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Charging the Mound: Bust Squad

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for, 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's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Derek VanRiper"
Sent: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 4:15pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging the Mound

Throughout this week on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today (new channel - XM 147, Sirius 211 11a-2p EST) we've been talking about our fantasy All-Stars. For every owner who connected on a Alex Rios, Scott Rolen or Trevor Cahill, there have been plenty of others left wondering what wrong as we head into the break. Injuries happen, so I'll try to avoid burying the guys who have been unable to stay on the field this season as disappointments and try to focus on those who really seem to lack any sort of excuse for their disappointing first three months. To keep this from becoming a cheese and whine picnic, let's also hash out whether or not we think there is a rebound forthcoming during the second half of the season.

Joe Mauer, C, MIN -- Maybe he spent too much time fishing in Cabo this winter? I'll even buy the possibility of having a $184-million contract in your back pocket altering the mechanics of your swing. With a Mock Draft Central ADP of 13.08, he was a first-round pick in plenty of leagues and it's been nothing but disappointment from him so far. Sure, he hit his fourth home run of the season in Tuesday's win over Toronto, but the House that Mauer built has been very pitcher-friendly in the first three months of its existence and it's no secret that Mauer still hasn't homered there through 36 games. At this point, are you ready to consider 2009 as his peak and 2008 as more of a reasonable line (.328/.421/.451, 9 HR, 85 RBI) for the future?

Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU -- A month ago, Prince Fielder may have occupied this spot, but his power surge in June made this decision easy. Yes, Berkman had knee surgery this spring and didn't make his season debut until Apr. 20. I think we should give him credit for taking fewer days off than the typical 34-year-old might under similar circumstances. I believe Mark Stopa made note of this in his Barometer this week, but I think it's worth repeating. As far as his contact goes, Berkman's LD/GB/FB data is very similar his career marks. He's traded a few flyballs for grounders, but the lack of homers should be attributed more to a career-low 13.4% HR/FB mark (19.1% for his career) than anything else. Are you buying in on Berkman right now? Does his recent history of power outages in the second half (14 homers after the All-Star break) over the last two seasons make you skeptical?

Ian Kinsler, 2B, TEX -- In fairness to Kinsler, he was battling a high ankle sprain in April and has been limited to 60 games this season. If you drafted after he suffered the injury, you had to know that there was significant risk of attrition in the speed department and 8-for-11 on stolen-base attempts really isn't that bad when you take everything into context. As a 31-homer player last season, Kinsler was going deep once in every 18.3 at-bats. In 2010, he's homering once in every 74 at-bats. Where did the power go? Was Kinsler fishing with Mauer and the Playstation guy too?

Jason Bartlett, SS, TAM -- I know there are a lot of Jimmy Rollins and Troy Tulowitzki owners out that have become all too familiar with the Orlando Cabrera and Mike Aviles-type shortstops on the waiver wire in many leagues. Believe me when I say that I never joined the Bartlett bandwagon, but with an ADP of 104.82, there plenty of others willing to take the bait. The warning signs were there, Bartlett hit just 11 homers in the big leagues over his first 1,500 at-bats before connecting for 14 of them last season. He also set a career-high with 30 stolen bases. For those who thought he might still be a top-10 shortstop, the speed and average seemed like reasonably safe bets. Thanks to a .264 BABIP (he was at .368 last season), Barlett is hitting just .226 with four steals. Spending time on the DL in June because of a hamstring injury didn't help his cause, but now he's become part of the Rays' ultimate timeshare with the emergence of Reid Brignac. I don't see much rebound potential here, do you?

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, SFG -- What's eating the Kung Fu Panda? I certainly didn't expect six homers over 81 games from him, but the .266 average can be linked to lost BABIP (.291 this season after .353 in 2009). He's lost some of his line drives, but the lack of long balls is supported by a brutally low 5.7% HR/FB mark (14.0 last season). It's tough to draw a long-term conclusion about 83 at-bats, but Sandoval is struggling against lefties this season (.205/.253/.277, 0 HR) after hitting them at a .379/.428/.600 line with six homers in 145 at-bats last season. Is he on your target list for both one-year and keeper leagues?

Let me know if you're buying this infield as the For the Money Fantasy Bust Squad for the first half. I'll leave the floor open for you to begin the dissection of the outfield and/or pitcher spots here as well.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, July 8, 2010 12:50am
To: "Derek VanRiper"
Subject: RE: Charging the Mound

Let's split the difference on Mauer. His HR/FB% was 20.4% last year, and it's 5.2% this year. His career rate is 10.7%. Is that drop all attributable to Target Field? I know that he's had a number of balls at home land short or hit the wall - maybe that's the case. But I want to see how the ball reacts over the dog days of summer, too. Maybe it's just an aberrant year, or half-year - there are a number of ballparks that change significantly from year-to-year. Anyhow, my guess is that his "regular" line is probably somewhere from 13-15 homers, and that this is the low end of his scale. There still might be power peaks down the line, too, where he spikes up to a 20-homer pace on a season.

I haven't had the opportunity to buy low on Berkman anywhere, but chances are I wouldn't if given the chance, because of his knees. There's a reasonable chance that he will continue to have issues with those knees, given the lack of cartilage there. If the Astros aren't able to trade him before the deadline, there's a reasonable chance that they shut him down at some point in September. I understand the concept of "buy lowest" and the statistical reasons to believe in a comeback, but unless that price tag is at bargain basement levels, it won't be on my watch.

Kinsler - I don't have an answer for you on the "why", except to surmise that it's connected to the ankle injury. I think it's reasonable to believe that at the very least he'll resume his 2008 pace (18 homers in 518 at-bats) over the second half, if not his 2009 pace. There was a report back in June where he acknowledged that the ankle was still bothering him. It's not unreasonable to think that it's lasted well into the rest of the month. The good news, as you mentioned, is that he's starting to run more often, and that he's hitting for average. I tried trading for him about six weeks ago (and instead settled for a package of Carlos Guillen and Carlos Quentin) in my AL home league, but I might make another pass at landing him for the second half.

Bartlett - variations on a theme here, as I think that the hamstring remains a part of the package. It's not just in his offensive numbers where this shows up, but also in his range defensively. He's got a great defensive reputation, but his UZR started falling last year and hasn't shown any signs of a correction. That also explains why his stolen base attempts were down even before the hamstring injury. As you mentioned, he's starting to lose playing time to Brignac, and that squeeze might even get worse if the Rays call up Desmond Jennings, moving Ben Zobrist to the infield upon occasion. You're right, the signs of a decline were there, and I don't think anyone really bought too much into the power outburst, but we should have been better prepared for a bigger drop.

Sandoval - This is a pretty heavy discussion. It weighs deeply on my mind. His performance hasn't been to scale with his previous seasons. In past years he's done a great job of pounding the ball, but not so much this year. Ok, you get the idea. I think he showed up a little more overweight than usual (there's some dispute between the claims this spring that he had actually lost weight and what the visual evidence implied) and it's affected his performance. One of the problems that he has is a lack of selectivity, and of course the rest of the league knows that. Last year opposing teams (a) didn't necessarily gameplan for him immediately and (b) once they did, they weren't as able to exploit his lack of selectivity and his conditioning as effectively. It seems as if there has been some adjustments made by opposing pitchers and catchers that have worked, and he's been unlucky on top of that. He'll adjust, and the luck will eventually turn in his favor. I'm less concerned about the platoon split - the small sample coinciding with everything else going wrong makes me think that there will be a correction there, too.

Other "for the money" busts at those positions so far:

C - Matt Wieters - I still believe in the potential, but he's still at "potential" when he's been drafted as "productive right now."

1B - Derrek Lee - hitting only .230 with 10 homers and 36 RBI. Todd Helton didn't cost as much, but he's been even worse, and now has hit the DL just as Coors Field has regained its teeth.

2B - Aaron Hill - Kinsler at least has provided BA and some SB's. Hill has tanked your batting average and his 11 homers only starts to make up for how much it cost you to draft him.

SS - Yunel Escobar - Escobar has never been a huge power guy, but zero homers and a .241 batting average are well below whatever lower-bound that you might have had for his projection.

3B - Mark Reynolds - So far, the reasons why he wasn't trendy in some circles this offseason have come to fruition - he's hitting for an even worse average than we feared, his CT rate is lower than ever (.58), and he's running back at his 10% career rate and not the 22% rate that he did last year. Dishonorable mention goes to Aramis Ramirez, though we can make allowances for his thumb injury at least.

This is running long, so I'm just going to list three OF's, and we can discuss pitchers either in your follow-up or in the comments.

Adam Lind: .206, 10 HR, 37 RBI.

Julio Borbon: Everybody's favorite breakout "cheap" steals guy was neither cheap nor a great stolen base guy in the first half. He has just eight SB's, which is just two short of his walks total.

Brad Hawpe has just five homers. It sure is great that I passed up on a closer in Yahoo Friends & Family for him to make sure I shored up my power stats. Now Dexter Fowler has essentially wrestled a starting outfield job from him to go along with Seth Smith and Carlos Gonzalez. I was looking to get my Coors, and instead got stuck with Keystone.

Who else deserves to make this list? Grady Sizemore is obvious, but I tried to stay away from those that had long-term injuries.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Derek VanRiper"
Sent: Thursday, July 8, 2010 10:33am
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

I think the Lind/Borbon/Hawpe trifecta (even covers the left/center/right defensive alignment) is a great trio of disappointing outfielders. Of the three, Lind is the biggest surprise to me since he was a dark horse for the AL MVP award last season. If I'm not mistaken, the general consensus during the winter was that he would lose some of his RBI chances without the benefit of Marco Scutaro (.379 OBP in 2009) in the leadoff spot. This time around, the Jays have had a combination of Jose Bautista and Fred Lewis in that role, and none of their regulars are even close to Scutaro's OBP. Since I've opened the book on this club, it should be noted that Aaron Hill certainly deserves your Honorable Mention behind Kinsler as huge disappointment at second base .189/.276/.355, 11 HR, 30 RBI. I think there's enough bounceback potential here to trade for Lind, but the HR/FB rate is telling. Last season, Lind saw 19.8 percent of his flyballs clear the fence, and that number has nearly been cut in half to 10.5 this season. Like Mauer, he's probably a guy who will split the difference between his 2008 and 2009 numbers going forward.

My two additions to the outfield busts are Nick Markakis and Curtis Granderson. Both players were drafted as top-50 talent this season, and neither has fully delivered just yet. I wish I could get Liss' comparison of Markakis to Ryan Sweeney out of my head, because I'm still wrestling with the belief that Markakis has 20-homer upside and I've never thought Sweeney could consistently provide more than half of that power. I will concede the possibility that Markakis is simply a better real-life outfielder than a fantasy one -- perhaps just a guy who's too sabermetrically sound for his own good.

Granderson is beginning to concern me for the long term. On a per at-bat basis, he's still hitting for nearly the same amount of power, but check out his slash line from 2007-2010. Barring second-half improvement, this will ultimately be the third straight year that he's regressed across the board. The culprit appears to be an eroding contact rate. Do you think we should value Granderson more like Arizona's Chris Young going forward? Granderson still struggles against lefties (.192 this season, .209 for his career), so the platoon plan against them will only get worse as he approaches his 30s.

I'll offer up my group of disappointing pitchers and open the door for additional nominations or disagreements from you in closing. I'm not going to put Tim Lincecum in this group, although I'm sure there are plenty of his owners who would like to make a case for him. Even with a brutal stretch during May and June, his ERA is already down to 3.16 and his strikeout rate is only down slightly at 10.1 K/9IP. A first-round pick should deliver a WHIP below 1.100, but I can't rule out the possibility of that happening either (currently at 1.277).

Zack Greinke - It's all relative when we're talking about Greinke's disappointing season to this point. His strikeout rate has slipped to 7.6 K/9IP this season after a 9.5 mark during his Cy Young-winning campaign a year ago, his ERA is up more than a run-and-a-half, and he's struggling to win. The lack of wins can be blamed on a terrible bullpen and a general lack of run support (seventh-lowest in the AL), and it's hard to say that we didn't see some regression in that category coming. Ultimately, as a late-second or early-third round pick in most leagues, you have to get a better return than what he's provided to this point.

Dan Haren - What happened to the guy who was dominant in the first half of the season and prone to cooling off in the second? His "regression" looks pretty fluky to me, although it is worth noting that his home-run rate 1.39 HR/9IP is up for the second straight season. The question I have is: Are you willing to buy given his historical fades after the All-Star break?

Javier Vazquez - And to think in many drafts, fantasy owners could have had Chris Carpenter or Yovani Gallardo. It was never a question of whether Vazquez could repeat his outstanding 2009 numbers, but just how much he'd regress in his return to New York. There's a chance he won't make this list in October. Over his last 10 starts (also including a brief relief appearance), Vazquez is 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA, 53:21 K:BB and .189 BAA. Unfortunately, his first five starts (9.78 ERA) did a lot of damage to his fantasy owners in April.

Tommy Hanson - All he's done to this point is lower his walk rate, increase his strikeout rate and shave down his home-run rate. The rewards haven't been there yet, even though his 3.45 FIP is better than what he posted after being called up last season. Anyone selling him off right now is going to feel the pain of a big second half.

Any big disappointments that I'm missing? I'm receptive to arguments about Cole Hamels, James Shields and A.J. Burnett disappointing their fantasy owners to this point, and I'm sure there are others.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, July 8, 2010 4:08pm
To: "Derek VanRiper"
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

Scutaro hasn't even been last year's Scutaro this year, though that's not a surprise. But you're right - the Jays are emphatically *not* an OBP team, and they've exacerbated that tendency this year. But I still think that most of Lind's problems are his own, but that they are correctable. I'm with you - split the difference for the second half. You really can't trade him for value at this point anyhow - you're better off just riding it out with him.

I almost added Markakis to this list, but held off because he was at least hitting for average. But if I owned him anywhere this year, I'd be getting pretty impatient that both his power and steals have dissipated away. I once got into a debate about my power projection for Markakis, maybe two years ago, with the argument being that his second-halves his first two years foretold a big power spike that I didn't project. I thought that there would at least be some incremental improvement, though. What exactly happened here? I still think of him as an 18-22 homer guy, but it hasn't worked out that way so far this year. He's still 26 years old - he could still have a peak year in the future. I'm warming up to the idea of maybe targeting him in keeper leagues, as long as you go in with the understanding that the bags might not come back.

I'm definitely bullish on Granderson, assuming that the groin is no longer an issue. He's got a .263 BABIP, and I think some of his poor initial performance coming back from the DL can be attributable to the speed in which he came back from such a severe tear. Yeah, the contact rate (76%) is bad, but I don't why that has to be his new level going forward. He'll benefit from Yankee Stadium eventually, too, especially in terms of power.

Greinke - He's a great example why we won't pay a second round pick for Ubaldo Jimenez or Josh Johnson next year. I'm still relatively optimistic about what he'll do for the rest of the season - his recent outing (against the Mariners, granted) is illustrative for the reason for optimism. You're right, though - we should always look for regression from a career year, though perhaps the extent of it has been just cause for surprise.

Haren - I'm skeptical about the first-half/second-half splits. Has he actually, physically worn down, or has he just declined in performance over the last couple of second halves? Is his delivery the type of "max delivery" that induces such exhaustion? Maybe Arizona plays more as a hitter-friendly environment later in the summer? Though that theory seems less likely, because Haren had some hencky Septembers with Oakland, too. There's so many variables at work in the present, though - the ballpark is still a tough track; the bullpen doesn't do him any favors, and perhaps forces him to work deeper into games; and he might even get dealt, in which case he's almost certainly stepping into a more favorable situation. He's neither a buy nor a sell to me - HOLD if you have him, or otherwise watch from afar.

Vazquez - April is long gone and doesn't even register with me. What's done is done, and what he's done for the last six weeks is good enough for me. Yeah, that April damage makes him overall look worse than he is, but I don't think that he belongs in this class.

Hanson - This is essentially the product of two poundings and one other pretty bad outing. Nearly every pitcher has their occasional disaster. As you mentioned, the fundamentals are strong. I'm not worried.

Hamels' fundamentals are actually pretty strong, especially his strikeout rate. I'm actually heartened by his performance overall and wish I had him in more leagues. If there's a perception by his owners that he's been a disappointment, take advantage of that and go grab him.

I'll give you two more busts to discuss in the comments. Wandy Rodriguez had two strong years of growth, but has been a huge bust this year. His K-rate is way down and he's had a lot of trouble with his curveball, his out pitch. The last three starts by him are at least encouraging. Also, he's in minors now, mercifully enough, but Rick Porcello regressed this year instead of taking the next step up. His numbers so far at Triple-A aren't all that encouraging either - he's not getting the Max Scherzer bounce.