Like Carlos Zambrano, I hate to lose. The difference is that I don't have a big Gatorade cooler to take it out on. It doesn't matter whether it's real sports, fantasy sports, board games, eye tests, whatever -- I just can't stand it. That makes it tough to log into one of my teams each day and see myself near the bottom of the standings, but I know that my team is due for a rebound once I get healthy and clean (thanks Manny).
The key is to work through the struggles without panicking and releasing floundering players just to feel like you're doing something. It may feel bad to lose, but it feels even worse to see a player you turned loose too early help one of your competitors. On the flipside, it's always fun to see a turd you released get passed around your league as other owners convince themselves he's due. As the non-baseball Kenny Rogers said, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Of course, he also said "I can't remember when you weren't there when I didn't care for anyone but you," which makes no sense whatsoever, so what the hell does he know?...
All statistics through June 16.
Elijah Dukes: After solid play in limited action last year, I loved Dukes as a sleeper this season, but that's currently working out as well as Jon and Kate's marriage. Come on married fellas, we're friends here. You can admit your wife makes you watch it. Anyway, Dukes has managed to avoid the police blotter, but he's also been staying off the basepaths and all too often off the field. A groin injury cost him a few games in April, and more recently a bad hammy put him on the DL. Since his return, Dukes is hitting .200 with 12 punch-outs in 50 at-bats. He has also failed to steal a base and has just two on the season, a far cry from the 15-20 most predicted. At the plate, Dukes is seeing fewer fastballs, but he's still swinging at considerably more pitches both inside and outside the zone. His .304 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) says the .253 average is here to stay, so don't expect much improvement. His recent history of leg injuries implies he won't be running much and further diminishes his value. While owners hang onto him, snatch up better options like Juan Rivera, Randy Winn and Nolan Reimold.
Kosuke Fukudome: Last season's fall from fantasy relevance was a gradual one that took most of the season, but Fukudome has accelerated the process this year. Another hot start has given way to ineptitude, and since May 19, Fukudome is hitting just .143. In 63 at-bats, he has 21 strikeouts compared to just nine hits, six runs, and five RBIs. That strikeout rate may seem surprising with 12 walks over that same span, but given that he swings at just 34.4% of the pitches he sees, the Cubs are going to start making him buy a ticket like other spectators. Look for Fukudome to post final numbers similar to those of 2008 (.257-10-58-12-79), and also for my brother-in-law to donate the "Fukudome Is My Homie" shirt I bought him last year to Goodwill.
Hunter Pence: You may think I'm crazy to even mention Pence here with the .317-8-26-8-36 line he's posted so far. You may also think it's crazy that I DVR and watch Rob and Big, but in both cases you're wrong. Over his last 10 games (which roughly coincides with his move to the third spot in the order), Pence is hitting .167. Over that stretch, he's also struck out in 27.8 percent of his at-bats, which is more in line with the rate we've seen from him in the past. Pence's improved walk rate is impressive, but the batting average is aided by a .352 BABIP and is bound to fall off. He continues to be a ground ball hitter, which will make 20 homers a consistent challenge. With his recent struggles, it will be interesting to see if Pence presses and reverts to his free-swinging past. I'd look to deal him while his value is still high, because while he won't suffer a significant drop-off, he also won't keep up this pace.
Willy Taveras: Even as a Reds fan, I wasn't dumb enough to convince myself that Taveras is some type of on-base machine, but this is getting a little ridiculous. Over his last 21 games and 85 at-bats, he has just eight hits (seven singles of course) compared to 17 Ks and a measly three walks. Taveras is not even on pace for 40 steals, due in part to a bum hamstring that has plagued him in recent weeks. Regardless of the reason, steals are his only chance to contribute from a fantasy perspective, especially with his annual home run out of the way. His BABIP is about 65 points lower than his career numbers, so that will rebound to some extent if he can cut down on the fly balls. If you're chasing steals, a better option is Scott Podsednik who has been a pleasant surprise for the White Sox.
Vernon Wells: V-Dub's owners have gotten two things they didn't expect when they drafted him 10 steals and more than two healthy months to start the season. They've also had to endure his last 14 games, where he's batting .118. The only numbers way out of whack with Wells' career are a .255 BABIP along with a low home run-to-fly ball rate. That bodes well for improved power in the second half, and if you can stomach the injury risk, I think Wells is capable of hitting close to .270 with double-digit homers over the rest of the year.
Dave Bush: After a 3-0 start that included a near no-hitter, owners were wondering if this would finally be the year Bush puts it all together. He's shown flashes at various points throughout his career, and he always seems attractive because of his low walk totals and killer neck beard. Bush's last five starts have been ugly, though, with an 8.64 ERA and 0-3 record in 25 innings. His typical control has been absent with 5.4 Walks Per Nine Innings (BB/9) over that span. Another trademark of his career has been an inability to keep the ball in the yard, and with eight bombs allowed over those last five starts, nothing has changed. So for those of you repeat offenders who were thinking of giving Bush another chance, move on.
Armando Galarraga: Like Bush, Galarraga started out 3-0 thanks to some great pitching over his first four starts. However, he's now 0-7 in the nine starts since, including outings against the A's and Pirates where he failed to see the third inning. His hold on a rotation spot is tenuous at best, and there really aren't many numbers I can share that make a case to stick with Galarraga. Over those nine starts, he's walked more batters (21) than he struck out (20), and he's surrendered 13 homers. On the season, his BB/9 is over one free pass higher than last season while his Strikeouts Per Nine Innings (K/9) have declined, and the home runs are astounding given the Detroit's cavernous ballpark. Tigers skipper Jim Leyland recently attributed Galarraga's struggles to getting behind in the count and subsequently hanging sliders. I make it a point not to disagree with anyone who's been smoking longer than I've been alive and can still breathe on their own. With that rule in mind, I'm siding with Leyland and asking you not waste a roster spot on Galarraga anymore.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: The fact that Dice-K has already lost more games than he did all of last season is water under the bridge now, but what his owners want to know is if he can salvage the season. If you're looking for encouraging signs, improvements in his K/9 and BB/9 would qualify. The issue is he's been extremely hittable, as evidenced by a .368 Batting Average Against courtesy of a .443 BABIP. His 2.03 homers allowed per nine innings are being influenced by an extreme HR/FB rate too, so a rebound seems imminent there as well. Don't get me wrong, he's not going to post last season's numbers over the remainder of this year, because there's no chance of him seeing a repeat of that .267 BABIP and 80.6 percent strand rate. Still, if the price tag is low enough, you could certainly do worse.
Wandy Rodriguez: A 5-2 start has given way to an 0-4 stretch for Rodriguez, who has now failed to pitch into the sixth inning in four of his last five starts. Over that same stretch his ERA is 6.93, which could be worse if not for six unearned runs against the Reds. He's also been tagged for eight homers in his last three starts after giving up just one longball over his first 11. The real Rodriguez lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes we've seen so far this season. That should be good enough for a dozen wins on the season and an ERA around 4.00.