We commence this week’s column with a pause to address an emerging outbreak at our National Pastime’s cathedrals. No, not the scourge that’s plagued bullpens across this great country, but an affliction much worse: the humorless, unwitty and preposterously banal bellows from ballpark vendors. I fathom the need to facilitate attention in your direction, and it’s no easy endeavor resiliently lugging 10 pounds of ice and drinks to the nose bleeds. Yet as a patron that attends his fair share of ballgames, I don’t need to hear the repetitive, corny material night after night.
Laughs and cheers come fairly cheap at the ballpark. We’re talking about an environment where a kiss cam generates some of the loudest applauses of the night. However, this is not the atmosphere to try your new stand-up routine. Worse, just because one person laughs at your, “Do your part to save water by drinking beer!” jab doesn’t mean the other 499 fans in the section thought it was a hoot. Keep it simple, my friends. Just state your product (“Beer here!” or “Hot Dogs, Soda, Popcorn!”) and don’t force the funny. I’m already shelling out eight bucks for a brew, I don’t need your hackneyed remarks making me feel worse about it. And as you can tell, I’m still recovering from a peddler screaming, “When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up…reading…Who needs a BEER?” a solid 12 times last night. It haunted my dreams, I tell ya.
C: Wilin Rosario, Rockies
A top-50 prospect by Baseball America heading into last season, Rosario’s rep took a hit after hitting .249 in Double-A last year (albeit with 21 homers). And through May 20 in a split-duty role with Ramon Hernandez, the 23-year-old’s six long shots with Colorado were hampered by his lackluster average (.203) and OBP (.243). Yet since a hand strain sent Hernandez to the DL, Rosario has shined in full-time duty behind the plate, going 14-for-43 with three jacks, 12 RBI and nine runs for the Rockies. He strikes out at an alarming rate (27.4 percent), but owned in just 6.7 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy baseball leagues, Rosario can provide some pop at a power-deprived position.
1B: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
After blasting 73 homers across three professional levels since 2010, Goldschmidt was viewed as a late-round fantasy pick loaded with upside. Alas, the Arizona first baseman showcased little of this potential through the first seven weeks of the season, recording a meager two home runs with a shallow .223 average. However, Goldschmidt has recently shown signs of life, hitting .431 with five long balls in the last 14 games. The lack of ribbies may trouble owners, yet slotted in the hub of the Diamondbacks order, Goldschmidt will deliver in the RBI column in due time.
2B: Darwin Barney, Cubs
Barney has been quietly constructive with the lumber since early May, flaunting a .321 average and .380 OBP in his past 24 games. He’s never going to be a guy who sends the horsehide into the outfield bleachers on a consistent basis and his on-base percentage, while improved, will never be anything to write home about. Still, with a plethora of underperformance at second this year, owners could do worse than Barney’s contributions to your team’s average and run totals. While we’re here, I think it’s time to retire the idiom “nothing to write home about.” Pretty sure phone calls, texts and Skype have killed that medium for engaging with loved ones.
3B: Chris Johnson, Astros
The Houston hot corner is starting to resemble the Chris Johnson that hit .308 in 2010, batting .326 with a .412 OBP in his last 13 games. His BABIP seems to suggest Johnson has been on the luckier side of the fence, yet his affinity for the frozen rope (25.2 line-drive percentage) is an integral component to this elevated average. Getting hacks in the heart of the Houston lineup should begin to correlate to higher RBI production for Johnson, who’s owned in a scant 12.6 percent of FOXSports.com leagues.
SS: Trevor Plouffe, Twins
Not often we advocate those under the Mendoza Line, and back-to-back o-fers certainly aren’t enhancing his portfolio, but Plouffe had a 12-for-36 stretch coming into Tuesday that featured four homers. Granted, he’s more marketable to AL-only formats and deep mixed leagues, yet sometimes flyers such as this have to be ventured. Plouffe is making most of his appearances in the outfield and at third, yet utilize him strictly in the shortstop slot, as few at the position possess the power Plouffe has displayed.
OF: Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks
The knock against Parra is his alleged status as the fourth outfielder in Arizona’s arsenal, bizarre since the Gold Glover has been the team’s most consistent force in the field and, lately, with the wood. In his last 22 games, Parra boasts a respectable .299/.379/.481 line with two round-trippers, seven RBI, 15 runs and two swipes. With Chris Young laboring in his shoulder recovery and Justin Upton, well, straight-up struggling on the season, expect to see Parra become more of a presence in the daily Diamondbacks lineup.
P: Phil Hughes, Yankees
For those keeping score at home, that’s endorsements thus far for a rookie backstop, a shortstop hitting a buck-eighty-six, an assumed backup in the desert and a hurler with an ERA hanging around 5.00. And to think some of you say we occasionally roll off the beaten path with our advice.
In defense of Hughes, the Pinstripe pitcher has surrendered two runs or less in four of his past five starts, including a complete game against the Tigers on Sunday in which he relinquished just four hits, three walks and one run while recording eight strikeouts. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking to believe Hughes can return to his first-half 2010 All-Star form, but Hughes just has to hover around a 3.50 ERA to stay fantasy relevant, as his punch-outs (8.3 SO/9) combined with the Yankees offense (fifth in the AL in runs) should contribute to a decent win total.
C: Joe Mauer, Twins
Ice those arms from firing snowballs of scorn, Minnesotans. Still love me some Mauer over the long haul, but everyone’s favorite fighter of flakes and dry scalps is combating a thumb issue. While the nuisance is not believed to require a DL stint, Mauer has taken residence on the Twins bench the past few games, and is likely to struggle in his adjustment period. For now, keep him out of your starting lineup.
1B: Justin Smoak, Mariners
Sorry Seattle, but that Smoak Monster you thought you saw was just an apparition. Theoretically, the beast may reappear on the road, where Smoak is hitting .250 with seven bombs and 18 RBI in 2012, yet at home, the first baseman is no behemoth, tussling to the tune of a .188 batting mark. His occasional outbursts make him an intriguing add in AL-only leagues, yet a sub-.300 OBP negates any advantages Smoak will offer. In a related note, when discussing his value with the RotoWire Radio crew a few weeks back, the point was made that Smoak’s sweet-sounding moniker played a factor in enabling a higher worth than his production warranted. Which got me thinking: what other players have nicknames that out-awesome their actual skill? While he may have earned it in the past, Ben Zobrist isn’t living up the “Zorilla” hype in 2012. Brooks Conrad was on a tear in Triple-A this season, but the “Raw Dog” handle deserves a better home than a journeyman infielder. And although he’s retired, this seems like the proper forum to bring up the oxymoronic nature of “Everyday” Eddie Guardado, who was so banged up in the second half of his career that he was often on the DL. More like "Every Other Day" Eddie, am I right?
2B: Howie Kendrick, Angels
To an extent, I understand the “better by Pujols osmosis” philosophy that led many owners to reach for Kendrick this season, thinking the second baseman would be a bountiful source of average and run production. However, unbeknownst to most managers who were undoubtedly enchanted by his long-awaited fruition as an All-Star last season, was Kendrick’s fall in the later part of 2011, hitting a pedestrian .259 over the last 63 games. So for those seeking a second-half storm from Kendrick, you may be waiting on a charge that never comes, especially if his line-drive percentage (18.3 percent versus 2011’s 21.9 percent) does not waver.
3B: Chase Headley, Padres
A blazing 14-game patch in April (.362 average, four homers, 12 RBI, 13 runs, two steals) was hoped to be the catalyst for a career campaign from Headley. Unfortunately this has not been the case, as the 28-year-old heads into the second weekend of June with a prosaic .251 average and 27 RBI. In OBP leagues, Headley’s value is slightly more significant, and the seven homers have certainly been a surprise. Yet what you see is what you get with the San Diego slugger at this juncture.
SS: Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
Don’t think that average is a’risin’ for Peralta, Motown, indicated by his .304 BABIP. To his credit, Peralta is doing a better job driving the ball and avoiding pop-ups, and he has collected six hits in his last three games. However, the All-Star shortstop was batting a mere. 200 in his previous 22 games before this mini-streak, and one has to believe his 30.9 line-drive percentage is unsustainable, leading to another drop in the batting department. Horizon is not bright for Peralta, I’m afraid.
OF: Logan Morrison, Marlins
If I’ve deduced one truth from my many failed forays with the female gender, it’s that charm and looks can be a precarious combo. The same outlook can be applied to LoMo, whose power numbers in a shortened 2011 season (23 homers, 72 RBI in 123 games) and whimsical styling on Twitter convinced me the Marlins outfielder was ready for big things in 2012. As you may have concluded by his placement in the Sit ‘Em arena, this plan did not come to pass. Miami’s pitcher-friendly confines are doing him little favors, but Morrison has accumulated a measly four long balls a third into the season. As his sabermetrics mirror his 2011 output, no reason to believe change is around the corner.
P: James Shields, Rays
This one’s on you, as we tried to warn in multiple preseason pieces that Shields was headed for murky weather this year. After a decent start to the season, the Tampa arm has hit a skid, lowlighted by conceding at least four earned runs in four of his past five starts. Shields does have a career-best 8.77 SO/9 rate and his .317 BABIP shows he’s been the victim of bad luck, but his 3.82 FIP does little to convey the choppy waters will soon pacify.
I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s been relatively quiet on the reliever front. Granted, Sergio Romo snatched up a few saves in the absence of Santiago Casilla, but Huston Street returned from the DL to recapture his claim as closer, and Tom Wilhelmsen seems to have a grasp on Seattle’s vacant fireman role. However, let us not believe we have survived this epic contagion, for it could be the quiet before the storm.
Waivers Watch: Ryan Theriot, Giants
Speaking of nicknames that surpass their titleholders, it’s “The Riot!” San Fran’s second baseman has been tearing the cover off the ball since coming off the DL on May 25, hitting .366 with a .447 OBP, five RBI, seven runs and two steals in his return. Regular starter Freddy Sanchez just received an epidural injection in his lower back, leaving no timetable for his return to the Giants lineup. For those seeking help at second, Theriot can provide a steady presence of average and run production.
We briefly mentioned the RotoWire Radio guys above, but they proposed an intriguing theory on their show Wednesday: would it be in the best interest of Stephen Strasburg proprietors to dangle the Washington ace out to their league at this point of the season? No matter what the scoring format, Strasburg has been a consensus top-10 fantasy pitcher. Yet if the Nationals are serious about capping Strasburg’s innings, shouldn’t it behoove one’s team to trade this entity before that limit emerges? Personally, if Washington remains in the AL East race, I don’t see Davey Johnson and company yanking their No. 1 starter out before September. Still, if managers are apprehensive this sitting will come to pass (or are simply worried another injury is lingering in the distance), now would be the time to explore that option. If you wait any longer, Strasburg’s value will take a hit as that inning threshold nears. At least one soul in your league will be willing to take on the 23-year-old, most likely for a king’s ransom in return.
Rookie Review: Elian Herrera, Dodgers
He may be a rookie, but Herrera is no spring chicken at 27. Still, the greenhorn is making the most of his extended stay in the Show, hitting .306 with a commendable .390 OBP in 83 plate appearances with the Dodgers this season. The L.A. lineup lost some potency with the sidelining of Matt Kemp, but Herrera’s spot in the two-hole is nevertheless significant. If he continues his precision at the plate, he could be worthy of a look in NL-only leagues until Mark Ellis returns to the club.
The Real Debate
The first batch of All-Star votes has been released, with the big news surrounding the Texas Rangers stuffing the ballot. Yet the discussion should not center on voter fraud; rather, the Real Debate should be this: why are fans still allowed electing starters in a game that determines home-field advantage in the World Series? No need to ridicule the absurdity of the fact that the exhibition even settles such a meaningful decision in the first place, as anyone who believes an All-Star contest should influence the outcome of a sport’s championship should be forced to stand in the batter’s box against Aroldis Chapman. But if we are going to make it count, shouldn’t the fans be eliminated from making these roster decisions? I’d actually like to see a fan base make a bigger mockery than voting for their own players by choosing the most mediocre players on the ballot. Casey Kotchman at first? Sure. Brandon Crawford at shortstop? Why not. Danny Valencia at third? He’s eventually going to cross that Mendoza Line, I can just feel it. Sounds ludicrous, but probably the only way we’ll ever convince Bud Selig to knock this nonsense off.
This Week in Sam LeCure
Just one appearance for Yosemite Sam but it was a beauty, working two scoreless innings with two Ks in Cincinnati’s 12-9 slugfest win over the Astros on Saturday. Some have questioned why we continue to focus on LeCure while mostly ignoring the dominance of the aforementioned Chapman. In truth, it’s the same reason that Tom Selleck is more celebrated than Ted Danson. Sure, Danson had the better show, and Selleck’s acting prowess was no match for the dexterity of Danson (as evidenced in Three Men and a Baby). However, history looks upon Selleck with more fondness for one reason: the ‘stache. So unless Chapman starts cultivating a Fu Manchu, LeCure’s our man.
Spit Your Tobacco at: Rangers fans
Adrian Beltre over Miguel Cabrera? Bad enough. Ian Kinsler over Robinson Cano? Worse. But stuffing the ballot to the point where Mitch freaking Moreland is fourth among first baseman in All-Star voting? Come on, Texans. No chance Cordell Walker lets shenanigans of this nature stand on his watch.
Big League Chew Player of the Week: Mets fans
The thought of selecting Sir Santana for this honor crossed my mind, but considering all the baloney aficionados of New York’s other team have put up with for fifty years, I think they’ve earned the nod to bask in their franchise’s first no-no.