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Circling the Bases: Not Winning

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: Michael Cuddyer
.298-13-43-41-7 in 312 at-bats

You may or may not have noticed just how impressive the performance has been for Cuddyer this year. His efforts are even more interesting given that he hit .226 with a .642 OPS in April. In fact, since May 1st he's been elite at the dish: .329/.402/.525 with 10 homers, 39 RBI and 33 runs in 59 games. When you add in that he qualifies at multiple positions, his outlook is intriguing. Here are his games played totals the past two years at each position.

2010: OF (68), 3B (14), 1B (84)
2011: OF (50), 1B (24), 2B (13)

So what should we make of a guy who most likely qualifies at 1B, 2B and OF at a minimum, when he's hitting like this?

Cuddyer has long been an effective hitter. However, he's never been elite. He was pretty darn close in 2009 when he hit 32 homers with 94 RBI and 93 runs, but he only stole six bases while hitting .276 that season. Still ...

He's only had one season of 25 homers.
He's only had two seasons of 85 RBI.

His power is solid, but again, it's not difference-making pop. In fact, he has more seasons of at least 350 plate appearances with less than 17 homers (three), than more than 15 homers (two). Cuddyer is currently on pace to hit more than 20 homers, and while it seems likely that he will get there, it may not be much more than 20. Currently sporting a 14.4 percent HR/F ratio, that mark is more than two points above his career mark of 12.3 percent. It also should be pointed out that he's posted a mark in single digits in three of the past four years, and that he now plays his home games in one of the hardest parks to go deep in. It also doesn't help that his batted ball profile is one of a speedster, not a middle of the order threat. Cuddyer hasn't posted a fly ball rate of 40 percent since 2004 (the league average is usually about 38-40 percent). When you don't hit that many balls sky ward, you had better do a great job converting fly balls into home runs, and as I just mentioned, that isn't a forte of Cuddyer.

Cuddyer does a nice job of chipping in a few steals, but he's never hit double-digits though he has swiped at least five in six straight years.

So the speed isn't there, and the homer total figures to be solid but nothing more, which means we need Cuddyer to be a good batting average producer. Well, not so much. Cuddyer owns a career average of .272 in nearly 3,900 career at-bats. He's consistently at that level as well. In each of the last four seasons he has failed to hit .280. Moreover, he's hit better than .280 just once in his career (back in 2006 he hit .284). That doesn't seem to suggest that his current .298 mark will continue. A glance over at the line drive column shows a mark of 17.3 percent. Not only is that below his career mark of 18.5 percent, a mark he himself hasn't reached since 2008, it's well below the standard big league average of 19-20 percent making it easily understandable as to why Cuddyer isn't a big time batting average producer. Given that his GB/FB ratio of 1.44 is pretty close to his career mark of 1.32, how do we explain the increase in his average this year? His BABIP is slightly up at .316, a mark that would be a four-year high, but certainly a sustainable pace. He's also done a better job with the strikeouts this season than ever before, his 13.7 percent K-rate would be a career best, but there would still seem to be too much evidence that a run at .300 seems improbable.

Cuddyer will continue to have value if for no other reason that he qualifies all over the field. It would seem like a fair bet that his production will slightly regress in the second half, but it would also be prudent to expect a soft landing for the Virginia born player.

BREAKING DOWN: Matt Harrison
7-7, 3.04 ERA, 66 Ks, 1.28 WHIP over 103.2 IP

Harrison has been very solid this year for the Rangers, but does that make him anything more than a decent AL-only option?

Let's start by comparing Harrison's work this season to the American League average.

Harrison: 3.04 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 5.73 K/9, 1.78 K/BB, 8.33 H/9
League: 3.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.76 K/9, 2.16 K/BB, 8.63 H/9

Look at that. Despite what appears to be a rather solid pitching line Harrison is barely keeping up with the league average this season as offense continues to dry up. In fact, you can look at the above numbers and say that Harrison is actually pitching at a level that is slightly below a league average arm in the AL. That can't make you feel warm and fuzzy if you own him.

First, he doesn't strike anyone out which severely dampens his 5x5 value. His K/9 rate is actually deficient. There is more to a pitcher than strikeouts but we all know how valuable they are in the fantasy game.

Second, he walks batters at a league average level (3.21 per nine). That's no way to waylay concerns about a lack of punchouts.

Third, his K/BB ratio of 1.78 is awful. You really shouldn't be targeting a hurler in the fantasy game unless the mark is better than 2.00.

Fourth, while Harrison does get a few more grounders than average, his 45.2 percent ground ball rate certainly does not stand out, and by inference, isn't a big enough number to remove the concerns about his lack of Ks.

Fifth, his current HR/9 rate of 0.87 is likely to rise. In each of his previous three seasons that mark has been at least 1.15. He's also currently operating with an 8.9 percent HR/F rate after three years of over 11 percent. That doesn't mean that his current rates will rise, but it's enough to cast a bunch of doubt in my mind.

Sixth, his left on base percentage is high at 77.5 percent. The league average is usually about 70 percent, and what do you know, Harrison's career mark is 70.6 percent.

Harrison has a place on a fantasy roster, but it's as a spot starter in mixed leagues. Even if you're in a 15 team league Harrison doesn't profile as much more than your second-to-last or last starter. He has none of the “upside” that we look for, and if his current level of performance were to extend itself out over the rest of the season, I wouldn't be surprised at all if his ERA ended up a full run higher than it is right now, an if that happens his value even in AL-only leagues will be moderate at best.

WHO AM I?

I have a better batting average, .290, than Kevin Youkilis (.285), Dustin Pedroia (.284), Albert Pujols (.280), and Rickie Weeks (.278) to name a few.

I have more homers, 12, than Josh Hamilton (11), Evan Longoria (11), Hunter Pence (11), Drew Stubbs (11) and Torii Hunter (10).

I have more RBI, 41, than Starlin Castro (39), Rickie Weeks (39), Billy Butler (38) and Nick Markakis (36).

I've scored more runs, 45, than Pence (44), Troy Tulowitzki (44), Mike Stanton (44), Michael Young (42) and Derek Jeter (42).

I have a better OBP, .351, than Carlos Quentin (.350), Adam Lind (.349), Aramis Ramirez (.346) and Jay Bruce (.343).

I have a better SLG, .513, than Youkilis (.512), Joey Votto (.507), Justin Upton (.506), Andrew McCutchen (.505) and Pujols (.500).

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

1.91: The ERA difference between the career marks at home (3.53) and on the road (5.44) for the Mets' Mike Pelfrey. This season Pelfrey has been better at home (3.05) but even worse on the road (6.05). Wandy Rodriguez, as is his usual pattern as well, has the next largest gap at 1.49 runs – 3.40 at home and 4.89 when wearing the road uniforms.

2: The number of pitchers who have made at least 32 starts over the last calendar year who also have an ERA under 4.00 but have failed to win more than eight games. They are Doug Fister (6-20, 3.91 ERA) and Ubaldo Jimenez (8-15, 3.98 ERA). Fister is the only 20-game loser in that time with Paul Maholm and Fausto Carmona next in line with 17 defeats. Amongst hurlers with more than 27 starts, Carlos Zambrano, of all people, has the fewest loses with four (Roy Halladay, Ian Kennedy, Jair Jurrjens and Scott Baker have six).

2: The number of players in baseball who have a SLG of better than .500 with single digit homers. They are Jose Reyes (three homers, .529 SLG) and Shane Victorino (nine homers, .524 SLG). Reyes has a chance to make some history. Since 1940 there hasn't been a single player who has hit less than 10 homers while producing a SLG of .525 in a season of at least 502 plate appearances.

3: The number of Red Sox batters who are in the top-5 in the AL in OBP.

.468 Jose Bautista
.430 Miguel Cabrera
.414 Adrian Gonzalez
.399 Kevin Youkilis
.395 Dustin Pedroia.

The Red Sox have a 4th player in the top-7 in David Ortiz (.391), and they have a fifth player in the top-10 in Jacoby Ellsbury (.377).

9.79: The league leading K/9 total for all hurlers who have tossed at least 162 innings the past 365 days. Any idea who the mark belongs to? No, it's not Clayton Kershaw who is fourth at 9.34. It's not Tim Lincecum who is second at 9.53. Jon Lester you say? Nope, he's third at 9.39. The major league leader is a teammate of Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez. Still think he shouldn't be starting for the Giants when healthy?

59: The league leading stolen base total over the past 365 days by none other than Michael Bourn. After that though, things get really interesting. Second on the list is Coco Crisp with 53. Crisp has never stolen more than 32 bases in a season. Third on the list is 2011 failure Juan Pierre. The Sox outfielder led baseball last year with 68 steals, but he's been a disaster on the base paths this year with just 13 thefts. Still, he has a total of 49 thefts since July 12th 2010.

62: The number of homers that Jose Bautista has hit over the last calendar year. Obviously that is the highest total in baseball, twenty more than Curtis Granderson in second place. Twenty. That's the same total as Brendan Ryan, Michael Bourn, Denard Span, Juan Pierre, Chone Figgins, Starlin Castro, Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar and Jason Bartlett have hit the last 365 days – 20.

I AM...

The Rays' Matt Joyce. Amazed aren't you?

For more on the plight of Joyce see the July 12th Mailbag.

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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