Line 'Em Up - Freeser Burning
In the grand scheme of things we still haven't played much baseball, but we're starting to get enough stats and game film to start making assessments of player performance and reacting accordingly. We are already beginning to see real teams do this with some significant lineup adjustments being made, especially with hot players getting more playing time than they were initially. Identifying these situations early on is crucial as it will give you a massive advantage on the waiver wire over your league-mates who are limiting the scope of their player evaluations to what had been happening as far as playing time rather than what is happening currently and increasingly more often.
Let's take a look at some of the lineup changes already happening across the league...
David Freese is on fire right now, batting .360 with a .520 slugging percentage. More important though, is that he played every game this past weekend and has only sat one game in the past eight. Due to the double ankle surgeries that cost him his 2010 season, manager Tony La Russa was playing Freese only two of every three games, limiting his fantasy value. Clearly he is now healthy and has the green light as the Cardinals' full-time third baseman. He is currently batting sixth in the lineup but moves up to fifth when Lance Berkman gets days off, which considering his age will happen more often than for most players. If you're still looking for that Evan Longoria replacement, Freese is a guy you should seriously considering.
Another promising guy that is hitting his way into the lineup is Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie. He's batting at a blistering .462 clip and hit his first home run over the weekend, then followed that up with a monster 4-for-5 performance Monday morning. It was his third consecutive start with no sight of the struggling Marco Scutaro. As an interesting young prospect there's no reason he shouldn't be getting more playing time and could even take the starting gig from the aging Scutaro at some point. Remember that the switch-hitting Lowrie hit nine home runs and walked as many times as he struck out in 197 plate appearances last season filling in for the injured Dustin Pedroia.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner is off to a brutally slow start to the season, batting a miserable .140 with an on-base percentage nearing the Mendoza Line. Worse, he's been caught stealing twice on five chances and has a walk-to-strikeout ratio (4:14) that doesn't exactly scream success as a leadoff hitter. It's no surprise then that he was benched in back-to-back games against left-handed pitchers recently, and returned on Sunday only to find himself at the bottom of the lineup instead of the top. He can be much better than this, but clearly the team wanted to take some pressure off the young speedster while he works through his problems. Of course, having a guy like Derek Jeter, who has been playing better as of late, makes this decision a lot easier but also makes the possibility of Gardner losing the leadoff job permanently a very real scenario. This is a situation that has popped up just this weekend, so Gardner owners should continue to monitor it this week before getting seriously concerned.
Joe Mauer's sudden placement on the Disabled List gives us another lineup currently lacking its star to examine. Jason Kubel has been the biggest beneficiary as he has received the most starts in the three-hole in Mauer's absence, a big improvement over his usual slot at number six. He's carrying a hot bat at the moment, hitting .321 with home runs in his last two games. As a career .272 hitter, the average probably won't last, but his power numbers means he should be owned in more than 49-percent of Yahoo! leagues. As for Mauer's replacements at catcher, neither Steve Holm nor Drew Butera should be owned in anything, ever. They provide extremely little upside and batting numbers for us in fantasyland.
Nate McLouth was given the day off on Sunday, so manager Freddie Gonzalez made the very exciting decision to put Jason Heyward in the two-slot. He thanked his manager by going 2-for-4 with a home run. This would be a huge move for his fantasy owners as the budding phenom is still buried at number six in the lineup on a regular basis, which is limiting his run and RBI potential. Since this was only a routine day off for McLouth the batting order will likely go back to normal, but the performance has to stick with Gonzalez, and perhaps in the future we will see Heyward hitting higher in the order more often. We in the fantasy community can only hope.