April showers bring May flowers, or so I’ve been told. That’s right, we’re a month-plus into the 2010 season and this is where your classic buy low, sell high period starts to open up. Inevitably, you have a few players outproducing their value while there are a number of players who can’t shake off the early-season slump. It’s a good time to take advantage of those managers who have an itchy trigger finger to press the panic button. Anyhow, the past week in baseball for this Dodger fan has been overshadowed by GM Ned Colletti’s head-scratching rant of Matt Kemp’s defense and baserunning being at least partially responsible for the Dodgers’ funk while Colletti didn’t rip a new one about the team’s play as a whole. Yours truly is just quick to blame the McCourt regime in general, for running the team as strictly a business and not as a baseball club. It doesn’t help any when the McCourt divorce puts the team’s ownership somewhat in limbo and was due in some part to the Dodgers not being so free to build on a rather solid group to contend beyond an NL West pennant. At any rate, the other thing we learned this week was Andre Ethier hits all of his home runs at Chavez Ravine while the Phillies should cross their fingers that Ryan Howard doesn’t turn into David Ortiz or Mo Vaughn within the next five years, judging by the big extension Howard was given. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it because it’s a measure of repaying loyalty to the club. If I’m fine with Kobe Bryant getting a fat extension to his contract, even by the time he’s 37 or so, I would be cool with Phils’ management giving their top slugger a massive payday.
*Stats of Tuesday, May 4
Kelly Johnson – 2010: 27/89 H/AB, 18 R, 9 HR, 18 RBI, 1 SB, .303 BA
Like a number of seasoned fantasy managers, Kelly Johnson was on my sleeper list heading into 2010. Last season, Johnson was hit hard by a terrible run of bad luck, having sported a .247 BABIP in a season in which he lost his full-time gig with the Braves and played in only 106 games. Landing an everyday job with the Diamondbacks was a big reason again to be a bit bullish on Kelly Johnson re-emerging into fantasy relevance and thus far, he has shattered the most optimistic of expectations. While I won’t be quick to label KJ as this year’s Aaron Hill, his career path seems similar to that of Hill. In 2007, Johnson posted career-highs in home runs (16) and in runs scored (91) in his age-25 season while taking a slight step back in 2008, with a 12 HR, 11 SB season. On a full slate of at-bats in 2009, KJ could have been on his way to repeating his 2007 home run total, but just a month-plus into 2010, he is more than halfway there. Even though it’s possible that the 28 year-old Johnson could be channeling into some untapped power, it is likely he’ll fall well short of Aaron Hill’s epic pace. However, KJ is in a sweet spot, hitting leadoff for the Diamondbacks and figures to stick there as long as he continues to be productive. If you aren’t able to sell KJ for more than what you paid for, I would suggest enjoying the ride and see if he continues on his path to a breakout year.
Alex Gonzalez – 2010: 30/107 H/AB, 16 R, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, .280 BA
A more pleasant surprise than Kelly Johnson is Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who happens to have more home runs than Aaron Hill and Adam Lind combined at this point of the young season. Gonzalez had his most productive offensive seasons with the Marlins back in 2003-04 and hadn’t hit for double-digit home runs until 2007 as a Cincinnati Red, with 16 round trippers. Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that Alex Gonzalez could actually sustain serious fantasy relevance, Gonzalez hit half of his eight home runs in 2-HR games against the likes of Baltimore and Oakland. Furthermore, Gonzalez is hitting nearly 55% of balls in play as flyballs, which is eight percentage points above career norm while five of his eight home runs are classified as “just enoughs”, as in they just so happened to clear the fence. Nonetheless, Gonzalez makes for a speculative add in deeper leagues and as middle infield cover for any DL’ed middle infielder (i.e. Brian Roberts, Jimmy Rollins).
Robinson Cano – 2010: 36/97 H/AB, 23 R, 9 HR, 21, 2 SB, .371 BA
Usually, you would associate the above stat line with that of A-Rod’s, but it is Robinson Cano that has provided the Yankees’ lumber into May, having jumped out to a blistering start to 2010. The key to his scorching start lies in his ability thus far to turn grounders into line drives. Since 2008, Cano’s groundball rate has decreased from the 50% range he posted in his first three big league seasons. In 2010, Cano is pounding less than 40% of balls in play on the ground while upping his line drive rate to a trace under 23%, which is about 3.5% above his career norm. Everything else is in line with Cano’s career arc: a bit of a hacker outside the plate (34.3% O-Swing) but makes up for it in a big way with a high contact rate (87.9% CT). In just his age 27 season, Cano is on pace to enjoy his first 30 home run campaign as things stand now.
Colby Lewis – 2010: 32.2 IP, 3 W, 38 K, 2.76 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
More than a month in, Colby Lewis is practically a shoo-in as this year’s diamond in the rough, having piled on 38 strikeouts in 32.2 innings of work, to go with a svelte 1.10 WHIP. In his two-year stint in Japan, Lewis had been incorporating a slider as one of his key pitches and thus far, that has been Lewis’ money pitch. In his five starts so far, Colby Lewis has thrown nearly 30% of his pitches as sliders, especially against righties, good for a 32% O-Swing and 72.5% contact rate. Although the 30 year-old Lewis may be pitching above his talent level, his effectiveness in mixing his fastball-slider combo gives reason to believe he can post a respectable strikeout rate and perhaps a sub-4.00 ERA in the best case.
Gavin Floyd – 2010: 26.1 IP, 1 W, 23 K, 6.49 ERA, 1.67 WHIP
As atrocious as Gavin Floyd’s line may be on paper, here’s a guy I’m hoping that either his owners are willing to drop or are willing to deal for cheaper. Given last season’s improvement in his K/BB rate, there was some optimism in Floyd taking the next step this year. Given three sub-par outings and one in particular against the Indians in which he was chased in the first inning for seven runs, Floyd has not pitched as badly as it may seem. True, Floyd’s walk rate is up this early into 2010, and the operative keyword here being “early”, as in his last game against the Rangers, Floyd pitched seven strong innings, giving up one earned run and no walks. The White Sox hurler’s case is a classic scenario of a pitcher being hit hard by horrid BABIP (.369) and strand rate luck (55.8% LOB), which in turn overshadows his strikeout rate proficiency (23 K in 26.1 IP) and his true performance (3.69 FIP/4.05 xFIP).
Aramis Ramirez – 2010: 15/97 H/AB, 7 R, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB, .155 BA
Odds are good we can chalk Aramis Ramirez’s bad start as one of those typical early season swoons he’s historically been prone to. A-Ram is a career .257 hitter in the month of April and usually has his worst BABIP dips in April (.267). This year, the Cubs’ third baseman is sporting a paltry .169 BABIP and it hasn’t helped much when he has been striking out a ton of late (25 K in 97 AB), which is a bit uncharacteristic for a slugger who has a relatively low whiff rate. A-Ram’s line drive rate is also way down from his career norm (14.9% LD to 20% career). It appears last season’s shoulder injury hasn’t affected him this year, or at least that’s what we’ve been told, and if he cuts down on the K’s and hits more line drives, a bounce back is in order.
Jason Kubel – 2010: 16/76 H/AB, 6 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .211 BA
Another slugger slow out of the gate is the Twins’ Jason Kubel, as he’s not only struggled against lefties as he usually does (.222), he has also labored against righties (.207 BA on 58 AB) and has struck out 26.3% of the time. It’s not all doom and gloom for Kubel, however, as he has walked at a 17.4% clip and his batted ball rates are in line with what he has done in the past, except for a 12.5% infield flyball rate. Kubel’s contact rate and O-Swing percentage also seem in line with recent seasons, which makes a rebound a likely possibility to improve on a .259 BABIP and a relatively low 8.3% HR/FB rate. Buy low if you can.
Grady Sizemore – 2010: 19/90 H/AB, 12 R, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 2 SB, .211 BA
What to make now of the enigma that is Grady Sizemore? He has been a tad unlucky the last couple of seasons BABIP-wise and thus far, he’s hitting just a .281 BABIP. Sizemore’s flyball rate is a bit down from the mid-40’s range, sitting at 40.6%, but of more pressing concern is a 27.6% strikeout rate and a low 6.3% walk rate. Sizemore has seemed a bit clueless at the plate, with just a 30.9% O-Swing rate and a low 74.5% contact rate to boot. That said, like last season, Sizemore hasn’t exactly been 100%, dealing with back tightness for the early part of April, and it could be a matter of just getting his timing back up to snuff. Whatever the case, I’m buying on Sizemore to bounce out of the homer-less funk soon enough.
Well, that will about do it for me this week. No line drives this time around, but in a couple of weeks, with a little more free time, I’ll get back to watching and researching baseball more than I should. Danny Boy is back next week and until then, be champions.
True to his Cafe name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan who is astounded by the number of Saved By The Bell reruns that air these days. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, consultant, and prefers the South Bay over the 90210.
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