StrategyJuly 19, 2009

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Hot/Cold Week 16: …And Now For Something Completely Different

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to another Hot/Cold, and today, we’ll do something a bit different: we’re going to flash back over the buy/sell tips yours truly made over the first half of the season and see if your fearless leader discovered gold, fool’s gold, or simply gave both away for a nicer chunk of gold — or a lump of coal. In short, yes, I’m doing a clip show, and I have my reasons (or shall I say, excuses) for it. Most of it has to do with Chris doing his own clip show in Wednesday’s Wide World of Waivers, and I’m using the shortened All-Star week as a crutch to put off looking into two-to-four full weeks’ worth of trends. I said, “Why not? I’ll try it in this week’s column and spend the day lazing away at the beach.” Alright then, onto the business…

Best Buys

Justin Verlander – Since Week 3: 108.1 IP, 10 W, 130 K, 2.24 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

By far the best trade target yours truly singled out a few weeks into the season, Justin Verlander has posted Cy Young-worthy numbers. After surrendering seven runs in five innings in a loss to the Angels, the Tigers’ ace has allowed more than three runs in just two of his last 16 starts while fanning, on average, 10.8 batters for every nine innings in this span. Verlander has sustained tremendous velocity in his pitches, namely in his fastball which is averaging nearly 96 MPH , and has induced a career-high 28.2 percent outside swing percentage. The culprit for Verlander’s April woes was his penchant for giving up the big inning; he has turned the corner since then, due in part to getting ahead of hitters for a 63.6 percent first strike percentage, which is almost six percent higher than league average. The improved approach has been an immense factor as to why Verlander has conceded an all-time low walk rate of 2.8 walks per nine innings. It is clear that “JV” has reclaimed his standing as a top ten ace, and has proven to be one of the better starting pitching steals of the season.

Ricky Nolasco – Since Week 8: 53.0 IP, 4 W, 58 K, 3.06 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

A trip to the minors was just what the doctor ordered for Ricky Nolasco, and while he has been pelted hard at the hands of the Diamondbacks and Phillies in his last two contests, Nolasco has finally churned out meaningful value for what most managers had paid. The Marlins’ hurler has been more efficient in handing out just ten free passes in his last 53 innings of work, and while he is yielding a 22.6 percent line drive rate, the inroads made in his control are encouraging enough to believe Nolasco can finish out the season as strongly as he did last year.

Matt Kemp – Since Week 8: 58/168 H/AB, 23 R, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 10 SB, .345 BA

He’s the deadliest #8 hitter in baseball, and while many Matt Kemp managers have been griping about Joe Torre’s insistence on keeping the 24-year-old centerfielder pegged in the bottom of the Dodger order, Kemp has been a force to be reckoned with. Known as a high-BABIP hitter with suspect plate discipline, Kemp has been steadfast in reversing that reputation, as he continues to see more pitches (54.4% first strike percentage), and has cut down on the clueless swings when faced with off-speed pitches (25.7% O-Swing). On pace for 20 home runs, 32 stolen bases, and a .310 batting average, Matt Kemp is proving to be more than equal to the hype that surrounded him in the preseason. The only gripe in recent days with Kemp is that he’s 0-for-8 in his last two games since Joe Torre has slotted him into the #5 and #6 spots, just when he had carved a niche in the eight-hole.

Honorable Mentions

B.J. Upton – Since Week 9: 44/151 H/AB, 25 R, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 16 SB, .291 BA

In hindsight, it would have been a tough ask for B.J. Upton to continue to carry the lumber he flashed in the postseason on his shoulder, but nonetheless the elder Upton is on pace for nearly 15 home runs and 50 stolen bases. Like Kemp, the Rays’ leadoff man has shown to be a high-BABIP hitter, and even in what was regarded a down year, B.J. sported a .351 BABIP; currently at a .323 BABIP pace, a bit of an improvement there could spell a higher batting average, closer to the .260-270 mark. The difference from previous seasons is Upton’s strikeout rate is amassing to a touch under 30 percent, but has still been a good citizen in hacking outside of the zone (17.5% O-Swing).

Andre Ethier – Since Week 7: 43/188 H/AB, 25 R, 12 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB, .229 BA

It was eccentric of me to prescribe buying Andre Ethier on a possible discount, a week after the Manny Ramirez suspension being in effect. Despite the feast-or-famine nature (mostly famine) of Ethier’s production – including that mythical three home run game – he still managed to pound out a dozen home runs, three of which have come recently with Manny back in the fold. Slated to hit second in front of Manny Ramirez, Ethier won’t be likely to press at the plate, so his average should rebound, especially when he’s stuck at a .264 BABIP, which is more than 70 points off last season’s pace.

Ubaldo Jimenez – Since Week 9: 63.0 IP, 3 W, 58 K, 3.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

A less heralded buy than Justin Verlander, but a pitching asset nonetheless, the talented Rockies hurler has proven to be a reasonably decent starter after a rough April soured his stock. Granted, his control issues have risen to the fore a bit (24 BB in 63 IP), yet Ubaldo Jimenez has maintained an excellent groundball rate of 53.2 percent as well as an 8.29 K/9 over his past nine starts. Jimenez fared decently in interleague play (against Seattle, the Angels, and Tampa Bay), and is showing signs he can take advantage of favorable NL West matchups.

Not-so-good Buys

Gil Meche – Since Week 8: 55.0 IP, 2 W, 47 K, 4.58 ERA, 1.60 WHIP

Here’s a buy that turned south in quite a hurry. Gil Meche tossed four quality starts in a row since a 13-1 thrashing versus Detroit (only accounting for two ER that day), including back-to-back shutout wins of Cleveland and Arizona. Soon thereafter, Meche was tagged for nine runs in a little over three innings against the Cardinals, and hasn’t quite been the same since. In this span, Meche has yielded ten home runs (nine of those round trippers in the last five starts) while conceding a staggering 32 walks in his last 55 frames. Surely, a 57 percent groundball rate and an extremely low HR/FB rate (one HR in his 53 innings) were unsustainable, and Meche’s groundball rate has reduced to 50 percent, which is still a career high mark. To add injury to insult, Meche has been placed on the disabled list with lower back spasms, and while he has been fairly disappointing, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Royals’ pitcher if he seems to right his control in his first couple of starts back.

Adrian Beltre – Since Week 4: 66/232 H/AB, 28 R, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 7 SB, .284 BA (injured)

Any hopes of a successful contract year from Adrian Beltre have been squashed by bone spurs in his non-throwing shoulder, but nonetheless, it has been quite a disappointing season from “Tru”. The only real positive returns from Beltre have come in the average department, but “Tru” hasn’t been mashing the ball with authority, as evidenced by a career-low 15.9 percent line drive rate to go with a pedestrian groundball rate of 45 percent.

Chris Davis – Since Week 10: 14/74 H/AB, 6 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB, .189 BA (demoted)

At the time, it was possible to take a minor gamble on Chris Davis for a close to a rock-bottom price. Odds are that now you can get him for the rock-bottom price of a free agent addition as he toils in the minors. Aside from an atrocious strikeout rate, “Crush” had a paltry contact rate of 58.2 percent, which more than offsets his prodigious power. Suffice to say, Chris Davis has gone the way of Chris Shelton in a sense, but the eternal optimist would still be keen on keeping an eye on Davis’ exploits in Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Honorable Mention

David Wright49/158 H/AB, 26 R, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 9 SB, .310 BA

Despite the .323 batting average and the 20 stolen bases to date, David Wright has arguably been the most disappointing first-rounder taken in this season’s drafts (and there’s been a host of them, including Grady Sizemore) for his lack of power. As stated before, there hasn’t been any drastic changes in Wright’s batted ball rates — the notable exception being a 26.3 percent strikeout rate. The deeper dimensions of Citi Field might have played a factor in those flyballs staying in the yard, but with that said, for a reasonable price on his current production, obtaining a discount Wright for an average boost (with any power provided being a bonus) could prove wise.

Hope you sold…

Adam Jones – Since Week 8: 45/176 H/AB, 21 R, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 3 SB, .256 BA

Nearly two months ago, Adam Jones was on a world-beating pace, but since then, the former Mariners prospect has slowed down to a more realistic pace. At the time, Jones boasted a 26.5 percent HR/FB ratio on 29.1 percent of flyballs he put in play, an indicator that his power was destined to fall back to Earth sooner rather than later. Currently, Jones’ HR/FB rate has dwindled to 18.5 percent on just 27.8 percent of flyballs hit, while pounding the dirt with a groundball rate under 52 percent. Jones has cut down on the strikeouts, at a current clip of 20.6 percent, but still has a penchant for swinging outside of the strike zone (35.8% O-Swing).

Jered Weaver – Since Week 9: 55.1 IP, 5 W, 54 K, 4.88 ERA, 1.36 WHIP

Staying true to what I wrote back then about “Dreamweaver”, Jered Weaver lives and dies by the flyball, giving up a flyball rate a trace under 52 percent, with 16.1 percent induced as infield flies. Weaver posted a 2.36 ERA mark for the first two months of the season, but since then, he has regressed (outside of a complete game shutout win) due to giving up six runs to the Dodgers, seven to the Rangers, and five runs to the A’s. During this stretch, Weaver has conceded a line drive rate of 21 percent, 21 walks, and seven home runs. If you sold Weaver for a solid performance out of a top 10-15 starter, you did well in settling for a fine return.

Adrian Gonzalez – Since Week 11: 20/100 H/AB, 6 R, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, .200 BA

The good news in the midst of this long drought for “A-Gon” is he’s not being pitched around with quite the frequency he had witnessed in early June. On the flip side, Adrian Gonzalez has been feeling the pressure of shouldering the Padres’ otherwise lackluster offense, resulting in a 30 point decline in his batting average, and “A-Gon” has yet to go yard in the month of July.

Honorable Mention: Matt Garza (Week 9)

You were better off keeping…

Edwin Jackson – Since Week 7: 69.2 IP, 3 W, 56 K, 2.58 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Back then, I was curious to see if Edwin Jackson would be held back by a mid-40 percent flyball rate, and while he’s sustained that rate, he has also maintained his tremendous early-season form into the second half. The same kind of Motor City magic that worked on Justin Verlander has also applied to Edwin Jackson, given the better movement in his slider and improved velocity in his fastball. With an effective fastball-slider combination, mixed in with the occasional changeup, the former Dodger prospect has been far less predictable in seasons past, as evidenced by a career-high 27.5 percent outside swing percentage. Jackson has been this season’s equivalent to last year’s Ervin Santana, and it seems that halfway in, it’s easier to find a believer in his services who will possibly pay a premium for them.

Justin Upton – Since Week 9: 22 R, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 6 SB, .260 BA

Predictably, J-Up’s average has declined some, given that his contact rate is still nine points below league average at 71.7 percent, but nonetheless, the younger Upton is still on pace for 25 home runs and close to or at 20 stolen bases; as such, has given a taste of anticipated future brilliance. Upton still strikes out a good deal (27.8% K), but has still maintained a robust 21.1 percent line drive rate, and has made a concerted effort to put the ball in play effectively, even at the expense of lofting flyballs.

Mark Reynolds – Since Week 12: 19/78 H/AB, 11 R, 6 HR, 15 RBI, 2 SB, .244 BA

Still, I’d probably make an attempt to sell J-Up’s teammate Mark Reynolds for an excellent return, much in the same vein as I mentioned with Nelson Cruz last week. However, like Cruz, it’s difficult to move them, for the simple reason that they keep delivering the goods in spite of their tendencies of making low contact and striking out a good deal of the time. In Reynolds’ case, one can make the case that he’s a top five third baseman, even though he has been an average liability (albeit at a tolerable average in the .260s) because of the greater scarcity at the position, with David Wright and Chris Davis panning out as disappointments, while A-Rod and A-Ram were sidelined for an extensive period of time. My stance on selling Reynolds still stands, for reasons I stated back in Week 12, but there’s also viable reason to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Honorable Mentions: Aaron Hill (Week 9), Matt Cain (Week 8), Cliff Lee (Week 8)

That about wraps it up for this week. Sorry for this week’s clip show and we’ll return to the familiar format in next week’s Hot/Cold. Until then, be champions.

True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan, who has mastered the art of self-defense against 102 varieties of fresh fruit! 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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