2011 MLB Fantasy Fever From WhatIfSports.com image

Fantasy Fever: In Praise of Pronk

Fantasy Fever Week 7

By Joel Beall - WhatIfSports.com
May 17, 2011

The Cleveland Indians are one of the early-season surprises in the 2011 season, separating themselves in the standings with a 4 ½ game lead in the American League Central. While the pitching has performed relatively well (3.75 ERA, fourth in the AL), the bats have facilitated Chief Wahoo to prominence as the Indians lead the AL in runs scored, average and on-base percentage. Astoundingly, Cleveland is accomplishing this feat sans production out of stars Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana and Grady Sizemore. Sure, Asdrubal Cabrera is off to a fine start, and Matt LaPorta has shown flashes of brilliance. However, while a young nucleus has ignited the Indians, the main offensive catalyst in Cuyahoga County this spring is a blast from the past: Travis Hafner.

Affectionately known as "Pronk," Hafner smacked 103 home runs and 334 RBI from 2004 to 2006, becoming one of the most feared batters in baseball. His 2006 season was especially spectacular, as Hafner belted 42 homers and 117 RBI in just 129 games. Yet Hafner's fondness for the long ball is only half the equation to his batting brilliance. Unlike most bombers, Hafner hit for average, sporting a mean .308 figure during the '04-06 time span. Hafner also displayed a Zen-like patience at the plate, compiling on-base percentages of .410 in '04, .408 in '05 and a hearty .439 in '06.

In 2007, Hafner saw a sudden and steep decline in average, falling from .308 in '06 to .266. However, the slugger still managed to reach the 100 RBI plateau, and most of the town's angst was blinded by Cleveland's collapse in the ALCS to notice Hafner's subpar season. Little did the Indian faithful know 2007 was a precursor to the DH's downfall.

Hafner spent the next three years spiraling into baseball anonymity, hitting just 34 home runs from 2008 to 2010. Injuries seemed to be the root of Hafner's issues, which led to the Cleveland basher appearing in just 269 games the past three seasons. Yet with the steroid era's aftereffects lingering over the game, Pronk's abrupt absence of power led many to speculate that performance enhancers were in play, accusations that Hafner vehemently denied. Whatever the cause, Hafner was believed washed up heading into 2011.

So it was apropos that Hafner ended his three-season slump with a Lazarus-like awakening to start the season. The soon-to-be 34-year-old has been making the most of his opportunities, hitting .339 and driving in 19 in 109 at-bats this season. He might not possess the same power that made him a 40-homer hitter, but if Choo and Santana start to reach the base paths with greater regularity, Hafner will start seeing better pitches at the plate.

His injury-plagued past (and to a greater extent, Cleveland's sporting history) suggest this surprising start won't last. But until the wheels start falling off, ride Hafner's revitalization for those seeking assistance in RBI, OBP and average.

Adrian Gonzalez Gonzalez is hitting .349 in May.

Start 'em:

C: Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers. The Brewers backstop has been phenomenal since his return from a thumb injury. In 82 at-bats, Lucroy is hitting .329 with a .378 on-base percentage. Lucroy has three home runs and 15 RBI on the season, and if past performance is any indicator, the Milwaukee catcher won't provide plentiful power numbers (35 jacks in 350 minor league games). But with a dearth of depth at the catcher position in fantasy, Lucroy's average should be enough to earn a spot in your lineup.

1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox. The average has been present (.315 in April); however, Red Sox Nation had concerns that the move to the Junior Circuit effected the former Padre's slugging aptitude, as Gonzalez recorded just one bomb in his first 116 at-bats of the season. Any apprehension of his April power outage has been alleviated with Gonzo's performance in May, as the Boston first baseman has eight home runs in the month.

2B: Jamey Carroll, Dodgers. Carroll's age (37) will scare away some owners, yet the uber-utility man hit .291 in 2010 and has shown no signs of regression in 2011, rocking a .319 figure in 144 at-bats. Carroll has never been one to challenge the fences, but his .380 on-base percentage will correlate to Carroll as a solid run producer.

3B: Scott Rolen, Reds. Rolen returned from a 19-game sabbatical this weekend and made his presence felt against his former employer, recording seven hits in a series sweep of St. Louis. Rolen will be receiving the occasional off day to keep the third baseman fresh, but with his return becomes a viable option to start at third in fantasy.

SS: Jhonny Peralta, Tigers. Peralta is in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak, with a .441 mark during that time span. Even more remarkable is Peralta's sudden display of deep dexterity, smacking four home runs in the streak. On the season, Peralta is hitting .307 with 22 RBI and 17 runs.

OF: Laynce Nix, Nationals. The Nationals outfielder is in the midst of a seven-game hitting tear, batting .400 since May 8. Nix has excelled in left for Washington, hitting .310 with five homers on the season. His on-base percentage (.326) leaves much to be desired, and Nix will probably be on the bench against opposing left-handers. Nevertheless, for those in leagues that specify a LF position, Nix will be a treasured commodity if he continues his performance at the plate into the summer.

SP: Anibal Sanchez, Marlins. The Florida fireballer has 52 strikeouts in 49.2 innings in 2011 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, giving the Marlins a terrifying trio of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Sanchez in the starting rotation. Sanchez has been even better as of late, pitching 15 innings of shutout baseball in his past two starts (albeit against the Nationals).

RP: Francisco Rodriguez, Mets. Rodriguez is a far cry in terms of philanthropy to an owner's overall WHIP, as the closer has posted a 1.42 figure in 19.2 innings. Aside from the propensity of surrendering base runners, Rodriguez has been a pleasant surprise, blowing just one save and sporting a 0.92 ERA. Rodriguez has been especially dominant in his last 14 appearances, registering 11 saves without conceding a run.

Sit 'em:

C: Russell Martin, Yankees. Martin is mirrored in a May slump, hitting .125 with three RBI. Martin submitted two substandard seasons at the plate in 2009 and 2010, and despite playing in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, is well on his way to a third straight pedestrian performance. With prospect Jesus Montero hitting .336 in Triple-A, Martin's days as the Pinstripes' everyday backstop may be coming to an end.

1B: Adam Lind, Blue Jays. Lind had missed eight straight games before being placed on the DL late Monday night. On the season, Lind has been impressive with seven home runs, 27 RBI and a .313 batting average.

2B: Jonathan Herrera, Rockies. Herrera is hitting .280 for the month but has been unable to draw walks in the same frequency as in April (4 BB in May compared to 15 in April). Herrera is still batting in the two-hole for Colorado in front of CarGo and Troy Tulowitzki, which will amount to a copious amount of run production. Even so, for those in OBP leagues, Herrera's value is starting to drop.

3B: Juan Uribe, Dodgers. He has been mentioned in this space before, and with good reason: after signing a three-year deal with the Dodgers in the offseason, Uribe hit .244 with three homers in April. May has not been any kinder towards the versatile infielder, as Uribe has zero long balls and an appalling .128 average. Although he batted just .248 in 2010, Uribe did file 24 home runs and 85 RBI. With his power numbers floundering, Uribe has little, if any, worth at this stage in fantasy.

SS: Jed Lowrie, Red Sox. The "Free Jed Lowrie!" fervor has been tempered, as the Boston shortstop has cooled off quite considerably in May with a .259 average with 15 strikeouts. Lowrie maintains a stalwart average of .320 on the season and remains a solid option at short, but monitor Lowrie diligently as his game may not hold up through the rigors of the everyday grind.

OF: Jason Bay, Mets. Bay has only been playing since April 21, and maybe 78 at-bats are too premature to cast judgment. Yet the 32-year-old looks like a shell of the ballplayer that averaged 30 jacks and 99 RBI from 2004 to 2009. While cavernous Citi Field isn't helping the cause, injuries and age appear to have caught up with Bay.

Darwin Barney Barney is raking at the plate.

SP: John Lackey, Red Sox. Lackey has been battered to the tune of 35 earned runs in 39.1 innings in 2011, with only 19 strikeouts and a robust 1.81 WHIP. Lackey was placed on the DL Monday with an elbow sprain.

RP: Aroldis Chapman, Reds. Owners who were hoping Chapman would replace Francisco Cordero as closer can kiss that dream goodbye. Chapman has yielded 12 walks and one hit batter in his last four appearances, while Cordero has been unwavering at the end of the bullpen with a 1.86 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 19.1 innings.

Waiver Wire: Austin Jackson, Tigers. Expectations were high for Jackson after the Tiger outfielder hit .293 with 103 runs in his rookie campaign. Jackson stumbled out of the gate in 2011 with an atrocious April average of .178, leading to many impulsive owners to drop Jackson onto the waiver wire. Jackson has since bounced back, smacking .327 in May. He won't provide much pop, but for those seeking run and average support, Jackson may be available.

Rookie Review: Darwin Barney, Cubs. Barney is second in the NL in average with a .345 figure and leads all rookies in OBP at .370. Barney's strong April (.326 average, 14 RBI and 15 runs) won him the permanent job at second over Jeff Baker, and his performance in May has been just as astounding (.380 average, seven runs).

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Reds vs. Cardinals. Baseball's just that more enjoyable when animosity is in the air. This weekend's incident between Cordero, Pujols and the Cardinal dugout ensures that 2010's spat between the two NL Central clubs is far from over.

Spit Your Tobacco At: Jorge Posada, Yankees. Hey Jorge, getting dropped to the bottom of the batting order isn't degrading. The only thing insulting about your predicament is that fact that you're getting paid $13 million to bat .165.

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Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

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