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've had it with Jimmy Rollins. I have an offer of Cristian Guzman and Aaron Cook for him. Should I accept?-- Aaron, Virginia
You aren't alone with the frustration that Rollins has given everyone who wasted a first-round pick on him. Now comes word that he will be benched a couple of days to clear his head after hitting just .125 in 13 games since being moved to the sixth hole in the order. Look, there is no way I can reasonable expect that he will continue to flounder like this the rest of the way; he is just too talented. Rollins has had no luck whatsoever with a .218 BABIP, and he also hasn't hit the ball very hard with a line drive rate of just 16.5 percent, and given that number hasn't been below 19.3 percent since 2002. When that number turns around, look for the hits to start flowing a bit more frequently. Also, don't be overly concerned about the lack of steals (10) as you can't steal first base (.254 OBP). Once his ability to produce hits picks up, he should start to run more frequently. In addition, he hits in one of the best lineups in baseball and in a great hitter's environment, so sooner or later the dude just has to start producing.
Guzman is a whole other case. The man continues to hit, his average is .336, despite the fact that he doesn't do the things that we would look for out of a man that is hitting that high. He never walks -- he has just seven all season -- and as a result he is looking to become just the fourth player since 1950 to hit at least .333 with fewer than 20 walks in a season in which the player qualified for the batting title. Still, results are results even if they don't really make sense from an analytical point of view, and the man has hit .323 over 1,003 at-bats since the start of the 2007 season. Keep in mind though that his speed on the bases has almost disappeared -- he has only one steal this season.
Aaron Cook is a winner (he is 7-3). There, I said it. However, that trait isn't overly valuable in the fantasy game when your ERA is 4.00 (barely better than the NL average of 4.27) and your WHIP is 1.33 (the NL average this season is 1.39). Toss in the fact that Cook has 46 strikeouts this season -- closer Jonathan Broxton has 56 -- and you begin to see that for all the glitz the wins bring there really is little substance to Cook in the fantasy game.
The cream usually rises to the top, and I expect that to occur with Rollins. Therefore, pass on this deal and look for a potentially furious finish to the season for J-Roll.
My team is in seventh place in a 12-team league, so I need to make a big move. I'm thinking of offering Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer to a guy who loves youngsters for Hanley Ramirez since my shortstop position is weak. Does this make sense in a re-draft league?-- Brad, Cincinnati
If this was a keeper league the answer to this question might be different, but in a re-draft league I think the answer is pretty clear.
Kershaw has a luminous future, one that he has reached at times this season (he has allowed one or zero earned runs in eight of his 14 starts this season). Clayton has also struck out his fair share of batters with a 8.80 K/9 mark, and his ratios are solid (3.76 ERA, 1.34 WHIP). Still, there are three main concerns. First, Kershaw is walking an alarming 5.40 batters per nine innings, an awful total. Second, only four times in his 14 starts has he lasted even six innings. And third, given that he is just 21 years old, chances are pretty high that the Dodgers could curtail his workload as the season wears on.
In Arizona, we have a very similar story line with Scherzer. A luminous talent? You bet. Eight-one strikeouts in 79 innings certainly hints at the talent that resides in his powerful right arm, as does allowing two or fewer earned runs in nine of 14 starts leading to a 3.53 ERA this season. Scherzer does a better job throwing strikes than Clayton with a 3.65 BB/9 mark, but he could still cut that down a bit. His left on base percentage of 80 percent is also a tad inflated, so that ERA could rise a bit if everything else remains the same when that ratio stabilizes. Oh, and like Kershaw, he often throws too many pitches and fails to go deep into games (in six of his 14 starts he didn't record 18 outs).
As for Hanley, a stud is a stud (unless you are Jimmy Rollins). Hanley is hitting a robust .335 while working on a third straight season with an OPS in the .940's (it's currently .949). However, his overall production hasn't exactly matched what we have seen from him the past two years. In fact, he will be extremely hard pressed to record his 4th straight year of more than 119 runs (he has just 46 in 70 games), though he has offset that fact a bit hitting third in the lineup which has afforded him the chance to knock in 47 runs putting him on pace to surpass his career best total of 81 RBI. Alas, the lack of steals has been particularly disconcerting. After back-to-back seasons of 51 steals to open his career, Hanley produced 35 last season, and with 11 so far this year he is looking like the regression will continue into the 20's this season. With 11 home runs he is on pace to go 20/20, but for a man who went 30/30 last season, that isn't saying a heck of a lot.
All told, I would still offer those two young hurlers for Hanley. I think both pitchers have enough uncertainty around their outlook for the rest of the season that expecting much improvement moving forward is a bit of a stretch while Ramirez, already operating at a tremendous level, still has some room to improve, and that is saying something.
Pull out your crystal ball. Nick Johnson has been healthy and productive. Can he keep it up the rest of the season?-- Josh, Portland, Ore.
Simply put, I just don't see it. This is a percentage call. Injuries are random, but with some guys the label of "injury prone" does appear to fit. Johnson is one of those guys. Johnson appeared in 38 games last year, and none in 2007, and in fact since 2002 has three seasons of 125 or more games and three of less than 100. Those 50/50 odds don't excite me. In addition, though he does a lot of things well, particularly getting on base (.399 OBP in his career), Johnson really isn't that potent a weapon for a corner infielder. Per 162 games in his career, Nick has posted an average season of .273-20-80-85-6, and while those numbers are solid, they don't stand out against what Adam LaRoche did last season (.270-25-85-66-1), and he was hardly a target for most on draft day. Another note of concern with Johnson is his batting average of .310. With a BABIP mark of .361 and an artificially high line drive rate of over 25 percent, there doesn't appear to be much of a chance that he will be able to hit .300 the rest of the way, especially since his current walk rate of 14.9 percent would be his lowest mark since 2004.
Johnson is a nice option at a corner infield spot, but there are a lot of nice options out there. I would expect the power numbers to inch upward (his 7.4 percent HR/F rate is about half of his career 14 percent rate), but with his health concerns, coupled with some batting average doubts, I would deem it unlikely that Johnson will be able to improve upon his first half effort.
Adam Jones has been a bit injured lately and he has struggled. Does this recent downturn mean that I should trade Jones before his performance falls to merely average levels?-- Justin, Covina, Calif.
Expectations are a terrible thing. Jones posted a batting line of .270/.311/.400 in his first full season last year, hardly earth shattering totals. This year his line is a fairly impressive .302/.355/.508 but all anyone is interested in is his "slump" in June even though overall he is clearly outperforming his work last season, and by a substantial margin. Now to be fair, Jones is hitting just .203 with only one home run and seven runs scored in 20 June games after his blazing start to the year, but you didn't really think he was going to morph into a .300 hitting, 30 homer bat overnight did you? Jones still doesn't walk enough with only 19 free passes in 65 games, and with a strikeout every five at-bats (21.4 percent K-rate), his BB/K mark of 0.34 is still substandard (the ML average is 0.50). That lack of plate discipline usually catches up to most hitters, so what we have seen from Jones in June is merely a regression to the mean. In fact, it can be argued that his current level of overall production still outpaces his skill set at this point. Think of it this way. If you had been in a coma the past three months and just woke up, would you be thrilled to hear that Jones was on pace to hit .300 with 25 homers, 90 RBI and 100 runs scored? You bet your derriere you would. Would I bail on him? Absolutely not. At the same time, I don't know if Jones will reach anyone of those four projected levels this season, so it might be worth your while to see if you can move him to someone who thinks he is going to that player the rest of the way this season.
I need help at the middle infield spot in my 15-team league. Which guy from the following group would be the best bet the rest of the season: Alberto Callaspo, David Eckstein or Julio Lugo?-- Nick, Florida
Callaspo is the choice here if you need help in the middle in a deep league like this. I touched on Alberto earlier this week in The Chopping Block where I suggested passing on the average driven performer (he is hitting .301 this season). However, that was in a 12-team scenario. Adding in three extra teams to the mix certainly changes that view, especially when the other two options you listed are less than reliable. Eckstein is hitting .305 in June but he hasn't hit only .265 since the start of the 2008 season, which lo and behold is his current average. David also has a comical lack of pop with only eight home runs the past three years, and he has swiped only four bags over his last 165 games. There is no upside here. As for Lugo, playing time is his issue, especially with Jed Lowrie nearing a return to action. Lugo has been fairly productive in his limited work hitting .304 in 92 at-bats, and he is 7-for-16 in June (.438), but he continues to be hobbled by injuries that have precluded him from flashing his speed on the bases (he has only 13 steals his past 113 games, this after swiping 21 or more bags every year from 2004-07). If healthy and traded to a club where he could play everyday, Lugo would have some nice value, but barring that the safe pick at this time would be Callaspo.