Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
During the first three full years of his major league career, Zimmerman combined fantastic D with an above-average bat — his wRC+ from 2006-2008 was 110. Since then, the fourth pick in the 2005 draft has kept the slick leather and improved his lumber. He posted a 132 wRC+ in 2009 and holds a 160 wRC+ in 2010.
Zimmerman’s power production has soared, with his Isolated Power figures going from the high 100’s to .233 in ’09 and .295 this season. ISO tends to become reliable around 550 plate appearances, and Zimmerman has been hitting for elite pop for nearly 900 PAs now. His rest-of-season ZiPS calls for a .289/.361/.522 triple-slash, with a .233 ISO. Remember Scott Rolen‘s peak? Zimmerman, 25, is now that type of player.
Phil Hughes, Yankees
Though he has seemingly been a topic of conversation for years, Hughes turns just 24 this month. And he has been great as a starter — in 56.2 frames, he has 9.05 K/9, 3.02 BB/9 and a 3.63 xFIP. The 6-5, 240 pound right-hander is doing a great job of getting ahead in the count, with a 67 first pitch strike percentage (58% MLB average), and he’s getting batters to chase out of the zone 34.8% (27.8% MLB average). That’s the sixth-highest chase rate among MLB starters tossing at least 40 innings.
How is Hughes getting the job done? With 92-93 MPH fastballs and high-80’s cutters that hitters can’t seem to lay off. The 2004 first-rounder has gone to his fastball about 52 percent, getting a strike 70.2 percent of the time (64.4% MLB average) and getting a whiff 9.3% (6% MLB average). Batters have offered at the four-seamer 51.9 percent (45.2% MLB average).
The cutter, used about 27 percent of the time, has been thrown for a strike 75.1% (66.7% MLB average). It’s getting whiffs 10.4% (8.4% MLB average) and has been swung at 63.1% (50% MLB average). Hughes’ curve isn’t faring as well, with below-average strike, whiff and swing rates, but the fastball and cutter have made him death on righties (2.88 xFIP) and acceptable against lefties (4.40 xFIP).
If Hughes is still available in your league, well, what are you waiting for? ZiPS projects 8.51 K/9, 3.02 BB/9 and a 3.68 FIP from here on out. The Yankees are going to be cautious with his workload, but he’ll continue to deal when he’s on the mound.
Ryan Doumit, Pirates
The 29-year-old switch-hitter has a Tolstoy-length injury history — a torn hamstring in 2006, a concussion as well as a wrist and ankle sprain in 2007, a fractured thumb in 2008 and a wrist injury that required surgery in 2009 — but when he’s not hurting, he’s mashing.
After posting a 126 wRC+ during a (moderately) healthy 2008, Doumit’s production dipped considerably in 2009 (85 wRC+). Some of that was poor luck on balls put in play, but he hacked at a career-high 33.2% of pitches thrown outside of the zone.
In 2010, Doumit has chased 24.2% of off-the-plate pitches, and he’s drawing walks at a career-best 10.3% clip. His first pitch strike percentage is just 44.6 — that’s lowest among MLB batters with at least 100 trips to the plate. Doumit has a 127 wRC+ in 175 PA, with a .281/.371/.451 line. ZiPS projects a .277/.339/.458 showing for the rest of 2010, which is plenty useful for a backstop. But if Doumit continues to work the count well, his value gets a boost.
Of course, all of this is assuming he doesn’t hit the DL tomorrow.
Akinori Iwamura, Pirates
Picked up from Tampa Bay over the off-season for RHP Jesse Chavez (who was subsequently sent to Atlanta for Rafael Soriano), Iwamura has effectively lost the starting gig at the keystone spot for Pittsburgh to Neil Walker.
CHONE (108 wRC+) and ZiPS (107 wRC+) both forecast Iwamura for a solid offensive season, getting on base at a characteristically high rate while displaying little pop. Instead, Aki has a 49 wRC+ in 181 PA. He’s drawing a walk 12.1% of the time, but an incredibly low BABIP has made him one of the worst players in the majors to date.
During his major league career, Iwamura has a .330 BABIP. CHONE projected a .343 pre-season BABIP, and ZiPS .345. Aki’s 2010 BABIP? .198. He has had fewer batted balls classified as line drives (13.3%, compared to a 19.4% career average), and his ground ball rate has spiked to 58.6% (47.3% career average). That helps explain why his ISO is .076, below his pre-season projections of .109 from CHONE and .114 from ZiPS, as well as his career .108 mark.
Those aren’t promising developments, but Iwamura probably hasn’t totally lost it — his rest-of-season ZiPS projection is .262/.337/.369, with a .319 wOBA. Even so, the Pirates’ decision to give Walker (profiled here) a shot is defensible. The 24-year-old has a .262/.307/.449 rest-of-season ZiPS. It remains to be seen how he’ll handle second base, and he’s no top prospect these days. But Walker could be part of the next relevant Pirates team, while Iwamura won’t be.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
Since returning from a neck/back strain, Matsuzaka has been a pain in the neck to Sox fans and fantasy owners alike. Dice-K has 6.55 K/9, 5.5 BB/9 and a 5.49 xFIP in 34.1 innings pitched. He has put 46.4% of his pitches within the zone (47.5% MLB average), and he’s getting first pitch strikes just 52.4%. Matsuzaka also isn’t missing bats — his swinging strike rate is 6.4%, compared to the 8-8.5% MLB average and his career 9.7% average.
During his first two seasons state-side, Dice-K was basically a league-average starter (4.31 xFIP in 2007, 4.70 in 2008). He was control-challenged, but at least compensated with good K rates. Last year’s shoulder ailment and 4.83 xFIP, coupled with more injury concerns and lousy pitching this season, make him hard to recommend. The upside here would appear to be a 4.25-4.50 ERA. Is that worth all the aggravation?
Gordon Beckham, White Sox
Beckham went from Athens to the South Side in short order, putting up a .270/.347/.460 triple-slash and a 112 wRC+ in 2009. CHONE (115 wRC+) and ZiPS (111 wRC+) predicted more of the same for the 23-year-old, and Beckham’s value received an extra boost fantasy-wise with his shifting from third to second base.
Flash forward two months into the 2010 season, and Beckham is owned in just 42% of Yahoo leagues. He has a ghastly .196/.286/.239 line in 187 PA, with a 45 wRC+.
It would be rash to sell low on Beckham in keeper leagues, as he remains a valuable long-term talent, but he looks lost at the plate at the moment. After swinging at 24.8% of out-of-zone pitches during his rookie year, Gordon has gone fishing 30.6% this season. His groundball rate is up 10 percentage points (40.4% to 50.4%), and his pop up rate has increased — 14%, compared to 11.9% last year and the 7-8% big league average. Beckham’s .043 ISO puts him in the illustrious company of Jason Kendall and teammate Juan Pierre.
He’s not going to keep a .238 BABIP, but Beckham is surely testing the patience of owners who have stuck with him through his struggles.