August 12, 2009

Two months. That's all that remains in this MLB season. For some of you, that means five more weeks of the regular season before the fantasy playoffs get started. The trade deadline has likely passed, so hawking the waiver wire is now the most efficient way of getting talent for the final trimester of the season.

At this point you really have to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to waiver wire talent, and taking a look at the hot hands is an effective strategy.

Let's take a look at who's hot and who's not in this week's edition of T.I.P.S.

All statistics through August 10.

Donkey Kong

Billy Butler is finally starting to hit right-handing pitching, and that is good news for his fantasy owners. The 23-year-old known as "The Donkey" is now hitting .300 after batting .538 the past week with 10 RBIs. Expected to contribute immediately upon his promotion in 2007, Butler has struggled to consistently knock in runs and hit for a high average. There's no doubt he can mash against lefties (.340 career average), but it was his .265 average against righties that was cause for concern. He's now hitting .285 against right-handers on the year, and is seemingly getting stronger as the season goes on. His 57 RBIs are already a career-high, as are his 13 homers. He doesn't have the prototypical homer numbers for a corner infielder, but this .300 average and increasing RBI numbers make him one of baseball's hottest players at the moment. His stock is rising.

Air Bud

Astros 24-year-old rookie Bud Norris has made quite an impression in his first two major league starts. With a 2-0 record and 9.0 K/9 ratio, there's reason the Astros faithful believe he will fill in nicely alongside Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez. A sixth-round pick out of Cal Poly in the 2006 draft, Norris was destroying Triple-A with a 2.63 ERA. There's always the bad, however, and Norris isn't perfect. If you've read any of my columns before, you know that I'm not an advocate of rookie pitchers, especially ones that walk nine guys in 13 innings. Norris is walking 5.63 batters per nine, a high number indeed. This should catch up to him as team's get a better gauge of his "stuff."

Tale of two halves

Zack Greinke was arguably fantasy's best starter during the first half of the season. Going into the All Star break he sported a fancy 2.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 10 wins. Since then, he's gone 1-2 in five starts with a 3.66 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Opponents are also hitting 25 points higher in the second half. It was unrealistic to expect him to continue putting up the ridiculous numbers he started the season with, but a downfall like this couldn't be seen. Fortunately, he's still striking out batters, but he's also been walking more. Greinke had 21 walks in 127.1 first-half innings, but already his 12 in 32 post-break innings. All signs point to this simply being a minor slump. These things happen and you should count on Greinke posting an ERA around 3.00 with a 1.20 WHIP the remainder of the season. And, oh yeah, plenty of strikeouts as well.

Chicago native getting a chance to pitch close to home

When the Cubs traded for John Grabow, Tom Gorzelanny was just a nice addition for depth. Now, with Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano on the DL, Gorzelanny is the Cubs No. 4 starter. His first start as a Cub was a 7.1-inning, one-ER, six-strikeout masterpiece. He relies on his command, making him a high-risk, high-reward pitcher, but he has to warrant an upgrade going from the lowly Pirates to the contending Cubs. Lilly is still a few weeks away from returning, so Gorzelanny makes for a nice fill-in. Even when the Cubs are at full strength, Gorzelanny could stick around in the bullpen.

Dukes is back

Now that Austin Kearns is officially on the disabled list, Elijah Dukes will see ample playing time in the Nationals outfield. Dukes, called up from Triple-A Syracuse on August 1, has been solid since his return. The well-known problem child is hitting .300 in eight games with a homer and 12 RBIs. Over the weekend, Dukes had a three-game stretch of six hits and 10 RBIs. He hasn't stolen a base since his promotion, but Dukes is apparently healthy and he's a threatening combo of speed and power. Don't anticipate a .300 average, but the run production is for real.

Australian native makes nice debut in Arizona

Justin Upton's placement on the disabled list created an opening for Diamondback rookie Trent Oeltjen. The 26-year-old from Sydney has been mighty impressive filling in. In his first three games the lefty is hitting .400 with two homers, two RBIs and two stolen bases. In 106 minor league games this season, Oeltjen was hitting .300 with 10 homers, 61 RBI and 19 stolen bases. It's unclear what he will do once Upton returns, but for the time being he is worth the investment, even in deeper mixed leagues.

Washington utility man filling up the stat sheet

It's not too often that I'll recommend an over-the-hill player who hit under .200 in each of the season's first three months, but in the case of Ronnie Belliard I'll do just that. The 34-year-old hit .471 this past week with six runs, a homer, four RBIs and two steals. The two stolen bases were two more than he had when the week started, so don't go expecting him to run wild on the bases. What you can count on is a versatile player (1B/2B/3B) who can hit .300 for a few weeks. Now is the time to take advantage of hot streaks and Belliard can help you in a variety of ways. At one-percent owned, the masses don't believe in Belliard, so here's your chance to outsmart your league mates.

Roberts stepping up for Diamondbacks

Despite missing a few games due to the birth of his child, Ryan Roberts still managed to hit three homers in the past seven days. Since the break, Roberts has five homers in 14 games and is hitting .347. The 28-year-old career minor leaguer has some pop, but not enough to carry on with his prodigious week of power. His career average is .254 and the Diamondbacks aren't exactly playing stellar baseball right now. Roberts just doesn't have the track record to suggest he can continue this torrid pace. Those in deep NL-only leagues may want the extra middle infield help, but mixed leaguers should look elsewhere.

Angel in the outfield

Amidst all the disappointment surrounding this year's New York Mets, Angel Pagan has been a nice surprise recently. Pagan is hitting .345 in August with two homers and 11 RBIs. He also brings some speed to the table with eight stolen bases. Toss in 15 runs in 23 post-break games and you can see why Pagan is batting leadoff for the Mets. With all the injuries, Pagan is an everyday player and can help mixed leagues. He's only four-percent owned, so you can take your time in determining if he can help your team. With moderate power and speed, chances are good he can help those in deep leagues.

Start Milton Bradley

There's no denying that Bradley's first year as a Cub has been tremendously disappointing. Despite batting in the middle of an above-average lineup, Bradley has 28 RBIs. There's something wrong there. It's a far cry from his 22 homers and 77 RBIs from last season. Bradley hit .243 in the first half and had the audacity to proclaim that he was going to have a huge second half. The guy is a man of his word. Bradley is hitting .344 since the break with an OBP approaching .500. The Cubs didn't sign him to walk, but those in OBP leagues need to pay attention to Bradley. The Cubs have slid him into the two-hole where he is excelling. He's not a power hitter, but he will score some runs and hit for a high average the remainder of the season. Bottom line: he can help you down the stretch, regardless of his prior struggles.

Kendry Morales is just getting started

Any idea who has the most RBIs in the last month? No, not Albert Pujols. Not Ryan Howard. The answer is the Angels 26-year-old first baseman, Kendry Morales. In the last 30 days the switch hitter has an MLB-best 27 RBIs. He also has nine homers and a .330 average. Morales does his best work against right-handers where he's batting .304 with 20 of his 23 homers. Morales is a much cheaper alternative than the Angels former first baseman, Mark Teixeira, and is providing similar production. With 1B and OF eligibility, Morales is a Top 30 hitter the rest of the way.

Proceed cautiously with James Shields

With the exception of Jeff Niemann, the Rays starters have been disappointments this season. Shields, one year removed from a 14-8, 3.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP season is a prime example. The 27-year-old ace is 7-8 with a 3.79 ERA. While the ERA isn't terrible, Shields is coming off a July in which his ERA was 5.21. The problem, it seems, is Shields inability to pitch on the road. At the comforts of Tropicana Field, Shields has a 3.26 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP. On the road, he has a 4.46 ERA with 1.39 WHIP. Shields has also been uncharacteristically wild lately. Before his July 22 start, Shields didn't have a three-walk game since he walked four on April 28. Since July 22 he has four straight starts with at least four walks. This is obviously a reason for his inflated WHIP. As of now, Shields makes for a start only when he is pitching at home.

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