May 12, 2009

In the season's first month, I gave so-called "stars" the benefit of the doubt and refrained from highlighting their shortcomings. That exemption has officially been lifted, so this week I'll focus on some big names that are off to poor starts. This will also temporarily distract me from day-dreaming about repeatedly punching Alexei Ramirez and Chris Davis in the face. Since these really aren't guys you would flat-out drop, I will end the analysis of each one with a final verdict of "Wait" (because they'll soon be out of their funk) or "Hate" (because you'll genuinely despise them by the end of the year).

All statistics through May 9.

David Ortiz: Since "Big Papi" qualifies only as a DH in most leagues, the assumption would be that he can actually hit. However, the only thing it looks like Ortiz is hitting these days is the buffet, and a closer look at his numbers does not provide optimism. Ortiz is chasing more pitches outside the zone, which puts his overall swing percentage at the highest level of his career, but his contact rate is its lowest since 2003. His fly ball rate is up (which for someone who can't run is good), but Ortiz has yet to notch a home run. His walk percentage (BB%) has also continued its steady decline over the past few seasons. Ortiz's Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is within 14 points of his career mark, so that's not dragging down his overall average. Instead, it appears Ortiz has started to fade from fantasy relevance. Verdict: HATE

Jimmy Rollins: Position scarcity made Rollins an early/expensive pick on draft day, but hits and steals are the only things that are scarce for Jimmy so far. In terms of batting average, "J-Roll" has never hit better than .296 over a full season, so he won't be confused with Tony Gwynn anytime soon. However, it's scary for owners to see one steal from a guy who has swiped at least 41 bags in four of the past eight seasons and stolen at least 30 in seven. At some point, you have to wonder if he's starting to wear down after logging at least 154 games from 2001-2007 and another 137 last year. If you look at Rollins' overall numbers, only a couple things (besides the steals) seem out of whack. First, his BABIP is just .234, which at some point will trend toward his .299 career mark. Some of that change can be attributed to a shift from line drives to fly balls, including a fair amount of infield pop-ups. By the end of the season though, I would expect his average to get back to around .270, and given that April is historically his worst month for steals, it isn't time to panic in that category. Verdict: WAIT

Mark Teixeira: Luckily for Teixeira, the A-Rod circus has deflected attention from the multi-million dollar first baseman's slow start. Tex has already missed time with wrist tendinitis, and while he does have six home runs, the .196 average leaves a lot to be desired. So what's causing his lackluster performance? For starters, Teixeira's BABIP is under .200, which will end up closer to his career mark of .309. One possible reason is that his fly ball rate is up a staggering 20 percent, likely an effort to take full advantage of the new homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. That, coupled with more pop-ups than normal, has his home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB) down significantly from his career numbers. Some good news for Teixeira is that his BB% is the highest of his career, and his contact rates are solid. With Rodriguez now behind him in the lineup, look for Teixeira to start heating up. Verdict: WAIT

Dan Uggla: Behind Uggla's putrid batting average are some potentially reassuring signs. His BB% is the best of his career and his strikeout percentage (K%) has dropped seven percent. He's also chasing fewer pitches outside of the zone, which has led to an increase in his overall contact rate. A .219 BABIP is part of the reason Uggla's average is so low, but don't expect it to get back up to the lofty .323 he posted last year. Also, his HR/FB rate is currently at 10.5, which should increase to around the 13.0 mark he posted in 2006 and 2007, but probably not all the way up to the 18.4 of a year ago. When it's all said and done, Uggla should have an average around .250 with around 30 homers, which is exactly what you drafted him for. That should also cement him as the second base version of Rob Deer. Verdict: WAIT

B.J. Upton: I can't speak for other Upton owners, but I'm researching whether his offseason shoulder surgery can be reversed. He hit seven homers in 16 playoff games with an ailing shoulder, yet this season he has displayed virtually no power with the "repaired" version. If you look at his 34 K%, you might think he traded places with his brother, Justin. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon has been stressing quality at-bats, but it appears to be having a negative impact on Upton. He's swinging at only 58.2 percent of the strikes he sees, compared to a 65.1 percent career mark. Overall, he is swinging at only 37.3 of the pitches he sees, and when you combine that with a lower contact rate, you get a .165 average. His BABIP is more than 100 points lower than in his career, so that has some impact, but the bigger issue is that Upton needs to be more aggressive at the plate. Pitchers are giving him first-pitch strikes nearly 67 percent of the time. If Upton starts to take the bat off his shoulder, I like his chances to rebound. Verdict: WAIT

Josh Beckett: Maybe somebody should dupe Beckett into thinking it's the playoffs, so he can get things turned around. The biggest issue is control, as he's averaging 4.41 walks per nine innings (BB/9) while hitting the strike zone just 43.0 percent of the time. Those issues have hitters swinging at just 41.8 percent of his offerings. Beckett is also being hurt by a .405 BABIP, and he's stranding fewer runners than usual. Those numbers will normalize at some point, and his control will improve. No need to panic ... yet. Verdict: WAIT

Scott Kazmir: Like Beckett, Kazmir has struggled to throw strikes and is issuing around five free passes per nine innings, which marks the third straight year his BB/9 has increased. His strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) are also headed in the wrong direction, and this season's 7.11 marks the lowest of his career. Due in part to Kazmir's control issues, hitters are swinging at far fewer offerings but are making contact over 84 percent of the time, compared to 75 percent for his career. A look at his pitch selection and results the past few seasons are telling. In the last three seasons, Kazmir's fastball usage has gone from 69.6 percent to 75.3 and now to 63.1, while his slider has fluctuated from 18.8 percent to 9.6 to this season's 21.7. When he relied more on his fastball in 2008, his groundball-to-fly ball rate dropped to 0.63 but has crept back up over 1.00. Last season, Kazmir also benefited from an abnormally high strand rate and a low BABIP. It is also concerning that his velocity is down about two miles per hour, which along with his other stats, doesn't bode well for a rebound. Verdict: HATE

Brad Lidge: During last season's 41-for-41 run as the Philly closer, it seemed he had finally put the ghost of Albert Pujols and the 2005 playoffs to resr. The fact that Lidge has already blown a save this year isn't a reason for concern. However, his BB/9 are over 6.00 while his K/9 has dropped slightly. Despite a BABIP around his career numbers, hitters are batting .299 against him including five home runs in just 11.2 innings. The velocity is down on his fastball, and his first strike percentage has dropped nearly 10 percent. Consistency has not been a staple in Lidge's career, so fantasy owners expecting a repeat of last season will be as disappointed as I was when I found out that they weren't filming any more seasons of Small Wonder. Verdict: HATE

Roy Oswalt: Over the past five years, Oswalt has been one of fantasy's most consistent hurlers, logging at least 200 innings in each year, as well as six of the last seven campaigns. Last season's 3.54 ERA was the worst of his career, and he's followed that up with a slow and winless start to 2009. Oswalt's K/9 is down to 5.68 after never having been under 6.50 before. Conversely, his BB/9 are the highest of his career, as are his home runs allowed per nine innings. Oswalt is giving up more line drives these days, and hitters are chasing fewer pitches outside of the zone while making more contact. The home run rate will come down, but he's performing poorly despite doing the best job of his career at stranding runners and a BABIP better than his career average. Oswalt's not as bad as he's shown so far, but he's also not going to be as effective as fantasy owners have come to expect. Verdict: HATE

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