Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on May 9, 2011 @ 12:33:25 PDT


We have lots to get to this week, but before we do, if you have a question about a trade, free agent pickup or strategy, please e-mail it to me at lordzola@kffl.com, post on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball.

Hey Zola, I'm in a keeper league and Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez are killing me. What should I do? Play them till the bitter end, trade them, or bench 'em and wait it out. -- James

Hey James, please, call me Todd. In general, I am not a fan of benching struggling players, especially players of the ilk of Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez. Water usually finds its level with players of this stature. By the end of the season, their numbers will be where they are supposed to be.

Let's say you bench them. One of three things will occur: They scuffle a little while longer then heat up, they continue to scuffle or they get hot right away. To me, the least likely possibility is they continue to struggle. If you bench them and they turn it around a little while later, you probably break even as you miss out on the continued struggle but also the beginning of the turn-around. Obviously, if they get hot right away, you end up losing out on stats. How many stats you gain or lose depends on the level of the substitute you have in the player's stead, which feeds into the decision. But the way I look at it is this: One of the scenarios I break even, one I gain and the third I lose. Since the scenario I lose is the least likely to me, I prefer to roll the dice and keep my struggling player active. I paid for a year's worth of stats and want to make sure I get the good and the bad on my totals.

With that said, the metrics I will use to in fact bench a good player are walks and strikeouts, for both hitters and pitchers. What we consider to be hot or cold streaks are often just normal performance with fortunate or unfortunate results, for both hitters and pitchers. Strikeouts and walks are individual skills. A batter in a true hot streak is not striking out very much. In a true cold streak, he is whiffing a lot and his walks are down. A hot pitcher is fanning more than normal and not issuing many free passes. A cold hurler is not missing as many bats and is wild. If my star hitter is striking out a lot, or my star pitcher is walking a ton and not striking out many, I will then put them on reserve.

Looking at Gonzalez, the important thing is his contact rate and walk rate are both actually a little better than last season so as difficult as this may be, I would ride the storm out. His BABIP is down, which is the bad luck I alluded to earlier. His HR/FB is also down, more misfortune. Of slight concern is the fact he is hitting more ground balls, but it is still early enough that he should get that fixed.

Jimenez is also a victim of some bad luck as opposed to just bad pitching, though his high walk rate is not helping matters. His strikeout rate is up, which is good. As mentioned, so are his walks, which is obviously not so good. His homers allowed are up, but not to a horrible level. What is ailing Jimenez is his LOB%. Basically, a greater percentage than normal of his allowed base runners are scoring. When a pitcher allows hits is random and Jimenez just happens to be allowing a higher than normal number of hits with runners on. Add in the fact he is walking more hitters, and the runs allowed grow that much more. His LOB% will normalize and assuming the walk rate gets under control, the ERA will correct favorably, sooner than later.

Jorge Posada, C, New York Yankees
Worth backing up?

We play a head to head league, and we have 4 pitchers and one player at each position. It is a points/rotisserie league. I need to replace Pedro Alvarez. Should I take Chris D. Johnson, Chone Figgins, Daniel Descalso or Wilson Betemit? Which one of these catchers are a good backup for Jorge Posada: Yadier Molina, Miguel Olivo or John Jaso? - Fred Kruse from Facebook

With the disclaimer that much depends on league parameters, in a vacuum, I would take Chris D. Johnson, primarily because he is most assured of playing time. I do not expect Johnson to hit for average like last season, but it will improve and he will continue to hit for power. I expect Figgins to get better, but his style of production does not play well in head to head. Descalso is going to play while David Freese is out, but I prefer the track record of Johnson. Betemit does not play enough, or well enough, to warrant consideration. With respect to the catchers, I am going to be honest, you can take the three names and throw them in a hat and pick one. But because of that, I have a question for you, Fred. Is this a daily league? If yes, I can see carrying two catchers. But if it is weekly, and those guys are available, perhaps you do not need to waste a reserve spot with a catcher, when you can easily get a decent one from waivers in the event Posada is injured.

Keeper 5x5 league, who would you grab off waivers? Jason Bay, Cameron Maybin, or Brennan Boesch? @realsmith, Twitter

My answer may not be the norm, but of the three, I would take a shot at Maybin, especially if the keeper potential is part of the equation. I do not trust Bay to stay healthy and hit 25+ homers. Brennan Boesch is an example of a player on an artificial hot streak, much like last season. The longer he plays, the more he is exposed and his numbers will regress like last season. While I do not expect Maybin to be a power hitter, he does have 10 extra base hits amongst his 28 knocks. He still fans way too much but at least it is a bit fewer than last season. His walk rate is improving, which is a start anyway. So while Maybin may have the lowest floor of the group, he has the highest ceiling which is important in a keeper league.

Anyone think it's time to ditch Brett Gardner? I'm a Yankee fan so I know I'm not looking at it clearly. - @wyattspoppa, Twitter

Personally, if I had a reserve spot, I would not ditch Gardner, but rather bench him. One of my preseason predictions was Gardner was going to be a value play, because he would hit higher in the order and would get 50-100 more plate appearances than last season. And for a while, I was looking a bit prescient as Gardner indeed hit leadoff. However, he failed to cooperate and is not in a platoon, hitting at the bottom of the order. Referring back to the first question, I am concerned because Gardner is striking out more than usual, which warrants his being benched and not just riding it out. Compounding his woes is a low BABIP fueled by hitting fewer line drives, which is part bad hitting but also part bad luck. I expect his line drive rate to normalize but so long as he continues to fan excessively, his value is tempered. Am I completely confident Gardner will bounce back? No, players that rely on speed that whiff as much as Gardner are always a risk. But history suggests his contact will improve and when it does, his confidence will grow and the average, this steals, will rise. If I owned him, he would be on my bench until the excessive strikeouts abate.

My team is dead last in wins, ERA and WHIP and Hiroki Kuroda just hit the wire, so my question is who should I drop for him? Choices are Wade Davis, Ted Lilly, Jordan Zimmerman, Ian Kennedy and Francisco Liriano. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks - Kenneth Kuhn

Of that list, I vote Wade Davis off the island, which may seem off based on his early ERA. The truth is, Davis has been quite fortunate. His strikeout rate is extremely low but he is getting by via a fortunate home run rate and hit rate. Eventually, the hits and homers will come and when they do, his strikeout rate, even if it gets better, will not be enough to compensate. I know Lilly and Liriano are struggling, but historically their peripherals are very good and they should correct before long. Zimmerman and Kennedy are also scuffling a bit, but the fact they are in the National League and not the tough American League East like Davis are plusses in their favor.

Will either Hanley Ramirez or Jimmy Rollins reach 20 homers, bat .280 or steal 30 bases this year? - Rick Lewinski

Yes, of those six possibilities, one will come to fruition. Which one, I do not know, but that is not what you asked, he says tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.

We have talked about Ramirez before. His strikeout and walk rates are fine, this is good. His issues are when he makes contact, it is weak. His ground balls are way up and his line drives are down. This is usually the sign of an injury or a mechanical issue. While it would not shock me if we learn this is health related, assuming Ramirez is not hurt, his track record is too strong for him to not correct his swing and begin to hit the ball with authority. If it is not obvious by now, I am a big believer in water finding its level. Will it hold true for everyone? No, it will not. But if you believe in this philosophy, you are usually right more than wrong, though human nature is to dwell on the wrong and forget the right. So I will take the over on homers and average but will not be alarmed if we learn Ramirez has been playing hurt.

Rollins power is down, but he is certainly on a pace to meet the .280/30 stolen base target. Much has been made of his low production from the three-hole and his recent return to leadoff. Maybe this will help him mentally. That said, his low production previously is more hits just coming at a time without ducks on the pond as it is choking in the clutch, which is a myth, but this is not the time or place to go there. The contact and walk rate I like to monitor are just fine, Rollins is just not hitting homers. I will take the under on 20 dingers, but the over on the average and steals.

When Todd is not studying strikeout and walk rates, you can find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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