Fantasy Stock Watch: Week Nine

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 Albert Pujols, Cardinals

It’s not like Pujols was hitting poorly before, but this past week he went 15-for-27 (.536 average) with three doubles, five homers, nine runs and 11 RBIs and he’s now doing what you probably expected coming into the season. He’s hitting .317/.418/.658 with 17 home runs, 50 runs and 40 RBIs. He’s on pace for 153 runs, 52 homers and 122 RBIs. The home run and run totals will probably fall off a little bit, but there’s not much bad you can say about this guy. He’s just a great hitter, doing what great hitters do.

Vlad Guerrero would have been a candidate for this spot or another spot on this list after going 13-for-24 (.542) with four doubles, three homers, a steal, four runs and 15 RBIs. However, we all expected him to hit (maybe not quite this well, but well enough to be an MVP candidate), and he was already hitting the tar out of the ball before this week. This biggest news for him is that, like most people expected, he’s not stealing bases. The steal last week was just his second of the season and it’s not likely that he’ll reach double digits.

Five on the Rise

1. 1B Sean Casey, Reds: Casey was already hitting for a ridiculously high average, but then he went 12-for-25 (.480) with two doubles, four homers, eight runs and 10 RBIs. His .391 batting average is 30 points higher than anybody alse in the National League and he’s on pace for 31 homers, 128 runs and 128 RBIs.

He’s obviously not going to hit this well all season, but it’s looking like the injuries that have bothered him in recent years are not a problem right now. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to me if he does about as well as he did in 1999, hitting for an average in the .330 range with 25 homers and at least 100 runs and RBIs.

2. 2B Jerry Hairston Jr., Orioles: Hairston didn’t get the chance to compete for the starting job at second base and he hit very poorly in his first 15 games back. In the last week, however, he’s gone 12-for-24 (.500) with two doubles, four steals, five runs and RBIs. He’s now hitting .306/.333/.375 with a homer, six steals, 10 runs and 13 RBIs.

If he keeps hitting like he has in the past week, he might eventually take the second base job away from Brian Roberts, who’s hitting just .268/.338/.361 but has 18 steals, but for now the Orioles will use the designated hitter spot and, occasionally, the outfield to get both players into the lineup. That’s bad for the Orioles, but good for your fantasy team if you need steals. I’d still expect one of the two to get traded, but either way they should both play most of the games the rest of the season, barring injury.

3. 1B Ken Harvey, Royals: Over the last week, Harvey has gone 16-for-27 (.593) with three doubles, a homer, three runs and five RBIs. He’s currently hitting .379/.418/.552 with seven homers, 19 runs and 24 RBIs.

Last year, Harvey hit a decent .333/.377/.564 against lefties, but was useless (.234/.282/.334) against righties Since he had 173 more at-bats against righties, his overall stats weren’t good. This year, he’s been almost as good against lefties as last year, hitting .345/.362/.491 against them. The difference in his season is that he’s turned into a young Ted Williams against righties, hitting .395/.443/.580 in 119 at-bats.

This has to be a fluke, doesn’t it? There’s no way you can hit as poorly against righties and look as bad as he did last year, and then turn into a righty-killer the next year. If he can just put up average numbers against righties, he’ll be a decent player, but I don’t think he will.

4. 3B Aubrey Huff, Devil Rays: Hopefully, you didn’t give up on Huff when he was struggling, because he was just testing you. Over the last week, he’s gone 12-for-29 (.414) with two doubles, four homers, eight runs and 12 RBIs. He’s now hitting .263/.310/.429 with eight homers, 28 runs and 32 RBIs.

He might not hit quite as well as you expected, but he should still get to around .290/.350/.500 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Since he qualifies at third base once again, he may actually be more valuable over the rest of the season than you thought he’d be before he started slumping.

5. C Johnny Estrada, Braves: Everybody who made fun of the Braves for dumping Kevin Millwood for Estrada before last season should send John Schuerholz an apology. Estrada has gone 12-for-22 (.545) with three doubles, a homer, four runs and seven RBIs over the last week. He’s now hitting .358/.420/.547 with four homers, 25 runs and 37 RBIs.

He’s obviously not going to keep that up, but I think you can be happy with a catcher who hits over .300 with 10 homers, 70 runs and 100 RBIs, because that’s probably what Estrada will do this year. And I’m sure the Braves would much rather have that than a talented-but-inconsistent starting pitcher.

Five in Freefall

1. 2B Chase Utley, Phillies: I jumped on the Chase Utley bandwagon pretty quickly, but he’s gone just 3-for-28 (.107) with a homer, three runs, three RBIs and four strikeouts over the last week. That homer came in his last at-bat Thursday and gave him a solid .488 SLG, but his .270 OBP is beyond awful. I still think he’s good enough to be a quality major-league hitter, but he’s not going to keep Placido Polanco, who’s due back next week, out of the lineup hitting like this.

2. 2B Ron Belliard, Indians: You knew Belliard wasn’t going to keep his average around .350 all season, and sure enough, he went 2-for-20 (.100) with two runs, an RBI, two walks and four strikeouts over the last week. He’s still hitting .318, but the surprising thing is his walks.

Belliard drew 82 walks in 152 games in 2000, but then he only drew 102 walks in 321 games from 2001-2003. This year, he’s on pace to draw 83 walks in 156 games. Maybe after trying it both ways, he figured out that it pays to be patient. Still, he’ll need to keep his batting average over .300 to really be a useful fantasy player, because he doesn’t have much home run power or much speed on the basepaths.

3. OF Matt Holliday, Rockies: Holliday’s done a yeoman’s job of filling in for Preston Wilson and Larry Walker, but he went just 2-for-24 (.083) with two runs, an RBI, a walk and 11 strikeouts in the last week. The thing that makes that more acceptable is that all six games were on the road. If you weren’t already doing so, you should definitely start only using Holliday when the Rockies are at home.

For the season, Holliday’s hitting .320/.393/.613 with six homers, 17 runs and 15 RBIs at home and .211/.273/.352 with two homers, eight runs and five RBIs on the road. He might not play much once Walker and/or Wilson get back, but until then, he’s a very useful player to have half the time.

4. SS Khalil Greene, Padres: I didn’t think Greene was quite ready to be a fantasy contributor this season as he didn’t crack my preseason top 20 shortstops ranking, but then he had a very nice April to start the season. He cooled off in May, however, and he went just 3-for-20 (.150) with four walks and seven strikeouts over the last week.

Greene’s now hitting .261 with two homers, no steals, 19 runs and 18 RBIs, so he doesn’t have much fantasy value outside of really deep leagues. However, his 20 walks and .342 OBP are encouraging signs, as are his 11 doubles. If he can continue to improve his patience and power, he should be a quality fantasy shortstop before too long. Just don’t expect too much for the rest of this season.

5. OF Jacque Jones, Twins: You had to know that Jones wasn’t going to keep up his blistering pace, so his 1-for-26 (.038) with a home run, two runs, two RBIs, two walks and three strikeouts over the last week shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The last time I talked about Jones, he was hitting .318/.377/.591 and was on pace for 32 homers, 32 steals, 101 runs and 101 RBIs. Now, he’s hitting .263/.324/.465 and while he’s stayed on the same home run and RBI pace, he on pace for just 24 steals and 86 runs.

I don’t know if he’ll keep having these extreme streaks all season long, but I do know he has a fairly established track record as a hitter. He’ll probably finish the season hitting around .290/.335/.470 with 25 homers, 15 steals, 85 runs and 90 RBIs. That would still be about the best fantasy season he’s ever had.

Pitcher of the Week

Zack Greinke, Royals

Greinke wasn’t the best starting pitcher this past week, but he was probably the most impressive. Making just his second and third starts in the majors at the age of 20, Greinke pitched seven innings both times and allowed just three runs on 13 hits and three walks with six strikeouts. Unfortunately, he took a loss and a no decision, but he still got his point across.

Greinke’s been a professional baseball player for less than two years, but he now has a 2.37 ERA in the major leagues even though he won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until after the season ends. He’s only got seven strikeouts in 19 innings and he’s going to get shelled at least one or two times this season, but this kid can probably help your fantasy team right now. The only problems are the lack of strikeouts and, thanks to pitch counts and a bad offense and bullpen, the lack of wins.

Five on the Rise

1. Dontrelle Willis, Marlins: Here’s a question. If you’re life depended upon the outcome of a Dontrelle Willis start, would you even be able to make it through the start without having a heart attack? In the last week, Willis has pitched 15 innings over two starts, allowing just two runs on seven hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts. In the two starts before that, he allowed nine runs in nine innings on 20 hits and six walks.

It’s amazing how wildly divergent his performances can be. For the season, he’s 5-3 with a 3.64 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 64.1 innings. Aside from the inconsistency, the biggest worry is that his strikeouts are way down and his home runs are way up. He’s also still walking too many people. I’d probably try to trade him, but I don’t know how much you’ll get if other people want as little to do with him as I do. He’s just not dependable enough.

2. Brian Lawrence, Padres: Lawrence got by on what sometimes seemed like smoke and mirrors his first two seasons and then his strikeouts dropped significantly last year and he struggled to start this season. Over his last two starts, however, he’s allowed just three runs (two earned) on nine hits with 11 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. The most impressive thing is that he didn’t walk anybody.

For the season, he’s now 7-3 with a 4.06 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He’s got the strikeouts back up to his 2001-2002 level and, if he can keep the walks down, he should be able to have success in San Diego’s big, new ballpark.

3. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: The Cardinals are happy they took a chance on Carpenter and you’re probably happy if you took a chance on him, too. Over the last week, he’s allowed three runs on nine hits and three walks with 13 strikeouts in 15 innings. For the season, he’s 6-1 with a 3.44 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 65.1 innings.

Considering that he didn’t pitch at all last year and he’s never had an ERA below 4.00, there’s no way anybody saw this coming. He won’t keep this up (his .224 batting average allowed on balls in play is too good to be true), but it’s a nice story while it lasts. Just be ready to cut bait when things start to go south.

4. Tim Redding, Astros: A month ago, Redding was on the verge of losing his spot in the starting rotation. Now, he might be Houston’s second-most reliable starter. Okay, that’s probably not fair to Roy Oswalt, but Redding pitched 7.1 shutout inning with just four hits and three walks allowed to pick up a win. Houston probably feels more confident with him on the mound right now than Wade Miller, who has a 6.20 ERA in his last four starts, all of which he left before the sixth inning ended.

For the season, Redding’s 3-3 with a 4.63 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in 46.2 innings. He’s not going to have the overall numbers he had last year, but I’d expect him to put up a 3.75-4.00 ERA over the rest of the season. He should still be able to top last year’s 10 wins, too.

5. Kevin Millwood, Phillies: I just got finished talking about how the Braves are happy to have Estrada instead of Millwood, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to have Millwood as well. In his start last week, Millwood pitched seven scoreless innings, allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out six. For the season, he’s 4-3 with a 4.39 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 53 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. He’s not an ace by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s better than this. I’d expect him to finish with an ERA around 4.00, a WHIP around 1.30 and a decent number of wins and strikeouts.

Five in Freefall

1. Pedro Martinez, Red Sox: When Pedro’s gotten pounded in the past, you could always take solace in the fact that his overall numbers were still good and he was still Pedro. I don’t know if that’s true anymore. Over the last week, Martinez has allowed 11 runs on 19 hits — three homers — and two walks with 13 strikeouts in 12 innings.

For the season, he’s 5-3 with a 4.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 75.2 innings. The strikeouts are encouraging, but he’s giving up too many hits and way too many home runs. I’m hopeful that Martinez can finish the year with an ERA around 3.50 and a WHIP around 1.20. Even if he can, however, that’s a far cry from the 2.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP you were probably expecting when you drafted him.

2. Jon Lieber, Yankees: Lieber got everybody’s attention by going 4-1 with a 3.53 ERA in his first five starts, but he came back to earth this week. Pitching against Tampa Bay, he allowed six runs on 11 hits — two homers — and a walk with just one strikeout in five innings. It’s impressive that Lieber’s only walked three batters in 40.1 innings, but he’s only got 16 strikeouts and that’s just not enough. He can still be a useful fantasy pitcher this year, but I’ll be surprised if Lieber finishes with an ERA below 4.00.

3. Jose Contreras, Yankees: Of course, Lieber looks like the best pitcher ever compared to this guy. Contreras made a quality start upon returning from the minor leagues, but he couldn’t get out of the first inning in his start last week. His defense didn’t help him, but he did walk three batters and allow two hits and I don’t think the best defense in the world could have saved him from himself all night.

I really don’t know what to tell you regarding Contreras other than don’t use him right now. If you want to hang onto him and see if he can get things straightened out at least a little bit, I can understand why. If you want to cut him loose and never think about him again, I don’t blame you. I think he’ll have a decent stretch of starts at some point, but I don’t know when and I don’t know how many good starts in a row it would take to trust him.

4. C.C. Sabathia, Indians: First, Sabathia couldn’t get wins because his team couldn’t hit. Now, he can’t get wins because he can’t pitch well (although his team still can’t hit). He allowed five runs on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts in six innings in his last start, and he has a 6.41 ERA in his last three starts.

For the season, he’s 2-3 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 68.1 innings. He wasn’t going to keep his ERA around 2.00 all season and I don’t know if he’ll even be able to keep it this low. I’d suspect this is about the best you could hope for and his ERA could get up as high as 4.00, but will probably settle in the 3.50-3.75 range.

5. Livan Hernandez, Expos: Hernandez is another starter who pitched surprisingly well to start the season but has struggled recently. He allowed five runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 6.2 innings in his last start, and he has a 5.85 ERA in his last three starts. He’s 3-5 with a 3.43 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 86.2 innings this year. If he can even keep his ERA below 4.00, he’ll be a valuable pitcher because he could throw 250 innings (he’s on pace for 270).

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