MLB Skinny: Giant strides

Madison Bumgarner(notes) was a hard-luck loser on Monday, allowing two unearned runs in seven innings against Washington. In our Sunday night live chat, his name consistently popped in the questions queue, most everyone wondering what his deal was and if he should continue to take up roster space.

His Yahoo! ownership is hovering around 50 percent, so many of you have already decided to cut bait. If you are one of those owners, it’s already time to reconsider. First off, he’s been unlucky to this point, with a BABIP among the league’s highest, and he’s been uncharacteristically wild (about two more walks per 9 IP than his career rate). But, on the positive side, he’s throwing harder than ever and he’s coming off two very impressive outings – combined 13 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 14 K. Only 21 years old, he’s got a lot of room for growth and I would quickly get back on his bandwagon if you jumped off in April.

Alright, let’s circle the bases and see what else caught my eye this past week:

 CORNER INFIELDERS 
Hot (corner) deal –> Aramis Ramirez(notes): Third base is not looking all too deep this season from a fantasy perspective. And if you are an owner caught in a tenuous situation at the hot corner, one player I’d be trying to acquire is Aramis Ramirez, who is currently ranked outside the top 400 in the Y! game. His ranking has a lot to do with his one home run and very modest counting numbers. But there’s nothing in his peripherals to suggest that he’s something different than he’s been in the past. In fact, his K/BB rate is the best of his career, his GB/FB rate is fairly normal and it appears that a flukishly low HR/FB rate is the only thing holding him back – and if you look at Ramirez’s career, slow-rising power is not unusual. Some of the names that Ramirez has been able to be acquired for in recent one-for-one deals – Alex Gordon(notes), Carlos Beltran(notes), Ted Lilly(notes), Chipper Jones(notes), Clay Buchholz(notes), Mat Latos(notes), Vernon Wells(notes) – suggest that he’s ripe for the picking. I’d take him over all of those guys, including Gordon.
Magic 8 ball says, “Don’t count on it” –> Brett Wallace(notes): I can’t work myself into a lather about Wallace. He’s stinging the ball, no doubt – his LD% is among the best in the league. But he also has the second-highest BABIP among regulars and he hits a lot of grounders for someone that you have to plug into the 1B slot. And for all his hits, he has little counting-number production to show for it – he ranks just 28th among 1B in at bats with runners on base. This is probably as good as it’s going to get for Wallace this season, and it’s really not all that.
Give him a swirly –> Carlos Pena: I am fully aware of what Pena is capable of – in a perfect world, it’s 40 HRs and 100-plus RBIs. But I also know that he’s 33 years old, and a career .239 hitter (under the Mendoza Line since ’10) with just five home runs in his past 202 at bats. He’s also consistently hitting more ground balls than fly balls, a trend that started last season. In the NL, he’s seeing fewer fastballs than ever, and producing negative results with the ones he does see. Maybe you can afford to blow one of your bench spots waiting for some kind of turnaround, but this slide has gone on too long for my tastes. I’d flush him now if a lesser-owned like Justin Smoak(notes), Luke Scott(notes) or Matt LaPorta(notes) was available. I might even consider Mitch Moreland(notes) and Garrett Jones(notes).
Farm aid –> Eric Hosmer(notes): You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better free scouting report on Hosmer than this one by Baseball Intellect’s Alex Eisenberg. And, as Eisenberg states in his report, Hosmer has been very hard to get out at Triple-A Omaha, where he sports a .490 OBP and has 15 walks compared to 14 strikeouts. As much as we’ve fought the “Free Kila Ka’aihue(notes) fight the past year-plus, the 27-year-old was never going to get a long leash to prove his major league worthiness. And he’s choked on the short leash he’s been afforded. KC has already taken a top prospect in Aaron Crow(notes) and let him break camp with the team. And I don’t think it will be shy with moving Hosmer up the moment he passes the service time threshold in early June. Start making roster plans shortly after Mother’s Day. He’s one of the true potential impact rookie fantasy hitters this season. And, yes, more so than Anthony Rizzo(notes).

 MIDDLE INFIELDERS 
Speed zone –> Mike Aviles(notes): Royals manager Ned Yost stated early in the year that he liked to play the game aggressively, and he’s held to his word. As it stands, KC ranks first in the league in steal attempts, and third in SB success rate. A big beneficiary has been Aviles, who ranks just inside the top 50 in the Y! game, thanks in large part to his six steals. Aviles’ power numbers – 5 HRs, 21 RBIs – are unsustainable. But he can make up for those inevitable diminishing returns with a major jump in batting average (he’s hit .290-.300 everywhere he’s been). And if he’s getting on base that regularly, there’s no reason he won’t steal 20-25 bases in Yost’s system. Still available in 40 percent of Y! leagues, I’d be all over Aviles right now.
Sleeper question mark –> Darwin Barney(notes): You can pretty much take my spin on Angel Sanchez last week and apply it to Barney. There’s no category juice in the power/speed department (Cubs have the fewest SB attempts in MLB), making him a low-ceiling asset. The best you can hope for is .280-plus and a positive Runs contribution. Frankly, even though he’s owned in fewer leagues, I’d prefer St. Louis’ Ryan Theriot(notes) to Barney. You get the same BA and Runs expectations but with the promise of 20-plus steals. Ditto Jonathan Herrera(notes).
Slowed to a crawl –> Dustin Ackley(notes): Mariners second basemen have combined to hit .280, steal six bases, and play decent defense. And the team is actually winning games of late. This is a potential problem for Ackley, who is off to another slow start in the minors, hitting just .212 (albeit with a lot of walks). The big issue for Ackley is a 2-for-20 mark against lefties. It’s been assumed that Ackley would be an immediate call-up as soon as service time concerns had passed, but it’s very possible that he could ride it out on the farm until the All-Star break, or at least until he starts showing that he can handle southpaws.
What comes around goes around –> Scott Sizemore(notes): Remember how much we loved Sizemore last spring? In our fantasies, we pegged him as a ROY candidate with .300/15/15 upside. But, of course, reality bit hard and Sizemore – manager Jim Leyland not known for his patience with youth – was jettisoned back to Triple-A after hitting .224 in 48 games in Detroit. A year later, Sizemore is leading the International League with a .408 average and offering up a post-hype reminder that the .300/15/15 potential still exists. I could see the Tigers giving Sizemore another shot sometime this month in favor of the underperforming Will Rhymes(notes). And if that happens, consider Sizemore a worthy flyer in deeper mixers.
Off target –> Kelly Johnson(notes): A lot of people are wondering if Johnson can get things turned around. If he does, it’ll be because he stops swinging at pitches outside the zone so often. He’s striking out at a prolific rate (32%) as he’s swinging at pitches outside the zone 10 percent more often than his career clip. His O-Swing% has been trending up his entire career, and a decline in overall Contact% has pretty much mirrored his O-Swing rise.

 OUTFIELDERS 
Splitsville –> Matt Joyce(notes): Joyce ranks in the top 25 in the Y! game for the past two weeks. And if you look at his power profile for his career, it’s quite impressive – .844 OPS, 27 home runs in 577 career ABs. But he is, and likely always will be, completely lost against southpaws – .156 BA, 0 HRs in 64 career ABs vs. LHP. He’s like the AL version of Seth Smith(notes). If you have the bench to rotate Joyce out against lefties, you should get some quality production, especially if he continues to get regular looks from the cleanup spot.
U-turn ahead –> Nick Markakis(notes): There was a lively debate between colleagues Scott Pianowski and Michael Salfino in the Sunday night live chat about Nick Markakis and Chris Coghlan(notes) – who would you rather own? I fell slightly on the Markakis side, as he’s a player I think you can count on to turn things around before too long. In his age-27 prime, he currently owns a career-low .216 BABIP (109 points below his career average), while nothing in his peripherals is strikingly out of the ordinary. For his career, Markakis has hit .266 in April/May and .309 over the remaining four months, so slow starts come with the territory. I still see a .290, 20-HR picture here. Hang tough on him.

 PITCHERS 
Slip sliding away –> Ryan Dempster(notes): One of the problems plaguing Dempster this season has been his inability to dominate right-handed hitters like he has in the past. Dempster held righties to a sub-.230 BA each season from ’04-’08. In ’09, righties jumped to .241. There was another bump last season (.252). This season, he’s allowing a .333 BA to righties, including six home runs in 16 IP. The velocity chart shows that Dempster is throwing the slowest fastball, on average, of his career (90.3 mph), and it’s getting absolutely hammered – among starters, only Kyle Davies(notes) has had less success with the pitch. Truth be told, Dempster’s fastball has been less than effective in his previous two seasons, but he could hang his hat on his slider. Unfortunately, Dempster’s current slider value is worst among starters after ranking as one of the top five most valuable last season. I’m not sure how he gets back there from here, but I’ve moved Dempster to the bench, and he’ll be pitching for his roster life in his next couple turns.
The tower of love –> Chris Young: Hard to find a better flyer in the 25 percent owned and under crowd than Young. Yes, his 1.87 ERA has been infused with luck, and his average fastball (sub-85 mph) is something to shoot for the next time you stroll by the speed pitch at your local ballpark. But perception is nine-tenths of the law when it comes to hitting, and hitters have a hard time getting on top of his offerings because of his size and the shorter distance the ball has to travel to home plate. Health and control have been his biggest issues. But he owns a career 3.74 ERA and nearly eight Ks per 9. Those are numbers worth gambling on when his health is in check.

 CATCHERS 
Back to work –> Mike Napoli(notes): With Taylor Teagarden(notes) on the roster, Napoli is finally seeing semi-regular at bats, something that owners groused about for most of April. Napoli has picked up at bats in eight straight games but, unfortunately, he’s collected just two hits in his past 17 ABs. His struggles, in particular, against right-handed pitchers, are a concern. He owns a .206 BA against them since the beginning of last season. Still, you can’t argue with an OPS above 1.000 (thanks to a slew of walks) and more playing time in that ripe Texas environment. He should be able to push 25-plus homers for the second straight season.
Catch a rising star –> Wilin Rosario(notes): Chris Iannetta(notes) has hit .211 since ’09, and he has hit the same number for his career on the road. His power is impressive, but it matters little when you are constantly fighting the Mendoza Line. I’ll admit, I’ve never been an Iannetta guy, and right now I’m all about Wilin Rosario, arguably the Rockies’ top hitting prospect. With four home runs in his first 17 games of ’11, Rosario now has 23 home runs in his past 90 games with Double-A Tulsa. He has a compact stroke and can make consistent contact, so he should hit for decent average (re: better than Iannetta, anyways). He’d be in Triple-A right now if not for an ACL injury last August. It’s even possible he’d be in Colorado if he hadn’t suffered the injury. Either way, he’s making a quick recovery and he’s back on the fast track, with a mid-summer arrival possible. Considering Iannetta’s struggles, you’ll want to keep tabs on Rosario’s progress. He’s an immediate add in mid-sized and deeper leagues.