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Circling the Bases: Slumping Sluggers

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.

My computer sucks flip-flops. I've literally sat here for the last 28 minutes trying to get this flipping thing to work. I stroked it. I spoke niceties to it. I yelled at it. I almost tossed it out the window. Tell me you don't know the frustration I'm talking about. A baseball player who might even be more frustrated right now is Josh Hamilton. I know he's on pace to hit nearly 50 homers with more than 130 RBIs and 100 runs, so how could he be upset? Have you seen the pathetic at-bats he's been tossing up there of late? He's probably even more frustrated than I am with my computer. Hamilton is hitting .172 in July with a .587 OPS. In June he hit .223 with a .754 OPS. To compare, Hamilton had a .781 SLG in May. Moreover, in his last 40 games Hamilton is hitting .204 with a .289 OBP and a .401 SLG. His batting average for the year is .293, higher than his OBP the past quarter of the season. One of his biggest issues has been his strikeout rate, as he has a Mark Reynolds-like 52 in 152 at-bats (34.2%).

So what do you do with Hamilton? Like I wrote above, he's still on pace for career bests in homers, RBIs and runs, and he's just .014 points off his career batting average. In addition, most of his other measures right now– things like LD/GB/FB ratios, K/BB, BABIP, OBP etc.– look pretty standard for Hamilton. The fact of the matter would seem to be that the old regression monster has taken hold of him, an in a brutal way after his amazing start to the season. You could try and deal him now, but you run into two issues there. (1) His value is nowhere near as high as it was a month ago before this prolonged slump. (2) You run the risk of dealing him at his lowest point and missing the continued production he will almost certainly bring as long as he stays healthy. Overall he has been great, it's just been a tale of two parts this season- one stupendous, one horrendous.

Bryce Harper has had a pretty remarkable season to date for a guy who is unable to legally buy Jack Daniel's. In 75 games he's working on a pace that, if he kept it up for 150 contests, would net him a .272 average, 18 homers, 58 RBIs, 100 runs and 26 steals. If he did that it would be a fantastic season, though I bet about 75 percent of the people who have him on their roster would be greatly disappointed in that effort. Remember folks; the dude is 19 years old. However, since June 16th when he had that infamous 0-for-7 outing with five Ks, Harper is hitting just .237, with a .635 OPS, and a measly two homers and 10 RBIs in 32 games. Pretty awful numbers wouldn't you say? As for the vaunted power, it really hasn't shown itself much this year. Not only is he currently in a major homer funk, his season long HR/F ratio of 11.4 percent is nothing special (the league average is usually in the 9-10 percent range). In addition to not converting a ton of those fly balls into homers, Harper is also hitting about three percent fewer fly balls than the league average; which obviously isn't going to be leading to a lot of balls blasted into the seats. Still, we're talking about less than 300 at-bats for a guy who should be in junior college right now. There's plenty of time for him to live up to expectations, as long as they are reasonable of course.

You look at Clayton Kershaw and you understand his prowess. He's big. He's intimidating. His stuff is filthy. It makes sense that he dominates batters. At the other end of the spectrum is a guy like Kyle Lohse who is athletic, but not physically imposing. He's never intimated anyone, and his stuff is pretty average. Yet lo and behold his 2.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP stand right next to Kershaw's 2.74 and 1.05 marks, making no apologies. The problem is, I can't explain how Lohse is doing it. Here are some numbers to consider.

His 5.15 K/9 rate is two batters below the league average. It's also nearly half a batter below his career rate.

His 1.11 GB/FB is one hundredth off his career rate and almost exactly the league average.

His 22.7 percent line drive rate would be a career worst mark, some three points better than the league average.

His xFIP says his ERA should be 4.23, a run and a half worse than his actual ERA.

So how is he having success then? I hate to say luck, but there's some of that going on. Lohse has an 80 percent left on base percentage. Not only is his career mark just 70 percent, again the league average, but the last time he posted a mark over 74 percent was back in 2005. His .261 BABIP is .038 points below his career average and would be a career best. His .245 batting average against is .034 points below his career mark and would be a career best. Always a solid control arm, he's got a 1.53 BB/9 mark, a full batter below his career rate and a half batter better than he has ever done before (2.01 in 2003 and 2011).

So can Lohse keep up this level of success? Almost all the numbers say no. Still, you have to give him credit and say that maybe traditional measures of analysis don't do him justice. After all, since the start of last season he is 24-10 with a 3.12 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP over 317.2 innings. I can't really explain it, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

BY THE NUMBERS

0.07: The variance in the xFIP mark of Ryan Dempster each of the past four years. That is simply a remarkable level of consistency that boggles the mind. Oh yeah, even though he leads baseball this season with a 2.11 ERA, care to guess what his xFIP is? 3.75 of course. Be careful of overestimating his amazing start– it's not likely to continue.

0.92: The ERA of Paul Maholm over his last four starts as he's allowed three earned runs in 29.1 innings. He hasn't allowed more than a run in any of the four outings, and he's also last at least six innings each time he has taken the hill. Amazingly, he is just the second left-handed Cubs pitcher in 94 years to have two streaks in a season of 4-straight starts with at least six innings pitched and no more than one run allowed in each outing– he also did it from April 21st to May 9th. The other hurler was Hippo Vaughan in 1918.

1: The number of homers that Paul Konerko has hit in July. One also happens to be the number of homers he has hit in his last 19 games. Going back a bit further Konerko has two homers in 28 games. Even further back he has just three bombs in 34 games. Where did the guy who hit 80 homers the last two years go? Hard to complain though since he's hitting a career best .328 with a career best .403 OBP and a .919 OPS.

1: The number of team leaders in homers who were demoted to the minors in the last 24 hours. The Mariners sent down Justin Smoak, he of a Mariner leading 13 homers (he's also second on the club with 38 RBIs), to Triple-A. What do you expect them to do? Smoak is hitting .189 with a .573 OPS this season, and for his career his OPS is .662 on 313 games. Career crossroads anyone?

4: The number of home runs that Jordany Valdespin has hit this year…in 23 at-bats as a pinch hitter. In his other 68 at-bats he has gone deep just two times.

15: The number of consecutive decisions that Zack Greinke has won at home. That is the longest such streak in Brewers history. It also marks Greinke as just the 4th pitcher since 1900 to win each of his first 15 home decisions with a club. The others are: Johnny Allen (Yankees), La Marr Hoyt (White Sox) and Kenny Rogers (Athletics).

31: The number of RBIs that Ryan Zimmerman has ripped off in his last 25 games as he has awoken with a fury from his nearly half season slumber. Zimmerman has also scored 25 runs in that time while clubbing 11 homers, hitting .383 and posting an OPS of 1.226. What, he thinks he's Alex Rodriguez in his prime all of a sudden?


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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