Hopefully you were able to get Max Scherzer in time for his gem last week. Scherzer’s 14-strikeout start more than makes up for Masterson’s second to last outing. Also, go get Carlos Santana. As I mentioned last week and as Brad Johnson points out this week, he’s not long for the minors. You will regret not having him.
All stats current through at least June 1, 2010.
Jose Bautista watch (5/25-5/31): .353 BA, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 6 R. His ownership is up 1.1 percentage points in ESPN leagues this week and now sits at 100 percent.
Mike Napoli | Los Angeles (AL) | C, DH (and soon to be 1B eligible in Yahoo (followed by ESPN) standard leagues) | 60.8% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .265/.350/.515
In the [pretentious] world of Mike Scioscia‘s Angels of Anaheim, where luck and defense reign supreme over talent and runs differentials, Mike Napoli is an unwanted child. Or at least he was until Jeff Mathis got injured. Despite a cold start to the season (.167 BA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R in 50 PA), perhaps because high-K guys don’t belong in pinch-hitting roles (cough cough *see Jonny Gomes* cough cough), Napoli has been red hot in May (.322 BA, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 15 R in 96 PA). While there were some concerns about Napoli losing playing time with Mathis returning to the team, Kendry Morales did all Mike Napoli owners a big favor and broke his leg. Now, rather than hitting off the bench with occasional starts for the rest of the season, Napoli is probably going to gain 1B eligibility to go with his C label. Napoli, like Geovany Soto and Ryan Doumit, was a potential bargain this offseason and is so far paying big dividends to those who were patient with him. In shallower leagues with impatient owners, Napoli, who has 28 homers over his past 156 games, may have been cut loose. Overall, Napoli’s batting average is sitting around .270, which is about as high as it will get this season. Perhaps he is still sitting on the wire or perhaps you can steal him from a guy who thinks he is “selling high” on a catcher with a low average. His ESPN ownership is under 65 percent, which is way too low for what will likely be a top 10 catcher. Simply put, Napoli is a guy you want to acquire. It is worth noting, for those who are concerned about Napoli’s average and strikeout percentage, that a player who is bad in a fantasy rate category like batting average only hurts you in quantity, and it’s unlikely that Napoli will exceed 400 at-bats for the rest of the season. However, in Napoli land, that means 20-plus home runs … plus, Adam Dunn is a perennially top 100 draft pick in fantasy, right? Besides, how many other catchers not named Mauer/Vmart/McCann are going to even hit .285 this season? Yeah, go get him.
Recommendation: Napoli is a must-own player in all fantasy formats.
John Lackey | Los Angeles (AL) | SP | 93.5% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 4.84 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 5.14 K/9
True Talent: 4.30 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.50 K/9
After a less-than-outstanding (but still fantasy-useful) season with health issues, Lackey was bumped past the 120 overall draft mark (10th round) in most providers’ rankings. Given the Red Sox “super defensive upgrade” this season (signing Scutaro/Cameron), Lackey seemed like a good buy-low guy with some modest upside. How wrong I was, though how much of it has to do with the absence of Cameron/Ellsbury is questionable. Lackey was drafted for his valuable consistency (especially in head-to-head leagues)—low 7′s K/9, good control, neutral flyball tendencies—but he’s only been consistently bad. Ten starts (61.1 innings pitched) into the season, Lackey’s groundball tendencies have stayed constant, but the K’s have plummeted (career-low 5.14 per nine) and the walks are plentiful (career-high 4.40 per nine). The ugly ERA (4.84) isn’t nearly as ugly as the peripherals seem to suggest they could be (5.03 FIP/5.28xFIP). With 68 hits to boot, Lackey’s WHIP currently sits at an ugly 1.60 on the season. Lackey has not been unlucky (.307 BABIP, 73.2% LOB%) and the defense behind him is not to blame—he has been just plain awful this season. Perhaps you might be able to convince some (sabermetrically ignorant) owner that Lackey is just struggling and worth a 60-cent-on-the-dollar buy-low move because when Cameron and Ellsbury come back, he will rebound. I just wouldn’t use that logic as a basis to buy. Better options than Lackey, who is pitching worse than the league-average pitcher right now, exist aplenty—even for AL-only formats. He’s not worth the cost, risk or roster space.
Recommendation: Sell him in all formats if you can, cut him if you can’t. Forty cents on the dollar seems fair.
Jayson Nix | Chicago (AL) | 2B, 3B | 0.0% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .225/.296/.383
With the talentless Mark Teahen on the mend with a fractured right finger (he gave plenty of owners a fractured middle finger this season), Nix may finally get a shot to play full time. Even though I’ve been highly critical in the past of the only baseball player I know who struck out swinging at a pitch that hit him in the face, Jayson Nix is a useful option in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues with middle infield positions. Nix is a guy with good walking skills, decent (if not above-average) power and below average contact skills. Nix will not light the world on fire while Tehean is out, and it looks like Chicago is going to, for the foreseeable future, stick with a Vizquel/Nix platoon at third, which obviously kills most of Teahen’s prospective value. However, given Vizquel’s advanced age and poor bat, it’s not unlikely that Nix runs away with the job. If he does, a decent/useful .260/.335/.440 is in the cards. That, and his penchant for running, might make him a borderline top 15 second baseman the rest of season (again, only if he breaks out of the platoon).
Recommendation: Watch in AL-only/deep mixed-league formats, ignore in the rest.
Javier Vazquez | New York (AL) | SP | 63.7% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 6.06 ERA, 7.90 K/9, 1.49 WHIP
True Talent: 4.00 ERA, 8.30 K/9, 1.30 WHIP (not his upside, but his realistic outlook for the rest of season)
Javier Vazquez is one of baseball’s most underrated and underperforming talents of all time. Even last year, when he posted a 2.87 ERA, Javi was the owner of a 2.77 FIP/2.82 xFIP. After playing some extremely unlucky seasons in Chicago and Arizona, Vazquez’s career 4.23 ERA is significantly higher than his career 3.86 FIP and 3.67 xFIP. Whereas Vazquez is usually a pinpoint (career 2.38 BB/9), low-90s heater, swinging-strike machine (11.5% career), he’s been nothing of his old self as of late. In 49 innings this season, Vazquez’s fastball has barely averaged 89 mph on the gun, and he’s sporting the worst walk rate (4.22 BB/9) of his carer. this season (4/20/10 start)to around the same time last season (4/24/09 start), you will notice (as you would if you look at more game logs) that Vazquez is executing a more consistent release point, which makes his ineffectiveness all that more baffling. Since (and including) his May 12 start, Vazquez has pitched pretty well: three wins (though one came in one-third of an inning of relief), 2.88 ERA, 23 K (7.13 K/9) and only 8 BB (2.88 BB/9) in 25 innings. He’s back in form, right? Maybe, but there are some concerning red flags.
(1) Since May 12, Vazquez’s batted ball profile reads 36.8% GB%, 39.7% FB% and 23.5% LD%. An increase in line drives (which have the highest SLG and BABIP rate) is never a good sign, though Vazquez has a career 20.7% LD% rate and posted a successful season last year with a 23.6% LD% (highest of his career). Still, Vazquez’s season LD% is 20.8%, meaning he’s been hit better as of late.
(2) Despite the successful peripherals, there is the looming specter of lost velocity, which makes me question the sustainability of Vazquez’s success at the moment. A glance at Vazquez’s velocity charts (courtesy of Fangraphs) shows that he is still struggling with his velocity. In fact, Vazquez’s average fastball speed during his last outing was his lowest mark of this season. Given the high correlation between fastball velocity and success, the prospects for Vazquez’s rest-of-season production will probably hinge upon control and whether or not he finds some mustard for his relish (sorry for the food metaphor, but I am starving for a hot dog right now). Further, if Vazquez continues to throw all of his pitches in the 80s, his lack of speed differential will likely be the death of him.
If you have the opportunity to shop him and can convince someone to buy, I would pull the trigger. Vazquez is an elite talent, but he’s either injured (and hiding it) or there is something about New York that does not agree with him. Vazquez’s upside is not so far outmatched by his downside and inherent risk that he’s worth holding on to if you can make a “lateral” or slightly sub-lateral move based on his last 25 innings of production. If you can get something akin to Chad Billingsley+Manny Corpas for him, take it.
Recommendation: Must-own in all AL-only leagues, should be owned in most mixed leagues. All owners (including Steinbrenner) should monitor him closely.
Jason Frasor | Toronto | RP | 19.5% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.06 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 1.73 WHIP
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 8.80 K/9, 1.35 WHIP
After posting an 8.38 ERA April, a month in which he lost the closing job to Kevin Gregg (0.82 ERA in April), Jason Frasor pitched quite well in May (0.82 ERA). Meanwhile, in May, Kevin Gregg pitched like … well, Kevin Gregg (5.11 ERA). While Gregg managed to get a death grip over the job in April, Cito Gaston‘s confidence in him may have waned recently, and Gregg’s four-run, two-thirds-of-an-inning fiasco the other night did not do too much to solidify his position in the bullpen. Granted, Frasor hasn’t started the month off strong either (two appearances, 0.2 IP, 2 ER) and Scott Downs (3.24 1.12 WHIP on the season) is looming around, but two things make me lean toward Frasor as the next guy in line. First, Downs is a lefty, and most managers do not like southpaws closing out their games (Billy Wagner excepted). Second, Downs came out earlier this year and said that he does not want to close and feels most comfortable in the setup position (can’t find a link at the moment, but I swear it happened). While Downs may have been trying to be diplomatic, it’s unlikely that Gaston will force Downs into a role he does not particularly want to play unless his hand is forced (i.e., Frasor and Gregg keep pitching like Kevin Gregg). Before you point out Gregg’s xFIP in Chicago last year, I am well aware of the splits. My response is twofold: (1) Gregg’s struggles gave me an irrational hatred of him, and (2) xFIP is not the best measure of a reliever’s true ability given the limited sample size, variable leverage index and matchup-based usage of relievers. In short, if you’re speculating for saves and have an open spot, Frasor is likely to be the most likely soon-to-be closer option on waivers (just don’t start him in an active spot unless he’s actually closing).
Recommendation: Must-own in all AL-only leagues, should be owned in most mixed leagues.
Corey Patterson | Baltimore | OF | 1.2% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .250/.300/.410
At the blasphemous behest of a fellow blogmate and Cubs fan, I begrudgingly look at Patterson. Let me start by saying that it doesn’t take a Cubs fan to dislike Patterson. Thanks to his free-swinging (Shawon Dunston-like) ways, Patterson’s career walk rate is putrid (4.6 percent, almost half the 9.0 percent MLB average) and to make matters worse, he does not compensate with solid contact rates (75 percent career contact rate, 81 percent MLB average this season). Patterson surely has a some pop (.153 ISO) and some speed (7.0 career speed score, 5.5 this season), but he was never able to put it all together and deliver as a five-category fantasy (or even an MLB average) player. Although Elder Patterson is only 30 years old right now, there is not much upside to hope for, and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Outside of the league-average walk rate through 87 plate appearances this season (9.2%), the rest of Patterson’s numbers look oddly like his career production. If you need steals, Patterson will provide whenever he gets on base (he’s already swiped five this year, a rate of one steal per ~5.5 times on base), but the question is, how much will he get on base (.291 career OBP) and how much will he hurt your batting average (career .251 hitter)? Patterson is essentially a one-category player and not worth anything more than a spot start. Patterson will never be anything more for fantasy players at this point in his career, and he’ll be worth even less for Baltimore in real life. In the words of a storm trooper I once knew, “move along.”
Recommendation: Spot start for steal-desperate teams in AL-only and very deep (14-team, five-outfielder) mixed leagues only. Otherwise, avoid like the plague.
Carl Pavano | Minnesota | OF | 36.4% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 3.99 ERA, 5.79 K/9, 1.16 WHIP
True Talent: 3.80 ERA, 6.00 K/9, 1.25 WHIP
After dating super-tweeter Alyssa Milano and pitching less than 150 [ineffective] innings for the Yankees between 2005 and 2008 (100 of those coming in 2005…), Carl Pavano seemed washed up, though he has never really achieved enough to even be called washed up. Prior to this season and 2004 aside, Pavano has never pitched 100+ innings of sub-4.20 ERA baseball. Despite pinpoint control (career 2.33 BB/9, very fitting for the Twinkies), Pavano has never had much success in the majors because his strikeout rates are low (career 5.88 K/9) even for the AL, and because his groundball rate is merely average (~45% for his career). Last season, however, Pavano seemed to have secretly turned things around. Though his ERA wasn’t very pretty at 5.10, his xFIP sat at an even 4.00 thanks to improved strikeouts (6.88 K/9) and decreased walks (1.76 BB/9). Though he’s still not striking anyone out this season (5.79 K/9), Pavano is sporting his highest GB% since 2005 and has shaved the walks even further (a 2009-Pineiro-like 1.24 BB/9). So far this season, the results have been nice: 3.99 ERA, 3.76 FIP/3.72 xFIP. Though we haven’t seen how Target Field plays in the heat, so far it’s played like a pitcher’s park, and the Twins have been top five in defensive value (+12 fielding runs above replacement). Going forward, I like the chances of Pavano maintaining his current success with room for improvement. If you have plenty of K’s and are in need of some WHIP/ERA help (with the solid promise of wins (or at least opportunities thereof)), then Pavano is your man.
Recommendation: Must-own in AL-only and 12-team mixed leagues with higher innings pitched limits (1,400+).
Joel Pineiro | Los Angeles (AL) | OF | 25.8% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.16 ERA, 5.56 K/9, 1.40 WHIP 4.00 ERA, 4.70 K/9, 1.30 WHIP
True Talent: 3.80 ERA, 6.00 K/9, 1.25 WHIP
Dave Duncan can do magical things with pitchers. For one, he can turn a guy who’s not had a sub-4.00 ERA (or sub-4.20 FIP) since 2004 and turn him into a 3.49 ERA/3.68 xFIP pitcher. Since working with Duncan on his breaking stuff and fastball last season, Pineiro has found new life as a super groundball pitcher. Last season, Pineiro posted a GB% over 60 percent, and this season he is still burning worms over 55 percent of the time. Right now, Pineiro has an ERA over 5 on the season (largely due to two shell-shocked outings), but the xFIP is still a solid 3.95 thanks to an uptick in strikeouts this season (5.56 K/9 this year compared with 4.42 last season). I view Pineiro as a cheap version of Carl Pavano—low K’s, decent ERA/WHIP upside, all without the promise of wins given the anemic Angels offense. Pineiro won’t help any fantasy team win a championship this season, but he very well might solidify an already solid lineup. That’s at least worth a free agent claim where you have a roster spot open in my book.
Recommendation: Should be owned in AL-only and probably also deeper (12 or more teams) mixed leagues with higher innings pitched limits (1,500+)