StrategyJuly 5, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 14: Upton On The Up

By Chris Routledge

Welcome to another week of Hot/Cold, where our normal host, The Artful Dodger, has become so overcome by the news that Michael Owen has signed for Manchester United that he’s had to take a lie-down for a few days. Maybe he’s worried that Owen will do for the red half of Manchester what he did for my beloved Newcastle United (i.e. precious little). Anyway, pinch-hitting for Ray is one half of the Wide World of Waivers team, my good self.

I must say that it comes as a nice change, since the Wednesday column tends to be focused on those players who are owned in far too few leagues, while here we look at players who are, on the whole, owned in the vast majority of leagues. But, as you will see, I haven’t completely removed my WWWW hat, as there are one or two players listed below who perhaps deserve more attention than they have received to date. Before we get to it, one caveat: Albert Pujols has been the hottest player in baseball over the last four weeks, but since he’s always hot, we’ll take it as a given!

Hot

B.J. Upton – Last 4 weeks: 31/104, 19 R, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 12 SB, .298 AVG

Many fantasy owners blamed B.J. Upton’s lack of power in 2008 on his shoulder injury — “it sapped his power”, we were told. Many believed that the power would return as he entered 2009 with a clean bill of health; that optimism proved to be unfounded. Well, whisper it quietly, but could Upton’s power finally be on the way back? Along with 12 stolen bases over the past month (speed which we have come to expect), Upton has also knocked out five bombs over that same period. He was named AL Player of the Month for June, and is clearly showing signs of being that five-category fantasy product many expected when he first made it to the big leagues. Encouragingly, he slugged at a .562 rate in June, and the return of the power isn’t affecting his running, as he attempted five more steals in June than he did in May. With the Rays’ lineup pretty much back to full strength, there is no reason to expect things to tail off again.

Prince Fielder – Last 4 weeks: 37/100, 19 R, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 0 SB, .370 AVG

Over the last four weeks, the only two players in the majors with at least 100 ABs who have a higher batting average than Prince Fielder are Pablo Sandoval, whom Ray wrote about two weeks back, and Ichiro, who has hit .394 while driving in a grand total of four runs. (How bad is that lineup at the bottom of the Mariners’ order?) Fielder does not suffer from the same problem, enjoying 26 RBIs to go with his nine HRs and .370 AVG over the same time period. He is on pace to hit 42 HRs and 150 RBIs with an AVG over .300 for the first time in his Major League career. For a player who slipped a little in drafts this year, his quiet April seemed to have proved the doubters correct. Since then, though, he has more than answered his critics, as he continues to rack up the overall numbers at a pace second only to Pujols amongst players at his position.

Ricky Romero – Last 4 weeks: 6 starts, 42.1 IP, 4 Wins, 40 K, 1.91 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

After a great start to the year, Ricky Romero slipped from many fantasy minds (and rosters) when he hit the DL for a month or so. His first two starts back were not great, but since then, he has really turned on the style. He has allowed no more than three earned runs in each of the last six starts — which included two shutouts — whilst maintaining a K/9 rate close to 9.0. He is also showing durability, going seven innings or more in all but one of those starts, where he went 6.1 innings. People might put his success down to facing National League teams in interleague games, but this would be inaccurate — only three of those six starts were against the NL, and two of those three came against the Phillies. His other starts over that time period included a trip to Texas and a shutout against the resurgent Rays, so he is clearly doing the business home and away, in hitters’ ballparks and against strong batting lineups. Romero has established himself as a must-start against pretty much anyone.

Cold

Evan Longoria – Last 4 weeks: 17/77, 7 R, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, .221 AVG

Just as B.J. Upton hit his stride, his fellow Ray lost his footing and has started to wobble. He’s missed the odd game here and there due to a tweaked hamstring, but is that enough to explain how 15 of his last 25 games have been 0-fers? During that time, Longoria’s AVG has dropped from .322 to .294, with slugging tumbling 62 points from .614 to .552. Well, I think it probably is the reason for his struggles. Having a day of rest every now and again isn’t really going to get to the roots of the problem, since it’s very difficult to play at full strength if, subconsciously, there’s the worry that the hamstring problem might flare up again at any moment. Fantasy-wise, Longoria is someone I would target at the moment — his owner may be very frustrated by the last month — but I’d be happier if the Rays actually gave him at least a few days to rest and get this injury treated properly.

Jason Bay – Last 4 weeks: 22/100, 11 R, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 0 SB, .220 AVG

It may seem odd to have a player who has contributed 19 RBIs over the last four weeks in the Cold section, but it cannot be denied that Jason Bay is in a bit of a slump right now. Most of those 19 RBIs came in the first half of June; over the last two weeks, with the exception of one four-hit outing against the Nationals, Bay has been struggling mightily at the plate, exemplified by the five-strikeout game against the Orioles on July 1. Some analysts are predicting that he will not return to the heights of April and May for the rest of the season (this despite the fact that his BABIP is significantly lower than his career average at present). If the Bay owner in your league is also expecting a drop-off, then I would be exploring a trade for a guy who is still hitting in the middle of a packed Red Sox lineup.

Adrian Gonzalez – Last 4 weeks: 18/85, 9 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 0 SB, .212 AVG

It took them a while, but the Padres’ opponents have finally figured out how to pitch to Adrian Gonzalez — don’t. Since June 3, he has hit only two HRs and has had only two multi-hit games, whilst walking an incredible 28 times. Though his AVG and SLG have dropped considerably over that time span, his OBP has actually gone up. Batting in a lineup that gives him zero protection has always meant he’d get few good pitches to hit (it’s surprising it took pitchers so long to figure that out), but he seems to have hit a slump. When he does get decent pitches, he isn’t doing what he did in the early part of the season. Add that to the fact that he has recently strained his knee, and you end up with a player whom I think will struggle to come close to the production of April and May, unless he gets traded to a team where he has a bit of protection.

Buy Low of the Week

Ryan Ludwick – Last 4 weeks: 20/88, 8 R, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB, .227 AVG

Ludwick has struggled mightily since returning from the DL, even with the plum spot of batting behind Albert Pujols. I’ve even seen him cut in a couple of leagues by impatient owners, who’ve forgotten that he was slugging well over .500 before he hit the DL. I feel that they have been a little premature, as he has begun to show signs of life in the last few games, going 7 for 22 with a couple of doubles and a triple. Tony LaRussa has stated publicly that “He’s been looking better and better”, and, with that coveted spot behind Pujols being Ludwick’s to lose, the time to buy low may be about to end.

Three I’m Buying

Johan Santana – Let’s not beat about the bush, Johan has had a shocking June, and July may not get off to a good start either (he faces the Phillies tonight). A June ERA of 6.19, eight HRs allowed, walks up, strikeouts down — all stats which, if they belonged to a pitcher on the waiver wire, wouldn’t warrant any attention whatsoever. Except this isn’t any old pitcher on the waiver wire, this is the best starter in baseball over the last few seasons. A savvy Johan owner will ride this hiccup of a month out, expecting things to improve, but the Johan owner in your league may be more than a little antsy by now. This’ll be about as low a price as you can expect to get him for, so act now if you’re looking for pitching help.

Joakim Soria – Since returning from the DL in early June, Soria has a grand total of three saves, mainly because the Royals suck and are not giving him any opportunities. It’s true that he has blown two saves in that time, but that doesn’t worry me particularly, as the Ks, ERA and WHIP are all holding firm. Chances are, however, that the Soria owner in your league is getting more than a little frustrated at the lack of saves from Soria, and may be tempted to trade away a guy who I believe is still one of the elite, in exchange for someone who is currently stacking up saves by the bucketload. I would trade any of Huston Street (11 saves in the last month), Brian Wilson (9), David Aardsma (8) or George Sherrill (7) for Soria in a heartbeat, and so should you. From here on out, I expect Soria to have more value than any of them (and quite a few others), whether or not he matches them in the unpredictability of save numbers.

Howie Kendrick – Universally dumped after his demotion to Triple-A, Kendrick responded by being lights out in the 19 games he has played since then. He’s hit .338 with 6 doubles, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs and 4 SBs, and has earned a recall to the majors (which the Angels announced on Friday). As with much of the Angels’ thinking, we have no idea how much he will actually play, but manager Mike Scioscia has said that “he will really be able to give us a boost at the bottom of the lineup”. If you’re dealing with a scrub at 2B or MI in deeper leagues, Kendrick has to be worth a shot.

Sell High of the Week

Derrek Lee – Last 4 weeks: 32/104, 15 R, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 0 SB, .308 AVG

Last week, Ray picked out Lee as one of the hot players, and he was right to do so. He’s had another good week since then, with three HRs and 11 RBIs, but at an average of only .214. What those stats don’t tell us is that those three HRs (and nine of the RBIs) came in two successive games; the rest of the week was palpably unproductive. You might comment that it doesn’t matter when the HRs and RBIs actually come, as long as they do, and you’d be right! I’m not saying that Lee won’t have value the rest of the way, because he will. But will he have as much value as he does right now? I doubt that very much (see what Ray wrote last week for a solid analysis why), and so, if I had him on my team, I would be shopping him to see what I could get for him before it’s too late.

Three I’m Selling

Ichiro Suzuki – As I mentioned earlier, Ichiro is the batting average champ for the last month — a stonking .394. The eight steals in that time are also great, as are the 18 runs, but the four-RBI production is pitiful, and drags down the overall value of the remaining stats. As good a hitter as he is, can we really expect Ichiro to bat .390 the rest of the way? I seriously doubt it, and that will make the lack of RBIs (and HRs) even more noticeable. If you need the AVG help, by all means hold onto him — otherwise, I would be shopping him now, and making a point of hyping up that incredible June AVG to prospective trade partners.

Bobby Abreu – Now that he’s hit a few HRs (four in the last month, two of which came in a single game), it’s the perfect time to capitalize on his “resurgent power” by shopping him to an unwary owner who expects it to continue. I’d look to trade him for someone like Nick Markakis — you could point out that Markakis only has one HR and one SB in the last month, which is much worse than Abreu’s four HRs and two SBs. Remember that past performance is irrelevant when it comes to trades; I expect Markakis to be significantly more valuable than Abreu from here on out, and if such a trade is feasible, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Kevin Gregg – The counting stats say that, with three wins and five saves over the past month, Gregg is doing absolutely fine and will have no problem locking down the closer role for the rest of the year. Other factors, however, suggest that this is a good time to sell. He has had a good month, no doubt about that, but the 0.75 WHIP in that time has brought his season WHIP down to 1.29 — still worryingly high for a closer. Furthermore, he has increased competition for the role, with Angel Guzman due back from the DL shortly, alongside long-term threat Carlos Marmol. His value is also inflated by the three wins, which obviously cannot be predicted for relievers; he could just as easily have no more wins the rest of the year. Yes, he could hold onto the closer role for the rest of the year, but I’d try to use his good June to trade him for someone you can have a little more confidence in.

Well, that’s your lot this week. It’s been a pleasure standing in for one of the Cafe stalwarts, whom you can look forward to greeting on his return next week. Until then, keep watching those waivers be champions!

 
Chris Routledge is drowning his sorrows after Andy Murray became the latest Brit to lose in the semi-finals at Wimbledon (and to a Yank, no less)! Catch up with him in the Cafe under the username chris8.
 
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