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05/23/2007 12:23 PM ET
Slumping sluggers bound to rebound
Andruw Jones, Tribe's Hafner due for breakout

 Ask Rotoman
 Peter Kreutzer


 Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner is batting .281 with eight homers and 29 RBIs this season.  (Jim Mone/AP)
Question 1: HITTERS

Dear Rotoman:

I am in a very competitive 11-man league playing the default Yahoo! game. I had a couple of questions about some of my slumping or injured players. I am pretty low in the home run and RBI categories. What's wrong with Andruw Jones and Travis Hafner?

"Power Failure"

Dear Failure:

When a power hitter doesn't hit for as much power as he used to after injuring his hand, there is reason for concern. That's Travis Hafner's situation, especially since Hafner's ascent to the Major Leagues was slowed because of hand injuries.

But just because something looks like something doesn't mean that it is that thing. We have no way of knowing whether Hafner's hand is hurting him. Nobody is saying that it is. For now, we have a bona fide slugger who, despite his woes, is on pace to hit 31 homers and drive in 111 runs.

There are two reasons to think it isn't the hand that's bothering Hafner. First, he's hitting twice as many grounders as fly balls this year, while in the past he hit about the same amount. Second, he's walking about 15 percent more often.

Let me go out on a limb and suggest that opposing pitchers are keeping the ball down and away to Hafner, daring him to walk rather than pound the ball. This might suppress his homers some, but it hasn't hurt the Indians, who are scoring at the same relative rate this year as they did last year.

As for Jones, a prospective free agent, this is his year to earn a big new contract. Is his huge slump the result of pressing? Or is a reported bad back hampering him? Like Hafner, he's walking more this year and hitting more ground balls, though the increases aren't as dramatic.

Inside the numbers, Jones' expected average (like xERA for pitchers) is a good deal higher than his actual one, an indication that he's been unlucky. He's also on pace to hit 44 doubles and 22 homers, a palindrome (sort of) of last year's totals of 29 doubles and 41 home runs. That's another sign he's been unlucky.

Unless Jones pressures himself into a crackup, he'll bounce back, though it would be a mistake to expect either man to match his recent high levels of production.

Consistently,
Rotoman

Question 2: PITCHING

Hi Rotoman:

I'm in an eight-team, 10x10, head-to-head, mixed, non-keeper, daily transactional league. I'm thinking of dropping Aaron Harang, since his ERA is starting to climb. Is it time to jettison him into the fantasy abyss? Or is his recent spike just a short-term blip? And if you dropped Harang, would you pick up Chris Young, Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett, Mark Buehrle, Jorge Sosa or Josh Johnson?

"Hang Harang"

Dear Hang:

Last year and in 2005, Harang earned $20 and $14, respectively, in 4x4 NL-only rotisserie play with very similar qualitative numbers (3.76 vs. 3.83 ERA, 1.27 vs. 1.27 WHIP). This resembles consistency, but the monthly numbers are different.

Last year, his monthly ERA was above 4.00 three times and below 3.00 twice. Only once (September) did his monthly numbers resemble his annual numbers.

In 2005, he had one month with an ERA above 6.00 and another with an ERA below 2.00, two months of a 3.00 ERA and two months of a 4.00 ERA. Variation is normal, because ERA is subject to swings due to events over which the pitcher has no control (bad relief pitching, lucky hits, lucky fielding).

To address the role luck plays in determining small-sample ERAs, baseball analysts developed measures like xERA and component ERA (ERC). These metrics are derived from the things pitchers do have control over, like walks, strikeouts and home runs, and they better reflect how the pitcher is throwing.

BaseballHQ.com publishes in-season xERA numbers, though you need to subscribe to see them. Here's how Harang's xERA compares to his actual ERA last year by month:

Month
ERA
xERA
April4.353.25
May2.942.68
June2.983.45
July4.143.58
Aug.4.263.86
Sept.3.832.95
Total3.763.06

So far this year, Harang's results haven't been as strong, as you know. But his xERA is closer to last year's.

Month
ERA
xERA
April4.233.25
May5.613.87
Total4.783.49

The bigger the split between ERA and xERA, the more likely luck played a role. So far this year, Harang has been unlucky, a fact reinforced by his baserunners allowed.

Year
WHIP
20051.27
20061.27
20071.32

He's walking and striking out guys at the rates you'd expect, too, and is allowing fewer homers than you'd expect. All of which suggests you should hang onto Harang.

And if he's your worst pitcher, it probably doesn't make sense to add any of the other guys, though you should expect similar productivity from Young and Bedard. These three are good mid-level starters.

Buehrle and Burnett are a step down, though both can be excellent for periods of time.

Josh Johnson may turn out to be great, but he isn't expected back from the disabled list for another month.

Jorge Sosa's overall profile is not one of a pitcher you want on a mixed-league pitching staff. Stay away.

Resolutely,
Rotoman

Question 3: PITCHING II

Rotoman:

Is it time to drop David Bush yet? Sergio Mitre, Mark Buehrle, Scott Olsen and Jeremy Guthrie are all still available on the waiver wire. Am I being too hasty? Do I need to be patient with Bush, or should I act now before one of these fine options is gone?

"Bushwhacked"

Dear Whacked:

Bush is off to a terrible start, with an ERA of 5.56, plus he's allowing a lot more baserunners than he did last year. A look inside the numbers shows that much of the damage was done in April, when opposing hitters hit .328 against him. For Bush, opponents' batting average isn't a reliable measure of a pitcher's effectiveness, since a struggling pitcher is often hit hard.

That's why we use batting average on balls in play to evaluate how opponents are hitting a pitcher. A high BABIP doesn't necessarily mean a pitcher has been unlucky -- it also could indicate bad defense -- but it does mean that his ERA is likely to be inflated by factors out of his control.

Bush's BABIP in April was a devastating .402. He's pitched better in May, though he's given up a rather large number of long balls. Since he's walking and striking out hitters at the usual rates, it looks like these are normal fluctuations, which is reason to think that Bush 2007 is much like Bush 2006.

That makes him a solid bet over the other guys on your list.

Supportively,
Rotoman

Question 4: THE BIG ONE

Dear Rotoman,

I know you probably get enough tough-luck stories from fantasy owners. I'm sure it's like being a poker player and having to hear about everyone else's bad beats. No matter how attentive you may appear, you really don't care.

What happened to my team this year, however, is WOW. I challenge anyone who has ever played fantasy baseball to come up with a worse beginning to a season than this. I play in a 12-team, 6x6, head-to-head league. This is the seventh year of the league, and, man, let me tell you that I thought I was going to run away with it this year, but currently I am dead last in the league.

Now this is a keeper league. I do have the opportunity to give up on the season and take draft picks for next year. Do you think I should hang in there or hang it up for the season?

Key players on my team:

Mike Piazza -- DL
B.J. Ryan -- Out for season
Chris Carpenter -- Out until August
Manny Ramirez -- Not being Manny
Roy Halladay -- Appendicitis
Jim Thome -- DL until this week
Scott Rolen -- Various ailments
Paul Konerko -- Sluggish start
Garret Atkins -- Really mediocre
Hideki Matsui -- DL stint, slowish start
Chad Cordero -- Bereavement list, ineffective
Josh Barfield -- League change, rough start

"Just Venting"

Dear Venting:

Good teams are all the same, as Anton Checkov said, but there are a universe of reasons for bad teams. Some were malformed from the get-go, but others are the result of bad luck. Lots of bad luck. The trick if you find yourself a bad-team owner is to determine whether you simply stink or are just unlucky.

If the former, work harder. Try to get into position for next year by adding can't-miss-type keepers at good prices. Most importantly, try to figure out what you've been doing wrong, and improve your game.

If you're unlucky, figure out if your luck could even out or not. A team that's lost one of the game's best relievers and one of the game's best starters for most of the season is going to have a hard time recovering. That's why it might be a good idea to start setting yourself up for next year.

But you shouldn't overlook the fact that all players have ups and downs during the season. And a team will look really bad if its members all slump in the first two months but will bounce back as the year progresses.

With the exception of maybe Barfield, all of your players should do much better the rest of the way. And it would be a shame to dump when there's a chance you'll have a chance.

My advice is to work hard to make up for your pitching deficit, take some risks and be patient with your big bangers. But if a great keeper deal comes along, don't be afraid to make a move now. Then re-evaluate as you get closer to midseason. You can have it both ways -- sort of.

Until next time,
Rotoman

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