It's Player Rater week!
Not really, but since my colleague James Quintong compared the Player Rater and MLB's All-Star voting leaders in his Monday column, I'm inclined to examine the Player Rater as well and look for the highlights. Sometimes it's good to step back and see where you are to figure out where you're going.
Let's back up for a moment. What is the Player Rater? Well, it's a series of formulas that uses league averages to determine the fantasy value of each player, broken down category by category. It's a great way to gauge the actual fantasy value of a player over a 7-day, 15-day, 30-day or full-season timeframe.
It's really quite popular, and considering your friendly ESPN fantasy content staff helped revise it, we fully endorse the product. It's also quite unique. Most fantasy sites give you the raw numbers and then leave it to you to decipher a player's value when it comes to add/drops or trades, whereas we show you his actual fantasy value in a balanced way and lay it out in simple terms.
Enough of the company lines already -- Matthew Berry's influence is rubbing off on me. (That's a good thing when it comes to work, but let's hope that's where the influence ends.) On that note, here are the biggest Player Rater surprises and busts among the hitters as we approach the 40-percent mark of the season (ranks and values as of Monday).
Surprise: Bengie Molina, Giants (Season Player Rater position rank: 2nd; overall value: 4.86). I'd be the first to tell you Molina doesn't get the respect he deserves in fantasy circles, but two spots over Geovany Soto? It's the .332 average, which is, oh, a full 54 points higher than his current career average. That can't continue, though I still see Molina hitting .291, which is 15 points better than his 2007 mark. Verdict: Sell high.
Bust: Victor Martinez, Indians (PR rank: 76th; Value: -0.46). That's right, our "top-ranked" catcher has been a detriment when compared with the standard-league fantasy player (all positions). That also can't continue. Even with his shoulder problems, I'd ... Verdict: Buy low.
Surprise: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox (PR rank: 5th; Value: 6.25). Each season, his hot starts get a little "hotter," but he's clearly a first-half player. Unfortunately, it's likely the rest of your league know this. Verdict: You might as well keep him -- it's not like he's going to hurt you from here on out, especially if he qualifies at third base for you (15 games played).
Bust: Adam LaRoche, Pirates (PR rank: 61st; Value: -0.07). His slow start has extended all the way to June this season, and he's now owned in just 19 percent of leagues. Any sign of a turnaround, which might have happened on a three-hit Sunday, and ... Verdict: Buy low, which means picking him up in many mixed leagues.
Surprise: Dan Uggla, Marlins (PR rank: 3rd; Value: 10.12). I once wrote a Rookie Review following Uggla's strong rookie season, in which I ranked Uggla as a top-5 rookie for future success. I was lambasted, including from my scouting friends. My only response: What exactly do you see in this guy that suggests a collapse? Verdict: Keep him. The power is for real.
Bust: Howie Kendrick, Angels (PR rank: 76th; Value: -1.06). As of June 4, 2007, he was hitting .277 with seven runs scored. Final '07 line: .322 average, 55 runs. In other words, don't worry about his missed time. Unfortunately, the rest of your league knows this, as indicated by his 100 percent ownership in standard leagues. Verdict: Attempt to buy low, but don't expect to be able to.
Surprise: Jorge Cantu, Marlins (PR rank: 9th; Value: 5.51). More valuable than Justin Morneau and Mark Teixeira, among many others, Cantu is like that shiny penny you find on the ground. But instead of a penny, he's a $10 bill. (I once found a $10 bill on the ground as a 12-year-old. More thrilling than my first paycheck.) But since he still doesn't have name value ... Verdict: What the heck, you might as well keep him.
Bust: Hank Blalock, Rangers (PR rank: 79th; Value: -1.33). They say you can't blame a guy for injuries, but with Blalock, I do, fairly or not. It'll be years before I trust the guy again. Verdict: I don't care that he's free in 87 percent of leagues, leave this guy for someone else.
Surprise: Ryan Theriot, Cubs (PR rank: 5th; Value: 5.70). Theriot over Carlos Guillen in our Player Rater? Yeah, that's right. And as long as he continues starting, this guy will maintain that ranking. He's been an overachiever his whole career, and manager Lou Piniella is as smitten with him as his fantasy owners. Verdicts: Keep him. He's fantasy gold.
Bust: Khalil Greene, Padres (PR rank: 69th; Value: -1.03). Even when he was hitting well, he still wasn't hitting well at Petco. Barring a trade, that will always haunt him. Verdict: No thanks.
Surprise: Milton Bradley, Rangers (PR rank: 4th; Value: 9.78). I've always believed games played was a pretty stat that accompanies the offensive metrics. With that as a background, it's worth noting that Bradley hasn't played more than 96 games in a season since 2004 and has only once played more than 101 games. He's at 57 games and counting. If injury doesn't catch up to him, fatigue will. Verdict: Wait for one of his next road trips -- which would be this week or the week of June 24 -- then deal him for whatever you can get.
Bust: Brad Hawpe, Rockies (PR rank: 214; Value: -0.11). He started hitting immediately when he returned from his hamstring injury, which is par for the course, considering he also started slowly in 2007. But note that this Rockies offense isn't the same as it was in the second half last season. Verdict: Buy low, but don't sell the farm to get him.
Ryan Garko, 1B, Indians: Um, he's 15-for-32 in June. I would call that a warmup. And it's not like his slow start was unprecedented. As I noted in my May 7 Hit Parade, he has become a traditionally slow starter, and owners shouldn't give up on him. Well, a lot of owners did, probably because of the depth at this position. You owners in the 48 percent of leagues he's still available in should take advantage of that and enjoy continued success from here on out.
Nick Swisher, OF/1B, White Sox: No reason to dive into details here. Just do yourself a favor and go to your league's free-agent listing and see if he's available (he is in more than 62 percent of standard ESPN leagues). If he is, change that and pick him up. He finally has "found it," with seven hits and three homers in his last three games. By the end of the season, we'll have conveniently forgotten about his ugly start with the White Sox.
Jason Giambi, 1B, Yankees: Are you among the many, like me, who are entranced by his 14 homers? Here's the deal, though: It was never home run power we were worried about with Giambi. It was his health. Well, first of all, an insider tells me nobody spends more time in the training room than Giambi. Even now, he's battling a sore foot, which he told reporters over the weekend hurts him after games. He is on pace for 151 games, and hasn't played more than 139 games in a season since 2003. Last year he played in just 83 games, and that was mostly as a DH. Now he's primarily a first baseman, and it doesn't help that he walks a lot (forcing him to run the bases) and has an extensive leg injury history. The temptation is there to keep him if you own him or trade for him if you don't, but that temptation should be avoided.
Dmitri Young, 1B, Nationals: As much as I hate to admit it (I have developed a healthy paunch myself), spring training weight, as compared to previous weight, is often a good sign of the commitment a player has for an upcoming season. That's why I wrote off Young, thyroid problem or not, in spring training when he reportedly showed up in excess of 300 pounds. Ugh. You shouldn't need the surgeon general to tell you overweight ballplayers are prone to back problems, muscle pulls (especially calves or hamstrings) and even sicknesses. Well, he spent the first month and a half of the season on the DL because of back problems and lost much of last week to the flu. I admit I was intrigued by Young when Nick Johnson hit the DL with wrist problems, but I must resist. And so should you. This guy won't be a factor until he can control his weight. You know what other bothering thought I keep thinking? Delmon Young is his younger brother. Will he have the same problems down the road?
Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: My buddy Big Dan (he's 6-foot-7, so he deserves the "big" title) had to activate Vernon Wells for this week, so he gave me a list of guys he could cut, including Fukudome, Jeff Francoeur and others. Sadly, I chose Fukudome. Without hesitation. In my chats and columns, I talk all the time about a hitter "going around the league for a second time." Well, this time I figured I'd be more specific. Going into Monday's game, in his first series against a new opponent, the Japanese import hits .328. In combined subsequent series against a team, he hits .242. That's a sign that pitchers are making adjustments, and that Fukudome is not going to be the sure-fire .300 hitter we all thought he'd be.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: Good news: Zimmerman announced Monday he would play through his left shoulder injury without having surgery. Check that, that's bad news. We've seen too many circumstances of a player trying to play through injury (Eric Byrnes comes to mind) to think that Zimmerman returns to the high-level status we expect from him. If anything, his owners should hype this news and do their best to get at least something for him. There's no way he shows off his power with a creaky front shoulder that won't rotate. After all, he needs that front shoulder to "turn on the ball" and pull homers to what I still think is a favorable left field at Nationals Ballpark.
Pickup(s) of the Week
Mixed: Alexei Ramirez, 2B, White Sox: Juan Uribe is all but forgotten in Chi-Town now, given this guy's emergence. I wouldn't call him a five-tool threat, but he has 15-homer power and 30-steal speed, and that's worth something from a second baseman.
NL-only: Hernan Iribarran, 2B, Brewers: He could get a full-time look now that he's been called up with Rickie Weeks on the DL. He's not exactly the next Chase Utley, but he does have speed, as evidenced by his 14 steals in just 48 games in Triple-A.
AL-only: Josh Barfield, 2B, Indians: It was a straight swap, as the Indians sent down Asdrubal Cabrera and called up Barfield to play second base. And this isn't going to be a one-week trial. The Indians want to see what they have in the talented Barfield, and AL-only owners should be all over it.
Stat Talk (courtesy of ESPN Research)
According to "Inside Edge," Jim Thome is hitting just .098 (5-for-51) this season off of curveballs and sliders. Normally it's the fastball that gets to aging hitters, but in this case, it appears to be the breaking stuff. On the flip side, Paul Konerko chased high fastballs at a 30.8 percent clip from 2005-07 but is chasing them just 12.6 percent of the time this season. That's a sign of improved discipline, and it's why Konerko is on pace for 86 walks this season, which would easily set a career high.
Going into play Monday, rookie Evan Longoria was hitting just .149 against lefties this season, the second-lowest average against lefties among hitters with at least 50 plate appearances against them. More importantly, he was homerless against them in 47 at-bats. So wouldn't you know it -- he hits two homers off lefties Monday in Anaheim. But I'm still concerned. Longoria has some quirky splits that bother me, including a .209 average in games at domes (he plays his home games at a dome) and a .180 average in day games. Also, he's hitting just .207 with runners on base. I need to see more before I'm a believer in him this season.
Speaking of dome games, Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field is continuing its recent trend of becoming a pitchers' park. According to our ballpark factors statistics, The Trop is second to last in both runs and home runs per game. There have been 50 homers hit in 34 Rays home games versus 66 homers in 30 Rays road games. No longer should owners consider this a favorable place to hit, at least as we wait to see if the numbers bear out.
5x5 Watch: Runs
Chris Young, OF, D-backs: You can knock Young all you want for that .240 average, but the fact of the matter is he walks enough to still be in the top 15 in runs scored. He's also in the top 30 in homers and is on pace for double-digit steals. Young is one of those few hitters, a la Adam Dunn, who can make up for a low batting average with production in other categories.
As it turns out, the way for Brandon Inge to get in the lineup was not at third base or in the outfield, but at catcher. Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced Monday that Inge and Ivan Rodriguez would trade off catching duties for the time being, with Inge starting every other game. Inge has enough games (14) to qualify at catcher in many league setups, and he was playing pretty regularly as it was, so this doesn't jump his value a whole lot. But it does knock down Ivan Rodriguez's already-sinking value to the point his mixed owners should (finally) consider an alternative.
Tip of the Week
I've hit this in detail, and probably will again, but don't underestimate the value of getting a "throw-in" player in return when making a blockbuster deal. When trading, you're looking for any edge you can get, and getting a guy who can help you, even if it's in a matchups role, improves your team. When a blockbuster deal is close, often the inclusion of a "lesser" player is not enough of a reason for your trade partner to throw out the deal because the other names far overshadow that player. Usually it's as easy as saying, "Hmm, I'll do [the deal] if you throw in Player X." More than not, he'll throw in that guy in a heartbeat, without even thinking. Meanwhile, that throw-in player can help you, and you're getting him as easy as plucking him off the free-agent wire.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.