MLB fantasy mailbag: Rizzo's regression raises fears for future

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I'm Ray Flowers, co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Each week I'll be answering questions that have been sent to me at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account in my never ending attempt to replace myself by explaining to everyone how I evaluate players thereby making myself obsolete.

Three keepers between Aramis Ramirez, Elvis Andrus, Zack Greinke, Anthony Rizzo, David Ortiz and Mike Morse?-- @SammyLlenas

Keeper questions are always tough. Are dollar figures attached? Are there contract years attached to the players? What positions does your league start? Five outfielders or three? Corner and middle infielders? How many teams in your league? In lieu of that information, I'll just dive right in and give my thoughts.

Ramirez is dealing with a minor back issue, but it hasn't precluded him from doing what he always does, and that is performing like a top-10 third baseman. After a slow start to the year he's predictably killed it of late. Through 126 games this season he's hitting .295 with 21 homers, 89 RBIs and an NL-leading 43 doubles. Also, in each of the the last nine seasons in which he has appeared in 123 games, Ramirez has hit at least 21 homers with 85 RBIs. He is 34, and his fly ball rate has declined the past two years, so 30 homers isn't likely to happen anymore, but the rest of his game is still nails.

Andrus has hit .298 with an OBP of .361 and a .391 SLG, all career bests. After three-straight years of 30 steals, Andrus only has 20 so far, so that's a concern in the fantasy world. But he's also scored 76 times putting him on pace to come close to the 92 runs scored he has averaged the past two years. Given his age, the offense he plays in, and the improvements in his game at the plate and the position he plays, he's a very attractive keeper option.

Greinke has improved his work of late after a rough start to his return to the AL. I spoke about the Angels' hurler in my Around the Horn video.

Rizzo started out on fire when called up by the Cubs, but he's predictably regressed. Oh, he's still hitting a solid .290 with 11 homers in 241 at-bats, an excellent turnaround after last year's unmitigated disaster with the Padres (.141 with one homer in 128 at-bats). Overall, Rizzo has hit .238 with 12 homers in 369 career at-bats, terrible numbers for a corner infield option in mixed leagues. Even if we just forget about last season with the Padres, Rizzo's current pace, spread out over 550 at-bats, would lead to a season of .290-25-73-68, and those just aren't very impressive numbers for a mixed-league option. Further, he's been a below average fly ball hitter in his young career, and his current line drive rate of 26 percent just isn't sustainable.

Ortiz has played just nine games at first base the past two years. As a designated hitter-only option in the fantasy game, Ortiz's value is somewhat limited. It won't matter if he's hitting .318 with a 1.026 OPS, like he has this year. Unfortunately for Ortiz, the last time that he posted an OPS over 1.000 was 2007. There's also the matter of him hitting .257/.356/.498 from 2008-10. Is it really safe to assume that a 37-year old coming off a significant Achilles injury is going to continue to hit as well as he did this season? I'll answer that question for you. No. Ortiz could pop 30 homers and knock in 100 runs next year, but he's not likely to hit .300, he isn't going to post a .415 OBP (his current mark), and he's not going to maintain that .611 SLG. Just not going to happen.

Morse hit .303 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs last season, his first full season in the big leagues. Already 30, he's a bit older than you likely thought. He's battled successfully through injuries this season, hitting .287 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs through 82 games, but that effort is well off his pace from last season (if he were to maintain his pace over the 522 at-bats he had last season he would hit .287 with 19 homers and 79 RBIs). I'm also tremendously concerned by the fact that he's been unable to learn how to take a pitch. After a mere 36 walks last year he's become even less patient this year with just 13 walks. Thirteen. It's pretty amazing he's hit nearly .300 since the start of last season given that fact.

Ortiz is too old to keep, and with the utility only eligibility, I'll pass. Greinke is a top-level arm, but in a setup where you are only keeping three players I see little need to hold a pitcher who isn't a top-10 option. Who is the last guy I would let go? For me, it's Morse or Rizzo (I'm holding Ramirez and Andrus). Rizzo may or may not be more productive than Morse next season, but he is seven years younger and does have a higher ceiling. Given that, I'd lean Rizzo, though at the same time it's not the easiest call I've ever made given that I have no faith that Rizzo will be a top-50 fantasy player in 2013.

Who do you like rest of the way, Ryan Ludwick, Mark Reynolds, or Delmon Young? -- @LorenzKong2

Ludwick has hit .276 with 25 homers and 72 RBIs in just 373 at-bats this season. He's also been a star in the second half, hitting .321 with 13 homers, 38 RBIs an a 1.016 OPS in 48 games. While all of that sounds like Ludwick should be the must hold here, what about these two salient points. (1) Ludwick last hit a homer on August 18, meaning he's gone 14 games without a homer. He's also produced just three RBIs in that time. That's not exactly trending up. (2) Ludwick hit .237 with 13 homers last year, and .251 with 17 homers in 2010. In fact, since a career best season in 2008, Ludwick regressed each of the past three seasons before returning to prominence this year.

Reynolds has been a massive disappointment. Still, some notes. (1) His .232 batting average is only five points off his career rate. (2) His .350 OBP would be a career best. (3) His .797 OPS is only .016 points off his career pace. (4) His 0.47 BB/K mark would be a career best. Ditto his 30.3 percent K-rate. (5) His 22.2 percent line drive rate would be a career best. He's failed to reach base even 17.5 percent the past three years. So why the extreme struggles this year? His power stroke vanished for a long while. The good news is that it's back. In his last six games he's gone deep six times, has driven in 13 runs, and scored eight times. Going back further, over his last 28 games, Reynolds is hitting .304 with a 1.113 OPS, 20 runs scored, 23 RBIs and 10 homers. Killing it.

Young doesn't have near the power of the other two options, but he is a stable option at the dish, something the other two men can't exactly claim. He's also surging over his last 30 games, hitting .321 with six bombs and 20 RBIs for the Tigers. The power isn't likely to last -- his total of 17 homers is already the second-best mark of his six-year career (he's averaged 14 homers a season the last five years). He is a .286 career hitter, so that .277 batting average could come up a tad without anyone raising an eyebrow.

Young is hot, and is the best option in batting average. Ludwick has had a nice bounce-back season, a terrific one in fact, but he has slumped. Reynolds is the hottest hitter at the moment, and the one likely to make the biggest dent the rest of the way. A .300 batting average from Young over 100 at-bats isn't going to do much of anything for a team that has racked up thousands upon thousands of at-bats. Reynolds could help in the homer, RBI and runs scored enough to help a team gain a point here or there in the standings.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 from 7-10 PM EDT, Monday through Friday. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.