StrategyJune 7, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 10: Luke-Warm Bat

By Ray Flores

It’s Sunday and once again, we’re going streaking in Week 10 — yes, Week 10 of the Hot/Cold. Today, we’ll highlight a hitter who might just be the Orioles’ answer to the WWE’s Scotty 2 Hotty (circa early 2000’s) with the way he’s swinging the bat, but of course, the question is: will he eventually come down to earth and do “The Worm?” Also, we’ll mention two pitchers who might possibly give Johan Santana a run for his money in the NL’s Cy Young race as well as two Halos you might want to think of shipping for a place on Cloud Nine, and we’ll compare a certain player to a Ford Pinto. Can you guess who he is? In addition, we’ll have a special session in building positive reinforcement with a tool no better than the faith-building exercise as to why you want Chris Davis on your team.

Hot

Luke Scott – Last Two Weeks: 12/31 H/AB, 9 R, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 0 SB, .387 BA

Over the last couple of weeks, no one has slugged more home runs than the Orioles’ Luke Scott, who has been a power tour de force since coming off the DL from a bum shoulder nearly two weeks ago. Since moving over to Baltimore this past offseason, Scott’s playing time was a subject of debate, as he seemed destined to split time with Ty Wigginton because of his perceived inability to hit against lefties. But as his hot bat has merited starts on a regular basis, Scott has hammered southpaws, with six of his 13 home runs being hit against lefties for a .343 batting average. Scott has shown that he can mash 20 home runs on limited at-bats, fresh off last year in Houston where he slugged 23 round trippers in 475 at-bats. However, it seems Scott won’t sustain his current hot streak, as he has converted a whopping 32.5 percent of flyballs hit when he is currently hitting for a relatively pedestrian 38.5 percent flyball clip. Enjoy the ride from the soon-to-be 31 year-old outfielder, but it’s still a stretch to count on him knocking in 30 home runs.

Ben Zobrist – Last Four Weeks: 27/81 H/AB, 18 R, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 5 SB, .330 BA

Tampa Bay seems to have a slight stranglehold on waiver wire flames as Ben Zobrist has currently supplanted DL stand-in Jason Bartlett as the “it” guy at the Trop in doing his best B.J. Upton impression. Zobrist is on a similar power pace as last season, having slugged a dozen home runs in just under 200 at-bats, but this season, a lack of playing time shouldn’t be a determent to the Rays’ utility man, as he is filling in for the injured Akinori Iwamura, who figures to miss the entire season. Another difference this year is Zobrist has upped his walk rate by nearly five percent and has upped his line drive rate by about four percent while he has sustained a 44.4 percent flyball clip on batted balls this year. Over a full season, it seems Zobrist won’t sustain the HR/FB rate of nearly 20 percent nor has he had a minor league track record of hitting for power. The silver lining is the guaranteed playing time will likely make Zobrist a useful asset in the long term, especially with his multiple position eligibility at 2B, SS, and OF, but his prior track record is a good indicator that his prolific five-category success will prove to be a one-off.

Yovani Gallardo – Last Two Weeks: 21.1 IP, 2 W, 20 K, 0.42 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

Johan Santana may jump out as the clear front-runner for the NL Cy Young, but for value, Yovani Gallardo should be one of the top National League aces, with regards to being a fantasy bargain Cy Young. Gallardo has been as brilliant as advertised fresh off an unfortunately shortened campaign from a freak injury, striking out 71 batters in 73 innings and posting a svelte ratio set of a 2.84 ERA and 1.08 WHIP for the season. In his last 21.1 innings, Gallardo has been particularly filthy, only allowing one earned run, punctuated by a two-hit eight-inning shutout win of the Atlanta Braves in his last time out. Gallardo’s efficiency leaves something to be desired, in conceding a walk rate of 3.45 BB/9, but he has kept making gradual progress in keeping the ball on the ground, as he has posted a career-best 43 percent groundball rate thus far while consequently allowing a manageable 37.8 percent flyball rate. In addition, Gallardo has struck out roughly a batter per inning with improved velocity in all four of his offerings, making him a bonafide top ten caliber starter as he reaches a new career high for innings pitched.

Chris Carpenter – Last Four Weeks: 28.0 IP, 3 W, 22 K, 0.96 ERA, 0.61 WHIP

A brief DL stint hadn’t extinguished a hot start for Chris Carpenter, as he has surrendered just three runs in 28 innings since returning from the DL. Staying healthy once again is the key for Carpenter, and the encouraging sign is he threw eight shutout innings against the Brewers and went the distance in his last home outing against the Reds. Other encouraging signs from Carpenter are an increase in velocity in his offerings, an increase in his outside swing percentage from his last full season in 2006, and his batted ball rates being in line with his historical tendencies as a groundball-intensive pitcher.

Carl Pavano – Last Four Weeks: 40.2 IP, 4 W, 33 K, 3.10 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

He’s perhaps fantasy’s equivalent to a Ford Pinto, but believe it or not, Carl Pavano has actually proven his worth of being owned in all leagues. Pavano’s current form is as head-scratching as his enigmatic up-and-down career, where you would need to go back to 2005 to spot a season where Pavano pitched at least 100 innings, back when Pavano signed a fat contract with the Yankees and was fantasy dead weight since, that is, until now. After a rocky April where he posted an abysmal 9.50 ERA, Pavano righted the ship in May, putting together a 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 34 strikeouts in 45 innings to go with a 5-1 record. Last Friday, Pavano opened up June on the right foot again, with a sparkling complete game shutout win of the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field. On raw numbers, it doesn’t seem one or a few statistics jump out as the leading indicator(s) to Pavano’s success, save for an outside swing percentage of 30 percent. Pavano’s stuff hasn’t necessarily improved, but it seems that his efficiency is back on point, with his walk rate being on par with his career-best 2004 campaign. In addition, a 3.60 FIP and a HR/FB rate in line with previous full seasons show that Pavano has pitched better than his 4.63 ERA to date would otherwise indicate. There isn’t a great deal of faith in Carl Pavano, according to his 19 percent ownership in Yahoo leagues, but it seems that he merits a spot as a permanent fantasy back-end starter based on his current form.

Cold

Troy Tulowitzki – Last Four Weeks: 19/82 H/AB, 10 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB, .232 BA

Roller coaster stretches seem to be the order of the day with Troy Tulowitzki and at this moment, he’s hit into another valley — for that matter, this season has mainly been a frigid one for the Rockies’ star shortstop. Much of his struggles stem from a 22.4 percent strikeout rate, which is a step back towards his 2007 mark of 21.3 percent, keeping in mind that in 2008, Tulowitzki made some promising inroads in cutting down on the strikeouts with a 14.9 strikeout rate. However, Tulowitzki isn’t quite as clueless at the plate as believed on paper, as he’s cut down on swinging outside of the zone by three percent (20.4% O-Swing in 2009 to 23.7% and 23.6% in 2008 and 2007 respectively). Tulowitzki seems to have hit the ball hard with a gaudy 46.6 percent flyball rate, but 14.5 percent of those flyballs have been hit in the infield. Conversely, Tulowitzki’s line drive rate sits at 15 percent when in the past three years, he has managed to put the ball in play for line drives at no less than 20 percent of his at-bats. That said, “Tulo” is worth a buy-low bid on, especially once he gets more comfortable and starts drilling line drives more often.

Ryan Ludwick – Last Four Weeks: 5/41 H/AB, 5 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, .122 BA

Trying to get his timing back after being sidelined with a hamstring strain, Ryan Ludwick is 3-for-27 since returning from the DL, but has belted a home run in that week-plus stretch. Ludwick hasn’t been able to drive the ball with a ton of authority thus far (15.6% LD in 2009 to 26.1% LD in 2008) and while he has cut down on the strikeouts by a great deal as opposed to last year (19.5% K in 2009 to 27.1% K in 2008), Ludwick has swung outside of the zone a bit more often than usual for a 29 percent outside-swing percentage. For what it’s worth, Ludwick is still on pace for 36 home runs in 532 at-bats, but given that he is unlikely to duplicate the gaudy line drive rate of last season, his average might leave a bit to be desired. However, Ludwick might be acquired at a discount if you need a power hitter who can reasonably post 30 home runs.

Nick Markakis – Last Four Weeks: 24/111 H/AB, 8 R, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .216 BA

I discussed Markakis last month in the “Hot” section, but today, he’s on the opposite side of this column. Consider this slump as a slight correction to his pace back in May, but the good news in general is Markakis has struck out less (12.8 percent), although his walk rate isn’t quite at the handsome clip of 14.3 percent as last season. There isn’t much else to say about Markakis except that he’s on pace to match his 2007 numbers at the least albeit on single-digit SB totals.

Aaron Harang – Last Four Weeks: 37.2 IP, 3 W, 35 K, 5.26 ERA, 1.51 WHIP

Granted Harang’s ERA and WHIP ratios have been inflated by a terrible eight-run shellacking at the hands of the Brewers two outings ago, but prior to lasting eight innings against the Cardinals in a loss to Chris Carpenter last time out, Harang struggled to get out of five innings relatively unscathed in the previous two performances. Harang also has a neat little streak going in which he has conceded at least one home run in his last eight go-rounds. Harang’s fastball velocity is still a trace below from where it was in 2005 to 2007 and with it has come a K/9 settling in the sevens rather than in the eights, as well as an outside swing percentage that has steadily been on the decline.

Manny Parra – Last Four Weeks: 26.0 IP, 2 W, 23 K, 9.00 ERA, 2.04 WHIP

Suspect command has plagued Manny Parra all season, given a whopping 36 walks in 57.1 innings of work, but it’s the two big flare-ups at Minnesota and Florida that has made Parra more hittable each time he has gotten into trouble with his control. On paper, Parra has done well in keeping that line drive rate manageable, decreasing it even, while maintaining a relatively healthy groundball rate. The frustrating thing with Parra is he seemed to turn the corner in stringing four good performances from early to mid-May before the wheels came off the wagon in his last three performances. Supposedly, Parra hasn’t gotten accustomed to making a new move in keeping base runners from taking a greater lead, which has led to a frustrating lack of focus on his delivery to the plate with a runner or two on. The problem with Parra seems to be mental and it might take a demotion for him to get his command under wraps and to keep his poise on the mound with runners on.

Buy Low of the Week

Chris Davis – Last Four Weeks: 20/90 H/AB, 11 R, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB, .222 BA

You either love Chris Davis or hate him, you either believe he’s another Ryan Howard in the making or think he’s no better than say, a Chris Shelton. Opinions and advice on Chris Davis vary wildly, it seems, and for the record, I’m one of those who falls in that “Chris Davis believer” camp. Instead of looking at the glass as half-empty and pointing at Chris Davis’ mind-numbing pace to destroy Mark Reynolds’ strikeout record in a season, I’ll look at the fact Davis is still on pace for a 40 home run season in his sophomore turn, or something close to that number. This got me thinking: why is it that a good number of managers choose to point out Davis’ foibles when Jay Bruce is sitting on a .215 average to offset his 14 home runs to date? The answer lies in the fact Davis had relatively more hype in this season’s drafts in comparison to Bruce, more or less because of his 3B eligibility. Of course, the other difference lies in Bruce striking out just a mere 23.1 percent as opposed to Davis’ awe-inspiring 44.8 percent strikeout rate, but if you’re looking at the glass half-full and if you need a power fix on your team, Davis is worth buying low on if his owners are frustrated with Davis’ whiffing ways to the point they’re willing to part ways with “Crush” for a discount. The one worry with Davis is he’s only had seven doubles in 181 at-bats as opposed to 23 last year in 295 at-bats, but if he ups his contact rate in concert with his solid power to all fields, Davis could honestly bump that average up a bit (he has nowhere to go but up, right?). Getting Davis minus the hype and hefty price tag could prove to be a worthwhile move.

Three I’m Buying

Scott Baker – This might be the last call to acquire Scott Baker on the cheap, or better yet, to pick him up off free agency in your league (I know I’ve picked him up for free in one of my leagues), as it seems he has righted the ship, if his last three starts are to be believed. Baker carries a homer-happy reputation for good reason, but he generally has the habit of keeping walks to a tolerable minimum. In his last 21 innings of work, Baker has allowed just one free pass, highlighted from his most recent outing, a 10-strikeout win over the Cleveland Indians. Baker is a fantastic source of ratios in spite of his sporadic strikeout-intensive showings and should prove to be worth his draft slot from here on out.

Nate McLouth – The move to Atlanta probably won’t impact McLovin’s production too much for the better or for worse, but a current mini-slide average-wise opens a bit of a buying opportunity for Nate McLouth’s services. McLouth is walking a bit more as opposed to last season, but his line drive rate is a tad low at 13.2 percent, even though his ISO is about the same as last season. Expect McLouth’s line drive rate to normalize for the good and for him to eventually reach the 25/25 potential for which he was drafted.

Matt Holliday – A rough introduction to American League pitching in April quieted down a slight resurgence on Matt Holliday’s part last May (18 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB, .291 BA), but so far in June, Holliday is scorching the ball, with two home runs barely a week in and a .444 average to boot. Sure, Holliday’s slugging percentage was meant to take a hit playing half of the year in Oakland, but he seems to be easing through his transition. Holliday doesn’t need to put up first-round numbers for what you get in return, but he’s still capable of a high average and pulling his home run count to the 25-to-30 level on the season.

Sell High of the Week

David Aardsma28.1 IP, 2 W, 9 SV, 31 K, 1.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP

Pegged as a dark-horse closer candidate in spring training, David Aardsma has filled in admirably since Brandon Morrow’s struggles played himself out of closing duties, closing down nine saves to go with a 1.91 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 28.1 innings. However, a high walk rate as well as an incredibly high strand rate of 86.3 percent point to the fact he has benefited by a good bit of luck (3.58 FIP). Now would be a good time to capitalize on his successes in nailing down all but one save opportunity and turn him loose for a fairly good return. For instance, I happened to land Francisco Liriano for Aardsma, which falls in one of those theoretical “buy low, sell high” deals — I surely fancy Liriano’s chances of getting his control under wraps eventually, more so than I do Aardsma sustaining the kind of level and value with which he currently holds.

Three I’m Selling

Chone Figgins – On pace for about 50 stolen bases and buoyed by a career-best 12 percent walk rate as well as a .378 BABIP, Chone Figgins carries extra value when stolen bases are at a greater premium with Jose Reyes injured (and will likely fall well short of his speed expectations) and Jimmy Rollins struggling mightily. Figgins’ additional 2B eligibility in Yahoo leagues is also a compelling reason to start shopping Figgins around and squeeze a bit more value out of him than usual.

Michael Bourn – For what it’s worth, like Figgins, Michael Bourn has also benefited from a high BABIP, an increased walk rate, and a sky-high line drive rate, which also makes him worthy of dangling around in trades.

Torii Hunter – According to the updated ZiPS on Fangraphs‘ profile for Torii Hunter, Hunter is on pace for quite a career year in posting 103 runs, 29 HR, 109 RBI, 24 SB, and a .295 batting average, which would be a near-repeat of his 2002 campaign. There isn’t a massive change in Hunter’s peripherals to suggest any anomalies or indicators of improvement, but what is apparent is Hunter currently has a walk rate of 11.6 percent, a career-high pace, which can also explain why he’s on pace to steal about 25 bases. Whatever the case, Hunter’s current numbers could be ammunition in your trade talks to net a top 50 player, or perhaps even a top 25 player in return if you play your cards right.

Well, that about does it for this week’s Hot/Cold. As always, drop by next Sunday for another edition of Hot/Cold and until then, be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan and yes, he's also a pro wrestling fan, but instead of being nostalgic about Hulkamania and the WWF Attitude Era, he reminisces of the vintage ECW and the timeless battles between Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa. 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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