchez getting a similar contract.

Speaking of the draft, what terrible coverage by the MLB network. Having it televised is obviously a step in the right direction, but watching a catatonic Bud Selig announce the picks was laughable. And it was amazing how the panel loved every single pick, no matter how big of a reach it was. I especially liked when Harold Reynolds explained what “signability” meant to the uninformed audience.

I’ve been known to give Brian Sabean a hard time every now and then, but I must applaud the Giants’ recent draft picks, from Tim Lincecum to Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson and Buster Posey. The team went from having one of the worst farm systems in baseball to quite possibly the best, at least at the top. And the Zack Wheeler selection sure looks like another quality arm, although the kid should politely decline all future interviews: “Umm, ya San Francisco is beautiful. Although actually I’ve never been there. I think Barry Bonds used to play there.”

Fun facts: Jimmy Rollins “leads” baseball with 201 outs made…Nick Johnson has the best LD% (29.0)…Chris Young is the only hitter in baseball with more than 20% of his flyballs remaining in the infield, and it’s at a staggering 27.4%…Brad Hawpe is hitting a crazy high, and MLB-leading, .460 with RISP…Javier Vazquez has gotten the third best run support (6.37) in the National League, has a 3.31 ERA and yet, 53 pitchers have more wins than his four…Clayton Kershaw averages the most pitches per plate appearance (4.8) by a wide margin…Johan Santana has the highest strand rate (.861) in the league.

The Scoop

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

David Wright is having quite an interesting season. He has just three home runs, putting him on pace for nine for the year, and his .492 slugging percentage is easily a career-low. Just 5.6% of his flyballs have gone over the fence, and when you compare that to 16.9% in 2007 and 17.4% in 2008, it’s clear he’s been rather unlucky there. However, Wright has hit a whopping .357 with RISP, so his RBI numbers can actually be considered fortunate. And despite a 63% success rate, he’s already swiped 14 bags, offsetting the lack of long balls. He’s also striking out at an alarming rate (.73 contact rate career-worst by a wide margin), and his .457 BABIP easily leads baseball. So while his HR totals will no doubt jump up, and his activity on the base paths has been a nice surprise, Wright has been pretty lucky so far in 2009.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is off to a different start this season compared to last year, when he posted a 2.90 ERA despite a 1.6:1 K:BB ratio. In 2009, he has a 7.33 ERA with a 2.2:1 K:BB ratio. His sample size is still quite small, obviously, but with such poor command, there’s always been a worry of what would happen if he became more hittable (.267 BABIP last season). His K rate remains strong, so exercise patience, but don’t be surprised if 2008 goes down as his career-year.

With a three-run homer Sunday, Alexei Ramirez’s price tag is climbing, and the window to buy-low is closing. He entered Sunday with a .607 OPS and as one of the bigger fantasy disappointments in 2009, but his walk rate is up, and his strikeouts are down. Moreover, he’s made drastic improvements as a base stealer, going 9-for-11 after being caught on nine of his 22 attempts in 2008. Ramirez has just a .264 BABIP, and despite playing in one of the most homer-friendly home parks in baseball, just 4.8% of his flyballs have gone yard. He’ll never be a big OBP guy, but he’s dramatically improved his defense, and this is a middle infielder who hit 14 homers with 48 RBI over just 249 at-bats after the break last season. Ramirez could be a major difference maker from here on out.

I’m seeing FIP referenced more and more, and that’s a good thing, as it’s certainly a better stat than ERA. However, xFIP is much, much better, as it normalizes the home run component.

I wouldn’t be too down on Tommy Hanson’s debut, as he was perfect through three innings and finished with a 1.17 WHIP. Three homers will hurt any end line, and Ryan Braun deserves a lot of credit. With a 5:1 K:BB ratio, Hanson more than held his own, and while inconsistency comes with all rookie hurlers, future success is imminent.

Over his last five games, Ian Stewart is batting .545 with four home runs, nine runs scored and 12 RBI. He strikes out too often, and his BA still sits at .231, but that’s accompanied by an .861 OPS, and Stewart has hit one HR per 12.2 at-bats. Even better, he’s posted a .990 OPS on the road, with just a .120/.279/.380 line at  home, so there’s plenty of upside once he starts taking advantage of Coors Field. Most importantly, with Garret Atkins forgetting how to hit and a new manager in town, it looks like Stewart is going to be a regular, and since he’s 2B eligible in most leagues, he’s extremely valuable.

The Scoop

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Joe Blanton currently has a 5.86 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP and pitches in a hitter’s park. What does this mean? There’s a worthy add likely available on your waiver wire, at least for those in deeper leagues. Blanton never lived up to Oakland’s expectations, and although his strikeout rate increased after joining the Phillies last season, he didn’t improve his performance like most pitchers do when leaving the AL for the Senior Circuit. And while it appears Blanton has been even worse in 2009, he’s been rather unlucky, and the huge jump in K rate (8.18 K/9) makes him interesting moving forward. His .338 BABIP is the sixth highest in the NL and 39 points higher than his career mark. Moreover, his strand rate (.649) is the fifth lowest in the National League, and his 16% HR/F ratio is also extreme, which helps explain his solid 4.07 xFIP. With a 20:4 K:BB ratio over his past three starts, Blanton qualifies as someone to watch, although with interleague play coming up and the AL East on Philadelphia’s schedule, the time to pounce may not be until July.

I’ll be the first to admit I never saw this coming from Miguel Tejada, who leads the National League with a .358 batting average. The power he showed during his prime isn’t coming back at his age (?), and he’s probably a sell-high candidate, but Tejada has certainly made it clear he’s hardly done as a useful player. His contact rate (.93) is currently at a career-high.

While Chris Davis has failed to live up to the massive preseason hype, Nelson Cruz has actually surpassed it so far. Batting predominantly fifth or sixth in one of the better lineups in baseball, Cruz is on pace to finish the season with 49 homers, 99 runs scored, 125 RBI and 28 steals, which would make him an easy top-three fantasy asset. Of course, projecting like that rarely works, and all those strikeouts could lead to a lowered BA, but it’s clear the Quadruple-A tag no longer applies. In fact, his .768 OPS against left-handers suggests he has potential to be even better from here on out.

I have no clue what to make of Howie Kendrick, who has shown more power and SB ability this year than ever before, yet his main strength, batting average, sits at an ugly .227. His .262 BABIP is nearly a full 100 points lower than his career mark (.360), but his plate discipline, or lack thereof (196:36 K:BB ratio over his big league career), never fit with such high averages. Since joining the Angels, Kendrick had always performed pretty well, but it was injuries that constantly held him back, so it’s somewhat ironic to see him finally stay healthy, yet post a disappointing .617 OPS. I still believe in his talent and wouldn’t mind buying low, but he’s also a candidate to spend some time in the minors, and a hamstring pull could always be right around the corner as well.

Currently, all three non-New York AL East teams play in home parks that rank as more pitcher-friendly compared to last season, according to ESPN’s Park Factors. Of course, it’s just two months worth of data, but don’t be surprised if they stand that way at the end of the 2009 season, and the reason behind it is simple – the new Yankee Stadium. Fenway isn’t any less hitter-friendly than usual, but when a new stadium is introduced – and in this case, one that is playing like the most homer-prone venue ever – it affects the numbers for teams who play there on the road most frequently. Just something to consider when evaluating park effects.

I liked what the Braves did with the Nate McLouth trade. Sure, he’s no Gold Glove center fielder like voters would have you believe, but he’ll be a fine defender as a corner once Jordan Schaefer is recalled. While McLouth may not be a star (career .801 OPS), he’s a massive upgrade for the Braves’ outfield, which is easily the team’s biggest weakness. McLouth is a fantastic base stealer (93% career success rate), is 27 years old, so he’s entering his prime and more seasons like 2008 could be in store, and he’s also affordable. With the NL East far weaker than expected, and Tommy Hanson getting called up (finally!), Atlanta might as well go for it. As for the fantasy fallout, the big winner is Andrew McCutchen. He probably won’t be a huge help in mixed leagues right away unless you’re desperate for steals, and I’d assume he’s long gone in all NL-formats, but the trade makes more sense for Pittsburgh considering McCutchen’s presence. It’s just too bad they couldn’t get a true blue chip prospect in return.

Interesting decision by the Yankees to move Phil Hughes to the bullpen. On one hand, Chien-Ming Wang has been quite effective since joining New York in 2005, and he impressed over his last two relief appearances. His repertoire also works better as a starter, whereas Hughes’ power arm could easily translate as a setup guy. Still, Wang’s poor outing Thursday complicates matters, and if Brian Bruney can come back strong, it’s unlikely Hughes’ stint as a reliever lasts long, and he’ll be back starting soon enough, either in New York or Triple-A. With a 21:3 K:BB ratio over his previous three starts, Hughes still looks like a potential No. 2 starter. As for Joba Chamberlain, aside from the obvious reasons he should remain in the rotation, GM Brian Cashman offered some interesting additional thoughts on the matter this week, stating that since Chamberlain’s injury last season, his velocity typically doesn’t pick up until the 35-40 pitch range, essentially ruling out any chance whatsoever of Chamberlain moving back to the pen.

I recently offered Jair Jurrjens, Trevor Hoffman and LaTroy Hawkins for Jon Lester, and while I can understand why it was rejected, his reply “I would be buying high on Jurrjens and selling low on Lester” got me thinking. Even if that were true, which I agree it is, does that automatically mean it’s a bad trade still? Jurrjens has surely been lucky – .270 BABIP, 5.1% HR/F ratio – and his current 40:23 K:BB ratio hardly matches his 2.59 ERA. However, is it possible he was really lucky in April, which can’t be taken away at this point, and his improvement in May (2.7:1 K:BB ratio with a strong G/F rate) suggests an inevitable implosion may not necessarily be forthcoming? I actually do think it’s time to sell Jurrjens, but that has more to do with his upcoming schedule – ChC, Pit, @Bal, @Bos, Bos. While his ERA may never again look so pretty, this is a good pitcher not skating by purely on luck.

Sticking with the buy-low, sell-high problem witnessed in many fantasy leagues these days, maybe a better strategy in some cases is to target sell-high guys, such as Carl Crawford. After yet another stolen base Thursday, he’s on pace to finish the season with 95 bags. I doubt many believe he’ll keep that torrid pace, but the thing is, unlike a hitter bashing an inordinate amount of homers, steals are more sustainable, as it’s a skill that has more to do with will than anything else. Sure, his opportunities will drop when his BABIP comes down to earth, and a 94% success rate will be tough to maintain, but there’s no reason why Crawford can’t swipe another 40 from here on out. Back healthy and batting atop the best lineup he’s ever been in, Crawford makes sense to target for another reason – his owner is likely well ahead in the SB category, making him more expendable.

I really hope I’m wrong, but I got the Lakers in six.

The Scoop

Monday, June 1st, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

While Mark Buehrle is a perfect guy to be shopping right now, there’s still no denying how well he has pitched this season. Despite playing in a park that ranked as the second easiest venue to homer in last season, the soft-tossing lefty has a 2.71 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. While his strand rate is a bit high, his .282 BABIP isn’t all that below his .293 career mark. Over his last four starts, Buehrle has an 18:1 K:BB ratio, and his 1.63 BB/9 mark is the sixth best in baseball. Is a career-year in store at age 30?

I understand I’m beating a dead horse, and it makes sense for a team in last place to play Dexter Fowler, but Seth Smith’s .890 OPS is the second-best on the Rockies, yet he’s received just one start over the past week. He has more walks (23) than strikeouts (17) and is coming off a season in Triple-A where he posted a .950 OPS. Smith is just 26, so it’s not like he can’t be in the team’s future either, especially if Brad Hawpe is traded. Carlos Gonzalez, who currently has a .341/.425/.631 line, should be a fixture in the outfield soon as well, but I just can’t understand why Ryan Spilborghs is getting so much playing time.

I’m as surprised as anyone, but Carl Pavano must be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues. He currently has a 5.29 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but that’s about as misleading as it gets. If you remove his first start of the season, the ERA drops to 4.21 and the WHIP down to 1.24. His 3.85:1 K:BB ratio is simply fantastic, among the elite hurlers in the league. With a .341 BABIP, .62 strand rate and an impressive 1.31 G/F ratio, you can expect a big decrease in ERA from here on out. In fact, his xFIP is 4.03 – better than Carlos Zambrano, Edwin Jackson, Derek Lowe and Cliff Lee to name a few. Of course, Pavano remains an extreme injury risk, but he’s looking more like he did in Florida than when in a Yankee uniform this season.

I really don’t get this LeBron James controversy. Sure, I agree he should be criticized for ducking the media after the Game 6 loss, but who cares if he left the court right after the game? You want to talk about etiquette and class? How about Dwight Howard shooting a three-pointer at the buzzer up 13 points? I could link to dozens of articles by writers sitting atop their soapbox proclaiming James some sort of criminal, but call me crazy, I like it better when athletes get mad and care about losing, opposed to Asante Samuel laughing with the opposing team after falling to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. This isn’t hockey – players run straight to the locker room all the time after NBA games, and while I guess the end of a series is a different circumstance, I could do without the feigned congratulations.

After hitting 13 homers over 423 at-bats last season, Jason Varitek already has 10 long balls in 138 ABs this year. His batting average remains a liability, but his slugging percentage (.522) is currently a career-high. It’s also 235 points higher than David Ortiz’s, which is flat-out shocking one third of the season through.

The MTV Movie awards are so last decade, I know, but Bruno’s prank on Eminem was priceless.

He’s likely gone in competitive leagues, but Kelvim Escobar isn’t a bad speculative grab right now. He’s been dominant during his rehab outings, even hitting 95 mph on the gun. He may still take some time to get back to form after labrum surgery, but there’s also a decent amount of upside, and Escobar should be back up in Anaheim soon.

Between Dontrelle Willis, Joey Votto and Khalil Greene, what’s up with baseball players and personal issues this season? Clearly, Votto’s problem is in a different class coming off the diamond, as he’s been one of baseball’s best players in 2009.

Chris Liss has been arguing to anyone willing to listen that Joe Mauer has essentially become a top-five fantasy player in two-catcher leagues with his recent power surge. His argument, in summation, is that with his elite prospect status and body type, this outburst suggests a permanent skill growth as opposed to a general hot streak like Ian Kinsler’s outstanding April. It’s an interesting standpoint, and I’m fully on board with Mauer possibly being one of baseball’s five best players. However, I will disagree with Liss on a few things about Mauer’s fantasy value: while a .330 BA is fantastic, especially when you compare it to other catchers, Mauer has averaged 488 at-bats over the past four seasons, which comes with the territory of being a backstop (and someone who takes a bunch of walks), so that’s about on par with hitting .300 over 650 at-bats, give or take. It’s also true, as Liss states, that Mauer was a much better prospect than Kinsler, but the latter counters the real life affects by playing in Arlington and stealing bases. I love Mauer and would have voted him for MVP in 2006 (when Justin Morneau won), but I’d be shocked if he hit 20 homers from here on out.

Grammar Police: Kind of like the Karma Police, only not as catchy, I’m going to start a new weekly feature, where I highlight one common grammar mistake. It may not interest you, but it allows me to vent, which is therapeutic, so bear with me. With the first installment, I’d like to go over the most misused word in the English language, “irony.” For the love of God, this word is NOT synonymous with coincidence, no matter how often it’s used that way. You want to know what’s truly ironic? How none of the scenarios in Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” have any irony whatsoever.

(on a side note, thanks to everyone who was patient when the site was down last week – with a new host up and running, there shouldn’t be any more issues moving forward. In fact, the site should run faster than ever, so do me a favor and spread the word)