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Circling the Bases: The Hammer

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: Josh Willingham
.246-9-35-22-3 in 171 ABs

Through a third of his first season with the Athletics, Willingham has more than doubled his next closest teammate in homers (no other Athletic has more than four), and his total of 35 RBIs is 16 more than David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui. Obviously the A's could use some more offensive production, but by any measure Willingham has been a terrific run producer as he has posted the sixth highest RBI mark in the American League. So who is this Willingham guy, a player many of you have never seen in person?

A 32 year old outfielder with a power bat, Willingham is always seemingly dealing with some physical malady. As a result, he has been held to fewer than 135 games played each of the past three years. Despite averaging only 383 at-bats a season in that time he has averaged 18 homers and 56 RBI a season. Those are obviously numbers that mark him as someone of importance in single league setups. If he could stay healthy, he could be a mixed league weapon. The only two times he has recorded 500 at-bats, 2006 and 2007, he hit 26 and 21 homers while knocking in 74 and 89 runners. Moreover, per 162 games in his career, he has averaged 25 bombs and 84 RBI. If he can just stay on the field you have to feel good about his chances of being a solid depth option in mixed leagues, even playing half his games in a park that clearly favors the pitcher.

There are of course concerns that extend beyond his career long health woes.

(1) Willingham rarely steals bases, with only 28 thefts in his career. He did swipe eight bags last year and has three this season, but he just isn't going to be running much.

(2) His career batting average sits at .264. It's been a relatively consistent run though to that mark given that his average has been between .254 and .277 each of the past five years. He may not post a strong mark, but at least you have a pretty good idea what you should be planning for.

(3) While he's never been a big time strikeout bat, he does strike out a quarter of the time. As with the batting average he has been extremely consistent here with a K-rate between 21.7 and 24.4 percent each of the past six years. That means you can reasonably expect some regression from his current rate of 33 percent, and when that happens his batting average should come up.

(4) Willingham's BABIP is .306, and again you'd be hard pressed to find a more consistent performer as his BABIP has been between .289 and .309 the past five years.

If Willingham can stay healthy enough to accrue 500 at-bats there is little reason to think that he won't be able to match his 2006-07 level of production, and there is certainly a lot of value in that.

BREAKING DOWN: Jason Hammel
3-5, 3.89 ERA, 40 K, 1.34 WHIP in 69.1 innings

Over the past couple of years Hammel has been better than the results often appeared. In The Strikeout: Starters, I noted that Hammel was one of only 26 big league hurlers who struck out more than seven batters per nine innings with a K/BB ratio of 2.75 or better in 2010 (minimum 100 IP). Because of that, I suggested buying low on a guy that most would likely overlook on draft day.

Through 11 starts Hammel owns a solid 3.89 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, and those numbers were much better before his last start in which he got blasted for seven runs in just 4.2 innings (the ratios were 3.20 and 1.27). That last start was also the first time in 10 outings that he failed to pitch at least six innings, and just the third time in 10 outings that he didn't produce a “quality start.”

So all is pretty much right in the world of Hammel, right? Well, not so much.

First, that 7.14 K/9 rate from last season has regressed to a mere 5.19 this season, almost a batter and a half below his career rate.

Second, his BB/9 rate of 2.73 is a solid mark, but it would also represent a 3-year high (2.14 and 2.38). As a result, he's really going to have to turn things around to continue his two year run of posting a K/BB mark of 3.0 or better as he currently is sitting at a decidedly poor 1.90.

Third, though his BABIP is .292, pretty much the big league average, it's well below his career .321 rate. Considering that his BABIP mark has been at least .326 in four of his previous five seasons, there are questions about his ability to sustain his current rate.

Those are the three biggest concerns right now, and they are substantial ones. At the same time, there is still a lot to like with Hammel.

(1) His GB/FB ratio this year is 1.37. It's 1.33 for his career.
(2) His current line drive rate of 20.9 percent is only half a point better than his career mark of 20.4 percent.
(3) He's working on a third straight year with a HR/F ratio in single digits (currently 8.0 percent).
(4) His left on base percentage of 69.6 percent is a near identical match for his 69.5 and 68.6 marks of the past two seasons.

It would be beneficial if he could rediscover his lost strikeout pitch, and if he could cut a bit off his walk rate, but the truth is that Hammel is a solid big league hurler. He's not going to be a strong weapon in 10-12 team mixed leagues unless that punch out rate improves, but in 15 team leagues, or in NL-only setups, this appears to a guy who, with little fanfare, can take the ball every five days for your club and give you a pretty solid chance to end the day with a better than average effort.

WHO AM I?

I've never won more than 11 games. Still, I'm one of only 35 pitchers who have won in double-digits each of the past three years.

I've posted an ERA under 4.00 in three of the past four seasons. Moreover, I'm one of only 19 who have posted an ERA below 3.85 in three of the last four years. The four guys have been below 3.85 in each of the last four years are: CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana and Matt Cain.

I'm by no means a star, but in three of the last four years my WHIP has been 1.21, 1.23 and 1.16. In fact, over the last four years, amongst pitchers who have tossed at least 162 innings, my base runner per nine mark of 11.71 per nine is 23rd in baseball and better than guys like Ryan Dempster, Wandy Rodriguez, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza.

I've had all this success without ever striking anyone out. At no point in my career have I ever posted more than 123 punchouts, and that has always limited my fantasy value.

This year I have a better ERA than Max Scherzer, Colby Lewis and Jon Lester. I also have the 14th best WHIP in the American League.

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

1: The number of pitchers in the American League who have won seven games. That pitcher is Jon Lester who is 7-2. Lester also has 74 Ks in 75.1 innings on the year, but it's been an odd ride. Lester had a 2.52 ERA an a 1.12 WHIP in his first six starts while his last six starts have resulted in a 5.50 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP. Oddly, his K-ratio has improved over his last six outings from 8.00 per nine to 9.75.

5: The number of home runs hit by Kelly Johnson in his last nine games, this after hitting four in his first 42 contests. The recent run puts him back on pace to once again blow past 20 homers (he had a career best 26 last year). Far from just hitting homers of late, Johnson has scored a run in 8-straight games (10 total) while knocking in 14 runs in his last 10 trips out onto the field.

12: The number of homers that Jay Bruce has hit in May. That ties the Reds' May record by Adam Dunn (July 2008). That massive May has given Bruce 16 homers in 52 games this season, which when added to his final 43 games from last season give him 31 big flies in his last 95 games. Face it, Bruce is currently the NL version of Jose Bautista.

12.54: The big league leading K/9 mark of Zack Greinke over the last 30 days, the best mark in the game, more than two full batters ahead of the 10.41 mark of second place Brandon Morrow. Obviously Greinke isn't going to keep up this pace, not with a 7.68 career mark (his high was 9.50 in 2009). At the same time, it does seem possible that Morrow will be able to keep up his current pace. After all, he did lead all of baseball (minimum 100 IP) with a K/9 mark of 10.95 last season.

16: The AL leading RBI total of Mark Teixeira the past two weeks (Jay Bruce leads the NL with 19 RBI). Not many seem to have taken notice that Tex is simply blasting away with seven homers the last 14 days, also the best mark in the Junior Circuit. The recent run has put him on pace for 49 bombs, 119 RBI and 99 runs scored. His career best marks are 43 homers, 144 RBI and 113 runs scored.

30: The date of Memorial Day. What happened Monday? Lots. There were more homers hit (46) than any day this season. There were more runs scored (169) than any day this season. Doug Fister was the only hurler who took a no-hitter past the second inning. Jo-Jo Reyes finally got a victory after going 28-straight starts without one. Quite the day.

30.3: The major league leading homer to fly ball ratio of none other than Jose Bautista. While that's hardly a surprise, what about this – any idea who is number 2? No, it's not Jay Bruce at 19.8 percent, or Curtis Granderson as 20.3 percent. In fact, I bet I could give you 20 guesses an you would never call out the name of Howie Kendrick who is second at 22.6 percent. Wow is right.

I AM...

The Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie. He may not have exciting skills, and he's never a mixed league target because of his lack of punchouts, but when you head to the waiver-wire when one of your hurlers is injured or your staff needs a pick me up, there are few safer options that you could add.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 210 and XM 87. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.