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April 15, 2011

Don't Believe the Hype

Buyer Beware

by Marc Normandin

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We are hitting the point in the season where some drops are starting to come in large doses: Manny Ramirez's retirement caused him to be dropped in 66 percent of leagues (though, for some reason, 13 percent of leagues still have him), Rafael Furcal's injury forced 22 percent of owners to make a cut, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, despite still having a job, was cut by 17 percent of owners who are as tired of watching him pitch as I am. I can't argue with any of those moves, so let's once again focus on the happier side of things and talk about the most-added players.

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (68 percent owned, +48 percent)

This starting pitcher has just 13 innings and a pair of starts on the year, but he has made the most of that time, striking out 14 hitters against just four walks while allowing a big fat zero in the runs column. Narveson was solid in 2010 outside of his ERA, thanks to a 2.3 K/BB ratio and 37 appearances, 28 of them starts.

Narveson's 4.13 SIERA in 2010 gave us reason to think he would be better than his 4.99 ERA, though PECOTA was not as optimistic (4.69 ERA, 1.44 WHIP). You can blame the Milwaukee defense for a portion of that, of course—the Brewers ranked #29 in Defensive Efficiency in 2010, and none of their offseason moves were made with improvement in that area in mind.

Because of that defense—and Narveson's history—you shouldn't run out to get him, as so many owners have. Still, he is a good depth pick in mixed leagues, and a risk worth taking in deeper ones.

Willie Bloomquist, Arizona Diamondbacks (55 percent owned, +42 percent)

No.

…okay, fine. Less succinctly, Bloomquist is temporary in many ways. His production is temporary, and his playing time is also temporary. (Stephen Drew returned from his injury last week.) Do I really need to write this? It's Willie Bloomquist, people!

If you're in an NL-only league, I understand, but I have to ask you mixed league guys what you are doing. Just a friendly reminder: Bloomquist has hit .268/.322/.346 over the last three years.

Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians (56 percent owned, +32 percent)

Masterson has traditionally struggled against left-handed hitters (.291/.379/.432 in his career), and as a groundball pitcher who rarely plays in front of quality defenses, he hasn't even been able to get all of the outs he should. This year, Masterson is playing in front of Jack Hannahan at third, Asdrubal Cabrera at short, and Orlando Cabrera at second—that is not half-bad, and should help tighten up the holes many grounders escaped through in the past.

The lefty problem has not been discarded as easily, though, and Masterson doesn't strike out nearly enough hitters to make up for the damage they will do to his rate stats. In his career, spanning over 400 innings, Masterson has struck out 7.4 per nine while handing out free passes to 3.9 per nine, for a K/BB of 1.9 and a WHIP of 1.41. He has picked up two wins with the Indians off to a good start, but that, like Masterson's 1.35 ERA, will not last.

As Bill Baer says today, Masterson could be a decent gamble in AL-only leagues, but this new ownership rate in mixed leagues is perplexing.

Ben Francisco, Philadelphia Phillies (70 percent owned, +31 percent)
Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers (66 percent owned, +31 percent)

I've covered both Francisco and Ogando recently, and nothing has changed on either front. Francisco is solid, but not a game changer, and Ogando is useful as long as he has a gig.

Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Rays (30 percent owned, +30 percent)

Fuld can do a little bit of everything, unless you want him to hit for power. He is six for six in stolen base opportunities so far, and with the way the Rays run, that pace shouldn't slow down anytime soon—Fuld stole more than 20 bases in each of the last two years at Triple-A, even before manager Joe Maddon could tell him how much he loves those extra bases.

Fuld shouldn't hurt (and may even help you) in batting average and, if he continues to draw plate appearances as Tampa Bay's leadoff hitter, will also score runs. That makes him a neat three-category player, assuming he continues to play.

Given his defensive ability, his baserunning skills, and the fact he can get on base, chances are good the Rays will keep giving Fuld playing time. He may not be the 2011 version of Brett Gardner, but he will surprise a lot of people the same way. Scoop him up in mixed league formats, and hope Desmond Jennings doesn't see the light of MLB anytime soon.

Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians (44 percent owned, +29 percent)

Heading into last night, Hafner was hitting .282/.333/.462 over 42 plate appearances. For some reason, there is a lot of talk about whether he is "back," despite the fact that from 2007 through 2010 Hafner hit .261/.365/.438, a cumulative line that includes his injury-plagued 2008 where he hit just .197 over 198 plate appearances.

He is hitting like he has, when healthy, since the 2007 season (and, honestly, like he has his entire career excepting his 2004-2006 peak, which was exceptionally Pujolsian at .308/.419/.611). He is nice to have around and all, if you need some extra offense out of your utility spot in a mixed league or you're in an AL-only league, but if you weren't excited in any of the last four years, I'm puzzled as to why you would be excited now.

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