Weekend Matters, May 17
Another weekend down and one more to go before Memorial Day Weekend. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. So here…we…go.
For the last three years, Dan Haren has been the quiet ace in baseball: always putting up top-flight numbers but getting little notoriety for his efforts. For the last three years, he’s gone 45-27 with a 3.18 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, 8.37 K/9 and a microscopic 1.79 BB/9 rate. I don’t know about you, but those numbers ain’t too shaby. This year, though, Haren has been completely out of character, as you can easily tell from his last start on Sunday against the Braves.
That tidy little ERA is up to 4.83 and his WHIP has ballooned to 1.37. He’s walking nearly one whole extra batter this year (2.3) compare to 2009 (1.5) and his H/9 shot up from 7.5 to 10.1. How does that happen? According to FanGraphs.com, there hasn’t been any real change in the velocity of his pitches–though he has either apparently stopped throwing his slider or there is no information available regarding that pitch. So where does that leave us?
Well for one thing, hitters are making more contact off of him. Batters are hitting .255 off Haren for his career, but that number jumps to .285 this season. One culprit is an abnormally high BABIP (.357 – 2010, .302 – career). Look a little deeper and you’ll see that the kind of contact batters are making isn’t necessarily bad for Haren. This year, batters hit line drives on just 17.6 percent of batted balls (career – 19.9), ground balls 47.7 percent of the time (career – 44.6) and fly balls 34.7 percent of the time (career – 35.6). And finally, Haren’s opponents are actually making less contact than before when they swing, putting the bat on the ball 73.1 percent of the time, compared to his 78.7 lifetime mark.
Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that Haren has simply been really, really unlucky so far this season. It happens. This is one of the reasons why stats like ERA (and especially W-L) can be so tricky when trying to properly value pitchers. So, if I were you, I would make it a priority to buy low on Haren and hope that his owner doesn’t have the same insight or patience that you do.
Leadoff Men: the Brave and the Prado
When a team has hitters like Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann in their lineup most of the time, it would be fair to say that they should be one of the better offenses in the league. Yet, the Atlanta Braves have the fourth-highest OBP in the NL but have scored just the ninth-most runs. Something like that happens when your leadoff hitters are batting a collective .183/.272/.294. For the first six weeks of the season, manager Bobby Cox couldn’t find anyone useful to put in at the top spot of his lineup card. That was until this past Friday, when he tried Martin Prado.
The result? Prado went 6-for-14 (.429) with two home runs, six RBI and two runs scored as Atlanta took two of three games from Arizona. He may not draw too many walks (just a 6.5 percent walk rate this year), but he also doesn’t strike out that much, either (14.2 percent). His .354 BABIP may appear high, but his career mark of .309 suggests that this isn’t unsustainable.
And with the already-fearsome Heyward batting behind him, pitchers will be even less inclined to get fancy with the 26-year-old Venezuelan and give him more fastballs to hit. When you take that into account that Prado is also eligible at 1B and 3B, and you have an extremely valuable and flexible asset on your fantasy roster…should you own him, of course.
A year ago, Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton were on different teams but placed in the same group: injured sluggers who have already seen their better days go by. The two of them combined to hit 25 home runs last year when in 2008, they belted 27 and 32 long balls each, respectively. Now, they are key parts in a Texas offense that I feel is the most explosive in baseball (yes, even more so than the Yankees or the Phillies). If you would like to disagree, let me put this lineup in front of you:
- Elvis Andrus
- Michael Young
- Nelson Cruz
- Ian Kinsler
- Justin Smoak
- Max Ramirez
- David Murphy
While you try to find the hole in that lineup, let me tell you the biggest reason why Guerrero and Hamilton have improved so much this year: they’re healthy (duh). When Guerrero’s back and knees are right, he’s able to have healthier swings (and less prone to strikeouts, whiffing at just 10.7 percent this year as opposed to 14.6 percent last year) and put more power into those swings (his line drive rate has risen from 18.3 percent in ’09 to 20.2 percent in ’10).
Hamilton–though he’s in a bit of a slump (1-for-13, 9 strikeouts in last three games)–just looks like he’s healthier and playing better. Will he be a .300-plus hitter and one of the five-best outfielders in the game? Maybe, but it’s far from a guarantee. But will he provide plenty of extra-base hits and RBIs for both the Rangers and your fantasy squad, as long as he’s healthy? Without a doubt.
(Note: later on today, I’ll add on a little news about what’s going on with my main fantasy team, The Men Who Laugh.)