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Sliders: Hill, we have to talk

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Fantasy Baseball is annoying.

No, really. It's not a gentlemanly gathering where everything evens out in the end and every good decision is rewarded with a pat on the back. It's a screaming vortex where every slump is magnified and every misstep is exaggerated to the point of futility.

Over the course of a season, seemingly no stone of dissatisfaction goes unturned. And when anything short of perfection is failure, everyone involved in the process comes away from it annoyed.

But on the short list of things that should annoy people and don't is the disproportionate amount of negativity in my Sliders column.

In a given week, you'll typically find more up than down arrows, and though it may not be so noticeable from one week to the next, over time, it adds up. And it's a problem.

Not everything can go right all the time. Not every player can be improving in a state of homeostasis. Where's the counter-effect? Where's the market correction? Where's that lemonade I ordered? Grumble, grumble, grumble ...

It's right here, folks. For the lot of you with anger on your lips and frustration in your heart, I've prepared an especially detestable edition of Sliders that I'm simply calling "the mean one."

By the time you're done reading it, you'll want to rip it into teeny, tiny pieces ... which will only anger you further because, of course, you can't. It's the Internet.

Sliders ... These players are more than just hot or cold. Their recent play indicates a long-term change in value.

Placido Polanco, 3B, Phillies

If you heard the reports of Polanco's back injury over the weekend, you probably had the same reaction I did:

Uh-oh.

Most Added Players
* as of July 4
Player % change
1. Rich Harden, SP, Athletics 32
2. Vance Worley, RP, Phillies 31
3. Daniel Murphy, 1B, Mets 25
4. Antonio Bastardo, RP, Phillies 24
5. David Hernandez, RP, Diamondbacks 22
6. Cory Luebke, SP, Padres 21
7. Eric Thames, LF, Blue Jays 18
8. Chris Davis, 1B, Rangers 17
9. Charlie Furbush, SP, Tigers 15
10. Tim Stauffer, SP, Padres 13

Not only did he use the words "nerve" and "numbness," but he also cited the injury as an explanation for the 47-for-218 (.216) slump that has brought his season batting average down from .398 to .274. And he in no way suggested it's going away.

"I have a pinched nerve, where I feel some numbness in my leg," he told MLB.com. "It's playable. It's not painful to the point I can't play. I hate to use excuses, but it doesn't feel good. It doesn't feel right."

Uh-oh.

Something like that might not be such a big deal for a player like Adam Lind, who at age 27, can just go on the DL for a month and come back as good as new. But for a 35-year-old already on his last legs and fighting an uphill battle just to remain competent, it's a potential -- oh, you'll like this one -- backbreaker.

Plus, Polanco isn't the least bit interested in going on the DL. He expects to keep playing ... through the numbness and the pain and the .216 batting average.

Clearly, Polanco's toughness isn't in question here. He played with a fractured elbow in the second half last year and managed to hit a respectable .280. But if that's the best-case scenario for an injured Polanco, I can't say I'm exactly comforted. Because he doesn't offer any power or speed -- the two most important attributes for any hitter in Fantasy -- he has to hit well over .300 to remain an every-week option. His supporting cast alone isn't enough to redeem his value, even at a weak position like third base.

It didn't seem like such a problem in April. He was hitting .390, and he was golden. But with this injury, Polanco's already difficult task of succeeding on singles and doubles alone just got colossally more difficult, leading me to believe you shouldn't feel so secure with him as your starting third baseman in a standard mixed league.

Of course, you won't find much help on the waiver wire at the position. If Ty Wigginton and David Freese are already removed as possible insurance policies, you might have no choice but to explore a thin trade market.

Uh-oh.

Ted Lilly, SP, Dodgers

If Lilly's slump was restricted to his 10.43 ERA over his last three starts, I could write it off as a cold streak -- a casualty of the elbow tenderness that recently caused the Dodgers to push his next start back a day.

But it's not. It's been a factor off and on all year long. Only seven of his 17 starts -- a mere 41.2 percent -- have been quality starts after a 2010 season in which 73.3 percent of his starts fit that description.

When you drafted Lilly back in March, you drafted him for reliability. You drafted him as a pitcher you could trust to throw 190 innings with an above-average strikeout rate, WHIP and ERA. He wouldn't single-handedly win you the league, but he certainly wouldn't hurt you.

So far, he's done nothing but hurt you.

Not only is he allowing more hits, which explains the rise in both WHIP and ERA, but his strikeout rate is down to a career-low 6.4 per nine innings. He's throwing his breaking pitch only 25.7 percent of the time, down from 30 percent last year, which suggests he's losing confidence in the very thing that made him so successful all those years. What, you thought it was his 88-mile-per-hour fastball?

That's a red flag for a 35-year-old. If he's conceding with his pitch selection that he doesn't quite have it anymore, chances are he's not getting it back. Yeah, the elbow may be bothering him more than he's letting on, but if he hasn't figured out how to pitch through it so far, he likely won't in the second half either.

Pitching for a mediocre Dodgers team, Lilly's upside is only so high anyway. Now might be the time to look into other options.

Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners

In a week full of depressing outlooks and grim realities, the one shining beacon of hope is a rookie second baseman in the lowest-scoring lineup in baseball.

Greeeat.

The good news is Ackley isn't your average rookie. On a scale ranging from Anthony Rizzo and Jerry Sands to Eric Hosmer and Jemile Weeks, he joins the Hosmer and Weeks end as a prospect finding instant success at the major-league level.

And it's not too surprising considering his pedigree. A polished hitter who might have been the first overall pick in some amateur drafts, he was part of the Stephen Strasburg class, making him the second-best player in 2009 and helping contain some of the hype leading up to his arrival.

But he never lost the polish, compiling a 117-to-130 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 772 minor-league at-bats. His bat control helped him capture MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, and when his power showed up at Triple-A Tacoma, he convinced the Mariners he had nothing more to gain from the minors.

So far, that assessment is spot on. The numbers have continued as if the level of competition was the same. In about 50 at-bats, Ackley has maintained a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, demonstrating the same impressive bat control that should allow him to avoid the usual rookie slump.

Really, the biggest question surrounding him is how well his still-developing power will translate to the majors, especially if he's playing half his games at expansive Safeco Field. But so far, five of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases, including two homers -- both of them at home. Besides, at a relatively weak position, he should make up for any lack of homers with an abundance of doubles and triples.

No doubt, his supporting cast will limit his RBI and runs scored, but if you can look beyond that one shortcoming, Ackley has the potential to make a huge impact for your Fantasy team in the second half. As productive as Danny Espinosa and Neil Walker have been so far, he might just outperform both going forward.

Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays

It's the familiar pattern of a doomed relationship.

It all seems too perfect at first, filled with late-night phone calls and long walks on the bench, but then -- bam! -- reality hits. The tension escalates and the arguments become personal, with assertions ranging from "You smell!" to "I don't know who you are anymore!"

The latter is the sticking point in the relationship between Hill and his Fantasy owners. Yet for some reason, 76 percent of them would rather prolong the suffering than end it already.

In Hill's case, it's not a matter of different circumstances causing him to accentuate different traits -- most of them unfavorable. He's legitimately a different player from one year to the next. We really don't know who he is anymore.

He went from being a contact hitter with gap power at best to the 36-homer monster of 2009 to the middle infield version of Tom Brunansky to ... oh, who the heck knows?

If last year's version of Hill was bad, this year's version is the worst one yet. He's making small strides in batting average, I guess, but at the expense of the home run power that, coming into the season, seemed a given. He could get away with single-digit homers if he was hitting .290, like he did earlier in his career, but not .246.

I understand the second base position hasn't been quite as deep as advertised coming into the season. It's had its share of disappointments like Dan Uggla, Gordon Beckham and Brian Roberts. But with rookies Jemile Weeks and Dustin Ackley now in the mix, you have no reason to stick with Hill as your primary second baseman in standard mixed leagues. You still have a chance to get out of the relationship before it gets really ugly.

Hanging Sliders ... These guys look like Sliders, but not so fast! Their recent play might cause you to misinterpret their Fantasy appeal.

Jeff Karstens, SP, Pirates

Back in April, a group of us Fantasy writers, in our Fantasy writer ways, debated who was the worst pitcher with a regular rotation spot in the majors. Sean O'Sullivan came up. So did Mitch Talbot. My choice? Jeff Karstens.

So you can imagine my disbelief when I discovered Karstens has a 2.65 ERA and 222.5 Head-to-Head points -- more than Bud Norris and Ervin Santana -- nearly three months later. You can also imagine why I wouldn't endorse him as a candidate to keep it going.

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Look, I've never shied away from changing my mind on a player. Ryan Vogelsong won me over pretty early. Tim Stauffer and Philip Humber have since. As circumstances change, I change with them, so it's not like Karstens never had a chance with me. But on a pitching staff full of overachievers with numbers that couldn't be less representative of their abilities, Karstens takes the cake as the one with absolutely no basis or explanation for his current performance.

And thankfully, Pirates fans are too upset with Bruce Bochy right now to care about anything I say.

Karstens never had particularly good stuff. With a fastball ranging in the high 80s, he'd get hit hard virtually every time on the mound, blowing up his ERA and WHIP and preventing him from pitching more than six innings at a time.

So far this year, he's averaging 88.6 miles per hour on his fastball. In fact, according to FanGraphs.com, he isn't throwing any of his four pitches any harder than before or with any more frequency than before. He has a line-drive rate of 17.6 percent, which is an improvement over last year's 18.1 percent, but not his career mark of 17.5 percent.

He's the exact same pitcher as before. The only difference is the results, and considering his BABIP is .238 instead of its usual .290 or so, luck has a lot to do with it.

As a pitcher with marginal stuff who hasn't made any significant adjustments, Karstens can't keep this going, and when it all catches up to him, it won't be pretty. If you're searching for pitching help off the waiver wire, he's a player better left for NL-only leagues.

Jason Bay, OF, Mets

I'll be the first to admit Bay still has a chance to salvage something with the Mets. He's only 32 and has always been a streaky player. For all we know, last year's concussion came just when he was on the verge of turning it around. Yeah, it's a long shot given his continued struggles this year -- and I'm in no way suggesting Bay is a must-stash in any league -- but it's possible.

And that's about the most optimistic assessment of Bay you'll find among people who've played Fantasy over the last two years, which is why my reaction to his recent hot streak should carry extra weight:

In short, it's not the one we're looking for. It's not even really a hot streak.

Yeah, I understand he's batting .338 (23 for 68) over his last 17 games. I understand he scored 32.5 Head-to-Head points last week to rank sixth among all outfielders. Those are good signs, no doubt, and reasons to feel more encouraged than discouraged by him.

But of the 23 hits over his last 17 games, only three have gone for extra bases. He has a .456 slugging percentage during that stretch, which would be disappointing for a power hitter over a full season, much less during a hot streak.

Bay may be streaking, but he's not streaking the way you'd expect Jason Bay to streak, hitting a bunch of homers and reestablishing himself as a middle-of-the-order force. He's just hitting a bunch of singles. Jamey Carroll can do that. During a hot streak, any major-league hitter can. If this is the best the "new" Bay can do, it's no reason to get excited.

That's not to say it couldn't possibly lead to more, but in and of itself, I'm not biting.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Scott on Twitter ( @cbsscottwhite ) and can e-mail us your questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Sliders in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Orioles' Showalter indicates Gonzalez might be ready for 200 innings
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:01 pm ET) Orioles manager Buck Showalter said starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez is in good shape at the start of spring training, per MASNsports.com.

"I don't know if you all tapped on him, but he's like a rock," Showalter said. "He's got a goal of pitching 200 innings this year because that's been the one kind of bugaboo on him. Miggy's not the type of guy to talk about this, but his whole offseason he spent a lot of time with (vice president of baseball operations) Brady (Anderson). I hit him the other day and it was like hitting a rock. His body fat is actually down and his weight's up.

"The wear and tear, he's always had a couple spots where he's needed a DL period or miss a start. He's very upfront. If you know Miggy's personality, it's not like he's shirking a responsibility. If we can stay away from that, he could go to another level physically. He's done everything he can to be there for us every fifth day.

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(4:00 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Bud Norris has set a goal of pitching 200 innings for the first time in his career, according to MLB.com. 

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"I felt I was in the best shape of my life last year, and I can say the same thing this year," Norris said. "I feel a little bit better, actually. Going out there consistently every five days and putting up innings is really what it's all about."


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(3:50 pm ET) Still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, White Sox pitcher Nate Jones is now throwing from 120 feet on flat ground, according to ESPN Chicago. 

Jones had Tommy John surgery last summer and has taken a patient approach to the rehab process. He won't be able to throw a bullpen session, though, until he begins to throw from 150 feet away. 

Likely to stay in extended spring training through May, Jones is taking his continued recovery day by day. 

“You get out of it what you put into it so boom, from the first day I’ve been getting after it for that day and just making sure I get through that day healthy and check it off and move to the next,” Jones said. “[But] you can’t get going too quickly, that’s when problems start. You have to let the biology of the healing of the body take over when you’re going through this rehab. They talked about that too, just stay the course and not get too far ahead of myself.” 


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(3:50 pm ET) Red Sox DH David Ortiz is working at first base early in spring training in an effort to be prepared for the season-opening series at Philadelphia.

“We don’t want to not cover that and limit his availability to us,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said, per the Boston Herald. “So three games in Philly in the National League, there’s going to be some time at first base.”

Ortiz, who usually plays less than 10 games per season at first base, hasn't made an error since 2009.

“It's something I'm not really thinking about right now,” Ortiz said. “All I'm worrying about now is timing and hitting. First base is something I do occasionally. Mike Napoli's our first baseman. We all know he's getting ready to play first base. Me in my case, it's just a few times. The basic thing that I do when I play first base, everyone knows, that's why you see me out there a few days doing drills but it's nothing we have to worry about.”


Twins' Molitor receiving good reports on Miguel Sano
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:42 pm ET) Twins manager Paul Molitor hasn't watched much batting practice thus far in spring training, but he keeps hearing good reports about prospect Miguel Sano, per the Pioneer Press.

“I just keep hearing how far balls are going,” Molitor said after Monday’s workout. “It’s fun for people to see. I hope he’s working on his whole game.

“He’s a young kid. But he’s doing fine. It’s good to see him healthy. He hasn’t had any issues with that (surgically repaired) elbow, and that’s what we’re trying to make sure we protect against as spring unfolds.”

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“I was working today on the bunt defenses; he’s trying,” Molitor said. “There are things that are going to be a challenge for him. We’ve got to keep an eye on him. He’s a big boy. He carries it pretty well, but you’ve got to have some athleticism. He’s got to keep that … if he wants to play a corner-infield position in the big leagues, especially third base.”


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"Just having that is going to put more pressure on the defense," Revere said. "Are we going to come up or are we going to stay back? Because I can slap a line drive right by them that could be for a base hit or a double. The infield won't know what to do."


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(3:32 pm ET) Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang played three innings at shortstop during Monday's intrasquad game, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He got a putout assist on his one fielding chance and grounded out in his lone plate appearance.

“Step by step, I'm still getting used to it,” Kang said through translator H.K. Kim. “I'm having fun. It'll get better as the spring goes on.”

Kang added he did not see "a big difference" between the pitchers he's hit against in camp compared to those he played against in the Korea Baseball Organization.


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(3:22 pm ET) Though Mariners pitcher Jordan Pries isn't expected to break with the club out of camp, manager Lloyd McClendon had some positive things to say about his start to spring training

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Mets' Warthen: Matt Harvey could have pitched at end of last year
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:22 pm ET) Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen admitted Monday starting pitcher Matt Harvey could have returned from Tommy John surgery last season, per NJ.com. But the team kept him out all year because there was no point in activating him off the disabled list late in the year.

"I thought that he could have even pitched at the end of last year and I think that Matt thought he was ready," Warthen said. "I think that we made the right decision. It would have done us no good but he was ready to pitch then."

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"That's the best possible time to a little bit longer," Warthen said of a 17 1/2-month timeframe for a return from Tommy John surgery. "And that has to draw into it as well because the guys that have waited for 17 and a half months have been able to go 200 innings and not been hurt the next year and go 200 the next year and the next year and the next year. So that was part of our thinking. And also, we weren't going anywhere. We weren't going to win anything. Don't take a chance."


Mariners P Hisashi Iwakuma hits OF Gabriel Guerrero in batting practice
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Iwakuma's first scheduled start of spring training is slated for this Saturday against the Diamondbacks. 


 
 
 
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