Are You For Real? Martin, Lackey, Saito
Most of the media attention in the week leading up to the All-Star Game isn't on the actual All-Stars. Much more common are lists of players who were snubbed, debates about the process -- how the fans should or should not vote -- and laments about how the game is nothing more than a popularity contest.
Well, news flash, guys: Of course it's meaningless. Of course it's a beauty pageant. Everyone knows that. But the All-Star Game is still a fun time.
And now it's time to talk about the All-Stars themselves. For "Are You For Real," that means doing just what we always do: bring you the very best in player analysis without all the window dressing.
Last week, we took a look at three players who were performing at an All-Star level recently, but whose season-long numbers did not merit All-Star consideration. Now, with the rosters set, we examine three first-time All-Stars and discuss whether or not their inaugural appearances will be their last.
Martin burst onto the scene as the Dodgers' starting catcher in 2006, and this season he's even better, with 10 home runs and 16 steals to go along with his .302 average. Is he the new king of fantasy catchers?
Adam: Unreal. Martin's very good and is going to continue to be very good for a very long time, but I wouldn't even claim him to be the best catcher in his league. Stolen bases are the only category in which Martin is truly great, and even that is a bit fluky compared to his career 49-for-72 mark entering the season (including the minor leagues). While Martin shouldn't have much trouble supplying an average around .290 with 20 home runs, that's not quite superstar upside, at least compared with Brian McCann. By most sabermetric standards, McCann's '06 was legit; this year has been extremely disappointing, but if I had to take a catcher for next season, it would still be McCann. That doesn't diminish Martin's accomplishments, but hey, we're dealing with All-Stars -- by definition a higher standard.
Will: For Real. Martin walked more than he struck out in his minor league career. This plate discipline, along with a solid contact rate, provides a nice floor under his developing skills. Martin's power has been burgeoning for years now, and his improvement in home runs is no fluke. Expect him to reach 20 home runs this year or next. The only area in which Martin might be overachieving is on the basepaths. Martin has always had decent speed -- and at age 24 his catcher's legs are still fresh -- but I'd bet against him ever reaching 30 steals and wouldn't expect him to be quite as proficient on the bases as Jason Kendall in his prime. All in all, what we have here is a patient hitter with excellent contact skills, developing power and above-average speed. Martin's first half was worth more to fantasy owners than any other catcher, and it's not a reach to suggest that he's legitimately surpassed Victor Martinez and Joe Mauer as the position's top producer.
Lackey's WHIP has fallen for five consecutive years now, and he really broke out with at least 190 strikeouts in the past two seasons. With an 2.91 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, Lackey is poised to deliver the best rate stats of his career. Is this the next step in his development as one of baseball's true aces or is he pitching a little over his head right now?
Adam: Unreal. I would still hesitate to call Lackey a true ace, and I am quite skeptical that Lackey has improved enough to lower his ERA by 65 points and his WHIP by 11 points. Lackey was always a good-but-not-great pitcher whose best quality was health, and while this should definitely be a career year, he's likely pitching a little over his head. It's also worth noting that while he allowed 14 home runs in 217 2/3 innings last season, he already has allowed 11 home runs in 120 2/3 innings this season; that's still quite a low home run rate, but not close to last season's (or 2005, for that matter) despite his ERA being considerably lower.
Will: For Real. Lackey's strikeout rate has fallen a bit this year, but he's still getting 3.1 punchouts for each walk and he's kept his home run rate under one homer per nine innings. Lackey hasn't been overly fortunate in his hit percentage or strand rate, so his progress looks legitimate to me. His biggest issue has been streakiness. In each of his four previous full seasons, Lackey has had one bad month that skewed his overall numbers. In 2003 and 2005 it was April; in 2004 and 2006 it was August. If Lackey's 4.36 ERA in June of this season is the worst monthly figure he posts, it will be a sign that he's conquered the mental inconsistencies in his game and he'll be a Cy Young threat for the next several years.
The 37-year-old Saito was surprisingly tremendous in his 2006 rookie season, finishing with a 2.07 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. This season he's been even better, posting a 1.47 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. Can a guy this old be that good, or has he just temporarily taken the league by surprise?
Adam: Unreal. It is impossible to have such a microscopic ERA without some type of good luck, usually a whole bunch of it. It's easier for a relief pitcher to maintain this luck, thanks to a much smaller sample size throughout the course of the season, but that doesn't mean you can easily predict whether or not it will continue, either. Saito's batting average against on balls in play is, as one would imagine, extremely low at .225, especially when you consider the Dodgers' defense is below-average (19th in defensive efficiency). In addition, Saito would surely challenge some walk rate records if he could continue to walk fewer than one batter per nine innings; simple regression to the mean will take care of that. As more hits and walks come, those home runs (four allowed in 36 2/3 innings) do more damage, too.
Will: Unreal. Saito has been incredibly fortunate on several fronts. Last season, his ERA was artificially depressed by the low percentage of fly balls that went for home runs. This year, his hit percentage on balls in play is a very low 22 percent, and his strand rate is an astronomical 91 percent. When those factors normalize, Saito's ERA should climb closer to his Japanese career mark of 3.89. It's also hard to believe that Saito can continue to strike out 12 batters per nine innings when he struck out only 7.6 batters per nine in his 12 years in Japan, only twice recording one strikeout per inning pitched. Saito is an outstanding pitcher, but his skill set is not that of a truly elite closer. Expect some regression soon.
Will Harris and Adam Madison are fantasy baseball analysts for TalentedMrRoto.com. Will can be contacted at WillHarris@TalentedMrRoto.com and Adam at Adam@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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