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May 17, 2011

Fantasy Beat

I Stay Away

by Jason Collette

The 2011 season has seen its share of odd moments already. Jose Bautista’s slugging percentage is higher than Albert PujolsOPS right now; Vernon Wells, Carl Crawford, and Alex Rios have three of the worst OPS in all of baseball; guys like John Lackey, Carl Pavano, and Edinson Volquez all have ERA over 5.00 following the “year of the pitcher”. One of the worst things fantasy players can do is run out and acquire players via trade or free agency based on small sample sizes or news bits that flash across the screen, just because they look intriguing. Here are four players I recommend you stay away from despite their recent success, as you have likely already missed their good production, and will only be saddled with headaches.

Brad Hawpe, San Diego Padres
Hawpe, whose OPS didn't even cross the 400 mark in April, is all of a sudden red hot. Over his last 40 plate appearances, Hawpe is hitting .389 with two home runs, seven runs driven in, and has scored eight times. On the season, his line is still a terrible .233/.286/.350, in part thanks to a career high strikeout rate of 33 percent in 112 plate appearances.

This is nothing more than a dead cat bounce for Hawpe, as he is still striking out 31 percent of the time during this hot streak, one fueled by an insane .522 BABIP. In addition, most of this has come on the road, where Hawpe has hit .267 this year, against just .207 at home. The Padres are at home for their next eight games, so picking him up now is likely to result in a very painful week-too-late situation.

Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres
I don't mean for this to be a Padres' bash session, but do not believe the hype with Cameron Maybin right now. Maybin has a toasty .348/.412/.500 slash line over the past two weeks along with two home runs, seven runs driven in, and 11 runs scored. He has walked ten percent of the time in that stretch while striking out in 24 percent of those plate appearances, both in line with his overall 2011 measures.

Like Hawpe, Maybin’s recent success is enhanced by the Padres playing on the road (and a .424 BABIP). Maybin is hitting just .213 at Petco Park with a sub .300 on base percentage, and has just five extra base hits in 85 plate appearances—this compared to a .353 batting average on the road with eight extra base hits and ten runs driven in. With the Padres playing 19 of their next 24 games at home, you have already missed the boat on Maybin’s hot streak, so let one of your league mates overlook his splits and suffer through the next three weeks.

Casey Kotchman, Tampa Bay Rays
The same Kotchman that has a career .269/.329/.393 slash line and was miserable in 2009 and 2010 for Atlanta, Boston, and Seattle is hitting .341/.411/.424 with the Rays this year. A story recently came out that Kotchman had a post-surgical procedure done to his eye to take pus out of his tear ducts—the pus had made things look hazy over the past few years. That said, I am certain that story never sees the light of day unless Kotchman was hitting near .400 over the past two weeks.

Despite the fact he is “seeing the ball better,” his groundball to flyball ratio is a career high of 3.1 and he has pounded 58 percent of his balls in play into the ground. That rate is five percentage points higher than his career rate, and continues a trend in increasing groundball rate that has gone from 51 to 55 to 58 percent over the past three seasons. A .356 BABIP is a huge help this season for him, but his career BABIP is just .271. Someone as slow as Kotchman has to rely on those groundballs finding holes at a high rate, which is unlikely. Just as unlikely will be Kotchman continuing to hit 1.000 off his line drives as he has to date.

Since he is currently an empty batting average and has just five extra base hits, nine runs scored, and six runs driven in on the season, he will lose most of his value in the coming weeks as his rates normalize.

Kyle McClellan, St. Louis Cardinals
Chris Carpenter cannot win anything for the Cardinals right now, but McClellan is having no such problem: he already has five wins this season in seven starts along with a 3.62 ERA. Part of his success comes from a continued ability to induce groundballs. He has a 51 percent grounder rate and his 1.1 home run rate is also right in line with is efforts last season.

Last season, McClellan was one of the better relievers in baseball. A .231 BABIP and 90 percent LOB rate were a huge part of that success. Those rates have gone to .273 and 82 percent respectively, both of which are still very helpful measures. His strikeout rate has taken a huge hit moving from the bullpen into the rotation, dropping from 7.2 per nine to 4.2, and his strikeout to walk rate has been halved from 2.6 to 1.3.

My biggest concern with him is stamina. While C.J. Wilson was able to defy odds last season, McClellan has already thrown 732 pitches this season, or 39 percent of his pitch total of last season (1164), and we are not even 25 percent of the way through the 2011 season. At this pace, McClellan will eclipse his pitch total from 2009 and 2010 combined, so stamina has to be a major concern in the second half of the season.

Wade Davis, Tampa Bay Rays
Davis has attractive surface stats with four wins and a 3.47 ERA in eight starts, but the peripherals do not support this success. He has just 23 strikeouts in 49 innings of work, and hasn't done himself any favors with 22 batters walked. That 4.2 strikeout rate is down from his 6.1 rate of last season: this is intentional, as he has changed his approach and is pitching more to spots to be more efficient, rather than chase the strikeout.

Last season, he was 6-1 in the second half with a 3.28 ERA and a 2.6 strikeout to walk rate, so this season’s secondary stats are quite a disappointment in comparison. It is usually easier to sell a starting pitcher on a team that is winning, so take your chances with Davis right now, because the K/BB rate and declining velocity are being offset by an 80 percent LOB rate and a .262 BABIP right now. Those rates are not that far off from his 2010 efforts, but the low strikeout rate in the American League East is a fantasy risk I would rather someone else take.

This coming Friday, I will take a look at the flip side of this argument and recommend guys you should target while their value is suppressed. Speaking of value, if you are in Florida or can travel down to the gulf coast on Fathers’ Day weekend, make sure you purchase tickets to the Ballpark Event on June 18. I will be joined by Kevin Goldstein and a BP writer or two to be named later, as well as some of the Rays’ front office personnel for a question and answer session before the game. After that, we have seats down the left field line to watch the Rays take on the Marlins, and there is a post-game concert after the event that promises to be a very good act. 

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

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