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Bay's Rising Tide

Ask Rotoman: May 24, 2006
 by Rotoman

Send your toughest fantasy questions to Rotoman.


BEST ERA SINCE May 24, 2005
Chris Carpenter, Andy Pettitte, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, Tom Glavine, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, Noah Lowry, Scott Kazmir, Kevin Millwood

WORST ERA SINCE May 24, 2005
Rodrigo Lopez, Mark Hendrickson, Ramon Ortiz, Joel Pineiro, Jason Johnson, Jeff Francis, Matt Clement, Josh Fogg, Casey Fossum, Kyle Lohse


Dear Rotoman,

Who do you think is better out of Carlos Lee and Jason Bay? A person in my league is offering me Bay for Lee and I wanted to know your opinion on who is better?


Dear LeeBay:

The question here is whether you want to auction, or if you want to Buy It Now.

Carlos Lee is off to an excellent start this year, doing the things (hit for power, steal a few bases, drive in some runs) he usually does. He's been in a bit of slump lately. During the last 10 days, his average fell from .304 to .268, and his slugging percentage dropped from .674 to .577. The latter number is still higher than he's ever slugged for the whole season, so Lee owners have to remain pleased (unless they were offered even more back then and turned it down).

Jason Bay got off to a somewhat slow start, at least based on preseason expectations that had him ranked as high as the Top 5 among hitters. Still, he ended April with five homers and three steals. Part of the problem was he only had 11 RBI, not so much because the guys ahead of him weren't getting on base (though the Chris Duffy experiment at the start of the year, and his .579 OPS, didn't help) as that he walked 24 times and didn't lay wood on the ball enough to get the cheapies.

Today, Bay and Lee are playing at their approximate career levels of performance. That means, the rest of the way:


Obviously, Lee isn't really playing at his expected level. He's hitting lots more homers this year than he has in the past. He turns 30 years old in June, so it's possible he's having a peak year, or he could be adding power to his game. He's never hit more than 32 homers before, so a jump up to 53 would be big. What's going on?

First check the fly balls. He's hitting the ball in the air at about the same rate he has the last two years. But his percentage of fly balls becoming homers is higher this year (one every five fly balls, versus just a little less than every eight fly balls in the past), and he's hitting far fewer doubles. In the past Lee has hit a few more doubles than homers each season, while this year he's hit twice as many homers as doubles.

In fact, his extra-base-hit rate is up just a tick, but his slugging percentage is up a lot (despite a lower than normal batting average) because of all those homers.

The standard baseball analysis is that performance regresses to the mean, so while it's possible that Lee has changed his game, is swinging more for the downs, the evidence (the fly ball rate) is that he's doing what he always has, and the ball is more often flying out of the yard. Chances are his current slump is going to bring his overall power numbers back into line with his career numbers the rest of the way, which is another way of saying that rather than 38 homers and 16 doubles he's more likely to hit 29 doubles and 25 homers. That makes him a little less attractive than Bay.

In addition, there was the expectation going into the season that Bay would run more than Lee, based on their stolen base totals from 2005. Last year, Bay stole 21 bases in 22 attempts, Lee nabbed 13 in 17 attempts. This year, Bay has one more swipe than Lee in two more attempts. Even so, give this category to Bay as well.

At present, Lee is the top-rated NL outfielder, while Bay ranks fourth, but all the evidence suggests that when all is said and done, while Lee is certainly in the top group, their ranks will have reversed. Skip the auction, Buy It Now. Make the trade.




I have Aubrey Huff right now but I'm not sure whether I should keep him or not. Is he going to come around or what?! Cuddyer is still on the waiver wire and I'm seriously tempted to drop Huff and pick him up. What say you Rotoman?

"Chewing Cuddyer"

Dear Cowed:

In the preseason I touted Aubrey as a $21-$24 player, a full-timer somewhere, while Cuddyer looked like $10 player playing three-fourths the time in Minnesota. But so far this year, Huff has been dismal. Usually that would indicate a good time to Buy Low, if you found someone anxious to unload a floundering vet, but Huff's decline has been ongoing since his huge 2003 season.

Big things were expected of Michael Cuddyer last year, but he struggled early, then injuries laid him low and his stock fell so far that the Twins signed Tony Batista to play third base this year. Cuddyer got off to a slow start this year too, maybe because of an oblique injury he nursed through Spring Training, but he's been hot since a three-hit game on April 27th, raising his average from .185 to .312. He's been a regular pretty much ever since.

Injuries have affected Huff, too. On April 12, just a week into the season, he collided with shortstop Nick Green chasing down a pop-up and sprained his knee, landing on the DL for three weeks. He did a short rehab stint, but clearly part of his problems stem from missing time. In essence, whatever timing and conditioning he had honed in Spring Training went the way of all flesh.

Looking over Cuddyer's surge, it seems clear that he's hitting more, but he's still the same basic player. He has some power, walks just enough, isn't a complete strikeout patsy, and is versatile and on a team that needs all the offense it can find. Even so, we can bump him up a lot and he doesn't come close to vintage Aubrey Huff.

But we're not talking about vintage Huff here. We're talking about a guy who has a .505 OPS this year, and whose .749 OPS in 2005 was less than Cuddyer's. Is it possible that Cuddyer has passed Huff by?

The recent evidence, as you see, is spotty, but the bigger picture all still points strongly to Huff. At the end of the equivalent age 26 season that Cuddyer played in 2005, Huff had hit 69 homers in 1623 at bats, while in 993 AB Cuddyer had hit 32. Huff's OPS was .833, Cuddyer's was .758.

It is certainly possible to imagine Cuddyer having a better year this year than Huff has, in part because of the advantage he already has, but it's really hard to look at these profiles and give Cuddyer a higher baseline than Huff. So it comes down to health. If Huff is healthy and in game shape, he has to be considered the better player. Unless you play in an AL-only league in which you lose players traded to the NL (in which case you have to be worried, since Huff is very much on the trading block) I think you have to stick with Huff.



Tyler Walker: Since I ripped Tyler Walker in this space two weeks ago he's made me look like a monkey. His five saves since trail only Todd Jones and Jason Isringhausen over the period, and he's the only one of the three to not issue a walk or allow a run. My conflict here is my belief that the role of closer can really be done by most anyone most of the time, so it shouldn't be a surprise that Walker, who did the job last year too, is succeeding. Put enough monkeys in a room with enough word processors and give them enough time and they'll no doubt produce Rotoman's entire ouvre.

Jorge Cantu: Three weeks ago, I offhandedly mentioned here that Cantu was due back in about a week. Here we are, three weeks later, and he's now expected back a week from Friday. He wasn't able to resume running as soon as anticipated, which pushed back his entire rehab. I was a little optimistic to begin with, but he's late too.


Dear Rotoman,

I was just offered a trade. I was proposed to give up Derrick Turnbow for Ben Sheets, A.J. Burnett, and Bartolo Colon. I have a pretty bad starting pitching staff of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Brad Radke, Felix Hernandez, Doug Davis, and Kelvim Escobar. So, if Sheets, Burnett, and Colon succeed after they're done with the DL that would make my starting pitching a strength instead of a weakness. I want to know if it's worth getting three starting pitchers on the DL for Turnbow.

"Turn the other Sheets"

Dear Turn:

Actually, your staff doesn't look that bad. Radke, Hernandez and Davis are off bad, but you can expect them to get better. You probably can't expect Lowe and Penny to stay quite so hot, so adding a No. 1 sort of starter (or three!) isn't a bad idea.

And as you know, dealing for a healthy No. 1 starter is nearly impossible, so your Bucket of Bum Arms approach is creative and it got me wondering how often a pitcher hurt early in the year comes back and pitches effectively the rest of the way.

The right way to do this study would be to look at all the veteran pitchers on the DL on April 30th over a number of years grouped by injury type, and then take a look at their recovery performances versus the pre-injury expectations. It takes longer to recover from some injuries as compared to others, of course. The problem is that there just aren't that many veteran pitchers who get hurt early each year, and the injury information we have about them is spotty at best, making it time consuming to accumulate all that (somewhat suspect) data.

Maybe some day we'll do that study, but for now we'll satisfy our curiousity by looking at the stories of the veteran starters who went on the DL in April 2005 and compare their original prognoses with what actually happened to them.

Kelvim Escobar, scheduled to make his first start on April 9th, was placed on the DL on April 3rd with a right elbow strain. He was examined by Dr. Yocum and was expected to miss just two weeks. He returned after three weeks and pitched well, but left his fourth start after five innings with a sore elbow again. He was diagnosed with bone spurs, but was expected to return in three weeks and did. He made a couple more good starts before feeling more pain in the elbow. A month later, after some good side sessions, it was decided to have surgery. He was expected to miss two months. He missed three and pitched in relief when he was activated down the stretch. The bottom line is he pitched 59.2 fine innings after he went on the DL, but they came very sporadically and were of minimal fantasy use.

Jaret Wright went on the DL April 24th, after feeling increasing pain in his right shoulder in a game the day before. After a series of examinations it was thought he'd be back in June, but despite good reports he wasn't ready to pitch in July. He returned in mid-August, made three excellent starts until he got hit on the collarbone with a line drive on September 1. He missed a couple of starts, struggled for a couple, then was hit on the elbow with a broken bat, and was then was hit in the chest by a comebacker. He pitched well after he got healthy, but the subsequent body blows limited his exposure, as it were.

David Wells went on the DL April 26th with a foot sprain. His foot was immobilized for three weeks, then he started throwing in the bullpen. He was hit hard in his first start, hit hard but less so in his second start, pitched a good game and then a bad one. He was fine from their on out, though decidedlly mediocre, the way you might expect an older overweight man to pitch.

Ben Sheets went on the DL April 24th with vestibular neuritis, which is a fancy way of saying he had an ear infection. There were complications and dizziness, as sometimes happens, but when he finally returned he pitched very well until late August, when he tore a muscle in his back, which ended his season.

Curt Schilling started 2005 on the DL because of the ongoing problems with his famous bloody ankle, made three starts with mixed results and then returned to the DL on April 24 with the makings of a stress fracture starting in the bone. He wore an immobilizing boot on the foot for three weeks. The Red Sox didn't announce any timetable for his return. On June 1st Schilling said he hoped to be back by the All-Star break. In early July the team started talking about using him as a reliever, because in his rehab he wasn't able to maintain his velocity for long stretches. He pitched in relief for a month, saving nine games, then returned to the rotation in September, winning two games with a 4.46 ERA.

That's it, all the veteran starters who went on the DL in April 2005. I'm not sure what we learn from this roll call of pain and recovery. Wells, Sheets and Schilling, whose problems were not arm related, did a lot better than Escobar and Wright, whose problems were. I guess the biggest lesson is that in almost every instance the original prognosis was optimistic.

With that in mind, let's look at the current situation of the guys in your deal:

Ben Sheets is on the DL with shoulder tendinitis, but is expected back in mid June. A recent "precautionary" MRI showed no structural damage. He started the season on the DL because of ongoing problems with the back muscles because of adjustments he made compensating for the muscle he tore the previous August. He needs to learn to pitch using different muscles than those he's always used, a process not without serious risk. He could be ineffective making the necessary adjustments, or they could lead to further injury.

AJ Burnett went on the DL in late April after feeling pain in his elbow. Imaging doesn't show any structural problems, so it's thought that he's been straining scar tissue. After taking some time off he's started playing catch. He will continue to have pain until the scar tissue tears away, through use or eventual surgery. If he can pitch through the pain he may be back out on the mound in another two weeks or so.

Bartolo Colon went on the DL April 19th, also with scar tissue irritation in his shoulder. Typically, initial reports suggested he might be back in two weeks, but more than a month later he's still throwing in simulated games with very restricted pitch counts. He's still a ways away from being game ready, and the Angels are taking a notably conservative approach to his rehab.

So, three injured starters, three injured arms, all the aftermath of previous injuries. Should you make the deal?

In a way it most depends on Turnbow. If he's a linchpin and trading him is going to cost you points in saves, then maybe you shouldn't do it. There's a pretty fair chance that whatever innings each of these three starters put up this year aren't going to be their best performances. If you get another 225 innings out of the three, with a 4.55 ERA and 1.45 WHIP (which would be worth hoping for), you're not going to help yourself as much probably as 22 saves will.

But if you're either so far ahead or so far behind the pack in saves that Turnbow is expendable, the deal is probably worth doing. All it will take is for one them to bounce back for it to be well worth it, and there is the possibility that two or even three might do it! Oh glory!

And there is always the chance you could pick up a closer like Tyler Walker to take up the slack.

Until next time,


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