I highlighted Litsch earlier in the week with the Value Picks column as a nice two-start pitching option next week and then the Jays conveniently re-shuffled their rotation so Litsch wouldn’t pitch twice next week, making me look silly. The 8-day layoff didn’t have much effect on Litsch as he dominated the Royals on Saturday. Litsch earned his first complete game shutout of his career scattering 7 hits and 1 BB while striking out 3. Litsch looked like a solid candidate for regression entering the season but has shown consistent improvements early on in ’08 in both his BB and K Rates. Litsch’s control has been the big improvement as his BB Rate has moved from .32 (average) to .14 (elite). As a GB pitcher with a tremendous infield defense behind him, who doesn’t issue many free passes, Litsch has the chance to be the type of pitcher that exceeds his peripherals and his season-long stinginess with his control makes him a solid spot-starting option.
Vladdy is showing some signs of life of late with his 3rd HR in his last 4 games coupled with a decreasing K Rate in May from 17.4% to 12.8% and a mild power increase, extra base hit rate from 9.7% to 10.1%. The improvements on the whole are pretty mild because the bigger picture for Vlad is pretty scary. The power numbers are declining across the board: 2B’s rate from 7.8% to 4.9% and HR Rate from 4.7% to 3.9% with similar declines in the K Rate and BB Rates. Vlad’s alternated good and bad years with his EYE over the last 5 seasons but even in the bad years his power numbers remained. It’s hard to imagine Vlad hitting such a steep decline at the age of 32 but his top comps page on Baseball-Reference notes a number of players that saw drop-offs in their early 30’s rather than their late 30’s, so while most of us don’t want to believe in the decline we have to keep it in the back of our minds as a possibility.
Hopefully you’ve been heeding our advice when it comes to patience with Giambi this season despite the early season batting average struggles. The batting average has finally started to come in bunches as he’s 10-19 in his last 6 games and 17-51 in May raising his average from .160 to .234. As we’ve pointed out numerous times in the past, Giambi’s peripherals are in line with his 2005 and 2006 seasons in which he knocked out 30+ HR’s and averaged 100 RBI’s. Giambi deserves to be owned in nearly all formats given the power potential and the lineup production. Batting average will always be a bit of a concern but he deserves to be closer to the .250-.260 range than the current .234, so expect some further upside there as well.
Steve Trachsel is usually what the doctor prescribes for slumping hitters and it turned out he was just what the Rays needed on Saturday night. Carlos Pena and nearly every other Ray got it going on Saturday night, as Pena in particular went 3-3 with a 2B, 3B, 2 Runs and 3 RBI’s. Pena’s early season struggles can be directly attributed to a deteriorating EYE that saw both his K and BB Rates return to the pre-2007 levels when Pena’s tremendous power was overlooked for his strikeout prone low batting average. Pena’s walk rate is climbing back closer to the 17+% Rate he posted last season, but it’s still sitting in the 13-14% range and his K Rate has increased back into the mid 30’s. At that rate it’s going to be difficult for Pena to repeat last season’s production. The power numbers should be respectable but won’t come close to the 46 he hit last year with the rest of the production also dropping. Unless Pena’s approach improves considerably his 2007 season is going to look like a fluke.
Lee picked up his 7th win of the season on Saturday night but for the 2nd consecutive start showed some chinks in his armor. Lee allowed 11 base-runners in his 6 2/3 innings walking 4 and surrendering 8 hits. It was the 2nd outing in a row Lee surrendered double-digit base-runners and his WHIP has risen from 0.68 to 0.88. The good news for Lee is the K’s keep coming as Lee’s struck out 10 during the last 12 1/3 innings. Lee’s incredible start to the season was obviously unsustainable as it’s been the result of a combination of great luck (high strand rate, low BHIP%, low HR/FB Rate) and great skills, but ultimately I think Lee settles in towards a slightly better version of his 2005 season, with that kind of production (2005) going forward (mid-high 3’s ERA, low 1.2’s WHIP, .75 K/I). Lee should be a phenomenal mid-rotation fantasy starter who has bursts of ace potential. If you can sell him as a legitimate fantasy ace I’d consider doing so immediately.