MLB Skinny: Summing it up

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

Looks can be deceiving in fantasy, especially in the standard Yahoo! default league configuration of 12 teams and an active roster of 10 hitters and nine pitchers. The Y! ranks can't tell the whole story of how a player is doing because it only gives the net total of a player's value across the five statistical categories and doesn't break down the value of each category individually. In some cases, like with Rajai Davis(notes), it's easy to look at his line – .265/2/21/33/26 – and make a determination that pretty much all of his roto worth is being derived from those 26 steals, which are second-most in the league.

But, if you put Derek Jeter's(notes) line under the microscope – .286/8/39/50/8 – it's not as obvious as to what numbers are working for Jeter and which aren't (quite) making the cut – he's actually slightly below average in three categories. Thankfully, we have Baseball Monster for such occasions when that becomes important, like when you're navigating through trade offers and the waiver pool in your league.

Using the above mentioned Yahoo! default league configuration, here are what constitute approximate league averages in each of the 5x5 categories (note: the values of ratios can fluctuate slightly depending on greater or fewer at bats and innings pitched than the "norm").

Average hitter
Batting Average: .287
Home runs: 10
RBI: 40
Runs: 41
Stolen Bases: 7

Average pitcher
Wins: 5
ERA: roughly 3.15
WHIP: 1.18
Saves: 3
Strikeouts: 64

Turns out Jeter is pretty close to a league average player overall, but few hitters offer such a nice and equal distribution of value, especially at the shortstop position. In contrast, if you look at 2010 breakout Martin Prado's(notes) line – .334/7/31/54/3 – you can see that while he's ranked more than 20 spots higher than Jeter in the Y! rankings, it's pretty much all about that batting average, and Jeter jumps ahead of Prado by about 20 spots in the rankings if batting average is excluded from the equation.

That may seem fairly obvious, but some owners have a tendency to take Y! rankings at face value too much. At this point in the season, it's very important to dissect the value of a player and maximize what you are getting in whatever kind of roster move you are making. And knowing what the average contribution is for an active roster player in your league configuration is essential to that cause. If you don't have Baseball Monster bookmarked already, you should. (Disclaimer: the author has received no compensation for his endorsement of Baseball Monster)

Alright, let's move on to our weekly tour of the diamond:

MIDDLE INFIELD

I'm a big Ben Zobrist(notes) fan, but he's been a tricky player to put a finger on this season. I was one of many that argued that his 27-homer breakout campaign in '09 was fathomable given his physical stature, past peripherals and the fact that he was entering the heart of his prime years. But for an encore this season, we've seen a downturn in power thanks to a decreased FB percentage, including a dramatic drop in HR/FB rate, which is down from 17.5 percent last season to 6.7 percent this season.

You might make the assumption that a HR/FB rate correction is coming given that he was above 17 percent in each of the past two seasons. But I found this article interesting while recently perusing the FanGraphs site. In the article, author Zach Sanders points to another column – "When samples become reliable" – done about a month earlier by FanGraph's Eric Seidmen that suggests, based upon research, that you can start trusting HR/FB rates for an individual player about 300 plate appearances into the current season.

As it stands, Zobrist has 320 plate appearances, and after a jump in HR/FB rate in May, he's back to killing worms at the 24th-highest rate among regulars in the month of June. Since hitting his last home run on June 9, only two of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases. Fortunately, his 12 stolen bases have helped salvage some of his draft day cost, but how much can you count on that to continue when you figure that before he stole three bases this past weekend, he had gone the previous 30 games without swiping a base.

Zobrist has pulled the No. 6 fantasy return among SS-eligible players in the Yahoo! game, and he has a loyal following among many in the fantasy community, myself included. I'm guessing he can still extract a pretty penny on the trade market. If I could get some power return at another position in a package deal for Zobrist while getting a Rafael Furcal(notes), Marco Scutaro(notes), or perhaps even Jhonny Peralta(notes), if the bump at the other position was large enough, I'd pull the trigger.

Here's my top 5 of the 15-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Carlos Guillen(notes) (.813 OPS plays nicely for a 2B; 16 HRs in past 99 games)
2. Mike Aviles(notes) (.339, 6 RBIs, 11 R, SB in past 15 games)
3. Sean Rodriguez(notes) (Peaks and valleys come with the territory, but his power potential is rare at MI)
4. Bill Hall(notes) (Going to get regular playing time for next six weeks with Dustin Pedroia(notes) out with a broken foot)
5. Neil Walker(notes) (Has hit in 21 of 28 games since his call-up – making the assumption that his mild concussion doesn't result in more than a few DNPs )

CORNER INFIELD

Prince Fielder(notes) has been the most traded corner infield commodity in recent days. The latest news is that he's reached an impasse with Milwaukee in contract extension talks and he seems inclined, with Scott Boras as his agent, to hit free agency after the 2011 season.

I was recently offered Andrew McCutchen(notes) for Fielder in one of my leagues, which I definitely gave serious consideration to given my need for steals. On my Big Board, I still have Prince Fielder in the orbit of the top 20 (No. 21), while I have McCutchen at No. 29. So it's a viable offer, especially given my lack of steals. But I declined the offer, partly because I picked up some speed by dealing Jose Lopez(notes) for Nyjer Morgan(notes) and picking up the surprisingly dropped Austin Jackson(notes) off waivers, but mostly due to my belief that in the end, you can still count on .280 and 40 home runs from Fielder.

While Fielder's overall numbers are down, we're seeing a clear-cut positive progression, as his OPS has gone from .741 in April to .880 in May to .948 in June. In the past three seasons, he's averaged 20 home runs after the break. He's a career .263 hitter with RISP, but he's hitting nearly 100 points lower than that currently, and as that mark normalizes, we'll see his RBI totals start to get back in shape as well.

If you are one of many currently dealing Fielder in Yahoo! leagues, I hope you held out for at least top 30 value. Anything less and you're selling Fielder short.

Here's my top 5 of the 15-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Justin Smoak(notes) (.904 OPS in June, No. 79 player in Y! for past month)
2. Russell Branyan(notes) (41 HRs in past 592 ABs, and returns to SEA, where he hit 31 of them a season ago)
3. Luke Scott(notes) (Not too exciting, but you can count on at least a dozen more home runs the rest of the way)
4. Conor Jackson(notes) (He's been only marginally better in OAK, but A's have him in No. 3 hole)
5. Matt LaPorta(notes) (Given vast upside, surely you can find it in your heart to give him one more shot now that he's a full-time starter)

OUTFIELD

Austin Jackson's April splits (.364 BA, .917 OPS) were obviously unsustainable, and not that many in the fantasy community disagreed. I went so far, in an early May Skinny, as to claim that once Jackson's luck ran its course, he'd end up looking like Cameron Maybin(notes) – that was before Maybin got booted to Triple-A. At any rate, I thought it was interesting in my Yahoo! Friends and Family League that I was recently able to add Jackson off waivers after Matt Buser cut him in favor of Trevor Crowe(notes), a player that I cut on June 22 when I decided to take a flyer on Jack Cust(notes). What it boils down to is that, in at least Buser's mind, Jackson has fallen to the level of Trevor Crowe, and I think you can probably make a decent case that Crowe is the preferable option for the remainder of the season. But now that Jackson has picked up the pace on the bases, I'd lean his direction. At least, from a production standpoint, leading off for the Tigers is preferable to topping the Indians batting order.

Lastings Milledge(notes) is hitting .361 in June. His .975 OPS for the month ranks 23rd in the league among those with at least 50 plate appearances. And in his past 172 games after the All-Star break, he's hit .289 with 18 home runs, 78 RBIs, 77 runs and 20 stolen bases. Although he just missed the cut for my "top 5 of the 15 percent and under crowd" (below), he's a widely available commodity (three-percent owned) that, given his present production and past post-break performance, makes for a nice flyer.

Here's my top 5 of the 15-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Will Venable(notes) (4 HR, 12 RBIs, 2 SB in past seven games)
2. Carlos Guillen (See above)
3. Pat Burrell(notes)(Back in NL where he hit 29+ HRs five times – .963 OPS in first 19 games with SF)
4. Austin Kearns(notes) (Currently in a bit of a dry spell, but he's a heart-of-the-order regular with some power)
5. Tyler Colvin(notes) (Can't keep ignoring a player that has slugged at least .571 in each month)

CATCHER

As I mentioned in Sunday's Closing Time, Victor Martinez(notes) is dealing with a broken thumb. V-Mart is holding out hope of avoiding the DL, but there's probably a better chance that he does land on that list. There's not a lot you can do if you are a V-Mart owner. I own him in the F&F League, and if the 16-percent owned Ronny Paulino(notes) were available (he's not), he'd be my replacement target. As it stands, I'll wait for the verdict on Martinez's thumb before I decide between A.J. Pierzynski(notes), Nick Hundley(notes) and Alex Avila(notes). Right now, I'm leaning Pierzynski.

The Yahoo! fantasy contingent was down in Santa Monica last week and one of the discussions we had was how we can state in our columns about our dismay that a player is less owned in Yahoo! leagues than he should be. But, in the reality of competitive leagues, those players are never really that available. And Scott Pianowski felt that you pretty much have to add about 50 percent to an ownership number to get a better sense of that player's ownership standing in competitive leagues. And if I'm to follow Pianowski's thinking, I'll refrain from expressing any exasperation at Carlos Santana's(notes) current 52 percent employment level in Yahoo! leagues – he's long gone in leagues that care. But as good as we knew this guy was, it's still amazing when you consider that his June OPS of 1.179 is second only to Josh Hamilton(notes) among those with at least 50 plate appearances. And he's thrown out half (6-for-12) of would-be basestealers.

STARTING PITCHER

If Jair Jurrjens(notes) has fallen off your radar, it's time to get him back in your field of vision. He was a bit lucky last season in turning in a 2.60 ERA for Atlanta, but he's shown in two seasons with the Braves that he's an above average contributor in wins, strikeouts and ERA. And after missing all of May and June with a hamstring injury, Jurrjens is expected to make his return on Wednesday against Washington. He's not exactly must-grab material, but he'd be in my "top 5 of the 50-percent (and under) crowd" list (below) if he were eligible – he's 54 percent owned.

In the past month, Trevor Cahill(notes) ranks as a top-50 player in Y! leagues. In that span, he's returned a 2.50 ERA and nearly a K per inning. He was a miserable strikeout pitcher as a rookie last season, but he had a fantastic minor league track record in that department, thanks in no small way to a nasty curveball. One thing you'll notice, though, is that Cahill hardly threw his curve as a rookie, but he's now throwing it nearly nine percent more often. I don't think it's a small coincidence that we are seeing his K rate rise as he's throwing more breaking balls – nor is it a coincidence that he is inducing a higher percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone. Coming up in the A's system, Cahill was always considered on the same level as teammate Brett Anderson(notes). Now that he's turning the corner on the major league level, he's moved beyond spot-start territory and warrants a more permanent position with fantasy clubs.

Here's my top 5 of the 50-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Trevor Cahill (See above)
2. Brandon Morrow(notes) (Past five starts: 2-1, 1.32 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 27 K, 34 IP)
3. Max Scherzer(notes) (Since minor league recall: 3-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 49 K, 36 IP)
4. Clayton Richard(notes) (ERA no worse than 3.00 and at least 23 K in each month)
5. Kris Medlen(notes) (If Jurrjens manages to push him back to the pen, then this spot goes to either Jason Hammel(notes) or Jonathan Niese)

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