All is not what is seems…

With the first month of the season out of the way, fantasy owners are getting a better feel as to how their players are shaping up. Some of them are doing about as well as expected (Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum) and some are doing wildly better than could be expected (Robinson Cano, Colby Lewis), but the group of players who are on our minds the most are the ones who are giving owners another ulcer with every weakly-hit ground ball to second or pitch juuust a bit outside (a tip of the hat and best wishes to Bob Uecker) when they should be dominating.

Now, it’s a common reaction for owners to bench these players or, if they’re doing so poorly, to cut them altogether. But often times, owners aren’t looking carefully enough at the player’s performances. Many statistics commonly used in the fantasy world have long since been exposed as severely flawed (RE: batting average, RBI, wins), and some of the new metrics show that slumping players are pretty much thisclose from posting their usual stats.

There are plenty of examples to be had every year, but to avoid frying anyone’s brains with information overload, I’m going to stick with two hitters and two pitchers. Each is going in the opposite direction of their counterpart, and the purpose of this is identify particular trends and/or stats that can help an owner decide whether to keep a player, cut him, or trade him to an unwitting opponent.

Looking up

Garrett Jones, OF/1B PIT

Thumbnail image for Garrett Jones 1.jpgRaise your hand if you saw Jones’ 2009 season coming? No one? I thought so. The then-28-year-old rookie helped push many fantasy teams to either a championship or at least a playoff spot thanks to a year where he mashed 43 extra-base hits in only 82 games, and it appeared he’d be able to continue such a performance thanks to a patient, intelligent approach at the plate. Then 2010 and a .221/.358/.407 stat line came.

Odds are, a lot of Jones owners did one or more of the following: bench him, put him on the block, or cut him altogether. I almost did the latter of the three, but I felt that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture…and I wasn’t. When most players are taking a full-fledged nose-dive, they’re often expanding their strike zone: swinging (and missing) at more pitches out of the zone while making less contact. So far, Jones has done the opposite of that. The Braves 14th-round pick in 1999 swung at 21.7 percent of pitches outside of the zone in 2010, as opposed to 29.3 percent last year. And when he does swing, he’s slightly better this year at making contact, putting the bat on ball 78.1 percent of the time versus 77.5 percent last year.

So what does this mean? Basically, Jones is due for a good run. It’s all a matter of “hitting them where they ain’t.” If you still have Big Garrett on your roster, make sure he stays there.

Cole Hamels, SP PHI

Images from Hamels’ horrid April 23 game against Arizona still give me nervous twitches, and anyone who sees his HR/9 ratio of 2.1 will probably do the same. A 5.28 ERA and 1.47 WHIP won’t help matters, either. But, once again, here is another example of the numbers not telling the entire story.

First off, his HR/9 rate is grossly inflated by that one game where he allowed four home runs. That’s about as fluky as it gets. Secondly, his BABIP sits at an unusually high .357, as opposed to his career mark of .298, so you know those hits will soon turn to outs. And when batters are getting the bat on the ball, they’re doing so with less authority. Last year, his line drive and fly ball rates were 20.8 and 38.7 percent, respectively, but now they’ve dipped to 14.8 and 38.6 percent while his ground ball rate has spiked from 40.4 percent to 46.6. Translation for the mathematically-impaired: batters don’t hit the ball too good anymore off Cole this year.

Lastly, keep in mind Hamels’ history: April and May have been his worst two months. During those two months, his ERA is 4.19. In the last four months, that figure drops to 3.51.

Falling down

Jake Peavy, SP CHW

Jake Peavy 1.jpgFor once, you cannot pin Peavy’s troubles on an injury or the World Baseball Classic (don’t get me started on that. I devoted a report to that such thing, but I digress…). His fastball is still consistently in the mid-90s and all of his pitches still have late, biting movement. It was expected to see a bump in some of his numbers given the change from pitching against NL lineups in cavernous PETCO Park to facing AL lineups in the launching pad that is U.S. Cellular Field. But this much of a bump?

A 6.31 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 9.1 H/9, 5.3 BB/9 and a 7.8 K/9? And this is including his May 3 outing against Kansas City. Ouch.

So what gives? Right now, Peavy is going through the exact opposite of what Hamels is experiencing now. For his career, Peavy has a GB-pct of 41.5 while his LD-pct and FB-pct scores check in at 19.7 and 38.7, respectively. This year, though, that first figure has dropped to 31.5 while the other two have risen to 26.1 and 42.4, respectively. Add in the fact hitters are making contact on 83.9 percent of their swings against him (career: 75.5), and you’ve got the recipe for a very frustrated pitcher…and fantasy owner.

Now, this is Jake Peavy I’m talking about, so I would never think about suggesting cutting him. But odds are that your league has at least one person who is attracted to big names like goats are to shiny objects. Your job is to find that person and convince him to hand over a good and a really good player for Peavy, promising that you know he’ll turn it around soon…even though his body of work suggests otherwise.

Adam Lind, OF/DH TOR

“Gone with the Lind” would be a perfect title explaining the absense of Adam’s power. A year ago, he was hitting .315/.400/.533 with 12 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs. Now, it’s just 10 XBH, 14 RBIs, his OBP is down 70 points and his slugging has slid 93 points.

After a little digging, I’ve come up with two key factors in his decline. The first being everyone who is batting in front of him. Toronto posted a .333 OBP last year, seventh-best in the AL, but now the Blue Jays are dead last with a .303 OBP. It’s a lot easier for pitchers to do their job when they don’t have to worry about bothersome baserunners. In turn, they’re able to make Lind expand his strike zone, as evidenced by his strikeout rate soaring from 18.7 percent to 29 percent. This is happening because Lind is swinging at more pitches outside the zone (24.9 to 26.3) and fewer pitches inside the zone (64.8 to 61.8). Any hitting coach worth his calloused hands would tell you that’s a recipe for failure.

Again, what is one to do? For once, it’s difficult to tell. Lind doesn’t have too much of a track record to make any sound predictions, so it’s more of a crap shoot than it usually is. Right now, just do some simple matchup observations. If Lind does well against most of the pitchers in the upcoming week, start him; if not, sit him.

And, if you’re like me, find a nice, secluded spot somewhere that you can bang your head into the wall knowing you could have picked Andre Ethier instead.

 

– ME

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