Statement of purpose: I am forever locked in Mortal Kombat for the souls of sports fans everywhere. Statistics are my science and “the immeasurable character of men” is the obsolete religion of blind faith. My job is to prove that God doesn’t exist and that athletes are merely cold, metal machines with no hearts or souls.
All stats current through at least May 24, 2010.
Jake Fox | Oakland | 3B, OF, DH (and C in Yahoo standard leagues) | 0.3% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .275/.330/.495
It’s no secret that I have a man crush on former catcher, now backup catcher, and 2010 Wiggy Award Nominee Jake Fox. As a Cubs fan hoping to see Aramis Ramirez and his $16 million per year contract walk away after the offseason, I was sad to see the Cubs sell low on a cost-controlled slugger who could (barely, but adequately) play multiple positions for a middling reliever. After lighting up Triple-A in the first half of 2009 to the tune of a ridiculous .409/.495/.841 line with 17 HR in just under 200 PA, the Cubs gave Fox a bench role on what should have been a playoff-bound team (grumble, grumble) and Fox held his own (.332 wOBA, 21.8% strikeout rate, .208 ISO) despite sparse and scattered playing time and a slight allergy to walks (5.8 BB%). In 241 major league PA, Fox hit 11 HR with a respectable .259/.311/.468 triple slash line that was slightly depressed by a .274 BABIP (.325 xBABIP, per the THT xBABIP calculator). Now with the Athletics in 2010, Fox is struggling to find playing time thanks to the recent call-up of Jack Cust and early season struggles (.205/.263/.315 triple slash line, .260 wOBA). Though Fox has been unlucky in 2010 (.255 BABIP), it’s not exactly like he’s being robbed of hits (16.1% LD%, .110 ISO). Though Fox’s Triple-A line last season, per Minor League Splits, translates into a .325/.401/.645 major league line, Fox’s career MLB equivalent triple slash line is a less-than-inspiring .240/.292/.411. Oakland’s spacious Coliseum, which has the lowest HR index thus far this season according to ESPN’s Park Factor Data, might be to blame for some of Fox’s power outage, but the real problem, if you ask me, is the sharp spike in ground balls that Fox is hitting this season at the expense of fly balls (Fangraphs’ take on the GB-to-HR ratio). This all said, Fox is a player in his prime with the promise of 20 HR power upside with a decent BA to boot. In terms of immediate impact, most of Fox’s prospective value (if the A’s find him ABs) will come from the fact that he’s caught five games this season and gained C eligibility in most Yahoo standard leagues. Long term, Fox’s fantasy relevance will hinge upon his GB/FB ratio going forward (80 PA is too small a sample size to draw statistically sound conclusions) and BABIP luck.
Recommendation: Where he is C eligible, Fox is a must own in multi-catcher formats and AL-only leagues, while he’s is just a guy to monitor in AL-only/deep mixed leagues where Fox is not C eligible (yet).
Carlos Santana | Cleveland | C | 0.9% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .270/.380/.480
The No. 2 minor league prospect entering this season, who just happens to also be a catcher, is not too far from the majors. Carlos Santana, who the Indians stole from the Dodgers a few years back for Casey Blake (were the Dodgers really that desperate for a slightly above average, aging 3B?), is tearing the cover off the ball in Triple-A this season, hitting .308/.443/.575 with 10 HR in 146 AB. Per Minor League Splits, that translates into a major league triple slash line of .268/.383/.477 with 1 HR per 19.12 AB (or a pace of 31 homers per 600 AB). Unlike Jake Fox, who appeared out of nowhere last season to destroy Triple-A, Carlos Santana is a career minor league .289/.400/.495 hitter with 75 HR in 1764 minor league AB. Carlos Santana, in short, is the kind of guy you save your No. 1 overall waiver priority to get. Santana has not yet got his call up to the majors, but with June and the expiration of probable super two status just around the corner, the Indians, whose catchers are currently hitting a combined .212/.270/.267 (.252 wOBA), are likely to give the starting job and a long leash to the young stud. Given his minor league track record, Santana will likely break into the majors as and finish the season—or at least the rest of the season—as a top-15 catcher. But hey, we all know how the Matt Wieters saga has played out to date. Just get him now, while he’s still relatively obscure.
Recommendation: A must own prospect in all leagues (even NL-only leagues!).
Luke Scott | Baltimore | OF, DH (and 1B in Yahoo standard leagues) | 46.5% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .265/.345/.500
Luke Scott, like Jose Guillen and Alfonso Soriano, is a player who gets 90 percent of his production in 10 percent of the season. When a guy like Luke Scott gets hot, you ride him hard (wow, that didn’t sound dirty at all). In the 10 days (May 27-June 6) following a DL stint last year, for example, Scott had a torrid streak where he hit .400 with eight HR and 18 RBI (25 HR, 77 RBI all season). Likewise this season, Scott is currently hitting .432 with eight HR, 12 R and 18 RBI in the month of May. Given his massive HR/FB% spike (25% this season, 15% career) and decreased FB%, Scott probably won’t keep up his current pace despite a .293 BABIP (.298 career BABIP, .322 xBABIP) and .233 career ISO. However, in Roto league where you can afford to be patient or in H2H leagues where you need a short-term boost, Scott makes a palatable four-category option for those in need of HR and RBI. Get him while the gettin’s good.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues with five OF/CI requirements (Scott is not yet 1B eligible in ESPN standard leagues), worth a waiver pick up in most mixed leagues (but not a long-term roster tenant).
Julio Borbon | Texas | OF, DH | 34.2% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .290/.325/.360
Quick Disclosure: I personally hate speed-only guys because they will kill your team’s HR/RBI totals
After bursting on the scene last year with a .312 BA and 19 SB (plus four gravy bonus HRs) in a meager 179 PA, Julio Borbon has burned a lot of owners with his Adam Dunn-like batting average and Ryan Theriot-like SB attempt rate. Hope is on the horizon, however. Over the past 28 days, Borbon has hit .297 and he possesses a ridiculous 7.9 speed score (tied for fourth in the majors, second in the AL) on the season. As most of Borbon’s value comes from his speed (the rest being his BA), OBP and BB% will be the linchpin of Borbon’s prospect for success in 2010. If he gets on base, Borbon may be a 50+ SB asset for the rest of season. If not, he might top out at 35-40 for the whole season. The major league walk rate is around 9% and Borbon has not reached that mark at any level above Rookie ball. Nonetheless, Borbon’s current 1.5% walk rate seems awfully low for a guy who walked 8.4% of the time in the majors last season (200 PA threshold for statistical significance) and 6% in the minors. Borbon won’t cost much and has too much upside to ignore. Bottom line: in a world where Juan Pierre is owned in 96.2% of leagues and Rajai Davis is owned in 80.4%, Borbon’s 34.2% ownership rate is criminally ignorant.
Recommendation: Must own in all but the shallowest leagues, especially where you are in dire need of speed.
Max Scherzer | Detroit | SP | 38.1% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 7.29 ERA, 5.57 K/9, 3.43 BB/9
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 8.55 K/9, 3.30 BB/9
Entering this season, I had high expectations for Max Scherzer (per 180 IP, I forecasted a 3.78 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 173 K’s for the Dirty Scherz). However, as I later noted a few starts before his demotion, Mad Max had a decreased GB%, a significantly decreased (2 mph) FB velocity and a neutral LOB%/BABIP (no substantial bad luck) on the season. At that time, I suggested Scherzer’s upside was not worth the present risk or opportunity cost. Fast forward a demotion and a few minor league starts later and the Dirty Scherz has taken a complete 180 turn. In his last Triple-A start last Thursday, Scherzer pitched eight shutout innings, struck out 10 hitters, walked only one batter and—and this is the important part—hit 97 mph on the radar gun (hat tip to Yahoo). With the Tigers’ pitching staff middling around in mediocrity (bottom 10 in xFIP, 15th overall in ERA) amidst a razor-close pennant race, Scherzer will not be long for the minors. I am firmly convinced that long term Scherzer will be a top 15 starting pitcher; he’s got to start somewhere and he’s well worth the risk, especially if it comes at the mere cost of a postage stamp (as certain late night infomercials might say). Even if Scherzer does not reach his potential this season, his general peripherals indicate that he’ll likely be better than Clayton Kershaw.
Recommendation: Jim Cramer has given the green light to buy in all but the shallowest of formats (especially AL-only leagues).
Carlos Quentin | Chicago (AL) | OF, DH | 72.3%
True Talent: .260/.345/.450
Full disclosure, I am from Chicago. However, I am a Cubs fan, so I hope my love for certain Sox players is not taken as any homerism. That said, let’s look at CQ. Quentin, a former top pick with unreal minor league numbers, seemingly came out of nowhere in 2008 after a pair of failed stints with the Diamondbacks in the homer haven that is Chase Field. In the two years since hitting .288/.394/.571 with 36 HR in only 130 games, however, Quentin has failed to impress, hitting a meager .231 with decent pop (24 HR in 485 2009-10 ABs). Given his .221 BABIP and .219 ISO last season, Quentin entered the season as a seemingly great low-risk, high-reward guy with an ADP past 150. Quentin has not fulfilled any of his promise so far this season and the low BABIP is seeming less like bad luck and more like true talent (career .252 BABIP, 16.1% LD% and 3.7 Speed Score over 1580 PA) everyday. Quentin has only four HR on the season and a decent, but unpromising, .164 ISO on the season. Given his continuous struggles with effectiveness and health (plantar fasciitis tends to be a lingering health problem), my expectations for CQ are substantially diminished at this point (20-25 HR ceiling, less than 80 RBI). Quentin likely has salvageable brand name and stock value remaining and less sabermetrically endowed fantasy owners may be enticed by his “low” BABIP (.225 on the season). 50-60% on the dollar seems reasonable.
Recommendation: Jim Cramer says sell. Ownable (and probably must own) in AL-only leagues, only roster worthy in deep (14+ team, 5 OF) mixed leagues.
Russell Branyan | Cleveland | 1B | 2.5% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .245/.350/.490
Amongst hitters with 2000+ career PA, one man reigns supreme, topping even Rob Deer, as king of the Three True Outcomes: Russell Branyan, the only player in the history of major league baseball (2,000 PA qualified) to either walk, homer or strike out in at least half of his PAs (51.2%). Nothing much about that has changed this season (47.8%). Despite his strong power and keen walking skills, Branyan never caught on as a full-time major leaguer (probably because of the career 38.9% strikeout rate) until last season. When given the opportunity (and healthy), Branyan raked to the tune of a .280/.382/.573 triple slash line with 22 HR, 49 R/RBI and even 2 SB for good measure over his first 341 PA. Branyan even managed to muscle out nine HR in 164 PA in the second half while dealing with back problems. Given his prodigious strikeout rate, Branyan’s BA will likely sit somewhere between Carlos Pena’s and Adam Dunn’s, but the rest of Branyan’s game is legit. Though his loss of 3B eligibility this season is disappointing, Branyan still makes a decent 1B/CI/DH option for leagues in need of some HR/RBI help (though RBIs will be elusive if the Indians continue to underperform offensively). Though Branyan’s home run output this year is down in the early going (1/23 PA) compared to his career rate (1/15 PA), but he is nonetheless on pace for 26 bombs per 600 PA. ZiPS projects Branyan to hit 14 HR in 269 PA for the rest of the way, which extrapolates out to 21 HR if he can stay healthy for the rest of the season (400 PA). Thus, if home runs are your need, Branyan is your man. Just be warned, the BA won’t be pretty.
Recommendation: Should be owned in AL-only formats, ownable in deeper mixed leagues with CI needs, watch in standard (12-team) mixed leagues.
Will Ohman | Baltimore | RP | 23.0% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 0.00 ERA, 9.77 ERA, 4.60 BB/9
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 8.50 K/9, 4.30 BB/9
Like the closer situation in Milwaukee, the Baltimore bullpen is a mess. Ideally speaking, you do not want any part of the Orioles’ closer roulette situation, as each new option is less enticing than the last. For instance, Cla Meredith—a groundball guy with average control and no strikeout ability—is rumored to be in the mix for saves. Really? Cla Meredith? Yea, the closing situation in Baltimore is that bad. Kameron Mickolio, a guy who came into town with the Bedard trade that keeps on giving and who was supposed to replace Jim Johnson when Johnsen fell pray to injury, has struggled heavy with his control (7.39 BB/9) and now that Alfredo Simon (and Koji Uehara) are on the DL, the team has few, if any, realistic closing options. Baltimore might play the dreaded-for-fantasy closer by committee game, but the name that currently stands out as Baltimore’s best option, despite being southpaw, is former Cub Will Ohman. In the early going this season (15.2 IP), Ohman has a sparkling 0.00 ERA (2.47 FIP/.352 xFIP) with 17 Ks with a 48.6% groundball rate. Ohman’s big problem as a reliever has always been the walks (4.60 BB/9 this season, 4.45 career) and sadly, the ground balls are probably an outlier (career 39.2% GB%), but if Ohman can keep pitching the way he has thus far into the season, he may be able to hold onto the closing job until someone better comes off the DL. Ohman’s by no means a great option and he might hurt your ERA/WHIP (even in limited sample sizes) more than he helps your saves totals, but saves are saves and desperate needs breed desperate measures. Personally, I’d rather poach/speculate for saves where higher quality options exist (guys who could potentially unseat/succeed current closers and actually keep the job) such as Luke Gregerson/Mike Adams, Evan Meeks, J.J. Putz/Matt Thorton/Sergio Santo and Kevin Jepsen/Fernando Rodney (though Rodney honestly isn’t that much different in ability from Ohman).
Recommendation: Must own (for now) in AL-only formats and deeper mixed leagues. Avoid in shallow mixed leagues.
Joba Chamberlain | New York (AL) | SP, RP | 23.0% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 4.50 ERA, 11.25 K/9, 2.70 BB/9
True Talent: 3.40 ERA, 9.80 K/9, 3.30 BB/9
Do not let the high (4.50) ERA fool you. Joba is pitching almost as well this season (2.74 xFIP, 11.25 K/9, 20 IP) as he was at the end of 2007 (2.42 xFIP, 12.75 K/9, 24 IP). Mo Rivers is golden as the Yankees closer, but like any other pitcher, old man Rivera does need his rest every now and then. With the Yankees winning 69.2% of their games, that means Joba will get a save chance here and there (he has two on the season). Joba’s high strikeout stuff, refound control and improved groundball rate make him an enticing ratio stabilizer to balance out volatile guys like Clayton Kershaw. Joba won’t light the world on fire, and his expectations are substantially diminished from what they were entering the 2008 season, but he is a quality middle relief option who will help your numbers where you can spare the roster spot.
Recommendation: Should be owned in AL-only formats, deeper mixed leagues, and all mixed leagues where you own guys from the Jonathan Sanchez All-Stars.
Aaron Hill | Toronto | 2B | 91.7% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .285/.335/.450
Following a 2007 season where he hit .291 with 17 HR, Aaron Hill seemed like a plausible break out candidate for 2008—especially given a stellar September (2007) where he hit .406 with three HR and 23 R to finish the season. Hill started 2008 strong with a .328 BA, 2 HR, 8R and 12 RBI over the first 15 games of the season. Hill cooled off considerably over the next month and a late-May concussion from a collision with then-teammate David Eckstein ended his 2008 campaign, resulting in a disappointing .263/.324/.361 (.307 wOBA) triple slash with only two HR over 229 PA for the year. 2009 came and many people forgot about Aaron Hill, while those who remembered him were rewarded handsomely (.286/.330/.499 triple slash line with 36 HR, 6 SB, 103 R and 108 RBI). Entering this season, Hill was ranked 76th overall by ESPN (and comparably high by Yahoo and the free market system known as Mock Draft Central), making him the seventh-ranked 2B. While I personally thought that while Aaron Hill was definitely a top-10 2B (arguably Dan Uggla and Ben Zobrist were better options and deserved to be ranked higher than Hill) and that a seventh overall 2B ranking was not unreasonable, I strongly felt that a 76 overall ranking, let along a top-100 ranking, was unreasonably high for a guy whose true HR ceiling was around 20-25, not 35, who did not steal a whole lot and who was going to play on what was predicted to be an offensively inept team (limited R/RBI opportunities to capitalize upon)—even with positional scarcity considered. In my person draft day rankings I had Ben Zobrist ranked 68 overall and Hill at 114. Clearly I wasn’t getting Hill and I had other targets than Zobrist, but the point nonetheless remains. Hill, despite the .288 BABIP last season, was overrated due to his overpeformance in power last season. At this point, Hill’s stock has fallen considerably and many have pegged him as a fluke/one-season wonder. I would not go that far, but if Hill is your primary option in a 12-team or shallower mixed league, there are reasons to be concerned. Hill is still flashing good power for a 2B (on pace for 24-25 for the season), but the K% is up around 19% this season, which is way too high for a guy with a .174 ISO. Hill is still lower-end top 10 option at 2B, but he’s clearly not a top 100, let alone probably a top 150, overall player for the rest of the season. In AL-only formats, you are probably handcuffed with Hill given the shallowness of the position (especially in the AL), but in mixed leagues where you have alternatively satisfactory options for 2B at your disposal (such as Rickie Weeks or Casey McGehee, perhaps), Hill is a player worth moving for a better overall player given his position eligibility and potential remaining name-brand value.
Recommendation: Hold in all AL-only formats, sell in mixed leagues
Justin Smoak | Texas | 1B | 11.3% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .280/.370/.465
Don’t let the poor batting average or lack of monstrous home run totals deter you. Unlike Dustin Pedroia, Rangers’ first baseman Justin Smoak can hit 400 home runs. And unlike Chris Davis (career 34.7% K%, 6.2% BB%), the man Smoak succeeded to the first base throne, Smoak has good control over the strike zone (17% K% and 15% BB% in the minors, 18.8% K% and 14.3% BB% in the majors) and should, therefore, be less prone to extended slumps. Smoak has been smacking line drives this season at an elite 22.9% clip and his batted ball profile makes him out to a .290 BABIP hitter (per the THE xBABIP calculator), which is well above his current mark of .165. If we normalize Smoak’s lack of luck using his xBABIP and pessimistically assume that all hits gained would merely be singles, Smoak’s currently triple slash line would inflate to .266/.368/.414. Smoak’s minor league numbers do not project him as the “slugging type,” a la Ryan Howard, but rather a 2007 Derek Lee-like hitter (20-25 HR power, good BA, strong OBP), which is still valuable in his own right. Given his skills and the Rangers’ offensive lineup, Smoak should have plenty of R/RBI opportunities to provide owners with fantasy gold. Just give him a chance.
Recommendation: Buy low/pick up in all AL-only formats, monitor in mixed leagues
Jose Bautista watch (5/17-5/24): .240 BA, 4 HR, 5 BB, 9 RBI, 6 R. His ownership is up 25% in ESPN leagues this week.