Fantasy Baseball's Dirty Half-Dozen: Ice in Their Veins, Bats, and Arms

Brett MooreContributor IMay 26, 2009

We keep talking about how to improve your team through additions, guys who are just chilling on the wire waiting for you. But what if you don't have anyone on your team you want to drop?

That sixth-round Garrett Atkins pickup in the midst of that run on third basemen seemed like the right call at the time. You needed a masher, and David Ortiz still being around at the top of the fourth round for you seemed to good too be true. You drafted them so high, and they've been so good until this year; why would you give up on them?

But there they are: the guys who are hurting your team while you wait for them to catch fire and become themselves.

The bad news is that owners of these guys might have waited too long at this point, and suitable replacements may be difficult to find. The good news is, the season is still only about a quarter over, so there's plenty of time for someone else to get hot and qualify to fill their shoes on your squad (I'm looking at you, Adam LaRoche).

All the same, you should be looking for replacements for the following six guys who have fallen, and may not be able to get back up.

Garrett Atkins, Colorado Rockies (41 G, .190 AVG, .571 OPS, 3 HR, 14 RBI)

Atkins has been tailing off a little bit for each of the last couple years, but nothing like this. Something has happened to Garrett's swing.

He's been behind on fastballs all year, and his ground ball rate is up from 2008, too. may have put it best when, in their latest fantasy notes on Atkins, they claimed that he "seems to be most helpful to the Rockies when he's getting beaned by opposing pitchers".

Look, we get it, players go through slumps. But there's no excuse for this from Atkins, especially given that he plays in hitter-friendly Coors Field. It's been almost 150 at-bats, and his replacement, Ian Stewart (.189, 7 HR, 20 RBI), is already in play, so at season's end, it's probably safest to assume whichever third baseman has passed the Mendoza Line will have a job--and the other will have either been dealt, sent back to AAA, or both.

David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (40 G,  .195 AVG, .599 OPS, 1 HR, 18 RBI)

I shouldn't even have to put him here, but there's an awful lot of owners clinging to Papi. But like Derrek Lee (below), Ortiz had a major wrist injury hit him last year, and then he lost Manny Ramirez's presence in the lineup at the deadline. Between the two, Papi's power has disappeared; he's hit only ten home runs since Ramirez was traded, and eleven since last May.

It's not even just that his power swing has left him. His strikeout percentage is up seven percent from last year, so that now he's striking out in almost one out of every four at-bats. And in his last two years, we've seen a positively mammoth spike in his pop-up percentage. In previous years, seven or eight percent of fly balls Ortiz has hit were pop-ups; last year, it shot up to 14 percent, and this year it's 18 percent.

Perhaps one of the saddest on-field moments we'll see this year was when Ortiz went 0-for-7, and sadly told reporters very simply that "I don't feel like talking. Just put down, 'Papi stinks'." It's a reminder that the players are human, too, and deal with failure as hard or harder than the rest of us.

I'm not going to say Papi's done at 33—I'm hoping he's not—but he's no longer a help to your fantasy team. Look for a new DH, maybe Hank Blalock from Texas.

Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks (25 G, .190 AVG, .613 OPS, 2 HR, 13 RBI)

Drew was going to be a star, the next big-name shortstop in the NL. He could hit, he could field, he could run, and he might even be more talented than big brother J.D., assuming either could stay healthy. So what happened?

Good question. While you're asking, ask Conor Jackson, Chad Tracy, and Chris Young, too. Drew might actually the best of this bunch this year (and is owned in more leagues than the others, which is why he's listed here and they're not), but none of them are hitting higher than .190, and they were all tabbed as gifted hitters by scouts, management, and peers alike. The four have combined to hit nine home runs between them, on pace for 40 for the year combined.

This core tore up the league for the first 40 games of last year, and now seem to have absolutely fallen apart. It might be possible that all four of these hitters just need a change of scenery, but they're all in their late 20's now, and were expected to have had breakout seasons well before now.

All of these hitters should probably be left on the wire until they prove the scouts right.

Derrek Lee, Chicago Cubs (32 G, .248 AVG, .730 OPS, 5 HR, 19 RBI)

Why yes, I am choosing to put his name here while he's on a nice hot streak, notching 12 hits in his last seven games, including two homers.

But watch him as scouts watch him, and everyone keeps saying the same thing: the ball isn't jumping off his bat like it used to.Those line drives he used to hit are turning into lazy fly balls. And those three 30-plus-homer seasons have been nothing but a memory since that wrist-shattering collision with Rafael Furcal back in 2006. The former perennial MVP candidate just ain't what he used to be.

However...this hot streak makes his season look a little more respectable than it has been up to this point. It bothers me that he's nearly doubled his hit total in the last seven games he's played (from 19 to 31), and that doing so has caused a 54-point jump in his BA (from .194 to .248) following his week off.

Which Derrek Lee is the real Lee? Call me a pessimist, but I don't see him going on many tears like this one over the rest of the season. However, I've been wrong before (see Callaspo, Alberto), so this one's totally up to you.

But I still think there are at least ten first basemen more ownable in most formats. He's 33, his wrist has never fully recovered, and he's just not elite anymore. I'd try and sell him high now; there's bound to be someone in your league who sees this as a return to form, even if it isn't you. Beware this choice in your mid-season and '10 drafts.

Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Rays (45.2 IP, 4-4, 7.49 ERA, 1.95 WHIP, 35 K)

Just as I tag Kazmir as having something wrong, of course, he's put on the DL with a quad strain. But something is very wrong this year with the 25-year-old lefty. He got off to a strong start to 2009, tossing out three quality starts in his first four games; the other was a shellacking where he gave up six runs in four innings to the White Sox. Since then, however, he's given up 29 runs in his last 23 innings for an ERA of 11.34 over his last five games, making it through the sixth inning only once.

His peripherals tell us that we should have seen this coming. Kazmir's K/BB is way down, from about a 2.37 ratio to 1.21. This isn't necessarily due as much to a lack of control as it is a testament to his sudden inability to get the strikeout totals we're so accustomed to seeing from him. He's had a K/9 at or around ten for four of his 5 years in the league; now, suddenly, he's running at 6.9 K/9.

Opposing hitters have accounted for the missing K's by absolutely raking the pitches he throws, hitting at a .316 clip with an OPS of .901. Compare those to Kazmir's career marks of .247 and .729, and you'll get some idea of just how bad this year is for Kazmir.

Right now, you want to throw him in your DL spot, if you've got one, but keep him on the bench or leave him on the wire for someone else when he gets back; you need solid evidence that these trends won't continue this season before you trot him back out there against that murderous AL East again.

B.J. Ryan, Toronto Blue Jays (10.1 IP, 1-1, 2 SV, 8.71 ERA, 2.13 WHIP, 10 K)

Run. Ryan's time is up. His velocity is down from its once mid-90s glory to an extremely hittable 86-89 mph. His breaking pitches don't have the drop on them that they used to, either.

And hitters are noticing. In just over ten innings this year, Ryan has been bombed, giving up ten earned runs in that time, and allowing runs in five of his 11 outings this year. Batters are crushing the ball against him, hitting at a .350 clip, with an OPS of 1.160 (including a slugging percentage of .700). On the strength of those numbers, he lost his job as closer in near-record time to the brilliant young Scott Downs, who's been positively lights-out for this Jays team.

Now, this isn't to say he hasn't had good outings. But nothing ruins a good day or week for your fantasy team than a total implosion by one of your relievers, and with Ryan, you're playing Russian Roulette every time he toes the rubber. If you're one of the owners who has him in any of the 80% of leagues he's still owned in, you should be looking for anything from Mariano Rivera to your dead grandmother to replace him.

BONUS! Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs (36 G, .214 AVG, 1 HR, 11 RBI)

I firmly believe that Soto has some great years ahead of him as a catcher. I also firmly believe that this isn't one of them.

Geovany Soto has made me a believer in the "sophomore slump". Soto had his three biggest months last year in August, April, and May, and if that's a trend to judge by, this is going to be a hard year for him. His BABIP is down from last year, when it was a reasonable .332; currently, he's sitting on .267, so that has to go up. But it doesn't look like he's going to produce numbers along the lines of last year again—at least in 2009.

However, there's a lot of good things going on with the Cubs catcher. Soto is developing better plate patience: his BB/K rate is significantly better this year than last, and his walks per plate appearance is also up. He's also hitting with the same grounder-to-fly ball ratio as times when he's hitting well.

Soto's not missing anything. It's just a combination of good scouting, good pitching, and bad luck that's getting him out. I'd look for a rebound next year, and maybe even some solid-but-not-great months later on this year.

If good catchers weren't so hard to find this year, I'd say drop him; instead, I'll advocate merely benching Soto for now, finding another catcher to play for a while in his place, and waiting until he starts hitting around .250 or better on a weekly basis, so he can start benefiting you again.

Next column, it's back to the mound again.


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