StrategyJuly 12, 2009

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Hot/Cold Week 15: Proving His Werth

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to another edition of Hot/Cold, on the final Sunday before All-Star Weekend (how time flies). First thing’s first. Thanks to my Geordie pal, Chris, for filling in for me last Sunday — and while he’d like you to believe that I lost sleep over the Michael Owen transfer to Manchester United, I spent most of the Independence Day weekend down the I-5 in America’s finest city, San Diego. Better than a fireworks spectacular over San Diego Bay was witnessing Manny Ramirez’s first game back from a 50-game suspension. I have to tell you, in the many years I’ve been traveling down south for Dodgers-Padres games, I’ve never seen Petco Park (or even the old “Murph”) converted into Dodgertown South — at the risk of cliche, indeed it felt like a typical home game at the Ravine. That’s not to say there hasn’t been a notable presence of Dodger fans down in San Diego in years past, but never had I seen a Padre home game take on such a Dodger blue complection. Nevertheless, I had a fantastic stay in “The City in Motion”, and I hope you all enjoyed a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend with family and friends. Tip your hat to Chris for his fill-in column, but the original Hot/Cold regime is back in power here.


Jayson Werth – Last 4 Weeks: 27/95 H/AB, 20 R, 12 HR, 28 RBI, 2 SB, .284 BA

Nearly a month ago, we looked into Jayson Werth’s woeful late May/early June slump, and concluded that Werth was bound to correct his abnormally putrid home splits in a big way. Sure enough, Jayson has proven his real worth (pun intended), slugging in rarefied company with Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez as the three best fantasy hitters in the Yahoo game over the past month. It’s also a welcome sight to see Werth thrive once again in his dinger-friendly home park, having mashed nine of his dozen home runs over the past month at Citizens Bank Park. This past week in particular, Werth has been beastly, having feasted on the four-game home series against Cincinnati pitching (with a round-tripper in each of the four games). On a reasonable pace for 30 home runs, 19 stolen bases, and a batting average close to the .270 mark, Werth is destined to finish as one of the finest value outfielders for 2009.

Paul Konerko – Last 4 Weeks: 30/90 H/AB, 13 R, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 0 SB, .333 BA

Touted by some as a prime first-base sleeper for bargain power, Paul Konerko has picked up his home run pace considerably. Half of his 16 taters were mashed over this past four-week stretch, punctuated by a “mythical” three home run game last Tuesday against the Royals. Since June 19, Konerko has hit safely in all but two of his last 19 contests, and has posted a .742 slugging percentage. “Paulie” has performed well on a virtually clean bill of health. As a 43.9 percent flyball rate indicates, the White Sox first-bagger has been swinging the bat with authority. Putting this into context, in an injury-riddled 2008 season, Konerko posted a pedestrian 37.8 flyball rate and an unusually low .247 BABIP, in spite of a relatively decent line drive rate of 21.5 percent. This season, “Paulie” has put up a similar line drive rate, but to better success — witness his .319 BABIP, and a reduction in his infield flyball rate (13.9% IFFB in 2008, 8.0% in 2009). With Carlos Quentin on the mend, this can open up more RBI opportunities for Konerko — he’s on pace to slug nearly 30 home runs and 100 RBI, a more than decent return from this veteran (likely had in the middle rounds of this season’s drafts).

Joel Pineiro – Last 4 Weeks: 45.0 IP, 2 W, 19 K, 2.00 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

If you took a chance on Joel Pineiro late in your drafts or via free agency, you likely did so in the hopes that he’d be carrying a fairly good Spring Training into the season, and translating that success into a useful back-end starter. (I know for a fact I picked up Pineiro in the first week of Brad Evans’ wacky pitching-slanted H2H points league.) Without much fanfare, Pineiro has posted the kind of svelte ratios one would expect of a Johan Santana or Tim Lincecum, as he has hurled a 3.20 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in a little over 115 innings of work to date. The Cardinals starter also has three complete game victories to his name, most recently a three-hit win against the Brewers, with no walks and just one run conceded. The key to Pineiro’s fantastic campaign lies in his exceptional control (11 BB in 115 IP), and the generous usage of his sinker, which have led him to an astounding 61.4 percent groundball rate. The obvious question with Pineiro is sustainability, especially given that he has only tallied a fairly mediocre total of 48 strikeouts. Interestingly enough, Pineiro has only a 63.4 percent strand rate under his belt, as well as 2.97 FIP and a BAA which is just ten points off his career average. As long as he continues to keep the ball on the ground with great frequency (and keeps a firm grip on his command), it seems that Pineiro can continue to be the efficient and effective back-end starter he’s made of himself, even with a bit of a regression.


Jay Bruce – Last 4 Weeks: 17/92 H/AB, 5 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, .185 BA

In light of Chris Davis’ demotion, there’s increased concern from Jay Bruce owners that yet another power-hitting, average-challenged wunderkind might find himself riding the pine on a regular basis. Bruce would have been an excellent trade target had he not suffered a fractured right wrist last night; as a result, it’s best to avoid dealing for him. As R.J. wrote in his BABIP Outliers article, Bruce’s BABIP (a meager .202) has nowhere to go but up, given that it’s nearly a hundred points off of last season’s pace — Bruce has generally been regarded as a high-BABIP batter from his minor league days. On top of this, Bruce’s plate discipline has actually improved from his rookie season, as evidenced by a handsome reduction in his strikeout rate (26.6% K in 2008 to 20.8% K in 2009), and a near four percent decline in his outside swing percentage (30.4% O-Swing in 2008 to 26.8% O-Swing in 2009). The noticeable flaw on paper is his fixation with the gopher ball; he’s yielding a more than healthy flyball rate of nearly 50 percent, but it has come at the expense of his line drive rate (an underwhelming 12.7%). As it stands, the news isn’t too promising on Bruce’s health, and it’s questionable whether he’ll prove to be useful from here on out.

Kevin Youkilis – Last 4 Weeks: 19/99 H/AB, 17 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, .192 BA

Last week, Chris noted Jason Bay’s current slumber, but another Red Sock experiencing a bitter cold streak is first baseman Kevin Youkilis. One figured that “Youk” would regress from the dizzying heights of carrying a batting average that drifted no lower than .350, but since June 11, Youkilis has swung well below the Mendoza Line, and his average has plummeted to the .289 mark (which is about in line with the most reasonable of preseason projections). “Youk” has displayed better patience this season, as opposed to last year where he showed more aggressive tendencies to achieve his breakout campaign. Youkilis has increased his walk rate more than five percent (15.5% BB in 2009 from 10.3% BB in 2008), and while his strikeout rate is exceptionally high (26.6% K), he’s swung outside of the strike zone just 17.9 percent of the time. He has also cut down on his outside swing contact percentage, which stands at nearly 7.5 percent below league average. It seems that Kevin Youkilis is taking more pitches, but with a slight proactive adjustment, Youkilis should bounce back to a proficient level. In fact, “Youk” broke out of his funk in emphatic fashion, going 3-for-4 with a pair of home runs and four RBI.

Jonathan Broxton – Last 4 Weeks: 10.2 IP, 0 W, 6 SV, 16 K, 7.59 ERA, 1.59 WHIP

I’ll be honest here. One of my concerns (albeit slight) with Broxton was that it seemed his pitches, pitch selection, and location tended to tail off in the second half. Some in the Dodger organization have claimed that his occasional struggles could be traced to somewhat suspect stamina. Granted, every closer tends to experience an occasional letdown, but it’s worth noting that the Dodger bullpen has been forced into action more frequently this season than at any time since the Eric Gagne days. As a result, Broxton has been involved in more non-save situations. At any rate, look at his two most recent miscues against the Padres and Brewers as nothing but blips — caused in part by a bothersome toe. In spite of his recent command issues, the burly closer has been filthier than advertised in striking out 65 batters in 40.2 innings of work (14.39 K/9), while allowing just a 0.93 WHIP, and a career-high 54.5 percent groundball rate. Jonathan Broxton is a top three closer in my book (and certainly I’m not alone), even though I’d be seeking to parlay his top-dollar value to fellow league mates who are in need of saves.

Buy Low of the Week

Alfonso Soriano – Last 4 Weeks: 21/97 H/AB, 8 R, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, .217 BA

It’s no secret that it’s his swing-and-miss ways that makes Alfonso Soriano one of the streakiest elite hitters in today’s game, and for nearly two months, Soriano’s numbers have been an eyesore. Since May 20, “Fonzie” has hit for a paltry .189 batting average over his last 175 at-bats, with just a couple of home runs and three stolen bags to compensate for his prolonged funk. R.J. Anderson of Fangraphs observed that Soriano’s struggles are attributed to opposing pitchers hurling more offspeed pitches at the expense of fastballs, and “Fonzie” has simply not made the adjustments. It’s noteworthy that the last season Soriano was thrown fastballs roughly 45-47 percent of the time was 2005, when Soriano managed to smack 36 round trippers in spite of a sub-par .268 batting average. Although Soriano has only managed relatively pedestrian line drive and groundball rates of 17.6% and 36.0% respectively, the mercurial Cubs left fielder has still posted a respectable 46.4 percent flyball rate. In addition, Soriano has been toiling with a knee that isn’t quite 100 percent; given that he’s not selected to feature in the All-Star game, he has a headstart to recuperate. Fangraphs’ updated ZiPS on Soriano is still relatively bullish — he’s projected to hit 28 home runs, which means that dealing for Soriano could mean a 14 home run payoff to your fantasy squad. Fonzie’s value surely can’t be any lower (barring any serious injury), but he can provide high reward for considerably less risk than that invested in him on draft day.

Three I’m Buying

Roy Oswalt – It’s true that you shouldn’t be getting Roy Oswalt for a discount, especially considering that the reliable Astros ace has sported a 3.00 ERA and a .226 BAA since the turn of June. Nonetheless, Oswalt should be a prime second-half pitching target in your league. Flash back to early June last season, which proved to be his turning point — Oswalt would go on to post a 2.51 ERA in his last 139.2 innings. Of some concern with Oswalt this year is a slight reliance on the flyball; for most of his career, he has been effective in inducing groundballs on a consistent basis. In his last eight starts, Oswalt has yielded a double-digit groundball tally just thrice. Yet in two of his last five outings he kept the ball on the ground no less than 15 times (against the Twins and Giants), while his line drive rate has normalized nicely since a stretch in April wherein he surrendered four line drives in four of his first five go-rounds. Now would be an opportune time to seek Oswalt’s services, especially if he might continue to be a bit undervalued in your leagues.

Manny Parra – I think I’ll take a page out of Chris and Tom’s waiver column, and advise you to make a speculative pickup of Manny Parra, who is currently owned in just 15 percent of Yahoo leagues. Parra was sent down to Triple-A to clear out the cobwebs, so to speak, and his first outing back with the big club was impressive. He hurled seven shutout innings of three-hit, one-walk ball against the Cardinals. Parra’s lack of control was the culprit in being sent down to Nashville, which makes his most complete performance of the year an encouraging sign that he might have figured out something in his mechanics and/or approach. While his line against the Cardinals might inspire a vote of confidence, be mindful that it took him 110 pitches to get through those seven innings unscathed. Nonetheless, the pitch count efficiency will come around if he continues to throw more strikes. With what looks to be a few favorable matchups on the immediate horizon, Parra is surely worth wagering on.

Ian Kinsler – The Rangers’ middle-baser has been inconsistent over the past month (with just a .217 average to show for it), but he has still managed to offset his shortcomings by getting on base, scoring a chunk of runs (20), and swiping his share of stolen bases (7). Like Jay Bruce, Kinsler has been too reliant on the flyball (55.9% FB), and has traded away line drives in the process (13.5% LD). One of the keys to Kinsler’s breakout season was his willingness to take the ball the other way, which in turn played a part in him grossing a 24.2 percent line drive rate last season, as well as a .339 BABIP. Kinsler has never had a BABIP lower than .282, and with a few minor adjustments, one can expect a rebound in his batting average .

Sell High of the Week

Brad Hawpe – Last 4 Weeks: 28/96 H/AB, 17 R, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB, .292 BA

In the latest Cafe Player Rankings, Brad Hawpe has retained his top-20 status among all outfielders, curiously ahead of the likes of Nate McLouth, Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jayson Werth — all of whom I would value higher during the remainder of the season. Much of Hawpe’s present value is based on his gaudy average (which currently sits at .322), but he’s started to show a steady decline, having batted for a .244 average in his last 11 games. Brad Hawpe is currently on pace for a solid 25 home run, 100 RBI campaign, but his strikeout rate of 22.5% is a tad low because there hasn’t been marked improvement in his outside swing percentage and walk rate.

Three I’m Selling

Joba Chamberlain – On name value alone, the Yankees’ future ace might yield some trade value from those managers who are suckers for upside — in spite of three suspect outings in a row. Chamberlain has struggled with his command for much of the season, having handed out 42 free passes in 89 innings; as a result, he has mounted high pitch counts before he could attempt to go deep in games. It seems that Chamberlain is wasting pitches at times, given a below-average 23.1 percent outside swing percentage. Such inefficiency has led the former Nebraska Cornhusker to toss too many hitter’s pitches, as evidenced by a strike zone contact rate nearly four points above league average (91.4 percent).

Yovani Gallardo – There’s a slight fear that if the Brewers lose significant ground in the NL Central race, Yovani Gallardo could be shut down early; he’s on pace to far exceed his career-high in innings — only a season removed from a knee injury that limited him to just 24 innings. Aside from the usual run-in with walks (51 BB in 109.2 innings), an 83.9 percent strand rate, and a 3.79 FIP to his 2.95 ERA, Gallardo has arguably performed as a top ten ace — as such, he could command the kind of value that can net you a top performer in your team’s problem areas.

Nelson Cruz – This might be a tad controversial, but I would consider dangling Nelson Cruz in trades — and it doesn’t have to do entirely with the perilous thought that Rangers manager Ron Washington could gamble by benching him for the hot bat. Cruz is a fine example of a low walk, low contact, but otherwise high-impact hitter. The “Caribbean Cruz” has taken a walk just 8.8 percent of the time, struck out 23.2 percent of the time, and has whiffed for a 25.5 percent outside swing rate. A 69.3 percent contact rate (more than 11 percent below league average) could be a key factor in the feast-or-famine nature of Cruz’s performance this year. That said, when shopping Cruz around, you still would have to be fairly selective in what you’re seeking in return — a .260 average is a tolerable shortcoming, since Nelson is still on course for 37 home runs and 21 stolen bases. However, Cruz’s alarmingly low contact rate could likewise be a sign that his production pace can also go awry. Remember, timing is everything.

Well, that about does it for me this week. Check back next Sunday for another Hot/Cold, and until then, be champions.

True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan, who calls Petco Park and The Big A his holiday timeshares. 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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