Fantasy Mailbag: Spoils for Victor?

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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.

With Victor Martinez struggling, I'm thinking of parlaying him for some help for my pitching staff. What do you think of an offer of Martinez for James Shields?--Willy, Texas

Martinez was hitting .350 on June 1 but since that time he has struggled as mightily as Lois Lane to uncover the secret identity of Superman, hitting just .216 over 34 games to drop his overall mark to .298. Regardless of the roller coast ride, that .298 mark exactly matches his career record in batting average, and with 14 home runs he is on pace to challenge his career best total of 25 home runs in a remarkable comeback season for a man who hit just .278 with two home runs last season. The ride has been filled with wonderful highs and nauseating lows, but overall he has been terrific.

On the pitching side, James Shields just doesn't get the respect that he is owed. Since the start of the 2007 season, amongst hurlers who have tossed 400-innings, Shields is third in the AL in base runners allowed per nine innings (10.81) behind Roy Halladay (10.46) and CC Sabathia (10.74), as well as third in K/BB with a 4.28 mark (Halladay is first at 4.34 and Josh Beckett second at 4.30), while sitting in ninth in ERA (3.63). In addition, though he hasn't produced more than 14 victories in a season he still has 32 wins since 2007, good enough to time him for 13th in the junior circuit. Moreover, Shields has seen his ERA shrink in each of his big league seasons from 4.84 to 3.85 to 3.56 to his current mark of 3.38. The bottom line with Shields is that he doesn't produce enough strikeouts (6.46 K/9) to be among the elite starters in the AL, but if you are looking for someone to trust on the next level you'd be hard pressed to find a better option.

So does this potential deal make sense? It really depends on information that I don't have, e.g. who will take over at catcher, what does your starting staff look like, etc. If you have a solid fall-back option at catcher and you need help on your staff, few are more consistently solid than Shields, so it certainly wouldn't be an awful move to make.

What should I do with Scott Baker? That guy is infuriating me with his inconsistency.--Derek, Covina, Calif.

Baker is confusing the heck out of every Derek, kind of like trying to understand America's infatuation with reality TV stars. But I digress.

Baker owns a series of numbers in various measures that are a near identical match for his work from last season. Just take a look.

2008: 7.36 K/9, 2.19 K/BB, 1.18 WHIP, 21.2 LD-rate, .290 BABIP2009: 7.39 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 1.22 WHIP, 20.8 LD-rate, .294 BABIP

If that was the only info you had to go on, you would certainly be pleased as it is almost impossible to find another pitcher who has shown that much consistency the past two years. So how do we explain the following?

2008: 11-4, 3.45 ERA2009: 6-7. 5.31 ERA

I always tell people that win-loss records are horrible measures to judge a pitcher's effectiveness, there are just so many factors that go in a W or an L that are beyond the pitchers control. As for the ERA, it too isn't a fantastic measure of success, but it certainly can't be debated that something has gone drastically wrong this season. What is it? Simply, the man is being taken deep at a frightening clip. After allowing 1.04 home runs per nine innings last season that number has sky rocketed to 1.61. His fly ball rate hasn't changed, the difference has been an increase in his HR/F rate from 8.5 to 12.4 percent this season. That isn't an atrocious rate (the ML average is about 9-10 percent), but when you allow more than 46 percent of batted balls to end up skyward, the rate is high enough to be a major concern.

Given the totality of his work this season, coupled with the fact that his LOB percentage is just 64 percent (career 71.6), I have to think there are brighter days ahead for Baker. Don't lose the faith, the man still does an awful lot of things very well.

Is Juan Rivera legit? My outfield is thin, so I was wondering if you think he can keep up what he has done?--Scott, Tennessee

Rivera is hitting .313 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI this season in 288 ABs and he has been blazing hot since the start of June blasting 11 home runs while knocking in 33 runs over just 33 games. Rivera has also hit at least .290 in each of the first three months of the season, and he has started off pretty well through 33 at-bats in July as well (.394).

So where is this coming from? Well, he is finally healthy. He missed almost all of 2007 and part of 2008 with a broken leg causing some to forget that he hit .310-23-85 in 2006, his only season of 400 at-bats. Think of it this way. In 2006 he hit .310-23-85 in 448 ABs. If we remove '07, we see that Rivera has hit .281-28-97 over his last 544 ABs, a pretty nice effort don't you think? Moreover, per 162 games in his career, Rivera has averaged 23 home runs, 85 RBI and a .288 batting average in 568 ABs. What that all means is that Rivera is what he appears to be, a guy who is fully capable of hitting .290 with 25 home runs if given a full compliment of at-bats. Currently on pace to slightly better those numbers this season, Rivera appears to be well on his way to his best season if for no other reason than he is finally healthy and being given daily at-bats. He doesn't appear to be a great bet to his over .300, after all his current line drive rate of 16.1 percent is pretty low, but there isn't much reason to think a substantial regression is in the cards either. Continue to move forward with only slightly muted expectations and you'll likely continue to be pleased with Rivera's production.

Raul Ibanez is on the cusp of returning to the lineup so I will have to cut one of my guys. Should I drop Nate Schierholtz or Ken Griffey Jr.?--Chris, Georgia

Schierholtz is hitting .294 this season and .337 over the past 30 days as he has basically taken over for the slumping Fred Lewis who is hitting .245 overall and .154 since the start of June (52 ABs). The Giants have almost given up on Lewis, and Schierholtz has long been a player they have looked at as a potential starter in the outfield. In three season with the Giants, Schierholtz has hit .303 over 340 at-bats, though his power (four HR) and speed (five steals) certainly aren't going to get anyone all jazzed up. Still, he has shown a lot in Triple-A the past two years (.333-16-68 in 411 ABs and .320-18-73 in 350 ABs) and appears ready to make his mark in the bigs.

Griffey is hitting just .215 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI for the Mariners in 219 ABs. Dating back to his return to the AL last season Griffey is hitting .231 with 13 home runs in 350 ABs, and that level barely makes him a viable fourth or fifth outfielder in AL-only leagues. Griffey can still pop the occasional long ball, and certainly has more value in that category than Schierholtz, and Griffey also owns a 1.08 BB/K mark this season which one would think would enable him to post a higher batting average than we are currently seeing (his .218 BABIP also says the same, especially considering that his hit rate has never dipped below .251 in a season).

If you need power, go Griffey. If you need speed, go Schierholtz (even if there isn't much there). If you need average, go Schierholtz. Add that up and I guess it means you hold on to Schierholtz and drop Griffey, as crazy as that feels to type.

I need help at first, and here are my choices: Casey Kotchman, Lyle Overbay and Billy Butler. Which one should I grab?--Nicholas, Canada

We're digging deep here, but that doesn't mean we can't still find some value.

First off, I think that Kotchman is the least likely to help. He has the least power of the trio with four home runs, leading to the worst OPS of the group at .742. In addition, since coming to the NL last season, he has hit all of .260 with six home runs and 51 RBI in 400 ABs, numbers that are more at home as a middle infield option (if that), and nowhere near what you need from a corner infielder. Maybe he will be that .300 hitter that he was projected to be one day, but there is no reason to expect that to run to begin this season.

Lyle Overbay is hitting only .249, .030 points below his career number. Overbay currently has a 19.6 percent line drive rate, well below his 23 percent career mark, but even so his current BABIP mark of .269 seems artificially low. On the plus side Overbay is operating at a career best level in the walk department resulting in a 1.05 BB/K mark, by far and away the best mark of his career (he has a 0.66 mark overall). Overbay, never a power hitter, has nine home runs thanks to a career high fly ball rate of 38 percent, and a solid 13 percent HR/F rate. Still, he hasn't gone deep in 14 games and he is hitting just .195 against lefties this season, so there certainly are a few reasons to be wary of a man who has hit .255 since the start of 2007.

That leaves the man to target as the youngster of the group, Billy Butler. A minor league star, Butler hasn't exactly exploded on the scene, but that isn't a shock given that he is just 23 years old. With a .291 batting average he leads the group, and since a .265 April he has hit .299. The average should remain, he owns a .285 mark in 1,081 career at-bats, the question is will the power finally show itself. Butler, who is about 240 pounds on a good day, has a line drive swing that hasn't led to much lift or home runs early in his career. He does have eight home runs this season, but with one homer per 40 at-bats in his career don't expect a ramping up of the dingers any time soon. Still, Butler owns the best skill set of the group, and being the youngest he also would appear to have the most upside as well. Go with the youngster from the Royals who would appear to have a legitimate shot to hit .300 this season.