Ichiro Suzuki hit a pedestrian .259 before rebounding in May (he's hitting .333). Coincidence? I think not.
Fantasy owners are kings of stats splits and trends, and for good reason. Not all trends are meaningful, mind you. For instance, if a hitter has traditionally hit lefties better on the third Friday of every month, that's probably more coincidence than significant, but when there's a good sample size to choose from and at least a speculative explanation for a split, trends can be very telling, and they do tend to play out more often than not. If a hitter struggles versus lefties, he's bound to continue struggling against them. The same reasoning applies if he hits well at a decent ballpark, versus a certain pitcher, in the first or second half, in a certain lineup spot or in this case, in a particular month.
Talent, opportunity, hot or cold streaks and matchups still hold precedence, but month-by-month splits can say a lot for hitters. They can provide a background for why a batter is not hitting well. They can help you make that key pickup after, say, Matt Holliday goes on the disabled list. They can help in trades. And, of course, they can give you hope your slumping star will turn it around. In the case of Ichiro, he came into this season having hit .316 in April and .341 in May over the past three seasons, so the turnaround was almost expected. And you know what? During the same three-year span, he has hit .352 in June, easily his best month. Giddy up!
So each month, from here on out, I will examine statistical trends by month and pass along the hitters who have fared particularly well or poorly in that month over a three-year span. Three notes, though: (1) I'm keeping this to a minimum 120 plate appearances during that month in order to give it a sound sample size; (2) the player has to have hit well during the month -- I don't care if he's normally a .220 hitter who hits .275 during June, that doesn't really help anyone; and (3) I'm not including injured players (anybody more than the day-to-day guys) or players who don't have key roles on their team. For instance, do you care if Daryle Ward is a hot June hitter (.326 average)?
I didn't think so.
Notes: Over the past three seasons, Michael Young has hit a combined .286 in March, April and May. Well, he's hitting .281 as I write this. No better time to trade for him. Corey Hart is high up on that list, but it's worth noting that May and June are his best months; his average has been 32 points worse after the All-Star break than before it in the past three seasons. Matt Holliday didn't quite make the list, but he has hit .367 in June. Get well soon, Matt. Same with Figgins, who does make the list. Hmm, Orlando Cabrera? That's the first sign of hope for him I've seen since the season began. Facts are facts: Miguel Olivo, a full 100 points better than the other months. Sorry, that's as much of an endorsement as I can give you for him. I included Jamey Carroll because he does have a shot at some decent playing time with the Tribe if he can just heat up. And here's a sign that he may. Same goes for Kubel in Minnesota. The opportunity is there, and Kubel just recently has started to do something with it. June is J.D. Drew's best month, but health is still the concern with him. Here are his at-bats by month (2005-07), beginning with March/April: 245-256-219-165-169-158.
Notes: The guys who don't play enough right now to make the list but would have: Toby Hall, Brad Ausmus, Jose Cruz Jr., Esteban German. Endy Chavez makes the list, but he's hitting .188. Suddenly Eric Hinske doesn't look so good, huh? Pat Burrell? Shoot, he must not face the Mets enough in June. Then again, this year is a contract year. Then again, I do remember he was benched in some games in recent years because of the struggles that are displayed above. A big wow on Mark Grudzielanek. He's better than .290 in all other months. And right about the time I was thinking of picking him up in a deep mixed league. So much for that. Mark Kotsay is also in that class. I was looking at him, too, but this is disturbing. Apparently Jim Thome started his June back in April. Rafael Furcal is the picture of inconsistency. He's a .210 over the past three seasons in April, a .330 hitter in May, a .241 hitter in June, a .349 hitter in July and a good hitter in the second half. Just when I thought Prince Fielder would be turning it around.
Mike Cameron, OF, Brewers: He's all the rage right now because he has six homers in 92 at-bats; his ownership percentage is up 11.7 percent. But I ask you, does him playing at a neutral park for the first time in years erase that he's a career .250 hitter (.239 this season), is 35 years old, hit .213 after the All-Star break last year, doesn't run like he used to, struck out 160 times last year and has struck out already 28 times in 92 at-bats this season? I'm not with you, folks. I wouldn't touch him in a mixed league.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Braves: Yeah, he's hitting .381 in May, but it's an empty average; he has just one homer since April 25 and one steal since April 23. I liked Kelly Johnson initially because I thought he'd be a 20-20 second baseman, and those aren't easy to find. But a .290-hitting 15-10 guy, now that's not unique. Geez, even Orlando Hudson seems more appealing than that. Until KJ (his newly dubbed nickname) shows me more than just a handsome batting average over a few-week time period, I'm not impressed.
Joey Gathright, OF, Royals: I must admit, I've had Gathright on my Tout Wars mixed team since mid-April. Love him. How many other fourth outfielders can steal 40-plus bases a season? But here's the rub: He's no longer a fourth outfielder. Gathright has been starting thanks to Ross Gload's "fall" from prominence, and you'll likely know him now as the guy who has the most steals on your mixed-league waiver wire. Even if he's starting only five games a week, he's worth it. Trust me. Juan Pierre Jr. (oh, save the "ugh" for someone else) can still carry a steals category like nobody's business.
Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers: Carpal tunnel syndrome? Are you kdding me? Look, the ol' lady (he said warmly) has me watching "The Tudors" on Showtime every Sunday night -- I know, I know, my loss, right? -- and after Sunday's episode, I've decided I'd go back in time if I could and smack the bejesus out of King Henry VIII (and might have to settle for doing that to his present-day heirs). I mean, so you beheaded Queen Anne, but did you have to behead all her friends too, Hank? Anyway, when I began this rant, I figured Hank's real name was Henry, too, which reminded me of that. It's not. It's just Hank. But I feel about the same way about him. Hank, you were so good, what became of you? Did you have to kill off all my fantasy teams? I'm losing all hope because he's making J.D. Drew look like Cal Ripken Jr.
Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: Ah, the infamous "second time through the league" has bitten Fukudome. He's still drawing walks, but he's batting .269 in May, which has dropped his average to .294. Fukudome will make adjustments and get his average back over .300 soon enough, but I don't think he hits enough homers or drives in enough runs to be a true mixed-league boon this season. He'll perform more like a mixed-league fourth or fifth outfielder. Trade accordingly.
Mark Reynolds, 3B, D-backs: Readers of my work know I've never been a believer in Reynolds. He strikes out a ton and doesn't have the consistency to be an everyday player, in my mind. Well, Chad Tracy is back in the fold, and Reynolds responded by making two costly misplays Monday that led to five Braves runs. He's also hitting just .225. Insert Star Wars "Empire" theme here.
Pickups of the Week
Ben Francisco, OF, Indians: Signs he's for real: He makes good contact (or has in the minors, anyway), has good power, hits righties and lefties well and stole 22 bases in 95 games for Triple-A Buffalo last season.
Seth Smith, OF, Rockies: Because you could do worse than a guy who could hit .290 with a little pop and decent speed playing every day in the outfield, with half his games being at Coors Field.
Wilson Betemit, 3B, Yankees: Betemit was activated from the DL on Monday and should get enough at-bats to help AL owners.
Comerica Park, Detroit: Even coming into this season, you could call Comerica a pitchers' park and feel comfortable doing it. Not so this season. More runs per game are being scored at Comerica than any ballpark in the majors, and it's fourth in home runs per game. And on our Ballpark Factor page, it's first in runs and second in homers. The Tigers as a team are hitting .291 there, and Tigers pitchers have a 5.03 home ERA. It's almost time to throw out your original notions of this ballpark. Almost.
Points league Watch
Many points leagues penalize you for strikeouts, which can really hurt a team if a hitter is not offsetting those K's with extra-base hits. And in such a case, Nick Markakis is really hurting his teams. He's ranked in the top 20 in the majors in strikeouts and outside the top 100 in extra-base hits. In fact, Markakis started Monday on pace for 155 strikeouts. Last year he struck out "only" 112 times despite playing in 161 games. That in itself is alarming to his owners, no matter the setup.
Jorge Cantu, No. 3 hitter for the NL East division-leading Marlins. Just doesn't sound right, but that's the case. Cantu has been hitting third for the Marlins, and he's been doing well there (8-for-22). There's a lot not to like about Cantu, but in the right situation, he has value. This is the right situation.
Travis Buck has been hitting well for Triple-A Sacramento while on rehab assignment and is due to be called up soon. He is the starting right fielder and likely will play there every day when he returns. That leaves Ryan Sweeney, Jack Cust and Emil Brown vying for two spots. Before you throw Sweeney out of the mix, keep in mind that he is really the only true center fielder in the bunch, so his job is somewhat safe. Instead, I believe Brown, who has been an RBI machine, and Cust, who has been an OBP and home run machine, will begin a platoon in left field, with Frank Thomas remaining the primary DH. Be prepared to downgrade both Brown and Cust.
AL- or NL-only tip
If you play in one of these league setups, don't feel you must have a regular player to fill in if your active player hits the DL. I'll probably hit this in more detail in a later Hit Parade, but I call it the Mike Matheny rule. For years, NL-only owners started Matheny in NL-only two-active-catcher leagues because they figured the occasional run he'd score or drive in would make him worth it. But that .222 average with a decent number of at-bats would actually hurt the team totals more than the occasional run/RBI. I bring this up because I lost Josh Bard in my NL-only league, and the only viable replacement was his replacement, Luke Carlin. I chose to stick with Bard as my starter. It looks strange to see a DL player on your active roster, but it really can be best for your team.
Tip of the Week
Even with the DL slot -- which is still a relatively new (past few years) concept in fantasy -- fantasy owners have had to drop good players if they have their DL slot filled and need help now. For instance, ESPN standard leagues have just one DL slot, and it's usually filled with a stud player or at least someone who is due back soon. But when Brad Hawpe, Erick Aybar or Troy Tulowitzki hits the free-agent wire, you must pick those guys up if you have any roster flexibility whatsoever. It's a long season, and fantasy owners tend to think too much about now. Look at the guys who have the best 2007 stats but have a little injury tag next to their names. Pick one up with the second half in mind.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.