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Circling the Bases: Ellsbury Overpriced in 2012

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: Jacoby Ellsbury
.314-20-74-85-31 in 488 at-bats

How amazing has Ellsbury been this season? Here is how three of the most commonly used commissioner services have listed Ellsbury in terms of his overall fantasy value to this point of the season:

CBS: 4th
ESPN: 4th
Yahoo: 4th

Clearly he's been elite. So how is it possible that I'm going to warn you not to draft Ellsbury next year? Hopefully the reasons are obvious to you.

If Ellsbury keeps up his current pace he'll end the year with a 5x5 line of .314-27-101-116-40. There are so many problems with that line, where do I start?

First off, historically speaking, such an effort would be almost unheard of. In fact, do you know how many seasons of .310-25-100-115-40 have ever been produced? The answer is one. Alex Rodriguez pulled off the trick in 1998.

Second, Ellsbury has never shown this level of excellence before, in a myriad of categories mind you, chief being his unprecedented power surge.

Entering the season his career best in homers was nine. Moreover, he had a total of 20 homers in 1,372 at-bats. So he's doubled his career homer total this season in roughly a third of the at-bats. I'm all for the belief that players can improve over time, but this growth strains credulity. Another layer of doubt is cast when you notice that his fly ball rate is 32 percent, a mere percentage point above his career level. Obviously he's increased his home run prowess completely upon the back of his HR/F ratio. How much has it gone up? He's more than doubled his rate from 2007-10 this season checking in at 15.3 percent. How often do players hold on to a gain like that? Hardly ever is the answer.

Third, it's going to cost a bazillion dollars in an auction to roster him, and you can kiss goodbye any chance that he'll fall out of the top-10 next year if he keeps this up.

Now I'm not saying that Ellsbury isn't a very good player or that that he won’t be a fantasy star in 2012. What I'm saying is that he'll likely be too expensive on draft day to see any return on your investment. Think about it. His game has always been about his speed. In his two healthy seasons he posted 50 and 70 steals. His current pace will net him only 40. That's a substantial dip. As detailed, there's little reason to think he will be able to hold on to his homer gains. It's also doubtful he will be able to repeat his 24 percent line drive rate (his career mark is 20 percent) which means even his batting average is at some risk.

There's no issue at all counting on him as your top outfielder next season, just be careful not to be sucked in by the hype that may end up with him being a top-5 overall selection next year in many drafts.

BREAKING DOWN: Trevor Cahill
9-11, 3.92 ERA, 118 Ks, 1.38 WHIP in 160.2 IP

Back before the season started I warned everyone to be wary of Trevor Cahill repeating his 2010 performance in Circling the Bases: Cahill vs. Wilson. You probably didn't listen, but let's check in to see how things have played themselves out.

2010: 18 wins, 2.97 ERA, 118 Ks, 1.11 WHIP
2011: 9 wins, 3.92 ERA, 118 Ks, 1.38 WHIP

He has no shot at repeating in the win category, and he's already lost three more games than he did last season when he was dealt eight defeats.

The ERA predictably has risen an entire run from last year, while his WHIP has also gone from near elite to worse than big league average. Why do I say "predictably?" Just look at his production from last season for your answer.

Last year he posted an xFIP of 3.99, a full run higher than his actual mark. This year his xFIP is nearly identical at 3.79. Of course it's more complicated than that, but the fact is that he simply greatly outperformed his raw ERA in 2010. This season his mark is more indicative of his skill set.

One heartening area of improvement is his increase in the strikeout column of more than a full batter from last season (5.40 to 6.61 per nine). Still, his K-rate isn't even big league average (currently that mark is 7.04). When coupled with a nearly batter increase in his walk rate per nine (2.88 to 3.70), Cahill has actually offered a worse K/BB ratio than he did last season (1.87 down to 1.79). Remember the big league average is usually about 2.10 or so. His HR/9 rate remains relatively unchanged, 0.87 per nine last year and 0.78 this year, while his ground ball rate is a mere 0.5 percentage points better his stupendous 56 percent mark from last season.

Predictably, more of the batted balls have ended up as hits this season. Cahill's line drive rate has moved from 15 to 18 percent while his BABIP has gone from .236 up to .290. Again, not an unexpected occurrence given that the big league average for line drive rates is 19-20 percent while the BABIP mark is usually in the .290-.300 range.

So what should you do if you own Cahill? Continue to expect more of what you have seen this year as his skill set is far more likely to produce efforts like we've seen from him in 2011 than to a revert to his 2010 levels.

WHO AM I?

Over the last 28 days I've hit .315, a mark that is only a wee bit better than my career long mark of .258. It's also substantially better than my .275 mark this season.

Over the last 28 days I've scored 23 runs. That mark is the same total as Justin Upton and Curtis Granderson have produced.

Over the past 28 days I've stolen a whopping 17 bases, seven more than anyone else in baseball (Emilio Bonifacio, Michael Bourn and Coco Crisp all have 10).

On the year I've scored 64 runs, more than Mike Stanton (62), Ichiro Suzuki (61) and Nick Swisher (61).

On the year I've stolen 31 bases, more than all but four other outfielders.

I'm one of only six outfielders in the game who have scored at least 60 runs and stolen at least 30 bases.

Who Am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

.118: The difference between Casey Kotchman's batting average of .217 last year, and .335 this season. That could be an historic increase. In the history of the Junior Circuit only one player with at least 300 plate appearances in consecutive seasons has bettered it, and you have to go all the way back to 1917-18 when George Burns saw his mark increase by .126 points (he went from .226 to .352). Furthermore, over the last 50 years only one player who qualified for the batting title while batting over .330 started the year in the minors as did Kotchman. It was Miguel Dilone of the Indians who hit .341 in 1980.

1: The number of home loses that the Roy Halladay has picked up this year in 13 starts (he is 8-1). In that time he has posted 88 Ks in 95.2 innings with a 0.97 WHIP and unearthly 12.57 K/BB ratio. Over his last 10 starts at Citizens Bank Park he is 7-0 with a 2.01 ERA. Just another set of numbers to prove why he is the best pitcher in the game.

4: The number of Red Sox hitters in the top-10 in the AL in batting average at home – Adrian Gonzalez (.376), Kevin Youkilis (.344), Jacoby Ellsbury (.329) and David Ortiz (.327). The .376 mark sported by Gonzalez is the best in baseball. Of course with all that good must come some worse numbers on the road for the foursome, though only Youkilis is embarrassing himself – Gonzalez (.329), Youkilis (.191) Ellsbury (.298) and Ortiz (.268).

5: The number of "clean" players who have hit 600 homers in their career now that Jim Thome joined the club (for more on that see Quietly Making History). Thome also reached 600 homers in the second fewest at-bats. It took Big Jim 8,167 at-bats, only a mere thousand plus behind Babe Ruth (6,920 at-bats). By the way, Thome became the first player ever to hit homer 599 and 600 in back-to-back at-bats. Congrats Jim.

15: The number of RBI Jay Bruce had last week to capture his second NL Player of the Week honor of the year. Bruce had all of 12 RBI in the month of July, and over 50 games in June and July he platted a mere 19 runners. So is the life with the all or nothing Bruce.

20: The number of games this season that Starlin Castro has produced at least three hits this season (he's pulled off the trick five times in his last 14 games). That total leads the National League and is tied with Adrian Gonzalez for the major league lead. It's also tied for the second most in Cubs' history (Bill Buckner pulled off the trick 24 times in 1980). Michael Young is next on the list by the way with 19 such games.

25: The most home runs in baseball since May 3. What makes that total so interesting is that three men share the mantle as the leader, and they all play in the American League – Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista. Mark Reynolds has hit 24 in that time, but the NL leader is a tie with Carlos Pena and Mike Stanton. Each has hit 23 homers since May 3.

I AM...

The Padres' Cameron Maybin.

Finally, after years of being on the cusp of doing something substantial, Maybin has broken through the veil of failure. Let's see if he can keep it up.

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.

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