By: Jack Moore
Each week we’ll be providing you with insight into the best (and worst) baseball players to play in your fantasy baseball league.
The early season dust is beginning to settle, as we’re now roughly one-eighth of the way through the season. Roles are stabilizing, teams are separating themselves. Still, 20 games can hold plenty of statistical anomalies, so we must remain discerning as the calendar flips to May. Here are five players heading into the season’s second month like lions:
1. Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU: “The little hit tool that could” has been more than capable this season, hitting .373 with 11 extra base hits in his first 21 games. That won’t keep up – he has a .435 BABIP and barely hit for that kind of power in the minors – but it has earned him a consistent spot at the top of the Astros’ lineup, and as such, he’ll have a good shot to stay close to his crazy runs scored pace (15 in 21 games) and more chances to steal bases – he’s already nabbed four this year.
2. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, MIL: Ramirez got off to a painfully slow start and was sitting at a .103 batting average on April 17th. Twelve days later, Ramirez is up to .228 with two home runs. Perhaps that doesn’t sound so impressive, but from April 18th to the 28th Ramirez hit a phenomenal .361/.410/.694. With older players like Ramirez (34 in June), it’s fair to worry about slow starts, but the last week and change should assuage any doubts his plodding start put into your heart.
3. Nate Schierholtz, RF, SF: The full story on Aubrey Huff’s trip to the disabled list with an anxiety disorder is a truly sad one, but the Giants press on without him. As Bruce Bochy still seems determined to keep Brandon Belt on the bench, Schierholtz seems to be the biggest playing time beneficiary. Although he won’t set the world on fire, the 28-year-old has been consistently useful, with a career .273 average.
4. Scott Downs, RP, ANA: Downs is the new “temporary” closer in Anaheim, with Jordan Walden taking a demotion over the weekend. Many question how long Downs can last in this role given his profile as a left-handed pitch-to-contact junkballer. However, Downs has just been nothing short of a fantastic pitcher – regardless of role – in recent times. Downs hasn’t had an ERA since 2006. There is reason to believe.
5. Adam Wainwright, SP, STL: Wainwright is the owner of a horrendous 7.32 ERA, but the underlying statistics suggest his last start – 6 IP, 1 ER in a no-decision against Chicago – is closer to the norm going forward. Wainwright has induced 31 ground balls to 17 fly balls so far, and yet has still seen five home runs against him – that pace will almost certainly not continue, and the quality starts should begin pouring in. Given the Cardinals offensive prowess, most of those will turn into wins as well. He could make a good target if his owner is still panicking.
As Vin Scully said about Don Mattingly this week, ‘life isn’t all Skittles and beer’ for these five players:
1. Trevor Bauer, SP, ARI: The Diamondbacks passed up the chance to call up Bauer to take Josh Collmenter’s spot in the rotation this week, instead choosing the older (but less exciting) Patrick Corbin. Although Corbin was a natural fit – he’ll be able start on his normal rest – it wouldn’t have been difficult for the Diamondbacks to rearrange the days to use Bauer. As such, we can assume that the Diamondbacks want him to get more seasoning before bringing him up to the majors, and his value in redraft leagues drops as he’ll need yet another Arizona pitcher to falter to get his chance.
2. Ike Davis, 1B, NYM: Looking for good signs with Davis? Good luck. Every statistical indicator is poor for him so far – his walk rate is down, he’s striking out more, he has shown very little power (.130 ISO), he’s beating the ball into the ground (49.1 percent of the time), and when he does hit it in the air, he’s popping it up (11.8% infield fly rate). There doesn’t appear to be an obvious option to take his playing time yet, but he is dropping in the lineup and is showing few signs of what led to his solid 2010 and excellent pre-injury 2011.
3. Rick Porcello, SP, DET: After two excellent starts to open the season, Porcello put together two disastrous starts totaling 7.2 innings and 13 earned runs. The end result is numbers looking eerily similar to the last three years. Although Porcello’s ERA will certainly come down from 6.45, he seems very much the same pitcher who posted ERAs of 4.92 and 4.75 the last two years respectively: very few strikeouts (near 5.0 per nine innings) and no missed bats (6.6% swinging strikes). Allow major leaguers to make contact and they will make you pay, and right now Porcello is paying dearly.
4. Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, CLE: As Jimenez struggled to a 4.68 ERA last season, he still had decent peripheral statistics. He struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings and kept the ball in the yard (just 0.81 HR/9) and on the ground (47.2 percent of the time). Now, though, he’s struggling in all respects. He’s allowing a one-to-one ground ball-to-fly ball ratio for the first time and he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out (14 to 13). As early as it is, Jimenez has shown no sign of adjusting to the American League nor returning to the form he had in the National League.
5. Javy Guerra, RP, LAD: Guerra took two losses and allowed five runs in three appearances over the past week, and now Kenley Jansen has recorded the past two saves. Don Mattingly hasn’t said anything explicit about a closer change, but if Guerra ever does get another opportunity, one has to wonder just how long his leash will be. Jansen owns some of the toughest stuff to hit in the entire majors, setting the K/9 record last season. Guerra seems unlikely to repeat last season’s 2.31 ERA, as well – a 2.11 K/BB with just 7.33 K/9 is not typically a recipe for an elite reliever, as the combination of contact and base-runners is usually a deadly one
Jack Moore is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in Mathematics and Economics. His work can also be found at FanGraphs.com, DisciplesOfUecker.com, RotoWire.com, AdvancedNFLStats.com and ESPN. Follow him on twitter at @jh_moore.