May 12, 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 (my e-mail address is listed at the bottom of the piece if you wish to drop me a line).

I have a chance to pick up Josh Beckett or Jake Peavy in my AL-only league. Which of the bums should I target?-- Barbara, Oregon

Both of these hurlers were looked at as potential AL-only aces this season, though so far neither has lived up to that billing.

Beckett will miss his start on Friday with back spasms, a result of taking swings in a batting cage trying to prep for interleague play, though the belief is that the injury isn't serious. This will feed into the "he's an injury risk" mania, but Beckett has thrown at least 200 innings in three of the past four seasons. Moreover, he is the only pitcher in the AL the past three years who has posted an 8.43 K/9 mark and a WHIP under 1.20 in each season (min. 162 IP). This year his ratios are abysmal (7.46 ERA, 1.66 WHIP), but there are reasons to think those numbers are artificially inflated. (1) Beckett has a .365 BABIP mark, .062 points above his career level. (2) His line drive rate is 25.6 percent, light years beyond his 20.0 percent career mark. (3) His left on base percentage, at least 68.5 percent in each of his nine big league seasons, is currently 56.9 percent. (4) His GB/FB ratio is 1.25, an exact match for his career rate. Yes his K-rate is down (7.46 per nine), and yes his BB/9 rate is up (3.51), but I'm gonna give him a bit of a pass there seeing how consistent he has been the past three years and considering the fact that we are only talking about seven starts.

Peavy has been slightly better, after all his ERA is "just" 5.56 and his WHIP 1.37 (his career numbers are 3.33 and 1.19), but at least he has turned things around in his last two starts as he has allowed merely two runs while posting a stupendous 17:1 K/BB ratio. Peavy has used those fantastic last two appearances to boost his K/9 rate to 8.04, a bit off his 8.99 career mark, but acceptable considering his move to the AL. His current 4.33 BB/9 rate make no sense for a guy who has been under 3.10 in each of the past six seasons, and given the major correction his past two times out, I'd like to think that this number will continue to plummet. A slightly larger concern is his 1.24 HR/9 mark considering his 0.91 career rate. This increase though is totally explainable given the league switch and the move from the best pitcher's park in baseball to one that favors hitters. He'll need to move his current GB/FB (0.88) back to his career level (1.07) though or there will be little hope of his home run rate dropping much.

I think both pitchers will end up producing numbers that will render their slow starts a distant memory by year's end. I'd suggest buying Beckett for the following reasons; (1) He'll likely come cheaper due to his current injury and poor performance and (2) he has shown a tremendous amount of success in his time in the AL, whereas I still have concerns about how Peavy ultimately will react in the Junior Circuit. I'd still have no problem at all making a move for Peavy, but after those last two outings his value is likely inching much closer to where it was when the year began.

Gordon Beckham has been nothing short of terrible thus far, and the following second basemen are available on the waiver-wire: Ty Wiggington (can he keep it up and what about when Brian Roberts comes back?), Orlando Hudson (great OBP and scores a ton of runs) and Alberto Callaspo (good RBI potential and doesn't hurt in the other cats). In your opinion should I drop Beckham for one of these three, and if yes, which one?-- Matthew, Toronto

Here are my thoughts on the four players.

Wigginton should qualify at first, second and third base, and that is a huge benefit especially with the way guys have been hitting the DL this season. He's also been bashing in the early going with 10 homers and a 1.000 OPS through 103 at-bats. The issue with Wigginton is the same one it always is -- how much playing time will he receive? Given his age -- he's 32 -- he likely doesn't fit in the Orioles plans long-term, which could mean he'll end up being moved to another squad come the trade deadline (or earlier). At the same time, when he is on the field he is almost always productive, and per 162 games during his career he has produced a batting line of .271-23-77-71-6, and those would be mighty impressive numbers from a second base eligible player (only Chase Utley, Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist reached those figures in 2009).

Hudson is a stable yet somewhat boring option who is a much better real world player than he is a fantasy weapon. He won't kill you in the batting average category since he has hit at least .283 in each of the past four seasons, but other than that, there just isn't much to like from a fantasy perspective. Here is an average Hudson season since he became a full-time player in 2003: .282-10-59-68-7. What did Hudson do in '09? Try .283-9-62-74-8. I'll give the guy his due, he is one consistent fella, but he's consistently replacement level.

Callaspo qualifies at second and third base, which all things being equal with Hudson would give him an obvious advantage. Alberto hit .300 with 11 homers, 73 RBI and 79 runs scored last season, his first chance to play full-time at the big league level. In just over 1,100 career at-bats Callaspo has produced a .288 average, but over his last 873 at-bats that number jumps to .301. He'll never be a stolen base threat, he's swiped just seven bags in his career, but his ability to produce a strong batting average is very intriguing (I also love his 0.95 BB/K mark for his career). Given the fact that the Royals basically gave up one the one-time face of their franchise -- Alex Gordon -- in favor of Callaspo tells you all you need to know about how valuable the organization feels that Callaspo is.

Beckham, who qualifies at second and third base, may be a victim of his own success. Don't forget that despite a strong rookie season (.270-14-63-57-7 in 378 at-bats), Beckham appeared in only 59 minor league games before being thrust into duty with the White Sox last season. As good as he was last year he has been as bad this year (.188-1-6-14-2), though his complete big league line, in 490 at-bats, really isn't that bad for youngster who plays second base (.251-15-69-72-9). Beckham has seen his walk rate go up this season (12.7 percent), though so has his K-rate (25.0 percent), but his 0.61 BB/K mark is the same as last year (it was 0.63). He is hitting more balls on the ground -- the number has jumped 10 percent to 50 percent -- as he has seen his line drive rate plummet to 13.1 percent. Simply put, he hasn't been able to square the ball up at all this season which is a big concern for a player who has struck out in a quarter of his at-bats and one who owns moderate power.

Hudson is as safe an option as there is, but his level of production just doesn't anything of note. Wigginton offers a nice power bat, albeit with playing time concerns, but if you need power he offers a strong option in the middle of the diamond. Callaspo doesn't steal bases but his average figures to be strong and his run production should be solid considering the vast majority of his at-bats this season have come out of the No. 3 and No. 5 holes. Beckham, the kid is in a funk right now and is oh so young in terms of his professional career. What would I do? If you have time to be patient I would hold on to Beckham. If you need power, tab Wigginton. If you want a safe play with a player who can help right now, go Callaspo. The only guy I wouldn't touch would be Hudson as Callaspo is pretty much the same player with slightly more upside -- our favorite word in the fantasy game.

A dude in my league is trying to peddle Mike Aviles to me since I need help on offense. I see him as nothing more than a spare part. What do you think? Does he have value in a 12-team league as a middle infield option?-- David, Amarillo, Texas

I received this question before manager Trey Hillman said the following about Aviles. "He's earned the right to stay in there. He's a good defender and he's swung the bat as well as anybody has the last four or five days," Hillman said. "If Mike keeps hitting, he'll keep playing somewhere, and we'll continue to monitor the other pieces." For clarity, this means that Chris Getz will likely lose nearly all of his duties at second base (he is 4-for-23 since coming off the DL) since Yuniesky Betancourt is hitting .316 over the past week as the shortstop. "For me right now, because of Yuni's production and his coverage and the way he's played defense, [Aviles] is a better fit at second," Hillman said.

So what does Aviles bring? Potentially a lot. Aviles is hitting .429 in 28 at-bats this season to raise his career batting average to .300 in 567 at-bats. He's also hit 13 homers, knocked in 61 runners, scored 83 times and stolen nine bags in that time. Those are pretty impressive numbers when you consider no second basemen in baseball hit all those plateaus last season and only three shortstops did (Derek Jeter, Jason Bartlett and Hanley Ramirez). Aviles also owns a .295 career minor league batting average as well, so it is clear that the man can be a bonus in at least the batting average category. As just detailed, he could certainly offer enough in the other four main fantasy categories to acquit himself quite well.

Is Aviles worthy of starting in 12-team leagues as a middle infielder? I think he is worthy of a shot. He can hit for average, brings enough in the other four categories to be a positive addition to a fantasy lineup, and it sounds like the Royals have finally wised up and committed to running him out there every day. It's still the Royals so who knows where we will be in three weeks, but for now Aviles shouldn't be on waivers in any 12 team league.

I know it doesn't make any sense, but I cannot help myself. Should I accept and offer of Carlos Ruiz for a struggling Brian McCann?-- Josh, Kansas

Josh, come on now buddy, follow your instinct here. I know, I know, the temptation is almost as great as that apple that the witch offered to Snow White -- wow, I need to stop spending so much time with my brother's kids -- but unlike Snow White, who couldn't resist the tempting offer, you should.

Carlos Ruiz currently has the best batting average of any NL backstop (.354), and his OBP of .481 not only leads all catchers it's also the best mark in baseball. How shocking are both numbers? Ruiz owns a .254 career batting average and has never hit higher than the .261 he posted in just 69 at-bats as a rookie. As for the OBP, his .355 mark last season was the best he has ever produced in a season (career .348). The average is going to tumble -- that's what happens when you are operating with a 25.4 percent line drive rate and a .415 BABIP -- so you can push thoughts of a Joe Mauer-like run to a batting title out of your mind. Ruiz does have excellent strike zone discipline, his 1.31 BB/K mark is fantastic would be the fourth straight year of improvement in that category (1.21 last year), so he does have a chance to push .300 this season if things break right for him. At the same time he has hit 24 homers in nearly 1,200 career at-bats, and per 500 at-bats he has averaged 64 RBI and 59 runs, hardly impressive totals (don't overlook the fact that 66 of his 82 at-bats have come out of the 8th hole this season, and that isn't going to help those run production marks increase).

As for Brian McCann, who knows what's going on with that guy and his vision. Apparently two LASIK procedures on his eyes haven't done the trick, and he's back to wearing glasses. Perhaps the eye problems are the only reason he has hit .212 without a homer in his last 52 at-bats. However, you have to be worried about his ability to see the ball, and clearly something might be going on when he plays under the lights as he has hit .190 with a .596 OPS compared to a .345 average and 1.123 OPS under the sun. At the same time McCann has hit at least 18 homers with 87 RBI each of the past four years, and he is the only catcher in baseball in that club. Oh yeah, he also owns a .291 career average.

Ruiz has been white-hot, while there are certainly concerns with McCann's ability to be able to see the ball clearly given his recent struggles, but I cannot recommend overlooking four years of excellence from McCann for five weeks of hot hitting from Ruiz.

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