Archive for June, 2010

The Scoop

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

Entering May 30, Howie Kendrick had a .253/.285/.342 line with just two home runs on the year. He’s batted .337 with five long balls and 24 RBI over 92 at-bats since then, and he’s now consistently hitting first or second in the Angels’ lineup. He hit .358/.391/.558 after the All-Star break last season, so while it’s taken him longer than hoped, maybe Kendrick is finally going to live up to his potential in 2010. He does so unconventionally (few walks, not a terrific contact rate), but he’s one of the few targets for fantasy teams in need of batting average help, and actually, because of the small amount of base on balls, his contribution to that category is even greater. Kendrick isn’t a huge HR/SB guy, but 15 of each are well within reach, and he’s currently on pace to finish the season with 104 RBI. Kendrick is just outside the top-five fantasy second basemen.

USA! USA! USA! What an awesome match that was Wednesday. All sports have their problems with refereeing, but that would have been incredibly frustrating (and a pretty big knock on the sport that’s been slow to be accepted here) had USA not advanced thanks to not one but two highly questionable disallowed goals. But seriously, coming back from down 0-2 at half last time to scoring in the 91st minute with elimination just seconds away Wednesday – how sick was that?! I’m pretty pumped my old friend from high school scheduled his wedding right during the team’s next match – nice timing buddy.

Josh Johnson has been ridiculously good so far this season, as he hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of his past eight starts. He has a 56:10 K:BB ratio over the last 63.0 innings. Like anyone with a 1.80 ERA, Johnson has received some good luck (.270 BABIP, 4.7 HR/FB%), but since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2008 with increased fastball velocity, his K rate has improved each season while his BB rate has decreased each year. Johnson’s average fastball velocity (94.7 mph) is fourth highest among major league baseball, which is especially impressive when you factor in his strong groundball rate (48.5 GB%). When someone pitches like this over such a long span, there’s no way to view him other than a “sell-high,” but Johnson should also be treated like a top-five fantasy starter over the rest of the season.

Stephen Strasburg leads the Nationals’ starting pitching staff with 41 strikeouts this season. And no, that’s not a Chuck Norris type fact.

The Braves shouldn’t have let Kelly Johnson leave, especially since he’s certainly capable of helping as an outfielder, but there’s little doubt the team made the right decision turning over second base to Martin Prado, who currently has the second most hits in baseball. Prado doesn’t have a ton of power and doesn’t run nearly enough to be a fantasy stud, but he has seven multi-hit games over the past nine contests and is on pace to finish the season with 121 runs scored. Prado’s current .371 BABIP is sure to regress, but his LD% (23.3) is strong, and ZiPS projects him to bat .327 over the rest of the year, so some huge crash doesn’t seem imminent. Prado looks like the N.L. version of Howie Kendrick.

Non-sports link: It’s a little long, but I enjoyed it a pretty good amount.

Don’t look now, but Delmon Young is turning into a serviceable player. Of course, he’s been one of the worst regulars over the past couple of years, so even modest improvement would seem dramatic, but Young’s played better this year. He’s cut last year’s K rate (23.3%) nearly in half this season (12.2%), which is significant. Young still doesn’t project to be a big power guy, as he continues to hit too many groundballs (1.21 GB/FB), and so far, Target Field has played as the third toughest park to homer in during 2010, but he already has more doubles this season compared to last in close to 200 fewer at-bats. Young is still just 24 years old, so it’s safe to assume he’ll only continue to get better.

I try not to overrate the now (and sometimes fail), but I’m sorry, is this epic Wimbledon match the craziest thing in sports ever? I mean seriously? Obviously, there isn’t much significance regarding what round it is and the players involved, but I mean, the fifth set alone qualifies as the longest tennis match in the history of the sport. Of course, it’d be nice to see some return skills, but how many records will be set here that will be nearly impossible to break because of the circumstances? Both are now No. 1 and No. 2 for most aces in a match and by a wide margin (John Isner currently has 98, previous high was 78). It’s 59-59! I struggle to come up with any other possibility in another sport that I’d have a harder time believing when I first heard this score.

Cole Hamels has been considered a disappointment by some, and I guess if you look at his so-so 3.75 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, that’s understandable. However, he’s pitched far better than that suggests. His 8.86 K/9 is Hamels’ best since his rookie season, and while he’s always been susceptible to the long ball, his current GB% is a career high (43.8), and his 16.1 HR/FB% should drop over the rest of the year. The zip on his fastball is back (career-high 91.5 mph), but his new pitch (a cutter) has graded below average. Of some concern is Hamels’ changeup, which has been one of the better pitches in all of baseball in each of his previous four seasons in the league but has been merely average so far in 2010. Still, with the strikeouts way up and continued strong control and homers surrendered likely to go down, Hamels remains a top-15 type fantasy starter.

Stephen Strasburg has such filthy stuff that even umpires keep getting fooled.

Jose Reyes has been on fire lately, and Jimmy Rollins is back in action, but especially after the loss of Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop is one of the thinnest positions right now I can remember in fantasy baseball. There’s a pretty obvious top-five, and then a pupu platter. Seriously, what a dearth of talent. I mean, Juan Uribe has been the National League’s second best shortstop so far this season. Pretty crazy.

Speaking of crazy, Ryan Braun has a 1.011 OPS with 33 RBI on the road this season. He has a .677 OPS with 13 RBI at home.

Although Chris Davis is currently destroying Triple-A pitching, Justin Smoak has had a fine June, and while he strikes out too much, he also knows how to take a walk. Smoak has a .266/.385/.460 line with a 29:24 K:BB ratio against right-handers this season, so he’s holding his own as a 23-year-old getting his first big league experience. Smoak hasn’t taken advantage of a terrific hitter’s home park either, which should only become more pronounced throughout the summer months. Since he’s also a better fielder than Davis, Smoak’s leash shouldn’t be too tight.

I actually kind of liked Maurice Jones-Drew’s Monday Morning Quarterback article while filling in for Peter King.

When asked about calling up Jeremy Hellickson, manager Joe Maddon recently responded, “That’s not been a discussion.” Really? Not even a little bit? I get that Wade Davis was once also a pretty good prospect himself, and he impressed with 36 strikeouts over 36.1 innings last year at the major league level, but that K rate is way down in 2010, and he’s walked 35 batters and given up a whopping 12 homers over 75.1 innings. Both his FIP (5.30) and xFIP (5.09) are worse than his ugly 4.90 ERA. Meanwhile, Hellickson currently has a 2.33 ERA with a 9.1/K and 2.1/BB – his K:BB ratio throughout his minor league career is a stellar 4.93:1. He relies more on command than overpowering stuff, but as a team in a dogfight with two others in its division that are among the top-three in baseball, what are they thinking not even considering making this switch? Even if Maddon is lying and they have discussed the matter, their conclusion seems wrong. And does Davis, he of the 20 career starts, really deserve some sort of seniority favoritism? Yankee and Red Sox fans are praying this arrangement continues.

This is pretty ridiculous and probably NSFW, but I pass it on nonetheless.

One of the biggest draft day bargains this year has easily been Magglio Ordonez, who is currently hitting .328 with a ridiculous 22:31 K:BB ratio. He’s also on pace to finish the season with 21 homers, 99 runs scored and 110 RBI despite missing nine games. It’s pretty unfathomable that a player who is 36 years old and entered August last season with a .685 OPS currently sports the best K%, BB% and LD% of his career. There’s little chance Mags hits much more than 20 homers while still producing more grounders than fly balls, but hitting third in a productive lineup directly in front of Miguel Cabrera, he’s back to being quite the valuable fantasy property. Few will end up being bigger helps in batting average.

I haven’t heard it yet, but this is pretty disconcerting (and hardly surprising). Any opinions if you’ve gave it a listen?

Roger Bernadina hit .335 with 41 stolen bases (while also slugging .490) two years ago as a 24-year-old in Double and Triple-A, and only a broken leg prevented him from getting a chance to be a regular with the Nationals last season. He’s getting that opportunity this year after batting .377/.426/.541 during a brief stint in Triple-A and has recently been hitting toward the top of Washington’s lineup. He’s produced four homers and six steals over just 148 at-bats, making him a sneaky fantasy play. I doubt there is a player with his potential as readily available as he currently is in most leagues, even in deep and competitive ones.

Stephen Strasburg is actually much better at football, basketball, hockey and even soccer, but he decided to pursue a career with the sport he’s most challenged at, with the feeling it’d be most rewarding

This season is turning out to be the year of the rookie, and while Mat Latos lost that eligibility by recording just two more outs than the minimum last season, he’s one of baseball’s best young players without a doubt. Pitching in the N.L. West and Petco Park has its advantages, but Latos is the real deal and only keeps getting better. He recently recorded a 15:2 K:BB ratio over 13.2 innings (while allowing only two runs and nine baserunners) against the Blue Jays and Rays over his last two starts. In April (when he was coming off an arm injury), he posted a 5.8 K/9 ratio. In May, that jumped to 8.1. In June, that’s skyrocketed to 10.6 despite a much tougher schedule. I’m sure the 22-year-old and inked up Latos still has some growing up to do (don’t we all), but by all accounts, he’s really matured and changed from his once abrasive self. Since April ended, Latos has recorded a 1.92 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. In fact, his season WHIP (0.95) is bested only by Cliff Lee (0.90) in all of baseball. Latos will probably tire during the second half of his first major league season, and it’s unclear just how many innings he’ll be allowed to throw in 2010. It’s also safe to expect his .238 BABIP to rise significantly, but for a guy who has a terrific fastball, an even better slider and a plus changeup who also produces a bunch of grounders, Latos is simply one of the most valuable commodities in keeper formats. With the Petco factor, we could be looking at some ridiculously good seasons in the future.

The Scoop

Friday, June 18th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

I haven’t posted a new baseball column in a bit, so I wanted to make sure you saw I wrote about Game 7 of the NBA Finals earlier as well.

There isn’t a bigger Tim Lincecum fan than me, and while I’m hardly panicking, his last seven starts have raised some concerns. His fastball velocity has declined during all four years he’s been in the majors, bottoming out at 91.3 mph this season. It’s remained an effective pitch, but with a changeup that averages 84.1 mph – that’s hardly the discrepancy you’d like to see (ideally a 10 mph difference). But Lincecum currently sports a 10.3 K/9 ratio and just fanned 10 batters during his start Wednesday against the Orioles, so his “stuff” really shouldn’t be questioned. His control, however, is an issue. After walking 20 batters over a four start stretch (that spanned over 23.1 innings) in May, Lincecum had given just three free passes over his last two starts before Wednesday, when he not only issued four walks but also tossed three wild pitches. His last three starts have come against the Pirates, A’s and Orioles – offenses that rank 30th, 24th and 29th in run scoring so far this season, so he’s had the benefit of an easy schedule, yet his control remains shaky. It’s probably nothing, and Lincecum is incredibly tough to hit, especially when it comes to home runs, but this sudden drastic lack of command is a little worrisome and curious.

I already “tweeted” this (are you following me?), but it deserves more than that. Funny stuff.

As a fan, I’m going to stick with the Giants here, although I’ll try to make it quick. I still think the Dodgers and especially the Rockies are better teams, but all of a sudden, San Francisco’s lineup isn’t reprehensible. Not that it’s good, but with a strong pitching staff (Santiago Casilla is the best reliever few know about) and a surprisingly good defense (that still ranks No. 1 in UZR), only an average offense is needed. My personal whipping boy, Brian Sabean, deserves some credit for the Aubrey Huff signing, but the most important addition has been Andres Torres (luck), and I find it funnier to point out this: the Giants’ current best setup features Aaron Rowand (due $60 million), Edgar Renteria (due $18.5 million) and Mark DeRosa (due $12 million) all on their bench right now. That’s $90.5 million for those who don’t like math. One more Giants thought, and then I promise I’ll stop; the last player drafted and developed by the S.F. to appear in an All-Star game with the club was Matt Williams in 1986.

In “Pulp Fiction,” the unknown item inside the coveted briefcase is actually a baby picture of Stephen Strasburg.

Baseball is undeniably unpredictable (Alex Rios went from being a player whom an MLB team gave away his contract in 2009 to someone who has probably been the most valuable fantasy hitter of all in 2010), but in hindsight, Adrian Beltre’s big year so far shouldn’t be considered surprising (and no, I’m not referring to the contract-year phenomenon) – he’s gone from hitting in one of the five best pitcher’s parks to one of the five most favorable hitter’s parks, not to mention the difference in lineups. Beltre has more home runs and RBI compared to last year in 197 fewer at-bats. Of course, improved health has also been an issue, and his current .337 BA is certainly going to drop, but with just one steal, he should increase his SB totals playing for an aggressive Boston team from here on out (they currently rank last in MLB with just 23 steals in 2010, but the Red Sox finished fifth and seventh among SB leaders over the previous two years entering this season). Moreover, despite all the errors, Beltre has still managed a current 6.0 UZR – so he’s easily been one of the more valuable players in all of baseball this season (.385 wOBA, 2.8 WAR).

When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks under his bed for Stephen Strasburg.

Staying with the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia has been an interesting case so far. After winning the MVP in 2008, he wasn’t even considered last season, despite striking out less, walking far more, stealing the same amount of bases and hitting just two fewer homers in nearly 30 fewer at-bats. Of course, the main difference was a drop in SLG% (by nearly 50 points), but Pedroia finished April with an awesome .302/.343/.573 line this year. And then he got hurt in May (while his K:BB ratio improved significantly to 12:16, a damaged knee prevented him from driving the ball). So while Pedroia played in nearly all of Boston’s games, he has clearly been doing so hurt, which suppressed his production significantly. Since so many fantasy competitors are becoming more and more familiar with advanced stats, maybe the next step in getting an edge is somehow identifying who’s playing hurt. That said, Pedroia may be feeling better (although he’s still getting treatment), as he’s hit in seven straight games (with five multi-hit efforts and steals in his last two games over that span). And while Wednesday marked his first homer since May 14, he does have nine long balls with six steals on the year, so while he’s no doubt been a disappointment with a .270 batting average, Pedroia is on pace to finish with 21 homers and 14 steals, so basically, health will determine whether he’s a bust or an extremely valuable fantasy commodity from here on out.

I love this. NBA superstars are no contest (and they are trying their best, believe me) versus “Ricardo” the busboy when it comes to Pop-a-Shot. Here are the losers: LeBron James, Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant (who’s competitiveness really shows) and also Carmelo Anthony, who might actually be the most mad of all at the outcome, although his nonchalant original attitude is all you need to know about what’s missing from his game.

There’s no question Joe Mauer is tough to evaluate. He went from being one of the better players in baseball to by far the most valuable in 2009, but while he always projected to hit for more power as a big, strong hitter still just 26 years old, what should we really have made of Mauer’s 11 homers in May (and eight long balls in August) from someone who averaged 8.8 homers over his first six seasons in the league? Mauer currently sports an obscene 23:28 K:BB ratio and a .389 OBP while playing strong defense at the most difficult position on the diamond – he’s at least worth strongly considering as the first overall pick in an organizational draft held tomorrow. But in fantasy terms – questions remain. All those walks only help in runs scored, and it’s not like he steals much either. But the biggest question is power – and right now, it looks like last year’s outburst is the anomaly, especially since the new Target Field has suppressed home runs in a big way (of course it’s a small sample size, but so far, it looks like an extreme pitcher’s park). And remember, of Mauer’s 28 homers last season, a whopping 11 were termed “just enough” by hittracker.com, so while he’s no doubt been unlucky this year (4.2% HR/FB), he was due to regress (20.4% FB/HR last year). I love Mauer, but it’s now clear he shouldn’t be considered in the top three rounds in fantasy leagues. That said, this was a pretty sick catch by him.

This has zero to do with sports, but I found this lengthy article fascinating.

I entered this year down on Johan Santana, with a plummeting K rate and coming off surgery. However, whether price enforcing in LABR or pure stupidity in WCOF, I ended up with him on my team in two of my most important leagues. Since joining the Mets, Santana’s ERA has been better than his xFIP by this margin over 2.5 years – 1.36, 1.00 and 1.57. That’s definitely significant, and with a career .286 BABIP and 9.2 HR/FB%, it’s clear Santana needs to be viewed through different colored glasses. Still, this can only go so far, and we are talking about a pitcher with current 5.77 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9 rates (the latter is his worst since 2002); Santana has struck out just one batter in each of his last two outings, totaling only five Ks over his past three starts in total. He’s fanned more than six batters just once all season. Since 2006, his fastball velocity has dropped every season, bottoming out at 89.1 mph this season. However, it’s still not all necessarily doom and gloom. Santana’s heater, changeup and slider all still register as “plus” pitches in 2010, and I’m by no means saying Santana is done being an effective starter (his current tERA is 3.66. His career number there is 3.33), but the trends are more than a little bit discouraging. As crazy as it sounds, Santana’s fastball has averaged just 91.6 mph throughout his career and his current changeup (79.3 mph) leaves an average discrepancy of 9.8 mph, which is pretty good. Not all hope is lost, despite the obvious signs he’s due to crash in a big way.

In closing, I’d like to thank my psychiatrist for helping me write this column. In all seriousness, congratulations to the Lakers. It wasn’t pretty, but Game 7 was pretty epic nevertheless.

Game 7 Thoughts

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

It was ugly, but it sure was intense and highly competitive, and while I’m not a fan of either team (although I did bet on the Celtics +150 to win the series), I must say, I probably haven’t gotten this into an NBA game since Michael Jordan retired. Did you see the Lakers’ emotional reactions afterward? Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher were legitimately crying. Kobe Bryant turned into a different person (more on that in a bit), and even Phil Jackson was less surly, looked genuinely happy and for the first time ever, wasn’t condescending. Every player is happy right after winning a championship, but my theory (and this might seem obvious), is that winning a close, hard-fought battle like that (in Game 7 no less), is more rewarding than if L.A. won by 20.

Since Ray Allen set a Finals record with eight three-pointers in Game 2, he shot 30.6 percent from the field (19-for-62), including a dreadful 3-for-16 in Game 7, even missing his first free throw of the series as well. Even worse, a lot of those were wide open looks, and as far as offense goes, I blame him for Boston’s loss. However, Allen’s terrific defense on Bryant outweighed his poor shooting. Bryant certainly attempted some questionable shots, but Allen deserves a ton of credit. He really D’d up.

Rasheed Wallace is a poor rebounder, but he’s a solid defender, and when he posts up, he can still be effective on offense. Those bank shots were impressive. So was his clutch three. Anyone who followed the regular season closely and then watched Wallace play a big part in Game 7 of the Finals and Fisher also hit a huge three-pointer would have a hard time believing it.

There were some questionable calls here and there, but at least the refs weren’t the story of the game, an all too often occurrence in the NBA. Love how they let the teams play, especially over the first three quarters.

Lamar Odom has a bunch of talent, but he’s really not all that valuable of a basketball player, rendered essentially moot during this series. He can’t shoot – both from the outside and from the line. Boston fans definitely rooted for him to try to score when the ball was in his hands, even more so than Artest. It’s great Odom can handle the ball like a point guard at 6-10, but he averaged 7.6 points and 1.3 assists this series.

I’m a big Rajon Rondo fan, and he’s definitely the most valuable fantasy player on the Celtics (and will be soon in real life as well), but right now, Paul Pierce is Boston’s best player – he’s really the only guy on the team who can create his own shot and score in a set offense. His FG% wasn’t great with Ron Artest playing such good defense, but for what it’s worth, Pierce was the only Celtics player who posted a positive in the +/- category on Thursday (admittedly, a flawed stat).

I loved when Jeff Van Gundy (by far the best color commentator in any sport) mocked Brian Scalabrine, referring to him as a “lockdown defender.” That was almost as funny as Jordan’s son posting this tweet.

Pretty crazy the Lakers were able to win with Bryant shooting 6-of-24 from the field, also missing four free throws and posting a 2:4 assist:turnover ratio. Has a team ever clinched a championship while shooting 32.5 percent from the field and 67.6 percent from the line? I doubt it. Anyway, watching Bryant’s postgame interview (the one with all the reporters) was eye opening. I really can’t explain how good he was. Smart, funny, affable, even admitting he was lying when he previously said the whole Boston/L.A. history stuff didn’t matter to him as well as taking full responsibility for his disappointing performance in Game 7. Asked what having five titles meant to him, Bryant responded, “I got one more than Shaq.” Brought the house down.

But speaking of interviews, Bryant’s paled in comparison to Artest’s, which was the best ever in the history of sports (especially factoring in the moment). Addressing zero of the questions Doris Burke asked him, Artest emphatically thanked his psychiatrist, the hood and implored all of us to buy his new single that just dropped. I had high expectations leading into this exchange, but it’s safe to say Artest blew even those away.

Pau Gasol is better than Dwight Howard. That is all.

Podcast

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Check it out. New article soon to come.

The Scoop

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

Before we get started, check out my latest attempt at hosting a podcast, featuring Jeff Erickson and Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski.

What more can be said about Stephen Strasburg’s dominant debut? Sure, the Pirates have scored the fewest runs in baseball this season, but I’m pretty sure Strasburg’s stuff will translate well to better lineups. Ubaldo Jimenez is a close second, but it’s not a stretch to call Strasburg’s stuff already the best in baseball, and when you consider his plus command and the fact he gets to pitch in the NL, only his 100-inning limit stops me from ranking him as a top-three fantasy starter right now. But if you prorate a starter who will throw 200 innings this season, that results in around 130 innings from here on out, so Strasburg isn’t THAT far behind if they do indeed shut him down early. The Vegas O/U for strikeouts is 146.5 – factoring in the 100-inning limit, the bookmakers essentially expect his K/9 to be 13.2! Strasburg’s current xFIP is negative (-0.50) – that’s right, negative. I loved this headline. If given a choice for a Game 7 starter in the World Series, Roy Halladay is probably the safest pick, and it’s tough to argue with how Cliff Lee has pitched this season, but it’s really hard not to consider Strasburg one of the three or four best pitchers in MLB already. When all is said and done, he’s going to make LeBron James look like a bust.

What’s going on with Ricky Nolasco? His BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB rates have all normalized after being so unlucky last season, and his control is superb (1.82 BB/9), yet he’s still sitting on a 4.60 ERA thanks to a plummeting strikeout rate (6.54 K/9). In fact, he’s fanned three batters or fewer in six of his last seven starts. Nolasco has lost more than one mph on his fastball this season compared to last, but he’s throwing his slider harder than ever. The sudden and sharp decrease in K% may be something of a fluke, but Nolasco is an extreme fly ball pitcher, so homers will always be an issue, and that’s a serious problem if he doesn’t start missing more bats soon.

He’s no Ernie McCracken, but this guy is pretty good at bowling.

Adam Jones homered Tuesday and stole a base Wednesday, but he’s fast becoming one of the more disappointing players in the league. His OPS is .661, and he sports a 51:8 K:BB ratio over 235 at-bats. A closer look at last year’s numbers suggest maybe we should have seen this coming – he hit .222 after the All-Star break, and while 19 homers over 119 games look impressive, it’s worth noting just how difficult that feat was with his low FB% (28.1) and high groundball rate (55.4%). Jones is hitting more balls in the air this season, but he’s still posting a 1.26 GB/FB ratio, which is a big problem, especially for someone with a LD% of 16.3. And all that athleticism has yet to translate into Jones becoming an above average center fielder, although at age 24, there’s still plenty of time for growth. Nevertheless, Jones’ performance has been quite discouraging so far.

Candlestick has a lot of history, but let’s face it – it’s a dump. So I’m pretty excited about “Measure J” passing Tuesday. Next up, moving the A’s to San Jose.

Jaime Garcia looks like a pretty obvious sell-high candidate, with a nifty 1.47 ERA combined with a .278 BABIP, 85.0 LOB% and 4.4 HR/FB%. His control isn’t even good (3.88 BB/9) and after missing all of last season recovering from TJ surgery, there’s also a big question regarding how many innings he can throw in 2010 as well as a big concern of him wearing down. This is all true (and obviously no one expects him to finish with an ERA below 2.50), but Garcia is not some scrub skating by solely on luck, either. He’s got Dave Duncan on his side, which we may need to start valuing the same way we would an American League pitcher coming to the N.L. Moreover, Garcia is a groundball machine (57.4 GB% is fourth-best in MLB), and while that makes his low BABIP seem all the more fluky, it also suggests when his HR/FB% normalizes he won’t suddenly start giving up a bunch of homers, since he’s allowed the fourth-fewest fly balls (23.9 FB%) in all of baseball this season. Still, Garcia needs to be shopped in fantasy leagues.

Maybe he should have tried 1,007 lbs.

I’m kicking myself for not owning Nick Swisher in any of my leagues, as his ADP was low, and while his BA is sure to come down, the sneaky source of power really shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, he hit 29 homers in fewer than 500 at-bats last season, and that was with him not even taking advantage of the new Yankee Stadium (just eight HRs at home), which boosted home runs more than any stadium in 2009 (on a side note, while most considered it a huge hitter’s park, Yankee Stadium actually graded out as the 11th best pitcher’s park last year, ahead of even the Oakland Coliseum. However, this year it’s been the No. 1 hitter’s park, just ahead of Coors Field. Maybe the run production will drop over the second half of the season like it did last year, but one thing’s for sure, we really shouldn’t judge its park effects until we get at least three years of data). Swisher strikes out too much to maintain anything close to his current .310 batting average, but as an on base machine now hitting second in a loaded New York lineup, there’s no reason he can’t finish the year as a top-10 or even higher fantasy first baseman (where he’s eligible in most leagues).

Stephen Strasburg called the ending to the “The Sixth Sense” within five minutes.

It’s probably misguided to complain about anything Chris Carpenter, but it’s worth noting he hasn’t struck out more than five batters in a game in more than a month. It looks like his early season spike in K rate wasn’t here to stay, but it’s not worth worrying too much about anyway, since he was one of baseball’s best pitchers last year with a modest strikeout rate (6.73 K/9). He’s already allowed three more homers this season compared to last despite throwing more than 100 fewer innings, but Carpenter has essentially been the same pitcher (3.38 xFIP last year compared to 3.40 xFIP in 2010).

Stephen Strasburg already knows where LeBron James will sign this offseason.

What has gotten into Scott Rolen? His current OPS (.953) is actually the second highest of his 17 year career. He’s getting lucky with balls going over the fence (18.2 HR/FB%), but his BABIP is .286, and his ISO is a ridiculous .304. Maybe this is what a truly 100 percent Rolen can do, even at age 35, but then again, another injury is probably right around the corner. I’m guessing he’d be pretty tough to execute a sell-high though, so might as well ride this story out.

In 2011 fantasy drafts, my guess at Stephen Strasburg’s ADP is around 5.0.

Matt Cain currently has a 2.11 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. That’s accompanied by a modest 2.26:1 K:BB ratio and a 4.50 xFIP. However, this doesn’t necessarily make Cain a sell-high candidate, as he’s proven to be one of the true outliers in baseball. His career xFIP (4.49) is more than a full run higher than his career ERA (3.40). Over that span, his BABIP is .274, and remarkably, his HR/FB% is 6.6, and Cain is approaching 1,000 career innings. His strikeout rate continues to decline, sitting at a career-low 6.43 K/9 this season, but his walk rate is also a career-best (2.85 BB/9). Maybe all those peripherals will eventually catch up to Cain, but at this point, it seems almost silly to suggest a major correction. Of course, I’m not saying his current 2.11 ERA is sustainable, but Cain needs to be viewed through a different spectrum when it comes to evaluating pitchers. For whatever reason, his fastball, despite averaging 92.7 mph throughout his career (and just 91.2 mph this year), is simply one of the hardest pitches to hit in all of baseball.

Seriously, how good is Stephen Strasburg?!

Justin Morneau has always been pretty good, but he’s been the best player in the American League over the first two months this season. It’s hardly surprising for someone to peak at age 29, but his jump in performance has been quite remarkable. His walk rate has spiked (17.9 BB%) greatly; it’s a huge jump compared to his previous high, but this is a trend, as Morneau has increased his BB% in each of the past four years. His 1.148 OPS is the best in baseball by a wide margin. This despite Target Field suppressing homers at a significant rate (third lowest in MLB), as Morneau has hit 11 of his 13 home runs on the road. Having an on base machine like Joe Mauer (who rarely knocks himself in via the HR) hitting right in front of him is a nice advantage as well. Morneau is also playing the best defense of his career this season too. His wOBA is nearly 100 points higher than the year he won the MVP in 2006, and he’s already contributed as many wins to his team through two months than he did during that entire award winning season. Baseball is an unpredictable sport.

The Scoop

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

The crazy thing about the Braves now being in first place by 2.5 games is if anything, they are underperforming. Jair Jurrjens and Kenshin Kawakami have combined for zero wins, while Yunel Escobar, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera are all playing poorly. Troy Glaus has been a steal in fantasy leagues (he was robbed by Raul Ibanez on Wednesday of his fourth homer in as many games), on pace to finish with 122 RBI, but his .827 OPS isn’t exactly off the charts (although his .366 wOBA is strong). I have no idea what to make of Tim Hudson, as his awful 33:27 K:BB ratio over 70.1 innings certainly isn’t commensurate with his 2.30 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, although he’s obviously capable of pitching much better moving forward. And then there’s Jason Hewyard, who’s made me look foolish when I cautioned his April performance suggested a major correction was soon in store, as the 20-year-old somehow adjusted to major league pitching far better than vice versa. He finished April with 26 strikeouts over 75 at-bats; he’s posted an 11:19 K:BB ratio since then. It appears he may have a future as a baseball player.

Entering May 22, Billy Wagner had five saves. He’s recorded that many since then (including four over the past four games). Wagner has also posted a remarkable 14.08 K/9, but that’s a different story. Jonathan Broxton entered May 7 with one save (and a 1.86 ERA) – he then proceeded to rack up 12 saves over the next 20 games. Maybe this is obvious, but don’t ever view saves as a statistic that’s anything but random.

The chances of Adrian Gonzalez getting traded have gone from pretty likely to almost zero, as the Padres continue to surprise. Gonzalez hit a game-winning grand slam Wednesday, raising San Diego’s record to 32-21 on the year, and while it’s easy to call them a fluke, the Padres can no longer be ignored, especially since they play in such a weak division (and this is from someone who picked them to finish last in the NL West). First, the bad – they still can’t hit (team wOBA of .309 ranks fifth worst in MLB), and it’s unlikely to get much better (although healthy returns of Kyle Blanks and Scott Hairston give little hope). However, the team’s defense has been fantastic (19.2 UZR ranks second only to the Giants), and playing in Petco Park is a big advantage. Think about it – if you took all the over/under odds in baseball this year, Petco would come in with the lowest aggregated number by far, and since baseball has a lot of “luck” involved in single game outcomes, it figures a run here or there sure favors a team in a low scoring environment than a high one. Also, with the best pitcher’s park as well as a terrific defense backing them, Padres pitchers can attack the strike zone with confidence, and their bullpen should be fresher than a rotation that has to deal with Coors Field or Texas in the summer heat. And San Diego’s bullpen is very good on its own merit anyway (Luke Gregerson currently sports a 32:2 K:BB ratio and a 0.45 WHIP). Gun to head, I’d still pick the Rockies to win this division, but Gonzalez and Heath Bell no longer look likely to be traded playing for a surprising Padres team.

If walk-off losses were cool, consider the Diamondbacks Miles Davis.

I was never a big Gavin Floyd guy. He somehow posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.26 WHIP despite a 2.07 K:BB ratio and a 6.32 K/9 mark in 2008. He pitches in an extreme hitter’s park and in the AL, but then again, Floyd also posted a 71:18 K:BB ratio over 77.1 innings after the All-Star break last season, so I bought into the former top prospect at draft tables this year. And so far, it’s been a huge mistake. This guy is killing my teams. A 6.64 ERA and 1.66 WHIP through 11 starts is just brutal. Floyd is actually an interesting case: he’s been unlucky on balls in play (entered Wednesday with a .355 BABIP), but his HR/FB rate has been about league average, and his 49:23 K:BB ratio is hardly impressive. Looking even deeper, while his fastball velocity has slightly increased compared to last year, that pitch has actually been a huge problem throughout his career (-51.9 wFB), yet while his slider was highly effective last year (7.5 wSL), it’s been below average this season (-2.8 wSL) thanks to a significant loss in velocity (2.8 mph slower compared to last season). I’m usually patient with players, especially pitchers, but Floyd isn’t even all that established and frankly, maybe just isn’t all that good.

Nyjer Morgan may go 30/30 this year. And by that I mean 30 stolen bases and 30 caught stealings.

During our podcast Wednesday, Jeff Erickson asked me whom I’d rather have between Alex Rodriguez or Evan Longoria. Few were higher on Longoria than me entering this season – I took him fourth overall in one league and own him in three of my four redraft leagues. And while he’s no doubt been a better player so far (both in real life – .961 OPS vs. .866 – and in fantasy leagues – 10 steals vs. two), I still sided with ARod, thinking Longoria’s superior BA won’t last considering he’s struck out at a greater rate and the fact Rodriguez is still on pace for 125 RBI despite carrying his worst OPS since 1997. But after further evaluation, I might prefer Longo. While ARod hits in the better lineup, and Mark Teixeira is sure to improve, it’s not like Longoria has benefitted from an All-Star No. 3 hitter either, and here’s the crux – Rodriguez has posted a 1.206 OPS with RISP, while Longoria has recorded a .799 OPS during those situations (and yet he somehow has more RBI on the year). So while I fully expect ARod to hit better overall moving forward, and his home park is much more advantageous for hitters, Longoria is 10 years younger, so the best is yet to come, while Rodriguez has most likely already peaked, and if Longo continues to run at this pace (his career SB success rate is now 93%), he’ll easily be the more valuable fantasy commodity this year.

Maybe control prevents Chad Billingsley from being a top-25 fantasy starter over the rest of the season, but he’s also got the upside to be a top-15 type guy as well. During his last four starts, he’s posted a 28:4 K:BB ratio over 27.2 innings. The 11:0 K:BB outing last time out was impressive, but it came against the strikeout prone Diamondbacks, so I’m more impressed with his overall improvement in BB% (of course, a four start sample is obviously small). Still, this is a former top prospect with a strong K rate pitching in a good park and in the NL West, so he’s got some big upside. That said, his velocity readings so far in 2010 are eye-opening; his fastball is down more than five(!) mph compared to last year, sitting at a pedestrian 86.3 mph, and his cutter (89.2 to 82.3) and curveball (78.3 to 72.4) have both suffered even more drastic dips. I could see buying Billingsley right now, but that drop in velocity is pretty concerning and something to pay attention to moving forward.

Alex Gordon is currently batting .376/.515/.733 at Triple-A, and while it may not make sense from a Royals baseball standpoint, he’s actually loving the move to left field (at least according to his quotes). He’s pretty much dominating, also adding nine homers, a 24:24 K:BB ratio and four steals over 101 at-bats. Kaufmann Stadium is actually one of the tougher parks to hit homers for left-handers, but remember Gordon dealt with injuries last season, and while he may never live up to the hype, it’s far too early to give up on the 26-year-old. I’m personally stashing him even in 12-team mixed leagues (of course, bench spots will vary). Don’t give up on him just yet.

Most of the offseason stories (“best shape of my life!”) can be ignored, and a lot of times it’s easy to concentrate on when they don’t pan out (this also works with contract-year supposed motivation), but this type of intangible analysis matters in some instances, and I think Miguel Cabrera qualifies. Sure, one of the best prospects in major league baseball was bound to improve at some point, and there isn’t a better time for that to happen than age 27. Still, he quit drinking altogether during the offseason and rededicated himself to baseball – yes he was born with immense talent, but the fact he decided to try to fully realize it makes me happy as a baseball fan. Maybe the natural progression would have occurred had he continued his previous lifestyle (and believe me, I’m far from a teetotaler), but not all optimistic offseason stories should be ignored, and Cabrera has clearly decided to go ahead and try to live up to those early expectations. His current 1.078 OPS ranks second in all of baseball, and while no one can blame fantasy players for taking guys like Mark Teixeira or Ryan Howard over him this year, there will be no question he’ll be the more deserving draft pick in 2011.

Troy Tulowitzki’s mullet needs to go. That is all.

Last but not least, my opinion on the Armando Galarraga situation: First off, what do we make of the dramatic increase of perfect games this season? (As a Giants fan, I’d also like to point out Jonathan Sanchez essentially threw one last year too, with only an error standing in the way.) Only 18 perfect games had been thrown entering this season, and “essentially” three have been tossed over the first two months (I kind of agree with the argument that over a 106-year span those outings won’t necessarily be distributed equally. But still, three over two months is pretty compelling). When I heard he had a perfecto going into the eighth inning Wednesday, I switched to the game. And while I entered the ninth with lowered expectations (two perfect games already this year alone), the ridiculously awesome catch by Austin Jackson got me officially invested. And the final play (well, it should have been so) has been talked about so much I don’t want to beat a dead horse. So I’ll just say this – can’t think of a crazier response from a sports event in a long time. I mean, what story has evoked so much talk (and emotion) than this? Miguel Cabrera should have just covered first base, yet his effort still resulted in an out. It highlighted just how many things need to go right to get a perfect game even during an unprecedented era of them being completed. I’m not a Tigers fan, yet my first reaction to Jim Joyce’s horrible call was anger. Maybe even strong anger. But his later response– taking all responsibility and saying he didn’t blame any Detroit player for yelling in his face (and Galarraga was not one of those, meaning he’s a better man than me), even stating, “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.” Love it. Don’t be surprised when Galarraga becomes more famous for this outing than if the last out had been called correctly, and odds are it will invoke new replay rules in major league baseball.