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MLB Skinny: Lucky strike

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

Many will be happy to know that I've declared this week a BABIP-free Skinny. Don't get me wrong, in the proper context, I think Batting Average on Balls in Play is a very useful stat. But I get the feeling that many in the viewing audience are suffering from BABIP fatigue. So we'll set it to the side this week and skin this Skinny cat without it.

Alright, let's cut this past week open and see what's inside:

CORNER INFIELDERS
Gathering wood –> Carlos Lee(notes): Not much has changed in Lee's batted ball profile from April to May. He's hitting line drives at the same rate and his GB/FB ratios are similar. The logical conclusion for his nine-game hitting streak is that he's just finding more holes this month. Said manager Brad Mills(notes), "For two weeks, he's been swinging the bat pretty good. He's starting to get some more consistency. This (past) series, he's started to use his hands more and has been feeling better." As the cleanup hitter for what has been a better-than-average offense, Lee can easily reach .280/25/95/85 this season. I'd give you Alex Gordon(notes) (if I happened to own him) for Lee right now.
Waking up –> Aubrey Huff(notes): Thanks to a .219 start in his first 137 ABs, baseball's Rodney Dangerfield is available in one-third of Yahoo! leagues. But anyone who drafted Huff should have known that hot starts don't come with the territory. He's a career .240 hitter in April, .261 in May, and better than .280 in each of the final four months of the season. Huff has delivered five seasons with an OPS of at least .853. And he's hit 21-plus homers seven times. True to form, Huff is starting to turn the corner at the plate. He's hitting .315 in his past 10 games, with five doubles and two home runs. It's not that I think Huff deserves to be rostered ahead of any of the 1Bs with a higher ownership rate in Y! leagues currently, but I'd want him instead of any 1B owned in fewer leagues, with the possible exception of Justin Smoak(notes) and Eric Hosmer(notes).
King of clubs –> Jose Bautista(notes): If you want to make the argument that Bautista is the top value in fantasy today, that he should be the top pick if you were drafting today, I wouldn't argue. Nor would many of those who get to see him up close. Said teammate Adam Lind(notes), "You're witnessing the best Blue Jay … ever! He just doesn't swing at their (pitcher's) pitch, ever." Said Minnesota pitcher Brian Duensing(notes), who allowed one of three Bautista homers on Sunday, "That guy's ridiculous. I don't get it. He obviously does …" Added Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, "In this series, every time we made a mistake he put it in the seats, and then he went (opposite field) on us twice in this ballpark, which is not easy to do either." Bautista now has 66 home runs in his past 167 games. Ignoring the steroid era, this goes down as one of the all-time great stories in MLB history.
Handle with care –> Scott Rolen(notes): Owned in just 35 percent of Y! leagues, I can only assume many are holding Rolen's fragile nature against him. There's no point in that while he's actually healthy and playing, as he was this past weekend, returning from a shoulder injury to go 7-for-13 in a three-game sweep of St. Louis. In his past 162 games in Cincy, Rolen has produced a line of .286/23/106/89. Of course, you always have to be ready with a contingency plan, but there's no good argument for not employing Rolen when he's off the DL.
A prayer for the dying –> Edwin Encarnacion(notes): If you are already throwing up Hail Marys at the hot corner, consider Encarnacion. He's yet to hit a home run this season, but he entered '11 with a 25-HR per 162-game average, and he's currently eighth in MLB with 12 doubles. And despite a .246 average, the 28-year-old is striking out at the lowest rate of his career (13.6%) and, according to Inside Edge, he sits 11th in the league (min 100 ABs) in well-hit average, which measures if a ball was smoked or not, regardless of whether it resulted in an out or a hit. Encarnacion is another player with a history of slow starts. And as volatile as his career has been, he's never hit less than nine home runs after the break. You can probably wait on him a bit longer, but once you see one or two of his hits clear the fence, I'd be quick about making a move.
MIDDLE INFIELDERS
An Angel gets his wings –> Maicer Izturis(notes): Someone asked me in the Sunday night live chat if I thought Izturis would continue to hit third the rest of the season. My response was that it was hard to say, but he'd likely hit there enough that we have to start thinking about Izturis in a different light. Manager Mike Scioscia said he would be surprised if Vernon Wells(notes) wasn't back up in the middle of the lineup soon. But, aside from a few home runs, Wells had shown little sign of a turnaround prior to landing on the DL with a groin injury almost a week back. And it sounds like the Angels will take their time bringing Wells back. So Izturis as a middle-of-the-order hitter is something we'll probably have to get used to. One thing is certain, Scioscia loves the guy and wants to do what he can to put him in a position to be at the plate with runners on base, a split that has produced a .301 BA for his career. It's fair to trust the signs of a breakout campaign for Izturis.
Down on the farm –> Dustin Ackley(notes): Time for the bi-monthly Ackley check in. In April, the updates seemed pointless for some because he was flirting with the Mendoza Line at Triple-A with absolutely no power. But Ackley, like he did last season, has only gotten better with the passage of time. He's hitting .405 in his past 10 games for Tacoma, and his OPS for the season is up to .800. And after starting the year 2-for-20 against lefties, he's tallied eight hits in his past 19 ABs against southpaws. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said Monday that Dustin Ackley will be promoted "sooner rather than later." That likely means within the next three weeks. He'll take over at 2B as soon as he arrives and will likely hit at the bottom of the order to start. And with his OBP skills (leads all of Triple-A with 31 walks) in front of Ichiro(notes), Ackley could be a nice source of runs from the 2B spot.
Fish food for thought –> Hanley Ramirez(notes): The fretting about HanRam remains at a fevered pitch. But here's something to think about. HanRam has a career OPS of .892. But look at his monthly OPS low for each season of his career: .579 in July, '10; .810 in April, '09; .719 in May, '08; .736 in May, '07; .510 in June, '06. So, while his .558 OPS to open the first month of the '11 campaign is a frightening turn for the consensus No.2 draft pick, it's not an unprecedented slump for HanRam. As you can see from his final tallies in '10 and '06, when his monthly low was on the same level as this past April, an elite season can still be had. Just a little something for HanRam owners to believe in.
Cut bait –> Omar Infante(notes): Among those with at least 100 ABs and owned in a minimum of 40 percent of Y! leagues, only Carl Crawford(notes), Justin Morneau(notes) and Pedro Alvarez(notes) have delivered less fantasy value to date than Infante. At least in the case of the others, there's a well-established track record of profitable returns or, in the case of Alvarez, the promise of some serious power. With Infante, there was that 16/13 season in '06 and some solid, but hollow, batting average returns in his three seasons in Atlanta. But, the fact remains that Infante has played 833 games in his career and has 162-game averages of .272, nine home runs and nine steals. The four-position eligibility is nice, but it comes at too high of a cost at the moment. Infante owners should consider hot-handed short leash options like Jason Bartlett(notes) or J.J. Hardy(notes), or longer-leash types like Alex Gonzalez(notes) or Ryan Theriot(notes). All those shortstops are owned in fewer leagues than Infante.
OUTFIELDERS
First aid –> Michael Brantley(notes): Owners who lost Grady Sizemore(notes) to the DL (again) should look no further than the Tribe's roster for replacement help. Brantley moves back to the leadoff role that has been so lucrative for him this season (.345). Brantley, owned in just 16 percent of Y! leagues, but sure to be going fast after his fourth home run on Monday night, is on pace for a .308/17/77/85/21 line, and he's drawn more walks (17) than Ks (15).
Pick him up –> Andres Torres(notes): Colleague Brad Evans wrote about Torres last Saturday, but his glowing recommendation has hardly provided an ownership spark for the Giants' veteran leadoff hitter. Torres is owned in just 31 percent of Y! leagues, but Logan Morrison(notes) is the only outfielder owned in 60 percent or fewer leagues that I'd prefer to Torres. In his 226-game run in San Francisco, he's slugged near .500 with 34 steals in that span. Aaron Rowand(notes) will steal some starts against lefties, but San Francisco needs Torres at the top of the lineup as he's the only logical fit at that spot.
When lightning strikes –> Cody Ross(notes): Historical monthly splits should mostly be viewed with a grain of salt, but given Ross' recent production and his history in the month of May, I'd be willing to give the six-percent owned outfielder a short spin. Many of us can still easily recall Ross' 10-HR May binge in '08. For his career, he owns a .963 OPS in May and a .760 OPS or less in all other months save a .857 mark in September. In the past six games he's 6-for-20 with two HRs and six RBIs. Early-season streaks are part of Ross' DNA, and this could be the start of another one.
Experiment pays –> Allen Craig(notes): I was intrigued when I thought that the man with the .928 career OPS at Triple-A would get an opportunity to play third base with David Freese(notes) on the DL. Turns out it gets better than that. The Cards gave Craig his first start of the season at 2B last Thursday, presumably because they feel better defensively with Craig at 2B and Daniel Descalso(notes) at the hot corner rather than vice-versa. And the team definitely wants Craig's offensive potential in the lineup. So, with Freese still weeks away from a return, there's a chance that Craig can get his five games in at second base to qualify in Y! leagues.
PITCHERS
Bird on a wire –> Jake Arrieta(notes): It's an excellent time to buy in on Arrieta, Baltimore's No. 4 prospect in '09 and '10, according to Baseball America. He's produced a Quality Start in nine of his past 11 starts for the O's, including his final two turns of '10. His 8.06 K/9 rate is 34th among starters, one spot better than Felix Hernandez(notes). And his xFIP (3.79) is lower than ERA (4.03). Arietta throws hard, with a fastball, slider and changeup that all rate among the fastest for each pitch type among starters. And he's getting positive results from all three. I mentioned that now is a good time to give Arrieta a test drive not only because he's hot of late, but also because his upcoming schedule sets up very well for continued success. He'll next face Washington, a team that has produced a league-low .225 batting average. After that, he's lined up for Kansas City, a team he beat in KC (7 IP, 1 ER, 8 K) back on May 3rd.
On tap –> Chris Narveson(notes): Arrieta not available in your league? Then consider the Brewers' Narveson who, like Arrieta, can be had in more than 80 percent of Y! leagues. And like Arrieta, Narveson boasts an elite K/9 number (8.4). Narveson also clocks in at No. 12 among starters in Chase%, another Inside Edge metric, this one similar to O-Swing%. With a fastball/changeup heavy approach (no starter throws a higher percentage of changes), Narveson has dramatically increased his ground-ball rate, significantly reducing his HR/9 rate in the process.
Smokin' –> Shaun Marcum(notes): Don't be surprised if Marcum, not Zack Greinke(notes), turns out to be the best offseason pickup for the Brew Crew. Marcum has been pitching at a Cy Young level and he has some spiffy peripherals to support his dominance. According to Inside Edge's well-hit average, Marcum's .105 mark ranks him third among starters, right behind (of all people) Jon Garland(notes) and Jonathon Niese(notes), and right in front of Roy Halladay(notes) and Tim Lincecum(notes). He's also induced the lowest Contact% among starters and ranks eighth in O-Swing%.
CATCHERS
Shuffle play –> Ramon Hernandez(notes): If you are doing the backstop shuffle, Hernandez is the play at the moment. Owned in just 22 percent of Y! leagues, Hernandez has four home runs in eight May games and leads all catchers (min. 50 ABs) with a .333 well-hit average. Jorge Posada(notes), owned in half of Y! leagues still, has a .197 well-hit average. C'mon, Posada owners, time to move on.
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