August 08, 2009

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 saw that the Red Sox signed Paul Byrd to a contract. I'm in an AL-only league and could certainly use some pitching help down the stretch. Should I take a flier that the old codger has something left? --DavidYou know the saying 'Go West, young man?' Well we need to coin another phrase -- "Go East, old man, if you have a spotty record of health or poor performance on the hill." The Red Sox, in their desire to make the AARP a part owner of the club (if you don't know the acronym it stands for the American Association of Retired Persons), added yet another aging hurler in Paul Byrd signing him to a minor league contract. Byrd was assigned to the minors with the thought being that he will hurl against the youngsters for about three weeks and then be called up when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Byrd hasn't pitched for anyone this season, this after going 11-12 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP in 30 starts last year for the Indians and Red Sox. To compare, Brad Penny, who has made 21 starts for the Red Sox this year has a 5.20 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. Makes you scratch your head a bit doesn't it? In fact, Byrd closed well last season with an 8-2 record, 3.46 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over his last 12 starts, so it's really pretty surprising he has been on the sidelines so long.

Is Byrd worth a flier? If you can store him for a few weeks, sure. Penny has struggled, John Smoltz (8.33 ERA in eight starts) has looked like a BP pitcher, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is still trying to figure out a training method that will allow him to do more than berate team management in Japanese. As crazy as it sounds, I wouldn't be shocked to see Byrd make a start or two in September.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with Francisco Liriano? What a loser. --Christian, Florida

Off the top, expectations were far too high for Liriano heading into the season. The truth is that Liriano likely will never again be the man he was in 2006 (2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.71 K/9). Honestly, Liriano never had a chance to succeed in most people's eyes with the bar set at that level. However, I'm not going to sit here and say that he has pitched well -- he hasn't. Liriano is 4-11 with a 5.63 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, numbers more closely associated with a guy like Daniel Cabrera than with Liriano. However, that's where we are today. Why?

First, Liriano's arm has never bounced back to pre-Tommy John surgery form. During the 2006 season his average fastball was 94.7 mph whereas this year that number is just 91.6. Three mph may not seem like a lot, but it really is a huge difference. Second, Liriano's trademark slider, one that once looked just like the nasty offering that Randy Johnson tossed up there for two decades, just doesn't have the bite it used to. As a result, Liriano has lost a great deal of his strikeout rate, it'd down to 8.06 this season (career 9.29). Even worse, Liriano has had a difficult time locating pitches as his walk rate has almost doubled from 2006 (2.38 BB/9) to this season (4.18). Fewer strikeouts and more walks don't usually lead to success. Liriano has also gone from being a ground ball machine to a merely average one as his GB-rate of 55 percent in '06 has dropped to 40 percent the past two years.

At this point, Liriano isn't operating at a level that surpasses that of an average major league hurler (save the strikeouts). He may return to prominence, but it doesn't appear likely to happen in 2009.

What do you think of this Justin Masterson kid? I'm in a 12-team mixed league and I picked him up when he was moved to the Indians. Am I going to see anything from him this season, or was it a wasted waiver-wire move? --Chris, Texas

Good news for you Chris, it appears certain that Masterson will be in the Indians' starting rotation the rest of the way after the club moved Carl Pavano to the Twins on Friday (you can read about the deal in Friday's Daily Dose.

Masterson has been in a swing role with the Red Sox this season with a 4.59 ERA in six starts covering 35.1 innings versus his work out of the pen that has produced a 4.08 ERA in 39.2 innings. Though the numbers are pretty close this season, Masterson has been somewhat effective as a starter in his brief two year career (15 starts).

Those numbers certainly don't jump off the page though they are decent for an AL hurler, but that K/BB is well below where I would like to see it. On the plus side, Masterson has a 18 percent line-drive rate, a number which isn't really reflected in his .323 BABIP mark, so perhaps he is due for a bit o' luck moving forward.

Given his fairly pronounced groundball tendencies, he owns a strong 1.77 G/F rate in his career, Masterson figures to have a chance to be an effective starter this season once he is able to build up the required arm strength to go deep into games.

I heard that the Yankees might shut down Joba Chamberlain if he hits some innings pitched mark later in the year. Can they really be serious, and should I be worried or is it just talk? --Chad, Trenton, N.J.

Symmetry is a wonderful thing isn't it? About 45 minutes after I posted Today vs. Tomorrow I received this email. You can read my thoughts about this whole situation there and I will add this -- yes, I believe you should be worried as reports seem to point out that the Yankees are very serious about holding Joba to about 160-innings this season. I don't think that makes a lick of sense honestly, but that doesn't mean they won't hold pretty firm when it comes to Joba's innings pitched count.

I know it's a bit earlier, but who would you keep for 2010 if there were no salaries involved - Adam Jones or Nick Markakis? --Brad, Maryland

Someone has some serious hometown love eh Brad? Usually that's a bad thing as people tend to overvalue "their guys," but in this case we certainly have two fine players to consider.

Jones is hitting .300 with 19 bombs, 64 RBI, 70 runs and nine steals in what is shaping up to be a terrific all-around season. Long thought of as a potential 20/20 option, Jones continues to struggle a bit to make contact (21 percent K-rate) while at the same time rarely taking a walk leading to a 0.33 BB/K rate. It's pretty impressive that he is hitting .300 given that number, and to tell you the truth his .339 BBAIP really isn't supported by his 19 percent line drive rate, so perhaps some regression is indeed in the cards in batting average. One also has to think that his current HR/F rate of 21 percent is a bit fluky, which when combined with a mere 29 percent fly ball rate seems to rule out a run to 30 homers this season, as well as moving forward.

Markakis is clearly the more established player. After back-to-back seasons hitting at least .306 with 20 homers, 87 RBI and 97 runs, Markakis is certainly poised to extend that run to 3-straight years as he is hitting .298-13-76 with 65 runs. The homers are down a bit, though that would appear to be easily explainable as a mere artifact of variation considering his current HR/F mark of nine percent is well below his 12.1 percent rate the past two years. Markakis owns a 0.65 K/BB mark in his career, not a great number but nearly double the mark posted by Jones, and that, combined with a BABIP mark that hasn't dipped below .334 (his current number) in three years, paints him as a solid option in the batting average category moving forward.

So who should you keep? Jones is the more athletic player, and the one who can legitimately lay claim to a potential 20/20 offering. However, Markakis has a better approach at the dish, will almost certainly hit for a higher average, and is working on three straight years of strong performance. In my mind, that makes Nick the choice to hold on to here.

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