August 20, 2008
Judging Late-Season Streaking
Riding hot streaks at the beginning of the season is common in fantasy baseball, and it's easy to do considering that players are starting the year from zero. Later in the season it's a bit more difficult, as you have to weigh their overall performance against their recent output to see whether or not a player is worth a roster spot. We'll take a look at that angle today, checking out some players who've been on both ends of the production spectrum since the All-Star break.
Jody Gerut has quietly been one of the big surprises of 2008, but no one has noticed because the lefty plays for the last-place Padres. Gerut has revived his career with San Diego after missing two full seasons in the majors, and is now hitting .296/.355/.481 on the year, impressive considering that his home park is Petco. Even more impressive is his line since the All-Star break, as Gerut has smacked the ball around to the tune of .333/.375/.656, with eight of his 12 homers on the season coming during this stretch. Prior to the outburst, Gerut had been hitting .279/.347/.403; that's solid but unspectacular, and with Gerut not a stolen-base threat and playing in a lineup devoid of run scoring, he wasn't much help to a fantasy squad.
Gerut has shown flashes of this kind of power before-during his rookie campaign, Gerut had a HR/FB of 14.7 percent, close to this year's 13.8 mark. Granted, that 13.8 is made up of both his punchless first half and his hot hitting second, but striking a balance between the two going forward isn't that much of a stretch, assuming he's found the power he was missing from 2004 until July of this year in the majors. Considering that he lost a few homers due to his home park earlier in the year, that's a believable scenario, especially given that it's hotter this time of year and balls can gain a few extra feet of distance in the less-dense warmer air. When you see how close Gerut was to home runs on fly balls earlier in the season at Petco, this will make more sense:
Given this, he's worth the gamble. Chances are good that he won't be hitting eight homers a month (as he just did), but he has more use than he did previously; if you're hard up for help in the outfield, Gerut is more than likely available in your league.
Melvin Mora has also been ridiculously hot for the Orioles since the All-Star break ended, hitting .421/.455/.760 over 121 at-bats, bringing his season line up from .233/.301/.387 up to a much more respectable .284/.342/.488. Right-handers were his issue, as he hit just .225/.293/.338 against them, and a much better .256/.323/.523 against southpaws prior to picking up the pace. He has hit everyone during the past month, though, regardless of handedness, and he's having his best season since 2005 because of it. His ISO of .204 is his highest since 2004's .222 mark, but unlike that year, he's put together this season line without an assist from BABIP. His BABIP sits at .292, which is below expectations given his liner rate is 20.6 percent-he should be around a .326 BABIP, which would put his line with some of the best third basemen available outside of the top-tier guys.
I certainly don't expect Mora to keep up the pace he's been on during the last month and a half of the season, but even if he were to level out around where his overall line is now, he would be a worthwhile addition to your team. Given his early-season struggles, like Gerut you should find that Mora is available in many leagues, though if trades were still an option this late in the year, he would be a player I would sell high on due to the reputation he built up during the middle portion of the decade. If, for whatever reason, he's still available at this date in your league-maybe because old habits die hard, and he's certainly scarred his share of fantasy owners with his last two poor seasons-he's worth a look to shore up your offense for the stretch run.
Mike Lowell has not been useful for the Red Sox since the All-Star break, hitting just .187/.253/.253 over his last 91 at-bats. Mercifully for the Sox lineup, he was placed on the disabled list a few days ago. With Lowell struggling and teams trying to push their way up the standings, he may be available to scoop up off of waivers during the upcoming weeks. The question, of course, is if he's worth the roster spot. He's hitting .270/.336/.446 on the season, and has not seen the usual boost from Fenway that we are used to seeing from him offensively. Last year, his season line was impressive thanks to a .373/.418/.575 line at home which helped to offset his poor .276/.339/.428 road performance. Without that, he's pretty average for a third basemen: he ranks 20th in VORP at the position, behind players like Ronnie Belliard and the still-developing Alex Gordon, and now that's he's injured, he's even more of a risk going forward.
We can chalk up some of his recent struggles to possibly playing hurt, but even accounting for that, his line isn't good enough to merit consideration unless you're playing in an MLB-sized fantasy league. He's not going the other way with the ball, hitting just 15.8 percent of his balls in play to the right side of the infield, and he's having no luck on ground balls to the left side. That's his second-"favorite" spot to hit the ball this year, at 26.6 percent of the time, and he's hitting just .173 in that situation. That, more than anything, has cut into his production, although it doesn't help that he has zero power to center field; despite hitting 27.9 percent of his balls in play there, he has yet to pick up a home run that way, instead relying entirely on his pull power. The only real positive for Lowell going forward is that his BABIP is below expectations, as it should be around .328 rather than .285. Adding that into his line would make him look more like the Lowell we are used to seeing, but between his injury, aging, and reliance on pull power, hoping for more than that might be a stretch.
Mark Teahen's struggles during his early major league career are well documented; his inability to utilize his pull power doomed his swing, and made him nothing more than a singles hitter with patience. These days, he is pulling the ball-nearly 50 percent of his balls in play are to the pull side-but he isn't getting the results that he did during his successful 2006 campaign. Thanks in part to this, he's hitting just .249/.317/.386 on the year, and .239/.293/.304 since the All-Star break. While Teahen is hitting plenty of balls to his pull side, he's putting them in the wrong place, as 40.5 percent of his pulled balls in play are grounders to the right side, a situation he hits .241 in. With a .162 average on ground balls hit the other way (11.3 percent), he's not doing himself any favors when he doesn't loft the ball.
When Teahen does manage to get the ball in the air, nothing much happens. He only has a few home runs to each side, and though he has more to center, those have come on 21.3 percent of his balls in play, his highest rate for balls in the air. Even without the power, Teahen used to have some value in certain leagues due to his batting average and solid eye at the plate, but that has not been the case in 2008. His .249 average is close to expectations, as his BABIP of .302 is close to the BABIP his 19 percent liner rate should generate. The only significant difference in Teahen's performance from last year's is his BABIP, as his ISO is roughly the same (.136 to .125), but he's had much worse luck on balls in play. Whereas he was well over expectations last season-his 20.8 percent liner rate should have resulted in a BABIP of .328 rather than .361, a significant difference-this year he's been closer to where he should be. Due to last year's luck, it appears as if he's fallen further and harder than he actually has, when in fact he is closer to his talent level given his indicators. If any of you are still holding onto Teahen and hoping for a surge like we've seen from him in the past, it may be time to pluck him off of your roster and pitch him back into the free-agent pool.