Fantasy Baseball: Each MLB Team's Biggest Boom or Bust Player

Nathan PalatskyCorrespondent IIMay 11, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: Each MLB Team's Biggest Boom or Bust Player

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    Consistency. It is one of the most elusive traits in fantasy sports, especially in baseball. The game's biggest stars can go through stretches of misery while their owners fight the urge to bench them for less talented players.

    Every team across baseball has players who can be their knight-in-shining-armor one week, and the Invisible Man the next. Some players play their entire careers with the stigma of being "streaky" or "inconsistent," but in 2012, many players who were once thought to be safe bets are proving there is no such thing in baseball.

    Some of the "boom or bust" regulars are listed here, but as an owner of one of them, keep an eye on when the boom time simply isn't worth the damage of the bust. 

Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles

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    In 19 games of April baseball, Mark Reynolds hit .143 with zero home runs, 30 strikeouts and a .206 slugging percentage. In five May games thus far, Reynolds has hit .375 with two homers and a .938 slugging percentage. 

    Now, Reynolds was a guy I liked a lot for leagues that don't penalize strikeouts. He has 28 or more home runs, 85 or more RBI, and 79 or more runs scored in four straight seasons. He's a career .236 hitter, so that was expected, and he has led the league in strikeouts four years running. 

    You knew what you were getting when you drafted him, and you will still get that. It might just come in bunches. Reynolds-ownership is not for the risk-averse. 

Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

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    Jon Lester has made six starts in 2012. Combine his two best starts and you get 14 innings, one total earned run and 11 strikeouts. Combine his two worst and you get nine innings, 12 earned runs and eight walks. In the other two, he went six and eight innings, allowing three earned runs each. 

    The Red Sox need Lester to be dominant, as do his fantasy owners. In 2009 and 2010 he had 225 strikeouts each, with K/9 rates of 10.0 and 9.7. Last year, that number dipped to 8.5 and he failed to make 200 innings for the first time since 2007.

    With the Boston bullpen being one of the worst in baseball, and without Andrew Bailey for the near future, they will need their ace to go deep into games. (And no, Josh Beckett is not their "ace".) 

Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

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    Between April 15 and 19, Mark Teixeira collected eight hits in four straight multi-hit performances. He went hitless in eight of his next 11 games. He has four home runs and 16 RBI, but two of those bombs and six of the RBI came in one night when the Yankees hung 15 on Boston. 

    Now, if you draft Mark, you should know he is a career .269 hitter before the All-Star break, with an .866 OPS. And he is a career .294 hitter after the break, with a .939 OPS. It is normal for him to take a while to get going, and you want to own him when he does.

    Don't be foolish. Teixeira is one of baseball's accepted slow starters, but he always makes the wait worthwhile. 

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    You drafted Jose Bautista to hit the ball out of the ballpark. The man has hit 97 home runs in the last two seasons, so there's not reason to expect anything less. However, Bautista slugged just .313 in 23 games of April ball. There are signs of life, as he has a .524 slugging percentage in May so far.

    It is important to remember, Bautista is a career .252 hitter. Even in his breakout 2010 year, he hit .260. The .302 average from 2011 is more likely the outlier, so temper expectations, but even tempered, Bautista can still be expected to hit 30-plus bombs and knock in 90-110 RBI that should come with them.

    It sounds like common knowledge, but seems easily forgotten. Know your players when you draft them. Some of the easiest owners to rip off in trades are the ones who drafted a player expecting his 30 home runs to be evenly spaced out through the year. They will come, just not exactly how you would time them. 

Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Cut from the same stone as the free-swinging Reynolds, Carlos Pena has just a .754 OPS in 13 road games this season, but he has a .923 OPS at home in 16 games as well. For his career, Pena's OPS is higher at home, but not by that margin. 

    Pena is another player from whom you should have known what to expect. He has five straight years of 28 or more home runs, 80 or more RBI and 80 or more walks. He also has 140 or more strikeouts in all of those seasons.

    Enjoy the power from the career .239 hitter, just reinforce the average elsewhere, and for those in category leagues, I wouldn't want to own Pena and Reynolds unless I was punting average. 

Adam Dunn, Chicago White sox

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    Adam Dunn is on pace for 243 strikeouts, which would be almost 70 more than his historically bad 2011. Fortunately, he's on pace for 49 home runs as well, and that's why you drafted him. 

    Now, don't expect him to reach either of those numbers. But this is a guy who, before 2011, had seven straight years of 38 or more home runs and 90 or more RBI. He also had 160 or more strikeouts in each of those years, leading the league three times. 

    Reynolds...Pena...Dunn...you know what you are getting. Every two-strike pitch, just close your eyes and listen for the crack. It will either be a thunderous crack of the bat, or a leathery crack of the catcher's glove. 

Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians

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    In Ubaldo Jimenez' first start of the season, he went seven innings and allowed one hit. He then went on to give up 10 ER and 11 BB over his next three starts, followed by seven runs allowed in a six-walk disaster to kick off May. However, on May 6, Jimenez pitched seven innings of shutout ball, with six strikeouts... and five walks.

    Jimenez has become Francisco Liriano. Everything "feels" like his numbers should be better, and both have had seasons past when they were. But there's no logic to his success. He gave up seven runs to the White Sox and then shut out the Rangers, baseball's best offense.

    Good luck guessing when Ubaldo will be great, because he will be great, it just might be one out of every three starts. 

Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers

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    In 14 Tigers' wins this season, Austin Jackson has an on-base percentage of .444. In 13 losses, he has an OBP of .333. The OPS is 250 points apart between the two, and Jackson has 10 of his 13 walks in games which the Tigers have won.

    The knock on Jackson has always been that, for fantasy purposes, he has all the skills to be great if he could just find his way on base more. Jackson has 170 and 181 strikeouts in his two major league seasons. He also has 24 whiffs in 27 games thus far in 2012. 

    So only start Jackson in Tiger wins...or hope he learns how to take a pitch now and then. 

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

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    Alex Gordon is boom-or-bust on a much larger scale than many mentioned here. His entire career is at a crossroads. Through his first four years, the former first-round pick batted .244 with a .733 OPS in what became sporadic playing time after early struggles. 

    In 2011, Gordon batted .303 with 23 HR, 17 SB and an .879 OPS. Many said the long-awaited savior of the Royals had finally awoken. But fantasy owners don't easily forget four consecutive let-down seasons, nor should they.

    Be wary of Gordon this season. If you own him, you have to decide if you are a believer or not. If you are, then any deal done right now would be selling low. If not, and you think he will return to his former self, then sell now, while there are still believers out there. 

Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins

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    In his last two healthy seasons, 2008-2009, Justin Morneau hit 53 HR, knocked in 229 RBI and hit .288 with 182 runs scored. He has played just 150 games since. 

    Concussions are so hard to predict, symptoms could reoccur at any moment. Owning Morneau is dangerous because the name still carries the weight of a potential superstar, and so his owners are hesitant to give him up. 

    Morneau could be great. He still has the ability. But he will require patience to own at this point and if he goes on a hot streak, it may be worth shopping the Twins first baseman before it ends. 

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    You saw the bust for the first month of the season. You are about to see the boom. This is the best hitter of his generation. Consider 2011, which everyone made out to be a terrible year for Albert, "a down and disappointing year"...you'd think he was Adam Dunn in 2011. 

    Albert Pujols batted .299 with 37 HR, 99 RBI and 105 runs scored. He added nine stolen bases and made it to 147 games despite an injury. This is a career .326 hitter, with an OPS 1.028 over 12 years. 

    This is a perfect sign of the panic-reflex in fantasy owners. If you traded for Pujols in April at anything less than 90 cents on the dollar, you deserve a toast. Enjoy the next five months. 

Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland A's

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    Yoenis Cespedes has 28 major league games under his belt. He has 26 hits, 10 for extra bases and 29 strikeouts. He also has 21 RBI, which is an encouraging pace. But to watch Cespedes hit is a lesson in swinging as hard as one can. He doesn't get cheated, regardless of the count.

    The power has not been over-hyped. When Cespedes makes contact, he does serious damage. But he will have to start making contact more often and shorten his swing on two-strike counts in order to maintain a batting average over .250 to go with the 25-30 home runs he will likely hit each year. 

Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners

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    Jesus Montero is a designated hitter in catching gear for the time being, which is great for fantasy owners, as he has gained eligibility in any league that requires 10 games there. 

    As far as the numbers, Montero is batting .423 with an extreme 1.252 OPS against left-handed pitching. On the other side, he is batting just .241 with a .573 OPS against right-handers. Fortunately, the Mariners are too offensively inept to keep his bat out of the lineup on any given day, so he will keep getting up there.

    Overall, Montero's .286 average is encouraging, however, he has just two walks in 105 at-bats, so the average could slip if he doesn't take more pitches. 

Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    Josh Hamilton might be the ultimate boom-or-bust player of 2012. 

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals' mega-prospect batted .256 in 37 Double-A games and .250 in 20 Triple-A games before he was called up to the big leagues. It seemed like a move by a desperate organization that wasn't selling tickets, despite a winning team.

    Harper has batted .265 in 10 games since arriving. He has shown flashes of the brilliance expected from him in the future. The 19-year-old has six walks against just four strikeouts in his 34 at-bats and has one steal of home after being intentionally hit by Cole Hamels. 

    His command of the strike zone and tendency to go hard on every play will serve him well, and may indicate he will reach his potential earlier than most, but that doesn't mean there won't be bumps along the way. 

Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

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    As a rookie, Jason Heyward batted .277 with 18 HR, 83 R and 11 SB. That success led many fantasy owners to draft him in the early rounds of 2011 drafts, expecting the next step forward. He answered by batting .227 and scoring only 50 runs, playing mostly through injury.

    Through the first 22 games of the 2012 season, Heyward batted .273. In the last eight games he has batted just .217. The fact of the matter is, young players tend to be streaky. With players of Heyward's potential, the hot streaks will probably be superb, and the cold streaks, miserable.

    Be patient in keeper leagues. And if you own him in a seasonal league, don't be afraid to sell the upside for a more consistent player.

David Wright, New York Mets

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    First of all, David Wright is 29. He seems like he should be older, but Wright is smack dab in the middle of his prime. Second of all, before 2011, Wright had a string of six straight seasons of 144 games or more each season.

    In those seasons, he averaged 100 runs, 26 HR, 104 RBI, 22 SB and a .306 AVG each year. At 24-years-old, Wright batted .325 with 30 HR, 107 RBI, 34 SB and 113 runs scored...at 24-years-old, and as a third baseman. 

    People forget Wright is not old. Many gave up on him after back-to-back years in which his batting average dropped at least 20 points from the year prior. For 2012, he is batting .376 through the first 28 games of the season. He has 18 RBI and 20 runs scored. It seems he's back. 

Hanley Ramirez, Miami Marlins

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    In 2009, Hanley Ramirez batted .342 with 24 HR, 106 RBI, 27 SB, scored 101 runs and finished second in MVP voting. After a .300, 20/30 season in 2010, he batted .243 with 10 HR and 20 SB over just 92 games in 2011.

    Which Hanley will the Marlins get? While batting just .220, Ramirez is on pace for 30 HR, 105 RBI and 30 SB over his first 31 games. At just 28-years-old, Ramirez has the chance to be fantasy's most valuable player, considering his eligibility at shortstop and third base, two of the hardest positions to fill. 

    Ramirez is just one of many Marlins off to a slow start. When this team starts hitting, everyone will benefit. 

Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Ryan Howard has not played a game yet this season, nor will he for at least another month. However, the person who drafted him knew that. They also knew he has averaged 44 HR and 133 RBI per season since 2006.

    Howard's ratios were headed in the wrong direction, but even in 2011, he managed 33 HR and 116 RBI, so the ability is still there. If the Achilles is totally healed when he returns, Howard could end up being a legitimate bargain, but there is bust potential. He puts weight on the Achilles every time he steps out of the box, so if there's any apprehension, it may limit him. 

    If you own him, you probably got him cheap. Considering his numbers to this point, there's tremendous boom potential. 

Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Lance Berkman in 2011 was .301, 31 HR and 94 RBI...in 2010 he was .248, 14 HR and 58 RBI. With Albert Pujols gone, Berkman is all the more critical to the Cardinals' success. 

    Berkman has only managed to appear in seven games in 2012, despite batting .348 over that time. But the Cardinals will need him healthy to have the necessary offense to keep up with a talented division. He hasn't played in 150 games since 2008, so health is a concern.

    But 2011 showed he still had what it took to be a top fantasy producer, there will just be some DL-talk in between.

Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds

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    Mark Reynolds did not lead MLB in strikeouts last season. Drew Stubbs did. When he managed to get on base, he scored 92 runs and stole 40 bases. He even managed to bat .243 while striking out over 200 times. 

    Stubbs has 37 home runs, 183 runs scored and 70 steals over the past two seasons and is just 27 years old, but at some point, and possibly by mid-2012 (he has 34 Ks in 29 games), Stubbs owners will have to accept he will never reach the 30/40 potential he has shown in the past. 

Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros

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    Jed Lowrie led all shortstops in 2010 with a .907 OPS. Then, given the chance in 88 games for Boston in 2011, he managed just a .685 number, while splitting time at shortstop with Marco Scutaro.

    Now with Houston, Lowrie has pop in his bat and finally has the venue to perform, while facing unchallenged at-bats. He is making the most of it so far, with a .301 AVG, 12 RBI and 13 runs, but the concern with Lowrie has always been health. He has yet to play 90 games in a season and there is no telling how long he will stay on the field this time.

    Lowrie will produce some power for your fantasy team as long as he is healthy. There is no one in Houston he is remotely close to being benched for. But keep in mind the injury risk and have a quality backup in mind. 

Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Pedro Alvarez played at every level from rookie ball through the major leagues in 2011. Unfortunately, he batted .191 and struck out 80 times in 235 at-bats. 

    In 2010, his first stint with the Pirates, Alvarez hit 16 home runs in 95 games. But Alvarez is a career .216 hitter against lefties and there are quite a few of them in the big leagues. This season may be the last chance.

    Alvarez has hit seven home runs in 26 games to this point in the season, but has also struck out 28 times, so his contact issues may not be fixed. Time will tell how long the Pirates are willing to put up with that. 

Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs

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    Bryan LaHair has had 86 at-bats this season. Forty seven of them have ended in either an extra-base hit or a strikeout. That is the epitome of boom-or-bust. He has 18 home runs, nine doubles and 30 strikeouts. In fact, LaHair has only 16 singles, compared to 17 extra-base hits.

    The problem is sustainability. LaHair is batting .384 with a league-leading .476 on-base percentage, but he has 30 strikeouts in 28 games. Something's got to give. With Anthony Rizzo in the minors, LaHair could be a cold streak away from being replaced.

    Now, with every game, that cold streak would have to be colder to bump him, but the Cubs went into the season likely expecting Rizzo to be the first baseman sooner than later, and LaHair's numbers will come back to the mean. I would be dealing if I owned him. 

Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Yovani Gallardo's starts No. 2, 3 and 4 of 2012 combined for 21 innings, four earned runs and 21 strikeouts. Starts No. 1 and 5 combined for 5.2 innings and 14 earned runs. 

    When he's on, the Brewers starter is among the best pitchers in the game. He is coming off of career bests in innings, strikeouts, wins and WHIP and he is still just 26 years old. The stuff has always been of the swing-and-miss variety and he has three straight 200-K seasons.

    On the flip side, Gallardo made six starts in 2011 with five or more earned runs allowed, and another four starts in which he allowed four. Start him every time, but know it will blow up in your face once in a while. 

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Dee Gordon is on pace for over 60 steals, but his .268 on-base percentage is keeping the runs scored lower than it should be, which could threaten his playing time if he can't put the ball in play more often.

    Gordon was boom-or-bust from the beginning of the season because he completely lacks power, so you needed him to slap the ball and get on base, steal bases and score runs. 

    Gordon has the good fortune of batting ahead of Matt Kemp, perhaps the best hitter in the game, and Andre Ethier, who seems to have revived himself. If Gordon can learn the Ichiro batting style of putting it on the ground and running like mad, and if that on-base percentage sneaks above .300 to the .330 range, he could very well swipe 70 bases and score 110 runs. 

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    Tim Lincecum allowed five or more earned runs in each of his first three starts. Then he allowed one earned run over his next 13 innings. And he has since not gotten past the fifth inning in his last two. 

    Now, I want to go back in time for a moment. Lincecum went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA in August of 2010. He then went 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in September. He tends to have a bad month in each season. Think about his 2.74 ERA in 2011 and you may forget his June number was close to five. 

    Big picture, Lincecum has 220 or more strikeouts every year since 2008. He had two Cy Young Awards before he was 26. He's coming off a 2011 in which he posted a 2.74 ERA. Finally, his 2012 K/9 is at 10.1. The last time he had a season K/9 over 10 was his last Cy Young year. Buy low if you can, while you can. 

Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Paul Goldschmidt hit eight home runs in 48 games as a rookie last season. He was drafted by owners who knew he would strikeout a lot, but also hit a lot of home runs. In 27 games of 2012, he has 25 strikeouts, but just one home run. 

    One thing to remember is that Goldschmidt is just 24 years old. He also had just 103 games above High-A ball before coming to the big leagues. Also consider, in 315 games between rookie ball and Double-A, Goldschmidt struck out 327 times. 

    Now consider the jump in talent level for the opposing pitchers between Double-A and the majors. That means just as many swings and misses, with a fraction of the mistakes. 

Tyler Colvin, Colorado Rockies

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    In 2010, Tyler Colvin hit 20 home runs playing part time for the Chicago Cubs, totaling 358 at-bats. Many fantasy owners drafted him in 2011 hoping for full-time at-bats and 30 home runs to go with them. Colvin played 80 games, batted .150 and was sent down to the minors.

    Colving resurfaced with the Colorado Rockies, the one team who could logically take a gamble on this type of player. In 23 games, Colvin is batting .300 with an .841 OPS. He has only hit two home runs, but fantasy owners will likely sacrifice the pure mashing numbers for more at-bats that will come with the improved approach. 

Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres

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    Former top draft pick Cameron Maybin batted .246 with just 13 home runs and and 19 steals between 2007 and 2010, playing for the Tigers and Marlins. In 2011, he hit nine homers, stole 40 bases and batted .264 with 82 runs scored.

    Which Maybin is for real?

    Thus far in 2012, Maybin is batting .208. He has nine steals but also 27 strikeouts in 31 games. The power people had hoped for seems like a long shot to come playing in Petco, but the steals are useful and he should score 70-80 runs...unless he keeps batting in the low .200s.

    Drafting Maybin was betting on his progression to continue. There is boom potential, but prepare for the bust as well.