One of our culture’s more pathetic compulsions is our enslavement to embryonic evaluations. A rising movie star or singer gets their own E! 30-minute television special projecting their career arc after minimal success. At restaurants, we’re given surveys to complete in exchange for a discount on our next purchase (a major annoyance, by the way, I’m there to eat, not fill out a Scantron). A buddy of mine teaches kindergarten at an institution where weekly assessments are given to instructors, awarding new meaning to “micromanaging.” The sports world is no different, as NFL Draft appraisals are out before players set foot on the field.
Does gauging the status of your fantasy team after the second week of May fall into this impulse? Yes and no. Making drastic moves out of frustration with underperformance is a fallacy many owners fall into, and pulling the plug on an early-round pick or expected essential component can have devastating consequences. However, reviewing the current standing of your team and constructing a fair forecast of where you envision yourself in July is a fruitful endeavor, as it exemplifies the strengths and shortcomings of your squad. This exercise of estimation will allow you to proceed in management moves with confidence and conviction.
C: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
With perennial power hitters Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the sidelines and Jimmy Rollins seemingly washed up (more on him in a minute), the Phillies lineup has been far from formidable, as their 3.81 runs per game rank 20th in the majors. That said, not all is lost in the City of Brotherly Love, as the sweet-swinging Ruiz has done his part to keep the Phils afloat, hitting .381 with three homers and 15 RBI in his past 11 contests. Even more promising is the probability that we’ve yet to see the best from Ruiz in 2012, as his 16.9 line-drive percentage is down from the previous two years (20.1 in in 2010, 21.0 last season). Once that rate of frozen ropes jumps, not the biggest leap to envision Ruiz among the upper echelon of fantasy backstops.
1B: Yonder Alonso, Padres
Not the most auspicious of starts for Alonso in 2012, batting a buck ninety-six in his first 17 career games for the Friars. Since that juncture, the highly-touted prospect has posted a .400 average and .444 OBP in 13 games. The run production isn’t up to most fantasy standards for first base, with a meager eight ribbies on the season and a goose egg in the home run column. Still, if Alonso continues to groove an array of liners across the cavernous PETCO Park landscape, his elevated average will be hard to ignore.
2B: Kelly Johnson, Blue Jays
His penchant for punch-outs endures (34 Ks in 29 ballgames), but the rest of Johnson’s stats have returned to their prominent 2010 standing after a disastrous 2011 campaign, rocking a .261 average and .383 OBP. The second baseman has been especially sizzling as of late, owning a .333/.444/.633 line in eight games in May with three long balls and 10 RBI. An upcoming four-game slate against a putrid Twins rotation should facilitate further fruition from Johnson this weekend. Speaking of Toronto, kudos to the Blue Jays for reviving their old-school digs, as more organizations could benefit from the “so outdated its hip” uni vibe. Candidates who should consider this cause: Philadelphia, Houston, San Diego and Milwaukee.
3B: Kyle Seager, Mariners
Seager has made the most of his shot at the Seattle starting gig at third, registering 15 hits in his last 43 at bats with three homers and 13 RBI. He won’t do much for your team’s on-base percentage, and Seager’s splits are somewhat disconcerting (.250/.265/.463 with one homer and nine RBI at home, .339/.362/.571 featuring three homers and 11 RBI on the road) albeit in a relatively diminutive sample size. Yet with a plethora of cornermen on the injured list, Seager is a suitable replacement available in most FOXSports.com Fantasy Baseball formats, owned in just 16.8 percent of leagues.
SS: Robert Andino, Orioles
Andino has raked since Opening Day, so the second baseman with shortstop eligibility’s strong start to May (.321 average, two homers, five RBI, .406 OBP) is not the catalyst for this inclusion. Rather, the dawning on Buck Showalter that, perhaps, it might serve the Orioles well to move one of their hottest hitters from the nine hole to leadoff, proves to be the spur that gives Andino our nod, as the development should correlate to an augment in run production. The 28-year-old’s .397 BABIP indicates a regression is likely, but a bump to the top of the lineup will provide dividends for Andino possessors.
OF: Bryan LaHair, Cubs
I’ve been hesitant to hop aboard the LaHair bandwagon, and his protruding .510 BABIP illustrates that .384 average is due for deterioration. To his credit, LaHair has prolonged his April prowess at the plate into May, going 10-for-27 on the month with three dingers and a .485 OBP, and he did own three-year average outputs of 30 homers and 92 RBI in 125 games from 2009 to 2011 in the minors. Personally, I’d sell LaHair, as his value might have crested, but more power to you if electing to ride this train out.
SP: James McDonald, Pirates
McDonald has shown glimpses of prominence in the past; alas, control issues and temperament flares have confined the Pittsburgh pitcher to obscurity. These two predicaments apparently have been resolved, or at least restrained, allowing McDonald to excel on the mound. Through six starts on the young season, McDonald possesses a 2.70 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 36.2 innings with 31 strikeouts. Granted, his .260 BABIP suggests a tad of luck, though his 3.11 FIP confirms the Pirate has been as good as advertised. Facing a slumping Astros squad on Friday (Houston has manufactured just seven runs in its last four games), McDonald has another opportunity to continue this success.
RP: Dale Thayer, Padres
Two Padres on the Start ‘Em list just a week after a duo of Pirates were recommended in this forum. Forget Burger King, exciting things are happening in fantasy baseball!
With Huston Street nursing a shoulder injury, Thayer has locked down two saves in the fireman’s absence and has been solid in his short time with San Diego, surrendering four hits while striking out five in six appearances. Couple this feat with his performance at Triple-A Tucson (two hits and five Ks in 8.1 innings) and owners should feel safe implementing Thayer until Street returns.
C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
X-rays on Molina’s hand showed no fracture, meaning the three-time All-Star should return to action on Friday. However, be cautious in employing Molina this weekend, as these types of injuries occasionally linger. Throw in that Molina’s suffered a bit of a power outage the past nine games (zero homers, one RBI) and the backstop would be better served on your bench against the Braves.
1B: Mark Teixeira, Yankees
Tex’s .217 average has him on pace for his sixth straight season of regression in that medium. Teixeira proponents preach that the Bronx basher has been a victim of bad luck, point to his reduction in whiffs as a sign of patience at the plate and remind us that the first baseman is only 32 years of age. The rebuttal to the assertions: while his BABIP is low (.214), it’s the upshot of defensive shifts rather than misfortune; despite a cutback in Ks, his walk rate (6.3 percent) is miles away from his career average (11.4 percent); he may be 32, but he’s logged over 1,400 games in the majors on his odometer. He’s averaged 37 homers and 114 RBI since joining the Yanks, but doubtful Tex yields similar returns in 2012.
2B: Rickie Weeks, Brewers
Usually when an All-Star is hitting .164 without the hampering of injury, excuses come flying out the ying-yang to justify the player’s performance. Yes, Weeks’ .216 BABIP is more than 100 points lower than his previous two-year average, and he is flaunting a career-high 15.8 walk percentage. Then again, I’ve watched seven or so Milwaukee games, and the pretext that Weeks is pressing is absurd. Simply put, dude looks bamboozled at the plate. Managing breaking balls has never been his forte, but Weeks seems like he’s barely got the wood off his shoulder by the time fast balls strike the catcher’s mitt. The sabermetrics voice reason for hope, yet count me as a Doubting Thomas toward a sudden turnaround.
3B: Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
The Washington third baseman departed the DL this week, though don’t take that as signal to insert him into your lineup. In his nine at bats in return, Zimmerman still appears to be favoring his shoulder. Wait until he demonstrates a little power (or for you Seinfeld fans out there, a “feats of strength”) before working him back into the daily grind.
SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
Calling it Pujols-esque might be a misnomer, although Rollins’ three-year, $33 million contract sure lacked foresight. Bad enough the Phillies tossed that cabbage for a declining, injury-riddled shortstop, but the notion that the signing probably prevents the team from keeping stud Cole Hamels exacerbates the snafu. Of course, Rollins could alleviate some of this pain if he started swinging the lumber to improve his .230/.279/.270 stat line. Unfortunately, from what he’s exhibited thus far, not sure if that request is practical.
OF: Ben Zobrist, Rays
He’s chalking up runs and his walk rate (18.9 percent) is through the roof, but the rest of Zobrist’s offensive output is considerably slashed from last year’s figures. If you’re deploying Zorilla at second, this drought is a little easier to swallow. As an outfielder? I don’t think so, cowboy. Unless he raises his average or knocks in some runners, Zobrist is a cipher on your roster.
SP: Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
That All-Star first-half of 2010 seems like eons ago. In six outings, Buchholz has relinquished at least five earned runs in each start, and has achieved the rare feat of accumulating more runs (34) than innings (32.2). His velocity remains remotely stable, but the Boston starter’s control and disposition has been erratic, much like the delayed British response to the Battle of Bunker Hill (sorry, have to start justifying attaining a History minor by utilizing that info somehow). The advanced numbers speak of progress on the horizon. Nevertheless, hard to keep Buchholz in the fantasy rotation with an ERA over 9.00.
RP: Chris Sale, White Sox
After moving to the closer role just last week, word on the street says Sale could find himself back in the starting rotation. Oh, and he’s set to get an MRI on his tired elbow. Whatever. All you need to know is Addison Reed appears to be the new fireman in the Windy City. Also, we’re one more reliever shakeup away from an “Outside the Lines” investigative report titled, “Pen-Demic.”
Waivers Watch: Andy Dirks, Tigers
Dirks doesn’t own an everyday job just yet, but if he continues bringing the thunder to the plate, Jim Leyland will be forced to play the Wichita State product. In seven games in May (six starts), Dirks is 10-for-24 with a homer, five RBI and four runs. Owned in just 2.7 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, Dirks was prolific with the bat in the minors, and his 25.5 line-drive percentage, while likely to see a drop, showcases his ability to maintain a reasonably sturdy batting average.
We’ve made numerous allusions to the rampant bullpen upheaval across the league the past few weeks, though an equally serious outbreak is attacking first baseman. Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder were universally acknowledged as the paramount players at the position. Yet 30 games into the season, these five thumpers have combined for just 17 balls into the bleachers, with seven coming from Cabrera. Worse, only Votto and Fielder boast averages over .280. Why is this relevant? With scoring down in baseball, owners will salivate over any player that could conceivably enhance their offense. With Fielder and Pujols in new settings, are we certain that a 30-homer, 100-RBI harvest is in their forecast? And despite his assurances of good health, there’s just enough smoke around Gonzo to make one wonder if he’s playing at 100 percent. Considering these hitters are supposed to be pillars of your fantasy foundation, perhaps dangling these assets out in the open isn’t totally illogical. By no means am I endorsing dealing for less than market value, but what’s the worst that could happen by observing what haul could be headed your way?
Rookie Review: Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox
Middlebrooks has just six games under his belt, yet somehow his exploits were evidence enough for two Boston fans to sponsor the rookie’s Baseball Reference page with the proclamation, “How good is this kid? Thanks for the memories Youk!” Nice to know Red Sox Nation is keeping everything in perspective. For fantasy owners seeking a slightly larger paradigm, Middlebrooks blasted 23 shots in 116 games in three minor-league levels last season with 94 ribbies and a .285 average. As Kevin Youkilis has just commenced a “walking program,” the conviction is Middlebrooks will get a protracted shot at making it in the Bigs. And no, I have no idea what type of regime structure a walking program entails. Going out on a limb here, I’m going to assume it involves striding for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild, though.
The Real Debate
Josh Hamilton garnered national headlines this week for his home-run barrage on Tuesday night, racking up four jacks in Texas’ 10-3 win. This triumph spurred conversation on Hamilton’s market value, as the former first overall pick is headed for free agency after the season. But the discussion should not center on what price Hamilton will fetch; rather, the Real Debate should be this: was the Rangers’ acquisition of Hamilton from Cincinnati in exchange for Edinson Volquez the most lopsided trade in the past 25 years? Since arriving in Arlington, Hamilton has led the Rangers to two World Series, elected to four Midsummer Classics and awarded the AL MVP, while Volquez, after an initial impressive showing in 2008, finished his last three years in the Queen City with an ERA over 5.00, a 13-12 record and a steroid suspension. The biggest highway robbery that comes to mind is Montreal sending future stars Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore to Cleveland for Bartolo Colon, but Lee and Phillips have found most of their success with other franchises while Sizemore is perennially on the sidelines. The Mariners gave Boston two vital World Series components in Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for the services of the immortal Heathcliff Slocumb. Although hard to hate on Seattle after they robbed the Yankees of Jay Buhner in exchange for Ken Phelps. I guess I’ll cast my official vote for Houston stealing Jeff Bagwell from Boston, sending reliever Larry Andersen to Beantown. Still, can you imagine a Cincinnati outfield with Hamilton, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs? Mighty frightening, my friends. Speaking of Cincinnati…
This Week in Sam LeCure
Yosemite has been decent in May, conceding one earned run in four innings of work while striking out five. But of greater importance is the expansion of LeCure’s facial hair, breaking the Fu Manchu confines in favor of a Wild West unkempt beard, making the Reds reliever resemble a background character in Back to the Future Part III. If LeCure intends to preserve this style, all I ask is he exit from the bullpen on a horse, enter with The Good, The Bad, The Ugly theme music blaring and brandish the six-shooter hand gesture after every strikeout. I don’t ask for much.
Big League Chew Player of the Week: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Coolest stat from Hamilton’s firework display: 21 perfect games in Major League Baseball history, 16 four-homer performances. Better yet, I was in attendance for one of those bad boys, taking in Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten’s masterpiece. True, I was just seven and pretty sure I puked twice because I had a fear of crowds, but still, I was there, baby.
Spit Your Tobacco at: Francisco Cordero, Blue Jays
Not sure what act is more awe-inspiring: surrendering five runs in the bottom of the ninth, or that four of those runs came off the bat of Brandon Inge. And by “awe-inspiring,” I mean “failure that causes me to punt the remote because I ran out Cordero to try and pick up a few saves.”