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May 13, 2011

Don't Believe the Hype

The Unlikely Heroes

by Marc Normandin

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It's tough to argue with this week's drops—Kendrys Morales is out for at least six months thanks to surgery to remove scar tissue from his foot, Chris Young elected to have surgery to repair the shoulder that has knocked him out three years running, and Dallas Braden is having a similar procedure done on his own noodle. Nick Hundley is next up for most drops in the past week, but let's think about this for a moment: He is a catcher who can avoid embarrassing himself at the plate, and there are not nearly enough of those. You don't want to cut him because he will be out for a few weeks. As for the most popular adds of the week…

Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (63 percent owned, +29 percent)
Bailey is the kind of pitcher who, by year's end, will be in the 90s for ownership in mixed leagues. That seems odd to say for a hurler with a career ERA of 4.91, but there are some extenuating circumstances that have made people forget just how good Bailey is supposed to be.

The Reds called him up over and over again before he had ever finished baking at Triple-A, and the results were not pretty. In his first 81 2/3 innings in the majors, Bailey had an ERA of 6.72 and a K/BB ratio of 1.01, thanks to 46 strikeouts against 45 walks; that walk rate (and his hittable nature) resulted in a WHIP of 1.80, 11.2 H/9, and 1.2 homers per nine. Say what you want about BABIP, but Bailey just wasn't ready, and hitters were destroying anything he put in the zone and shrugging off whatever did not.

Something clicked with Bailey in 2009, and he has had a 4.28 ERA, 7.6 K/9, and 3.2 UIBB/9 in his last 235 1/3 frames. That is not exactly dominating mixed-league material either, but it's a start, and there is more to the story. Bailey is in his age-25 season, coming off of a strong second half in 2010, and dominating in his short start to 2011. Since August 15 of last year—when Bailey returned to the mound—he has a 3.03 ERA, 9.0 K/9 against 2.5 walks per nine, and just four homers allowed in 71 1/3 innings.

Now that is more like it. It's a small sample, sure, but Bailey finally, for the first time in his career, looks like the pitcher he was expected to be back when his name came up alongside of—and even ahead of—guys like Phil Hughes, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, and Yovani Gallardo. It isn't that those guys were underrated prospects, either—Bailey was supposed to be that good, and it looks like, at long last, he might be.

Melky Cabrera, Kansas City Royals (68 percent owned, +25 percent)
It takes power a long time to get to the point where we can trust it. Nearly an entire year of plate appearances are necessary to determine if Isolated Power can be taken seriously, just one more reason why early-season power trips by unlikely outfielders shouldn't be given that much notice.

Melky Cabrera had a career ISO of .112 heading in to 2011, and that is with a pre-Braves career that took place in favorable hitting environments. His fantasy value in all but the deepest leagues was nonexistent, as he didn't get on base very often, didn't hit for power, and didn't steal nearly often enough to make him worth rostering in spite of the other problems.

Enter 2011, though, and Cabrera is owned in 68 percent of leagues thanks to a recent spike in pickups. His .190 ISO has everything to do with this—Cabrera has already exceeded last season's homer total in just 167 plate appearances. The "just 167 plate appearances" part is the one that needs emphasis—let's say it again, but this time we'll use italics: in just 167 plate appearances—because that is nowhere near a full season of data. If you pick up Cabrera because you think he is some source of power that will do a fine job of producing for you in fantasy, then you are ignoring the 2,657 plate appearances that came before that told you he wouldn't.

Cabrera has uses in extremely deep leagues and in AL-only, but if you're tempted to bet on him keeping up his torrid pace, I suggest you never go to Vegas.

Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels (59 percent owned, +24 owned)
The same kind of negativity could be leveled at Aybar, who currently owns a .347 batting average but, unlike Cabrera, he at least is eligible at positions where hitting like a middle infielder is a good thing. It's surprising that Aybar isn't owned in more formats, as it's difficult to name 12-14 shortstops that are better than he is at the plate, but his tough 2010 campaign (.253/.306/.330) has a lot to do with that.

He hit .298/.337/.407 from 2008 through 2009, though, and is at .285/.328/.381 since he became a full-time player, a stretch that includes that dreadful 2010 line. There are far worse players you could put at shortstop than Aybar, though with his surge in ownership, position(s), and the expected decline from his current numbers, he also fits the bill of a sell-high candidate, assuming you can find a buyer desperate enough to grab him.

Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles (55 percent owned, +21 percent)
Throw out Arrieta's second start of the season, and his 2011 looks to be going much better than it is: 42 innings, 7.3 strikeouts per nine, 3.2 free passes per nine, and an ERA of 2.79. Now, we don't want to throw out that awful start—it happened, after all, and while we want to be positive here, we don't want to erase the possibility of Arrieta pitching poorly—but it just goes to show you how well he has done in his other starts: Eight of the 21 runs he has allowed came in that one appearance.

Even with it included, we're talking about a pitcher with a 4.17 ERA and peripherals that are similar to the above. He look a lot like the pitcher PECOTA thought he would be at the 80th and 90th percentiles—that means the current performance was in the cards, and Arrieta didn't even have to wait for the flop to play them.

Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals (82 percent owned, +20 percent)
Hosmer hit .333/.444/.714 in his first week in the bigs, but I'm still a bit leery that he will continue to dominate out of the gate. However, I will lessen the intensity of my stance that you should think hard about whether to roster him in one-year leagues, as his control of the strike zone seems to have been promoted with him—Hosmer has five walks and five strikeouts in his first 27 plate appearances. If he can keep that up, then he will merit the price you pay for him in terms of roster space, waiver priority, and FAAB money. 

*****

There wasn't much activity in adds this week for AL- and NL-only caliber players—the significant jumps in ownership were all for mixed leaguers. Making a push for any of these players (non-Melky division) via trade in their respective leagues could have an impact on your season, though.

Related Content:  Melky Cabrera

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