Fantasy Stock Watch: Week 16

Every Friday, Ben will scour the majors for the players whose fantasy value is going up, going down or completely bottoming out.

Hitter of the Week

1B Travis Hafner, Indians

Hafner turned a very good season into a great season in just one week by going 12-for-28 (.429) with a double, seven home runs, 10 runs and 14 RBIs. Just to put that in perspective, he hit more homers in 28 at-bats last week than 30 different players with at least 300 at-bats have hit all season.

Before this week’s outburst, Hafner was hitting .317/.416/.536, which is pretty darn impressive. Now, he’s hitting .328/.425/.603, which makes him one of the best few hitters in the American League. I don’t think he’s really that good, but he is for real as a quality hitter.

Five on the Rise

1. C Victor Martinez, Indians: Hafner’s teammate has been about as good this week, going 13-for-25 (.520) with five homers, six runs and 12 RBIs. I expected him to eventually become a very good hitter, but I don’t think anybody thought he’d be hitting .305/.377/.552 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs right now. Considering his age and the age of all the other top catchers, he’s probably the No. 1 keeper at the position right now.

2. 1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals: I wondered a little if I was being unfair expecting Pujols to improve upon the .304/.399/.599 line he put up before the All-Star break. Then, he went and eased my doubts by going 14-for-28 (.500) with a double, four homers, a steal, 10 runs and nine RBIs this week.

For the season, he’s now hitting .319/.408/.632 as he continues his amazing career. He could reach 200 homers and 1,000 hits before he gets to his 26th birthday (yes, assuming his age is accurate).

3. Carlos Lee, White Sox: The strange career of Carlos Lee continues. He drew 38 walks in both 2000 and 2001 before leaping to 75 walks and having his best season in 2002, but not getting much notice because his Triple Crown stats didn’t improve much. Then, he went back down to 37 walks last year and improved his Triple Crown stats, but had a less productive season overall.

This year, he’s walking again with 36 already. And he was hitting this last week, going 11-for-25 (.440) with three doubles, five homers, a steal, seven runs and nine RBIs. He’s hitting .300/.369/.510, which would easily be the best of his career. He should top 30 homers and 100 RBIs as well, but the praise he receives as a very good hitter this year might actually be warranted.

4. Mark Loretta, Padres: Some people just don’t like to believe that you’re supposed to decline once you’re on the other side of 30. Loretta is one of them, and he went 16-for-33 (.485) with two doubles, two homers, seven runs and 13 RBIs this week.

Loretta was a solid player through his age 30 season, but he had his best season (.314/.372/.441) last year at age 31 and now he’s hitting .337/.382/.495 and is on pace to set career highs in hits, doubles, homers, runs and RBIs. There’s no real reason to think he hasn’t vastly improved as a hitter at this point.

5. Adrian Beltre, Dodgers: Beltre seems to be intent on seeing this breakout season through to the end, apparently. This week, he went 10-for-20 (.500) with a double, three homers, seven runs and nine RBIs. He’s only 25 years old and he’s hitting .326/.371/.605 with 25 homers and 65 RBIs. Somebody’s going to pay a lot of money for him next year, and it will be interesting to see if they get a good return on their investment.

Five in Freefall

1. 2B Tony Womack, Cardinals: Maybe Womack’s finally realizing he’s not a good hitter, as he went 1-for-21 (.048) with three runs, four walks and four strikeouts this week. At .299/.350/.398, he’s still drastically outperforming my expectations for him, however. As long as he can stay at the top of that lineup, his speed and the run producers behind him will give him some fantasy value.

2. 3B Bill Mueller, Red Sox: It has not been a good season for the defending AL batting champion as he’s been hurt and has struggled at times when he’s been in the lineup. This week, he went 2-for-25 (.080) with a run, two walks and five strikeouts. For the season, he’s now hitting .260/.336/.400.

Meanwhile, Kevin Youkilis, of Moneyball fame, is hitting .295/.399/.457 as Mueller’s backup/injury replacement. If Youkilis doesn’t get sent back to Pawtucket, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start taking more of Mueller’s at-bats.

3. C Johnny Estrada, Braves: Estrada went 2-for-19 (.105) with a double, a run, an RBI, two walks and a strikeout this week, but it’s ok to have an off-week once in awhile when you’re an All-Star who nobody was expecting much of. Estrada’s still hitting .317/.370/.461 and even if he finishes the year closer to .300/.350/.450, he’ll still have proved that he deserves a spot in a big league lineup.

4. OF Hideki Matsui, Yankees: After raising his game so that he actually somewhat deserved his spot on the All-Star team this year, Matsui’s slumped a bit coming out of the break. This week, he went 3-for-22 (.136) with a double, two runs, an RBI, three walks and seven strikeouts.

The fact that he’s on pace to have a similar batting average and RBI total as last year shows how overrated those stats are. He is much better in his second season, and you should be enjoying his increased home run power, even if he’s had an off week.

5. OF Johnny Damon, Red Sox: After scalding the ball much of the first half of the season, Damon went just 4-for-29 (.138) this week. However, he did manage a double, two homers, a steal, five walks, six runs and two RBIs. For the season, he’s hitting .303/.386/.475 and it’ll be very interesting to see what he does the rest of the way because he’s never put two good half-seasons together before.

Pitcher of the Week

Greg Maddux, Cubs

Just when I write that it’s strange to see Maddux struggling to be average, he goes and has a week like this: 18 innings, 10 hits, two runs, no walks and two wins. Maybe the All-Star break and his impending 300th victory have rejuvenated him for a while or maybe it’s something else, but it’s nice to see him pitching well again.

In typical Maddux fashion, he needed just 195 pitches to complete the two games. Suddenly, he’s on pace for yet another 15-win season and he has a 4.03 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. His strikeout (6.04 K/9IP) and walk (1.25 BB/9IP) rates are both better than they were the last two years, and it appears that a problem keeping the ball in the park (22 homers allowed) is all that’s preventing him from being a rather good pitcher.

Five on the Rise

1. Mike Maroth, Tigers: When you become the first 20-game loser in 23 years, you’re due some good feelings the next year. So, it was nice to see Maroth one-hit the Yankees last Friday and then follow that up with a six-inning, two-run performance on Wednesday. He’s only 7-7 with a 4.57 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, so he’s nothing to go crazy over, but there are worse guys to have on your roster as a backup pitcher.

2. Kevin Millwood, Phillies: The Phillies and their fans would like to thank Kevin Millwood for finally showing up this season and putting up consecutive seven-inning, one-run starts. In allowing just two runs over 14 innings this week, he allowed 10 hits and five walks while striking out 12.

These two starts come on the heels of a three-start stretch in which he allowed 14 runs in 17.2 innings, but there’s no reason to think they’re fluke outings. His strikeout (7.58 K/9IP), walk (3.16 BB/9IP) and home run (1.03 HR/9IP) are all acceptable if not particularly great, and he should be better than the 4.71 ERA and 1.44 WHIP he currently sports.

3. Bartolo Colon, Angels: After the season he’s had, making two starts in which he goes 13 innings and allows two runs on six hits, eight walks and seven strikeouts is a monumental achievement. Despite the consecutive solid outings, he still has a 5.83 ERA and 1.48 WHIP and he’s in position to make a run at 50 home runs. I’d still be very worried about him when he’s in the lineup.

4. David Bush, Blue Jays: Eight innings, one hit, no runs, three walks, six strikeouts… and no win to show for it. Before getting called up at the beginning of July, the 2002 second-round pick was having a so-so season at Triple-A with a 4.06 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 20 walks in 99.2 innings. He was fabulous in the minors his first two seasons and I see no reason why he can’t be a successful pitcher in the majors, but he’s going to get knocked around at least a couple times this year.

5. Rich Harden, A’s: I’ve been tough on Harden this year, but I do think he’ll turn into a very nice pitcher at some point and the game he pitched against Bush is nice to see. He allowed just two hits in 8.2 innings and walked three while striking out eight.

For the season, Harden’s now 4-5 with a 3.99 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 102 strikeouts in 108.1 innings. However, he has 52 walks and that control is what’s preventing him from being a great pitcher right now. As soon as he lowers the walk total a little bit (like Oliver Perez did this year), he’ll be frightening.

Five in Freefall

1. Pedro Martinez, Red Sox: After allowing eight runs in 6.2 innings on Wednesday, Martinez has now made one awful start in each month. He allowed seven runs in five innings on April 15, six runs in four innings on May 1 and seven runs in five innings on June 2. In between the June disaster and the July disaster, he went 5-0 with a 2.44 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 48 innings.

Why is he throwing an absolute stinker once a month? I have no idea. Take away those four starts and Martinez would be 10-2 with a 2.46 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 110 strikeouts in 109.2 innings. Unfortunately, you can’t do that, so instead of being a Cy Young candidate, he a candidate for the biggest disappointment of the year.

2. Cliff Lee, Indians: Like Harden, I think Lee will turn into a fine pitcher, but he has some maturing to do. In two starts this week, he allowed 10 runs in 10 innings on 13 hits, three homers, four walks and 10 strikeouts. His 10-2 record is nice and he’s striking hitters out, but 55 walks and 15 home runs are the reason he’s up to a 4.22 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Like Harden, he simply must improve his control.

3. Kenny Rogers, Rangers: I hope you enjoyed the ride while it lasted because after giving up five runs on 12 hits in 6.2 innings in his last start, Rogers now sports a 4.34 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. In his last four starts, Rogers has a 10.12 ERA and 1.93 WHIP. He’s not nearly that bad a pitcher, but neither is he nearly as good as he was pitching before this stretch.

4. Zack Greinke, Royals: When you’re a 20-year-old rookie, especially one who doesn’t register a lot of strikeouts, you’re going to take your lumps every now and then. Greinke took a lot of lumps in his last start, allowing eight runs on nine hits, including four homers, in two innings to raise his ERA a full run (3.57 to 4.57). This start doesn’t mean his prior success was a fluke, you’ve just got to remember that he’s only 20.

5. Matt Morris, Cardinals: Morris, on the other hand, isn’t only 20, but he’s as inconsistent as any rookie. In his last start, he allowed seven runs on six hits, two walks and two strikeouts in 1.2 innings. It looks like he’s going to do what Derek Lowe did last year: pitch inconsistently enough to finish with an ERA around 4.50 while riding a strong offense to 17 wins.

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