Commentary

88 lines about 44 players: Greinke, Soriano, V-Mart are for real

Updated: May 6, 2009, 11:22 AM ET
By Pierre Becquey | ESPN.com

Those of you who remember a time when phones had rotary dials and when G.I. Joe was must-see Saturday morning TV may recognize today's column title as loosely borrowed from a song by the Nails. (Certainly looser than "Pepper" by the Butthole Surfers). It's a schtick, a gag, a way to talk very briefly about a lot of players, dig up some fun stats and facts, and allow my personal biases to run amok. For those reasons, it's also my favorite column to do. After a one-year hiatus, here she is again. This is...

88 lines about 44 players

Francisco Liriano
AP Photo/Jim MoneFrancisco Liriano was one of Pierre Becquey's favorites heading into 2009, but has been a disappointment so far.
I have no choice but to come off my stance that Francisco Liriano will end the season as a top-5 pitcher. But I'll hold somewhat fast and say I won't be surprised if he figures out how to properly mix in his changeup with his fastball and ends up with a very good season nonetheless.

One pitcher who looks likely to end up the season in the top 5, if not the best pitcher in all of baseball, is Kansas City's Zack Greinke. The ERA won't be 0.50, but he's quite capable of pulling off the AL pitching Triple Crown by leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts.

I said in the preseason that I like Albert Pujols to win the NL Triple Crown this season. So far, so good, as he's second in home runs and first in RBIs, and of the 11 National Leaguers batting better than .333 so far this season, he is the only one whose career average is also better than that mark.

Felix Hernandez just completed the best month, statistically, of his major league career (4-0 with a 2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 36 K's). But April prowess brings May badness where King Felix is concerned, because while his career ERA in March and April is 2.79, his May ERA is 5.61, and then it's between 3.23 and 3.88 every other month.

Give a little love to Aaron Hill, who has come back strong from his concussion problems of 2008 to lead the Blue Jays -- the best offense in baseball, mind you -- in average (.365), homers (5) and RBIs (20). While he's not the second coming of Jeff Kent, he's well on his way to a 20-homer and 90-RBI season, and his first .300-plus average since his rookie year.

Want to know how to be sure Adam Lind has finally learned to be patient at the plate? He leads the league in number of pitches he's seen, both per plate appearance and overall.

Want to know how to be sure Carlos Quentin isn't getting shy at the plate after getting hit by pitches 20 times during his breakout 2008 season, including one stretch of 6 consecutive games? He's already been hit a league-leading six more times in April.

Victor Martinez hit .386 with five homers in April, giving credence to the assertion that 2008 was simply a lost season. The Indians seem intent on making sure he stays healthy and in the lineup, as he already has 10 starts at first base, on pace to double his previous career high of 30 games of first-sacking.

They come in bunches, don't they, Heath Bell? San Diego's new closer had seven saves in 11 days from April 7 to April 18, and only one in the 11 days following.

I've come to terms with the fact that Kyle Lohse just isn't the terrible pitcher I've been loathing all these years. He's finally figured out how to get outs, which means I need a new WHIP-killing pitcher masquerading as someone borderline useful due to double-digit win seasons and triple-digit strikeout totals ...

... Jeff Suppan, come on down, you're the next contestant on "That WHIP Ain't Right!" Despite averaging 12 wins and 114 strikeouts a season for your career, your rare combination of hittability, poor control and insistence on approaching or exceeding 190 innings per season means that your WHIP is a statistical black hole from which there is no hope of escape.

I really don't like playing fantasy leagues in which holds are a category. Any category that can be led by Bobby Seay for the first month of the season just isn't worth the trouble.

Since the start of the 2006 season, no pitcher has appeared in more games than Jon Rauch, whose 259 2/3 innings of work in 259 games have yielded a 3.88 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, 16 wins, 24 saves and 228 strikeouts. So if you ask me to explain the past 30-plus innings of statistical carnage that have been his Diamondbacks career, I'm just going to shrug and patiently await his departure from the desert.

A .265 average and five home runs in April is seldom anything to write about, except when the performance comes from the usually limp April stick of Adam LaRoche. Consider the possibilities of a career season, since LaRoche had hit .164 with a total of eight homers the previous three Aprils combined, leading to a .247 average and .775 OPS before the All-Star break from 2006 to 2008, and a 314 average with a .952 OPS post-break .

Elvis Andrus has had a tough first month in the majors, struggling to hit .250 and attempting only two stolen bases, although successful on both. The Rangers could surely live with that if he were making plays on defense, but his six errors are the most by any player in the majors.

Juan Pierre may still have plenty of speed, but he's just not going to get to use it as long as he remains in the crowded Dodgers outfield. April marked his fourth consecutive month of fewer than 40 at-bats (20) and no more than two steals (he had one).

Alfonso Soriano
Jerry Lai/US PresswireAlfonso Soriano is actually healthy for once in April, which is a good sign.
The last time Alfonso Soriano got a season started properly, with no injury trouble and with as many as seven homers and four steals, it was his 2006 walk year with the Nationals. You'll also remember that '06 was his 40-40 season, when he hit 46 homers and stole 41 bases as one of the best players in fantasy baseball.

Since the start of the 2008 season, Brad Penny has a 6.65 ERA in 112 1/3 innings, striking out 57 while walking 53 and surrendering 18 home runs. His days in the Red Sox rotation are numbered ...

... which is great news for Justin Masterson, who has been solid in his two starts, going 5 1/3 innings in each, surrendering one run each time and picking up two wins. Even if his future is back in the bullpen, there are plenty of, ahem, better candidates than him to lose their rotation spots once the Red Sox are at full pitching strength.

Since the start of the 2008 season, only one player in all of baseball has at least 35 home runs, 35 steals, 100 runs and 100 RBIs. If you own Grady Sizemore, you know what I'm talking about when I say multicategoricalicity is too a word!

If you relax the above criteria to 30 home runs and 25 steals, you get only one additional player. It's the perennially underrated Nate McLouth, who can officially be dubbed the poor man's Sizemore.

The very best stat-stuffer in baseball the past two years, however, is David Wright. He's the only player, since the start of the 2007 season, to hit 60 home runs, steal 50 bases, drive in and score at least a combined 200 runs, all while hitting .311.

Ryan Franklin has seven saves, a hold and no earned runs allowed to his credit closing for the team with the best record in baseball. He may not be the Cards' closer of the future, but it seems to me that he's their closer of right now and is 35 ugly-but-cheap saves waiting to happen.

I am totally willing to overlook Clayton Kershaw's past two starts and will trade for him at a discount based on his 7.29 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. In 15 starts since a shellacking at Coors Field on July 22, 2008, and before his current two-game skid, he's thrown 78 innings with a 3.35 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 84 strikeouts.

David Ortiz finished the month of April without a home run to his name, which is very much un-Papi-like. April hasn't exactly been cruel to him in the past, but he has his lowest OPS in that month the past three years, and he did hit six home runs last September, so don't be too quick to dismiss him after one bad month.

With a single home run in April, Derrek Lee has now gone five consecutive months hitting two or fewer homers per month. However, it's been three years since he's had a month that was equally poor in power and average, and I have confidence that at least one of the two, hopefully both, will show up in May.

Juan Cruz's save on Thursday will get him noticed again, but it's a shame he doesn't draw more ownership without the end-game candy. Dating back to Opening Day 2007, Cruz has pitched 122 1/3 very useful innings, winning 11 times and striking out 163, (12.0 K/9) and posting a 2.80 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.

It looks like Kendry Morales finally has figured out how to keep his starting first-base job, or at least has gotten hot long enough to do so. He has five multihit games in his past seven, including three home runs among his seven extra-base hits, while striking out only three times.

Here's a stat you're not used to seeing associated with Brian Roberts; he's been caught stealing three times already for a 50 percent success rate. He was caught stealing 10 times in 50 tries last season and was perfect on his final 13 attempts of the year, so this isn't a trend just yet, but it's worth monitoring.

James Loney
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJames Loney's keen batting eye is appreciated, but fantasy owners would like him to hit more homers.
James Loney has walked 16 times in 80 at-bats, striking out only four times, an outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio which, combined with his .423 on-base percentage, illustrates the youngster's patience at the plate and dedication to putting the ball in play. And his zero homers for the month demonstrate why he'll never be more than a fantasy corner filler until he decides to get a little more aggressive and sacrifice some of that patience and average to drive some pitches over the wall.

I don't want to read too much into it yet, but for all of Nick Swisher's early-season heroics, he is batting .143 with no homers and but a single RBI in the new Yankee Stadium. Last season, it was the reverse, as he hit well at U.S. Cellular Field but had a brutal .189 average on the road, with only five of his 24 home runs despite just 21 fewer at-bats than at home.

The most encouraging aspect of Chris Duncan's April performance has been his ability to hit both lefties (.286 in 28 at-bats) and righties (.308 in 39 at-bats) for average while maintaining a distinct power advantage against the latter (.564 slugging). He's a career .209 hitter in albeit limited exposure to lefties, having received four times as many at-bats against righties compared to southpaws in his previous platoon role, but continued success as a full-time player puts a 30-homer, 100-RBI season within his reach.

Chris Davis leads all major league hitters with 34 strikeouts, a problem compounded by the fact that he's taken only five walks. Five homers will buy him more time, but he must absolutely cut down on the whiffs and start taking a few more walks if he hopes to ever see another decent pitch to hit.

Also at risk of exposing himself as not-ready-for-prime-time is Cameron Maybin, whose .209 batting average and 25 strikeouts in 67 at-bats (with five walks) aren't redeemed by his single homer or stolen base. There's still time for him to turn it around, but patience is a virtue that better hurry up and get here if he's going to salvage this season.

And speaking of Marlins with no redeeming value; since April 15, Emilio Bonifacio has batted .169 with four runs and two steals, which is why he tops the most dropped list. I'm not sure what it is that's keeping him owned in 67 percent of leagues: the .243 batting average he had last season at the major-league level or his sizzling 7-for-11 success rate stealing bases in 2008?

The rush to get Mike Lowell, however, is completely understandable as the 35-year-old's surgically repaired hip, while it may limit him on the base paths, doesn't seem to be bothering him the least bit at the plate. The numbers look great across the board and, except for an inflated slugging percentage that is a byproduct of a welcome hot streak, his underlying stats are pretty much in line with his career and three-year numbers.

Although he officially blew a save in his Nationals debut on Thursday, newly acquired Logan Kensing needs to be picked up by anyone speculating on saves in that bullpen. His career WHIP and ERA don't give any reason for optimism, but he's a K-per-inning arm who has had success in the minors and could put it all together this season.

Danys Baez, the highest-paid member of the Orioles bullpen, is pitching better than he has at any time since he saved 41 games for Tampa Bay in 2005. If you're looking for a guy who might be targeted by a team looking for a closer this season, he's one I'd keep an eye on.

If you love prospecting as much as I do, you can't help but be excited at how well Angel Villalona is handling his high Class A assignment, posting an .804 OPS as an 18-year-old playing against mostly 20-something competition. At this rate, Villalona could make it to the majors before his 20th birthday (Aug. 13, 2010) and is almost a lock to arrive before he can legally buy a celebratory drink.

I'm about to make my first minor league slow-draft pick in my longtime favorite AL-only keeper league, and it's down to two candidates. The first is Orioles first-rounder lefty Brian Matusz, a San Diego product who the great minds over at Baseball America believe can be a solid No. 2 starter ...

... The other choice is 20-year-old Cuban defector and current White Sox farmhand Dayan Viciedo, who brings tremendous power potential and tremendous risk that he'll totally flame out. Matusz is the safe pick, Viciedo is the sexy pick, but unless the decision is made for me by the one team still picking ahead of me, I'll follow the same instincts that had me trade for Villalona two years ago in the NL version of this league, and I'll pick Viciedo.

Speaking of which, with my first pick (13th overall) in the NL league draft, I took the plunge on the Kevin Goldstein-recommended James Darnell, since all the hotshot 2008 offensive first-rounders were already taken. If you haven't found your way to our every-weekday minor league update yet, you're missing out.

How confident am I that Stephen Strasburg will pitch in the majors this season? I drafted him for a buck in a deep league that allowed it, and unless I'm given a No. 3 starter in exchange, I'm not trading him.

If you've ever read one of my 88 lines pieces before, you know what's coming, so let's finish things off in traditional style. Yorvit Torrealba is just two home runs off the Rockies team lead, which isn't so much meant as an indictment of the Rockies' power woes so far as it is that I like to say ... Yorvit Torrealba!

Pierre Becquey is a senior fantasy editor for ESPN.com. He previously published under the pseudonym "Pete Becker" and was recognized by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for the best fantasy baseball article (Web) in 2007.

Pierre Becquey

Fantasy Sports
Pierre Becquey is a senior editor for ESPN.com fantasy games.

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