July 14, 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. Need your questions answered? Drop me a line. For more fantasy analysis, check out Fanball.com.

I'm going to do something a bit different here and pose a question to myself after the deal between the Braves and the Blue Jays.

"I've been offered Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez in a keeper league. Should I take the deal?"-- Ray, California

Well, Ray, this is a stupid deal to accept. Let me list the reasons why only a moron would agree to this (are you listening, Braves?).

1. Escobar is 27-years old. Gonzalez is 33. This should be a huge consideration.

2. Gonzalez just isn't a very good hitter. He owns a .248 career batting average and has never, not once, hit above .277 (and that was back in 1999). Escobar, by the way, is a career .291 hitter.

3. Escobar knows how to work the count and get on base. In his career he owns a .368 OBP. Gonzalez owns a career mark of .294 and has never, not once, even been league average in this measure (his best mark is .325 in 2007). That's right. Gonzalez's OBP is only three points higher than Escobar's batting average. You should be embarrassed Alex.

4. The power that Gonzalez has flashed this year is wonderful, but let's not go overboard about a career best effort. Let's put things in perspective. Per 162 games in his career Gonzalez has averaged 16 homers and 70 RBI. Per 162 games the younger, more athletic and frankly more talented Escobar has averaged 11 homers and 66 RBI, and that is including a run of 261 at-bats this season without a single bomb (those at-bats represent 16 percent of his career total).

5. Gonzalez never steals a base. He has only four thefts the past three and a half seasons. Escobar isn't a speed demon, but he does have 10 steals since the start of last season.

Maybe Escobar is a cancer in the clubhouse, and maybe this deal will help the Braves win in 2010, but it was incredibly shortsighted and a move that they would be embarrassed of if they were in a fantasy keeper league.

Who is the better bet to turn things around in the second half: Adam Lind or Raul Ibanez?-- Jeffrey, California

Lind broke through last season with 35 homers, 114 RBI and a .305 batting average making him one of the stars of the game in the outfield. Nine months later, he has been an utter disaster hitting .214 with an OPS of, hold your breath, .641. For goodness sakes, his SLG this year of .370 is the same as his OBP last year. Why the slump? Well, it doesn't help that he is whiffing at an unprecedented rate of 27.3 percent leaving him with a BB/K mark of 0.28, almost a 50 percent reduction from his 0.53 mark from last season. Second, despite a line-drive rate of 19.8 percent, just off 19.5 career mark, his hit rate is .253. Obviously those two measures don't line up, especially when you consider that his career BABIP mark is .303. It would be fair to say that he has been slightly unlucky thus far. He's also hitting like a drunken sailor in his first night in port after being on the high seas for three months against lefties with a .115 batting average. Lind's OPS against lefties this season is .313, three hundred and thirteen, a mark that would certainly get you tossed overboard at first chance if the rations were running low.

Ibanez was a star last season hitting 34 homers with 93 RBI for the Phillies. However, he struggled with a groin injury last season hitting a mere .233 with 12 homers over his final 70 games (he had surgery in the offseason). Couple that weak effort with his first half work this year and here is what his 5x5 line looks like over his last 155 games, and it ain't pretty: .238-19-72-76-2. Has he lost it at age 38? It's certainly possible, sometimes it just happens overnight with players that age, but there are still a few positives. (1) His 11.6 percent walk rate is a career best. (2) His 18.2 percent K-rate is only one percent above his career mark, leading to a 0.74 BB/K mark which would be a career best. (3) His GB/FB rate of 1.16 is almost a direct match for his career 1.12 mark. (4) He has posted a HR/F rate of at least 10.7 percent each of the past six years which leads one to posit that his current mark of 7.4 percent could certainly go up.

So which guy would I take a chance on? I think you have to lean toward the 27-year-old Lind (OK, he's 27 later this week, but you get the point). Neither player has any shot at duplicating what they produced last season, but given Lind's relative youth, and the fact that he would seem to have been fairly unlucky thus far, he would seem like a player that an astute fantasy owner would try to grab on the cheap.

I'm in a non-keeper league, and Nick Markakis is on the trading block. He's been disappointing in the first half, but I still like his game. Should I make a move to add him to my club?-- Steve, Bronx, New York

Many fantasy leaguers are asking a similar question Steve.

First, the good.

Markakis is hitting a solid .308, so there are no worries about his batting average, especially when you realize that his BB/K mark is currently at a career best 0.98 (career 0.69). As a byproduct of the walks, he has a .395 OBP, which is tied for the best mark of any right fielder in baseball with David DeJesus. In addition, Markakis has long been a better performer in the second half of the season when his batting average goes up .020 points (.311), his OBP .010 points (.377) and his SLG .070 points (.510).

Now the bad.

His power has seemingly vanished. Or has it? Though his homers are way down this season, he has just six long balls on the year, he has gone deep three times in his last 10 games, during which time he has also rapped out four doubles. Overall, his SLG is only down one point from last season at .452, and is a mere .016 points below his career rate despite the lack of long ball prowess (he has gone deep at least 16 times in each of the last four years). There is reason for optimism on the long ball front, as well, as his fly ball rate is holding steady at 37 percent (career 36) this season. Now he just needs a return to "normal" in his HR/F ratio to realize that increase (his current mark is 5.7, a far cry from his 10.3 percent mark).

He comes with some risk given his sluggish start to the year and the fact that the lineup around him hasn't been overly productive, but given his youth, his career record of success in the second half, and his closing kick before the All-Star game, Markakis seems like a wonderful player to take a shot on picking things up the rest of the way.

I was offered Jaime Garcia for Max Scherzer. I need help in ERA so I should totally take this offer, right?-- Hank, Beaumont, Texas

Numbers can mislead without the proper context. Obviously, if you look at these two hurlers and judge their performances solely by ERA, it would be an easy call to take the deal. After all, Garcia's ERA is literally less than half that of Scherzer -- 2.17 to 4.61. However, a lot more must go into this decision them merely comparing two numbers.

Garcia has been fantastic this season as one of the best hurlers to come from the later rounds of a draft, or perhaps even off waivers. However, there are concerns. Garcia has had arm problems in the past, and as such he hasn't tossed 125 innings since 2006. Moreover, he threw just 37.2 innings last season. The Cards have been careful with his workload this season, but he has already tossed 99.2 innings, so the question about how he will physically hold up in the second half is a legit question to pose. The second major question to ask is if his skills warrant an ERA in the low 2s? Truthfully, hardly anyone's do. Garcia owns a league average 2.00 K/BB mark, though he certainly makes up for that with an excellent ability to induce grounders with a 2.24 GB/FB mark. If he can maintain that rate, he will be in good shape. However, his 79.9 percent left on base is a mark he will likely be unable to sustain. In addition, the more advanced ERA metrics don't support his raw ERA mark -- FIP (3.29), ERC (2.97), DIPS (3.40). All suggest that he has been exceedingly effective, but none supports that 2.17 ERA.

Scherzer's season-long numbers are solid, but they don't speak to the work he has done since he was recalled from the minors. Over his last eight starts he is 5-2 with an impeccable 2.44 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. In addition, he has been a K monster, with 62 punchouts in 51.2 innings (10.80 K/9), leading to a strong 3.26 K/BB mark. Overall, Scherzer enjoys about a batter and a half advantage in the K/9 mark over Garcia, has a better K/BB (2.51), and owns a more reasonable 69.7 left on-base rate. Heck, despite all his struggles early on, Scherzer only trails Garcia by a hair in the WHIP category (1.37 to 1.25).

It's tough for me to make an argument that would favor Garcia. I realize that if you need help in ERA that it seems like a slam dunk call to accept this deal, but given the skills that each posses, and taking into account the concerns, I'd still prefer the fire-balling Scherzer who really seems to be locked in right now.

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 rflowers@fanball.com. You can also follow Ray's thoughts at the Baseball Guys' Twitter page.

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