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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bold Predictions: Buy Low, Sell High

It's the sixth week of the season, we're nearing a quarter of the way through the season, and it's time to start seriously evaluating your fantasy team.  As David Ortiz and C. C. Sabathia have proves, it's tough for a good player to stayed mired in a slump for this long.  However, as Robinson Cano and Barry Zito have proved, it is possible.  Here are the players I would try to snag from frustrated owners before they catch fire, as well as the once-anonymous hot-starters who I would unload before the stroke of midnight, when they turn into Chris Shelton.

Jason Bay - OF - Pittsburgh Pirates

There has been a lot of talk about Pittsburgh outfielders this season, but most of it has concerned Xavier Nady (.350, 32 RBI) and Nate McLouth (.331, 9 HR, 28 RBI).  What has gone unnoticed, understandably, is the resurgent performance of Jason Bay, whose OPS dropped over 150 points in 2007, as he struggled with a variety of lingering injuries.  Bay has 6 HR and 11 RBI to go with his modest .261 average, but more importantly he has shown speed (3/3 SB) and plate discipline (25 BB/26 K, .397 OBP).  Bay is only 29, but he is nearing free agency and the Pirates have McLouth, Nady, Nyjer Morgan, Steven Pearce, and Andrew McCutcheon all ready for major-league playing time.  Once he has proven himself healthy, Bay has more market value than Nady because of his longer track record, defensive ability, and legitimate 35 HR power.  Look for the Pirates to deal him to a pitching-rich contender in need of a productive corner outfielder (i.e. Cleveland, Atlanta, San Diego).  If Bay joins a big-time offense, his run-production numbers could sky-rocket.

A. J. Burnett - SP - Toronto Blue Jays

Burnett has not been able to immediately build off of his strong second-half in 2007 (5-2, 3.01 ERA), but he hasn't missed a start and his command and the life on his fastball has improved with each start.  After walking nearly as many as he struck out in his first six starts, he's K'd 10 and walked only one in 6 innings this evening (though still giving up five earned runs).  If Burnett's healthy, he will be dominant over the course of the season, just as he was when he came off the DL last y
ear.  Some owners might be frustrated with his inconsistency so far.  Pick him up for cheap and you'll be on board for the hot streak later this summer.

Robinson Cano - 2B - New York Yankees

Don't forget that last year, Cano had a 741 OPS in the first half and a 953 OPS in the second half.  Granted, right now Cano's OPS is 467.  Only Troy Tulowitzki is lower among qualifying hitters.  But, I expect that only means that Cano's summer surge will be even more dramatic.  In case you haven't noticed, the Yankees always start slow, Torre or no Torre, and they aren't as far behind Boston now (17-16, 3.5 GB) as they were last year at this time (16-17, 7 GB).  Cano has already raised his OPS 43 points in the last seven games with a pair of homers.  It is likely a sign that his bat is thawing out.

Rich Hill - SP - Chicago Cubs

This is an especially interesting situation for keeper leagues.  Rich Hill is a 28-year-old left-handed starter who was 5th in NL in strikeouts last season, with a nearly 3:1 K/BB ratio.  He began this season by walking 18 hitters in 20 innings, leading to a demotion.  Owners should note, however, that Hill did not lose a game and managed a league-average ERA even with all the control problems.  The Cubs have gotten strong early-season performances from Jon Lieber and Ryan Dempster, but even if they maintain their pace, it is likely that the franchise is losing patience with Jason Marquis (1-2, 5.08 ERA).  I expect that when Hill recovers his control, there will be a rotation spot made for him.  However, even if it doesn't happen this season, take note of what has happened this year with Ervin Santana (6-0, 2.02) and Cliff Lee (5-0, 0.96), both high-potential young arms who suffered similar setbacks last season.  If you've got room on your roster, Hill is somebody you want to stash away.

Mark Reynolds - 3B - Arizona Diamondbacks

I won't belabor the point, since I foreshadowed his decline in a post a couple of weeks back, but I want to point out that Reynolds, after hitting .304 with 6 HR and 19 RBI in his first 19 games, is hitting .133 with 1 HR, 6 RBI, and 23 Ks(!) in his last 11.  Chad Tracy has begun a rehab assignment, so soon the D-Backs will have a better replacement option than Augie Ojeda or Chris Burke.

Joe Saunders - SP - Los Angeles Angels

It's never a bad idea to have Angels pitchers.  Saunders and Ervin Santana, both of whom had to fight for rotation spots this spring, have the best start (12-0) of any duo in the last decade.  Saunders will probably be a valuable back-end guy throughout the season, but Santana is the guy you want to own from this pair.  

Santana: 6-0, 49 IP, 38 K, 9 BB, 2.02 ERA, 0.88 WHIP
Saunders: 6-0, 48 IP, 21 K, 10 BB, 2.61 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

While Santana has made seven quality starts (in other words, all of them), Saunders has only four.  He has benefitted from a lot of offensive support.  John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar will eventually rejoin this rotation (along with Santana and Jon Garland), so Saunders spot, despite his stellar showing so far, is not totally safe.

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