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Panic is a sudden and overwhelming fear that dominates compulsive thoughts and actions. People face panic situations with amazing frequency, and it has been speculated that the feeling may be contagious. Irrational feelings can spread through a group, particularly when information is disseminated rapidly. That information, like the fear itself, spreads rapidly, and the influence of both can be widespread.
Fantasy owners, too, are not impervious to panic. From the moment a player is drafted, many a fantasy owner has second guessed months and even years of well-thought research and diligent preparation. When those lingering doubts are reinforced by widespread speculation over a player's diminished performance, something approximating a panic can follow.
All players listed below were ranked in the upper half of the top-100 when the season began and all have disappointed at various points through the season's first two months. While some have already shown signs for the better, others are making panic seem like a rational response.
Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals. Last year was kind to Pujols. More to the point, Pujols was rather unkind to opposing pitchers. He ranked first in the major leagues in home runs (47), runs (124), and OPS (1.101). Along the way he even added a career high 16 stolen bases. At times it seemed as though there was nothing Pujols couldn't accomplish. Yet, by mid-May 2010, many fantasy owners were wondering something altogether different. Could Pujols be human after all? As of May 23, the Cardinals' slugger was carrying a .299 batting average and his OPS was a modest (by Pujols standards) .925 -- the lowest it had been since April 8, 2008 (.885). The very next day, Pujols silenced critics by going 3-for-3 with three home runs, reminding everyone that, no, there's nothing to worry about.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds. As the season's first month was wrapping up, Phillips was hitting a meager .236 and slugging an almost embarrassing .371 with just two home runs. Many were wondering if Phillips was worthy of all the praise that experts had heaped upon him for three years running. In May, Phillips flashed all the tools that made him a fantasy favorite, particularly in roto leagues. His May slash line (.316/.375/.538) exceeded his career averages and did wonders to correct what had been a down year. Now hitting .282 with seven home runs and seven steals, Phillips appears to be well on his way to a fourth consecutive 20/20 season.
Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays. After entering '09 with a .222 career average and 15 home runs, few (if any) could have predicted the 27 HR and .948 OPS that were to follow. Following his breakout season many questioned whether Zobrist could carry his power surge into this season. As recently as May 19, it seemed that the doubters' suspicions had been proven correct because Zobrist had yet to hit a home run. Consequently, Zobrist's OPS hovered around .700 for much of the season's first two months. Zobrist has spent much of May trying to erase his sub-par start. Zobrist hit .354 in May to up his season average to .302 and he's managed to regain his power stroke hitting four home runs since May 20.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers. Prince Fielder's home run totals each of the past four seasons (28, 50, 34, and 46) reveal a potentially worrisome trend. Could it be that Milwaukee's masher is an every-other-year type player? His power numbers would suggest that, yes, maybe he is. The discouraging news for fantasy owners is that '10 falls within the "down" years, and everything about the start to his season is bearing that out. Fielder's career .923 OPS dwarfs his '10 number -- just .816. While Fielder hasn't slugged lower than .507 in any of his past three seasons, he's currently carrying just a .417 mark. He has yet to find a consistent stroke at the plate to which his .267 average would attest. Is it simply a prolonged slump or a down year? The latter is looking more and more likely with each passing day.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox. When Pedroia hits .326 he's capable of winning an MVP, both of which he accomplished in '08. When he hits .296, Pedroia is still an elite 2B capable of leading even a strong fantasy team in runs scored. However, when a career-.300 hitter like Pedroia is hitting .255 on June 1, it causes a virtual panic. While panic may be a bit of an overreaction, concern is certainly warranted. As mentioned, Pedroia can be an elite fantasy option, but only if his batting average approximates his career level. Over a player's career, batting average can fluctuate wildly, one reason why the stat has fallen out of favor with the sabrmetric crowd. For all of its faults, batting average still makes up a significant portion of a player's fantasy value. If Pedroia can't hit for a high average, he'll struggle to reach elite levels.
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees. After an '09 power outburst that saw Granderson hit a career high 30 home runs, many fantasy owners began salivating when news broke that the former Tiger would be playing his home games in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. Yet, when Granderson went on the disabled list with a strained groin, eventually missing 24 games, it was clear he'd have a tough time repeating '09's success. While he'll almost certainly fall short in the home run department, on thing that Granderson has carried over from last season is his low batting average. Granderson's .249 average in '09 was easily the worst of his career. A .275 BABIP suggested it may have been aided by some bad luck, but his .239 mark in '10 may indicate a downward trend in batting average and lower than expected overall performance.
Damian Schaab is a senior writer for SportsGrumblings.com, and member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Visit SportsGrumblings.com today to ensure total fantasy sports dominance.