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Roto Insider: Reversal of fortune

By Cory Schwartz
MLB.com

These are dangerous times for fantasy owners.

With the season nearly at the quarter pole, it's time for owners to start considering which slumping hitters deserve patience, with the expectation that they will turn their seasons around, and which are unlikely to recover from their slow starts and therefore should be jettisoned.

    Nomar Garciaparra   /   SS
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 180
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
Red Sox site

Track record is a major factor in making this determination, since we've already established that "hitters hit," and of course opportunity matters, too. If your slow starter is going to stay in the lineup, that improves his chances of finding his groove, but if he's facing a benching or demotion, the chances of recovery dim considerably.

Aside from those two factors, a key performance indicator is number of pitches seen per at-bat. While a walk may or may not be as good as a hit, and there are certainly those hitters who swing at anything between the coaches' boxes with plenty of success -- think Vladimir Guerrero, Alfonso Soriano and Nomar Garciaparra -- a more patient hitter is generally a more productive hitter. Need proof? Glad you asked...

We examined the stats for every hitter to have gotten 100 or more plate appearances in any of the past three seasons, a total of over 1,300 individual player seasons, and divided them into three roughly equal groups based on the average number of pitches seen per plate appearance over each season. The first group of 435 hitter seasons, who we'll call the Giambis, saw 3.88 or more pitches per plate appearance. The second group, the Jeters, saw between 3.64 and 3.87 pitchers per plate appearance in 459 hitter seasons, and the third group -- the Simons, in honor of free-swinging Randall -- saw 3.63 or fewer pitches per plate appearance in 429 player seasons.

We then tallied up the average season for each of the three groups and pro-rated their cumulative performance over 550 plate appearances, to compare how each group performed given equal playing time. The results are very telling:

GroupABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBOBPSLGAVGOPSP/PASO/BB
Giambis472751282631971661029.362.459.270.8214.051.55
Jeters48870132273166849898.340.436.270.7763.761.82
Simons50267137273136335749.325.420.274.7453.452.11

All three groups produced equal or comparable figures in doubles, triples, stolen bases and batting average, but the similarities end there. Despite striking out the most of any of the three groups, the Giambis hit the most homers and drove in the most runs. They also drew the most walks -- and therefore had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio -- which meant they were on base more often and therefore scored more runs than the other two groups.

The simple conclusion? In general, the more pitches a hitter sees, the more productive he will be. There are always exceptions, but this principle comes in handy when figuring out which hitters to keep or acquire, and which to dismiss. So, with this in mind, let's examine which hot or slow starters might see their fortunes reversing as the season progresses.

Bobby Abreu of the Phillies is one of the most consistently patient and productive hitters in the game, and this season is no exception, as he's seeing an average of 4.41 pitches per plate appearance, with 26 walks and 30 strikeouts. However, he has only a .262 average to show for his efforts, but that will undoubtedly rise closer to his .305 career average. Look for a spike in his power production, too, as he has hit only five homers, but still has 30-homer power.

    Pat Burrell   /   LF
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 222
Position: LF
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Hit chart
Phillies site

His outfield teammate Pat Burrell, on the other hand, has swatted seven homers despite a paltry .221 average. He has made pitchers throw him 4.18 pitches each time up, but is often getting beat late in the count, with only 19 walks against a whopping 47 strikeouts. Burrell has massive power and should approach 40 homers this season, while lifting his average closer to the more tasteful .270-range. And with more hits come more RBI's... buy low.

Similar to Burrell, Reds outfielder Adam Dunn ranks second in the Majors with 13 homers on 4.29 pitches per plate appearance, but is hitting only .237 with 18 walks against a Major League-leading 50 strikeouts. Look for him to continue to hit the longball, while lifting his average over .260.

There's no doubt that Blue Jays third baseman Eric Hinske is a major sophomore slumper, with only one homer and a .235 average, but there are definite reasons for optimism. Like Dunn and Burrell, Hinske is working the count with 4.12 pitches per plate appearance, but is not yet taking advantage of that patience, with only 14 walks and 40 strikeouts. He has swatted 18 doubles, showing that his ability to drive the ball remains. Hinske should bat .270 this season with 20 or more homers, meaning a serious hot streak is in his future.

On the other end of the spectrum from these four slow starters is outfielder Jacque Jones of the Twins, who has impressed so far with a .340 average and 15 extra-base hits in 141 at-bats. Jones has an abysmal 30-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, though, not surprising given that he has seen only 3.31 pitches per plate appearance thus far. He's a player you should shop now and try to sell high, as a major correction to his batting average looms in the near future.

Another hot-starting outfielder is Corey Patterson of the Cubs, who is equally unlikely to continue at his current pace. He has seen only 3.33 pitches each time he's stepped to the plate, with only six walks against 38 strikeouts, ratios indicating it will be near impossible for him to maintain his .308 average. When his average plummets, his impressive early-season run production -- seven homers and 30 RBIs -- will fade as well.

    Joe Crede   /   3B
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 195
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
White Sox site

Moving to the South Side of Chicago, it may be time to cut bait on White Sox third-sacker Joe Crede, who is hitting only .233 with two homers in 129 at-bats. Crede is pressing at the plate, seeing only 3.20 pitches per plate appearance, and has drawn only four walks against 16 strikeouts. He may yet turn it around, and there is no real threat to his job at this time, but he's likely to continue to struggle even with regular playing time.

Finally, it's time to lower expectations for fellow third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo of the Giants. Although he has drawn nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts, he is facing only 3.44 pitches per plate appearance, a significant dropoff from recent seasons. Alfonzo averaged slightly more than four pitches per plate appearance over the last three seasons, so while his strikeout-to-walk ratio indicates he should improve upon his .231 average, his overall decline in plate discipline means he'll probably hit closer to .270 than to his .290 career average.

Cory Schwartz is the Manager of Stats for MLB.com and has been competing in roto baseball since 1989. You can hear him on the Fantasy 411 on MLB Radio twice every week. E-mail him at cory.schwartz@mlb.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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