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Untitled

Second Base Keepers

Ask Rotoman: May 17, 2006
 by Rotoman

Send your toughest fantasy questions to Rotoman.

ROTOMAN'S LIST:

2006 Road ERA Leaders:
Mark Hendrickson, Clay Hensley, Aaron Harang, Kameron Loe, Barry Zito, Kelvim Escobar, Justin Verlander, Brett Myers, Chris Young, Bronson Arroyo


COMPARE

Hi Rotoman,

I drafted Ian Kinsler (Tex) to be my 2B this year. Then, when he got hurt, I picked up Jose Lopez (Sea). I also picked up Howie Kendrick (Ana) when he got called up. I'm in a keeper league and can keep one for next year (and beyond) as well. Who do you think has the most upside this year and beyond?

"Secondary"

Dear Secondary:

When Texas traded Alfonso Soriano last winter, the conventional wisdom was that they made the move to open up room for their phenom second baseman and save some money in Soriano's walk year.

My opinion was that Kinsler's rise through the Minors was meteoric and it made better sense, to me, to let him catch his breath before attempting the biggest hurdle. Think of Hank Blalock, I think I wrote somewhere, referring to that young power hitter's scorching run to the big leagues in 2002, which ended with a humiliating demotion.

Part of my contrarian wisdom was based on the conventional wisdom before Soriano was traded, which was that Kinsler was nearly ready, but could probably benefit from a little more time in Triple-A.

As it turned out, Kinsler made the Rangers out of Spring Training by playing well, and began the season as the team's starting second baseman. He got off to a good start and was hitting .476 when he dislocated his thumb on April 11th. He's playing again now on injury rehab assignment and is expected back in the next week to 10 days.

All of which explains why you drafted him for your team and why you added Jose Lopez two weeks later. Lopez made his Major League debut in 2004 as a 20-year-old, which is reason enough to take notice. He's a solid defender who is learning to hit in the Major Leaguers. Or should I say, he's been learning to hit Major League pitchers in the Major Leagues. His Minor League record has been solid, especially when considering his age, and he's been solidly productive at the plate, too, as the Mariners' second baseman this year.

Despite Lopez's success, one can see why it would be hard to let Howie Kendrick pass by. In 2004 Kendrick hit .367 in 313 Class A at bats, then followed that up by hitting .384 in 2005 in Hi-A in 279 AB before being promoted to Double-A, where he fell off to .342. He started this year in Triple-A and was hitting .351 when he was promoted to the Angels' big league club wracked with injuries.

Three fine prospects, three bright futures, how in the world could you choose?

I try to break these sorts of questions down into components, which I hope give an indication of something. Let's see what we can discover by looking at this trio.

Age at Major League Debut?
Kinsler was 23 years and nine months. Lopez was 20 years and eight months. Kendrick was 22 years and nine months. Edge to Lopez.

Double-A Success?
Lopez spent 2003 in Double-A as a 19-year-old. He hit 13 homers and stole 18 bases in 538 AB, walking just 27 times.

Kinsler was 23 when he was promoted to Double-A, where he hit eight homers and stole seven bases in 271 AB. He walked 32 times in about 300 plate appearances.

Kendrick was 22 when he arrived in Double-A, where he hit seven homers and stole 12 bases in about 200 plate appearances. He walked six times.

Edge to: I think Lopez's age advantage matters here a lot, but he hasn't done much to show that he's getting more selective or forcing better pitches, so let's split this one: Kinsler/Lopez

Triple-A Success?
Kendrick had 78 fine at-bats to start this season, but walked just once. Lopez has had 450 fine at-bats in Triple-A as a 19- and 20-year-old, with 67 extra-base hits but only 23 walks. Kinsler played all of 2005 in Triple-A, turning 23 in June, and posted an .812 OPS in Oklahoma City, a pitchers park. Again, age evens things out between Lopez and Kinsler.

Major League Success?
Kendrick did not distinguish in his short trial. Kinsler did. Lopez wasn't impressive as a 20- and 21-year-old, but things are starting to click for him as a 22-year-old. Edge to Lopez.

Other Factors?
Lopez plays in a pitcher's park on a team that lacks a big offensive engine. Kinsler plays in a hitter's park on a team that on most days has an offensive threat at every spot in the lineup.

Conclusion?
This isn't easy, is it?

First off, I'm eliminating Kendrick. (Howls of protest!) I know, I know, he can rake. But there are concerns about his defense, and that low walk rate bothers me. I'm not suggesting he's going to tank, but he's older than Lopez by a lot, and less accomplished than Kinsler at each level while playing in hitter's parks. Howie, you're fired.

This year, the problem is that Lopez is already having a good year, while Kinsler has a lot of ground to make up. In addition, Kinsler wasn't dominant in Triple-A last year, though his overall game didn't fall off much. But if his thumb was to continue to bother him or he slumped when he returned, he could quickly find himself back in Triple-A working things out. I'll give this year to Lopez because he's more likely to get another 450 at-bats than Kinsler.

As for the next five years, it's hard not to like Kinsler's walk rate, and it actually improves his standing in my eyes that he strikes out more than Lopez (high strikeout rates for young players are a better predictor of Major League success than high walk rates). He seems to have genuine power and he moves into a good ballpark to show it. Lopez has power, too, and a better set of physical skills. The question is whether or not he will grow into better plate discipline as he matures. If he doesn't, he's going to end up having troubles getting good pitches to drive.

In the end, I'll take Kinsler for the next five years. His age at this point is an advantage (he's closer to his peak years) and while there is some chance if things break badly he could lose out on playing time this year, he'll surely be the Rangers' regular second baseman for the next four years or more. Lopez isn't far behind, but he has a somewhat higher chance of struggling in the next few years.

And, did I mention just how much fun it is to watch Howie Kendrick's approach at the plate? He has a short stroke and very quick hands, and he attacks and attacks and attacks. He may be off the island, but he shouldn't be off your radar.

Painstakingly,
Rotoman


CHOOSE

Hi. I am currently in 3rd place. My pitching staff is pretty decent, and my offense is off to a slow start. This is a 12-team league and we are playing for money. I currently need some offense and I am wondering if I should drop Pedro Feliz for Justin Morneau? I am doing horribly in RBIs and homers. I have a feeling Morneau is possible for 30+ HR and 90+ RBIs, but his present numbers scare me. Also, what's the deal with Joe Borowski? Is he going to stay the closer in Florida?

"More-neau? Fe-less"

Dear More or Less: Second things first. As long as he's healthy and not getting knocked around (neither is definite to last all season, and Borowski did blow his first save Tuesday night, taking the loss against Atlanta) then Borowski will be the closer in Florida. There's no reason to worry about having too many closers per se, but if you end up getting too many saves you should deal some of them to improve yourself elsewhere.

Going into the season, expectations were generally higher for Morneau than Feliz. In Tout Wars Mixed, Morneau went for $10, while Feliz cost $1 despite his multiposition (OF/3B) eligibility. I had them ranked much more closely, with Morneau at $4 in a mixed league, Feliz at $3, but the reason I think this is a good question is because the market gave them the bigger spread. And Feliz's recent hot streak (he's hitting .388 in May, with six homers), reverses the ranking. He's a much more valuable fantasy player so far this year than Morneau.

Feliz has pretty much been the player you expect him to be. Modest average, bad on-base percentage, some pop, no speed. At 31, he is in his third year as a regular, and while he's showing an uptick in power this year, he is what he is.

Morneau, on the other hand, was expected to be a star. In 2004, he posted an .876 OPS as a 23-year-old, with 19 homers in 280 AB. Fantasy pundits got onboard the Morneau Express, calling him the best Canadian power prospect since Larry Walker, and comparing him to Kent Hrbek. But last year, Morneau stumbled to a .239 average (.741 OPS) and while he's hitting more homers this year, he is continuing to struggle.

There are a few possible reasons:

Injuries: Morneau was hit with a variety of maladies in the offseason before 2005, including appendicitis and a concussion (after being beaned in April), and played with bone spurs in his elbow the second half of 2005. He decided not to have surgery on the bone spurs in the offseason. There haven't been reports they are bothering him this year, so he appears to be healthy.

Lefties: He's always had a platoon differential. Last year he had a .586 OPS versus lefties, .810 against righties. This year the split is .621 versus .813.

Plate Discipline: He's not a free swinging type, but he's never walked as frequently as once in ten plate appearances. I think expectations that he would be able to adjust, work the count and as a result get better pitches to hit were out of line, and so he's struggling to identify and hit his pitch.

Morneau just turned 25 this past Monday, so it isn't like his career is passing him by. Not yet, anyway. But with a .237 AVG over his past 618 AB, along with 31 homers, Morneau looks like he's still struggling. He's hitting .275 in May (.877 OPS), with four homers in 51 AB. For Morneau owners, that small sample is reason enough to hope that he's breaking out of whatever it was that had him bottled up.

For those looking for more, absent any real explanation for what is ailing Morneau, you have to favor him over Feliz. Not by a lot, but by a little, just as we did in the preseason.

Slimly,
Rotoman


THE BIG QUESTION

Dear Rotoman:

I'm in a H2H league that allows for daily moves, so in addition to my current pitching staff, I've been using one of my pitching slots to grab and dump whatever starter I think will have a good day. We have only a minimum inning requirement with no max. My question -- do you think this is a good strategy or would I be better off trading for a top tier pitcher that I could use on a regular basis?

"Rotate This"

Dear This:

What you're suggesting can only work in Mixed Leagues. In AL only and NL only leagues there are few starting pitchers available as free agents in any given week. I thought it might be of interest (we'll see, since I haven't done it yet) to look at a given week's starts by pitchers who aren't active in a mixed league and see what they could tell us.

Obviously, this isn't a scientific survey, but it should give an idea of what the range of available pitchers out there is. I looked at the week of May 8 to May 14.

During those seven days, 64 pitchers who weren't active on a Tout Wars roster threw 438 innings, won 20 games (lost 34), with a 5.26 ERA.

That same week, 79 rostered starters threw 596 innings, won 42 games (and lost 30), with a 4.37 ERA.

Clearly, the Tout Wars owners chose the right group to go with, but 32 of the non-rostered group's starts would have helped most mixed league pitching staffs, while 55 starts by rostered starters did hurt them.

I sorted through the various lists by home versus road results, and two-start pitchers versus one-start pitchers. Because one week isn't very much time the results weren't very helpful, though they did seem to support some of the basic precepts of Challenge Game players:

1) Activate pitchers throwing at home.
2) Go for quantity and activate two-start pitchers in weekly leagues.
3) Look for matchups against weak-hitting teams.

Is this better than having a first-rank starter? I suppose if you picked the best starts by free agent pitchers each week it could be. Last week, those starts came from Chan Ho Park (Mil), Cole Hamels (@Cin), Gavin Floyd (@Cin), Joshua Johnson (Atl) and Kameron Loe @Bos). All allowed no earned runs. What are the odds you chose those matchups?

The second tier of free agent starters included Tony Armas Jr., Dave Williams, Jamie Moyer, Josh Fogg, Seth McClung and Zach Day.

I added Jamie Moyer to my mixed league team last week, but it's hard to see a situation that would make Seth McClung look like a reasonable pickup, apart from the fact that he was. That time. What I do know is that it's a lot cheaper to go this way than to trade for a first tier starter, which matters when you don't have excess to deal away. That's a good reason to scramble for pitching.

In future weeks we'll dig further into the question of what match ups are good ones.

Until next time,
Rotoman

 

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