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MLB Barometer: A Glance at the Home Run Leader

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

If drafting today, who would I take in the top five? Is Jose Bautista's hot start for real? Why do I respect Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce, but not Bud Selig? For answers to these questions, as well as my traditional ramblings, check out this week's Barometer.

Post a comment with your respectful thoughts/disagreements.

Upgrades:

Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants: Posey seemed like a young Joe Mauer in-the-making - minus the defense, which doesn't matter for fantasy purposes – a rookie catcher with great plate discipline who might struggle to hit for power. Then the Giants decided to play Posey at first base instead of catcher, eroding a lot of his value in leagues where he isn't already eligible at catcher. Frustrating.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers: My top five, if drafting right now – Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria, Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki. Lest you disagree about Cabrera, bear in mind he's 27, has 18 HRs, 52 RBI, a .352 AVG, and his BB/K is .81, well above his career mark of .54. Right now, I think Cabrera is just as good a hitter as Pujols; the only difference between the two, for fantasy purposes, is that Pujols mixes in some steals every once in a while.

Reid Brignac, SS, Rays: It would have been tough for Jason Bartlett to duplicate his career year in 2009, when he posted 30 steals, a .320 AVG, and an OPS of .879. But few thought Bartlett would fall this far - all the way down to an OPS of just .657. But should we really be surprised? After all, prior to 2009, Bartlett's OPS, by season, was .751, .699, .690. Yes, he's been a little unlucky this year (.266 BABIP), but these numbers suggest that Bartlett just isn't very good (and he's now on the 15-day DL). Meanwhile, Brignac, a former elite prospect before he lost his luster after a terrible 2008, is playing every day and hitting around .300. Brignac doesn't have a lot of power or speed, but this is his chance to get hot and force his way into the lineup on a more regular basis.

Jose Bautista, 3B/OF, Blue Jays: I've been a bit slow to talk about Bautista because, candidly, I expected his homer binge to slow down a long time ago. After all, he's been little more than a part-time player his whole career, and even when he did have a season of 532 ABs in 2007, he wasn't very good (.254/.339/.414, from a corner infield position, no less). However, now that Bautista has a league-leading 18 HRs, 45 RBI, and 40 runs through June 5, it's time to dig deeper. Is there something about Bautista's skill set that has changed, or is he just on a lucky streak? The first stat I checked, in trying to answer this question, was his HR/FB. As I expected, it's exceptionally high - 22.5%, more than double his HR/FB rate from every other season. Factor in a LD% of 14%, which is actually lower than his 16% career average, and it seems that Bautista's 2010 has been little more than a handful of fly balls leaving the yard at an usually high rate. At age 29, I'm inclined to accept that line of thinking and move on, but I'd be remiss not to mention that Bautista's BB/K is .80, well over his career rate of .51. With improved plate discipline comes improved power. Granted, that's not a huge jump, particularly since his contact rate is just .77, but it's at least some indication that Bautista's HR binge is at least partly due to an improved skill set (unlike, say, Corey Hart, who I profiled last week). Overall, I'd say that Bautista has improved a little, but probably not enough to justify starting him in standard mixed leagues for the rest of the season.

Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: Willingham's counting stats don't look that great - 10 HRs, 37 RBI, 30 runs, but don't hold the Nationals' offense against him; Willingham is quietly posting a career year in Washington, to the tune of .276/.425/.506. There's nothing about Willingham's stats that suggests he's been lucky, either - his .291 BABIP is under his career average and his LD% is 20%. (Yes, 20% - and his career average is 19%. For comparison, Albert Pujols' career LD% is 20%.) Anyway, the obvious reason for Willingham's improved play is his newfound plate discipline. At age 31, after never posting a BB/K above .60, Willingham had 39 walks against 36 strikeouts, good for a 1.08 BB/K. That improvement, coupled with the absence of anything in his stats suggesting he's been lucky, is why I'd choose Willingham over Bautista from this point forward.

Angel Pagan, OF, Mets: Carlos who? With Carlos Beltran still undergoing a slow rehab process, Pagan continues to take advantage of his everyday playing time, to the tune of nine SBs (including seven in the past month), four HRs, and a .286 AVG. Pagan's LD% of 26% jumps off the page, strongly suggesting he deserves to play every day even when (if?) Beltran returns. We'll have to see how the Mets handle that situation when it arises; for now, enjoy starting Pagan in virtually any format.

Tyler Colvin, OF, Cubs: Colvin may seem like an odd guy to upgrade given his lack of consistent playing time (as seen by a quick glance at his game log). I just can't help but think that Lou Piniella is going to have no choice but to make Colvin a regular given how he's playing - .300/.363/.638, six HRs in 80 ABs, a LD% of 23. In medium-sized or deeper leagues, find a way to stash this 25-year-old on your bench. The upside is apparent.

Brett Cecil, SP, Blue Jays: It's one thing to post five wins in eight starts with a WHIP under 1.10 against some of the lesser teams in the American League. It's quite another to do that and then hold the Yankees to one run in eight innings with five strikeouts and one walk. After an outing like that, and a K:BB ratio of more than 3:1, it seems clear that Cecil is for real.

Brad Lidge, RP, Phillies: Jose Contreras did a fine job while Lidge was on the shelf, but Charlie Manuel used Contreras in the eighth inning on June 4 and Lidge in the ninth to preserve a 3-2 win. If Lidge can stay healthy, his strikeout ability and the Phillies’ winning ways give him the upside of a top-10 closer.

No Change:

Armando Galarraga, SP, Tigers: On a scale of 1-10, I give Galarraga and Jim Joyce a 10 for how they responded after Joyce's bad call cost Galarraga a perfect game. If pressed, it would be hard to choose who I respected more - Galarraga, for his calm demeanor even though he had every right to morph into some combination of Milton Bradley and Ron Artest, or Joyce, for his heartfelt apology and tearful entry onto the field the following day. Using that same scale, though, I give Bud Selig a 1. Sure, I understand he didn't want to create a "precedent" by changing an outcome after the game. But everyone admitted it was a perfect game, even the umpire. His statement should have read: "In no way will this be the start of a new precedent. Human error by umpires is a part of the game and that will not change. However, in light of the exceptionally unique circumstances in yesterday's game, including Jim Joyce's admission that he missed the call, I am changing the result and giving Armando Galarraga credit for a perfect game. The official stats will so reflect." Anyway, despite the near perfection, nothing has changed in my eyes about Galarraga - he's still the fifth starter who, just a couple of months ago, wasn't good enough to beat out Dontrelle Willis for a starting job.

Downgrades:

Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals: Would you trade Morgan, right now, for Nick Swisher? I would. In fact, I did so, about a week ago, in a trade with Kevin Payne (who sometimes fills in for me by writing this Barometer). A lot of it had to do with need (power for me, speed for him), but in my eyes, Morgan isn't the guy I hoped he'd be entering the season. Yes, he has 12 steals, but he's also been caught nine times, for a SB% of just 57%. At that rate, the Nationals can't afford to let him keep running - you have to be successful at least 65-70% of the time to justify running. Lest you think the low SB% is just an anomaly, Morgan also led the league in CS in 2009, converting just 71% of his attempts. Morgan has no power either - zero HRs, nine RBI so far in 2010 - so if he isn't given the green light to run as frequently, as I suspect may be the case going forward, he's going to disappoint you for fantasy purposes. I'm not saying I'd dump Morgan, but he's not going to meet our preseason projections at this rate (44 steals, .297 AVG, 75 runs).

Brett Anderson, SP, A's: Anderson has been terrific this year when healthy, posting 22 strikeouts, 4 walks, no HRs allowed, a 2.35 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 33 innings. Unfortunately, none of that matters now, as he's been put on the DL for the second time this season – both times due to an injured pitching elbow. Not good. If I owned Anderson, I'd hope he returns and has a good outing or two; and I'd trade him for 80-90 cents on the dollar.