Much like in life, things rarely go according to plan for fantasy baseball owners who leave their draft believing they assembled the best team.
For every Josh Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen and Clayton Kershaw who meets or defies expectations, there are several players who are causing owners to panic early in the season. Albert Pujols, considered a sure-fire first-round pick, baffled the baseball community with the worst stretch of his career to start 2012.
The following players have frustrated their owners by slumping out of the gate this season, but don't anticipate them staying this cold throughout the year.
Albert Pujols “only” hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBI last year, but many fantasy owners drafted him as the first overall pick anyway due to his long track record and dominance in the 2011 postseason.
Pujols has done little to reward his trusting fans so far, batting .227 with seven home runs, 26 RBI and 19 runs, and he’s needed a recent hot streak to achieve those improved numbers. Regarded as the best hitter in baseball over the past decade, the Machine looked all too human for the Angels when he failed to homer in April. With a career-low 5.8 percent walk rate and an unusually high 12.1 strikeout percentage, the 32-year-old is showing concerning signs of aging.
But even if Pujols is no longer baseball’s premier slugger, one poor month of baseball is not enough to write off a superstar. Pujols has hit at least 30 home runs in each season of his 11-year career, and he should reach that plateau again.
Although you likely overpaid to acquire Pujols’ services this year, at least you don’t owe him $240 million over the next nine years.
While labeling Brett Lawrie’s season a complete bust might be unfair, he surely has let down owners who spent an early pick to land a potential fantasy superstar.
Lawrie showed the skills of a five-category stud when he hit .293 with nine home runs, 25 RBI, 26 runs and seven stolen bases in 43 games last year. Many owners drafted Lawrie over other more proven third basemen such as David Wright and Alex Rodriguez.
Perhaps we should have all listened to ESPN's Matthew Berry when he warned us not to go overboard in hyping Lawrie as a potential superstar in his sophomore year. In 44 games this season, Lawrie is hitting .273 with only three homers so far, although he again has tallied seven steals in nearly the same amount of games as last year. With only eight walks (resulting in a poor .315 on-base percentage), Lawrie's plate discipline is nowhere near as sharp in his first full season.
We got a little carried away in excitement for a talented young player, but don't forget that he's still just a 22-year-old at a scarce position with potential for power and speed. Lawrie owners could still get the last laugh.
Much like Lawrie, Paul Goldschmidt has failed to break out in his first full season, to the dismay of those who own him in fantasy leagues.
After decimating minor league pitchers for most of 2011, Goldschmidt earned a much-anticipated promotion to the Diamondbacks in August. He promptly displayed his massive power potential, belting eight home runs in 156 at-bats. In a full season, 30-40 homers seemed possible.
Goldschmidt, like Lawrie, has underwhelmed by only hitting three home runs this year. He also continues to whiff at an alarming rate, striking out 42 times in 40 games. As an all-or-nothing hitter in the Adam Dunn mold, his .248 batting average should continue to be the norm. However, with a 8.8 percent home run/fly ball ratio it is hard to see him staying in the park all season long. Available in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues, now is a good time to take a chance on Goldschmidt finding his power stroke.
I’m not imagining Tim Lincecum winning the NL Cy Young in 2009, right? This is the same guy regarded as the league’s top young pitcher once upon a time, and by that I mean last year.
Big-Time Timmy Jim is currently in the middle of a disastrous season, hurting his fantasy owners with a 6.41 ERA, a 1.61 WHIP and only one quality start in 10 games. How much longer can people continue to keep Lincecum in their lineups?
His numbers eventually will progress closer to his usual production. According to FanGraphs, Lincecum has a 3.49 FIP despite his much higher ERA. An unusually high .344 BABIP and an incredibly low 59 percent strand rate all point to better days for the Giants’ ace.
Lincecum cannot completely be excused though, as his walks continue to rise in the wrong direction. This season, he has already distributed 29 free passes in 53.1 innings pitched. With his ability to annually strike out more than 200 batters, Lincecum will eventually find his rhythm before reaching rock bottom, but he will lose his status as a top ace if he fails to resolve his control issues.
One of these years, Yovani Gallardo will put forth a full season of dominance instead of flashing his ace potential in one half while looking lost in the other half. Or so I thought, but this looks to be the fourth straight season where that is not the case.
Gallardo started his 2011 campaign with a dreadful April, but everyone forgot because he finished strong, posting career highs in wins (17), strikeouts (207), ERA (3.52) and WHIP (1.22). Best of all, he only walked 15 batters in 90 innings after the All-Star break, so it looked like he solved the problem preventing him from emerging as an elite pitcher.
He’s right back to square one this year. Much like the Gallardo of past seasons, he’s bloating his owners’ WHIP with a 1.41 mark caused by 28 walks in 58 innings. If his 8.22 K/9 rate holds up, his strikeout numbers will have deteriorated for the fourth consecutive year.
While Gallardo will perform like an ace at certain points of the year, it is probably time to give up the pipe dream of him ever pitching consistently well throughout the season to become a true stud.
After accumulating at least 40 saves in each of the past three season, Heath Bell established himself as one of the safest options for fantasy owners who desired an established closer.
Instead, Bell has inexplicably spiraled out of control in 2012, posting an 8.47 ERA in 21 appearances. His 2.24 WHIP is higher than his ERA in 2007 (2.02) and 2010 (1.93). While his career 3.16 BB/9 ratio is not quite spectacular, it's not bad enough to explain his 14 walks in 17 innings this year. Even Brad Lidge must think Bell's mediocre collapse is head-scratching.
Although Bell temporarily lost his job earlier in the month, Ozzie Guillen recently said that he will keep using Heath Bell as the closer. Most fantasy managers are also displaying patience, as Bell is still owned in 85 percent of Yahoo! leagues. With a .359 BABIP, Bell has been plagued by some unfortunate bounces, but he still needs to turn his season around quickly before he is expelled from ninth innings in Miami.