Fantasy Mailbag: Is Beckham worth acquiring?

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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).

I need help at the middle infield spot in my eight-team league. Elvis Andrus and Gordon Beckham are on waivers. Which would you pick up?-- Charlie

With the news that Alexi Ramirez will likely return from his injured finger on Friday, the White Sox can breathe a sigh of relief. That means that Beckham will continue to play third base, but he should still qualify at shortstop given that is his natural position allows for flexibility.

As for his performance on the field, he is hitting .265 with two home runs in his first 25 games. Hardly impressive numbers. That is, until you realize that he had two hits in his first eight games on the field. In fact, his game has vastly improved of late as he is hitting .339 over the past three weeks and a scalding .480 the past week (12-for-25).

There is still some concern among scouts about the path he takes to the ball in his hack, and at this point he isn't a threat in the home run or steal categories. With everyday playing time, he is certainly worthy monitoring, though, especially when he is hitting like Ichiro Suzuki.

Andrus is a totally different beast than Beckham. This youngster is hitting .269 with three home runs, but it's his 15 steals that set him apart from the pack. However, after hitting .283 the first two months of the season his average dipped to .238 in June, though he offset that dip in the average category by running wild for nine steals. Andrus doesn't walk much, but he also doesn't strike out too frequently, leaving him with an average 0.59 BB/K mark this season. He does a good job of playing to his strengths, having produced a groundball in 57 percent of his at-bats realizing that his game is his speed, and not an ability to drive the ball.

To answer the question, it really depends what your club needs. If you need some pop or someone who could be a run producer, Beckham seems like the better choice. If you need some juice on the bases, well the speedy shortstop from Texas is the better option. To me, Beckham has more upside at the dish, but Andrus might be able to produce more fantasy value with those legs.

I know he doesn't strike anyone out, but does that mean I should move Mark Buehrle or can he keep up his strong performance?-- Kyle, Tacoma, Washington

Good to know that you have been paying attention, Kyle. Yes, Buehrle has a rather poor K/9 rate of 5.18. Most of the time we suggest targeting starters with a K/9 rate of at least six, but some guys fall outside of the realm of traditional analysis, and this is one of those guys. Since 2001 only once has Buehrle produced a K/9 rate above 5.80, yet he continues to be mighty successful. One of the main reasons for this is that he simply doesn't issue many free passes with a 2.07 BB/9 mark in his career (the major league average is usually around 3.4 or so). That leaves him with a career 2.55 k/BB mark, a total he is surpassing this season at 2.58. Thanks to his good control, and health, Buehrle is the only pitcher in baseball who has gone more than 200 innings in each of the past eight seasons. Buehrle has also won at least 10 games each season, a mark only seven other pitchers can match. You know what you are going to get from this lefty hurler.

Can he keep up his current pace (8-2, 3.09 ERA, 1.12 WHIP)? It's highly unlikely. His current BABIP is .260, and given that it has been above .290 every year since 2003, some regression is coming there. When it does, the ratios will likely rise, though they still have a ways to go before they even hit his career averages of 3.76 and 1.26. So, a slow regression shouldn't be too painful.

I need wins pretty badly, and I'm looking good in strikeouts, so I'm thinking of offering Javier Vazquez for Kevin Slowey. Does that make sense?-- Bill, Toledo, Ohio

I've said it before: Chasing saves is akin to searching for Big Foot. You might get lucky, but chances are you'll end up being disappointed and having to explain to family and friends just what you were thinking. Wins are impossible to predict, so do yourself a favor and target skills and hope that wins follow. Of course, I know that no one is going to follow that advice if they need wins at the halfway point of the 2009 season, so let's compare the two hurlers in a variety of categories before we decide.

Vazquez: 3.05 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Slowey: 4.41 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

The traditional ratio categories clearly favor the righty from Atlanta over the up-and-coming control artist from Minnesota.

Vazquez: 10.45 K/9, 1.85 BB/9, 5.65 K/BB

Slowey: 7.29 K/9, 1.54 BB/9, 4.73 K/BB

Another series of numbers, another slam dunk for Vazquez. Javier has a massive advantage in punchouts, and as a result his K/BB ratio far surpasses the terrific mark of Slowey which is fifth in baseball (Vazquez is actually fourth).

The fact of the matter is that pretty much every category would show Vazquez to be operating at least at the level of Slowey, and most would show him to be outperforming the Twinkies' hurler -- that is, until we look at the win category where Slowey is doubling up Vazquez 10 to five. Still, as I said at the start, there is simply no way to predict wins so it's impossible to suggest moving Vazquez for a pitcher who he so clearly dominates in the other three major fantasy categories that apply to starting pitchers. Perhaps you can take solace in the fact that Vazquez is one of just four hurlers in baseball who has won at least 10 games in each of the past nine seasons (Tim Hudson, Mike Mussina, Livan Hernandez).

I've noticed that Derrek Lee is on fire. I'm thinking there is no way he keeps this up, so I'm thinking of offering him for Adam LaRoche who always has a huge second half. My brother says I'm crazy. What do you think?-- Nicholas

And to think, this e-mail came in before Lee went nuts for seven RBIs on Thursday night. Over the past three weeks, Lee has hit .324 while going deep seven times leading to 23 RBIs. Moreover, since hitting an anemic .189 in April, Lee has posted a .326 batting average with 13 bombs in his last 46 games. Adding everything up Lee is on pace to hit about .285 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs -- numbers not totally out of line with what we normally see from one of the most consistent bats in the game. On the downside, the former double-digit thief hasn't even attempted a single steal this year, and that is certainly disheartening.

The All-Star break is about an arbitrary a point as any to analyze someone from, but there can be zero doubt that LaRoche clearly performs better in the season's second half. Just look at the numbers:

Pre All-Star: .256/.330/.455 with 63 HR in 1,557 ABs

Post All-Star: .297/.360/.548/.907 with 60 HR in 1,039 ABs

The good news with LaRoche, if he continues to follow his pattern of improving as the year wears on, is that his current level of performance greatly outpaces his normal rate of production in the first half (.270/.360/.489). For a man who has hit at least 21 home runs with 85 or more RBIs in each of the past three seasons, his comparatively "hot" start bodes well for a shot to post some of the better numbers of his career.

To level the field, let's compare each player to the other over the course of a 162 game season. Any guesses on who will come out ahead?

Lee: .282-27-88-90-10 with a .864 OPS

LaRoche: .272-26-90-78-1 with a .834 OPS

Pretty darn close other than the steals, and as I mentioned Lee hasn't been running at all this season.

So what to do? History and the overall skill set slightly favors Lee. If the Cubs first baseman can bring up his current 16.4 percent line drive rate, the mark hasn't been below 20.3 percent in any of the past four seasons, he would seem to have a shot at increasing his already solid batting average which when coupled with his run production makes him a solid choice at first base. I'd rather bet on that than LaRoche continuing to flash his magical second half powers.

My team stinks. Alfonso Soriano and Chris Davis are just killing me, and I can't go on like this anymore. I'm trading at least one of these, maybe both. Is it worth holding on to either one?-- Mike, Garland, Texas

Mike, you aren't the only out there feeling the pain that these two have inflicted on their teams.

Obviously, Soriano is the bigger disappointment of these two and he is currently spending time on the bench for a couple of days to clear his head. Just how bad has it gotten for the former 40/40 star? In May he produced a .216 batting average, which when you compare it to his work in June (.198) actually doesn't look that bad (how sad is that?).

So what's the problem? The first warning sign is that his line drive rate is down to 17 percent, well off his 20.6 career mark. One would think that number would rise moving forward, and with it there is a good chance that his BABIP will also improve from his current .262 mark, which would also be a career worst (career .309). Now he is striking out at a terrible rate, about once every four at-bats, and that certainly isn't helping, but he has never been a great contact hitter anyway.

However, the good news is that he has posted a three-year best by limiting his swings on pitches outside the strike zone (37 percent). You can also take heart in the fact that, despite his profound struggles, Soriano is still on pace for about 30 home runs and 100 runs. Just imagine what he can do when he returns to "normal."

As for Davis, one of the most-hyped prospects in the game this season going as high as the top 5-7 selection at first base in some leagues, he has been an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. A year after hitting .285 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 80 games, he was expected, by many pundits, to double his numbers from last season. He might get his 30 home runs -- he has 15 already -- but he has knocked in only 33 runs.

Why the major dip in his run production? Perhaps it is because he is hitting .203. Yes, a pitiful .203. Why is he hitting like a backup middle infielder who is only hanging around because of his glove? Try a disastrous strike-out rate of 44.2 percent, which puts him on pace to obliterate the current single-season record of 204, held by Mark Reynolds (Davis is on pace for about 230 Ks this season).

When he has made contact the ball has flown; His 23.4 percent HR/F rate is impressive and his .288 BABIP isn't a terrible number by any means, and it falls in line nicely with his 18-percent LD rate. Still, no one can be consistent or overly productive when they swing and miss as frequently as an AL pitcher trying to hit in an interleague game.

Both players have the talent to show major improvement moving forward. Still, I wouldn't have an issue with exploring options for the Rangers infielder. I just cannot strongly recommend someone who is striking out in nearly half of their at-bats. As for Soriano, there is no way this man will continue to struggle this profoundly. Given his long track record of excellence, and the fact that he is still on pace to provide the home runs and runs you were expecting from him, I would be trying to buy low on this guy if his current owner was interested in dealing.