As the Major League and Fantasy Baseball seasons reach the quarter pole, owners trying to take stock of where they stand would do well to understand when a player's hot start is legitimate—and when a player may fall back down to Earth.
With that in mind, here's a sample of 10 hitters from across the fantasy spectrum who may find themselves struggling in the near future.
Emphasis will be placed on a few key statistical indicators and may give fantasy owners a few sell high possibilities to consider.
The last three players on this list are all first- or second-round talent. They all may prove me wrong, but they are currently sporting some indicators that may serve as legitimate warning signs.
Whether you find this helpful or tedious, let me know. Also keep on the lookout for future installments of hitters who should rebound, and pitchers who should fall and rebound.
Jason Bartlett is currently smoking the ball for the Tampa Bay Rays, with an impressive line of .423/.587/1.010 (OBP/SLG/OPS). He has already tied his career high in home runs and is on pace to set career highs in hits, doubles, runs, and RBI.
While it is a safe bet that, given a full season of plate appearances, he will reach all the aforementioned career bests, Bartlett has always been known more for his glove than his stick.
What's the reason for the early-season success? An early line-drive percentage of 30.2 percent supports a lofty BABIP of .429.
It is highly unlikely that at age 29 Bartlett has turned himself into one of the best hitters in baseball, so expect his line-drive rate and BABIP to return to normal levels. As that happens, his offensive numbers will suffer as a result.
A highly-touted prospect in the Seattle Mariners system, Adam Jones was traded to Baltimore as the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard deal. Jones has begun to tap into his immense talent this season, to the delight of owners who drafted him.
Currently hitting .370, and on pace to hit more than 30 home runs and score 140 runs, it is simple to say this is a breakout year for a guy many thought would be a superstar.
However, his enormous ground ball percentage (52.4%) and relatively low line-drive percentage (16.5%) seem at odds with his batting average and BABIP (.415).
I'm not comfortable predicting that a talent like Jones will fade and disappoint owners in the second half, but expect his pace to slow as those ground balls find their way into more defenders' gloves.
Another recipient of some early-season good luck, the Chicago Cubs outfielder is off to his second strong start in as many major league seasons.
Anyone who owned Fukudome learned their lesson last year, as the All-Star's numbers began to decline before the break and did not improve in the second half.
This season, like Jason Bartlett, Fukudome is hitting an unsustainable number of balls on a line: 28.6 percent line drives, relative to last year's number of 19.1 percent. This has led to inflated batting average: .333 (.257 in '08), OPS: .989 (.738 in '08), and of course, BABIP: .382 (.307, or just above average, in '08).
Part of Fukudome's success probably has to do with adjusting to major league ball in his second season here in North America—but his June swoon appears ready to rear its ugly head again. He's certainly a sell high candidate, especially if someone if your league is in need of some OF help.
Adam Lind is another guy like Adam Jones—a younger player whose success cannot be completely written off as the luck of the batted ball.
Lind's minor league track record shows he has talent, and his decent batting eye (11.1% walks) will buoy him against potential slumps.
Bearing all that in mind, Lind is hitting a home run on 18.9 percent of fly balls (career average 12.9%) and hitting almost 24 percent line drives (career: 19.6%). As he experiences a regression to his career averages, his production will slow.
Because Lind is talented and new to the Major Leagues, he will probably continue to deserve a starting spot on most fantasy rosters as the season progresses. Owners or potential buyers of Lind ought to realize that his early success may not translate into a full season at this level.
The Angels catcher is in the midst of his 27th year on the planet, so career highs across the board shouldn't surprise anyone. If Napoli improves his home runs from a previous career high of 20 to something in the range of 25, this won't shock many baseball fans.
What is shocking is that at the moment, Napoli is batting .327, based solely on a .372 BABIP, .065 higher than any corresponding figure from his previous major league years. Mike's striking out less this season, but he is swinging and missing just as frequently as in the past, so a rise in his strikeout rate won't come as a surprise.
Napoli is a serviceable catcher and has established himself as the Angels' starting catcher, so his total number of plate appearances will certainly be a career high, barring injury or a super-slump that causes him to lose his job.
Expect him to continue to produce, but moving him right now for a slumping catcher would be the ideal situation for his owners.
The Indians backstop/first baseman is a very good hitter in his own right, having season OPSs of .851, .853, .856, and .879 from 2004-07.
He will still produce a top-three catching line (if he's still eligible there in your league) this year, but he cannot be counted on to hit .401. No one does that anymore.
His good luck on balls in play (.412) will fade. When that happens, the cold streak that happens will bring Martinez back to earth. A 1.71 BB/K ratio is unbelievably good, to the point of being unsustainable.
In addition, his line drive and HR/FB percentages are above his career averages. Unless he is peaking at age 30, look for him to cool off—possibly big time.
Joey Guido, as he is affectionately referred to by almost no one but the members of my favorite fantasy league, is yet another rising star on this list.
He has the advantage of playing half his games in the Great American Band Box. He's also only 25, so the best may be yet to come—but for the first quarter of this season, Votto's been the beneficiary of very good luck.
Despite missing some games with the flu and dizziness, Votto touts a .470/.589/1.059 (OBP/SLG/OPS) triple-slash line. In addition, he is walking much more often than last year and has improved on an already-sterling 2008 25.2 percent line-drive percentage, increasing it to 26.4 percent.
Given all his legitimate improvements that point to continued success, Votto's BABIP is .419. Yikes. Despite enjoying an average on balls in play substantially above his average last season, an .089 improvement cannot remain in the long term (2009: .419, 2008: .330).
Votto is one of the players on this list likely to enjoy real success as the season continues. His underlying swing statistics are strong, and he is entering his prime. With that said, a slide to some degree is practically inevitable.
Beltran is a career .283 hitter who currently owns a .367 mark for the 2009 season. ince joining the National League in the middle of the 2004 season, he has never enjoyed a BABIP over. 300. This season it is .410.
Carlos' strikeout and walk rates are close to recent career averages, and most of the other indicative data fall within career ranges, so the only out of line number here is the aforementioned average on balls-in-play.
Statistical regression to the mean is going to be hard on the Mets center fielder this year unless his run of good luck lasts the majority of the season.
At this point, if you can pry a legitimate first rounder (Grady Sizemore, perhaps) from a desperate owner for Beltran, you would probably be well served to do so.
After another slow April, D-Wright has again proven he's a stud. He will top 100 runs and 100 RBI, and he should reach both 30 home runs and 30 steals in 2009. He has also historically hit for a high average, so current ownership of a .359 mark is not an unimaginable final figure.
His inclusion on this list is due to two frightening numbers. Wright's average on balls in play is tops in the majors at .485. Yes, you read that correctly: .485!
Almost half the balls David has put in play this year have fallen between outfielders or found a hole in the infield.
I feel confident in saying this—that number will fall by at least .100 by the end of the season.
Furthermore, Wright is swinging and missing more than at any point in his career (contact percentage of 81.2 percent, compared to a career number of 83.7 percent).
Whether he's pulling off pitches by trying to hit the ball too hard or pitchers have adjusted to his tendencies is an open question.
The effect of swinging and missing more often than ever before is not.
His average will come down—and with it, the accumulation stats so vital to fantasy.
While he is primed to hit more home runs in the last three-quarters of the season (current HR/FB percentage of only 7.7 percent, just above half of his career figure), as the two factors discussed above take their toll, look for David's stats to level off somewhat.
Once it was revealed that A-Rod needed hip surgery, Hanley Ramirez became the overall No. 1 pick in most fantasy leagues. To date, he hasn't disappointed, even though he hasn't quite matched the MVP pace he set in his first three seasons.
At the quarter season mark, he's on pace to set career highs in each of the triple-slash categories: .421/.582/1.003 (OBP/SLG/OPS). As a 25-year-old, he hasn't yet entered what should be his prime years, so we may be witnessing a certain amount of natural growth as a hitter, plus the benefits of hitting in the three-hole in the Marlins lineup.
This is supposed to be about how Ramirez may fall off, and there are reasons to believe he will. Like D-Wright, he is making contact at a lower rate than ever before, with a season figure of 80.2 percent against a career mark of 83.5 percent. He is swinging at 46.7 percent of pitches he sees, also a career high.
When you're as talented as Hanley is, it makes sense that you try to hit the ball, but the lack of patience does not stand him in good stead in the long term, as pitchers will try to exploit his aggressiveness.
Finally, as with all of the players on this list, Hanley has found good fortune on the balls he puts in play. His BABIP of .392 is .037 points higher than his previous career high, set in 2007.
Ramirez hits the ball with authority, so he will always enjoy a higher than average average on balls-in-play, but this mark will slide down unless he has somehow morphed into a modern day right-handed Ted Williams. As much as I like his skill set and previous seasons, this is pure dreaming over-optimism.
Hanley might still be the best fantasy player in baseball this season, so don't trade him on the cheap—just don't expect the moon from him from here on out.
This is a list of players who might find that their fortunes turn as the season goes on:
Evan Longoria, TB
Carl Crawford, TB
Miguel Cabrera, DET
Fred Lewis, SF
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
Michael Young, TEX
Justin Upton, ARI
Hunter Pence, HOU
Aaron Hill, TOR
Raul Ibanez, PHI