There's a dirty word in the fantasy game, and it starts with the letter “R.” There are a lot of terms that you might be thinking of given that lead in, but the one that is most applicable for our current discussion is “regression.”
There are a few things that we know with near certainty. We know that Brandon Beachy isn't going to finish the year with an ERA under 2.00 (it's currently 1.87). We know that Josh Hamilton isn't going to hit 60 homers (he currently has 21). We know that Carlos Ruiz isn't going to hit .368 this year to lead baseball. How do we know these things? The easiest answer is common sense.
The highest batting average in the history of baseball for a catcher who racked up at least 502 plate appearances is the .365 mark that Joe Mauer posted in 2009. There have only been eight seasons in the history of baseball in which a player hit 60 homers, and just two of those aren't tainted by the PED debate (sorry Sosa, McGwire and Bonds). There have only been two seasons, minimum 162 innings pitched, that a hurler has posted an ERA under 2.00 in the 21st century, and as good as Beachy is he's no Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez.
So the question is, how much do the players off to superb starts give back as the season progresses?
Let's take a look at the top three players in baseball in batting average and lay out some thoughts.
Carlos Ruiz leads baseball with a .368 batting average.
Career Average: .273
Season Best: .302
The guy has no speed, and that alone makes a run at a .330 batting average nearly impossible to envision. Throw in the history of catchers that I mentioned above, and his personal track record, and you have to be greatly worried that a significant step back is coming. That position is further enforced when you realize that his BABIP is .075 points above his career norm (.293) despite seeing only a two percent increase in his line drive rate (21.4 percent). The position of future failings is also buttressed when you notice that his elite eye that has led to a BB/K mark of at least 1.00 in each of the past four seasons is down in the dumps at 0.47. Oh, and just to pile on, guys who have a career HR/F rate under seven percent don't normally see that number catapult up to 19.5 percent for a season. The only way his average stays up is if he gets hurt and he doesn't come to the plate.
Paul Konerko leads the AL with a .366 average.
Career Average: .284
Season Best: .313
Showing how quickly things can change at this point of the season, Konerko was hitting .399 six games ago. Konerko has hit .300 the past two seasons, but in the three previous seasons he failed to hit even .280 and over his last nine seasons he has hit .300 three times with five efforts falling short of .280. Given that he's appeared in over 2,000 big league games we've got a pretty good handle on the fact that he's nowhere near the hitter he has been to this point of the season. Looking at his current line drive rate of 24.2 percent we're forced to admit that is three percent above his career rate. Paul does have two seasons with a mark of 24 percent, but that was back in 2005-06, an over the last three years he's failed to reach 20 percent twice. As for his BABIP, oh, that's only .100+ points clear of his career mark of .289. Currently sporting a .406 mark, Konerko has never reached .330 in the BABIP category at any point of a career that began back in 1997. All of this speaks to a major regression likely coming for a guy who has proven to be an impressive player over his career but simply not one that can sustain this early season success. Remember, he's never hit better than .313 in a season and owns a career .284 mark. Guys don't normally blow past their best marks in their 14th full season in the bigs.
Melky Cabrera is third in the game with a .364 average.
Career Average: .281
Season Best: .305
Heading into the season I was on record as wondering if Cabrera really was a .300 hitter. Seems like a foolish position to take I know, but look at his record. From 2006-2010 he never hit .285. So things worked out and he hit .305 last year, but that was still just one of six years over .280 for the Giants' outfielder. So let's break down how he has done it this year. His 0.57 BB/K mark is a career norm (career 0.61). His 21.5 percent line drive rate is elevated a bit from his 19.5 career mark, but it's certainly not a number you'd expect to find with a guy hitting over .360. The real key has been an amazing run of luck with the grounders. Hitting 54 percent of his batted balls into the ground, a significant bump from his 49 percent career rate, Cabrera has somehow managed to boost his BABIP .096 points from his career rate up to .404. Even if that number drop .060 points it would still be a career best (it was .332 last year). Could he keep that number this high? Of course it's possible. However, his own history and skill set, not to mention common sense, says that such a run of effectiveness in BABIP over the course of a 162 game season is unlikely.
Be wary of thinking that just cause Player A did something for a third of the season this yearly superbly that he will continue to be exactly that same performer over the final two thirds of the year.
BY THE NUMBERS
0.02: Remarkably, the variance between the WHIP totals of Shaun Marcum from 2008 through 2012 (he sat out the 2009 season with arm issues). Look at his amazing consistency: 1.16, 1.15, 1.16 and 1.17 through 11 starts this year. That's an impossible run of consistency that can hardly be matched in the annals of baseball history. As for his ERA he's been a total slacker there, just look at the variance: 3.39, 3.64, 3.54 and 3.39. Pretty amazing we can all agree, yes?
.309: The batting average of Gordon Beckham the past two weeks. Beckham has flashed an unexpected power bat hitting four homers and driving in nine runs and he's also scored 11 times, making him a top-5 option at second the past two weeks. Though he's on pace for 24 homers thanks to his recent hot stretch he's still hitting just .237 for the season, and given that he has hit a total of 19 homers the past two seasons it's pretty darn unlikely we're witnessing a power outbreak as his HR/F ratio of 13.1 percent is nearly exactly the same as his mark the last two years combined (6.9 and 6.4 = 13.3 percent).
.370: The batting average of Rod Barajas over his last 54 at-bats stretching back 16 games. He's also has four homers and nine RBI in that time. Do you even know what team he is on? Try the Pirates. A career .238 hitter, guess what the recent burning hot streak at the dish has pushed his average up to? That's right, it's just .240. Still, he has five homers on the year putting him on pace to push 16 homers yet again, the total he has reached each of the last three seasons. Do you know how many catchers have hit at least 16 homers each of the past three years? The answer it two – Barajas and Brian McCann.
.405: The batting average of Prince Fielder over his last 20 games. In that time he has also gone deep four times, hit nine doubles and plated 19 runs. That effort has led to a .449 OBP and .696 SLG, and overall his slash line is one sexy beast (.319/.382/.517) though his .899 OPS is still below the .928 career mark that he owns.
1.015: The OPS of Alex Presley in his 18 game run at Triple-A after he was demoted, which caused the Pirates to recall him to the bigs on Tuesday. After hitting .298 last year in 215 at-bats the expectations were that Presley would settle in to being a James Loney type hitter with 20 stolen base potential. It didn't happen as he hit a mere .220 with a sickly .546 OPS in 118 at-bats earlier this season. He still has a lot of NL-only appeal though mixed leaguers would be wise to see what he has to offer in this go round before taking the plunge.
1.16: The amount that Jake Peavy's ERA has gone up over his last four starts. Of course his current mark of 3.05 is still impressive for so many reasons. First, his career mark is 3.45. Second, his ERA was 4.92 last year. Third, his ERA was 4.63 in 2010. Fourth, the last time Peavy had a mark below 3.45 was 2008, his last full season with the Padres.
1.31: The major league average for WHIP. Here are some pitchers who have failed to be “average” in WHIP this year: James Shields (1.32), Ian Kennedy (1.32), Ricky Nolasco (1.32), Zack Greinke (1.32), Adam Wainwright (1.35), Jon Lester (1.37), Tommy Hanson (1.38) and Brandon McCarthy (1.38).
4: The number of stolen bases for Dee Gordon over his last 32 games. Think about that. That's a pace for about 20 steals over the course of a season. Need I remind you that Gordon has one homer and 11 RBI this season in 50 games? Or how about that he is hitting .229? That not scary enough? Well, I've got numbers that are so sickly it's pretty incredible that he is still in the bigs right now - .272 OBP, .286 SLG. Throw in that he has “hit” .167 with a .490 OPS against lefties this year and it's really shocking he continues to get regular work for the Dodgers.
15: The league leading run total the past two weeks of Dexter Fowler. No one can be surprised at that given that Fowler has gone bonkers hitting .459 with a .545 OBP and .892 SLG in that time. What might be surprising is that two other men matched him with 15 runs scored. One was his teammate, Carlos Gonzalez who hit a mere .393 with a .433 OBP, while the other was Ichiro – I mean Melky Cabrera who hit .377 with a .400 OBP for the Giants.
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.