I grew up in New England, so I know all about the magic that can happen in the nooks and crannies of Fenway Park. Bill Buckner can leg out an inside the park homer, Bucky Dent can hit a cheap home run to clinch a division, Dwight Evans can make magical play after magical play in right field. Once I mastered the one-way streets of the city and the impossible-to-find parking, Boston and I got along swimmingly.
Get out the Fenway Park video scrapbook, it's time to make another entry: Bengie Molina(notes) hit for the cycle in Boston on Friday night. We've seen it all now, amigos; start readying for the apocalypse. "I would have bet everything I own that Bengie Molina would never hit for the cycle," Ian Kinsler said with a laugh. (Here's the video proof you want to see, Molina's triple. I saw it on the internet, must be true.)
It's easy to knock Molina for his lack of speed and the messy run at the end of his San Francisco days, but that doesn't mean we should dismiss him quickly as a fantasy contributor. The trade to Texas two weeks ago probably bailed out his season. AT&T Park, as we all know, is a pitcher-friendly yard. The American League in general is a hitter's league, and Arlington is one of the best places to take your hacks. You're a real boy now, Pinocchio.
I'm always on the lookout for second and third-tier catchers in the Yahoo! Friends & Family League, given that I seldom spring for a designer catcher. Sure, it hurts when I have to sit and watch as someone enjoys Joe Mauer's(notes) 2009 season, but there are advantages to taking a garage-sale approach to the position. Most of the other owners ignore the catcher spot if they're set with a Top 10 option – we only have three bench spots, so carrying multiple catchers is impractical – so there's always something of interest to be found on the waiver wire. And the midseason promotions of Buster Posey(notes) and Carlos Santana(notes) significantly helped the depth of this position in 2010; if you're stuck with a stiff at the catcher spot, you're not trying.
Molina's hack-at-all times approach draws the ire of a lot of baseball scribes, and the Rangers were panned in many circles for trading for this guy in the first place. It was suggested that Texas was foolishly chasing Molina's 2006 stats, but to me that's an unfair rap – his 2008 line was nearly as good, and his best WAR season came in 2008. I don't need Molina to be Johnny Bench 1972 for this grab to work out; I just need him to emerge as the regular Texas catcher for most of the second half, especially during all those glorious homestands.
Speed? I'll find it elsewhere. Defense? So long as Molina doesn't force his way off the field, I really don't care. Fantasy baseball is a numbers racket. The burly backstop is still free in half of the Yahoo! leagues on the map; in shallow groups, there's still time to ride shotgun with the Molina story. (Post-script: Okay, so Molina tweaked his quad while running out the triple and it's possible he could miss some time on the weekend. And so it goes. The general point still applies here; this is a position you can attack on a modest budget.)
• Dan Haren(notes) and James Shields(notes) might not appear to have that much in common at first glance – other than being struggling name-brand pitchers – but they're starting to remind me of one another. Both guys are carrying bloated ERAs at the moment (Haren is at 4.60, Shields at 4.86) despite sterling walk/strikeout rates. And both guys had disappointing results Friday despite flashes of brilliance – Shields had to settle for a no-decision in New York when the Yanks hit two sixth-inning homers off him, and Haren was knocked around in San Diego (six runs, two homers) despite an eight-strikeout performance.
It's easy to build a defense of their 2010 surface stats – both pitchers have high BABIPs, low strand rates and lofty HR/FB ratios. But I'm starting to wonder how reliable the HR/FB metric is, at least in the context of today's game.
I did a fun little exercise for the heck of it this morning, checking the career HR/FB rates for the best 16 starting pitchers I could think of off the top of my head (in no specific order: Sabathia, Johnson, Carpenter, Wainwright, Lincecum, Santana, Verlander, Lester, Jimenez, Halladay, Greinke, Hernandez, Lee, Haren, Oswalt and Cain; I kept rookies out of it, not enough data on them). Yes, it's a subjective list, but go ahead and create your list, I bet it's very close to mine. Anyway, 12 of my pitchers have HR/FB rates under the league standard of 10 percent, Doc is an eyelash over the average, and no one is over 11.1 percent. Several pitchers are a decent chunk under the average, however.
Do elite pitchers get enough credit for keeping the ball, and fly balls specifically, in the park? Is it realistic to consider all fly balls as some sort of random home-run lottery? I fully understand why BABIP is so useful – sometimes a soft grounder turns into a hit, sometimes a line-drive lands right in someone's mitt. And yes, there are some cheap homers, but many (most) are struck pretty well.
Bottom line to all this, when I see someone continually beating the established mean on HR/FB, or falling way short of it (looking at you, Aaron Harang(notes)), I'm considering that part of their skill set until it's proven to me that it's not. I can't offer you proof here, but my gut tells me there's more skill in keeping the ball in the park than we commonly accept; yes, a lot of that is keeping the ball on the ground, but I think the HR/FB stars are doing something right as well, even if it can't be pinpointed in the numbers.
• Brian Fuentes(notes) had a clean ninth on Friday in support of Jered Weaver's(notes) victory, retiring two of three right-handed batters in the process. It's news when Fuentes gets the righties out this year – while he's been just about unhittable with the platoon advantage (.111 BAA, 0.39 WHIP, no walks, 11 K), he's a different guy against the righties (.250 BAA, 1.50 WHIP, 10 walks, 18 K).
There's an argument that says Fuentes should be a lefty specialist from 2011-onward, if not immediately. And if you own this guy, please, don't watch him pitch; you'll wonder how he ever gets anyone out and it will get under your skin. If you can find someone to pay Top 12 closer value for Fuentes right now, I'd write the sell ticket quickly.
• What the heck do we do with Bronson Arroyo(notes)? He's got a 10-4 record, including Friday's victory over Colorado, and a 3.96 ERA, useful in any format. The ladies love his hair and guitar playing, the photogs love his high leg kick. But how can he continue to be effective when he's got a piddly strikeout rate (4.4/9) and a mediocre K:BB rate (1.5 whiffs for every free pass)?
Arroyo is making a little bit of his good fortune with a career-best ground-ball rate, but if you think he'll keep that .248 BABIP all season, I've got some Jody Gerut(notes) rookie cards to show you. Be careful when Arroyo faces teams stacked with left-handed bats; he's got a 1.51 WHIP and a .294 BAA versus that side of the plate in 2010. I don't blame you if you want to play Arroyo next week against Washington – Adam Dunn(notes) to the side – but this is not somewhere to make a long-term investment.
Injury Blog: Erik Bedard(notes) (shoulder) met with Dr. Lewis Yocum on Thursday, the worst news this side of James Andrews. Given where Seattle is in the standings, I wouldn't make any optimistic assumptions on Bedard's return status. … Mark Reynolds(notes) says his quad is finally back to 100 percent, helped by the All-Star break of course. He also says his hand and back are no longer a problem. Show us on the field, big cat. … Brandon Webb(notes) is hoping to make six starts at some point in the second half. I'm hoping to hit the lotto. … Placido Polanco(notes) (elbow) should be able to return to the Phillies lineup Saturday. … Luke Hochevar(notes) had a precautionary MRI on his elbow Friday. It's going to take a lot of strong turns from him before I'll trust the righty in a mixer. … Travis Hafner(notes) (back) returned to his DH post and had a couple of hits. … Homer Bailey(notes) (shoulder) is about a week away from a rehab assignment. It will be interesting to see what the Reds do with their insanely-deep starting rotation when everyone is healthy. … Scott Baker(notes) (elbow) worked in the bullpen Friday and has been cleared to make his Monday turn against the Indians. He'll go versus Baltimore later in the week. … Although Dustin Pedroia(notes) has been cleared for baseball activities, he's not ready to have the boot taken off his broken left foot. We're still looking at an August return here. … Yovani Gallardo(notes) (oblique) is on target to return on Tuesday against Pittsburgh. … Josh Hamilton(notes) took the collar at Fenway (0-for-4, walk) but at least his knee looks fine.
Speed Round: Stephen Strasburg(notes) threw six bagels at the Marlins as Washington took a 4-0 decision. Ricky Nolasco(notes) – talk about your peripheral teases – had his typical one bad inning, enough to undo what was otherwise some snappy work over 5.1 innings (one walk, eight strikeouts). … Barry Zito(notes) threw a 10-strikeout gem at the Mets, outdueling the often-disrespected Jonathon Niese(notes). … Weaver outpitched Felix Hernandez(notes) in the Angels win, to the certain delight of Rich Lederer. Seattle's runs came on a two-run homer from Justin Smoak(notes). … Jason Hammel(notes) was a tough-luck loser at Cincinnati (10 whiffs, three runs over seven innings), though he got some help from this marvelous Dexter Fowler catch. … The break did wonders for Francisco Liriano(notes) (who stopped the sizzling White Sox) and Ricky Romero(notes) (who dominated the Orioles).
The latest B.J. Upton(notes) mishap was a doozy: a ninth-inning pickoff in New York. Rays author Jonah Keri thinks the time has come for the club to shop Upton. … Another homer for Ryan Howard(notes), who's got "monster second half" written all over him. As we discussed earlier in the week, he typically gives us a spike in the final three months. … Carlos Marmol's(notes) silly strikeout rate is one of the under-celebrated stories of the year. He fanned the side against the Phils, giving him 81 punchouts in 42.2 innings, an absurd clip. … Ryan Braun homered to take some of his fantasy owners off the ledge. Of course he hit the dinger off struggling Tommy Hanson(notes), someone else you might be a shade considered about. … Nick Swisher(notes) had the walkoff hit for the Yanks over Tampa, an appropriate way to salute the memories of the late Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner.