September 25, 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).

Before moving to the questions, I wanted to say thanks to all of you for sending in your thoughts and comments over the course of the 2009 season. With mere days left in the regular season, this will be the last mailbag of the year, so I just wanted to recognize you all for the often probing questions that frequently come my way.

I have a keeper league in which I have to decide who to keep next year on the hill. My three choices are J.A. Happ, Scott Feldman and Ryan Dempster. I can only keep two. Who should I let go?-- Josh, Nashua, New Hampshire

Happ has been wonderful for the Phillies, going 11-4 with the fifth best ERA in the NL at 2.79. Happ has also produced a solid 1.20 WHIP while holding opposing batters to a mere .236 batting average. On the downside, Happ has an average line of 6.37 K/9, 3.07 BB/9 and 2.07 K/BB along with allowing 1.09 homers per nine innings -- all average numbers. Still, he has been somehow able to hold batters to a mere .261 BABIP. In addition, and this is the scary part, his 86 percent left on base mark leads all of baseball, and by a substantial margin (Matt Cain is second at 81.4 percent). Therefore, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see that ERA go up next season, potentially by a full run.

Feldman has been wonderful for the Rangers and his fantasy owners who most likely scooped him up off waivers. Feldman is 17-6 and that will lead a whole host of people to overvalue him next season. What I see is a sub par K/9 mark of 5.30, and that is bound to get him in some trouble. He has posted a solid 1.42 G/F ratio this season, and that certainly helps, but he just doesn't miss enough bats. Plus, his current line drive rate of 20 percent suggests that his BABIP should be much higher than his current .269 mark, so that might mean we see a few more batted balls finding empty spaces next season.

Dempster is the only name here with a real track record of success in the majors. Granted, it hasn't always been a smooth ride for the righty, and some will point to the loss of victories this season and be disappointed (he had 17 last year, just 10 this season). Still, there are a lot of positives. Dempster owns a strong 7.55 K.9 mark, right on his career 7.54 mark. He has also posted a 3.68 ERA, and last time I checked, about 13 seconds ago, that was better than a guy like Yovani Gallardo (3.73). In fact, since the start of last season, Dempster owns a 3.30 ERA, the 13th best mark in baseball for a hurler with at least 300-innings. Dempster also continues to induce roughly the same amount of groundballs as Feldman with a 1.43 mark, but the difference is that Dempster strikes out two more batter per nine innings. And finally Dempster's career long bugaboo, the walk, continues to be less and less of a factor. For the fifth straight season his BB/9 mark has gone down, and his current 3.00 mark is a career best.

So who do you keep? Obviously you hold on to Dempster. He is the only pitcher with any type of history here and he is the biggest K-threat as well. Though I'm concerned about a regression for both of the other hurlers next season, I would say that Happ would be my choice. I know I decried the massive amount of luck that he has had this season as a harbinger of bad things moving forward, but even if he suffers that regression his numbers likely won't be any worse than Feldman's right now.

In an NL-only league, would you consider holding on to Skip Schumaker? I'm in a 13-team league with each team being able to keep eight players.-- C.J., Garland, Texas

Eight times thirteen is 104, so plus or minus a little bit we are basically asking ourselves if Schumaker (.304-4-35-83-2 in 507 ABs) is one of the top-100 or so fantasy options in the National League heading into 2010. According to our Player Rater tool, and this will certainly blow many of your socks off, Schumaker is currently the 63rd most valuable offensive player in the NL given a 13-team league. In fact, he is more valuable than guys like Nick Johnson, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Gonzalez to name just a few. If we add pitchers into the mix, we find that Schumaker is the 90th best player in the NL according to the Player Rater. Therefore, if you ask our tool about Schumaker, it would say 'yes,' he is certainly worth holding on to.

As for the human angle, here are my thoughts.

Looking into my crystal ball, I see a lot of weakness at this position in 2010. There are certainly a handful of power guys to contend with in Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips and Dan Uggla who all bring a lot to the table, but after that, who do you see that stands out at second base? Rickie Weeks will be coming back off surgery, and who knows how he will perform. Luis Castillo leads the position in hitting at .312, just ahead of Schumaker's .304 mark, but do you really trust the aging second baseman from the Mets? Do guys like Felipe Lopez and Ryan Theriot excite you? Me neither, though they are both certainly solid options. Orlando Hudson? Could be something, but he always ends up getting hurt at some point. Freddy Sanchez needs to get his ailing body fixed as well. Ian Stewart has a ton of pop (25 homers) but with 128 Ks in just 402 ABs, his average is awful at .231. Martin Prado is certainly interesting as well (.304 with 10 homers) but is there much upside there?

The Player Rater says you should keep Schumaker, and I think a review of currently eligible second basemen in the NL says the same thing -- unless you are comfortable with a guy like Kaz Matsui or David Eckstein as your starter in 2010.

I don't like Franklin Gutierrez moving forward, while my buddy does. What do you think?-- Leo, Burbank, California

Gutierrez plays great defense. Yippee for fantasy leagues. That will conclude the good that I have to say about Gutierrez. Just kidding, but hopefully that kind of drives home the point here. Gutierrez has had a nice season hitting, .279 with 17 homers, 64 RBI and 77 runs scored, but none of those numbers jumps out in any substantial way. In fact, here are his rankings in each category amongst AL outfielders: 20th in average, tied for 19th in homers, tied for 26th in RBI and 19th in runs scored. Again, that is amongst AL outfielders. Moreover, Gutierrez owns some rather poor numbers in OBP (.336), SLG (.417) and OPS (.753) when you consider that the AL average this season, regardless of position, is .335/.428/.764. Therefore, it can obviously be said that his performance has been nothing but average this season.

On the plus side he does have 15 steals leaving him as one of only 21 men in the game who have gone 15/15 this season, so there is certainly some value to be had there, but really, this is a pretty middling overall line and one that isn't likely to improve too much given a 0.37 BB/K mark, an already high .330 BABIP and an 11.6 percent HR/F mark this season. There is value here if you don't expect too much, but if you are looking for even better numbers next season, you'll likely end up disappointed.

Pick two of three for me for 2010 -- Joey Votto, Todd Helton and Paul Konerko?-- Tim, Michigan

Votto is hitting .314 with 22 homers, 76 RBI and 75 runs in just 122 games. He has battled the loss of his father and depression, as well as a few physical maladies, and through it all he has been a tremendously effective offensive weapon. Votto hit .351 before the All-Star break before slumping to .281 since, but is closing like a runaway freight train with a .361 mark in September. Even more encouraging is the fact that Votto, long a line drive hitting doubles machine, is starting to develop some real power. You may not be able to see it in the home run numbers, but look a little deeper and here is what I see. Votto upped his fly ball rate from 31 to 39 percent this season, and that is key. If he can maintain his career 17 percent HR/F rate while sending roughly 40 percent of his batted balls into the air, that means Votto should be good for 30 pops next season. Add that to the fact that he owns a career .306 batting, and he is clearly the top option out of these three -- not to mention the one with the most overall upside.

Helton was awful last year, and you can blame that squarely on his bad back. This season, he has returned to being what he has become -- a very good hitter but not a terrific fantasy option because of his lack of power.

2006: .302-15-81-94 with a .880 OPS

2007: .320-17-91-86 with a .928 OPS

2009: .318-14-80-70 with a .888 OPS

Helton is a lock to hit .300 with an OBP of more than .400 (it has been over that level in nine of 10 years as it fell to .391 last season). These are really strong baseball numbers, but the lack of pop hinders his ability to be a strong first base option in standard mixed leagues (if you have an non-traditional league that counts something like doubles or OBP, his value obviously rises).

Konerko is boring, but in a good way. You take him on draft day, put him in your lineup, wait six months, and more often than not you have something like a .275-25-90 season when the calendar hits October. In fact, he has hit more than 25 homers in five of the past six seasons, and with three more RBI this season he will have hit the 90 plateau five times in those six seasons. Another plus is that Konerko's average rebounded this season after two straight down years in which his average was below .260 as he is hitting .283. Konerko also greatly cut down his strikeouts this season with 84, and this will be the first time in his last five seasons of 500 ABs that he struck out less than 100 times.

So who is the second choice? I'm still going with a long-time favorite in Helton. He doesn't have the pop of Konerko but he will certainly produce a much higher average he will most likely score more runs thanks to his huge advantage in OBP. Still, both Helton and Konerko should be slotted as corner infield options in mixed leagues and not starters at first base for obvious reasons.

Ray Flowers is Managing Editor for Owners Edge and His work can be found weekly, exclusively at the home of fantasy baseball: To email Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at

You May Like