Fantasy Baseball 2012: Mark Reynolds Leads MLB "All-Shaky Start Team"

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterApril 20, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Mark Reynolds Leads MLB "All-Shaky Start Team"

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    The following slideshow reveals fantasyland's "All-Shaky Start Team," a 16-man list that details the early struggles of some of baseball's most prominent hitters and pitchers (through April 19). 

    To repeat, this list is not some prophecy of more doomsday stats from May to September, nor is it an endorsement to trade certain players after two-plus weeks of middling production. Please have some perspective before invoking any knee-jerk trade talks.

    Enjoy the show!

Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs

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    We could have targeted Wilson Ramos, J.P. Arencibia or Kurt Suzuki for this countdown, but Soto's slow start (one HR, one RBI, six runs, .167 batting, .211 OPS) clinches the ranking ahead of the other prominent catchers.

    One RBI in 36 at-bats? A .333 slugging percentage? Ouch.

First Base: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

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    If it wasn't for Hosmer's shaky start to a season of immense promise, Albert Pujols would have cracked this list. But it was hard to overlook Hosmer's numbers (two HRs, seven RBI, eight runs, one steal, .167 batting, .259 OBP) in the final analysis—particularly the .593 OPS.

    The silver lining to this early disappointment? Fantasy owners in need of corner-infield power should encounter less resistance compared to two weeks ago when trying to pry Hosmer away in trade talks.

    Early struggles aside, the kid is still a future (and perhaps present) star.

Second Base: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

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    When this countdown reconvenes next month, I doubt Phillips (one HR, two RBI, three runs, .235 batting) will represent the class of second basemen again. He's simply too good to be this pedestrian.

    But in the interim, fantasy owners must hope that Thursday's home run off Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright was the start of something huge—or at least significant enough to obscure the middling numbers after 34 at-bats—especially the .257 OBP.

Shortstop: Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    Aybar could not have picked a more peculiar time to ink a lucrative, but supposedly below-market value contract.

    But hey, maybe he's taking the positives away from this bad start (zero HRs, four RBI, four runs, .190 batting) and fully understands that guys with .227 on-base percentages and .262 slugging rates don't turn down $35 million every day.

    In the scope of prominent, yet struggling shortstops, it was really only Aybar or Baltimore's J.J. Hardy for this list. The rest of the class have had respectable starts to the season.

Third Base: Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles

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    It's extremely rare to see an under-30 guy with 40-homer potential sporting a .256 slugging rate, but that's where things stand with Reynolds (zero HRs, three RBI, four runs, zero steals, .154 batting), whose slow start has been unremarkable at every turn.

    How disheveled has Reynolds looked this season? If he doesn't turn things around soon, Adam Dunn's historically awful year in 2011 may become a mere supplement to Reynolds' woes.

1B/3B Utility: Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox

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    Bobby Valentine's blunt assessment of Youkilis on Boston's airwaves might have been a social misstep in the eyes of his players, but the overall message was more fact than hyperbole.

    At this point, Youkilis (one HR, five RBI, seven runs, .184 batting, .238 OBP) resembles nothing of a top-10 third baseman in fantasy. Owners are getting more traction out of David Freese, Kyle Seager, Mat Gamel, Chase Headley and Chone Figgins, among others.

2B/SS Utility: Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers

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    It's way too early to attach "bust" labels to Weeks (two HRs, two RBI, six runs, one steal, .200 batting) and Brandon Phillips, but it's not too soon to wonder why both stars are struggling at the plate.

    In Weeks' case, it must feel weird not to have Prince Fielder's protection in the lineup. It must also be strange to currently have fewer RBI than Carlos Gomez and George Kottaras.

Outfield: Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Plenty of outfielders are enduring worse starts than Holliday (three HRs, seven RBI, seven runs, zero steals, .203 batting), but very few could rival his lofty expectations heading into the season.

    Of the 11 hitters listed in this countdown, Holliday likely represents the biggest lock to get back on track and finish with 25 homers, 90 RBI and a .290 average.

Outfield: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres

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    I'm curious to know if Maybin's fantasy owners only care about runs (eight) and steals (three) this season, on the belief that batting average, homers and RBI will develop over time.

    If that's the case, perhaps there are no worries with Maybin, even with the .160 average, 19 strikeouts (a team high) and .246 on-base percentage (a team low among everyday players).

Outfield: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

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    If Gordon had posted such pedestrian numbers this time last year, no one would have batted an eye. Back then, Gordon was a prime example of immense talent gone unfulfilled.

    But expectations were significantly raised after Gordon's superb 2011 campaign (23 HRs, 87 RBI, 101 runs, eight steals, .303 batting), which prompted a top-20 preseason ranking among outfielders and sizable contract extension just one month ago.

    Does Gordon have the makeup to overcome his ugly start (one HR, four RBI, three runs, .149 average)? Absolutely. But the first step to recovery entails cutting down on strikeouts and bumping that stomach-churning OBP (.245) above the .300 mark in the coming weeks.

Outfield: Jose Tabata, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Tabata is the only player in this countdown to sport the ignominious triple crown of zero homers, zero RBI and zero runs after 10 games (or 36 at-bats). That alone deserves a prominent spot on this list.

    But it gets worse for the 23-year-old outfielder and one-time super prospect with his anemic numbers in batting (.111), OBP (.158), slugging (.111) and OPS (.269).

    Even Ryan Raburn has a higher OPS right now (.299), which should scare the you-know-what out of every Tabata owner for mixed leagues.

Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds

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    There's little room for rationalizations here, but I'll give it a try.

    Latos (8.22 ERA, 1.89 WHIP) has been a virtual washout in his first three starts with the Reds, but at full health, the 24-year-old can still carry real-world and fantasy teams for sustained stretches. He's also an annual candidate for 15 wins and 200 strikeouts.

    In other words, Latos is the kind of embattled asset you should be targeting in exploratory trade talks, not trying to sell off on the low end of the buying bubble.

Starting Pitcher: Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    It's important to note that Santana (0-3, 6.75 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 12/7 K-BB) has gone at least 5.2 innings in all three of his starts, an indicator that he's being nickel-and-dimed into fantasy irrelevance more than bludgeoned into obscurity.

    Of course, that's no real comfort to fantasy owners who selected Santana ahead of Jordan Zimmermann, Max Scherzer or Chad Billingsley in drafts, thinking he would reside in the statistical neighborhood of Angel teammates Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson by season's end.

    That comparison will have to wait until Santana notches his first victory of the year.

Starting Pitcher: Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins

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    So much for Liriano's amazing Grapefruit League numbers (2.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 33/5 K-BB) being a springboard to a resurgent year in the bigs.

    The Twins lefty (0-2, 11.91 ERA, 2.74 WHIP, 8/9 K-BB) has arguably been the least effective starter in all of baseball to date—and that's saying a lot.

    But hey, let's give Liriano credit for being a hallmark of consistency—he's allowed five earned runs in all three starts for 2012.

Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

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    It's no great surprise that Wainwright (0-3, 9.88 ERA, 1.61 WHIP) would struggle out of the gate, just 13 months removed from elbow surgery. But few fantasy owners could have expected a prolonged rough patch in April.

    This is no time to panic on Wainwright (14/4 K-BB ratio), one of baseball's five best pitchers from 2009-10 (39 wins/425 strikeouts). When healthy, he's still the co-ace of the Cardinals staff (along with the injured Chris Carpenter) and a threat for eight to 10 strikeouts every time he takes the mound.

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    At first blush, there's no defense for Lincecum's poor start after three outings (0-2, 10.54 ERA, 1.90 WHIP), but a closer look reveals that a turnaround isn't that far away. After all, he's only walked four batters (in 13.2 innings) and his K/9 rate (10.5) ranks among the best in baseball (starting pitchers).

    Bottom line: Lincecum is a perennial lock for 33 starts, 200 strikeouts and a sub-3.00 WHIP; so if we're only one eleventh into the total experience, why part with him via trade at the bottom of the auction bubble?

    At this point, it pays to wait for Lincecum's bankable greatness to kick in.