Fantasy: Healthy and Happy

Every year, players get hurt during the season and the fantasy value they’re providing late in the season can be masked by the time they missed or the struggles they experienced while they were hurt. Here’s a look at 10 players who are making their fantasy owners happy now that they’re healthy and playing well.

1B Carlos Delgado, Blue Jays: After hitting .302 with 42 home runs and 145 RBIs last year, Delgado’s .254 average, 26 home runs and 80 RBIs look pretty pathetic this year. However, Delgado was only hitting .227 with eight homers and 32 RBIs when he went on the DL in late May.

Delgado missed all of June and continued to struggle when he returned in early July. Since July 24, however, Delgado is hitting .331 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs. Now that he’s recovered from what was ailing him, he’s been the same offensive terror you’ve come to expect.

P A.J. Burnett, Marlins: Burnett was out after making just four starts last year, and actually made a fairly quick return from Tommy John surgery when he returned to the mound for Florida in early June. He was decent, but far from great upon his return, going 1-4 with a 4.86 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with 40 strikeouts and 14 walks in 50 innings in his first nine starts.

In his nine starts since, he’s 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with 63 strikeouts and 23 walks in 60 innings. Burnett used a solid ERA and an excellent strikeout rate to have a very nice fantasy season in 2002 before injuries set his career back. It looks like he might be back to that level now.

OF Larry Walker, Cardinals: Walker’s only played more than 145 games once in his career, so it should be no surprise that he missed time this year as well. Walker didn’t play until late June, and then he went about the business of being a great hitter — posting a .324 average with six homers, 20 runs and 20 RBIs in 38 games before the Rockies traded him to St. Louis.

Luckily for his fantasy owners, Walker hasn’t suffered much from leaving Coors Field. He’s only hitting .280, but he has six home runs, four steals, 19 runs and 18 RBIs in just 24 games. He’s temporarily sidelined with a knee injury, but it looks like you can keep counting on him to produce whenever he’s in the lineup.

1B Darin Erstad, Angels: Moving to first base was supposed to help keep Erstad healthy and improve his offense from its anemic levels of the last three seasons. No luck with the former, but the latter’s looking good. It looked like another subpar season for Erstad when he went on the DL hitting .264 with no homers, four steals, 19 runs and 20 RBIs in early May.

Erstad missed more than a month, but he remembered how to hit when he returned. Since mid-June, Erstad’s hitting .342 with six home runs, 11 steals, 47 runs and 37 RBIs. I think the three years in between 2000 and now prove that Erstad’s not really a .340-.350 hitter, but his steals give him some value if he can keep his average above .300, which looks like a realistic request right now.

P Paul Byrd, Braves: Byrd missed all of last season and the first two months of this season due to injury. Since coming back in June, however, Byrd is 6-4 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 51 strikeouts and 16 walks in 79.2 innings.

Byrd doesn’t strike many hitters out (5.76 K/9IP), but he also doesn’t walk many hitters (1.81 BB/9IP). His peripheral stats this season are very similar to his peripheral stats in 2002, when he went 17-11 with a 3.90 ERA. There’s no reason to think he can’t continue to be a solid pitcher.

OF Garret Anderson, Angels: After playing in at least 150 games in eight straight seasons, Anderson finally succumbed to the injury bug this year. He went on the DL in late April and returned in early June. When he’s been healthy, he’s hit just fine.

For the season, Anderson’s now hitting .321 with 12 homers, 49 runs and 58 RBIs. Anderson’s power has been off a bit from the last two seasons, but it looks like it’s coming around as he has five home runs and 19 RBIs in his last 16 games. There’s no reason not to expect him to be one of the top fantasy outfielders the rest of the season.

3B Eric Chavez, A’s: If you remember our THT Staff Predictions, you may remember that I picked Chavez as this year’s AL MVP. That pretty much went out the window when he suffered an injury that would keep him out about five weeks, especially since he was only hitting .246 when he went down.

I feel somewhat vindicated, however, by what he’s done when he’s been healthy. Since returning from his injury, Chavez is hitting .315 with 14 home runs, 41 runs and 30 RBIs. Overall, he’s having his best season with a .282 average, 27 homers, five steals, 75 runs and 65 RBIs in just 102 games. He’s looking like an elite fantasy third baseman right now.

2B Placido Polanco, Phillies: Coming off a very solid season and still only 28 years old, Polanco was looking like a very underrated fantasy player for this year. Unfortunately, he hit just .223 with one home run, one steal and one RBI before losing about a month to injury.

Since coming back, though, he’s been everything you might have expected and more. Polanco is hitting .301 with 12 home runs, five steals, 46 runs and 36 RBIs in 66 games starting on June 8. He’s probably one of the top five fantasy second basemen at the moment.

OF Shannon Stewart, Twins: Stewart energized the Twins last year when he came over in a trade, he energized them this year when he came back from an injury. Stewart was hitting a decent .287 with two homers, four steals, 15 runs and 17 RBIs when he went on the DL in mid-May.

Stewart missed two months, and returned with a hot stick. Stewart is hitting .321 with seven home runs, 25 runs and 28 RBIs in 47 games since immediately after the All-Star break. That’s eerily similar to what he did once he joined the Twins immediately after the All-Star break last year.

3B Bill Mueller, Red Sox: Mueller didn’t look much like the defending AL batting champion when he went on the DL with a .262 average in late May. He continued to struggle immediately after returning about six weeks later, but picked his game up in early August.

Since August 3, Mueller is hitting .348 with three home runs, 26 runs and 18 RBIs, and he’s looking much more like somebody you can count on to hit above .300 and take advantage of being part of Boston’s stacked lineup.

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