StrategySeptember 26, 2009

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Hot/Cold Week 26: Going Back Fur Cali

By Ray Flores

Welcome back to the Hot/Cold, the perfect description of Las Vegas weather: frigid in December and January while practically every other month is hotter than a glass furnace. Yes, I’m back after a week’s stay in Sin City and I’m glad to be back home (as the title implies subtly). If you’re the nervous H2H owner who religiously checks the Stat Tracker for each at-bat and every pitch, I’d say go get some shuteye because as much as you’d like to think that you have some telepathic vibe of influencing games, well, you don’t. By the same token, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” doesn’t apply because this is one of those odd years where the regular season finishes in early October. At any rate, just one more week to go and it would be fitting to give a shout out to the heroes (and goats) over the last two weeks of the fantasy postseason.


Rafael Furcal – Last 2 Weeks: 18/46 H/AB, 12 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 4 SB, .391 BA

It has been another baffling year for Rafael Furcal, deemed by a more than fair share of fantasy managers as a top-flight fantasy shortstop, but on the contrary, Furcal has endured another sluggish season. However, Raffy is salvaging his reputation just as the H2H postseason is in high gear, as the Dodger shortstop has batted around for a .341 average in the month of September and has only come up empty in two of 21 games this month without a hit. In particular, Furcal tore it up in the series at Washington early last week, going 10-for-14 in those three games, culminating with a game-winning solo shot in the rubber game of the series. While it is tricky to gauge what kind of value or production Furcal can do when he’s healthy and on top form at this stage of his career, what matters in the here and now is Raffy has hit well for average and can prove to be useful in the closing week of the season.

Michael Cuddyer – Last 2 Weeks: 18/49 H/AB, 10 R, 6 HR, 18 RBI, 1 SB, .367 BA

Aside from the scorching Troy Tulowitzki, no one has hit more home runs over the past couple of weeks than 30-year-old Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who is just fresh off of slugging his 30th home run of the season a few days ago. Six of his eight home runs this September were knocked in over the last two-week stretch, which slots the 1B/OF eligible slugger as more valuable than the likes of Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, both of whom are producing steadily in the same time span. By trading more line drives for flyballs, Michael Cuddyer is set to finish 2009 as one of fantasy’s unsung heroes who have notched any combination of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.

Billy Butler – Last 2 Weeks: 15 R, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB, .320 BA

Patience is almost always a virtue and that rings true for a post-hype sleeper who remains at a ripe age to take his game to the next level. 2008 was supposed to be Billy Butler’s breakout season but after a disappointing campaign that had a demotion to Triple-A ball thrown in there, the 23-year-old Royals first baseman has amassed 21 home runs, 91 RBI, and a .307 batting average. While those numbers may not be particularly impressive, it’s a step in the right direction nonetheless for Butler, who has hit for a .372 average in 86 at-bats this September while in the process, Butler mashed 10 home runs over his last 203 at-bats, dating back to August 1. To add greater detail to a fine September, Butler has posted a .455 OBP this month and thanks to some better situational hitting on the Royals’ part of late, he has 15 runs scored to his name, making him a run better than Prince Fielder and Derrek Lee in runs scored over the last two weeks. While Butler’s production has been fantastic, I’m personally rooting for an understated finish, such that he might go under the radar to a certain extent in next season’s drafts.

Javier Vazquez – Last 2 Weeks: 25.0 IP, 3 W, 21 K, 1.08 ERA, 0.68 WHIP

Since the fantasy postseason began, arguably there hasn’t been a more reliable starter than Braves ace Javier Vazquez, who can compound on that reliability with dazzling #1-like stats. Over the past two weeks, Vazquez has been the undisputed master of handling the WHIP, with a league-best 0.68 WHIP among all starters during this stretch. Only the Reds’ Bronson Arroyo comes within some touching distance with a 0.86 WHIP over his past 22 innings. Vazquez has been one of the biggest reasons as to why the Braves still remain in the hunt of the NL Wild Card, but don’t take anything away from the Braves hitters however, as they have gifted him improved run support over the last two months. Over his last ten starts, Vazquez has won seven decisions from this stretch, earning 15 wins on the season in the process. In making a late surge as an outsider in the NL Cy Young race, Vazquez has 229 punchouts to his name over 213 innings, giving him a career-high K/9 of 9.66.

Ryan Dempster – Last 2 Weeks: 23.0 IP, 1 W, 16 K, 1.17 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

Nearly two months into the 2009 season, it’s possible that Ryan Dempster was thrown to the waiver wire dumpster in a number of your leagues and the hubbub of his 2008 season being a fluke hit a fever pitch. Like the adage says, a man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Since then, in his last 19 starts, dating back to a May 30th shutout of the Dodgers, Ryan Dempster has hurled a more than decent 3.03 ERA in his last 124.2 innings. In particular, over the past month-plus stretch, Dempster proved to be more than useful, as he posted a 2.01 ERA in the previous 49.1 innings. What has been to Dempster’s undoing is a twofold cause: 1) a dire lack of run support and 2) defensive foibles, which can explain why the Cubs starter has only amassed ten wins. Although Ryan Dempster has regressed in certain areas (i.e. a higher HR/FB%, a marginally lower K/9), the encouraging thing is he has pitched quite well in the face of regression and can prove to be a steady fantasy back-of-the-rotation starter.


Ian Kinsler – Last 2 Weeks: 7/45 H/AB, 5 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB, .156 BA

It’s tricky to label a 30/30 second baseman as something of a disappointment, but when you point at his .250 batting average for the year, it should indicate that his production is the very definition of feast-or-famine. In the past two weeks in particular, Kinsler snapped out of his most recent slumber with a home run and three RBIs in Friday’s opening game against the Rays. It seems that Kinsler’s all-or-nothing approach to batting has prevailed, as his line drive rate sits at a pedestrian 15.1 percent (more than nine percentage points lower than last season) while his flyball rate remains at a sky-high 55 percent clip. As there is quite a variance in his BABIP over his first few big league seasons, one would think that with a return to the balanced approach he had shown in 2008, his average should be in a much better place than the .250’s next year.

Curtis Granderson – Last 2 Weeks: 9/53 H/AB, 4 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .170 BA

Showing the same kind of lag and symptoms as Ian Kinsler, Curtis Granderson should contest as fantasy baseball’s feast-or-famine hitter in 2009. Like Kinsler, Granderson has labored in the fantasy postseason as his average has dwindled to a paltry .244 mark and the only noteworthy thing Granderson has done is his most recent round tripper. While Granderson’s line drive percentage remains a robust 21.2 percent, Granderson is putting less than 30 percent of batted balls on the ground, and while that might sound like an encouraging thing, it shows that like Kinsler, Grandy has been living rather precariously on the longball.

Nick Markakis – Last 2 Weeks: 6/46 H/AB, 5 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, .130 BA

“Good but not great” seems to be Nick Markakis’ annual mantra and barring a good last-week surge, 2009 is destined to be Markakis’ most bland season. The second half tends to be Nick the Stick’s best friend, but instead he has seemingly run out of gas, as he’s stuck on a .213 average in the month of September on 75 at-bats. Most recently, Markakis snapped a month-long power drought as his home run against the Indians last Friday marked his first round tripper since a home run on August 28, which was hit by coincidence against the very same Indians. With his line drive rate noticeably down from where it had been in his first three seasons, the wait on Markakis eventually cracking the 25 home run mark remains wishful thinking for another season.

Matt Cain – Last 2 Weeks: 8.1 IP, 0 W, 7 K, 11.88 ERA, 1.80 WHIP

At times, it is the best pitchers who can delay the inevitable that certain doomsayers may say about their strand rates and FIP being too high and low respectively to sustain their current level of performance. Matt Cain defied those odds, as a complete game shutout win of the Pirates at the end of July had slotted the Giants top ace (not named Tim Lincecum) into a very svelte 2.12 ERA for the season. Since then, Cain hasn’t been as sharp as his ERA might otherwise have indicated and he has not been able to dance around his command hiccups unscathed. In three of his last four outings leading up to his shellacking at the hands of the D-Backs, Cain surrendered four earned runs in each of them while failing to go no further than six innings. While Cain has undoubtedly had a productive season, his K/9 for the year dwells below the 7 mark and while his BB/9 was markedly improved, one would have to believe that perhaps his price tag heading into next season is a tad inflated.

Chad Billingsley – Last 2 Weeks: 11.2 IP, 0 W, 15 K, 6.17 ERA, 1.63 WHIP

OK, you can color me a bit worried about Chad Billingsley as my beloved Dodgers head into the postseason. The answer to Bills’ second-half woes can be simply pinpointed to his lack of command. Since July 13th, Billingsley yielded 30 walks in his last 70 innings and when he was forced to make a pitch, it was often a favorable pitch for the opposing hitters, which can explain why over the past three months, the Dodger ace had served up 13 home runs, as opposed to three home runs allowed in the first three months of 2009 which bucks the reputation of Billingsley not being a home run hurler. The encouraging thing to note is Billingsley’s last outing in which he fanned nine Nationals in six innings, but was undone with four walks and the only hit allowed being a three-run home run. For your team and my hometown team’s sake, let’s hope that Bills can get that control under wraps or we’ll find that the Dom Perignon yours truly purchased to celebrate a Dodger NL West pennant (and to your league title as well, of course) was for naught.

That about wraps it up for this week. Ah, next week is graduation day, the curtain call if you will, for this season’s Hot/Cold. We’ll do something special for the Hot/Cold finale by previewing next season’s drafts with seeing who carries hot stock into 2010, as well as those players who are as cold as a bouillon ice cube next season and might be an afterthought as a result. Until then, best of luck to you all in this final week and remember, be champions.

True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a somewhat relieved Dodger fan, who doesn't believe in this "Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" business, seeing how he comes home feeling under the weather 9 out of every 10 times. 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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