Sunday, May 3, 2009

Top Ten List: First Month Slumps

The first month of the baseball season has brought quite a few interesting surprises. The St. Louis Cardinals dominated, the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t shown up yet, Emilio Bonifacio used up some of his fifteen minutes, and Yankee Stadium got more media coverage than the entire Royals’ organization. And the Royals aren’t even that bad.
There are a lot of teams that are bad, though. More specifically there are players that have been bad for them. I love top ten lists, so I figured why not break this down Letterman style? I’ve included some buying/selling advice for each player as well.
Here now, in descending order, April’s top tankers:

10. Lance Berkman
Do you remember how great Berkman was the first two months of 2008? Well, this April he hit .165 with five homers, 17 BB’s and 22 K’s. He’s slowly morphing into a “three true outcomes” type of guy (April TTO%: 56%). This is so unlike last year that I’ve taken to calling him bizzaro-Berkman, but the bottom line is that I do expect him to get his BA up, but I don’t expect to see any of the speed that he showed early last season. Cautious buy low

9. Russell Martin
Martin hit .205/10/0/11/0 in April, bad numbers even for a catcher. But, in Martin’s defense, he appears to be doing a great job handling the young Dodger pitching staff. Joe Torre has gone out of his way to explain that Martin is just pressing a bit too hard right now. This seems like a clear example of a player trying to make too big of a difference too early in the season. I expect him to be fine. Strong buy low

8. Brad Lidge
Yeah, Lidge is a little dinged up, which is different than slumping, but he got through most of April healthy and hasn’t had to go on the DL yet, so I think I can safely say he’s in a slump. If you look at his numbers, they aren’t good: He’s 0-1 with a 7.27 ERA and a 1.95 WHIP. But, in reality, he only has one blown save, and only two bad outings altogether. He just hasn’t had enough good outings yet to offset the bad ones. Like I said, he’s been fighting knee issues as well, so I’m not ready to say that he will be great the rest of the year or anything. I do expect him to be better than he has been, but not enough to recommend him. Don't buy

7. Matt Holliday
Saw this coming? Yeah, me too. Coors to Oaktown is a long, lonely trip. Holliday had four HR’s in April ’08, this year he hit one, on the last day of the month no less. That’s not that significant, though. But this is: last year in April- 5 steals, this year- none. Not one. We are looking at a guy who went 25/28 last year, and now it looks like he may be 20/10. That’s a huge drop-off. That being said, an impatient Holliday owner may be looking to dump him for 50 cents on the dollar, in which case he isn’t a bad speculative play. Buy low for cheap

6. Josh Beckett
What is going on with this guy? Great start to the season, followed by a mediocre outing, and then progressively worse from there. He was also suspended for five games for throwing at Bobby Abreu’s head, but that shouldn’t have affected his performance unless it was more a mental affectation. So now he stands at 2-2 with a 7.22 ERA, 31 K’s, and a 1.81 WHIP. Last year at the end of April he had similar stats in every category other than ERA, which was much lower at 4.10. He didn’t exactly pick up any steam as the year went on last year. He finished 12-10, 4.03 ERA, and 172 K’s, but his WHIP was great at 1.19. Beckett is really hit-or-miss, and although I would like to tell you to buy him, nobody is going to let him go for fair market value simply because of name recognition. Buy low if you can

5. Ricky Nolasco
Florida is off to a great start. As they are wont to do every few years, they look like they may be ready to contend with a very young team. But, what is the most surprising part of this Fish story? They are doing it without one of their best young starters contributing much of anything. Nolasco had a remarkable year in 2008, earning 15 wins, with 186 K’s, a 3.52 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Last year opponents hit .239 against him. So far this year they are hitting .327. He has one win and his ERA is almost seven. All of this would be very alarming if he hadn’t done the same exact thing last April. He did, though, he had a horrible April in ’08, and he may very well have a horrible April in ’10 too, but he’ll be fine every month in between. Very strong buy low

4. B.J. Upton
There are slumps, and then there are SLUMPS. Just ask Adrian Beltre. Or, you could just ask Upton at this point, because he is going through one of the worst months I have ever seen a top 50 fantasy player ever go through. Let’s break it down. He wasn’t ready until the second week of the season because of off-season shoulder surgery. After coming back for one week and hitting .200, he strains a quad, misses a couple games, comes back, hits no home runs, and drops his BA to .177. On the upside he has 5 steals. On the downside he has two two-steal games, which means he only has a steal in three games. To put it simply, if he can’t hit for power and he may or may not be healthy enough to steal bases, then he is no better than David Dellucci to me. (Apologies to David Dellucci, first name that popped in my head, seriously) I’m not ready to completely give up on him, but it wouldn’t shock me if he was a fantasy dud all season long, either through injuries or bad performance. Don't buy

3. David Ortiz
Ortiz hit .230 in April; Not good, but not awful. But what is awful is that he seems to have lost his home run swing. He has NONE, no homers all year. This, while not completely unexpected, is very bad news to a specific sect of fantasy baseball players: Those who took a chance on Papi at a reasonable draft price assuming that he had something left. Turns out, he may not. He also takes up a valuable utility slot on a fantasy roster. Everyone who owns this guy right now is worried about him. If you think he has the ability to turn it around, this is a guy that is there for the taking. Cautiously pessimistic buy low

2. CC Sabathia
We all know that Sabathia is a slow starter. He had a bad April last year, and has a career April ERA of 4.51. This April it was 4.73. Last year he was struggling until he was traded in June to Milwaukee, where he was virtually unhittable the rest of the way. I want to make two very strong points here, though. 1: He won’t have the luxury of a change of scenery or a change of pace this year, the pressure will be intense and constant. 2: He was one of the first two pitchers off the board in a lot of fantasy leagues this year. When a pitcher is taken that early, their owner does not expect him to struggle for an entire month. That being said… Buy buy buy if you can

1. Mark Teixeira
Big Tex has the burden of being the only corner infielder for the Bombers that is expected to also produce at the plate. Without A-Rod in the lineup as of yet, the Yankees were hoping that Teixeira would be able to live up to expectations early and often in the Big Apple. He has not. He hit a Mendoza-like .200 for April, with 3 HR’s and 10 RBI’s, which would be more similar to Kevin Maas than Lou Gehrig. It seems like a run-of-the-mill slump type of situation, but when you are a Yankee and you are getting paid that much money, the pressure can build exponentially. I think a season-long slump, while not likely, is definitely in play at this point. He should be fine as soon as A-Rod is back and is taking the entire media spotlight again. Teixeira owners should be careful right now. He’s the kind of guy that explodes as soon as you trade him. Buy low if you can. Do not sell low.

It’s interesting that subconsciously I wanted Tex and CC to be 1-2 on that list. I think it boils down to the fact that I believe in the pressure of living up to a huge free agent contract. We’ve seen it with players like J.D. Drew, Richie Sexson, Mo Vaughn, Ken Griffey, Jr., Gary Matthews, Jr., the aforementioned Adrian Beltre, and an entire staff of Yankee pitchers including Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano. I wouldn’t start panicking on these guys yet, but definitely keep up to date with all of your information.

Some Honorable Mention slumpees:
Jimmy Rollins, Alexei Ramirez, Geovany Soto, Troy Tulowitzki, Magglio Ordonez, J.J. Hardy, Derrek Lee, Lastings Milledge, Chris Ianetta, Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, Francisco Liriano, Cliff Lee, Ryan Dempster

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