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04/25/2007 1:37 PM ET
Believe the hype?
Jury still out on Yanks' Hughes, Royals' Gordon

 Ask Rotoman
 Peter Kreutzer

 Yankees prospect Phil Hughes went 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre.  (AP)
Question 1: DEBUTS


Is the hype about Philip Hughes warranted in your mind? Is he worth chasing? I drafted Alex Gordon this year, but he's been slow coming out of the blocks. I'm just wondering if I should be buying into the Hughes saga.

"Rock the Boat"

Dear Rock:

Hughes is an excellent pitcher who is being promoted aggressively by a last-place team on a five-game losing streak. Baseball America named him the top Yankees prospect, with all three writers putting him on their top 10 lists (and either first or second among pitching prospects, along with Daisuke Matsuzaka). Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein ranked Hughes second overall this year and -- like Rotowire's John Sickels -- ranked Hughes as the best pitching prospect in the game.

Those are what you call bona fide expressions of good faith that Hughes is the game's best young pitching prospect. A rundown of what he does well shows why you'll find it hard to find an nonbeliever. Hughes throws hard, has two good breaking balls and has an effective (and improving) change. He has excellent control, good command, smarts and great makeup.

That said, one word is sufficient to express doubt: youneverknow. Young pitchers step up in class all the time, and while some immediately dominate, others struggle. I like Hughes, and I predict that he'll do very nicely in the short term, but it's smart to remember that the consensus top pitching prospects from the past two years are Francisco Liriano, who hopes to be back in 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, and Felix Hernandez, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained elbow and wasn't all that helpful last year as a fantasy pick.

As for Gordon, the real issue here isn't the strikeouts (though they may be symptomatic) but the lack of walks. Young hitters usually walk less as they advance through the Minor leagues while striking out more, but there is a reason that high Minor League walk rates are not a good predictor of future Major League success: Good Minor League hitters usually hit weaker Minor League pitching before they can take the base on balls.

Gordon took a fair amount of Minor League bases on balls, and right now we're finding out whether that was an admirable sign of maturity and patience, or a sign of passivity that he won't get away with at the Major League level. Seventy plate appearances are too few to judge anyone -- particularly a youngster going through a rough patch after making a big step up in level of competition -- but they do serve as a reminder that the Minor Leagues are a much different environment than the big leagues, and that it isn't always easy to hold a job, even if it's given to you.


Question 2: COMPARE


I have Tom Glavine on my team and am thinking about dropping him and picking up John Maine. I think Maine will get his share of wins, even though Glavine will, too, and I think Glavine will have a higher WHIP in the process. Do you agree with this move?

"Mets o Mets"

Dear Close One:

In evaluating early-season performances, I find it useful to review what we thought a few weeks ago, before the games started. In Tout Wars NL, both Mets pitchers went for $6, a sign that this question is one you could have asked back in mid-March. As the season started, I saw it a little differently, with Maine at $8 and Glavine at $10, based on a lower ERA for Glavine and more strikeouts for Maine. I wonder now why I didn't end up with either of those two in Tout Wars.

So far, Maine has won three of four starts and sports an exemplary ERA. Glavine has won three of five starts and has numbers fairly close to his projected ERA and ratios. Maine has been the more extraordinary of the two thus far, and given that he's nearly 20 years younger than Glavine, he's a better long-term choice for sure.

But when it comes to riding the experienced devil you know or throwing him aside for the young devil you don't, as long as the veteran is performing as expected, I'd stick with him.




What's going on with Mariano Rivera this year? I took him relatively early in my draft, so that I wouldn't have to worry about finding too many saves this year. My league only allows for two closers per team, and I've stood by and watched as already a number of lesser-known players have gotten a bunch of saves. And still the always dependable Rivera is saveless! I would never get rid of him, but should I bench him and try to pick up someone else?

"I Need Mo Saves"

Dear Need Mo:

Saves are a tricky business, especially when you're looking at just a few weeks. Short-term trends, like number of home games and flukish streaks, can radically distort our idea of a team's save chances.

Because of the way the saves rule works, it isn't an exact measure of a closer's effectiveness to look at his team's save opportunities, but they do tell us something about the chances the team has had. The teams with the most saves -- the Brewers, White Sox, Indians, Tigers and Braves have combined for 41 saves -- have had 54 opportunities, far more than the teams with the fewest opps (Yankees, Mariners, Nationals, Mets and Cubs have nine saves in 27 chances).

Note that the top teams blew 13 saves, while the bottom teams blew 18, a less dramatic difference that can be chalked up much more to circumstance than anything else. By the end of the season, this divide will have closed considerably.

The common wisdom is to give Rivera all the time in the world, which he's certainly deserved in the past. I have to agree that you can't bail on him, but he has looked much less imposing this year. Maybe that's because he's not gotten the outs when he needed them, or maybe it's because he'll be 38 years old in November and has put a lot of wear on his arm over the course of many years.

Still, I can promise you that if Joe Borowski can save eight games without a misplay, then even a hobbled Rivera will rack up the saves when he gets the chances.


Question 4: TRADE


I'm new to fantasy baseball and could use your help. Would you trade Travis Hafner for Carl Crawford? Hafner is my utility player in a 10-team league. But my outfield stinks: Juan Pierre, Willy Taveras and Pat Burrell. If I do trade Hafner, I would still have either Paul Konerko or Adrian Gonzales to plug in at the utility spot.

"Utility Man"

Dear UM:

In shallow leagues, the key to unlocking value often comes from trading your best player at a position in which you are deep for a guy who replaces your weakest player.

In this case, you are proposing dealing one of the game's best power hitters for one of the game's best speedsters (who has a little pop), which in itself might be a doable deal if you needed speed and had power but becomes a spectacular win because you have power on your bench to plug in for Hafner.

Upgrading from hapless speedster Willy Taveras to demigod Carl Crawford while downgrading from the estimable Travis Hafner to the solid Paul Konerko? Way to go!


Question 5: THE BIG ONE

Dear Rotoman:

Living by the buy-low/sell-high approach, I'm looking to trade Braden Looper for Carlos Zambrano, but I don't see that happening right now. Who do you think I could get for Looper?


Dear Loopered:

Carlos Zambrano is a top 10 starter. Braden Looper is a failed closer-turned-setup-man who has had a nice start to the season in the rotation. Nope, I don't see it happening, either -- unless Zambrano goes out and allows 16 earned runs in about 12 innings in consecutive starts.

I notice that in ESPN leagues, Looper has yet to be traded this year, while he's currently one of the most added players in Yahoo! leagues. The ESPN situation is a sign either that owners are holding onto him or that buyers aren't willing to give up anything for him. The Yahoo! trend more clearly indicates that he's looking better now than a lot of teams' fourth or fifth starters.

I think it's a good idea to try to move him, since fatigue is probably going to play a factor at some point, but I warn you that you're going to be faced with the understandable skepticism of everyone to whom you try to swap him. Plus, he could be a fine mid-rotation starter for half a season or so. He's not worth nothing.

I'd suggest chatting up the other owners, not making it known that Looper is the guy you're trying to move but talking up your good fortune, and wait to see if someone tries to take advantage of you. You have time, you have a starter who is going good (and has been a good pitcher) and you can hope for the greed of others to kick in. Take advantage if you can.

Until next time,

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