2011 MLB Fantasy Fever from Whatifsports.com From WhatIfSports.com image

Fantasy Fever: Hello, Desmond Jennings

Fantasy Fever Week 14

By Joel Beall - WhatIfSports.com
July 28, 2011

(Note: All stats are prior to Thursday’s games.)

I was going to compose a short essay on the infamous missed call from this week’s 19-inning expedition between the Braves and Pirates, but three things occurred to me:

1. It’s been covered, rehashed and beaten to death the past 24 hours.

2. Poor Jerry Meals doesn’t need anyone else piling on.

3. Pittsburgh deserved it.

I should clarify: the Pirates didn’t deserve it, but rather the town of Pittsburgh had it coming.

The Pirates have become an underdog thanks to their diminutive payroll and ragtag roster of castoffs, up-and-comers and nobodies. But the fans who root for the Buccos? They’ve seen their fair share of success, as the Penguins have made two trips to the Stanley Cup and the Steelers three to the Super Bowl in the past six years. This, while the Steelers compile a roster full of derelicts that would make the Mean Machine from The Longest Yard blush. Plus, the town refers to itself as, “the City of Champions.” Seems a little pompous, no?

If anything, Meals’ call is long-overdue karma for Super Bowl XL, where the Seattle Seahawks felt jobbed by the zebras. Consider this mistake payback. Only, you know, on an infinitely smaller scale.

Start ‘Em:

C: Geovany Soto, Cubs. Soto has been a disappointment at the plate this season, entering July with a .222 average and .323 OBP. While he only has one homer on the month, Soto’s .292 average is an indication the former Rookie of the Year has begun to turn his prospects around. Granted, his .435 BABIP in July signifies a bit of luck is at hand. However, Soto has lowered his infield fly ball rate this month and is 6-for-16 in his last three games. The Cubs have an upcoming series with the Cardinals, but are scheduled to miss Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia.

1B: Eric Hosmer, Royals. After hitting somewhat of a wall in mid-July, Hosmer has answered with vigor, going 17-for-35 in his last eight games, raising his season average to .287. More encouraging is Hosmer’s reduction of strikeouts and increase in walks in the month, with his walk rate climbing each month since his promotion in June. If Hosmer can hover around .280 and continue to provide power, the Royals first baseman is a must-start the rest of the season.

2B: Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks. Johnson has been maddening to fantasy owners in 2011, unable to sustain success for more than a few weeks. While his .222 average is a far cry from last season’s .284 mark, his 17 home runs rank third among second basemen in the majors and echoes 2010’s output of 26 long balls. Although he’s battling some calf issues, Johnson is hitting .273 on the month with a .368 OBP. This improvement stems from Johnson’s cut in strikeouts, whiffing at a respectable 16.7 percent compared to a 32.7 rate in June. If he can keep his punch outs at a reasonable level, Johnson will be an asset in the fantasy home stretch.

3B: Willie Bloomquist, Diamondbacks. Back-to-back Diamondbacks! Somewhere Luis Gonzalez is smiling. The uber-utility man is hitting .344 in July with a .391 OBP. Arizona regular Stephen Drew is out for the remainder of the season, meaning Bloomquist will see regular time at short, with the occasional start at third. He’s been caught four times this month, but Bloomquist remains a threat on the base paths.

SS: Cliff Pennington, A’s. Pennington has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball, going 19-for-39 with 8 RBI and 8 runs since the All-Star break. Owned in less than seven percent of leagues, Pennington is a notoriously streaky hitter, but the shortage of viable shortstops makes Pennington a starter in most formats. His low stolen base rate (six swipes, nine caught steals) is disconcerting, as well as his .239 average at home. However, Pennington’s 25.5 line drive percentage should comfort any owner who has doubts on Pennington’s ability to continue to produce.

OF: Cameron Maybin, Padres. Most 24-year-olds are given some breathing room to grow in the majors, but time was beginning to run out on Maybin, who made his first appearance in the Show in 2007. Given his first everyday opportunity in San Diego, Maybin has exceled. Since posting a .239 average in April, Maybin is hitting .292 with 17 stolen bases and 37 runs. The Padre center fielder has especially flourished as of late, going 20-for-53, adding 11 swipes in his past 12 games. He still strikes out at a high rate (22.6 percent) for a non-power hitter, but that percentage is actually down from years’ past. With a lack of stolen base opportunities available, Maybin is a must-start.

SP: Madison Bumgarner, Giants. Aside from a misadventure against Minnesota on June 21, where he surrendered eight runs and nine hits on just one out, Bumgarner has been spectacular the last two months. Subtracting the Twins fiasco, Bumgarner owns a 2.32 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 62 inning since the end of May. San Francisco starters sometimes have the stigma of being beneficiaries of the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, but Bumgarner’s ERA is lower on the road, with a 2.54 away mark compared to a 4.60 figure at home. He may suffer the occasional hiccup, but feel free to use Bumgarner at your disposal the rest of the way home.

RP: Joe Nathan, Twins. Nathan has been rock-solid since returning from the DL and has only conceded one earned run in his last 11.1 innings. Amazingly, he remains available in 70 percent of leagues. With Minnesota scratching their way up the standings in the AL Central, Nathan should see plenty of save opportunities. Pick him up if he’s unclaimed in your league.

Sit ‘Em:

C: Brian McCann, Braves. Lost in the drama of the Pittsburgh-Atlanta game on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning was the injury to McCann, who was subsequently placed on the 15-day DL. Unfortunately, initial reports indicate McCann may be out longer than two weeks. Backup David Ross and J.C. Boscan will take over in his absence, but neither is an adequate replacement in fantasy. Miguel Olivo, A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck are suitable substitutes that should be available in your league.

1B: Carlos Pena, Cubs. Pena has cooled off considerably in the month of July, hitting .211 with just three homers and seven RBI on the month after slamming 17 bombs and 39 RBI in May and June. Pena has always had a penchant for striking out, but his July rate of 34.1 percent is abnormally high, even for someone susceptible to whiffing like Pena. The Cubs first baseman is rumored to be on the trading block, and a move to a cavernous ballpark like Pittsburgh will dent his value. Monitor his situation closely.

2B: Martin Prado, Braves. Since submitting a 2-for-5 performance in his return from the DL, Prado is hitting .224 in the past 12 games. Prado still has plenty of upside the rest of the season, especially with eligibility at second. However, until Prado proves he’s back into the swing of things, keep him on the bench.

3B: Pedro Alvarez, Pirates. Desperate for a spark in their offense, the Pirates recalled Alvarez from Triple-A Indianapolis after the third baseman hit .365 in 18 games. Alvarez has three hits in three games since his promotion, but also has 13 at bats, with a 1-for-7 performance in Pittsburgh’s 19-inning marathon earlier this week. Alvarez may be worth a waiver wire claim, but don’t start him until he consistently produces.

SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox. July has not been kind to Ramirez, who is hitting .211 during the month. What’s more disconcerting is, historically, July has been bountiful for the Chicago shortstop, batting .351 in 2010 and .298 in 2009. The substance for this slump appears to be Ramirez’s rising infield fly ball percentage, which sits at an alarming 23.8 percent. The good news for Ramirez owners is August has also been advantageous in the past to the Cuban Missile, and Ramirez still has a respectable .269 average and .333 OBP on the season.

OF: B.J. Upton, Rays. For the fourth straight season, Upton’s average has declined, as the Rays outfielder is batting .227 on the year. Worse, July saw a stoppage in stolen base attempts from Upton, swiping just three bags on the month. Although he still owns decent power numbers (15 homers, 53 RBI) without persistent postings of steals, Upton’s worth dramatically declines.

SP: Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals. Don’t let his 3.27 ERA and 1.09 WHIP fool you. Zimmermann has been ineffective in three of his past four starts, possessing a 6.00 ERA in 24 innings in July. Worse, his three rough outings came at the hands of pedestrian offenses in the Cubs, Astros and Marlins. Tighten the leash on Zimmermann, as one more appalling start could warrant a fantasy release.

RP: Neftali Feliz, Rangers. Feliz has had a rough go in July, owning a 4.50 ERA and 1.38 WHIP on the month. While it wouldn’t be fair to cast the designation of “sophomore slump” on Feliz, his walk rate has nearly doubled from 2010 and his strikeouts per nine innings have been cut from 9.22 per game down to 6.21. Feliz is also surrendering a higher line drive percentage, which undoubtedly has an association with his higher ERA this season. Feliz still deserves a spot in your lineup, but be wary if he turns in another rough outing.

Waiver Wire: James McDonald, Pirates. As we mentioned in this week’s Double Starters piece, McDonald has quietly been one of the most effective starters in baseball since the beginning of May, holding opponents to three runs or less in 15 of his past 16 starts. McDonald has stepped his game up in June, posting a 1.90 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 23.2 innings of work. His 1.51 WHIP is alarming, but McDonald’s .320 BABIP suggests that the Pirate pitcher has had his fair share of bad luck. McDonald is owned in just 11 percent of leagues and worth a pickup if he’s available.

The Real Debate With the deadline days away, trade rumors are at a fever pitch. And 99.9 percent of the time, the prefix to every report states a “source” close to the situation. Which begs the question: shouldn’t there be some sort of classification system for the source’s importance and trust? Occasionally you’ll see a “high-ranking source” tag on an account, but those designations are few and far between. And isn’t “source” just a ubiquitous term? For all we know, the “source” could be an intern working at the ballpark for the summer. That’s why we need some framework or color-coded system in order to properly digest the material at hand. I don’t need to be getting enthusiastic on a possible James Shield swap when the “source” is someone who cleans the GM’s car. And no, I’m not bitter about being teased about an Ubaldo Jimenez arrival that won’t be coming to fruition.

Rookie Review: Desmond Jennings, Rays. Rated as the No. 6 prospect in baseball heading into 2010, Jennings took a step backward last season, as injuries impeded his progress. Jennings was projected to compete for a Rays roster spot this spring, but the acquisitions of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez sent Jennings back to Triple-A Durham. Jennings rediscovered his power this season, hitting 12 homers in 89 games, and held a sturdy .374 OBP. Yet since earning promotion to the big leagues, the Tampa Bay rookie has been raking. Jennings has eight hits in 19 at bats with three steals, three doubles and three walks in five games with Tampa. Jennings is projected to be an everyday starter with the Rays, and should be immediately obtained if he’s still available in your league.

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Ervin Santana Lost in the hysteria over Santana’s no-no: it was the eighth straight start Santana held the opposition to three runs or less. In that span, Santana owns a 2.05 ERA.

Spit Your Tobacco At: Pittsburgh Pirates Really, Pittsburgh, like filing a formal report protesting Meals’ call is going to do anything? It was a bad verdict, but what good does continuing to complain achieve? Take a page from Armando Galarraga’s book and show some class.


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Joel Beall is the Assistant Fantasy Editor for FOXSports.com and assistant content manager at Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

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