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April 22, 2005

Fantasy Focus

Fantasy Trends--NL West

by Erik Siegrist

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Did I say I would spend six weeks looking at developing trends in all six divisions? I meant, umm, a fortnight. It was a printing error. A typo. A Windows virus changed the copy. Yeah, that's the ticket...

I'm going to pick up the pace because, in retrospect, things change too quickly in fantasy baseball to wander leisurely through the divisions over a month and a half. By the time I would have been done, it would have been time to begin again.

It's still mid-April though, so, as with Monday's AL West column, any conclusions gleaned from a couple of weeks of data are dubious at best. To quote Joe Sheehan though (or was it Freddie Mercury?), the show must go on.

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Buy Low: Even with his solid performance Wednesday night, Javier Vazquez has some ugly numbers on the year: 7.65 ERA, 1.850 WHIP. Those staff-destroying figures are entirely the product of a ridiculous .356 OAV, thanks to 31 hits allowed in 20 IP. His other stats (19 K's, 6 BB's, 2 HR's) indicate a pitcher who is very relieved to be out of the Big Apple. You should probably act quickly here, as the window of opportunity to acquire Vazquez on the cheap could close quickly.

  • Sell High: Coming up in the minors, and in his rookie season of 2004, Chad Tracy had adequate plate discipline at best. Even that has deserted him so far in 2005, though (one walk, seven K's in 49 at bats). His new-found power may not last-tread warily.

  • Watch Out For: Brandon Lyon has been very solid (7:1 K:BB ratio in 8 2/3 IP), but as Boston fans remember from 2003 it's a good idea to have a back-up plan at closer, just in case. Brian Bruney (8:4 K:BB in 9 2/3 IP) would be that back-up plan... same as it ever was for Russ Ortiz, who sports a 4.24 ERA and 1.412 WHIP in 17 innings despite his usual poor K:BB ratio (8:7)... like Garret Anderson, Shawn Green isn't showing much, or indeed any, power so far, hitting just two extra-base hits (both home runs)-and one of those was off Scott Erickson, so it really shouldn't count. His .370 SLG is anemic, but unlike Anderson Green maintained some semblance of power through last year's injury woes, so there's more reason to believe he'll eventually come around. It's no sure thing, though.

Colorado Rockies

  • Buy Low: It takes a special kind of hitter to post a .152/.222/.182 line for the Rockies, but that's what J.D. Closser has done through his first 33 at bats. He doesn't appear to be overmatched, walking three times while striking out four, and with Todd Greene as the only alternative behind the plate Closser will get plenty of chances to snap out of his funk. It should cost you almost nothing to see if he does.

  • Sell High: Matt Holliday wasn't considered much of a prospect before he was called up in the wake of Preston Wilson's lost season, but he posted a surprising .290/.349/.488 line in 400 at bats. Even that much power was more than he'd shown in the minors, though, and it hasn't materialized yet this year-he's racked up a miserable .084 ISO so far. He'll also be fighting more highly-touted players like Brad Hawpe for playing time, and one slump could be all it takes to get him a ticket to Colorado Springs, one-way. Glenn Braggs is his top PECOTA comp, and that's probably a warning sign worth heeding. Let someone else wait for a home run stroke that might never develop.

  • Watch Out For: If Shawn Chacon could face the Diamondbacks every time out, he'd probably be a Cy Young candidate-he shut them down twice in his "breakthrough" 2003 season (0.64 ERA over 14 innings), and he's done it twice already this year in his only two starts (1.50 ERA in 12 innings). You might want to see how he does against the rest of the league before considering taking a chance on him.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Buy Low: Aside from injured players like Eric Gagne and Brad Penny, there haven't been too many disappointing Aprils in 2005 for the Dodgers. Almost everyone, from Milton Bradley to Elmer Dessens, has been violating California Labor Code Section 6404.5, right out of the gate. Big-name free agent catch J.D. Drew has been a glaring exception, however, only getting his batting average above .200 before press time with a 4-for-5 Wednesday. He's healthy though, which is always the most important thing with Drew, so the hits will come soon enough, if Wednesday's game wasn't a sign that they were already here. Consider this recommendation a "Buy Medium," as the chances of you getting him low aren't good.

  • Sell High: Among those red-hot Dodgers, the most unlikely might be perennial batting average sinkhole Jose Valentin, who's ripping the ball at a .308/.462/.590 pace. Jim Tracy has done an excellent job keeping him away from his nemesis, left-handed pitchers, so far (only nine of his 39 at bats have come against port-siders) but even if he's kept in a strict platoon, a .260 BA is just about the upper end of what you can expect from him by season's end.

  • Watch Out For: Gagne's injury has left the vaunted bullpen in a bit of a shambles. Yhency Brazoban has filled in reasonably well as the closer, but no one has stepped up to fill his (or, for that matter, Guillermo Mota's) spikes as the set-up man. One candidate for the job is Rule 5 pick-up D.J. Houlton, who struck out exactly a batter an inning for Double-A Round Rock in 2004, with a better than 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has kept it up in his brief major league exposure (four K's, zero walks in 4 1/3 IP). In a deep league he's probably worth stashing away right now. In a shallow league, where reliable relievers still dot the free agent landscape, he's merely a name to file away for later study once his role on the staff becomes more clearly defined.

San Diego Padres

  • Buy Low: Coming off his worst season since he became a National Leaguer, Brian Giles' .212 start at the plate must be making his owners very nervous. But there is a silver lining in the form of a .481 SLG, about equal to what he put up last year despite 70 more points of batting average to inflate it. He's always had old player skills, so at 34 he could be entering the "low batting average slugger" phase of his career, but it's also possible that he's got at least one more of those .300/.400/.550 season in him that Pirates fans knew so well.

  • Sell High: Now that Dave Roberts is finally back on the field, it's time to think about dealing him as soon as he's swiped a couple of bags and "proved" he's healthy. Speedsters don't often survive an encounter with their early 30s careers intact, as a quick glance at some of Roberts' top PECOTA comps--Vince Coleman, Luis Polonia, Dave Collins--will show you (Otis Nixon is a notable exception, however.) There's always a premium on stolen bases in 4x4 and 5x5 leagues, so you should still be able to get a good return for Roberts, despite the risks involved for your trading partner.

  • Watch Out For: The Padres bullpen, expected to be a team strength, has instead been, if not an Achilles heel, then at least a Griffey hamstring. Trevor Hoffman has just one strikeout in 4 2/3 innings, while Scott Linebrink (6:6 K:BB ratio in 6 1/3 IP) and Akinori Otsuka (7:5 K:BB ratio in 6 2/3 IP) have been uncharacteristically wild. It's hard to imagine all three going south at the same time, so unless Dennis Reyes has been a really bad influence on them, look for a rebound from at least two of them.

San Francisco Giants

  • Buy Low: Ray Durham isn't normally a slow starter (hitting better than .300 in April since leaving Chicago), so his .200/.333/.244 is a bit mysterious. He could be playing through an injury, not an unreasonable assumption for a 33-year-old middle infielder, or it could just be a bad set of 45 at bats. It's probably worth finding out how much it will cost you to gamble on the latter.

  • Sell High: Mike Matheny and his heady .273 batting average, and .477 SLG, are just too obvious--very few fantasy owners should be willing to pay much for a guy like Matheny, who's reputation with the stick is well-known. A better chip to cash in might be Armando Benitez. Last year his ever-declining strikeout rate fell below 9.0 K/9 for the first time in his career. Of course he went out and posted career-best numbers otherwise, but the trend is worrisome, especially when you consider how many power relievers went down or even out in a similar blaze of glory at a similar age, Mike Jackson being perhaps the best recent example. Benitez might, and likely will, get some saves this year. The real question is, what kind of ERA and strikeout total will he put up doing it? His start to 2005 (9.64 ERA and zero K's in 4 2/3 IP) isn't encouraging.

  • Watch Out For: Pedro Feliz has just about doubled his 2004 walk rate through his first 57 at bats. That .296 batting average might not entirely be a fluke... if Benitez should completely unravel, the options behind him in the Giants bullpen aren't impressive. Matt Herges (4:1 K:BB ratio in 7 2/3 IP) has the best numbers, but like LaTroy Hawkins with the Cubs, the memory of his eight blown saves in 2004 hangs darkly over his head. A better place to look for Benitez insurance might be in the stacked upper minor league pitching staffs in the Giants system. Merkin Valdez, long rumored to be headed for the bullpen eventually, has a 13:5 K:BB ratio and a 1.23 ERA in 14 2/3 innings for Double-A Norwich, while his Navigators teammate David Aardsma has been even more impressive, with an 11:0 K:BB ratio and 1.00 ERA in nine innings. Even if Benitez holds up, the kids might get the call anyway, to reinforce the middle relief brigade for the stretch run (if the currently giant-less Giants actually have one.)

Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  The Who,  Year Of The Injury,  The Call-up

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