StrategyApril 12, 2009


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Hot/Cold Week 2: Chicken Little, Little Patience

By Ray Flores

Happy Easter, everyone. While the little kiddies enjoy their Easter egg hunting today, in a sense, fantasy managers like to do their own scavenging in that vast, wonderful world of waivers in search of their own fantasy Easter eggs. Last year at this time on the wire and in free agency were game-changers such as Cliff Lee, Ervin Santana, Carlos Quentin, and Nate McLouth, as well as useful fantasy gems who also made a difference in the forms of Gavin Floyd and Joe Saunders. This opening week was no different as the buzz of a number of free agent dandies skyrocketed, not overnight, by within minutes and hours. On the flip side, a number of fantasy studs and man-crushes laid an egg or two and what’s hatched from those eggs were Chicken Little owners who looked too hard into a week-long slump and declare the sky is falling. Now, if the league was only two weeks long, then that’s genuine reason to be concerned. It’s moments like these where we say fantasy leagues aren’t won in April, but they can be lost in them if impatient decision making rules the day. We’ll assume your league mates are of the patient variety and we’ll hold off the buy low/sell high recommendations for another week or two. Again, let’s highlight a few choice players who are hot, those who are cold, and see if these hot and cold streaks mean something meaningful in the near future.

Hot

Emilio Bonifacio: 2009 to date – 14/24 H/AB, 9 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 SB, .583 BA

After winning the Marlins’ third baseman job this Spring, Emilio Bonifacio has literally run away with the starting gig and the leadoff role, and with him, fantasy owners have been left hanging onto Bonifacio’s coattails for the ride. The 24-year-old journeyman middle infielder made quite a first impression in his Opening Day debut, going 4-for-5 with an inside-the-park home run and three stolen bases against his former team, the Washington Nationals. Bonifacio followed up his debut game with three multi-hit games in a row, emerging as a bargain source of runs and steals. The Chone Figgins comparisons are appropriate in describing Bonifacio’s skill set as a speedster who has no past history of displaying any major power. The only question with Bonifacio is if he can continue to get on base in order to hold on to that prized leadoff role. Bonifacio has a relatively small sample size in the Major Leagues to imply he’s a .240-250 hitter, but if he can take a few walks every now and then, his speed justifies a top-of-the-order spot. In deeper leagues or leagues with deep rosters, it’s an easy call to add Bonifacio to your team and as of now, he merits a spot in standard leagues as well.

Adam Lind: 2009 to date – 12/26 H/AB, 5 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB, .462 BA

A likely late-round target in many drafts this season, Adam Lind wasn’t envisioned by many to be a bargain world-beater in the vein of Carlos Quentin or Ryan Ludwick and yet, that’s exactly the way Lind has kicked off 2009. Lind has been a consistent source of power, belting three home runs and cleaning the bases with 12 RBI, which includes a 6-RBI outing. What could hold Lind back from breaking out in full is a career .240 batting average against lefties, but on close to a full season’s worth of at-bats, Lind is capable of hitting in between 20 to 25 home runs as well as maintaining a decent batting average on the side.

Robinson Cano: 2009 to date – 8/18 H/AB, 6 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB, .444 BA

Best known as a consistently slow starter and annual fantasy disappointment, Robinson Cano has been raking to begin the new year, hitting at a .444 clip, pitching in a home run and a stolen base while displaying a good batting eye with four walks on the side. The last part about the four walks is encouraging, given that in his first three years, Cano yielded a relatively low walk rate to go with a dipping average from year to year, which should correct itself after a somewhat unlucky 2008 in the batting average department. A reversal of a downward spike in his ISO power mark would be needed for Cano to provide better draft value with respect to a cheap, viable alternative such as Jose Lopez and so far, Cano has made his mark this early in the year.

Paul Maholm: 2009 to date – 13.2 IP, 1 W, 4 K, 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Through the first two starts of the young season, Pittsburgh’s unheralded ace Paul Maholm has impressed, even if his historical strikeout rate doesn’t normally draw fantasy headlines. Last season, Maholm was an unsung hero in posting a solid 3.71 ERA and a respectable 1.28 WHIP in a little over 200 innings. The soon-to-be 27-year-old hurler has averaged a 53% groundball rate in his first three full big league seasons and is armed with a well-rounded pitch repertoire to keep hitters honest. This young Buc figures to be more than just a spot starter and should be rostered in leagues of all sizes and formats.

Ubaldo Jimenez: 2009 to date – 7.0 IP, 1 W, 8 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

After captivating fantasy managers with his pure stuff under the spotlight of the 2007 World Series, Ubaldo Jimenez hasn’t received a great deal of fanfare, as a 1.43 WHIP overlooks the inroads Jimenez made in 2008. Jimenez had an ERA just a hundredth under the 4.00 mark and a supporting FIP of 3.83 to boot, while his K/9 took a step forward as he struck out 172 batters in just under 200 innings. Jimenez’s first outing of the new year wasn’t quite as subtle, as he pitched seven shutout innings and struck out eight Diamondbacks, in the process out-dueling a terrific Dan Haren and earning a Rockies win. Ubaldo was likely drafted as a #4-5 starter in a number of leagues and has the potential to produce like a #2-3 when it’s all said and done.

Kyle Davies: 2009 to date – 7.0 IP, 0 W, 8 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP

More eye-popping than Ubaldo Jimenez’s opening start was Kyle Davies’ first go-round of the year in keeping the White Sox at bay with seven shutout innings, eight strikeouts, and only three hits and two walks allowed. There’s some healthy debate on the Cafe as to whether or not Davies’ impressive outing was smoke and mirrors or the start of something more. A player analogy that some of our Cafe faithful mutually agree upon when assessing Davies is Gavin Floyd and it’s an appropriate comparison. Like Floyd, Davies had a solid minor league record but was rushed and stunted his development a bit. Gavin Floyd, of course, proved to be more than useful in posting a 3.84 ERA and winning 17 games. That’s not to say Davies will replicate Floyd’s success, but it’s just a simple note that Davies’ career arc could be akin to what Floyd’s panned out to be thus far. For what it’s worth, Davies finished off a mixed-bag 2008 with a strong September where he struck out 24 batters in nearly 32 innings while sporting a 2.27 ERA and a microscopic 0.91 WHIP. Davies possesses the plus-stuff to become an above-average big league starter and with the reported improvements in his pitches and command, he should be at the least watch-list material. Kyle Davies is the definition of a super sleeper, as he’s currently owned in 11% of all Yahoo leagues and perhaps he’s starting to take notice to the extent he should be acquired soon enough.

Chris Carpenter: 2009 to date – 7.0 IP, 1 W, 7 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP

A late-round draft pick wasn’t much to pay for an injury embattled ace considered to be a top three fantasy starting pitcher a few years ago. For now, that investment has paid huge dividends, as Chris Carpenter was nothing short of impressive in nearly tossing a no-hitter through seven shutout innings against the Pirates, which was more than adequate enough to notch his first win of the season. By all accounts, Carpenter’s offerings have all displayed great movement and if healthy, he could be as massive of a steal as he was back in 2005.

Evan Longoria: 2009 to date – 10/22 H/AB, 4 R, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, .455 BA

For those curious to see if Evan Longoria’s rookie season is just a prelude to a monster year or a tease for potential disappointment, they got their first answer as Longoria has been mashing the ball, with four moon shots in the league’s opening week. For some, Longoria was touted as a borderline first/second round pick given the dearth of options at third base and thus far, he’s proving more than equal to that value. One week won’t necessarily put concerns to rest that Longoria’s HR/FB and his strikeout rates were a bit too high to support a 35-40 HR quality season in 2009, but it’s nice to see the former Long Beach State product dialed in this early.

Miguel Cabrera: 2009 to date – 11/22 H/AB, 4 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .500 BA

It’s somewhat easy to take a top stud hitter like Miguel Cabrera for granted, but he’s off to a flying start so far. It’s also easy to be fooled into thinking M-Cab is a 10-year veteran which overlooks the fact he’ll turn 26 in under a week’s time and has yet to hit his peak. Personally, I’ve always been one of those M-Cab homers who believes Cabrera will ascend to that next level of elite, which Albert Pujols resides in, and like an optimistic Cubs fan, I think this is the year. Cabrera posted career-high power numbers last season and what’s most impressive is that 2008 was a transition year in catching up to American League pitching. Needless to say, M-Cab is a top five stud by default and the best could be yet to come if this first week is just a taste.

Cold

Alexei Ramirez: 2009 to date – 2/17 H/AB, 1 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, .118 BA

Fantasy baseball’s most popular utility man, who some dub “Sexy Alexei,” has stumbled in a big way to open the season, as he was held hitless prior to a 2-for-4 Saturday outing against the Twins. Ramirez’s poor start has done little to disprove justification of Ozzie Guillen’s placement of Ramirez at the bottom of the White Sox order. The slow start shouldn’t be too surprising, given Alexei’s nature as a hitter who generally doesn’t walk much and strikes out a great deal. With that said, “Sexy Alexei” still possesses above-average upside for a middle infielder and shouldn’t be totally discounted yet.

Chris Davis: 2009 to date – 1/18 H/AB, 3 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, .056 BA

Another high-upside, high-risk early-round pick that hasn’t panned out within the season’s first week is the hard-hitting Chris Davis and by all accounts, his batting eye has seemed out-of-whack, striking out eight times. Like Ramirez, Davis is an aggressive hitter prone to striking out but can make up for that weakness by making superior contact with the ball. The comparisons with Ryan Howard are apt when talking about Davis, given his power and willingness to take the ball to all fields. That hasn’t been adequate consolation to some of the Cafe faithful who are immensely concerned with Davis’ slump, with one even voicing out that perhaps Davis’ slump can be attributed to a mechanical flaw in his swing. A possible chink in Davis’ plate approach could be cause for legitimate concern, but it seems like one that can be corrected in time. If there’s a clear buy-low opportunity out there, then Chris Davis must be it. However, those even-keeled Davis owners, aware of the risk and reward with taking a fifth or sixth round pick with Davis, shouldn’t be so panicky.

J.J. Hardy: 2009 to date – 2/20 H/AB, 1 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, .100 BA

I’ll agree with the sentiment of some drafters who believed J.J. Hardy would produce a similar line to the likes of Stephen Drew and Troy Tulowitzki, but at the discount of a few rounds. What doesn’t go discounted is Hardy’s frustrating feast-or-famine nature, which is certainly magnified in H2H leagues. However, keep in mind that the Brewers’ offense as a whole, struggled a good deal away from Miller Park last season and well, that phenomenon has held up so far in 2009. In fact, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart would also be worth a mention in this cold space as well, but I singled out Hardy mainly because of Ken Macha’s decision to hit Hardy fifth instead of second, where Hart bats. Macha wanted to keep double plays to a minimum at the top of the order, given Hardy’s penchant to be suckered into double plays, but that has simultaneously sacrificed Hardy’s relative effectiveness in hitting second.

Lastings Milledge: 2009 to date – 2/18 H/AB, 0 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .111 BA

Last week, I brought up Lastings Milledge’s sluggish spring, and that streak has lasted (no pun intended) into the first week of the new year. Even Nationals manager Manny Acta was quick to give the talented five-tool outfielder a day off. If I can hazard to guess the cause of Milledge’s woes at the plate, it might be pinpointed toward Milledge’s adjustment as a leadoff hitter or on simply a symptom of inconsistency. Although Milledge’s 2008 season looked promising on paper, as a five-cat contributor rising to the fold, it hides the fact that Milledge was extremely streaky. Milledge had a May/June stretch where he hit .228 and .242 respectively before being sidelined in July with a .130 average on a small sample of at-bats. Staying the course should be the action when it comes to Milledge and at the least, stash him on the bench until he shows signs of warming up.

Russell Martin: 2009 to date – 3/20 H/AB, 3 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .150 BA

So far into 2009, Russell Martin’s production can’t really be distinguished from that of a late-round catcher. I tend to think Martin was and is a bit overvalued anyway, given that the chances of falling short of a 20/20 season are very good. There isn’t too much to read into the causes of Martin’s slump; it’s just personal validation as to why I wouldn’t invest in a top catcher not named Brian McCann.

Cliff Lee: 2009 to date – 10.0 IP, 0 W, 10 K, 9.90 ERA, 2.20 WHIP

It was academic that Cliff Lee was bound to regress after a rags-to-riches MVP season, but in his first couple of starts, the reigning AL Cy Young winner can’t seem to shake off a forgettable spring, having been forced to make early exits in each of his starts to date. Lee has looked hittable against the Rangers and Blue Jays, two offenses who have been on a roll in 2009, but what’s more telling is his control has taken a step back so far, having surrendered five walks in ten innings of work. Even though Lee’s GB/FB and HR/FB rates are set for a correction to an increase in flyballs, he could offset that some a bit with his command staying relatively intact. That hasn’t been the case so far, but one can trust that Lee can’t possibly be as terrible as his preseason and first couple of starts will indicate.

Jason Motte: 2009 to date – 2.1 IP, 0 W, 0 SV, 3 K, 15.43 ERA, 3.00 WHIP

After winning the Cardinals closing job outright with a strong Spring showing, all it took was an inning and a third for Jason Motte to lose it. Being his volatile self, Tony LaRussa has blasted the door wide open for a closer-by-committee approach and Motte himself was relegated into pitching at the front of the bullpen in replacing Adam Wainwright in last Saturday’s outing against the Astros. There’s little doubt that Motte has taken a considerable hit to his value and personally, I’ve seen him dropped in a few of my leagues, just for Motte to be replaced with either Ryan Franklin or Kyle McClellan.

Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard

Lastly, prior to Saturday night, the Phillies’ top of the order had been stone cold, specifically the trio of Rollins, Victorino, and Howard. In particular, J-Roll has been mired in a 3-for-23 opening stretch with no stolen bases and a .130 batting average. Obviously, all three should see better days ahead, especially given this trio’s tendency to produce in big spurts.

 
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a disgruntled Dodger fan, who lives in Southern California, where it's rain-free 340 days out of every year! While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, a part-time fantasy football blogger (the game actually played with feet), and head "Wicked Wikitect" of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
 
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