May 07, 2010

Alright gentlemen (ladies?), we're a month into the season and we can now pass judgment on our fantasy livestock. We know who the players are by now. They have shown their hand and we know the breakouts as well as the busts. ... If you believe that hogwash stop reading here so the rest of us can commence to fleece you in one lopsided trade after another. The idea that 30 days is a decent sample size to pass judgment on major league players is ludicrous. We're barely one sixth of the way through the season; hot and cold streaks along with flat out luck have tainted the numbers of many hitters.

In this edition of Man in the Box we'll use the overreaction of impatient owners to our advantage. Let's take a look at a few players whose early numbers mask the true value (or lack thereof) within.

For more fantasy analysis, check out

Lumber in slumber:The numbers aren't pretty, but a deeper look shows that better days lie ahead.

Carlos Quentin (OF, CWS): Make no bones about it, Quentin has not hit well. The .670 OPS (on-base plus slugging) is hard to hide. Quentin has, however, been possibly the unluckiest player in baseball. His .167 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is obscenely unfortunate. Let's not forget that this is a player who, in his last healthy season, hit 36 HRs in under 500 at-bats. Quentin can probably be had for pennies on the dollar and offers upside that few other hitters can match. Make a play for him now and wait for the inevitable eruption.

Carlos Lee (OF, HOU): It appears that the 33-year-old Lee is on the downslide. The days of 30-plus HRs and double-digit steals are gone. He is striking out more and walking less. Typically this happens to players as they age and have to cheat to get around on good fastballs. Don't bail on him completely though. Lee has posted BABIPs of .290 or better for the last three years. So far in 2010 it sits at .232. He just hit his first HR and the Houston offense will improve as Lance Berkman gets in a groove and Hunter Pence approaches his typical production. Don't go out and give up good value to get him, but if Lee gets dumped in your league, don't be afraid to salvage him off the scrap heap. There's a little value left there.

Juan Pierre (OF, CWS): Fellow RotoExpert Tim McCullough and I disagree on this one. He's ready to send Pierre and his wheels to the bone yard. I think that's a pretty big overreaction to 106 ABs. Pierre showed last season that he could still hit for average (.308), and this year's .238 BABIP is more than 100 points from where it was last season. Fact is, he's leading the majors in SBs (I don't care how often he gets caught) and the batting average will rebound. If you're on board with players like Brett Gardner or Rajai Davis, then there's no reason to throw out a perfectly good set of wheels.

Alexei Ramirez (SS, CWS): Wow, if I'm right the White Sox offense is about to explode. In each of his two MLB seasons Ramirez has been a huge second half player. His career average in April is .200, but it works its way up to .276 in May and over .310 in June and July. The sleeper hype is gone and Ramirez may be getting dropped in some mixed leagues. If so scoop him up and be happy with a five category middle infielder from here on out.

Aramis Ramirez (3B, CHC): There are mixed signals on this Ramirez. The .169 BABIP is absurdly low from a player who has been able to balance contact with power. The problem this year is that the contact is missing. Ramirez has struck out in 26 percent of his at-bats this season, which is out of whack with his career 15.4 mark. Ramirez has avoided his usual nagging injuries, but has not been able to get it going yet. Third base is too shallow and Ramirez is too proven to give up now. The batting average may not be what we've come to expect, but the power will come.

Balso wood:They look solid, but when you start moving the numbers around, you find that the value isn't as stable as you thought.

Austin Jackson (OF, DET): That .369 average sure is pretty. Don't get used to it. Jackson has probably been the biggest fluke in the first month of the season. He'll always have some value because of his speed, but the peripheral numbers point to a huge implosion. Let's start with the .512 BABIP which is the highest mark in baseball... by almost 100 points. This obscene luck comes attached to a player on pace for close to 200 strikeouts. Ask Mark Reynolds how hard it is to hit even .270 when you're whiffing in almost a third of your at-bats. If you have him, sell now. The slide will be starting any day now.

Joe Mauer (C, MIN): Here's how you play it. Act the part of a desparate owner panicking over the heel injury. Tell your trading partner how you can't afford to lose the at-bats right now. Don't mention the fact that Mauer's numbers this year look a whole lot like what he put up pre-'09. Comparing last year's 20.4 percent HR/FB to his career numbers is like sticking Prince Fielder in a police lineup full of David Ecksteins. Something here doesn't belong. Let's not forget that until last year Mauer had hit over 10 HRs just once and had never knocked in 90 runs. Mauer is a great hitter, but if those of you who reached for him in the first round can get anywhere near that kind of value, it's time to deal.

Franklin Gutierrez (OF, SEA): This spring I liked Gutierrez as a quiet 20/20 candidate. I still like him but the hype is starting to exceed his value. The .342 average hides that fact that he is actually off of his pace from last year in both HRs and SBs. He's definitely a mixed league asset, but his .443 BABIP is due for a correction. When that happens there could be a long dry spell. The Seattle offense isn't exactly overflowing with offense to support Gutierrez.

Jason Heyward (OF, ATL): Yes, I know, it's almost sacrilege to question the talents of the great Heyward. He's a very good hitter, but there's no way he maintains the current pace he's on. So far 40 percent of the flyballs that Heyward has hit have left the yard. Consider that last year's leader in that category was Mark Reynolds with 26 percent. Heyward is an excellent hitter and may turn into a great hitter, but the value you could get out of him in trade is immense as long as his current groin injury doesn't linger.

* All statistics current as of May 5.

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