April 21, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Really Small Sample Size Edition

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Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

We have exactly two weeks of data to go on right now. It’s far too early in the season to be able to draw any conclusions from any of the data we’re seeing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with small sample sizes. We’re going to skip the normal table and breakdown format that we all know and love. This week’s LNL will feature some of the more ridiculous things that have been observed and quantified in the first few weeks of the season.

You know it’s early in the season if Omar Infante is the only Miami Marlin capable of hitting for power. Speaking of Infante, he’s got some numbers that are simply unsustainable. Infante is currently sporting a HR:FB ratio of 19.0%. He owns a 5.2% mark for his career and posted a 8.9% mark when he “exploded”  for 16 homers during his career year in 2004. Infante’s BABIP numbers are totally skewed thanks to his power production. He owns a .273 BABIP versus a .333 actual batting average.

The advanced metrics claim that the power production isn’t sustainable for Infante and fantasy GMs need to take that into consideration when discussing trades. It’s likely that we’ve already seen the best Infante has to offer in 2012 and it’s going to be a long march to a season with fewer than 10 homers for ol’ Omar.

Andre Ethier teased fantasy owners with a .380/.446/.556 slash line last April. His .452 BABIP signaled that he was a regression candidate and his injury troubles sent him from candidate status straight to the president of RegressionLand. Ethier is off to another hot start this April with a .283/.353/.674 slash line. His BABIP is a reasonable .290 and he owns a .322 BABIP for his career. Ethier’s 23.5% HR:FB ratio is almost double his career rate of 12.3%. The concern here is that his walk rate has dropped below 8% while his K% rate is over 20%. That could be a trade off for his new found power, but it’s too early to tell.

Ethier’s value is contingent on his health. He should be a productive fantasy player as long as he can stay healthy. It’s a situation that will have to be closely monitored all year. It might be a good idea to sell Ethier at the first sign of weakness, but enjoy the production as long as it lasts.

A.J. Pierzynski is another hitter outperforming his career averages at a ridiculous rate. Pierzynski currently owns a 40.0% HR:FB ratio. A.J. posted a 6.5% ratio last year and owns an 8.6% ratio for his career. He’s managed get a couple of long flies over the fence. Look to deal Pierzynski if there’s a gullible GM in your league. He won’t be able to sustain this kind of production for much longer.

Pre-season overdraft candidate Eric Hosmer has gotten off to a slow start. Don’t panic. It’s a function of small sample size and poor BABIP. Hosmer is only hitting .158 on balls in play. We don’t have enough data to build an accurate profile on Hosmer at the major league level, but we can all agree that .158 is far too low for a hitter of Hosmer’s ability. He owns a 42.5% FB rate. That’s awfully high and should cause a hitter to carry a lower than average BABIP. His LD % is only at 10.0%. That number should rise closer to the 18.7% number that Hosmer carried last year and his production should rise with it.

Pre-season sleeper Lucas Duda is delivering the power production, but he has a putrid batting average and he’s striking out at a rate that would make Adam Dunn shake his head. Duda owns a 53.1% FB rate. That’s a large part of the reason why his BABIP is sitting at .207. The K’s are likely a function of the power production and could be an issue that fantasy GMs will have to deal with all year. The K-rate is a concern, but there’s not much fantasy GMs can do except wait and see. Sending him to the waiver wire for the flavor of the week is a shortsighted strategy that will likely lead to regret and remorse. The problem is that his trade value has gone from overrated to almost nonexistent. The best strategy at this point is to simply ride out the poor performances.

John Mayberry has zero runs scored, zero homers, zero steals and only two RBIs  in 12 games. Even Brent Morel has managed to score seven runs and his OBP is .000(not an actual number, but watch a White Sox game and see if you remember Morel getting on base). Mayberry owns a .292 BABIP, but has a 0.0% walk rate. This is guy that drew walks at a 8.8% clip in 296 PAs in 2011. He’s having a horrific start at the plate. It’s part bad luck and part bad approach. It’s hard to tell if he’ll be able to live up to any of the preseason hype that Mayberry had. Fantasy GMs should either take a chance on the waiver wire or keep Mayberry on the bench until he can draw a walk.

We’ve discussed a bunch of the more unusual hitting performances to date, now for the pitchers.

Jeremy Hellickson’s xFIP is 5.97. He’s carrying a 3.29 K/9 in 13 ⅔ 2012 innings. The regression is coming. Oh, it’s on it’s way. Any day now.

Josh Johnson owners have legit reasons to be concerned about JJ’s poor start. Velocity and K’s are down and his BABIP and walk-rate is up. Those are bad for fantasy teams, but there is some good news. His GB:FB ratio is a ridiculously high 3.40. He owns a 1.48 ratio for his career. He’s giving up ground balls and a lot of them are getting through the holes in the Miami infield. It looks like he’s a victim of the luck dragon combined. Now, the walks and velocity drop are actually the bigger concerns. He could be working his way back after an extended layoff or he could have a hidden injury. At this point it looks like he’s still working his way back, but any drop in production from a pitcher with Johnson’s injury history should raise an eyebrow.

Zack Greinke has continued to pitch well, but still carries the ERA of a guy who should be struggling. He isn’t. He’s maintained his high K/9(9.68 so far in 2012) and low BB/9(1.53 in 2012). He’s sporting a not-so-nifty .365 BABIP, but his 2.31 xFIP indicates that his 5.09 actual ERA is a mirage. Greinke will be fine. Greinke owners need to show some patience and discipline.

Tom Milone is a pitcher who is outperforming his metrics. Milone has always posted solid K numbers in the minors, but his lack of overpowering stuff will limit his strikeout potential at the major league level. Milone has a 3.21 K/9 and a 3.21 BB/9. His 4.67 xFIP indicates that his 2.57 actual ERA is in fact a mirage. He puts a ton of balls in play and his .154 BABIP is simply unsustainable over the long haul. He might be fine in spot starts(versus weaker offenses at home or Seattle on the road), but that’s about as far as anyone should go on Milone.

Remember when we warned you about pitchers coming off of career years? C.J. Wilson is another pitcher that fantasy GMs should be concerned about. His velocity is actually up from last year, but he’s started the season by walking a ton of batters. His BB/9 sits at 4.15. He’s gotten away with walking batters because his BABIP for his first few games is at .205. His 4.32 xFIP indicates that he’s been getting by on luck and could be in for a rough ride. His 2.98 BB/9 in 2011 was a career low for Wilson and it’s not unreasonable to think that he could regress to his 3.76 career average.

We’ll end this with a pitcher on which a lot of e-ink has been spilled. Tim Lincecum’s poor start has been overblown to the point of cliche. The underlying metrics say that he’s fine. There is a drop in velocity, yes, but he’s still posting a 10.54 K/9 and a 2.63 BB/9. Those are not the numbers of a man who is pitching hurt or whatever the speculation is about Lincecum. The problem lies with his .465 BABIP. He’s giving up a hit almost every other time a ball is put in play. His 45.8% strand rate goes hand in hand with the fact that he’s been really unlucky on balls hit in play. His 2.68 xFIP indicates that better fortunes are in store for The Freak. The only number that should give fantasy GMs any concern with Lincecum(other than his ERA and WHIP, of course) is his 29.2% line drive rate. That’s a full 10 percent over his career average. So, one the one hand Lincecum is striking out 10.54 batters per nine innings, but giving up line drives in bunches in the other. This simply does not compute. Fantasy GMs need to exercise patience. Two weeks of bad baseball does not a season make.


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