In fantasy terms, that means it’s time to start wheeling and dealing – but it’s important to know what you have and what you need. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving.
A glance at the names on your roster and their stats to date might indicate an abundance of power and a shortage of batting average. But that power could be coming from fluky sources, and the mediocre average might be the result of bad luck.
You shouldn’t expect Blue Jays’ shortstop Alex Gonzalez to hit 39 homers this season, despite his current pace. You also shouldn’t give up on Cubs’ first baseman Derrek Lee, even though he’s batting a lowly .222.
Fortunately, there are underlying statistics that can be helpful in gauging what your team will do in the future.
For hitters, you can compare a player’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to his career BABIP, or to his line-drive percentage. If a hitter’s BABIP is much higher or lower than his line-drive percentage plus 0.2, you should expect it to trend back toward that mean. Use Lee for example — his current BABIP of .256 is far below what you’d predict given his line-drive rate of 21.4 percent, so Lee’s batting average should be in store for a steady hike this summer.
Likewise, a pitcher’s future performance can usually be estimated by comparing his xFIP to his ERA. Because xFIP is calculated independently of the defense a pitcher has behind him, it tends to be a better forecasting tool than ERA, which is susceptible to fluctuations based on luck. Owners of Diamondbacks’ ace Dan Haren shouldn’t be concerned about his bloated 4.79 ERA, because his xFIP is a solid 3.20. However, the Rays’ Jeff Niemann is unlikely to maintain his excellent 2.54 ERA, as his xFIP is a mediocre 4.56.
When consummating a trade, the future matters much more than the past, and statistics like BABIP, xFIP, and line-drive percentage can help you get the best of your fellow owners during swapping season.
Now, here are this week’s 3 Up, 3 Down, and recommended pickups. You’ll also find my recommendations for owners who are streaming pitchers in "Down the Stream."
David Ortiz, designated hitter, Red Sox
Everyone knows the adage "April flowers bring May flowers." Well, in Big Papi’s case, an April slump seems to bring some serious May thump.
The Red Sox’ DH is raking to the tune of a .352 average and seven home runs in 54 at-bats since the calendar flipped. Ortiz recently told the media that you have to “"ide with me." Well, in leagues where he’s either already eligible or will soon gain eligibility at first base, it’s worth riding Big Papi as long as his power surge lasts.
Mat Latos, starting pitcher, Padres
Latos was a popular sleeper during fantasy drafts this spring, and the Padres’ future ace is off to a dazzling start in his first full big league season. The 22-year-old is 2-1 with a dazzling 1.24 ERA and 0.66 WHIP over four starts this month. He also came within an infield hit of giving Dallas Braden some company in the "Perfect Games Absolutely No One Saw Coming" Club.
Elvis Andrus, shortstop, Rangers
With 10 stolen bases and a .441 on-base percentage this month, Elvis Andrus has rapidly entered the conversation of the best leadoff men in baseball. The flashy, young shortstop is hitting .322 this season, and his 17 swipes are just one shy of the league lead. He also might have made the defensive play of the season, robbing Torii Hunter of a virtually certain base hit on Monday.
Gordon Beckham, second baseman/third baseman, White Sox
Waiting for last year’s Rookie of the Year hopeful to snap out of his slump? Well, based on Beckham’s numbers through the first two-thirds of May, you’d better have incredible patience.
Beckham has just six hits in 56 at-bats this month, and none of them have gone for extra bases. He has also fanned 17 times and has shown no signs of making the adjustments necessary to end his sophomore slump.
Felix Hernandez, starting pitcher, Mariners
There is no question that King Felix is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, but his recent performances have been disappointing to his owners. Apart from a strong outing against the Orioles on May 13, Hernandez has struggled, failing to complete the fifth inning in each of his first two starts this month, and then surrendering a career-high 11 hits to the light-hitting Athletics on Tuesday.
Matt Holliday, outfielder, Cardinals
Holliday is supposed to be a power hitter, but he hasn’t knocked one out of the park since way back on April 19. There isn’t much in his peripherals to suggest that this blackout should persist much longer, but owners can only wonder if the same second half surge that Holliday treated owners with after being traded to St. Louis last season will come around again.
Carlos Villanueva relief pitcher, Brewers
If Trevor Hoffman’s recent troubles are any indication, the Brewers may need a new closer for the rest of the season, and Villanueva appears to be the top candidate. The 27-year-old righty has logged a 2.97 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings so far this season, and he picked up a save on Thursday in Hoffman’s stead.
Jose Bautista, third baseman and outfielder, Blue Jays
Last year, the Rays’ Ben Zobrist was the waiver wire pickup of the year, thanks to both his versatility and production. This year, that honor might be bestowed upon the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista, who has finally tapped into his power potential and bashed 13 bleacher burners to date. With eligibility at third base and in the outfield, Bautista’s pop can be extremely valuable to your team. If he’s still available in your league, be sure to snatch him.
Francisco Cervelli, catcher, Yankees
Looking for someone to fill the catcher spot on your team while Jorge Posada nurses a broken foot? Look no further than Cervelli, his replacement in the Bronx. The youngster hasn’t shown much power during his brief big league career, but Cervelli should hit for a solid average, giving him plenty of opportunities to both score and drive in runs. That’s adequate for a short-term stopgap at one of the shallowest positions in fantasy.
If you are playing in a head-to-head league, a potentially useful — if controversial — strategy is streaming pitchers. The key is to get as many wins and strikeouts as possible during the week, without entirely conceding the ERA and WHIP categories. Below, are pitchers that you’re likely to find on your league’s waiver wire, who have optimal matchups for streaming on each day of the coming week.
Saturday, May 22: Gio Gonzalez, Athletics – vs. Giants
Sunday, May 23: Kris Medlen, Braves – at Pirates
Monday, May 24: Justin Masterson, Indians – vs. White Sox
Tuesday, May 25: Jon Garland, Padres – vs. Cardinals
Wednesday, May 26: Jason Vargas, Mariners – vs. Tigers
Thursday, May 27: Trevor Cahill, Athletics – at Orioles
Friday, May 28: Tim Wakefield, Red Sox – vs. Royals
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