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AL OF Stock Watch

Next Monday I will roll out the new AL OF tiers, but until then, the following are some of biggest climbers and decliners of the season to date:

Bullish:
Adam Jones – The simple truth here is that Jones just keeps making hard contact. Potential stringer issues aside, Jones currently sports his highest LD% of any qualified season. He currently has six home runs, five doubles and a triple to boot. His .338 BABIP is certainly high, but he has posted seasons of .328 and .329 in the recent past, so I’m not prepared to write off his BABIP and claim it as so called “luck.” His counting numbers for speed have been solid, but his four stolen bases don’t look quite as shiny when compared to his two caught stealing. I don’t expect him to slug .600+ for the season, but .500 certainly seems attainable. Jones has improved his strikeout rate, but his paltry walk rate drags him down a bit in OBP leagues. Eventually those lack of walks will hurt his SB and Runs chances, but that hasn’t happened yet. He’ll be up to tier 3 unless he falls off a cliff this week.

Curtis Granderson – I wrestled with putting him in the top tier in the preseason. I kept him in tier 2 because I thought his average would weigh him down. Despite the fact that he has only a .272 AVG, his eight homers are second in the AL OF, his runs are tied for 2nd, his RBI’s rank 5th and if you play in an OBP league, he currently ranks 6th. Other than batting average, he is by all accounts an elite bat. So far the only thing missing from his 2012 fantasy resume is the stolen base. He must’ve made friends with Owen Wilson over the off-season, because Granderson is currently 0 and 2 for stolen base attempts. That being said, I wouldn’t worry about any loss of speed on the 31-year old just yet. Granderson plays for the team that has scored the second most runs in baseball. Sit back and watch his counting numbers accumulate. If his speed-outage continues into the second week of May, my eyebrows will be raised. Until then, no worries. Enjoy your top tier outfielder.

Michael Saunders – Here is me, eating my own words from the comment section from when I first ranked and tiered the AL OF:

Unless there is a drastic change in his game, I just don’t see Saunders being fantasy relevant. I do like his minor league walk rates though. If you play in an OBP league, he could be attractive as a lottery ticket that maybe pans out and finds some power and AVG.

Saunders must have read what I said and taken it to heart, because he is certainly fantasy relevant now. His walk rate translated to the majors nicely, and now his power is being discovered. He has already launched 3 homer runs in just 75 PA this year, which is more than he did last year in 179 PA. Saunders is currently 3-3 in stolen base attempts as well. His AVG won’t impress anyone, but in an OBP league, Saunders is certainly worth a pick up in 12 team mixed leagues. I didn’t envision saying that this year, but he has earned it. His ISO won’t be .250+ forever but as long as he is flashing his power and speed, he is worthy of being owned. His Yahoo! ownership is a mere 5% as of today. Assuming he is available, I would snap him up.

Bearish:
Nelson Cruz – Cruz has always been a bit of a free swinger at the plate and his career 22% K% verifies that. So far in 2012 he is actually surpassing his career norm, as his current K% is up at 26.9%. This year has also been an exceptionally poor year for Cruz based not just on his many swings, but his lack of contact on said swings. His 67.2% Contact% is the second worst in the AL OF. Conversely, his Swing% ranks 10th in the AL OF. When you swing a lot and miss often, that is a recipe for disaster. Put all that together and what you get is that Cruz is currently slugging over 100 points below his career average. I wouldn’t call Cruz washed up, but he does turn 32 this year. Perhaps this early season struggle is just the first sign of him aging. Be it a slump, natural aging, or anything else, the fact of the matter is that Cruz simply doesn’t belong in the second tier. Next week the rankings update. Expect to see him in the fourth tier.

Jeff Francoeur – I admit it. I was fooled by his 2011 season. It would appear as though I wasn’t the only one, as Frenchy is owned in 50%, yes, fifty percent of Yahoo! leagues. I, like so many others, was sucked in by his 117 wRC+ last year and didn’t weigh his career 91 wRC+ enough. I don’t believe in Karma so much, but I do believe in regression. And boy, did regression sure hit Francoeur hard so far this year. In terms of qualified AL OF, he currently ranks dead last in wRC+, wOBA, SLG and OPS. Although his .260 BABIP is a contributing factor, it is hard to see the upside in hanging onto Frenchy at this point. His average is awful and his OBP has never been even decent. If you drafted him, I’d cut bait and run. You won’t miss out on much.

Jose Bautista – To be honest, I think this is nothing more than a BABIP (currently .179) slump. Of course it doesn’t take much to longer be the top dog in the harsh world of rankings. In fact, come next week, our top two tiers will look very different. The positives from 2012 so far is that Bautista is still walking more than he strikes out and has popped three home runs and even stolen two bases. The issue is that his AVG is a gruesome .190. I consider this to be nothing more than a reflection of his BABIP random variation (I don’t really like the word “luck” in baseball). I fully expect Bautista to turn things around and to mash the way he has since September of 2009, you just have to be patient and wait for it. If you’re in a keeper league, I might look to go younger in the long term and test the trade waters, but in a simple re-draft league, sit tight and wait for 30 more home runs.