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MLB Fantasy Baseball 2011: 25 Surprise Starts, Both Good and Bad

J. BatovskyCorrespondent IMay 3, 2011

MLB Fantasy Baseball 2011: 25 Surprise Starts, Both Good and Bad

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    After every fantasy baseball draft, team owners assess their strengths and weaknesses and compare their team to the others in the league.

    Baseball, more than in any other sport, has its share of surprising players during the course of a season. The surprises can be either good or bad. Teams that end up having a lot of bad surprises usually don't stick in the playoff race very long while those with some good surprises (see the Cleveland Indians) tend to battle their way to the top.

    The first month of the 2011 MLB season is no different. The thing owners need to seriously ask themselves is, "Is this guy for real?" Or in the case of the bad surprise, "Can he turn it around?"

    That's why I am here, to try to figure it all out for you.

Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The forgotten man. Fuld came to the Rays from the Chicago Cubs in the Matt Garza deal over the winter. Needless to say, he was not one of the prospects the Rays coveted in the deal. At 29 years old, he was basically just a guy. He's turned out to be more than that so far in Tampa.

    Looking at his current statistics: They are very similar to those he put up for Chicago during the 2009 season in virtually the same number of plate appearances. He's shown before that he can hit a little at the major league level.

    102 AB, 18 R, 29 H, 10 SB, 11 BB, 13 SO, .284 BA, .351 OBP, .782 OPS

    The fate of Fuld moving forward will be determined by what the Rays decide to do with Johnny Damon and Desmond Jennings. If he continues to get regular playing time, I can see him keeping his production at a level valuable to a fantasy team, especially in stolen bases.

Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Liriano hasn't been much better so far this season than a journeyman Double-A starting pitcher. This really shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anyone. Liriano has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career. When he's good, he's really good. When he's bad, he's really bad. Right now, he stinks.

    If you don't believe me, read further.

    1-4, 9.13 ERA, 23.2 IP, 27 H, 18 BB, 18 SO, 1.901 WHIP

    Liriano seems to have a difficult time righting his ship when struggling in the middle of a season. I expect him to improve some, but his ERA will never be under 5.00 the rest of the season.

Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Everyone was saying that this was the pitcher to watch after he moved from Toronto and the AL East, to Milwaukee in the NL Central. Those people are either good guessers or they actually know what they were talking about.

    Marcum started a bit slowly after missing some time in spring training with tightness in his shoulder. Beginning with his second start, that shoulder had obviously loosened up.

    3-1, 2.21 ERA, 36.2 IP, 28 H, 11 BB, 34 SO, 1.064 WHIP

    This guy is no fluke. Last year with the Blue Jays he sported a 3.64 ERA and 1.147 WHIP against the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays among the rest of the AL. While his ERA may rise somewhat, the rest of his numbers should remain consistent for the remainder of the season.

Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians

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    The big questions surrounding Sizemore this spring were, "Would he be healthy?" and "When would he be able to contribute?" As it stands right now, the answer to those questions are yes and right now.

    After playing in only 33 games last year, Sizemore has already played in 12 so far and is pounding the ball all over the field.

    50 AB, 10 R, 17 H, 4 HR, 9 RBI, .340 BA, .389 OBP, 1.129 OPS

    While the BA and OPS are bound to come down over the course of the season, they should remain in the .300/.900 range. Sizemore will be given a day off here and there in a quest to keep him healthy, so prepare for that eventuality.

Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs

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    For the longest time, I have been referring to him as "Dumpster." It seems that he has finally taken my nickname to heart. As a fantasy pitcher, that is where Dempster belongs right now, in the trash. He has been pitching very much like the NL version of Francisco Liriano.

    31.0 IP, 42 H, 16 BB, 29 SO, 1.871 WHIP, 12.2 H/9

    Dempster doesn't have the inconsistent history that Liriano has. He has pitched consistently well the past three seasons, and I see no reason why he can't get things turned around. I wouldn't give up on him just yet.

Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

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    Up until this season, Justin "Smoke and Mirrors" Masterson has done little to excite anyone about his fantasy prospects, yet here he is. He is quite easily one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. He's pitching like a perennial All-Star.

    5-0, 2.25 ERA, 40 IP, 33 H, 13 BB, 29 SO, 1.150 WHIP

    I don't see how Masterson can possibly keep up his current pace. He has no track record of anything approaching this kind of dominance. While it's possible he could keep it up, it's highly unlikely. I just don't see it happening.

Randy Wolf, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Another Brewers' pitcher? You got that right. I'm here to talk a little about the "Wolfman." After struggling the first half of last season, Wolf turned things around and finished 2010 strong. He began 2011 even stronger.

    3-2, 2.39 ERA, 37.2 IP, 32 H, 10 BB, 33 SO, 1.115 WHIP

    Wolf has had success in the past, but he has shown unprecedented control so far this season. 

    Just a couple of seasons ago with the Dodgers, Wolf threw a 3.23 ERA and 1.101 WHIP up on the board in 34 starts. It wouldn't surprise me if he was able to do something similar this year. He's on the right track.

Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Ramirez is one of the most talented players in the National League, so his horrid first month of the 2011 season is a bit of a surprise. Not much he has done so far has gone right. The funny thing is that the Marlins are still 17-9 in spite of Ramirez.

    90 AB, 10 R, 18 H, 1 HR, 11 RBI, .200 BA, .294 OBP, .583 OPS

    I have every confidence that Ramirez will be turning things around very soon. I expect something like:

    90 R, 25 HR, 80 RBI, 30 SB, .300 BA, .880 OPS

    It could be worse.

Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals

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    OK, now this guy is just kicking everyone's tail and taking names. It's amazing how a guy with a career 4.71 ERA is dominating the NL at the age of 32.

    Don't tell me that Dave Duncan has worked miracles here because this is his fourth year with Lohse, and he has never approached these kinds of numbers until now.

    4-1, 1.64 ERA, 38.1 IP, 23 H, 5 BB, 24 SO, 0.730 WHIP, 5.4 H/9

    Prior to this season, Lohse's bests include 3.78 ERA, 1.300 WHIP, 9.0 H/9

    There's no possible way Lohse can sustain this kind of success. I wouldn't expect much better than his career bests that I just mentioned. If you have an opportunity, sell high.

Ike Davis, New York Mets

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    Ike is off to a scorching start this season. He showed flashes of this type of potential last season, and he's shown that he knows what he's doing at the plate. Having Jason Bay back in the lineup can only help him.

    101 AB, 16 R, 32 H, 5 HR, 20 RBI, .317 BA, .398 OBP, .963 OPS.

    Davis only played three seasons in the minors, but he's shown he's a quick study. He has clearly made adjustments from his rookie season which has helped him to accomplish what he has so far in 2011.

    While Davis may not sustain the extremely high batting average, I do expect him to continue to have a lot of success against National League pitching.

Jorge Posada, New York Yankees

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    Yes Jorge, go sit in the dark by yourself. You have been banished. While that may be just a bit harsh, so has Posada's performance at the plate this season. It seems that at the age of 39, the wheels have come off Jorge Posada's career in a hurry.

    75 AB, 9 R, 10 H, 6 HR, 12 RBI, .133 BA, .235 OBP, .622 OPS

    The stupid thing about those stats is that six of Posada's 10 hits have been home runs. Despite that quirk, there is little good that has come from Posada stepping into a batter's box this year.

    While it's possible his numbers could improve, I'm not sure how long the Yankees can afford to keep putting Posada out there in hopes he'll finally start hitting. If you have him on your team, send him to waiver land.

Jed Lowrie, Boston Red sox

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    I'll be honest. Prior to the season, a Red Sox fan insisted to me that Lowrie could be a good option at shortstop this year for the Sox. I chose not to bite. While it's still early, I admit that it's possible he may have been right. I'll see where things end up in September, but right now Lowrie is playing like a man among boys.

    72 AB, 14 R, 26 H, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .361 BA, .382 OBP, .965 OPS

    Lowrie is extremely versatile and has multiple position eligibility in many leagues. Last season he showed that he can play and put up some very good numbers.

    While there's no chance Lowrie will sustain his current batting average, he could keep up his production in most of the other offensive categories given enough at-bats.

Leo Nunez, Florida Marlins

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    Quite often closers emerge from nowhere, have a good season or two and then vanish into oblivion. I believe a lot of people thought that would happen with Nunez this season. He had a so-so 2009 and then a productive 2010, but there was little confidence in his ability to step up his game in 2011. Oops!

    2.63 ERA, 9 SV, 13.2 IP, 11 H, 4 BB, 15 SO, 1.098 WHIP

    Other than his ERA, there is not a big discrepancy between any of those numbers and the ones he has put up at one time or another in his career. While I would be a little cautious, I don't see why he couldn't end the season with similar stats.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

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    This guy has been an enigma. Prior to this season, he'd shown flashes of the ability that led the Royals to draft him No. 2 overall in 2005 ahead of the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun. If this is the real Alex Gordon, he may be worth the wait.

    112 AB, 20 R, 38 H, 2 HR, 20 RBI, .339 BA, .395 OBP, .940 OPS

    While Gordon's start is reason for optimism, he has never approached any of these numbers during his previous four seasons in Kansas City. I'm afraid that pitchers are going to figure him out sending him back to his previous mediocre levels of production.

    While I hope he is able to keep mashing the ball on a regular basis, I just don't see it happening.

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

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    If you've had a chance to read a bunch of my other articles, you would know how high I was on this dude going all the way back to December or January. The Orioles weren't convinced, so he didn't even make the big club out of spring training despite a solid spring. Shows how much they know.

    As soon as Britton was summoned from Triple-A, he went to work on the rest of the AL.

    5-1, 2.63 ERA, 37.2 IP, 30 H, 15 BB, 20 SO, 1.195 WHIP

    The only things I don't like about that line are the SO/BB and the 4.8 SO/9. It's highly unlikely Britton will win 20 games, but 13 to 15 seems reasonable at this point. It will be interesting to see how the Orioles handle him and how many innings they allow him to throw.

Mat Latos, San Diego Padres

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    To say that Mat Latos is struggling, is an understatement. He was injured to start the season, so that very well may be why he is behind the curve at this point. I suppose it's also possible that he may not be fully recovered from his previous injury, but is trying to work through it. Whatever the case, it's been ugly in San Diego so far.

    0-4, 4.98 ERA, 21.2 IP, 19 H, 10 BB, 25 SO, 1.338 WHIP

    Latos' command just hasn't been where he needs it to be in order to be successful. That is evidenced by a much lower SO/BB ratio, and the fact that he has already given up five home runs in four starts when he gave up only 16 in 31 starts in 2010.

    Latos is just too good not to get things turned around. I wouldn't worry too much about him at this point.

Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians

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    Pronk has come back nicely and is a big reason why the Indians have been playing so well. Having his bat in the middle of the line-up only strengthens a young team. When Hafner and Sizemore are healthy, the Indains are going to score plenty of runs.

    76 AB, 13 R, 26 H, 4 HR, 11 RBI, .342 BA, .393 OBP, .959 OPS

    Hafner has only played in more than 140 games once during his 10 year career. The chances that he will stay healthy for an entire season are slim and none. IF he miraculously does, he still won't be able to sustain the offensive numbers he has put up so far.

Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    I think everyone had an inkling that Walden had some pretty good stuff. What he has shown so far this season has been downright filthy. His stuff combined with Fernando Rodney's ineptitude allowed manager Mike Scioscia to insert him into the closer's role. He hasn't looked back.

    0.64 ERA, 5 SV, 13.1 IP, 6 H, 6 BB, 12 SO, 0.900 WHIP

    I doubt his ERA could possibly stay that low, but I have no reason to believe that he won't be able to continue to close out games for the Angels. He's got the stuff. He's got the right mentality. The Angels' starters will continue to send plenty of save opportunities Walden's way.

Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves

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    Currently the only thing I like about this guy is his middle name, Cooley. He's just been killing my fantasy team this year. Yeah, that'll help. Drink another Red Bull.

    Uggla was a huge pick-up for the Braves this off-season, but he's been hitting hitting the ball like a one-legged ostrich.

    112 AB, 11 R, 22 H, 5 HR, 9 RBI, .196 BA, .250 OBP, .634 OPS

    The good thing about Uggla is that he has been one of the most consistent hitters in MLB since 2006. He has a track record that says he will start hitting and finish the season with around 30 HR and 90 RBI. Now, we wait.

Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers

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    When you lose a pitcher like Cliff Lee to free-agency, you don't expect a second-year pitcher relief pitcher to come in and put up even better numbers as a starter. That's what the Rangers have gotten out of Ogando during the first month of the 2011 season. No one expected it, and that makes it even sweeter.

    3-0, 2.30 ERA, 31.1 IP, 19 H, 8 BB, 21 SO, 0.862 ERA

    Ogando had an extremely successful 2010 out of the Rangers' bullpen, but he had never started a game in the Majors until this year.

    The big question will be how he will hold up on a starter's workload for an entire season. He has already pitched nearly as many innings as he did all of last season. I'd be surprised if he's still in the rotation at the trade deadline.

Dustin Moseley, San Diego Padres

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If you just look at Moseley's record, you'd probably slap me for putting him on this list. If you look at the way he has pitched, you'd probably soil yourself. Please refrain from doing that, however.

    1-3, 1.63 ERA, 38.2 IP, 31 H, 9 BB, 16 SO, 1.034 WHIP

    I told you he had really good numbers. In Moseley's three losses, the Padres scored a grand total of zero runs for him. As well as he has pitched, I see little chance that Moseley will be able to continue his dominance. His SO/BB is really kind of pathetic, don't you think?

Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Washed up? It doesn't seem so, now does it? When the Cardinals signed Berkman and said he was going to be their every day right-fielder, I laughed. I guess when Lance Berkman is healthy, he can still play a little baseball. Who knew?

    93 AB, 23 R, 37 H, 8 HR, 23 RBI, .398 BA, .456 OBP, 1.209 OPS

    He is going to come back to Earth, but I can see Berkman with his batting average around .300 and a .400 OBP when all is said and done. If he is able to stay healthy, I can see close to 100 R, 30 HR and 100 RBI as well. Not too shabby.

Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    After an MVP-like 2010 season, Gonzalez was bound to come back to the pack just a little bit. Unfortunately he came back to the pack, and they decided to ditch him just outside of Denver. To say Gonzalez has struggled is an understatement.

    95  AB, 13 R, 22 H, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .232 BA, .286 OBP, .602 OPS

    Gonzalez is way too good to play this badly for much longer. He has a big new contract, and it's possible he's been pressing. I'm confident he will turn things around in the very near future. He should be just fine.

Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Weaver had an outstanding season in 2010, but he's making that look like a Javier Vazquez off-year with his current performance. I'm not sure why the other teams are even bothering to show up when he takes the mound. It's not like they're going to actually hit the ball.

    6-0, 0.99 ERA, 45.2 IP, 26 H, 10 BB, 49 SO, 0.788 WHIP

    The thing about Weaver is that he's been getting better every year, literally. His WHIP has gone down every year since 2007, his strike outs have gone up every year since 2006 and his ERA has gone down every year since 2008. 

    His current numbers are ridiculous, but he's going to continue to dominate the AL for the rest of 2011. Mark that one down.

Kevin Correia, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Correia must have known something no one else did when he signed with the Pirates as a free-agent last December. Yes, you read that correctly. Correia actually signed with the Pirates on purpose. Since he's taken the mound in Pittsburgh, all he has done is win games.

    4-2, 2.90 ERA, 40.1 IP, 35 H, 9 BB, 18 SO, 1.091 WHIP

    Based on Correia's history, I highly doubt he will continue to pitch as well as he has thus far this season. In the seasons in which Correia has started 19 or more games, his lowest ERA has been 3.91, a full point higher than his current ERA. As a starter, his lowest WHIP was 1.303 in 2009.

    While Correia is a good story at this point in the season, the odds are he will be forgotten well before we hit September.

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