May 25, 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.

Do I need to "wake and smell the coffee" concerning David Ortiz?--Tony, Shreveport, La.

You are either going to look really smart if you hold on to him, or really dumb if he continues to hit as if his hero is Marty Barrett (sorry, Mr. Barrett, that's actually not even fair to you). Ortiz has been in and out of the lineup the past couple of days as the team is searching for ways to help him to break out of his slump which has reached the absolute panic stage of late. When you are hitting .195 with a .299 SLG on the year and you undershoot those marks for a significant period of time (he has hit .172 with a .293 SLG the past 15 games), you know you are in a ton of trouble, especially when you hit at least .287-31-101 each year from 2003-07 (Ortiz injured his wrist and slumped to .264-23-89 last season, though he rebounded in September blasting six home runs while knocking in 23 runs in 23 games to alleviate some of the concerns).

Alas, the only thing he has alleviated to this point of '09 is the concern of pitchers having to face him. Ortiz has failed miserably according to almost every measurement as he is currently operating below his career averages in his walk rate (it's currently 12.5%), K-rate (26.6%), OBP (.301) and perhaps most shocking his SLG of .299 is .081 points below his career OBP. A further review of the data would seem to indicate that his inability to pull the bat through the strike zone with alacrity has cost him dearly as he's currently sending more balls skyward than even before (49.6% of all batted balls) which certainly doesn't jibe at all with his one home run in 154 at-bat mark and leads to the supposition that his bat is "slowing." Other measures that are also out of whack include the fact that he is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than ever before (25.8% vs. a career 18.4% career mark) and he is making even less contact than every before on those swings at pitches out of the strike zone (48.3% vs. a career 44.6% mark). He is also making contact at a 7-year low rate on his swings at any pitch inside or outside the strike zone (76.5%), clearly signaling that he has lost total control of the strike zone.

There is no way that Ortiz doesn't start sending a few more ball into the seats, he is too big and strong not to start "running into a few", and his current luck factor is also very low with a hit rate of .259 (career .307). Still, with his profound struggles he should be nowhere near a starting lineup, even an AL-only one, at the moment. Considering that he only qualifies as a utility option in most leagues you should only hang on to him in mixed leagues if you can afford to have him taking up a bench spot.

I hate Ricky Nolasco. My brother tells me I should hold on to him, but I want to throw him to the sharks. What do you think I should do?--Irv, Phoenix

Nolasco was one of the better starting pitchers in the game last season going 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP on the year, and he took his game to a whole other level after the All-Star break when he was one of the best pitchers tossing the ball with a 3.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 9.22 K/9 and a stupendous 8.17 K/BB mark. As a result, he was most likely a top-20 SP this season in most draft, though to this point in time he hasn't even performed like a top-200 option (9.07 ERA, 1.81 WHIP) which has resulted in a demotion to Triple-A where he will make at least two starts, potentially more, before the club will look to recall him.

Despite these facts, there are still a few major reasons to expect a rebound when he is recalled. First off, his K-rate of 7.63 is a near match for his 7.88 mark from last season, so he has lost nothing from his ability to put away hitters with the punchout. Second, his walk rate is almost a full batter up from last season at 2.68, but that number is still well below the league average of about 3.3, and as a result his K/BB rate of 2.85 is still a perfectly acceptable mark considering that the league average hurler usually sits around 2.00 (his current 2.85 is also a bit below his career 3.17 mark). Third, amongst pitchers who have tossed 40-innings this season, Nolasco "leads" the league with a .402 BABIP. What this means is that on batted balls that don't go over the fence Nolasco is surrendering a .402 batting average meaning that he is making every hitter he faces look substantially better than Albert Pujols. Do you really think that will continue moving forward, especially since he owns a career mark of .312? I don't either. Fourth, speaking of home runs, he has always been prone to allow a few too many dingers, but things have gotten a bit out of control this season as his HR/9 mark is 1.65 which is substantially above the 1.27 mark he owns in his career. He has actually pretty much mirrored his career FB-rate at 41% it's just that almost 13% of all the fly balls that he has allowed have ended up in the seats (that mark is about 11% in his career). That number should normalize a bit moving forward helping to bring his ERA and WHIP down.

Given the depressed value that he possesses at the moment, Nolasco makes an excellent buy low candidate. In fact, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him on the waiver-wire in some leagues do to his profound struggles. Considering the fact that most of his measures seem to indicate that the reason for his failures thus far have really been luck induced (more to the point a lack of luck), it would make all the sense in the world to see Nolasco return to fantasy relevance in the second half of the season.

What's the deal with this Ben Zobrist guy? I just read that Aki Iwamura injured his leg and that the Rays may end up starting Zobrist at second as a result. Is Zobrist worth a pick up in my league if my current second baseman is Kelly Johnson?--Robert, Louisville, Ky.

Zobrist has been a boon to AL-only owners this season as he has more home runs (eight) than B.J. Upton (two), more RBI (23) than Carl Crawford (21) and more steals (three) than Evan Longoria (two). Toss in a .277 average and what appears to be a chance to be in the lineup almost everyday, and you clearly have a man worthy of consideration in mixed leagues especially since he has produced 23 long balls and 80 RBI in his 579 at-bat career.

What has Zobrist done well this season? Lots of things, but the main growth in his game would appear to be his ability to work the count more effectively as his career 8.5% walk rate has spiked all the way up to 13.7% which has helped lead to a strong .376 OBP in the early going. On the flip side, there are some reasons to hold off on the ticker tape parade. The eight home runs in 38 games is great, but that number has been driven by a HR/F rate of 21.6%, a number that hardly seems sustainable over the course of the rest of the season. In addition, he has hit a massive amount of his balls in the air at 47%, which has led to a four year low in his ground ball rate (38%), while his line drive rate has dipped to 15% (the major league average is about 20%). If his home run rate slips, all those flyballs will likely start to drain his decent batting average of .277 downward (not to mention what could happen if his LD-rate continues to sit so far below the major league average).

Still, add that all up, toss in eligibility at shortstop, outfield and potentially second base, and you might have this year's version of Mark DeRosa on your hands if you can stomach the potentially league average batting mark you will get from him in the average category if the Rays continue to find ways to get him in the lineup on a daily basis.

Did you know ... that Joe Mauer is on pace to hit .438 with roughly 40 home runs and 115 RBI? Obviously he won't hit .438, no one has hit that high in a 450-AB season since Hugh Duffy hit .440 back in 1894, so that number is probably safe (going way out on a limb with that comment). However, if he continues to mash like he has been since returning from injury he has a "shot" (wink, wink) to produce just the sixth 40-115 season ever by a catcher, not bad for a guy who's career bests are 13 and 85 (the three catchers to have reached those totals are Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza who did it twice, and Roy Campanella who pulled off the feat once). OK, he has not legitimate shot to reach any of these lofty goals but its still fun to try and place his amazing start to the year in some sort of context.

Did you know ... that Adam Dunn is on pace for what would be a career-high of 52 home runs this season? No stranger to the tater, Dunn has hit at least 40-home runs in each of the last five seasons while hitting exactly 40 in each of the last four. That four-year run of exactly 40 home runs has never been equaled in baseball history by the way. Moreover, if he does indeed pop 40 big flies for the sixth straight year he will become just the fourth man in baseball history who can make that claim joining a fraternity that includes Sammy Sosa (six), Alex Rodriguez (six) and Babe Ruth (seven).

Did you know ... that Zack Greinke leads the AL with 0.82 ERA (it also leads all of baseball)? Of course you did or you shouldn't be playing fantasy baseball. However, did you know that if he allowed 12 earned runs in his next start without recording a single out that his ERA would still be an AL-leading 2.45 (Jered Weaver and Roy Halladay are second at 2.52)? That's pretty amazing.

Did you know ... that Mark Reynolds has 12 home runs and 10 steals which puts him on pace for a 35/35 season for the D'backs? Care to guess how many 35/35 seasons there have been in baseball history? Try 18, and only one of those seasons has been produced by a third baseman, and that was Howard Johnson's 1989 season when he went deep 36 times while swiping a career best 41 bases. Obviously you are smoking some of that funny stuff if you think Reynolds is going to reach those lofty totals, but it just points out that if you can handle a middling batting average (currently .265) that he can be one effective threat from third base. After all, only he, Alex Rodriguez and David Wright hit at least 25 home runs with 95 RBI, 85 runs and 10 steals in 2008.

Did you know ... that in 93 games since becoming a Red Sox that Jason Bay has gone deep 22 times with 82 RBI and 74 runs scored? If we prorate that performance out to 162 games we end up with 38 home runs, 143 RBI and 129 runs. Care to guess what the man he replaced, Manny Ramirez, has averaged per 162 games in his career? How about 41 home runs, 133 RBI and 111 runs.

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