Every Friday, Ben will scour the majors for the players whose fantasy value is going up, going down or completely bottoming out.
Pitcher of the Week
It’s pretty simply: you throw a perfect game, you get to be the Pitcher of the Week, even if I’ve already talked about you a lot recently. After throwing the 17th perfect game in major-league history (and with 13 strikeouts, no less), Johnson is now 4-4 with a 2.43 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 81 strikeouts in 63 innings.
There’s not much else to say about Johnson aside from the fact that it’s ridiculous that he can still do this. Even if he can’t stay quite at this pace all season, people who passed on him early in the draft should be kicking themselves. Unless he gets hurt, Johnson’s going to be one of the five best fantasy pitchers this season, and probably the best.
Five on the Rise
1. Ben Sheets, Brewers: You could probably say this about anybody on this week’s list, but he’d be the Pitcher of the Week most weeks after striking out 18 Braves in a complete game. He allowed just one run on three hits and a walk to lower his ERA to 2.90.
Sheets got roughed up a bit in his first start of the season, but he’s made eight consecutive quality starts since then. In those eight starts, he’s 4-2 with a 2.59 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 63 strikeouts and just six walks in 55.2 innings. At 25 years of age, he’s increased his strikeout rate from 6.44 K/9IP over his first three seasons to 10.07 K/9IP this year and cut his walk rate from 2.46 BB/9IP over his first three seasons to 1.37 BB/9IP this year.
He’s obviously not going to pitch quite this well all season, but he’s starting to look like a real ace.
2. Jason Schmidt, Giants: On the same night that Johnson threw his perfect game, Schmidt threw a one-hitter with one walk and 13 strikeouts. He’s now 4-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 47 innings.
Actually, it looks like it just took Schmidt a few starts to warm up after returning from his injury. In his first three starts, he allowed 10 earned runs in 16 innings (5.63 ERA) with just 11 strikeouts. In the four starts since then, he’s allowed six earned runs in 31 innings (1.74 ERA) with 37 strikeouts. He’s starting to look just as dominant as he was last year.
3. Horacio Ramirez, Braves: The only pitcher on the list who made two starts last week, Ramirez allowed just one run on eight hits in 17 innings. The only negative to his week was that he issued six walks and had just 10 strikeouts. After picking up those two wins, he’s now 2-3 with a 2.04 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 53 innings.
As you can see, his 5.09 K/9IP rate isn’t impressive, and he’s also issued 27 walks for an ugly 1.11 K/BB rate. The key to Ramirez’s success has been a .226 batting average allowed on balls in play, and that’s unlikely to continue. If you have him, I’d try to trade him while his ERA is still attractive to other owners.
4. Bronson Arroyo, Red Sox: After losing his starting spot through no fault of his own, Arroyo took full advantage of his second chance in the rotation, throwing eight scoreless innings with just three hits, no walks and six strikeouts. Arroyo is now 2-1 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 35.2 innings. As a starter, he has a 3.34 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 32.1 innings.
While Arroyo was putting together his International League Pitcher of the Year season last year, many Red Sox fans were clamoring for him to join the major-league rotation. It never happened, but they’re getting their wish this season. Arroyo isn’t going to put up ace-type numbers every start, but he should be an above average fantasy pitcher as long as he stays in the rotation.
5. Sidney Ponson, Orioles: Maybe the most unexpected great pitching performance was Ponson’s complete-game shutout, in which he allowed just five hits and a walk while striking out four. Even with that performance, Ponson is just 3-3 with a 5.69 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.
This was actually Ponson’s second complete game of the season, as amazing as that is. In those two starts, he’s 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA, 0.61 WHIP and six strikeouts in 18 innings. In his other seven starts, he’s 1-3 with an 8.20 ERA, 1.98 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. I don’t know how that happens, but Ponson has been unlucky to allow a .321 batting average on balls in play. If he can improve his 1.45 K/BB rate and get that average on balls in play down to a reasonable number, he could be a useful fantasy pitcher again.
He’s not going to have as good a season as he had last year, though, in case you were still holding out hope.
Five in Freefall
1. Bartolo Colon, Angels: In the last week, Colon’s made two starts and has allowed 11 runs on 14 hits and five walks with nine strikeouts in 10 innings. He was supposed to be an innings-eater who could put up a decent ERA and win a bunch of games thanks to Anaheim’s offense. Instead, he’s stinking up the joint and that offense is losing bodies at an alarming rate, so he’s not even going to be able to count on great run support in the future.
Colon is now 4-2 with a 5.17 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 54 innings. He’s not giving up a ton of hits, but his big problem is that too many of the hits he is allowing are going over the fence. Colon has already allowed 11 home runs, which would put him on pace to allow 44 if he makes 36 starts. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he’s going to be a big disappointment to everybody who drafted him unless he drastically cuts back on the home runs.
2. Roy Oswalt, Astros: Oswalt was my pick to win the NL Cy Young award this season, and he was looking good with a 2.90 ERA after his first seven starts. In his two starts last week, however, he allowed 10 runs on 18 hits and four walks with 10 strikeouts in 13 innings.
He’s now 2-3 with a 3.73 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 62.2 innings, and I’m not really worried that he’s suddenly turned into a mediocre or worse pitcher. Given his history, however, I do worry that he’s trying to pitch through an injury or something whenever he starts to string bad starts together. His next couple starts will be important to put my mind at ease regarding his prospects for the rest of the season.
3. Johan Santana, Twins: It was starting to look like Santana was turning his season around as two of his last three starts were very good and four of his last five starts were at least decent. Then, he threw in another clunker last week, allowing four earned runs on eight hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 5.1 innings. After nine starts, he’s now 2-1 with a 4.70 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 51.2 innings.
Maybe we were all a little hasty to start drawing him up for a Cy Young season, since he’d never even spent a full year in the rotation. However, what he’s doing right now is below what even the most conservative fantasy owner would have projected for Santana. I still think he’ll go on a run and at least get his ERA into the 3.50-3.75 range, but every time he gets hit hard it gives him more work to do to get his numbers where they should be.
4. Dontrelle Willis, Marlins: What a rollercoaster ride this kid is. He starts the season with a 0.71 ERA in his first four starts, then he gets hammered in his next two starts. He throws a complete game on just 91 pitches after that, so of course he follows it up this week by making it through just four innings on 96 pitches. He allowed five runs on 11 hits and four walks with four strikeouts, and he’s now 4-2 with a 4.06 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 44.1 innings.
I honestly don’t know what to expect from Willis, as there’s no rhyme or reason to his performances. He’s gotten hammered by weak offenses in pitcher’s parks and he’s shut down strong offenses in hitter’s parks. The only thing I know for sure is that his 5.28 K/9IP and 3.86 BB/9IP rates aren’t going to cut it. If he doesn’t up the strikeouts and cut down on the walks, he’s going to struggle to consistently perform well all season long.
5. Jeremy Affeldt, Royals: Affeldt had one decent stretch of four starts in which he allowed 10 earned runs in 27.2 innings for a 3.25 ERA. The two starts before those and the two starts since, however, have been brutal. Last week, he allowed four earned runs on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts in four innings.
For the season, he’s now 0-3 with a 5.24 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 21 strikeouts and 19 walks in 46.1 innings. Last year, Affeldt averaged 7.00 K/9IP and 2.71 BB/9IP. This year, he’s averaging 4.08 K/9IP and 3.69 BB/9IP. What on earth happened? Even if you only consider his time as a starter last year, he still had 6.01 K/9IP and 2.77 BB/9IP.
He’s still young and he still has a ton of talent, but it’s definitely frustrating to see him regressing this much. If he doesn’t get things turned around soon, this is going to be a lost season for him. If you still have him, you might want to leave him on the bench while you see if it is.
Hitter of the Week
In the last week, Abreu’s gone 14-for-25 (.560 average) with two doubles, three homers, five steals, 13 runs scored and nine RBIs. I hope you didn’t get rid of him when he started slow, because he’s right back on track, hitting .300/.413/.607 with 11 homers, seven steals, 33 runs and 32 RBIs.
Actually, the season he’s on pace for right now is a bit better than what you could reasonably expect from him. That makes it all the more amazing that Abreu began the season hitting .170/.316/.340 in his first 14 games. He’s one of the best all-around fantasy options in the league, and that didn’t change because of a 14-game slump.
Five on the Rise
1. OF Pat Burrell, Phillies: Give yourself a pat on the back if you thought Burrell’s terrible 2003 season was just a fluke that he’d bounce back from with ease. He’s gone 11-for-24 (.458) with a double, four homers, eight runs and 12 RBIs over the last week, and he’s now hitting .328/.419/.582 with nine homers, 28 runs and 36 RBIs.
Not only is he bouncing back from a bad year, he’s on pace to break or tie his career highs in homers (37), runs (116) and RBIs (150). He’s obviously not going to quite stay on those paces (although he could hit 37 homers), but he certainly seems poised to follow his worst season up with his best.
2. OF Jacque Jones, Twins: The Twins probably don’t want to think about where they’d be this season without Jones and you might feel the same way if he’s on your fantasy team. Over the last week, he’s gone 11-for-22 (.500) with a double, two homers, a steal, five runs and four RBIs. For the season, he’s now hitting .318/.377/.591 with eight homers, eight steals, 25 runs and 25 RBIs.
He’s on pace for as well-rounded a fantasy line as you could hope for from just about any hitter — 32 homers, 32 steals, 101 runs and 101 RBIs. Just to put into perspective how amazing he’s been, his career highs are 27 homers, 13 steals, 96 runs and 85 RBIs. He’s probably not going to top all four numbers (and certainly not by the amount he’s on pace to), but he just turned 29 last month and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him have his best season this year as he plays for a new contract.
3. OF Lance Berkman, Astros: Berkman wasn’t bad last year by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly wasn’t as good as he’d been the previous two seasons, either. It looks like he’s trying to get back to that level (or even better) this year, as he’s gone 11-for-25 with two doubles, three homers, five runs and five RBIs over the last week. Overall, he’s hitting .344/.500/.617 with eight homers, a steal, 27 runs and 30 RBIs.
Berkman’s a great hitter, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him stay at this level (with a little lower OBP, maybe) all season. Even if he falls off a bit, he’ll still be one of the very best fantasy outfielders around. If you were able to draft him outside the first two rounds or trade for him when he was hitting .231 after 12 games, consider yourself very lucky.
4. OF Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners: Suzuki’s certainly lost a lot of his luster since his amazing rookie season, but he’s still got the talent to help your fantasy team in several categories. Over the last week, he’s gone 12-for-26 (.462) with a double, a homer, a steal, five runs and four RBIs. This season, he’s hitting .320/.370/.388 with two homers, seven steals, 23 runs and 13 RBIs, which is just about in line with what he did two years ago (fewer doubles and fewer runs, but otherwise very similar).
There are two main things you need to be concerned with. First, while he’s stolen seven bases, he’s been caught five times for a 58.3-percent success rate. In his first three seasons in the majors, he was successful 76.6-percent of the time. If the lower rate indicates a loss of speed, that could hurt his value this year and in the future. Second, in his first three seasons here, he started out hot and then slumped some in the second half. If he stays on this pace all season, he’ll be about as valuable as the last two years, but he’ll be a big disappointment if he slumps again this year.
5. SS David Eckstein, Angels: Eckstein finally showed some life, going 11-for-24 (.458) with a triple, five runs and an RBI in the last week. However, he’s still hitting just .254/.322/.290 with no homers, four steals, 16 runs and seven RBIs. The paucity of steals is the biggest concern, as he’s only going to be any help to your team if he’s hitting close to .300 and/or stealing 25-30 bases.
Eckstein will probably improve his power numbers a little bit, but he hit .252 with a .325 OBP last year and I wouldn’t expect him to do much better this year. He’s just not really a worthwhile fantasy option, even at shortstop.
Five in Freefall
1. 2B Orlando Hudson, Blue Jays: I made him my Hitter of the Week last week, so of course he then went 2-for-25 (.080) with a walk and seven strikeouts over the next seven days. He’s still hitting .270/.348/.461 with five homers, three steals, 26 runs and 21 RBIs, and that looks a little more realistic for a breakout season from him. I still think this will be his best year thus far (and it should be at age 26), but it’s not going to be the type of season that turns him into a star.
2. 2B Brian Roberts, Orioles: Roberts was on fire almost the entire time Jerry Hairston Jr. was hurt, and then he went in the tank as soon as Hairston got back. Over the last week, Roberts went 2-for-24 (.083) with two runs, an RBI, three walks and thre strikeouts. For the season, he’s now hitting .269/.335/.359 with a homer, 16 steals, 29 runs and nine RBIs.
The biggest thing Roberts has going for him is that Hairston’s only hitting .208/.200/.333 with a homer, a steal, three runs and five RBIs. My guess is that whichever one gets hot first will start getting the majority of the playing time. If they’re ever both playing well at the same time, I’d still expect one of them to get traded.
3. 2B Luis Gonzalez, Rockies: With Aaron Miles in the minor leagues, Gonzalez has an opportunity to claim the second base job for himself, but he’s not taking it. Over the last week, he’s gone 3-for-20 (.150) with two runs, two RBIs, a walk and four strikeouts. For the season, he’s hitting .253/.288/.414 with four homers, 11 runs and 14 RBIs.
He’s hitting well enough in Colorado to be a useful part-time fantasy second baseman, but he might not be hitting well enough overall to keep his full-time job. If he’s not playing every day for the Rockies, then he doesn’t really have any value for your team.
4. SS Derek Jeter, Yankees: It looked like Jeter might be breaking out of his slump when he went 8-for-19 (.421) with three doubles, a homer and a steal in one four-game stretch, but he followed that up by going 1-for-23 (.043) in his next five games. He had a nice game last night, but over the last week he’s hit just 3-for-28 (.107) with a homer, two runs, two RBIs, a walk and eight strikeouts.
For the season, Jeter’s hitting a ghastly .194/.255/.288 with three homers, three steals, 15 runs and 15 RBIs. The Yankees broadcasters keep talking about how everybody goes through slumps and how he’ll be a better hitter for having gone through this and whatnot, but at 170 at-bats and counting, this is starting to become more than just a little slump. I still think he’s probably injured somewhere and trying to play through it to help the team, but he’s really hurting his team and probably your fantasy team as well.
5. 2B Jose Vidro, Expos: Vidro’s another player who looked like he was coming out of his slump, only to fall into another one. Over the last week, he’s gone 1-for-18 (.056) with a double, three walks and a strikeout. For the season, he’s hitting .238/.315/.385 with four homers, a steal, nine runs and 13 RBIs.
His performance isn’t as drastically bad as Jeter’s, but it’s still troubling. At least he’s still drawing walks and hitting for decent power, but he’s going to need some singles to start falling in soon if he’s going to turn in his usual excellent season. The potential good news for Vidro is that the Expos will be in Montreal for 15 of the next 30 games. Vidro’s hit very well at Olympic Stadium, but he’s only played eight games there and he’s not hitting at all anywhere else.