Broken-down fantasy teams in need of midseason repair

The Kickoff

May 31, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,ON FANTASY SPORTS

The baseball season is no longer young.

That can be a hard thing to accept for fantasy players, who've spent the past few weeks thinking their bad choices from draft day will become good ones based on a few twists of fortune.

But we're about one-third of the way into the season, and if your team is mediocre or just lousy at this point, it may actually be mediocre or lousy. On the bright side, with more than four months left, few teams are beyond fixing. To begin repairs, we must decide how to value players who have either exceeded or undershot preseason expectations.

So let's look at some of these guys.

I'd like to meet the oracle who predicted that Magglio Ordonez would be the best hitter in baseball two months into the season. Ordonez owners can't expect him to continue his torrid pace. On the other hand, it's easy to forget that before injury-marred years in 2004 and 2005, he had established himself as one of the best outfielders in the game. And he hits in the middle of a great offense. So even if he cools, he might remain among the game's best run producers for the rest of the season. I would not look to move him.

Same goes for Prince Fielder, who more and more feels like this year's Ryan Howard. The son of Cecil is that rare young hitter who combines awesome power with a selective eye and the ability to hit .300. He might not stay on a 50-homer pace, but he'll contend for more than one Most Valuable Player award in his time. So if you've already got him, enjoy the ride. If you don't, he's worth top price in a deal.

Fielder hasn't been the true shocker on the Brewers. That would be shortstop J.J. Hardy, who ranks second in the National League in homers and RBIs. Hardy had shown good pop as a rookie, and I liked him as a mild sleeper in the preseason. But there's nothing in his record - majors or minors - to suggest he's this kind of hitter. If you're near the top of the standings in a keeper league with Hardy, try to move him to a rebuilding team in exchange for some higher-priced veterans. You'll improve your chances for this year and you probably won't be trading away a future superstar.

I've benefited from the breakout of another middle infielder, Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton. I paid $12 in fantasy money for Upton, hoping he would get playing time and steal some bases. Well, he has played almost every game and stolen 10, so that worked out. What I didn't expect were the .321 average or 27-homer pace. His .455 average on balls in play suggests he's been quite lucky, so I expect a short-term dip. But Upton looked like a dynamite prospect two years ago and now that he has a full-time job, I expect him to remain a valuable fantasy asset for many years.

Among veterans, Torii Hunter may be this year's Jermaine Dye, the guy who has put up many solid years but suddenly explodes with an MVP-type anomaly. Hunter's power and speed pace aren't outlandish when compared with his career averages. I expect him to finish with 25-30 homers and 20-25 steals. But his .343 average on balls in play is out of line with his previous numbers, so the .314 average will probably come down to his normal .270-.280 range.

Albert Pujols was remarkable in many ways between 2003 and 2006, not least for his consistency from month to month. I just looked and it was rare to find one in which he didn't hit at least .300 with at least six homers. Well, in April, he hit .250 with six homers. In May, he has raised his average to .333 but has hit only two homers. It's a stretch of performance that's simply out of line with prime Pujols. Could it be a fluke? Sure, but I'm guessing the discomfort in his right knee and hamstring is worse than he's letting on.

If anything, Alfonso Soriano has been even more disappointing. After a banner power-speed season, many picked Soriano No. 2 overall this spring. They've been rewarded with a paltry four homers and 12 RBIs. Soriano's making decent contact, so I'm pretty shocked by his power outage, especially after he moved from a tough hitter's park to a decent one in Wrigley Field. I think he's a fairly attractive trade target right now, because owners have to be disgusted. His history suggests that, at worst, he'll pop 20 homers and steal 20 to 25 bases the rest of the way.

I predicted that Robinson Cano's batting average would drop this year, because he was lucky on balls in play last year. I was right, but he's also striking out at a much higher rate than he did either of the previous two seasons, which is puzzling. That explains the 93-point drop in batting average and the 241-point drop in slugging. It might be a blip but on the other hand, maybe last year was the anomaly. My guess is that he returns to hitting .300 with 15-20 homer power.

We'll take a tour through the pitchers next week.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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