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MLB Barometer: Job in Jeopardy?

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

As I said last week, the season is still very young and as the weeks go by I will have a larger sample size to analyze with each player. While it's still a relatively small sample size, there are observations and analysis we can start to use to determine if a player's start is a fluke or if it's somewhat of an indicator of good or bad things to come. Pitchers may be the hardest to determine at this point as one bad outing can make a reliever look bad as will one bad start for a pitcher who has only toed the rubber twice. However, in some extreme cases I'll attempt to see if something more is going on with a pitcher and what they may need to do to right the ship.

Upgrades:

Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA - Kendrick is an easy call to upgrade this week, considering he's hit safely in all eight games, batting .412 with four home runs in only 34 at-bats. Did I mention that two of those home runs were 424 and 425 feet? While many will quickly call this a fluke since he's never hit more than 10 home runs in a season, it may not be. Yes, he's going at an unsustainable pace but he hit 10 homers in only 374 at-bats two seasons ago and at age 27 is heading into the prime of his career. I think we are going to see a big season from him and expecting 15-20 homers with 10-15 stolen bases and a .280-.290 average are reasonable expectations.

Logan Morrison, OF, FLA - The book on Morrison heading into the season labeled him as a low-power, high-plate discipline type of player. He boasted a 51:41 K:BB ratio for the Marlins last year while hitting only two home runs in 244 at-bats. Morrison has already equaled his home run total and should eclipse the double-digit mark this season with a solid batting average. Many will point at his .351 BABIP from a season ago and scream regression but he seems to be the type of player who can sustain that level of "luck." Morrison had a lofty 81.5% contact rate last year and to put that in perspective, Albert Pujols' career mark is 86.0%. Expect a solid season out of Morrison in 2011.

Jose Tabata, OF, PIT - Tabata (ta-bah-ta, not ta-BOT-a) is one of the players I'm already regretting owning zero shares of for my fantasy teams. He's already swiped four bags and has surprisingly hit two home runs of over 410 feet. The speed has never been in question and he's come into this season with a bulked up look that appears to be paying off. Only 22, Tabata can hit for average and we may be talking about him as the same type of player as teammate Andrew McCutchen is by the end of the season.

Wilson Ramos, C, WAS - While manager Jim Riggleman has committed to splitting the short term catching duties between Ramos and Ivan Rodriguez, Ramos appears to be the better fantasy option for the 2011 season. He's off to a hot start, going 7-for-17 (.412) over four games. Before I anoint him the next Johnny Bench, he has struck out five times and has only one extra base hit (a double). Ramos is worth a look in NL-only leagues or deeper mixed leagues that use two catchers. His defense is Major League-ready, he just needs to show he can continue to be effective at the plate.

Sam Fuld, OF, TB - There hasn't been a lack of drama for the Rays this season, between their putrid start and "retirement" of Manny Ramirez. The Rays, looking for a spark, inserted Sam Fuld into the leadoff spot, and he quickly ran wild on the basepaths. Fuld, (the Willie Bloomquist of the American League) is tied for the major league-lead with five stolen bases. The Rays don't have a ton of power and love to run, so Fuld will be a sneaky source of steals while he's in the lineup. At 29 he isn't much of a prospect but he had an OBP just under .400 in 125 at-bats for the Cubs. He plays excellent defense (ask Juan Pierre) and had more walks than strikeouts in the minors over the last three years. If he's on your waiver-wire he won't be there for long.

Pat Burrell, OF, SF - I'm convinced that Burrell is one of those players who has to be playing in the field in order to be effective at the plate. In 84 at-bats (mostly at DH) with the Rays last year, he only hit .202 with two home runs. After moving to San Francisco's outfield he now has a total of 21 home runs in 314 at-bats. He still strikes out way too much (over 28% of the time) and he'll lose some at-bats once Cody Ross returns. That being said he's still a legitimate source of power as long as you temper your expectations with the batting average.

Desmond Jennings, OF, TB - No, Jennings isn't headed to the big club anytime soon. The Rays will stick with their philosophy of delaying the arbitration clock and keep him in the minors until around June 1 when he is no longer eligible to receive Super-Two status. However, a couple of factors have come into play that will help his potential for playing time once he arrives. The "retirement" of Manny Ramirez means one less player to potentially steal at-bats from him. Throw in that Johnny Damon is already dealing with some soreness that has been speculated to be from the turf at Tropicana Field and Jennings should be in the lineup on a pretty regular basis once he's up. He's also off to a good start at Durham, going 5-for-13 with one home run and two stolen bases.

Chris Davis, 1B, TEX - As long as we are discussing the minors, Davis continues to show he has nothing left to prove at Triple-A Round Rock, hitting four home runs in his first 12 at-bats. Personally, I think a change of scenery would do him some good as he's never been able to shed the "Quad-A" label in Texas. He'll be up in the majors at some point but will have to show he can hit Major League pitching if he wants to play.

Check Status:

Matt Thornton, P, CHI - Thornton is off to a terrible start, blowing his first two save opportunities and allowing six runs (one earned) over his first 3.1 innings. Chris Sales picked up the save Saturday night (allowing a home run) but Ozzie Guillen claims the job is still Thornton's. I'm not downgrading Thornton yet as I think that while the leash is growing shorter, he'll be fine for the rest of the season. In fact, I kind of view this as a good time to buy-low on him while you can. Remember, the White Sox didn't hand him a $12M extension because they didn't have any faith in him.

Neil Walker, 2B, PIT - Many would likely upgrade Walker after his stellar start, batting .306 with two home runs and eight RBI. My problem is two-fold with him. First his .474 BABIP will eventually regress and secondly I'm a little worried he's pressing too much at the plate. He's struck out 15 times in 40 plate appearances (41.7%) so maybe he's swinging for the fences and missing? There isn't a record of massive strikeouts in his history so he'll improve his plate discipline, just remember the BABIP will come down as well.

Downgrades:

Philip Hughes, P, NY - Hughes has been dismal to start his 2011 campaign, allowing 11 earned runs in only six innings. He's seen a sharp decrease in the velocity of his pitches, averaging 3.2 mph less on his fastball than last year's average. Don't be surprised if the Yankees consider skipping a start or two for him so he can focus on activities such as long-toss to help build up his arm strength.

John Jaso, C, TB - Jaso headed into the season as the Rays' main leadoff player after breaking out in 2010 with a .372 OBP. He's gotten off to a rough start this season, going 1-for-15 (.067) at the plate. Kelly Shoppach has been seeing more playing time and could continue to get more considering Jaso's struggles behind the plate. He's 0-for-11 throwing out base stealers, something that will need to change for him to continue to get semi-regular playing time. Honorable mention with throwing out base stealers goes to A.J. Pierzynski, who is 0-for-9.

Ryan Franklin, P, STL - Franklin hasn't lost his closer's role yet but after three blown saves in four opportunities there has to be rumblings for a switch in St. Louis. Luckily for Franklin, no one else in the bullpen has had much success either. The likely next candidate is Jason Motte (5.40 ERA, 1.800 WHIP) who has walked three and struck out no one in 3.1 innings. For now it's Franklin's job to lose, just realize a couple more blown saves will give someone else a chance to audition for the job.

John Lackey, P, BOS - Lackey lowered his ERA Friday to a nifty 15.58 by holding the Yankees to six earned runs over five innings. Seriously, Lackey doesn't look like the same pitcher the Red Sox inked an $82.5 million deal to. The problem isn't his velocity since he's throwing his fastball on average only .4 mph slower. The apparent problem with Lackey is his lack of inducing the ground ball. While Lackey isn't necessarily an extreme ground ball pitcher, he's inducing 24% fewer ground balls this season. This has led to an increase to line drives and fly balls with three of the latter leaving the park. Lackey will have an easier schedule than the Yankees and Rangers going forward; he'll have the Rays and Athletics the next two times he takes the hill. Monitor his starts over those two games to determine if something is really wrong or if he's just had a bad hiccup to start the season.