StrategyMay 31, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 9: Juan Love, Juan Heart, and Juan Soul

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to another Hot/Cold where we’re once again going streaking on the last day of May. Fresh off a week where we had seen Carlos Zambrano go on a hot streak for a very different reason (and the Gatorade dispenser didn’t cool off his bat either), we’ll talk about a couple of Dodger vets who have kept the boys in blue as the best team record-wise in the majors, one of whom dances with wolves and the other I made a Stone Roses reference in the title with his name (yes, what a giveaway). We’ll also point out that it’s a good time to target a few underachieving studs who are on the verge of opening the floodgates.

…and now for something completely different. If you happen to be wondering about what my reaction about last Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League final would be, here are my thoughts. Yes, I supported Manchester United over Barcelona and yes, I was disappointed with the outcome. However, as a Catalan and coming from a family of rabid Barcelona fans, I can take pride in Barcelona winning all three major trophies (”El Triplete” and only four other teams in European club soccer had done it) and wished I was there on La Rambla celebrating with relatives there.

Without further ado, here are this week’s Hot/Cold and Buy/Sell picks:

Hot

Juan Pierre – 2009 to date: 48/125 H/AB, 25 R, 0 HR, 20 RBI, 10 SB, .384 BA

When the shell-shocking news of Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension broke, yours truly covered his eyes in horror about the prospect of Juan Pierre becoming a mainstay in the Dodger lineup once again. By the same token, it’s no surprise to see Pierre motivated and his production proving to be more than equal to that motivation, as he has driven the ball with gusto (26.4% line drive rate) for a gaudy batting average, as well as stealing ten bases on the side. The only uncertainty revolving around Pierre is his playing time once Manny returns in early July, and Pierre’s milking of his interim full-time role could spark up the starting outfield controversy once again. If current trends hold, it could be Andre Ethier sitting against lefties in favor of Pierre if Ethier’s poor production against southpaws persists, but the likelihood is Pierre will be relegated as a part-time player. Pierre’s situation is fuzzy at best and for this month-plus stretch, enjoy the ride as Pierre bolsters your team’s stolen base count.

Randy Wolf – 2009 to date: 69.2 IP, 3 W, 57 K, 2.84 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Another Dodger waiver wire pickup flying high this year is Randy Wolf, who has been a quality start magnet in his second trip back to the Ravine. Wolf’s ERA seems bound for a correction, given a higher than usual 44.7 percent flyball rate, a strand rate of 79 percent, a lower than usual .222 BAA, and an FIP of 3.87. Staying healthy will also be key for Wolf as he pitched 190.1 innings last season with the Padres and Astros, his highest innings count since 2003 when he tossed 200 innings in a Phillies uniform. Other than that, Randy Wolf should make for a very decent back-end fantasy starter, as his control has improved nicely (2.58 BB/9) to go with a decent strikeout ratio.

Miguel Tejada – 2009 to date: 67/193 H/AB, 27 R, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 2 SB, .347 BA

Miguel Tejada has been rolling back the years some, tearing it up for a .370 batting average this May, and while the five home runs this month don’t seem to be too much to write about, it means more for Miggy these days, as his power has steadily declined since 2004. For the year, Tejada’s flyball rate is back to the level it was at in his fantasy heyday at a 35.2 percent clip, but the biggest reason for Tejada’s success is an unusually low strikeout rate, an excellent 5.8 percent, as opposed to a whiff rate dwelling in the 10-12 percent level. Tejada has been proving to be more serviceable than a number of fantasy managers would’ve otherwise thought, but with his average likely to take a correction (his outside swing percentage is on par with where it had been in recent years), it remains to be seen if his May power spurt is an aberration. After all, Miggy finished April without a home run under his belt and it seems that crossing the 20-home run threshold is still a stretch.

Nelson Cruz – 2009 to date: 53/177 H/AB, 28 R, 14 HR, 36 RBI, 9 SB, .299 BA

Touted as a preseason sleeper, Nelson Cruz has exceeded the hype, hitting for power and a fine average while likely reaching a double-digit stolen base count. So far, the “Caribbean Cruz” has followed the prototypical mold of a low walk (9.0% BB rate), high strikeout (23.8% K rate) slugger and with that, comes the characteristic of a feast-or-famine hitter. More than halfway into May, Cruz’s average dwindled back into the .260s for the second time all season, with just one home run in that stretch, but Cruz responded well with seven home runs, five stolen bases, and a hot streak that boosted his average back into the high .290s. The great news in Cruz’s most recent torrid run is his move back to the Rangers’ cleanup spot, which should open up the RBI opportunities by a good deal with Kinsler, Mike Young, and Josh Hamilton hitting ahead of him. Also of note is that Cruz’s power hasn’t been markedly different from homer-friendly Rangers Ballpark when he’s been away, as seven of his 13 home runs were hit away from Arlington.

Justin Morneau – 2009 to date: 66/192 H/AB, 40 R, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 0 SB, .344 BA

Almost on par with Albert Pujols on raw numbers alone, Justin Morneau has enjoyed an excellent May, as the Canadian slugger has hit for a torrid .370 average, nine home runs, and 28 RBI. May has tended to be one of Morneau’s strongest months, as the Twinkie first bagger has posted a lifetime .306 average to go with 35 home runs and 120 RBI. After a 2008 campaign where Morneau experienced a worrying second-half power outage, some suggested Morneau’s days as a 30-home run threat were numbered. A sore knee was to be blame for a dropoff in power last year, and it seems that offseason laser eye surgery has done wonders in Morneau swinging at optimal pitches and driving the ball with great success (45.3% flyball rate).

Cold

Alfonso Soriano – 2009 to date: 48/195 H/AB, 36 R, 12 HR, 25 RBI, 5 SB, .253 BA

Cooling off considerably after an early rampant power binge, Alfonso Soriano has currently been in a 6-for-45 funk with just one extra base hit and no home runs, which has led to Soriano hitting below the .220 mark for the month of May. Fonzie’s woes seem to be attributed to the sore knee he suffered last month in a collision with the wall in tracking Joey Votto’s home run, as well as the relative struggles of the Cubs’ lineup with Aramis Ramirez out, Derrek Lee trying to find his power stroke, and Geovany Soto continuing to slump. The nagging injuries have been typical of Soriano the last couple of seasons, which are to be expected, but the silver lining is he’s managed to shrug off the knee soreness and has continued to trot out there.

Felix Hernandez – 2009 to date: 71.1 IP, 5 W, 72 K, 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Almost on cue, King Felix has followed another strong April with yet another putrid May, posting a 5.28 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and five home runs allowed this month heading into last night’s outing against the Angels. It’s somewhat of a mystery as to why Felix tends to bogs down ritualistically each May, but what is known is his average fastball velocity is a bit down (93.8 MPH), while his flyball rate has gone up a bit (31.7%) at the expense of his groundball rate, which sits at 50 percent. Considering how bad Felix has been on paper this month, he still shows signs of improvement, namely a walk rate that is on average, about a walk lower from his career high of 3.59 BB/9 last season, and his FIP is at a rather healthy 3.29 mark. With a flip of the calendar towards June, Felix will be glad he finished his bogey month soon with a more than decent showing against the Angels.

Howie Kendrick – 2009 to date: 36/157 H/AB, 21 R, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 6 SB, .229 BA

The expectation from a professional hitter such as Howie Kendrick is to put the ball in play for average and round about for runs or perhaps a theft on the basepaths every now and then. It seems Kendrick has strayed off course from that reputation, as his strikeout rate still remains a tad on the high side for his standard (a career-high 20.4% whiff rate) and while it’s good to see his flyball rate at a relatively respectable clip (30.1% FB), he isn’t driving the ball in play as frequently as hoped for (13% LD). Howie’s aggressive penchant for skipping a walk to make contact will most often lead to a rather pedestrian on-base percentage, which will eat away at his stolen base opportunities, although he’s an efficient 6-for-7 in steal attempts. At the very least, Kendrick has managed to stay healthy, which is huge for him as he has yet to feature in 100 games in his first three big league seasons.

Stephen Drew – 2009 to date: 22/105 H/AB, 11 R, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB, .210 BA

Since coming off the DL on May 12, Stephen Drew has still labored mightily, flirting with the Mendoza Line with one home run and three doubles in 61 at-bats. There isn’t anything too alarming in Drew’s peripherals to expect continued disappointment in the near term and in the long run, save for the fact his line drive rate of 18.1 percent is well below par of a 22.6 percent mark posted in Drew’s 2008 breakout season, but that could be righted with greater timing. Drew’s strikeout rate is a bit high (20% K rate), but his outside swing percentage is markedly lower at about ten points lower than last season. This coupled with a double-digit walk rate indicates Drew has displayed better patience. If these indicators hold true, a good surge from Drew can be expected.

Garrett Atkins – 2009 to date: 31/161 H/AB, 17 R, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 0 SB, .193 BA

Two months in, Garrett Atkins’ line isn’t for the faint at heart, as even his fellow teammate Ian Stewart has been more valuable on restricted playing time and for what it’s worth, Stewart has fared better in the power department despite his hit-or-miss nature. As for Atkins, he’s coming off two straight years of steady power and average regression, but this season has truly been a shocker as both his average and ISO marks show a very rapid dropoff from his career arc. The culprit to Atkins’ woes is easy to pinpoint as the Atkins Diet apparently includes not indulging in line drives, considering an eye-popping 14.8 percent line drive rate this season compared to his career average of 22.3 percent. This trend has consequently correlated with an unhealthy spike in his groundball rate to 45.2 percent, a spike of more than eight percent compared to last season and his 2006 career year. Atkins’ power isn’t a guarantee to spike right back up and while a buy low opportunity is apparent, it seems that Atkins is bound to fall short of the 20-home run mark with relatively drab R/RBI and batting average marks.

Buy Low of the Week

B.J. Upton – 2009 to date: 37/185 H/AB, 32 R, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 15 SB, .200 BA

Take away the name and you could have mistaken B.J. Upton for say, Michael Bourn, Carlos Gomez, or Willy Taveras, as practically a player whose value is mainly predicated on his speed and run totals at the expense of his average. Upton seems lost at the plate, considering a terrible strikeout rate of 32 percent, but his outside swing percentage is about the same as last year’s improved rate, which entails that he’s not quite hacking when he’s up there, even if his walk rate is a bit low. Upton is also airing out the same flyball percentage he posted in his 2007 campaign that had seen Upton slug 24 home runs. With a bit more loft in his swing and a positive correction in his line drive rate, B.J. Upton can be the five-category performer most envisioned him being, sooner rather than later.

Three I’m Buying

Ubaldo Jimenez – 2009 to date: 59.2 IP, 3 W, 53 K, 4.37 ERA, 1.44 WHIP

Considering that only 44 percent of Yahoo leagues have Ubaldo Jimenez rostered, the prevailing perception of Jimenez might put him on par with no more than say, a Daniel Cabrera type. Since an April 25 shellacking to the Dodgers, Jimenez has quietly turned things around, as he has allowed just nine walks in the last 40.2 innings, showing fine inroads that he can keep his command under wraps. Jimenez’s peripherals are still quite good, as he’s allowing a groundball rate a trace under 52 percent and only four percent of flyballs in play have cleared the fence for home runs. In addition, Ubaldo’s FIP a full run below his current ERA shows that he’s pitched better than his numbers would otherwise state.

David Wright – 2009 to date: 59/176 H/AB, 31 R, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 11 SB, .335 BA

He’s hitting for a Pujols-like average, he has double-digit bags, and yet David Wright hasn’t quite had the Wright Stuff to break out of a power lull. There might be a few factors for the lull, from adjusting to another pitcher-friendly haven in Citi Field (where Wright has hit a decent .272 BA) to being walked a bit with the Mets missing a couple of important pieces in their lineup (i.e. Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado). Curiously, Wright has struck out 29.5 percent of the time, about ten points above his career norm, which is quite uncharacteristic for such a disciplined hitter as Wright. The silver lining is neither of Wright’s batted ball rates are drastically different from what he has posted in the past, which should entail that it will be a matter of time when Wright cuts down on the strikeouts and boosts his abnormally low HR/FB rate.

Grady Sizemore – 2009 to date: 46/206 H/AB, 29 R, 9 HR, 31 RBI, 7 SB, .223 BA

A frustrating May and reported elbow trouble have cut into Grady Sizemore’s first-round stock by a good deal. There are also reasons to be optimistic about Sizemore rebounding soon, given that his batted ball rates are more or less on par with what he’s done historically; Sizemore still boasts a line drive rate of over 20 percent as well as a flyball rate in the mid-40’s range. Sizemore’s strikeout rate is up at about over four percent from last season, which happens to be in line with his 2007 strikeout rate, but there isn’t an apparent spike in him swinging wildly at pitches outside of the zone to speak of either.

Sell High of the Week

Matt Garza – 2009 to date: 66.2 IP, 4 W, 60 K, 3.65 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

Based off raw numbers, Matt Garza has produced the kind of stat line expected of James Shields, only with a sparkling 8.10 K/9. After making quite the shining impression by pitching a gem in Game 7 of last season’s ALCS, Garza was front and center on many a manager’s fantasy radars and this season, he’s been better than advertised, with a more robust strikeout rate and a dazzling WHIP. There are also a few good reasons to try and capitalize on his value based on what he’s done nearly 67 innings in. For one thing, Garza has posted an extremely low .203 batting average against to date, which on par with Zack Greinke and lower than the likes of Johan Santana (.216), Tim Lincecum (.243), and Roy Halladay (.247). Although Garza hasn’t shown extreme flyball tendencies based on stats alone, his flyball rate still resides in the low 40s and in fact, he surrendered three home runs to the Cleveland Indians last time out without giving up a walk. Speaking of walks, keeping them to a tolerable minimum has been a focus of Garza’s, but in ten outings this year, Garza tossed eight outings with two or more walks, four of which with four or more free passes allowed. In addition, Garza’s FIP of 4.21 indicates he has been a tad lucky. Make no mistake, Matt Garza makes for a more than useful fantasy starter, but once that batting average against takes a step forward, his ERA should go north of the fours and his WHIP should settle a bit as well. It’s a good idea to command the same kind of name value James Shields would command on his good days out of Matt Garza in trade talks.

Three I’m Selling

Jered Weaver – 2009 to date: 68.2 IP, 4 W, 53 K, 2.36 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

On the point of Matt Garza, Weaver is another hurler tossing an unusually low batting average against (.215 BAA) and has still shown his typical flyball tendencies (49.0% FB) albeit with a marginal spike in his infield flyball percentage (15.6% IFFB). It’s worth reiterating that I was a stickler for Jered Weaver going into this year, but both of his ERA and WHIP are quite low and should be closer to his 3.76 FIP, which could evoke feelings of Weaver returning to his luck-based 2006 campaign. There’s still reason to be high on Weaver, however, as he’s taken a step or two in his control, allowing 18 walks in 68.2 innings of work. Weaver should be a solid pitcher, relative to his rockier 2007 and 2008 seasons, but just not as great as he has shown thus far.

Justin Upton – 2009 to date: 56/170 H/AB, 33 R, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 6 SB, .329 BA

What J-Up has done after an abysmal first month or so is impressive, as he has shown another glimpse of his almost limitless future. In terms of this year, I’d be looking to move Justin Upton for a more reliable bet to produce all season. Improving from a whopping 34 percent strikeout rate was bound to occur (Upton has a 27.1% K rate this year), but J-Up is still swinging outside of the zone at the same rate of last season and his walk rate is a few touches lower from where it was last season. J-Up’s batted ball rates are about on par with what he’s done in the past, save for the 19.6 percent HR/FB rate. Granted, an extremely high BABIP and ISO rates are bound to regress, but the fact remains Upton’s skill set still remains raw. After this incredible stretch, perhaps there will be one manager in your league back on the J-Up bandwagon, believing that his freakish power is the order of the day en route to a .280 BA, 25 HR year.

Aaron Hill – 2009 to date: 77/228 H/AB, 33 R, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 2 SB, .338 BA

Often times, it takes two months to make a believer (or non-believer) in certain fantasy players, especially a hitter who is on the cusp of becoming this year’s Carlos Quentin. That’s exactly the incredible pace Aaron Hill is on, who I’ve reasonably compared to as a poor man’s Jose Lopez with 20 home run upside, but Hill has performed like Dustin Pedroia plus the power to back up his high Yahoo season-to-date rank. Hill’s pace figures to be all smoke and mirrors, considering an extremely high line drive rate (24.7%), a 37.8 percent flyball rate in line with seasons past, and an abnormally high 16.4 percent HR/FB rate. Even though Hill’s strikeout rate has taken a step downward, he’s swinging outside of the strike zone more than ever before (31.8 percent). In short, the perceived power seems to be a one-off and his BABIP should also take a downward correction. Now that we’ve established that Hill won’t continue half the pace he’s on, who should you be targeting? In one of my leagues, Hill was traded for Josh Beckett last month, but for some reason, that deal was vetoed. While you might be able to squeeze more out of Hill than just Beckett, such an example still stands out as a textbook buy low/sell high deal.

Well, that about does it for me this week. We’ll go streaking again next Sunday and until then, keep your clothes on and remember, be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan, who's also ecstatic that Lionel Messi made the cover of this week's ESPN Magazine and he just had to make a snazzy new signature out of it. Today, Messi and tomorrow, it'll be the undisputed best footballer in the world, Andres Iniesta gracing the ESPN cover! 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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