StrategyJuly 27, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 17: Keeping Up with the Joneses and the Hurly Buehrle

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to another Hot/Cold where we’re always keeping up with the Joneses and really, after last week’s clip show, we’ve got some catching up to do. Contrary to what the title states, we’ll be analyzing just one guy named Jones and no, we won’t be scratching our heads as to how Andruw Jones enjoyed a three home run game a while ago. Yours truly will try to ease your concerns over a former Dodger ace and the present #1 for the Boys in Blue while we try to make sense of Cole Hamels’ topsy-turvy season. Also, a tip of the ball cap to Mark Buehrle’s perfect game and a discussion on if he can reasonably be 70-80 percent close to perfect.

Note: There will be no Monday Mail Call this week. You can still send your questions to us at fbcmailbag@gmail.com and we will get answers to you as soon as we can.

Hot

Garrett Jones – Last 4 Weeks: 26/76 H/AB, 16 R, 10 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB, .342 BA

One of the emerging feel-good stories in the majors is taking place in Pittsburgh, where Garrett Jones, a virtually perpetual minor-leaguer at the age of 29, has made a big league impact in bashing ten home runs in his first 76 at-bats with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Outside of a prior short big league stint with the Minnesota Twins, Jones has earned his keep in the minors for the last ten years, having logged in nearly 4,200 plate appearances. Rarely getting a chance to shine in the majors, Jones is regarded for having plus-power upside albeit at the risk for being a bit whiff-happy. However, Garrett Jones has made the inroads in cutting down on the strikeouts, as he reduced his strikeout rate from 26 percent in 2007 by a full nine percentage points to 17 percent this season prior to being called up on the last day of this past June. It’s a very small sample to look into, but otherwise a good sign that Jones has only struck out just a dozen times in his first 76 at-bats for a rate of 15.8 percent. Such improvement instills a new confidence within the Pirates’ management and front office that Jones can make a sustainable contribution to the big club, to the extent that the trade of Adam LaRoche to Boston practically cinches in Jones’ chances of a full-time gig. Tack on the marginal upside of double-digit stolen bases and Jones might be the equivalent to a poor man’s Nelson Cruz, having been owned in only 34 percent of Yahoo leagues at the moment.

Jarrod Washburn – Last 4 Weeks: 42.2 IP, 5 W, 24 K, 1.69 ERA, 0.82 WHIP

While Felix Hernandez garners the headlines in the Pacific Northwest with a tremendous Cy Young-worthy campaign, his teammate Jarrod Washburn has supplied a superb month-long stretch to the point “Wash” is credited in Yahoo as the second-most valuable fantasy pitcher over the past month (second only to King Felix). Since May 26, Washburn has posted quality starts in all but two of his past 11 outings and during this stretch, he sustained a 1.93 ERA in the last 74.2 innings. Washburn’s history against lefties has been mixed from season to season, but this season he is limiting southpaws to a spectacular .172 batting average in 128 at-bats. Another key to Wash’s success is his improved average velocity in most of his offerings, most notably in his fastball and cutter. With improved velocity, Washburn has been markedly efficient in allowing a career-best average of 2.14 walks per every nine innings. A 79 percent strand rate and a .251 BABIP might be indicators that Washburn could soon regress, but nonetheless, he has earned his keep as a decent back-of-the-rotation fantasy starter.

Alex Rodriguez – Last 4 Weeks: 28/87 H/AB, 22 R, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB, .322 BA

Having gradually rounded into fitness, A-Rod has equally rounded into form as he’s been dialed in with ten home runs, four stolen bases, and a .322 batting average, just edging out Albert Pujols as Yahoo’s most valuable hitter over the past month or so. It seemed a good surge from A-Rod was in order despite any worries concerning his hip or perceived durability. There’s not much to be said about A-Rod that needs to be said, but as long as his fitness is up to scratch, he can produce as usual and he can even swipe a few bags with his selectivity on his attempts.

Cold

Cole Hamels – Last 4 Weeks: 33.2 IP, 2 W, 24 K, 5.61 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Attempting to explain the causes of Cole Hamels’ maddening season is a maddening practice in that the bad luck he has incurred hasn’t seemed to be fully corrected for the long haul. The Phillies ace has conceded just 21 walks to 96 strikeouts in 110 innings of work for a career-best 4.56 K/BB ratio while posting an unusually inflated .335 BABIP, which is 35 points above league average and 65 points higher than last season. Part of the reason for Hamels’ bad luck persisting might be derived by a decrease in batters being baited into deceptive pitches moving outside of the strike zone; Hamels has recorded an outside swing percentage a tick under 27 percent whereas in the past two seasons, he registered an outside swing percentage in the low 30 percent range. Another possible reason for Hamels’ sub-par season can be attributed to his shocking away splits; in the past two seasons, Hamels posted an ERA away from Citizens Bank Park in the low-to-mid-threes but this season, he has allowed a 5.82 ERA. Yours truly said a while back that Hamels was a worthwhile buy and I’ll stand by that, knowing that his pristine K/BB rate, a terribly high BABIP, and improved contact rates are signals that Hamels has the ability to turn in a strong closing two-month stretch.

Hunter Pence – Last 4 Weeks: 21/98 H/AB, 7 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 1 SB, .214 BA

Prior to June 23, Hunter Pence sustained a blistering .331 batting average, but since then, he’s trailed off in a big way with a .208 average in his last 106 at-bats and a couple of home runs to show for it. In spite of hitting for a more than decent .293 average for the year, it has been an otherwise bland season for Pence, who is on pace for roughly 75-80 R/RBI, 21 home runs, and 14 stolen bases. That’s not to say Pence hasn’t improved, because he has been taking more walks (at a 9.3% clip) and has cut down on his strikeouts (17.1% K, 27.6% O-Swing). However, the Astros outfielder is still hitting for a rather lackluster line drive rate of 14.6 percent, nearly a full point higher than last season’s mark (13.9% LD), and has pounded the dirt with a 54 percent groundball rate. Pence might have some name value in your league, given that he has produced to expectation for the most part, and is worth selling because of the perception he can hit for average.

Curtis Granderson – Last 4 Weeks: 21/91 H/AB, 10 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 4 SB, .231 BA

It seems the Tigers’ centerfielder lives and dies by the flyball, given that he’s exhibiting a flyball percentage of 50.4 percent while yielding a robust 20.1 percent line drive rate. Aside from a poor .188 average against southpaws (a discouraging thing to pick at since he hit .259 against lefties in 2008), the fact that “Grandy” is hitting grounders at under a 30 percent clip is perhaps a driving reason as to why he hasn’t hit for an average no better than the low .270s for the season since early June. The silver lining is Curtis Granderson’s evolving plate discipline, as he’s still walking approximately 11 percent of the time and is swinging outside of the zone at just 19 percent of his appearances. Curtis Granderson is still on pace for a near 30/30 season, but he figures to be more of a feast-or-famine five-category hitter than usual because of his frequent tendencies to loft the ball.

Buy Low of the Week

Carlos Pena – Last 4 Weeks: 16/90 H/AB, 10 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB, .180 BA

Speaking of hit-or-miss sluggers, Carlos Pena obviously falls into the mold of such a masher, as he has slugged just two round trippers since the calendar turned July. As is the characteristic of extremely streaky hitters, it’s usually a matter of timing in getting to ride the hot streaks and while Pena is in a power drought, striking while the iron is cold would be a fine idea. Pena carries a hideous strikeout rate of 36.7 percent, but has only swung outside of the strike zone under 23 percent of the time (two points below league average) and he managed to hit 31 home runs in 490 at-bats last season with a strikeout rate of about 34 percent. While the Rays first-bagger can be an average slayer, he has never managed a BABIP below .288 in his career and as it stands now, he’s carrying a .263 BABIP, which could entail that the blow to your team’s average could be softened with a marginal spike in batting average.

Three I’m Buying

Edwin Encarnacion – If you’re in favor of going the bargain-basement route for streaky power hitters, taking a speculative add on Edwin Encarnacion could be the way to go if you’re desperate for a power-hitting corner infielder and one that’s owned in just 34 percent of Yahoo leagues. “EE” has hit .290 in July to go with an OPS just under 1.000 and while it’s a scant sample, Encarnacion has walked 15.7 percent of his 146 plate appearances this season.

Derek Lowe – It’s routine for “D-Lowe” to be on the down low when he doesn’t raise eyebrows with a more than decent strikeout rate. Over his past 11 starts, Lowe has coughed up a 5.08 ERA, but it’s skewed somewhat in Lowe being shelled in interleague play at the hands of Baltimore (2.1 IP, 7 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 0 K) and the Yankees (3.0 IP, 6 ER, 11 H, 3 BB). Since moving to the National League as a Dodger five seasons ago, Derek Lowe has yielded his highest BB/9 ratio this year, but has quietly posted quality starts in four of his last five starts. The sinkerball ace carries the reputation as a second-half starter and although he’s not posting his normal 60ish-percent groundball rate, he has maintained a scant 5.2 percent HR/FB ratio.

Chad Billingsley – Since the turn of June, Chad Billingsley has allowed a 4.88 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP, not quite the ace-like figures one would expect out of a fantasy #1 starter. An observation I’ll make from Billingsley’s outings is that most of his struggles can be derived from an inconsistency in location, which has led him to be relatively inefficient in terms of pitch count. Often times when he’s not being efficient in the counts, Bills gets a bit flustered with his location and he’s not inducing grounders quite as frequently as last season. Obviously, he has walked his share of batters, having handed out 24 free passes over his last 59 innings, but Billingsley has only lasted seven-plus innings in just three of his last ten starts. That said, Bills still has a relatively healthy groundball rate and as long as he’s more proactive in the pitch count, he’ll be fine.

Sell High of the Week

Alexei Ramirez – Last 4 Weeks: 29/89 H/AB, 17 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 1 SB, .326 BA

Everyone’s favorite fantasy utility man redeemed his value with a prolific June stretch resulting in seven home runs, 15 RBI, two stolen bases, and a .283 batting average. Curiously, the bulk of Alexei Ramirez’s production had taken place in interleague play when Alexei slugged five of those seven June home runs and swiped both bags against National League opposition. Since then, the South Side’s “A-Ram” has continued to hit for average (.310 in his last 75 at-bats), but hasn’t done anything truly noteworthy outside of a home run, a stolen base, and 14 runs by the virtue of hitting second in the White Sox lineup. Give Alexei some credit: he has upped his walk rate by more than four percent and reduced his outside swing percentage by nearly ten percent, but frankly, he had nowhere to go but up when he put up a 3.6 percent walk rate and a 42.7 percent outside swing percentage in his rookie campaign. On a projected pace, Ramirez will fall short of a 20/20 season and now that he has some value with an improving batting average, shopping him for better value than he would’ve normally commanded would be a move worth considering.

Three I’m Selling

Todd Helton – While there’s still time to cater to owners who are striving to make some headway in terms of batting average, Todd Helton could have more meaningful value to said managers. The veteran first baseman wasn’t ranked among the top 15 first basemen in our Cafe rankings, but he still makes for a useful throw-in especially on rosters that go deeper than the conventional nine-man lineup.

Brandon Inge – The news that Brandon Inge has suffered a torn left patella tendon puts a damper on his value despite the OK to play through it and in fact, going 0-for-10 in the Home Run Derby was a bit discomforting. While he might not command top value, Inge’s eligibility at catcher and third base and his 21 home runs still stand out as something substantive to be desired.

Mark Buehrle – There couldn’t have been a more perfect time than for Mark Buehrle’s perfect game to have happened as trade talks heat up as the trade deadline looms in the majority of leagues by mid-August. One can gloss over Buehrle’s exceptional line to date, which has the White Sox hurler down for 11 wins, 76 strikeouts, a 3.28 ERA, and a 1.10 WHIP in 134.1 innings of work, and be convinced that the maddening White Sox ace has recaptured his stellar 2005 form. However, Buehrle hasn’t been as consistent as his line would otherwise indicate, given that in one outing he can hold the opposition to eight shutout innings while in the other, he’s undone by three or four walks and gives up a few runs in the process of falling short of going six or seven frames. In addition, Buehrle has conceded a .257 BABIP, the lowest it has been since 2001 and in arguably his best season in 2005, he posted a BABIP much closer to league average that year. Given Buehrle’s unpredictable nature, he could regress in a big way or prove to be quite the bargain like in 2001 and 2005, but like at any stage of the game, the point is to wrap up the safest bet from this day forward without having to give as little as you paid for to start with. After all, it was Sir Matt Busby who once said, “…We strive for perfection and if we fail, we might just have to settle for excellence”. You’re asking yourself: what does that quote have to do with Mark Buehrle? Well, I’m not sure, that’s just one of my favorite quotes that I felt like blurting out while writing this and two, it would be the perfect time to move Buehrle for a nice little premium.

That about does it for me this week… and the week after that. Yes, I’ll be away for much of next weekend, with the highest point of it being Saturday night’s friendly at the Rose Bowl between the LA Galaxy and FC Barcelona. I know I’m ecstatic about seeing “El Tricampions” pay a visit to the L.A. area, fresh off one of the most historic and triumphant seasons ever recorded in European football (erm, that game played with feet). I’ll be back the following Sunday to retake my post on the Hot/Cold, but until then, Visca el Barça, Visca Catalunya, and… be champions.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a proud Dodger fan and he grudgingly accepts Barcelona overpaying for Zlatan Ibrahimovic's services at the expense of 40 million Euros, Alexander Hleb, and Samuel Eto'o. 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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