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MLB Barometer: Time For Change

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at

At some point in the season, the cries of a small sample size have to come to an end. It's certainly understandable that no one wants to declare a potential MVP candidate after just two weeks nor do they want to cut bait with a promising, young player who just happens to be off to a cold start to the season. But now that we're almost a week into May, most hitters have roughly 100 at-bats under their belt while rotations have cycled through nearly half a dozen times. Obviously you'd like more data to go on, but with most rotisserie standings starting to take shape, you have to work with what you have and start making those tough decisions. It's time to start fine-tuning that lineup.

No one likes to do a roster overhaul, but now that the hot starts have cooled and the cold starts have heated up, you have to determine what your team's strengths and weakness are and what your needs might be. And your first order of business is to start cutting that dead weight. You know who we're talking about. We're looking at those players with "promise and upside" but who haven't quite reached their potential. They sit there on your bench, never to grace your starting lineup with their presence as you desperately hope that maybe, just maybe, things will click and they'll perform as you originally hoped.

Well, as my granddaddy always used to say, "You can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up first." It's not that these guys won't ever get it, but their current presence on your bench is now detrimental to your team and your overall success in the league. Waiting for a stolen base guy to improve his OBP so that he can do the job for which you drafted him is now a problem as there are probably a few guys on your waiver wire who are stealing bases right now and could have been rotated into your lineup. Holding that relief pitcher handcuff in case your closer falters? That's fine, unless you're near the bottom of the standings in strikeouts and there are dozens of preferred starters sitting on your waiver wire. For every day that passes with you wishing a guy on your bench would live up to his potential, there are tons of players available who can and are contributing on a daily basis.

It's time to start making some changes.

On the Rise

Dee Gordon, SS LAD - The casual fantasy owner may have forgotten that Gordon was among Baseball America's top 50 prospects in 2010 and 2011, but certainly you haven't, right? After a failed attempt to hold down the starting shortstop job for the Dodgers in 2012 and not receiving the first call-up when Hanley Ramirez went down earlier this season, Gordon and his game-breaking speed were forgotten in many fantasy circles. But after posting a .314/.397/.431 slash line with 10 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases over 25 games (117 plate appearances) at Triple-A Albuquerque, the Dodgers were forced to take notice when Ramirez went down again with a hamstring injury. He debuted in style Saturday with a 2-for-4 day at the plate with a pair of stolen bases, so couple that with the fact that stolen bases are actually down this year and you may have a bit of a FAAB bidding war on your hands. He'll be worth it though.

Marcell Ozuna, OF MIA - Giancarlo who? OK, maybe not, but Ozuna has really impressed since being called up to replace Stanton who went down with a hamstring injury early last week. Granted, the sample size is pretty darn small, but he's hit safely in each of the five games he's played and just popped his first big league home run Saturday. It's all going to come down to adjustments, really, as pitchers will note his free-swinging style (59.2-percent swing rate) and his current .389 average is fueled by a .400 BABIP, but Ozuna has shown throughout his time in the minors that he's a strong contact hitter with excellent power and the ability to make adjustments and improvements himself, as evidenced by his steadily declining strikeout rate over the last few years.

Curtis Granderson, OF NYY - Sing it with me: "The Grandy-Man can because he hits the ball so hard and helps your fantasy team win!" That's right, after more than a month on the shelf with a broken forearm, Granderson is out there rehabbing every day and looking to make it back by the middle of the month. Most people have him stashed away in a DL spot, but you're probably still able to buy low on him as people are obviously concerned about how much power he'll hit for given the nature of the injury. But while it might take him a bit of time to get back into the swing of things (get it?) it was the forearm and not the wrist which is a much tougher injury to regain power from. Another added bonus is that the Yankees are rehabbing him at the corner outfield positions as well which indicates that they want to keep Brett Gardner in center. Should you play in a league that differentiates between the outfield positions, then Granderson could have even more value with multi-position eligibility.

Staying the Course

Evan Gattis, C ATL - With news that Jason Heyward will likely to be out for almost all of May, Gattis' playing time receives a stay of execution as the team will try him out in right field in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup when Brian McCann returns. There was a bit of hesitation as Gattis was in a slight slump, but he is now 6-for-20 (.300) over his last five games and homered for the first time since April 23. It is yet to be determined as to whether he'll play every day or platoon with Reed Johnson and/or Jordan Schafer but even part-time at-bats are better than the alternative

Jeremy Guthrie, SP KC - Maybe it's the Kansas City water. Maybe it's their Bar-B-Q. Whatever the case may be, Guthrie seems to love being a Royal and it's certainly showing in his pitching. With the first complete-game shutout of his career Saturday, Guthrie improved to 4-0 on the season and extended his unbeaten streak to 17 consecutive starts dating back to last August. You should continue to use him, but keep in mind that while his ERA sits at a tasty 2.40, his FIP is 4.45 which indicates that he's getting an awful lot of help from his defense. His ground ball rate is definitely higher than usual, so should it start to level off with an increase in fly balls, Guthrie could see his ERA climb a bit.

Jose Fernandez, SP MIA - Similarly to Ozuna, it's all about adjustments here, and so far Fernandez looks like he's making them. After a stellar debut, Fernandez struggled over a pair of starts and had a third shortened due to a high pitch count as batters were learning to hit him better with added scouting reports. But Fernandez made adjustments of his own, as the Phillies can attest, and looked a lot sharper on the mound Saturday. Should he continue down this path, he could have some legitimate staying power in the Marlins rotation this season. That is, until the late second half if the Marlins opt to limit his innings, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

On the Decline

Brandon Belt, 1B SF - After a killer final two months in 2012 and the promise of a starting job in 2013, Belt was supposed to turn the corner this year and finally prove to be that strong left-handed bat the Giants so desperately needed. But Belt is up there swinging away at a more rapid rate than usual and has seen an increased strikeout rate, a drop in walks and a dismal .269 BABIP which is sucking his average down the porcelain bowl. His contact rates have been good, on the whole, so he could just be suffering from some bad luck, but unless he drops both his fly ball rate and infield fly ball rate, things just aren't going to get better. We saw a nice run during the series against Arizona, but he's gone right back to his hitless ways over his last two games and Bruce Bochy has said that he's going to leave him down in the eight-hole in the order until he comes around.

Dylan Axelrod, SP CHW - Despite pitching reasonably well (not great, but reasonably well), White Sox manager Robin Ventura said that he is leaning towards keeping Hector Santiago and not Axelrod in the rotation when John Danks returns from the disabled list. The claim is that it is not a slight on Axelrod or his abilities, but that Santiago is seen as the pitcher with better long-term upside. It's not something that is going to happen immediately as Danks still needs to make a few rehab starts, but it's time to start getting prepared should you be using Axelrod in your current rotation. He will certainly take a major hit in value with a move to the bullpen.

Jake Peavy, SP CHW - It's almost the second week of May and we're right on schedule for Peavy's first injury/missed start of the season. Recent reports have him missing his May 5 start due to back problems and there is already speculation that he could be headed to the disabled list. While this could certainly help out Axelrod's chances of staying in the rotation in the short-run, it's something that could be a pain in the rear for owners all season long. Constant moves back and forth between the pen and the rotation could hinder Axelrod's preparation and performance while we all know that this will not be Peavy's only stint on the DL. He did manage a full season last year, but with muscular issues this early and the fact that he's failed to make 20 starts in a year for three of the last four years, the outlook for this season is growing bleak.