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Circling the Bases: Cheap Average and Speed

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: LANCE BERKMAN
.406-9-27-24-0 in 26 games

It's all about probability. We all know that Berkman isn't going to hit .400 or sock 45 homers this season. We know that without a doubt. The question is, what is the probability that he will be able to hold on to 80 percent of his hot start? Let's look at history.

Berkman is 35 years old and is coming off two seasons of less than 140 games played. In fact, his 2010 effort of 481 plate appearances was his lowest total since 2000. A move to the outfield, from first base, shouldn't help him to stay healthier in 2011, should it? Probability says the odds of that occurring are low, even with his healthy start to the year.

What about his production at the dish?

In two of the last three seasons Berkman has failed to hit .275 and in three of the last four he has failed to hit .280. What is the probability that he'll return to hitting .300+ this year?

Berkman hasn't reached 30 homers since 2007. What is the probability that he pops more than 30 this year?

Berkman has scored 100 runs once in the last six years. What is the probability that he'll return to the triple-digit club this year?

You get the point. Berkman's age and career arc simply don't support the level of production we have currently witnessed, that much is obvious. Let's take a look at what his skills say and see if we can understand how he is doing something that he shouldn't be doing.

Always the king of the walk, Berkman simply isn't walking as often this year. In fact, his 10.3 percent walk rate would be a career low and some 50 percent below his 15.4 percent career mark. That makes no sense – not when we see his massive success at the dish. The reason the cavernous drop in his walk rate hasn't negatively affected his overall performance is that his K-rate is also a career low at 13.5 percent. Again, this makes little sense. Berkman's career mark is 19.9 and he's been over 19 percent in each of the previous five seasons. Players don't change their approach so drastically in their 13th big league season. They just don't.

More craziness.

Berkman's Isolated Power mark is .375. That's only 35 percent better than his career rate of .252. Only once in the previous four seasons was that mark even the equal of his career total, and that was his .255 mark in 2008.

Berkman's current BABIP rate is .405. Again, that's a massive improvement over his career mark of .318. Moreover, only once in the past six years had he been able to reach that career rate.

Berkman's currently producing line drives on 25.3 percent of his batter balls. The owner of a career mark of 19.7 percent, Berkman last reached his career level in 2005.

Obviously all sane people expect Berkman to regress the rest of the season. The heart of the matter is – how much? Given his age and career arc, being able to sustain even 80 percent of what we're currently seeing would be a surprise. Berkman's game has been deteriorating for years, and as a player hits his mid 30's it's nearly impossible for that trend to reverse itself. With his hot start perhaps Berkman will better his career batting average of .297 and hit 30 homers with 100 RBI for the first time since 2008. It could certainly happen, I'm not going to say it won't, I'm just going to say that the odds of it happening aren't significant, though with his blazing start he is certainly on the right path.

BREAKING DOWN: TOM GORZELANNY
1-2, 2.93 ERA, 23 Ks, 0.91 WHIP in 30.2 innings

Gorzelanny has always has a solid arm, but he's never been viewed as elite option with any outstanding skills. The result has been him shuttling between the rotation and the bullpen, sometimes with impressive results, sometimes with forgettable ones. What you want to know is can Gorzelanny be a mixed league option as a starter for the Nationals this year? Let's investigate.

Since the start of 2009, Gorzelanny has gone a middling 15-14 while making 35 starts and 21 appearances out of the bullpen. He's also walked 3.95 batters per nine innings while posting a 1.37 WHIP. None of that is anything other than replacement level stuff, which is why Gorzelanny always seems to be available on waivers when you take a look at an arm to add when someone comes down with an injury. However, there is one number that I left out that is somewhat intriguing, and that is his K/9 rate of 7.95. It's not a huge number but it's more than half a batter better than the league average in that time (7.32) and it's actually a better mark than the totals posted by Matt Garza (7.86), Cliff Lee (7.63), CC Sabathia (7.62), David Price (7.62) and Roy Oswalt (7.54). Hell, it's a mere hundredth behind the 7.96 mark of Roy Halladay. All of a sudden 7.95 is fairly interesting isn't it?

Though his K/9 rate is down a full batter at 6.75 through his handful of starts this year, Gorzelanny has also drastically cut his walk rate down to 2.64, nearly a batter and a half below his career rate of 4.07. As a result his always spotty K/BB rate of 1.63 is way up to 2.56. He flashed a similar mark (2.76) in 2009, and though it was only over 47 innings it hints that his current level of production could possibly be sustainable.

On the scary side of the ledger we have Gorzelanny's fly ball rate of 54.1 percent. Obviously this is an artifact of a small sample size since his career mark is 40.4 percent. Obviously that number should/must regress moving forward or Gorzelanny is going to have a tough time keeping that ERA of his respectable. You would also be wise to take a look at his line drive rate of 14.1 percent. We know that the big league average is 19-20 percent, and even though Gorzelanny has always been slightly better at 18.1 percent, his current rate is unsustainable.

The seeds of success are here with Gorzelanny, but there are valid questions and concerns that can be raised.

Can he continue to avoid the free pass?
Will be he able to limit batters to a line drive rate that's 20 percent below his career mark?
Will his fly ball rate decrease substantially?
Will he be able to make 30 starts for the first time since 2007?

Gorzelanny looks like a solid NL-only arm who just might sneak into the realm of mixed league relevance, though you would be wise to wade into the waters slowly – there might be sharks in there.

WHO AM I?

Amongst players with at least 1,050 plate appearances since the start of the 2008 season my .295 batting average is 30th in baseball and better than guys like David Wright (.294), Troy Tulowitzki (.294) and Jose Reyes (.291).

Last year I had a higher batting average (.304) than Hanley Ramirez (.300) and Starlin Castro (.300).

Last year I stole more bases (14) than Chase Utley (13), Alexei Ramirez (13), Tulowitzki (11) and Rickie Weeks (11).

Put the two together, my batting average and my steals, and I was one of only eleven players in the game who hit at least .300 with 14 or more steals (minimum 425 plate appearances).

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

.308: The winning percentage of Ubaldo Jimenez since he entered the All-Star break at 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 2010, Over his last 19 appearances he has gone 4-9 with a 4.40 ERA with a 1.34 ERA and a 4.5 BB/9 mark for the Rockies.

.335: The best batting average in baseball over the past calendar year by Joey Votto. Matt Holliday (.330) and Miguel Cabrera (.330) are the only other hitters in baseball who have a mark over .320 the past 365 days. At the other end of the spectrum there are two guys who have failed to reach the Mendoza Line as Carlos Pena (.184) and Mark Reynolds (.185) have been woeful.

.571: The difference between the OPS of Jose Bautista in the month of April in 2010 (.741) and this year (1.312). Bautista also more than doubled his homer total for the month going from four to nine while hitting .153 points higher (.213 to .366). Oddly though, despite all that massive improvement, he actually knocked in one fewer RBI this year (15 to 16).

4.5: The number of at-bats per stolen base for Jason Bourgeois of the Astros in 2011 as he has eight steals and just 36 ABs in 23 games. In his brief career that has consisted mostly of pinch running/hitting, Bourgeois has 199 at-bats in 122 games played. In that time he has swiped 23 bags which obviously puts him on pace to steal 60+ bases in a season of 600 at-bats. There have only been 15 seasons in the history of baseball in which a guy stole 30 or more bases while accruing less than 250 at-bats.

40 : The number of hits that Starlin Castro posted in the month of April, tied with Alex Rodriguez for the most ever by a player 21 years or younger in the first month of the season. However, that number was not the major league leading total. Andre Ethier and Placido Polanco both rapped out one more hit for a total of 41.

37: The number of home runs that Andruw Jones has hit since the start of the 2009 season. That doesn't sound like anything of note until you realize that in that time he has only 581 at-bats, or roughly a season's worth in that time. He's also knocked in 93 runs while scoring 86 times and stealing 14 bases for three teams. Unfortunately he's also hitting just .224, though he has managed to post an OPS of .803.

I AM...

The Royals' Mike Aviles, who per 525 at-bats in his young career has produced a 5x5 line of .295-12-56-75-15.


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.