BABIP, Anyone?

RotoAuthority Unscripted: I Bet You Didn't Know Day

Last night I was up way too late writing this article and it occurred to me that I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything truly notable to say. And that’s when it hit me: it was time for another “I Bet You Didn’t Know Day,” wherein I peruse the various leaderboards, statistics, and assorted metrics and look for things that surprise me. Then I hope that they surprise you too. But even if the nuggets of baseball strangeness that I uncover don’t merit more than a raised eyebrow and a muttered, “I’m gonna check that out myself,” they should amount to something that actually matters for the health of your fantasy baseball team.

Except for this one: Billy Hamilton grounded into a double play. It doesn’t really matter—but it is pretty impressive. Well played, whichever team pulled that one. Well played.

Some More (Mostly) Relevant Thoughts on Speed

Hamilton also leads baseball with 15 caught stealing—six more than second-place Dee Gordon—but his 38 steals still leave him with a success percentage over 70%, so I guess he isn’t in line for a red light anytime soon. 

With 41 swipes, Jose Altuve is the only other player with more steals than Hamilton (bringing that number to two more players than anyone predicted). But Altuve’s only been caught three times. (That’s a 91% success rate, if you’re counting at home.)

Elvis Andrus has 20 steals already, which is pretty nice—but they come with nine times caught. With so many years of high CS totals, I guess you shouldn’t worry much about Andrus getting the red light. Unless Texas ever changes managers….

Charlie Blackmon is the surprise All-Star of the year so far, but if he’s not on your team, you might not have known he’s swiped 18 bags so far. Another surprise base stealer (not to mention, surprise All-Star) is Todd Frazier, who’s got 15.

As always, remember to lower the minimum plate appearances requirement whenever you sort by stolen bases: Eric Young, Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and James Jones are all in the top 20 in the category but won’t appear on any searchable list that demands the player be qualified for the batting title.

Brian Dozier has just a single steal in the last 28 days, and just four between June and July. That’s after posting six in each of the first two months. So maybe don’t trade for him expecting speed.

Some Thoughts on Pitching

WAR is far from a perfect proxy for fantasy value. It’s too predictive, and too good an indicator of real talent. But, just for fun, can you name the top ten starting pitchers in fWAR? If you can’t, prepare to raise a skeptical eyebrow, as the list is graced by Corey Kluber (3rd), Garrett Richards (7th), Jose Quintana (9th and making my incessant suggestions to pick him up sound pretty smart), and Phil Hughes (6th). Yes, that Phil Hughes. Go ahead and tab over to your league's waiver wire just to check and see if any of these guys are still unowned in your league. Believe me I’ll wait. 

If it wasn’t late already, I’d be checking too.

Alfredo Simon is tied for the league lead in wins with 12. If you watched the All-Star game, that probably doesn’t surprise you. If you watched the All-Star game, then maybe you will be surprised that the guy’s got a 5.05 K/9. Whether he comes back to earth or not (and he will), you don’t want that on most fantasy teams.

Speaking of K/9, you won’t be surprised to hear that the three leaders in the stat are Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and Stephen Strasburg. (If you are, you’re in the wrong game, and probably the wrong website. No, wait…let’s not be exclusive. Stick around, check it out. You’ve got time for a new hobby, right? I promise it won't become life-consuming.) Anyway, you might be surprised to hear that the next name on the list belongs to Jake Odorizzi, who owns a 10.34 K/9. Admittedly, his BB/9 of 3.48 gives him some trouble, but he’s providing a surprising amount of value for a guy who feels like a fringy player. 

It seems to me that pitchers are showing more control than they used to: only four qualified starters are walking over four batters per inning. (Though most of the Cubs are close.) So be strict on you pitchers in the WHIP category. (You can add your own joke.)

Dellin Betances has 88 strikeouts. That’s 23 more than the next best reliever, Sean Doolittle. It’s good for 62nd among starters, which is pretty impressive considering that he’s pitched about half as many innings as the guy ahead of him (Wily Peralta). 

The scary thing is that, while Betances has a very nice 13.58 K/9, it is just blown out of the water by Aroldis Chapman. He’s whiffing 18.30 batters per nine innings. Which, yes, is just over two per inning. Uh…wow.

Do you know who the leader is in Holds? (No.) Do you care? (Probably not, but you should, because these guys turn into closers sometimes.) Anyway, it’s Brad Ziegler, with 26. He’s been a closer before, so he’s someone to remember for this season, and in the future. Tony Watson, Will Smith (not the actor—I think), and Tyler Clippard are the only others over 20.

The top two pitchers in blown saves are Luke Gregerson and Bryan Morris* (six and five, respectively). Both have ERA’s under 2.10. No wonder they abbreviate blown saves “BS.”

*Actually Morris is tied with a bunch of people. But they didn't exactly fit the comment.

Back to Hitting, Briefly

Michael Brantley’s fifth-place .326 average is fueled by a pretty-normal .325 BABIP. Don’t confuse it with teammate Lonnie Chisenhall, who is getting the same average out of a .367 BABIP.

Victor Martinez now has a below-average BABIP of .296. He’s hitting .322, good for 8th in baseball. The next highest-ranked player with a sub-.300 BABIP is Erick Aybar (45th), who’s batting .283. Which is still kind of impressive.

Hey, I told you it would be brief. Tune in next time for more surprises…unless we do something different.

RotoAuthority Unscripted: What to Do with Albert Pujols?

Last week, I got into a comments debate about Albert Pujols with a reader known only as “Tom.” We went back and forth on Pujols’ value, his outlook for the rest of the season, and whether or not a particular trade involving a number of high profile players makes sense. At one point I--harried with the huge demands of being a big-time fantasy expert (or was it my day job?)--promised to put off finishing my analysis of Albert Pujols. 

Well, Tom, here’s your answer. Since this is RotoAuthority Unscripted, I promise to go into this article and my investigation without cherry-picking the evidence to fit my original recommendation—I’ll go where the facts lead me. As best as I can understand them. Also, I promise not to make this a particularly well-organized article. I take the “unscripted” label very seriously.

For those of you not old enough to remember, Albert Pujols was once among the greatest players to ever live, spending 10 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, with lows of 32 homers, .299 batting average, 99 RBI, 99 Runs Scored, and 143 Games Played. Seriously, those are the worst numbers he put up in the decade from 2001-2011. So…you could say that things have changed somewhat, as Pujols has only exceeded those career lows in one stat since moving to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (Is that even still their name? Can’t we just go back to California Angels?) He drove in 105 RBI in 2012. It’s been a story of ageing, huge paydays, dropping BABIP’s, bad defence, the inability to run, and plantar fasciitis. Maybe LA isn’t for everyone.

So, that’s the past, but it’s an important backdrop to what’s going on with Pujols now, because your fantasy team isn’t locked into a hundred ten-year contract with him, and his play this year hasn’t been unambiguously good or bad. So, is he someone to trade for or someone to trade away? And what can we really expect to see from him for the next four months?

 Here’s the Pujolsian line thus far in 2014.















 And here are some of his slightly-farther-under-the-hood numbers.









So his production has been pretty ambiguous: the power is there (15 homers ties him for 8th in MLB) but he’s killing you in average and probably worse in OBP. His ISO is pretty good for the “New Albert” (starting 2011), and actually fits into the lower range of the earlier, better part of his career. His BABIP, however is by far the worst of his career and marks the third year in a row of decline.

Nice! We can chalk Albert’s struggles up to some bad luck, assume that his average will bounce back and be happy that it hasn’t hurt his power in the meantime. Right?

With a mid-career player, or one who hasn’t been hobbled by injuries that line of thinking would work just fine. But that’s not what we have. There are two other serious possible explanations for Pujols’ BABIP troubles, neither of which recommend him very well at all: one or more important skills has permanently regressed due to age; he remains injured, perhaps chronically so, impacting one of those “important skills.” In the bad-luck scenario, Pujols is an easy trade for candidate. In the other scenarios, he may well be someone you should be shipping off your team…or maybe still trading for, if the price and your expectations are low enough.

Let’s take a look at some of Pujols’ batted ball data, and see how this is happening.






















 Once again, we’ve got a seriously mixed bag here. I’ve bolded the three most interesting numbers. The first is his line drive percentage—it’s way down from his career numbers—so that’s actually pretty easy to see as the cause of his BABIP troubles…but it leaves the answer unknown: is it down due to skill diminution or bad luck? Where have those line drives been going?

Straight up in the air it turns out: his popups (IFFB’s) are far above his career norms, and even far above his more recent, less illustrious years. So that’ll kill your BABIP right there, hitting a bunch of popups instead of liners. I’ve always heard that popups are just a hair off of flyballs, so maybe the increased infield flies are the result of Pujols trying for more power on every swing…just a guess, so don’t bank on that one. It is worth noting, though, that his previous highest IFFB rates came much earlier in his career, in higher-power years.

The last number to stand out significantly is that HR/FB rate that’s actually pretty close to his career norm. That’s a big deal because this rate is by far the highest that he’s posted as an Angel. If he has changed his approach to get more power, it’s working. 

In our comment debate, Tom mentioned that Pujols’ flyball distance is about ten feet less than his career norm. I assume that rate is counting infield flies among the flyballs—so I think we’ve found our culprit for the statistical oddity of shorter flies and more homers at the same time. All those popups. We may be back to the drawing board if the flyball distance doesn’t count IFFB’s though. I honestly couldn’t find that information, so if you know, I’ll be happy to be shown the light, either way. 

Pujols has been hot and cold this season: he was a fantasy monster to start the season, putting up huge numbers in March/April, and he’s cooled a fair bit since then. In particular, Pujols’ strikeout rate shot up and his homers went way down. It’s too early to say if the strikeouts are a one-month aberration or a trend. Nine homers in a month, however, is probably just something to be happy about and not expect every time out. Most of his other indicators were pretty similar, however, including his BABIP: .237 in March/April and .241 in May. (Things aren’t off to such a good start in June, either, but we’ll let that go for now).

The elephant in the room is still that BABIP, with it’s thinly veiled suggestion of debilitating injury. Pujols certainly doesn’t look so great running, and his defence isn’t exactly what it used to be, but he’s played in 61 of the Angels’ 62 games, 47 of them at first base. It’s entirely possible that his foot is still bothering him…but less possible to prove. As far as placing odds on his health for the rest of the season…well, I wish I could, because I’d be a lot better at fantasy baseball if I had that kind of clairvoyance.

Pujols has had one killer month and one less-than-awesome month, and—by the looks of it—he’s done a bit of self-reinvention. If he doesn’t still have the skills to be baseball’s best all-around hitter, he’s concentrating on power, even at the cost of more whiffs, more popups, and a lower batting average. The results are there in the home runs, and with a good lineup around him, you can expect them to be there in RBI and Runs Scored as well. 

After taking another look at Pujols, I feel less confident that he’ll be doing much to drag his average up into levels that help you out. I do suspect that he’s lost something when it comes to his hit tool. That said, I also suspect that he’s run into some good, old-fashioned small sample luck: a .226 BABIP is really low, and I think it will go up a bit, brining his .245 average in to a more palatable level. 

I also think his power is pretty real: the homers are serious, and they’re not just the most important part left in his game, they’re also the most important fantasy category. Now, before you have me down as predicting that he'll keep up with his early homer pace and have 45 homers under his belt by the season's end, I'll admit that his HR/FB rate has probably also gotten some small sample luck--just the good kind. 

But even if Pujols only manages five homers per month for the rest of the season (his low end this year), he'll still end up with about 35 bombs--that's pretty good. I honestly wouldn't be shocked if it were even a little better than that. Given the leaguewide diminishing levels of power, getting a serious homer source should be a high priority for just about everybody. Pujols may have just one thing left, but he’s got the one thing we all need the most. That, combined with getting a good deal based on his recent slumping, seems to make him a strong trade for candidate. I’d pull the trigger on a Pujols deal. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t deal him away for the right price either….




Stock Watch: ISOlate your BABIP?

In this week's Stock Watch, we'll examine some hitters with high isolated power numbers you should be interested in, as well as some hitters getting too much of their value from BABIP numbers they probably can't sustain. Also, check out some top-prospect pitchers coming up from the minors....

 Trade For

If you're in the market for an ace, target Stephen Strasburg and his 12.17 K/9. That 3.42 ERA might keep his price down a little in some leagues, but his 2.51 FIP should reassure you that he's awesome. Corey Kluber is an even better target, but you better get your offers in before his 3.48 ERA starts crawling down to match his 2.41 FIP.

Michael Morse (.256 ISO) is killing the ball like the old days...of not that long ago when he was also healthy. Get him before his owners realize they can trust him.

Todd Frazier (.242 ISO) wasn't expected to do too much before the season, and his numbers haven't been flashy...but they have been good, especially at an injury-depleted third base position.

Jonathan Villar (.218 ISO--hey, ISO is this week's theme stat) already has more homers (five) than I expected him to launch all season. Though he started slow and doesn't look like a batting average guy, I'm intrigued by the thought of a high-speed-plus-a-little-power shortstop. If he keeps up the pace and puts up a 15 HR/30 SB season, that would be a high-value player.

Kyle Seager (.214 ISO) started so slow I had to drop him from one team, but his power is climbing back up. His full-season numbers still don't look awesome, which is always a trading bonus.

Trade Away

Jeff Samardzija  is supposed to be a strikeout machine, but 7.23 K/9 looks more, like not that. His 1.45 ERA sure is nice, but a 2.92 FIP and 3.51xFIP suggest regression is coming. The lack of strikeouts, the apparently impending regression and the fact that he's got a super-snazzy ERA all make him a good guy to peddle away.

Garrett Richards isn't much of a household name, but he's been pretty productive so far, with a 2.80 ERA and a 2.75 FIP. Why trade him away? Because a look at his 4.0 BB/9 and 0.2 HR/9 tells me that his peripheral numbers are the ones in line for a regression. Beware.

Marlon Byrd is rocking an obscene.424 BABIP. (Okay, I don't know how that's "obscene," except that that'll describe the words fantasy owners have for him when the BABIP comes down.)

Shin-Soo Choo has a .415 BABIP that's leading to a very nice average...but where will the average go when the BABIP does? I'm not saying he's a candidate to crater (like some of these other guys), but his trade value probably won't go much higher than it is now.

Emilio Bonifacio (.394 BABIP) Brett Gardner (.386 BABIP) should be dealt to anyone who needs steals, because it looks like a matter of time before they turn back into one-category players.

Matt Adams was interesting before the season for his power, but he's got only two homers and his . 375 BABIP is all that's sustaining him as a fantasy player right now.

Pick Up*

*Percentages are Yahoo! league ownership rates.

Shallow Leagues

Alcides Escobar (44%) has earned his forgiveness for 2013. Pick him up.

Derek Norris (34%) is a catcher and he's raking. In the revolving-door life of two-catcher leagues, that's all that matters.

Jon Niese (41%) was once good. Then he was bad because he was injured. Now he's pitching great. Hmm...

How many more times should I recommend picking up Josh Beckett (30%)? Good ERA, check. Good WHIP, check. Good chance for wins on a good team, check. Striking out a batter per inning, check.  

Medium Leagues

Adam Lind (29%) is back from injury and an above-average power source.

Gregory Polanco (28%) is killing the ball in the minors. Maybe only 28% of leagues have room to stash a minor leaguer that's probably coming up just after the super-two cutoff...but I think it's more than that.

James Loney (27%) is what he is: a safe batting average first baseman. Given the number of Mark Reynoldses in the world, a guy like Loney has more value than this just because he's different.

Dustin Ackley (21%) has been hitting pretty well for the last couple weeks. As a lifelong Mariners fan, no, I don't believe he'll keep it up. As a semi-objective observer, I'm willing to take a chance on a guy who's eligible in the infield and outfield and riding a hot streak.

Deep Leagues

I talked about Drew Pomeranz (18%) yesterday. Pick him up.

Mike Zunino (15%) is on a hot streak, catches, and was a pretty good prospect. Mariner or not, that's probably worth more than 15% ownership.

A.J. Pollock (15%) is someone I've been ignoring for a while, but he's hitting the ball and seems to do a little of everything.

Kevin Gausman (12%) is scheduled to come up for Baltimore, while Rafael Montero (12%) is joining the Mets' rotation. Both are worthy prospects and ought to be added in a lot of formats.

Carlos Quentin (7%) is coming off the DL. The reason one rarely drafts Quentin is because he's always hurt, not because he can't hit. I can't say how long The Big Q (okay, I made that nickname up) will be in the lineup, but he's worth adding while he's here. 

Stock Watch: Buy What You Need...Even If It's Not Very Good

By the time you read this, Matt Garza will already be a Ranger.

Or he'll be something else, I guess, maybe even a Cub. If Garza does get traded, his value will go up, because he'll be playing for a better team and likely to get wins at a higher rate. (Unless Houston pulls a fast one.) No! His value is sure to go down, since Texas is in the AL and in a hitter's park, as is Boston. Arizona may be in the NL, but it's not a good place to pitch either, so the Dodgers are the only team mentioned in talks that won't kill his ERA and WHIP--deal him while you can! Whether or not you want Garza depends on what you need, and the format of your league. So will it be for any other category.

Instead of the usual breakdown of Buy, Sell, and Pick Up, this week we'll examine some players you should think carefully about and either buy or sell depending upon your needs.


Chris Carter stands out big time here. He may have the highest K% in the Majors, but he's also got a .240 ISO and 18 HRs. Even better, he's only owned in 45% of CBS leagues and 26% of Yahoo! leagues. Pick him up or trade for him if you're on the cusp of grabbing another point to three in the HR standings. Stay far, far away if you're in the thick of the BA competition, as he could easily give away more from that category than he takes in longballs. He's best if you're at the top or bottom of your league in average, or if you've accumulated a ton of ABs.

Similar players include Matt Reynolds, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, and J.P. Arencibia.

Pedro Alvarez profiles similarly, but with higher highs and more complete playing time. He's got the most value of this group, and will probably be the most expensive. Keep that in mind if you need to help your BA category, as Alvarez could be a point of addition by subtraction.

Adam Dunn is probably the most extreme of this type of hitter, but also the most consistent. His homers and his terrible average are both pretty much assured. His name brand and history will probably raise his price, so consider some of the above hitters if you aren't getting a good deal for him.

Batting Average

When you aren't making deals for superstars, you're usually sacrificing power for average, or average for power. That's just how it goes. If you're in need in both categories...hopefully you have some spare pitching or an elite base stealer. Better yet, both. We're plenty far enough in the season to start looking at semi-high BABIPs as short-term trends instead of confusion. Feel free to trade for someone with a BABIP between .320 and .340 if you're hoping for some help in this category.

Austin Jackson has a .347 BABIP and a .280 average; normally that wouldn't be too exciting, but Jackson has a history of better BABIPs than that and could actually add to that number. Of course he (like teammate Torii Hunter) doesn't help you at all in homers. Thankfully, the strength of their lineup allows these Tigers to contribute at least some in Runs or RBIs.

If you like position flexibility, try Marco Scutaro. His .334 BABIP isn't unbelievable, but his .316 BA is great from your MI slot. Also up the middle, Jed Lowrie was supposed to be a power hitter, but he got just seven longballs. Luckily for you, if you need average, as his .330 BABIP has led him to a .295 BA.

Gerardo Parra and Daniel Nava are still getting things done in average, with .329 and .327 BABIPs, respectively, leading to BAs of .285 and .288.

James Loney is a Known Bum, but that will keep his value low as you try to sneak his .315 average onto your team. Even if his .338 BABIP comes down a tad, he's still useful for any team in need of points in this category.


Matt Garza and his soon-to-change value brought about this column idea, so I'll just quickly reaffirm that you should try to swing a deal for him if you need wins. If his current owner likes him for his ERA, he or she should be pleased to deal him now. There's no reason both teams can't win trades in this part of the season. (It's more valuable to rob your opponents early in April and May anyway.) Let's examine some other pitchers who might be able to help in wins. Unfortunately, there's nothing close to a sure thing in this category, and all the moreso over just a couple months. 

The best ways I've got to predict wins are to combine three things: high IP totals, high-scoring offenses, and being at least a decent pitcher. Since we aren't trying to find the best pitchers in fantasy baseball, let's try to keep that last one to not much more than "decent."

With the Red Sox scoring the most runs in baseball, pitchers like Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster are good candidates for wins, though neither is among the IP leaders. Tigers pitchers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello profile similarly, as does anyone called up by the Rays.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Angels and Indians are among the leading teams in wRC+, so pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and C.J. Wilson might be expect to get some wins. Justin Masterson might be a bit high-end for this exercise, but he could be pried from owners hoping to improve their team ERA.

Bud Norris is expected to be traded, with the Red Sox the destination most often mentioned. If you need wins, trade for him or pick him up before that happens. Even if he's traded elsewhere, it will help his value in this category.


The formula for getting a better than expected ERA from you pitchers is similar to the one used to acquire a few extra wins, though it's rather more dependent on the pitcher actually being good. Team fielding and park factors take the place of pitching deep into games or getting run support. 

This year's All-Star venue, Citi Field in New York has been the strongest pitcher's park. Though this is probably accentuated by the fact that they have some good pitchers and a terrible offense, their staff is still a good place to start looking for ERA help. The Indians, Cardinals, Pirates, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, A's, and--shockingly--the Diamondbacks all play in parks with factors of 0.899 or less. (Maybe trading for Garza is an even better idea than we thought, especially when we note that Wrigley Field has been the worst place to pitch in 2013.)

With four of the five NL West teams showing pitcher-friendly park factors this season, pitchers from that division are even more attractive thanks to the unbalanced schedule.

Of the teams above, the D-Backs, Giants, Pirates, and A's have notably above-average UZRs.

We can see that there's some method to the madness of luck-leader Jeff Locke's success, but I still wouldn't count on someone whose ERA-FIP difference is that extreme. Patrick Corbin looks more reasonable though. Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett should be able to help as well. Strugglers like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have good environments for improvement, though I'm not prepared to guess what might happen with those guys. 

Worth noting is that the Royals have baseball's best defense by that measure (by a lot), so pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana might be more able to post good ERAs than you'd normally expect, not to mention ace James Shields.

With under three months left in the season, you don't have to have the best players on your team to win your league--you just have to have the ones in the best position to capitalize on this year's particularities. If a hitter is putting up a great BABIP in April, it's luck. In July, there might be a reason, and that reason could very well carry through September. If a pitcher is overperforming his peripherals, there's probably a reason for that--and it could continue too. Use the trends you see and offer trades accordingly.


The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 20-26

I made an interesting swap in one of my leagues this week that involved a couple of past TPIITP featured players.  I dealt Aaron Hill and Matt Carpenter to my rival manager in exchange for Albert Pujols and Didi Gregorius, so I'm certainly standing up to my belief that Pujols will eventually get back to his old form.  (And sure enough, he delivered four hits in his first game for me.)  Carpenter my man, you more than lived up to expectations and actually played even better following my "hey, believe the hype!" piece about you on May 1.  That said, if I have the chance to deal you and a guy coming off a broken hand for Albert Pujols (and a possibly useful, if falling-back-to-earth rookie shortstop), I'm making that deal every time.

But anyway, onto this week's examination beyond the usual 5x5 numbers...

* Ooooh, The Chase!  As an old-school Carmen Sandiego fan as a kid, it never stops being amusing that San Diego's best player is named Chase.  It's been a pretty rough year for Chase Headley owners, who were expecting to own a top-tier third baseman but instead have put up with two weeks on the DL, three weeks of hot hitting and a bunch of misery.  Headley had a .936 following the Padres' 1-0 win over the Marlins on May 8 but then posted a .170/.291/.252 line over his next 158 PA.  The knock on Headley going into his breakout 2012 season was that he had trouble hitting at Petco Park and that he generally wasn't as good against left-handed pitching; he corrected those problems last season, but in 2013 he has just a .573 OPS against southpaws and, weirdly, his road OPS is over 100 points lower than his home OPS.

The good news is, there's no reason to believe this will continue.  Most of Headley's peripheral stats match what he posted in 2012, aside from a .273 BABIP (he BABIP'ed .337 last season) and swing rates that are down roughly 2% across the board.  That's not a good drop, obviously, but it's nothing too severe.  It could be that Headley is still getting warm after missing a chunk of Spring Training with a fractured thumb.  Also, any kind of hand or finger injury usually takes a bit of extra time for a hitter to fully get over, so Headley could return to form any day now.  I've personally moved Headley to my bench in one of my leagues (I still have the awesome Matt Carpenter in this one, so he's my 3B) until he's hot, so if you have a decent third sacker in reserve, play them until Headley gets himself sorted out.  No reason to panic yet.

* King Jeremy The Wicked.  We've hit that time of the fantasy season when your pitching staff has been hit with a couple of injuries, maybe a starter you thought would be good has been ineffective, and you just want to shake things up a bit.  You check out your league's waiver wire and hey look, it's Jeremy Guthrie!  And what's this, he has a 3.72 ERA and throws in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium?  Why yeah, that sounds like a good idea, let's bring Guthrie on board!

This is how it begins.  Guthrie revived his career by pitching well in the latter half of 2012 after joining the Royals, but that was arguably the only time he has ever provided legit fantasy value.  Too few strikeouts, too many homers and a career 4.24 ERA doth not a reliable fantasy starter make.  Guthrie's 3.72 ERA this year is belied by some ugly advanced metrics (5.96 FIP, 5.02 xFIP, 5.13 SIERA) and at only 4.30 K/9 and 3.03 BB/9, his real-life ERA seems due to rise at any moment.  Not that a 3.72 ERA is a world-beater mark anyway, but the only thing keeping it in check is Guthrie's .256 BABIP and an 86.1% strand rate that ranks as the second-highest in the entire league among qualified starters.  You should be looking to add Guthrie ONLY as a one-week stream if he has a couple of home starts against weaker lineups, but otherwise just leave him alone.

* Loosen Your Belt.  Since my wardrobe is pathetically small, I only own three belts.  One is my "formal" belt that I bust out for wedding, funerals, meetings with the Royal Family, etc.  Another is my everyday belt, which is super-comfortable and also very flexible, which is key given my, uh, somewhat ample waistline.  The third is my backup belt, which frankly is kind of stiff and a pain to wear, though I bust it out at least once a week just to give my primary belt a break, sort of like how you sit your starting catcher for a day game that follows a night game. 

Anyway, we're taking this trip around around my pants since I think most Brandon Belt owners are using him as their backup belt by this point in the season.  You'll start him maybe once a week if he's facing a righty starter or if your regular first baseman has an unfavorable matchup, but that's it, since Belt isn't living up to his preseason status as a potential breakout candidate.  Belt was hitting .255/.324/.417 with seven homers and 30 RBIs going into Tuesday's play, which isn't necessarily BAD overall given his home ballpark (Belt has a solid 114 OPS+) but it's not what you expect from your starting fantasy first baseman.

Belt's contract rates and power numbers -- home run rate, isolated power and fly balls in general -- are all up from his 2012 statistics but overall he isn't hitting as well as he did last season.  He's hitting almost five percent fewer line drives, his walk rate is down and he owns a pretty even .296 BABIP, so it's not just a case of bad luck.  Belt simply might be a year or two away from that breakout the Giants and fantasy owners think he's capable of, given how he has dominated minor league pitching.  If you've stuck with Belt this long as a starter, you're way overdue to start looking for an upgrade.

* King Of The NetherlandsDerek Holland's gem in Game Four of the 2011 World Series seemed to herald his arrival as a frontline starter but he wasn't quite there yet, as evidenced by his average 2012 season.  This season, however, he has a 3.30 ERA, 8.6 K/9 and 3.91 K/BB ratio through 14 starts, and the advanced metrics (2.78 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 3.39 SIERA) and his .344 BABIP suggest that Holland could actually be doing a bit better than his already very solid numbers.

Holland's biggest issue in 2012 was allowing home runs and he has cut his HR/9 from 1.6 last season to just 0.6 this season. Fangraphs' Chris Kwik noted last month that Holland's increased use of his slider and decreased reliance on his curveball were helping him keep the ball in the park, and since this change in pitch selection seems to be paying off, I feel confident that Holland will keep up his good work for the rest of the campaign.  No pitcher who throws at Rangers Ballpark is entirely free of the homer curse, of course, but Holland is definitely on the right track.  This might be the last year that Holland is considered an underrated option in fantasy baseball.

Stock Watch: Do You Feel Lucky?

With the season's first month done and played, it's time to take a look at who's hot and cold starts are due to skill (or lack of it), and which are due to luck. A star plagued with a low BABIP makes a great trade target, while a young guy playing over his head is a great player to sell. Below, we'll take a look at some players who should be moving on or off your team.

Trade Targets

B.J. Upton is off to a start as bad as his brother's is good. Always a drag on batting average, he's killing owners like me Adam Dunn-style so far, while putting up little of his trademark power or speed. It's hard to steal bases with a .223 OBP. In fact, he's been so frustrating that I almost put him on the Trade Away list because I've grown to hate seeing his name in my lineup. That's an emotion you can use. His BABIP is a frightening .185, over 100 points below his career norm, much of which can be traced to his eye-popping infield fly rate of 29.6%, well over double his highest full season number. The two options seem to be that he figures out how to cut those popups down, or he's all washed up at age 28. The former seems much more likely.

Will Middlebrooks isn't so bad off as B.J., but he's still dragging averages down with a .198 mark. A .217 BABIP seems to be the problem, while the major change in his batted ball data is that he was a groundball hitter last year and a flyball hitter this year. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as his six homers will attest. His BABIP ought to normalize, at which point he could be a four-category monster in a heavy lineup. The upside is clear, and the downside is mitigated by the weak and injured status of third basemen around the league.

Gio Gonzalez is a risky trade proposition, as with slightly lowered velocity and a walk rate over 5.00, his troubles haven't been entirely due to luck. His ERA sits at 5.35, but his FIP is better at 4.09, and his xFIP better still at 3.51. So, some bad luck seems to be exacerbating things. With a K/9 over 10.00 and a quality lineup, there's still plenty of upside if you can trade for him at a significantly reduced price.

Clay Buchholz has been almost too good to trade away, but if his owner is looking to sell high, consider being the buyer. His years of sub-mediocrity make him look like a sell target, with his 1.01 ERA, but the underlying story says otherwise. He's got a sparkly 2.26 FIP and a very good 2.99 xFIP, to go with a strikeout rate of 9.47. The indications are that he isn't the same pitcher that has filled Red Sox Nation with disappointment for the last few years. If you're still skeptical, check out this article from Fangraphs. If you're still skeptical after, don't trade for Buchholz, I guess.

Trade Away

Carlos Gomez went from disappointing speedster to power/speed fantasy gold last season, and he's kept it up this year. Owners were bullish on him in drafts, and they've been vindicated so far, as Gomez has delivered five homers and seven steals. His usually low average sits at an impressive .367. Okay, I understate. It's at an unbelievable .367. How'd it get there? Try a .419 BABIP, with help from a line drive percentage up four points from last season. Even if his hit profile has changed (and one month of extra liners doesn't prove much), he hasn't magically transformed into Joey Votto with speed. Deal him, as he could fetch a pretty serious return.

Jay Bruce is the sort of slumping superstar that I would have expected to advise you to trade for...until I looked under his statistical hood. He's got just one homer and 43 strikeouts through 30 games--his HR/FB has cratered to just 4.1%, while his popup rate has more than doubled. Everything seems to be going wrong...except his batting average. It's low--just .258--but actually better than last year. Thanks to a BABIP over 100 points higher than last year, at .388. When the BABIP goes, the results will be horrifying. Exactly what's wrong with Bruce, I couldn't say, but I can say that he's actually been lucky. Trade him while you can.

Matt Kemp is experiencing a power outage of his own, which I worried about before the season. Probably because of his surgically repaired shoulder, things are actually worse than I expected and it looks like a loss of flyball distance  could be the culprit. His batting average is a mediocre .267, buoyed by a fortuitous .351 BABIP. That could easily drop before his shoulder heals, but it's still early enough to recoup a good return for him.

I mentioned Matt Moore as a trade candidate last week, and I'll just back that up now by pointing out that his 4.08 FIP compares unfavorably with his 1.98 ERA.

Pick Up

Brandon McCarthy's ERA sits at a whopping 7.22, but his FIP is just 4.04. A skilled pitcher, he ought to be able to improve on that FIP, let alone the ERA. His ownership rates are just: Y!: 30%/ESPN: 16.5%/CBS: 28%. If his is owned, he makes a sneaky-smart throw in, in a larger deal.

Hector Santiago (Y!: 2%/ESPN: 0.1%/CBS: 8%) briefly closed for the White Sox last year, but now he'll be moving into the rotation. His first start was successful, and, with Gavin Floyd out, we could be seeing lots of the hard-throwing Santiago in the rotation. Very interesting waiver wire opportunity.

Francisco Liriano (Y!: 5%/ESPN: 0.2%/CBS: 25%) has been mowing down the International League for the Indianapolis Indians on his rehab assignment, but he's should be up with the big club again soon. He's got as much upside--and downside--as anyone on the waiver wire.

Chris Tillman (Y!: 17%/ESPN:  2.3%/CBS: 34%) has rattled off three good starts in a row, making four of six. The mere possibility that he's finally harnessing his talent makes him worth a speculative add.

Nick Hundley (Y!: 8%/ESPN: 5.2%/CBS: 23%) is batting over his head, with a .421 BABIP, but he's got three homers and nine doubles. He's shown some power in limited playing time before, and he could be a very useful stopgap option if you're having trouble at catcher. Unlike most such options, he's got a bit of upside.

Domonic Brown (Y!: 24%/ESPN: 22.5%/CBS: 73%) was a hot pick after his torrid spring, but he saw his ownership rates drop after a relatively slow start. Well, he's got five homers and an average that won't kill you--pick him up unless you have a great outfield. Not that you have that option in CBS leagues....

Just Say No

Scott Feldman is a hot pickup lately, after whiffing 12 Padres in a complete game on May 1. It was a truly dominating performance, but remember, it was against the Padres, and his overall game isn't impressive. Stay away.

Ricky Romero once pitched over his head all season and made an All-Star team. Once he was even a pretty decent pitcher. Last year, he was basically the worst starter in the Majors. Nothing about his return to the bigs indicated otherwise. He'll probably get some pickups based on the familiarity of his name alone, but don't get sucked into that. His best-case scenario is no better than being average-ish, without strikeouts. The downside is that he bombs your ratios for several starts and gets sent back to the minors. Nota good bet.

8 Pitchers Whose WHIPs Should Fall Next Year

We still like pointing out BABIP anomalies, call us old-fashioned.  Here are a few to watch for 2011 on the high side.

  • James Shields - .354 BABIP.  I was going to do a post on how Shields is the new Javier Vazquez, always underperforming in ERA compared to his peripherals.  But then I realized there really isn't any such trend.  SIERA says 3.57 for Shields this year, way below his actual 5.18 ERA.  His 1.46 WHIP should scare off bidders as well.  He should be the best 187-strikeout bargain around in 2011 drafts, perhaps rounds 13-16.
  • Manny Parra - .352 BABIP.  One of the hardest-throwing lefty starters, Parra will probably be tendered a contract by the Brewers on the strength of his 9.52 K/9.  SIERA says 3.82 as opposed to his 5.02 ERA, but Parra's control is an issue.  So while his WHIP will come down from 1.62, it still won't be good.
  • Josh Beckett - .349 BABIP.  He had a 3.84 SIERA against a scary 5.78 ERA and an uncharacteristic 1.54 WHIP.  There's no reason we can't get the Beckett of '09 next year.  His poor season should push him toward the 10th round.
  • Brandon Morrow - .348 BABIP.  He whiffed 178 in just 146.3 innings, but still had a 1.38 WHIP.  His walk rate will keep that WHIP at an unhelpful level, but his 8.36 hits per nine rate could actually come down.  Certainly an intriguing name for 2011 drafts, with his 17-strikeout one-hitter fresh in our minds.
  • Zach Duke - .347 BABIP.  A 4.58 SIERA says he could have some uses in real baseball for a new club, but he's not a mixed league option.
  • Aaron Harang - .346 BABIP.  His SIERA was only 4.44; Harang is definitely slipping.  Even if his WHIP comes down from 1.59 it will still hurt.  In the right ballpark, very late in the draft, I'd still consider him.
  • Yovani Gallardo - .340 BABIP.  He cut down on the walks but still had a career-worst 1.37 WHIP.  On the plus side he struck out 200 for the second year in a row.  Maybe next year he puts it all together and takes a leap in value.  Sound investment around the 8th round.
  • Francisco Liriano - .340 BABIP.  His 1.26 WHIP could have been even lower.  His 3.02 SIERA against his 3.62 ERA shows there's room for more here.  However, Liriano won't be drafted in the 19th round on average this time around.
  • Honorable mentions to Jason Hammel (.337) and Jonathon Niese (.335).

9 Pitchers Who Should Post A Higher WHIP Next Year

BABIP used to be a cool, underground fantasy stat when we fired up this blog in 2005, but now it's on every street corner.  Nonetheless, here are nine pitchers with BABIPs of .265 or below in 2010.  We should expect these BABIPs to rise in 2011, meaning more hits and a higher WHIP and ERA.

  • Trevor Cahill - .238 BABIP.  Cahill had a 4.16 SIERA as opposed to his 2.97 ERA.  He's obviously talented, and gets a lot of groundballs, but I typically stay away from low-strikeout starters in fantasy baseball.
  • Bronson Arroyo - .246 BABIP.  His lowest figure since becoming a full-time starter in '04.  He did manage a .270 mark in '09, but previously bounced around in the .285-.321 range.  He's not big on strikeouts or groundballs and had a 4.66 SIERA next to his 3.88 ERA.  Fill out your rotation with someone more interesting in the late rounds.
  • Tim Hudson - .250 BABIP.  He had a ridiculous groundball rate, and posted a 3.70 SIERA against his 2.83 ERA.  If you have to take a low strikeout guy Hudson is probably your best bet.
  • Ted Lilly - .259 BABIP.  He's never been above .283 in the NL (Expos debut aside), so I think he does suppress hits as a skill.  His 3.8 K/BB is sparkling, but he allows a ton of flyballs.  I'd look for an ERA in the 3.80 range from Ted.  Always a solid choice when solid second-tier starters fall off the board in the 10th-15th rounds.
  • Matt Cain - .260 BABIP.  Cain has a .274 career BABIP and has allowed as many as eight hits per nine innings in only one of his 5+ seasons.  He's another flyball guy, but he showed the best control of his career this year.  His SIERA was 3.90 this year though his ERA over the past two seasons was 3.02.  I'm not sure projection systems have a good read on Cain.  He's a fine mid-rotation fantasy choice.
  • Roy Oswalt - .261 BABIP.  Oswalt seemed undervalued coming into this season, but in March 2011 the opposite might be true.  There's nothing not to like, but his incredible work with the Phillies might push him into the fifth or sixth round.  I'm not prepared to do that.
  • Jonathan Sanchez - .262 BABIP.  Sanchez led the NL with the lowest hits per nine innings at 6.6, but also led the league in walks.  He was helpful in WHIP this year, but probably won't be in 2011 unless he suddenly finds control.  I fear that Sanchez's big year will push him out of sleeper territory, even though he still walks a ton.
  • Clay Buchholz - .265 BABIP.  We know he's talented, but the 2.33 ERA is nowhere near the 4.29 SIERA.  Buchholz didn't excel with strikeouts or walks.  You have to think he'll be overrated in drafts, but there's always a chance he pulls a Justin Verlander and his peripherals catch up.
  • Ian Kennedy - .265 BABIP.  Nice sleeper for strikeouts, but he's homer-prone.  Those longballs should come with more baserunners next year.  Draft him with caution, but I don't think he'll go too early anyway.

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BABIP, Anyone?

Been a while since we checked in our BABIP leaders and trailers.  Minimum 75 IP.

Those benefitting from low BABIPs should see their WHIPs rise:

Scott Feldman 0.236 1.56 0.136 3.59 1.14
Dan Haren 0.240 7.42 0.121 2.14 0.84
Scott Richmond 0.246 2.37 0.211 3.69 1.20
Jarrod Washburn 0.247 2.60 0.116 2.71 1.06
Edwin Jackson 0.249 2.36 0.143 2.59 1.11
Chris Carpenter 0.255 4.75 0.098 2.26 0.91
Shairon Martis 0.256 0.87 0.178 5.25 1.42
Randy Wolf 0.257 2.71 0.169 3.45 1.13
Yovani Gallardo 0.259 2.16 0.149 3.09 1.25
Chris Young 0.260 1.25 0.189 5.21 1.45
Jeff Karstens 0.260 1.03 0.189 4.40 1.36
J.A. Happ 0.261 2.15 0.140 2.97 1.18
Mark Buehrle 0.262 2.92 0.164 3.28 1.10
Trevor Cahill 0.262 1.09 0.223 4.50 1.45
Matt Garza 0.263 2.32 0.134 3.68 1.20
Kevin Millwood 0.268 1.87 0.156 3.39 1.28
Jair Jurrjens 0.268 1.87 0.121 2.67 1.20
Clayton Kershaw 0.269 1.75 0.090 2.96 1.26
Jered Weaver 0.269 2.73 0.157 3.57 1.18

It's time to sell high on Feldman, who has a 4.80 xFIP.  Happ is another player to shop, especially given the possibility he lands in the AL East as part of a Roy Halladay trade.

Here are the buying opportunities, guys who should see their WHIPs come down:

Todd Wellemeyer 0.360 1.45 0.177 5.79 1.75
Kevin Slowey 0.355 5.00 0.194 4.86 1.41
Manny Parra 0.354 1.48 0.172 6.42 1.80
Ricky Nolasco 0.344 4.04 0.192 5.42 1.36
Aaron Harang 0.344 3.67 0.180 4.25 1.43
Jordan Zimmermann 0.343 3.17 0.157 4.63 1.36
Jason Hammel 0.342 2.80 0.156 4.28 1.45
Carl Pavano 0.339 3.68 0.177 5.48 1.40
Livan Hernandez 0.335 1.54 0.162 4.87 1.53
Jon Lester 0.335 3.56 0.130 3.79 1.29
Cole Hamels 0.335 4.57 0.195 4.66 1.33

Sorry to say, there's not much here.  Favorites of mine like Zimmermann and Slowey are on the shelf.  Parra, Hammel, and Pavano are mildly interesting.  Check the price on Harang.

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BABIP, Anyone?

Time to take a look at our BABIP leaders and trailers, with a minimum of 40 IP.  Here are those benefitting from low BABIPs:

Edinson Volquez 0.224 1.47 0.163 4.35 1.33
Luke Hochevar 0.224 1.06 0.171 4.96 1.21
Chris Carpenter 0.230 5.30 0.115 2.42 0.82
Dan Haren 0.232 7.53 0.123 2.19 0.81
Garrett Olson 0.236 1.86 0.222 4.81 1.23
Scott Feldman 0.240 1.65 0.151 4.09 1.18
Matt Garza 0.242 2.10 0.148 3.45 1.18
Yovani Gallardo 0.244 2.48 0.149 2.75 1.15
Sean West 0.245 1.24 0.158 4.06 1.38
Scott Richmond 0.246 2.37 0.211 3.69 1.20
John Maine 0.246 1.24 0.140 4.52 1.38
J.A. Happ 0.247 1.61 0.149 3.00 1.23
Johnny Cueto 0.251 2.44 0.154 2.69 1.12
CC Sabathia 0.252 2.52 0.110 3.55 1.09
Edwin Jackson 0.255 2.90 0.122 2.49 1.04
Shairon Martis 0.256 0.87 0.178 5.25 1.42
Chris Jakubauskas 0.258 1.53 0.196 5.46 1.28
Brian Tallet 0.258 1.58 0.157 4.47 1.33
Jered Weaver 0.258 2.61 0.149 3.10 1.13
Joe Saunders 0.259 1.74 0.185 4.24 1.30

Those with low K/BB ratios are possible sell candidates. 

Now those with high BABIPs, which figure to come down:

Billy Buckner 0.376 2.20 0.262 8.63 1.77
Cole Hamels 0.376 4.28 0.178 4.98 1.47
John Lackey 0.375 2.80 0.144 5.06 1.52
Manny Parra 0.365 1.34 0.191 7.52 1.92
Scott Olsen 0.363 2.00 0.250 6.56 1.75
Sidney Ponson 0.362 1.41 0.141 7.27 1.73
Ricky Nolasco 0.355 3.89 0.201 5.99 1.45
Justin Masterson 0.353 2.57 0.128 4.28 1.39
Felipe Paulino 0.353 2.71 0.176 5.51 1.54
Todd Wellemeyer 0.352 1.38 0.163 5.68 1.70
Kevin Slowey 0.351 4.73 0.184 4.41 1.40
Chan Ho Park 0.348 1.83 0.150 6.04 1.60
Scott Kazmir 0.348 1.33 0.182 7.28 1.86
Derek Holland 0.348 2.44 0.217 6.20 1.60
Rich Hill 0.347 1.37 0.181 7.08 1.80
Jorge De La Rosa 0.346 2.29 0.171 5.64 1.49
Carl Pavano 0.346 3.78 0.167 5.56 1.41
Adam Eaton 0.343 1.47 0.259 8.56 1.83
Jon Lester 0.340 3.80 0.144 4.35 1.31

Hamels, Lackey, and Nolasco stand as buy-low candidates, if it's not too late.  Paulino and Slowey are intriguing as well.

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