StrategyJune 21, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 12: On the Mark

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to another installment of Hot/Cold. Today is a special day; aside from the fact it’s Father’s Day (and oh, Happy Father’s Day to you Padres out there), today is also the Summer Solstice — the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere — and a banner date, as most of us look forward to warmer and sunnier weather. Now, as both climate and baseball season continue to heat up, we’re also holding a different kind of draft to keep the lot of fantasy managers focused on the most important thing in life: To assemble a fantasy team of the sexiest women on the planet, the “Hot Chick Draft”. The obvious difference between a fantasy “Hot Chick Draft” and a typical fantasy sports league draft is that in the latter, facts and figures are king, while it’s individual taste that rules “Hot Chick Draft” choices. Oh, but there is some strategy involved in said “Hot Chick Draft”. As a rule, ladies with higher celebrity will normally be drafted higher while those less famous (or infamous) will be taken later — late-round sleepers, if you will. Yours truly has taken a more unconventional route in drafting those women I thought most attractive for that round and, in fact, I used a few of my “sleeper” picks in the earlier rounds.

What does this have to with fantasy baseball? By now, all preconceived notions that Player X is more valuable than Player Y because they were taken in a higher MLB draft round go out the window. Based on trends and figures we can circle around, we can ignore players’ “name value” factor, and identify the best bets to perform from this day forward. At this point, it’s high time to move players who carry great name value, but otherwise seem to be underperforming — especially if you have some catching up to do in your league standings, and need to change your luck. Identifying players who are likely to produce disappointing output, yet still retain their name value, is both a science and an art. As ever, each week I hope to present you with some solid choices — both players you should aim for (regardless of perceived value), and those whose “great names” still retain good trade value and ought to be moved in favor of a better projected producer (taking advantage of perceived value). Got all that? Great. Let’s get on to this week’s highlighted players.

Hot

Mark DeRosa – Last 4 Weeks: 33/103 H/AB, 22 R, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB, .320 BA

Just settling into his new environs in Cleveland, Mark DeRosa has gotten over a rough start, having slugged seven of his 13 home runs over only the past month or so. One of fantasy baseball’s equivalents of a Swiss army knife, DeRosa’s production has proven to be more than useful, given his triple position eligibility (2B, 3B, OF). Comparing previous performances, DeRosa has been slightly more aggressive this season, and he’s now on a pace projected to meet or exceed his 2008 career year. The Tribe’s utility man has walked less (12.0% BB in 2008 to 9.4% in 2009), maintained a strikeout rate a touch under 22 percent, and has reached outside of the strike zone a bit more (22 percent outside swing percentage), while seeing a dropoff in his line drive rate (19% LD, a career low pace). In addition, DeRosa’s future value and production remain iffy — his name may surface in trade talks this summer, which could either boost or lower his value.

Pablo Sandoval – Last 4 Weeks: 31/81 H/AB, 12 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, .383 BA

Another flourishing fantasy utility player of late, Giants corner infielder Pablo Sandoval, has gotten his power stroke working recently, recording half of his eight home runs to date over the past couple of weeks. While that little tear might not seem particularly impressive in and of itself, the fact that he is catcher-eligible in a number of leagues raises Sandoval’s stock as an above-average catcher perhaps beating a path to stardom. After all, Sandoval possesses a burly 245-pound frame and mashed 20 home runs in 448 at-bats last season in A and AA ball before his down-the-stretch promotion to the big league club. However, the 22 year-old has benefited from a .360 BABIP and, unlike last season, his strikeout rate is up to 14.9 percent (in line with his minor league career norms), up from 9.7 percent on a relatively small major league sample of 145 at-bats. Sandoval’s plate discipline understandably remains a work in progress, as he has swung outside of the strike zone a whopping 46.2 percent of the time, while improving only slightly to a 5.4 percent walk rate. With that said, Sandoval’s upside for posting a respectable power number (for a fantasy backstop) makes him worth rostering, even though a dropoff may be in order.

Juan Rivera – Last 4 Weeks: 35/95 H/AB, 12 R, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, .368 BA

It’s no longer just Torii Hunter that’s single-handedly carrying the Angels’ offense, since Juan Rivera has earned his halo by piling up eight home runs in a month-long rampage. Juan experienced setbacks with a near-season-ending leg injury in 2007, followed by a year spent battling for playing time but, at last, Rivera has cemented his place in the Halos’ lineup. With a full slate of plate appearances, he can reasonably meet his 2006 career year, in which the four-tool left fielder tallied 23 home runs, 85 RBI, and a .310 batting average on 448 at-bats. It’s a welcome sight to see Rivera get his plate discipline back up to scratch, as he has slashed his strikeout rate to a single-digit clip (8.8 percent) while drastically cutting down on his swings outside of the strike zone. On 256 at-bats last season, Rivera swung for pitches outside the zone 30.3 percent of the time, an unusual note for a hitter who has generally shown solid plate discipline. So far this year, on 215 at-bats, Rivera’s outside swing percentage has dwindled back to league average (22.6 percent).

Ryan Braun – Last 4 Weeks: 33/107 H/AB, 20 R, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 2 SB, .308 BA

Rather quietly, Ryan Braun has put together a nice power surge, lifting the offensive efforts of a feast-or-famine Brewers lineup by rocking opposing hurlers for seven home runs in the last few weeks. Though accompanied by little fanfare, it has been a rather interesting campaign of improvement for the Brewers’ star left fielder, driven by his huge leap forward in plate discipline. Sure, it’s not a strange sight to see “Brauny” record a strikeout rate of 23 percent, but Ryan’s also shaved nearly eight points off last year’s outside swing percentage (34.3% O-Swing in 2008 to 26.6% in 2009). Perhaps a more telling stat is that he has walked on 11.3 percent of his plate appearances to date, eclipsing his usual six percent rate. Another observation about Braun’s numbers: He is logging unusually high line drive and groundball rates, which have eaten away at his career-norm flyball rate. Given his history of coping with ribcage and back ailments, it’s reasonable to think his recent related flare-ups (albeit minor) have contributed to this season’s uncharacteristically low flyball rate (30.9% FB as opposed to his norm of 44%). However, Ryan is still mashing the ball — a gaudy 23.4 percent line drive rate on the year — and as long as he can stay healthy, Braun’s flyball rate should trend upward toward his career norms.

Cold

Wandy Rodriguez – Last 4 Weeks: 24.2 IP, 0 W, 26 K, 6.93 ERA, 2.19 WHIP

The honeymoon is all but over for Wandy Rodriguez, since it seems that being a homebody is now the cursed destiny of the Astros hurler. Several weeks back, yours truly held cautious optimism that Wandy could be onto something in curing his homesick woes, and while his following starts in Atlanta and Colorado were decent, the wheels have come off the wagon a bit. Rodriguez was tagged for ten hits and six unearned runs in four innings at Cincinnati, then outdid himself during the following stops at Pittsburgh and Texas, where he failed to go five innings, and was shelled for 11 runs in the last 8.2 innings on the road. Aside from giving up seven runs to Colorado in the beginning of June, Wandy has remained rather immaculate at home, as usual, with just a 2.15 ERA allowed in 46 innings at Minute Maid Park. Let his success (as well as his failures) be your guide — implement Wandy Rodriguez as strictly a home starter until he inspires some renewed confidence with good outings in a few consecutive road starts. Only then might he regain his former status as a must-start pitcher, no matter the opponent or ballpark.

Chris Volstad – Last 4 Weeks: 29.0 IP, 1 W, 16 K, 6.83 ERA, 1.62 WHIP

Ironically, on the day I chose to highlight Wandy Rodriguez’s fine start back in Week 5, yours truly also attempted to make sense of Chris Volstad’s tremendous start, only to come to the conclusion that he was due for a regression. Back then, Volstad had an ERA of 2.67 and a WHIP of 0.99 in his first 30 or so innings of the ‘09 season, and his FIP of 4.84 indicated there was some luck involved in the minimal damage to his ERA and WHIP. Sure enough, Volstad’s ERA for the year has risen to 4.75, which is right in line with his current FIP. Since punching in a K/9 of 8.01 from that small 30 inning sample, Volstad’s K/9 has regressed to 6.59, striking out just 34 batters in his last 53 innings. On the flip side, there are a couple of positives to note with Volstad, namely a trimmer walk rate (13 BB in 53.1 IP), as well as a 50.2 percent groundball rate, the latter offset somewhat by the 14 home runs he has surrendered (a 16.7% HR/FB). The window to favorably trade the 23-year-old hurler has obviously passed, yet he’s still worth hanging on to. Remember, Volstad is coming off back-to-back starts against St. Louis and Boston, potent offenses that have skewed his ERA some (a total of 14 ER in 9 IP).

Ryan Zimmerman – Last 4 Weeks: 21/97 H/AB, 10 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB, .216 BA

Several weeks back, this column included a section highlighting Ryan Zimmerman’s prolific start, whereupon the doom song was promptly sung as a requiem for his dream opening stretch. “Invader Zimm” has labored to post a .221 batting average over his last 113 at-bats, eking out five doubles, three home runs, and 14 RBI. At the time, Zimmerman boasted a flyball rate higher than usual, which has come down to 38.3 percent on the year, a rate that is still markedly better than his injury-shortened 2008 mark of 34.1 percent. The Nationals’ franchise player has still maintained a healthy line drive rate of 23.4 percent, and his plate selectivity remains good, with a career-high 11.3 percent walk rate. As of this writing, Fangraphs’ updated ZiPS on Zimmerman pegs the 24 year-old third-bagger for a campaign of 96 runs, 27 HR, 92 RBI, 1 SB, and .295 BA — in line with his 2007 season.

Alex Rodriguez – Last 4 Weeks: 21/95 H/AB, 11 R, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, .221 BA

Since recovering very well from hip surgery to repair a torn labrum, Alex Rodriguez has provided the power lumber as expected, with nine home runs in 132 at-bats for the season, albeit with little other consistent success (he’s sporting just a .212 average). A-Rod has even been rested for two of the three games in the Yankees’ weekend series with the Marlins, and Joe Girardi has attributed A-Rod’s struggles mainly to fatigue. It would’ve been tough for A-Rod to be 100 percent, given the speedy recovery, and fatigue is likely the main reason for his slump (unless you believe it’s “fatigue” — *wink wink*). For what it’s worth, A-Rod’s line drive rate is lower than usual (14.8% LD), while his groundball rate is roughly up by the same margin from last year at 46.3 percent. A rebound should be in order from A-Rod.

Buy Low of the Week

Jorge Cantu – Last 4 Weeks: 25/96 H/AB, 9 R, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, .260 BA

Almost two months ago, Jorge Cantu was on quite a power surge, and while that torrid pace wasn’t sustainable, the “can-do” man has now suffered an equally unlikely power outage — cranking out just two measly round trippers in his last 140 at-bats. Thrown off by the dizziness caused by his cholesterol medication, the Marlins’ first baseman hopes that once the ill effects of his medications ease, he’ll be able to get back into the groove. Despite his recent woes, Cantu has still maintained a 45.5 percent flyball rate, cut back on his strikeouts (14.8% K in 2009 to 17.7% in 2008), and has made inroads toward being more selective at the plate (28.9% O-Swing in 2009 to 32.6% in 2008; 49.6% first strike percentage). In short, Jorge Cantu is a good bet to finish the season with 25 home runs, especially if his improving selectivity turns out to be a long-term trend.

Three I’m Buying

Jordan Zimmermann – A shaky beginning for the Zimmerman in Washington (whose name sports an extra trailing “n”) has led a number of owners to look for rookie pitcher messiah “mannpower” elsewhere — in the form of Tommy Hanson or Stephen Strasburg — but there are a couple of reasons why you should consider acquiring or keeping Jordan Zimmermann. In his last five starts, the 23 year-old hurler has proven to be quite solid, posting a 3.45 ERA and 31 strikeouts in his last 28.2 innings. In spite of being tattooed for a 25 percent line drive rate and eight home runs in 62.2 innings of work, Zimmermann’s FIP stands at 3.76, more than a full run below his current ERA of 5.03. Zimmermann also boasts a first strike percentage nine points higher than league average (67% to 58%), an outside swing percentage of 28.1 percent — more than three points higher than league average — and a strike zone pitch percentage of 53.5 percent (49% is the league average). Jordan Zimmermann provides greater upside than the average spot starter, and quality starts should fall in line for the well-seasoned rookie.

Ted Lilly – An unsung hero in fantasy circles, Ted Lilly has emerged once again as the Cubbies’ most consistent starting pitcher, tossing a respectable strikeout rate and watertight ratios. The best part is that Lilly’s understated name value keeps most realistic owners from ever expecting a high return out of him. While his home run tendencies will keep his stock in check (and his 3.97 FIP indicates a bit of a regression is on the way), Lilly has been extremely stingy in handing out free passes, conceding just 20 walks in 91.1 innings of work to date en route to a career-low walk rate.

Zack Greinke – It smacks of the unconventional to suggest that topping your shopping list should be a top-five ace (at present) who commands first round value in some managers’ minds, but Zack Greinke has now been found out to be merely mortal (3.95 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in last 41 innings). While his value is still a bit dimmed by these numbers, now is a fine time to swoop in on Greinke. His FIP (1.91) is about in line with his current ERA (1.96), and his K/9 remains relatively high with a 9.45 mark, due in part to an outside swing percentage over four percent higher than last year’s breakout campaign (28.2% O-Swing in 2009 to 24.0% in 2008) — all while maintaining a pristine 106/18 K/BB ratio. For the year, Fangraphs’ updated ZiPS still has Greinke in line for a Cy Young-worthy season: 211 IP, 16 W, 208 K, 2.77 ERA, 1.02 WHIP. He might be a tad on the expensive side still, but Greinke remains a legitimate top five ace, and should end up producing like one for the season.

Sell High of the Week

Mark Reynolds – Last 4 Weeks: 31/107 H/AB, 19 R, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 4 SB, .290 BA

What if I told you that there’s a third baseman out there who will supply the projected power of Ryan Braun, and swipe 20 bags at the least (albeit batting about 35 points below .300)? This is precisely the pace Mark Reynolds is on, and if his current five-category pace can help convince another owner to bite on a deal with a handsome return for you, by all means go for it. The incredibly overlooked thing about the all-or-nothing Arizona slugger is that he’s on pace to repeat or exceed his all-time strikeout record, with 95 whiffs to his name thus far. Reynolds’ contact rate remains more than 19 points below league average (61.2% to 80.6% league average), while his HR/FB rate is at an all-time high of 27.3 percent. Consequently, his infield flyball percentage is virtually nonexistent (3% IFFB in 2009 to 11% in 2008). In addition, Reynolds’ line drive rate is much lower than in previous seasons (14.6% LD), which has led to a rise in his groundball rate (41.7%), though at little expense to his flyball rate. A 30 home run campaign may be within his grasp, but Reynolds’ whiff-happy ways should keep his chances of enjoying a top 30-40 stud fantasy campaign slimmer than many owners think.

Three I’m Selling

Trevor Hoffman – The past week marked Trevor Hoffman’s first blown save in 17 opportunities as the new Brewers’ closer, but, all in all, “Hells Bells” has been able to roll back the years by posting a 1.31 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. The key to his success has been keeping his flyball rate manageable — so far he’s allowed a 38.2 percent flyball rate, his lowest since 2003, and an improvement over 2008 (47.2%) and 2007 (51.8%). Because he’s in presumably the twilight of his career, Hoffman might not command greatest value, but he can be a valuable chip if some owners in your league try to mount a charge in the save category.

Joe Mauer – I could simply point to the fact that Mauer hadn’t hit more than 13 home runs this year until last Saturday evening when he popped his 14th, or that his HR/FB of 26.5 percent is unsustainable, but I’ll just refer you to Hit Tracker, which states that five of Mauer’s 14 home runs were classified as “just enough”, and only two were classified as “no-doubters”. It is also worth noting that nine of his 14 home runs have been hit to the opposite field, which displays that he has lofted the ball more by taking it the other way. In addition, Mauer has gone yard just twice in the last 16 games, which might indicate that his newfound power is starting to trail off from the red-hot pace he was on freshly back from the DL. Nonetheless, on paper, Mauer has produced in Pujols-like fashion, with a .417 average and power to spare (and doing so as the undisputed top backstop in fantasy baseball), which could help you to capitalize on his current power pace for a higher premium than he’d normally go for.

C.C. Sabathia – Last Winter, I wrote a doctoral thesis on why you shouldn’t draft C.C. Sabathia (although in retrospect, the touting of Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco elicits a shudder out of yours truly), and now is an opportune time to do a follow-up on the Yanks’ #1 ace. Thus far, it seems that Sabathia’s overuse (and abuse) over the last two seasons hasn’t come back to haunt him with constant wear and tear injuries this year. In fact, Sabathia has performed to realists’ expectations, logging nearly a full run worse in his ERA (2.70 in 2008 and 3.67 in 2009), and his BB/9 has also swelled since coming back to the American League. Also of note is an eight percent upward swing in his flyball rate (39.7% in 2009 from 31.7% in 2008), and a nearly five percent drop in his groundball rate (41.7% in 2009 from 46.6% in 2008). As predicted, Sabathia’s K/9 is also down, cut to an alarming rate of 6.17 K/9 (69 K in 100.2 IP), due in part to American League batters being more selective in general — also explaining an almost five percent decline in outside swing percentage (27.4% O-Swing in 2009 from 32.0% O-Swing in 2008). Another AL-related statistic: His percentage of first-pitch strikes is also down from last year nearly six percent (58.2% F-Strike in 2009 from 63.9% F-Strike in 2008). Sabathia has pitched fairly well (currently the 22nd ranked starting pitcher in the Yahoo game), but moving an ace whose value is mainly predicated on his “name” in return for some top-tier upgrades would be the way to go.

Well, that’s all I have for you this week. Check back next week 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 no, he wasn't joking about his turbocharged Hayabusa speed bike with Eva Wyrwal riding on the backseat which he referred to in the Week 3 column of the Hot/Cold. 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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