StrategyJune 28, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 13: Never Too Late for Tulo

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to another Hot/Cold, and today, yours truly ponders a citation he got from the karma police. Last week, I recommended that CC Sabathia owners should be selling the Yankees’ ace in order to squeeze the best out of name value, and, for what it’s worth, Sabathia was on my “avoid” list this season. At any rate, in our Matchup Meltdown game, only one matchup looked attractive to me, and it was Sunday’s Yankees-Marlins game — a game that seemed like a lock for Sabathia to outduel Chris Volstad, and that was the way I was going for my do-or-die pick. Sure enough, CC didn’t even last two innings, exiting with what was deemed as bicep soreness. The Yanks’ jumped out to a 3-1 lead, mitigating the disappointment of losing their starter — perhaps the Yanks could just outslug the Marlins and win it that way. Instead, Chris Volstad (who I said was still worth hanging onto in the last column), kept the damage to a bare minimum, and kept the Marlins in the game. Leave it to Brett Tomko (former Giant and Dodger) to serve up two home runs to Hanley Ramirez and Cody Ross, which put my survival in the Meltdown in jeopardy. Next, Matt Lindstrom teased at forking the win away, and the Yankees fell just a run short — so did my run in the Meltdown. Sabathia’s exit turned out to be more precautionary than anything, and he in turn had a magnificent outing against the Mets a few days ago. Figures, no? At the end of the day, I’m glad I got my ice cube the prior week. Now, if only I could extend my luck in Pick3 and the Meltdown into Lucky Ladders. All right, onto the business at hand…

Hot

Troy Tulowitzki – Last 4 Weeks: 24/75 H/AB, 18 R, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 5 SB, .320 BA

Three weeks ago, I made mention of Troy Tulowitzki’s penchant for peaks and valleys before finally coming to the conclusion he was worth pursuing for a discount, even with the worries of a hand contusion at the time. Since that write-up, “Tulo” has been a key part in the Rockies’ resurgence (along with the Jim Tracy factor, of course). He’s been tearing the cover off the ball, with four home runs, four stolen bases, and a .333 batting average over the last two weeks. Fortunes may have changed for Tulowitzki, but, as you might expect, there haven’t been any radical changes in his peripherals going back three Sundays. Tulowitzki continues to induce a gaudy flyball rate (46.7% FB) at the expense of his career-low line drive rate (15.4% LD), and in due time, both his flyball and line drive rates should converge to career normalcy. Although Tulowitzki is still guilty of a strikeout rate greater than league average (22.2% K), he has maintained an excellent walk rate of 13.5 percent. This helps explain the spike in his base stealing opportunities, albeit at a less-than-stellar 10-for-16 stolen base conversion rate. Put it all together and it seems Troy Tulowitzki is bound for a 25/15 season (or something in that neighborhood), en route to establishing himself as a top-flight shortstop.

Derrek Lee – Last 4 Weeks: 34/97 H/AB, 16 R, 6 HR, 18 RBI, 0 SB, .351 BA

All but written off as nothing more than a third-tier first baseman, Derrek Lee has enjoyed a refreshing power surge in June. Since homering against Houston on May 17, the Cubs’ lanky first baseman lifted his sub-Mendoza Line average nearly 100 points to his present .289 batting average. Like Tulowitzki, Lee has benefitted from an unusually lofty flyball rate (45.9% FB). Conversely, Lee has posted a relatively tepid line drive rate of 15.8 percent, as opposed to past seasons in which he regularly posted a line drive rate in the low-to-mid-20’s. Lee has also been markedly better at home than on the road, as he has slugged eight of his 11 home runs at Wrigley for a .311 average, while hitting a lackluster .264 batting average away from Wrigleyville. Fangraphs’ updated ZiPS has Derrek Lee slated for more or less a repeat of his 2007 and 2008 seasons on a 501 at-bat pace, but if his flyball rate trends closer to his career average of 38.4 percent, one can expect him to finish with no better than a 80-85 run, 20 HR, 85 RBI, .290 BA campaign.

Josh Beckett – Last 4 Weeks: 42.2 IP, 5 W, 43 K, 1.48 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

After back-to-back shellackings at the hands of the Rays and Yankees at the back end of April, Josh Beckett shook off that putrid stretch. Re-energizing his game (aside from a road beating at Philadelphia), the Red Sox ace has recorded three shutout wins in his last four outings, making the best of attractive interleague matchups. Even though Beckett has yielded a relatively high line drive rate (24.7% LD), he has been adept at keeping the ball in the yard with a career-low 28.4 percent flyball rate, and at keeping the ball on the ground (47.3% GB). Beckett has righted the ship as far as his control goes (walking just 16 over his last 70 innings), after a wild April stretch that had seen the Red Sox ace give up the same amount of walks in 28.1 innings. It’s also encouraging to see a robust spike in batters putting the ball in play on Beckett’s most effective pitches, as indicated by a career-high 65.2 percent outside swing contact rate. It remains to be seen if these current milestones are inflated against National League East competition. Nonetheless, it’s great to see his groundball percentage hovering around the 45-47 percent mark, because last season he was only able to muster a 40.8 percent groundball rate. In short, Beckett has regained his standing as a bona fide top five ace, and should be treated as such.

Cold

David Price – Last 4 Weeks: 27.0 IP, 1 W, 27 K, 4.33 ERA, 1.52 WHIP

A number of David Price owners salivated over Price’s promotion a month ago, believing they were finally bound to fetch some return from the mid-round draft pick they so fiercely held on to. Little did they know that Price was a bit gun-shy, nibbling at the corners of the plate, surrendering an astounding 20 walks in the 30 innings of work he’s amassed to date. Price’s horrid lack of command is also illustrated by an 18.8 percent outside swing percentage, which is more than six points below the league average, and a first pitch strike percentage more than five percent off the league par. On the occasions Price has thrown strikes, he hasn’t exactly been fooling anyone, being pelted for a 24.7 percent line drive rate, and a HR/FB rate of 17.6 percent (10 HR in 30 IP). With Scott Kazmir ready to reprise his spot in the starting rotation, the good news is that it is Andy Sonnanstine will be bumped out of the rotation (in fact, he was demoted to AAA), leaving Price’s spot intact to continue developing as a top-line starter. It will take great patience to bring Price along, but he’s still worth a spot on any fantasy manager’s bench — especially for the owner who is strapped for some pitching help and in need of a possible game changer.

Elijah Dukes – Last 4 Weeks: 14/74 H/AB, 5 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB, .189 BA

Enduring a horrible month-long stretch since being activated from the DL earlier this month, Elijah Dukes has been a fantasy non-factor, with only a pair of home runs, a few runs scored, and a paltry .189 batting average during the slump. Dukes has had a past record of exhibiting solid plate discipline, but expecting a full slate of at-bats this season, he’s proven to be less selective — illustrated by a 24.7 percent strikeout rate, a whopping 28.1 percent outside swing percentage (up from 20.3% in 2008), and a mere 8.4 percent walk rate. Dukes is also hampered by a tighter leash on the basepaths (caught stealing seven times in nine attempts), which really puts a damper on his five-category potential. As a continuing defensive liability, Elijah is hardly a lock in his starting position, which could reopen the Austin Kearns experiment should Dukes’ clueless slump be prolonged.

Rafael Furcal – Last 4 Weeks: 21/88 H/AB, 10 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1 SB, .239 BA

I’ll leave the Jimmy Rollins bashing up to the old faithful on the Leftovers forum, but just as disappointing as “J-Roll” is his contemporary from Chavez Ravine, Rafael Furcal. Furcal has labored in near-Russell Martin-like proportions, with much of the disappointment lying in a sub-par average and a measly four stolen bases on eight attempts. He’s also pounded the dirt with a career-high 53.6 percent groundball rate, nearly four points more than his average, and he hasn’t been able to drive the ball with success either. His line drive rate sits at just 16.3 percent. Perhaps a nagging buttocks strain has put a strain on his performance (don’t laugh), which just underlines the risk of investing heavily in a rather injury-prone high-reward player like Rafael Furcal. That said, Furcal’s still a mainstay at the top of the Dodger order (much to the chagrin of Matt Kemp owners), and the onus will be on Raffy to break out of his season-long slumber and set the table properly when Manny Ramirez returns next week. For what it’s worth, April and June have been Furcal’s worst months average-wise, hitting just .266 for his career in those months. On the other hand, he has a tendency to close seasons out strong, as evidenced by his career batting averages, nearing or at .300 from July to September.

Buy Low of the Week

Pat Burrell – Last 4 Weeks: 6/32 H/AB, 6 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, .188 BA

The truth is, there’s an excellent chance you can find “Pat the Bat” on free agency, as he has been discarded in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues. Adjusting to American League pitching, and sitting out five weeks with a neck strain have led a great many fantasy managers to believe Burrell is nothing but a wasted roster spot. There hasn’t been any drastic changes in Burrell’s flyball rate (it remains at a robust 47.2 percent), but his line drive rate has dwindled to an all-time low 15.7 percent. In addition, his HR/FB ratio is at about rock bottom (a mere 3.9 percent), which is a far cry for a slugger who averages a 16.3 percent HR/FB ratio per year. He’s never quite been among the glamorous sluggers, certainly not in light of this woeful campaign, but a home run in last Wednesday’s game might signal that Burrell is getting healthier. If so, he could provide a welcome power boost for any owner struggling in the power department.

Three I’m Buying

Chad Qualls – It’s always a capital idea to be looking for a discounted source for saves, and there’s probably no more important time to seek a solid closer than now, when there’s about a three-month period to catch up from in saves. A very good closer is hard to come by for a desirable price without some kind of inflation, but there is one, off the top of my head, that might be a bit undervalued: The D-Backs’ stopper, Chad Qualls. There is much to appreciate about Qualls beyond what his ERA, WHIP, and current struggles might otherwise indicate. Qualls is turning in gaudy groundball rate numbers (a more-than-decent 8.16 K/9), a svelte walk rate of just four free passes in 29.2 innings of work, and a FIP of 2.68. In addition, Qualls also has a secure hold on the closer job down in Arizona. If he can be had at a discount in your league, by all means go for it.

Carlos Lee – Remember that one episode from The Simpsons where Homer runs a day care, and the Flanders kids ask him to sing them that “crazy” song they loved? Essentially, the “El Caballo” owners are echoing “Is that all there is?” when it comes to Carlos Lee’s current production pace. If pro-rated, it looks like Lee could fall short of the 30 home run threshold for the first time since 2002 — a disappointing return for a second-rounder in a host of leagues. It seems like some kind of alternate universe, where the likes of Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist have more round trippers than Lee, but that’s the case right now. It appears Lee has become a bit less aggressive at the plate, since his strikeout, outside swing, and first strike percentage rates are down. Aside from a marginal spike in his groundball rate, which has consequently driven his line drive rate down to the same level as 2007, one can expect his relatively low 11.5% HR/FB ratio to even out for the better.

Lance Berkman – Carlos Lee’s teammate in Houston, Lance Berkman, has been another lukewarm second-rounder just based on his raw numbers alone. However, “Fat Elvis” has been singing a new tune over the past month, with six home runs, four stolen bases, and a .291 batting average. This recent production might fly under the radar if some owners accentuate the negative — last year’s second-half swoon, compounded by the slow opening stretch this season. Like Carlos Lee, Berkman’s run and RBI production leave much to the imagination, given that “The Big Puma” has amassed an 18.2 percent walk rate — this, along with the sometimes tepid nature of the Astros’ offense indicates he’s being pitched around. In particular, Berkman’s batted ball rates are in line with what he has done in the past, and with one bad streak out of the way, “The Big Puma” could provide a handsome average boost (you’d have to go as far back as 1999 to find a season where Berkman failed to reach a BABIP of .300 or over).

Sell High of the Week

David Ortiz – Last 4 Weeks: 21/78 H/AB, 14 R, 7 HR, 17 RBI, 0 SB, .269 BA

Any fantasy baseball layperson could tell you that there was no way that “Big Papi” could possibly go much longer at his shocking season-to-date rock-bottom pace, and that a rebound of sorts was in order. Suddenly, the floodgates have opened for David Ortiz. Just like old times, as he mashed seven home runs in his last 78 at-bats, which poses the fascinating question of whether or not Ortiz has turned the corner. This dinger spree evokes the Big Papi most fantasy owners had always envisioned, before he became the butt of jokes in the Cafe’s unofficial jester mask contest. Recently, Dave Allen of Fangraphs performed an excellent quantitative analysis of Ortiz’s power exploits, which may indicate that Ortiz is generating more loft in his swing since the end of May. Now that Ortiz has redeemed some value for those optimistic about Big Papi’s chances of finishing the year out with 30 home runs, a window might be open to sell him for a better return .

Three I’m Selling

Magglio Ordonez – It was time for Magglio Ordonez to make a change, in the hopes of ending his dire home run drought. Instead of streamlining his plate approach, it was his head that was streamlined, as he’s lost the Carles Puyol-like hairdo for one spiffy haircut which would make even George Steinbrenner smile. The superstitious coif paid off with a moonshot off homer-happy Ted Lilly, but it’ll take more than a good barber to reverse a groundball rate of nearly 60 percent, and to keep his full-time role under lock and key. Ordonez can still be relied on for an average boost, but at this point, dealing him for useful pieces in categories where your team needs help shouldn’t be a massive loss, when his value isn’t particularly derived from the fact he can slug 15 to 20 home runs.

Chris Carpenter – His durability (or the lack thereof) in recent years may keep his value from reaching outrageous heights, but Chris Carpenter might yield a more than decent return, based on his fantastic first 65.2 innings of the season. Carpenter’s ERA sits at an ultra-svelte 1.78, with a FIP nearly a run over his current ERA (2.69), but he is also doing so on the wings of a .199 BABIP — even in his 2005 career year, “Carp” yielded a .284 BABIP. A regression is in order for Chris Carpenter, and the time could be right to squeeze optimal trade value out of him.

Johnny Damon – On pace for a career season that smashes all projections, and proving to be a re-run of “yesterday’s news”, Johnny Damon’s power has benefited well from the move to the New Yankee Stadium, as ten of his 14 round trippers were hit in the Bronx’s new launchpad. Damon’s success at the Yankees’ new digs not only inflates his present value, but also expectations for the remainder of the season. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be selective in pursuing a deal that can prove to be a game breaker in your league.

That’s all for now. I’m planning on taking the Fourth of July weekend off, so somebody will be taking the hot seat — and my pen — for next week’s Hot/Cold. Until two weeks from today, be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan and just as he's beginning to count down Manny's 50-game suspension, it's set to end next week. 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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