Commentary

Hit Parade: Batteries to exploit for stolen base help

Updated: April 30, 2009, 12:04 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

For every success in baseball, there's a failure.

For every big hit, a pitcher who failed to get that batter out. For every great catch, a batter who was robbed of a hit. For every catcher who throws out a would-be base stealer, a "caught stealing" on the other end.

Dexter Fowler
Andrew Carpenean/US PresswireWe know Dexter Fowler can run, but he also took advantage of a great situation for his five-steal outburst this week.
And so when I saw that Dexter Fowler stole five bases Monday, I wondered to myself, "Now who was pitching and catching that game?" And it was even worse than I thought: The Rockies stole eight bases as a team Monday, and they all came against the same battery of Chris Young and Nick Hundley. Now that is not good for the ol' opponents' stealing percentage.

It immediately reminded me of my kid's Little League baseball team. It's their first year with kids pitching, and they have full baseball rules in tournaments: leadoffs, stealing, the throws over, etc. It's a miracle if there's a kid thrown out, at least at second base. As one of the coaches, I told our starting catcher before one game that if he threw out a baserunner, I'd buy him a milkshake.

Young Corey went home that night sans a creamy ice cream dessert, and it wasn't his fault. Our pitchers, both lefties and righties, have yet to figure out the nuances -- shortening the delivery, varying the timing, making the occasional pickoff throw -- of holding runners close and keeping them from getting a good jump.

Well, by all accounts from Monday's game, Chris Young apparently hasn't learned that either. The Associated Press called his delivery "methodical," and that's being generous. That 6-foot-10 guy was gawdawful slow to the plate. If Nick Hundley was the goat, then Young was the lazy donkey. Hundley could have overcome it, but the combination of the two made for a Rockies track meet.

And it got me thinking, which other pitcher-catcher batteries make for fantasy gold? Again, I say batteries because it takes two; if Yadier Molina had been catching, or Andy Pettitte and his excellent move to first base had been pitching, there wouldn't have been eight stolen bases. Simple as that. So, daily leaguers or weekly leaguers (if you see a few of these matchups in any given week), here are the 10 batteries to take advantage of, just as the Rockies did:

Nick Hundley
Derrick Tuskan/Icon SMIThrough Wednesday's games, Nick Hundley had allowed a league-worst 19 stolen bases and had yet to throw out a runner.
1. Young-Hundley: I have to put 'em first right now, right? Well, they belong there anyway. Since the start of 2007, Young has the highest stolen base success rate of any major league pitcher with at least 300 innings. Only two of 75 would-be base stealers have been caught while Young was pitching.

2. Gavin Floyd-A.J. Pierzynski: Since the start of last season, Pierzynski has thrown out just 11 of 121 runners, and nobody in baseball has allowed more stolen bases from the pitching mound than Floyd. Jose Contreras and John Danks have also had trouble curtailing the running game with Pierzynski back there.

3. Tim Wakefield-George Kottaras: This has nothing to do with Kottaras or really even Wakefield's ability to hold runners on. It's all about that fluttering knuckleball.

4. A.J. Burnett-Jorge Posada: Posada is bound to make this list, and Burnett also happens to struggle against the running game. You know who else knows this? Manager Joe Girardi, who has started strong-armed Jose Molina in three of Burnett's four starts. But Posada did start the most recent one.

5. Aaron Harang-Ramon Hernandez: Harang is known for his strikeout ability and Hernandez his power bat. Their ability to stop the running game? Well, did we mention Harang's K ability and Hernandez's bat?

6. Mark Hendrickson-Gregg Zaun: Granted, this is only reason No. 6 why you want your hitters starting in matchups versus Hendrickson.

7. Jair Jurrjens-Brian McCann: McCann, currently on the DL, throws out his share of runners, but he also has allowed more steals than all but three catchers since the start of '08. And opposing runners have an 87.9 percent success rate against Jurrjens since 2008. Jurrjens has been tougher to run on so far this year, but ...

8. Jered Weaver-Mike Napoli: You could see this, right? Weaver is all arms and legs, which makes him tougher to hit, but easier to steal on. Defensive-minded catcher Jeff Mathis can overcome this, and he has caught three of Weaver's four starts, but offensive-minded catcher Mike Napoli can't.

9. Gil Meche-John Buck: Miguel Olivo caught Meche's first start this season, and he is adept at throwing out runners, but Buck has allowed stolen bases at almost a 90 percent clip this season, and he has been the catcher for Meche's past four starts.

10. Kevin Millwood-Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Millwood is notoriously slow to the plate, and Salty has a poor throw-out percentage for his career, so why are they No. 10? Because the two have been pretty solid so far this season. Granted, Millwood has faced just one team ranked in the top 10 in total steals in his five starts, but Salty, surprisingly, has thrown out four of five would-be base stealers in '09. This is worth tracking right now, but nothing more.

Fortunes Rising

Top 100 Hitters

Note: Brendan Roberts' top 100 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued.

1. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL (1)
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLA (2)
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET (3)
4. Ryan Braun, OF, MIL (6)
5. Jose Reyes, SS, NYM (4)
6. Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE (7)
7. Chase Utley, 2B, PHI (11)
8. David Wright, 3B, NYM (5)
9. Ian Kinsler, 2B, TEX (8)
10. Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI (15)
11. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY (18)
12. Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY (13)
13. Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC (14)
14. Manny Ramirez, OF, LAD (17)
15. Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX (10)
16. Jimmy Rollins, SS, PHI (9)
17. Carlos Beltran, OF, NYM (21)
18. Nick Markakis, OF, BAL (23)
19. Carlos Lee, OF, HOU (16)
20. Evan Longoria, 3B, TB (12)
21. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS (19)
22. Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, BOS (27)
23. Prince Fielder, 1B, MIL (30)
24. Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU (20)
25. B.J. Upton, OF, TB (25)
26. Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN (24)
27. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN (33)
28. Matt Holliday, OF, OAK (22)
29. Jason Bay, OF, BOS (31)
30. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, SEA (29)
31. Matt Kemp, OF, LAD (32)
32. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SD (37)
33. Brian Roberts, 2B, BAL (28)
34. Carlos Quentin, OF, CWS (34)
35. Curtis Granderson, OF, DET (36)
36. Raul Ibanez, OF, PHI (47)
37. Alex Rios, OF, TOR (38)
38. Alexei Ramirez, 2B, CWS (44)
39. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS (41)
40. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, ChC (26)
41. Nate McLouth, OF, PIT (40)
42. Bobby Abreu, OF, LAA (42)
43. Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL (50)
44. Carl Crawford, OF, TB (39)
45. Victor Martinez, C, CLE (51)
46. Corey Hart, OF, MIL (49)
47. Magglio Ordonez, OF, DET (43)
48. Shane Victorino, OF, PHI (45)
49. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY (68)
50. Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN (46)
51. Rafael Furcal, SS, LAD (53)
52. Carlos Pena, 1B, TB (56)
53. Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B, BAL (59)
54. Derek Jeter, SS, NYY (52)
55. Brian McCann, C, ATL (35)
56. Chone Figgins, 3B, LAA (63)
57. Michael Young, SS, TEX (62)
58. Ryan Ludwick, OF, STL (65)
59. Adam Dunn, OF, WAS (60)
60. Russell Martin, C, LAD (48)
61. J.J. Hardy, SS, MIL (61)
62. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, WAS (66)
63. Jermaine Dye, OF, CWS (67)
64. Hunter Pence, OF, HOU (73)
65. Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX (81)
66. Andre Ethier, OF, LAD (74)
67. Chris Davis, 1B/3B, TEX (58)
68. Garrett Atkins, 1B/3B, COL (69)
69. Jay Bruce, OF, CIN (71)
70. Torii Hunter, OF, LAA (75)
71. Jorge Cantu, 1B, FLA (NR)
72. Joe Mauer, C, MIN (82)
73. Dan Uggla, 2B, FLA (72)
74. Aaron Hill, 2B, TOR (NR)
75. Stephen Drew, SS, ARI (55)
76. Adam Jones, OF, BAL (87)
77. David Ortiz, DH, BOS (64)
78. Pablo Sandoval, 1B, SF (95)
79. Geovany Soto, C, CHC (54)
80. Derrek Lee, 1B, CHC (70)
81. Carlos Delgado, 1B, NYM (80)
82. Adrian Beltre, 3B, SEA (76)
83. Chris Young, OF, ARI (79)
84. Johnny Damon, OF, NYY (78)
85. James Loney, 1B, LAD (85)
86. Jose Lopez, 2B, SEA (84)
87. Vernon Wells, OF, TOR (89)
88. Vladimir Guerrero, OF, LAA (94)
89. Adam Lind, OF, TOR (92)
90. Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA (83)
91. Jhonny Peralta, SS, CLE (77)
92. Chris Iannetta, C, COL (91)
93. Mike Cameron, OF, MIL (93)
94. Brad Hawpe, OF, COL (88)
95. Jayson Werth, OF, PHI (90)
96. Nick Swisher, OF, NYY (NR)
97. Bengie Molina, C, SF (100)
98. Orlando Hudson, 2B, LAD (NR)
99. Matt Wieters, C, BAL (NR)
100. Kosuke Fukudome, OF, CHC (NR)

Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: I can't specifically explain it, but I can see it again from Cano. The ball is coming off his bat in a straight line again, and he's showing few weaknesses at the plate. Some numbers that bear that out: After hitting .290 with a 0-0 count in 2008, he's batting .583 on the first pitch this season. He's hitting .400 against lefties, better than against righties. And he has missed on just 7.3 percent of his swings, a number that places him among the lowest 10 in the majors. All signs point to his having a big season.

Andruw Jones, OF, Rangers: Is he back in form? Well, I suppose he is if your expectations are tempered to a .250 average with 20- to 25-homer power. As much as I can't believe I'm saying this, though, Jones makes for a nice pickup if Josh Hamilton (ribs) lands on the DL. Ten of the Rangers' next 14 games will be played at favorable hitters' parks (seven at Rangers Ballpark, three at U.S. Cellular).

Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: He's breaking out, right? Right? I'm not ready to believe that yet. Fukudome fell apart, not coincidentally, the second trip around the league in 2008, and I can't discount that from happening again this season. Also, I don't consider him to be a .300 hitter, a 25-homer guy or even a 15-steal candidate in the first place. Look, this might be a breakout season, but before you go tradin' for him, remember his ceiling isn't as high as it appears now, and he's due to come back down soon. Pay for what you'll get, not for what he's provided the other owner.

Fortunes Falling

Geovany Soto, C, Cubs: It's official, I'm concerned about Soto. I saw him up close in a recent series in St. Louis, and even though he hit a few balls hard, I didn't like what I saw. Perhaps because of his sore right shoulder, he's just not getting the extension at the plate to hit balls out in front of him and pull them with authority. His swing looks shorter and more compact, not like a power hitter's, and while he has been able to hit line drives to center field, he's also "rolling over" and hitting the ball on the ground more, which is displayed by his fly-ball/ground-ball ratio. Sadly, I think only time off will help him find it again.

Ty Wigginton, 3B/OF, Orioles: Luke Scott has looked good; Melvin Mora is back and hitting; Adam Jones is tearing it up; now Lou Montanez is up and getting playing time; and Nolan Reimold is beating up Triple-A pitching ... and ol' Wiggy is hitting .216 with a .256 OBP. He could find himself in a Matt Stairs-like bench role before long.

Brandon Moss, OF, Pirates: The Pirates are hanging tough in the NL Central, something their fans seem to be relishing. But Moss hasn't played much of a part in that. The Pirates are giving him every opportunity to hit, and lock down an outfield job, but he has shown neither the power nor the patience to do so. With the Pirates hoping to maintain some life in their lineup to stay competitive, I could see the team moving to another starter soon after Nate McLouth returns from an oblique injury. They might go with Eric Hinske and/or Craig Monroe for a while, but the buzz for Andrew McCutchen and Steve Pearce is definitely getting louder.

Pickups of the Week

Mixed: Fernando Tatis, OF, Mets: Starting regularly now, and accounting quite well for himself. You could do worse for a short-term pickup. He at least belongs on a mixed team by now.

AL-only: Eric Patterson, 2B, A's: Likely to get a decent amount of time at second base with Mark Ellis sidelined, and he was hitting .329 with nine steals in Triple-A.

NL-only: Adam Rosales, 3B, Reds: And away we go ... I touched on Rosales in last week's Hit Parade, and just like that, Edwin Encarnacion is placed on the DL, and here's Rosales. He had two hits and two RBIs in his first game and should get decent playing time, and like I said, I could see him hitting immediately.

Stat Talk

Perhaps nothing bothers me more than when I hear so-and-so has gotten off to a bad start because he's hitting .230 or something like that. Batting average isn't the whole story. In some cases, it just means the hits aren't falling in yet, especially in cases when hitters have maintained a high walk rate. They're still seeing the ball well, they haven't gotten overly anxious at the plate and they're still getting on base, appeasing their managers. Just a few of the players who have maintained a high walk rate to help offset below-standard batting averages: Lance Berkman, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Coco Crisp, Chone Figgins, Ken Griffey Jr. and B.J. Upton.

Ballpark Watch

It's still early, and obviously I'll keep tracking this, but I am getting concerned for Mets power hitters at the new Citi Field. Through Wednesday, the Mets have hit just seven homers in 12 games at home, an average of 0.58 homers per game. At Shea Stadium last season, the team averaged 1.17 homers per game, about twice as many more, with very similar personnel. It has taken the Mets 392 at-bats to hit those seven homers.

Position Watch

Kendry Morales, Angels: He qualified only at OF in many leagues heading into the season but is about to hit the 20-game plateau at first base.

Carlos Guillen, Tigers: Bad news for those of you waiting for OF qualification from Guillen. He hasn't played the field in more than a week and is sitting at just nine games in the outfield.

Skip Schumaker, Cardinals: He's getting closer and closer to 2B qualification in all leagues. Entering play Thursday, he has 15 games played at second base.

On the docket

Rafael Furcal is about to take off. In 2006, Furcal hit 64 points better at Dodger Stadium than on the road. In 2007, it was 57 points better at home. In 2008, he had only 143 at-bats for the season (he hit .333 at home), and he's hitting 116 points better at home this season. Well, the thing is, the Dodgers have played just six of their 22 games at home thus far in 2009. That tide is ready to turn: Beginning Thursday, the Dodgers play 17 of their next 23 games at Dodger Stadium.

Lineup Card

Yes, that was normal No. 2 hitter Mark DeRosa hitting in the seven-hole on Monday and Wednesday and the eight-hole Tuesday. That's bad news for his value, and it might not be short-term. Hot-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera has been moved up to the No. 2 slot, and likely will stay there until he cools down.

On the farm

Matt LaPorta, OF, Indians: The writing is on the wall, the stars have aligned, the fortune cookie is accurate. LaPorta is hitting .368 in Triple-A, he's the team's top prospect, Trevor Crowe and Ben Francisco continue to struggle and now Travis Hafner has (sigh) been placed on the DL. This is LaPorta time, even if the Indians haven't realized it yet. I can smell a call-up, and you might consider anticipating it.

Gordon Beckham, IF, White Sox: Speaking of buzz, Beckham is such a highly anticipated prospect that he's owned in a handful of standard leagues. Unfortunately, he shouldn't be. As good as Beckham will be someday, manager Ozzie Guillen told ESPN 1000's Bruce Levine that "when you see Beckham in the big leagues this year, we are in trouble." There you have it. Guillen wants to keep Beckham in the minors for all of 2009.

Sean Doolittle, 1B, A's: When I look at box scores and see "Jason Giambi, 1B," I want to add the label "injury risk." This is precisely why I have my eye on the next available option for the A's at first base at the minor league level, and you know what? I think Doolittle is that guy, and not Daric Barton. Doolittle has steadily worked his way through the system and posted a fine AFL season in 2008. He's currently slugging .507 with a Billy Beane-riffic 12 walks in his first 20 Triple-A games, and he's still at the developmental age of 22. On the same Sacramento team, Barton is hitting .141 with a .203 slugging percentage.

Final thoughts

"Trade season" is just about to begin in force, and what better time to remind you of one of my personal mantras: Don't underestimate the value of a throw-in option. I see it often in chats, questions involving the fairness of 3-for-1 or 2-for-1 offers in which big names change hands. When that's the case, lesser but still useable players can be included almost on a whim, and this early in the season, those "fringe" options could be useful to you. If they're not, you just cut 'em; in most cases, they weren't negotiated into the deal anyway.

Imagine haggling at a flea market, and you want to buy a rare baseball card. Let's say you reach an agreement to pay $40 for it, but only if the seller throws in a cheap Captain America Pez dispenser that you like but probably doesn't have much value to the seller anyway. In most cases, he'll say, "Sure, what the heck." The same is true in fantasy ball, and you can get backup outfielders, one-category players, starting pitching options et al who can strengthen your bench or even your starting staff, with your trade partner barely noticing.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.

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