May 20, 2009

Given the performance of a couple of my fantasy teams so far, I have typically been able to use my rosters as a starting (and sometimes ending) point for potential candidates for this column. I am happy to admit that I couldn't do that this week, since they are finally turning things around. Well, either that, or I've already written about every player I own over the past few weeks. I'm going to tell myself it's the former, because after a week where my Reds were in first place for an entire day, anything is possible.

All statistics through May 16.

Adrian Beltre: It's fair to say this contract year for Beltre isn't going quite as well as the last one. Hmm, what could be different? Here's a possible hint, it loosely rhymes with "bear voids." Anyway, outside of five steals, his fantasy contributions have been more limited than my chances of bringing back Crystal Pepsi. Beltre has 26 strikeouts, compared to just six walks, thanks to the fact that he swings at over 40 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. With a first strike percentage over 60, he regularly gets behind in the count and lacks the skills to consistently overcome adversity. Recently, the M's hitting coach spotted a flaw in Beltre's swing, and so far the adjustment seems to be helping his power stroke. Beltre has smacked two homers in his last seven games compared to zero in the first 30. He has hit at least 25 homers each of the past three seasons, and while he should get at least 20 again in 2009, you'll have to stomach an average around .250.

Andre Ethier: It looks like Bud Selig has effectively suspended Ethier along with Manny Ramirez. With "Man-Ram" out of the lineup, Ethier has struggled mightily, with 11 strikeouts in 39 at-bats and a .154 average. He has just one extra-base hit and two RBIs in those nine games. It would seem that "Manny being Manny" has led to Andre being awful.

Rafael Furcal: The good news is that Furcal has already stayed healthy longer than he did in 2008. The bad news is it's only a matter of time before a disgruntled fantasy owner attacks him in the parking lot. For the record, I don't own Furcal, so don't even think about framing me. The normally speedy Furcal has just three steals in five attempts, with the last two coming on April 25. He's also getting on base even less than normal, thanks to an increased Strikeout Percentage (K%) and 11 infield pop-ups, which have led to a decline in his Groundball-to-Fly Ball rate (GB/FB). Furcal should be able to get the average back to around .270 by the end of the year, but don't hope for more than 18 steals.

Matt Holliday: I don't want to say RotoExperts "told you so" on this one, so I'll just say that we pontificated on Holliday's bust potential in advance of the season. Take that,! You may argue that his .276 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is playing a role in his slow start, but there are clearly other factors involved. First, despite hitting more fly balls, his Home Run-to Fly Ball Ratio (HR/FB) is just over half of his career mark. Second, his swing percentage at strikes has declined significantly, to just 70 percent. Third, Holliday didn't hit his first homer until April 30. Fourth, he has as many steals as I do. All is not lost, Holliday owners, he has started to hit better lately. If you act quickly you might be able to get something of value in a trade.

Magglio Ordonez: These days Maggs looks like a shell of the player who hit .363 with 28 bombs and 117 RBIs in 2007. I'll let you draw your own conclusion as to why, but you can't deny that his power is gone. In nearly 130 at-bats, he has just six extra-base hits, which gives him a slugging percentage reminiscent of Chico Lind. His K% is four percent worse than his career number, and his HR/FB ratio has plummeted thanks to a number of infield pop-ups. Ordonez's GB/FB rate of 2.14 is well above his career mark, which is a death sentence for his batting average given his lack of speed. He's been dropped in the order already, and if he gets hot, take what you can get for him in a trade. Keep in mind, though, Jim Leyland said that Ordonez will miss this week's series with the Rangers for personal reasons, so that could affect trade talks in the short term.

Scott Baker: The two most sought-after pitchers for this year's Home Run Derby are the old guy Josh Hamilton brought last year and Baker. After surrendering nine bombs in 23.2 spring innings, Baker started the season on the DL but picked up where he left off, allowing seven more homers in his first two starts. He has shown improvement in that department by giving up just one homer over his last four outings. Even though Baker is a fly ball pitcher who has been prone to giving up the long ball in the past, the early rash of home runs was still extreme. His strand rate is about 15 percent below the league average, so that isn't helping either. The good news is that his Strikeouts per Nine Innings (K/9) are right around his career average, and his Walks per Nine Innings (BB/9) are better. While a performance close to last year's 3.45 ERA was questionable from the start, Baker isn't as bad as he's shown so far and should end up with around 10 wins and a 4.50 ERA.

A.J. Burnett: Burnett is always a guy I avoid on draft day, and so far this season, I'm glad I did. He picked up wins in his first two outings but has yet to register another victory since April 14. Given his .276 BABIP and a strand rate right around his career numbers, the 5.36 ERA doesn't seem artificially inflated. However, there are a few things that seem uncharacteristic when compared to his historical stats. First, his K/9 is just above 7.00 after being over 9.00 the last three seasons and over 8.00 in six of the past seven campaigns. He's also giving up significantly more fly balls, which is not a good sign based on what we've seen in the new Yankee Stadium so far. Finally, hitters have improved their contact rates both inside and outside the zone. With a solid offense, the wins should still be there for Burnett, but the supporting numbers will frustrate you.

Matt Capps: After saving 39 games the past two seasons, Capps was the subject of trade rumors in the off-season, but he opened the year as the closer for the Buccos. Through his first six appearances, he did not allow a run and racked up five saves. Since then, though, it's all been downhill in terms of statistics as well as health. Capps has allowed earned runs in four of his last seven outings, has two blown saves, and sports a 14.21 ERA. He also missed some time due to elbow discomfort, not unlike the discomfort Pirate fans are feeling when he enters the game. Capps' biggest issue has been control, having already surpassed his walk total from last season. Granted, his five free passes in 2008 were amazing, but he won't last long with a 5.25 BB/9 like he has now. His crazy .406 BABIP will eventually come down, and given that he is getting first-pitch strikes nearly 70 percent of the time you'd think his walk rate will do the same. Still, I expect Capps to continue picking up saves for the Pirates in the short term, but be aware he could get dealt sometime before the deadline.

Clayton Kershaw: If you were to judge this 21-year old only on his win-loss record and ERA, you would think his season was shaping up as a huge disappointment. A closer look, however, would say otherwise. Sure, there are negatives, such as his 4.74 BB/9 and a couple horrible starts where he surrendered a combined 15 runs in nine innings. However, Kershaw has allowed one earned run or fewer in four of seven starts and increased his K/9 to 9.24. Some of his bad luck has to do with a low strand rate, which you can expect to normalize. Kershaw owners should also see him shift back to the groundball pitcher he's been in the minors. The Dodgers have been pretty strict with Kershaw's pitch count, which has resulted in him pitching past the fifth inning just twice. That said, his numbers would indicate that the wins will come and the ERA will fall as the season wears on.

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