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Circling the Bases: Just Short of Elite

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: Melky Cabrera
.279-9-43-44-10 in 330 at-bats

Admit it. You're just like me in that you don't really pay much attention to the Royals. Even more than that, I bet you pretty much breezed right over names like Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera on draft day without even giving them a second thought. I know I did. Nearly halfway into the season both players have had their uses, and though Frenchie is on pace for 20 homers and 90 RBI, his all-swing ways have once again led to poor production and a downturn in his output the past two months (he had one homer in June and was hitting just .237 over his last 50 games played heading into Tuesday's game.). You already knew not to expect Francoeur to keep up his excellent early season work, but what should we expect from the former Yankees' prospect with the odd first name?

Cabrera does everything fairly well, though he doesn't have an exceptional skill in his bag of tricks. That fact is patently obvious when you take a look at his career slash line that is eerily reminiscent of a league average batter.

Cabrera: .268/.327/.385
League: .267/.335/.422

Yeah, that's not exciting. Strike one for Melky.

He'd better have a lot of power or speed then, right? Well he doesn't really have either. He's stolen double-digit bags on four occasions, but he's never exceeded 13 thefts. As for the power, only once has he hit more than nine homers. While it's true that he's never been a really huge at-bat guy, he has been over 400 ABs in each of the past five years, so he's been out there plenty.

Strike two for Melky.

But wait, he's on pace to challenge 20/20 this season so things have changed for the better, right? I'm not at all certain that things have changed.

This season his average is a mere .011 points better than normal.
This season his OBP is .318, slightly below his terrible .327 career mark.

If you don't get on base it's pretty hard to steal bases. Maybe the Royals don't care and they'll let him continue to run, but with an OBP as low as it is even 20 steals is hard to feel good about predicting.

As for the power, Melky has a 32.6 fly ball rate, slightly above his career 32 percent mark (the big league average is usually around 38 percent). So if he isn't hitting more fly balls the explanation must be his HR/F ratio then. Owner of a career mark of 6.6 percent in the HR/F category, Cabrera is up at 9.8 percent this season. While he did post a mark of 10.3 percent in 2009, the other four seasons of his career he's failed to reach his career average. If he gets 600 at-bats he's certainly a threat to 20 homers if he keeps up his current HR/F rate, but that strains credulity a bit.

The truth of the matter is that, with everyday playing time that Cabrera is a decent depth option in the outfield in a mixed league. He's still nothing but league average with a bat in his hands, a fact that doesn't seem to bother the Royals who seem intent on running him out there every day. If he continues to run as frequently as he has been his value will remain strong, but don't be surprised if there is a slow regression here back to mediocrity.

BREAKING DOWN: Jair Jurrjens
10-3, 2.07 ERA, 55 Ks, 1.14 WHIP in 95.2 innings

Obviously this is the second straight Year of the Pitcher, but there are still limits to what anyone should be expecting from even the elite hurlers (do you really think that Josh Beckett is going to finish the year with an ERA under 2.00?). What do we do when we are talking about a hurler whose name should not be mentioned anywhere near a sentence that includes elite? In case you didn't pick up the context there, let me be clear - Jurrjens has been fantastic to this point of the season but he is not, nor will he ever be, an elite fantasy pitcher. Here we go on our wild ride, so strap up.

The knee-jerk reaction is to say 'well, he went 14-10 with a 2.60 ERA in 2009, so he's just this good when healthy.' That's why they call it knee-jerk, because it's pretty much an involuntary response to stimuli. In this case it's simply not an accurate depiction of the talent that Jurrjens possesses. Let me be clear yet again - I'm not saying that Jurrjens isn't a very good big league hurler, nor am I saying that he won't be in the running for many an All-Star game over the years. What I'm saying is that (a) he is not an elite level hurler; and (b), he certainty isn't someone you should be counting on to be one in the fantasy game.

(1) Jurrjens doesn't strike anyone out, and it's only gotten more dreary in this respect this year. In his career Jurrjens has averaged 6.20 Ks per nine innings while the league average has been 7.11. That's a batter a game difference leaving him well below big league average in this measure. In 2011 that number has dipped to 5.17, and we all know that when it dips below 6.0/9IP that a pitcher could easily be in pretty big trouble, right?

(2) In his career Jurrjens has walked 3.07 batters per nine, slightly better than the league average during that time of 3.40. That certainly helps a bit when it comes to his putrid K-rate, but there are still two issues. First, Jurrjens had posted a BB/9 rate of at least 3.14 in each of his four seasons prior to this year. Therefore, expecting him to knock a full walk off that mark, down to his current level of 2.07 is asking an awful lot, probably too much if we're being honest about it. Second, his K/BB ratio is barely passable. In fact, I would argue that it's actually not as his 2.02 career mark is below the league average of 2.09. It is up this year at 2.50, but again, in each of his previous four seasons we've seen nothing like this rate (it's never been better than 2.05).

(3) The best way to combat points #1 and 2 would be if Jurrjens is an extreme ground ball pitcher. Unfortunately he isn't. In his career his GB rate is 45 percent, and it's actually a bit worse this year at just 43 percent. The big league average is usually in the 43-45 percent range.

So we have a guy who is average in his ability to induce grounders and average with his K/BB ratio. That doesn't scream out 2.07 ERA or 20 wins.

I could continue to break things down with Jurrjens by saying things like his xFIP is 3.80 and that his left on base percentage is 84 percent to “prove” to you that there is no way he is going to keep this up, but hopefully I don't need to belabor the point. Jurrjens is a very good major league hurler but without the Ks, and with his ratios certain to rise, his fantasy value is almost certain to be at its peak right now.

WHO AM I?

I have more wins than Gavin Floyd, Anibal Sanchez, Jaime Garcia, Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum.

I have more strikeouts than Yovani Gallardo, CC Sabathia, Dan Haren, Max Scherzer and Matt Cain.

I have a better ERA than Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez, Ricky Romero, Jordan Zimmermann, Cliff Lee and Shaun Marcum.

I have a better WHIP than Clayton Kershaw, Tommy Hanson and Roy Halladay.

I'm harder to hit than all but four other pitchers in baseball: Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander, Hanson and Jered Weaver.

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

.189: The batting average of Logan Morrison in June, a far cry from the .327 mark he posted in April and the .313 mark he had in May. Moreover, Morrison has an OPS of .567 in June, roughly half of his mark of 1.061 in April. So much for his hot start. Maybe the Marlins should let him Tweet more (@lomomarlins).

.485: The added batting average of Ichiro in the months of May (.210) and June (.275). In 2004 he hit .432 in July and .463 in August (.448 over 54 games).

1: The number of save chances that Heath Bell has blown since May of 2010 as he has converted 55 of 56 chances. Look at the blown save totals of some of the hurlers just from three months this season: Jordan Walden (six), Craig Kimbrel (five), Joakim Soria (five) and Sean Burnett (five).

2: The number of months this season that Raul Ibanez has failed to hit his weight. Ibanez was great in May hitting .315 with seven homers, 19 RBI and 18 runs scored, but if we combine his production over 46 games in April and June he'd have one homer, 13 RBI and 14 runs scored. Oh yeah, his average in those two months is .161 in April and .200 so far in June.

66.0: The percentage of RBI this season that Jay Bruce produced in the month of May. Bruce has 33 of his 55 RBI in that month despite playing just 37 percent of his games in that stanza. Look at the shocking differences between his hot month and the two slow ones.

.342-12-33-53: May
.228-5-17-23: March-April-June

73.3: The percentage of his 15 starts this season - 11 - that the Mariners' Doug Fister has received two or fewer runs of support. On the year his run support mark is 3.43, the worst in baseball. Teammate Michael Pineda has the 10th worst support with a mark of 4.42. Still, that total is a full run more per outing than what Fister has been supported by.

96.0: The percent of his career starts in which Gio Gonzalez has emerged with a victory when the Athletics have scored at least three runs or more when he has been on the hill. In those 25 games he is 24-1. This season the A's just haven't been scoring for Gio as nine of his 14 starts have resulted in no more than two runs of support rendering the man with a 2.59 ERA, sixth in the AL, with a mere 6-5 record.

I AM...

The Mariners' Michael Pineda. How good has he been? Could you pick out his numbers from the duo below?

7-4, 2.45 ERA, 94 Ks, 1.00 WHIP, .199 BAA
8-6, 3.19 ERA, 118 Ks, 1.16 WHIP, .227 BAA

Pineda is line #1. Do you know who owns line #2? That's right, it's Pineda's teammate Felix Hernandez.

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.

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