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May 14, 2008

Fantasy Beat

For Real?

by Marc Normandin

We are getting to a point in the season where the influence and weight of early hot streaks are starting to wear off, meaning that it's time to start thinking about who is for real and who needs to be dropped from your roster. Some surprising names still dot the Value Over Replacement Player leaderboards, and we will take a look at some of them today to help with your roster's spring cleaning.

Ryan Ludwick has been a godsend for the Cardinals so far, because they were a team expected to have difficulty scoring runs due to a punchless lineup. Ludwick is second in offensive VORP on the Cards with 18.2 and a line of .336/.410/.701, quite a ways off from his PECOTA-forecasted .256/.331/.475, or even PECOTA's 90th percentile forecast-his most optimistic-of .287/.364/.544. Ludwick has done this in part due to a stretch of excellent contact at the plate: he has (somehow) hit 37 percent of his batted-balls as line drives, a ridiculously high number that you won't see from anyone in the majors by the time summer's here.

Measuring Ludwick's expected BABIP is a fruitless endeavor with that line-drive rate, as his eBABIP would fall somewhere around .390, suggesting that his current .424 BABIP isn't so unreasonable. Of course, eBABIP really only works when you start off with a realistic line-drive rate. So, we'll instead base his line-drive rate on his career rate of 21.6 percent. This gives us a place where we can expect his line-drive rate to fall to, which in turn would bring his BABIP down closer to the mean. Using that, Ludwick's BABIP should be around .336, an 88-point difference. Adjusting his line for that puts Ludwick around .248/.322/.613, but there again, we're assuming all of the hits we have taken away are singles.

Thanks to a lofty strikeout rate (30.8 percent this year), Ludwick needs to have a very high BABIP in order to hit for average. Though the slugging is still attractive in the adjusted line, the AVG/OBP end of things looks pretty similar to his weighted mean forecast of .256/.331/.475. Ludwick is capable of slugging over .500, but .613 is pushing things. Treat him like a .250/.330/.525 hitter; that has value, but may have more value in a "sell high" trade.

Ryan Church has done his best to justify the Mets acquiring him in exchange for Lastings Milledge this offseason-he's the team leader in VORP despite the presence of David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran on the roster-but a deeper look into the data is necessary to determine what he's actually capable of. Church is currently hitting .324/.385/.561 thanks to an early-season BABIP of .378. Like Ludwick, his 29 percent liner rate is skewed way too high in too little time, meaning that here again we'll have to use a career liner rate for adjustment purposes. Unlike Ludwick, though, Church is a line-drive hitter who more often than not posts well above-average BABIP figures.

Adjusting his numbers using his career 22.8 percent liner rate gives us an eBABIP of .348, a 30-point difference from his actual BABIP. This would put his line around .294/.355/.531, once again assuming all of the hits were singles. Those rates are similar to Church's 75th percentile forecast of .282/.366/.506, meaning that his chances of sustaining that adjusted line are pretty good. This is good news for a Mets team that needs the assist in their lineup, and great news for fantasy owners who have held on to Church.

The only iffy portion of his batting statistics is his HR/FB rate, which at 23.5 percent is nine percent over his career rate and 6.6 percent higher than his best effort. It isn't that hitters don't develop more power later in their career, it's just that Shea Stadium is an odd place to start to hit for power consistently. This is a trend to watch for, as a dip in his power production would cost him some of his appeal. That's the only reason I would consider dealing him, besides the ability to sell high to someone who may value him at his current level of production rather than what we should expect from him.

For the second year in a row, Aaron Rowand has started the season out with a hot streak that will help overstate his actual value over a full season. He's currently hitting .325/.391/.520, which looks similar to last year's .309/.374/.515 effort. There are a few differences though: first, 2007's performance came with an assist from Rowand's home park, Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia, one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league; Rowand took full advantage of it with a home line of .319/.380/.557. This year, he's in San Francisco, where the positive effects of Philly are essentially reversed; he's in one of the toughest places to hit for power in the majors.

Rowand is hitting .246/.333/.410 in his new home, but .403/.449/.629 on the road. It should be easy to figure out which one of those is closer to his actual ability, but we'll go through the process anyways. Rowand's current BABIP is .414 thanks to yet another ridiculous early-season line-drive rate, this one at 29.7 percent. For his career, Rowand is at 20.8 percent, meaning that his BABIP should fall around the .320-.330 range, a huge difference from his current output. If we adjust his line for this difference, we get a .239/.305/.434 line.

That may be a little too punishing, but it gets the point across that his current line is nowhere near what he should be expected to produce going forward in 2008. Center field is a strong position in most fantasy leagues, with plenty of options to choose from, so if you can sell Rowand to bolster a weaker position, do so, because he won't help you out when his production falls, especially when he's on a low-offense club like the Giants.

Ryan Doumit is an intriguing player in many leagues, since he has positional eligibility at catcher, first base, and right field. This season he's back behind the plate, and has hit very well with a .350/.382/.573 line. His .223 Isolated Power is solid, but isn't the sort of thing you're used to seeing next to a .573 SLG. The .350 batting average is the key to his slugging, as it brings the rest of his value up, especially when he's only walking in 4.6 percent of his plate appearances. Doumit has hit .350 thanks to a .369 BABIP, but unlike the previous entries in this article, he's been delivering a realistic line-drive rate of 18.9 percent. This's just a smidge above his career rate, meaning we can use it to adjust his BABIP to .309.

Lopping the 60 points off of his line puts him at .290/.322/.513, which is still an excellent line for catcher, especially in standard leagues where OBP is not part of the equation. Normally we could expect the batting average to drop a bit further due to strikeouts, but Doumit has done his part to address that problem in the early goings of 2008. His career strikeout rate is 22.2 percent, and he punched out in 23.4 percent of his plate appearances in 2007, but he has turned into a more difficult out during 2008, striking out in just 13.6 percent of his plate appearances.

If he keeps up the lower strikeout rate, he should be able to outperform his weighted mean forecast of .268/.339/.458, at least from the average and power standpoint. For the Pirates' sake he should bring up his walks, but you don't need to worry about that too much if walks or OBP aren't categories in your league. Even if they are, Doumit currently finds himself ranked third amongst catchers in VORP, behind Geovany Soto and Brian McCann. With Ivan Rodriguez (.278/.324/.413) ranked 10th and Jason Kendall (.283/.365/.367) ranked 11th in catcher VORP, you see why it's important that you hold on to Doumit, even if his line drops to the adjusted point mentioned earlier. Once he comes back off of the DL, watch the strikeout rate to see if he will be able to maintain that value, but even if he doesn't stick around there he will retain value at a weak position.

Related Content:  Ryan Ludwick,  Ryan Doumit

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Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (05/14)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Beat: Keeping ... (05/07)
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Fantasy Beat: RBI Oppo... (05/21)
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Prospectus Preview: We... (05/14)

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