Fantasy Stock Watch: Week 18

Every Friday, Ben will scour the majors for the players whose fantasy value is going up, going down or completely bottoming out.

Hitter of the Week

OF Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners

So much for Ichiro’s habit of slowing down after the All-Star break every season. He hit a sizzling .432 in July and he’s picked up right where he left off in August. In the last week, he went 17-for-32 (.531) with two triples, a home run, seven runs and three RBIs.

For the season, Ichiro leads the American League with a .359 batting average and is third with 26 steals. The only negatives are that Seattle’s subpar lineup still has him on pace for fewer than 100 runs and he only has four homers and 38 RBIs. Still, just when it looked like he might be in a continuing decline, Ichiro is bettering his MVP rookie season.

Five on the Rise

1. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: After about as inconsistent a career as you could find, Ramirez has been a model of consistency this season, hitting above .300 and slugging above .500 each month while hitting between four and six homers and knocking in at least 13 runs in each of the first four months.

This week, he went 10-for-22 (.455) with five home runs, eight runs and six RBIs. For the season, he’s hitting .325 with 23 homers, 73 runs and 70 RBIs. If it weren’t for some guy named Rolen, Ramirez would have a shot at being the most valuable fantasy third baseman in baseball this season.

2. Jim Edmonds, Cardinals: It’s been written before, but it’s worth mentioning again that it’s amazing how dramatically Edmonds’ career changed when he moved from Anaheim to St. Louis. Assuming he doesn’t collapse over the final two months, each of his first five seasons with the Cardinals will have been better than his very best with the Angels.

This week, Edmonds went 9-for-19 (.474) with three doubles, a triple, three homers, seven runs and 11 RBIs. For the season, he’s hitting .303 with 30 homers, 74 runs and 79 RBIs. He destroyed the ball in July, hitting .381 with 13 homers and 27 RBIs, and he’s off to a nice two-game start in August.

3. Derek Jeter, Yankees: Jeter’s recovered from his 4-for-31 slump nicely, going 11-for-25 (.440) with a double, a triple, four steals, five runs and two RBIs this week. The key thing to me is the four steals. After stealing just 11 bases in 119 games last year, I thought Jeter’s days as a top-notch base-stealer might be over. But he has 15 steals already this season and is on pace for a total that wouldn’t have looked out of place in his career line before last season.

Jeter’s only hitting .277, but he’s showing his usual combination of power and speed (this should be his fifth season with at least 18 homers and 18 steals) and hitting at the top of the Yankees lineup has him on pace for about 100 runs and 80 RBIs. He might not be the hitter he once was, but he’s still a valuable fantasy player.

4. Aaron Rowand, White Sox: I don’t know why nobody’s talking about Rowand, because he’s been darn impressive this year. He’s 11-for-26 (.423) with four doubles, three homers, two steals, five runs and seven RBIs this week. For the season, he’s hitting .317 with 14 homers, 12 steals, 54 runs and 33 RBIs. If he hit first or second all the time, he’d be having the kind of season that Jeter used to have.

Rowand wasn’t exactly a terrible hitter before this season, but I can’t imagine many people expected this. With just 87 games played, he’s already set career highs in runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBIs, walks and steals. Barring a monumental collapse, he’ll also set career highs in batting average and slugging percentage. As he’s been consistently good each of the last three months, I don’t see any reason to expect such a monumental collapse.

5. John Buck, Royals: Buck struggled mightily when the Royals traded for him and stuck him right in the major leagues, but he seems to be adjusting now. This week, he went 8-for-18 (.444) with two homers, a steal, seven runs and six RBIs.

Only 24 years old, Buck was hitting .300/.368/.507 with 12 homers in 65 games at Triple-A before the trade. I’d expect Buck to at least be an average fantasy catcher over the final two months of the season, and he’s probably still available in your league.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Five in Freefall

1. Hank Blalock, Rangers: Blalock’s sudden slump has extended into August as he went 3-for-22 with a run, three RBIs, a walk and nine strikeouts this week. After hitting .313/.377/.597 with 21 homers, 52 runs and 57 RBIs over the first three months of the season, he’s only 21-for-116 (.181) with three homers, 13 runs and 18 RBIs since the start of July.

Blalock’s too good a hitter for this to continue much longer, and I still expect him to finish this season as one of the top five fantasy third baseman in baseball.

2. Dmitri Young, Tigers: This week, Young went 3-for-25 (.120) with a double, a home run, two runs, two RBIs and four strikeouts. A broken leg seriously disrupted his season, and he’s now hitting .272 with seven homers, 40 runs and 29 RBIs. I’d expect him to be a solid fantasy option the last two months, but not nearly as good as he was last year.

It’s too bad he wasn’t healthy enough this year to enjoy, and aid, the rejuvenation taking place in Detroit.

3. Craig Biggio, Astros: I’d say Biggio’s surprisingly good hitting is finally petering out after he went 3-for-23 (.130) this week. However, he did hit a double and a home run and drew four walks while striking out just twice. Looking at his last four seasons, it seemed like 2001 was Biggio’s last hurrah before age eroded his skills to the point where he was no longer an every day player. But he’s basically matching that 2001 season this year.

The batting average is about the same (.295 this year, .292 in 2001). His OBP is lower (.360 compared to .382), while his SLG is higher (.479 to .455) and his home runs are up (from 20 in 617 at-bats to 17 in 434 at-bats) while his steals are down (from seven to two). He’s been remarkably consistent each month this season, and I see no reason why he can’t continue to surprise us with a good year just like he did three years ago.

4. Craig Wilson, Pirates: If you want to see a frontloaded season, there’s no better example than Wilson. He hit .355 with 12 home runs, 33 runs and 34 RBIs in April and May and then hit .215 with six home runs, 30 runs and 16 RBIs. This week, he went 1-for-16 (.063) with an RBI and six strikeouts.

If you had told me Wilson would be playing every day this season, I would have said .280 with 18 home runs and 59 RBIs at the beginning of August sounds about right. But I certainly didn’t expect him to do it this way and I don’t think you can expect him to finish the season where his projections say he should.

5. Mike Lowell, Marlins: Lowell has traditionally struggled in the second half of the season, so it’s always a concern when he has a rough stretch after the All-Star break. This week, he went 2-for-20 (.100) with two runs, an RBI, three walks and two strikeouts, but I think it’s just your run-of-the-mill one-week slump.

Lowell’s only bad month this season came in June, before the All-Star break, and he rebounded with a very nice July. He should have no problem finishing with his second straight 30-homer, 100-RBI season and he might even be able to keep his batting average near .300 as well.

Pitcher of the Week

Noah Lowry, Giants

After two separate stints in the majors earlier this year, Lowry might be up for good if he keeps pitching like this. In his first major-league start in more than a month, he threw a three-hit shutout with nine strikeouts and two walks to earn his first win in the bigs. His last start before getting sent down in his previous call-up was a good one, too: one run in seven innings with nine strikeouts and one walk.

Considering those two starts, you’d expect the 23-year-old would have been dominating Triple-A when not in the majors, but he’s just 7-5 with a 4.13 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 89.1 innings there this year. His last two big-league starts are impressive enough that I’d overlook his lack of dominance in the minors as long as he keeps pitching well. Be wary of any signs that he might be losing his effectiveness, however.

Five on the Rise

1. Kevin Brown, Yankees: Now this is what the Yankees expected when they traded for Brown. In his two starts this week since coming off the disabled list, he’s allowed one run in 14.1 innings on eight hits and four walks with 12 strikeouts to earn two wins.

For the season, he’s now 9-1 with a 3.60 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 60 strikeouts in 95 innings. If he can stay completely healthy, Brown could be an absolute monster over the final two months of the season.

2. Brad Penny, Marlins: Normally, I wouldn’t include somebody who’s been pitching as well this year as Penny has, but I keep hearing that he’s only a fifth starter. Maybe his first start since Los Angeles “blew up” its first place (and now running away) team will convince people that he’s more than that.

Penny threw eight scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out four, to win his first start for the Dodgers. He’s now 9-8 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 109 strikeouts in 139.1 innings, and there’s a reason he was the second Marlin listed (and 16th overall) in my midseason starting pitcher rankings. That reason, obviously, is that he’s a damn good starter, not a fifth starter.

3. Jeff Weaver, Dodgers: With Penny in town and Odalis Perez healthy, the Dodgers will really be in good shape if this guy starts pitching well. In his two starts this week, he allowed three runs on nine hits and three walks with 11 strikeouts in 15 innings to earn two wins.

For the season, Weaver’s 9-10 with a 3.93 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 108 strikeouts in 146.2 innings. That’s pretty close to what I expected from him this year, and I think he’ll probably finish the season with those type of numbers.

4. Jaret Wright, Braves: I haven’t talked about Wright much this year, but after throwing seven scoreless innings with three hits and six strikeouts in his start this week, he’s now 9-5 with a 3.05 ERA this year. His 1.31 WHIP says that his ERA should go up, but his other numbers say it shouldn’t go up by much.

Wright has a decent strikeout rate (7.55 K/9IP), an acceptable walk rate (3.48 BB/9IP) and an excellent home run rate (0.51 HR/9IP). As long as he doesn’t start allowing more homers or getting fewer strikeouts, I’d expect him to have an ERA around 3.50 over the final two months.

5. Bobby Madritsch, Mariners: After four appearances out of the bullpen, Madritsch made his first major league start Thursday night and he allowed just one run in eight innings with five hits, a walk and six strikeouts. Including two relief appearances, Madritch allowed just one run in 13 innings this week.

I wouldn’t necessarily expect Madritsch to light up the league, however, as he’s not really a prospect at 28 years of age and he wasn’t dominating Triple-A (although he was pitching well enough). If you need a starter, I’d say Madritch and his unknown capabilities are better than a major-league whose capabilities are known to be bad.

Five in Freefall

1. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks: Maybe he’s still bitter about not getting traded to the Yankees, but Johnson hasn’t been himself in his two starts this week, allowing nine runs on 13 hits (two homers) and two walks with 10 strikeouts in 13 innings. However, he still has a 2.96 ERA and 0.91 WHIP (not to mention 184 strikeouts), so I wouldn’t worry too much about him.

2. Josh Beckett, Marlins: His latest return from the disabled list was about the opposite of Brown’s, as he allowed 12 runs (nine earned) on 15 hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings over two starts this week. With those two starts and the three injury-shortened ones that led to all his DL time, Beckett hasn’t finished the fifth inning of a game since May 25.

3. Tom Glavine, Mets: Glavine allowed six runs on nine hits and two walks with two strikeouts in five innings this week as he lost for the sixth time in his last seven decisions. He’s gone from 7-3 with a 2.07 ERA to 8-9 with a 2.88 ERA. Obviously, Glavine wasn’t going to finish with an ERA in the low 2.00’s, so this might not be a big concern. As long as his ERA doesn’t climb much past the low 3.00’s, he’ll still have turned in a very nice and surprising season.

4. Ben Sheets, Brewers: After allowing five runs in seven innings this week, Sheets has allowed 13 runs in 19.2 innings in his last three starts. The bad news (aside from the rising ERA) is that he’s given up 27 hits and four home runs. The good news is that he’s struck out 21 batters and walked just one in those three starts.

Sheets still has a 2.76 ERA and 0.97 WHIP and, most importantly, he still has 162 strikeouts against 21 walks, so I wouldn’t worry about him falling apart just yet. If he stops striking people out and starts walking them, then I’d start to worry.

5. C.C. Sabathia, Indians: Sabathia left with a sore left shoulder after one scoreless inning against Colorado on June 26. At that point, he was 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Since then, he’s gone 2-3 with a 7.59 ERA and 1.75 WHIP in six starts. He allowed seven runs in five innings in his start this week.

Think that shoulder might still be bothering him? Me too.

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