May 05, 2010

Each week I'll answer a handful of the most pertinent questions I've received during the week in an attempt to bring insightful fantasy analysis to the fore (and don't hesitate to drop me a line if you wish).

Should I stash Carlos Santana or Mike Stanton in deep mixed league?-- Steve, Washington, D.C.

This is the type of question I constantly receive from people trying to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. The situation is obviously much more vital in a keeper league, but since this question doesn't involve such a situation I'll give my standard answer to these type of questions: I have no idea. There, I said it. I know, I'm supposed to be the answer man imbued with the knowledge that mortals can only glimpse when I dwell among them, but the truth is I got nothing but suppositions and guesses here. The reason is that I have no idea when the Indians or Marlins will make the decision to call up these uber-talented prospects. Will they wait to delay arbitration clocks? Will they make a trade opening up a spot on the big league roster for their top prospects? Will they continue to allow the youngsters to hone their skills in the minors if they players currently on the active roster perform at acceptable levels? There are simply too many variables to get a clear handle on these type of questions, so honestly I'm left to sift through the data and give it the old college try.

Santana is a dynamic hitter, and since he plays the catcher's position there is a ton of potential value in that stick of his. The comparisons to Victor Martinez appear valid for the Indians' prospect, especially after he destroyed Double-A pitching last year to the tune of 23 homers, 97 RBI and 91 runs scored in a mere 428 at-bats. His slash line was also very impressive indeed at .290/.413/.530. You also have to love the fact that the past two years he has walked more times (159) than he has struck out (144). We've seen more of the same from Santana this year as he is hitting .300 with 22 RBIs, a .446 OBP and a scintillating 1.46 BB/K mark through 25 games at Triple-A. Oh yeah, he was also the California league MVP in '08 and the Eastern League MVP last season. Santana could use some refinement on the defensive aspects of the game, but his stick is major league ready right now. There is no doubt that he should supplant the Lou Marson and Mike Redmond duo at some point this season, the question is when?

Stanton is an absolute beast right now. He is batting a robust .344 with 29 RBI in 25 games in Double-A, but it's the jaw dropping power that has everyone's attention (he has 13 homers and a .844 SLG). However, there are reasons to slow the steamroller that is rolling downhill with his kid. First off, he is just 20 years old (he won't be able to legally buy a martini until November 8th). Second, he doesn't have a single at-bat above Double-A. For that matter, he has only 389 at-bats at Double-A. Third, he isn't exactly a great contact hitter with 346 Ks in just 296 games. That's a concern was he has mostly face pitchers who lack the ability to exploit a hitters weakness. Fourth, He's just 20 years old. Wait, I already said that didn't I?

If I had to venture guess I would say grab Santana. He plays the more difficult position to find offense from, is clearly the more polished hitter, and doesn't have a road block on the big league club (Cody Ross hasn't been great this year in Florida, but he does have 46 homers and 163 RBIs the past two years and that would be tough to pass on to add Stanton to the lineup). Both players should one day be All-Stars, but I would spend my waiver-wire selection on Santana.

Should I trade the combination of Tommy Hanson and Julio Borbon for Justin Upton and Randy Wells?-- Doron, New York, N.Y.

Hanson has a chance to be special, and that is saying something when he might already be one of the top-20 starting pitchers in the fantasy game. In 26 career starts he is 13-6, owns an impressive 2.76 ERA, an 8.56 K/9 mark, a 3.30 K/BB mark and a 1.14 WHIP. Do you know how many pitchers who tossed at least 155 innings last season reached all four of those ratios numbers? The answer is two, and both those guys won Cy Young Award (Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum).

Julio Borbon has been a total bust so far in 2010. He's hitting .188, had only taken one walk and owns a .207 OBP. He does have four steals, but that hardly takes the sting out of his start. Were our expectations too high with Borbon coming into the year? The answer to that question certainly might be in the affirmative, but if you add this seasons effort to last years work with the Rangers you end up with a player who is hitting .270 with 41 runs and 23 steals in 69 games, and those are pretty darn solid numbers for any young player.

Upton has been a disaster in certain respects this season. He's hitting a mere .226 and his K-rate has gone from poor (29.6 for his career) to awful this season (36.8). On the plus side, his LD-rate is right on his career norm (19.4 percent versus a career 19.2 mark), ditto his GB/FB ratio (1.16 and 1.06) as well as the fact that his HR/F ratio is slightly elevated (20.0 compared to 18.8 percent last year). Oh, and has hard as it is to believe given his sad sack batting average, Upton is still on pace to go 30/20 with 125 runs scored, so it's not like he isn't providing production.

Wells was on my list of potential bust candidates in '10, but it hasn't happened yet. In fact, he has actually surpassed what he did last season -- substantially. He's upped his K-rate by two full batters while at the same time cutting a full batter off his walk rate. That means his passable 2.26 K/BB mark last season has soared to 5.40 this season -- a completely unsustainable mark. He's also operating at more than a 50 percent reduction in the early going in his HR/F ratio -- it's at 3.4 percent this season -- and it obviously doesn't figure to remain that low. Oddly, Wells has given up liners at a 24 percent rate leading to a massive .370 BABIP, so clearly there is a lot here that seems a bit off.

Would I accept this deal? I think you have to. As great as Hanson is, Upton can be a five-category difference maker on offense. Wells should also be a serviceable starter this season, though I just don't know if the same can be said for Borbon right now. This might be one of those deals that benefits both teams, but when in doubt I always side with the team getting the star at the dish.

I'm growing frustrated with the lack of effectiveness of Gavin Floyd. Did I grab the wrong White Sox hurler this year? Will Floyd or John Danks end up with better numbers?-- Leo, Indiana

And to think, this question was submitted before Floyd was lit up for 15 base runners and six runs over 6.1 innings against the Royals.

Floyd entered '10 on a bit of a down note if you looked merely at the surface numbers, as he produced six fewer wins and a 0.22 ERA spike in '09 compared to '08. But those were surface variations. Next level analysis showed that Floyd improve his K-rate by more than a batter per nine at 7.60, lowered his walk rate to 2.75 per nine, and that led to the best K/BB rate of his career (2.76). He also happened to up his GB/FB ratio to 1.34 as his fly ball rate really dropped, a key for a pitcher who is often homer prone. If you can't tell, I was high on Floyd coming into the year, and I'm still bullish on Floyd. Even with his struggles this season he has continued to keep his fly balls down and his 1.54 GB/FB ratio is strong for a man who owns a 1.16 career mark. Two things to keep in mind. First, his current 3.86 BB/9 mark is way too high -- that mark hasn't been even 3.10 since 2006. Second, his current BABIP mark of .385 is patently preposterous for a man who owns a .296 career mark, not to mention for a guy who has knocked more than a percent off his career line drive rate this season.

Danks took a slight step back last season. His ERA went from 3.32 to 3.77, his K/9 mark fell from 7.34 to 6.69, his HR/9 mark went from 0.69 to 1.26 and his GB/FB mark dipped slightly from 1.21 to 1.08. So far this season he has sparkled in the fantasy game with a 3-0 record, 1.85 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Is this a new level for Danks or merely a run of his best work? A little light can be shined on this question when we look at Danks current line drive rate of 9.4 percent, literally half his 18.1 percent career mark. Danks also has a 4.5 percent HR/F rate, and that number is less than half his career 10.5 percent mark. Those numbers will almost certainly normalize over the course of the season which means that the question of whether or not he can take the next step this season likely rests in whether or not the decrease in his walk rate will continue (the mark is 3.06 for his career but 2.38 this season) and if he can continue his mastery of right handed batters (.174 average thus far vs. a career rate of .252).

I know it may not look like it right now, but I would still prefer Floyd. Not only do I think he has a slightly better skill set than Danks, it's also clear that he has more room to improve in '10. Combine those two facts together and, as hard as it is to hear considering how atrocious he looked last night, I would still prefer to have Floyd in my rotation.

It seems like everyone on my team is hurt. I need to pick up some help at shortstop with Yunel Escobar on the DL. Do you think I should grab Cristian Guzman or J.J. Hardy?-- Glenn, Raleigh, N.C.

You aren't the only one dealing with injuries all over the field, it's a virtual minefield out there right now. Escobar has been placed on the DL with a strained left groin (retroactive to April 30), and in his place the Braves called up Brandon Hicks. So what should you do for your fantasy squad? Let's investigate.

Guzman hit .328 in '07, .316 in '08 and .284 last season. Therefore, it's no surprise at all to see him hitting .281 this season. Alas, that pretty much is the totality of what he brings to the fantasy game. Guzman has hit as many as seven homers only once in four seasons, has never knocked in 60 runs in a campaign, hasn't swiped 10 bases since '04 and though he has averaged 76 runs the past two seasons, it's slightly murky waters we delve into when we talk about his current playing time situation (with Ryan Zimmerman back from his hamstring issue, that leaves Guzman, Adam Kennedy and Ian Desmond to battle for time at second and short). As for that average of his, Guzman's mark continues to rest solely on a rather impressive run in the BABIP category -- he's been over .320 in each of the past four seasons despite a line drive rate below 17.5 percent in three of the past four seasons (the big league average is about 20 percent). Face it, that .284 average he has posted since the start of '09 just might be all he's got at this point.

The good news with Hardy is that his health appears to be solid, a concern after he posted only 414 at-bats and 11 homers last season for the Brewers (of course, no sooner did I write that sentence did I receive word that Hardy wouldn't be in the lineup on Wednesday because of a sore left wrist. The injury isn't believed to be serious, but it could keep him out of action for a few days). So far this season, his first with the Twins, Hardy has slightly underperformed across the board, hitting .250 with three homers, 11 RBIs/runs and no steals through 25 games. The good news is that he's within mere percentage points of his career K-rate (16.0 this year, 15.8 for his career), BABIP (.272 and .278) and HR/F (12.0 and 11.2). He's even bettered his career line drive rate with a 19 percent mark, two percentage points above his 17.0 percent career rate. All of that, as long as his back is healthy (and now his wrist), portends a return to "normal" for Hardy (remember, Hardy hit at least 24 homers with 74 RBI and 78 runs scored in '07-08, and he was the only shortstop who hit all three of those figures in each season). It is a concern that his current fly ball rate isn't 30 percent leaving him with a 1.72 GB/FB mark (career 1.19), but I'm willing to right that off as an artifact of a small sample size.

An argument can be made for both players in this scenario. Guzman will likely offer a solid batting average while Hardy will give you a better shot at producing in the run-producing categories. Given the fact that Guzman really is only a one trick pony, I'd say you would be better off picking up Hardy if you are looking long-term as in the rest of the season. If you are merely concerned with the next two weeks while Escobar is down, the recent news about Hardy's wrist injury means Guzman should be the man you add to your squad.

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