If Brian Bannister ever met sabermetric forefather Bill James face-to-face, he would probably lean in for a kiss.
As detailed in Jeff Passan's column on the Royals righty back in early March, Bannister is one of the first big leaguers to embrace the analytical baseball world. Instead of adding velocity to his fastball to blow hitters away, the 27-year-old focused this spring on pitch location, elusiveness and deception to generate more, yet weaker, contact. By forcing more bats on balls early in counts, Bannister theorized the statistical scale would tilt in his favor.
So far, his Jamesian plan has worked brilliantly.
Through three starts his formula of high-80s cutters, 12-to-6 hammers and 90 mph cheese has carved up opponents with surgical precision. With a 0.86 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and three wins, the 84 percent-owned Bannister, once a waiver wire staple, has become fantasy's surprise sensation.
And, believe me, his early-season performance is no aberration.
The son of former All-Star pitcher Floyd Bannister, Brian, who is also an accomplished photographer, is the Ansel Adams of mound finesse. When he toes the rubber, it's as though he lines up batters in his viewing lens, clicks the shutter and freeze-frames them in time. Bannister has described his cerebral approach as "watching the game from The Matrix." Keanu Reeves and fantasy owners describe it as, "Whoa!"
Critics will charge that Bannister has been nothing more than "lucky." Because of his .178 BABIP and 2.82 FIP (Field Independent Pitching), their gripes are legitimate. However, given his noticeable improvements in groundball percentage ('07: 40.8, '08: 46.3), BB/9 ('07: 2.40, '08: 2.14) and K/9 ('07: 4.20, '08: 5.57), he will easily surpass the number of quality starts he had a year ago (15) if his current underlying trends continue. Throw in a supportive offense (6.00 RS/9) and the former USC Trojan, who was once overshadowed by MLB busts Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes in college, could become only the second Royals hurler to win 15 games this century. Pretty shocking when, as Bret Saberhagen fans undoubtedly remember, it's an even-numbered year.
Whether you want Bannister on your Trivial Pursuit or fantasy team, his price tag is very reasonable. In one-for-one Y! Plus league deals this week the deceptive tosser has attracted marginal names Gary Matthews Jr., Greg Maddux and Troy Glaus.
Sure, his strikeout totals won't be as mesmerizing as Johnny Cueto or Edinson Volquez, but Bannister will be a consistency king capable of 13-17 wins, 3.30-3.70 ERA, 1.10-1.20 WHIP and 135-145 strikeouts. In other words, he's a poor man's version of Fausto Carmona.
Extraordinary for a guy most would label a major league mathlete.
Here are this week’s flames, lames and stars of video games:
19.2 IP, 3 W, 2.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 19:5 K:BB
Moderate Buy (shallow mixed), Moderate Sell (12-tm mixed, NL-only)
Known more for his bat than his fastball, Owings, who will one day showcase more Silver Slugger trophies than Mike Hampton, is finally driving his fantasy value with his arm. Currently the fifth-best pitcher in Y! Fantasy, Owings has quickly developed into a dependable No. 3 starter in 12-team mixed leagues. Much of his April success can be attributed to an increased confidence in his change. The pitch has complemented his 90 mph fastball and effective mid-80s slider very effectively, baffling hitters. The deceptive movement on his pitches has vaulted his K/9 rate from 6.25 in '07 to 8.69 this year. Owings has also refined his command, lowering his BB/9 rates from 2.95 to 2.29. However, despite the glowing positives, he's still giving up excessive fly-balls (51.0 FB%), which is a tell-tale sign that the longball will eventually scourge him. Playing in the unfriendly confines of Chase Field, expect his ERA to climb into the high 3s by the end of June. Owings isn't attracting name-brand commodities via trade quite yet – he was recently dealt for J.R. Towles, C.J. Wilson and George Sherrill in one-for-one Plus league swaps – but another quality start or two could cause owner confidence to soar. Those in deeper leagues should advertise his services immediately. He'll be a serviceable No.5/6 in most mixed leagues, not the No.2/3 his recent performance implies.
12.0 IP, 2 W, 1.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7:4 K:BB
Moderate Buy (shallow), Strong Buy (12-tm mixed, NL-only)
Filling in for the injured Pedro Martinez, the former Wichita State superstar has given opposing batters fits in his first two '08 starts. In Fausto Carmona-style, Pelfrey has induced abundant groundballs, notching an absurd 66.7 GB% in 12.0 innings. Much like Brian Bannister, Pelfrey doesn't strikeout many batters (5.25 K/9), but his hard-diving, low-90s two-seamer has attracted plentiful weak contact. Because he was horrifically bad in many of his previous 19 major league starts, most people forget that Pelfrey was the No. 1 prospect in the Mets organization according to Baseball America entering 2007. He's always had the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation staple, but his unpolished command has held him back. Lowering his BB/9 from 4.50 in '07 to 3.00 this year, he might finally be tapping into his enormous potential. With Pedro out until at least June, Pelfrey could be one of fantasy's most generous waiver wire pick-ups over the next few weeks.
.362 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, 0 SB, 7:10 K:BB
Moderate Buy (shallow, 12-tm mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Bradley owners better pray umpire Mike Winters doesn't work any Rangers games this season. Almost fully recovered from a freakish September ACL injury last year, the 30-year-old outfielder has drilled pitches as though they were exposed aircraft carriers in Battleship. Currently riding an 11-game hit-streak, Bradley, the cleanup hitter in a strong run-producing Texas lineup, could reach his statistical zenith this season. That is, if he can remain healthy. With a sensational 20.7 career LD%, current 17.5 BB% and history of high contact rates (81% in '07), Bradley will be dynamite as a BA, runs and RBI source sandwiched between Josh Hamilton and Hank Blalock. Ron Washington will give him the occasional day off to protect his surgically repaired knee, but he's unquestionably worth adding and activating as a No. 5/Utility player in 12-team mixed formats.
.370 BA, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, 2 SB, 3:7 K:BB
Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Werth, who could moonlight as a bassist for a death metal band (see left), will receive a steady diet of at-bats with Shane Victorino sidelined over the next two weeks. Plagued by embarrassing contact (71 CT% in '07) and Adam Dunn-like strikeout totals (career 30.7 K%) in his career, the 28-year-old utility outfielder has remarkably sported a keen eye this season. In 27 at-bats, Werth has registered seven walks (20.6 BB%) while whiffing just three times. His newly discovered plate discipline has vaulted him to the top of the Phillies lineup, toggling between the leadoff spot and the two-hole. Most of his hits have been a solid mixture of seeing-eye singles (39.1 GB%) and line-drive lasers (21.7 LD%), which, when coupled with his outstanding walks total, implies he could sustain a .285-plus BA for most of the season. If he continues to draw free passes and find green pastures, his April run totals will be appreciable batting ahead of big boppers Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and the smokin' hot Pat Burrell. Owners in NL-only and deep mixed leagues seeking outfield assistance should add the 99 percent available Werth.
.538 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB, 2:1 K:BB
Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
The lefty-hitting Bowker is Barry Bonds '07 duplicated, minus the elitist attitude, legal distractions and Pedro Gomez news blurbs. In his first four major league games, Bowker has been the Metamucil punch the geriatric Giants desperately needed. Batting in the middle of the order, the former Long Beach State standout has already collected three multi-hit games, two homers and seven RBIs. At 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, the 24-year-old prospect is a burly, rigid power-hitter with 20-25 homer upside. Because he's a classic pull-hitter many scouts believe he'll post marginal BA totals, but his superb 83 CT% (contact) in 522 Double-A at-bats last year and stupid 41.7 LD% in 13 at-bats with the senior club contradicts their claims. Six-time Gold Glove winner J.T. Snow has begun to tutor Bowker at first base. Ultimately, the Giants would like to make Bowker an everyday player, flexing him between first and the outfield. Given his pit-bull aggressiveness (19.7 K% in '07), raw strength, growing maturity and potential position flexibility, he's an absolute add in deep mixed and NL-only formats.
.121 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 7 R, 0 SB, 13:9 K:BB
Strong Buy (all leagues)
Now that Ortiz's malcontent-covered jersey has been exhumed from it's burial spot underneath the new Yankee Stadium, it's only natural for Big Papi to find his swing. Although still mired in the worst slump of his illustrious career (7-for-58), Ortiz is slowly starting to turn things around, smacking four hits in his past 15 at-bats. The root of his problems has been mechanical flaws in his swing, evident in his dramatic downturn in LD% ('07: 20.6, '08: 8.9) and sharp spike in GB% ('07: 37.5, '08: 44.4). Some will question whether or not his surgically repaired right knee is bothering him, which is fair. But Ortiz played through pain for most of '07 and posted the highest BA (.332) of his career. Since Terry Francona unthinkably gave Papi a mental holiday Apr. 13 against the Yankees, he's been visibly more jovial and fun-loving, an excellent sign that he's beginning to loosen up. Ortiz, recently acquired in solo Y! Plus league deals for Justin Morneau, Magglio Ordonez and Tim Lincecum, is worth inquiring about given his slashed price. Even on the backside of his prime at 32, he will be an elite fantasy contributor.
.154 BA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 5 R, 1 SB, 9:5 K:BB
Strong Buy (all formats)
If you really believe Tulowitzki will endure a season-long sophomore slump, you probably also trust that Kobe Bryant could leap over a speeding Hummer. Entrenched in an 8-for-52 funk, Tulo has recorded just three extra base-hits and the same number of RBIs (two) as Brandon Webb. Rockies hitting coach Alan Cockrell recently told the Denver Post that the prized shortstop is having balance and timing issues. Maybe he just doesn't like Denver's drastic swings in temperature. Through April 17 last year, the youngster had nearly identical numbers – .191 BA, 2 RBIs. None of his underlying stats suggests a grim forecast. Most are even with where he finished a year ago, with two exceptions. Shockingly, he's trimmed several percentage points off his strikeout rate ('07: 21.3, '08: 17.3) and, more importantly, he's running more. Already this season he's attempted three steals, 10 fewer efforts than last year. Anticipate the 23-year-old budding star to compile a mountain of numbers soon. Traded straight up for Roy Oswalt, Rickie Weeks and Francisco Rodriguez in Y! Plus leagues this week, his value won't be any lower.
18.0 IP, 13.50 ERA, 2.56 WHIP, 0 W, 14:14 K:BB
Strong Buy (all formats)
Given C.C.'s rotund frame, maybe he, like portly Prince Fielder, is having balance issues. As discussed in rich detail in Wednesday's controversial "Closing Time," Sabathia's latest fantastically repulsive effort (4 IP, 9 ER, 5 BB vs. Det) has ballooned his ERA to an unsightly 13.50. The velocity on his fastball is still smoking the gun in the mid-90s and mechanically he's not flawed. Simply, as C.C. described it, he's not doing a "good job commanding both sides of the plate." Because he's not locating his cut fastball and changeup consistently on the inner-half of the plate, opponents are pounding him. Psychologically, he's drained, but Sabathia will regain his Cy Young form soon. His unfortunate .423 BABIP indicates an ERA decline is imminent. Once he corrals his cutter, reduces the number of free passes (7.00 BB/9) and aggressively attacks hitters at the hands, his ERA and WHIP will plummet. With so many Sabathia owners frustrated and disgusted, they are ripe for the trade picking. Dealt straight up for Johnny Cueto, A.J. Pierzynski and Jhonny Peralta in one-for-one Plus league deals on Apr. 16, he's the biggest – literally – bargain in fantasy baseball.
11.0 IP, 9.00 ERA, 2.18 WHIP, 0 W, 9:8 K:BB
Hold (shallow mixed), Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Hughes backers better hope the Pope leaves a holy relic in the troubled youngster's locker on Sunday. Over 1,000 Y! users have banished Hughes to the free agent pool this week after the Yanks top prospect yielded six earned runs in two laborious innings at Fenway on April 13. Similar to Sabathia, Hughes' polish has vanished. Through 11 innings, he's walked 6.55 batters per nine. More disconcerting, the velocity on his fastball only topped out at 92 mph against the SAWKS, down 2-3 ticks from a season ago. Without a blazing heater to offset his knee-buckling low-70s spike curve, he's looked very average. Local NY columnists are already questioning whether or not the weight of the Big Apple is too much for the 21-year-old. To a point, they might be right. But to write the uber-talented Hughes off after back-to-back horrific starts is impulsive. Hughes has induced more groundballs this season ('07 GB%: 33.3, '08: 36.4) and has yet to surrender a HR, which indicates that once he rediscovers his command, the phenom we all pegged him to be will resurface. Because he's still inexperienced (83.2 career IP), occasional turbulence is likely, but he should emerge as a quality No. 4 in 12-team mixed leagues by June.
.157 BA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB, 16:7 K:BB
Hold (shallow, 12-team mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
In the arid SoCal climate, a torrential downpour of boos has rained down on jelly-belly Jones. Through 51 at-bats, Jones is still swinging a wet toothpick. Demoted recently to the seventh spot by Joe Torre, the $36 million offseason acquisition has looked, as Torre described it, "overanxious" at the dish (29.8 K%). Mechanically, Jones' stance isn't the issue, but rather how his hands move through the zone. Instead of getting under and driving the baseball, he's been too top heavy, as his inflated 57.6 GB% testifies. Interestingly, if he can sustain a GB% above 40.0 and swell his current 27.3 FB% over 45.0, he has realistic odds of eclipsing a .250 BA this season. Never again will he recapture the 50-homer days of 2005, but he's certainly not going to turn into this generation's Rob Deer. If your NL-only squad can absorb Jones' flavorless BA, buy low. In recent Plus league one-for-one deals he was swapped straight up for Tim Hudson, Rich Hill and Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Don't know what FB% means? Check out our sabermetric glossary.
Y!RNK - Overall player ranking in Yahoo! leagues
Y!% - Percentage owned in Yahoo! leagues
*All stats listed are for games played through Apr. 9
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Joe Borowski? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
Dear Brad, after my first round draft pick Prince Fielder's pathetic start, I have taken the initiative to found a new group called P.E.T.A. – Prince for the Eating of Tasty Animals. I heard from someone that another P.E.T.A. already exists, but I promise this P.E.T.A. will be far more relevant and self-rewarding (for fantasy owners). I hope that you and the rest of the Prince-owning fantasy universe will join the P.E.T.A. initiative to help Prince get back to his 50-HR '07 form.– Tom, San Francisco, CA
Noise: Tom, consider me the second member of P.E.T.A. We should totally make T-shirts.
Although 49 at-bats is a relatively small sample, the heaping bowls of pesto pasta simply aren’t working. Prince's GB% has skyrocketed from a 34.9 last season to 47.4 this year. More disturbing, his LD% (’07: 19.3, ’08: 12.2) and FB% (45.8, 39.0) have plummeted to alarming lows. It's apparent he's become less aggressive at the dish ('07 K%: 21.1, '08: 18.4), not jumping on fastballs with the same vigor as last season. Ned Yost swapped Fielder and Ryan Braun in the order on April 13 to help revive their bats. Hopefully, returning to the cleanup spot, where he hit almost exclusively last year, will spur Prince's production.
Yes, Bernie Brewer seriously needs to shackle Fielder to the end of his beer slide and chute several Baconators down his throat, but keep in mind he only had one homer in his first 15 games last season. I don't believe he'll reach the 50-homer plateau again this year, but he'll definitely eclipse 40. Keep the faith.
Brad, The way the Cubs management are treating Rich Hill is a travesty … what do we do now?–Colin, Oakland, CA
Noise: Since hearing the news that my main man-crush was demoted to the No. 5 spot in the Cubs rotation, a black rose has adorned the front of my No. 53 blue pinstriped jersey.
The Cubs' strategy with Hill is a baffling one, but it appears Piniella is trying to challenge Hill mentally in an attempt to light a fire under him – a rather risky proposition considering his mound self-esteem has never been ironclad. Larry Rothschild spoke positively of his bullpen session on April 12, saying that all he needs to do is perform "between the lines." In other words, physically he's fine, but between-the-ears, as has always been the case with Hill, he's been too inconsistent. The 29-year-old southpaw was available in the bullpen over the weekend, because the Cubs were shorthanded after playing two extra-inning games earlier in the week. He is expected to take the ball on April 18 against the woeful Pirates. Despite the misguided rumors that are floating around in the "Closing Time"comments section, he's not a full-time bullpen hand.
It's way too early to abandon the Hill ship. He's far too talented to be permanently removed from the Cubs rotation. If anyone deserves that distinction, it's Jason Marquis. Now is as good of a time as ever to buy low on Hill. In recent one-for-one Y! Plus league deals he was swapped straight up for Andruw Jones, Carlos Gomez and Kevin Gregg.
Jonathon Sanchez. Worth considering? His minor league numbers look fairly good to my untrained eye. Unfortunately his major league stats show a huge increase in BB, hits, and HR per 9 innings from his minor league stats (and ERA and WHIP obviously). But look at those Ks!– J, Charlotte, NC
Noise: Strikeouts are the Double-Ds of fantasy. Sure, we would all like to get our hands on some, but if the peripherals are unattractive – high BB/9, HR/9, stripper background – they should be avoided.
Sanchez is undeniably that kind of player. His astronomical K/9 rates (12.60) are truly mouthwatering, but his erratic control (3.60 BB/9), disconcerting FB% (46.2) and poor run support (1.38 RS/9) are red flags. However, his terribly unlucky .397 BABIP implies that his ERA should currently sit somewhere in the mid-3s not at 6.00.
In terms of skill and substance, Sanchez reminds me greatly of Oliver Perez '03. Sanchez has electric stuff – 92-95 mph fastball, high-80s slider, average change – but plays for an atrocious team that will likely hinder his ability to win 10 games.
The 4.2 percent owned Giants southpaw is worth owning in 12-team mixed leagues with deep benches. His ballooned WHIP totals will be problematic, but his enormous strikeout potential, and dual eligibility at SP/RP, is hard to ignore. For now, anticipate a finishing line around, 150 IP, 7-9 wins, 4.00-4.15 ERA, 1.38-1.45 WHIP, 155 K.
You're off on Clayton Kershaw. His control is pretty bad. Really bad. And while he eventually has a chance to straighten that out and fulfill his unlimited potential, keeper league owners also have to worry that he's only 20, and not as far along on the injury nexus as Johnny Cueto. Moreover, 4.5 walks per 9 are going to lead to significant inconsistency (and heartache). Meanwhile Cueto's fly-ball tendencies aren't as detrimental as you claim. With such a low walk rate (1.9 per 9 last year), there won't be anyone on base for those solo shots. Single season or keeper league, Cueto was the right choice.– Shoreham, NY
Noise: Yes, a 4.50 BB/9 could be considered appalling, but his control is more "pretty," not "really" bad. The latter comment is reserved more for perpetual walkers like Daniel Cabrera. That guy issues more free passes per start than cops do Taser strikes on Al Reyes per birthday. Remember, Kershaw posted a 15:3 K:BB in 13.0 IP this spring.
In regards to Cueto, you make an excellent point that his low walk rate counterbalances his worrisome fly-ball percentage. But, I'm not convinced he will maintain a BB/9 under 1.50 the entire season. Already he's surrendered four homers and once the weather warms in Cincinnati, his ERA will climb along with the mercury.
Is Billy Butler more likely to become the next Babe Ruth or the next Bob Hamelin? I haven't seen Butler do any Hamelin-esque head-first dives to first base yet, so I guess that's a good sign. By the way, I have a set of 50 identical Bob Hamelin rookie cards if you're interested. Bidding starts at $10,000…for each card.– Tyler, Kansas City, MO
Noise: I’m interested if you start the bidding for the entire collection at 10,000 Sri Lanka Rupees. Oh, and toss in a "Ham" sandwich.
Really, Butler is a cross between Orioles great Boog Powell and the Michelin Man. He's hit safely in 14 of 15 games this year with four multi-hit efforts. The "Big Donkey" will be lucky to poke 20 homers, but expect the "Ass-O-Meter" needle to remain in the .315-.330 BA shading, AKA the "Beyonce range", for most of the season.