August 01, 2009

"Mr. Fan, I can hear you call my name out loud. Just knowing you're watching me makes me proud. You're not just another face in my crowd."

That nugget of lyrical genius comes from John Daly's debut album, which can be found at virtually no reputable music stores. Honestly, what an absurd statement! You know most athletes could care less, especially Daly who is halfway through a bottle of Jack by the fourth hole. That's OK, though, because the feeling is mutual, especially for fantasy owners. I don't want to make the players proud; I want them to stop playing like Ogilvy from the Bad News Bears so I can win my league.

Cristian Guzman, Nationals -- There was a time when Guzman's lack of power was offset by stolen base potential and a moderate batting average. Of course, there was also a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and even a time when people thought George Michael was straight. Things change though, and in his last 23 games Guzman is batting .200 with 17 strikeouts and nary a steal. He has just one stolen base all year, but his horrible plate discipline is equally concerning. His Walk Rate (BB%) sits at a paltry 2.5%, and he's chasing more pitches outside the zone while making less contact. I'm not sure if his ownership percentage is the result of a lack of depth at the position or owner apathy, but if you need other options, look at Orlando Cabrera, Erick Aybar or even Everth Cabrera.

Aubrey Huff, Orioles -- At his current pace, Huff is falling off the fantasy radar as quickly as he returned. He's hitting .154 over his last 22 games with one home run and just five RBIs. His Strikeout Percentage (K%) continues to rise with 19 strikeouts in 91 at-bats over that stretch. Huff's Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP) is nearly 50 points lower than last season, but a sharp increase in groundballs is partially to blame. His inability to handle breaking balls isn't doing him any favors either. While Huff is due for some correction, don't expect an average over .270 or more than six homers from here on out.

Chris Iannetta, Rockies -- My big fat claim about Iannetta has proven to be big and wrong, because outside of double-digit homers, there hasn't been much for Iannetta owners to get excited about. He's currently mired in 22-game slump where he's posted just one homer and a .209 average. Like Huff, a low BABIP is contributing, but a fly ball rate over 50% takes some luck out of the equation. At just 26 years old, there's room for maturity and a change in his "swing for the fences" approach, but I don't see that happening this year. A potential alternative is John Baker, who lacks power but isn't the batting average grenade that Iannetta has become.

Carlos Pena, Rays -- Pena's power stroke has slowed down in a big way with just two bombs in his last 24 games. Over that stretch, he's also hitting an abysmal .128 with 33 punch-outs in 86 at-bats. Pena's struggles against lefties have earned him a couple days off, and he's recently been dropped in the order. His K% continues to rise as his contact rates fall, which does not bode well for a strong batting average down the stretch. If you only need power, Pena can give you another dozen homers with 30-35 RBIs, but don't expect that to be packaged with an average over .240.

Cody Ross, Marlins -- As one of the streakiest hitters in baseball, Ross is no stranger to tough stretches. In 26 games and 90 at-bats, Ross has just one home run to go with a .211 average. With a fly ball rate of 50% over this stretch, he seems determined to slug his way out of the slump, which is reminiscent of how I like to drink myself out of a hangover. It's a gutsy strategy on both counts, but anyone who has owned Ross knows he can be as hot as anyone in stretches. For now, leave him on your bench and wait for him to heat up.

Freddy Sanchez, Pirates -- As the Pirates rebuilding process nears its 20-year anniversary, Sanchez finds himself in San Fran. The new digs had better suit him, because Sanchez is now hitless in his last 20 at-bats with a strikeout rate near 30 percent over his 11-game swoon. His BABIP is in the midst of normalization, which has his overall average on the decline. Since Sanchez has never been a big power threat, his value is largely dependent on his batting average, leaving him in a tenuous position as the deadline approaches. Candlest, er, ... Qulaco ... Oh hell, the park in San Francisco limits power, but shouldn't hamper Sanchez's game much if he can right the ship.

Johnny Cueto, Reds -- After a strong start, Cueto has regressed to the human batting tee he became last year. He surrendered just eight homers in his first 13 starts but has now given up nine in his last seven outings. During that same span, he's posted a staggering 7.86 ERA and 4.19 Walks Per Nine Innings (BB/9), a stark increase from the 2.17 ERA and 2.59 BB/9 he posted early on. On the season, he's only throwing strikes 47.1% of the time and hitters are chasing fewer pitches than a season ago. At the same time, contact rates versus Cueto are way up, which has his Strikeouts Per Nine Innings (K/9) down substantially. For a Reds team that has been terrible lately, wins will be hard to come by even if his pitching improves, so don't expect more than 3-4 more wins from here on out.

Zach Duke, Pirates -- With an 8-5 record and 3.09 ERA after 15 starts, Duke appeared poised for a breakout season. However, he's just 1-4 in his last five outings with an ERA close to 4.50. Outside of the ERA, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find numbers that support him pitching worse. His K/9 have actually increased from 4.37 to 6.03 while his BB/9 has stayed relatively flat. The issue is the supporting cast (or lack thereof), as the Pirates have scored just 13 runs over those five starts, with six of them coming in Duke's lone victory. Pittsburgh's offensive woes, along with a BABIP and strand rate due for correction, will limit Duke's win total down the stretch.

Bobby Jenks, White Sox -- Since July 10, Jenks has been channeling his inner Ambiorix Burgos to the tune of two blown saves and a 9.45 ERA in six appearances. He has allowed at least two base runners each time out and has surrendered earned runs in all but one outing. If you look at Jenks' home run metrics this year, you'd think longballs were the culprit, but he's managed to keep the ball in the park lately. He's actually seen an increase in the velocity of his fastball, but it's been getting drilled, potentially because the added zip flattens it out. In spite of that, Jenks received a vote of confidence from Ozzie Guillen this week, which is worth about as much as a three dollar bill. Even so, there aren't any other surefire options in the Sox pen, so he's safe for now.

David Price, Rays -- The case of Price vs. Hype is an interesting one. Few pitchers have been more heralded in recent years, and over his first four starts, stats like a 2.37 ERA and 12.32 K/9 were encouraging. The scary part was a BB/9 approaching 9.00, which prevented him from getting out of the fifth inning in two of those four outings. Since then, Price has improved his walk rate, but his overall performance has suffered. In seven subsequent starts, he's just 2-4 with a 7.41 ERA and a matching K/9. A 46.1% fly ball rate has led to nine homers allowed in 34 innings. There is no question that Price is talented and going through typical growing pains, but please don't convince yourself he's worth rostering down the stretch in non-keeper leagues.

Ervin Santana, Angels -- After opening the season on the DL and pitching well in his first two starts, Santana has been as successful as the Najeh Davenport Potty Training Academy over his last nine. If not for one-run performances against the Tigers and A's included, his hefty 8.35 ERA could be even worse. He's allowed at least five runs six times and has surrendered 11 homers. There's just not much good news for Santana owners with his K/9 and BB/9 both heading in the wrong direction. The other thing declining is the velocity on his heater, which has been getting tattooed lately. With Santana, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver all pitching poorly, it will be interesting to see what the Angels do at the deadline. Some lesser-owned options to consider are Luke Hochevar, John Lannan or Armando Galarraga.

John Smoltz, Red Sox -- Many fantasy owners stashed Smoltz away on their bench for nearly three months, waiting for him to take the mound for the Red Sox and deliver his typical fantasy numbers. At this point, he's somewhere between the Hindenburg and John Daly's music career on the disaster spectrum. Smoltz has allowed five or more runs in four of his six starts and sports a 7.04 ERA. His strikeout and walk numbers have both been solid despite an increase in contact rates. While his BABIP and strand rate are due to normalize, I can't see the Red Sox leaving him in the rotation long enough to see it. (All statistics through July 28)

Which players are crippling your team?

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