StrategyMay 24, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 8: Cold-Harted

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to this week’s Hot/Cold where we’re going streaking this Sunday while the world goes racing in the Indy 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Monaco Grand Prix, which takes greater precedence for me as a Formula One fan. Today, we’ll talk about a certain Bronx Bomber who is generally ice cold in April but has finally taken advantage of the New Yankee Stadium’s friendly environs, as well as Alyssa Milano’s old flame and a guy aptly named after an 80’s Canadian pop star who could use more than his shades to guard off a glaring slump. Get in!

Hot

Mark Teixeira – 2009 to date: 38/148 H/AB, 27 R, 12 HR, 33 RBI, 0 SB, .257 BA

It’s universal knowledge that “Big Tex” is a dreadfully slow starter, which shouldn’t elicit a raised eyebrow from anyone. For what it’s worth, Mark Teixeira finished April right on the nose of the Mendoza Line with three home runs and 10 RBI under his belt, but has responded in a big way with nine home runs, 23 RBI, and a .300-plus average this May. This surge is perhaps due in part to the return of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees’ order, which surely changes the complexion of the Bronx Bombers’ lineup. Needless to say, there’s nowhere to go but up from Big Tex, and considering that the New Yankee Stadium has been a home run launchpad since it has opened, that can only boost Tex’s chances of meeting his career-high power numbers considering that to date, a staggering 43 home runs have been hit beyond the homer-friendly right field porch. Curiously, Teixeira has hit well below the Mendoza Line away from the Bronx this year, but that should be considered a one-off likely to improve, as Teixeira’s career splits history doesn’t indicate any polarizing rift from his home and away numbers.

Jason Bay – 2009 to date: 43/146 H/AB, 34 R, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 4 SB, .295 BA

It’s not often when a top hitter making his residence within reasonable distance of Bristol, Connecticut goes under the radar, but while much of New England sings the woes of Big Papi’s power outage, Jason Bay keeps raking in supplying much of the lumber in the Red Sox lineup, with 13 home runs under his belt and eight of those dingers coming in May. Jay Bay has driven the ball with great success, given a flyball rate a trace under 52 percent and a HR/FB ratio of under 23 percent. In 330 at-bats since moving to Beantown at last year’s trading deadline, Bay has offered a little taste of what he could do with a little more lineup protection, having hammered 22 home runs and 81 RBI, a pace which should cement his place as a top ten fantasy outfielder. Bay hasn’t been reliant on the Fenway Park factor either, as he has clubbed seven of his 13 home runs on the road with balanced home/away splits in terms of average.

Mark Reynolds – 2009 to date: 39/146 H/AB, 26 R, 12 HR, 23 RBI, 10 SB, .267 BA

When one thinks of Mark Reynolds, the instant thought that comes to mind is a low-average, whiff-happy, power-hitting bargain third baseman and depending on who you asked in the preseason, some would have said he was a smarter investment than either Chris Davis or Jay Bruce seeing how the latter two were to be had at a higher premium. As of today, Mark Reynolds has indeed posted similar power numbers to Chris Davis and Jay Bruce, but the biggest surprise isn’t the fact that of the three, Reynolds is hitting for the superior average; it’s his ten stolen bags that raise an eyebrow, which provokes sugar plum fairy dreams of some that Reynolds will slug and sprint to 30/30. One possible explanation for Reynolds’ double-digit swipes count is the fact that the Diamondbacks, as a team, have been in a dire season-long offensive drought and must manufacture runs when there’s a man or two on base. So far, the Diamondbacks are second-to-last in the majors in team batting average and are in the bottom three in on-base percentage. Mark Reynolds is the poster child for a Diamondbacks offense that lives and dies by the home run, and when things aren’t clicking, the strikeout is the culprit. The D-Backs are in the top five in the majors for strikeouts and lest we forget, Mark Reynolds was last season’s strikeout king with a record mark of 204 whiffs. The good news is with Reynolds being one of a few D-Backs who have produced in buckets, his playing time is unthreatened. He should be a threat for 30 home runs, keeping in mind that there will be frustrating and prolonged stretches where he’ll come up dry.

Michael Cuddyer – 2009 to date: 46/158 H/AB, 28 R, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 4 SB, .291 BA

His seasonal line isn’t particularly impressive, but over the past several weeks, Michael Cuddyer has been raking, with a .340 average in his last 100 at-bats that has amounted to six home runs, 24 RBI, and three stolen bases to boot. Cuddyer punctuated this prolific stretch last Friday night against the Brewers with the honor of being the second Twin this season to have hit for the cycle. There isn’t too much to suggest Cuddyer can keep up this tear, even considering that in 2006, Cuddyer had a career year of 24 home runs and in 2007, he followed up with a decent tally of 16 homers in 144 games. Cuddyer’s flyball rate is currently on pace with his career-low flyball rates in 2002 and 2003, but he has converted 17.5% of those flyballs into home runs while his line drive and groundball rates are rather pedestrian, more so than usual. In short, Cuddyer can fill in as the hot bat to inject some life into a struggling fantasy lineup, but the signs are good he won’t be a viable long-term mainstay to be worth his keep.

Barry Zito – 2009 to date: 49.2 IP, 1 W, 32 K, 3.62 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Well past his salad days of a Cy Young season and his dates with the fairest-looking Dodger fan of all, Alyssa Milano, Barry Zito has rolled back the years somewhat with a month-long stint of a 2.67 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in his last 33.1 innings. The difference this year has been a marginal but otherwise important spike in his fastball velocity, better control, and a return to his old popout ways. Whether or not this solid opening stretch illustrates that Zito can be fantasy-relevant as more than just a spot starter remains to be seen. Zito might seem a bit lucky (as his 4.43 FIP could indicate), but nonetheless, Zito is worth keeping an eye on, especially when a great number of his starts are at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park and against NL West opponents.

Jair Jurrjens – 2009 to date: 55.0 IP, 4 W, 32 K, 1.96 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

It has been a dream start for Jair Jurrjens, as he’s posted a svelte 1.96 ERA to go with a 1.13 WHIP and four wins on the side. Jurrjens’ reputation is one of an extreme groundball pitcher, but he has bucked that reputation thus far as he’s allowed a 46.6 percent flyball rate as opposed to a groundball rate of 36 percent. The key for Jurrjens has been in inducing pop flies, as indicated by an infield flyball rate under 19 percent and a HR/FB rate of just four percent. A regression is in order, obviously, keeping mind his FIP is nearly two runs greater than his ERA has otherwise stated (a 3.80 FIP).

Cold

Dexter Fowler – 2009 to date: 32/127 H/AB, 17 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 10 SB, .252 BA

Hitting just .215 in May, the stolen base opportunities haven’t been quite as ample for Dexter Fowler since running circles around the Padres’ Chris Young, as he hasn’t gotten on base quite as frequently as last April and has taken a spike in his strikeout rate, with 21 Ks in 65 at-bats. As is the usual symptom with the Rockies, Fowler has struggled to hit away from Coors Field, flirting with the Mendoza Line on the road. The good news is Fowler has shown glimpses of patience, given his minor league track record of a decent walk rate, which still makes Fowler a solid cheap source of stolen bases.

Nick Swisher – 2009 to date: 31/137 H/AB, 26 R, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, .226 BA

When the forecast seemed gloomy on Xavier Nady recovering in time to play some meaningful games down the stretch for the Yankees, Nick Swisher hasn’t had the urge to lock down his full-time gig, having fallen off in the same torrid fashion with which he generated a hot start, as his home run binge has long been forgotten and his average has taken quite the tumble under the .230 mark. The way with which Swisher has slumped surely doesn’t help his stock in trade talks, as he has gone back to his feast-or-famine ways, especially keeping in mind that his strikeout rate has spiked up to 31.3% to counter a 52.7% with about the equal proportion of flyballs being hit in the infield or out of the yard (18.4% IFFB, HR/FB).

Corey Hart – 2009 to date: 39/159 H/AB, 29 R, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 3 SB, .245 BA

You might recall my very first Hot/Cold column where I gave notice to Corey Hart’s terrific spring training and brought up the concern of Hart being an all-or-nothing hitter in his recent strikeout-happy ways and his tendency to pass up on free passes. Hart’s walk rate is better than it was last year, where he only walked 27 times in 657 plate appearances, but in 180 plate appearances, Hart is en route to a healthier 10.7% walk rate on his current pace. On the flip side of the coin, Hart has also struck out a great deal, whiffing 41 times in 159 at-bats for a 25.8% strikeout rate. Hart’s counting stats haven’t been particularly impressive either, as he’s on pace to fall short of the 20/20 mark. Brewers manager Ken Macha has been proactive in moving Hart around the order, which can also explain why Hart hasn’t gotten into any groove, and that has continued with the unfortunate news of Rickie Weeks being out for the season with an injured wrist, resulting in Hart hitting in the bottom half of the Brewers’ order.

Jose Lopez – 2009 to date: 37/162 H/AB, 18 R, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 0 SB, .228 BA

A rather uninspiring but decent fallback second base option heading into the season, Jose Lopez has been less than uninspiring as he has struggled to hit for average and get into rhythm. Lopez simply hasn’t put the ball in play with much success when he has been hitting more infield flies than last year (15.4% in 2009 to a career low of 10.1% in 2008). For now, the second base job seems like Lopez’s to lose, but his playing time might be on a leash if he can’t right the wrongs in his current mechanics.

Roy Oswalt – 2009 to date: 56.1 IP, 1 W, 42 K, 4.47 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Off to a similarly slow start as last season, Roy Oswalt has yielded ten home runs in 56.1 innings of work thus far while his groundball rate remains abnormally low from his career norms at 39.3%. The big innings have turned out to undo Oswalt’s quality starts, and the Astros’ inability to post enough run support when Oswalt is on the mound have put a downer on Oswalt’s value. Expect both his groundball and flyball rates to revert to normal, and the good news is the velocity of his fastball is up nearly a full tick on average, which might support a decent K/9 mark in the high six or low seven range.

John Danks – 2009 to date: 43.0 IP, 3 W, 41 K, 4.60 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

In three of his last five outings, John Danks has conceded five or more runs and has only lasted six innings just once in those five games, which has tarnished his flying start to the young campaign. Danks’ recent flare-ups overlook the fact he has pounded out a groundball rate better than 49 percent and has conversely given up a career-low 31.7% flyball rate, albeit with 15 percent of those flyballs leaving the yard as home runs. Danks’ control has been quite good with a 41-to-14 K/BB ratio in 43 innings and a 4.11 FIP also indicates he’s been a bit unlucky. In short, if there’s someone willing to put Danks on the block in light of his last five inefficient starts, you should make a beeline for Danks at a possible discount.

Buy Low of the Week

Geovany Soto – 2009 to date: 21/102 H/AB, 8 R, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .206 BA

I covered Soto as one of those in a bitter cold snap a few weeks ago and I won’t go into further detail from what I said back then. What has changed is Soto has upped his average above the Mendoza Line and his flyball rate has risen to 40 percent, albeit his infield flyball rate is at a rather unhealthy 15.6 percent. It’s about this time where some owners cast a greater shadow of doubt over players mired in a funk this putrid, and considering that he’s no better than the likes of Jarrod Saltalamacchia or even Jason Varitek, now is a good time to pursue an above-average catcher in Soto who could have a beneficial power binge some time in the future. The silver lining is Soto’s walk rate is up and his strikeout rate is a bit down, which could bode a good omen that Soto is becoming a bit more selective in the pitches he pounces on.

I’m putting in a new feature in the Hot/Cold column, listing three players I’m looking to trade for and three players I’m looking to trade away. I don’t necessarily mean either of the players I list are “buy lows” or “sell highs” in the traditional sense, but rather I’m listing trade targets who are undervalued to some degree and are ripe to perform well from this day forward. On the flip side, I’m going to list players who I don’t necessarily think will falter at some point, but players I think you can squeeze optimal value now than you could say, two weeks from now, a month from now, etc.

Three I’m Buying

Gil Meche – 2009 to date: 53.0 IP, 2 W, 40 K, 4.42 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

On paper, you’d think Gil Meche has posted a really pedestrian line, but in truth, he has pitched much better than his line would otherwise state. The Royals’ #2 starter has suffered his share of bad luck, with a 2.86 FIP and furthermore, Meche has pounded a whopping groundball rate of nearly 57 percent and has allowed just one home run in 53 innings of work. In the flyballs Meche has given up, a good number of them have been in the infield at 20 percent. Meche’s groundball-to-flyball ratio might seem a bit flukey, but keep in mind that Meche has recorded a season with a groundball rate a touch under 47 percent in his first season in Kansas City two years ago. Again, I’m not banking on Meche being as lights-out as a fantasy #1 or #2 would be. It’s just that by all indication, Meche is a guy who by his peripherals and share of bad luck, could have the potential for many happy returns.

Ricky Nolasco – 2009 to date: 43.2 IP, 2 W, 37 K, 9.07 ERA, 1.81 WHIP

I must be a closet Cubs fan to have eternal optimism over this former Cubs prospect, but indeed I’m still bullish on Nolasco. The Marlins’ supposed ace has been a baffling paradox this season, given his solid command (37 K/13 BB) and a FIP that states that he’s literally not half as bad as his line otherwise states, which is in due part to an error-prone and suspect Marlins defense costing Nolasco’s efficiency. What is known is Nolasco has been yielding a rather gaudy line drive rate of nearly 27 percent, which might point to him being a bit more hittable. The velocity in his offerings seems unchanged and he’s throwing his slider more while his last outing against the Rays (which resulted in his demotion to Triple-A) has him throwing his fastball more than his slider. Whatever the case, it seems like Nolasco has been sent down to the minors to refine his approach and it should be a temporary stay (although I’m sure a few of us said that about Rich Hill last season). You might not even have to trade for Nolasco in your league if he’s been dropped, but it seems like his peripherals are good enough to suggest a turnaround some time in the season, which makes him worth pursuing.

Matt Kemp – 2009 to date: 45/156 H/AB, 24 R, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 9 SB, .288 BA

Alright, this is more of a personal mention, seeing how I tried to nab Kemp aggressively in each of my drafts, only for him to be reached upon a bit by other owners. Kemp has been relatively quiet, aside from the ardent Kemp managers’ murmurs and gripes of young Matty still hitting seventh in Joe Torre’s lineup, considering he’s only hit .248 in his last 100 or so at-bats with a home run and five stolen bases. Obviously hitting seventh hurts Kemp’s run and RBI potential some, but what goes overlooked in box scores is Kemp’s willingness to work counts and walk, as evidenced by a healthy spike in his walk rate to nearly ten percent in spite of the fact he’s whiffing at more or less the same rate as previous seasons. Kemp is also swinging less at first-pitches (54.3% in 2009 to 61.5% in 2008) and has cut down on swinging wildly outside of the zone (25.5% in 2009 to 31.5% in 2008). If Kemp trades a bit of his flyballs for line drives, as he was adept in doing last season, Kemp should start rolling in earnest.

Sell High of the Week

Matt Cain – 2009 to date: 60.0 IP, 5 W, 41 K, 2.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

It seems to be a popular opinion these days to declare Matt Cain a sell-high, but again, I’m not thinking in terms of Cain being the traditional sell-high in that he’ll fall off the face of the planet; with his form seemingly at his peak, rather you should up Cain’s value when you’re making your trade offers. There are legitimate concerns with Cain, as his average fastball velocity is off a touch, much like it was in 2008, and this has resulted in a rather pedestrian strikeout rate. Cain’s control or the lack thereof hasn’t improved any and in fact, he has allowed 25 walks in 58 innings of work, with his last outing against the Mariners being the one outing where he didn’t offer a free pass. Cain’s FIP is also in the high-4’s, which perhaps indicates that his 2.48 ERA is smoke and mirrors and believe it or not, Cain has gotten the run support that eluded him in recent years, with five wins already under his belt. In short, I would be shopping Cain, especially to the owner who has been a die-hard believer in Cain turning it around sooner than later (there’s always one, believe me) for the prospect of getting an undervalued top-50 or top-75 player, if possible.

Three I’m Selling

Bobby Abreu – 2009 to date: 42/141 H/AB, 15 R, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 15 SB, .298 BA

It could be argued that Abreu’s low run and RBI totals have been a byproduct of bad luck, but I’d use that as bargaining leverage in shopping Abreu around should there be an owner who’s expecting Abreu to steal at the gaudy and efficient clip he’s on. Abreu has boasted the usually solid on-base percentage and the efficiency on the base paths, but because of his pedestrian line drive and flyball rates as well as the reputation for Angel Stadium being a difficult park for lefties to hit home runs in, Abreu could post just 15 home runs at best. Abreu should net you a solid return (think of him in terms of what Shane Victorino on a good day can get you).

Cliff Lee – 2009 to date: 62.0 IP, 2 W, 45 K, 2.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

A reversal from a shaky first couple of starts into a nice stretch of quality starts could boost the perception of Cliff Lee to the point some owners are willing to pay a respectable price to nab him. To some degree, Lee reminds me of Roy Oswalt in that he has scattered his fair share of hits around, with the key difference being that Lee’s HR/FB ratio is still quite low. In truth, Lee’s flyball rate is about in line with the unusually low rate he posted last season, in spite of his line drive rate taking an unhealthy spike to 23.6 percent. Lee’s HR/FB and flyball rates haven’t corrected yet, which might indicate last year was a sign of improvement in both areas, but still, it wasn’t too long ago when Lee yielded close to 30 home runs and for what his worth, his infield flyball percentage is at an unusually high 20.5 percent. These factors might be enough to make a good sale on Lee for a rather healthy return in a few problem spots.

Adam Jones – 2009 to date: 54/149 H/AB, 36 R, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 3 SB, .362 BA

Surely Adam Jones has been one of the brighter fantasy revelations this season, but there might be a few things that will douse some ice cold water over the thoughts of anything greater than a 20/20 year. Jones has an incredibly high HR/FB rate of 26.5 percent on 29.1 percent of flyballs hit and furthermore, Jones’ groundball rate is at 50 percent in spite of a fine line drive rate of 20.5 percent. The good news is Jones will be on pace to surpass his extra base-hit count from 2008, but the home run power might be a bit of a mirage, although one can expect his base stealing opportunities to take a positive correction. With Jones’ stock as high as it is, now could be a good time to capitalize on his value upon owners who are suckers for a mixture of youth and potential.

That about does it for this week. Check out 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 favorite motorsport is actually Formula D drift racing and that's where he's proud to be better than Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in! 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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