StrategyMay 17, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 7: Invader Zimm

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to the Hot/Cold, where we go streaking every Sunday. You’ll notice that today’s column is a bit more brief than you’re used to reading; that’s because I’ve been in jubilant celebration mode since Saturday morning. Long story short, I celebrated Manchester United’s record-tying 18th English football league title (again, the game actually played with feet), which was well worth waking up at 3:30am and downing more than my fair share of Guinness pints with some rowdy United supporters. Later in the day, my folks were celebrating Barcelona winning the Spanish league title and they threw a grand fiesta, where there was much feasting — and a bit more drinking. Luckily, I’ve written most of this the Friday night before on a sober mind and I won’t be drunkenly ranting on the recent spikes of multiple stolen base games from the likes of Jayson Werth and David Wright. Now then, let’s get onto the business at hand. Get in!

Hot

Ryan Zimmerman2009 to date: 56/153 H/AB, 31 R, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 0 SB, .366 BA

What might have gone unnoticed in Ryan Zimmerman’s disappointing injury-shortened 2008 season, the result of a bum shoulder, was a terrific September, where the Nationals’ franchise player slugged five home runs and 13 RBI to go with a .290 batting average. Presuming that his shoulder would be fully healed, it seemed his season-ending spurt could be a harbinger of things to come in 2009. So far this season, “Invader Zimm” has sung the doom song on opposing pitchers, having started the season on a tear, with a 30-game hitting streak that was snapped last week. The most encouraging thing of all is the sight of Zimmerman driving the ball with gusto, having already slugged nine home runs by mid-May. It remains to be seen if Zimmerman’s flyball and groundball rates revert to career norms, but it appears that hitting in the Nationals three-hole in front of Adam Dunn has also been a substantial boost in Zimmerman seeing and pouncing on pitches in his wheelhouse. The 2008 season should be considered a one-off given the shoulder injury that hampered his power last year, and a return to the pace set in 2006 and 2007 can be expected.

Rickie Weeks2009 to date: 40/146 H/AB, 28 R, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 2 SB, .274 BA

Rickie Weeks has been stretching fantasy managers’ patience thin for longer than his last name implies, which makes Weeks’ hot start such a delightful surprise. It’s not too shocking to see Weeks’ batting average in the .270 range, where most would envision his ceiling lying in terms of his average. What is a surprise is Weeks leading the Brewers with a team-high nine home runs a month and a half into the season, given how the 26-year-old second baseman has struggled to drive the ball the last couple of seasons. In 2007 and 2008, Weeks posted relatively paltry line drive rates and had only once posted a flyball rate of 40% (in 2007) in his first four years in the Majors, which can explain why Weeks’ past BABIP figures indicated that he could have been a byproduct of bad luck, but otherwise was a sign Weeks hadn’t been hitting the ball hard as frequently as hoped. It’s also worth noting that Weeks struggled with a few nagging ailments that possibly sapped his bat speed, particularly the wrist trouble he encountered in 2007. While Weeks might not hit 30 home runs nor for an appealing average, the good news is if he can keep working the counts and pounce on the ideal pitches to offset his typical strikeout tendencies (which have thus far stayed intact), Weeks can improve from the meager career pace he was on in 2007 and 2008.

Joe Mauer2009 to date: 22/52 H/AB, 12 R, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, .423 BA

14 games back after being sidelined for a month and Joe Mauer has not only reprised his reputation as a professional for-average hitter, he has also slugged a staggering six home runs in just 52 at-bats. After hitting 13 home runs in 2006, some believed it was a matter of time until the Twinkies’ All-Star backstop could emerge as a 20-home run hitter, but with two subsequent seasons with single-digit home run totals, there was increased skepticism as to Mauer’s prospects of emerging as even a double-digit home run threat. Mauer’s career arc displays a familiar theme: solid line drive rates, high groundball rates, and pedestrian flyball rates. So far this season, nothing has really changed in Mauer’s batted ball rates to suggest an improved home run total, except for the fact that more than two-fifths of the flyballs he’s hit has cleared the fences. Mauer’s power remains a question, but a double-digit home run total would be a nice bonus for a catcher drafted for his gaudy batting average and above-average runs/RBI figures.

Johnny Damon2009 to date: 43/138 H/AB, 28 R, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 3 SB, .312 BA

There’s an old saying that goes something to the effect of: those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. In a mock draft this preseason, I took Johnny Damon with a mid-round draft pick only for someone to criticize that Damon is yesterday’s news. If that were to believed, then that makes Johnny Damon an extremely undervalued bet for 15-20 home runs and 25-30 stolen bases, with a batting average near or at the .300 mark, which seems well within distance given Damon’s previous three seasons with the Yankees. So far, Damon has benefited from hitting in the new bandbox in the Bronx, with six of his nine home runs having been hit at the New Yankee Stadium. Damon hasn’t attempted to steal as much as hoped for, given a perfect 3-for-3 in stolen base opportunities, but otherwise, expect the SBs to spike up and his flyball rate of nearly 53% to normalize. Damon may not have the sexy, unlimited upside as the perennial toolsy outfielders out there, but he remains an underrated source for runs, average, and stolen bases.

Adrian Gonzalez2009 to date: 41/132 H/AB, 27 R, 15 HR, 29 RBI, 1 SB, .311 BA

It’s a bit of an oddity when the Major League’s current home run leader is thought of as underrated, but that certainly could be the case with Adrian Gonzalez. Discounted more for the fact he hits half of the year at pitcher-friendly Petco Park than overlooked because of some kind of East Coast bias, Gonzalez has clubbed a massive 15 home runs in 132 at-bats. Curiously, “A-Gon” has hit .315 at home – albeit at a small sample – with four of his 15 home runs slugged at Petco. Gonzalez also has the reputation for being less effective against lefties, but so far, it hasn’t been a pressing issue as he’s hit for a decent .279 batting average against southpaws. The only knock on Gonzalez isn’t so much his ability but his lineup protection (or the lack thereof). More than half of the runs scored and RBIs “A-Gon” has posted have come from the long ball and often times, there isn’t a Friar to be found on base when he hammers a home run out; his six home runs this May have only resulted in nine RBI. The fear that opposing pitchers could pitch around Gonzalez a bit more is palpable, but the positive thing is Gonzalez’s flyball rate has and is bound for a positive correction, given a career-low 36.6% flyball rate last year (during a 36 home run campaign, no less) and so far, Gonzalez’s flyball rate is back in the 40% range. Add to the fact that “A-Gon” continues to tear it up on the road and his chances of repeating last year’s home run total at the least is a good possibility.

Cold

Grady Sizemore – 2009 to date: 35/159 h/AB, 21 R, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB, .220 BA

A rather sub-par .268 batting average last season was the one thing some fantasy managers circled in their drafts when taking stock into the likelihood of Sizemore living up to that mid-to-high first-round draft pick with a 30/30 campaign. After all, it was around this time last May where Sizemore dawdled with a .250-ish batting average, before erupting in full as a high-end power/speed threat. Sizemore’s 2008 BABIP indicated he was a tad unlucky, in that he would’ve been good enough to correct his average in the .270-280 range at the least, but his proneness to pronounced hot and cold streaks is a concern as to why his average could remain at a rather tempered clip. Furthermore, Sizemore’s strikeout rate is markedly higher this year, fresh off his 2008 career year where Sizemore posted a career-low 20.5% whiff rate. In addition, Sizemore’s stolen base efficiency has been surprisingly bad, given he has only swiped six bags in the 12 chances he’s had this year. A rebound should be expected given that his batted ball rates, namely his flyball rate, are about the same with career norms and with no drastic spike in outside-swing percentage, cutting down on the strikeouts seems like it’s within Sizemore’s control.

David Ortiz – 2009 to date: 27/130 H/AB, 14 R, 0 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB, .208 BA

Several weeks ago, I chose to say a few words about a then-frigid Big Papi and point out the lack of extra-base hits. Since then, Ortiz has hit nine doubles and legged a triple in his last 86 at-bats, although Big Papi has yet to mash a home run in 2009. The sobering thing is Ortiz’s average hasn’t improved much since that writing to the point that Papi is scratching a few points ahead of the Mendoza Line, which has relegated David Ortiz into nothing more than a jester mask contest, with the best joke of the lot being “Ortiz is so pathetic this year, he is asking [Jason] Varitek for batting advice”. A disconcerting thing to point out with Ortiz is his recent penchant to swing outside of the strike zone (at nearly 26% of his swings), which could explain why he’s not driving the ball as hoped, albeit at a decent 21.2% line drive rate and a gaudy flyball rate in the low-50 percent range. These days, the $64,000 question isn’t whether or not you should buy low on Big Papi, but if you should use your waiver request on him. I said back then that it would be drastic to compare Ortiz now to a Travis Hafner-like case, but also that he carries measurable risk while the reward doesn’t necessarily measure up to that risk. If you can nab Ortiz for dirt-cheap, I’d be willing to take the chance but in general, you should give it a good thought as to the players in question you’re willing to give up in order to nab Ortiz for a discount.

Rafael Furcal – 2009 to date: 35/145 H/AB, 23 R, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 3 SB, .241 BA

In contrast to a blazing start in 2008, Rafael Furcal had taken on the familiar stance of being a terribly slow starter in April, which can be pinpointed on a strikeout rate of nearly 18%. With Manny Ramirez suspended for an extended period, Furcal has had to adjust back to a lineup role which would’ve been a familiar sight in the pre-Manny Ramirez Dodger lineup; Raffy has had to shift in the two-hole while Juan Pierre occupies the leadoff spot. Thus far, the concerns of that back flaring up haven’t come to the fore, which is at least some consolation to a languid start for a rather injury-prone shortstop.

Scott Kazmir – 2009 to date: 41.1 IP, 4 W, 32 K, 6.97 ERA, 1.86 WHIP

When one thinks of the words to describe Scott Kazmir, “seemingly unlimited potential” comes to mind, even with the ifs of injury recurrences and inconsistent command. So far, it has been a continuation of last season’s suspect second half in 2009, with the same lack of control (25 BB in 41.1 IP), but the results and the way the results have come have drawn tremendous concern. Last season, “Kaz” threw his slider only a shade under ten percent of the time in 2008 while this season, the usage of his slider is way up (to 23.2%), but the thing to highlight here is a 13% decrease in the usage of his fastball, which is on average a few MPH slower. Put it all together and it seems Kazmir not only seems a bit wild in his command, but it also appears that Kazmir seems more hittable. His flyball rate is down from where it was last season, but Kazmir is also yielding the same HR/FB as last year with seven home runs allowed. It seems that with a change of mechanics, Kazmir can bounce back somewhat, but seems likely to fall short of the lofty expectations that come with his name value, especially if the velocity issues persist.

Chris R. Young – 2009 to date: 43.2 IP, 2 W, 34 K, 5.56 ERA, 1.51 WHIP

I tend to be in the school of thought that the Padres’ Chris Young is overvalued for a mid-draft pick because of his flyball-intensive tendencies and his extreme home-away splits, which puts quite the caveat emptor on his value in H2H leagues. Since moving to San Diego, Young has been stellar at home, but away from the friendly confines of Petco Park, Young is roughly three runs worse in his ERA; his 2009 so far is reflective of this trend. This year, Young has tossed a rather svelte 2.37 ERA at Petco, but on the road, he has been far more hittable, with an 8.30 ERA and all five of his home runs surrendered. Chris Young is practically a somewhat overpriced version of Wandy Rodriguez, and even the latter has taken a few steps in making amends for his past away woes.

Buy Low of the Week

Andre Ethier – 2009 to date: 39/143 H/AB, 24 R, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 2 SB, .273 BA

I’ll buck conventional wisdom in saying you should be buying in on the ground floor on Manny Ramirez’s biggest benefactor, Andre Ethier, instead of selling him so quickly while you can squeeze some inflated value out of him. Ever since that fateful day of May 7, Ethier has gone 6-for-40 in the absence of Manny with only one extra basehit, which has humbled his average from .317 to a .273 mark. It’s no secret that of all the Dodger hitters, Ethier is the most affected by the Manny suspension given that in a short albeit substantive sample of hitting in front of or behind Manny, he tends to see better pitches to pounce on. If you can wait out a lukewarm two-month stretch, Ethier could provide a welcome boost in the second half, as he illustrated last season.

Sell High of the Week

Edwin Jackson2009 to date: 52.0 IP, 3 W, 41 K, 2.42 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

In the heart and mind of this Dodger fan, Edwin Jackson will always be remembered as that kid who out-dueled Randy Johnson in his rookie debut in what seems eons ago. That watershed moment is now nothing more than a distant memory for Edwin Jackson as his predictability in his pitches has rendered the former Dodger and Tampa Bay Ray a massive disappointment. There was some redemption to be found for Edwin last season, however, as in his last year as a Tampa Bay Ray, Jackson posted a career-low 4.42 ERA over a full season in 2008, albeit at the expense of his strikeout rate (5.30 K/9). A new lease on life in Detroit and an improved slider have paved the way for a tremendous start for Edwin Jackson in posting a 7.10 K/9 and a 1.04 WHIP. Jackson’s command has greatly improved, as he’s allowed just 11 walks in 52 innings of work, and that can be attributed to a near-8% increase in the usage of his slider to keep hitters guessing more than they would have in the past. Thus far, Jackson has allowed a flyball rate in the mid-40% range, the highest it has been since 2005, and it should be interesting if that high flyball rate keeps pace, which could mean a sobering correction to his current ratios as they stand.

That’ll about do it for this week. Check back next Sunday for another Hot/Cold and until then, be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan and the head of the Mancunian Fact Check Bureau in assessing it's 18 league titles won for Manchester United, and that's a fact! 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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