Each week I'll answer a handful of the most pertinent questions I've received during the week in my attempt, weak as it might be, to bring insightful fantasy analysis to the fore (my email address is listed at the bottom of the piece if you wish to drop me a line).
I'm so excited about the start of Emilio Bonifacio. Simple question for you. Can he be a fantasy force this year?-- Gary, New Hampshire
I touched on Emilio (.386-1-5-12-4) an eternity ago -- OK, it was actually April 8th -- in my Impact Report on the young speedster. Here is a quick review of what I said in that piece.
1) "Bonifacio needs to continue to work on his plate discipline and control of the strike zone ... This isn't to say he will hit .230, but at the same time there are very few hitters who can post a .285+ batting average year after year with a batter's eye that is this poor."
Overall Emilio has 11 K and one walk, with seven of the strikeouts the past two games.
(2) "The big league average is about 0.80 [for contact rate], so again, Bonifacio hasn't yet shown an ability to put the ball in play as often as an "average" major league hitter"
With 11 K in 44 AB, Bonifacio's contact rate is down to 0.75, and that isn't a number you want to see in a slap hitting, no power middle infielder. In fact, there is virtually no way he will have a shot at even approaching .300 with a number that low.
The fact is that Emilio was too hot for anyone not named Ty Cobb, and there is every reason to believe that a major regression is still coming. Hopefully you weren't swayed by the power of the Dark Side like Anakin Skywalker was, because Emilio still profiles as a speedster with no upside whatsoever in the power categories and little upside in the batting average portion of the ledger as well.
With Chris Carpenter on the DL, who would you recommend to pick up between Ian Snell and Edwin Jackson?-- Roy, St. Paul, Minnesota
Both pitchers have fallen from grace -- Snell from a 177 K effort with a 3.76 ERA in 2007 and Jackson who has long dashed the dreams of those hoping for a breakout from his impressive arm.
Snell had a rough 2008 as he walked everyone in the park (4.87 BB/9) while also being on the receiving end of some poor luck as his BABUP mark of .358 was the second worst mark in all of baseball (Kevin Millwood was just slightly worse at .366). When you combine free passes with bad luck, you end up with terrible numbers (7-12, 5.42 ERA, 1.76 WHIP). Snell has started out with more of the same this season going 0-2 with an atrocious 5.40 BB/9 mark, though on the plus side his K/9 has rebounded to a strong 8.10. Still, he simply must throw more strikes or his ratios will suffer while he will find it difficult to win any games if he can't get out of the fifth inning because of all those pitches.
As for Jackson, he has had a much better start to the year posting a 3.38 ERA in his two appearances with the Tigers. However, there are concerns. Though he throws his average fastball about 94 mph, Jackson appears to have decided to take a bit off the heater to improve his control. While we can't say this is a bad approach, after all he has gone from walking 6.19 batters per nine in 2006 to just 2.70 in his two starts this season, he has done so at the expense of strikeouts as his K/9 mark dipped to 5.30 last year and it rests at 4.73 this year. That is serious danger territory for any hurler, and there is little reason to believe that his BB/9 mark won't creep up given that his best mark in that category was last year's 3.78 (the first time it had been under 4.00). With so few strikeouts he simply cannot afford to revert to issuing too many free passes.
If I had my druthers I would roster Snell in a close race. Snell possesses the better strikeout stuff, and sooner or later that hit rate has to normalize which should allow his ratios to regress to the point of usefulness. Wins will likely be easier to come by for Jackson, but even last year when he won 14 games his ERA was below five for the first time since his rookie year and his WHIP was still far too high to be very useful at 1.51.
Can Russell Branyan his 30 home runs this year to give my AL-only team a big boost?-- Kyle, Arizona
The short answer is probably not. It's not because he doesn't have power though. There have been few players in baseball history who have swung from the heels like Branyan. Consider this point -- in his 2,031 ABs he has struck out 805 times while hitting 135 home runs. That means a full 46 percent of his at-bats end in a whiff or a dong. Sooner or later that all or nothing approach wears on a guy's batting average (Branyan's career mark is just .230) as well as his manager's patience. Still, per 500-AB in his career, and you have to remember that this 11-year vet has never had more than 378 AB in a season, that Branyan has averaged 33 home runs. However, even if the Mariners intend on running him out there all the time, you should keep in mind that dude owns a career .203 average against lefties while he only gets on base at a .282 clip in such situations (those numbers improve, and I use that word loosely, to .235 and .336 against right-handers).
If the Mariners are desperate enough to give him 500-ABs then home runs will certainly follow, and he could push 30 if he can convince the team to give him consistent work against lefties. However, that average will simply destroy your team's mark, so make sure you have a high average guy or two to balance things out.
I have always loved Endy Chavez. Did I make a great more by drafting him late in my AL-only league?-- Adam, San Francisco, California
That makes one of us. Chavez is one of those guys who profiles better on the ball field than in fantasy circles, and he has been exposed in the past when used as anything more than a spot starter. To that end, Chavez hasn't totaled even 360 ABs in a season since 2004, and despite a decent batting average of .273 in his career, Chavez owns a .314 OBP which certainly doesn't help to make up for his utter lack of power (18 career home runs). For a player with his skill set we almost have to have stolen bases be a part of the equation to give him much value, and though he did swipe 50 bags in 2003-04, he has stolen just 28 bases the past 4+ years.
Is Chavez a nice addition for an AL squad considering how great he has looked thus far (.415 with three steals)? Of course he is. But with Ichiro back in the lineup to take over the leadoff spot, Chavez will have to hope he can hold down the No. 2 spot to avoid dropping to the bottom of the order thereby sinking his value. Chavez doesn't figure to be a drain on your club, but at the same time it is pretty unlikely that he will produce a season worthy of making his owners do cartwheels. Regardless, he could still be a superb bottom shelf outfield option in AL-only leagues if given consistent at-bats.
I drafted Conor Jackson for his versatility at first base and in the outfield. Is this the year he finally becomes a stud?-- Jack, Sacramento, California
I would like to say yes, but the truth is that Conor will likely never be a "stud." However, that doesn't mean he isn't someone worthy of your favor in all leagues, especially since he does qualify at first base and outfield.
Jackson has one of the prettiest swings in the game, and he has used it to post a .284 or better mark in each of the past three seasons in the batting average category. In addition, his OBP has been between .368 and .376 the past three years thanks in no small part to one of the better approaches at the plate in all of baseball as he owns a splendid 0.91 BB/K mark in his career. Jackson is also coming off a season of a career best run total (87) and extra-base hit total (49 thanks to 31 doubles, six triples and 12 home runs).
However, it's that last number that will likely preclude him from ever really breaking through. Despite that beautiful stroke, and a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, Jackson just hasn't developed an ability to drive the ball over the fence. In his career he owns a HR/F rate of 8 percent, slightly below the major league average of about 10 percent, and when you combine that with the fact that he just doesn't hit a lot of balls in the air (40 percent in his career), the results have been lukewarm: 15, 15 and 12 the past three years. The club has been reluctant to mess with his successful approach at the dish, and there is still always a chance that as he ages he will produce a bit more power (though his first home run this season broke a stretch of 220+ ABs without a home run).
In the end, few possess as a stable a skill set as Jackson, and though he may never be a star, it wouldn't be at all surprising to witness some incremental growth across the board.