Fantasy Baseball Insider Trading: Lance Berkman, Jeff Francoeur, more

by Rich Arleo on May 12, 2011 @ 17:18:15 PDT

 


Some batters and pitchers on the other teams in your fantasy baseball league are becoming real drags. A few MLB players on your fantasy baseball team are performing better than you expected. Is it time to move in? KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Insider Trading series is your accomplice when it's time to do shady business in your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball game.

Buy

Nick Swisher, New York Yankees While the Yankees have gotten off to a good start this season, their right fielder has not. Swisher is hitting just .217 and is suffering from a lack of power with just two home runs. Swisher, coming off one of his best seasons at the plate with a .288 average, is still getting on base at a reasonable rate considering his low clip. His OBP, which stands at .357 for his career, is at .336 right now, and his BB/K is at a career-high 0.81, so he's not completely lost at the plate.

Kansas City Royals OF Jeff Francoeur
Frenchy not so stable

Swisher's power is starting to slowly come around; both of his home runs have come in his last 12 games, and that trend should continue with his fly-ball rate being only slightly below his career average. His line-drive percentage is way up at around 24, so he's hitting the ball hard. Most of his other peripherals, like contact rate, are around his career averages. Plus, with hitting coach Kevin Long known to diagnose hitters' issues and heal them quickly, signs point to Swisher getting it going very soon. Long helped fix Swisher in the offseason before the outfielder's successful 2010.

The Yankees' lineup is dangerous, and Swisher generally hits in the middle of that order with plenty of RBI opportunities. Plus, he has averaged 26 homers in his six full big league seasons and hasn't relied on Yankee Stadium for power. Owners tend not to have much patience with a struggling outfielder with so much depth at that position, so he could be had on the cheap and give you a great return.

Marco Scutaro, Boston Red Sox Nobody likes injuries, but every now and then it makes sense to grab someone that's hurt and stash them away for later ... and that's the case with Scutaro. Scutaro has become what seems like the thousandth victim of a strained oblique this season, but he isn't expected to miss much time.

He already had sneaky value: He lost his job to Jed Lowrie and has been floated around as a trade candidate. Lowrie has cooled after a hot start but probably has a bit of leash. Scutaro has excellent contact skills and is streaky if given frequent PT. Before getting hurt, Scutaro was six for his last 11 and showing signs of life after a dismal start to the season.

Shortstops are hard to come by, and if you're in need of one, Scutaro can likely be had for next to nothing. If Scutaro's owner in your AL-only or cavernous mixed league believes the versatile 35-year-old has absolutely no shot at playing time, take him off that carrier's hands. He can play multiple positions and could easily gain full-time work somewhere else. There's plenty of potential reward for a miniscule investment.

Sell

Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals The 27-year-old joined his fourth team coming off three mediocre seasons ... only to start off 2011 by mashing eight home runs, driving in 25 and hitting at a .307 clip on a one-year deal. There are a few different ways to look at Francoeur's hot start.

Francoeur has had home run totals of 29 and 19 in the past and has only once out of four times finished a season of 150-plus games with less than 15. While it may be a bit more than expected this season, the power has always been there. He has always crushed lefties, and it's been no different this year, but it's his success against righties that has been surprising. A career .257 hitter against righties, Francoeur is hitting .282. He has also slimmed down to make his swing less clunky and has been more selective at the plate, swinging at 51.4 percent of pitches as opposed to his career number of 58.5 percent. His 82.1 percent contact rate is the best of his MLB lifetime.

While there are some encouraging things, there are plenty of reasons why he qualifies as a sell. He's notoriously streaky, for one. Also, a closer look at his numbers reveals an eerily high percentage of ground balls (47.0 percent), while his fly-ball rate is a strikingly low 35.7 percent. Francoeur's 19.5 percent HR/FB is a career high, on the same level of his best pop years. This could be a recovery of skills and the result of an improved approach, but the combination of a low FB percentage and good fly-ball fortune still presents an opportunity for regression.

While his overall patience is up, he's still offering at more than 40 percent of pitches outside of the zone, which is among the league leaders. Over time, this, paired with a correction of his lofty, fortunate .391 BABIP versus southpaws, stands to produce a crash back to earth in his batting average.

New York Yankees OF Nick Swisher
Relax, Swish will rebound

His power remains the most legitimate part of his game. Everything else isn't a safe bet. There is typically plenty of depth at the outfield position. If you can find someone who remembers the glory days of 2006 and 2007 and believes Francoeur found his stroke again, you can turn Frenchy into a decent starting pitcher, find help at a position with more scarcity - whatever you need. Shop him around and see what you can find; even if you can't ship him, he could remain a solid contributor in deep leagues even if and when he cools off.

Hold

Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals After 11 1/2 years of trying to beat the Cardinals as a member of the Houston Astros, Fat Elvis arrived in St. Louis, and Cardinals fans could not be happier with the production they've been getting. Berkman is leading the league with 32 RBIs and tops the NL with a .705 slugging percentage while having hit 10 home runs with a .357 average. The 35-year-old had disappointing, injury-plagued 2009 and '10 seasons and has undergone surgery on both of his knees since 2006, but he's healthy for probably the first time since his first surgery in 2006 and is back playing the outfield. It's been so far, so great for Berkman.

Many will consider Berkman a sell-high candidate. The odds of Berkman maintaining this production throughout the season are slim, and pitchers are starting to walk him more, especially with the lack of protection behind him in the order. But Berkman isn't too far removed from being a true star. Regaining health and conditioning, being comfortable with inside fastballs and batting in a solid Cardinals lineup have led to a resurgence.

Berkman owners likely got him on the cheap, and the value you're getting from him should continue throughout the season. His K percentage is at just 16.1, lower than it's been the past six seasons, and his LD percentage is more than four points higher than his career average, so he's locked in at the plate.

This isn't saying to keep Berkman at all costs ... if you're blown away by an offer (especially for a stud in a shallow league), then by all means, deal away. But while concerns about his age are justified, Berkman has returned to a level close to his old form and will continue to give owners power and RBIs with a solid average and OBP, which isn't worth underselling in a fickle fantasy market.

Short

Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers While Lilly was considered as a buy-low candidate, a closer look at him revealed some serious concerns. A pitcher with a career 4.19 ERA to start, Lilly doesn't have much room for error, but he's struggled mightily this year to the tune of a 4.67 ERA, 1.38 WHIP with a .295 BAA.

Lilly's slider has been the pitch he's thrown the most behind the fastball the past three years, but his trust on that pitch seems to have gone down, and he's been relying more on his changeup to complement the fastball and curveball. Lilly is getting less swings-and-misses, and hitters are connecting at a rate of almost 85 percent. He's striking out just 5.89 per nine and in general isn't missing bats, which is hardly good for a pitcher. In fact, his dropping swinging-strike percentage is in a three-year decline, with this season being the most precipitous drop so far.

If you own Lilly, hold on to him and hope for a turnaround, which certainly isn't out of the question because of his pristine control. For now, consider him a matchup play. If you don't own Lilly, however, don't bother targeting him, as you'll likely be disappointed with your return. Until we see more consistency from the 35-year-old, you shouldn't give much up for him.

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About Rich Arleo

Rich Arleo is a Marist College alum who has been playing fantasy sports since he was 14 years old. He is a local editor with AOL's Patch.com and became a staff writer with Bruno Boys Fantasy Football in 2010 and a contributor to KFFL in 2011.

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