By the Numbers: Sticks worth sticking with
Is it time to consider dropping B.J. Upton, Rickie Weeks and other struggling sticks? Our Al Melchior takes a closer look at 10 hitters and their chances for a summer rebound.
When a player drafted to be a mainstay of your Fantasy lineup falters in April, it can be easy to find the patience to stick with him, recognizing that even the best hitters can sometimes be bad for an entire month.
A year ago, if you lost patience with Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton or Jimmy Rollins after poor Aprils, you missed out on some Fantasy goodness the rest of the year. Already this season, Mike Trout, Jason Kipnis and Allen Craig have turned the corner after a disappointing first month.
Plenty of other players are making their owners exceedingly nervous, as their production continues to fall short of expectations. Few owners are benching -- much less dropping -- superstars like Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton, but neither is performing they way we expected them to. Is there anything a Kemp or Hamilton owner can do other than to wait it out, and are there signs that patience will be rewarded?
Then there are some even tougher decisions looming in regard to players like B.J. Upton and Miguel Montero. Neither was typically an early-round pick, but both were expected to be solid contributors in standard mixed leagues. Certainly few owners would have anticipated thinking about cutting either loose by Memorial Day, yet both have been getting dumped at a steady rate over the last few weeks. Should their owners follow the trend and look for replacements, or is it worth hanging on to them or picking them up?
It's time to dig into the numbers for Kemp, Hamilton, Upton, Montero and several other hitters who remain frustrating to own, even as the first days of summer creep closer. For at least some players, it may finally be time to move on, but for others, there are still reasons to be hopeful for a rebound. For each of the hitters featured here, I'll look at their rest-of-season prospects, and I've also listed them in order of their dropability, from least to most expendable. And, yes, there have been some pitchers who have been equally exasperating, but they'll get a column devoted just to them in the weeks ahead.
Note: Stats are for all games played through Monday, May 27.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Angels: Though he still ranks outside the top 25 Fantasy outfielders for the last 28 days, the outlook for Hamilton is much rosier than that for Kemp. He has improved his plate discipline and has been hitting for plenty of power, clubbing six homers and five doubles in May. Hamilton has hit just .244 with nine RBI this month, though he should be able to hit higher than .267 on balls in play going forward. The power has already returned for Hamilton, and it's only a matter of time before the batting average and run production follow.
Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers: Kemp has been lacking power all season long, and of late, he has struggled just to make contact. In particular, Kemp has had trouble connecting with pitches outside the strike zone, as according to FanGraphs.com, only Chris Carter and Ryan Howard have whiffed more frequently on those offerings. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told the Los Angeles Times that he thinks Kemp is still being affected by offseason shoulder surgery, but even in April, Kemp was hitting balls deeper and making more frequent contact than he has been lately. There have been no reports of a new injury, and given that Kemp's problems have gotten worse, it would seem that at least part of his issues may be mechanical. If his shoulder is indeed part of the problem, owners may have to resign themselves to not getting full value from Kemp, but if he can start making contact like he did in April, he should still be worth starting for the rest of the season.
Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks: Plate discipline has not been a problem for Montero, and he is actually making contact a little more frequently than he did last season. It's just that Montero has turned nearly half of his hit balls into ground balls, and worse yet, he's batting .109 on grounders. He should have little trouble turning his batting average around, and while his ground ball rate is inflated, it's not too far from his recent norms. Fantasy owners can take comfort in knowing that Montero is striking out and popping out less than he did last year, and he is one of the best bets on this list for a rebound.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates: Alvarez is actually on pace to exceed last year's 30 home runs and post back-to-back 80-plus RBI seasons. He still strikes out far too much and is not a tremendous hitter on balls in play, but he deserves better than his .195 batting average and two doubles. As Alvarez finds the gaps more often, he'll get more singles and doubles, but he hasn't provided any hints of advancing beyond the level he achieved in 2012. He was the 12th most-productive third baseman in both Head-to-Head and Rotisserie formats a year ago, and even though the position has deepened since then, he will be good enough to keep around in standard mixed leagues.
Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers: Don't look now, but after a miserable first month-and-a-half, Martinez is starting to gain a little momentum. He's still hitting for very little power, but over his last 10 games, he is 12 for 40 (.300) with five RBI. It's not as if Martinez hasn't been hitting the ball deep, and even if he hasn't been hitting for home run distance, he's been unlucky to go 3 for 61 (.049) on flyballs in play. Perhaps with time, we will see more homers from Martinez, but at the very least, he should produce a much higher batting average and doubles total from here on out.
B.J. Upton, OF, Braves: Like Kemp, Upton is having major problems with making contact, but his are mainly with pitches within the strike zone. His difficulties have become even more acute in May, as he has struck out in 44 percent of his at-bats, has two extra-base hits and no stolen bases for the month. Braves hitting coach Greg Walker revealed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Upton has had mechanical issues that have led to him swinging late on pitches. He's not had problems identifying strikes, so if Upton can iron out the timing of his swing, he should be back to his old self. That still means that owners can't count on him for a high batting average or on-base percentage, but he'll be much better than he's been and provide home runs and stolen bases.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers: When Weeks bounced back from a poor first half last season, he relied on a reduced strikeout rate to improve his Fantasy fortunes. He's actually cut back on his Ks in May, but his results have actually worsened. Weeks has only two extra-base hits this month, and a .213 BABIP has sunk an already-low overall batting average. Even with a higher average, Weeks won't help you much without power, and he won't offer much if he continues to hit flyballs on only 25 percent of his hit balls. Weeks was streaky with home run power last season, so it feels early to give up on him at this point. However, if he doesn't at least get some traction on his flyball rate by a month from now, it will be safe to drop Weeks at that point.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: So far in his career, Moustakas has been somewhat reminiscent of Aaron Hill, or at least the 2010-11 version of him. In other words, Moustakas has enticing home run power, but despite a decent strikeout rate, he's a drag on your team's batting average due to frequent popups. He is still hitting for power when he pulls the ball, but Moustakas, who has not shown great power up the middle or to the opposite field, is showing even less this year. Though he should at least be able to break the Mendoza line, Moustakas seems to be stuck in a developmental rut. With Nolan Arenado and David Freese available as free agents in many leagues, it may be time to part ways with Moustakas.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves: Simmons wasn't drafted in many leagues until the later rounds and he's missing the cut among the top 15 Fantasy shortstops to date, yet owners in 75 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com are allowing him to hang on to a roster spot. He's hitting with contact and for moderate power, just like he did in the minors, but Simmons has already popped out 20 times on his way to a .239 batting average. Much of Simmons' allure has to do with his speed, but he has only one stolen base and seven infield hits -- three fewer infield hits than last year, even though he already has more at-bats this season. His skipper, Fredi Gonzalez, has never been that aggressive with pursuing steals, and the Braves are tied for the third-fewest steals in the majors. Simmons should be able to raise his batting average somewhat, but he could fall far short of 10 stolen bases. If he's not helping with steals, Simmons is highly replaceable, so if you need a roster spot, he's worth a drop.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals: After knocking out 19 homers in his rookie season, Hosmer has shown precious little power. With a 22 percent flyball rate, he ranks not far behind Michael Young and Norichika Aoki -- not exactly the company you want to keep if you aspire to be a power hitter. Hosmer is still young enough that he can reclaim the power skills he showed as a rookie and also during a brief stint in Double-A, but he's far enough away from realizing that power that he can be dropped in standard mixed leagues.
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