Since Danny Boy is infected with World Cup fever, as his native New Zealand try to avenge a famous World Cup loss on South African soil 15 years ago (there was a movie made about it, it starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon) by winning a World Cup of a different sort, yours truly is pinch hitting today. Granted, I’m also hopelessly stuck in World Cup mode (FIFA World Cup, I mean) as well and you’ll probably notice I’m more keen on talking about “The Beautiful Game” than I am about America’s pastime. I hope most of you caught the US-England match last Saturday to at least see what the fuss was all about and don’t be dispirited with the rather bland start to the tournament in general. Most England supporters are still talking about what folks call across the pond as a “howler” or the goalkeeping blunder of England keeper Robert Green mishandling a save for the US equalizer.
As I’m writing this, I’m going to channel my inner Vin Scully and also recall a traumatic football moment for most Englishmen. As of this writing, on this day of June 14, 1970, England played West Germany in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, a quarterfinal rematch of the 1966 World Cup Final. England won its first and only World Cup at the old Wembley Stadium in London, in somewhat controversial circumstances thanks to a Geoff Hurst hat trick, 4-2, and yes, that’s right, a long time ago, England were actually champions in the game they invented. Prior to the match, England’s #1 goalkeeper at the time and arguably one of the greatest all-time goalkeepers (and surely an upgrade over Robert Green), Gordon Banks had to sit out of the quarterfinal because of food poisoning. In Banks’ place was Peter Bonetti, who at the time had ten years under his belt for Chelsea (long before they became a European powerhouse). England had a rather comfortable 2-0 lead over West Germany, and were sensing progression. However, the legendary German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer would pull one back as the ball just got underneath the reach of Bonetti thanks to a bobble. West Germany pressed and pressed for the equalizer with a looping header and got it eight minutes from time. The game went into extra time and the other German legend, Gerd Muller would head in the winner thanks to some dreadful defending and West Germany pulled out a brilliant 3-2 comeback win to advance. Bonetti never featured for England again and so began what England fans would call 44 years of hurt (and losing to the Germans in penalties every now and then in ensuing competitions). I suppose it was just appropriate that Robert Green had his blunder and now it’s looking like this will be the last run-out for Green in England duty (unless Fabio Capello will give him a nod as soon as the next match). Sorry to the rest of you England supporters for reliving a traumatizing football memory, but keeping things in perspective, Green’s blunder pales in comparison of being on the wrong end of a famous comeback win on the global stage.
As Vin Scully would say, let’s get back to this one…
*Stats of Sunday, June 13
Adrian Beltre – Last Month: 40/110 H/AB, 16 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, .364 BA
It appears that Adrian Beltre has paid his taxes and there have been many happy returns with his recent production. On a fairly clean bill of health, Beltre has already exceeded his home run total from last year (9 in 2010, 8 in 2009), matched his RBI total of 44 from last year, and has improved his ISO to a more respectable mark of .194 from a pedestrian .111 ISO in 2009. Beltre’s BABIP is at a career-high mark of .367, which is a marked increase from his much ballyhooed career year with the Dodgers in 2004 (.325 BA). Expect a bit of a batting average regression, but given his ability to take advantage of a favorable situation in Boston, he should be on track for a solid fantasy season for a third bagger.
Josh Hamilton – Last Month: 35/102 H/AB, 17 R, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB, .343 BA
Since the start of May, Josh Hamilton has only knocked in a dozen home runs, 35 RBI, and hit for a .331 batting average on the side. For those of us who took a leap of faith in the 4th-5th round on the oft-injured Hamilton (I took him in the 6th round in one league), the reward can’t be any sweeter. In spite of striking out at a similar clip as last year (23.5% K rate), Hamilton has posted a career-high .267 ISO and pushed for a robust 20.3% HR/FB rate. It has to be considered an impressive feat for the injury-prone Hamilton to nurse a right knee problem for the past month or so and stay off the DL, let alone to be locked in. Needless to say, when healthy, Hamilton can produce and any worries of him no longer being the high-reward proposition should be put to rest.
Brett Cecil – Last Month: 36.1 IP, 5 W, 21 K, 1.49 ERA, 0.77 WHIP
After an eight run drubbing at the hands of the Rangers a month ago, Brett Cecil has sorted himself out with a five game winning streak and impressive outings against the likes of the Angels, Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. The key to his success has been in getting opposing batters to whiff at his offerings outside the strike zone. In his rookie season last year, Cecil posted just a 20.5% outside swing percentage, only to induce a much more respectable 32.6% O-Swing while lowering his BB/9 to a rather svelte 2.24 BB/9 mark. Cecil, known as a groundball pitcher, has also improved his groundball rate by nearly two percent from last year albeit a marginal spike by his standards (44.3% GB in 2010, 42.6% in 2009). The 23 year-old Cecil’s BABIP stands at a rather low .242 mark, which of course notes some ground for regression, but an FIP of 3.40 and xFIP of 3.98 indicate that Cecil is likely to remain as a more than decent fantasy back-end starter.
Josh Johnson – Last Month: 35.0 IP, 4 W, 28 K, 0.26 ERA, 0.97 WHIP
After a rather uneven April, the Marlins’ top ace has been terrific, lowering his 3.35 ERA from May 8th onward to a current 1.91 ERA. Since May 13th, Josh Johnson has posted three shutouts in his last six starts and in his other three, Johnson had surrendered just one run, including a loss to the Phillies on an unearned run. Johnson’s healthy groundball rate remains a constant (49.3% GB) while Johnson has only allowed a current career-low 4.3% HR/FB rate and a 74.5% contact rate. While he hasn’t come close to overshadowing NL Cy Young frontrunner Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson’s FIP and xFIP are indicators that he could regress (2.63 FIP, 3.28 xFIP), much like Jimenez’s FIP/xFIP may suggest that the Rockies ace is due for a regression (2.92 FIP, 3.59 xFIP). It is inevitable that Johnson will regress from his current tear, but he continues to prove he’s a legitimate fantasy ace.
Lance Berkman – Last Month: 23/102 H/AB, 9 R, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, .225 BA
The Big Puma has been prone to mini-slumps and mini-tears this season and over the past week, Berkman is just 1-for-25, which has sunken his batting average from .266 to .237. Just as noteworthy, Lance Berkman’s ISO stands at a paltry .153, a full hundred points below his career average. Currently on pace to just scratch the 20 home run level and to hit for a career-low batting average over a full season (.258 according to his updated ZiPS), Berkman has hit into more than his fair share of groundballs than usual (47.8% GB). A possible trade deadline candidate, Berkman could use a change of scenery at this point (Anaheim, maybe?) to get his numbers back up to snuff.
Brad Hawpe – Last Month: 24/98 H/AB, 6 R, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, .245 BA
Unfortunately, Brad Hawpe’s recent struggles at the plate probably won’t open the door for Dexter Fowler to be promoted back to the big club, as Hawpe has been good enough to string four straight multi-hit games, sandwiched between a number of 0-fers this June. Nonetheless, Hawpe’s numbers have been on the uninspiring side of late, as his HR/FB is roughly half of his career HR/FB rate (8.5% HR/FB in 2010, 16.2% HR/FB career) while his ISO sits at a pedestrian .183 mark. A combination of an improved contact rate, a greatly reduced strikeout rate, and a BABIP a touch below his career norm should be an indicator that Hawpe will eventually rediscover his power stroke. Sorry, Dexter Fowler fans.
James Shields – Last Month: 39.0 IP, 1 W, 33 K, 6.23 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
Two rough outings in his last three starts have bumped up James Shields’ ERA from a 2.99 mark to a 4.55 ERA, practically overnight. Shields was shelled late last month for seven runs off 11 hits against the White Sox in 5.1 innings while two starts later, Shields was roughed up by the Marlins for ten runs in 3.1 innings. Shields’ line drive rate has increased to 23.4% on the year and hit hard by a .368 BABIP. Given an increase in his outside swing percentage (30.8% O-Swing), a vastly improved 8.68 K/9, a pitch selection in line with past seasons, and a 3.38 xFIP/3.87 FIP, Shields has nowhere to go but up from here.
Zack Greinke – Last Month: 36.1 IP, 1 W, 34 K, 5.70 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
The American League’s reigning Cy Young winner has reverted from his otherworldly 2009 form to the standards he set in ‘07-08. The Royals ace only has a couple of wins to his name on the season and his FIP/xFIP are in line with his current ERA (3.94) just about. With that said, there’s no better time than now to snag Greinke for a bit of a discount. In his last outing against the Reds, Greinke was electric, whiffing a dozen Reds and walking none in a complete game shutout win. According to Greinke, the impressive outing can be attributed to a mechanical adjustment in his windup. Apparently, Greinke’s bringing his glove up higher, as he did last year, aids him in some way to put better movement into his curveball and slider. Greinke might not be had for a total steal in your league, but he is a candidate to improve his ratios (as well as your fantasy team’s ratios) from here on out.
That’ll about do it for me this week. Our Kiwi friend should be back next week and until then, be champions.
True to his Cafe name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan whose first traumatic England memory that he could remember was the infamous Hand of God goal scored by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, consultant, and yes, he's still playing the song, he's singing for England, En-ger-land, Arrivederci is one on one.
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