MLB fantasy mailbag: Pujols' slow start due for reverse, says history
Everyone, let's stop the panic with Pujols. Some facts. In every season of his career he's finished the year hitting at least .299 with 34 homers, 99 RBI and 99 runs scored. Right now he's hitting .222-0-4-6. Assuming he reaches his "worst" totals, numbers he has reached in each of the past 11 seasons, that means from this point forward that he is going to blast 34 homers with 94 RBI and 93 runs scored. And those numbers would merely equal his career worsts. As for the batting average, assuming 574 at-bats (his seasonal average the first nine years), Pujols would hit .311 the rest of the season. Despite the slow start, I think all of those targets are fair, which leads me to the position that I would still prefer Pujols to A-Gone (.303-2-13-9).
Cruz can be a beast, but he's injury-prone (the last three seasons he has averaged just 120 games a season which dings his value substantially). He's also hit under .265 in two of his last three seasons. There are also questions about just how much running he will be allowed to do given the continued issues with his wheels (he's stolen 10 bases in his last 143 games after stealing 37 bases in '09-10). Ramirez is hitting just .238, and coming off shoulder surgery, but he qualifies at shortstop and third base, and that's huge. He's also gone deep four times while stealing four bases, a pace that would lead to a 35/35 season if he were to maintain it (obviously that's doubtful).
Get Pujols and HanRam. A-Gone and Cruz should not be dealt to anyone lightly, but this is a pretty impressive return.
Walker is hitting only .224 with no homers and five RBI through 17 games, a dreadful start for a guy who came into the season with a fair amount of hype. To be fair, we're only talking about 58 at-bats, and Walker does have 12 hits in his last 10 games, but disappointing is certainly a word I would use to describe a guy coming off an 83-RBI, 76-run campaign. Weeks has been just as bad, hitting .200 with a pathetic .253 OBP, but he does have two homers, three steals and nine runs scored, so he hasn't been an unmitigated disaster. At the same time, I always felt that Jemile was getting too much love in fantasy circles heading into the 2012 season.
Infante continues to act like he thinks he is Robinson Cano. Through 13 games Infante is hitting .313 with five home runs. Infante is a .275 career hitter, and he hit .305 in '09 and .321 in '10, so it's possible he could bat .300 this season, though I still consider it unlikely. As for the power, there is no, none, nada, chance that it will continue. This is not a Jose Bautista breakout we are witnessing. Infante has one season, and he started playing in the majors in '02, in which he hit more than nine homers (he hit 16 back in '04). Per 162 games in his career, a career that has lasted long enough for him to accrue over 3,200 big league at-bats, Infante has averaged 10 homers. He's already halfway to that average in 13 games thanks to a four-fold increase in his HR/F rate (it's currently at 20.8 percent versus a career mark of 5.2 percent).
Given how hot he has been, there are few leagues in which Infante might be available. That said, he's got no shot at of sustaining his unbelievable start. If you wanted to move on from either of your current players I would suggest dropping Walker because his skill set more closely matches that of Infante (Weeks has game-changing speed). I'm not saying I'd rather have Infante over the course of the season over Walker, but there is no denying that right now Infante is the more appealing option.
Norris is being bailed on by a lot of people who see a 5.84 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. You should look beyond those numbers to see the following: (1) An impressive 8.03 K/9 rate. (2) A 2.92 BB/9 mark that is a batter below his career level. (3) His 0.97 GB/FB ratio is just off his career rate of 1.02. Still, his HR/FB ratio is up, leading to 1.82 homers per nine innings. That likely will fall (just look at his mark the past two seasons -- 1.05 and 1.16). The truth of the matter is that Norris has pitched way better than his fantasy ratios would suggest.
Billingsley came out on fire, and it appears that he is well on his way to putting a pedestrian 2011 campaign (11-11, 4.21 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 152 Ks) behind him. The biggest key for Billingsley in the early going, the main reason he has a 3.04 ERA and 0.93 WHIP through four starts, is the fact that he just isn't beating himself. Billingsley is walking 1.9 batters per nine innings, a steep drop from the 3.9 mark he has for his career. Guys normally don't drop two batters off their BB/9 mark, but it's still encouraging to see him throwing more strikes. At the same time, Billingsley's current 7.23 K/9 mark would be a six-year low, so maybe he's changed his approach a wee bit. It's also a pretty good bet that Chad won't be able to keep batters to a .195 average (. 249 for his career) once the innings start to pile up.
Capuano is slowly starting to get some love in the fantasy game. A huge injury risk almost since
the day he was drafted, here are Capuano's innings pitched totals the past five years: 150, zero, zero, 66 and 186. Yeah, he's one risky cat to own. Capuano does have solid K potential (7.83 per nine this year, 8.13 last season), pitches in a solid pitchers park in Los Angeles (he also gets to make starts in pitcher havens such as San Diego and San Francisco), and he's a cheap option that is likely still on many a waiver-wire even with his solid start (2-0, 3.52 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20 Ks in 23 IP).
I'd take Billingsley despite knowing full well that he has no chance of keeping up his current pace. So why suggest adding the Dodgers' righty then? Consistency (something Capuano certainly can't offer). Billingsley takes the ball every five days and gives his team a chance to win more times than not. Norris has a "bigger" arm, but he's also inconsistent and pitches for a team that might struggle to provide him with enough run support for him to reach double-digits in victories.
Johnson hit .222 last year and has started out this year with a .231 average through 17 games, so I get the concern. At the same time, Johnson has hit 20 homers with 75 runs scored and 13 steals each of the past two years. Those aren't fantastic numbers but they are still numbers that only one second sacker have reached each of the past two years. A guy like that, even with a potential batting average deficiency, shouldn't be given up on lightly (it should be pointed out that Johnson does have a .259 career average and that he hit .284 as recently as '10).
Altuve has been hot with the twig, hitting .377 through 69 at-bats. However, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. First, Altuve isn't going to hit the ball into the seats (three homers in 290 career at-bats), which also will likely lead to a poor RBI total for an every-week starter in most mixed leagues. Second, though speedy, he's only had one effort of 30 steals and he has 11 in 75 big league games. He could easily steal 20 bases this year -- he already has four -- but he's not going to light up the steals category. Third, and I hate to break it to you all, but he's not a great hitter. Having completely skipped Triple A, Altuve has only 290 at-bats above Double-A, and that concerns me a bit given that he isn't exactly the most patient hitter in the world, and that could drain his batting average a bit when he gets into a funk. It's also a pretty fair guess that his current .431 BABIP will likely regress by a .100 or so points, and that will cause his batting average to dip accordingly.
Give me Johnson over the slap it and run Altuve, but make sure you have other hitters on your club who can cover the poor average you are likely to receive from Johnson.