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Circling the Bases: Soto Warming Up

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: Geovany Soto
.242-9-30-30-0 in 77 at-bats

In 2008 Soto was an absolute beast hitting .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBI. In 2009 injuries limited him to just 102 games played, and the results at the dish were far from ideal (.218-11-47). Last year he rebounded to hit .280 with 17 long balls, but again he appeared in barely more than 100 games (105 to be exact). Still, his rate production was back at previous levels causing many to get excited about his prospects in 2011. Unfortunately, Soto has failed to live up to those expectations across the board. What are the reasons for his struggles? Let's investigate.

Soto has a K-rate of 24.6 percent. While that's not appreciably worse than his career rate of 21.7 percent, it would be the worst mark of his short career. More concerning though is the dip in his walk rate. Coming off three seasons with a BB-rate of 11.0, 12.9 and 16.0 percent, it's pretty discouraging to see his current mark resting at 9.9 percent. Simply put he has been striking out more while also walking less frequently, and that is rarely a recipe for success. Moreover, Soto is also swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone as his 21.1 percent swing rate on pitches outside the zone would be a four-year worst. In addition to swinging at more balls outside the zone, he's also making contact on those pitches at a four year low of 44.3 percent. In fact, his 71.4 contact rate on swings would be the worst mark he has ever posted in seven big league seasons.

However, it's not all doom and gloom.

Soto has a 20.6 percent line drive rate, just 0.2 below his career pace. He's also sporting a .304 BABIP, just .005 points below his career mark. Add those two together and it's odd to see a .242 batting average from a guy who owns a .263 career mark.

Soto has a 11.8 HR/F mark, about two percentage points below his career rate. Still, that's in the margin of error and is totally acceptable.

Third, he's really cranked this up a notch of late hitting .282 over his last 24 games and .302 over his last 15 games since the All-Star break. His OBP since the break is almost a more palatable .362, .040 points higher than his total pre the mid-summer's classic (his career rate is .355).

At this point you need to put out of your mind the fantasy that he will replicate his 2008 effort. At the same time he is still on pace to hit 13 homers with 45 RBI on the year, and those aren't awful totals at all for a #2 catcher. Soto might be on waivers in one catcher leagues, so take a look at who you are rolling with behind the dish because Soto is finally starting to warm up.

BREAKING DOWN: Ricky Romero
8-9, 3.08 ERA, 126 Ks, 1.23 WHIP in 143 IP

Amongst AL lefties just where does Romero fit in the pantheon of greatness? CC Sabathia obviously leads the way, and you can make a case for Jon Lester, C.J. Wilson and Gio Gonzalez being near the top. See my point though? There just aren't that many lefties who have been better than Romero this year, or the past few years, in the Junior Circuit. Moreover, there haven't been many AL pitchers, regardless which arm they throw with, that have been better. Consider the following amongst pitchers who have tossed 250 innings since the start of last season.

Romero is tied for 9th in wins with 22.

Romero is 11th in innings pitched with 353.

Romero is 11th in strikeouts with 300.

Romero is 13th in ERA at 3.47

Romero is 13th in hits per nine at 7.90.

Remember, that's not his ranking amongst AL lefties, it's his standing amongst all American League arms.

In terms of 2010 to 2011, he's also shown some improvement.

His ERA is down nearly three tenths of a run to 3.08.
His WHIP is down 0.06 points to 1.23.
His BAA is down .012 points to .230.
His K/9 is up half a batter to 7.93.
His BB/9 is down a smidgen at 3.46.

Again, more goodness signaling his continuing rise to the top of the mountain amongst lefties in the AL.

Besides the season-to-season growth that is tremendous, Romero also possess a trait that will serve him well - he is a ground ball machine. With a 53.9 percent GB-rate, the lowest of his three-season career, Romero is the ideal hurler - one who can generate grounders and swing and misses. Currently 12th in baseball with that ground ball rate, Romero is also sporting a 1.69 GB/FB ratio, the same as Cole Hamels. That number is down a bit after being slightly over 2.00 each of the past two years. You might be asking yourself 'how can his GB/FB rate have dropped so much when his GB-rate is only down a percent?' He is allowing more fly balls than ever before - 32 percent this year after being the 26's the last two years. Still, that number plays out very well long term.

On the negative tip, there are two main things to consider.

First, he has a 77.7 left on base percentage. That number is nearly four percent clear of his career rate. Could he maintain that mark the rest of the way? It's certainly possible that he could, but it is a fairly large number (the big league average is usually around 70 percent).

Second, his line drive rate is 14.2 percent. Can he keep that up? This position is more tenuous than the first. After marks of 19.4 and 18.2 percent his first two season, it's really surprising to see his current rate, even with all the ground balls he induces. Chances are better than 50 percent that he will see that number rise ROTW.

Romero isn't a fantasy ace, but if he is your consolation prize you have to feel pretty good about the rotation that you are running out there.

WHO AM I?

This is going to be a tough one today...

I have more victories than an amazing array of talented arms. Just a few of the hurlers that have failed to match my win total this season follow:

Jeremy Hellickson, Alexi Ogando, David Price, Michael Pineda, James Shields, Shaun Marcum, Tim Hudson, Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum.

I have the 10th best WHIP in the game. Not the 10th best on my team, nor the 10th best in my league, but the 10th best WHIP in the game in 2011. I could list a bunch of pitchers who have failed to live up to my work, but with only nine men ahead of me there really seems like there is little reason to list 95 percent of the pitchers in the game who can't keep up.

Despite my terrific WHIP, my ERA is worse than 75 others who have hurled at least 105 innings this season. There are only 112 men who have thrown that many innings, which means there are 75 with a better ERA than me but only 37 who have a worse number.

While I don't stand out in ERA, I'm even more of a slob in the strikeout category since there are 95 men who have more strikeouts than me including such illustrious names as Felipe Paulino and Matt Harrison. In fact, Braves' closer Craig Kimbrel has nine more punchouts than I do despite the fact that I've thrown 87.2 more frames.

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

0: The number of runs that Joel Hanrahan has allowed over the last month as his ERA has gone from 1.37 down to 1.15. His last walk? How about June 20th. His last blown save? That's really a trick question - he only has one blown save on the year in 31 chances.

.323: The batting average of Gerardo Parra since June 1st. He's also hitting .364 in games player under a roof (55 at-bats), is hitting .316 at home (117 at-bats) and .303 against right-handed pitching (218 at-bats). Ichiro Suzuki, who owns a .327 career batting average, has hit .260 since the first day of June. How amazing is it to think that Gerardo Parra is hitting .063 points better than Ichiro over the last two months?

.500: The batting average for Hideki Matsui over his last 14 games as he has posted 27 hits in 54 at-bats. Matsui also has hits in 15 of 16 games, has knocked in 18 runs, and he's struck out just twice in that stretch. You really can't get more locked in than he is right now. For whatever reason he has long been a better performer in the second half as his average goes up .017 points (.297), his OBP goes up .014 points (.374) and his SLG goes up .037 points (.495).

2: The number of players who have hit .400 over the past 30 days. The league leader is Michael Young who is hitting a cool .412 while Dustin Pedroia comes in second at .404. Melky Cabrera is third at .398 while the NL leader is Neil Walker at .388. If we move over the BABIP category there are 15 men with a mark of .400 the past 30 days. The leader in the clubhouse is Emilio Bonifacio at an absurd .480. Michael Morse is second with a .459 mark.

19: The number of homers that Asdrubal Cabrera has hit this season. That's one more than he had in his career prior this season. To put that already ridiculous number into perspective, Cabrera hit a home run every 78.6 at-bats over his first four seasons, so of course everyone saw the jump to one every 22.3 at-bats this year coming.

26.1: The scoreless innings streak that Daniel Bard lost Monday night. Bard had appeared in 25 games during the streak. Despite a 2.28 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 49 Ks in 51.1 innings, Bard has five loses on the year, one more than he had in his first two seasons in the big leagues. Oh, and if you are a right-handed batter you might as well not even bother. Bard has allowed a BAA of .117 to righties this season.

34: The number of consecutive starts that Josh Tomlin has gone six innings. For those of you wondering, yes, that is every start he has made during his big league career. Tomlin's run of 34-straight six inning outings to start his career is the longest such run since the first decade of the 20th century - Oscar Jones went 51-straight in 1903-04 while George Winter went 37-straight in 1901-02.

I AM...

The Indians' Josh Tomlin. In addition to his innings streak that you read about above, Tomlin has been elite in the WHIP category with a 1.05 mark. He's also a strong 11-5 despite a 4.16 ERA and 75 Ks in 140.2 innings pitched.

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.