Hitting will eventually average itself out

April 18, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

I realized that in my early impressions column last week, I talked only about pitchers. So, instead of probing the wilds of fantasy baseball for an exotic new angle, I think I'll talk about hitters this week.

There are two obvious questions this time of year: 1) Is X guy whom I drafted in the 22nd round really going to hit .450 with 35 home runs? 2) Is Y slugger whom I drafted in the first round really going to set up camp beneath the Mendoza Line?

Let me help you. No and no.

I guess I could end the column right there, but that wouldn't be any fun.

The Detroit Tigers' Chris Shelton certainly seems to have raised the most questions at this point. A .471 average and nine home runs through two weeks will do that.

I touted Shelton as a good pick before the season, a guy who could be had later in a draft but still give you a .280 average with 25 homers and 80-90 RBIs. I'd adjust those numbers up based on his crazy start but not too much. It's often said but less often understood that a hot streak in April is no different from a hot streak in July. If Shelton was the game's outstanding player during some random summer week, we wouldn't be freaking out.

But if you're a Shelton owner looking for a little reassurance, consider this passage from Baseball Prospectus 2006: "Scouts run him down for not being athletic, but there's a certain level of hitting ability where that stops making a difference and Shelton is way over that line." Consider also that former masher Kevin Mitchell is second on the Prospectus' list of comparable players for Shelton. So, yes, some owners may have lucked into a darned valuable property.

Meanwhile, Jim Thome is nearly matching Shelton homer for homer and making me look foolish for calling him a player to avoid. Thome has hit some real long home runs, so there's every reason to think he's as powerful as ever. His superb batting eye also seems intact.

But do remember that at 35, Thome has reached the point where players of his type break down. He's still a good bet to miss time this season, and if another owner in your league is lusting after him in a trade, consider it. Thome doesn't give you much beyond power, and his value will never be higher.

Staying with the recovery theme, it's good to see St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen hitting the ball with authority. Between his power, instinctive base running and superb glove, Rolen is one of the game's joys. But keep an eye out to see if his back or shoulder woes recur.

One hot starter who has me impressed is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Jonny Gomes. Gomes showed his talent last year with 21 homers in only 348 at-bats, but his batting eye (39 walks to 113 strikeouts) didn't seem to support his production.

Well, I know it's a small sample, but Gomes has already walked 12 times this year. And I watched him hit some tremendous shots against the Orioles. So I'm about ready to jump on the bandwagon and say this is a guy who could give you 35 homers a year until 2010 or so.

Over in Pittsburgh, Craig Wilson has seven homers to rank as the National League's surprise power source. Actually, Wilson has always had 30-homer talent, but he's a bad defensive player and the Pirates have consistently found reasons not to play him. Anyone who picked up Wilson should enjoy the ride while Sean Casey remains on the disabled list. But look to move him when Casey appears healthy, because his playing time will diminish.

I don't have a lot of faith in the blistering start of the Toronto Blue Jays' Alex Rios (.382, four homers.) Rios has always had great physical tools, but he's a real hacker at the plate, and I think he's just been fortunate to make contact with more of those hacks than usual. He also hasn't shown much power to date. If you can package him as a secondary piece in a deal, do it.

Another young outfielder who has everyone wondering is the Atlanta Braves' Jeff Francoeur. He got off to an atrocious start but has recovered in the past few games to hit three home runs.

The story on Francoeur hasn't changed. He has awesome physical ability and seems likely to become a good or maybe great player. But he has yet to draw a walk this year, and it's hard to avoid slumps and maintain a passable batting average when you swing at so many balls. So until that changes Francoeur owners, be prepared for periods of suffering.

On the other side, Travis Hafner, Adam Dunn and Lance Berkman really are studs. So is Manny Ramirez, despite the .239 average and zero home runs.

Oh, and Albert Pujols is good. childs.walker@baltsun.com

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