May 14, 2010

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I'd like to take a moment to challenge one widely held belief in the fantasy world. Common wisdom has it that pitchers are the most inconsistent and unpredictable contributors in fantasy baseball. Carlos Lee and I beg to differ. Sure, a few ace pitchers like Josh Beckett and Jake Peavy have been abysmal, but I've never seen a year where offense has been so seemingly random. I understand when a player like Ian Kinsler is hurt or when Mark Teixeira has another slow start, but the player values we put our faith in a little over a month ago seem like pure folly just 30 games into the season. So we'll look at the underachieving hitters of the fantasy world and give you an outlook for each of them for the remainder of the season. Since I'm a huge believer in fantasy auctions, we'll use dollar values projected vs. earned as our basis for comparison. Feel free to pretend they're points if it makes you more comfortable. The point is, these players have under-performed immensely.

The following players had the largest negative differential between what we expected and what they've actually earned. Also, just an FYI, we're ignoring the injury cases and focusing solely on inexplicably bad performances.

Mike Napoli (C, LAA): Projected: $22, Actual: $-8, Net Value: $-30

The low average was expected. The complete lack of power was not. Napoli's owners were horrified by the lack of playing time he was getting in the first few weeks of the season. It hasn't gotten much better even with the injury to Jeff Mathis giving Napoli full-time at-bats.

From here on: Napoli has warmed up a little in May with a .308 BA and his first HR. He will get the power stroke going. His owners just hope it happens before Mathis returns in early June. Hold on to Napoli until then, but feel free to cut him if he hasn't turned it around by that point.

Joe Mauer (C, MIN): Projected: $39, Actual: $10, Net Value: $-29

We touched on Mauer last week. It's not that he won't be the most valuable catcher; he probably will be. It's just that expectations were so high after last season's monster numbers, that he will never meet them. There were so many questions surrounding Mauer coming into the season (injury history, sudden power spike, new ballpark), that his value should have been discounted.

From here on: Mauer returned to the lineup this past weekend after being sidelined for a week with a heel injury. He instantly regains his standing as the No. 1 fantasy catcher. He'll obviously be an asset, but if you can get first-round value for him, a trade could benefit your team. Last year's power just isn't happening again, which is evident by his one HR and 14 RBIs.

Aramis Ramirez (3B, CHC): Projected: $18, Actual: $-10, Net Value: $-28

After 126 at-bats, I'm officially worried. I could overlook the .158 BA as an early-season slump. It's the 23.5 percent strikeout rate (career 15.8 %) that tells me something is seriously wrong. Ramirez has always been a great RBI man because he had the ability to sustain his power while maintaining solid contact rates. That seems to have changed.

From here on: With no injuries to point at, we have to wonder if at age 32, his bat speed is starting to slip. Ramirez will probably post decent power numbers, but the days of a solid average may be over. You won't get decent value now, but dealing him during his first hot streak is a wise move.

Carlos Lee (OF, HOU): Projected: $19, Actual: $-7, Net Value: $-26

Much like Ramirez, Lee has seen a dramatic increase in his strikeout rate and a corresponding drop in batting average. Lee's .203 BA and pathetic .302 slugging percentage have weighted down his fantasy owners. Lee is an aging player who isn't getting much help from his supporting cast.

From here on: Unlike Ramirez, there are reasons for optimism with Lee. His low .232 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) suggests that his average could rebound. He's also hit two homers in his last seven games. The days of being a Top 10 outfielder are gone, but Lee should be a decent power source in all formats.

Grady Sizemore (OF, CLE): Projected: $22, Actual: $-4, Net Value: $-26

How the mighty have fallen. Sizemore was a Top Five pick as recently as last season. There's not much to like in 2010. He's striking out more than he ever has and is walking almost half as much as in previous seasons. His BABIP is .291, so it's not a case of bad luck. Supposedly, a five-category threat, Sizemore has zero HRs and two SBs to go along with his .224 BA.

From here on: Normally a struggling star like Sizemore makes for an excellent buy-low opportunity, but I need to see a few signs before I make any kind of investment. His numbers are atrocious and so far, he's earned them.

Brian McCann (C, ATL): Projected: $25, Actual: $2, Net Value: $-23

Just like last season, the catcher position has been a turbulent mess. McCann has blamed his early struggles on recurring vision problems and switched back to glasses. McCann's owners were expecting a lot more than nine RBIs from their supposedly elite backstop.

From here on: Most of McCann's peripherals are right in line with his career numbers. In fact, he's walking more than ever. He's just not squaring up on the ball, as evidenced by an elevated groundball rate (49.2 percent) and a corresponding reduction in fly balls (33.8 percent). Even if the vision problems are solved, the Braves lineup limits McCann's upside. That lineup is just not going to produce as many RBI opportunities as it has in the past.

• Time is running out to grab Josh Hamilton at a discount. After Wednesday night's bomb, he has three homers and nine RBIs in his last six games. When this guy gets hot, he can carry a fantasy team for a month at a time.

Max Ramirez is only supposed to be up until Jarrod Saltalamacchia returns, but another game or two like he had Wednesday night and the Rangers may change their plans.

• Just when we're getting ready to write of Miguel Olivo, he puts a 5-for-5 on the board. Don't expect the average to remain above .270, but the power is real and you just might get double-digit steals out of him.

• It's time to give some overdue fantasy love to Casey McGehee. On a team with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, he leads in HRs and RBIs. Many considered him a fluke, but in parts of three seasons, he's played the equivalent of one full season and has 23 HRs with 103 RBIs ... and he's second base eligible.

• His six RBI debut was a fluke, but it looks like Starlin Castro will hold his own with the bat. Don't expect too much power, as he hasn't hit over three HRs in any of his three minor league seasons, but a decent average with double-digit steals is in store.

* All statistics current as of May 12.

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