By the Numbers: Will the hits keep coming?
Justin Upton has been a riddle to his many owners this season, so why not start things off with a Justin Upton-related riddle?
What do Upton, Josh Thole and Darwin Barney all have in common? When you drafted Upton, you were probably hoping the answer was "nothing." Unfortunately, all three hitters share a paltry 4.6 Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27). That's a pretty good catch-all measure of offensive value -- or lack thereof -- but if you break it down to smaller components, the picture for Upton doesn't get any prettier. He is walking and stealing bases, but otherwise, there is little that is separating Upton from a bevy of light-hitting catchers and middle infielders.
It's no secret that the 24-year-old has been been one of the hugest disappointments over the first two months of Fantasy, but that doesn't mean that his season is a lost cause. Actually, if you dig deep into Upton's stats, there are some promising signs. That makes him one of the best buy-low candidates in Fantasy right now.
In this week's review of top buy, sell and hold candidates, we'll uncover those hitters who look like under- and overachievers in the batting average category. Each hitter featured here has a BABIP rate that looks primed for a major shift, though in a few cases, that appearance could be deceiving. Whatever impact an adjustment in BABIP would have for each hitter's overall batting average, it should also make a difference in his other Fantasy stats as well.
Here are this week's top buy, sell and hold targets. All stats are current for games through Wednesday, June 6.
Top buy candidates
Justin Upton , OF, Diamondbacks: Upton's struggles at the plate have gotten so bad that he has been benched, and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson told the Arizona Republic that Upton may sit for as many as four or five consecutive games. If he's not playing, he's not helping Fantasy owners, but once Upton regains regular starts, there are reasons for optimism. While Upton is striking out more often this year than last, he should be making up for it with the more favorable line drive and popup rates he has been posting. Instead of improving on last season's .322 BABIP, Upton's rate is just a middling .305. Owners should expect a surge in batting average, and better yet, if Upton eschews liners and reverts back to being more of a flyball hitter, his power numbers should soar, as his home run per flyball ratio is solid at 10.4 percent.
Ben Zobrist , 2B/OF, Rays: Even though he is hitting for good power and making contact at a decent rate, Zobrist has fallen below the Mendoza Line yet again with a .199 batting average. While a 15 percent line drive rate and an 8 percent popup rate don't portend for a decent BABIP in the .280-.320 range, the BABIP gods have bestowed a .219 mark on Zobrist, which seems more than a little punitive. Even though he's not getting many hits on balls in play, Zobrist has already managed to clout 10 doubles and three triples. Once hits start falling in at a higher rate, the extra bases could start coming at a fast and furious pace. Zobrist will come much more cheaply now than after a power surge comes, and that explosion could happen at any time.
Logan Morrison , OF, Marlins: Since May 1, Morrison has hit just .171, and a .203 BABIP is largely to blame. His batting average wasn't undeservedly low, as Morrison's line drive rate has taken a dip since the season's first month. However, owners should put more stock in Morrison's longer-term track record of reliable gap power than in a five-week slump. Persistent soreness in his right knee may have something to do with his struggles, but according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, team trainers have said that Morrison could be fully healed within a few weeks. If you buy Morrison now, you may subject yourself to more of his struggles in the short term, but he could provide a windfall at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Jemile Weeks , 2B, Athletics: Weeks has been slow to rebound from a miserable April, but even in his difficult early weeks, he's been making frequent contact. The problem has been in an unexpected area: getting hits on ground balls. Weeks is speedy enough to hit over .300 on grounders, just as he did in his rookie season, but he's been held to a .221 average so far this year. Weeks has been slowly bringing that average up, so if you're going to deal for him, it's best to do it quickly before his overall batting average starts to take off.
Marco Scutaro , 2B/SS Rockies: Scutaro has been a good doubles hitter the last few years; Coors Field is a great doubles park. The move to Colorado looked like a brilliant one for Scutaro, but with just eight doubles and two triples through his first 54 games, the returns have been a bit of a letdown. With only 16 strikeouts in 213 at-bats, contact hasn't been a problem, but a .272 BABIP has likely robbed Scutaro of five or six additional base hits. Given that he owns a 23 percent line drive rate, that estimate may even be conservative. However, if we give Scutaro just five more hits, he's batting .282 instead of .258, and a couple of those hypothetical hits would be hypothetical doubles. Scutaro looks like he's just a tweaked BABIP away from matching or exceeding his typical numbers from the last three seasons.
Top sell candidates
Jimmy Rollins , SS, Phillies: With a .371 batting average over his last eight games, Rollins is starting to rebuild his value. It's the perfect time to sell the veteran shortstop, as there are still a number of troubling trends in his stat lines. Over the last couple of seasons, we have witnessed the gradual but steady deterioration of Rollins' plate discipline, as his strikeout, walk and outside-the-zone swing rates are all going the wrong way. Rollins' .247/.295/.344 slash line is distressing enough to his Fantasy owners, but it could actually be a lot worse. He has propped up his batting average and slugging percentage with a near-normal .285 BABIP, but his 27 popups (and 14 percent popup rate) to date are anything but normal. Barring an overhaul of his approach at the plate, Rollins' streak probably won't last long, so look to deal him as soon as possible.
Carlos Ruiz , C, Phillies: With a .358 batting average, 8 homers and 32 RBI, Ruiz has become an unlikely hero for the Phillies. However, he has just one home run over his last 16 games, and he is far from a lock to hit over .300 from here on out. Ruiz continues to be a superb contact hitter, but that skill has carried him to just a career .273 batting average. A .365 BABIP has launched him to the upper echelons of the batting average leaderboard, but he doesn't have an exceptional line drive or popup rate to support it. With no clear improvement in his skill set, look for Ruiz to hit more like himself over the rest of the season.
Michael Saunders , OF, Mariners: In three partial seasons before this year, Saunders had never hit higher than .221. So what's so different in 2012? He has improved his contact rate markedly, but that only goes so far in explaining his current .277 average. Saunders is hitting .350 on balls in play, but he is still profiling more like the hitter who posted sub-.270 BABIPs in each of the last two seasons. As has been the case throughout his career to date, Saunders is posting a below-average line drive rate, and roughly one in every eight hit balls has been a popup. Saunders' 20-20 potential makes him Fantasy-relevant, but his batting average and run production are likely to be less enticing to owners going forward.
Rafael Furcal , SS, Cardinals: Furcal still has wheels, so it would be easy to assume he can get hits on balls in play simply by virtue of his speed. His 15 percent line drive rate is not far out of his recent norms, but a .310 batting average on grounders has lifted his BABIP to .339 and his overall batting average to .313. As speedy as Furcal is, he has not hit above .275 on ground balls in any of the last three seasons. Though he has three .300-plus seasons in his past, Furcal now profiles more like someone in the .270-.280 range for overall batting average.
Mike Moustakas , 3B, Royals: The last time I wrote a Buy/Sell/Hold column on hitters, Moustakas made the "Sell" list, and he's back for a second helping. In the previous column, I had some doubts about his doubles power. In the three weeks since then, Moustakas has hit .237 with just three doubles. His .241 BABIP over that span is more fitting for his flyball-hitting style than the .345 rate he carried into mid-May. Moustakas' ownership and activation rates have actually grown during his three-week correction period, so owners have hardly been deterred by the slippage in his batting average. He's still cranking out homers, but owners impressed by his power may be overestimating his value. See if you can find one and deal him before his perceived value drops.
Hold these hitters
Melky Cabrera , OF, Giants: I doubted Cabrera's apparent breakout last season because I didn't think he'd be able to carry over his .309 batting average on grounders to this season. Apparently, Cabrera was just warming up last year, because he's hitting .357 on ground balls so far in 2012. While his 2011 mark didn't match up with his averages from prior seasons, Cabrera does possess the speed to leg out infield hits (he already has 16 this year, compared to last season's career high of 28). Once again, I don't expect Cabrera to keep up his incredible pace, but even if he "regresses" to last year's level, he's worth hanging on to unless you can get proven elite talent in return.
Paul Goldschmidt , 1B, Diamondbacks: Goldschmidt is no stranger to the strikeout, so owners might view his current .288 batting average as a fluke, especially since he hit just .250 last year. However, it might be his 2011 average that was the aberration. Goldschmidt hit well above .300 as a minor leaguer, as he posted high averages on balls in play. Over his first 96 big league games, the slugger has done a consistently good job of avoiding popups, and in this season in particular, he is showing the line drive power that he displayed in Double-A. Especially after struggling early, Goldschmidt might look like a sell-high, but he is actually just settling into the potential that he showed during his meteoric rise as a prospect.
Erick Aybar , SS, Angels: Like Cabrera, Aybar has enough speed to collect some infield hits, but as an extreme ground ball hitter, Aybar has not been an especially good hitter on balls in play. This year he is outdoing himself -- though not in a good way -- putting 62 percent of his hit balls on the dirt, while scorching less than 10 percent of them for line drives. Maybe Aybar can re-establish his prior level of line drive power, modest as it was, but at least for now, owners can know that his .219 batting average and .281 slugging percentage are not products of bad luck.
Ichiro Suzuki , OF, Mariners: Ichiro is the anti-Melky. Whereas Cabrera defied his track record by hitting for a high average on grounders last year, Suzuki broke a long-standing pattern of high ground ball batting averages by hitting just .263 on wormburners. Rather than reverse the trend, Suzuki is now the owner of a subpar ground ball batting average (.185). He may turn things around somewhat, but it's hard to ignore that he has lost at least 40 points off his ground ball batting average in each of the last three years. This just might be as good as it gets for Suzuki.
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