Fantasy Stock Watch: Week Six

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

2B Orlando Hudson, Blue Jays

Hudson showed some very nice potential in 54 games in 2002 at age 24 and he was a decent all-around player in his first full season in the majors last year. Some people are very high on Hudson and think he’ll eventually become on of the better second baseman in baseball. I can’t say that I’m one of those people, however.

Over the last week, Hudson has tried to prove his supporters right by going 13-for-24 (.542 average) with a double, three homers, two steals, 12 runs scored and nine RBIs. For the season, he’s now hitting .310/.393/.543. He has five home runs and three steals in 33 games after hitting nine homers and stealing five bases in 142 games last year. He’s on pace for 124 runs and 100 RBIs after reaching 54 runs and 57 RBIs last year.

Hudson’s definitely not going to hit this well all season, but I think it’s probably safe to say that he’s improved his offense from last year. The most encouraging thing about his performance is that he’s already drawn 15 walks, which means he’s walking 34-percent more often than last year and may just be learning how to be a patient hitter. Considering how thin the second base position, you should keep starting him until he proves this is a fluke unless you have somebody who’s definitely better.

Five on the Rise

1. OF Frank Catalanotto, Blue Jays: Catalanotto is what he is. He’s not going to hit many home runs, but he can hit for a pretty good average, score some runs and maybe steal some bases. Over the last week, he’s gone 13-for-24 (.542) with five doubles, a home run, a steal, three runs and eight RBIs.

For the season, Catalanotto is hitting .361/.397/.504 with a homer, a steal, 12 runs and 20 RBIs. He’s not going to hit .360 for the season, but he did hit .330 in 2001. He can definitely help you if your team’s batting average is struggling.

2. 3B Melvin Mora, Orioles: Okay, I give up. Mora has obviously morphed into a much better hitter than he used to be and I have to stop thinking of him as a complete fluke. In the last week, he’s gone 10-for-22 (.455) with two doubles, two homers, a steal, six runs and four RBIs.

This season, he’s hitting .358/.443/.530 with five homers, four steals, 29 runs and 22 RBIs. Since the start of the 2003 season, he’s played in 126 games and had 464 at-bats. In that time, he’s posted a .328 batting average, 20 home runs, 10 steals, 97 runs and 70 RBIs. I still don’t think he’s quite that good, but I’m willing to admit that I’ve been selling him short. He’s a much better hitter now than he was before he turned 31.

3. 1B Lyle Overbay, Brewers: Who said the Brewers would miss Richie Sexson at first base this year? In the last week, Overbay has gone 12-for-26 (.462) with six doubles, two homers, five runs and nine RBIs. For the season, he’s hitting .348/.386/.621 with five homers, 17 runs and 34 RBIs. The RBI total puts him second in the league to Scott Rolen.

It’s early in the season and Overbay’s clearly not quite this good, but I expected Overbay to be better than he was last year and it’s good to finally have some justification for that belief. He’s not your typical power-hitting first baseman, but he should hit for a solid average and he can continue to drive in some runs in an underrated Milwaukee lineup.

4. OF Alex Sanchez, Tigers: Speaking of Milwaukee missing players, I’m sure the Brewers don’t regret bailing on Sanchez since it opened the door for the increasingly-remarkable Scott Podsednik. However, Sanchez hasn’t been a total bust in Detroit. In the last week, he’s gone 12-for-25 (.480) with a double, a home run, four steals, five runs and five RBIs.

The key to Sanchez always has been and always will be his speed. He stole 52 bases last year and 37 bases the year before that. As long as he’s hitting well enough to keep his job and not hurt your fantasy team too much in other categories, he’ll have value to an owner in need of steals. This season, he’s hitting .342/.350/.439 with two homers, eight steals, 18 runs and 13 RBIs and it looks like he’ll be a worthwhile fantasy player for a third consecutive season.

5. SS Christian Guzman, Twins: Guzman has gone 13-for-27 (.481) with two doubles, a steal and five runs scored over the last week. His counting stats aren’t that impressive, but I never thought I’d see him with a batting average near .500 for the week while doing research for this column this year.

Once upon a time (in 2001), Guzman was a pretty good hitter. He hit .302/.337/.477 with 10 homers, 25 steals, 80 runs and 51 RBIs in just 118 games that year. Unfortunately, he declined significantly the following year and got a little worse again last season. He’s had some injuries problems the last couple seasons, and there’s been some speculation that the injuries are a big reason he’s gone backwards instead of forward.

This year, Guzman is hitting .328/.356/.416 with a homer, two steals, 19 runs and six RBIs. He’s still not a patient hitter and he’s not hitting for much power, so I’d like to see him keeping hitting well for awhile longer before I declare him a new man. However, if he can get even part of the way back to where he was ni 2001, he could be a useful fantasy player.

Five in Freefall

1. OF Barry Bonds, Giants: Even the best hitter in baseball can have a bad week, and Bonds just did. Over the past seven days, he’s gone 2-for-18 (.111) with a double, a steal, four runs, no RBIs, eight walks and two strikeouts.

Don’t panic or do anything silly here. A week-long slump is just a blip on the radar over the course of a season, and things get distorted because of all the walks Bonds draws. If just three more balls had fallen in for hits for him last week, he would have hit .278 with a .500 OBP. The only thing to worry about with Bonds is how many times his name gets penciled into the lineup. Unless he misses too many games, he’ll have another set of ridiculous offensive numbers to put on the back of his baseball card.

Keep in mind that, even with this slump, he’s still hitting .360/.628/.840 with 10 homers, three steals, 27 runs and 22 RBIs this season.

2. OF Mike Cameron, Mets: Cameron can be a streaky hitter at times, and this is a time when he’s not in one of his good streaks. Over the last week, Cameron’s gone 3-for-22 (.136) with a homer, a steal, three runs, an RBI, three walks and six strikeouts. That week just shows how much his value depends on his batting average. He always has the power, the speed, the patience and the propensity to strike out. If he hits .270, he’s a darn good fantasy option. If he hits .230, he can be too much of a drag on your average.

This season, he’s hitting .233/.343/.466 with seven homers, eight steals, 21 runs and 15 RBIs. Before this season, I felt Cameron would put up the best numbers of his career this year. At the moment, I see no reason to feel any differently. He looks bad because of the average, the strikeouts and the struggles of the Mets offense, but he’s on pace for a 30-30 season.

3. 1B Mark Teixeira, Rangers: Teixeira started very slowly last year, but he heated up enough over the course of the season that the final numbers he turned in were quite impressive for a 23-year-old rookie. This year, he started on fire, but then he got hurt and he’s struggled since coming back.

Over the last week, Teixeira’s gone 3-for-22 (.136) with a double, three runs, five walks and five strikeouts. For the season, he’s down to .203/.345/.420 with four homers, a steal, 13 runs and 10 RBIs. It’s nice to see that he’s staying disciplined at the plate despite his struggles, and I have no doubt that he’ll get things turned around again. If somebody’s getting anxious to trade him, see how cheaply you can pick him up.

4. SS David Eckstein, Angels: The feisty sparkplug who led the Angels to their first World Series victory may not ever again be a good-hitting feisty sparkplug. His OPS+ progression for his first three years went 84, 103, 79. The way he’s playing this season, he’ll be lucky to match the sub-par numbers from 2001 and 2003, let alone the solid performance from 2002.

Over the last week, Eckstein’s 1-for-21 (.048) with a run, an RBI, two walks and two strikeouts. He still doesn’t strike out much, but that doesn’t help when you don’t hit much either. For the season, he’s hitting .220/.281/.246 with no homers, four steals, 12 runs and six RBIs. If he can get his average up to a respectable number and keep his leadoff spot, he could help out with steals and runs, but he just doesn’t have all that much potential.

5. 1B Carlos Pena, Tigers: Pena was supposed to be a power-hitting, gold-glove-winning first baseman who would seamlessly replace Jason Giambi in Oakland. Maybe he’ll still have a decent career, but it certainly looks as though he was overhyped at the begninning.

Over the last week, Pena’s gone 3-for-22 (.136) with a steal, two runs, two RBIs, two walks and nine strikeouts. For the season, he’s hitting .229/.316/.415 with five homers, four steals, 25 runs and 21 RBIs. It looks like he may keep hitting for a low batting average while providing a bit of power and good speed for a first baseman. He can probably be a nice backup, but ultimately he won’t do as much as you’d like a fantasy first baseman to.

Pitcher of the Week

Carlos Zambrano, Cubs

Zambrano started two games in the last week and he pitched 17 of the 18 innings in those games. He allowed just four hits and the only run he gave up was unearned. He struck out 16 batters and only walked two, and I guess it’s no surprise that he won both games.

For the season, he’s now 4-1 with a 1.82 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 49.1 innings. If he can avoid the injury bug that’s been circulating around the Cubs pitching staff, it looks like he’ll have no problem matching or improving upon last season’s nice performance. I thought Zambrano was over his head last year, but with a 3.35 career ERA in nearly 400 innings at the age of 22, it’s looking like Zambrano’s definitely a special pitcher.

Five on the Rise

1. Wilson Alvarez, Dodgers: In just about any other week, Alvarez would have been the Pitcher of the Week, but he couldn’t quite top Zambrano. After starting the season in the bullpen, Alvarez made his first two starts of the year this week and pitched 14.2 scoreless innings. He allowed just six hits and a walk and struck out 13 to earn two wins.

After an up-and-down career that included being out of the majors for two years at the turn of the century, Alvarez had his best season last year at age 33, even though he pitched just 95 innings. This year, he’s picking up right where he left off with a 1.15 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. He’ll come down to Earth at least a little bit, but if he has a permanent spot in the rotation (and he should at this point), then pitching in Los Angeles should help him to at least be an above-average pitcher.

2. Tim Redding, Astros: Redding wasn’t particularly dominant last week, but he may have done more to improve his fantasy value than any other pitcher. After three awful starts to begin the season, Redding was in danger of losing his spot in Houston’s rotation. He responded with two six-inning, one-run outings to put himself back on solid footing.

He allowed 12 hits and two walks with five strikeouts to pick up a win and a no decision. It’s good to see him limit the walks, but you’d like to see him record more strikeouts. For the season, he’s 1-3 with a 6.59 ERA, 1.72 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. I think it’s safe to say that he’s not going to match last year’s numbers, but at least it’s worthwhile to have him on your team now. Even if you’re not starting him yet, you monitor him to see if he might be as productive for the rest of the season as many people expected him to be for the whole season.

3. Brett Myers, Phillies: Myers is another young pitcher who was probably pitching for his spot in the rotation the last time out and, like Redding, he delivered. Myers went seven innings, allowing just on run and seven hits with five strikeouts to earn the win.

For the season, Myers is now 1-2 with a 5.27 ERA, 1.72 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. It would probably be a good idea to wait and see another good start before putting him in your lineup, but he definitely has the potential to be a good starter. He just needs to become much more consistent.

4. Mark Buehrle, White Sox: Everytime people want to write this guy off, it seems he comes up with a good start or two to get everybody off his back for awhile. In his start last week, Buehrle pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks ad striking out six.

For the season, Buehrle is now 2-1 with a 4.53 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. The strange thing is that his strikeout rate (6.71 K/9IP) is by far the highest it’s been since he became a full-time starter. It’ll probably take another good start or two for him to get down to where you’d like him to be, but I have confidence that he’ll be able to do just that.

5. Woody Williams, Cardinals: Williams was a great acquisition for the Cardinals at the end of 2001, but he struggled mightily in the second half of last season and got off to a slow start this year at age 37. In his last start, however, Williams went eight innings, allowing just one run on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts to earn the win.

For the season, he’s now 1-3 with a 5.27 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 41 innings. He’ll probably need to improve the strikeout rate (5.27 K/9IP) at least a little bit, but I see no reason why he can’t at least be an average starting pitcher, even at his age.

Five in Freefall

1. Tim Wakefield, Red Sox: You never know exactly what you’re going to get from the knuckleballer. In his first four starts, Wakefield was nearly unhittable. In his last two starts, it was quite the opposite as he got tagged for 12 runs (10 earned) on 17 hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in 14 innings.

For the season, he’s now 2-2 with a 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in 42 innings. The ERA and WHIP may go up a bit, but I’d also expect him to get more strikeouts. He may drive you crazy at times, but Wakefield should ultimately at least have an ERA around 4.00.

2. Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown, Yankees: I’m going to cheat again and talk about two players at the same time. After impressing everybody at the beginning of the season, Vazquez has run into some trouble recently.

He allowed five runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 7.1 innings to take the loss in his start last week. The start before that, he gave up seven runs on six hits and four walks with four strikeouts in 5.2 innings. For the season, he’s now 3-4 with a 4.10 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.

Every season, Vazquez goes through at least one stretch of three or four (or five) starts where he gets beat up a little bit. Maybe he’s in one of those stretches right now, or maybe he just had two bad starts and he’ll get back on track. Either way, you should leave him alone because you don’t want to miss out on a gem.

Brown gave up five runs on seven hits with two strikeouts in six innings in his last start. His season is pretty easy to break down so far. Against the Devil Rays, he’s 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 21 innings. Against everybody else, he’s 1-0 with a 4.83 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 31.2 innings.

The big concern for Brown for this season was his health, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his ERA takes a big hit this season as he moves out of Los Angeles and into the American League. Still, he should be one of the better pitchers in the league if he’s healthy.

3. Adam Eaton, Padres: Eaton was having a fine beginning to his season before his last start. In that start, he allowed six runs on six hits and two walks while recording just five outs. Strangely, he got four of those five outs via the strikeout. I’d be willing to just write that start off as one of those occasional beatings even a good pitcher can suffer, but Eaton’s season has an alarming trend.

The Game Scores for his seven starts this season look like this: 72, 63, 52, 45, 36, 56, 21. What that essentially means is that, except for his start on May 4, every start he’s made this year has been worse than all of the starts before it. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean anything, but I’d leave him on the sidelines until he’s reversed the trend in at least a start or two.

4. Jimmy Gobble, Royals: If you were paying close attention, this one was inevitable. Through his first five appearances, Gobble had a 2.61 ERA, but he had just seven strikeouts in 31 innings and there’s no way you can sustain success with that kind of strikeout rate. Sure enough, in his last start, he allowed six runs on eight hits and a walk with three strikeouts in five innings.

The fact that those three strikeouts represent his high-water mark for the season is as scary as the fact that his strikeout rate is still just 2.50 K/9IP. If you decide to keep using Gobble in your fantasy rotation, you do so at your own risk.

5. R.A. Dickey, Rangers: First, he goes and gets people all excited with a near shutout of the Red Sox. Then, he goes out and stinks up the joint in his next two starts. In two starts last week, Dickey allowed 11 runs on 20 hits and two walks with five strikeouts in nine innings.

For the season, he’s now 4-2 with a 5.06 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 42.2 innings. That looks more like the pitching line you’d expect from Dickey, and I’ll be a little shocked if he improves upon it much.

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