Fantasy Stock Watch: Week One

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

C Mike Piazza, Mets

If anybody doubted that Piazza would still be a devastating offensive
force when healthy, they can cast their doubt aside now. After injuries
limited him to 68 games, a .286 average, 11 homers and 34 RBIs last
year, Piazza is hitting .533 (8-for-15) with three homers and five RBIs
in his first three games of this young season.

If the Mets follow through on their plan to use Piazza at first base on
occassion and he’s able to play 140-150 games, then anybody who said
Piazza’s time as the top catcher is over will have to eat their words.

Five on the Rise

1) OF Jermaine Dye, A’s:
After just three games, Dye is already halfway to last season’s final
home run total and has driven in a quarter of the runs he knocked in
all last year. There was no doubt that Dye would do much better than a
.172 average, four homers and 20 RBIs this year, but a .364 average,
two homers and five RBIs through three games is probably more than you
could have hoped for. If you were able to snag him late in your draft,
you got a steal.

2) OF Rondell White, Tigers: Except for his 2002 stint with the Yankees,
White has generally been a solid hitter in the major leagues. His
problem has just been staying healthy, as he’s played just 452 games
the last four seasons and he’s only played more than 140 games once.
However, he’s healthy now, and his .385 average, two home runs and five
RBIs are a big part of Detroit’s 30-run outburst on the way to a 4-0
start.

3) OF Scott Podsednik, Brewers:
Many people figured that the 28-year-old NL Rookie of the Year had a
fluke year and would settle in with more “normal” numbers this season.
That might still be true, but Podsednik is picking up right where he
left off last year. He’s been a major catalyst in Milwaukee’s 3-1
start, hitting .421 with a home run, two steals, three runs and four
RBIs. He was a top 15 outfielder last season, and he should be in the
top 20 again this year even if he declines slightly. It seems unlikely
that he’s going to fall apart completely unless he gets hurt.

4) 2B Marcus Giles, Braves:
If there’s a bigger fan of Giles, I’ve yet to meet that person. Ever
since I first heard of him and saw his minor-league numbers, I’d been
waiting for him to become a major-league All-Star. I even got his
autograph before he played in a single major-league game, so I wasn’t
at all surprised by his performance last year and I didn’t expect much
of a dropoff for this season. So far, he hasn’t disappointed me as he’s
hitting .692 (9-for-13) with a home run, five runs and seven RBIs. If
he’s not the second-best fantasy second baseman by the end of this
year, then he probably will be by the end of next season.

5) C Javy Lopez, Orioles:
If you’ve been reading this site at all, then you know that I don’t
think there’s any way Lopez will come close to matching his numbers
from last season. If he keeps this up much longer, however, I may need
to rethink my position. Through four games, Lopez is hitting .571
(8-for-14) with a homer, three runs and three RBIs. Perhaps more
impressive, however, is that he’s already walked four times (one every
3.5 at-bats) after walking just 33 times (one every 13.8 at-bats) in
129 games last year. If he develops some patience to go with his power,
he could once again be a scary hitter.

Five in Freefall

1) 2B Brian Roberts, Orioles: Roberts was handed a starting job on a silver platter after Jerry Hairston
broke his finger, but so far he’s done nothing to stake a permanent
claim to the job. In fact, Roberts is hitless in 15 at-bats through
four games and while he’s stolen one base, he’s also been thrown out
twice. Aside from being a drain on your fantasy team at the moment,
Roberts must also be in danger of letting Hairston waltz back into the
starting lineup whenever he’s healthy.

2) SS Bobby Crosby,
A’s: His main competition for the Rookie of the Year award has been
wiped out, but Crosby has his own problems to worry about. After going
hitless in his first 12 major-league at-bats last season, he’s hitting
just .111 (1-for-9) through three games this year. He’s definitely got
the talent to succeed, but it certainly won’t make replacing Miguel Tejada
easier if he starts the season in a prolonged slump. The good news for
his owners is that he’ll probably have to struggle for a lot longer
than this before he loses his spot in the lineup, especially
considering the state of Oakland’s lineup on the other side of the
infield.

3) OF Rocco Baldelli, Devil Rays:
Much of Baldelli’s value last year came from him hitting .368 with 20
RBIs in April. Sure, he only had one home run and two steals in the
month, but his gaudy average allowed him to hit .289 for the year
despite the fact that he hit just .257 in the last two months of the
season. His awful plate discipline raised some doubts about his ability
to hit for a high enough average to be useful, and so far he hasn’t
dispelled those doubts. He’s hitting just .176 (3-for-17) with a walk
and four strikeouts through four games.

4) SS Jose Valentin, White Sox:
Considering his putrid numbers against left-handers in the past, most
people felt that Valentin’s decision to abandon switch-hitting this
season couldn’t hurt. That may be true, but it doesn’t appear to be
helping either. Valentin faced lefties in the first two games of the
season and he struck out in all six at-bats against them. Through three
games, he’s hitting .154 with seven strikeouts in 13 at-bats. If you’re
in a league with daily lineup changes, it might still be a good idea to
sit him when the White Sox are facing a lefty.

5) OF Lance Berkman, Astros:
With an OBP over .400 in three straight seasons, Berkman has been a
great asset to Houston’s offense, but fantasy owners haven’t been
pleased watching his batting average plummet from .331 to .292 and then
dip again to .288. So far this season, he’s displayed the trademark
patience with three walks in three games, but he doesn’t have a hit in
nine at-bats. It’s obviously way too early to panic, but it would be
nice to see Berkman spray some hits around the park and knock a few
balls out of the park.

Pitcher of the Week

Dave Burba, Brewers

He has absolutely no fantasy value and I’ll probably never mention him
in another fantasy column, but he’s the only pitcher in baseball with a
win and a save, so he gets the honor. After getting five outs without
giving up a run or a hit to earn the win in Milwaukee’s season-opener,
Burba pitched the final three innings of yesterday’s win to pick up the
save. The only run he’s given up this season in 4.2 innings is a solo
home run to Albert Pujols. Anyway, now back to players who could actually have an impact on your team.

Five on the Rise

1) Jeff Weaver, Dodgers:
After a disastrous season and a half with the Yankees, Weaver got to go
home this off-season and his escape to L.A. prompted many people to
believe he could lower his 2003 ERA (5.99) by two runs or more. If you
were one of those people (I certainly was as I drafted him in three
leagues), then you had to be happy to see him go seven innings and
allow just one run on eight hits and a walk while striking out six in
his first start. He needs to prove that he can string multiple quality
starts together, but this is certainly the way you wanted Weaver’s
season to begin if you took a gamble on him.

2) Freddy Garcia, Mariners:
Garcia has been a complete enigma the past two seasons and expectations
of him for this season vary wildly from person to person. He’s got the
talent to be a top-notch starter again, so it was nice to see him shut
out the Angels, who had
scored 10 runs in each of the previous two games, for seven innings
while allowing four hits and two walks and striking out seven.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get the win as his offense could get him just
one run and his bullpen collapsed in the ninth.

3) Adam Eaton, Padres:
Thought to have ace stuff before his Tommy John surgery, the hope was
that Eaton’s performance would continue to get better as he got farther
away from the surgery. While it’s just one start, it was very good to
see Eaton take just 100 pitches to match his longest outing from all of
last year right out of the gate. He pitched eight innings and allowed
just one run on four hits and one walk. If you’re going to worry about
something, it would be that he only struck out three hitters.

4) David Wells,
Padres: He’s 40 years old, he has a bad back and he doesn’t strike
people out much, but Wells continues to just get the job done. His ERA+
has been over 100 in all but two of the 14 seasons in which he’s
pitched at least 100 innings, and I’d bet it will be again this year.
After pitching seven shutout innings with just four hits and a walk
against him, he’s certainly off to a good start. He didn’t strike
anybody out and he’ll certainly be less valuable in strikeout leagues,
but he’s a solid pitcher who can eat up some innings and win some games.

5) Javier Vazquez,
Yankees: After all the talk about whether or not he’d be able to handle
the pressure of pitching in New York, Vazquez drew the start in the
Yankees’ home opener with the added pressure of needing to keep the
team from falling below .500 for the third time in the young season. He
passed the test with flying colors, allowing one run on two hits and
two walks with five strikeouts in eight innings. You might still need
to worry about the switch to the AL or the Yankees defense or a tired
arm (at some point) affecting his numbers, but I don’t think you need
to worry about the pressure of the Bronx getting to him.

Five in Freefall

1) Victor Zambrano,
Devil Rays: It may seem odd to see a 2-0 pitcher listed here, but
Zambrano doesn’t seem to have overcome the wildness that caused him to
lead the AL in walks, wild pitches and hit batters last year. In just
11 innings, he’s issued eight walks, hit a batter and thrown a wild
pitch. The Devil Rays aren’t going to average 8.5 runs a game for him
all season, and his ERA and WHIP will kill your team if he doesn’t stop
walking everybody.

2) Hideo Nomo,
Dodgers: Last year, he started the season with a shutout and made
quality starts in five of his first six appearances. He was still
having a season worthy of Cy Young consideration in late August before
struggling in his final five starts. Now he’s 35 years old, and he got
roughed up to the tune of seven runs on seven hits and two walks in
five innings in his first start. Most disturbing is that he only struck
out one batter after striking out at least four hitters in 27 of 33
starts last year.

3) Jeremy Affeldt, Royals:
With his blister problems supposedly solved, many people were very
excited to see what this young lefty could do in the rotation for a
full season. It was just one start, but Affeldt allowed six runs on
nine hits and two walks in 5.2 innings and didn’t strike out a single
batter. I guess the best thing you can say is that at least the
blisters didn’t show up.

4) Matt Clement, Cubs:
He was maddeningly inconsistent last year and it looks like he will be
again this year as he allowed four runs on six hits and three walks
with four strikeouts in four innings in his first start of the year.
He’ll probably give you solid numbers if you just leave him in your
lineup all season, but you will have to deal with the occasional (or
even not-so-occasional) start in which he gets knocked around.

5) Steve Trachsel,
Mets: Talk about your up-and-down week. Sign a contract extension on
Tuesday, give up eight runs in three innings on Wednesday. Whether you
think Trachsel was worth the extension or not, he’s actually been quite
good the last two seasons. You’ll probably want to leave him out of
your lineup until he can make another start and prove that this was a
one-time thing, but maybe you can take solace in knowing that he had a
worse start last year. On July 10, he gave up seven runs in just 1.2
innings to the Phillies.

Closer Report

Lights Out

1) Arthur Rhodes, A’s: So much for not having what it takes to be a closer.
Rhodes has been given two save opportunities in three games and he’s
converted both of them without allowing a run. He’s allowed one hit and
struck out two batters. If he can stay healthy, he should be one of the
top three or four closers in the AL.

2) Jose Mesa, Pirates:
It must be early in the season if Mesa’s one of the best closers in the
league. Mesa’s pitched in two games, recorded four outs and picked up
two saves without anybody reaching base against him. Mesa’s had his
share of ugly seasons and last year was the ugliest of them all, but he
was an excellent reliever for two seasons before that. If he’s still
available in your league, pick him up and put him in your lineup until
he shows signs of falling apart.

3) Keith Foulke, Red Sox:
A terrible spring had many Red Sox fans wondering what was wrong with
Foulke, but he put those questions to bed with a nine-pitch, perfect
ninth for his first save on Tuesday. He was a little shakier on
Thursday, but he got through two innings and has yet to allow a run in
three innings of work. He’s allowed two hits, one walk and two
strikeouts, and he’ll be as good as ever this season.

Looking Shaky

1) John Smoltz,
Braves: Smoltz gave up a two-run homer in his first appearance of the
season on Wednesday and then allowed a solo homer while picking up his
first save on Thursday. He does have four strikeouts in four innings,
but that 13.50 ERA is pretty ugly. However, it’s not ugly enough that
you should take him out of your lineup. He’ll be just fine, but it may
take him until the end of the month to get his ERA back below 3.00.

2) Matt Herges, Giants:
After he cruised to two saves in San Francisco’s first two games, I was
all set to put Herges in the previous category. Then, he came in last
night and blew a one-run lead against the Padres in the ninth. Marquis Grissom
was nice enough to homer in the 10th and give Herges a chance to
vulture the win, but he had to leave with two on and two out and David Aardsma
promptly allowed both runners to score. So instead of having three
saves and an unblemished ERA, he’s 0-1 with two saves and a 6.75 ERA.

3) Shigetoshi Hasegawa,
Mariners: Part of Hasegawa’s All-Star 2003 season included filling in
as the closer well enough to pick up 16 saves, so the Mariners probably
thought he’d do fine in the same role until Eddie Guardado
returns. In his first opportunity of the year, Hasegawa blew the save
spectacularly by allowing five of the eight batters he faced to reach
base as the Angels scored five times in the ninth. Guardado should be
back soon, but the next time he needs a replacement it could very well
be Rafael Soriano instead of Hasegawa.

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