May 15, 2009

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.

I've had it with Gil Meche. I was offered Doug Davis for him. Should I make the move?-- Brad, Springfield, Ill.

Simply put, no. Remember the old adage: You want to buy low and sell high, and this situation would be the exact opposite for you.

Davis has clearly outperformed Meche to date with a 3.25 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, but that doesn't mean his long-term outlook is anything more than a borderline rosterable addition in standard mixed leagues. Besides the obvious in that he hasn't posted an ERA below 4.25 in three seasons or a WHIP under 1.50 since 2005, Davis also isn't capable of big strikeout totals either (his current mark of 6.50 K/9 would be a six-year low). In common terms, he is an innings eater with little upside, a guy who is more valuable in the real world than in fantasy. Two numbers deserve to be mentioned. First, Davis' current BABIP is just .250, a full .061 points below his career number (it has never been below .288 in a season). Second, his luck will eventually run out as his current left on base percentage of 89.3% would make Johan Santana blush (the Mets' star owns a career 77.6% mark). A regression is coming, and it will likely be fairly substantial.

As for Meche, he has struggled with some back issues and a lot of poor luck. His K-rate is still solid (7.28), and he is actually walking slightly fewer batters than he did last season at 3.06 per nine innings (down from 3.12). So why the poor ratios (4.98 ERA, 1.45 WHIP)? Would you believe he hasn't had his four leaf clover in his pocket? In each of the past three years, and seven of the eight year in his career, Meche's left on base percentage has been over 70% signaling that his current 62.9% rate is almost certain to climb as the season progresses, and with it his ERA should decline. Secondly his BABIP, currently at .346, is just ,297 for his career and has never been worse than .311 in any season signaling that far too many batted balls have fallen for hits this season. Third, though it is early, Meche has done a fantastic job keeping the ball on the ground with a 57% GB-rate leading to just a quarter of all batted balls going skyward. Fewer balls in the air means fewer home runs allows, so if he can sustain this "gain" moving forward, he clearly has a chance to produce a reduced home run rate this season.

It's been a rough start for Meche in some respects, but he still profiles as the much higher upside play between these two.

What's your take on Ross Ohlendorf? I'm loving him on my NL only squad so far.-- Ryan, Muskegon, Michigan

As a guy you grabbed because there was no one else to take, Ross has been tremendous going 4-3 with a 3.77 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP through seven starts. Alas, the gravy train will likely run out soon. An effective strikeout hurler for most of his minor league career (7.4 K/9), that rate has totally evaporated this year as he is down to just 4.60 punchouts per nine. That clearly places him in the danger zone for long term effectiveness. On the plus side he simply hasn't given up any free passes (1.88 BB/9) which has led to a solid strikeout to walk rate (2.44), but for a guy who has averaged roughly 3.4 walks per nine innings since signing a pro contract, there just doesn't seem to be any conceivable way to anticipate him continuing along at this rate. Therefore, unless the punchouts pick back up, danger could lay ahead.

In addition, he has been operating well above anything we saw from him last season as his BABIP has gone from .373 in '08 to .244 this season, which just so happens to be the 11th best mark in baseball. Considering his lack of swing and miss stuff let me be clear -- there is as great a chance that he will end up with a BABIP below .250 this season as there is a chance of me running into Kate Beckinsale at the grocery store in the produce section and finding out that she is a closet fantasy baseball fan who reads everything I write everyday. Unfortunately, I don't think either of those things will happen. Ross could be an effective end of the rotation arm in NL only leagues if he continues to throw strikes, but the odds are certainly heavily weighted against him being able to continue operating at anything remotely resembling his current efforts in the ratio categories.

Michael Bourn has been great so far, can he keep it up?-- Michael, Oklahoma

After a middling start to the year, Bourn has emerged as a force in mixed leagues thanks to his combination of batting average (.317) and steals (13). The speed is certainly legit, he swiped 41 bags last season, but the question is can he hold on to the gain in batting average after last years pitiful .229 effort?

Bourn has upped his walk rate about two percent from last season (9.6%) while striking out less frequently (23.8% down to 18.7% this year) and that is certainly what we like to see from a young hitter. As a result, he has produced an acceptable 0.57 BB/K which has helped lead him to a .382 OBP which is nearly .100 points above his .288 mark of last season. On the downside his line drive rate of 25% is too high (20% is the major league average while his career mark is 18%), though the good news is that he is keeping the ball out of the air with a FB-rate of just 20% (career 27% ). Bourn has also been pretty darn fortunate with a BABIP of .384, the 13th best mark in the NL and nearly .100 points above his hit rate of .291 last season. Basically what we have here is a perfect storm of a growing understanding of how to work the strike zone in addition to some luck, and the results have been wonderful. If the newly found plate discipline continues moving forward, Bourn will at a minimum be on base more frequently, and after swiping 41 bases last year despite an atrocious .288 OBP, he would appear to have a legit shot at 50 steals, even if the batting average regresses.

I don't think Asdrubal Cabrera can continue to his this well so I've offered him to another club for a struggling Howie Kendrick? Should I hope the offer is accepted or rejected?-- Nate, San Diego, Calif.

Cabrera has been a new hitter since he returned from a demotion to the minors last season. In the 328 ABs since the All-Star break last season, Cabrera is hitting .326 with 60 runs, 52 RBI and nine steals over just 97 games. That's some serious production folks. Toss in the fact that he qualifies at second base and shortstop this season, and you have a highly intriguing mixed league play, albeit one that is fairly bereft of power (10 home runs in 645 career at-bats).

As for Kendrick, he has been terrible so far hitting just .243. However, you don't own a minor league average of .360 in over 1,500 ABs (that isn't a misprint), while posting a .299 average in the big because you can't whack the ball around the yard. Clearly, a massive correction would appear to be in the cards from a common sense angle. From a statistical point of view, the support is there are well for holding such a position. Kendrick owns a hit rate of .351 in his career but his current BABIP is just .276. When that number normalizes the hits should start to come in bunches. This position is further buttressed by the fact that his current line drive rate is down to 14.4% (17% for his career). The real question with Kendrick is how long can he stay healthy? If he could ever avoid the DL he would likely produce a big time return on that investment, but in three big league season he has yet to appear in even 95 games.

I don't think Cabrera has any chance of keeping up his early pace in batting average (.336), but he has flashed some speed (six steals) leading to him moving up from ninth in the order with the Indians to the second hole. If he can hold onto that spot long-term, when you add in his positional flexibility, he would appear to be the player out of this duo to currently have rostered since we just don't know how long it will be before Kendrick hits the DL yet again.

Is it time to panic with B.J. Upton and his no production butt? I've been offered a deal of Dexter Fowler and Mike Cameron for him and I think I'm going to accept it.-- A.J., California

I think panic is too strong a word, but you could easily replace it with "be exasperated." Upton is hitting .172 and hasn't gone deep a single time this season. Apparently that shoulder is giving him more trouble than was expected. A quick review of his lack of production is highlighted by an alarming K-rate of 31.0 (it's still a pretty awful 28.2% for his career), but the biggest reason for his decline at the plate may be that his hit rate has plummeted from astronomical to well below league average. Upton owns an almost unheard of hit rate of .351 in his career, a number he matched exactly last season, but this year that number is down to .250. What this means is likely one of two things (or possibly both): (1) He is injured. (2) He has been exceedingly unlucky and a stretch of extreme effectiveness is coming. While the latter is certainly possible, the former also holds some sway when you consider that despite producing flyballs at nearly an identical rate to his career mark (31.2% this year vs. 32.2% for his career) that he has failed to go deep even once. These things can run in cycles, but 135 plate appearances without a dinger would seem to be more than just bad luck.

The question of whether to bail on him has been raised by many an owner, and generally my response would be to wait it out. Few players possess the upside of Upton, and given his profound struggles to start the year his value has never been lower. Could you get anything remotely approaching fair value if you were to peddle him to another owner?

Fowler has really struggled of late hitting just .184 over his last 12 games, and he has only one steal in his last 14 games. In fact, if you remove his huge five steal effort on April 27, his season-long line is putrid at .250-2-9-15-5. Striking out in a quarter of his at-bats this season, he has been this years version of Michael Bourn of 2008, and while there is value in that because of his legs, there isn't much upside here at the moment (not to mention that continued struggles could certainly result in a loss of playing time). As for Cameron, he should once again push the 20/20 mark with a poor average. However, since he is currently hitting .304 does that last portion of the previous statement need to be qualified? No. The man who has been below .245 in three of the last five seasons which should alert you if for no other reason than it just doesn't pass the smell test. So why the spike in his average? You can thank what would be a career best walk rate (14.8%, career 11.4%) and what would be a career low strikeout rate (20.0%, career 27.7%). I don't know about you, but how many players in their 15th big league season morph the type of hitter that they are? Yeah, it's a pretty miniscule number slightly above none.

All in all, you would be giving up an "A" talent for two "C" options, and in my mind that just isn't worth it at this point.

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