…It Was The Worst Of Times

May 15, 2010

So while I’ve been busy pursuing gainful employment of various sorts, The Uptown Ham Fighters have been busy sucking it up over in my 12 team mixed head-to-head keeper league. While we entered this week the only team to have won four out of five weeks, we were also one game below .500, due to a Week 3 1-10-1 ass-kicking at the hands of My Boomstick. As we enter the weekend stretch for Week 6 things have really gone south however, as we now trail The Mountain Cats 12 zip! I can take a beat down or two, but a sweep might just push this manager over the edge into Billy Martin punching out his pitcher nutzo territory! Now before I do anything rash and before it’s a dead corpse, lets bring this patient to the roster doctor and try to figure out a course of treatment.

Here’s the team as it’s presently composed. We’ll first look at the frosty bats:

The first major issue of course was Nelson Cruz landing on the DL with a bum hammy. He was absolutely raking when he was injured and it’s not easy to make up for the loss of such a big bat. Filling the hole over the past week, I had Corey Hart and then Nate Schierholtz. Hart did little aside from a lone HR in Boomstick’s absence. Nate The Ok provided me with a Run Scored on Sunday, which gave me a win in the category, but other than that he had little impact over the past week. Now mind you, this is isn’t to say that neither of these guys will be decent fantasy contributors, but in head-to-head, it’s often necessary to play a guy with a hot hand or tailor your lineup to fit your teams immediate needs.

What are some other culprits of our recent woes? Well for one, my team is pretty damn slow overall. Like mummy slow. I had to change that.

The one recent addition I made to the lineup is Alcides Escobar, who was acquired off of waivers, while Reid Brignac was dropped. Considering Brignac was sitting against lefties, this small lateral move made to address The Ham Fighters lack of team speed. While Escobar has been off to a slow start, a lot of that is due to an abnormally low BABIP of .253 entering play today. With his speed, he’s projected to have a BABIP of around .320 to .330, so I expect correction in that department as the season progresses. Leading me to more optimism is Esco’s 6.6%/13.5% BB/K rate. While this needs to improve for him to really blossom at the Major League level, it’s actually an improvement over the BB/K numbers he posted (3%/14.4%) in his limited time last season. What has really been missing from his game is his speed. The highly touted speedster has yet to swipe a bag, being caught once. This obviously alarmed his previous owners enough for them to let him go. I see Alcides picking up the SB pace however, as he gets more comfortable in the bigs. It doesn’t help that he’s hitting in the 8th hole, with a pitcher behind him, in Milwaukee. I can see him moving down up in the order as his bat heats up though, and I’m still hopeful that he can end the season with over 20 steals, while not killing me with his bat.

Aaron “Benny” Hill and Carlos “Live In San” Quentin have both been disasters so far, but I’m not pressing the panic button on those two yet. Both have slumped hard, but still can provide a lot of pop and it doesn’t take a power hitter long to snap out. I learned that lesson with Derrek Lee, last season, as he may have been my most valuable player in the 2nd half. I also learned this the hard way, by dropping a somewhat slow starting Kendry Morales. That obviously didn’t work out well. Quentin’s still walking and making hard outs, so it’s just a matter of time until he snaps out as he currently has a .180 BABIP, which is better than only Aramis Ramirez in all of baseball. The entire White Sox team has been hitting poorly, so there’s nowhere to go but up on the South Side, which should lead to nice counting numbers for Quentinsity. Hill has been a little more troublesome, due to another balky hamstring. Perhaps I should change my name to the Hamstring Fighters! He’s another guy with a ridiculously low BABIP and solid (in fact career high) BB rate, so I’m not going to get nuts. His power has certainly come down from those heady ’09 numbers, but I’m hoping that should improve as long as he stays healthy.

Derek Jeter and Pablo Sandoval are two guys who’ve hit hard time recently, but both are outstanding hitters and I’m sure they’ll perform at or around their career norms as we progress into the season. With .259/.306 and .238/.291 BA/OBP lines respectively over the past month, needless to say that both of those guys are a lot better. Jeter went 3 for 29 over the last Yankee road-trip. While his walks are down, I don’t expect this kind of lousy hitting to continue. In the case of the Kung-Fu Panda, we have a player who’s yet to reach his potential I believe. His counting numbers are hampered only by his home park and the dubious supporting cast around him, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t exceed 20 HR and at least match the 90 RBI he knocked in last season. His biggest asset is his BA, which of course is a result of him hitting just about everything hard. With a contact rate of 83.8%, that BA will definitely improve.

As for players who’ve outperformed their projections, Austin Jackson has to top that list. You can’t throw a rock without hitting his gigantic .481 BABIP, which has caused every fantasy writer in the blogosphere to simultaneously hit the “Sell!” button, tearing a rip in the space-time continuum. That number leads all of baseball now, so Jackson will undoubtedly slow down his Cobb-ian pace. He’s going to need to continue to adjust in order to maintain success as his luck evens out. I’m pretty confident that he can do that but not so much to be a .300 hitter at year’s end. Maybe .290 though, which would make me very happy.

Another guy who’s been absolutely mashing is Casey McGehee. I picked Ty Wiggy Jr. off of the scrap heap when I first saw him producing in The Brewers 5 slot, shortly after the start of the season. Figuring he should be knocking in runs in his sleep, he’s done a lot more than that though as he’s currently leading my team in RBI and tied in the lead for HR. Pretty nice numbers for a guy who everyone (myself included) pegged for schmo on draft day. I don’t see him sustaining his .323 BA but he’s walking at a career high 11.9% clip, so he should continue to get on base. It’s hard not to like that .245 ISO, hitting behind The Hebrew Hammer and Prince, so it’s easy to see him cracking 100 RBI at years end, even with some regression factored in. There may in fact not be much regression in order for McGehee. His .333 BABIP matches the number he posted AAA back in ’08, so I feel that this guy might be capable of sustaining a pace, not far off from his current one.

The X-Factor here of course is Carlos Santana, who hasn’t been great since fouling a ball off of his knee back a few weeks ago. With a little luck, the young catcher will feel alright by the time he’s called up, which should be within the next month or so. That frozen roster spot has cost me some numbers and it would be nice to have another solid bat in the lineup.

On the other side of the ball I have a pitching staff with a a few issues and a lot of question marks. Check it out.

Lead by Adam Wainwright and his devastating curve, I’ve got a couple of guys in Gavin Floyd and Kevin Slowey, who have really underperformed. Floyd’s peripherals suggest major improvement’s on the way as his numbers are just not nearly this bad. A 4.16 FIP, along with .371 BABIP against and sorry 57.7% LOB rate tell us he’s been seriously unlucky. Combine that with a BB/K rate of 3.69/7.38, an improved GB rate of 47.6% (up from 44.3% last season) and a .92 HR rate, down from .98 and you see a pitcher who is doing things right but getting poor results. With a tough schedule and little run support from the ChiSox lineup, we’re bound to see Floyd get much better results before long.

Kevin Slowey on the other hand has been an enigma, seemingly incapable of getting past the 5th inning. His increased walk rate has been alarming and he’s getting hit hard, so those guys are scoring, leading to some early knock outs for the Minnesota starter. While I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, I would have to think that Slowey’s still recovering from the complex wrist surgery that he endured last September.

While Cole Hamels may never be a fantasy ace, he’s striking out batters at a career high pace. The bad news is he’s also walking more batters (3.30 per 9) and allowing more dingers (1.44 per 9) than ever before. Hopefully he can get that HR rate down, because his BABIP of .372 tells us that better days are ahead for Hamels.

Mark Buerhle has been less than stellar, also giving up more walks than usual. He’s had to endure some awful offensive support as well as a brutal run of games against the AL East, so I’m on the fence as to whether or not to keep sending Buerhle out there. The five straight hits he gave up to the hopeless Royals this evening give me even more reason to worry.

On the positive side, we have Jaime Garcia and Wade LeBlanc, two young lefties who’ve seen tremendous success in the early going of 2010. Garcia has just been magnificent and has shown little signs of slowing down. LeBlanc, like the rest of his Padre cohorts, has been doing a lot of LeBlanking of opposition hitters. While he’s left a very high, 87.8% of baserunners on, he’s also been the victim of an inflated .356 BABIP.

Kevin Correia has been pitching pretty well in spite of only throwing one quality start so far. We can only wish for the best for the Correia family in light of the tragic loss of his younger brother, Trevor Brent Correia. He goes against The Dodgers tomorrow in his first start since returning from the bereavement list.

2/3 of my budget bullpen has been effective with surprisingly stellar performances by Jon Rausch and Kevin Gregg. Brian Fuentes on the other hand has been pretty shaky, but I knew that he’d be trouble when I drafted him. Hopefully he can save enough games to keep his job. If he doesn’t, I’ll be back playing that familiar game of closer musical chairs.

So that’s it for this exhaustive recap of The Uptown Hamfighters season to date. If you’ve made it this far, kudos. I know there is little less exciting than hearing someone bitch about their fantasy teams but perhaps you have some of these guys and you’re wondering what to do with them. I obviously need some guys to play the way they are capable of playing, but I do feel that if they do, I may only be an arm away from turning this thing around. In fact, I may already have that arm in Kris Medlen, who’s been moved into the Braves rotation in place of the injured Jair Jurrjens. I can also use another speedy guy and have been actively going after Brett Gardner. If I can’t get Gardy, I’m confident that I can find someone else off of waivers or via trade. In the mean time I’ll call this week a wash, hope that I can just avoid a sweep and look forward to getting it together next week.

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Hitting The Cut-Off Man: Existentialist Edition

April 28, 2010

“He who fights with monsters should be careful least he thereby becomes a monster. When you stare at the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Nietzsche was addressing the human condition, man’s struggle for self-determination and enlightenment. Old Freddy could just as easily been talking about baseball though because such is the price of hedging your bets players of ill repute and dubious integrity. Sometimes we have to do things we aren’t proud of when we’re struggling for our very fantasy existence in deep leagues.

The Uptown Ham Fighters are struggling to find their way in the absence of two monsters that I drafted. One monster was the maleficent Carlos Zambrano, who I need waste no more virtual ink on here. What stares back at me in the void in strikeout production, which I hope to address at some point. The other, more terrifying (to opponents and now myself) monster was Nelson Cruz. With his absence, I stare into the abyss that are my waiver wires and here are a few uber-menchen who stare back at me.

There was a time not long ago when Andy LaRoche was actually a somewhat ballyhoo’d (he was hip hipĀ  hoorayed as well) prospect believe it or not. Between two season in AA and AAA for The Dodgers, LaRoche averaged .300 BA/.400 OBP lines while hitting a modest 37 HR over those 818 PA. He’s never projected as a power guy, which hurts his value at 3B, but he’s always displayed a major league eye. Perhaps in his 27th year LaRoche will put his skills together and approach the .285 – .290 BA level that he’s capable of. I know he’s carrying an inflated .459 BABIP into today, but I’m going to give him a run while he’s hitting well, as his 9.8%/15.6% BB/K rate are encouraging and he’s posted 10 hits in his last 18 PA. With big time prospect, Pedro Alvarez waiting in the wings down in AAA, there’s little future for LaRoche in a Pirate uniform. The Pirates would love to get something of value for LaRoche in a trade, so they’re going to run him out there and hope he can increase his stock by hitting well. I think he can do just that and give me the little boost in BA that I need.

Another face that stares at me from the void is that of Pinella’s Spring Training favorite, Tyler Colvin. Colvin’s a 25 year old rookie who came into the league with little hype, but now finds himself pushing both Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano for playing time in The Cubs outfield. While Colvin has displayed some pop in the early going, he’s also has a 27% K rate. Fortunately for him, he’s also walking at an 11.6% clip, but those K’s will have to go down if he is going to make a name for himself. He’s currently hitting .324 with a ridiculous .378 ISO in the early going of 2010, but will that change as those numbers are buoyed by a .375 BABIP. If you’re going to play a hot hand, I suppose you could do worse, but I’m not buying.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea that stretches into the distance beyond the Rightfield wall, stands a Giant named Nate Schierholtz. While his numbers have hardly been gigantic through his young career, Nate The Ok (as opposed to The Great) has been a pretty decent contact hitter. With an 85.9% contact rate and a 29% O-Swing rate (percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone) so far in 2010, Nate’s cut down on his K’s (15% down from 20.4%) and been selectively hacking at the plate and it’s paid off as he carries a .300 BA, held aloft by his .353 BABIP going into today. He won’t show much pop, being a left handed hitter in AT&T Park and he’s been buried deep in the 8th hole in the S.F. lineup, which never helps, but The Giants lineup will change with whoever possesses the hot bat and Schierholtz won’t be getting on base with a pitcher behind him much longer. Look for a shift down in the order soon, increasing his value as an BA helping outfield option in deep leagues, such as the Big Ballers League, where he was snagged moments before I could take him yesterday.

As far as that noxious void in starting pitching that Zambrano took with him to the bullpen, I’ve taken to trying to stream starters against my opponent this week, since I am definitely out-classed in that area. With an impending loss in ERA and WHIP, I’m focusing my starting pitching on winning Wins, K and Quality Starts. With Saves up in the air, I might be able to win the counting categories.

After Grandpa Moyer‘s predictably lackluster effort in S.F. last night, I’m going with the old “Hodgepads at home” mantra that Grey at Razzball professes. That sees me throwing Padre lefty, Wade LeBlanc out there against The Brew Crew at Petco Park. A former 2nd round pick by San Diego back in 2006, LeBlanc carried a 8.3/2.4 K/9 split in 462 2/3 Minor League innings, with short rather unspectacular call-ups to the show in 2008 and 2009. In his first two starts in 2010, LeBlanc has allowed only one run in 11 innings, with a 10/4 K/BB ratio and no homers. With few better options in the days to come, I’ve got to hope for the best as LeBlanc looks to Leblank The Brew Crew in the cavernous confines of Petco.

NOTE: Schierholtz went 5-5 with 3R/1RBI/1BB in S.F.’s 7-6 loss against The Phils this afternoon.

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Replacing Nelson Cruz

April 27, 2010

That sound you just heard was the collective groans of fantasy owners everywhere reading that Nelson Cruz and his balky hamstring have finally ended up on the DL. How do I replace a guy who’s Slugging a MLB leading .778? I don’t I suppose. All I can do is try to find some cheap power production to use as a stop-gap measure in Nelly’s absence. As for Nelson’s Texas Rangers? David Murphy will slide over to right and Craig Gentry was called up from AAA Oklahoma City today.

Needing someone to fill those gaping roster spots that I suddenly found in both of my teams, I sought the wisdom of Grey at Razzball (much like the wisdom of Solomon) to make a choice between Mr. Sunglasses At Night or Dave Of Jesus in my 12 team league. While he had a lousy spring and got in manager Ken Macha’s doghouse early, Corey Hart’s got the upside and hits in a lineup that’s been putting up Football scores. David DeJesus has been hitting at a decent enough clip (23/79 14R/2HR/10RBI/1SB/.291/.349) to begin 2010, but he’s also posting a career worst .46 BB/K rate and an inflated .328 BABIP (.318 career BABIP). Oh yeah and he hits in one of the games worst batting orders.

Corey Hart is the best player in a three-man platoon over two outfield spots in Brewland. Carrying a 13/47 4R/2HR/10RBI/2SB/.277/.364 line into play today, he’s been the hot hand, starting three straight games this week. Showing un-Hart-like patience so far this year, he carries a nice 7/9 BB/K split, which I find quite heartening to his SB totals. This guy was a big deal, with 20-20 cred back in ’08 and is currently hitting in a strong lineup, that should provide plenty of opportunities for counting numbers.

In the 15 team NFBC style, Big Ballers League the pickings are a bit slimmer. I thought I had the man for the job, but some sonovabitch grabbed Nate Schierholtz just minutes before I could. That left me with some other less than ideal choices. The underwhelming Austin Kearns being the best of a bunch that includes Chris Dickerson, Eugenio Velez and Matt Diaz. Right. Crap crap and more crap. Not to be confused with photographer Kern, Kearns got a little pop and has been hitting well for Cleveland as of late. Austin, meet Austin Jackson. Don’t get too comfortable Austin. No, not you. The other one. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe Kearns can channel 2006 for two weeks, while Nelly gets right. Lets all us Nelson Cruz owners hold hands and give a silent prayer to the baseball god of hamstrings, in hopes that Senior Boomstick is back soon.

It’s a marathon and not a sprint, I remind myself, so I can’t get too down on my prospects of victory and end up making poor decisions. Now excuse me while I have a talk with mister Johnny Walker and try to numb the pain.