Checking in on my “usual suspects”

We’re roughly a quarter of the way through the season and this means that fantasy teams are beginning to show their legitimate strengths and weaknesses. To be sure, sample size is still an issue; there are still many players struggling mightily who will ultimately have fine seasons and many Cinderellas who will turn to pumpkins come September. My leash is usually longer than most other’s and I believe that if I liked a player and selected him, I did so for a reason. So it follows that I will not toss that reason aside simply out of frustration or on a whim. Rarely do I jettison players before mid-May. But, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do…

At the outset of the season, I wrote about a selection of players who found their way on to multiple teams of mine, so let’s check and see if they’re making me look brilliant or foolish.

On 4 of 4 teams

Roy Oswalt. Your check is in the mail, buddy. Oswalt has been fantastic and he’s on every single one of my teams. His ERA will not be in the mid-2.00s all season, but then again he also won’t continue to win a mere 25 percent of his starts. The peripherals are fairly supportive of his performance. His hit and strand rates may be a little fortunate, but his homer rate and walk-to-strikeout ratio don’t raise red flags. His ground ball and fly ball rates have also swung back to what they looked like when he was a perennial Cy Young contender; the past two years hitters were getting more balls into the air off of him. I’m tempted to sell high, but I’m also salivating at the possibility he gets traded to a contender.

Max Scherzer. Well, you can’t win them all. The other player to sweep my drafts has turned in an impressive string of Oliver Perez-like performances. Scherzer was averaging 3.5 walks per game, had given up nine homers in 42 innings and had seen his ERA balloon by five runs in his last four starts before being demoted to the minors. I still think Scherzer has a bright future, but unless your league is set up to include players in the minors, you have to cut bait.

On 3 of 4 teams

Nelson Cruz. Not much to say about this guy. He rakes, he runs and hits in a lineup that produces like a beer-league softball team. (If you are reading this, Eric Byrnes, holler at me if you are planning to visit New York and are free Sunday afternoons.) Cruz should continue having a phenomenal season, I’m not selling high.

Aramis Ramirez. Again, just when I start tooting my own horn, I get slapped with a reality check. Ramirez’s struggles are frustrating because I invested fairly highly in him. I thought I was getting a steal, but all those who passed are now smiling and saying, “told you so.” There’s not much you can do with a player like Ramirez. I don’t want to trade him for pennies on the dollar – why would anybody be more interested and patient with him than I should be? At the same time, you absolutely can not drop a player of his stature 40 games in. If you have a good replacement, the best option is likely to ride a hot bat and bench Ramirez until he gets going. His BABIP is .190, so have some faith. But his strikeout rate is through the roof, so not an overabundance of it.

Ted Lilly. Lilly has been up and down a bit since his return. As a clearance priced item, I’m still highly confident he’ll prove to be a perfectly sound and reasonably profitable investment.

Brad Lidge. Lidge was fine for the week or so he was in a Phillies uniform, but now he’s back on the DL. For the price I paid, I’d be happy with 20 saves for the season, so all is not yet lost. Keeping things in perspective, I would almost always rather have a risky player with upside suffer an injury than perform poorly. Injuries make decisions easier and they don’t clog up a roster spot or soil your rate stats.

On 2 of 4 teams

Ryan Braun. I got a bit scared when Braun got hit on the hand last week, but it only kept him out of the lineup for a few days. Simply put, this man is a beast and has a legitimate shot at finishing the season as the top ranked player. Strikeouts are down, walks are up, OBP is through the roof, and the slugging is mammoth but generally sustainable. What would Braun have to do be the top overall player? .320, 30/30, and 120/120? Though certainly not a given, that line is totally possible.

Victor Martinez. At the beginning of the month, it looked as if V-Mart was headed toward righting himself, but then he regressed before homering twice on Monday. I have to have faith he will get it going, but slow starts are even tougher to accept from star catchers. I know V-Mart will get more off days than just about any other player selected in his round or purchased at his price and I also know that his value is really tied up in being a lot better than his peers. It’s a delicate balance, 23/105 fully vindicates his draft day price while 18/88 would make you feel like a sucker.

Aaron Hill. Injury has precluded Hill from getting a full quarter season’s worth of reps. The jury is still out on his slow start so I’m still exercising patience.

Andre Ethier. Not much to say except that I got him on two of four teams, but tried to get him all four times. Andre the Giant is the real deal, and although everybody has their price, I would not be looking to sell high. He’s on the DL right now and that’s a huge blow to any team that boasts him on their roster. Remain patient, that’s what sound drafting and roster depth is for.

Joakim Soria. I’ve pretty much gotten what I paid for in Soria. No rave reviews, no complaints. Soria is a solid ace closer. He converts his opportunities, limits baserunners and racks up strikeouts.

The “R” in WAR
How a person can be a hero by being a zero.

Lance Berkman. After a slow start coming back from injury, Big Puma seems to be rounding into form. If he can stay healthy, Berkman will prove a nice value for my teams. If you are struggling at your corners and don’t want to give up what it takes to make a play for a really expensive player, Berkman might make a nice target. If his progress toward vintage form comes to fruition, though, he’ll be very hard to acquire. So, the time to act is now.

Cole Hamels. Hamels was my vote for best potential value among luxury brand pitchers. He’s been a mixed bag, but I remain optimistic. The good news is that his strikeouts are up, but the bad news is that his walk rate is up too. Hamels is being victimized by BABIP once again, and that’s partially because his groundball rate has spiked, giving way to a drop off in flyballs. This wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing, especially given his home ballpark, but what compounds the problem is that Hamels has also seen his homer rate rise.

So, the Cliff’s Notes for his struggles basically look like this: more walks, more hits, and more homers. This is partially legitimate and a partially bad luck.

Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco’s recipe for success is simple. He has filthy stuff and he doesn’t walk batters. Although I’d like the strikeout rate to inch up a tad, Nolasco is basically doing what he does, but has not gotten into a zone yet. Nolasco is the type of pitcher who can put up a month’s worth of utter domination. I look forward to when this happens.

Jake Peavy. Peavy has been better than his numbers indicate. All but one of his first five starts were stinkers, but since then he’s been great, with 22 strikeouts to two walks over his last three starts. I’m going to chalk up the slow start to ramping back up off of last year’s injury and have a lot of faith going forward with Peavy.

Rafael Soriano. Originally, I said that Soriano would be a top 5 closer if healthy. Right now, he’s ranked sixth among them. Performance has never been the issue for Soriano.

Hunter Pence. After a very slow start to the season, and an extended period on my bench, Pence is producing again. His OPS is in the mid .800’s for the month of May and he’s inching toward respectable run and RBI totals. The overall numbers still look relatively ugly though, and that’s partially due to a BABIP in the neighborhood of .240. Now may be a good time to make a play for Pence. In my main league, I have too many outfielders though and am trying to shop one of them for a closer; Pence is among those on the block. I should note somewhere in this article, that Pence is currently averaging more than 40 plate appearances per walk, which certainly mitigates any optimism I had regarding his increased walk rate from last year.

Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick has been methodically and quietly adequate. The move to the second position in the batting order has changed his statistical profile a bit, switching him from a 80/100 candidate to a 100/80 candidate. The value is still there and I’m content with what he’s given me but would love to see him tap more of his power potential.

Rajai Davis. I was really high on Davis coming into this season and was hoping to get him in more than the two leagues I did. Davis is very frustrating, often inspiring the old baseball truism that you can’t steal first base. Davis simply has to find a way to get on base, no matter if he’s hitting leadoff or last. He’s far too aggressive for a player with his skill set; he’s currently going about 25 plate appearances between walks. I am worried about Davis, knowing that the Athletics are a young team who should be willing to mix and match and experiment. The case of Davis is instructive for all those who tout the ubiquity of “cheap speed.” Some of this speed potential is cheap for a reason, and right now I have my ability to be competitive in a category firmly attached to a bad baseball player.

His BABIP is floating at around .280 right now, so it’s a bit low, especially considering his speed should keep his true BABIP above .300, but it’s not low enough to be blamed for anything approaching the totality of Davis’ struggles.

Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez has looked great thus far. His performance does reveal some holes upon closer inspection though, specifically a lucky BABIP and a high walk rate. The higher-than-average walk rate was expected though so that’s not really a red flag regarding my true expectations, just another piece of evidence that he is not this good, at least not yet. I was expecting a season similar to Ubaldo Jiminez’s 2009 for Sanchez that would be bolstered by a much more pitcher-friendly home park. So far, I’ve been on point and Sanchez looks like a notch in my hits column.

Scott Kazmir. I selected Kazmir assuming he’d be fully expendable on my rosters, and he has been fully expended. I have a feeling he’ll find his way back on at least one of my rosters again sometime this year, but this was clearly a swing and miss on my part.

Cody Ross. Oliver’s darling, Ross has basically been the apotheosis of “meh.” He’s been nothing exciting but generally solid. I’d love to see more power from him, but his flyball rate has been drastically down, along with his HR/FB rate. The good news though is that his line drive rate is the highest it’s ever been, accounting for a higher than normal BABIP.

Ryan Doumit. He was a cheap catcher and has basically performed like one.

Overall, I had some hits and some misses, as I expected. When selecting your supporting cast overachievers are more valuable than underachievers are detrimental in most league formats though.

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The A Team
The A Team

Interesting that you have Cruz and A Ram next to each other.

A few weeks back while Cruz was still on the DL, one of the managers in my primary league managed to pry him away for just A Ram. This was probably partly my fault, I had been talking Cruz down for more than a week in my attempt to acquire him for Rickie Weeks.

Chad Burke
Chad Burke

Have a few of these characters like VMart, Sanchez, Hamels, and Soriano but really wish I’d pulled the trigger on Ethier.  He fell in our draft a bit more than he should have but I passed on him for another seemingly equal value since I already had Kemp and didn’t want all my eggs in one OF.  Stupid move as the two would have made for a holy terror of an OF for my opposition.