Each week I'll answer a handful of the most pertinent questions I've received during the week in an attempt to bring insightful fantasy analysis to the fore (my e-mail address is listed at the bottom of the piece if you wish to drop me a line).

For more fantasy analysis, check out Fanball.com.

I want to believe you when you write about the "cream rising to the top." Yet I sit here and look at the pitching leaderboard and see names like Livan Hernandez, Doug Fister and Jon Garland. Are you still sure they are gonna fail or are we to the point where we can just throw logic out the window? -- Jeff, Florida

I get questions like this all the time, and my answer is usually some form of the cream rising thingie.

Here's the deal. I'm not a soothsayer, I'm no Nostradamus writing in quatrains, I'm just an analyst who attempts to use the data that has been compiled over thousands upon thousands of games through the years. Is that analysis always accurate in every situation? Of course not. There are always exceptions to every rule, people who seemingly have success in whatever endeavor they pursue, despite the fact that it doesn't make sense (I know there are more than a few of you reading this who are thinking "that sounds like an apt description of my boss -- how in the hell is he/she successful?"). That is the caveat I have to offer -- nothing is certain other than saying something like Eminem is a musical genius or Nicole Scherzinger is gorgeous.

That said, I bet this question comes from someone who read an article I wrote about three weeks ago entitled Which Pitchers Should You Avoid? In that piece I gave a general overview of which baseline numbers I would use to analyze pitchers. Lo and behold, all of the hurlers included in the question were discussed briefly in that piece. At the time I suggested being cautious with Hernandez, Fister and Garland. As of this writing the trio are third, fifth and ninth in baseball in ERA. So was my original position on all three wrong? I honestly don't think so, and I stand by the statements I have made about all three -- they will all regress, significantly, as the season moves forward.

Here are the baseline numbers I look for when starting an analysis of hurlers:

* A K/9 mark of 6.0. * A BB/9 mark under 3.50. * A K/BB mark of 2.00. * A HR/9 mark under 1.00. * A GB/FB ratio above 1.25.

How do those three hurlers grade out in those five categories?

Hernandez: 3.10 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 1.13 K/BB, 1.09 HR/9, 1.17 GB/FB

The only category where Livan meets the minimum is his walk rate, and that K/BB rate is hideous. I got a bridge to sell you if you believe in Livan.

Fister: 3.83 K/9, 1.72 BB/9, 2.22 K/BB, 0.19 HR/9, 1.62 GB/FB

When pitchers keep the ball on the ground as well as Fister has thus far they can have success with less than impressive numbers in the other categories. Still, I just don't see this continuing, a fact I recently detailed in The Chopping Block.

Garland: 5.06 K/9, 4.69 BB/9, 1.08 K/BB, 0.56 HR/9, 1.58 GB/FB

I don't care how many grounders he induces, his career rate is 1.30, by the way, or how much Petco helps him to keep the ball in the yard, you simply cannot have long-term success walking more than four and a half batters per nine innings unless you strike our more than a batter per inning. Truthfully, it's shocking -- and I mean as astounding as it would be to awake tomorrow morning with a Playmate on my front porch delivering the paper -- that Garland has been successful as he has been through eight starts.

So I'm still predicting that all three will see their positive results curtailed substantially as we move forward. Remember, we are only a quarter of the way into the season, and it's a marathon and not a sprint in major league baseball. Could I end up being wrong? Certainly, but more times than not reasoned analysis leads you to a correct conclusion.

I need help at shortstop. Would you drop Alexei Ramirez for Jason Bartlett? -- Rob, Monrovia, Calif.

Both of these shortstops came into the year as top-10 options, and both have failed, miserably, to live up that advanced billing.

Ramirez is a talented, undisciplined hacker who can, when going right, help in all fantasy categories. Unfortunately, things aren't going well right now, and the main culprit is likely his approach at the plate. After posting a pathetic 0.30 BB/K mark as a rookie -- the big league average is about 0.50 -- Ramirez bumped that mark all the way up to 0.74 last season. So how has he followed up that growth in 2010? With a cavernous fall that would make a spelunker nervous. Ramirez has a career-low walk rate, a career worst K-rate and as a result his BB/K mark is horrifying at 0.20. Certain players can have success swinging at everything, names like Alfonso Soriano and Vlad Guerrero come to mind, but more often than not a poor approach at the dish leads to extended periods of failure when a player isn't locked in. It appears to be one of those times with Ramirez, who is also hitting the fewest line drives of his career (14.0 percent vs. career 16.0), as well as the fewest flyballs (31.8 percent vs. 36.8). Toss in a three-year low in the HR/F category (5.9 percent vs. 10.3 for his career) and there is little to like at the moment. Oh, and the two steals? When your OBP is .258, below the league average batting average, well, as they say it's pretty tough to steal first base.

Bartlett had a rather large .364 BABIP mark last season, thanks to a major league leading 26.0 percent line drive rate. Obviously those were levels he wasn't going to be able to sustain this season. Still, his current line drive rate is 21 percent, right on his career mark, yet his BABIP is down .042 points from his career mark at .281. Things should even out in the batting average category and his .242 mark should move back to the .284 range that he has posted in his career. After all, he is currently operating with his best BB/K mark (0.76) and his GB/FB rate of 1.08 is pretty close to his career level of 1.23. Because of the dip in his batting average he isn't even getting on base at a league average level right now (.319 OBP), and that makes it tough to steal bases. Speaking of thefts, Bartlett has stolen at least 20 bags in each of the past three seasons, so one would think if his OBP returns to his career level (.348) that he should be able to greatly improve upon his current theft rate.

If I had to make a decision at this point I'd say go with Bartlett. He is the safer option, has the better approach at the dish, and seems to be in a much better position to return to a level of fantasy relevance at this point than Ramirez, who has seemingly regressed after showing some signs of growth in '09.

I'm in a 10-team mixed 5x5 league with OPS as a category instead of batting average. I have five solid starters, with Brett Anderson also on the DL, so I was wondering if it would make sense to drop Ian Kennedy for the suddenly hot Corey Hart? -- Frank, Athens Ga.

Ian Kennedy has finally started to live up to the promise that led to the Yankees drafting him in the first round in '06. Kennedy may be only 2-2 this year for the D'backs, but his K-rate of 7.15 is solid, ditto his ERA of 3.58, and his 1.15 WHIP is better than guys like Johan Santana (1.19) and Matt Cain (1.21). Kennedy also sports a 3.08 K/BB mark, and as I mentioned above, that mark should be considered rock solid. There is one big concern with Kennedy, and that is that he is homer prone. As a fly ball pitcher (46.2 percent of all batted balls in his career), Kennedy isn't exactly a great match for the ball yard in Phoenix that is the sixth best park in the NL in terms of home runs the past three years according to Park Indices. I don't necessarily think his current 1.61 HR/9 mark will continue moving forward, but the long ball will always be a concern, and therefore potentially doom him to a slightly elevated ERA when compared to his skill set.

Corey Hart is a beast. At least he has been for the past few weeks. For all the derision about his skills, as well as the embarrassment that was losing playing time to the ancient, out of retirement Jim Edmonds, who was just placed on the DL with strained oblique, Hart has continued to do his thing when given the chance. In fact, after a hot couple of days that included four homers, seven RBIs and four runs scored in his last four games, Hart is on a 162-game pace that would lead to a 5x5 line of .276-37-99-68-16. In addition, despite his "struggles" this year, his current slash line of .276/.353/.543 is actually better than his career level (.273/.327/.474). He may not be stealing as many bases as we'd all like to see, but otherwise he has been what he has always been -- an effective yet slightly flawed player. I would caution that while Hart is no great option in batting average, he is also a less than ideal outfield option in OPS given his lack of walks and top flight pop. To this end, it shouldn't be all that surprising to learn that his career OPS of .801 is only slightly better than the league average of .770 during his career.

If you have five strong pitchers, six with Anderson, who should return soon, I'd make this move an add Hart. He is going well right now, seems locked into everyday playing time, and that chip on his shoulder has never been larger. Add that up and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he continued to be a solid option in the outfield for rest of '10.

My team is dying in the infield. I've got Adrian Gonzalez at first and Pablo Sandoval at first. I want to believe they'll come back hard, but I'm to the point where I have to consider trading at least one of them since my offense is scuffling. Does that make any sense at all or do you believe there is a chance that both guys finally start hitting like everyone though they would? -- Josh, Va.

You aren't the only person struggling with your top choices this year Josh. It seems like everywhere we look there are top flight players struggling, or worse yet on the shelf. It's been a really weird start to 2010.

Gonzalez plays in an awful park for hitters and is surrounded by a bunch of guys that may not be all-stars if they were playing in Triple-A. As a result he is fourth in the NL In walks (27) putting him on pace for a second straight year of triple-digit walks. While that helps him to maintain a strong OBP (currently .380), it's not likely to give him a chance to produce a tremendous amount of offense if he is always getting four wide ones. There is a misnomer that Gonzalez is a strong producer in batting average but he isn't having been in the .270's the past two years. That said, his current .254 batting average is lower than it should be. Blame his 17.1 percent line drive rate that shows he just hasn't been squaring up the ball like he normally does (his LD-rate has been at least 19.4 percent in every season of his career). History is on his side with three straight 30-HR, 99 RBI efforts, and while he is well on that pace in the homer category, he may not make it in the runs driven in department unless he has someone on base to drive in.

Sandoval is one of those players who is tough to analyze. Much like Alexei Ramirez, Sandoval goes through long stretches of time where his mechanics and timing are way off, and when you combine that with a philosophy of swinging at every pitch in the air, those cold spells can be extensive. Now is one of those times. Sandoval is hitting .156 with a .406 OPS over his last 15 games as he has looked more lost than I would be in a frat house on a Friday night (my poor virgin ears and eyes). Despite the struggles, Sandoval's K-rate is slightly down from last season, leaving him with a 0.68 BB/K mark compared to last season 0.63 rate. The real issue has been a total erosion of his BABIP mark. In the .350s his first two seasons, Sandoval is sporting a .300 mark this season, hardly a shock given a 3.6 percent decline in his career line drive rate down to 15.8 percent. Again, these are the types of ebb and flow one expects from a hitter isn't very disciplined (oddly, Sandoval is swinging at fewer pitches than last year -- 56.6 percent vs. 58.2 percent -- and that leaves some hope that he hasn't totally lost his mind).

Both players would have trade value, they were both highly thought of entering the year, but the vultures would likely be circling if you put up either meaning the offers likely wouldn't be very strong. My advice? Hold on to both. Star level players have a tendency to produce over the course of a 162 game season. Much like the discussion above about pitchers this is the general rule, though of course it is always possible that either or both will fail to reach the levels that were expected.

Ray Flowers is Managing Editor for Fanball.com Owners Edge and RotoTimes.com. His work can be found weekly, exclusively at the home of fantasy baseball: Fanball.com. To e-mail Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at rflowers@fanball.com.

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