Results tagged ‘ fan interference ’

Forever Young?

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Delmon Young was teetering on the brink, on the edge, on whatever. Pretty much, he was about as close as one can get to officially being stamped with the dreaded “bust” label.  After being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Young trudged through three-plus underwhelming seasons with the Rays and Twins while averaging a measly 11 homers and 67 RBIs per 500 at-bats. 

You couldn’t blame the Twins when they signed Jim Thome heading into the 2010 campaign; a cut in Young’s playing time seemed both inevitable and justified.  It appeared they were all but  conceding the fact they’d made a colossal error by shipping ace Matt Garza to the Rays in exchange for the underachieving outfielder in ’08.  

 

When Young bursted out of the gate with two homers and seven RBIs in this season’s first week, experts scoffed and were proven right when Young finished April batting .222.  Mixed-leaguers still yawned after a nice little .313-3-18 line in May, virtually ignoring Dmitri’s brother in all leagues. 

But now, Young’s raking has reached the point where everyone has to start paying attention.  Over his last 17 games, Young is batting .377 with four homers and 20 RBIs.  He currently has an 11-game hitting streak, during which he’s gone deep thrice while driving in 14 runs.  The 24-year-old is on pace for 22 homers, 111 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage, all of which would far surpass career highs. As would a .295 average, 41 doubles and a .833 OPS.

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Some guys are just late bloomers.  See Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Marlon Byrd, Brandon Phillips.  Young really isn’t that late, and is well ahead of most of those guys’ career paths.  It’s also very possible the “blooming” is a result of a brand new outlook.  Young melted off 35 pounds in offseason, and his before-and-after pictures are startling enough they could be in a Nutrisystem commercial.  He truly looks like a different guy, and even sports a new head shot with an ear-to-ear grin to ensure his cantankerous tag of yesteryear is a thing of the past.

Another part of Young’s new outlook is increased plate discipline, which is probably the most encouraging aspect of his emergence.  After averaging an even 100 whiffs per 500 at-bats with a rough strikeout rate of 20.0 during his first four seasons — a pretty unforgiveable number for a player who doesn’t hit homers — Young is on pace to fan just 60 times in 2010 with a strikeout rate of just 11.6.  And while a 38-walk pace is still pretty slim, it would be a career high, as well. 

Not many fantasy owners have caught on yet, as Young is still owned in just 19 percent of Yahoo! leagues.  So it’s time to admit that we all wrote off Delmon Young a little too soon, and start giving him some just due credit.

Catching on at the top

This has not been a particularly good year for men behind the plate.  The RBI leaderboard for backstops is filled with journeymen, led by John Buck and Rob Barajas, with Miguel Olivo and Chris Snyder rounding out the Top 5.  Of the Top 12 Yahoo! ranked catchers heading into the season, eight of them have either succumbed to injury or disappointed greatly in their performance.   The current Top 12 based on performance thus far is an uninspiring list of limited upside, including guys like Ronny Paulino and Nick Hundley.  There is one guy on that list, however, whose name leaps out with intrigue, and that would be Rays’ under-the-radar rookie John Jaso.

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Jaso turned heads on Sunday to the point of whiplash, with a monster five-RBI outburst that included a double, a home run and a stolen base.  He boosted his average to .307 on the year with three long balls and 24 RBIs in just 101 at-bats.   This is all very impressive, but those numbers won’t get anyone much more excited than Paulino or Hundley.   Here’s the kicker: Jaso was batting leadoff on Sunday.  For the Rays.  The third highest-scoring team in baseball. 

With Jason Bartlett hurt (and proving 2009 to be a fluke prior to the injury), the Rays have been searching for a leadoff hitter.  So Joe Maddon decided to give his 26-year-old catcher a shot, and for good reason.  The guy can flat-out get on base.  Jaso had posted a .410 on-base percentage heading into Sunday, and it now sits at .423.  In 620 Minor League games, the former 12th round draft choice posted a .378 OBP along with a .290 average. 

While OBP is irrelevant in most fantasy leagues, it directly relates to runs scored, especially when a guy is batting atop a highly-potent lineup.  If Jaso can continue to put up anything close to those OBP numbers, he’s sure to stick at leadoff and score runs in bunches, with guys like Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena driving him in regularly.    

While the 97-RBI pace is a bit over the head of the lefty batsmen, Jaso did show flashes of respectable power in the Minors with highs of 14 homers and 71 runs driven in.  In 32 at-bats with runners in scoring position he’s batting an impressive .344.  Sunday’s show of speed was also impressive, but he’s probably not the next Jason Kendall, so don’t expect a ton in the stolen base department. 

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With Dioner Navarro batting .202 and Kelly Shoppach being, well, Kelly Shoppach, Jaso shouldn’t have much trouble wrestling away the Rays full-time catching role.  If his defense proves unsatisfactory behind the plate, he could also fill Tampa’s void at designated hitter, where he started on Sunday.  He may be on his way to a belated breakout season a la teammate Ben Zobist in 2009.  So if you’re sick of watching hyped prospects like Geovany Soto or Matt Wieters go 0-for-3 every day, why not give John Jaso a shot?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Hurler

In case you hadn’t heard enough about the Tigers lately due to some play involving their star first baseman wanting a piece of some history-making action and intercepting a routine grounder to second which set off a series of events that evolved into one of the more compelling controversies in years …I decided I’d give them some more attention. 

It seems as though almost every member of the Tigers roster has made waves in the fantasy world this year for one reason or another, as the team has been written about ad nauseum.   Well despite all this, one notable name from the past has managed to fly under the radar in Detroit while reemerging as a fantasy force over the last month.  His name is Jeremy Bonderman and you can find him at your local waiver wire in 88 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

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Bonderman struggled through just 81 2/3 innings from 2008-2009 due to Thoracic outlet syndrome, which as you obviously already know consists of

“A group of distinct disorders involving compression at the superior thoracic outlet that affect the brachial plexus (nerves that pass into the arms from the neck) which may be caused by  movement of the clavicle and shoulder girdle on arm movement or by abnormalities or enlargement of the various muscles surrounding the arteries, veins, and brachial plexus.”

 
Indeed, Wikipedia. Indeed.. 

 

No matter what you can make of that, it sounds like a pretty awful thing for someone who uses his arm to throw a really hard spherical object for a living to deal with.  Rangers catcher Jason Saltalamachia currently suffers from the same condition and couldn’t even throw the ball back to the pitcher this season.  But somewhat miraculously, Bonderman has recovered and is looking good as new.

 

In 35 innings since May 1, the right-hander has pitched to a stellar 1.80 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and 27/9 K/BB ratio.  His last start, a solid eight-inning performance against the Indians on June 1, was his longest outing since July of 2007.  After struggling with his velocity over the last couple years, Bonderman’s sinking fastball has been popping around 92-93 mph consistently, getting stronger as the season has progressed.    As a result, the number of groundballs he induces have been increasing, culminating in a 1.24 groundball-to-fly-ball ratio over his last two starts.  This is what you want to see from a starter whose most successful season in the bigs undoubtedly came in 2006, the only year his GB/FB ratio eclipsed one. 

 

You may be amazed to learn that Bonderman is still only 27-years-old, probably because he pitched his first full season at the tender age of 20 over 1,000 innings ago way back in 2003.  This may also explain why he’s experienced a myriad of arm injuries, including elbow issues in 2007.  (Side note: after observing Bonderman’s plight, wouldn’t you think the Tigers would be treating 21-year-old Rick Porcello and his current 5.25 ERA a little differently?)  

 

Anyway, the unquestionably talented and formerly productive Bonderman finally appears back to full strength and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to achieve his potential.  In that banner year of 2006, he won 14 games and struck out 202 batters, which gives you an idea of what he’s capable of.  His ERA probably won’t get much better than the high threes, but should be lower than that when pitches against the Royals on Sunday who’ve scratched out just 14 runs over their last six games.   

 

So grab him before then, because thanks to Jim Joyce, Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson and a bunch of other Tigers hoopla, it’s likely no one else will.

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The other Santana

Can we start the campaign for a new nickname?  Presenting Ervin “Magic” Santana.  I think it works; I’m really tryin’ here. The Angels starter needs some sort of pizzazz to emerge from the shadow of the all-world ace (Johan) who he unfortunately shares the same surname with.  And, hey, we’ve obviously seen ‘Magic’ used as a substitute for Ervin, or Earvin, in the past, and this 27-year-old right-hander has exhibited some magician-like qualities of his own to make the nickname fit.  Now that he’s been wowing people with his pitching again, I say we give it a shot. Work with me …

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Magic Santana surfaced with one of the most remarkable opening acts in baseball history.  If you watch the MLB Network religiously, you might have seen one of those epic Bob Costas-narrated flashbacks that detailed Santana’s career debut when he allowed a chronological cycle to the Cleveland Indians before retiring a batter in the first inning.  Yes, the first four batters Santana ever faced singled, doubled, tripled and homered in succession, and it’s never happened before.  This scarcely documented supernatural occurrence is truly a hidden gem in baseball lore.  

 

Santana has also shown the ability to disappear without a trace and then reappear in a flash.  He emerged as a front-line starter with a 16-8 campaign in 2006, only to have his effectiveness vanish in ’07 when he was lit up for a 5.76 ERA and 14 losses.  He rematerialized as a dominant force by going 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA and 214 Ks in ’08, only to saw his owners in half during an injury-plagued ’09 when he limped to a plus-five ERA.  Lately, it appears his bewildering talent is beginning to present itself once again, so you may want to seize the day and grab him while he’s still available in almost half of Yahoo! leagues.

 

Over the last three starts, Santana’s performance has really lived up to the moniker, as he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA and 22 Ks over 22 innings pitched.   This has brought him to 4-3 on the year accompanied by a solid 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, with six quality starts to his name.  His slider has been biting again and his fastball is consistently reaching the mid-90s.  It was still coming in at 92 in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s outing, when he pulled a rabbit out of his hat by going the distance in a 10-strikeout performance against the Blue Jays.  It was his second complete-game victory against the Jays this season, after he held them to one earned run on April 18.  This is no small feat as Toronto currently leads all of baseball in runs scored.   

 

Magic (yep, still pushing it) has sort of been the anti-Roy Halladay in 2010, as he’s faced a murderer’s row of opponents thus far.  Six of his 10 starts have come against the Blue Jays (twice), Yankees (twice), Red Sox and Twins, who are all ranked in the top six in runs scored in the American League.  Nonetheless, he’s managed to rank second in the AL in innings pitched with 69 (one-third of an inning behind James Shields), fifth in strikeouts with 62 and his two complete games are good for a first-place tie.  With his next three starts (assuming things stay according to schedule) against the Royals, Mariners and A’s, things should get even better.

 

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One thing that seems a bit paranormal considering his solid performance is that Santana’s groundball-to-fly ball ratio sits at 0.55, noticeably worse than his career average of 0.62. He’s pitched to 132 fly balls this season — blowing away the rest of the league by 10 — which has contributed to him allowing 12 home runs, tied for the most in baseball.   This puts him on pace to surrender 41 dingers, demolishing his career high of 26. Santana’s always been more of a fly-ball pitcher, but long balls have never been this much of a hindrance, so you can assume things will begin to even out.  

 

In fact, there are already hints of progress, as six of the homers came during his first four starts (at home vs. Twins, at the Yankees,  in Toronto, and at home vs. the Yanks again), which he followed up by limiting opponents to three long balls over his next five outings.  He had a hiccup in that department Tuesday night when he allowed three solo shots to the Blue Jays, but considering those Birds are running away with the ML-lead in homers with 79 (the Red Sox are a distant second with 62), I’ll write it off as a fluke. I can do that; it’s my blog. Anyway, once he gets his grounders and fly balls in line with his prior career performance, and starts facing some easier competition, Magic Santana could really start enchanting fantasy owners. 

Supporting the cause

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One thing people don’t usually consider when drafting starting pitchers is the quality of his offense.  Those who took a chance on Roy Oswalt bouncing back to ace-like form this season should be hailing themselves as prophets right now, as the 32-year-old has pitched to a stellar 2.66 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with 60 K’s in 61 innings.  However, those owners might have been wise to consider that the Astros went into the season with a starting lineup that only a mother could love and with their two best sluggers on the wrong side of age 33.  Right on cue, Houston has managed a miniscule total of 18 runs scored over Oswalt’s nine starts, resulting in just two wins for the right-hander.

 

On Thursday night, Oswalt faced off against the only pitcher in baseball besides him who has thrown a quality start (at least six innings with three earned runs or less) in all nine of his outings, Ubaldo Jimenez.  While Ubaldo threw seven innings of shutout ball to record his eighth victory, Oswalt churned out a solid six-inning, two-earned-run performance. He was rewarded with his sixth loss.  This game pretty much summed up the hard luck Oswalt and his owners have been feeling all season, and warrants a look into the impact of the run support a pitcher receives.

 

To give you an idea of how incredibly miserly the Astros have been for their ace, Oswalt’s Run Support Average is currently 2.66 – which ironically (and amazingly) equals his ERA.  Run Support Average (RSA) is like the reverse stat of ERA for a pitcher – it’s a team’s runs scored, averaged over nine innings, while the pitcher is of record.  In 2009, the pitcher with the worst RSA in baseball who threw at least 140 innings was Johan Santana at 4.75.  Since 2004, no pitcher who has thrown that many innings in a season had an RSA below 4.15.  Yeah, it’s been that bad for Oswalt, and there’s a few other pitchers who should feel similarly snake-bitten right now.

 

Mr. Pickup of the month for April, Brad Penny, is Mr. Winless for the month of May, which has a lot to do with the Cards offering just a 2.73 RSA (also unbelievably identical to his 2.73 ERA) through eight starts.  You thought Zack Greinke was a tough-luck 16-game winner during his Cy Young campaign?  Well, so far, Greinke has just one victory to show for his seven quality starts and 2.72 ERA, thanks to a 3.92 RSA.

 

The Padres’ Clayton Richard’s 2.94 ERA through eight starts is good for top-20 in the National League, and would probably get him some fantasy love if it wasn’t for the fourth worst RSA in baseball (3.67) which prevented him from notching his first win until April 30.  As a result he’s owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo! leagues. 

 

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Kevin Millwood might have the sorriest story of them all.  A 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP would make him a solid little fantasy starter except for the fact that he’s currently winless through nine starts because the Orioles have provided him with a meager 3.94 RSA.  Millwood’s peripheral numbers are pretty much equal to a guy like Clay Buchholtz, who’s scratched out five wins thanks to an 8.15 RSA.  Buccholz is owned in 55 percent of Yahoo! leagues, while Millwood is virtually neglected at 21 percent.

 

On the flip side, run support can also turn a mediocre pitcher into a fantasy hero.  Last season, Joe Saunders and Jorge De La Rosa both reached the 16-win plateau, and fantasy reverence, despite plus-4.30 ERAs mainly because they were the beneficiaries of RSAs over nine from their respective offenses.  Riding that train so far this year is Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey, who has five wins despite a 4.70 ERA thanks to a 9.20 RSA.   

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Derek Lowe’s 5.47 ERA and five wins don’t match at all, because the Braves have provided an average of 10.06 runs per game while he’s been on the mound.  This is virtually the only reason Lowe is owned in 52 percent of Yahoo! leagues, because only three of his nine outings have been of the quality variety.  Jamie Moyer pitches behind the best offense in the NL, so it’s no surprise he has an RSA of 8.25 and is the owner of five victories despite a pedestrian 4.30 ERA. 

If these guys all have five wins, it’s a crime Oswalt has only two.  When he takes on the Brewers next week, support the cause for the Astros to score some runs against the pitching staff with baseball’s third worst ERA. 

Hit one out already!

It’s coming. You can feel it.  Any day now, Grady Sizemore and Ben Zobrist will get that first home run.  It’s a giant eyesore, I know, to scan down your team’s box score and see a big goose egg under the HR category next to a guy you pegged for at least 25 there.  By mid-May, that ‘zero’ is just a slap in the face.  Sizemore and Zobrist might as well be on the 60-day DL when it comes their trade value, and as tempting as it is to cut one of them, you just know as soon as you do they’ll start launching ’em left and right.  Your eyes light up when you check the box score and see a 4-1-1-1 next to Zobrist’s name, only to be disappointed when you look down and discover he sprayed a single and hit a sacrifice fly.  It’s gotten to the point where you couldn’t care less about multi-hit or multi-RBI performances from Sizemore; all you want to see is home run No. 1. 

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It eases the stress a tad when you consider that last year Matt Holliday tortured owners up to April 30th until he first went deep, then proceeded to belt 23 more.  David Ortiz waited until May 20th to hit one out and ultimately finished with 28.  Carlos Lee appeared lifeless before he got off the schneid in walk-off fashion just last week, and has been groovin’ ever since.

In an attempt to offer more hope, here’s some scrounged up evidence that suggests Grady and Ben will finally get one over the fence soon (although it may all be stemming from denial considering I own both of them on the same team, which I can barely bring myself to look at anymore).  

Sizemore’s .213 average, 12 RBIs and .583 OPS are brutal.  Owners that drafted the (former?) superstar center fielder in the mid-late second round are really cursing him right now.  But recently he seems to be on the verge of breaking out.  On May 7th the ultimate stomach  punch came, when he finally crushed a solo shot over the right-field fence in the first inning – only to have the game stats officially wiped out when it was called due to rain in the fourth. 

The dynamic 27-year-old is too powerful to be held down much longer, as he averaged 27 long balls per 162 games from ’05-’09.  Even in what was widely labeled a disastrous 2009 season, Sizemore went deep 18 times in 106 injury-plagued games which equates to about 27 over a full season.  He had a recent string of five-straight games with an RBI (although it was exactly one in each), and he’s notched three multi-hit games over his last eight.  You’d think this would mean power is the next logical progression, right? RIGHT???

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Zobrist really likes to taunt you.  Batting in the three spot for the third highest scoring offense in baseball, you’d think he’d have to have at least five or six bombs by now.  The Rays average over 5.5 runs per game, and have scored at least eight runs 12 times, but somehow Zobrist has only crossed the plate 12 times himself.  You get excited when you see Tampa put up a 10-spot and figure the super-utility man must have contributed, only to discover yet another empty 1-for-4 performance. A .267-0-13 line through 120 at-bats has many ‘experts’ declaring his 27-homer campaign (in just 501 at-bats) from 2009 a fluke.  However, that would also mean his 12 long balls in 198 at-bats in 2008 (a 30-homer pace) were also strokes of luck. The Rays clearly aren’t buying into to this skepticism, as they awarded Zobrist with a sweet three-year contract extension worth up to $30 million back on April 24th when his production looked just as meager.

It might be hard to notice, but the 28-year-old has slowly turned it around of late, batting .333 (11-for-33) over his last nine games with a .405 on-base percentage. He does have nine extra-base hits on the year (seven double and two triples) so it’s not like he’s been a complete slap hitter, and six stolen bases have done just enough to prevent owners from going nuts.  Maybe if he stops getting jerked around between second base and right field and can settle on a position, he’ll be able to relax more at the plate.  I got a feeling Big Z will get that Big Z-ro off his back in the near future.

So just be a little more patient, and don’t do anything rash.  Although if this week comes and goes with no balls flyin’ out, that might just become a hypocritical statement.