StrategyApril 19, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 3: Three’s a Cycle

By Ray Flores

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by Jason Kubel hitting for the cycle last Friday night. It’s quite a feat when you have one hitter slug for the cycle, but another to have a few, which is really nothing short of remarkable. We just witnessed one of the more memorable opening days at Dodger Stadium, as not only did the Dodgers thrash their eternal enemies (the Giants), but Orlando Hudson became the first Dodger since Wes Parker to hit for the cycle and you can imagine that had to be the best possible way to make a Dodger home debut. Then, Ian Kinsler had a game of a lifetime, going 6-for-6 with a home run, a stolen base, five runs, four RBI, and most importantly, a cycle. It was quite surreal to see cycles achieved on back-to-back days and immediately, a title popped in my head just for this week’s Hot/Cold, something to the tune of “A Bicycle Built for Two”. Then last Friday, in the Twins’ tremendous comeback victory over the Angels, Jason Kubel joined in on the rarefied air of the week’s cycle club and with that, my title for the week’s write-up was just about shattered. Nonetheless, it was an incredible week in terms of a rare feat occuring three times in all and kudos to those of you who in points leagues that count cycles, especially those in Brad Evans’ H2H points league (thankfully, I wasn’t on the receiving end of either cycle). At any rate, heading up this week’s “en fuego” list are a couple of the week’s cyclists.

Hot

Orlando Hudson: 2009 to date – 17/48 H/AB, 10 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 SB, .354 BA

Since signing with the Dodgers, the O-Dog has regained fantasy relevance once more as he’s off to a dream start, which included a cycle in the Dodgers’ home opener. If there were any worries as to how Hudson could fare almost a year removed from a dislocated wrist, they’ve been brushed aside for the time being. The hot start should help Hudson retain his spot in the two-hole of the Dodger lineup, and even though his power and speed ceilings are limited, the O-Dog can be a bargain source for runs and average, being in the sweet spot of hitting in front of Rafael Furcal and behind Manny Ramirez. Orlando Hudson is currently owned in 63% of Yahoo leagues, and he should earn his way aboard in the shallowest of leagues if there’s an extra bench spot to warrant his addition.

Ian Kinsler: 2009 to date – 21/46 H/AB, 11 R, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 4 SB, .457 BA

The O-Dog’s second base counterpart and co-cyclist in Arlington has enjoyed an even better start as Ian Kinsler has quickly reminded fantasy managers why he was a legitimate first round selection this year. Kinsler has gotten on base with a hit in almost half of his at-bats to date this season, displaying the kind of tantalizing power/speed potential that made him the top-ranked second baseman in the cheat sheets of some fantasy pundits and managers. The key for Kinsler is to stay healthy, given that he has failed to play at 130 games a season thus far in his big league career. The good news is neither of the injuries he has suffered in the past appear to be of the recurring variety, which could indicate that Kinsler has just had horrid luck in staying away from the injury bug. Although Kinsler generated an unusually high BABIP last year, his spike in extra base hits as well as the willingness to take the ball the opposite way are verifiable trends that Kinsler can reasonably post a .290-300 batting average.

Marco Scutaro: 2009 to date – 15/49 H/AB, 15 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 3 SB, .306 BA

Two weeks in, the best fantasy utility man in 2009 isn’t Alexei Ramirez; believe it or not, it’s Marco Scutaro. Leading off for a Blue Jays offense which most would reasonably deem as lukewarm at best, Scutaro has been the auspicious catalyst to the Jays’ surprising offensive success. Scutaro accumulated a career-high 517 at-bats last season and as of now, he’s on pace to just about quadrupling his career-high season outputs. Enjoy the scooter ride for now, but based off his track record, Scutaro doesn’t have the engine to motor through on a great fantasy-relevant season.

Aaron Hill: 2009 to date – 22/60 H/AB, 8 R, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB, .367 BA

The man who hits in the two-hole behind Marco Scutaro has been a fantasy sleeper in recent years (including this one), and Aaron Hill could be the likeliest of the two to sustain a breakout-year pace. Aaron Hill had a Jose Lopez-like season in 2007, with a few dingers short of a 20 home-run year, while posting a batting average in the .290 area. A serious concussion literally knocked out any chance of Hill building upon the previous year’s success, which made him a deeper sleeper than usual entering 2009. Hill is entering that magical age-27 year and given his skill set, a repeat of 2007 is reasonable with perhaps a bump up in runs and RBI. Currently owned in 55% of Yahoo leagues, Hill is a worthy addition, especially for those owners who can use a backup second baseman to spell for a slumping Rickie Weeks or Alexei Ramirez.

Nick Swisher: 2009 to date – 13/35 H/AB, 11 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .371 BA

Facing uncertain playing time, Nick Swisher started the season hitting for power and plus-average, but a tear in Xavier Nady’s elbow has opened the door to a full-time job for Swisher. He’s even finding a place on the mound as Swisher Sweet pitched a shutout inning in relief in a blowout loss in the Tampa Bay Rays’ home opener. What you see is what you get from Nick Swisher, a 30 home run quality batter who may hit for a suspect average, but he is capable of showing enough improvement to hit for a .270 average. The Yankees’ offense has been more hit-or-miss for a traditional offensive juggernaut, but Swisher should feel right at home hitting half of the year in a more favorable park than Oakland and having the RBI opportunities with Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira hitting in front of him. It’s probably too late to add Swisher from the free agent pool, seeing that he’s owned in 82% of Yahoo leagues, but I’m hoping you had the quick trigger finger and added him earlier this week when Nady went down. In a weekly league with no bench, I added Swisher last week and was delighted to have found him off free agency a few days ago when I needed a replacement for Nady in another weekly roto league with no bench.

Kosuke Fukudome: 2009 to date – 13/35 H/AB, 8 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB, .371 BA

Seen as a Hideki Matsui-lite, Kosuke Fukudome stormed to a terrific start last season, but his mid-summer stretch wasn’t as kind, to the point where his production was well short of even being a waiver wire/free agent quality hitter. Fukudome is once again off to a flying start, finding a place wedged behind Alfonso Soriano and in front of Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, and Aramis Ramirez. The cause for Fukudome’s head-scratching decline seems to be a mystery and one season alone isn’t necessarily sufficient enough evidence to prove that Fukudome is strictly a hot first-half hitter. Rostered in just 43% of Yahoo leagues, Fukudome’s start is taking some notice, while some owners rightfully may feel skittish about trusting a spot to Fukudome.

Adam Jones: 2009 to date – 16/39 H/AB, 14 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB, .410 BA

A favorite preseason sleeper, “I’m not Pacman” Adam Jones has exceeded expectations thus far, hitting for an exceptional average and adding a couple of home runs on the side. Consider this spurt as a great head start to reaching the most reasonable expectations of a 15/15 year and perhaps a prelude to greater things in terms of a possible 20/20 campaign. Jones is showing better patience so far this year, drawing six walks in spite of ten strikeouts in 39 at-bats. If Jones displays an improvement in plate discipline, he’s in a good position to break out in full. Hitting in a terrific spot behind Brian Roberts and in front of mashers the likes of Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff, Jones should at least be a fine bargain source for runs and RBI, with the upshot of a 15/15 or 20/20 year.

Carlos Pena: 2009 to date – 12/42 H/AB, 7 R, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .286 BA

Leading the American League in home runs is Carlos Pena, who has mashed six dingers thus far in the season. Pena may have been discounted in a number of drafts with the prospect of a sub-par average but with the uncertainty of Adam Dunn-like power production to offset that. It was an easy call for Pena to regress from a 2007 career year where the Rays’ slugger hit 46 home runs, but it’s worth noting that even if he missed some games due to nagging injuries last year, Pena still hit 31 home runs in 490 at-bats. The batting average is likely to stay in the .240-260 range, but Pena has a realistic shot of posting 35 home runs and over 100 RBI to close out 2009.

Travis Hafner: 2009 to date – 11/38 H/AB, 9 R, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB .289 BA

For those not familiar with Travis Hafner’s nickname “Pronk”, it’s a portmanteau of Project Donkey. In Pronk’s prime, Hafner was a fantasy workhorse but in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, that Project Donkey moniker took on a more unflattering nickname, seeing how injuries and flawed mechanics led to a seemingly insurmountable downturn in Hafner’s career. Thus far, Hafner’s shoulder has held up well and his health has translated into a teaser of power displays of years past. If Pronk is able to drive the ball the way he used to, Hafner could be a welcome bargain power source, as long as you can settle for a few off days so as not to wear out his shoulder. Hafner is still available in 45% of Yahoo leagues and is a recommended “wait-and-see” addition to any team.

Zach Duke: 2009 to date – 15.1 IP, 2 W, 9 K, 0.59 ERA, 0.85 WHIP

There must be something in the Three Rivers these days, if Paul Maholm’s brilliance through three starts is to be believed (too bad that mojo hasn’t extended on to Ian Snell). Likewise, Zach Duke has posted the kind of line that got many fantasy managers jumping on the Duke bandwagon after a 2005 showing only to disappoint greatly in subsequent years. Last week, I highlighted Paul Maholm and his fine mix of pitches translating to fantastic command and induced groundballs. Duke is somewhat of a similar pitcher on paper, who relies mainly on groundballs in lieu of sporting the stuff to make many bats whiff. By some accounts, Duke’s focus in the offseason was to build up his arm strength, with some help from a physical therapist. Last time out, Duke was impressive in a complete game shutout of an underwhelming Astros offense, and perhaps the next test lies in today’s home start against the Braves. Duke is aboard 44% of Yahoo league rosters, but don’t be surprised if a fine outing against the Braves merits an open spot in a number of leagues.

Johan Santana: 2009 to date – 19.2 IP, 2 W, 27 K, 0.46 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

If you were one of those fighting through a dilemma on taking either Johan Santana or Tim Lincecum with a second round draft pick, then three games in, Johan Santana has proven to be the stronger choice. The highlight of Johan’s season thus far was a 13 strikeout outing through seven innings against the Marlins, with the only blemish being his team’s poor defense to make him fall on the short end of a fantastic duel with Josh Johnson. Thus far, Santana’s strikeout rate is back up to scratch, which puts some relief to worries that his strikeout rate would be relatively sub-par for a second round selection. The elbow discomfort suffered early in the spring hasn’t been a factor and the Mets’ ace should keep chugging along.

Cold

Cole Hamels: 2009 to date – 9.2 IP, 0 W, 5 K, 11.17 ERA, 2.17 WHIP

The story couldn’t be any more different for Cole Hamels, who for the sake of this section, should be dubbed “Cold King Cole.” Hamels’ season debut in Colorado was nothing short of lackluster, as he was batted around for 11 hits in 3.2 innings of work, due to his fastball velocity settling in the mid-to-high 80s. The silver lining is that Hamels’ arm slot was still relatively intact and the second time around against the Padres, Hamels’ velocity was better, albeit it came at the cost of three home runs and a shot of earning his first win of the young season. Working on getting back to form will be key for Hamels and any panic should be unwarranted, barring any setbacks.

Prince Fielder: 2009 to date – 7/37 H/AB, 3 R, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB, .189 BA

It’s another slow April start for Prince Fielder, which could prompt many Fielder owners to send a care package of Omaha Steaks to Fielder’s home out of panic. There doesn’t seem to be anything too alarming to point out with Prince thus far. His strikeout rate is a bit high, but he’s also walking a good deal of the time and his flyball rate is through the roof (albeit at the expense of his line drive rate). Fielder was also robbed of a grand slam in last Sunday’s game against the Cubs, thanks to a fantastic Reed Johnson catch. Like most of the Brewers’ lineup, Fielder has been no exception to struggling with the rest of the Brew Crew, whose feast-or-famine nature has to be more disconcerting to Brewers’ fans than with fantasy owners. Likewise, expect Fielder to have a few good power surges the rest of the way.

Alex Rios: 2009 to date – 11/54 H/AB, 7 R, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB, .204 BA

The Blue Jays’ freight train of an offense left behind a key passenger at the station in Alex Rios, as he’s been in a marked slump as opposed to the likes of Scutaro, Hill, Adam Lind, and Vernon Wells. There isn’t too much to surmise here other than this stretch being more or less just a slump, but for what it’s worth, Rios’ strikeout count is a tad high (14 K in 54 AB), although he’s also been fairly unlucky, if a line drive rate under 30% off a small sample size can also be believed.

Rick Ankiel: 2009 to date – 7/40 H/AB, 4 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, .179 BA

Extreme hot and cold streaks should be the par for a hit-or-miss slugger like Rick Ankiel, considering his ten strikeouts in 40 at-bats so far this season. Ankiel also isn’t seeing those theoretical hitter’s pitches when hitting in front of Albert Pujols, seeing how he’s hit in the Cardinals’ two-hole just three times this year and has normally settled in the 5th-7th spots. There’s also the business of a perceived outfield logjam, with Ryan Ludwick, Colby Rasmus, and the resurgent Chris Duncan earning their share of at-bats. Ankiel can still figure to hit 20 to 25 home runs albeit at the cost of a sub-par average.

Chris Iannetta: 2009 to date – 1/21 H/AB, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .048 BA

Once a delightful post-hype sleeper-turned-breakout, Chris Iannetta was one of the better second-tier fantasy backstop options entering this year for his above-average power at a scarce position in quality and quantity. The only hit Iannetta has gotten so far this year was a solo shot and is currently in a horrid 1-for-21 skid. Iannetta didn’t figure to be a .290-300 type hitter anyway, more or less because of a high whiff rate. Like Ankiel, he figures to be a feast-or-famine masher, but with the added benefit that his stats are coming from the catcher position. Iannetta should still be deemed better than the average catcher and there shouldn’t be any panic over a sizable loss in playing time at this point.

Chien-Ming Wang: 2009 to date – 6 IP, 0 W, 2 K, 34.50 ERA, 4.83 WHIP

You’d be hard-pressed to find a starting pitcher with a more putrid line than Chien-Ming Wang, who has posted the kind of ratios that can take out any manager’s chances of making up ground in the pitching categories. Wang’s command seems out of whack so far, as he allowed six walks in the six innings he has pitched and has already given up two home runs in that span. It seems that Wang has been conceding more line drives and fastballs than usual and for a pitcher whose main purpose is to induce groundouts at the expense of strikeouts for manageable ratios, Wang has been falling well short in achieving that.

Randy Johnson: 2009 to date – 8.2 IP, 0 W, 12 K, 11.45 ERA, 1.82 WHIP

The first two go-rounds for Randy Johnson haven’t been too flattering, but look into those outings as more or less nothing but hiccups. Word is, RJ’s velocity has fallen a bit, but somehow that hasn’t deterred him from striking out 12 in 8.2 innings of work. Much like in the spring, I wouldn’t pay too much attention in ERA and WHIP, keeping more of a keen eye on strikeouts-to-walks ratios and of secondary importance, batted ball rates. RJ’s command was a bit off with three walks surrendered to the Dodgers, and while four home runs given up is a disconcerting stat, this future Hall-of-Famer is still a solid option as an ideal #4 fantasy starter.

Dustin Pedroia: 2009 to date – 11/47 H/AB, 8 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 SB, .234 BA

You weren’t likely to find any middle-of-the-road observer on Pedroia, given that there was a fine line between Pedroia apologists and naysayers, who either believed the reigning American League MVP is a legitimate second rounder or nothing more than a glorified David Eckstein. So far, Pedroia is off to a sluggish start, as he’s pounding a greater portion of groundballs than line drives. Pedroia’s line drive rate should pick back up and with it, his production.

David Ortiz: 2009 to date – 8/43 H/AB, 3 R, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, .186 BA

Perhaps more concerning than Dustin Pedroia’s early-season slumber is David Ortiz’s slump. Big Papi was likely a fourth-round pick in the majority of leagues as a high-risk, high-reward player, although I would contend with the notion that Ortiz’s reward isn’t quite as massive as one might deem it to be. It sounds a bit drastic to believe Ortiz succumbs to the kind of disappointing season Travis Hafner had in 2007, given that he still posted a relatively respectable slugging percentage with a wrist injury last season, and he has claimed that he’s swinging on a pain-free wrist. So far, Big Papi has slugged just one extra base hit in this opening span, which is something to keep in mind if you’re going to make a beeline for Ortiz in your league.

Buy low of the week:

Justin Verlander: 2009 to date – 16.0 IP, 0 W, 20 K, 7.88 ERA, 1.56 WHIP

If you have an owner that pays a bit too much attention to ERA and WHIP this early in the season and/or has had a traumatizing experience of owning Justin Verlander last year, Verlander could be a nice “buy low” target. If you take a deeper look into Verlander’s first three outings, he did not pitch as terribly as his lines would otherwise indicate. The great news is his strikeout rate is up to the point that he has averaged well over a strikeout per inning. Even in his better years, Verlander didn’t have a truly stellar K/9 mark, but what this shows is his stuff and mechanics are seemingly back up to scratch. The big thorn on the side with Verlander is he can’t escape the big inning. Case in point: Friday night’s loss to the Seattle Mariners. Verlander held the M’s down in four innings of shutout, no-hit ball. In just about a mirror image to the previous performance against Texas, Verlander gave up a few hits and a big inning was in store, as the Mariners put five runs on the board. It seems that the ability to cope from getting into and out of a jam is a work in progress with Verlander, but take away the big innings and the inroads Verlander has made to get back to the form are more noticeable.

Sell high of the week:

Heath Bell: 2009 to date – 6.2 IP, 0 W, 7 SV, 8 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP

First off, I think the notion of selling high is a bit narrow. When many managers think of the phrase “selling high”, they have some expectation that the production of the player in question will quite simply, fall off a cliff to a certain extent. Whenever I infer a “sell high,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should actively move that player. What it means is you should up that player’s perceived value when dealing him in a trade. I’ll cite that in my first sell high example of the year: Heath Bell, who can attest to the volatile nature of saves, by racking up six to begin 2009. Now, you’re likely to expect me to say that Bell should be dangled as trade bait, just because the Padres are an offensively anemic team who can’t possibly rack up a lot of wins, let alone give Bell the chance to save 40 wins. That’s the inherent funny nature with saves: while it’s true that a team that wins more often is likely to generate more save opportunities, the teams who are likely to win by three runs or less can also generate plenty of save opportunities. That said, if you’re in a H2H league where save situations really vary from week to week, you might want to think of being more active in shopping Bell around, but other than that, you should value Bell a bit higher than usual. Again, sell high doesn’t necessarily mean you should sell, but think of that certain player more highly, especially when you’re trading. For me, Heath Bell is now a top-ten closer, who can chip in with solid ratios and in between 30-35 saves and personally, I’d value him higher than Bobby Jenks or Kerry Wood at this point.

That about does it for me this week. Stay tuned for next Sunday’s Hot/Cold and until then, be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan, whose idea of a bicycle built for two is a turbocharged Hayabusa speed bike, with Eva Wyrwal riding on the backseat. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, a part-time fantasy football blogger (the game actually played with feet), and Chief Wikitect of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
 
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