Is Russell Branyan for real?

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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.

I've finally had it with Mike Pelfrey and will be dropping him in our next series of free agent moves. Out of the following group of hurlers, who would you recommend as the best replacement choice: Scott Baker, J.A. Happ, Kenshin Kawakami, Rich Hill, Antonio Bastardo, Josh Outman and Jeff Niemann?--Matthew, Toronto

Pelfrey, like Fausto Carmona below, has a razor-thin margin for start-to-start success given his poor strikeout-to-walk ratio (it's a miserable 1.41 in his career and an atrocious 1.13 this season). I wouldn't want him on my squad either.

As for the potential replacement, once name jumps out above the others, and that is the Twins' Scott Baker. Last year this youngster went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP driving expectations upward for this season. Alas, his 5.88 ERA and 3-6 record has caused many to abandon ship this season, though I'm certainly not ready to jump overboard with my life vest just yet. Why? Here are a couple of simple keys to look at.

(1) Baker's K/9 rate is 7.39, nearly identical to last season's 7.36 mark. (2) Baker is actually walking fewer batters this season as his already strong 2.19 BB/9 mark has dropped to a spectacular 1.66. (3) As a result of the first two factors his K/BB rate of 4.45, besides being a full point better than his 3.36 mark from last season, is eighth in baseball. (4) His BABIP mark, a solid .290 last season, is virtually unchanged this season at .287. So why is he struggling? Two main reasons. First, his left on base percentage, over 72 percent in his career, is just 64.2 percent this year. Second, though he has always been a flyball prone pitcher, his rate is up more than five percent this year so that 50.8 percent of all batted balls are hitting the clouds. In addition to this inflated rate, his HR/F has also nearly doubled from 8.5 percent last year to 15.6 percent this season. That's a perfect storm for failure, though one that I just cannot see lasting. These last three measures will almost certainly improve to a point where they fall in line with his career work, and when that happens I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him shave nearly two runs off that ERA with a corresponding increase in his win total. Buy low on this one.

I need pitching help, and I have a deal in place in which I would get Johan Santana and Andre Ethier for Justin Upton, Manny Ramirez, and George Sherrill. I don't love the deal but want an expert opinion. What do you think?--Danny, California

If you need pitching help then any deal with the best left-handed pitcher in baseball must be seriously considered.

Showing no ill effects from preseason elbow issues, Santana has been as good as ever, in truth, he has almost been better than ever. Santana currently has a 2.00 ERA with an 11.13 K/9 mark, and while those numbers are spectacular, it's not like his WHIP (1.11) or his K/BB (4.24) are chopped liver. Santana is allowing more flyballs then we are used to seeing, his current rate of 49.2 percent is well above his 42.5 percent career mark, but luckily for him he has knocked about three percent off of his career HR/F mark of 9.5 percent. Chances are that this number will rise moving forward, and when it does he could allow a few more long balls unless he cuts down that fly ball rate. But really, that's just nit picking as he continues to be as tremendous as he has always been.

It's ironic that this deal could have Ethier and Manny switching teams, because it is pretty apparent that Ethier needs his Manny. Since May 6th, Manny's last game before his drug related suspension, Ethier has hit .200 with just one home run an four RBI in 25 games. Are his struggles a coincidence or does he really miss Ramirez's presence that much? It should be pointed out that Ethier is walking more than even before, a good sign, and that his line drive rate of 18 percent is well below his 22 percent mark. Toss in the fact that his BABIP, a strong .329 in his career, is down to .289 this season, and it seems like he has been a bit unlucky in 2009. He should improve moving forward, especially when Manny returns.

Manny Ramirez will not be eligible to return until the first week of July, so we are still a month away from seeing his dreadlocks a flowin'. Still, is there anyone out there who really thinks the added scrutiny of the PED scandal will affect him on the field? Considering that he doesn't even know what day it is on most days, I kinda doubt it will affect him. Still, it's unreasonable to expect him to continue the amazing pace he has set since joining the Dodgers as he has, in 80 games (or half a season), hit .367 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI. He's an amazing hitter, but I really don't think he is going to continue to produce at that feverish pace.

Who would have thought that the battle for supremacy in the Upton clan would begin this season? Younger bro' Justin has certainly been the better Upton in the early going despite just 151 games of major league experience heading into this season. After hitting just .250 in April, Justin has been terrorizing pitchers ever since batting .358 with eight home runs, 25 RBI and 26 runs in 31 games. Heck, he has even tossed in six steals for good measure. For all his skill there is just no way he can maintain a .400 BABIP given a line drive rate of just 21 percent, and when that fact is coupled with a strikeout rate of 27.8%, this likely as good as it will get with the D'backs outfielder. He is too talented to just collapse, but a regression seems likely over the next couple of months (it may have already starter as he is 2-for-18 the past week).

As for George Sherrill, he is rid of the "Chris Ray might take over my job soon" rumors now that Ray has been sent to the minors to find his lost control of the strike zone (11 walks in 15.1 innings). Sherrill has converted 11 of 13 save chances this season while posting strong ratios with a 2.49 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP, a nice change from last year's poor numbers (4.73 and 1.50). The main difference this season has been that Ray is simply pounding the strike zone with more consistency. Though his K-rate is down a full batter from last season at 8.72 per nine innings, he has nearly cut his walks in half leading to his K/BB going from a poor 1.76 to a strong 3.00. He has been a bit lucky with a crazy strong 91.4 percent strand rate, but overall there is a lot to like here if he keeps throwing strikes though he is always in danger of a terrible outing given his inordinately high flyball rate of 51 percent in his career.

Since Santana is as rock solid an option as there is in the game, since we know Manny will miss another month of action, and since you expressed a need to bolster your pitching staff, I say that you accept this deal if you have enough bullpen help to cover the loss of saves that you will be hit with in sending Sherrill to the other squad.

I have a trade offer on the table. I will give up Jered Weaver and in return receive Jon Lester and Fausto Carmona. I'm inclined to accept it since I don't think Weaver can keep it up while both Lester and Carmona should get better. Would you make the move?--Bobby, Jasper, Ind.

I did a big write up on Weaver the other day, and you can read all about it in this Impact Report. Here is a cliff notes version of the piece. First, Weaver throws strikes (7.49 K/9 this season, 7.30 for his career) and doesn't issue a lot of free passes (2.38 BB/9 this year, 2.55 for his career), and as a result he usually doesn't hurt himself (his K/BB rate is 3.06 this season, 2.86 for his career). Second, Weaver's current rates in line drive percentage (18), groundball percentage (33) and flyball (49) percentage are a dead on match for his career line (19/33/48). All of that leads me to believe he can continue to dominate hitters if he can keep two factors under control. (1) His current BABIP mark is .246, the sixth best mark in baseball. His career rate is .291, so one should posit a regression moving forward, but he did also post a .246 mark in his rookie season, so there is some hope that the regression may be gradual. (2) His left on base percentage is 84.8 percent, greatly outpacing his career mark of 76.2 percent which is already impressive (70 percent is about the major league average). Even when this ratios recedes as it almost certainly will, there isn't much reason to expect a collapse from this Angel's ace moving forward.

As for the other side of the deal, I'm buying what Lester is selling as I have said multiple times this year. Lester owns a 5.65 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP, numbers that he has clearly outperformed in several areas including his K/9 (10.19), K/BB (3.08) and his line drive rate (19.9 percent). So why the "struggles?" His HR/F rate is huge at 16.7 percent, well above his career 9.3 percent mark, so given that he is permitting the same amount of flyballs as we have seen from him in the past (his current 35.5 percent mark is a mere 0.3 points below his career average), this number should normalize leading to fewer runs. In addition, he continues to be rather snake bitten with a BABIP mark of .374, a full .060 points above his career mark. Sooner or later that luck of his will even out.

As for Carmona -- people, he is a pathetic excuse for a major league pitcher so do yourself an immediate favor and completely forget about his 2007 season (19-8, 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) as its about as likely to repeat as I am to suddenly develop some insight into why Bud Seligcontinues to make the wrong decision with every single choice he makes. Since the start of last season, a span of time covering 181.1 innings, Carmona is 10-13 with a 6.10 ERA, 4.67 K/9 mark and a 5.51 BB/9 mark. That's right, he as walked more batters than he has struck out, and no matter how much sink you have on your ball that will never, let me repeat never, work. He is so bad that the Tribe finally decided to demote him on Friday.

Would I do this deal? In my mind it's Weaver for Lester. Given everything, I would hold on to Weaver, but this is a very, very close call.

Is this Russell Branyan guy for real? I thought he was just a slugger who couldn't really hit? Can he keep it up?--Kevin, New Hampshire

Symmetry is wonderful isn't it? I just touched on Branyan on Thursday as well in my piece entitled BABIP: Skill vs. Luck - Hitters, and you can read all the analysis on his effort to date there. The bottom line is that I agree completely with the line of thought that this guy is way over his head right now. The power is completely legit, he always had a 30 home run season in that bat of his if he could just convince a team to give him 500-ABs (He has averaged a bomb every 14.9 ABs in his career, and that equates to 34 home runs per 500 ABs). However, his swing and miss ways, he has struck out more than 39 percent of the time in his career, have always led to a sub par batting average (.237 for his career). Yet here we are on June 5th and he is hitting .319. What gives?

Branyan has cut his K-rate down to 30.1 percent this year, still a horrible number, and while that decrease will help him maintain a more consistent approach, it still doesn't explain his bating average growth. In addition his line drive rate is the same, 20.5 percent this season and 20.8 percent for his career, and his groundball and flyball rates are almost identical to his career marks as well. So bottom lining it for you -- Branyan has been exceedingly lucky. His BABIP is .394, and that number isn't remotely close to being supported by his line drive rate (click on the link above for an explanation on that line of thinking). With a career BABIP mark of .313 it is clear that the rabbit's foot in his pocket has been working quite well -- but at some point that luck will turn and the average could plummet.