Fantasy Mailbag: Is it worth breaking the bank for Philly's Lee?

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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).

Cliff Lee is in the NL now, and I have a need in the starting rotation. I have $86 of my $100 FAAB budget left in my NL-only league. How much should I drop on him?--Scott, Minnesota

Let the bidding begin.

This is just the type of trade people are hoping for when they hoard their FAAB money all year in league specific formats (for those who don't use this system, FAAB or Free Agent Acquisition Budget, replaces the standard free agency system of first come first serve. In this case people "bid" on players each week based upon a set dollar value. In this scenario each team was given $100 to start the year. People are free to spend it anyway they see fit over the course of the season, but once the money is gone, well, you can't outbid someone if you have no dough). Personally, I would be aggressive with my FAAB money in most scenarios early on as the chances are pretty good that if you add five $15 guys over the course of the year your team will be better than just adding one $75 guy this late in the season. Think of it this way. A $15 player on your squad for four months is likely a more profitable situation than a $75 guy for two months.

The deal of Cliff Lee to the Phillies for a boatload of prospects can be read about in Brother-Lee Love. Speaking specifically to Lee, he has had a great follow up to last season despite the 7-9 record. If we remove his first two starts of the season his strong 3.14 ERA falls all the way down to 2.66, a damn near carbon copy to his 2.54 mark last season. Lee also owns a strong 3.24 K/BB mark this year and shouldn't be too effected by the move to Philadelphia since he has done a great job of keep the ball in the yard since the start of the 2008 season (0.53 HR/9 over 375.1 innings). If you pay attention to hit rates, you'll also notice that Lee's BABIP this season is a bit elevated at .325, he owns a career .304 mark, an outgrowth of a 21.2 percent line drive rate that would be a 5-year high.

Lee should continue to be effective as he has been all year in his new digs, and he might even win a few games now that he will be backed by a potent offense. I can't tell you specifically how much to bid without knowing the budgets of others in your league or their tendencies, but I would bet that if you want to add him to your squad you will likely have to drop just about every dollar you have left to acquire his services.

With all the moves the Pirates are making, when are they going to make the move to call up Lastings Milledge?--Steve, Santa Barbara, Calif.

That's the same question many of us have been asking, Steve. Before getting to that, I want to point out two sources that people can review to get a feel of what the Pirates have done in the last 36 hours. To read about the seven player deal with the Mariners give the Pirates Continue To Tinker a read. If you are interested in a quick review of the deal that sent Freddy Sanchez to the Giants, The Day in Deals should be a destination. Back to Milledge.

One of the more talented players not in the big leagues, Milledge has a host of issues pertaining to his personality and attitude, and he is coming back of an injured finger. Reports are circulating that Milledge could be recalled any day now, and with good reason. The Pirates have nothing to lose with playing him, and Milledge still owns those 20/20 skills. He has hit .286/.356/.423 in 168 ABs in the minors, though he has only gone deep three times. He has stolen 11 bags however, and really has little to gain from spending more time in the minors unless he physically isn't right. There are still concerns with Milledge such as the fact that he lacks plate discipline (0.34 BB/K in his career), but the skills are there for him to be a very productive fantasy outfielder (he hit .268-14-65 with 24 steals just last season).

Milledge should be patrolling the Pirates outfield shortly, so if you need a hand in the outfield jump on Milledge now since you likely won't be able to add a player as talented as he at this point in the season.

We have to submit our keeper rosters for 2010 on September 1st, so I still have a bit of time. However, I'm having a hard time trying to decide on my last player. Would you hold on to Justin Upton or Hunter Pence?--Josh, Harford, Md.

Two intriguing options to say the least, and whichever direction you go you likely will not be disappointed.

Upton is hitting .301 with 19 home runs, 63 RBI/runs and 15 steals, so he obviously has a shot at hitting .300 with a 20/20 season. How many players hit .300 with a 20/20 season last year? Just two, and they are out and out stars of the game in Hanley Ramirez and Matt Holliday. On the downside Justin still has poor plate discipline highlighted by a nearly 27 percent strikeout rate, and therefore it's hard to imagine that he really possesses the skills to be a .300 hitter at this point of his career (consider that his LD-rate is 21 percent yet he somehow owns a .365 BABIP this season). Upton has also converted over 21 percent of his flyballs into home runs, and that is a mighty high rate to expect moving forward. On a more obvious level, he has been terribly ineffective on the road in his young career hitting .228 with 12 home runs and a .688 OPS in 412 ABs. Until he improves his work away from Arizona, there will be obviously be a cap on his ceiling.

As for Pence, he has quietly gone about his business this season hitting .294-13-43-51 with nine steals (he has stolen 11 bases in each of the previous two campaigns). Pence has seen his walk rate improve while his strikeout rate has declined, and as a result his BB/K mark has literally doubled this season to 0.61. That type of growth from a player in his third season is extremely encouraging. Pence is also working on a third straight year with a HR/F mark above 13 percent, and his BABIP mark of .324 is only slightly below the .332 mark he owns in his career. In addition, it matters little who is on the hill as Pence has produced nearly identical batting lines in his career whether the hurler has been left-handed (.283/.342/.511) or right-handed (.292/.341/.483).

So who would I suggest holding on to? At this point I'm leaning toward Upton who is the higher upside play. It's not like Pence is old, he is just 26 years old, but Upton isn't even 22 years old yet (his birthday is August 25th). Pence might be the slightly "safer" option, he seems to have a few less concerns than does Upton, but I see Upton as the man capable of being the top-25 fantasy performer moving forward.

It's the second half and Dan Haren is struggling again. Should I be nervous?--Carson City, Nev.

There are two things going on here.

(1) Haren has been so amazing to this point that he simply has to regress (if you buy into the whole regression to the mean theory). Just take a look at his career numbers versus his work this season in a variety of categories.

Career: 3.52 ERA2009: 2.19 ERA

Career: 1.17 WHIP2009: 0.86 WHIP

Career: 7.53 K/92009: 8.88 K/9

Career: 3.77 K/BB2009: 6.64 K/BB

Career: .252 BAA, .297 BABIP2009: .201 BAA, .251 BABIP

Can Haren continue to continue to vastly outperform what was already a fantastic body of work?

(2) Haren has long been a first-half performer. Yes I know simply choosing the All-Star break as a cutoff point really has no value (it's completely arbitrary), but for the sake of our example we will use that point in time as the dividing line.

Career Pre-All-Star Break: 40-30, 3.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 7.45 K/9, 1.93 BB/9Career Post-All-Star Break: 35-28, 4.10 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.63 K/9, 2.08 BB/9

The strikeout and walk rates are very close, but that ERA and WHIP go from fantastic to barely better than average after the mid-summer's classic.

So what do I think about Haren? He has been so amazing that predicting him to continue along at the rate that he has flashed so far seems a poor bet. Still, prior to his last two starts when he gave up six runs in 10 innings the man had allowed two or fewer earned runs in 10-striaght starts. Clearly, we aren't talking about just luck with Haren, we are talking about a man who is operating at an extremely high level. Regardless, with a career best ERA of 3.07 and a WHIP of 1.13, it's pretty crazy to think he will be able to continue along at his current rate (2.19 ERA, 0.86 WHIP). Logic dictates a regression is coming. His career track record of slowing in the second half dictates a regression is coming. Therefore, I'm going to say a regression is coming, though I would hold off on sending up the white flag of defeat as Haren could still be one of the 10 best starters in baseball the rest of the way even if he does inevitably slow down.

What the heck is wrong with Carlos Marmol? He has been great in the holds category, but his ratios are killing me.--Champaign, Ill.

Marmol, amazingly, leads the majors with 23 holds. Why is that amazing? Well, when you have 44 walks in 49.1 innings it truly is unbelievable that (a) his ERA is 3.10, and (b) that his manager has continued to run him out there in such important situations.

Marmol was arguably the best reliever in baseball the past two years, just look at the numbers: 2.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 12.06 K/9 over 156.2 IP. This year, the wheels have fallen off somewhat. Oh no one can hit him, batters are hitting a sickly .158 against him (career .180), repeat .158, but his utter lack of control has been baffling. Already a poor control artist, after all he averaged 4.37 walks per nine innings the past two years, Marmol has posted a hideous 8.03 BB/9 mark this season (the last time a hurler walked that many batters in a season of at least 50 IP was Stephen Randolph in 2004 -- and yes, none of us know who he is). Marmol has been slightly better of late, he has walked only one batter in his last six appearances while striking out 11 batters, so maybe he has figured "it" out. The stuff is still there, and he continues to have his manager's confidence, so if you have hung on to Marmol up to this point you might as well continue to ride the big fella, because when he is "on" you would be hard pressed to find a more dominating hurler in the game.