Fantasy baseball mailbag

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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

What is wrong with Edison Volquez? I thought he was throwing 97 mph and was ready to dominate for the Reds. Did I waste my FAAB money to add him to my club?-- Fred, West Allis, Wisc.

Why don't people just listen to me all the time? OK, I'm full of myself (ask my co-workers and friends), but more often than not I think I've got this baseball thing under a bit of control (as much as anyone can). Of course, there are always going to be some mistakes (i.e. how in the world is Jose Bautista continuing to confound all logic?), but most of the time I think I offer sound advice formulated on the data at my disposal. The case of Volquez might be one of those times.

I've been saying it for over a month -- I didn't trust that Volquez's minor league success would translate to the majors. Of course we are talking about a mere three starts, and to be fair that isn't nearly enough data to form a concrete opinion. However, the early returns are far from positive.

Game 1: 6 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 9 KsGame 2: 2.1 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 4 KsGame 3: 3.2 IP, 4 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 3 Ks

After looking great in his first outing, Volquez has looked like a total flunky his last two trips to the hill as he has had zero luck locating his pitches. Through those three starts he has a 8.25 ERA, a 2.00 WHIP and an unpalatable 1.60 K/BB mark. The game just isn't that easy folks.

Here were, and still are, my concerns with the righty from Cincy.

(1) Volquez is less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Pitchers often make it back to the mound in a similar time-frame, but they are almost always relief pitchers.

(2) Given the surgery, and the fact that we aren't even a year removed from it, we have (a) no idea how Edinson's arm will respond to throwing every five days, (b) how long he will be able to throw, (C) if he'll suffer any hiccups in his return to action and (D) if he will be able to throw strikes (control is often the last thing to come back after the surgery).

(3) Dominating minor leaguers is totally different from having success in the big leagues. How many pitchers have we seen fly through the minors only to run into a massive amount of resistance at the big league level?

Look, Volquez could rebound and be a wonderful hurler over the final third of the season. It could happen. At the same time, all of the valid concerns that I mentioned should weigh heavily on your mind if you are thinking about counting on him for big-time production the rest of the way. Two final points. First, it's not like he pitched that well last season (4.35 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 5.80 BB/9), a fact that people have conveniently forgotten. Second, the Reds know he is a part of their future and they won't take any chances with his right arm. If he continues to struggle, or if he has any issue with the arm whatsoever, it wouldn't be the least bit shocking if they shut him down, so tread carefully with the dreadlocked one.

I was offered Rich Harden for Jeremy Guthrie in my AL-only league. I have to take the deal given the upside of Harden, don't I?-- Mark, Gilbert, Ariz.

I agree with you. The upside with Harden is immense. The man owns a nearly unhittable two-pitch combination with his heater and change up, and batters have little chance of squaring the ball up when he is going right (his career batting average against is a mere .223). Harden also misses about as many bats as any starter in the game with a career 9.26 K/9 mark, and in each of the past four seasons that number has been at least 9.45 (it was over 10.90 each of the past two seasons).

However, despite the fact that he is in excellent physical shape, he just can't avoid the injury bug. He's thrown more than 150 innings only one time, and that was back in 2004, and in two of the past four seasons he wasn't even able to take the mound for 50 innings.

This season his production has been terrible (5.68 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 8.17 K/9, 5.95 BB/9), and a strained glute muscle has kept him on the sidelines since June 12. At this point he is the poster boy for boom-or-bust. He could return on fire, as he tossed a six inning shutout with 10 Ks in his last start at Triple-A, or he could end up spending the majority of the rest of the season on the shelf. Plus, it's not like he was exactly tearing it up earlier in the year, and it should concern you that his K/9 rate has dipped so far, likely a direct result of the fact that his fastball is down about two mph this season. There is also the issue of whether or not the Rangers intend to use him out of the rotation or the bullpen (I have to think they would start Harden over the struggling Scott Feldman, but apparently there are some internal discussions going on right now in Rangersland).

Guthrie is a solid innings eater who is more valuable in real life than in the fantasy game. After two nearly identical seasons in 2007 (7-5, 3.70 ERA 1.21 WHIP) and 2008 (10-12, 3.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), his production fell sharply last season (10-17, 5.04 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). He has rebounded somewhat this season, but he still sports an awful record (4-10), has a worse than league average ERA (4.46) and brings nothing whatsoever in the strikeout category (4.97 per nine). Think of this, too: Since the start of the 2007 season Guthrie's K/9 mark is 5.50 which is, literally, almost half of Harden's mark in the same time (10.38). As for Guthrie's production this season, it might actually get a bit worse. His current line drive rate is 16.6 percent, and given that he has never posted a mark below 18.2 percent, and that he has been between 18.2 and 19.4 percent each of the past four years, it would seem that the old regression monkey is about ready to swing into action.

So, do you hold on to a guy like Guthrie who is nothing more than a placeholder, or do you take a shot on a guy who could, maybe, just might, possibly, be a stud if everything breaks right? Given that Guthrie offers no upside whatsoever when you look at his strikeout totals and win potential (the Orioles are pitiful), I say you take a shot on Harden though, as I've said multiple times, he could completely flame out so be ready to make another move quickly if you need to.

Here's a keeper league question for you. Straight up, who would you protect between Nelson Cruz and Justin Upton? I know almost everyone is gonna say Upton, but this Cruz kid is pretty good isn't he?-- Matt, Rochester, Minn.

I agree with you, Matt, I think everyone would say to protect Upton if for no other reason than the fact that he is younger than Cruz by seven years: Upton turns 23 in late August and Cruz, who seems young because he has only been in the bigs for a few seasons, is actually already 30-years old. To be thorough though, let's take a look at the numbers and see if the position everyone holds is actually the correct one.

In 2010.

Cruz:.332-14-56-31-12Upton: .280-16-49-55-13

The numbers are much closer than you would have probably thought. The biggest number might be the one that isn't listed -- 145. That is the at-bat total difference between the two players. Cruz has been able to stay healthy long enough for only 226 at-bats, meaning that, per at-bat, he has vastly outperformed Upton this season. Think of it like this. If Cruz were able to maintain his current pace over 371 at-bats, the current total of Justin Upton, then his production would be staggering .332-23-51-92-20 line. In essence, he would be a legit contender for the top bat in the fantasy game.

And this brings up a good point, that of context. Let's compare each players' total career production to the other. Cruz has 1,245 at-bats in his career, Upton a few more at 1,393, and that's enough of a difference to throw the numbers off a wee bit. So instead, let's compare each players production, per 162 games, and see what we come up with.

Cruz: .269-31-95-78-17 with a .830 OPS in 551 ABsUpton: .274-23-79-87-15 with a .840 OPS in 585 ABs

Admit it. You wouldn't have thought that their production was so close as to be pretty much indistinguishable.

In the end though, despite the numbers showing pretty much a dead heat or a slight tilt toward Cruz, in a keeper leagues you simply must hold on to Upton given his youth and the seven -ear gap between the two in their ages. However, in re-draft leagues, it's clear that Cruz has put himself in position to be a top-25 pick in 2011.

I need steals, so I'm thinking of doing the rather odd thing of trading a lesser player to help boost my total in a single category. Elvis Andrus is available in trade, and I thought I would offer Adam LaRoche for him. Am I crazy to do that since LaRoche is such a powerful option? I'd still be able to play Garrett Jones at first base, so I won't have to worry about replacing LaRoche's pop.-- Tony, New Jersey

I wish more people thought this way Tony. I know it might be painful to trade someone who has more "value" for a "lesser" player, but sometimes, later in the year, it makes a lot of sense. It matters little if you win the home run category by 25 or five homers, you still get the same point total in the standings. Obviously if you are in a head-to-head league there are other things to consider, but in truth targeting categories at this point of the season can be exceedingly worthwhile.

Some points to remember.

The season is six months long. That means a 30-homer, 30-steal or 30-save guy picks about five HRs, SBs, or SVs each month. Given that there are roughly two months left in the season, that obviously means that these "30 guys" will likely produce something like 10 in each category the rest of the way. While that may not help you much at all in the homer category, it could certainty move you up a few spots in the stolen base and saves categories.

According to our Player Rater Tool, here is the real world value of the two players you mentioned in a standard, 5x5, 12 team mixed league.

Andrus: $11.86LaRoche: $6.89

That's right. In terms of actual value, Andrus and his speed (24 steals) an ability to score runs (61) is much more valuable than the production of LaRoche (.257-14-62-48-0). You are obviously giving up a ton in the homer and RBI categories if you make this move if you look at the players in a straight up comparison, but if you are in need of steals, and can cover the loss or LaRoche in your lineup (obviously you can with Jones), then there really is no reason for you to not make this deal. Remember, steals and saves are the most difficult categories to fill, so there is always a premium placed on their services.

Ray Flowers is Managing Editor for Owners Edge and His work can be found weekly, exclusively at the home of fantasy baseball: To e-mail Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at You can also follow Ray's thoughts at the Baseball Guys' Twitter page.