Results tagged ‘ fan interference ’

Stretch-run starters for hire

Right around this time last year, relatively un-owned young hurlers
like Wade LeBlanc, Clay Buchholz, Wade Davis, Homer Bailey and Robinson Tejeda (yep)
were revving things up to bolster the stretch run for any fantasy teams lucky
enough to grab ’em. Naturally, in “The Year of the Pitcher”, there’s currently a new and
improved crop that offer a lot more upside — specifically in
the strikeout department — than last year’s late-blossomers, and there’s
plenty who are available in over 85 percent of Yahoo! Leagues…

Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies:  6-9,
3.98 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 102 Ks in 95 innings

Five percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues


It’s been a strange ride for Jhoulys this season. After battling to a solid 3.61 ERA through his first 12 outings,
the 22-year-old struggled to a 6.75 clip over seven appearances after he was questionably
shifted to the ‘pen in early July. Chacin was
consequently demoted to Triple-A for three-plus weeks until getting recalled on
August 17, laboring in his first start back. He finally flashed the dominance
he’s capable of on August 22, dealing to the tune of 7 2/3 shutout innings,
allowing just three hits and fanning nine. That should be enough for the
Rockies’ braintrust to finally realize they’re better off with the electric
young stud in the rotation than Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, so look for Chacin to finish out the year in style.

Mike Minor, Braves:  2-0, 4.00
ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 22 Ks in 18 innings

14 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

The rookie southpaw opened some eyes on Sunday by striking out 12 Cubs
hitters in six victorious innings of work, improving his stellar K/BB ratio to
22/4 over three career starts. Minor has completely owned left-handed hitters
in his short stint, holding them to a .154 average and just one extra-base hit.
 The talented 22-year-old was 4-1 with a
1.89 ERA and 37 Ks in 33 1/3 innings in Triple-A before his promotion on August
7, so his relative dominance thus far is no fluke. Yes, the Braves announced
they’d be skipping Minor’s next start to give him some extra rest, but he’s
only tossed 128 1/3 total innings in 2010 so they’ll likely give his electric stuff free reign
going forward as they fight for a playoff spot.

Homer Bailey, Reds: 3-2, 4.52 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 51 Ks in 63 2/3 innings

12 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

Ownership plummeted while Bailey experienced an extremely disappointing
first 3 1/2 months of the season, but he’s starting to look like a repeat
offender on this list. As the Weekly 10 so eloquently pointed out, the
24-year-old has been stellar in two starts since returning from the DL on
August 15, going 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and a 10/2 K/BB ratio over 13
frames. Despite a rough first 16 starts to 2010, Bailey looked like he was starting
to right the ship by firing 16 innings of two-run ball in two outings before getting
injured in late May. Remember, it was the right-hander’s stellar 6-1 record and 1.70
ERA after August 23 of ’09 that had him pegged as a huge sleeper heading into
this year, so it’s not unreasonable to expect big things going forward.

Bud Norris, Astros: 6-7, 5.23 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 112 Ks in 105 innings

Eight percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

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Clearly, those season numbers don’t look very appealing. But look
closer, and Norris is 4-0 with a formidable 3.31 ERA and 0.93 WHIP over his
last nine starts. That includes consecutive seven-inning, two-run gems, the
first being a 14-strikeout explosion on August 14. The burly, hard-throwing right-hander’s
effectiveness is starting to catch up with his already stellar 9.45 K/9 rate, which is good for seventh in the Majors for pitchers with a minimum of 100 innings
thrown. Norris is just starting to figure out big league hitters at age 25, and
though you might not want to play him in Philly on August 24, his following
start against the offensively-challenged Mets is looking might juicy.

Joe Blanton, Phillies: 5-6, 5.32 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 95 Ks in 132 innings

14 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

Another stocky right-hander with ugly overall numbers, Blanton has
started to find a groove. The 29-year-old has posted a 3.12 ERA with a 23/4
K/BB ratio over his last four starts, including 16 Ks with no walks over the
last two. Blanton struggled so much through the season’s first four months that
many forgot how solid he was last in 2009, which included a stellar 5-2 stretch
with a 2.14 ERA between July and August. It’s looking like a comparable run may
be on the horizon.

Jake Westbrook, Cardinals: 7-8, 4.48 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 99 Ks in 152 2/3

Thumbnail image for 4c5848e21f58e.preview-300.jpg

14 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

Like Blanton, Westbrook doesn’t have the youthful freshness of the
first four hurlers, but his recent performance needs to be addressed. After a deadline
trade from the Indians, Westbrook has predictably thrived under the tutelage of
pitching coach Dave Duncan with a 3.60 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a 26/4 K/BB ratio
over four starts. The shift in leagues has transformed Westbrook into more of a
strikeout maven than ever imaginable, as his current 9.36 K/9 rate in 25
innings is almost double the 32-year-old’s career mark of 5.02. He’s only 1-1
with the new club, but more wins should be in store when September roles

Productive Performances

Thumbnail image for la_g_kershaw1_200.jpgAny true follower of baseball statistics knows that what constitutes a “Quality Start” is completely bogus. It doesn’t take a math whiz to calculate that six innings and three earned runs equates to a 4.50 ERA, which is pretty much mediocre to bad, not quality.  On the other hand, Clayton Kershaw fires 5 2/3 shutout innings, K’s eight and gets pulled to preserve his arm because his team is up 14-0 in the sixth, well, no Quality Start for him.

At the very least, if a pitcher throws a quality start it usually means he’s keeping his team in the game, so the stat isn’t completely devoid of value in the real world. But in the Fantasy World, QS is a term that should never be uttered or written. It takes no account of WHIP or strikeouts, and no one wants a guy with an ERA much north of four on their roster.

So let’s create with a term that represents a valuable outing from a fantasy starter in a league with the typical five pitching categories. We’ll keep it simple and call it Productive Performances. I thought Fruitful Fantasy Flings, while more artistic, was a little over the top (suggestions welcome).

If you don’t feel like taking the time to understand the convoluted way I came up with this term, skip down to the rankings. All you need to know is that a Productive Performance is an outing that appreciably benefits a fantasy team’s pitching totals without damaging any one particular category.

To earn a Productive Performance (PP), a pitcher needs to positively contribute in three out of the four categories that starters impact – Wins, ERA, WHIP and Ks – and the ERA for that start must be 4.50 or below. Here are the standards I’ve come up with needed to qualify as positive – basically an above-average output that legitimately helps a team’s weekly totals in that category:

  • A win 

  • An ERA of 3.68 or below (Allowing three earned runs over 7 1/3 innings equates to a 3.68 ERA)

  • A WHIP of 1.29 or below

  • At least five strikeouts

However, if a pitcher qualifies in only two of the categories, but one of them is an exceptional output, he will notch a PP as long as his ERA and WHIP are both equal to or below 4.50 and 1.50, respectively.  Stay with me here…

Here is what qualifies as exceptional:

  • A win

  • An ERA of 3.00 or below

  • A WHIP below 1.00

  • At least 7 Ks

There are two other specific types of outings that qualify: Because why not make this more confusing? If the starter allows three earned runs over exactly seven innings (ERA of 3.86) while earning a win and keeping his WHIP at 1.65 or below, he’ll have netted a Productive Performance regardless of his strikeout total. Also, any time a guy throws at least six innings without allowing an earned run, it’s a PP no matter what the other numbers are like. These performances are just too valuable in the real world to ignore.

OK then…here are the top-10 ranked pitchers in Productive Performances this season: 

1. Adam Wainwright – 18
T-2.  Josh Johnson – 17
Roy Halladay – 17
Jered Weaver – 17
Tim Hudson – 17
T-6. Clayton Kershaw – 16
Carl Pavano – 16
T-8. Felix Hernandez – 15
Brett Myers – 15
Tim Lincecum – 15
Ubaldo Jimenez – 15                                                                                 

  • What stands out here is that King Felix has not exactly been the elite fantasy force that his American League-leading 19 Quality Starts would try to suggest. Also, CC Sabathia, Chris Carpenter an
    d Matt Cain, all ranked in the Top-9 in Quality Starts, are nowhere to be seen on this list. You may not have realized it, but Carl Pavano and Brett Myers have been killer fantasy starters all year.

Finally, so you can get some use out of all this confusion, here’s a list of starters available in at least 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues with the most PPs over the last two months:                   

Jon Niese – 7  

Joe Saunders – 7                                                                                                                                                       

Vin Mazzaro – 7                                                                 
Jake Westbrook – 6 (should rise rapidly after trade to Cards)                                           
Wade LeBlanc – 6                                                                                                  
Wade Davis – 6 (four straight)                                                                       &nb
Dave Bush – 6                                                                                                                          
Freddy Garcia – 6                                                                                                           
Travis Wood – 5 (only seven total starts)                                                                            
Brandon Morrow – 5                                                                                                       
Ian Kennedy – 5                                                                                                                        
Kyle Kendrick – 5                                                                                                                   
Jason Hammel – 5                                                                                                                     
Jeremy Guthrie – 5

  • Thumbnail image for medium_09-02-mets-niese.jpgAll these guys are very useful for spot starts, while Niese, Mazzaro, Davis, Westbrook and Wood should garner serious consideration in all formats.

So if I ever become President of the non-existent Fantasy Baseball Association, Productive Performances is sure to be the principle measurement of a starter’s value in all leagues. But until that time, you’re not likely to see this term again except on this blog, serving as a future barometer for relevant fantasy hurlers. Good talk.

Position Battles – Third Base Edition

Week 2 – Third Base
Youth was being served in early May, when lots of owners scooped up the Cardinals’ David Freese over the Reds’ Scott Rolen to fill their third base slot. That choice turned out to be a season-changer in many cases, as Freese and his four home runs have been stuck on the DL since June 27, while Rolen has mashed his way to an All-Star selection and a .294-17-60 line. Another choice — though probably less critical — currently looms at the hot corner, so lets examine this week’s edition of Position Battles. 
The Champ: Pedro Alvarez, Pirates – .228-7-21 in 136 at-bats
25 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues
The Skinny 

pedro alvarez-thumb-200x300-1633.jpg

We’ve all heard about Alvarez as the elite prospect called up on June 16 to revive the Pirates franchise, so let’s keep this brief. The 23-year-old struggled out of the gate but got hot in July, clubbing seven long balls over a 14-game stretch which culminated in consecutive multi-homer efforts on July 20 and 21. He got a nice boost in ownership after this little power outburst, but in the eight games since the 21st Pedro has struggled to a 3-for-28 clip without an extra-base hit. So while Alvarez’s massive “potential” has been well documented, his 26 whiffs in 90 July at-bats remains a bit too much for comfort.

The Challenger:  Chris Johnson, Astros – .333-4-20 in 126 at-bats 
Four percent owned in Yahoo! leagues
The Skinny


The name alone will arouse the mind of any fantasy sports fanatic, evoking thoughts of the human blur who single-handedly carried owners to a fantasy football championship in 2009. But this C.J. can do two things that his pigskin namesake cannot — smile without scaring little children and mash the heck out of a baseball. Houston’s 2006 fourth-round pick quietly got the call on June 22 after posting an impressive .329-8-33 line with a .932 OPS at Triple-A, and hasn’t stopped raking in the bigs. Having showed solid power throughout the Minors, Johnson’s muscle took a while to shine through as he went homerless through his first 66 at-bats. But the 25-year-old has found the power stroke of late, going deep four times and plating 10 runs over his last 10 contests while hitting safely in 13 straight games at a .417 (18-for-45) clip.
These two couldn’t possibly be on further ends of the spectrum as far as rookies go. You have one guy who basically had a parade thrown for him in his debut, and another who virtually no one has ever heard of (four percent in Yahoo! Leagues with a .325 average?!?). We know chicks dig the long ball, and so do fantasy owners, therefore a youngster with 40-homer upside is obviously going to be more fun to own. So while telling people you own Johnson will sound impressive once NFL season roles around, the blue-chipper Alvarez reigns supreme here.
On first glance you might think this would be a no-brainer, but a closer look strongly suggests otherwise. While Alvarez’s hot streak this month was impressive, he’s looked overmatched for the majority of his short stint in the Majors. The lefty batsman has been unable to figure out southpaws thus far, managing just a .193 average and a .351 slugging percentage in 57 at-bats.  On the other hand, while Johnson’s .398 BABIP suggests his overall clip is likely to dip, don’t expect too much of a drop-off. He showed solid consistency in the Minors, batting .299 while averaging 19 homers and 83 RBIs per 550 at-bats since 2008. In dynasty leagues, clearly vote for Pedro. But he appears to need a little more seasoning at this point, and the steadier and more refined Johnson is the safer choice for 2010.
So if you’ve given up on Pablo Sandoval, no longer able to stomach Mark Reynolds’ putrid average, or are done with struggling third-base eligible first basemen Jorge Cantu and Troy Glaus, give Chris Johnson a shot. He’s got a real shot to give you a .300-7-30 line the rest of the way, which ain’t too shabby.
Winner: Chris Johnson

Cust-omized for power

Let me preface this by saying that I am fully aware that it is no fun at all to own a position player on the A’s.  Other than a couple months of Rajai and 400 underwhelming at-bats from Matt Holliday last season, Oakland hasn’t had an offensive player of fantasy relevance since Frank Thomas was reborn in 2006 (yea, that happened). Now, Jack Cust isn’t likely to make anyone forget The Big Hurt, but his performance over the last couple weeks certainly qualifies as relevant to the fantasy world, and even mixed-leaguers should begin taking notice.


It hasn’t been an easy ride for Cust this season. He went unclaimed after Oakland designated him for assignment on April 4, then spent the next month-and-a-half in Triple-A before getting recalled on May 15. He batted a solid .286 through sporadic playing time in May and June, swallowing his pride and waiting for a shot behind a washed-up Eric Chavez and a series of equally inept designated hitters. 
After the team’s DHs embarrassingly struggled to a combined .231-2-29 line over the season’s first three months, the offensively starved A’s finally figured it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to slot a guy who averaged 28 homers and a .840 OPS  from 2007-2009 in the lineup on the regular. Brilliant! So while it must have been tough for manager Bob Geren not to write names like Chavez, Jake Fox and Gabe Gross on the scorecard every day, his pain was eased as Cust produced like a champ and embarked on a beastly tear beginning on July 9. 
In 10 games since that day, the powerful 31-year-old has gone 11-for-32 with six homers, 14 ribbies and 11 runs scored. That includes a two-homer game this past Saturday where he reached base five times. Reaching base has become a specialty for Cust, whose .327 average and 15 walks have culminated in an eye-popping .465 OBP for the month. Throw in a .782 slugging percentage and you get a 1.247 OPS which leads all Major League outfielders with at least 60 plate appearances in July. 
To get all Sabermetrical on you, only two American Leaguers with 50 plate appearances this month — Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira — have created more runs per 27 outs than Cust. In other words, a lineup made up of nine Jack Custs would overcome being the slowest and most entertaining group of baserunners in history to average a robust 12.31 runs per game. **RC/27 is definitely the coolest Sabermetric stat that hasn’t gotten much love yet.
Having mentioned Sabermetrics, it feels necessary to include that Cust’s .388 Batting Average on Balls in Play this season signals that his current .300 overall average has virtually no chance to last. That being said, the guy has somehow managed an impressive .332 career BABIP, so don’t expect too much of a drop-off. 


Cust’s power isn’t likely to let up much either down the stretch. He has a history of heating up as the season winds down, going deep every 14.2 at-bats in the August and September months from 08-09. To offer a frame of reference, Cabrera has averaged a homer every 14.8 at-bats this season and Josh Hamilton sits at 16.7.  
Again, Cust probably won’t be anything near the force that the aforementioned sluggers will be going forward. But if you’ve learned anything from this barrage of statistics — and here’s another — he’s definitely better than a guy owned in just 11 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Coming up next:  Position Battles – Week 2

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Position Battles Premier Week – First Base

With the start to the second half feeling a little stagnant in Fantasyland, I decided to a add a little wrinkle to this blogging situation. Some of the most pivotal, make-or-break situations during a season come when deciding between two players at a certain position of need to pickup off the waiver wire. Case in point: When Curtis Granderson went down with an injury back in early May, I was looking for an outfield replacement with a little speed and pop. Cameron Maybin and Chris Young were both sitting out there, and I foolishly grabbed Maybin based on his “upside” and Young’s disappointing last couple seasons. Well Maybin’s enjoying life at Triple-A right now I could sure use C.Y.’s 17 homers and 19 steals.

Although I may have just destroyed my credibility, I figured I’d install a weekly feature examining the top contenders widely available at whichever position(s) are making waves that week. To help prevent you from making the same mistake I made with Maybin, I’ll try to determine which guy is best to own going forward.  So here goes nothing….

Edition 1 – First Base

The Champ:  Justin Smoak, Mariners – .212-10-38, 11 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

118405.jpgThe Skinny
It’s kind of shocking how available Smoak is right now, considering all the media love he’s gotten this year after a much anticipated call-up in April and his inclusion in the Cliff Lee trade on July 9. A lot of that has to do with The 23-year-old’s 5-for-49 skid over his last 11 games with the Rangers and first three with the M’s. But the talented switch-hitter got a jolt of life during the break and has emerged with two homers and three multi-hit games since, renewing his buzz as a hot pickup.

Challenger:  Luke Scott, Orioles – .285-14-34, 14 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

medium_scott29.jpgThe Skinny
Primarily a designated hitter but eligible at first, Scott was on the DL for the first half of July with a hamstring pull, causing his ownership to take a huge hit. The 32-year-old lefty batsman returned on July 19 and has gone 6-for-12 with a two-homer game and four ribbies.  Averaging 24 homers and 71 RBIs over the last two seasons, Scott is one of the streakiest hitters in the game. This is possibly the best and worst thing about him. A 15-for-33, six-homer, 10-RBI stretch over nine games in May can carry a fantasy team, but a .194 average like he had in April can seriously hamper one.

These two guys couldn’t be more polar-opposites. You have the toolsy mega-prospect oozing with “potential” vs. the uninspiring veteran with a limited upside. While there’s something sickly endearing about a guy who chops down trees in the offseason to keep his swing in gear, Scott has been a boring name dating back to his days in Houston, and no one really loves owning a guy on the Orioles. There’s nothing more gratifying than watching a youngster like Smoak emerge as a fantasy force on your own squad. Plus he’s got that name with endless possibilities for puns, and it appears some people on this very site have gone so gitty with it that they’ve replaced  all usage of the actual word with the OAK version. Justin wins here.

Scott is a noticeably better hitter after the All-Star break, batting .275 with an .868 OPS compared to .260 and .839 in the first half. Smoak’s value took a nice little hit after being traded from a beastly offense at the Hitter’s Haven in Arlington to a lineup with Franklin Gutierrez as their three-hitter at spacious Safeco Field. As streaky as Scott can be, he’s actually hit .321 since the calendar turned May with a plus-nine OPS in each month. Smoak’s 16/2 K/BB rate in nine games with the Mariners isn’t incredibly promising, and he might need some more seasoning before reaching that immense potential everyone seems to agree he possesses. Smoak is definitely the more tempting option here, but it seems like the wiser move is to go for Scott — you kinda know what you’re gonna get.

So if you have Justin Morneau sitting on your DL, or if you’re fed up with an ice-cold Troy Glaus who’s magic has worn off, Luke Scott has emerged as the guy you want to scoop up at first base for now.

Winner: Luke Scott

Second-half Speedsters

With guys like Grady Sizemore, Rajai Davis, Julio Borbon and
Jacoby Ellsbury not exactly having the dynamic first three months everyone
expected, many fantasy owners have been left searching for some cheap sources
of speed.  With that in mind, here’s some guys who could be available that should help you out on the basepaths, provide a solid average and score a bunch of
runs over the season’s second half:

Angel Pagan:  .315, 19 steals, 46 runs, six homers, 40 RBIs in first half


There cannot possibly be a more productive fantasy player
thus far who has gotten less respect than Pagan.  In 154 games since taking over as the Mets everyday
center fielder on July 10 of 2009, the 29-year-old has hit .309 with 12 homers,
29 steals, and 93 runs scored.  And even though he’s batting .419 with 14 RBIs and seven
swipes over his last 18 starts, he’s still owned in just 46 percent of Yahoo! leagues.  This could be because of the uncertainty
about Pagan’s playing time in a soon-to-be crowded outfield when Carlos Beltran
returns, but get one thing straight: 
Jeff Francoeur might be the coolest guy around, inspiring everyone to hold hands and sing in the clubhouse, but that won’t be enough to keep his weak
.253 average in a struggling lineup over a
proven .300 hitter with legit speed and power. 
Pick up Pagan.

Corey Patterson: .289, 16 steals, 28 runs, five homers, 21 RBIs in first half

Come on, people — please stop ignoring Corey Patterson.  The retread veteran
widely considered as a busted prospect has been playing every day in the Orioles
outfield and quietly doing his own Carl Crawford impression over the last
month.  In 111 at-bats since June 11, the
30-year-old (not lying, he’s only 30) is batting .333 with 10 steals, two
homers, nine doubles, 15 runs scored and 15 RBIs.  He’s always had the talent, so who knows,
maybe he’s a guy who just needed 10 years to develop it.   One thing’s for sure is that even if
Patterson’s bat cools off the speed will be there, as he’s averaged 50 steals
per 162 games in roughly 2 seasons with the O’s.

Erick Aybar:  .283, 14 steals, 52 runs, three homers, 16 RBIs in first half

After being touted as a solid fantasy shortstop option heading
into 2010, Erick Aybar batted just .238 over the first 54 games and became an
afterthought in most formats.  Then
something clicked, and in 28 contests since June 3 Aybar is batting .365 with seven
steals and 22 runs scored.  Don’t let that
extra ‘K’ in his name give you the wrong impression, as the quick-swinging switch-hitter
has impressively struck out just once in 45 July at-bats.  This 26-year-old is available in 46 percent of
Yahoo! leagues, and looks primed for a productive second half.

Cliff Pennington:  .264, 13 steals, 38 runs, three homers, 27 RBIs in first half


As far as sexy fantasy pickups go, the A’s Cliff Pennington might
as well be your sister.  But since
batting an even .200 after the team’s first 61 games, the 26-year-old shortstop
has done wonders to his attractiveness over the last month.  In 88 at-bats since June 10, Pennington is
batting an incredible .409 with six steals and 19 runs scored.  Putting up a 1.047 OPS in July, he’s bound to
move up from ninth in the order real soon, which should enable him to score enough
runs to offset his lack of power.  With
the shortstop position looking pretty thin so far in 2010, Pennington is definitely a guy to
consider grabbing in AL-only leagues at the very least.   

Denard Span:  .273, 16 steals, 54 runs, three homers, 37 RBIs in first half

Denard Span had it in for fantasy players early on.  Not only did he drive his owners nuts in the first half after
getting a ton of preseason hype, he managed to take down this season’s second-most formidable
Beat the Streak challenger at 41 games.   The fleet-footed center fielder has been given up on in
a surprising number of leagues after batting just .247 with three steals since
June 1. But before you cut bait keep in mind that Span is a second-half performer by nature, as he turned it on last season by batting .331 with a .402 on-base percentage after
the All-Star break, which included a .375 clip in August while swiping
four bags.  A similar post-break hot streak
seems likely as he gets that .273 average up to his .296 career clip, and
continues the march towards 30 stolen bases. 
You can probably get him for a bag of balls right now from a frustrated

Coming soon:  Post-break Power

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Matchup Man

The term “matchup play” gets thrown around a lot in fantasy
circles.  It’s not exactly a flattering
term to bestow on a player, denoting that they’re only capable enough to use in
specific situations.  Nobody really wants
to own a matchup-play player, resigning to the fact that their lineup isn’t good
enough to completely consist of players who are full-time contributors.  Yet, if you can swallow your pride, there are certain
matchup players who are strong enough under certain conditions to genuinely be
worth a spot on your roster.


This brings us to Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, the
ultimate matchup play this season, who owns a 5-6 record with a 4.69 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP and a 10.03 K/9 rate.  The 25-year-old
right-hander, who was acquired from the Mariners in the offseason, has the
talent to be a full-time fantasy stud.  Morrow
has a mid-90s fastball with late movement that can be dialed up to 98 if he’s
so inclined, complemented by a nasty breaking ball which fluctuates between
85-90 mph and drops out of the strike zone in a flash.  However, currently in his first full season
as a starter after the M’s shuffled him back and forth between the rotation and
the pen last year, the young flamethrower has struggled to find consistency.

Or actually, it might be more accurate to say that Morrow
has been very consistent, as it’s become easy to predict when and when not he
will be effective — the personification of a good matchup play.  In eight home starts this season Morrow has
been as dominant as his stuff suggests, going 5-1 with a stellar 2.82 ERA and
1.10 WHIP while opponents are batting just .234 off him.  On the road, however, he’s been a disaster, sitting
at 0-5 with a 6.80 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP over nine starts, while opponents have hit .281.  The biggest disparity has
been in his control, walking just 13 batters in 51 innings at The Rogers Centre
compared to issuing 32 free passes over 45 frames in U.S. ballparks. 

Morrow recently reeled off a masterful five-start stretch during
which he pitched to a 1.80 ERA with a 35/12 K/BB ratio.  Four of those outings were in Toronto.  He followed this up by yielding five runs in
Cleveland, then surrendering five runs at Yankee Stadium during his most recent
outing on July 4.

Morrow may simply be a guy who needs the warm and fuzzy feeling
of getting cheered to relax and locate the ball where he wants.  Or he might just be easily rattled by
trash-talking fans.  The again, maybe it’s
an artificial turf thing. 

The most notable matchup play from 2009 was a starter who
pitched in the only other artificial turf ballpark currently in the Majors,
Tropicana Field.  Also in his first full
year in the rotation, Tampa Bay’s David Price pitched to an 8-3 record with a 2.93
ERA at home last season, compared to 2-4 with a 6.24 ERA on the road.  But Price’s tale is one that offers hope for
Morrow, who is not as highly-touted as the former No. 1 overall draft pick and post-season
hero yet has stuff equally electric.


Price was virtually unplayable in fantasy lineups during
his first seven road starts in ’09, racking up a 8.07 ERA.  Then something clicked towards the end of the year, as he went 2-0 with a respectable 3.90 ERA in his last four outings  away from St. Petersburg.  Fast forward to 2010 when Price has been one of
the best pitchers in the American League over the first half, while going 6-3 with a 2.79 ERA on the road. 

So as Morrow gears up for road start No. 10 this season,
he should look to Price for encouragement that he can right the ship outside the friendly confines of the country to our north.  If this happens, owners will be extremely thrilled
with their investment, as anyone who can ring up 107 Ks in just 96 innings has the
capability to be an elite fantasy starter. 
  But even if he doesn’t figure it
out on the road, Morrow is one matchup play proven dominant enough under the
right circumstances to keep anyone from feeling ashamed to own him.

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Giants rookie hurler is no Bum


There hasn’t been a quieter season debut of a Top 10 prospect than when Madison Bumgarner took the hill for the Giants on
June 26.  Maybe it’s because Bumgarner is
old news after a miniature-sized cup of tea in September of last season.  Or maybe Stephen Strasburg has soaked up all
the hype available for starting pitchers at the moment. 

Or maybe — in fact, very likely — it’s because no one knows
what to say about the enigmatic 20-year-old right now.   

Bumgarner had about as solid an outing as you
could ask for from a youngster making his second career start.   He tossed seven innings, limiting the Red
Sox to just five hits and a walk while striking out five.  The only damage came on two long balls over
the first two innings — a solo shot and a three-run blast– after which he put
up five scoreless frames and retired 16 of the last 17 batters to face him.   He kept
Boston hitters off-balance all afternoon with a slow curve hovering in the low
70s and an impressive mid-80s slider.

What continued to confuse the
heck out of scouts and analysts is that Bumgarner’s fastball continually came
in at 90 mph that day (except for an adrenaline-aided first inning when he was
dealing at 91-92), which echoed his Minor League performance earlier this
season.  This is what is preventing analysts from making a true big-league projection for the kid.

A prominent feature that led the southpaw
to be ranked as the No. 6 prospect in all of baseball to begin 2009 was heat
that consistently lived in the mid-90s. 
He posted a 15-3 record, 1.48 ERA and 164 Ks in 141 2/3 innings at
Class A in 2008, leaving scouts and fantasy experts alike drooling and
projecting him as a future ace.  He was
equally effective the year after in the Minors, going 12-2 with a 1.85
ERA.  However towards the end of ’09, Bumgarner’s velocity began to drop, resulting in just 69 Ks over 107 frames
after a promotion to Double-A.

He entered Spring Training 2010 with similar velocity issues,
throwing about 88-90, which resulted in a drop in his prospect
status.  The 6-foot-4 hurler countered that with a
very solid, though not eye-popping, performance at Triple-A, compiling a 7-1
record this season with a 3.16 ERA and 59 Ks in 82 2/3 innings.  That was enough to earn him a call-up to the
Majors, but apparently not enough to crank up the hype machine.

So what’s to make of this talented young lefty who
currently holds the fifth spot in the San Francisco rotation?  It’s probably time to adjust
expectations.  This kid is good, there’s
no question.  Dealing in a pitcher’s park
in the offensively challenged NL West with one of the best pitching coaches in
the game, Dave Righetti, tutoring him, Bumgarner is in a great position to be successful.  Righetti has tamed the “stuff” of Jonathon
Sanchez, and resurrected Barry Zito’s career (both left-handers), so a talent
like Mad Bum shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. 


While Bumgarner may no longer be a huge strikeout threat or
post Cy Young-caliber stats, he should be a very solid starter at the Major
League level, even this season.  You’ll want
him in fantasy leagues over other heralded blue chips like fellow southpaw and
Top 10 prospect Brian Matusz, or recent callups like Jake Arrieta, Brad Lincoln,
and Andrew Oliver. 

If Bumgarner can keep the ball on the ground and improve on
a 10-10 ground ball-to-fly-ball ratio in start No. 1, there’s a good chance he’ll
post an ERA in the mid-high threes with adequate complementary numbers across
the board.  If all goes according to
plan, he’ll have three upcoming road starts against the Rockies, Brewers and
Nationals, which will be a nice test.  If
he passes that, you won’t want to wait on any experts’ projections to grab
him in all fantasy formats.

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Time to accept it: Pat Burrell is back

I will not enjoy one second of writing this post.  However, the fact that Pat Burrell is suddenly
raking as the Giants everyday left fielder needs to be addressed.  

I am reluctantly buying into the reemergence of the Greatest
Mets Killer of All Time, thanks to San Francisco rescuing him from the waiver
wire on June 4.  After going deep on
Thursday, Burrell is now averaging a homer every 12.75 at-bats with his new
club.  He’s batting .314, with four long
balls, 10 RBIs and a .987 OPS in 17 games as a Giant. 

Part of the reason Burell is one of my least-favorite
players of all time (other than 42 homers in 536 career at-bats against the Mets), is
also part of the reason I am on board with believing his revival is
legitimate.  He’s notorious for having
some character issues, and part of that is the fact he needs to be seriously
motivated to perform. 


Rewarding him with a big contract clearly has a negative
impact on his motivation.   After putting up a gaudy .282-37-116 line as a
25-year-old in 2002 — his best career season to date — the Phillies reasonably
though they had a budding star on their hands and rewarded him with a lucrative
six-year, $50 million extension.   Bad move. 
Lacking the drive to land big money, Burrell suffered through an embarrassing
.209-21-64 campaign the very next season.

He proceeded to labor through five up-and-down seasons in
Philly, getting just enough incentive from the desire to be served in local
bars and not have things thrown at him on the field by the Philly faithful to
put up respectable power numbers.  In his
last season with the team, a contract year, Burrell launched 33 homers, coincidentally
the highest total since his previous contract year.

This led the Rays to inexplicably reward him with another
hefty contract.  Didn’t they learn?  After signing a two-year, $16 million deal in
2009, Burrell fell flat on his face in Tampa Bay.  Playing in a mostly empty Tampa Bay stadium after getting used to raucous sellouts in
Philly could not have had a good impact for a guy who needs to have a fire lit
under him to perform.  Struggling to
adjust to American League pitching, dealing with injuries, and not having the
Mets to pad his numbers 19 times a year, he posted a .221-14-64 clip last campaign.  


Character issues — not his bat — had to have been the reason the Rays
sent Burrell packing on May 15 despite owing him about nine million dollars,
considering Tampa is not some big-market franchise who can sweep bad contracts
under the rug easily.  A 2-for-25 slump
through sporadic playing time in early May was a convenient excuse to let him
go and claim he was washed up.  In actuality, Burrell drove in 13 runs in just 59 at-bats in April — about a 117-RBI pace
over a full season — so it’s not like his performance had been so

So now Burrell’s back in the National League with a fresh
start at age 33, playing in front of a packed house again every day and batting
in the fifth slot for a contender.  We’ve
already seen the wonders a change of scenery can do for other 33-year-olds this
season in Troy Glaus and Burrell’s new teammate Aubrey Huff.   Burrell is healthy, and still clearly has
pop left in his bat.

Also, it’s important to consider that Burrell has been a strong second-half producer.  He has more career RBIs in July
and August than any other months, with August also being his favorite month to
go deep. 

So now would be a good time to grab Burrell while he’s available in virtually all leagues and expect solid
power production the rest of the way.  And here’s
the biggest supporting argument for that suggestion:  He’s about to finish out
the last three months of another contact season.

To ‘Z’ or not to ‘Z’?


Right now Carlos Zambrano is available in over half of
Yahoo! leagues.  After an impressive
seven-inning, one-run, eight-strikeout gem against the Angels on
June 20, lots of fantasy owners are probably debating whether or not to scoop
him up.  While it can’t hurt to take a
flier on the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter again, a closer look at his recent performance might serve as a red flag for his future.


First of all, reports of Zambrano’s revival after being
reinserted into the rotation have been a bit premature.  The right-hander’s 3.09 ERA in four outings since his return to starting is a little misleading, as three of the five
runs he allowed to the A’s on June 15th were unearned.  Unearned runs can’t hide an unattractive 1.50
WHIP, the result of allowing over a hit per inning and walking an erratic 12


Zambrano also appears to be a different pitcher than he was in his highly entertaining heyday.  When Big Z was at his best — such as in a complete-game
shutout last September and when he fired a no-hitter the September prior — he dealt
primarily an overpowering four-seam fastball hovering around 94-96 mph while mixing in a
high 80s changeup and a mid-80s slider. 


That is nothing close to the repertoire of Carlos Zambrano
circa 2010.  Since his return to the
rotation, the majority of pitches he’s thrown have been a sinker that averages
around 88-90.  His four-seamer is down
around 91, and his slider now sits in the low-80s. He’s almost ditched the
changeup completely, because with the decreased velocity of his fastball, there
isn’t enough of a change to fool opposing hitters. 


carlos zambrano.jpg

Now for some optimism: 
Zambrano’s sinker helped him induce eight groundballs compared to four
fly-balls against the Angels.  This is
encouraging. The 29-year-old’s two best seasons in the bigs — when he rang up a
30-14 record with a 3.04 ERA from 2004 to 2005 — were the only two years he
compiled a groundball-to-fly-ball ratio above one (1.10).  If he can reinvent himself and master the
sinker, he could end up becoming a quality starter with a decent ERA.  However the WHIP will probably remain high
and an eight-strikeout performance will likely become an anomaly. 


If all stays according to schedule, Zambrano will
have a
tough stretch of opponents over his final four starts before the
break.  He’ll take the mound at U.S.
Cellular Field against the red-hot White Sox (winners of 10 out of 11)
on June
26. He’s then set to square off against three of the top-six
offenses in the National League — at home against Cincinnati,
in Arizona and in Los Angeles. 

So if you’re desperate for starting pitching and you want to
grab the former Cubs ace go ahead, but expect a bit of a bumpy ride.  Zambrano’s fiery and volatile personality
doesn’t fit the profile of a control guy who pitches to contact.  He’s just not Big Z without the mid-90s heat
that blows people away.

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