I read an interesting article about how Max Scherzer studies statistics to help with his pitching (h/t Scott Pianowski). It's the same concept I try to utilize in this column - not to overreact to hot or cold streaks, but to ignore the variables caused by luck and to see whose value has increased or decreased in some measurable way.
Here's my latest attempt to do so, including a view on Lance Berkman that may surprise you.
As always, feel free to provide any suggestions and respectful disagreement in the comments.
Matt LaPorta, 1B/OF and Michael Brantley, OF, Indians: With the Indians going nowhere fast (and having a hole in the outfield now that Shin-Soo Choo is out 6-8 weeks with a sprained thumb), LaPorta and Brantley should finally get a chance at regular playing time. LaPorta has plus power and no speed, whereas Brantley has plus speed and no power, but the question for both is whether they can bring their terrific plate discipline from Triple-A - where both posted more walks than strikeouts - to the major league level. As we've seen with young hitters (power hitters especially, see Mike Stanton, below), that's often easier to say than do.
Erick Aybar, SS, Angels: After missing eight games in late June with knee issues, Aybar is back to playing every day and leading off for Anaheim. With middle infield becoming a fantasy wasteland (Troy Tulowitzki, Chase Utley, and Dustin Pedroia are all on the shelf), take a look at Aybar - he's owned in just 49% of Yahoo! leagues, has 12 steals, and should approach a .300 average. He's nowhere near the caliber of Tulo, Utley, or Pedroia, as his lack of power and LD% of just 14% will attest, but he's certainly a better fantasy option than any of the replacements that Colorado, Philadelphia, and Boston are inserting into their lineups to replace the injured stars.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Guess who sits atop ESPN's Player Rater? Nothing about his stats suggests he can't keep this up, either - he's on pace for roughly the same number of homers and steals as last season, and his BB:K rate is up to .60.
Jim Thome, DH, Twins: I'm not going to wax nostalgic with you about Thome passing Harmon Killebrew on the all-time home run list - that's irrelevant for fantasy purposes. Instead, let's take note of Thome's increasing playing time, 10 HRs in just 124 ABs, and .985 OPS. As long as Michael Cuddyer can continue to handle third base - and so far, so good - Thome should continue to post solid numbers as the Twins DH, at least against right-handed pitchers. He can help in the power categories in medium-sized leagues.
Jamie Moyer, SP, Phillies: Earlier this year, I read somewhere that Phillies relievers like to joke that they can't wait to have grandchildren so they can bring them to see Moyer pitch. But let's put the jokes aside for a moment, forget about Moyer's age, and look at the stats. 1.06 WHIP. 25 strikeouts his last 4 starts. 9 wins. 3.11 K/BB. Yes, he's been a bit lucky (.235 BABIP), but I've begun using Moyer as a matchup starter in the 15-team Staff League, and I'm comfortable suggesting you do the same.
Huston Street, RP, Rockies: Street's return from injury has been fantastic - five innings, six strikeouts, no runs, no walks, 2-for-2 in saves. With the way Franklin Morales has pitched this season, and how Manny Corpas has looked recently, it's hard to see Street losing the closer job. As long as he can stay healthy, Street will be a top-10 closer from here on out.
Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros: What's the best way to summarize Berkman's struggles in 2010? Every year of his career (since 2000), his OPS has been above .900; this year, it's .747. Berkman turned 34 this year, so it's easy to write him off - and that's just what Yahoo! owners are doing, as he's owned in just 71% of Yahoo! leagues. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I see no reason for a downgrade. When I study Berkman's stats, I see three things: (1) a LD% of 19% - as high as it's been since 2005; (2) despite the higher LD%, a BABIP of just .285, well below his career mark of .318; and (3) a HR/FB of just 8.8%, which is incredibly low when you consider that Berkman's HR/FB has never been below 12% in any season of his career. Factor in that Berkman may get traded this summer, which would undoubtedly rejuvenate him, and I'm buying here, especially if the price is just a waiver claim.
Coco Crisp, OF, A's: I was about to upgrade Crisp, who has been playing every day for Oakland and, at his best, can post double-digit homers, 20 steals, and an average around .300. On Sunday, though, Crisp's biggest problem emerged again - injuries. This time, it's another hamstring injury. Keep Crisp in mind, even in medium sized mixed leagues, if he can prove he's healthy, but be aware that he rarely is.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays: When I was searching for middle infield replacements for Tulo, I considered a trade for Hill. As I deliberated with Hill's owner, immediately mentioning his horrible .189 AVG (yikes!), he was quick to point out that Hill's BABIP was unlucky - just .183 - and his luck was sure to improve. That sounded reasonable, until I saw that Hill's LD% was 11% (and now just 10%). This is not a sample size issue, either - Hill now has 297 ABs. In a couple of years, might we look back at Hill's 36 HRs in 2009 and view them the same way we view the 35 HRs posted by Bill Hall (who is currently pretending to fill in for Dustin Pedroia in Boston) in 2006? Only time will tell. Right now though, I'm not convinced Hill is a "buy low" merely because of his 2009 stats and low BABIP. I’d like to see some line drives out of Hill before investing in him.
Mike Stanton, OF, Marlins: Stanton's power is well known, but right now he's overmatched at the major league level. He has 35 strikeouts in 82 ABs, good for a .57% contact rate and .575 OPS. In yearly leagues, Stanton has virtually no value right now, and I don't see that changing any time soon.