Back in 2007, James Loney, the 23-year-old first baseman for the Dodgers, hit 15 home runs, 18 doubles, and produced a .331 batting average in 344 at-bats.
Everything kind of went downhill from there.
In 2008, Loney hit .289 with 13 home runs. His average would never get that high again. His power whittled away, as well, eventually bottoming out with four home runs in 434 at-bats last season. Loney had some bright spots here and there -- 10 steals and 41 doubles in 2010, 70 walks in 2009 -- but he eventually morphed into a one-dimensional, maybe-he'll-get-you-a-good-average Fantasy afterthought.
Loney's unsustainably-high .381 average right now is a bit of a misdirection. While everyone is shouting that it's due to go down, they're missing the fact that he's already hit three home runs, stolen two bases, and doubled 12 times. He's on pace for 60 doubles, and could set career highs in home runs and steals, if he can keep those rather modest rates up. His current OPS (.997) is the highest of his career, and there isn't a real threat on the team to his playing time.
The point is, while everyone else is expressing obvious disbelief in Loney's inflated average, owners in AL-only or deeper leagues -- especially in Head-to-Head formats -- may want to ask if a first baseman with 12-15 home runs, 40 doubles, and a shot at 10 steals is worth taking a gamble on, especially if the average ends up being around .270. It's not the prettiest line for a position that usually boasts big bats, but Loney could probably be had for a nice bargain in the proper format.
The Big Leaps
Scott Kazmir, SP, Indians (65 percent ownership, up from 11 percent)
From 2005 to 2008, Kazmir had a 3.51 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 689 2/3 innings, striking out 742 batters. Over the next two seasons, Kazmir looked lost, with a 5.54 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 299 innings, watching his K/9 rate plummet to 6.3. With the Atlantic League Sugar Land Skeeters last year, Kazmir went 3-6, with a 5.34 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9. So far this season, Kazmir is 2-2, with a 5.33 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings pitched.
If you've read Danny Knobler's profile of Kazmir, you find it kind of hard not to believe that Kazmir is capable of returning to his glory years (he's still, after all, just 29 -- younger than John Axford, Justin Verlander, and Sergio Romo). Pair Kazmir's struggles with Rich Harden's recollection of trying to pitch through injury over the course of a few years, and there is an excuse for Kazmir's downswing -- pitching through pain leads to poor results. Kazmir's increased velocity this season (he's hit 95-96 mph, but his average fastball velocity, while climbing slightly every game, is still just 92.5, which is right around his 2009 and 2010 numbers) is a good sign, but it has to come with some sustained success before making him even a recommended add in any format outside of American League-only.
|Player Name||% change|
|1.||Scott Kazmir, SP, Indians||53|
|2.||Mitch Moreland, 1B, Rangers||37|
|3.||James Loney, 1B, Rays||36|
|4.||Kelly Johnson, 2B, Rays||31|
|5.||Heath Bell, RP, D-Backs||29|
|6.||Francisco Liriano, SP, Pirates||26|
|7.||Ryan Doumit, DH, Twins||21|
|8.||Jeff Locke, SP, Pirates||20|
|9.||Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins||20|
|10.||Gerardo Parra, OF, D-Backs||18|
The roadblock to embracing Kazmir is that there are -- despite all the good vibrations coming from Cleveland -- several layers of risk involved. First and foremost, the chance of another injury. Followed by Kazmir's velocity possibly stalling out at 92. And then the idea that maybe he just isn't that good anymore. Even in that 2005-2008 run, Kazmir sported a pretty high WHIP.
On the flip side to all of that, however, is the idea that this is just a very good pitcher who was hurt, trying to work his way back, armed with the sagacity of age and experience.
I wish there was an easy answer here, but there isn't. And because of that, I can't feel confident adding Kazmir to my pitching staffs. He may have a good season, or the bottom may come out. Without having much to go on either way, my plan is to stay away and watch it play out on someone else's team.
Over/under on ERA (season): 4.10
Over/under on K/9 (season): 8.0
Over/under on starts (season): 24
Mitch Moreland, 1B, Rangers (57 percent, up from 24)
The biggest worry with Moreland coming into the season was playing time. And it was just a hypothetical threat at playing time, at that. With Jurickson Profar looking major league ready in spring training, there was a theory floating around that Profar would play second base, Ian Kinsler would move to first, and Moreland would have to scrap for at-bats with Lance Berkman at DH and David Murphy in the outfield. A second theory also imagined a world where Mike Olt played well enough to win the first base job outright from Moreland.
Instead, Moreland has started all but two of the Rangers' games. Profar is hitting .250 with two home runs in the PCL, while Olt got off to a rough start and is currently on the minor league DL coping with vision problems that began in spring training. The regular playing time has done wonders for Moreland, meanwhile, as he's hitting .296 with nine home runs and a .925 OPS. He also -- like Baltimore's Chris Davis -- is done bouncing to the outfield from time to time and can just focus on one position. A lot of players excel when given every day at-bats -- there's no pressure coming from competition and it's easier to get into a groove at the plate. Moreland, whose career-high in at-bats is 464, may finally be getting a chance to show what he can do in a legitimate full-time role.
Over/under on home runs (season): 24
Over/under on average (season): .275
Over/under on his ownership by May 31: 87 percent
Unadvised Drop of the Week
Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants (50 percent, down from 59 percent)
Vogelsong is one of baseball's greatest yo-yos. Over the first seven seasons of his career, Vogelsong had a 5.86 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. From 2007 to 2009, Vogelsong pitched in Japan, with his ERA dipping below 4.00 just once in three seasons. In 2010, he signed with the Phillies and was sent to the minors. By July, he was released and pitching in the Angels' system. In 2011, the Giants gave Vogelsong a shot, and he responded with a 2.71 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Last season, Vogelsong had a 3.37 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. So this year, just when many of us were coming around and embracing Vogelsong, he thanked us with ... a 7.78 ERA through his first seven games.
I never thought I'd find myself in the position of defending Vogelsong -- he doesn't have a very good track record and you can't count on him for strikeouts. But it seems like owners are abandoning him with a little too much indifference, considering what he did in 2011 and 2012. In fact, there are a few reasons to look forward to a rebound:
1. BABIP: Vogelsong's BABIP is currently .367. His career BABIP is .297, and it was .282 over the last two seasons. This is due for a pretty major correction.
2. Strand rate: Vogelsong's strand rate sits at 59.2%, a very low number for a starter. But it could be related to the fact that he has a very high ...
3. HR/9 rate: At 2.06, Vogelsong is giving up home runs at a rate almost double of his career, and nearly three times his post-Japan years. And while his fly ball rate is about where it's been the last couple years (maybe even a bit lower), and his velocity is just slightly lower than 2011/12, his HR/FB rate is through the roof -- at 19.6 percent, it's up markedly from his numbers the last two years (8.2 percent) and over his career (9.0 percent).
These numbers aren't saying we should expect Vogelsong to totally turn things around and finish with a sub-3.00 ERA. But if you grab him off the wire now, chances are you'll get the benefits of his turnaround, without any of this early ugliness.
Over/under on ERA (season): 3.99
Over/under on WHIP (season): 1.29
The Flavor of Next Week
Avisail Garcia, OF, Tigers (Seven percent ownership)
Garcia entered 2013 in a weird place. Despite getting his first major league at-bat on Aug. 31 last year, Garcia made the postseason roster, playing in 12 games and hitting .261 with four RBI. But even with the departure of Delmon Young, the team had no role for him. In short, he went from playing in the World Series to being told he's headed to Toledo.
After a stint on the DL to start the season, Garcia promptly tore up minor league pitching over 14 games, hitting .426 with two home runs, two steals, and a 1.076 OPS. Called up to Detroit after Austin Jackson was injured, Garcia got his first start of the year on Wednesday and hit a three-run home run, starting in center field.
While much is made about Garcia being mentored by Miguel Cabrera -- the two are listed at the same height and weight (6-foot4, 240 ponds) -- there's a speed element to Garcia's game that may get overlooked, with some would-be owners assuming that he's more of a power threat. But Garcia has stolen 20 bases or more twice in the minors (with another season of 14), while hitting double-digit home runs just twice. And Jim Leyland has vowed to get Garcia in the lineup, slotting him in center field or at the corners.
With the home run on Wednesday, Garcia will get some "who is this guy?" curiosity. If he hits at least one more by Monday, he will become a hot commodity, as Jackson could be out for a decent amount of time with the groin injury.
Over/under on average (season): .269
Over/under on home runs (season): 12
Over/under on at-bats (season): 370
American League-only fun
Tommy Hunter, RP, Orioles (Seven percent ownership)
Hunter's fastball this year is averaging 96.24 mph. For his career, it has averaged about 92.23. Hunter has been re-born in the Baltimore bullpen, with an ERA three runs lower than his career number, a markedly improved strikeout rate, and a WHIP that sits below 1.00.
Hunter has also lucked into three wins from the bullpen, giving him a boost in Head-to-Head leagues (note: while we normally would suggest that Hunter will stall out at three wins for the season because these were all based on luck, the Orioles seem to find themselves in plenty of close late games, which actually give Hunter a shot at more wins). But there's also some value here in Hunter pretty much supplanting Pedro Strop to become Jim Johnson's backup for saves. And as good as Johnson has been, there are any number of things that can sink a closer -- injury, managerial whims, ugly stretches of games. Hunter has been throwing extraordinarily hard, has performed well, and seems to have found a niche in the bullpen. Don't be surprised if he finds his way into a handful more saves before the season is through, even if nothing happens to Johnson.
Over/under on ERA (season): 2.15
Over/under on saves (season): eight
National League-only fun
Kyle Blanks, OF, Padres (Two percent ownership)
Blanks, 26, has a career .304 average in the minors and has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the two seasons in which he got more than 350 at-bats. He has a career .905 OPS. And these numbers can't all be attributed to the PCL, as Blanks only saw 19 percent of his minor league at-bats in the hitter-happy league. The downside to Blanks' potential is that he's in a playing time squeeze, with Carlos Quentin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and even the occasional Alexi Amarista/Jesus Guzman combo clogging up the outfield. This situation will get even more complicated when Cameron Maybin eventually returns from the DL (although it's been pretty quiet on that front for a while).
But there's no denying that, if he can stay healthy, Blanks could make a major impact with his bat. And while the team does have some power hitters (Chase Headley, Quentin, Jedd Gyorko), the Padres have scored the seventh-fewest runs in the majors. Blanks could slug his way into more regular at-bats with the Padres, and can bring some nice home run and batting average help to teams in NL-only formats, even when initially playing just three or four days a week.
Over/under on at-bats (season): 390
Over/under on home runs (season): 17
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