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Archive June 2007

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Biggio's 3000th hit

It's fitting that Biggio got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double on this defining hit. The announcers who mostly suck up to him will say that's because he's always been such a hustle player, a guy willing to take an extra base. But really, it's because he's a great player with a 2700-hit Hall of Fame career trying to stretch it into a 3000-hit one. The Astros got caught being a substandard offense in part because of it.

MLB Notes

Sports Illustrated recently conducted a poll among MLB execs asking them to name the first five players they would draft in starting a new major league baseball team. One of them picked Yadier Molina. Yadier! He of the .638 career OPS. Brian Sabean, I know that was you.

If you look up ďstrikeoutĒ on Wikipedia, thereís a picture of Adam Dunn. His response: "That's cool. I love being on the Internet."

Not sure what to make of this will Barry Bonds make the All-Star team talk. First of all, unless a rule change occurred that Iím unaware of, every team gets a representative, and itís not like the Giants have any other viable alternatives. Secondly, the game is being played in San Francisco. And last but certainly not least, the dude has a 1.082 OPS (third best in MLB) with a 35:74 K:BB ratio. Maybe they can find some room for him.

Since heís essentially a two-category fantasy player at this point in his career, I wasnít willing to pay what it cost to draft Andruw Jones in most fantasy leagues. And so far, the contract year theory certainly hasnít worked in this case. That said, his BABIP is .231 Ė the lowest among all MLB outfielders and .55 below his career mark Ė making him a pretty good buy-low candidate.

For those of you still using a DL spot holding onto John Patterson, feel free to pull the chord. ďYank it like youíre starting a mower.Ē Bonus points for catching the reference.

Someone Iím not ready to give up on, on the other hand, is Stephen Drew, who has been getting dropped in droves recently. Heís been disappointing, no doubt, but Drew still plays in one of baseballís best hitterís parks and frequently bats atop the lineup. Itís a lineup that should only improve throughout the season as itís filled with developing youngsters. Drewís .82 contact rate is solid enough, and he possesses 25-homer power. I think he emerges as a decent MI option from here on out.

Corey Hart is owned in 44 percent of Yahoo! Leagues. Here are his numbers during June: .341, 9 HRs, 23 runs, 20 RBI, 8 SBs. Iíd say that makes him rosterable.

Stranded

Strand rate is the percentage of batters that reach base but do not score. A typical number is .75. If a pitcher has a STR this season that is extremely different from his career norm, then itís safe to assume a correction in ERA from here on out.

Dan Haren (.86 STR) Ė Iíve chronicled Harenís season regarding luck before, but itís truly remarkable how well things have gone his way so far. He leads MLB in BABIP (.225), leads the league in STR by .05 and has decreased his HRs allowed dramatically (.73 HR/9 IP) despite giving up more flyballs this year than in the past (0.82 G/F). The extreme amount of foul territory in Oakland certainly helps, and Haren has been known to add a few extra mph on his fastball with runners on base, but thereís no denying how fortunate the young hurler has been. To emphasize this point, Harenís career STR is a below average .70.

Other pitchers who have been able to pitch out of jams at an unsustainable pace include: Brad Penny (.81), John Maine (.81), Chris Young (.80), John Lackey (.80) and Ian Snell (.79).

Note: A quick glance at this list reveals one thing in common Ė all are good pitchers. However, most of these strand rates deviate from their career norms fairly drastically, so itís pretty easy to see why the majority have ERAs less than 3.0. They are unlikely to finish that way.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, plenty of pitchers have simply been unlucky when the hits have fallen. However, this is a trend for some hurlers, highlighting why impressive peripherals (K:BB ratio) donít always lead to impressive ERAs.

This group includes: Anthony Reyes (.54 STR), David Bush (the 3.71 K:BB ratio is nifty, but the .59 STR is the worst in MLB among starters who have reached the 72-inning minimum), Javier Vazquez (career 3.25 K:BB ratio/.69 STR. Itís .65 this season). These guys cannot pitch out of the stretch and are especially vulnerable to the big inning. Iíd avoid them moving forward.

As for the unlucky group, it starts with Roy Halladay, whose .67 STR is well below his career mark of .73. Expect improvement in Halladayís ERA from here on out. Others include Jose Contreras (.66), Bronson Arroyo (.66 Ė although thereís injury concern here), Ted Lilly (.67) and Daniel Cabrera (.67).

MLB Notes

The King is back. Felix Hernandezís eight shutout innings Thursday has to be taken with a big grain of salt considering Jeff Weaver tossed a complete game shutout against the lifeless Bucs just one day earlier, but Hernandez was impressive nevertheless. His fastball was 2-3 mph faster than his previous outings (reaching 97-98), and his curveball had more bite to it. Heavily criticized recently for throwing fastballs exclusively in the early innings, Hernandez didnít change that game plan much, but it didnít matter with the added zip and extra movement. He could still improve on location, but things do look to be moving in the right direction. Finally.

Death. Taxes. Rocco Baldelli hurting his hamstring. Things that are more durable than Baldelliís hamstring: paper-mache, my 94-year-old grandmaís artificial hip and Mr. Glass from ďUnbreakable.Ē Mark Prior thinks Baldelli is brittle.

Nomar Garciaparra is on pace for two homers and 86 RBI this season. The last time a similar feat occurred was in 1951. The .57 Isolated Power is eye-poppingly bad.

Well, at least Barry Zito is durable. Signed to the richest contract a pitcher has ever received, Zito hasnít just been bad, heís been brutal. Admittedly, heís a notorious slow starter, and his schedule has been difficult, but the 54:41 K:BB ratio is just plain unacceptable. What would his 4.84 ERA look like if he wasnít limiting opponents to a .280 BABIP? Imagine if he wasnít pitching in the NL West and calling AT&T Park home. His fastball is literally, on average, the slowest in MLB.

On the other hand, thereís Gil Meche. Signed to a $55 million deal that was universally panned Ė including myself Ė Meche is looking like an absolute bargain right now. Heís never thrown 190 innings in a season, so he does make a good sell-high guy, but itís doubtful many of your leaguemates believe in the turnaround, and KCís offense really hurts his chances at wins. Heís also pitched a fairly easy schedule. Still, Meche has always had plus stuff, and heís exhibited marked improvement in all the important component areas. Heís drastically improved his control, sports a solid K rate and is inducing more groundballs. Iím not sure whatís more unlikely, Meche living up to the rich contract, or Mark Philippoussis picking a ďcougarĒ on the even-worse-than-you-expected ďAge of Love.Ē

Did Miguel Tejada really just bat second and bunt to keep his consecutive games played streak alive? He does realize that he plays for the Baltimore Orioles, right? Hey, by all accounts, heís a tough guy, and Iím for him playing through pain, but itís going to be interesting to see how much playing shortstop with a fractured wrist helps the team.

MLB Notes

Itís tough not to be critical of Torontoís handling of pitchers right now. First, there was the J.P. Riccardi/B.J. Ryan fiasco, and now with A.J. Burnett. One of the more injury-prone pitchers over the last decade, Burnett was left in to throw 125, 117 and 130 pitchers over the final three games before departing his last start with shoulder pain. Then, instead of immediately placing him on the DL as a precaution, Burnett suffers a setback while throwing a side session.

Meet Anthony Reyes, quadruple-A All-Star. He can succeed in the minors until heís blue in the face, but until that translates to the big leagues, Iím done preaching him as a buy-low guy. Like Javier Vazquez and David Bush before him, the peripherals simply donít match up with his ERA. Three-run homers tend to do that. His .54 strand rate is by far the worst in major league baseball. He simply needs to learn how to pitch out of the stretch.

Brad Penny has allowed one run or fewer in eight of his last 10 starts. Ironically, his 6.08 K/9 IP is the lowest mark since his rookie season. He has the second best strand rate (.81) and HR/ 9 IP (.18) marks in the game, so he has been experiencing some luck. Still, the fact heís transformed into a groundball pitcher (1.56 G/F) is a big reason for his success. Heís faded badly during recent second halves, so heís a pretty good sell-high guy, but the skills have always been there for Penny to turn in a Cy Young caliber type season.

Yovani Gallardoís first major league start was better than the box score indicated. After all, one of his earned runs scored from first base after he left the game. His fastball was real solid (94-95 mph) and his changeup was a huge discrepancy, often coming in 15 mph slower. Opportunity to remain in the rotation remains a question mark, but with a very good offense and bullpen behind him, Gallardo could prove to be a fantasy force from here on out. Just because Homer Bailey and Tim Lincecum havenít lived up the hype so far doesnít mean Gallardo wonít.

Iím liking Kevin Sloweyís prospects less and less. The great command should eventually lead to a solid WHIP, but because heís always around the strike zone, heís going to be eminently hittable with a fastball topping out at 89 mph. Home runs allowed figure to remain a problem.

An interesting, alternative look at BABIP.

I had the craziest dream last night where the Sacramento Kings hired Reggie Theus as head coach. You know, the guy from that terrible Saturday-morning show ďHang Time?Ē Wait a minute, that really happened? What, Mr. Belding was unavailable?

MLB Notes

Rafael Furcal has been one of the bigger busts in fantasy baseball so far. Maybe the knee problem is to blame, but not only does Furcal have just seven steals on the season, he also didnít hit his first home run until Sunday. The contact rate is actually a career-best, so expect at least a modest bounce back over the rest of the season.

Improbably, Paul Byrd leads all of baseball with a sparkling 10.5:1 K:BB ratio. In fact, the next closest (C.C. Sabathia 6:1) isnít even all that close. However, this is one peripheral that can pretty much be ignored, as Byrdís 4.81 ERA is a better indication of how heís pitched. The league-leading .49 BB/9 IP is nice and all, but heís also allowed 1.48 HR/9 IP and sports a low strikeout rate.

Iím more than a little worried about Jason Schmidt. At this point, any surgery that wonít hurt his 2008 outlook has to be considered a best-case scenario. A two-pitch pitcher, Schmidt was able to compensate for a loss in velocity during his last two years in SF because of his tremendous changeup, but a fastball that currently tops out at 85 mph is simply too much of a drop off. His changeup was frequently thrown at 91-92 mph during his peak 2002-2004 seasons.

Regarding Schmidtís replacement in LAís rotation, it seems like a no-brainer that Chad Billingsley should be the choice. Sure, he needs to be stretched out, but with a 26:6 K:BB ratio, 1.28 ERA and 0.85 WHIP over his last 21.1 innings, itís time to see what Billingsley can do as a starter.

Itís clear Carlos Beltranís quad injury is bothering him more than the Mets have been letting on. A consensus top-15 fantasy pick entering the year, Beltran is batting just .204 over the last six weeks. In June, he has just one extra-base hit and a 10:1 K:BB ratio.

Kei Igawa may have some use in fantasy leagues after all. After rediscovering his changeup in Triple-A, he posted a 1.80 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20 innings this month. He probably wonít be all that helpful in ERA or WHIP, but run support should be on his side. His first start back against the Giants this Friday is a favorable one.

After mono essentially ruined his season last year, Casey Kotchman is quietly having one of the better seasons in the game in 2007. He has a .333/.411/.556 line with a remarkable 16:24 K:BB ratio. Hopefully his recent concussion doesnít prove to be too serious, because a run at the batting crown isnít out of the question.

Welcome back, Jonny Gomes. With Elijah Dukes on pace to father 44 children by the time heís 60, Gomes may finally be given another chance with the organization. Remember, Gomes had a 1.185 OPS and 11 homers last April before a shoulder injury derailed his season. While his swing is too long to result in a BA much better than .260, his power could make him a fantasy asset immediately, regardless of Rocco Baldelliís impending return. Besides, youíd have a better chance of hearing Dane Cook tell a funny joke than Baldelliís hamstring holding up over the rest of the season.

There isnít a hotter player in baseball right now than Corey Hart. In 59 June at-bats, he has a 1.058 OPS, six homers and six steals. Folks, thatís a 65/65 pace for the season. All right, maybe thatís unsustainable, but Hart has clearly forced the Brewersí hand to finally make him a regular, and if he holds onto the leadoff spot after Rickie Weeksí return, expect him to continue to run wild. He has the upside of a top-20 fantasy outfielder from here on out.

Gopheritis

The following are HR rates that pitchers will almost certainly be unable to sustain over the course of the rest of the season. Predicting the inevitable corrections before they actually happen could help influence the standings in your league.

Home runs allowed per nine innings pitched Ė On average, the typical pitcher allowed 1.12 HR/9 IP last season. Ideally, you want to look for hurlers with a number that is less than 1.00.

Jake Peavy .10 HR/9 IP - Heís good, but more flyballs are going to leave the park, no matter how spacious Petco is. There isnít a fantasy pitcher Iíd rather own other than Johan Santana, and Peavy is the odds-on favorite to win the Cy Young in the NL, but heís been getting lucky in limiting the long ball thus far. His career rate is 1.02 HR/9 IP, and while he is inducing more groundballs (1.26 G/F this season after a 0.92 mark last year), giving up one home run in 94 innings is a rate that simply will not last.

Also see: Brad Penny (.20 HR/9 IP), Tim Hudson (.29), Kelvim Escobar (.33), Chris Young (.33), Chad Gaudin (.35), Josh Beckett (.38)

Note: Thereís probably a little cause and effect regarding the fact both Peavy and Young appear on this list, as pitching in San Diego gives them a better chance of finishing 2007 with a low HR/9 IP. Also, this stat is the easiest figure to point to Beckettís huge turnaround season this year. He gave up 1.58 HR/9 IP last year, which was toward the very bottom of the league. He ranks seventh best in the category this year.

Carlos Zambrano 1.43 HR/9 IP Ė So thatís why he has a 4.89 ERA. For his career, Zambrano has allowed a very solid .69 HR/9 IP. This year, itís more than doubled. The 14 gopher balls in 88.1 innings are as many as he gave up in 209.2 innings in 2004. His strikeout rate is way down (6.93/ 9 IP), but heís actually posting a better groundball to flyball rate this season (1.41 G/F) than last (1.21). Heíll always battle control issues from time to time, but if Zambrano is truly healthy Ė and judging by his high pitch counts, one can only hope so Ė heís due for a big bounce back over the final 3.5 months of the season. Go get him.

Also see: Ervin Santana (1.87), Johan Santana (1.36), A.J. Burnett (1.30)

Note: Guys like Cole Hamels (1.46), Chuck James (1.43) and Boof Bonser (1.36) also have very high HR rates, but those numbers are in line with their career totals. They are flyball pitchers, and thus, far more homer-prone. Ervin Santana, Johan Santana and A.J. Burnett, meanwhile, have very good groundball rates and are due for a correction in HRs allowed from here on out.

Diamond Notes

Jose Reyes, where has all the power gone? Heís a fantasy stud, and all ESPN anchors have it written into their contracts that they must call him ďthe most exciting player in the game,Ē but he has just two jacks this season and none since April 21. Itís hard to find fault with the rest of his game, however.

Itís tough to take these radar guns seriously, but did you see Justin Verlander touch 102 mph in the ninth inning Tuesday? His curveball was unhittbale as well. Pretty dominant performance.

Donít look now, but the Yankees have won seven straight.

Before Mondayís 3-0 win over the White Sox, the Phillies were 0-18 this season when scoring three runs or fewer.

Speaking of the White Sox Ė the team ranks dead last in MLB in runs scored this year. Now thatís hard to do considering they have a DH to their advantage and play in one of the very best hitterís parks in the game. Chicago is batting .231 with a .303 on-base percentage.

Speaking of futility, itís time to check in on Jason Kendall: he picked up his third extra-base hit of the season Tuesday and first since May 16, upping his slugging percentage to a hideous .214 on the year. Heís easily baseballís worst hitter.

Of the bottom 10 starting pitchers with the worst control this season, there are some surprisingly bigger names down there: Doug Davis is the worst in the league with 4.64 walks per nine innings, which isnít shocking. And neither is Daniel Cabreraís third worst mark of 4.55 BB/9 IP. But Matt Cain ranks second worst, with a 4.59 BB/9 IP mark. Others coming in the bottom 10 include Scott Kazmir, Scott Olsen and Noah Lowry. Part of the theme here is that most are young hurlers still learning how to pitch.

David Eckstein has a ridiculous .96 contact rate this season. He struck out Tuesday for just the seventh time all season.

The NBA Finals are unwatchable. The Cavs almost certainly wouldnít have made the playoffs if they played in the Western Conference.

BABIP

The following are abnormally high and abnormally low hit rates through 10 weeks of the season. Some of these playersí skill sets may have truly changed, but more likely, most will eventually regress to the mean. Act accordingly:

BABIP = Batting average on balls in play or ďhit rate.Ē Most balls in play result in hits about 30 percent of the time. Home runs are not accounted for.

BJ Upton .447 BABIP Ė 534 career at-bats isnít a big enough sample size to establish a trend with Uptonís hit rate, but itís safe to say .447 is on the high side. Itís a mark that not only leads all of baseball but also is 33 points ahead of the next player. When you combine his lucky hit rate with a subpar .66 contact rate, Uptonís .320 batting average is more than a little fluky. Unless he starts taking a drastically different approach to the plate, heíll be lucky to bat .260 from here on out.

Also see: Jorge Posada (.414 BABIP), Derrek Lee (.402), Matt Holliday (.396)

Elijah Dukes .200 BABIP Ė Of all batters with the qualified number of at-bats, Dukes is having the worst luck in the game this year. Just 20 percent of all balls put into play are falling in for hits, helping to explain a terrible .196 average despite an OK contact rate. Maybe itís karma punishing Dukes for being an asshole. More likely, however, is that Dukesí hits start missing more gloves.

Also see: Jermaine Dye (.228), Corey Patterson (.247), Andruw Jones (.253), Pat Burrell (.254), Barry Bonds (.259), Gary Sheffield (.262)

Adam Wainwright .359 BABIP - The worst number in MLB. Wainwright hasnít pitched great this year (1.68 K/BB ratio, 6.1 K/9 IP), but he also hasnít been as bad as his 5.19 ERA indicates. A switch to the starting rotation figured to take a toll on his numbers, and heís still working on developing that important third pitch (slider) that wasnít needed when he was in the pen last year. But he dominated during spring, has a very good curveball and has Dave Duncan on his side. Wainwright could be a useful fantasy pitcher from here on out, especially once the abnormally high BABIP gets corrected.

Also see: Boof Bonser (.352), Randy Wolf (.342), Erik Bedard (.333), Daisuke Matsuzaka (.327), Scott Kazmir (.326)

Dan Haren .218 BABIP - There isnít a better sell-high candidate in the game right now. While most balls in play result in hits about 30 percent of the time, itís happening just 21.8 percent of the time for Haren this season, the lowest mark in major league baseball. When you also add in his league-leading strand rate (the percentage of batters that reach base but do not score) of .87 (a typical number is .59), youíre looking at the luckiest player in the league so far. His control is superb, he can strike guys out and heís no doubt an excellent pitcher, but to call Harenís ERA unsustainable would be an understatement. Try to cash out now.

Also see: Rich Hill (.218), Jeremy Guthrie (.244), James Shields (.250), Oliver Perez (.251), Chris Young (.267), Matt Cain (.268)

Yankees to make playoffs

While everyone is pretty much counting out New York, itís hard to imagine this team not making a strong run over the final four months of the season. Without a doubt, theyíve played poor baseball through eight weeks, and 13.5 games is a deep enough hole to probably discount any chance of overtaking Boston in the AL East. If thatís not bad enough, seven teams are currently ahead of them in the wild card race, so itís easy to see why many foresee an October sans the Yankees.

However, the task may not be as difficult as it seems. A closer look at the teams ahead in the standings reveals a couple of frauds (Orioles, Mariners), a duo thatís getting ravaged by injuries (Blue Jays, Athletics) and two others that are frankly inferior in talent (Twins, White Sox). Which leaves us with the wild card leading Tigers, who are up 7.5 games as of now. Itís a solid team, but one with an imploding bullpen, injury-prone key players (Carlos Guillen/Gary Sheffield) and an aging vet playing like Babe Ruth (Magglio Ordonez).

But enough about the other teams, because when New York starts playing in accordance with their talent that suits up, it wonít matter. Entering the season, the Yankees looked like one of the three best teams in baseball, with the Red Sox and Mets also in the picture. Not enough has changed in my mind to drastically alter that viewpoint. In one-run games this year, the Yankees are 2-10, so expect that to start evening out soon. Of the top-five teams with the best on-base percentages this year, four of them have a top-five record in baseball. And then there are the Yankees, whose .353 OBP ranks third best, and yet their record doesnít correlate like the others.

So itís pitching thatís been the culprit. A 4.70 team ERA is ugly, but a starting rotation of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang and some scrub (eventually Phil Hughes?) not only form a solid staff, but one of the better rotations in the AL. The bullpen has problems, but Mariano Rivera is still there for the ninth. Combine that with one of the most dangerous lineups MLB has seen in years, and this team still looks like one of the best in the league. I donít like the Yankees, and in fact, I hope they finish in last place, but people should not be so quick to assume their demise.

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