Fantasy Report: 5/13/05

I don’t know if it will be every other week, two out of every three weeks or just semi-regularly when I can’t think of a topic for a regular column, but I will have Fantasy Reports on Fridays (not all of them, but probably at least half of them) throughout the season. Let’s get right to the first one.


Worth Watching

1B Tino Martinez, Yankees: Martinez was a fantasy afterthought last year as he hit .262 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs, which just isn’t enough from a first baseman in most leagues. Right now, however, Martinez looks like it’s 1997 all over again.

Not only has Martinez homered in five straight games, he’s hit one out in seven of the last nine contests. In those nine games, he’s 9-for-27 (.333) with a double, seven homers, 10 runs and 14 RBIs.

For the season, Martinez is now hitting .266/.352/.585 with nine homers, 19 runs and 21 RBIs. He’s on pace for 42 homers and 97 RBIs. I thought Martinez was done, but he’s clearly not. He won’t top 40 homers, but he could get to 25-30 and the Yankees lineup could let him approach 100 RBIs.

Even if he does that, you’ll still probably have to live with a sub-par batting average. If you can find somebody willing to give you anything of value for him right now, I’d pull the trigger.

1B Mike Sweeney, Royals: Sweeney’s stock has fallen considerably thanks to two straight years of poor health and declining productivity. He’s also past 30 years old (31), which isn’t generally when players get healthier and more productive.

Still, it’s not like Sweeney’s ancient, and it’s not like he doesn’t know how to hit. He’s proving the latter point this season, hitting .328 with 11 doubles, nine homers, 17 runs and 29 RBIs. That puts him on pace for 42 homers and 134 RBIs.

Unfortunately, after playing in each of Kansas City’s first 35 games, Sweeney missed his first game Thursday with a sore right oblique muscle. I don’t know if you can expect Sweeney to stay healthy all year, but the ability to hit .320-.330 with 25-30 homers and 100-plus RBIs is definitely there.

1B Hee Seop Choi, Dodgers: Choi started this season with nine hits in his first 45 at-bats (.200) including just one homer and two RBIs. That made him 19-for-107 (.178) with one homer and eight RBIs as a Dodger.

Since then, he’s 18-for-44 (.409) with five homers and 14 RBIs. For the season, he’s hitting a very nice .303/.392/.573. The one problem with Choi is that he doesn’t see much action against left-handers, mostly because he hasn’t shown any ability to hit them.

If you’re in a league with daily changes, however, Choi can still be a very useful commodity if you start him whenever the Dodgers are facing a righty and start another first baseman (or utility player, corner infielder, etc.) whenever they face a lefty.

Worth Worrying

1B Paul Konerko, White Sox: After four years as one of the most consistent hitters around (OPS between .844 and .863 every year from 1999-2002), Konerko’s become Mr. Unpredictable. In 2003, he slumped to a .234 average with 18 homers and 65 RBIs. Time to write him off? Nope, it was time for him to hit .277 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs.

This year, he has an impressive nine homers and 25 RBIs (on pace for 42 and 116). Unfortunately, he also has an unimpressive .197 batting average. After hitting .268 with seven homers in his first 16 games, Konerko is 9-for-66 (.136) with two homers in his last 19 games.

I didn’t believe Konerko was going to hit 40-plus homers again and I don’t believe he’s going to hit below .200. I’d say he finishes the season with 30-35 long balls and an average in the .240-.250 range. It’s not great, but it’s something you could live with.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

David DeJesus, Royals: DeJesus came up after the Royals traded Carlos Beltran last year and showed off some nice potential, making people think he might be ready to develop into a useful fantasy player this season after he hit .287 with seven homers and eight steals in 363 at-bats.

Well, he’s not ready. He hit .302 with two homers, 14 runs and nine RBIs in April, which is pretty decent. But he’s only hitting .205 with no homers, three runs and three RBIs in May. For the season, he’s hitting .269 with just two homers, 17 runs and 12 RBIs. He also only has one steal, and he’s been thrown out five times.

If you can’t hit at least .300 and you’re not going to reach double digits in homers and you can’t steal at least 15 bases, there’s not much room for you on any fantasy roster, especially if you don’t play the middle infield or catcher. DeJesus might become a useful fantasy hitter at some point, but it won’t be this season.

Vinny Castilla, Nationals: Castilla tricked people into thinking he had a good year last year when he really just had an average year in a good park. Seeing that I realized that having 35 homers and 131 RBIs in Coors Field isn’t that impressive and that I noticed he only hit .218/.281/.493 on the road, I expected Castilla to stink this year.

So, of course, he goes out and starts the season hitting .350/.416/.600 in his first 24 games. In his last eight games, however, he’s only 5-for-33 (.152) with a double, two runs and three RBIs. For the season, he’s down to .292/.370/.478.

Honestly, I’d be shocked if he finishes the season with an OPS even that high. He only has three homers, and considering he hit .232 with 12 homers in 143 games in Atlanta in 2002, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him fall short of 20 homers and finish with an average below .250.


Heating Up

Erik Bedard, Orioles: Bedard was decent in his rookie season last year, posting a 4.59 ERA in 137.1 innings. His strikeout rate (7.93 K/9IP) was good enough, but his walk rate (4.65 BB/9IP) was terrible.

Bedard started this season with two nice outings before getting tattooed (eight runs in 4.2 innings) in his third start. Since then, he’s allowed four runs (two earned) in 30 innings over four starts, striking out 30 and walking just five.

For the season, Bedard is 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 46.2 innings. He obviously won’t be this good all season, but we shouldn’t be too surprised by his success because he was dominant in the low minor leagues (he only pitched five innings in Triple-A). His strikeout rate (7.91 K/9IP) is about the same as last year’s, and he could be a very solid pitcher if his improved walk rate (1.74 BB/9IP) lasts.

Josh Towers, Blue Jays: Towers entered this season with a 4.96 ERA in 348.1 major-league innings. After his first four starts this season, he had a 5.66 ERA, which wouldn’t have shocked anybody at all. Since then, he’s allowed four runs (two earned) in 22.2 innings over three starts. For the season, he’s 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.

If you look at his stats, you’ll see why his nickname is “Control” Towers. In those 348.1 major-league innings before this season, he issued only 54 walks (1.40 BB/9IP). In his 43.1 innings this year, he’s issued three (0.62 BB/9IP).

Aside from the fact that even he probably can’t sustain that low a walk rate, the reason he’s had success this year is the strikeouts and the home runs. Coming into this season, he had career rates of 4.24 K/9IP and 1.63 HR/9IP. This year, he’s up to 6.23 K/9IP and down to 1.04 HR/9IP.

My guess is that it’s just a small sample and, while he might have better strikeout and home run rates than his career to date, he’ll be closer to 5-5.5 K/9IP and 1.25-1.3 HR/9IP than where he is now. And his ERA is more likely to finish the season above 4.50 than below 3.50.

Kenny Rogers, Rangers: After a very nice 2002 season in which he posted a 3.85 ERA, he posted a 4.57 ERA in 195 innings with the Twins in 2003 and a 4.76 ERA in 211.2 innings with the Rangers last year. At 40 years of age entering this season, nobody in their right mind was expecting much from Rogers this year.

Naturally, he goes out and posts a 1.79 ERA in his first seven starts, and he hasn’t allowed a run in his last three (21 innings). Two words come to mind: “smoke” and “mirrors.” Rogers has only allowed one home run, which is good, but that rate can’t really last.

And his other peripherals are terrible. He’s struck 20 batters in 45.1 innings, which works out to an awful 3.97 K/9IP ratio. And while a 3.57 BB/9IP ratio isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty bad when it means you’ve only walked two fewer batters than you’ve struck out.

He might get another quality start or two in before it happens, but Rogers is going to get hit and get hit hard. Just try not to have him in your lineup when it happens.

Cooling Off

Jamie Moyer, Mariners: After a 5.21 ERA as a 41-year-old last year, Moyer was looking like a feel-good story for his first five starts this season. He was 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA and people were talking about how the crafty lefty had adjusted yet again and was back to being a good pitcher.

In his last three starts, however, Moyer’s pitched just 8.2 innings and he’s allowed 16 runs, all but one earned. His ERA has shot up three full runs from 2.53 to 5.53, and now he’s back to where he was before — old and bad.

Moyer’s strikeout rate isn’t terrible (6.20 K/9IP) and his walk rate is decent (2.88 BB/9IP) and he’s not even giving up that many homers (0.89 HR/9IP), but he’s been eminently hittable — 59 hits in 40.2 innings. Some of that may be fluky, but I think it’s getting to be pretty easy to hit line drives off Moyer, and line drives turn into hits about 75 percent of the time.

Rodrigo Lopez, Orioles: Lopez has been all or nothing so far this season. He’s had four starts in which he’s allowed one or zero earned runs, and he’s had three starts in which he’s allowed at least five earned runs. Unfortunately, two of the three bad starts have come in his last three outings, and they’ve raised his ERA from 1.91 to 4.47.

Last year, Lopez had a very nice 3.59 ERA. He had a slightly worse strikeout rate (6.38 K/9IP vs. 6.59 this year), a better walk rate (2.85 BB/9IP vs. 4.04 this year) and a worse home run rate (1.11 HR/9IP vs. 0.85 this year).

I think the good/bad dichotomy is just random, and that he’ll have some so-so starts in no time. I’d also expect him to finish the year within shouting distance of a 4.00 ERA (one way or the other), so don’t get too scared by the shellings.

Jake Westbrook, Indians: Westbrook was one of last year’s biggest surprises, as he came pretty much out of nowhere (he had a 4.33 ERA in 133 innings in 2003) to go 14-9 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 215.2 innings.

This year, things haven’t gone so well. He’s actually like Lopez in that he’s made four good starts and three bad starts. The difference is that his good starts haven’t been quite as good (no more than two earned runs allowed) and his bad starts have been worse (at least six earned runs allowed).

The result is that his ERA this season (6.69) is currently nearly double what it was last year. Westbrook was probably a candidate to decline somewhat because he hardly struck anybody out last year (4.84 K/9IP).

While I don’t think Westbrook is going to keep pitching this poorly, there’s little reason for you to keep using him (and unless you’re in a deep league, probably not much reason to even hold onto him).

He’s not going to get back to that 3.38 ERA level, and even if he starts pitching decently, the Cleveland offense isn’t hitting well enough to give him a bunch of wins, he’s not going to help get you strikeouts and he’s not going to have a super WHIP. He’s a dreaded high-risk, low-reward player right now.

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