StrategyMay 3, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 5: The Cantu Man Can

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to another Hot/Cold, where we’re all going streaking every Sunday morning. Ever since I opened my Hot/Cold thread, as the Jose Mourinho puppet would say on Special 1 TV, you’ve been doing it to me with so many posts that my thread is so hot on Sunday and frigid every other day. That makes me Hot/Cold champion… why not? You know, for about five minutes, the Michael Young/Clint Barmes thread has gone a long way in reviving my innermost Jose Mourinho penchant for rotating my fantasy squad (I think in baseball, it’s called platooning).

Last week, I added Rickie Weeks off free agency as one of those “why not” additions to see if Weeks jerks around the prospect of a disappointing year and finally puts an Alfonso Soriano-lite season together, as some have hyped about. The sticky wicket here is my everyday second baseman is Dan Uggla, another average killer, and both my first base and utility spots are occupied by Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. My rationale is with a few stolen bases on the side, I could get a Brandon Phillips-type with double-digit stolen bases and 30 home run power (Alfonso Soriano minus the decent average, I guess). Now, I researched Uggla and Weeks’ splits and found out that neither have extremely polarizing splits which would just leave me with either Dan Uggla or Rickie Weeks (whoever I feel like sticking it out with from here on out on a daily basis), which makes my hybrid of Danny Weeks or Rickie Uggla a moot point ,now that I can’t avoid either one’s cold streak in squeezing out the best possible output out of my second base spot. I’m so bad at rotating.

Hot

Jorge Cantu – 2009 to date: 25/71 H/AB, 15 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB, .352 BA

You have to admit that unbridled optimism can be intoxicating, and Jorge Cantu is a fine example. The “can-do” man sat a few games due to a right-hand bruise, and the Marlins’ first baseman has responded with the number one overall week in the Yahoo game with five home runs, 16 RBI, and a .370 batting average. Going into the year, Cantu was a hard hitter to project, given his prolific 2005 and 2008 season sandwiching two dreadful years where he played himself out of a full-time gig. So far in 2009, his flyball rate is a few touches below his career-high flyball rate of 44.8% in 2008, at 42.1%. Another positive to take away from Cantu is his present strikeout rate is at its lowest since his 2005 breakout year, which can explain why Cantu has put the ball in play with excellent results. Cantu’s 3B eligibility is golden, and as I pointed out in my thoughts about Adrian Beltre last week, you can do no worse than a slugger at the hot corner who can post 20 to 25 home runs within reason. Given that he was drafted a few rounds after the likes of Garrett Atkins and Ryan Zimmerman this year, Cantu figures to be a nice bargain. With that said, it might not be a bad idea to shop Cantu around; currently on the Draft, Trade, Keepers, Waivers forum, Cantu was packaged in offers to bring in the likes of Dan Haren and Justin Morneau as well as Jason Bay.

Mike Lowell – 2009 to date: 29/93 H/AB, 14 R, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, .312 BA

Seemingly on a full bill of health, Mike Lowell has been an RBI machine, having tacked on a .344 batting average with runners in scoring position, which also includes two of his four home runs to date. Lowell’s fine start shouldn’t surprise many, as he’s had two 20 home run seasons under his belt hitting in a Red Sox lineup that is consistently one of the tops in on-base percentage. A return to a .320 average and 120 RBI isn’t likely, nor is a 100 run total, seeing how Lowell is normally hitting seventh in the Red Sox order, and there’s the idea that Lowell is a tad on the injury-prone side. Even if his current value is a bit inflated, that shouldn’t undermine Lowell’s usefulness as a viable corner infielder in deeper leagues and/or on deeper rosters.

Dexter Fowler – 2009 to date: 19/67 H/AB, 12 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 9 SB, .284 BA

There are two faces that come to mind whenever I hear the name “Fowler”: one of them is flash-in-the-pan WWE on-screen personality (circa mid-1990’s) turned infomercial pitchman Jumpin’ Joe Fowler and former Liverpool spice boy and Anfield Kop “god”, Robbie Fowler. Another Fowler stepped into the rarefied air of famous (or near-famous) Fowlers and that’s Dexter Fowler, who will be most recently remembered for stealing five bases from the speed-susceptible Padres battery of Chris R. Young and Nick Hundley. It is Dexter Fowler’s bat and blazing speed at the Rockies’ leadoff spot which has kept him off the pine for everyday playing time. The Rox’ rookie centerfielder figures to be a work in progress considering he strikes out a good deal (currently whiffing 21% of the time) and he generally isn’t the most efficient base stealer, keeping in mind his minor league SB success rates. Nonetheless, Fowler should be a mandatory pickup in deeper leagues (he’s currently owned in just 42% of Yahoo leagues) for a possible cheap source of stolen bases that can hit for a bit of power on the side.

Adam LaRoche – 2009 to date: 24/84 H/AB, 14 R, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB, .286 BA

A .280-plus average isn’t much to write home about — unless you’re Adam Laroche, who has a lifetime first-half batting average of .254, including typically hovering around the Mendoza Line in the first month of the season. Not only has the elder LaRoche hit for a decent average, but he’s also provided the lumber, slugging five home runs. Knowing Adam LaRoche’s penchant for rising to the occasion in the second half, a fine start could be the build-up to a season closer to his 2006 breakout contract-year campaign and for what it’s worth, at only 29 and in a contract-year situation, the chances of him coming close to or even repeating his 2006 line are within reason.

Russell Branyan – 2009 to date: 20/60 H/AB, 15 R, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, .333 BA

Digging deeper than Adam LaRoche, another potential bargain-basement value at first base could be Seattle’s Russell Branyan, who has responded well with yet another change in scenery, but with the circumstances being much different as a full-time first baseman gig figures to be Branyan’s to keep. On platoon and pinch-hit duty, Branyan has proven that he has power to be reckoned with and last season as a Milwaukee Brewer, he mashed a dozen home runs in 132 at-bats. A strong spring training put together with a solid April puts him in line as practically the second coming of Richie Sexson in the Northwest: far from stellar but serviceable, cheap power production nonetheless. Branyan warrants watch-list material but isn’t an absolute must-have in shallower leagues and more likely than not, he won’t be.

Albert Pujols – 2009 to date: 31/87 H/AB, 25 R, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 4 SB, .356 BA

At the other end of the first base spectrum is the undisputed king of the position in Albert Pujols and his terrific month-plus tear can no longer go unnoticed in the hot list. As a Hanley Ramirez owner myself, I wouldn’t be ruing taking Hanley over Pujols with the first overall pick just yet, but he’s did his best Hanley impression in swiping a few bags on top of the nine home runs and gaudy .356 average he’s posted to date. There isn’t much to be said about Pujols that needs to be said anyway, aside from the observation he isn’t half-bad.

Wandy Rodriguez – 2009 to date: 32.0 IP, 2 W, 27 K, 1.69 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Known for having a split personality (as in a home/away split), Wandy Rodriguez has bucked the bad away splits in his first couple of outings for an away ERA of 2.77, including his most recent outing where Wandy yielded just one run in seven innings against the Cincinnati Reds. Two games won’t be enough to dispel the perception of Wandy being relegated to just a commendable fantasy starter in his home outings, given his career away ERA of 5.48. The encouraging thing is Wandy has been stellar at home over the past two seasons, notching an ERA just below 3.00 in each of them, and a decrease of about two earned runs off his ERA from 2007 to 2008 is a step in the right direction. Wandy is currently yielding a few too many free passes this year, but if he can keep his command in check as well as improve his away splits another notch, he should be a solid value.

Chris Volstad – 2009 to date: 30.1 IP, 2 W, 27 K, 2.67 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

Another late-round pitcher proving to be a diamond in the rough thus far is Chris Volstad, who through 30+ innings has posted a pleasantly surprising K/9 of 8.01 to go with a WHIP of a trace under the 1.00 mark. Fair to say, this is just a small sample and a few corrections could be headed Volstad’s way. Like Wandy Rodriguez, his control isn’t quite as impressive as it looks on paper, considering a generous walk rate to date (12 BB in 30.1 IP). All of Volstad’s offerings haven’t appeared to increase in velocity by a marked margin and the only noticeable changes are Volstad tossing that changeup more and his outside swing percentage increasing by nearly five percent. A K/9 in the eights is unsustainable, and it should actually be a surprise if he posts a K/9 mark in the sevens. On top of that, Volstad’s rather svelte ERA hides a FIP of 4.84, which should indicate he’s not as good as his line otherwise states. Volstad makes for a serviceable back-end fantasy starter, but this start shouldn’t be interpreted as an ascension to the next tier of starting pitchers just yet.

Felix Hernandez – 2009 to date: 34.0 IP, 4 W, 36 K, 2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

As stated on the Cafe, the real test for Felix Hernandez is to get over the May hurdle, where the Mariners’ young ace tends to falter to massive proportions, as indicated by a lifetime 5.61 career ERA in May. For what it’s worth, King Felix is off to another excellent start, displaying better control as well as a strikeout rate of a little over a batter an inning, while getting the run support to boot. A few things that are worth noting are Felix’s groundball rate continuing to be in the low 50s and his changeup gaining nearly two miles per hour while his fastball velocity has remained the same. The latter point has to be of some concern heading into May and a glimpse of what might be this month will be seen in today’s slated home start against Oakland.

Dan Haren – 2009 to date: 43.0 IP, 3 W, 47 K, 1.47 ERA, 0.74 WHIP

Put Dan Haren’s reputation for floundering in the second half aside and it’s another brilliant opening stretch for Haren, as noted by his impeccable ratios and strikeout rate over a batter an inning, thanks to the incorporation of his cutter over the last couple of seasons. Haren’s pitching efficiency is also a sight to behold, having failed to hurl 100 pitches or over just once (in a pinch-hit situation that Haren would deem to be an inning or two prematurely), and more recently, he tossed a 111-pitch complete game win over the Cubs.

Cold

B.J. Upton – 2009 to date: 12/65 H/AB, 11 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 6 SB, .185 BA

After resting a surgically-repaired shoulder for almost a couple of weeks to begin the season, B.J. Upton has been ice cold, with the six stolen bases being the only highlight to Upton’s line thus far. He is struggling, with an average well below the Mendoza Line, and has managed just three doubles. There was some risk attached to taking Upton with a high-second round pick, which ties into the prospect of Upton’s power bouncing back to the tune of 20 to 25 home runs. So far, Upton’s groundball and flyball rates are in line with last year’s rates, which had him slugging a rather meager nine home runs, but it’s reasonable that he’s just rounding into game form again. Upton is surely worth trading for.

Matt Holliday – 2009 to date: 20/80 H/AB, 7 R, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB, .250 BA

It took the final day of April for Matt Holliday to club his first home run of the young season, capping off a dreadful April where the A’s prized new addition hit for a sub-par .240 batting average and had just five extra base hits aside from the first dinger. Most fantasy managers believed Holliday settling in to a far more hitter-oppressive park in Oakland would be difficult to overcome and thus far, Holliday has just a scant .222 average with no home runs, although all four doubles and the sole triple were clubbed at McAfee Coliseum. Back-to-back games with a home run could spur on managerial confidence that was otherwise lacking, but this is still considered to be a transition year to a new park and a new league. Even if Holliday winds up being no better than say, Nick Markakis, by season’s end, he’s worth going after, even if the window to buy low on him could be shrinking with a few more encouraging outings. Remember that the purpose of trading is to get the best player from this day forward and if you look at it that way, it’s still reasonable to believe Holliday pads on 25 home runs and a .300-310 average when it’s all said than done.

Geovany Soto – 2009 to date: 8/53 H/AB, 3 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .143 BA

More than a month in, Geovany Soto is mired in something of a sophomore jinx, as he’s garnered just one extra base hit and has struck out in nearly a quarter of his at-bats (about the same strikeout ratio as last year, for what it’s worth). Soto’s not quite a .285 batter given his strikeout rate, but his power remains legitimate. Like B.J. Upton, he’s still rounding out the effect of a knock to the shoulder this spring and consequently, his line drive and flyball rates should rise. Surely, Soto is worth acquiring for less than originally advertised.

Derrek Lee – 2009 to date: 17/82 H/AB, 10 R, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .207 BA

The forecast for another Cubbie, Derrek Lee, isn’t quite as optimistic as the outlook on Soto, with some fantasy managers and pundits alike going as far as to say Lee will be nothing more than an overglorified James Loney, given that Lee is no longer a shoo-in for 25 home runs year in and year out. The interesting thing is Lee has hit flyballs in nearly more than half of his at-bats this year (51.5%), but only 2.9% are being converted to home runs which in short, might indicate that he doesn’t quite have the power to drive out those flies for home runs. While Lee’s name value is relatively strong, he’s more likely to hit in between 20 to 25 home runs, but his average should be boosted once his abnormally low line drive rate bounces back.

Chris B. Young – 2009 to date: 15/85 H/AB, 11 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB, .176 BA

It’s a continuation of last year’s up-and-down season for Chris B. Young, as he has slumped to hitting just .176 and is proving every bit the frustrating headache he was to own in 2008. The comparison to Mike Cameron that gets thrown around “CBY” is an apt one, as his strikeout tendencies keep him from maintaining a high average and keep his production as noted with pronounced peaks and valleys; consider this to be one of those deep valleys.

Josh Beckett – 2009 to date: 28.2 IP, 2 W, 31 K, 7.22 ERA, 1.81 WHIP

Since mastering the Tampa Bay Rays in his opening start, it’s all gone downhill for Beckett as his ERA has skyrocketed, due to two shellackings by the aforementioned Rays and the arch-rival Yankees. Most shocking of all is how suspect Beckett’s command has been, with 16 free passes handed out. Even in his first start, Beckett still allowed three walks in that win. Beckett’s track record should be good enough to make his first five starts a one-off eventually.

Jon Lester – 2009 to date: 30.0 IP, 1 W, 33 K, 5.40 ERA, 1.53 WHIP

Beckett’s teammate, Jon Lester, has also struggled some, if his ERA and WHIP tell the entire story. Lester only allowed 14 home runs last season, but in 30 innings, he has already surrendered five home runs, which might be correlated with a spike in usage of his curveball. Lester is no stranger to the home run ball; prior to 2008, he yielded eight home runs in 81.1 innings in 2006 and the following year, he surrendered 10 home runs in 63 innings. There is reason to be bullish on Lester, as his fastball velocity continues to remain at the level it was during his second half and it has shown with a 9.90 K/9. Inducing more grounders will be key to avoiding the gopher ball tendencies, but it seems like it’s more of a matter of pitch selection than it is a simple regression. Now is an opportune time to target Jon Lester.

Scott Baker – 2009 to date: 14.2 IP, 0 W, 12 K, 9.82 ERA, 1.70 WHIP

Still shaking off the effects of a minor shoulder injury, Scott Baker has been rusty out of the gates, with a gastronomically high ERA and WHIP made worse by seven home runs allowed in those 14.2 innings of work. Baker by nature is a flyball pitcher and he’ll give up his share of home runs, but the good news is his walk rate doesn’t exactly scream out as terrible. It seems that once Baker’s timing improves, he should eventually lower those horrid ratios.

Brad Lidge – 2009 to date: 9.2 IP, 0 W, 4 SV, 12 K, 6.52 ERA, 1.86 WHIP

2008 was just about an immaculate season for Lights Out Lidge that ended in saving the final three outs to the Phillies’ World Series title. This year, Lidge has been far from untouchable, as aside from the dozen strikeouts and four saves, Lidge’s command has been off-kilter. He’s also yielding more than his fair share of runs. This can all be attributed to a bothersome knee, which affects his balance and the build-up to his delivery. Sitting out a few games might do Lidge some good, to keep such irritation from aggravating into a bigger problem entirely, and a bounce back should be expected.

Buy Low of the Week:

Jhonny Peralta2009 to date: 18/86 H/AB, 11 R, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, .209 BA

As I pointed out last week, it has been a brutal opening stretch for a slew of top-tier shortstops, from the likes of Jimmy Rollins and Troy Tulowitzki to Stephen Drew and J.J. Hardy. You really could put any of those shortstops in this space as this week’s buy low, but I believe Jhonny Peralta might be the most attainable buy low option, just knowing he may have been somewhat undervalued in a number of drafts this season. A slow start isn’t atypical of Peralta, considering his line as a .226 lifetime hitter in April. The one concern with Peralta is his strikeout rate, as he has a penchant to strike out too much. He’s off to a predictable start in that department, whiffing 28 times in his first 86 at-bats. Peralta’s normally maddening early-season inconsistency coupled with his high strikeout rate are two reasons why you could convince another owner into forking up Peralta for less than usually expected. In return, you should be getting a mid-tier shortstop who can hit in the .270’s and slug 20 to 25 home runs.

Sell High of the Week:

Hank Blalock2009 to date: 22/82 H/AB, 14 R, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 0 SB, .268 BA

Putting Hank Blalock in the Rangers’ designated hitter spot was a no-brainer move on Ron Washington’s part to get the most out of the injury-plagued corner infielder. Thus far, the DH move has paid fantastic dividends, as Blalock has mashed seven home runs early on, but he’s also doing so at a 56.5% flyball clip, which should settle down some. Knowing Blalock’s tendencies of not hitting well against lefties (.230 BA lifetime) and away from Arlington (.244 BA, .705 OPS), Blalock’s home run potential should be held in check. DHing should give Blalock a new lease on life, although the fact he hasn’t played close to a full slate of games since 2006 raises room for uncertainty as to if he can stay healthy for much of the season. A nice surge should beget a nice little boost in Blalock’s value, and perhaps it won’t hurt to make him a good bargaining chip when you’re making a trade package.

Well, that’s a wrap for me. Check back next Sunday as we highlight some more hot and cold streaks and as always, chime in on all comments, concerns, thoughts, questions, and abuse here in the official Hot/Cold discussion thread. Until then, be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan, who is thankful it's Joe Torre managing his beloved Dodgers because if Jose Mourinho had his way, it would be Jose rotating, erm, platooning Juan Pierre and Matt Kemp on a daily basis. Then again, Mourinho wouldn't have Kemp hit 7th. 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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