August 29, 2009

Surround yourself with people who love you enough to be honest with you. This seems like odd advice coming from a fantasy baseball column, but bear with me. The other day I saw a guy walking around in shorts, brown dress socks, and tennis shoes. I've never met the guy, but I can tell you he needs someone in his life to stop him before he leaves the house and say, "Hey, Wilford Brimley, are you really leaving the house in that ensemble? Getting older doesn't give you a license to wear something from the Mr. Rogers vacation collection."

Similarly, when I look at pictures of myself from high school where questionable fashion sense and huge glasses are on full display, I can't help but wonder "Why didn't somebody say something?!" I then met my wife in college, and I knew she loved me when she said something about those glasses.

In a way, that's what this column is all about. Maybe you're blind to the ineptitude of some of your fantasy players, but I care enough to say: "For the love of God, release Garrett Atkins!" You're welcome.

Ryan Doumit -- Fantasy owners were hoping Doumit would ramp up his production to atone for missing a large chunk of the season with a wrist injury. If a .181 average in his last 18 games is ramping up, I assume ramping down involves lighting himself on fire in the on-deck circle. Oddly, Doumit has four multi-hit games during this stretch but has gone hitless in 11 of the other 14. His Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is sub-.200 during this swoon and .225 on the season, so a correction is overdue. Part of that suppression can be attributed to a 10 percent drop in line drives though, and he's not helping himself by chasing more pitches outside the zone. Expect .270-4-14 the rest of the way, which sadly is respectable for a catcher.

Raul Ibanez -- No one was hotter in the season's first half, but here's hoping you were able to trade Ibanez before the bottom dropped out. In his last 13 games, Ibanez has just one homer while batting .151. He's been punched-out in 17 of 53 at-bats, and his 22.5% Strikeout Percentage (K%) on the year is the highest of his career in seasons with at least 100 at-bats. His Home Run-to-Fly Ball Rate (HR/FB) is on its way back to Earth, and even its current 21.3% mark is roughly double what he posted the past couple seasons. At age 37, Ibanez is no spring chicken and could be wearing down, so the team may opt to give him a few extra days off with Ben Francisco in the mix.

Chipper Jones -- The good news is that Larry (Chipper's given but lamer name) has been healthy lately. The bad news is that he's gotten to second base as often as I did in high school. I mean, seriously, words can't describe how big these glasses were. Anyway, over his last nine games, Jones is 1-for-28 with one RBI and nine strikeouts. On the season, his average is down over 80 points, and the sharp drop in his HR/FB rate has him in jeopardy of missing the 20-homer mark for the first time ever. Given his batting average potential, you can't afford to drop him, but leave him on your bench until he heats up.

James Loney -- We've seen enough of Loney to know he'll never be a power hitter and ultimately projects as a Mark Grace-type of hitter. Ultimately there's nothing wrong with that, but when a player's fantasy value relies largely on his batting average, they kill your team during slumps. In 17 games, Loney is batting just .140 with just two extra-base hits and a strikeout rate over 22 percent. He has driven in just three runs and his groundball rate is upwards of 54 percent. Maybe he figured since his HR/FB rate is just 5.0 percent, he'd try a new approach. At best, Loney will hit .295 with a couple homers and 16 RBIs the rest of the way. You can do better with guys like Adam LaRoche, Kyle Blanks or Matt LaPorta, who at least have some upside.

Brandon Phillips -- In the biggest shock since finding out that Ozzy Osbourne has a drug problem, the Reds have gone in the tank. Phillips is leading the way with a .200 average in his past 12 games. He has no home runs and has scored just three times, due in large part to the abysmal lineup Dusty Baker is running out there. Phillips has actually improved his K% and overall batting eye, but with no lineup protection it will prove difficult to post anything better than .270-6-18 down the stretch.

Alfonso Soriano -- In late June, I predicted Soriano would hit at least 16 more homers. Five is close to 16, right? Soriano also has just 11 hits in 19 games with 18 punch-outs and is a huge factor in the Cubbies' anemic offense. With a 56.6% fly ball rate during this stretch, the lack of longballs doesn't appear to be the result of a lack of effort. Fonsie still isn't stealing many bases, and he needs a large turnaround in his HR/FB rate and BABIP to provide value down the stretch. Even before news of his troublesome left knee, I wasn't banking on a rebound. Keep him on your bench and spot start guys like Marlon Byrd and Will Venable, both of whom are widely available.

Ian Stewart -- Stewart's roller-coaster season has hit another valley. In 26 games, he's registered just 15 hits compared to 30 strikeouts. Due to that inflated K%, a high BABIP is essential to Stewart's value, and a .258 mark on the season isn't getting it done. How the Rockies have been so productive with so many streaky players is beyond me, but Stewart should be good for another five bombs and 18 RBIs. Those will come at the expense of a sub-.250 average, so if you have the luxury, keep him inactive until he finds his stroke. Potential short-term replacements are Luis Castillo, Luis Valbuena or anyone else named Luis.

Miguel Tejada -- Are the wheels finally coming off for one of the season's biggest surprises? At age 35, Miggy seemed destined for a decline, but his average has stayed over .300 most of the season thanks in part to an inflated BABIP. However, Tejada hasn't been as lucky over his last 12 games with a .140 average. He rarely takes a walk, which can make it tough for him to break out of slumps. Tejada is likely to hit around .290 the rest of the way, but I don't see him contributing much in other categories. Guys like Everth Cabrera and Erick Aybar will be more useful for my money.

David Aardsma -- After blowing just two of his first 29 save chances, Aardsma has now blown two of his last four. He's already set new career highs for appearances and innings pitched, so he could be running out of gas. Despite a hefty increase in his fly ball rate, Aardsma had only allowed one home run through 53 appearances, but he's surrendered two long balls in his last six games. Given how uncharacteristically well he's pitched most of the season, Aardsma was long overdue for a stretch like this. Should it continue, Mark Lowe is next in line for saves.

A.J. Burnett -- Burnett overcame a slow start to post a 10-4 record through 20 starts. His last five have been another story, with his struggles culminating in Saturday's batting practice session at Fenway where he surrendered three homers and nine earned runs over five innings. His Strikeouts per Nine Innings (K/9) are still down this season while his Walks Per Nine Innings (BB/9) are up. More concerning is an increased fly ball rate which is a recipe for disaster in new Yankee Stadium. Burnett's fastball has been hit hard this year, and while that concerns Yankee fans for the post-season, he'll still pick up another three or four wins and 40 strikeouts.

Chris Volstad -- A 2-1 record over his last six starts is misleading for Volstad owners. In those starts, he's made it out of the sixth inning just once while posting a 6.30 ERA. His K/9 has fallen to 5.70 while his BB/9 has risen to 4.50 compared to 2.62 in his first 20 starts. That, coupled with a propensity to give up the long ball (26 this season), makes Volstad a risky play for your team down the stretch. Instead, look at Clayton Richard or Ryan Rowland-Smith.

Jarrod Washburn -- I certainly wasn't the only one who saw a drop-off on the horizon when Washburn was traded to Detroit, because his numbers in Seattle were completely uncharacteristic. In five starts in the Motor City, he's posted a 1-1 record and 5.75 ERA. Luckily for Washburn, Tiger fans have seen worse mid-season acquisitions (see: Lima, Jose), and Chris Washburn has the Most Disappointing Washburn Award locked down. Still, he's surrendered nine homers (including four against his former Seattle teammates) compared to just 11 over his first 20 starts. His K/9 has also dropped, and with games against the Orioles, Royals, and Mariners during this stretch, it's not like he's faced the league's elite lineups. (stats through Aug. 25)

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