Fantasy Fever Week 3
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A week featuring Tax Day, the start of the NBA Playoffs and the Boston Marathon is hardly the juncture to press the panic button for players underperforming in fantasy.
Or so one would think.
Carl Crawford's epically abysmal April has sent a multitude of owners into a state of fear and ferocity. A universal platitude often deployed at this time of the year is, "It's only April," employed by talking heads to extinguish enthusiasm around upstart underdogs or dismiss slow starts from superstars.
Yet is that idiom always the case? Baseball is a game of streaks and slumps, but 10 percent of the schedule is already completed. It may be a small sample size, but that doesn't signify the results should be discarded.
So how should an owner evaluate if a player's putrid performance is an aberration or an indication that something might be amiss? Here are a few tips to remember during your assessment:
Splits. Mark Teixeira is notorious for his sluggish starts to a season. Currently in his ninth campaign in the majors, Tex is a career .285 hitter. However, his lifetime mark in April is an atrocious .234. This year is no different, as the Yankee first baseman is posting a .220 figure. Check monthly, home and away, lefty versus righty, and ballpark splits to not only assure your underperforming player has a historical comparison or trend, but to also take advantage of an opponent's floundering ballplayer for trade purposes.
Injury. Kevin Youkilis is returning from a muscle tear in his thumb that cost the Boston third baseman the last two months of the 2010 season. Although nicknamed "the Greek God of Walks," Youk proved he was human by hitting under the Mendoza Line for the first 14 games of the season (albeit with a .424 OBP during that time frame). This spring swoon was somewhat expected given the nature of Youkilis' injury, and the All-Star is starting to show signs of progress. Investigate if a prolonged injury is the catalyst for your player's output.
Game Logs. This is more in reference to pitchers. Inflated ERAs this early are often the byproduct of a bad inning or outing, camouflaging a hurler's true production. Game logs will provide a clearer illustration if an anomaly has distorted a pitcher's numbers (or, if you're Francisco Liriano, game logs paint a picture of consistent shortcomings). This theory can be utilized with batters as well, validating that a single game has not affected the presentation of the player's worth.
New role. Fantasy owners may have drafted Brandon Phillips in 2010 hoping the second baseman would replicate his 2009 yield of 98 RBI. However, this run production was manufactured with Phillips batting cleanup, an issue since BP was moving into the two hole for Cincinnati. Compare box scores from last year or various games this season to see if this matter applies to you.
New scenery. This topic is two-pronged. The first is concrete, as an individual playing in a different ballpark can negatively affect his output (think Joe Mauer's power outage thanks to Target Field in 2010). The second is abstract, as a move to a new city or team can mess with a player's psyche. This is where Crawford comes into play. After thriving in relative anonymity in Tampa, can the speedster compete under the microscope of Red Sox Nation? He simply could be pressing to vindicate his contract, but Boston's biggest worry is Crawford might not be able to handle the spotlight.
So how much patience does one give a struggling star before cutting said player loose? In the majority of cases, the player will begin to produce their projected output by the second week of May. However, if you feel you can get near-equal value for a player who you believe is overrated, ship him out as soon as possible.
Crawford may begin to resemble the man who was a four-time All-Star selection in Tampa Bay. But as Andruw Jones proved in Los Angeles in 2008, sometimes stars simply lose it. Make sure Crawford is off your team if, and when, that admission comes to pass.
C: Wilson Ramos, Nationals. The Washington catcher is hitting .414 with a .500 OBP in 29 at-bats this season. Nationals manager Jim Riggleman recently announced that Ramos will be receiving a bulk of the starts over the venerable yet elder Ivan Rodriguez. Ramos hit .278 in 79 at-bats in 22 games with Minnesota and Washington last season in his first Major League. Although he hasn't capitalized on the placement, batting fifth in the Washington lineup will provide RBI opportunities for Ramos. The backstop is owned in just 5% of leagues, so gobble up Ramos while you still have the opportunity.
1B: Lance Berkman, Cardinals. St. Louis raised some eyebrows with their offseason signing of Berkman, as the former Astro saw a giant drop in production in 2010 (.248 average with 14 homers and 58 RBI were career-lows since becoming a starter in 2000) as well as turning 35 in February. But Berkman has been blazing through April, smacking six home runs to go along with 14 RBI, 14 runs and a .308 average. The long ball barrage won't continue, but with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday ahead of him, Berkman should see numerous chances to knock in runs.
2B: Orlando Hudson, Padres. Petco is a nightmare for power hitters, but the new ballpark has suited Orlando Hudson just fine. In 15 games this season, Hudson is hitting .300 with a .403 OBP. But closer examination reveals that the second baseman is batting .375 at home in 32 at-bats compared to a paltry .167 on the road. Those who have followed Hudson's career may not be surprised at this revelation, as the two-time Gold Glover has never been one to challenge the fences with 83 bombs in 1,155 games. San Diego's spacious field caters to Hudson's propensity to post relatively-high batting percentages, with a career mark of .281.
SS: Darwin Barney, Cubs. Barney has logged all of his games at second thus far, but maintains eligibility at short for appearing at the position in 2010. Barney has beaten out Jeff Baker to be the everyday starter at second for Chicago thanks to a .333 average in 42 at-bats in 14 games. Although the Cubs don't feature a potent lineup, Barney will contribute runs to your squad batting in the two hole.
3B: Maicer Izturis, Angels. Izturis is making up for time lost in 2010, where he appeared in just 61 games due to injury. In 13 games this season, "the Mouse" has seven RBI and seven runs with a .383 batting average, second in the American League. Izturis has secured the top spot in the Angel lineup, cutting down on RBI chances but providing a good forum for runs.
OF: Jonny Gomes, Reds. The six home runs from the Cincinnati slugger are splendid yet far from surprising, as the left fielder's violent swings are reminiscent of a lumberjack's cuts at sky-rising pines. What is astonishing is Gomes' newfound patience at the plate. In 148 games in 2010, Gomes registered just 39 walks; yet in 14 appearances this season has taken a stroll 15 times. Heading into the season, Gomes was projected to split time with Chris Heisey, but if he continues to post an OBP in the .400s, it will be hard to keep the mo-hawked one on the bench.
SP: Jair Jurrjens, Braves. In his first game off the DL, Jurrjens went seven innings and struck out four, allowing two hits and a walk in a 4-0 victory over the Mets. Jurrjens is looking to bounce back from a down 2010, which saw his ERA jump from 2.60 in '09 to 4.64 last season.
RP: Kyle Farnsworth, Rays. The closer-by-committee approach appears to have been abandoned by Joe Maddon as reliever Farnsworth has secured all three saves for the Rays. Farnsworth has been anything but consistent throughout his career, but is off to a solid start in 2011, surrendering just one run in seven appearances with a 0.94 WHIP.
C: Mike Napoli, Rangers. For whatever reason, Yorvit Torrealba has earned the majority of starts behind the plate for Texas, equating to just 24 at-bats for Napoli. The catcher/first baseman/designated hitter has performed when giving the opportunity, with a .452 OBP and three bombs this season, but until Napoli sees some extended time, keep him on your bench.
1B: Derrek Lee, Orioles. Lee's historical splits indicate the first baseman tends to drag his feet out of the gate (lifetime average: .282; April/May average: .260), but his power numbers are never one to fall behind. Yet with one homer and two RBI in 54 at-bats, playing in hitter-friendly Camden Yards, Lee appears to be past his prime. Lee may be worth keeping for AL-only formats or leagues that employ a CI position, but drop the Oriole in mixed divisions.
2B: Gordon Beckham, White Sox. Beckham is a notorious slow starter, as the White Sox second baseman hit .235 in April and .159 in May of 2010. However, as he offers little besides runs, send Beckham to the waiver wire, as the majority of leagues still have two or three decent players available at the position.
SS: Juan Uribe, Dodgers. Not many projected Uribe to duplicate his 2010 season, which saw the 11-year veteran post career-highs in homers (24) and RBI (85), but a stat line of .260 average/18 home runs/70 RBI seemed attainable. Yet Uribe hasn't justified his $21 million offseason deal, hitting an appalling .179 with zero jacks. Don't give up on Uribe yet, as the shortstop/third baseman is still hitting fifth behind stars Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, but the Dodger doesn't deserve a starting spot on your roster.
3B: Pedro Alvarez, Pirates. Alvarez made some noise with 16 home runs in 95 games last season, but has yet to find the outfield bleachers in 2011. In fact, Alvarez has yet to find much of anything, with a .193 batting average through 15 games. Alvarez can still be a decent source for homers and RBI, but wait until the Pirate has emerged from his slump before inserting him into your lineup.
OF: Mike Stanton, Marlins. The Florida right fielder was rated the No. 3 prospect in baseball in 2010 behind Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg, and immediately proved his worth with 22 home runs in 100 games. Unfortunately for the Marlins Stanton has been unable to translate last year's momentum into 2011, suffering a sophomore slump in April. Stanton is hitting just .194 with no home runs and three RBI.
SP: Edinson Volquez, Reds. Volquez owns two wins and 24 strikeouts, but his 6.75 ERA and 1.59 WHIP are hard to swallow. The ERA figure is inflated thanks to 13 earned runs surrendered in the first inning of Volquez's four starts. Volquez will be a good source of wins thanks to Cincinnati's run production (tops in the majors with 95 runs), but the former All-Star would better serve your total pitching numbers by remaining on the bench until settling down in the first.
RP: Matt Thornton, White Sox. Thornton leads the league in blown saves with four and has yet to successfully close the door on a Chicago victory. With Chris Sale and Jesse Crain getting a shot at some of the save opportunities, Thornton's prospects are murky for the foreseeable future.
Waiver Wire Watch: Jonathan Herrera, Rockies. Herrera has been one of the season's early surprises, hitting .359 with 10 runs, four stolen bases and a .500 OBP. The Colorado utility man showed glimpses of his hitting prowess in 2010 with a .284 average in 222 at-bats, but was penciled in as the backup to Jose Lopez heading into the season. But with Herrera's hot bat, coupled with Lopez seeing time at third, Herrera will serve as a safe pick off waivers.
Rookie Review: Hank Conger, Angels. Conger has been seeing more action lately due to Jeff Mathis' struggles, and the rookie has responded with two homers and five RBI in seven games this season. Conger was the MVP of the 2010 Futures Game and hit .300 with a .385 OBP in Triple-A Salt Lake last season. If Mathis's slump continues, Conger could become the everyday starter.
Big League Chew Player of the Week: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies. Before Monday's matchup with San Francisco, Tulo was hitting .517 with four homers, eight RBI and eight runs in Colorado's last eight games, putting the Rockies on top of the NL West.
Spit Your Tobacco At: Carl Crawford, Red Sox. Is it possible to have a skid amidst a slump? Crawford has just one hit in his last 17 trips to the plate.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.