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30 Questions: Is Richie Sexson done?

Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.

Is Richie Sexson done?

Before last season, Richie Sexson had belted at least 29 homers and slugged at least .499 in seven of his eight seasons as a full-time player. The lone exception was an injury-abbreviated 2004 campaign in Arizona. He has posted consistent batting averages as well, hitting in the .260s and .270s in most years of his career. Last year, however, brought career lows in all major offensive categories. After a disastrous 2007 line of .205/.295/.399 (average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage), Sexson is a pariah in fantasy leagues. Declining power and a near-Mendoza batting average have landed Sexson on many an owner's "do not touch" list. That's the bad stuff.

There are a few positives, though. The slugger is only 33, still has a starting job and is still capable of hitting the ball a long, long way. It's possible that he'll be so lightly regarded in many leagues that he'll be overlooked until the later rounds, emerging as a bargain power source in the endgame. Could Sexson now be so overrated that he's become underrated? There's good news and bad news for owners who think so and are hoping to draft Sexson's power potential at a steep discount.

The good news is that it's reasonable to expect a batting average rebound.
Last year's .205 figure was partially driven by a low hit percentage on balls in play. Sexson's contact rate is actually on a three-year upward trend, and while he'll again produce plenty of whiffs, he still profiles as a player eminently capable of reaching the .250 mark.

Unfortunately, expectation of a batting average rebound is the only cause for optimism, Sexson's power appears to be in serious decline, as reflected by a four-year slide in both slugging percentage and home runs per at-bats. Looking deeper, the power outage can be traced to the fact that Sexson is hitting more ground balls, and fewer of his fly balls are leaving the park. Like his home run per at-bat indicator and his slugging percentage, Sexson's rate of home runs per fly balls is in a four-year swoon. He's also hitting more balls on the ground, at the expense of line drives. That's a bad sign for a player who has no speed whatsoever (as reflected in his thirty combined career triples and stolen bases.)

Even if he manages a batting average rebound, any owner drafting Sexson is looking for him to provide some long balls. Unfortunately, he's hitting fewer balls in the air, and fewer of the pitches he does get under are leaving the park. All of Sexson's power indicators are in a multiyear decline, and even though better fortune on balls in play likely will lead to an improved average, nothing really marks him as a bounce-back candidate to target.

The above is true only up to a certain price ceiling, however. In years past, Sexson has been a fairly reliable slugger, and his 2007 owners paid a sizable chunk of their budgets for his 2007 collapse. Now he's an outcast in many drafts, with his prior owners once-bitten and his prospective new suitors uninspired by the dud that was 2007.

Ben Broussard has moved on to Texas, and the primary threats to Sexson's playing time are now Brad Wilkerson and Greg Norton. Wilkerson is slated to start in the outfield, and both he and Norton have contact rates even worse than Sexson's. Despite his disastrous 2007, Sexson's playing time is more secure than it was last season.

He's also still a near-certainty to hit 20-25 home runs. Though his trends mark him as a declining talent in the twilight of his career, Sexson could still provide a profit if he comes cheaply enough. He has in ESPN standard leagues, where he's been drafted the 22nd first baseman off the board, typically in the 23rd round. That's a likely scenario given his age and 2007 numbers. Don't specifically target Sexson as a sleeper bounce-back pick, but do become interested in speculating if his draft price falls into the single digits or into the last few rounds.

Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for ESPN.com.