Mostly MLB Notes: Albert Pujols’ decline, Carlos Santana’s emergence and examining David Price

We held a mid-season draft Monday, and I ended up taking Albert Pujols with the 19th pick. Judging by Yahoo’s updated rest of season rankings, I guess this could be considered something of a reach. I’m not necessarily going to argue against that, but it’s remarkable someone who was a unanimous top-three pick last year and was generally considered a top-10 pick this year is now a borderline top-25 pick after six more weeks of disappointment. Pujols’ first 10 seasons in the league were unprecedented, and he’s still just 33 years old (assuming his listed age is correct), but with a .234/.315/.393 line over 145 at-bats, it’s easy to see why he keeps falling down fantasy draft boards (or in most cases this time of year, it’s his sinking trade value). Picking arbitrary end points is cheating, but Pujols did hit .303 with 29 homers, 87 RBI, 66 runs scored and eight steals over 396 at-bats from May-September last season, a span in which he was the sixth most valuable fantasy player. I have no clue why Pujols batted .246 with just one home run over the other two months of the season (211 at-bats), and the ice cold start and finish to the year are equally as meaningful as the hot stretch in between, but at least there’s recent evidence Pujols is still capable of being an elite hitter.

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Obviously, Pujols’ start to 2013 has been highly discouraging and continues a disturbing trend, as his batting average and on-base percentage have decreased in each of the past five seasons (his SLG has dropped in each of the past four, highlighted by an anemic .393 this season). It’s clear Pujols is past his prime, but just how steep will his decline be in 2013? His current 21:18 K:BB rate is hardly abhorrent, and his 18.8 LD% is right in line with his career mark of 19.0% (although it may be worth noting his 1.31 GB/FB rate is a career high). Maybe this is simply a health issue, and Pujols is playing through injuries more serious than we realize, but that doesn’t exactly answer the question of whether or not he should currently be considered a top-20 fantasy player. Since I was willing to take him 19th, I’m of the belief he’ll bounce back (his current BABIP is .236), and hitting in between Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo (I could not have been more wrong about him so far) and Josh Hamilton (assuming the current version doesn't last forever) is certainly a nice spot to be, but I’m also willing to acknowledge a return to form is no sure thing at this point. The draft was a nice exercise to see the change in values over the first six weeks of the year. Before the season, it would have been a bit unexpected to see Chris Davis go just four picks after Pujols, that’s for sure.

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After hitting .290 throughout his minor league career, Carlos Santana batted just .247 over his first three years in the majors despite walking nearly as often as striking out (263:225 K:BB). So far in 2013, he’s batting .321, and it looks like he’s finally going to live up to his hype/potential. Santana currently sports a .420 OBP and a .598 SLG with seven home runs. His 1.027 OPS is 100 points higher than the next best mark from a catcher (Joe Mauer). Although Santana’s 6.6 SwStr% is encouraging, it’s probably safe to expect the slow runner’s batting average to drop moving forward, but the power is real. Now batting fifth directly behind Nick Swisher, who has a career OBP of .361, Santana’s RBI production should improve over the rest of 2013. It likely comes down to specific team needs, but in a vacuum, there’s a pretty good debate whether Santana or Mauer should currently be considered the No. 2 fantasy catcher.

Here’s a pretty terrific “Between Two Ferns.” (Warning, the song features some salty language).

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What’s going on with David Price? With a 4.78 ERA and 1.39 WHIP (and a 1-3 record) over eight starts to open the year, he wasn’t taken until the eighth round in the aforementioned mid-season draft. In fact, 12 starting pitchers were taken ahead of last year’s Cy Young award winner. There’s some legitimate concern since Price’s average fastball velocity has been way down this year (93.3 mph) compared to last (95.5). Moreover, after failing to hit 95.0 mph in a start just once over the past two seasons, a span that covered 65 outings, Price has hit 95.0 mph on the radar gun in only one of his eight starts in 2013. However, the rest of his peripherals look strong, as he’s sporting a 21.3 K% with a 5.8 BB%. Price’s BB/9 rates have dropped each of the last four seasons, including a career best 2.22 this year. While the decreased velocity shouldn’t be ignored, Price’s poor start to the season looks mostly like a bad luck issue, as his .338 BABIP is nearly 60 points higher than his career mark (.280), and that’s with the Rays playing their typical strong defense. His HR/FB% (16.7) is also well above his career mark (9.6%). With a 48:13 K:BB ratio over 52.2 innings, I wouldn’t let eight starts change how I valued him before the season all that much right now.

Song of the week: This new video for “Mosquito” by the “Yeah Yeah Yeahs” is pretty elaborate.

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Shelby Miller is coming off an absolute dominant performance in which after giving up a broken bat single to Eric Young to start the game, he retired the next 27 batters he faced, with 13 via the strikeout. He’s thrown either his fastball or curveball 98.2% of the time this year, as he’s totally scrapped the changeup, which he threw 11.2% of the time last season. It’s rare to see a pitcher going from the bullpen to the starting rotation actually reduce his repertoire, as usually the opposite occurs, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Miller currently sports a 1.58 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with a 51:11 K:BB ratio over 45.2 innings, and if that wasn’t impressive enough, his opponents have had an aggregate OPS of .785, which is by far the highest among starting pitchers this season. In other words, he’s dominated while having faced the toughest schedule in all of baseball. Miller is the real deal.

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Here’s Anthony Gose easily stealing home.

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Jean Segura was a fairly trendy sleeper pick entering the season, but no one expected him to be the No. 3 ranked fantasy player in the middle of May. His .807 career OPS in the minors was modest, but he actually started at age 17, so he was young for the levels at which he was competing. Segura is already up to seven homers this year, which matches his total all of last season over 404 at-bats in the minors. He also leads the league with 13 steals (he’s now 20-for-23 in SB attempts in the majors). Segura’s .393 BABIP is obviously on the high side and likely to come down, but with a 21.6 LD%, a 1.84 GB/FB ratio and being a fast runner, it’s safe to project the shortstop as a .300+ hitter moving forward. He went ahead of Starlin Castro in Monday’s mid-season draft, and I can’t really argue against it.

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Quick Hits: Will Venable is on pace to finish the year with 22 homers and 31 steals, yet he’s owned in just 12% of Yahoo! leagues. Oddly, he has a .327/.411/.633 line at Petco Park compared to a .159/.229/.250 mark on the road. That should even out moving forward, and while the counting stats don’t look great, he’s batting second and now has Chase Headley directly behind him. Venable offers a sneaky power/speed combo. Plus, he hits confusing homers…Over the last calendar year, Matt Kemp is tied for last in WAR among all center fielders…Alex Cobb’s outing Friday had to be one of the craziest starts in MLB history, as he became the first pitcher to record 13 strikeouts (and 23 swings and misses!) in fewer than five innings. He also struck out every batter he faced in one inning and yet still gave up a run…After hitting .219/.287/.384 after getting traded to the Giants last year, Hunter Pence is on pace to finish 2013 with 30 homers, 30 steals, 85 runs and 94 RBI…Given a full-time job for the first time in his career, Nate Schierholtz has batted .299 with four homers, 19 RBI and four steals, as he’s quietly turned himself into a useful fantasy asset, especially for those in daily leagues who can bench him against southpaws.

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Quick Hits Part Deux: Yovani Gallardo’s average fastball velocity is down (90.5 mph), as his is K/9 rate (6.07). Meanwhile, his LD% is a career-high 28.3, so there’s a lot to be worried about here. Gallardo’s 4.70 ERA and 1.50 WHIP isn’t necessarily a reflection of poor luck…Eric Hosmer has six extra-base hits this year. Since the start of the 2012 season, the left-hander has hit three home runs into the right field seats. Three!…Jeff Keppinger has zero walks over 126 at-bats this season. Now that’s impressive…Phil Humber has made seven starts this season, and his record currently sits at 0-8…Pedro Alvarez’s double Sunday was his first of the season…Doug Fister has hit more batters (10) than he’s walked (eight)…Matt Harvey is the first pitcher in the last 100 years with at least 125 strikeouts and 25 or fewer ER allowed in his first 17 starts. He also currently has the same amount of wins (four) as teammate Bobby Parnell, who’s thrown 40.0 fewer innings…A.J. Burnett has tossed five wild pitches (third most in MLB), hit four batters and has allowed a league-high 13 stolen bases on 13 attempts, yet he has a 2.73 ERA and 1.07 WHIP anyway. An NL-best 31.6 K% combined with a 55.0 GB% will do that.

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