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Circling the Bases: Cool Hand Luke

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: Aaron Hill
.230-5-7036-14 in 357 at-bats

What the hell has happened here?

From 2006-09, Hill hit .287 and batted at least .286 in three of the four seasons.

In 2009-2010 he socked 62 homers, had 176 RBI and scored 173 runs. Amongst all second basemen in the game that homer total was second, the RBI total third, and the runs scored mark was sixth. Those are some elite numbers folks.

So what the heck could explain his .205 batting average last season? I said before the year started that it was one of the worst runs of luck of any player in recent memory. Hill posted a 10.6 percent line drive rate. That's nearly 50 percent below his 18.5 percent career mark. There's simply no way one can legitimately explain that line drive rate. Even worse, his BABIP fell nearly .100 points down to .196. One-ninety-six. His career rate is .283. All of that led me to believe that Hill had a chance to have a big time batting average rebound this season while continuing to be a solid run producer with power from the second base spot.

So what the hell has happened to Hill this year?

Hill is hitting .230, which is terrible. Still, his GB/FB rate is only 0.06 off his career norm, and his 18.8 percent line drive rate is actually better than his 18.5 percent career rate. So how do you combine those two numbers and end up with a .248 BABIP, some .035 points below his career level? I can't really explain it.

So Hill hasn't produced an average this season, and his power has vanished. Remember, this guy averaged 31 homers the past two years, This season he has five. As I mentioned above, Hill's fly ball ratio is right on career norms (43 percent this year, 41.6 for his career). So why the lack of bombs? Check out that HR/F ratio that has dipped to 3.7 percent, less than half his career 8.1 percent mark and well below, well below, his marks that last two years (14.9 and 10.8 percent). Again, I can't really explain it.

Hill has never been a speed burner. His career best in steals coming into the year was six thefts. He had stolen 12 bases the past three years. So of course Hill has gone out and stolen --- 14 bases this year. Not only has he run like crazy compared to his career track record, he's also not getting caught at all picking up two caught stealing. Again, I can't really explain it.

I hate to say it, but I really have no idea what's going on here. The speed – no way anyone in the world predicted that. The power outage – no one in the world predicted that. The average staying down – well some might have predicted that, but the measures simply don't support yet another sub .240 effort.

I can't really explain it.

BREAKING DOWN: Luke Hochevar
8-8, 4.79 ERA, 86 Ks, 1.30 WHIP in 152 innings

The #1 overall selection in the 2006 MLB Draft, Hochevar has been a disappointment since he first stepped onto a big league field. His career marks include a 5.37 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, so at least he has slightly bettered those marks this season. Still, why am I wasting your time with a guy who has a 4.79 ERA and a .500 record this season? Because he is pitching very well right now.

Hochevar hasn't lost a game since June 21st – a span of eight starts.

We all know that though wins don't signal much, so let's focus more on the overall performance of late, and by “of late” I mean his last five starts.

2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 6.41 H/9, 7.0 K/9, 2.60 K/BB

Well what do you know, that's pretty darn good isn't it?

This is exactly what you should be dealing with at this point. Do you hold on to a veteran like Derek Lowe who has been a good pitcher for years even though he has performed rather poorly the past six weeks, or, do you take a chance on the perpetually underachieving arm of Hochevar who is performer much better the past month? If you're smart you consider making the switch. Neither arm is elite or a must start, so why not roll with the arm that is performing better right now?

Don't get me wrong here – Hochevar has his uses and is a decent add in deep mixed leagues in the hopes that he continues his current run, but he is still a pitcher with limited upside. Not just that, he's performing so far above his career norms and previous work this season that you have to be careful not to go all in because he has made five strong starts. After all, he still owns an awful 5.08 K/9 mark this season. He does have an impressive 50 percent ground ball rate which will aid him in being an effective bit league hurler, but the dearth of punchouts limits his fantasy value. Plus, his GB/FB ratio is about three tenths higher than his marks the past two seasons at 1.63, so there is some question about whether or not he will be able to sustain that rate.

It should also be pointed out that, despite a line drive rate that is a percentage point higher than his career mark, that his BABIP this season is .027 points below his career rate at .273.

Hochevar is hot right now, and he's flashing the type of skills that led to his selection by the Royals in 2006. Alas, he's only been this “new” pitcher for a handful of starts and the majority of measures for his performance this season still suggest that exercising caution is warranted.

WHO AM I?

I have a better batting average than Andrew McCutchen (.273), Martin Prado (.273) and Ichiro Suzuki (.269).

I have a better OBP, though to be fair that really isn't saying much, than Torii Hunter (.319), Nelson Cruz (.314) and B.J. Upton (.312).

I have a better SLG than Logan Morrison (.458), Andre Ethier (.449) and Howie Kendrick (.446).

I have more homers than Nick Swisher (14), Hunter Pence (13) and Josh Hamilton (13).

I have more RBI than Matt Holliday (62), Raul Ibanez (61) and Carlos Gonzalez (60).

I have more runs than Matt Joyce (55), Juan Pierre (54) and Nick Markakis (51).

Any idea who I am? How about a few more hints.

I have a four year high in homers with 15.

I've already scored four more runs than last year (56).

I'm only one RBI off my total from last year of 65.

I have 18 steals this year. What makes that so surprising is that I had only 23 steals in my career entering the year.

Does that help you decide Who I Am?

BY THE NUMBERS

.354: The batting average of Dan Uggla during his 29 game hitting streak, tied with Office Rowland for the second longest in Braves' history (Rico Carty had a 31 game streak in 1970). Uggla was hitting .173 when the streak began, the worst mark in baseball at the time. He's now up to .220 and with 24 homers he is on pace to bash 34 homers, which would be a career best.

8: The number of years that Mark Teixeira has hit at least 30 homers (he has 32 this year). That ties Mickey Mantle for the longest such run by a switch hitter in big league history (the next closest batter is Chipper Jones with four). Teixeira is also 14 RBI from an 8th straight 100 RBI campaign. No switch hitter in history has ever gone 30-100 in 8-straight years. In fact, no one can match the current stretch of 7-straight years that Tex has racked up.

95.0: The winning percentage of the Angels' top three arms in their last 20 decisions. The trio has gone 19-1. Jered Weaver is 8-0 with a 1.52 ERA, Dan Haren is 6-1 with a 2.56 ERA and Ervin Santana is 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA. Over their last 10 starts the trio is 8-1 with a 1.03 ERA.

8: The AL leading homer total of Jacoby Ellsbury the past 30 days. Mind you that Ellsbury hit nine homers in 2008 and eight in 2009. Ellsbury also leads the AL in RBI the past 30 days with 24 to tie the Angels' Mark Trumbo. What the heck, I might as well also mention that Ellsbury leads the AL in runs scored in that time with 22. Wasn't Carl Crawford supposed to do all that?

4: The place that Adam Dunn holds in home runs off of left-handed pitchers since the start of the 2001 season (he has 95). Remarkably, he doesn't have a single round tripper against a lefty this year in 78 at-bats. Furthermore, as has been widely reported, he's looked like a blindfolded chimpanzee against lefties this year with three hits in 78 at-bats, good for a .038 average. He's been so horrid that his OPS against lefties, .249, is actually just slightly above his .245 career batting average.

1.70: The ERA of Justin Masterson over his last nine outings. As a result he's dropped his ERA down to 2.63, fourth in the AL. Since the start of June, a span of 12 starts, only once has he failed to last six innings, and over those 12 starts he's permitted more than two earned runs just three times.

10: The hitting streak currently underway for the Mets' … Jason Bay. He's scored eight times and knocked in nine runs during the streak as he has hit .447 (Bay also has 12 RBI in his last 14 games). His effort has been wildly disappointing no doubt, but with one more homer he will become just the 17th outfielder with double-digit homers and steals (he has nine and 10).

I AM...

The Royals' Jeff Francoeur.

Jeff Francoeur is five homers and two steals from a 20/20 season. He's never even had a 10/10 season.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive 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.