By: Andrew Thell
Back in late May I picked out four former MLB stars who were looking to regain some of their lost luster and made a case for why they just might do so. The four players in question were former sluggers Adrian Beltre and Vladimir Guerrero and erstwhile aces Ben Sheets and Francisco Liriano. So far those gentlemen are doing pretty well on the whole. Let’s take a peek under the hood.
Ben Sheets is always an injury concern, but the move to the Oakland Coliseum, a spacious park with some of the most generous foul territory in baseball, and his natural talent gave reason for optimism. The results so far have not been good – a 5.04 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and .278 BAA aren’t paying the bills. However, a closer look at the game log reveals that Sheets gave up a combined 17 runs, 19 hits and 5 HRs in back-to-back starts on the road against AL East offensive powerhouses Tampa Bay and Toronto. Pitchers don’t get to take starts back, but if a fantasy owner would have benched him in those extremely unfavorable matchups he’d have gotten a 2.65 ERA out of Sheets to date.
Perhaps more appropriately given the initial reason for the optimism, Sheets has thus far put up a 2.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 2.14 BAA with 32 Ks in 36 IPs at home. Sheets has been a disappointment, but that’s a split worth exploiting if you have the roster space. He’s likely a free agent in your league, and while he’s been a bust overall to this point, Sheets is still worth spot starting in juicy matchups at home.
The other pitcher, Francisco Liriano, is coming off a strong 7-inning, 7-strikeout, 2-run performance against the Yankees and has a much more friendly overall line on the season. After a dominant winter ball and spring training, there was optimism Liriano had finally regained the pre-Tommy John surgery form of 2006. Nine starts into the season the Twins’ 26-year-old has a 3.17 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 59/19 K/BB ratio in 59.2 innings pitched. Not too shabby. As a Twins fan I can tell you that Liriano passes the eye test as well. He still gets flustered and loses his focus, but I haven’t seen Frankie hit 95-97 on the gun with his fastball or induce so many strikeouts looking with the slider and change since that 2006 campaign. It doesn’t look like luck, either. Liriano’s .339 BABIP is slightly above his career .314 mark and his 3.36 xFIP is only a hair above his current ERA. The force of nature we saw in 2006 may never return, but the 2.87 BB/9, 48.8 GB%, 75.8 LOB% and 8.90 K/9 make Liriano only a bit worse and still an upper-echelon starter. Health is a concern, but if you own Liriano it’s probably time to play the matchups and just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Looking under the hood of Vlad Guerrero and Adrian Beltre, after the jump …
The hitters I discussed back in May were Vlad Guerrero and Adrian Beltre, who have been no slouches. Vlad’s .339/.369/.583 triple slash with 12 HRs, 29 runs and 42 RBIs are good enough to place him 2nd in Yahoo!’s fantasy baseball rankings – a far cry from the 277 ranking he finished with after an injury-plagued season last year. Guerrero has always killed at Rangers Ballpark, and this year is no different. Thus far he’s posting a monster .385/.412/.688 at home and just .268/.303/.423 on the road. With sustainable .318 BABIP and 18.5 % HR/FB numbers, there’s little reason to think Vlad can’t keep impaling. The age and injury concerns are still there though, so if you can find somebody willing to pay for close top the current production I’d advise allowing them to do so.
Finally, we have the Red Sox big offseason acquisition at the hot corner. Given their resources, newfound emphasis on defense and Beltre’s combination of consistently mediocre offense and stellar glove there was little reason to think the $10 million, one-year deal would bite Boston – and there was even a good chance Adrian would far outperform it. Few parks in the league suppress power like Seattle’s Safeco, and moving to a friendly home field like Boston and into a significantly more potent lineup figured to rejuvenate Beltre. So far, the results have been good. After blowing up for 2 HRs and 6 RBIs on May 26th, Beltre is sporting a .341/.372/.517 triple slash with 5 HRs, 20 Runs and 33 RBIs. That .889 OPS is good for the second-best mark of his career, just behind the infamous 2004 contract-year campaign.
The current .387 BABIP is unsustainable for a guy with a career .293 BABIP, but it is to be expected that he would improve on that mark as a righty in Fenway after spending his career in Dodger Stadium and Safeco. You’d like to see a little improvement on that meager 4.8 BB% (though only 6.9% career) given the improved circumstances around him, but the 17.6 K% is holding steady. The BABIP may come down, but as the weather gets warmer and the lineup around him gets healthy again Beltre looks poised to maintain his current level of success. This isn’t a sell high situation, just enjoy it.
Andrew Thell thinks Pac Man is little more than a gluttonous, skirt-chasing jerk.