Fantasy mailbag

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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).

Who will get me more saves over the course of this season: Brandon Lyon or Chris Ray?-- Ryan, Vermont

This isn't the way I would phrase the question. Relievers' values are almost completely tied to the opportunity or role, and at this point neither one of the pitchers mentioned has their manager's favor for the ninth inning. As a result, trying to predict who will rise to the role of ninth inning duties is just too murky a question. Will the team's current closer end up injured? Will they be removed from the role because of failures? Will they retain their roles because they are successful? There are just too many variables involved. Therefore, the best direction to go here is to rephrase the question -- who will likely be the better pitcher in 2009? Remember, it's much more beneficial to discuss skills than it is to try and predict roles.

Lyon was thought to be the closer entering the year for the Tigers, but it just hasn't worked out that way, and really, he has no one to blame but himself. His ERA is 4.91 and his WHIP 1.55 in 11 innings, and those are his "good" numbers. Lyon has struck out a mere four batters on the year (3.27 K/9) and as a result of countless walks (5.73 BB/9) his K/BB mark is a sickly 0.57. Considering that he has actually been pretty lucky this far with a BABIP mark of just .228 (career .315), things could get much uglier unless he rediscovers his control of the strike zone. As for Ray, he too has had a rough start to the year with a 6.14 ERA and a 2.05 WHIP. However, there are still a few positive signs. First, his K/9 mark in 7.1 innings is an impressive 11.05 which has helped to somewhat cover up a poor walk rate of 4.91 per nine. Second, he has allowed just one run in his last seven appearances after a terrible start (five runs in 1.1 IP). Third, he has been extremely unlucky surrendering an unearthly .461 BABIP, a full .200 points above his career mark.

In total, Ray possesses the better skills and also has only one reliever ahead of him (George Sherrill) for saves, while Lyon will have to battle with Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya in Detroit. In addition, the Orioles have already stated that in an effort to avoid burning out Sherrill they will give save chances here and there to Ray. There is also the possible specter of Sherrill being moved by the trade deadline, not to mention the fact that his skills aren't exactly the model one looks for in a closer (career 4.47 BB/9). Given all that, Ray is the hurler I would recommend finding a roster spot for at the end of your pitching staff.

Is Juan Cruz worth picking up considering the shoulder injury to Joakim Soria or is he better just left on waivers?-- Jesse, Ada, Oklahoma

He is absolutely worthy of adding to fantasy rosters, even in mixed leagues. While it is unlikely that he will have a great shot to rack up saves since Soria's sore shoulder has improved to the point that he should be able to return this weekend, Cruz still brings a ton of skills to the table (not to mention the fact that the Royal's have done the smart thing and apparently settled on Cruz as the fallback option for saves over the muscle bound bum that is Kyle Farnsworth).

Cruz is a strikeout machine with 164 K in 123.1 innings since the start of the 2007 season. If that sounds like a lot you must have your thinking cap on as Cruz has produced a massive 11.97 K/9 mark which just so happens to be the best mark in baseball for any hurler who has tossed at least 120-innings in that time (Brad Lidge is second at 11.92). Since the start of that 2007, Cruz has also posted strong ratios with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Why is the WHIP so high in comparison to the ERA? The answer is walks. Cruz has allowed an amazingly low total of just 6.13 hits per nine innings in this time, but as stingy as he has been with hits he has been equally giving with the free passes (4.89 BB/9). If he can cut the walks down just a bit while somehow lowering his fly ball rate (it's been 47% and 57% the past two years), he could have a special season. Even if he doesn't, he should still post solid ratios while piling up the strike outs with at least a shot at a handful of saves making him, at worst, a nice final option on a pitching staff.

I wasn't a believer, but now I am. Do you believe in Chris Volstad too?-- Danny, Wisconsin

Do guys get women liquored up on Friday nights hoping it will get them lucky? Before we go anointing the Marlins' hurler as the next great thing, let's keep it real -- Volstad only has 20 major league appearances covering 114.2 innings, not nearly enough of a history to make any definitive statements. Still, that doesn't preclude some hopefully meaningful insights.

In his brief time in the majors, Volstad has looked awfully good going 8-4 with a 2.83 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP, numbers that Tim Lincecum would be glad to claim as his own. In addition, after a poor K/9 mark of just 5.55 last season, Volstad has really upped the ante this season elevating that mark to 8.01. If he can maintain that strike out rate his long term outlook would be tremendous.

There are a few concerns in the early going however. His walk rate is up roughly three quarters of point to 2.25, but the corresponding increase in his K-rate has made that point basically moot. He has also been taken deep five times in five starts, this after allowing just three dingers over 84.1 innings last season. His fly ball rate is slightly elevated (from 29% to 33%), but the real reason for the increase in long balls is the jump in the HR/F rate from 4% to 19%. Given the sinking movement on his pitches, his current number is almost certain to regress much closer to his career mark of 8%, and that should limit ineffective outings somewhat. Lastly, his luck factor is super high right now with a BABIP mark of .182, a full .100 points below his mark from last season, while his already solid LOB rate of 77% last year has gone up even further to 83% this year, a number that is nearly impossible to sustain even for the elite.

I'm certainly in Volstad's corner at this point, even if I'm not ready to anoint him as the next superstar on the hill.

Josh Beckett has been awful. I was presented a trade of Scott Richmond and Glen Perkins for him. Should I take it?-- Ted, Tucson, Ariz.

Beckett was 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA last season, and that caused some folks to hesitate drafting him this season. It shouldn't have. His K/9 mark was strong as usual (8.88), his K/BB mark was a career best 5.06, an elite total, and his WHIP was impressive at 1.19. So those of you who looked beneath the surface stats thought you might have a bit of a sleeper heading into 2009. Well, so far that plan has been a big fat bust worthy of Salma Hayek.

Through five starts this year Beckett owns a 7.22 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP, and it's always possible that something physical is ailing him. Still, the main culprit in his terrible start is almost certainly his inability to control the strike zone. Beckett currently owns a 9.73 K/9 mark which would be a career-high, but his BB/9 of 5.02 is nearly three times the number that he posted the past two seasons (1.78). In addition to the lack of control, batters have been having their way with Beckett producing a .308 BAA (career .246) thanks to a tremendously high .398 BABIP (career .303). When the hits stop falling, and they will, and Beckett starts locating his pitches a bit better, and he will, there is no reason that he won't return to being a borderline fantasy ace.

As for the two guys you were offered, this is the classic 'I'm gonna give you two mediocre options for your one star and hope you bite' move. Richmond has produce solid ratios (2.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP), but he is walking too many batters (3.86 per nine) while pitching with a whole lot of luck on his side (.271 BABIP, 85.3 LOB%). He has also continued to be a bit homer prone (1.16 HR/9), and all of that leaves the youngster as a questionable bet to continue his current level of success. As for Perkins, he too has been a bit lucky. Perkins hasn't allowed a single home run this season in four starts, this after being victimized 25 times last season. That is bound to turn around soon. In addition, his BABIP mark of .259 is far too low for a pitcher who simply doesn't miss any bats (his career mark is .296 in his 214.1 IP), so one would have to figure a regression was coming there as well. Lastly, with a K/9 mark of 4.97, he may be hard pressed to post more strikeouts this year than Juan Cruz who we mentioned above

In the end, neither Richmond or Perkins is anywhere near the pitcher that Beckett will be, and two decent options hardly ever outweigh a potentially dominating one.

I have what I think is a simple question. What the heck is the deal with no-hit Chris Davis?-- Eric, Alabama

The key phrase there is "no-hit." Davis is striking out a whopping 48.6% of the time. To put that number in perspective, last season when Mark Reynolds set the all-time single season strikeout record with 204 whiffs his K-rate was 37.8%. Basically what this means is that Davis is striking out in nearly half of his at-bats, a catastrophic number for a major leaguer who doesn't call the pitchers mound home. It doesn't matter how much power the man possesses, unless Davis starts putting the wood to the ball more frequently, and quickly, the Rangers will be forced to send him down to the minors.

Should we be shocked at this? Not really. The hype machine was in serious overdrive with Davis this preseason, I mean Vin Diesel flying through the air in a flaming '69 Dodge Charger while doing a barrel roll overdrive. Sure Davis hit .285-17-55 in just 295 ABs last season, and make no mistake about it his power is tremendous, but the dude also struck out 88 times last season which would equate to 164 Ks in a 550 AB season. When a batter swings and misses that much he has virtually no shot at hitting anywhere close to .300, and prolonged slumps of extreme ineffectiveness will certainly follow. All told, through 365 major league at-bats, Davis owns a pathetic 0.20 BB/K mark, his walk rate is just 6.4%, and that lack of control of the strike zone will continue to limit him to the all-or-nothing approach we have seen from him thus far this season until he shortens up with two strikes and starts making some contact.