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Circling the Bases: Breaking Down Brian Roberts

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

BREAKING DOWN: Brian Roberts
.294-2-8-4-0 in 17 at-bats

From 2004-09 Brian Roberts was a strong up the middle presence in the fantasy game. So strong in fact that he averaged the following fantasy line - .290-12-62-100-35. How many players reached all five of those totals in 2010? The answer is one - Carl Crawford. Moreover, from 2007-09 he became the only player in the history of baseball to have 3-straight efforts of 100 runs, 30 steals and 40 doubles. Who wouldn't want that guy as their starting second baseman?

Alas, last year was a total disaster as multiple health issues, chiefly a wonky back, limited him to a mere 59 games played, the first time he had appeared in less than 138 contests since 2003. Entering the 2011 season filled with physical uncertainty, and preparing to enter his 34th year on the planet, Roberts draft day stock was pretty low (an ADP of 133, 12th at the second base position). With his hot start to the year expectations have risen once again. Should they?

It's so tough to tell what to do with a player who is aging and all of a sudden has an injury filled campaign. Was it merely a coincidence or a harbinger of things to come? Given all the setbacks that Roberts had last year, and the fact that he also had some hiccups in spring, you can't blame anyone for passing over him on draft day (I didn't take him in a single league). However, if we look at his effort last season when he actually was on the field, his production wasn't that bad. Roberts had a walk rate of 10 percent, a dead on match for his career mark. His K-rate of 17.6 percent was the third straight year that the total was 17 percent. The result was a BB/K mark of 0.65, slightly off his career mark of 0.75. However, he did see an increase in his fly ball rate as it went up to an 8-year high at 44.7 percent. Given that he has never hit 20 homers in a season, that mark is getting into danger territory. I'd like to think that perhaps his back just didn't allow him that extra quickness needed to hit the ball on the line, but we'll have to see because he won't be a successful hitter putting that many balls into the air.

If you compare his 2009 performance to what he would have done in 2010 if he had appeared in 160 games, you get a similar level of production in a few key categories.

2009: .283 average, .356 OBP, 30 steals
2010: .278 average, .354 OBP, 33 steals

The key with Roberts is obviously his health. The fast start in the homer category is a joke, he isn't going to suddenly become a 20-homer bat, and given that he's never cracked 80 RBI in a season you can expect his production in that category to slow as well. However, the guy has hit at least .278 in 6-straight campaigns, still seems to have his 30-steals wheels, and he should score plenty of runs if he can drag his body out onto the field. Roberts is a certain risk, but his skills say that he can be an effective fantasy weapon with health in 2011.

BREAKING DOWN: Randy Wells
1-0, 1.50 ERA, 6 K, 1.67 WHIP in six innings

Everyone loves to jump on whoever has a nice start as the idea of sample size apparently rarely makes an appearance outside the walls of a university. One pitcher who had a solid first start was Randy Wells. Should you be interested in adding the sinker-baller to your roster if you need pitching help in mixed leagues?

Wells did a lot of things well last season (that was so clever wasn't it?), and at the top of that list is the fact that he took the ball 32 times. It may not sound like much, but in the world of the ever present DL stay, health is a huge positive. Randy also upped his K-rate by a full batter in his second season, though that still only moved the mark to 6.67 per nine, about half a batter lower than the league average. Unfortunately his walk rate also went up about a half a batter with the end result being that his K/BB mark was virtually unchanged going from 2.26 to 2.29. He was a rock once again in the GB/FB ratio with a 1.41 mark, a year after posting a 1.44 level, but his HR/9 mark inched upward a bit to a still decent 0.88 per nine.

All of that data brings up a point that needs to be made. At his best Wells is a solid major league starter and potential fantasy contributor in deep mixed leagues, but in truth there just isn't much to hang your hat on in terms of him being an upside play in the fantasy game. Consider the following data points.

(1) Wells will never strike out enough batters to be of benefit in that category despite his first showing this year. In his career he has a 6.19 per nine mark versus the league average of 7.25 in that time.

(2) Because his strikeout total is low, his K/BB ratio will likely always be average. In his career its 2.20 versus the league average of 2.13.

(3) His hit per nine mark is 9.22 meaning it's a bit easier to get on base against him via a swing than against most hurlers (league average of 8.85).

So let's recap. He doesn't strike out batters at a league average rate and gives up more hits than normal while being completely boring in his K/BB mark. There's more to pitching than those three signposts of course, but they should illustrate the type of pitcher that Wells is - an effective one when he is on, but not much else. His greatest strength is his ability to keep the ball on the ground, but even there he was just 38th with a ground ball ratio of 46.9 percent in 2010. Unless he is somehow able to pull some skills out of his hat that we haven't as yet seen, he is going to have a tough time ever rising about the level of being a 5th starter in mixed leagues. Keep that in mind before you go rushing to the waiver-wire to add him to your club.

WHO AM I?

I own a career ERA of 3.61 compared to the league average of 4.16 during my career. That ERA of 3.61 is also 23rd in baseball among qualifiers in that time.

I own a career WHIP of 1.17. That WHIP is 10th in baseball during my career. To further emphasize that numbers significance, Jon Lester has never posted a WHIP that low in a single season (the past three years he has been at 1.27, 1.23 and 1.20).

I may not be a big strikeout hurler (6.55 K/9), but thanks to my ability to throw strikes I own a 3.22 K/BB ratio in my career, the 16th best mark among pitchers who have qualified for the ERA title during my career.

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

4: The number of games that Nelson Cruz has homered in to start the year. That streak of 4-straight games to open the year with a homer ties the major league record also held by Willie Mays (1971) and Mark McGwire (1998). That also means that over his last 112 games that Cruz has gone deep 26 times which equates to 38 homers over the course of 162 games. Amazingly, over his last 162 games he has actually hit precisely 38 homers.

7: The number of RBI that Carlos Quentin has through three games this season. Over his final 15 games last season he knocked in five runs. Five also happens to be the number of RBI this season for Brian McCann. No other Braves' batter has more than two RBI, a total that is only half of the mark of four posted by Giants' rookie Brandon Belt. At the other end of the age spectrum, Alfonso Soriano also has four RBI.

14.26: The K/9 rate of Jordan Walden over the course of 17.2 big league innings. If we use 15 innings as the baseline we find that Walden's K-rate is the second best mark in the history of baseball. The leader is another young flame thrower, Craig Kimbrel of the Braves, who has an unbelievable mark of 17.87.

16: The current hitting streak of Mark Ellis who finished last year with a 13 gamer going. During that 16 game stretch he has hit .387 thanks to 24 hits in 62 at-bats. Moreover, in his last 34 games he is batting a robust .397. Take that those of you who thought he was useless in terms of his fantasy value.

36.3: The percentage of Ryan Hanigan's RBI total from 2009 (11) that he has produced through two games in 2011 (four). He's done it in 244 fewer at-bats.

37.5: The percentage of hits this season by Starlin Castro that have gone for extra bases (one double and two triples). You'd have to think he has little chance at keeping up that pace, last year his extra base hit to hit ratio was 28.0 percent, but it certainly is an encouraging development for a player who is coming off a huge spring where he flashed the power that he failed to deliver as a 20 year old rookie last season.

1,004: The most RBI ever by a designated hitter, a mark now held by David Ortiz as he passed the previous record holder, Edgar Martinez. Ortiz has only 170 RBI as a first baseman meaning 85 percent of his career RBI production has come from the DH spot. Talk about a guy who owes his career to a rule change.

I AM...

The Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda. He may have produced only 28 victories his first three seasons, but Kuroda is a heck of a pitcher who likely went undervalued on draft day as the right-handed version of Ted Lilly.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 211 and XM 147. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.