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The Wheelhouse: Rewind: April 2010

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Part of my responsibilities at RotoWire is to keep tabs on the company Twitter handle. Often it's a matter of relaying important lineup and injury information, but I also run damage control of sorts for panicking owners considering irrational drops to grab surging players. As noted last week, making the right pickups in April can yield nearly a full season of profit, but the success rate of early-season additions is remarkably low.

Let's look at some of last April's surprises (good and bad) and recall how things turned out after the first month of regular-season play.

Kosuke Fukudome, OF, CHC –
.344/.443/.641 (13:11 BB:K), 5 HR, 16 RBI in 64 at-bats

Not only was Fukudome safe from the confines of manager Lou Piniella's doghouse, but for one month he looked like he was going to earn every penny of his $13 million salary. After going deep five times in April, Fukudome homered just three times over the next three months, and after owners in shallow and medium-sized mixed leagues had given hope up (likely cast him to the waiver wire) he went bananas in August with four more homers and a 1.118 OPS in 63 at-bats. Tyler Colvin ate into his playing time when he struggled, and ultimately, Fukudome had two great months and four lousy ones to yield a .263/.371/.439 with 13 HR, 44 RBI and seven steals over 358 at-bats.

Ty Wigginton, 1B/3B, BAL –
.308/.395/.631 (8:11 BB:K), 6 HR, 12 RBI in 65 at-bats

Unlike the other players on this list, Wigginton didn't fade immediately after a fast start last April. He hit well in May also (7 HR, 20 RBI) and was on a 35-plus homer pace by June. He only hit 22, which means that all of nine homers came during the final four months of the season. Playing time wasn't the issue as it often is for the versatile infielder, as Wigginton amassed a career-high 581 at-bats. Still, he was a 32-year-old playing for his fifth big league team in seven seasons, and he finally crumbled as expected after the blistering pace to open the year.

Brad Hawpe, OF, COL –
.357/.460/.714, 3 HR, 7 RBI (8:8 BB:K) in 42 at-bats

What the heck happened here? Hawpe went on to get cut and struggle mightily with a limited role in Tampa Bay down the stretch. Those struggles have seemingly carried over to this season, as he's losing at-bats against right-handed starters to Jorge Cantu after opening the season as the Padres' primary first baseman. In his first 16 games this season, Hawpe is 5-for-43 (.116) with no homers, two RBI and a brutal 3:19 BB:K. As far as regression goes, Hawpe is one of the more fascinating players in recent memory. His strong April last season followed a 2009 where he carried a .903 OPS as the Rockies' primary right fielder. As noted in his player outlook for the season, Hawpe wasn't merely a byproduct of Coors Field during his time in Colorado.

Austin Kearns, OF, CLE –
.373/.429/.627, 2 HR, 11 RBI (5:11 BB:K) in 51 at-bats

Sadly, 2010 was the year that Jeff Erickson finally kicked his Kearns habit. For those who jumped on board in April, the rest of the season wasn't nearly as productive as he didn't register an OPS higher than .762 (June) after checking in at 1.056 in April. In fairness, he played enough to contribute for a slightly positive return in AL-only and very deep mixed leagues, but .263 with 10 HR and 49 RBI probably didn't lead anyone to a fantasy championship last season.

Barry Zito, SP, SF –
4-0, 24:11 K:BB, 1.53 ERA, 0.88 WHIP in 35.1 innings

Pitching in a good park, and for a good Giants team, Zito had fantasy owners excited this time last year for a repeat of his success from his Oakland days. If he didn't have a ridiculous contract, Zito seems like the type more people would actually root for. Nobody was expecting Zito to maintain those April ratios, but he only managed to win five games in the final five months, and his numbers after the All-Star break (2-10, 4.70 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) hurt owners unwilling to pull the plug.

Kevin Millwood, SP, BAL –
0-3, 28:7 K:BB, 3.38 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 32 innings

The wins were very difficult to come by in Baltimore during the first half of last season, but Millwood looked sharp while holding the top spot in the Orioles rotation. After April, Millwood struggled with the long ball (30 allowed in 190.2 IP last season) and his control as his walk rate ballooned the rest of the way.

PANIC SWITCH

Just as there were duds tempting you on the waiver wire last year, there were studs on rosters posting terrible numbers out of the gate. Seeing how things turned out in the end, it seems difficult to believe anyone would have considered cutting these players, but in 10-12 team mixed leagues it happened. In other cases, these players might have been mistakenly traded for less than their draft-day value from just a few weeks earlier.

Mat Latos, SP, SD –
1-2, 13:6 K:BB, 6.20 ERA, 1.48 WHIP in 20.1 innings

Yes, he was that bad, and yes, there were owners in shallow leagues who cut bait given that he was a 22-year-old without a proven track record. After May 1, Latos was outstanding to the tune of a 13-8 record, 2.52 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with a 176:44 K:BB in 164.1 innings pitched (27 starts). Not bad for a guy whose workload needed to be limited in his first full big-league season. Latos finished the season as a top-10 pitcher in many formats even after that slow start.

Brandon Morrow, SP, TOR –
2-2, 33:16 K:BB, 5.46 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in 28 innings

The strikeouts alone were reason to believe that something special might be brewing. For those who rode it out with the young right hander, patience was rewarded after Morrow had a bumpy 10-start stretch to open the year. From May 31 on, Morrow had a 113:34 K:BB in 96.1 innings pitched with a 3.36 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. That stretch led many owners to stash him on the DL this year as he missed the first three-plus weeks of the season due to a forearm strain.

Johnny Cueto, SP, CIN –
1-1, 17:10 K:BB, 5.33, ERA, 1.52 WHIP in 27 innings

Maddening inconsistency has been the story of Cueto's career thus far, but he seemed to turn the corner last season after a rough April. After flipping the calendar to May, Cueto went 11-6 with a 3.35 ERA and 121:46 K:BB over 158.2 IP. He just turned 25 in February, which is hard to believe when you consider he's already racked up three full seasons of big-league service time. In any case, the skills growth in Cueto took place throughout 2010 as he lowered his walk rate for the second straight season to a career best 2.7 BB/9IP.

Hunter Pence, OF, HOU –
.232/.250/.329, 2 HR, 7 RBI (2:11 BB:K) in 82 at-bats

The lack of walks was certainly disturbing, Pence has never been an OBP machine despite consistently providing power (25 homers in each of the last three seasons), RBI (83, 72, 91 during that span) and double-digit steals. Still, having an early-middle round selection get off to such a slow start left plenty of fantasy owners scratching their heads. He didn't make up for a bad April with a scorching one-month stretch any point of the season, but instead by consistently maintaining production slightly above his career levels the rest of the way.

Drew Stubbs, OF, CIN –
.186/.301/.271, 1 HR, 7 RBI (11:24 BB:K) and 7 SB in 70 at-bats

Oh OK, so he's just a low average stolen-base guy. Fungible, right? Hardly. Stubbs churned out an .865 OPS in May and went deep five times, producing along the lines of the five-category contributor he was expected to be. The inconsistency lingered in June and July (.611 and .657 OPS), but Stubbs was able to maintain his pop even when his average and steals wained midseason. It all turned out pretty well given the low investment cost prior to last season – .255, 22 HR, 77 RBI, 91 R, 30 SB – but this time a year ago it didn't look that obvious.

Alexei Ramirez, SS, CHW –
.221/.231/.312, 1 HR, 8 RBI (1:13 BB:K) in 77 at-bats

Slow starts have become a trend for Ramirez. Here are his April numbers in each of the last three seasons:

2008 – .138/.138/.207, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0:3 BB:K in 29 AB
2009 – .214/.273/.286, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 6:9 BB:K in 70 AB
2010 – .221/.231/.312, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 1:13 BB:K in 77 AB

See a trend? Ramirez just doesn't warm up in April, there's really no way around it. He has a .574 career OPS in April, while he's maintained a mark above .700 in each of the other five months of the regular season. From May 1 forward, Ramirez hit .291 with 17 homers and 62 RBI over his final 508 at-bats – elite numbers at a thin position that earned him a Silver Slugger award in the AL.

2011 VERSION – Is it a carriage, or a pumpkin?

Good Starts

Seth Smith, OF, COL –
.306/.357/.565, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 6:15 BB:K

If you're expecting .280s with 20-25 HR and 75 RBI, Smith is for real. But there are too many flaws (career .725 road OPS v. .978 at Coors and inability to hit lefties) to prevent him from getting far beyond that.

Wilson Betemit, 3B, KAN –
.364/.424/.509, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 SB, 8:16 BB:K

Seems like an obvious dud, right? Not really. Betemit has been hitting well since last season, and his career lefty-righty splits reveal something interesting. He's posted a career .812 OPS against right-handed pitching. Further, he's drawing walks (13 percent BB% last season, 15 in 2011) at a good clip. Only eligible at corner-infield spots hurts his value, but Betemit is good enough to keep the seat warm until the Royals decide Mike Moustakas is ready to be their regular first baseman. For you, “good enough” really depends on how well you think .270, 10-12 HR, 60 RBI and 8-10 SB plays in your league from his position.

Travis Hafner, DH, CLE –
.348/.395/.580, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 6:18 BB:K

There are a ton of things going right for Hafner right now (26.7% HR/FB, career 18.6), career-high 26.7-percent line drive rate and a .426 BABIP. Other than that, he's 2006 Pronk! A closer look reveals a player who is actually continuing his decline right before our very eyes. Hafner's walk rate is down to a career low 8 percent (it was 18% in 2006, FWIW), and his contact rate is also down to 74 percent. Good fortune + eroding skill set = It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! Don't be left holding your blanket and enjoying the taste of your thumb.

Jonny Gomes, OF, CIN –
.212/.386/.530, 6 HR, 15 RBI, 4 SB, 18:19 BB:K

The average is a downer, but if you're in a league that uses OBP instead of AVG you're probably feeling good about him. A 21-percent walk rate is ridiculous, and more than double his 10-percent career rate. Where the heck did the four stolen bases come from? The 511 at-bats he received last season set a career high, and it would be surprising to see him get close to that mark again this season with Chris Heisey potentially eating into his playing time.

Maicer Izturis, SS, LAA –
.338/.384/.500, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 3 SB, 6:12 BB:K

Izturis is a good utility option for the Angels, but he's more of a poor man's Martin Prado for fantasy owners. A career .275 hitter, Izturis' .338 mark this season is supported by an elevated .379 BABIP. He continues to make contact at a good rate (85 percent), but that number has fallen in each of the last three seasons. His 2009 – .300, 8 HR, 65 RBI, 13 SB – is about as good as it can get and while that has value in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues, there are many formats where it just won't be enough for more than temporary middle-infield help.

Nick Hundley, C, SD –
.304/.364/.507, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 6:17 BB:K

Hundley has homered once in every 34.5 at-bats over the last three seasons, and as a right-handed hitter, his power won't be sapped by his home park the way Petco destroys lefties. Now that he's finally the Padres' primary backstop, 400-450 at-bats are within reach and the power numbers (15-18 homers) should follow. Lineup placement could lead to plenty of RBI chances (the Padres are reeling in the middle of the order without Adrian Gonzalez) as well. He's not going to be a .300 hitter at season's end when you consider that he strikes out in a quarter of his at-bats, but Hundley could exceed expectations in the power categories if you can stomach a .250-.260 average.

Jonathan Herrera, 2B, COL –
.327/.464/.455, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 SB, 14:6 BB:K

To give credit where it's due, the Denver Post's Troy Renck was all over Herrera playing his way into regular time at second base during spring training. Power simply isn't his game, but Herrera has maintained a good contact rate over all of his minor league stops, and he's been taking plenty of walks since 2009 during his time at Triple-A (over 10% at both levels since). He's the exact opposite of Jose Lopez, and that increasingly looks like a good thing. If he's able to fend off Lopez and Eric Young Jr. over the course of the season, Herrera could finish with 25-plus steals and a good average given his skill set and home park.

Sam Fuld, OF, TAM –
.346/.388/.513, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 10 SB, 6:10 BB:K

Angel Pagan 2.0? Fuld is finally getting a chance to play everyday in Tampa, and he's seizing the opportunity. Defensively, he's been excellent for a club looking to replace the plus-plus glove of Carl Crawford in left field, and Manny Ramirez's retirement paired with Johnny Damon's age and inability to play defense more than occasionally should continue to clear Fuld's path to playing time. Cheap steals will be his main rotisserie contribution, and Fuld has shown an ability to draw walks throughout his time in the Cubs minor league system. Eventually, Desmond Jennings will be a part of the Rays' plans, which could leave Fuld to compete with Matt Joyce for the remaining corner outfield spot.

Chris Narveson, SP, MIL –
1-0, 2.19 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 23:11 K:BB

Through four starts, Narveson is chugging along just below a strikeout-per-inning pace. Oddly enough, his walk rate is actually up (4.0 BB/9IP) from the last two seasons, but he's finding success by getting more ground outs and keeping the ball in the yard. To this point, Narveson has stranded 82.1 percent of his baserunners, which is simply unsustainable for him considering his career mark of 67.5. The walks will catch up with him eventually and the ERA isn't going to last, but there's more pedigree here (second-round pick, 2000) than you might realize and getting good run support from the Brewers offense should make him a positive factor in wins and strikeouts, even if the ERA and WHIP trend back toward (or even slightly above) the league averages.

Matt Harrison, SP, TEX –
3-1, 1.88 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 19:9 K:BB

Like Narveson, Harrison is stranding a ton of runners (87.5%), but he is showing skills growth with lower walk and home-run rates and an uptick in strikeouts. Injuries – including Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – have kept him from throwing 100 innings in season since 2008, so durability is a concern as the season wears along. Harrison pitched well against older competition throughout his minor league stops before the injuries derailed him, so he's not necessarily a finished product at age 25. Still, his home park makes him risky as the weather warms up, and he'll need to cut the walks even further (2.8 BB/9IP) and keep the ball in the park to survive the warmer months in Arlington. It seems unlikely that you could “sell high” on Harrison, so the recommendation here is to hold and watch the matchups for him carefully as there are still instances where he should be reserved.

Brandon McCarthy, SP, OAK –
1-1, 2.10 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 20:3 KBB

Good control in Oakland is a recipe for success. McCarthy actually showed signs of improved control last season at Triple-A (1.7 BB/9IP), so his 2011 breakout might not be a fluke. His strikeout rate (6.0 K/9IP) is in line with his career performance, and while the strand rate is elevated (79.3%), McCarthy isn't getting by with BABIP voodoo (.287). In his home starts and in select road environment (i.e. division foe Seattle's Safeco Field), McCarthy's flyball tendencies won't be punished.

Zach Britton, SP, BAL –
3-1, 3.16 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 17:10 K:BB

It's easy to love groundball pitchers and some day in the not-so-distant future, we're going to see him start missing more bats. Until then, he's still a work in progress, and Britton needs to shave his walk rate (3.5 BB/9IP) before he can maximize his effectiveness in the always tough AL East. His ceiling might be limited to No. 3 starter at the big-league level, but the Orioles have other young pitchers with ace potential in Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta. Nevertheless, Britton figures to go through his share of growing pains this season, but he has a skill set that will make his transition less painful than that of his more talented Baltimore counterparts.

Bad Starts

Jose Lopez, 2B/3B, COL –
.161/.190/.286, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1 SB, 1:8 BB:K

Any hitter can heat up at Coors, but Lopez hasn't provided much offensively thus far, and Jonathan Herrera might wrestle the starting job away for good. Considering how little the Rockies are invested in him, Lopez could easily be traded or released if the front office tires of his inability to draw walks (one in 56 at-bats this season). His struggles last season weren't merely a byproduct of Safeco Field, so the end of the line may becoming sooner than expected for Lopez.

Bill Hall, 2B, HOU –
.225/.267/.352, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 0 SB, 3:26 BB:K

Hall went 4-for-10 against the Brewers over the weekend, but his plate discipline is brutal and the Astros are eventually going to have Clint Barmes back at shortstop. What does that mean for Hall? He could be headed to the bench as Angel Sanchez is off to a good start and the Astros (for better or worse) will probably be inclined to continue playing him. Eventually, Jeff Keppinger will return too, leaving things crowded at second base in Houston. It seemed like Hall could be a nice cheap source of power, albeit with a low average, but even that might be a stretch with his playing time potentially getting cut.

Alex Rios, OF, CHW –
.160/.253/.210, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB, 9:15 BB:K

Where have we seen this before...

September of 2009 – .173/.221/.259, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 SB, 5:13 BB:K
September of 2010 – .228/.291/.354, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 5 SB, 6:15 BB:K

There's no way around his struggles to start the season, but Rios is actually walking at a career-high rate (10%), and his contact rate (81%) is just a tick below his career mark (82%). Keep in mind that while Rios his 21 homers last season, he hit eight in May and two or three in each of the other five months. As he gets on base more consistently, there's no reason to think the White Sox will stop giving him the green light, so he'll continue to be valuable.

Angel Pagan, OF, NYM –
.159/.259/.246, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 4 SB, 9:9 BB:K

Assuming that his oblique strain heals while he's on the DL, Pagan is an intriguing player to target (or pickup) despite his slow start. He's 4-for-4 on the basepaths, which is very encouraging, but the early signs of skill growth are present in a career-high 12-percent walk rate and a career-high 87-percent contact rate. In his first 19 games this season, Pagan has traded some of his line drives for flyballs (bad for any hitter, but particularly costly for speedsters), but it's still a small enough sample where it's too early to think of it as a trend.

Alcides Escobar, SS, KAN –
.218/.244/.253, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 5 SB, 3:11 BB:K

The lack of walks are a reminder that he's still got plenty of work to do offensively, but Escobar is a potential Gold Glove candidate in the American League and has already racked up five steals over 22 games for manager Ned Yost. Freed from Ken Macha and his anti-steals movement in Milwaukee last season, Escobar is still returning to value to fantasy owners despite a .218 average. Escobar's line-drive rate is down, but he's also hitting a lot of balls on the ground (64.5%), and the batting average could creep upward if he's able to maintain the 21.5-percent line drive rate he maintained last season with the Brewers.

Chone Figgins, 2B, SEA –
.160/.207/.247, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB, 5:10 BB:K

What happened to Figgins? He rebounded in the second half last season following a slow start and still managed to steal 42 bases, but he was a one-category player after toting a .259 average and scoring just 62 runs. This time around, his walk rate is down while his contact rate is higher than ever at 88 percent. The batted ball data from 2010 and 2011 resembles his 2006 with the Angels. In that season, he hit .267 with a .336 OBP, which might simply be the baseline for him at age 33. Fortunately, he'll keep his second-base eligibility for the rest of this season, but he's definitely one to buy low in one-year leagues and avoid in keeper formats.

James Loney, 1B, LAD –
.167/.191/.211, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, 3:14 BB:K

The lack of power from a position where it's expected could be overlooked a bit when he was walking more than he struck out. That has changed, however, as Loney's walk rate has fallen for the second straight season, bottoming out at a mere three percent. For now, Jerry Sands is getting playing time in left field, and Loney could benefit from the Dodgers' lack of alternatives by having more leash to right the ship and keep his job at first base for the rest of the season. In any case, it's tough to buy in for a bounceback when we're discussing player who already struggles to hit home runs and is now hitting more groundballs than ever.

J.A. Happ, SP, HOU –
1-3, 6.94 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 15:12 K:BB

Dating back to his numbers following the trade to Houston last season, Happ has displayed poor control over his last 17 starts with a walk rate near 4.5 BB/9IP during that span. For his career, he's been able to maintain an elevated 78.3-percent strand rate, but he doesn't miss a ton of bats, and his control was never particularly sharp. Further, Happ doesn't induce an overwhelming number of outs on the ground either, so he's something of an anamoly. Houston is looking like a terrible defensive team this season, so there are definite concerns about what will become of the balls he allows to be put in play. In shallow mixed leagues, look elsewhere, and in deeper formats, the “buy low” sign is turned off.

Edinson Volquez, SP, CIN –
2-1, 6.35 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 31:19 K:BB

His start Sunday night appeared to be the one that was going to turn the corner for him until Yadier Molina put his 100th pitch in the bleachers for a three-run homer. He's striking out more than a batter per inning for the second straight season and the third time in the last four seasons. Maybe he's destined to be a Dice-K type for his entire career, but after returning from Tommy John surgery last season, are the free passes really that much of a surprise? Through five starts, Volquez ranks seventh in MLB with a 12.0-percent swinging strike mark. Last season, Francisco Liriano was the only player to match that number while the top five included Cole Hamels, Josh Johnson, Jered Weaver and Mat Latos.

Rick Porcello, SP, DET –
1-2, 4.76 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 16:6 K:BB

Porcello's average fastball velocity is down from 91.3 mph last season to 89.8 early on, but his velocity improved during his most recent start. Despite that, he's pushed his strikeout rate to 6.4 K/9IP while maintaining the good control he displayed last season. Further, Porcello does a good job getting grounders and he keeps the ball in the year. This is a young (and improving) skill set worth owning. Comerica Park doesn't play the same as Oakland's Colosseum , but Porcello has the tools to emerge as this year's version of Trevor Cahill as he continues to hone his craft and potentially moves along with an average strikeout rate.

Jake Arrieta, SP, BAL –
2-1, 4.94 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 23:11 K:BB

Getting nine strikeouts against the Yankees will get most owners' attention, but Arrieta was showing early signs of improvement even before his start Sunday. He's already shaved his walk rate from 4.3 BB/9IP to 3.6 over his first five starts while increasing his strikeout rate from 4.7 K/9IP to 7.6. Arrieta doesn't get a ton of groundballs, but he not an extreme flyballer either, and he's pitched better than the ERA suggests. If you're looking for a decent source of strikeout and can tolerate a 4.00-4.20 ERA at the end of the season, Arrieta should surprise.

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