Are You For Real? Martin, Snell, Guthrie
Last week, we examined three players whose production has improved dramatically since the All-Star break. This week, as promised, we take a look at the flip side: players whose post-break performance has been a disappointment, compared with their stellar first halves.
Russell Martin, C, Dodgers: In the first half, Martin hit .306/.374/.492 in 307 at-bats. He also hit 11 homers, drove in 60 runs and stole 16 bases while being caught only three times. So far in the second half, he's hitting only .257/.369/.397 with four homers and 13 RBIs. He's stolen four bases but has already been caught stealing twice.
Will: For Real. Martin is a bona fide stud at the catcher position, especially for fantasy purposes, and he'll remain a star for years to come. His regression of late is partly a product of the terrible slump that affected all the Dodgers hitters and partly that he's simply wearing down a bit. Last year Martin had 489 at-bats, and it was the first time he had topped 416 in a season. Catcher is a very demanding position physically, and it is not uncommon for top catching prospects to stagnate offensively in the high minors while they fine-tune their receiving skills. Martin avoided that fate but is not immune to the wear and tear of the position. Given his inexperience, it's not surprising to see his production tail off as he approaches the heaviest workload of his career. The team would do well to give him more frequent days off to keep him fresh for the playoff drive. There's no alarming regression of actual skills here. Martin will again be a top option at the position next season, and he'll still be an above-average backstop offensively for the remainder of 2007.
Adam: For Real. The best part about having great plate discipline is that there's only so far to fall. When you have enough secondary skills, you can still be decent even while hitting .257. Martin's strikeout-to-walk ratio has actually improved since the break, with 26 strikeouts to 20 walks. The primary skill that has eroded in Martin's slump is power, which is the one skill that he was least likely to maintain anyway. Many catchers wear down by the All-Star break and perform substantially worse, but few have the combined plate discipline, speed and solid power of Martin, so he is unlikely to truly hurt you like other more one-dimensional players.
Ian Snell, SP, Pirates: The former Ian Oquendo looked like one of baseball's top young pitchers in the first half of the season, compiling a 2.93 ERA while striking out 93 batters in 116 innings. Since the break, however, Snell has struggled (6.11 ERA, .312 BAA).
Will: For Real. Like Martin, Snell may be wearing down a bit under an unusually heavy workload. He struggled to the finish line in 2006, a season in which he eclipsed his previous high in innings pitched by more than 30 innings, finishing with 186. This year he's on pace to top 200, and it's possible that the extra work is taking its toll. However, the most important factor in his second-half struggles has simply been bad luck. Snell has been victimized by an unusually high hit rate and markedly low strand percentage. His strikeout rate, walk rate and command ratio are all in line with his first-half numbers. The only revealing base indicator is his home run rate, which has spiked to nearly two homers allowed per nine innings, as opposed to 0.7 in the first half. Snell has certainly pitched better of late. In his past four starts, he's pitched 27 innings, allowing 12 runs and seven walks while striking out 30 batters. His peripheral stats say that he's still displaying excellent skills, and if he can keep the long balls in check, he should return to his lofty first-half standards when his hit and strand rates normalize.
Adam: For Real. Snell's strikeout rate has actually increased in the second half (54 strikeouts in 53 innings). Snell's bad luck has been exacerbated because he has faced a brutal schedule. Since July, eight of his nine starts have come against offenses that rank in the top seven (by OPS) in the NL. In the three months prior, Snell had faced an above-average offense just three times, so while that suggests he's likely never going to be as good over a full season as he was in the first half, he's also not nearly as bad as he looks now. For the rest of the season the best offense he faces is the Reds; otherwise, his schedule is pretty soft, so he will rebound.
Jeremy Guthrie, SP, Orioles: Guthrie dazzled us with a 2.74 first-half ERA, striking out 72 while walking only 18 in 102 innings. Since the break, his ERA is 4.91 in eight starts, and he's walked 19 batters in 51 innings.
Will: Unreal. Guthrie's first half wasn't all fluke. Yes, he benefited from a low hit rate, but his command was excellent. Guthrie struck out at least six batters per nine in every year of his minor league career except one, so he's demonstrated a serviceable strikeout rate in the past. The outstanding control that he's displayed, however, is not in line with his career trends. Guthrie is unlikely to ever have a stretch like his 2007 first half again, but he does seem to have made genuine gains in his control. He'll keep his team in most games despite lacking a big-time strikeout pitch. Guthrie has shown us that he's a legitimate major leaguer, but he's really more of a No. 4 starter than the pitcher that his first-half numbers suggest.
Adam: Unreal. Guthrie is more statistical proof that yes, Leo Mazzone can help pitchers a lot, but it's more a change from out-of-baseball to serviceable, rather than serviceable to star. That means Guthrie is an innings eater, not a particularly valuable commodity. Guthrie's walk rate has risen to 3.3 free passes per nine innings, which isn't much different from his career 3.2 rate in 568 minor-league innings. And if that represents Guthrie's best quality as a pitcher, you're basically dealing with a league-average pitcher who gets to face the Yankees and Red Sox in a disproportionate amount of starts with a below-average offense backing him. There's are two words for that: limited upside.
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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