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. To get your questions answered, drop me a line.
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I need help in my bullpen in a 10-team mixed league. Is it worth dropping Chad Qualls for Kerry Wood or Matt Thornton to be my third closer?-- Barry, Flemington, N.J.
The age-old pursuit of those elusive closers. It seems like with each passing year we get further and further from the good old days when teams had one guy we all knew would pitch the ninth inning. Things have gotten so muddled with closers that fantasy gamers are almost forced into playing a guessing game with what to do with their relievers. Make the right choice and you run away with the saves category. Make the wrong one and your in the lower half at best. So in this instance the question really is do you target one of the two guys who are the primary closers for their teams (Qualls and Wood) or go for the pitcher who clearly owns the better skills. Let's compare all three directly to see what I mean.
Qualls: 9.68 K/9, 3.06 K/BBWood: 8.64 K/9, 1.14 K/BBThornton: 12.71 K/9, 6.40 K/BB
Clearly, Thornton is the most dominating hurler of the group with simply astounding ratios. Just how dominating? There wasn't a single big league hurler who tossed at least 30 innings last season who struck out even 10 batters per nine innings while posting a K/BB ratio of 6.00 or better.
Qualls: 1.53 HR/9, 1.72 GB/FB, .476 BABIP, 54.9 LOB%Wood: 1.08 HR/9, 0.83 GB/FB, .415 BABIP, 51.1 LOB%Thornton: 0.00 HR/9, 1.25 K/BB, .256 BABIP, 76.5 LOB%
Qualls is the most efficient groundball producer of this group, yet he has allowed the most homers. You figure that one out (bad luck and/or too many hanging sinkers?). He's also been battered like the proverbial piñata with a Bugs Bunny-like BABIP mark. He's never posted a mark higher than .323, so you have to think a regression is coming. Ditto in the case of Wood, who owns a career .289 mark. When that happens for both, and those miserable left on-base marks come back up, things should turn around greatly for the duo. But will that be enough to catch Thornton?
There is no dispute about who is the best hurler at the moment. In fact, you can rather easily make the argument that Thornton has been the best option since the start of the 2008 season among this group. Of course, he is also the only one of the three that isn't the preferred ninth inning option of his club at the moment. Still, I think you target skills over role in most instances, so I would say go with Thornton. Plus, its not like Bobby Jenks has been healthy (continued calf issues) or overly effective (5.82 BB/9, 2.06 WHIP), so Thornton might be a lot closer to ninth inning duties than you think in Chicago.
Is Ryan Zimmerman for Matt Garza a fair offer? I need a front line starter and the trade market in my league is virtually nonexistent.-- David, Beckley, W.V.
It's always hard to breakdown trades when you don't have the benefit of a full rundown of someone's roster, but given that you said you need a starter pretty badly, I'll just proceed ahead with that in the back of my mind.
Zimmerman is one of the best third sackers in the game. Despite a few battles with some leg woes, he is on pace to push a .300-30-100 season, something he has never done before (he has never hit higher than .292). How many third basemen reached those totals last season? The answer is zero (four guys, including Zimmerman, had the 30-100 part, but none hit .300). It's not like this level of production from Zimmerman is a surprise -- he already has three seasons of at least 20 homers and 91 RBIs on his resume, so he could certainly sustain his current levels. With the struggles of guys like Pablo Sandoval, Chipper Jones and Aramis Ramirez, you have to think long and hard about letting go one of the few guys who seems capable of holding on to our preseason projections of success at the hot corner.
Garza has been solid, as expected, in this corner, for the Rays. He may only be 5-4, but his 3.08 ERA and 1.21 WHIP are strong numbers. He has also continued to strike batters out, albeit he is currently splitting the difference between his '08 effort (6.24 per nine) and his '09 one (8.38) at 7.11. He has knocked a bit of the free passes down to give him a 2.22 K/BB mark, once again between his mark the past two years (2.17 and 2.39). In fact, a large portion of his non-fantasy measures this season have taken a slight step back from his work last season, but not enough to worry in the least. He remains a rock solid option on the hill capable of being one of the linchpins of anyone's fantasy staff.
Would I do this deal? I always lean toward hitting if it is close to a 50/50 call, so I would turn this deal down, especially when you toss in the struggles of some of the other men at third base this season. I think you'd need more to move a guy who can easily be a top-50 fantasy performer for a superb but far from difference making hurler.
I'm stuck with Miguel Tejada at shortstop. Jhonny Peralta and Orlando Cabrera are on waivers. Should I pick one of them up or accept the offer of Rafael Furcal for my Ervin Santana?-- Matthew, Los Angeles
Tejada hit .293 in April with four bombs before dipping to .237 without a single dinger in May. The early power was a fluke, Tejada is nothing more than a 15-20 homer bat at this point, but he has hit at least .278 in each of the past eight years while, at the same time, driving in at least 80 runners in 10 of the last 11 seasons. Sure, his skills are fading as he ages, but he has somewhat compensated for that by continuing to cut down his K-rate (its currently at 6.7, just over half of his career 12.8 percent rate). I'm therefore inclined to think that his batting average dip is just a slump he will overcome, especially when you consider that his BABIP mark is .254 -- it has been over .300 in each of the past six seasons.
Peralta brings dual eligibility at short and third, and that's always a nice bonus. At the same time, his overall work at the dish this season clearly leaves a lot to be desired (.247-4-22). At the same time his current work would produce a .250ish 18-homer, 75-RBI season, and that isn't awful, though it's clearly not a difference-making level. Really, he is pretty much right on his career pace as his .247/.330/.420 line is remarkably similar to his career .265/.331/.425 line. He is hitting more flyballs than ever before at 44 percent (he has never lofted more than 36 percent of his batted balls skyward), so if he were able to edge his HF/FB ratio up from his current seven-percent mark to his career 12-percent level he could return to the 20-homer level he has been at on three separate occasions.
Cabrera has hit .292 since he was moved into the leadoff spot with the Reds, and he's even stolen five bags in just 22 games. Still, the totality of his work is nothing more than passable and it's not likely to improve much given that he is 35 years old. Cabrera's biggest value is likely his consistency. He might not light up the box score on a daily basis, but he stays healthy and produces in the counting categories. In each of the past seven seasons he has recorded 70 runs, in each of the last 10 seasons he has knocked in 55 runs, and he has stolen at least 13 bags in each of the past nine campaigns. That level of production serves you well as a fill in, or as a middle infield option in deep leagues, but it just isn't that exciting in traditional 12 team leagues.
So what would I do? I would turn down the deal of a recently returned Furcal for Santana, who really seems dialed in right now (4-0, 1.86 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in his last four starts). I'd also probably sit pat and hold on to Tejada. I know that isn't very exciting, but I think his ability to rebound, and his dual position eligibility at SS/3B makes him valuable enough to hold on to out of the other options at your disposal.
With Orlando Hudson potentially out of the lineup for a while with a wrist injury, I need to add a second basemen. Jeff Keppinger and Skip Schumaker are on waivers. Does either one of them seem like someone who might be able to help me?-- Aaron, Columbus, Ga.
The good news with Hudson is that he seems to have escaped serious injury. Still, it would be wise to have a fallback option in case he is slow to return to form that has helped him to score 39 runs, the third best mark in the AL.
Keppinger was elevated to regular duty when the Astros cut ties with Kaz Matsui. For those who took a shot and picked up Keppinger, they have been rewarded with a strong .302 average. However, that's pretty much it for this one-trick pony. Keppinger has hit 20 homers in six year career, has never swiped more than three bases in a season, and its not like he is a run producer of any kind (139 RBI in 396 career outings). Keppinger is a no-upside one-trick-pony who won't hurt you in batting average (.282 career), but that's really all he can help you with. You can try and ride the waive that has seen him hit .363 the past three weeks, but to me it seems like you would be jumping on the surfboard right as the wave was about to crash -- you've already missed the pipeline.
Schumaker is similar to Keppinger in terms of a skills breakdown. Schumaker owns a .293 career average, has little pop (16 homers in 1,513 at-bats) and has only swiped 16 bags in 498 games. However, I think he is a better option than Keppinger. First off, he qualifies at second and the outfield, and that flexibility is nice. Second, Schumaker produced two nearly identical seasons in '08-09, so he has more of a track record than Keppinger. Third, he has a ways to go reach "normal." For the third straight year his BB/K mark is in the 0.70's and his GB/FB ratios is above 2.88. So how the heck has his average dipped some .060 points to .242? I'm gonna say terrible luck. Despite operation with a 24.4 percent line drive rate, which would be a career best, his BABIP is .273 after back-to-back seasons of .328 and .341 when his LD-rate was in the 21 percent range. I think the turn around has already started as Schumaker has hit .284 the past three weeks.
Out of these two options I'd grab Schumaker. Tony La Russa trusts him and has continued to play him while he has "struggled." He would also be primed for a strong run in the second half of the season which should at least provide a strong batting average if little else top flight production.
Ray Flowers is Managing Editor for Fanball.com Owners Edge and RotoTimes.com. His work can be found weekly, exclusively at the home of fantasy baseball: Fanball.com. To e-mail Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at email@example.com.