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Circling the Bases: Are Stanton's Gains For Real?

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.

Circling the Bases
By Ray Flowers
May 29, 2012

Has Giancarlo Stanton arrived? I mean, how could a guy be on pace for 39 homers, 119 RBI, 95 runs an a .291 average not have arrived? Man do people have short memories. At the end of April Stanton was hitting .247 with one homer and nine RBI. He was lost, a bum, and people were panicking as if Loki was leading his Chitauri army against The Avengers (and yes, I'm aware my "geek factor" just had a 10-fold increase). Flip the calendar to May and Stanton appears to think he is Albert Pujols as he's hit .324 with 11 homers, 27 RBI, 22 runs an a 1.146 OPS in 27 games. So which guy is he? The answer is neither. The “true” Stanton is likely pretty close to the hitter who is batting .291 with 12 homers, 36 RBI and 29 runs scored this season. Stanton has seen his walk rate take a wee step back from last season, but that's also been accompanied by a lowering of his K-rate which has been pretty impressive (a career 28 percent K-rate is down to 22.7 percent this year). Still, his 0.43 BB/K rate is just slightly below the league average and is only a match for his 0.42 mark from last season. It's pretty hard, though obviously not impossible, for a guy to push .300 with a mark like that. I also just can't believe that batting average with Stanton. First, he's going to have to prove to me that the new level of strikeouts is a legit new level for him. I need a long more than 48 games to feel comfortable about that occurring. Second, there is just no way a guy who had a 16.4 percent line drive rate in his first 250 big league games is going to be able to post a 26 percent mark for a season (that's his current rate). Given that, I'm still thinking he's more a .260-.270 type hitter than anything else. Stanton was awful in April then stupendous in May. The next four months will determine whether he can show any consistency an if he can sustain a couple of rates that I just don't think he can.

James McDonald is 4-2 with a 2.20 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and 63 Ks in 65.1 innings for the Pirates. That's a pitching line any hurler in baseball, any, would gladly take. In addition to the impressive work from McDonald it needs to be pointed out that he has avoided what had always previously set him back – inconsistency. Only once in 10 starts has he failed to last at least 5.2 innings, and in the one game he didn't make it that far he allowed just one run in four innings (he had 78 pitches through four, including 33 in the first, so the team played it safe and removed him from his third start of the year). All told McDonald has allowed one run or zero runs in six of his starts and only three times has he allowed three runs – his worst total of the year. In addition to the lack of runs, the often wild McD has kept the walks in check as well with a season high of three walks (eight of his 10 starts he's issued one or two free passes). Obviously there are very few men that can maintain that level of success over 30 starts but maybe, just maybe, McDonald has found the missing key to his game – consistency.

Andy Dirks is hitting an impressive .318 with a .367 OBP and .512 SLG through 140 plate appearances for the Tigers. He's not walking much, but he's also done a great job putting the ball in play leaving him with a palatable 0.44 BB/K mark. There is though, a real question about how long he can keep that batting average up. Numbers like a 26.4 percent line drive rate and .346 BABIP, while not unheard of, are huge numbers that even the best of the best rarely reach over the course of an entire season. We've witnessed his average fall .042 points over the last 11 days – how much more of his hot start will he give back?

Eric Thames was sent to Triple-A after a thoroughly unimpressive start to the 2012 season. With Travis Snider dealing with a wrist issue in the minors, it looks like it might be Rajai Davis time in the Blue Jays outfield. Davis really isn't a very good hitter at all, his career slash line of .271/.318/.379 actually undershoots the term “average” by a bit, but we all know what he does just about as well as anyone in the game – he can steal bases with the best of them. In a mere 64 plate appearances Davis has eight steals this season to give him a total of 42 thefts over his 130 games as a Blue Jay. Flash back to his two full seasons with the Athletics and we find that he had 41 steals in 125 games in 2009 and 50 in 143 contests in 2010. The bottom line is that he runs roughly 40 percent of the time that he reaches base since the start of the 2009 season, so with playing time should come lots of movement on the base paths for the speedster.

BY THE NUMBERS

0: The runs allowed this season by Scott Downs in 16.0 innings. That also happens to be the amount of runs that Ernesto Frieri has allowed in 11 innings as an Angels hurler (highlighted by his 23 Ks and 0.73 WHIP). Frieri, by the way, hasn't allowed a single hit in his 11 innings. All of those zeros make the work done by Jordan Walden of late – one earned run in 12.1 innings in May – look relatively tame. To say the Angels bullpen has been nails this month is a drastic understatement.

.045: The amount of points that Justin Smoak has raised his batting average over the past 16 games. Of course, he was so sickly before his .297 mark over the last 16 contests that he's still hitting a mere .218 on the season. Still, it's progress. He's also hit four bombs while knocking in 11 runs during the streak.

.339: The batting average of Yonder Alonso over his last 31 games. During his run of excellence at the dish Alonso not only has hits in 26 of 31 games but he's posted a .411 OBP and .478 SLG. At the same time he's only gone deep once in the stretch, and despite that impressive OBP he has scored only nine times as the Padres offense is offensive. By the by, Alonso has had two streaks this season of at least 9-straight games with a hit (he lost a 10-game streak Monday).

19/22/120: The 162 game pace for homers, steals, and runs scored for Dexter Fowler since July 1st, 2011. In those 101 games he has hit 12 homers, stolen 14 bases, and scored 75 runs for the Rockies. Is there anyone out there that thought he had performed at that elite pace since the start of July last year?

11: The amount of homers hit this year by Billy Butler, the fastest that he has ever recorded 11 homers in a season. How much ahead of his the pace is the Royals hitting star? Light years. The quickest he had ever been to 11 home runs before was July 28th, 2009 meaning he's two months ahead of his previous best pace (it took him 97 games that year, just 47 this year). There's no way it will happen, but he's on pace for 38 dingers which would set a club record (currently Steve Balboni holds the mark with 36 in 1985). Why does Butler have no shot? Butler has actually hit fewer fly balls, as a percentage, than in any year of his career at 32.2 percent. So how has the homer barrage occurred? He's upped his HR/F mark by 100+ percent from his career 10.5 percent mark to 22.4 percent this season.

12: The number of consecutive batters that have walked back to the dugout after facing Frank Francisco. Tied for second in the NL with 13 saves, he's also converted each of his last five save opportunities for the Mets. The ERA is still awful at 6.41, and that 1.73 WHIP might be even worse, but he's clearly locked in right now, has a 10.07 K/9 mark, and isn't likely to continue to have a mere 61 percent left on base mark (career 74 percent)

15: Obviously that is the strikeout total of Chris Sale from Monday to match the majors highest total this year (Max Scherzer). The 15 Ks were one short of the team record (16 by Jack Harshman on July 25, 1964). It was the most Ks by any pitcher at Tropicana Field. Over his previous three starts, spanning 17.1 innings Sale had 16 Ks. On the year he has 61 in 57.2 innings. So much for the lefty having a sore arm.

18: The number of homers that Prince Fielder would have lost if he had played his last three seasons with Comerica Park, and not Miller Park, as his home field according to a study published in ESPN the magazine (The MLB Preview issue). Fielder would have actually lost 20 homers but he would have gained back two “cheapies” that would have reached the seats in Detroit. How much of a shock is it to see that Fielder has only seven home runs on the year? Oddly though he has five homers in 23 games in Detroit but just two on the road in 25 contests. Given his current pace he'll hit 24 homers this season. He's never hit fewer than 28 homers in a season and that was his total as a rookie in 2006 (he's socked at least 32 big flies each of the past five years).

19: The number of runs that Gregor Blanco has scored for the Giants in 24 games in May. That's as many runs scored in May as Jose Bautista, just one less than Carlos Gonzalez, and two more than Josh Hamilton. Blanco is also hitting .318 on the month, better than CarGo (.314), Carlos Beltran (.310) and Nelson Cruz (.301).

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 from 5-8 PM EDT, Monday through Friday. 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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