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May 17, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Rotation Woes and a True Outcome Returns

by Craig Brown

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This weekend the Mets and A’s made moves that could have a fantasy impact.  

First, the Mets demoted starter Oliver Perez to the bullpen. Perez has been dreadful, walking 28 batters in 33 innings of work. Managers have been stacking their lineups when facing Perez with right-handed hitters and it’s been working: the opposition is hitting .291/.415/.473 from the right side against Perez while lefties are hitting .182/.333/.318. It's a sizeable split, but he real issue is he can’t throw a strike against hitters no matter what side of the plate they stand. He’s walked 17 percent of all right-handed batters and 19 percent of all left-handers.

Perez hasn’t had true fantasy value since 2007. Since then, every ratio has taken a wrong turn. Walks are up. Strikeouts are down. Line-drive rate is up. Double-play rate is down. Percentage of strikes thrown are down.  

After the Mets announced the Perez demotion, Jonathon Niese left his start early with a mild hamstring strain. With a WHIP approaching 2.00 and an ERA of 5.11 over his previous five starts, Niese hasn't been a fantasy candidate for some time. It's been a heck of a month for Met starters. In 15 games, they have a collective ERA of 6.98 with a WHIP of 1.81. We're painting with a broad brush here but the woes of Perez and Niese have even reached class="playerdef">Johan Santana (6.87 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in May) and Mike Pelfrey (6.88 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in May prior to his start on Monday). It's ugly.

One man's loss could be another man's opportunity as with Perez and Niese out of the rotation, indications are the Mets will turn to Hisanori Takahashi to fill one of those holes. The 35-year-old Takahashi is in his first year in the majors after spending the first nine years of his career playing for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League. In his career in Japan, Takahashi was known for his control and owns a 2.4 BB/9 and 1.26 WHIP.

So far, Takahashi hasn’t exhibited the same kind of control out of the pen for the Mets, walking 14 batters in 26 innings, including four in a three inning relief stint on Sunday. If you’re a glass half-full kind of guy, it should be noted that 10 of those walks came in April. Until his rocky outing on Sunday, it seemed he had found his footing, throwing 8.2 innings with 8 strikeouts and no walks. Granted, that’s a small sample size and the game is different coming out of the bullpen, but these are positive steps for a guy attempting to make the jump to the majors. At least it was positive until he struggled on Sunday, throwing three innings and allowing two runs on four hits and four walks. While he has been a bit wild out of the pen, he has been piling up the strikeouts, collecting four on Sunday and 33 so far on the year. He averaged around 7 K/9 in Japan and so far owns an impressive strikeout ratio of 11.4 K/9. Takahashi relies on deceptiona good 20 percent of all his strikes have been of the swing and miss variety.  

At this point, the main concern would be his stamina coming out of the pen. He threw 75 pitches in an appearance at the end of April and 60 in his outing on Sunday, but those are the only two outings this year where he was really stretched out. Another thing to keep in mind is his strikeout rate will almost certainly drop in the rotation. Takahashi is a finesse pitcher who gets hitters out with primarily a fastball/changeup combination. Coming out of the bullpen in short outings, the opposition hasn’t had a bunch of second looks against him. So far, just 14 batters have faced him twice in a gamethey’re hitting .500 against him. Again, small sample size, but it’s all we have to work with.

His turn in the rotation will come on Friday against the Yankeesa difficult first assignment to say the least. He’s not worth the roster spot now, but his transition is worth monitoring in NL-only leagues.    

The other move for the Mets was sliding Jose Reyes back to the leadoff spot. Reyes was “uncomfortable” in the number three spot where he made 20 starts and hit .207/.253/.280 while driving in just six runs. It didn’t help that he owned a .239 BABIP as the number three hitter. His legs look fine though, as he stole six bases in six attempts. Expect a jump in batting average with even more steals as he rediscovers his comfort zone. Reyes owners can exhale.

More news of the weekend with potential fantasy impact was the recall of Jack Cust to Oakland. The A’s desperately need a power infusiontheir 23 team HR rank third from the bottom and their .357 team slugging percentage is second worst in the AL. With the A’s committed to wasting at-bats with Eric Chavez (.250, 1 HR, 9 RBI in 111 PA) at DH, Cust has made both his appearances in left field.  

Virtually all of Cust’s power comes against right-handed pitching. Last year, he slugged .461 and 22 of his 25 home runs came against RHP. In his career, he slugs 100 points higher against right-handers. In an ideal world, Cust would be in a platoon, but the A’s lean heavily toward left-handed bats making them slim on possible partners. He'll probably get a full complement of plate appearances.

Cust hit .273/.444/.436 with four home runs and 19 RBI in Triple-A Sacramento in 144 plate appearances. Not a great line, but he did this while making a three-hour commute each way from his home in San Francisco for the River Cats home games. No wonder all four of his home runs came on the road, where he slugged .571, compared to .327 at homehe was probably better rested away from home.

At any rate, Cust is back where he belongs, so we can expect Cust-like "Three True Outcome" performance in pretty much a full-time role for the A’s. If your team needs a similar infusion of power and can afford the inevitable hit that will come in batting average, take a look at Cust in AL-only leagues.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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The Week in Quotes: We... (05/17)
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