StrategyMay 10, 2009

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Hot/Cold Week 6: Blue is Not My Colour

By Ray Flores

It was a shellshocking week in Mannywood, but maybe I was the only Dodger fan in town that shrugged off Manny Ramirez’s positive drug test and sang “Que Sera Sera” to his 50-game suspension, which after yesterday is technically reduced to 47 games. Instead of ranting about the grand scheme of upholding the sanctity of the Hall of Fame or getting embroiled about a steroids debate, which would inevitably lead to a discussion about Barry Bonds, I spent my time talking to anyone and everyone about a sporting controversy half a world away. At this time of year, most of my sporting attention is focused on either the NBA playoffs (I only watch it if my beloved Lakers are in it, to be honest) or the game that’s at a fever pitch in May across the pond, football (as in that game actually played by feet; I think they call it soccer on this side of the water).

So a friend of mine, who’s quite an ardent Giants fan, tried to get under my skin I reckon, but instead, all I responded with was a Youtube clip of a hip-hop remix of Didier Drogba cursing on live television and Andres Iniesta’s unbelievable stoppage-time goal in Catalan radio commentary where the play-by-play announcer kept cursing on live air, over and over, to the effect of, “Iniesta is a [bleepin'] genius!!!” My poor friend was confused and I said, “Didn’t watch Wednesday’s Chelsea-Barcelona game?” To that, he just shook his head and hasn’t pestered me since. Since Wednesday, I’ve been calling all of my relatives back home in Barcelona that I was glad that the team we’ve born into supporting by our Catalan roots is back in the UEFA Champions League final. At the same time, I’ve extended my condolences to the true blue Chelsea supporters I know to say they were the far superior team that night and that had there been a better referee, they would’ve gotten a few penalty calls go their way. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe the feeling about Barcelona facing my adopted favorite team, Manchester United, in the final about three weeks from now, and I’m supporting United to make a successful defense of the European Cup.

So, should I be feeling blue about Manny being suspended? At least from where I sit, blue isn’t my colour and I hope my fantasy players don’t take on an ice-cold blue complexion to reflect that. With that, let’s take a look at some players who are on a hot streak and some who are adopting blue as their colour…


Johnny Cueto – 2009 to date: 39.2 IP, 3 W, 32 K, 1.59 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

A popular post-hype sleeper going into this year and regarded by some as a better draft investment than fellow Reds teammate Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto has enjoyed a prolific month-plus opening stretch in his sophomore season, posting a rather microscopic 1.59 ERA. Of greater surprise is the fact Cueto has only allowed two home runs in 39.2 innings of work, which has bucked Cueto’s reputation as a flyball-intensive pitcher that will throw his fair share of moonshots (Cueto gave up 29 HR in 2008). Another pleasant bonus from the 23-year-old pitcher is his seemingly improved command from last season, giving up just 11 free passes so far, giving up on average less than a full walk per game from last season. Cueto’s flyball rate is actually greater than it was in his rookie campaign, but perhaps this is a sign that he’s taking on the same dimension Cole Hamels developed in working around his flyball tendencies and using it as an advantage to get a few more putouts. As a matter of fact, Cueto has thrown a higher percentage of flyballs while cutting down on that backdoor slider, which was a predictable offering for hitters on the second time around to drive. Based on Cueto’s track record, one would imagine his flyball and HR/FB rates to surge closer to normal, but his prior experience in the minor leagues also indicates that he is capable of keeping walks to a tolerable minimum.

Justin Verlander – 2009 to date: 44.0 IP, 3 W, 56 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

A few weeks ago, I highlighted Justin Verlander in my debut feature of weekly buy low opportunities and since a rough outing against the Angels, Verlander has been just about immaculate in his last three outings, allowing just one run in his last 23 innings, which includes last Friday’s complete game shutout of the Cleveland Indians. The thing to gawk over in assessing Verlander’s line is the 56 strikeouts in 44 innings of work, for a K/9 of 11.45, well over his career-high mark of 8.17 in 2007. I won’t articulate much from what I said about Verlander a few weeks ago, but his fastball has been touching the high-90s and averaging in the mid-90s, about a few MPH from where it was last season, a great indicator that Verlander’s gaudy strikeout rate isn’t all smoke and mirrors. What stands out to me, at least from my personal observation, is he has avoided the big innings which have cost him dearly in his first few outings. The three stellar performances for Verlander could be a step in the right direction in showing an improvement in keeping his poise and command. Kudos to you who drafted him in the middle rounds this year or if you happened to acquire him in your leagues.

Jered Weaver – 2009 to date: 40.2 IP, 3 W, 31 K, 2.66 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

I also touted Jered Weaver as an undervalued target heading into this season and thus far, Kid Weaver has been rather solid. On paper, he’s honestly been better than advertised. Outside of two relatively shaky road outings against the Mariners and Yankees, the younger Weaver has been splendid in his first four home games, which includes a complete game, three-hit win against the Blue Jays the last time out. Weaver has been especially stingy in allowing free passes, with just nine walks in 40.2 innings. There’s a relatively minor cause to be concerned with Weaver, however, as he has posted an alarming 53% flyball rate, which was in line with his career-high flyball rate in 2006, and his FIP of 4.32 indicates Weaver could be a tad lucky. Keeping baserunners off the basepaths as frequently as possible figures to be an important task for the 26-year-old hurler, considering he has surrendered six home runs to date. That said, the inroads Weaver has made in command is encouraging and the reasonable projection for an ERA in the high 3s to low 4s to go with 150 strikeouts is well within grasp, barring any setbacks.

Mark Buehrle – 2009 to date: 38.0 IP, 5 W, 24 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Going relatively unnoticed to the likes of Cueto, Verlander, and Weaver is White Sox stalwart ace Mark Buehrle, who has gone unbeaten through six starts this year (five of them turning into wins) and hurled some fairly svelte ratios of his own. Normally, it’s difficult to gauge Buehrle’s value and predicted production, but keep in mind, Buehrle has posted an ERA under 4 in four of his five previous campaigns, with the odd year being a 2006 season where he pitched a trace under a 5.00 ERA and surrendered 36 home runs. Buehrle is not a power pitcher and for what it’s worth, he hasn’t thrown much of his fastball in favor of his cutter to regain an edge in movement. What is known is his 4.05 FIP should indicate that his ERA should normalize and so should his WHIP, as his 2005 career year figures to be an outlier where he posted a 1.18 WHIP. The last three years of Buehrle’s WHIP have been wildly inconsistent and he has done no worse than a 1.26 WHIP in those three seasons.

Frank Francisco – 2009 to date: 14.2 IP, 1 W, 9 SV, 13 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP

Likely considered as a last-ditch bargain closer in a number of league drafts, Frank Francisco has been a diamond in the rough, although the savviest of fantasy owners knew could get a massive steal for saves. As a setup man, Francisco was the lone Ranger reliever that was a steady influence in the Texas bullpen, putting up a 3.13 ERA and striking out 83 batters in 63.1 innings in 2008. So far, Francisco’s scoreless inning streak has passed over into 2009, as the Rangers’ closer has yet to yield a run in 14.2 innings, prolonging the streak to 25.2 innings. Francisco’s flyball tendencies might scream as a sell-high opportunity, but he’s also baiting more batters into swinging outside of the zone thus far this year, which is key for a reliever with solid heat to achieve.

Jason Bartlett – 2009 to date: 39/111 H/AB, 18 R, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 6 SB, .351 BA

He was likely just an early-season stand-in fantasy shortstop in riding out the cold spells of Stephen Drew, Troy Tulowitzki, and J.J. Hardy, but Jason Bartlett has been a pleasant surprise, already just one home run away from matching his career-high home run total and in so doing, has out-slugged Rays teammate B.J. Upton in home runs. Bartlett has also flashed some speed on the basepaths in swiping six bags. While a double-digit home run total remains as something of a stretch for Bartlett, he has hit an unusually high amount of line drives (29.7%) and that should regress some. However, in Joe Maddon’s penchant for aggressive base stealing, Bartlett should be a good bet for 20 stolen bases. You’re not likely to squeeze more value out of Bartlett than you’d usually expect, but it might not hurt to throw him in a few trade packages to gauge some interest before it all goes somewhat pear-shaped.

Justin Upton – 2009 to date: 27/93 H/AB, 16 R, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, .290 BA

Maddening feast-or-famine inconsistency has been the Diamondbacks’ calling card for a while now and Justin Upton’s season has just been a microcosm of that trend. For much of April, the younger Upton labored until his first home run against the Giants propelled his average to a still-paltry .190, but it proved to be the spark to a torrid late-April/early-May run where “J-Up” slugged six home runs in total and upped his average to a very respectable level with a .373 BA spurt in his last 51 at-bats. Strikeouts remain to be a problem with “J-Up” as he’s struck out in all but seven games this season, but in light of the D-Backs’ collective woes at the plate, Upton has been a bright spot so far. It’s only natural that the 21-year-old wunderkind could have some bumps in the road, but his raw power is surely legitimate and should be worth exercising patience on.

Nick Markakis – 2009 to date: 42/119 H/AB, 33 R, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 1 SB, .353 BA

Cementing himself as an elite outfielder, Nick Markakis is off to an excellent start this year in his frequency to get on base and hit for average. His flyball percentage took a step back last year, but “Nick the Stick” is on pace to rebound to his career-high 2007 flyball rate, which can bode well for his chances to hit 25 to 30 home runs. The only thing to nitpick with the usually steady Markakis is the fact he’s only attempted to steal twice all year, but with his on-base percentage trending upward, the better his chances are of making it three straight seasons with double-digit stolen bases.

Carl Crawford – 2009 to date: 43/130 H/AB, 24 R, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 21 SB, .331 BA

One would expect Jose Reyes or even Jacoby Ellsbury to be running away with the majors’ lead in stolen bases, but at somewhat of a surprise, it is Carl Crawford being the very first to cross the 20 SB plateau in early May, punctuated in the feat of tying Rickey Henderson’s record for most stolen bases in a game with six steals. On a clear full bill of health, it seems that Crawford could smash the realistic goal of 35 to 40 stolen bases for the season, as he has been thriving in the Rays’ #2 spot. Crawford hit his first home run of the season this past week and while his groundball-to-flyball rate doesn’t seem too favorable for him to hit more than 15 home runs, “Crawdaddy” figures to be a top base stealer who can get on base often, score more than his fair share of runs, and if B.J. Upton warms up a bit, Crawford figures to plate his share of RBI as well.

Carlos Beltran – 2009 to date: 42/111 H/AB, 19 R, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 3 SB, .378 BA

It has been a relatively quiet .378 batting average Carlos Beltran has posted to date, but the floodgates have opened as Beltran clobbered four home runs this past week, which puts some peace of mind to any worries in a perceived decline in power. For what it’s worth, Beltran’s flyball rate is about in line with where it was last year, which of course regressed in a bad way from where it was in 2006 and 2007 (in the mid-40 percent range), but he’s also pounding more line drives as well. One of the chief concerns going into this year is how Beltran would respond to hitting half of the year in what’s believed to be an even more pitcher-friendly park than Shea Stadium, where Beltran has struggled mightily in his career. Once again, Beltran’s away splits prove to be more favorable than at the new Citi Field, but by the same token, it’s still quite early to tell if Beltran would fare for the better or for the worse in the Mets’ new digs. Beltran has in fact hit two of his six home runs at Citi Field and has bumped up his average to .300 over his initial 60 at-bats.


Travis Snider – 2009 to date: 22/88 H/AB, 12 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 1 SB, .250 BA

Consider this as merely growing pains for the Jays’ 21-year-old uber-prospect, as Travis Snider’s average and production have inevitably regressed from the more than decent pace his production was initially. Snider’s tendency to struggle against lefties will keep Snider on the bench against lefties temporarily and because of it, Snider should be considered mainly just for deeper leagues.

Jason Giambi – 2009 to date: 20/92 H/AB, 17 R, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .217 BA

Just like the other A’s, Jason Giambi has struggled for some consistency in his second tour with Oakland and outside of a two-home run game against Toronto yesterday, Giambi has had to shake off the customary nagging injuries and an extra basehit drought. Giambi’s tendency to be fooled into swinging unfavorable pitches figures to keep his average relatively low and even if he’s shifted back to a more pitcher-friendly Oakland, he has some decent pop to make him a bargain source of power in AL-only or deeper leagues.

Garrett Atkins – 2009 to date: 22/101 H/AB, 12 R, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .218 BA

A poor start for Garrett Atkins has raised concern, as the decline in his OPS and ISO since 2006 could be indicating a possible trend. Atkins’ slump can’t be attributed to his reputation of hitting well at home and poorly on the road, as he’s flirting with the Mendoza Line home and away thus far. The only thing to circle is Atkins’ putrid line drive rate of 12.8%, which is about 10% lower than his career average. Even if Atkins’ power potential should be tempered, expect that line drive anomaly to be corrected.

Kelly Johnson – 2009 to date: 20/87 H/AB, 12 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, .230 BA

Some were quick to bundle Kelly Johnson in the same sentence of Jose Lopez as a less-overhyped Howie Kendrick and thus far, the lack of hype with regards to Johnson is well warranted given the slow start average-wise. Johnson made marginal progress in getting his plate discipline up to scratch, as his walk rate has bumped up a bit while his strikeout rate on a relatively small sample is lower than it had been in the last couple of seasons. What hasn’t really changed is a fairly high percentage of balls swung at outside of the strike zone. Aside from the spike in flyball rate and consequent decline in line drive rates, there isn’t a telling trend to see in Johnson’s batted ball rates, except for a .239 BABIP that should take a bounce upward.

Magglio Ordonez – 2009 to date: 24/105 H/AB, 10 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB, .229 BA

Considered a safe high-round draft pick, Magglio Ordonez’s combination of a slow start and a tempered upside have made Maggs an underwhelming proposition thus far. Both Ordonez’s strikeout and groundball rates are uncharacteristically high, both of which seem bound to regress. No longer the imposing 30 home run threat he once was, Ordonez’s value tends to tilt towards the prospect of a .300-plus average and a 100-plus RBI total.

Jim Thome – 2009 to date: 16/80 H/AB, 14 R, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB, .200 BA

While it seems Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds will be the front-runners in vying for the majors’ strikeout crown, the venerable veteran Jim Thome has had something of a strikeout problem, whiffing 28 times in 73 at-bats en route to a Mendoza Line average. Thome’s penchant to swing outside of the strike zone has steadily spiked up the last couple of seasons and last year, he hit a career-low .245 batting average over close to a full season’s worth of at-bats. Thome has the pop to hit 30 home runs but it seems that the droughts and spurts are the order of the day with the aging slugger.

Carlos Quentin – 2009 to date: 26/106 H/AB, 18 R, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 1 SB, .245 BA

Cooling off from a torrid April home run binge is Jim Thome’s teammate Carlos Quentin, who hasn’t clubbed a home run in May and is 14-for-67 since April 19. There isn’t too much to look into this slump, but of course, the curiosity is still there to see if he can come close to the MVP-like pace when it comes to his power production. What is known is Quentin’s capability to hit home runs in bunches, much like his prolific April, and a bit of a slowdown might open the opportunity to acquire Quentin for reasonable market value instead of trading for him while his value is through the roof.

A.J. Burnett – 2009 to date: 37.2 IP, 2 W, 33 K, 5.26 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

It has been an uneven beginning in the Bronx for the Yankees’ new #2 starter A.J. Burnett, although his stat line on paper has been mainly influenced by two lackluster starts. In a no-decision against Cleveland, Burnett yielded a whopping seven walks in 6.1 innings and in a matinee game against Boston, Burnett gave up eight runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings of work. Take away that couple of outings and Burnett has posted rather decent control and a solid strikeout rate in his feeling-out period in New York.

Brett Myers – 2009 to date: 37.0 IP, 2 W, 27 K, 5.35 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

One would think that Brett Myers sorted out the control problems that plagued him for much of the first half last year with a demotion and a nearly lights-out second half and in a contract year, Myers would have an extra something to prove. It’s a similar start out of the gate for Myers again, allowing too many gopher balls (10 HR in 37.0 IP) and yielding too many walks (15 BB). It’s a typical story for Myers as his batted ball rates are more or less constant with what he’s done in the past, but yielding a high HR/FB rate (23.8%). The word is, Myers’ velocity on his fastball is about a trace slower and indeed it has, averaging one full MPH off his heater from last year. The biggest obstacle isn’t primarily in Myers’ fastball velocity, but a relative lack of movement and location in his pitches. There doesn’t seem to be any red flags with Myers and his track record shows he’s capable of bouncing back. This could open the opportunity to nab Myers for a discounted price.

Gavin Floyd – 2009 to date: 34.1 IP, 2 W, 28 K, 6.29 ERA, 1.75 WHIP

Tipped as one of the candidates to take a big step back this year is Gavin Floyd, a 17-game winner in 2008. Thus far, Floyd has held serve to that often-held prediction, as his command has been out-of-whack (18 BB in 34.1 IP). Floyd is known for being a flyball-intensive pitcher, although his flyball rate is curiously a bit down albeit at the consequent spike in line drives. In a career-high 206.1 innings, Floyd had a knack for giving up the home run ball, with 30 dingers surrendered and his 4.77 FIP last year served as a luck indicator that his 3.84 ERA was a bit misleading. The only silver lining is the velocity of Floyd’s offerings are marginally better than last year, which can explain the 28 strikeouts in 34.1 innings for a 7.34 K/9.

Buy Low of the Week

Dan Uggla – 2009 to date: 20/103 H/AB, 10 R, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 0 SB, .194 BA

I highlighted Uggla in the cold section a couple of weeks ago and his continued power plight makes him a compelling mention in the buy low section. Based off his career splits, Uggla is a lifetime .236 hitter in April, but May generally is his best month, considering a .321 career batting average in May and a .347 average with 12 home runs and 26 RBI last May. We’re ten days into May and Uggla has been shaking off the ill effects of a hamstring injury, which can also explain why he hasn’t gotten back to speed. If you don’t mind how your players get their 30 home runs and call it a day, Uggla would be a nice target, especially with Uggla owners who are a bit short on patience.

Sell High of the Week

Edinson Volquez2009 to date: 36.1 IP, 4 W, 35 K, 3.47 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

If there’s a definition of a Jekyll-and-Hyde pitcher in Webster’s Dictionary, then Edinson Volquez’s face could be printed right next to that definition. Volquez had shown abnormally high groundball tendencies in the first half last season before turning right on a dime and reaching a flyball rate which was a lot closer to his career norm in the second half. This season, Volquez has induced a lofty groundball rate of 52.8%, while his command remains rather messy in allowing a jaw-dropping 25 walks in 36.1 innings to date. Volquez’s last two performances have kept his ERA rather svelte while he’s earned back-to-back eight-inning shutouts of the Astros and Marlins, two offensive teams prone to feast-or-famine stretches and the punch out. Neither of these games mask the fact that Volquez gave away four or more walks in five of his six performances to date. Depending on how Volquez fares today as scheduled against St. Louis, Volquez would be a player I’d look to ship off before the flyball penchant catches up to him again.

That about wraps it up for this week. Once again, air out all comments, concerns, thoughts, questions, and abuse here in the official Hot/Cold discussion thread. Check back next week for another edition of Hot/Cold where we’re always going streaking every Sunday morning. Until then, be champions.

True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan who is too distracted with laughing at Didier Drogba disgracing himself on live TV and in doing a Pep Guardiola impersonation of Jose Mourinho running down the touchline in jubilation. 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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