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Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Hit Parade: Who dominates interleague play?

By Brendan Roberts
ESPN.com

Go figure. The guys who dominate interleague play are the guys who are most in danger of losing playing time during it.

Seriously, I did a search in our trusty STATS PASS for the best OPS among active hitters, and right there in the top 10 are Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, David Ortiz and Jason Giambi. (I know Giambi is no longer a DH … but he should be.)

Um, did I tell you I love interleague play? Yeah, I think so. I hit up the expected DH situations for this weekend's interleague games in my Friday column, but I got to wonderin', since we fantasy owners care about stat splits and all, who owns interleague play? Granted, the four players above have been steady hitters in general over the years, but it means something that the opposite league has trouble getting them out.

All hitters have holes, even if they are ever so slight, but I believe that the cream tends to rise to the top a bit more during interleague play because (a) opposite-league pitchers don't know or can't exploit the holes in the top hitters' swings, and/or (b) the top hitters tend to be the best prepared, and they do their work in determining how to hit a pitcher they've never faced or haven't faced recently.

I know, I know, players change leagues all the time, and many of these guys faced each other during spring training. But we preach year in and year out that spring training stats don't matter, and there's something to be said for not having faced a pitcher since last season, in that the hitters and pitchers have had time to make adjustments.

With that, I examine the players who tend to dominate or struggle during interleague play, based on their career numbers. This isn't everyone on the list, just the notable ones. For instance, Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez dominate interleague play, but what does that tell you? Heck, they've dominated their intraleague pitchers, too. But there are some hitters who tend to save their best for pitchers from the opposite league.

The 10 hitters who dominate interleague play

1. Hideki Matsui, OF, Yankees (1.034 OPS during interleague play; .858 OPS in his career): Hmm, maybe Godzilla signed on to play in the wrong league.
2. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (.988 interleague OPS; .846 career OPS): He has made up for his early-career struggles since leaving the National League in 1999.
3. Frank Thomas, DH, A's (1.048 interleague OPS; .977 career OPS): Not that this means we'd start him when he's in NL parks. You shouldn't do that.
Matt Stairs
Matt Stairs has never hit .300 in a full single season in the big leagues, but he's well above that in his interleague career.
4. Matt Stairs, 1B/OF, Blue Jays (.948 interleague OPS; .845 career OPS): This is greatly boosted by his .323 average with nine homers in 133 at-bats against NL pitching since 2005.
5. Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies (.992 interleague OPS; .857 career OPS): Maybe it's because a few of his hottest months are when interleague play happens?
6. Eric Hinske, OF/3B, Rays (.918 interleague OPS; .776 career OPS): In case you needed another reason to like him right now. (I can give you plenty more.)
7. Richie Sexson, 1B, Mariners (.906 interleague OPS; .856 career OPS): Wow, he hit six homers in just 63 at-bats against NL pitching last season. Maybe he should have stayed in the NL …
8. David DeJesus, OF, Royals (.894 interleague OPS; .775 career OPS): I can tell you firsthand these numbers are padded by series against the Cardinals. The dude kills the Redbirds.
9. Emil Brown, OF, A's (.869 interleague OPS; .729 career OPS): Reason for hope that his RBI surge will continue during interleague play.
10. Joe Crede, 3B, White Sox (.862 interleague OPS; .754 career OPS): Interestingly enough, his best numbers have not come against the meaty NL Central.

The 10 hitters who struggle during interleague play

1. Alfredo Amezaga, OF, Marlins (.448 interleague OPS; .651 career OPS): NL-only owners take note: The guy is just a .158 hitter against AL opponents.
2. Pedro Feliz, 3B, Phillies (.628 interleague OPS; .720 career OPS): And you thought he hit poorly against the NL …
3. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets (.647 interleague OPS; .756 career OPS): Yup, you're reading that right -- the Jose Reyes. More importantly, he has a steal every 2.48 games in the NL and 3.25 games in the AL.
4. Xavier Nady, OF, Pirates (.640 interleague OPS; .781 career OPS): Maybe it's kind of the opposite of Brad Hawpe, that interleague play arrives during a cool-down period. Like now.
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B, Pirates (.651 interleague OPS; .817 career OPS): Anybody else noticing a lot of NL names on this list?
6. Nick Swisher, OF, White Sox (.660 interleague OPS; .811 career OPS): Just a .196 hitter versus NL pitching.
7. Craig Monroe, OF, Twins (.661 interleague OPS; .752 career OPS): Perhaps this explains his failed tenure with the Cubbies.
8. Austin Kearns, OF, Nationals (.690 interleague OPS; .800 career OPS): Just five homers in 202 at-bats against AL pitching.
9. Pat Burrell, OF, Phillies (.706 interleague OPS; .855 career OPS): Another interesting name. The homers are there, but Burrell is hitting just .199 against AL pitching in his career.
10. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies (.718 interleague OPS; .773 career OPS): The .277 career hitter is just a .254 hitter versus AL opposition.

Hitter Rankings

Welcome back to the land of the elite, Alfonso Soriano. After bottoming out at No. 37 last week, Soriano has (finally) found his stroke.

1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins (previous: 1)
2. Chase Utley, Phillies (2)
3. Matt Holliday, Rockies (5)
4. David Wright, Mets (4)
5. Jose Reyes, Mets (3)
6. Albert Pujols, Cardinals (7)
7. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (8)
8. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (6)
9. Carl Crawford, Rays (9)
10. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (11)
11. Lance Berkman, Astros (15)
12. Brandon Phillips, Reds (12)
13. Ryan Braun, Brewers (10)
14. Derrek Lee, Cubs (14)
15. B.J. Upton, Rays (18)
16. David Ortiz, Red Sox (21)
17. Prince Fielder, Brewers (13)
18. Vladimir Guerrero, Angels (16)
19. Chipper Jones, Braves (25)
20. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (26)
21. Mark Teixeira, Braves (19)
22. Carlos Lee, Astros (20)
23. Grady Sizemore, Indians (22)
24. Alex Rios, Blue Jays (24)
25. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (29)
26. Ryan Howard, Phillies (17)
27. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs (23)
28. Miguel Tejada, Astros (30)
29. Nick Markakis, Orioles (27)
30. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (37)
31. Victor Martinez, Indians (31)
32. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox (39)
33. Josh Hamilton, Rangers (35)
34. Carlos Beltran, Mets (28)
35. Curtis Granderson, Tigers (34)
36. Garrett Atkins, Rockies (43)
37. Torii Hunter, Angels (32)
38. Justin Morneau, Twins (41)
39. Geovany Soto, Cubs (49)
40. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers (33)
41. Matt Kemp, Dodgers (47)
42. Brian Roberts, Orioles (40)
43. Pat Burrell, Phillies (42)
44. Derek Jeter, Yankees (36)
45. Carlos Guillen, Tigers (46)
46. Nate McLouth, Pirates (44)
47. Chone Figgins, Angels (38)
48. Ian Kinsler, Rangers (NR)
49. Russell Martin, Dodgers (45)
50. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox (NR)
Fortunes rising

Dioner Navarro, C, Rays: He just keeps hitting. That includes a 3-for-3 night Monday to up his average to a sky-high .362. So am I buying? No way. First of all, even if you include this year's numbers, he's still just a .253 career hitter. I've owned him enough during the past few years to know what he can do to a batting average when things aren't going well (for an extended period of time, it seemed). But most importantly, it's a pretty empty batting line; he has just one homer and 12 RBIs. In fact, he came into Monday with a 0.00 value in our Player Rater, behind such players as Gerald Laird and Kurt Suzuki. No thanks.

Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs: Just a little reminder, for those of you who just tuned in, that this might be the last time you can get Soriano for "below" market value in a trade. As long as he remains healthy, he'll keep producing like the top-25 player he is from here on out.

Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: What in the name of Ryne Sandberg is going on here? Uggla already has 12 homers; only Lance Berkman and Chase Utley have more. Uggla is on pace for 52 homers. He's still just 28. He also has 12 doubles. Why this guy has so many critics, I'll never know. I guess it's because of the low (.250ish) batting average he probably will have at the end of the season. But owners need to realize he's in the prime of his career, he hits both righties and lefties about equally, he is not affected much by his home park, and he's doing all this despite normally being a slow starter. Oh, and he's a second baseman. Thirty-homer second basemen don't grow on trees, ya know.

Fortunes falling

Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: O-ver-ra-ted, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. I admit I was a fan of Kubel at one point, although looking back, it was more a case of me hearing of his batting-practice exploits rather than his actual on-field performance. Nevertheless, Kubel is hitless in his past 15 at-bats and is in danger of becoming a left-handed pinch hitter. Ouch.

Reed Johnson, OF, Cubs: The glimmer and shimmer has waned, and so has Johnson's batting average. He's hitting just .138 in May, which is just what Felix Pie needs to work his way into a more balanced outfield platoon with Johnson. If Johnson's struggles continue, he could be "platooning" with Matt Murton in a fourth-outfielder role. It's time to cut ties with Johnson in all but the deepest of leagues.

Pickups of the week

Mixed: Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates: He has found his batting stroke, he's hitting leadoff and he's still available in 77 percent of leagues.

AL-only: Freddie Bynum, SS, Orioles: The next contestant in the game of "you get to start at shortstop for the Orioles," and this guy has some speed.

NL-only: Ramon Castro, C, Mets: He's back from a hamstring injury and is definitely ownable in two-catcher NL leagues.

Splits check

Who's leading the majors in batting average with runners in scoring position (minimum 25 plate appearances)? Even if I gave you a hint -- like role in which John Candy played an uncle in Chicago -- you still couldn't get it. It's John Buck, who is hitting .520 with runners in scoring position. Will he keep that up? No, but it does make him a lock as a No. 2 catcher, if your league has one, in all but shallow leagues.

Schedule watch

Tropicana Field: Just seeing your hitter head to Tampa Bay used to give you the warm fuzzies, didn't it? Not because of the ballpark, but because of the pitching staff your guy would get to face. Last year, the Devil Rays had the second-worst home ERA in the majors, a paltry 5.02 mark. This year it's fifth in the majors (2.93), which is the big reason for the team's 15-7 home record. Seeing "@TB" on the schedule no longer should give us the thrill it once did.

5x5 Watch: Batting average

Jim Thome's .214 average looks awful and, well, it is. But he's still on pace for 31 homers, and because of all the walks he receives, that .214 average hasn't hurt as much as other everyday players who don't draw walks. For instance, let's combine Thome's at-bats and hits with those of Torii Hunter, who is hitting .299. The two combine for a .259 average. Meanwhile, if you combine Ryan Zimmerman and his .239 average with Hunter, you get a .267 mark. Twenty-five points difference between the Z-man and Thome, but not near that when you talk about the cumulative effect on the batting average. Consider how many at-bats and hits a hitter adds to the pool before casting aside a low-average hitter.

Position watch

Aubrey Huff, DH, Orioles: I can remember the good ol' days, back when the versatile Huff qualified at third base and the outfield (for the 2007 season) … oh, and back when he could hit .300, too. Now I'm concerned he might not get enough games at any defensive position to qualify anywhere but DH next year in 20-game-plateau leagues. We're nearing mid-May and he has played two games at first base and one at third base, with no plans for change anytime soon. Keep this in mind, AL-only keeper owners.

Lineup card

"Now batting, the No. 7 hitter, Adam Dunn." Sheesh, I even cringe to write that. Yup, Dunn hit in the No. 7 hole Monday night for the first time since 2005. Even more disturbing is that he did it with a right-hander (Burke Badenhop) starting for the Marlins. He went 0-for-3 with a sac fly. Dusty Baker is already taking heat on the fantasy message boards for this one, but if you look at the guys who hit in front of Dunn, Baker at least had his reasons for doing it. Yes, Dunn's OBP should be higher in the lineup, but if you want to get the big lug going, hitting him down in the lineup isn't a bad way to do that. Of course, all this is moot when Dunn goes on one of his patented homer tears and heads right back to the middle of the lineup. That should happen soon.

Tip of the week

Before you craft a trade proposal that involves you getting more players in return (a 2-for-1 or 3-for-2) from a fellow owner, scan the waiver wire for potential replacements for the owner and make it sound as if that's part of the deal. For instance: "You trade me Stud Pitcher X and Jeff Kent for my Stud Pitcher Y. I see that Kazuo Matsui is available on the waiver wire, so you wouldn't really be losing that much." This does three things: (1) gives off the impression that you care about evening up the deal; (2) makes it seem as if the other owner's not losing anything by throwing Kent in; and (3) deflects the attention from the stud pitchers, which are the key to the deal, to the second-base situation. Having that background info can be the deciding factor in getting a big trade through.

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