Fantasy: Surprise Hitters

It’s the first week of May, but the numbers some players have put up thus far in the season make you wonder for a minute if it’s the first day of April and this is just a big April Fool’s joke. Well, it’s not. All of the numbers are real, but that doesn’t mean the players are really this good or bad.

I’m going to take a look at 20 of the players whose numbers shock me the most — 10 surprises and 10 disappointments — and try to figure out what it means for the rest of their season.

Surprises

C Paul Lo Duca, Dodgers: Lo Duca is hitting .400/.438/.525 with a home run, nine runs and 10 RBIs after 21 games. The 32-year-old broke out with a very nice season in 2001 (.320 average, 25 home runs, 90 RBI in 125 games), but hit just .277 with 17 homers and 116 RBIs in 296 gamse the next two seasons.

Lo Duca’s already slipping from his early-season hot streak, so I wouldn’t expect him to hit any better the rest of the way than he has the past two seasons.

1B Sean Casey, Reds: Casey’s hitting .400/.445/.630 with three homers, a steal, 17 runs and 20 RBIs through 25 games. He obviously won’t hit .400 all year, but Casey did hit .332 five years ago and followed that up with batting averages of .315 and .310 before slipping significantly the last two seasons.

If Casey can stay healthy all season, and that’s been a problem for him, I could see him going back to being the high average/modest power hitter he used to be. He’s still just 29 years old, and I wouldn’t be stunned if he hits .320-.325 with around 20 homers.

2B Tony Womack, Cardinals: Womack is hitting .324/.392/.471 with eight steals, a home run, 14 runs and five RBIs in 19 games. This is a 34-year-old player whose career numbers entering this season were .270/.315/.359 and whose OPS+’s the last four years were 40, 73, 65 and 72. Quite simply, this isn’t going to continue.

Womack might steal 30-35 bases this year and he could score 80-90 runs, but there’s no way he’s going to hit above .300 and I’ll be stunned if he even hits above .275. He’s simply not a good hitter, and I still think there’s a good chance he’ll lose his starting job at some point.

3B Adrian Beltre, Dodgers: Beltre is hitting .368/.380/.695 with nine homers, a steal, 17 runs and 24 RBIs in 24 games. He’s always had a ton of talent and, at 25 years old, maybe he’s finally putting it all together.

However, if you’ve noticed that his OBP isn’t much higher than his batting average, you may have realized that he only has two walks this season. His plate discipline his been awful the past three seasons and it looks like it might not be any better this year. He might have a career year, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

3B Melvin Mora, Orioles: Mora’s hitting .362/.440/.521 with three home runs, two steals, 21 runs and 17 RBIs in 23 games. I’m one of the people who thought there was no way Mora would even come close to matching his .317/.418/.503 line from last season, but he’s been even better so far.

He’s obviously not going to hit for that high an average all season, but it may be time consider the possibility that Mora’s best years will be after the age of 30, like Luis Gonzalez. I’d expect Mora to decline over the remainder of the season, but I have to say that I think he’ll have a solid year at this point.

3B Vinny Castilla, Rockies: Castilla’s hitting .333/.410/.701 with seven home runs, 16 runs and 27 RBIs in 23 games. I thought going back to Colorado would help Castilla, but I thought it would help him to keep his numbers looking respectable, not to become a challenger to Hack Wilson’s record.

The most amazing thing, to me, about Castilla’s performance so far is his 12 walks. That’s .52 walks per game, after he averaged .19 walks per game in the four seasons since leaving Colorado. He’s going to decline, but he obviously loves hitting in Coors and it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to finish at .290 with 30-35 home runs and 100-115 RBIs.

SS Juan Uribe, White Sox: Uribe is hitting .377/.429/.584 with four home runs, two steals, 13 runs and 12 RBIs in 22 games. After a promising 72-game stint as a rookie in 2001, Uribe did nothing the next two seasons to wear out his welcome in Colorado. He’s still just 24 years old, however, and people have always loved his tools.

The good news for Uribe is that Ozzie Guillen has said that he will continue to play almost every day even when Jose Valentin returns. He could be a solid infield option if he can hit close to .300 with double digits in homers and steals.

SS Jack Wilson, Pirates: Wilson is hitting .362/.378/.532 with two homers, three steals, 13 runs and 10 RBIs in 22 games. At this point, it seems likely that Wilson will have a career-high batting average this season, but that doesn’t mean it will be a good batting average. His career high at the moment is .256 last season, up from .252 the year before.

Wilson’s simply not a good hitter, and he doesn’t help himself out by drawing walks. He only has two walks this season and none in the last 13 games. It looks like the magical ride he was on to start the season is already ending, as he’s hit just .238 in his last five games. He might finish the year hitting .270 with 10 homers and 10 steals, which would actually be very good for him.

OF Craig Biggio, Astros: Biggio’s hitting .340/.396/.546 with three home runs, a steal, 19 runs and 18 RBIs in 23 games. Everybody knows that Biggio was a great player from 1993 to 1998, but he’s 38 years old now and he’s been below average offensively over the last four seasons.

If Biggio could match his 2001 season (.292, 20 homers, seven steals, 118 runs and 70 RBIs), he could be decent as a fantasy outfielder. However, I don’t think he’ll even be able to come close to that. He’ll have an extended slump at some point and might be able to finish the year at .270 with 18 homers, 10 steals, 100 runs and 65 RBIs.

OF Lew Ford, Twins: Ford is hitting .391/.449/.652 with three home runs, two steals, 14 runs and 17 RBIs in 20 games. He’s 27 years old, has generally hit well in the minor leagues and probably deserves a chance to play everyday somewhere.

There are only two problems for him. One, he’s not really a great hitter, despite hit best impersonations this season. I think he can be a solid major-league hitter, but he probably won’t ever be an All-Star. Two, there’s not going to be any room for him on the Twins. With all the OF/1B/DH types the Twins have, Ford will eventually go back to being a pinch-hitter or a minor-leaguer unless he gets traded.

Disappointments

C Mike Lieberthal, Phillies: Lieberthal is hitting just .181/.263/.347 with three home runs, seven runs and nine RBIs in 21 games. Lieberthal’s had trouble staying healthy in the past, but whenever he’s been able to play at least 100 games, he’s been able to provide at least decent offense.

I still think Lieberthal will turn it around this year, but it’s pretty clear that he’s not going to match last season’s .313 batting average. You may have to settle for an average in the .270-.280 range to go along with around 15 home runs.

1B/C Jason Phillips, Mets: Phillips is hitting .153/.262/.208 with no home runs, seven runs and five RBIs in 23 games. I didn’t expect Phillips to be a star or anything, but these are numbers that make Neifi Perez look like an All-Star.

Phillips has kept his spot in the lineup so far, but you have to wonder how long they’ll give him to turn things around. He was a marginal option as a fantasy starter to begin with, so you might as well cut him loose and try to pick him up later if he shows signs of ever hitting again.

2B Jose Vidro, Expos: Vidro’s hitting .233/.317/.356 with two home runs, four runs and nine RBIs in 25 games. Everybody’s talking about how the Yankees are just going to trade for Vidro this season to fix their problem at second base, but Vidro is hitting significantly worse than Miguel Cairo at the moment.

Still, Vidro has hit at least .300 in each of the last five seasons, and I’ve got to believe he’ll hit at least .290 this year. He’s never had a ton of power, and this might be one of the years that he only hits 12-15 homers instead of 20-25, but he’ll eventually be a solid fantasy option at second base this year.

3B Edgardo Alfonzo, Giants: Alfonzo is hitting .221/.331/.286 with no homers, seven runs and six RBIs in 23 games. I don’t know what to think about Alfonzo. He stinks in the first half of 2003, then he has a good second half to get people excited about him for this season and then he goes right back to stinking. He shouldn’t be washed up at 30 years old, but he looks like he is sometimes.

The worst part is that Alfonzo would be an even more valuable commodity if he were hitting because he’s going to qualify at second base soon, but it doesn’t matter how many positions you qualify for if you can’t hit. If you can afford the spot, you might as well keep him and see if he has another big second half. However, if you can get somebody better to help your team, go right ahead.

3B Joe Crede, White Sox: Crede’s hitting .233/.276/.411 with five home runs, 10 runs and 13 RBIs in 23 games. He’s another player who seems to like switching from good to bad to good and back again for no apparent reason. He tore the league apart at the end of 2002, struggled mightily to start last season and then had an excellent second half.

The good news for Crede is that while his batting average is down, he is hitting home runs. The bad news is that he’s still not walking and he only has one double. Ultimately, I’d expect him to at least get the average above .260 and he should hit around 20-25 homers.

SS Derek Jeter, Yankees: Jeter’s hitting .181/.259/.238 with a home run, two steals, nine runs and seven RBIs. Unless he’s hurt (and that’s a possibility), he’ll break out of this and start hitting. He recently had a nice three-game stretch where he went 5-for-14 with a home run, but it’s going to take more than three games to turn his season around.

He won’t challenge for a batting title this year, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t at least hit around .300 for the remainder of the season. If the person who owns him in your league wants to get rid of him, you should see how cheaply you can acquire him.

SS Rich Aurilia, Mariners: Aurilia’s hitting .231/.283/.297 with no homers, eight runs and 11 RBIs. I expected Aurilia to decline in Seattle, but not nearly by this much. I don’t think he’s done being a decent hitter, for a shortstop, but he is 32 years old and people’s perception of him was largely skewed by one great year.

At this point, there’s no reason to hold onto Aurilia unless you’re desperate for a shortstop who plays every day. He’s not going to suddenly have a great season, and you should be able to pick him up from free agency if his hitting starts to improve a little.

OF Ken Griffey Jr., Reds: Griffey is hitting .228/.317/.402 with three home runs, one steal, 12 runs and 14 RBIs in 23 games. Most people had a lot of concerns about Griffey, but they were almost all injury-related. I don’t think anybody thought that he’d have a bad season if he stayed healthy all year.

He’s had a couple injury problems so far, and is currently day-to-day with a hamstring problem, but he’s played in 23 of Cincinnati’s 25 games and he’s struggling at the plate. It’s possible that he’s just slumping a little — he is showing decent power and patience, after all — but it’s also possible that all the injuries have taken their toll on his 34-year-old body, and he might not be capable of hitting anywhere near the level he could before. If you let him go, somebody else will almost certainly pick him up, but you’ve got to be worried that the problems simply outweigh the potential at this point.

OF Vernon Wells, Blue Jays: Wells is hitting .216/.287/.315 with a home run, a steal, 17 runs and seven RBIs in 26 games. I have no idea what’s wrong with Wells, but if you want to focus on the positive you can note that he has eight doubles and 11 walks.

If he starts to bring the batting average up, the fact that he’s showing good patience and some power should allow him to rebound nicely. He’s too talented to struggle this much all season, and I think he’ll end up with solid numbers, although probably well short of what he did last year.

OF Marlon Byrd, Phillies: Byrd’s hitting .210/.281/.247 with no homers, two steals, six runs and four RBIs in 22 games. He struggled at the beginning of last season too, but he was struggling with injuries then. This year, he appears to be perfectly healthy and he’s still having trouble.

It looked like Byrd was finally starting to develop into a good major-league hitter over the final four months of last season, but this slow start just causes you to doubt him again. He never showed enough power or speed to be a really useful fantasy player last year, so there’s not much reason to hold onto him this year. Even if he gets back to where he was last year, he’s not that big a help to you.

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