July 21, 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 thought that Jose Bautista was supposed to slow down? That guy just keeps hitting bombs.-- Aaron, Texas

Bautista leads baseball with 26 homers, which is one of the biggest surprises of the year -- that and the fact that the Padres have the second best record in the NL (they are 54-38, a half game behind the Braves who are 55-38). Can Jose keep it up? I'm gonna give the same answer I do every time I'm posed this question -- no.

Bautista hit 16, 15, 15 and 13 homers the past four yearsm, meaning he is on his way to doubling his previous career best mark. How has he done it? By becoming a hitter he has never been before. A lifetime 43 percent fly ball hitter, he has jacked that mark up to 53 percent this season. Increases like this are rare. On top of the massive increase in the fly ball rate is the fact that he has coupled it with a massive increase in his HR/F mark. A career 11 percent guy, Bautista has upped his HR/F mark to 19 percent this season. You just don't see increases like this being maintained year to year (hello, Joe Mauer), but does that mean he'll fall off in the second half?

Bautista is doing things that he has never done before and are so far out of the realm of reasonable expectations as to void all analysis. Every fiber in my being says that there is no way that Bautista can continue along these lines, even though he continues to confound that analysis. I'd add a couple of other notes as well.

(1) Bautista has no speed to offer (he has three steals this season and eight the past three years).

(2) Despite the power surge, the man is batting a meager .241, which is only two points above his career mark. He may be a power star, but his average is a huge negative on his fantasy ledger.

I'd still say you should move him if there is an offer out there that makes sense, and though I wouldn't call you crazy if you say he'll hit 35 homers, I wouldn't be shocked if he failed to hit that plateau.

If you were in a dynasty league and had the choice between protecting Miguel Cabrera or Josh Hamilton, which one would you protect?-- Nat, Marion, Ohio

What a decision you have here, my friend. You are the envy of the fantasy world this season. Let's compare the two, heads up, so far in 2010.

Hamilton: .357-23-69-64-7 with a 1.037 OPS

Cabrera: .342-24-82-67-2 with a 1.064 OPS

Not only have these two men been spectacular and posted nearly identical numbers, they are also both in the mix for a run at the Triple Crown. So which guy would I protect in a keeper league if I had to make the choice?

Cabrera is a 5-time All-Star who is just 27-years old (we sometimes forget that because he started his career at age 20). In each of the past six seasons Cabrera has knocked in at least 103 runs, and five times he has hit at least 33 homers (he hit only 26 in 2006). Cabrera is one of just four men who have hit at least 25 bombs with 100 RBIs in each of the past six seasons (Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are the others). More than just a slugger, Cabrera has hit at least .292 in every one of his full seasons, and for his career he owns a .314 batting average. If we add batting average to the mix, Mr. Pujols and Mr. Cabrera are the only men in baseball who have gone at least .290-25-100 in each of the past six years. If that doesn't impress you, well, you had better get your fantasy surfing league set up.

Hamilton is immensely talented, and no one knows how good he may have been if he didn't abuse his body and miss so much time trying to get his life back on track. Still, we saw the talent flourish fully in 2008, when he hit .304 with 32 homers and 130 RBIs. In 2009 he was limited to a .268-10-54 line over 89 games, and questions were raised about whether or not his hard-living ways had caused his body to become brittle. Clearly such a position was premature as he has rebounded to even higher levels this season for the Rangers. At the same time he only has one full season under his belt, so to compare his numbers directly to Cabrera would be a major disservice to him. Instead, here are the per 162 game totals for each man.

Cabrera: .314-33-120-100-4 with a .936 OPS

Hamilton: .306-32-114-98-10 with a .902 OPS

Again, awfully close, though the steals advantage is the deciding factor tilting things in the direction of Hamilton in this 162-game comparison.

Still, I'm gonna suggest keeping Cabrera. Hamilton may or may not be able to sustain a level of production similar to what he is doing right now, but I know that Cabrera can given his track record. Plus, and this is hard to believe, Cabrera is actually two years younger than Hamilton. Give me the more consistent and younger Cabrera over the star from the Rangers' outfield.

I was offered Nick Swisher for Josh Willingham. Should I take the deal since I need help in batting average?-- Adam, Los Lobos, Calif.

Here are the facts that prompted this question.

Swisher has a .300 batting average. Willingham is hitting .274 .

However, the issue here isn't what each man is currently batting. The issue is what will each man bat the rest of the way? I don't own an operating crystal ball, so I can't say with certainty what anyone will do, but at the same time I think adding Swisher merely for his batting average prowess thus far is a serious mistake. Here's why:

Swisher has never, not once in his career, hit even .265 in a season (he owns a career .251 mark). You don't need me to tell you that rarely do players add .050 points to their batting average.

Swisher has more seasons under .250 in his career (three), than over it (two).

Swisher hit a robust .234 the past two seasons.

So how is Swisher hitting .300 right now? A deal with the devil seems a likely explanation. And two other factors as well:

Swisher has a 21.5 percent line drive rate, and that would be a career best mark (only one other time has he even been at 19.5 percent, and his career mark is a sub-average 18.9 percent). Swisher also has a .339 BABIP mark, again a total that would be a career-high. For some perspective, Swisher has only one season in his career with a mark over .285 and his career level is .282. Finally, if those two facts don't scream "Danger. Will Robinson" to you, how about the fact that his BB/K mark is also at a five year low at 0.52?

None of this analysis, none of it, says that Swisher has any chance at maintaining his current batting average mark. Perhaps he will, but all of the data, every iota of it, points to a regression in Swisher's batting average in the second half.

By the way, Willingham hasn't had anywhere near the press of Swisher this year, but he has completely matched Swisher in terms of fantasy value this season. Just take a look.

Swisher: .300-17-54-59-1 with a .911 OPS

Willingham: .274-15-49-47-7 with a .887 OPS

Pretty surprising isn't it?

What's wrong with Colby Rasmus? He really hasn't looked very good the past little while. Is it just a slump, or should I be concerned?-- George, Bowling Green, Ky.

Rasmus is hitting .278 with 16 homers, 42 RBI, 53 runs scored and nine steals, a pace that would net a season of .278-29-77-98-17 if he played 162 games. If Rasmus were to reach those totals in just his second year in the big leagues everyone would be ecstatic. There are a couple of issues that will preclude him from reaching those totals though.

First, for a man 23 years of age, he sure seems to be injured a lot doesn't he? It's always something rather minor, but still it is a concern that he seems to come up with bumps and bruises all the time.

Second, though he has greatly improved against lefties in his second season after being putrid last year (.196/.262/.327), he still is nothing more than a league average type against southpaws (.258/.333/.452).

Three, and here is the biggie, he whiffs like a mini version of Adam Dunn. Rasmus has 91 strikeouts this year, he had 95 last year, but the difference is that he has 198 fewer plate appearances this season. What that translates to is a 32.4 percent strikeout rate meaning that roughly once every three times he comes to the plate he is heading back to the dugout in shame.

Fourth, despite the batting average growth, he really hasn't earned it. Nearly 50 percent of his batted balls have gone in the air, not a great number if you want to produce a strong batting average, and more germane to the point, his line drive rate has actually declined by two-tenths from last year. Despite those two facts, his hit rate has gone up .072 points to .354 this season. More K's, less liners, more fly balls ... that doesn't equal a higher batting average (his current mark is .027 points up from last year's .251).

Don't get me wrong, Rasmus has a bright future, but he still has a ways to go in order to fulfill the potential that resides in his body.

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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