StrategyApril 26, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 4: Don’t Wanna Be Your Greinke Wrench

By Ray Flores

The Cafe is such a unique place for fantasy sports in that all of our featured articles, rankings, blogs, etc. are built around our active forum community, and we’re blessed for getting a wide variety of constructive fantasy opinions from some great fantasy minds. It’s extra reason to open our articles for greater discussion on the Baseball Leftovers forum for many people to see and interact. Last week, we debuted the Hot/Cold Player Tracker thread, which isn’t just meant for discussion for the articles alone. Instead, the thread is meant to be interactive; it’s a convenient place for anyone to post and comment any observations of players who are on a hot streak or on a cold spell It allows for a one-stop thread to make and read some comments on certain players instead of just perusing through an individual thread devoted to one player. I encourage all of you to not only comment on this Hot/Cold column, but also for the other weekly features such as the Double Dipper, Monday Mail Call, and the other discussion threads devoted to their respective columns. Getting any comments or advice on our columns not only betters our writing and our focus, but also betters the quality for all readers.

One of the comments I received in the Hot/Cold thread came from a particular Zack Greinke skeptic who was surprised by my omission of not putting Zack Greinke down on the list after pitching through another nine scoreless innings to add to his scoreless streak dating back to last year. For whatever reason, I didn’t choose to highlight Greinke in last week’s column, but I guaranteed I’d do so this week and well, Greinke’s last start just adds another reason as to why Greinke belongs on the hot lists. One of the hot topics this past off-season has been the supposed groupthink on Zack Greinke getting more than his fair share of hype, to which some members thought wasn’t completely warranted. If you happen to dig through a number of Cafe league drafts, mock or real, Greinke was a seventh- or eighth-round pick, which was about several rounds ahead of his median draft position. For the meantime, the Hot/Cold thread has been transformed into another attempt at converting one of our Cafe brethren to the Zack Greinke fan club, but seemingly to no avail. If there’s an extra reason to chime in on the Hot/Cold thread to either keep the discussion back on track or to keep singing the praises (or for that matter, airing out the skepticism) of Zack Greinke, by all means, that thread is yours for the taking.

Hot

Zack Greinke – 2009 to date: 29.0 IP, 4 W, 36 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

As we near the end of April, it’s remarkable to point out that Zack Greinke is going toe to toe with Johan Santana as the best starting pitcher in the Majors today. Greinke’s career has had a few setbacks, including a bout with social anxiety disorder, but the only panic attack associated with Greinke is the panic that the opposing batters feel in dealing with the Royals ace’s plethora of plus-pitches. Greinke has won all four of his starts this season and in the process, has yet to surrender an earned run in 29 innings. The opposition hasn’t been stocked with any slouches in this four-game run as Greinke has notched complete game victories over a red-hot Texas Rangers team at Arlington of all places and a Detroit Tigers team that can slug with the best of them at any given time. The impressive thing with Grienke is not only his command, but also the strikeout rate. He had a career-high 8.14 K/9, but thus far, he’s averaging well over a strikeout an inning. The key has been that Greinke is throwing his curveball a bit more, which has plenty of movement like his fastball. There was plenty to be excited about with Greinke from the outset and in about every Cafe league draft (mock and real), Greinke was a seventh- or eighth-round selection, when his median draft position had him pegged to go about three or four rounds later. For those of you who bought into the Cafe “groupthink” hype of Greinke and took him a few rounds earlier than expected, so far the moderate gamble (if you want to call it that) has paid off in a big way.

John Danks – 2009 to date: 19.0 IP, 2 W, 16 K, 0.95 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

A much more undervalued pitcher than Greinke on draft day was John Danks, and in the eight league drafts I participated in there was quite a wide variance as to where Danks was drafted. By my rough estimate, Danks was drafted as high as the 12th round and as low as the 15th round in those leagues. Personally, I was able to nab Danks in the 14th round at the very corner of the 14th/15th round turn of a 14-teamer. So far, this unsung ace has posted sub-1.00 ratios and a healthy strikeout rate to boot. The important thing to take away from here is the addition of a cutter in Danks’ arsenal has made the difference in transitioning from a flyball-intensive pitcher into a hurler that can also induce his fair share of groundballs. Last year, the White Sox’s young ace posted a groundball rate under 43%, as opposed to a groundball rate under 35% in 2007, and based off a small sample in 2009, his groundball-to-flyball ratio is line with last season’s ratio. The addition of the cutter has also done wonders to Danks’ command, and from the looks of things, he’s ready to forge ahead with another milestone campaign.

Jarrod Washburn – 2009 to date: 21.0 IP, 3 W, 17 K, 1.71 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

One of the front-runners to be this year’s Cliff Lee is Seattle’s Jarrod Washburn, who has posted a rather immaculate line through his first three starts. Come to think of it, Washburn has somewhat similar characteristics to Lee: they are both considered flyball pitchers, and they both had that one terrific season that upped their fantasy relevance, only to be mired in ignominy with a few mediocre seasons. This is really where the similarities end with both Lee and Washburn. The former Angels ace hasn’t strayed away from his extreme flyball tendencies since that watershed 18-win season in 2002, as he’s yielded on average a flyball rate in the mid-40 percent range, which is where his flyball percentage lies so far this year. The hope is that if Washburn can keep the ball within the yard, the defensive improvements the M’s have made in landing Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez can increase the number of putouts in the outfield, as well as infield popouts in an already solid Mariners infield.

Kevin Millwood – 2009 to date: 30.0 IP, 1 W, 17 K, 2.10 ERA, 0.83 WHIP

Another early-season candidate to emerge out of relative obscurity is the Rangers’ Kevin Millwood, whose line provokes debates as to whether or not his good start is legitimate or otherwise. Millwood might be worth the speculative add, but keep in mind that his last few outings have been less than stellar, with four home runs surrendered in the last two games. His command isn’t quite as terrific as his WHIP might otherwise indicate. Millwood figures to give up his share of home runs with a relatively one-dimensional arsenal of pitches and won’t be helped much by the direct effect of pitching at Arlington most of the time.

Matt Kemp – 2009 to date: 22/66 H/AB, 13 R, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 5 SB, .333 BA

I couldn’t get by on a guilty conscience for another week without having to boast about the tremendous start of Matt Kemp, who I touted in the preseason’s outfield tiered rankings column as a bargain version of B.J. Upton or Ian Kinsler. Kemp has definitely lived up to the hype nearly three weeks in, as arguably the deadliest #7 hitter in the Majors, hitting for power and average while stealing a few bases on the side. Kemp has cooled off somewhat this week after his hitting streak was snapped and while he has struck out 18 times in 63 at-bats, it’s looking like another promising year for the Dodgers’ young outfielder. There’s still the small issue with where Kemp is hitting in the Dodgers’ order, and this Dodger fan would love to see Kemp hit fifth above Russell Martin and James Loney, both of whom have struggled greatly out of the gates.

Joey Votto – 2009 to date: 24/67 H/AB, 8 R, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, .358 BA

Another breakout candidate that has lived up to expectations is Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who definitely required a fifth/sixth round reach in the most contentious of league drafts as the new season beckoned. To some, Votto is a 30-35 home run candidate, although a groundball rate of 44% last season should be an indicator that his power potential is somewhat tempered. With the small sample size this year, Votto has more or less pounded the same groundball rate while his line drive rate has taken a healthy spike up. Given the fact he hits third in the Reds’ lineup and bats in half of his games at the bandbox called Great American Ballpark, Votto still has a realistic shot of realizing his 30 home run ceiling.

Raul Ibanez – 2009 to date: 21/64 H/AB, 14 R, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 2 SB, .328 BA

New environs and a new league haven’t thwarted that ageless wonder Raul Ibanez from swinging for the fences, as he’s already slugged five home runs in the brand new season. The 37-year-old has even chipped in a couple of swiped bags. Does the quick start inspire hopes of a repeat of Ibanez’s 2006 career year? It’s interesting to point out that, so far, Ibanez has an unusually high HR/FB rate to go with an unusually high groundball rate. Both batted ball rates should revert to normal, and the ever-reliable Ibanez should be a solid bet for 20 to 25 home runs and 100-plus RBI. Hopefully, you took my advice to heart in avoiding Magglio Ordonez in the earlier rounds to select a player within that round range who can contribute elsewhere while reasonably fetching Raul Ibanez a few rounds later.

Torii Hunter – 2009 to date: 19/60 H/AB, 15 R, 7 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, .317 BA

If you missed out on Ibanez, here’s another “boring” but otherwise steady outfielder who is off to a scorching start: the Halos’ Torii Hunter. Instead of Vladimir Guerrero providing the lumber in the Angels’ lineup, which is due to an early slump and a pectoral muscle strain, Torii Hunter has been swinging the hot bat, having slugged six home runs in the young campaign. Quite honestly, aside from the odd home run blip from Mike Napoli and the eight stolen bases from Bobby Abreu, Hunter has practically been the Angels’ offense. What you see is what you get out of Torii Hunter: a 20-25 home run hitter who can swipe double digit bags and do so with a decent average. It seems that every other year, Hunter does marginally better than expectations allow. The one thing to point out is last season’s RBI total was relatively low in his first year with the Angels. However, with the addition of Abreu, and if Figgins and Kendrick manage to stay healthy, the table can be set on a frequent basis for Hunter to get many RBI opportunities, and perhaps more so when Vladdy returns.

Kevin Youkilis – 2009 to date: 28/63 H/AB, 20 R, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, .444 BA

A fairly hot topic this past off-season was the legitimacy of Kevin Youkilis’ 2008 career year campaign and the merits of such a fantastic season warranting an early-round draft pick. It has been an emphatic yes from Youk, as he has hit for a gaudy average and five round trippers right out of the box. It doesn’t mean much so early this season, but Youkilis has hit two of his five home runs to date on the road this year. The small sample size means it is a bit premature to state that his home run total isn’t a byproduct of Fenway Park, namely the Green Monster. Perhaps in the vein of Raul Ibanez, Youkilis could have been a late bloomer of sorts, who doubled his power output at age 29 by cutting back on being too patient at the plate with a more aggressive approach. Given the dearth of reliable third base options, Youk is surely one of the better third base options once you stray away from the consensus top five (assuming A-Rod returns to form eventually) and is a safer bet than Chipper Jones to make an everyday impact. It’s within reason that the mighty Youk will approach 100 R/RBI, 20 HR, and a .300 average.

Victor Martinez – 2009 to date: 30/74 H/AB, 13 R, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, .405 BA

With a measurable risk in the top-quarter rounds of league drafts and the reward somewhat in dispute, Victor Martinez has shown himself to be on a full bill of health, if the torrid three-week opening stretch indicates anything. One thing that is definitely evident is that V-Mart is displaying the top three catcher form which had made him a power mainstay among fantasy backstops in past seasons. An injured elbow threw off his power last year, as he hit a measly two home runs in 266 at-bats. Splitting time at first base with his catching duties should keep Martinez as fresh as possible, and he’s in a prized spot in the Tribe’s lineup, featuring in the three-hole with Grady Sizemore leading off and a bounceback candidate in Travis Hafner hitting behind him.

Cold

Jimmy Rollins – 2009 to date: 11/68 H/AB, 7 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB, .162 BA

Not counting fantasy shortstop royalty Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes or the old guard in Michael Young, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Tejada, it has been rough goings for a number of shortstops considered to be the cream of the crop for their scarce position. It’s easy to single out Jimmy Rollins, given that he was a first round pick in the majority of leagues, and for the sake of talking about the big fish who haven’t been biting, Rollins is once again back in this space. Outside of a pinch-hit home run, Rollins has done little of anything, to put it bluntly. There isn’t too much to delve into Rollins’ current slump besides explaining that it’s just nothing but a bad slump, given that his troubles can’t be blamed on a few nicks, like last season. This is just the maddening nature with Rollins, as he’s pounding a glut of groundballs while his line drive rate is abnormally low. If you can get Rollins at a somewhat discounted price, you should go for it, although the more astute managers are aware that Rollins tends to be a stronger second-half finisher, especially in the month of September (where he has hit a lifetime .295 career average). In all likelihood, Rollins won’t come close to his 2007 NL MVP season, but the good possibility of 15-20 home runs and 40 stolen bases makes him worth pursuing or holding on to.

Brandon Phillips – 2009 to date: 9/56 H/AB, 7 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 SB, .161 BA

For a number of owners, an undervalued Brandon Phillips was a better proposition to produce than an inflated Dustin Pedroia, but so far, Phillips has been quiet with an equally horrific slump as Jimmy Rollins has experienced this April. Except for Votto, the Reds’ hitting has also labored in hitting for average, namely speaking, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion. The encouraging thing is Phillips has been getting on base with 11 walks and thus far, his batted ball rates are in line with the same rates as last year, rates which noted a slight regression from a 2007 career year.

Dan Uggla – 2009 to date: 13/61 H/AB, 9 R, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, .213 BA

After an excellent opening week, where he hit .323, 2 home runs, and 12 RBI, Dan Uggla has reverted to the famine in his feast-or-famine nature, picking up the ugly stick in registering only one hit in his last 25 at-bats prior to last Friday’s 1-for-2 showing with a three-run home run. Don’t let the frustrating nature of owning Uggla get to you, as he’s very much the Adam Dunn of second basemen, known for going on prolonged slumps and striking out to nearly no end. His power numbers remain otherwise consistent, carrying a 162-game average of 32 home runs, 110 runs, and 97 RBI. The only unknown with Uggla is where his average is likely to finish, having posted averages of .282, .245, and .260. There was a bit of luck involved in Uggla’s 2006 season (where he hit .282), but the .260 average seems palatable for a hit-or-miss slugger who is nonetheless a premier fantasy second baseman. Exercise the greatest of patience with Uggla, who is starting to heat up once again.

Mike Aviles – 2009 to date: 10/59 H/AB, 3 R, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, .169 BA

Now, here was a guy I personally tried to make it a point to avoid drafting in the area where he was usually going in this year’s drafts. Mike Aviles’ worth was tied into a high average, with the hopes that over a full season’s worth of at-bats, Aviles could hit 15 home runs and steal double-digit bases. Aviles doesn’t tend to strike out a great deal, given his past history in the minors and last year’s numbers, but he also has a high tendency for not taking a walk. So far, Aviles has managed just one walk and has pressed enough at the plate to whiff 14 times already. I wouldn’t necessarily drop him outright, but keep in mind that Mike Aviles doesn’t add a ton of value that an Orlando Cabrera or Aaron Hill could for a cheaper price, aside from dual 2B/SS eligibility in Yahoo leagues.

Lance Berkman – 2009 to date: 11/62 H/AB, 9 R, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, .177 BA

When you take away the four home runs “Fat Elvis” has slugged so far, Lance Berkman’s April line appears to be as traumatizing as his chilly second half last year, which seemed to seamlessly transition from an extremely hot start in the first couple of months of 2008. Streakiness is an attribute that Berkman can’t seem to shake, especially considering last season’s high flyball rate in the first half giving way to a sobering second-half groundball rate, which was just the inverse of how Berkman’s 2007 had gone. That said, Berkman is still shaking the rust of the biceps tendinitis he endured this spring, and while “Fat Elvis” won’t be matching paces with the likes of Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder, Berkman is still a good bet (albeit rather uninspiring) for a home run total of in between 30 to 35 dingers with the usual 100 R/RBI and .290-300 average.

Francisco Liriano – 2009 to date: 21.2 IP, 0 W, 17 K, 7.06 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

Francisco Liriano has begun right where he left off — from the beginning of last year, that is. Liriano’s command has been out-of-whack, giving away nine free passes in 21.2 innings of work, to go with three home runs surrendered. It seems that Liriano has tossed more fastballs while sacrificing his change-up and keeping his slider count relatively intact to last year’s rate (albeit this year’s slider percentage is up marginally) and for what it’s worth, all of his offerings are up a tick. Can Liriano rebound? It all depends on what your definition of “rebound” is, as it pertains to Liriano. He was a hard pitcher to project and after perusing through a few Cafe members’ projections on Liriano, they seemed a bit optimistic. By optimistic, we’re talking about an ERA in the low-to-mid 3s and a WHIP of 1.15. Other projections have Liriano hurling an ERA in the low 4s and a WHIP of 1.25-1.30. I’m going to side with the latter projection. In the best-case scenario, I see Liriano as a 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP pitcher with his strikeout rate predicated on how many innings he’s allowed to throw. Control tends to be a hit-or-miss facet with post-Tommy John pitchers within the first couple of years upon return, which makes flare-ups like the last time out against Boston not all too surprising. It’s likely we’re not going to see the return of the 2006 Liriano, given that his velocity isn’t up to the speed it was in 2006 nor is he given carte blanche to unleash that slider until he’s proven he can throw it a bit more rather comfortably, or if that developing change-up becomes a game changer for him. That said, Liriano isn’t the ideal #1 fantasy starter, but he can be tolerated for what he can reasonably do as a #2, with the upside of a #1.

Ricky Nolasco – 2009 to date: 21.0 IP, 1 W, 17 K, 6.86 ERA, 1.67 WHIP

Another promising young starter that has gotten off to a rough start is Ricky Nolasco, who hasn’t been as particularly efficient (six walks in 21 innings) as advertised thus far. The main culprit for this is Nolasco’s tendency to struggle against lefties. The two home runs Nolasco has given up, as well as the six free passes, have been mainly attributed to his historic and current struggles in handling lefties, who have a staggering .365 batting average to go with nine extra base hits in 52 at-bats. Nolasco’s Kryptonite against lefties figures to linger, but a high line drive rate figures to regress a bit, while his current FIP is a decent 3.80 to start the year.

Manny Parra – 2009 to date: 14.1 IP, 0 W, 11 K, 8.16 ERA, 1.74 WHIP

Much like Liriano, Manny Parra’s command has been lackluster to say the least, as he’s issued nine walks in 14.1 innings of work, and he’s only lasted roughly four innings each in two of his three outings this year. Command issues and pitch inefficiency haven’t been foreign to Parra, but his strikeout upside is still too good to drop off, as he can reasonably post 150 punch-outs to go with fairly decent ratios.

Fausto Carmona – 2009 to date: 22.0 IP, 1 W, 15 K, 7.36 ERA, 1.73 WHIP

After a terrible start to a season some claimed would be a rebound year, some managers have to be thinking Fausto Carmona sold his soul for a stellar 2007 campaign. The curious thing to note so far is even with a clean bill of health (or close to it), Carmona has given up a eye-popping five home runs, which is quite interesting for a hurler who has averaged a groundball rate in the mid-to-low 60s in his first two full seasons as a starter. Consequently, Carmona’s groundball rate is considerably lower (by a double-digit margin) than where it has been the last couple of years. While Carmona might not make for a mandatory free agent/waiver wire pickup at this point, it’s worth keeping an eye on his next few starts, to see if he can show better command (he’s given up 12 walks in 22 innings) and if he can refrain from throwing a few appetizing pitches.

Buy Low of the Week:

Adrian Beltre2009 to date: 12/70 H/AB, 8 R, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 2 SB, .171 BA

For those who are relatively new to the Cafe, Adrian Beltre is somewhat of a cult icon here, ever since one day three years ago, a particular poster, nicknamed him “Tru” and claimed that Beltre would immediately snap out of his funk because he’s paid his taxes. Back then, Beltre had a .189 batting average at the end of April, but eventually he turned things around that season. Flash forward to the present day and Beltre finds himself in a similar slump, something a Dodger fan had to grow accustomed to year after year before his 2004 contract year. For what it’s worth, “Tru” is a .259 lifetime first-half hitter but has had a tendency to make up for it in the second half (a .281 post-All Star Break hitter). Over the past three seasons, Beltre has averaged roughly 25 home runs a season, which isn’t exactly world-beating, but considering that 25 home runs is somewhat of an expected norm for how a third baseman should produce, Beltre is a rather solid slugger. Add into the mix that it’s Beltre’s contract year and he could feasibly exceed his three-year average by a marginal difference. The most seasoned of fantasy owners shouldn’t panic on Beltre, but for those who look at every play-by-play to see every Beltre groundout and think he’s chopped liver, make a bid for him.

Sell High of the Week:

Michael Young2009 to date: 20/70 H/AB, 14 R, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 2 SB, .286 BA

Michael Young’s hot start reminds those of his 2004 and 2005 campaigns, where he was a fairly good bet to hit between 20-25 home runs and have a .300-plus average. Over the last three years, Young’s home run total has been quite dismal, coming nowhere close to the low-to-mid 20s home run count, and last year was the first season his average dipped well below the .300 level in six seasons. So far, Young’s flyball rate is relatively pedestrian, but he’s also converting a high number of those flyballs into home runs. For what it’s worth, on the small sample it seems that Young has become a bit more aggressive in inducing line drives, while whiffing a bit more. Again, to sell high in my personal context is to value a certain player higher than your perception of his market value would otherwise be, but Young’s hot start presents an opportunity on a 3B/SS-eligible player who could be a great source for runs and RBI (as well as the possibility of double-digit stolen bases), even though his April power surge inflates his value more than it should.

That about does it for this week’s Hot/Cold. If you have any comments, thoughts, questions, concerns, and even some abuse for this week’s column, please check out the official Hot/Cold discussion thread in the Baseball Leftovers forum. Until then, happy baseball and remember, be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan, but don't be fooled by the obvious Foo Fighters reference, this guy is one mean metalhead. 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 head "Wicked Wikitect" of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
 
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