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Circling the Bases: Taking a Little Off

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: Kurt Suzuki
.239-1-3-6-1 in 20 games

Suzuki has been bad this year. He's also likely to miss a game or two for the birth of his child, further infuriating his owners, which brings up the question - should you bail on the A's catcher or remain steadfast that he will turn things around?

Catchers are a bit different than other position players because of the physical toll that their body takes. Still, Kurt is just 27 years old so the wear and tear of the position shouldn't be catching up with him just yet, though you never know when it comes to catchers as any pitch could spell doom (a tweaked knee, a foul tip off a finger, etc.). Assuming that Suzuki is able to stay on the field, something he has done as well as any backstop in the game the last three years (from 2008-10 he was tied with Brian McCann for most games played by a catcher - 426), he just has to be a solid option, right? Let's take a look.

The last three years Suzuki's average season has produced a line of .266-12-67-61-4. Those numbers aren't all-star level by any means, but they clearly place Suzuki as one of the top-10 backstops in that time.

The last two years Suzuki's average season has produced a line of .259-14-80-65-6. The average might have dipped a bit, but his homer total was tied for 7th at the position, he was fourth in RBI, third in runs and fifth in steals. That has to interest you, right?

And this brings up the point I previously touched on - sometimes it's the tortoise and not the hare that wins the race. Suzuki isn't flashy - he isn't going to hit 25 homers like McCann, he isn't going to bat .320 like Joe Mauer and he doesn't have the upside of Matt Wieters, but because he plays virtually every day his counting numbers are good enough for him to be a top-10 option at the offensively challenged catcher's position. The handful of steals is also a nice little boost and help make up for a less than impressive batting average.

If we look at Suzuki's work this season we see that he is currently besting his career walk rate by nearly 50 percent, which has led to a 0.70 BB/K mark, which would be a career best total. As a result he is also working on a 3-year high in the OBP category, still a somewhat middling .329, but most catchers do struggle to get on base at an impressive clip.

There is some concern in that his fly ball rate sits at 47 percent, but I'm willing to write that off to the small sample size given that his career rate is 38.7 percent. When the fly balls fall back in line with his career norm, you can expect his batting average to climb a wee bit.

In the end Suzuki is somewhat boring. However, 135 games of boring is quite possibly better than 105 games of good, so remember that before you cast off Suzuki because of his somewhat slow start.

BREAKING DOWN: Wade Davis
2-2, 2.73 ERA, 10 Ks, 1.18 WHIP in 26.1 IP

Early in the year, because of small sample sizes, there are always outliers that make little sense. Josh Tomlin posting a 2.33 ERA or John Lackey sitting at 6.35, and we know those things will likely even out over the course of the season. However, what do you do with a guy who has always been thought of as a potential horse in the rotation when said pitcher has apparently changed the way he pitches?

A report came out a few weeks ago that Davis decided to alter his pitching style a bit. I'm not talking about throwing left-handed instead of righty, and I'm not talking about him adding a pitch to his arsenal. The change was a bit more subtle than that. Davis decided to "pitch" a bit more by lessening the mph a bit to help with his control. Through four starts his average fastball has been 90.0 mph, a full two mph below his career rate. So far so good, his ratios have been sparkling, but it does bring up an issue that needs to be addressed. Even if Davis is able to sustain success pitching like this, 10 Ks in four starts is an abysmal total (even Jamie Moyer would be embarrassed by that). Moreover, if strikeouts aren't going to be part of his game, then Davis' fantasy value would go in the tank in terms of mixed leagues. We're talking about a guy who was a K per inning guy in the minors dropping down to 3.42 per nine thus far this season. There were already concerns about whether or not Davis could be a difference maker if he were to sustain his 6.05 K/9 mark from last year. If he stays down where he is right now, history says it will be nearly impossible for him to be even a league average pitcher.

Why? Strikeouts get you out of jams, we all know that. You don't have to have them in copious amounts to be successful, but it certainly helps. Unless you are a knuckle ball pitcher, or you have guys burning up the infield with grounders, it's damn near impossible to be successful if your K/BB ratio is 1.25 as Davis' currently is (the big league average was just over 2.00 last year). Given that Davis' GB/FB ratio is also 0.80, below his career mark of 0.91 and even further below the big league average which is usually around 1.10, he simply doesn't profile as a pitcher who will be able to sustain his current level of success. It's also disconcerting to see his fly ball rate continue to climb, it's currently over 46 percent, He has always been able to keep the homers in check, but if you allow that many fly balls eventually you end up being bit by the long ball.

The Rays might like what they are seeing right now, and in fairness the results have been great, but if Davis keeps this up for 28 more starts his future will look a lot more like Nick Blackburn than Jered Weaver.

WHO AM I?

Since 2003 I've hit more doubles, 198, than Alex Rodriguez (195) and Chipper Jones (195).
Since 2003 I've hit more homers, 121, than Brandon Inge (111).
Since 2003 I've had more extra base hits, 335, than all but seven others who have played my position - third base.
From 2003-10 I've hit at least 17 homers each season.
From 2003-10 I've knocked in at least 58 runs each year.
From 2003-10 I've scored at least 56 runs each season.

All of that might not sound like much, but over the past eight years I'm one of only six players to have reached all three of those figures in each season. The others are Carlos Lee, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols.

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

.185: The combined batting average of the Angels' Vernon Wells (.174) and Torii Hunter (.196). The duo is so cold right now that if you added together their respective batting averages you come up with .370 which is only six points behind the AL leader in batting average - Jose Bautista (.364).

.889: The winning percentage of A.J. Burnett in the month of April since he joined the Yankees (he is 8-1). It's not at all surprising that he has been unable to maintain that blistering pace the rest of the way as his winning percentage after the first month of the season is just .429 (18-24).

.308: The batting average of Wilson Betemit since he joined the Royals last season. Now we are only talking about 331 at-bats, but do you know how many third basemen that have at least 350 plate appearances since the start off the 2010 season have a better batting average? The answer is just two - Adrian Beltre (.313) and Ryan Zimmerman (.309). Who knew?

67.0: The percentage of his 2010 win total that Aaron Harang has already posted in 2011. He won six games in 22 appearances last year and he has won all four of his appearances this season for the Reds. In fact, Harang also won only six games in 2009 meaning that he is already a third of the way to his win total (12) of the last two seasons.

4: The number of seasons that Joey Votto could improve his BB/K mark if he continues his current pace. In 84 at-bats as a rookie he posted a poor 0.33 mark. In his first full season he upped that mark to a league average 0.58. In 2009 it inched upward a tad to 0.66. During his MVP effort last year it took another little notch upward to 0.73. This season he has 19 walks and just 11 strikeouts leading to an absolutely phenomenal mark of 1.73. Obviously the number will regress, but he's going to really fall off the pace not to improve the number for a fourth straight year.

3.35: The ERA of Brett Anderson since he began his career in 2009. Injuries have limited his innings to just 322.1 in that time, but pitching in the American League his ERA is still an impressive mark. To place it in context, do you know how many pitchers in the AL who have thrown at least 320 innings since the start of the 2009 season have a better ERA? The answer is just seven and Anderson has actually posted a better mark than Justin Verlander (3.42).

I AM...

... the Dodgers' boring but somehow always effective Casey Blake. Loving life in the #2 hole with the Dodgers this season, Blake is hitting .321 with a .446 OBP and 15 runs scored through 14 games.

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.