Last week, I unveiled the pitching staff of a team I aptly named "Guys I Wanted to Beat with a Rake from the Grounds Crew" based on their horrible fantasy performances in 2008. After a week's worth of bribes and tear-filled pleas from hitters across the league, I'm back to reveal the position players who choked their way onto this dubious squad. To commemorate their selection, each will be presented with a plaque featuring a flaming bag of defecant since that is exactly what they left on the doorsteps of fantasy owners last season.
Victor Martinez (C/1B, CLE): Entering 2008, "V-Mart" had averaged 147 games, 21 homers, 99 RBIs, 78 runs and a .302 average over the previous four seasons, so it was justified for fantasy owners to draft him early at a traditionally weak position. However, the normally durable backstop tweaked his hammy in the season opener, which proved to be the tip of the injury iceberg. The hamstring ailment gave way to neck and finger injuries and eventually an elbow problem that required surgery and kept Martinez out for two-and-a-half months. All of that contributed to two home runs in 266 at-bats, with both dingers coming over the season's final 16 games, when he hit .288 with 14 RBIs and 12 runs. Given that strong finish, a solid spring (.283-3-13), and his previously limited injury history, it would seem 2008 was merely an aberration. The emergence of Kelly Shoppach (C, CLE) should also make it easier to give Martinez more time at first base or DH in an effort to keep him fresh, so expect him to return to the upper echelon of fantasy catchers.
Carlos Pena (1B, TB): While there were an abundance of great storylines on the Rays last year, Pena certainly wasn't one of them. His storybook season came a year earlier, when he smacked 46 homers and drove in 121 runs while hitting .282 with a .411 OBP. However, in seasons prior to 2007, where he had over 100 at-bats, Pena had never hit over .250 and had never posted an OBP above .340, so it wasn't a complete shock that he took a step back in 2008. Pena cranked 31 homers despite hitting just .247, but take away an August where he went .278-9-29 with a .450 OBP, and 2008 could have been even worse. He hit a meager .190 versus lefties (compared to .271 in '07) and struck out in just over a third of his at-bats. Is he a safe bet for 30 bombs again in 2009? Well, is it a safe bet that everyone arrested on Cops will be shirtless regardless of gender? Obviously the answer to both of these questions is yes, but if you drafted Pena's power I hope you picked up some solid hitters to offset his .250 average.
Rickie Weeks (2B, MIL): Before last season, Weeks toyed with fantasy owners by showing just enough flashes of excellence between stretches of ineptitude to keep them coming back for more. To avoid such confusion in 2008, Weeks decided to completely eliminate the excellence from his game and focused entirely on stinking for the first two months. Sure that .211 average in May looks pretty rough, but not when you compare it to his .202 performance in April. Weeks also endeared himself to the home crowd by hitting a robust .209 with just three of his 14 homers coming at Miller Park. With that, I will conclude today's lesson on the use of sarcasm in writing. As usual, Weeks did show some improvement after the break, particularly in September. However, by then he was platooning with the currently-unsigned Ray Durham, whom the Brew Crew acquired only because Weeks was so abysmal in the first place. Outside of his rookie year, when he batted .279 in 359 at-bats, Weeks has never hit above .235 and I think nearly 900 at-bats since then is a large enough sample to feel confident there won't be significant improvement now. Sure he'll steal 20-25 bags and hit around 15 homers, but are those numbers worth it at the expense of a horrible average? I think not. Kids, treat Rickie Weeks like drugs and just say no.
Alex Gordon (3B, KC): Like Weeks, Gordon is a top prospect who has disappointed owners with his inconsistency. Unlike Weeks though, Gordon does actually appear to be improving, albeit at a rate less than what the fantasy community would prefer. He increased his runs scored by 12 and his homers by one in 17 fewer games last season while also improving his batting average and OBP. The problem is, when you look at his splits against righties and lefties he looks like the perfect candidate for a platoon. Against right-handers, Gordon hit 15 of his 16 round-trippers and tallied 49 of his 59 RBIs, which basically means that he hit like the Hamburglar against southpaws. OK, so I've never actually seen the Hamburglar hit but the guy's wearing a hamburger suit for the love of God! How is he going to turn on an inside pitch? Anyway, at age 25, the Royals aren't going to start regularly sitting Gordon against lefties, but it's imperative that he shows improvement in that area this season. Due to his inconsistency, he isn't likely to hit over .275 yet, but 20 homers and 15 steals aren't unrealistic at this stage of his career.
Troy Tulowitzki (SS, COL): Rumor has it that "Tulo" tore his left quad on purpose to take the focus off of his poor play. Admittedly, I started those rumors, but it's not that outlandish given that he was hitting .152 when the "injury" took place. Later in the season he missed more time after slicing his hand open while taking out some frustration on his Louisville Slugger. I can understand that one though, because when things go wrong for me at work I just start slamming my keyboard against the copy machine or random passers-by. Some good news is that Tulowitzki raked against lefties at a .330 clip, but he failed to use Coors Field to his advantage with a .243 average and just four home runs in 177 home at-bats. He did finish 2008 strong by going .330-3-14 in 88 September at-bats to go along with a .389 second-half OBP. Even with Matt Holliday (OF, OAK) gone, there's no way Tulowitzki does another Kevin Elster impersonation this season, and I think he has a good chance to be a top five shortstop this year when it's all said and done.
Jeff Francoeur (OF, ATL): If you're looking for encouraging numbers from Francoeur's 2008 season, skip ahead because I sure as hell couldn't find any. In just seven fewer games than 2007, his average dipped 54 points, RBIs plummeted by 34, and homers decreased by eight. With runners in scoring position he hit a paltry .192, and he also struggled against pitchers. Not lefties or righties specifically, but pitchers ... in ballparks. Basically the only way it could have been worse is if he had started working on a mime routine in the outfield while singing the best of Bette Midler and wearing one of those beer helmets. Francoeur's BB/K rate is notorious, so his batting average is unlikely to approach the .293 he put up in 2007, but he's just 25 and has shown power potential with 73 doubles over the past two seasons. If some of those turn into homers, he could be a nice bargain as a late flyer. His spring numbers also provide reason for optimism with a .328 average and 13 RBI.
Kosuke Fukudome (OF, CHC): Due to his hot hitting early in the season, Wrigleyville T-shirt vendors made some serious cash by marketing "Fukudome Is My Homie" shirts, but by the end of the year, Cubs manager Lou Piniella was allegedly printing up "Fukudome = Tuffy Rhodes" shirts in his basement. After a .327 April, Fukudome's average dropped each month and eventually bottomed out during a .178 September, ultimately leading to a platoon with Reed Johnson (OF, CHC). His .251 average against right-handers was 25 points lower than his numbers against southpaws, but he hit all 10 of his homers and posted 42 of 58 his RBIs against righties. Fukudome's spring training at-bats are fairly limited due to his participation in the World Baseball Classic, where he posted a .407 OBP thanks to seven walks, but had just four singles in 20 tournament at-bats.
Nick Swisher (1B/OF, NYY): No one expected a career .250 hitter to all of a sudden improve his average, but it was reasonable to expect a moderate increase in home runs when Swisher moved from Oakland's cavernous Coliseum to the Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field. Well, if by moderate increase you were thinking two, then you were one of few fantasy owners not to be kicked in the junk by Swisher's disappointing 2008 campaign. Just think how much worse his .219 season average would have been had he not hit .315 in June. There were three months where he hit under .200, and he achieved similar levels of futility against lefties, on the road, and after the All-Star break. Swisher's woeful performance earned him a trade to the Yankees, where playing time is by no means a guarantee with a glut of outfield options who, unlike Swisher, actually appear capable of out-hitting Mark Lemke.