FANTASY MAILBAG

I am in a 6x6 league with total bases, and I have been proposed A-Rod for Albert Pujols straight up (I would be getting Pujols). My team already has Chase Utley, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, and Carlos Lee, so it isn't lacking power. Still, the thought of keeping A-Rod is huge. What should I do? -- Ben, Massachusetts

As I have said over and over, it pays to remain patient at the start of the baseball season. We are barely 20 games into the year, and people are sending me all kinds of crazy e-mails asking if they should drop an eight-time All-Star for a guy with 200 major league ABs.

First off, the two players who should have been drafted No. 1 and 2 this year in mixed leagues are Pujols and Rodriguez. Both players offer remarkably consistent production that is off the charts strong: A-Rod has hit 35 HRs with 100 RBIs and 100 runs in nine straight seasons while Pujols has never hit worse than .314, 34 HRs or 117 RBIs in his six seasons. In fact, their numbers are very close except that A-Rod steals more bases while Pujols hits for a higher average.

A-Rod is completely out of control, hitting .378-14-34-26-2 through 20 games, while Pujols has struggled (.247-5-14-12-0). That said, there is no way that either player will maintain their current performance over the course of the season. Even with his slow start, Pujols still has to be seen as no less than equal to A-Rod moving forward.

Let's say before the season that we predicted a .320-45-125-125-15 year for each guy. If they are going to reach those numbers this year, logic dictates that Pujols will be better the rest of the way because he has started slower (he has more room to grow to reach those numbers). Now A-Rod might surpass those numbers and Pujols might not reach them, but history tells us that they should both be fairly close by the end of the year, which would seem to give a slight edge to Pujols. Remember, what A-Rod has done the first month no longer matters, you don't get those stats in a trade. Ditto the poor numbers Pujols currently has.

Pujols has never hit less than .314, and he has hit .331 the past three seasons. Given the 590 ABs he always gets, if we assume he hits .331 this season, Pujols would hit .345 the rest of the way (177-for-513). Also, the guy has been over 40 HRs with 117 RBIs and 119 runs four straight years, so he has been even more consistent than A-Rod, who hasn't reached those numbers in each of the last four seasons. However, with Ortiz and Giambi already on your squad, where would you play Pujols? In your situation it's best to keep A-Rod since you don't need another 1B/DH.

I have a question regarding Adam LaRoche and Edwin Encarnacion. I am currently in first place in my roto 5x5 12-team league. I chose LaRoche and Double E as favorite sleepers to juice my lineup and so far they have mainly juiced my bench spots. Is it time to give up on Laroche and Double-E or will they have value this year? -- Omer Kehat

As I said above, it pays to maintain patience with your top hitters. Here is a perfect example. On May 1, 2006, LaRoche was hitting .200 with four HRs (he currently is hitting .106-3-9-8-0). How did LaRoche finish the 2006 season? He finished with a .285 average and 32 HRs. In fact, LaRoche has hit just .181 in April in his career (260 ABs), the worst month of his career. So here is a prime example of a hitter with a history of slow starts who has, once again, struggled. Given his history, he would make an excellent target for those of you in fantasy leagues who have owners who are ready to give up on him. Don't be one of those owners. There is every reason to expect a rebound with LaRoche and at the very least he deserves some time to prove whether last season was a career year or not.

I also like Encarnacion this season in the right situation, despite his terrible struggles thus far (.182-0-6-6-2). In 618 career ABs entering 2006, Edwin had a .261-24-103-85-9 line, and those are still numbers he could approach this year. Encarnacion is still learning the strike zone, which could limit his batting average this season, but he has legitimate power that could show itself at any point (he had seven HRs and 24 RBIs in August last season). If you need to make a move make sure you are getting a player in return who has as much upside as these two, though I doubt that would be an option since your league mates would likely lowball their offers to you because of your guys' slow starts.

Truth be told, there are quite a few metrics that may not be classified as "new" but might be new to the general reader. The reason for this is basically we only know that which we are exposed to. Each week we will look at one sabermetric category that can be added to your "toolbox" of knowledge to help you capture your league's championship, through a simple explanation of what it measures.

BASE OUT PERCENTAGE

What is the most important element of baseball, the one thing that every team should protect at all costs? If you answered OUTS, then give yourself a pat on the back. Each team has only 27 outs per game and once they are gone, the game is over. Therefore, the players who produce the most positive impact while limiting the outs they generate are obviously gifted offensive players you want on your team. This is where the idea of Base-Out Percentage comes in.

Base-Out Percentage (BOP), created by Barry Codell, is a way to record this situation. The simplicity of what Mr. Codell developed is eloquent; the numerator contains all the bases gained, while the denominator records all the events that resulted in outs. Or, to put it even more clearly, you divide a players bases by his outs. Here is the formula:

(TB+BB+HBP+SB+SAC+SF) / (AB-Hits+CS+GIDP+SAC+SF)

Last season's BOP leaders are to the right. These 10 hitters all recorded more bases in 2006 than the outs they produced, making them excellent offensive weapons (Nick Johnson and Jermaine Dye were the only other hitters with a mark over 1.000). Some other notes:

Jose Reyes, who hit .300 last year, finished with a BPO of .776, below such luminaries as Kevin Millar (.791) and Emil Brown (.780). Though Reyes had a wonderful offensive season, .300-19-81-122-64, he also had 478 outs because of his 647 ABs gained batting leadoff for the Mets. Juan Pierre, who led the majors with 532 outs in 2006, produced a terrible BPO of .605, ranking him as the 148th best player in this survey. The worst hitter according to BPO for batters who had 502 ABs and hit at least .250 was the Pirates' Jose Castillo, who registered a scary-low .576 BPO.

It might take a bit of time to figure out BPO, and while other metrics have been developed in the almost 30 years since it was developed, BPO still can be a useful tool to gauge a player's offensive production.

Chase Utley led all second basemen in HRs (32), RBIs (102), runs (131), hits (203) and OPS (.906) and threw in 15 SBs for good measure in 2006. Obviously, Utley reached .300-30-100-100-15 in 2006 and in so doing produced just the fourth such season in baseball history by a second basemen, so don't worry too much about his relatively "slow" start (.298-4-16-17-1).

A-Rod has reached 35 HRs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs in nine straight seasons to tie Jimmie Foxx for the longest streak in baseball history. Over the last 10 years an average A-Rod season has produced a .303-42-120-120-22 line, and for those of you into these kind of things, he is on pace for a totally unrealistic .385-119-290-222-9 season. Has anyone seen my copy of RBI Baseball lately?

It's a shame that phenom Felix Hernandez was placed on the DL with a strained right elbow, considering how dominant he was over his first two starts. In 17 innings he had allowed just four hits (.075 batting average against) and he was just the second pitcher over the last 50 years to pitch his first two games of the season allowing zero runs, on three or fewer hits, while hurling eight or more innings in each outing (Dave McNally in 1973).

An eight-time All-Star, Mariano Rivera saved 34 or more games for the ninth time in 10 years. 2006 also was the fourth straight season in which Rivera has kept his ERA below 2.00 and the ninth straight season in which he had a WHIP of 1.10 or better. So relax if you currently own Rivera (1-2, 7.11 ERA, 1.42 WHIP in 6.1 IP); by the time the season is over he will have his 30 saves and solid ratios.

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