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For Better, For Worse

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Every once in a while I like to write a George Costanza column. It's the opposite of what everybody else is doing. Thus, with only one-quarter of the season left to play, I bring you my special on rookies.

It actually makes sense to revisit the rookies in late August for one simple reason. This is the time when many of them are approaching career highs in games played and innings pitched. The minor leagues play shorter seasons and this makes the coming weeks unchartered territory for rookies.

So let's revisit the heralded rookies of 2008 as they slog through the 162-game season. The ones with some gas left in the tank are for better. Those rookies with declining stocks are for worse.

Edinson Volquez, SP Reds: Volquez was 10-2 with a 1.71 ERA before his last start in June. He labored in his next six starts with an unsightly 5.90 ERA. Volquez definitely looked fatigued. Manager Dusty Baker gave him a couple of extra days off before his last start and it helped. Volquez looked refreshed when he beat St. Louis 7-3 on Sunday. Volquez threw 167 innings in the minors last season and he should pass that total by the end of the month. I'm a little concerned about arm fatigue, but I think Baker will baby Volquez when necessary.

Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers: The 20-year-old Kershaw has been superb in his last five starts. He is 4-1 with a 1.45 ERA in that span. Kershaw has pitched 133 innings so far this season, between the minors and the Dodgers. He should have plenty of gas left for September. Kershaw is still available in a little over half of fantasy leagues.

Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Dodgers: Kuroda is another Japanese veteran that's technically a rookie. He has logged 139 innings so far, which is a pace consistent with his Japanese League days. Kuroda has been up and down; He was effective in April and May and then struggled in June and July. Lately he has turned things around. Kuroda was terrific in his last three starts, going 2-1 with a 1.21 ERA. He is available in about half of fantasy leagues and is worth a spot start on your fantasy squad.

Chris Perez, RP, Cardinals: Injuries and an ineffective Jason Isringhausen created an opportunity for the 23-year-old rookie. Perez saved 35 last season in the minors, and had 11 this season before getting recalled by the Cardinals in August. Since assuming the Cardinals' closer role, Perez is 4 for 4 in save chances and has pitched six scoreless innings. Perez is available in about 10 percent of leagues.

Geovany Soto, C, Cubs: Soto slumped in July, but has been hot of late, hitting .359 in August. The 25-year-old Soto played in 128 games in '07 between Triple-A and the Cubs. He has played in 114 games so far this season, so he may not have hit the wall just yet. He is on the very short list of catchers that can drive in runs. He has 18 HRs and 69 RBIs.

Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: The slumping Fukudome is a rookie with an asterisk. He played seven seasons of professional ball in Japan. Fukudome has played as many as 140 games in Japan which is basically a full season there. Fatigue should not be an issue. Most likely it's that pitchers are wise to him the second time around the league. Fukudome's average has dropped every month of the season. He has hit only .163 in August and his average is now down to .268. The rest of his numbers are nothing special: 8 HRs, 45 RBIs, 69 runs and 11 steals.

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox: Ellsbury was hitting .290 with a .817 OPS on May 8. That was his high-water mark for the season. He has hit only .235 since the All-Star break and has stolen only three bases since then. Ellsbury had stolen 35 before the break. His struggles have translated into more playing time for Coco Crisp, particularly against lefties. Another troubling development is that Ellsbury frequently bats ninth. He is much more comfortable ninth where he hits .333, versus a .253 hitter when batting leadoff. This matters because he is losing at bats as well as playing time. Ellsbury's ownership is still nearly 100 percent, mostly because of perceived stolen base potential. Bench him if you have other options.

Clay Buchholz, SP, Red Sox: The 24-year-old Buchholz has to be one of the most disappointing rookies of the season. He was dominant in four games with Boston late last year, even tossing a no hitter. This year he is only 2-8 despite pitching with a World Champion lineup behind him. What's worse is he seems to be regressing. His ERA has climbed steadily to 6.35. Buchholz would have been better off in Triple-A for the season.

Joba Chamberlain, SP/RP, Yankees: Chamberlain is on the disabled list with rotator cuff tendonitis. The Yankees are hopeful to get him back before the end of August, but that seems optimistic. Too bad. Chamberlain was hitting his stride as a starter before he went down. Now you have to wonder if he will return as a reliever, if he returns at all. He is worth far less to fantasy owners as a reliever.

Daric Barton, 1B, Athletics: Barton hit a ton as a September call-up last season. He hit .305 with 4 HR in 72 at-bats. This year has been a disaster, however. He has only 5 HRs in 335 at-bats and a measly .209 average. Barton never really got it going, though he was hitting at high as .271 on May 1. Since then he has hit far below the Mendoza-line. Many rookies hit the wall around the time the minor league season ends; Barton hit the wall around the time the college baseball season ends.