2011 MLB Fantasy Fever From WhatIfSports.com image

Fantasy Fever: Old Reliable

Fantasy Fever Week 9

By Joel Beall - WhatIfSports.com
June 1, 2011

When compiling a catalog of the greatest first basemen of the past 15 years, few names are universally engrained on said list. Albert Pujols is a lock. Jim Thome's longevity certainly correlates to a nomination. Jeff Bagwell's barrage of bombs serves notice. Frank Thomas would undoubtedly come into conversation despite manning the DH role for most of his career. In only seven years in the Show, Ryan Howard has thrown his hat into the ring. Depending on your steroid stance, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi could be included.

Yet one of baseball's best hitters from this era goes unnoticed during this discussion. After posting a .315 average with 25 home runs and 97 RBI during his rookie campaign in 1998, Todd Helton submitted one of the best six-year stretches in the modern period, averaging 37 homers, 121 RBI, a .340 average and a .441 OBP from 1999 to 2004. The regularity of the long ball has faded, but Helton has remained a formidable foe at the plate, hitting over .300 in five of the seven seasons since 2005. Nonetheless, Helton is far from a household name outside of the Rocky Mountains range.

Helton's lack of appreciation stems from several factors. Thanks to playing in the NL West, the former Tennessee QB does his damage at the plate when most of America is in bed. Another detriment to Helton is the belief that hitter-friendly Coors Field has given the Rockies first baseman a home field advantage, a sentiment that his splits don't necessarily dispute. In Denver, Helton has a .355 batting average, .452 OBP and .625 SLG; on the road, those percentages fall to .292/.392/.481. Furthermore, Helton's home run total pales in comparison to the likes of Thome, Thomas and Bagwell (although 339 career jacks is nothing to scorn at).

As Helton is often overlooked in the historical sense, this predicament applies to the present as well. After he finished 2010 with a career-low .256 average and just eight long balls, many expected Helton to hang 'em up. But the perennial All-Star vowed to return with vengeance, and through the first two months of the season has made good on his word. In 153 at bats in 2011, Helton is batting .307 with a respectable .374 OBP, silencing critics that called for his retirement. More impressive is Helton's consistency, hitting .300 in April followed by .313 in May, with three homers in each month. And stunningly, Helton is performing better with the bat on the road (.339 away) rather than home (.299).

While owners wish for more power out of the position, one would be hard pressed to find a more attractive free-agent option than Helton, who is currently owned in just 40 percent of leagues. Before exploring an acquisition via the trade route for average assistance or a replacement at first, give Helton a look, especially in deep or NL-only leagues. Helton might not be the sexy pick. But underappreciated assets rarely are.

Justin Turner Turner has been terrific for the Mets.

Start 'em:

C: Miguel Olivo, Mariners. Those scrambling to supplant Buster Posey may find their man in Olivo. After a tough start in April (.217 average, .256 OBP) Olivo has bounced back with a respectable May, driving in 11 with a .353 OBP. He won't be fantasy force; still, Olivo is owned in just 11 percent of leagues despite ranking in the top half at his position.

1B: Michael Morse, Nationals. Morse is swinging one of baseball's hottest bats, rocking a .387 average over his last eight games with five home runs and 11 RBI. With Adam LaRoche on the DL, Morse will get an opportunity to showcase his stuff at first. For those thinking Morse is just a flash in the pan, the 29-year-old does have a career batting average of .291 in 281 games.

2B: Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks. Johnson struggled out of the gate for Arizona after having a career year in 2010 (.284, 26 homers and 71 RBI). Johnson has resurged this month, especially within the past week as the Diamondbacks second baseman is hitting .429 since May 24. Johnson is still on pace to hit over 25 dingers this season, elevated output for his position.

3B: Justin Turner, Mets. New York's Turner is hitting .342 in May with 20 RBI and nine runs. All-Star stalwart David Wright is nearing a return, but Turner's play will undoubtedly earn him the job at second.

SS: Alexi Casilla, Twins. Admittedly, Casilla won't contribute many runs or RBI due to Minnesota's lethargic lineup. But Casilla is batting .302 in May with three stolen bases at a position lacking viable hitting options.

OF: Corey Patterson, Blue Jays. Patterson's potential, which seemed more fabled than famous, seems to be finally coming to fruition, as the Toronto outfielder is batting .366 in his last nine games and .310 on the month with 20 runs, 16 ribbies and four stolen bases. Patterson will be a reliable resource for runs batting in front of Jose Bautista.

SP: Dillon Gee, Mets. Gee has been relatively effective in his last three starts, working 20.2 innings with a 3.05 ERA and earning the W in all three starts. Gee, who has 33 strikeouts in 47 innings this year, is a must-start when pitching in cavernous Citi Field.

RP: Brandon League, Mariners. League survived a mid-May slump and has made seven straight appearances without surrendering a run. On the season, League has an AL-best 14 saves.

Sit 'em:

C: John Buck, Marlins. Buck hasn't come close to replicating his All-Star campaign from a season ago, hitting .207 with five home runs through 46 games. Although the position is thin, better options are available behind the plate.

1B: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Pujols has improved his average in May, hitting .278 on the month. However, the three-time MVP has just two long balls since April 24 and has a 1.41 ground ball to fly ball ratio, the highest of his career. Pujols owners should consider trading the St. Louis slugger while he still maintains value.

2B: Dan Uggla, Braves. Not only has Uggla failed to snap out of his April funk (.202 average), the Braves second baseman actually regressed in May, hitting .160 with two home runs.

Blame it on Rio-s

Alex Rios Nothing is going right for Rios in '11.

3B: Chone Figgins, Mariners. Figgins is hitless in his last 20 at bats and has an abysmal .198 OBP in May. Since signing with Seattle, Figgins is hitting .242 in nearly 800 at bats. He may offer a few stolen bases, but Figgins no longer holds the value he possessed as an uber-utility man with the Angels.

SS: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. If the .210 average wasn't appalling enough for Han-Ram owners, it now appears the Silver Slugger is dealing with back pain that surely will correlate to missed games.

OF: Alex Rios, White Sox. Chicago was relieved in 2010 when Rios rediscovered his sweet swing that was M.I.A in his infamous 2009 stint on the South Side. Unfortunately, 2009 appears to be less of an aberration and more of a forewarning, as Rios is currently posting a .206 average, .259 OBP and .314 SLG on the season.

SP: Jon Lester, Red Sox. Lester has given up four or more runs in four of his past five starts, compiling a 5.50 ERA in the month of May. The Boston ace was torched for seven runs off of eight hits and four walks in his most recent outing against the White Sox.

RP: Joakim Soria, Royals. The Mexecutioner has lost his closing role after back-to-back blown saves over Memorial Day weekend. On the season, Soria has a 6.55 ERA with five blown saves and an astronomical 1.68 WHIP.

Waiver Wire: Scott Baker, Twins. Baker's 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP are above average; however, it's the accumulation of strikeouts that makes Minnesota's right-hander attractive. Baker has 61 Ks in 61.2 innings this season, and has totaled six or more strikeouts in his last five starts. Owned in just 34% of leagues, Baker will be beneficial for those needing strikeout support.

Rookie Review: Al Alburquerque, Tigers. Alburquerque is leading baseball with 15.58 strikeouts per nine innings and is 3-1 with a 3.12 ERA working out of Detroit's bullpen. But the real reason we highlight the Tiger reliever? That beautiful name. Alburquerque joins an elite company featuring the likes of Bud Weiser, Urban Shocker, Gookie Dawkins and Coco Crisp as some of baseball's best handles.

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Bartolo Colon, Yankees. The Colon acquisition was viewed as a humorless hoax, almost as if New York management was rubbing salt into their fans' wounds after the Yanks failed to sign Cliff Lee. Yet Colon has been surprisingly efficient, going 3-3 in 66.1 innings with a 3.26 ERA. In his last appearance, Colon pitched a four-hit shutout against Oakland, and has a 2.48 ERA in his last four starts.

Spit Your Tobacco At: John Danks, White Sox. Not only has he sputtered out of the gates (0-8, 5.25 ERA), but Danks called out Jose Bautista in a recent 13-4 shellacking. Danks believed Bautista was showing him up by slamming his bat to the ground after popping up. Trust me Mr. Danks, I think the scoreboard was doing a good enough job of that.

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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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