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Reality Check: Time to buy low on Kemp?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If you've poked around the Fantasy News page enough, you've probably come across our in-season rankings. If not, I'll save you the trouble by directing you straight to them.

Pretty cool, right?

They're new this year. Having relied on computers and algorithms to maintain one default set of rankings that didn't quite live up to anyone's standards in past seasons, we decided to reintroduce the human element this year. Now, Al Melchior, Nando Di Fino and I maintain our own separate rankings, listing the most relevant players at each position in the order we'd prefer to own them. As circumstances change throughout the season -- whether due to injuries, role changes or unexpected performances -- so do those lists, always with the rest of the season in mind.

It's a laborious undertaking, but it's an infinitely valuable one. Continually updating rest-of-season rankings will address just about any Fantasy question you have. They may not help you set your lineup from week to week -- for that, you have the Pitching Forecaster and Hit Parade -- but they'll help you make decisions for the long haul.

Want to know whether you should drop Ichiro Suzuki for Angel Pagan? My take is in the rankings. Want to know how much you should buy into Kelly Johnson's recent hot streak? Again, check the rankings. Want to know how low is too low for R.A. Dickey? That's right. The rankings tell all.

They may lack the context and exposition you'll find on Fantasy Baseball Today and in columns like this one, but they're quick, accessible and, generally speaking, up-to-date.

Of course, to get any sort of value out of them, you have to trust in the process. At least one reader -- we'll call him George -- does not. He made his feelings clear in a recent e-mail to me:

I generally like your analysis, but I can't believe that you three guys update your rankings regularly, or at all. For example, I see Matt Kemp is the No. 3 outfield for all of you. Kemp is on my team, so that's nice to see on one hand. But his season has been such a disappointment that surely he's due for a downgrade. And, as I said, that's just one example. What's up?

Nice to see we're making a difference.

What's up is subjectivity. It's the driving force behind any set of rankings and a big reason why we each maintain our own. Naturally, you won't agree with anyone's rankings player for player -- to do so would be downright spooky -- but if you want an informed opinion, ours should at least suffice.

Now, when opinions differ enough to create a sense of mistrust, that's obviously a problem, but I have a feeling your consternation over Kemp -- and presumably Josh Hamilton, Billy Butler, Rickie Weeks and Jimmy Rollins -- stems more from a difference in philosophy than anything else. Al, Nando and I, along with many other Fantasy Baseball analysts across cyberspace, subscribe to the idea that a high-end player who gets off to a slow start is still a high-end player.

Most Traded Players (as of 5/14)
Player Name # of trades
1. Josh Hamilton, OF, Angels 678
2. David Price, SP, Rays 537
3. Matt Cain, SP, Giants 490
4. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers 446
5. B.J. Upton, OF, Braves 431
6. Cole Hamels, SP, Phillies 420
7. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals 376
8. Gio Gonzalez, SP, Nationals 374
9. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds 371
10. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals 365

Why? We've seen it too many times before. We've poured over enough box scores, played out enough August stretch runs and suffered through enough Jay Bruce roller-coaster rides to recognize that, over the course of 162 games, a player's stats tend to normalize.

"He is what he is," you'll often hear us say. Translation: "Those numbers you're used to seeing from him remain the expectation for him, regardless of what he's doing right now." And that goes for players on both ends of the spectrum.

Obviously, that line of thinking doesn't apply over the entirety of a player's career. Most spend their first few years improving and their last few years declining. But once they reach a certain level of production, they tend to maintain it -- and nothing more than it -- throughout their prime.

Tell that to the guy who drafted Adrian Gonzalez and Tim Lincecum last year, right?

OK, fine. So you found a pair of exceptions. They happen from time to time, and I can't guarantee Kemp won't be one of them this year. But I'll give you a few examples of the countless other players who validated the worry-free approach just last year.

They're harder to remember because you'd never know of their slow starts by their final numbers. But they slumped all right, with many putting themselves in deeper holes than Kemp is in now.

You know everybody's golden boy, Paul Goldschmidt? He appeared destined for a return trip to the minors through his first 31 games last year, batting .218 with a .616 OPS. What about last year's No. 1 shortstop in Head-to-Head leagues, Jose Reyes? Through his first 29 games, he hit a measly .226.

Last year's No. 2 shortstop, Rollins, had it even worse. When he hit .225 with a .275 slugging percentage over his first 45 games, most assumed his tank was empty. Aramis Ramirez was in the same boat, batting .218 with a .656 OPS over his first 38 games. He went on to have arguably the best season of his career.

Albert Pujols, much like Hamilton, struggled in his early days as an Angel, batting .212 with a .573 OPS in his first 42 games last year. We all know how his numbers turned out. Giancarlo Stanton? Yup, everyone was freaking out about him last year, too, when he homered only once in his first 21 games. He ended up leading the majors in slugging percentage.

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Perhaps the most encouraging case for Matt Kemp owners, though, is that of Ryan Zimmerman. Yes, Kemp had shoulder surgery in the offseason, but judging from reports both then and now, Zimmerman's shoulder was a bigger impediment at this time last year. In fact, it had him hitting .218 with a .590 OPS on June 23 -- or about halfway through the season. Don't remember it that way? That's because after getting the cortisone shot that day -- his third of the season -- he hit .321 with a .967 OPS the rest of the way, bringing his numbers back to where they always are.

Were any of those resurgences unbelievable or miraculous? For a while there, Zimmerman seemed like a lost cause, but otherwise, not really. They were just the realization of the inevitable. They were exactly what should happen over the course of 162 games.

Given the disparity between their seasons so far, Kemp's final numbers might actually be worse than, say, Justin Upton's, but again, these are rest-of-season rankings. What has already happened shouldn't matter nearly as much to Fantasy owners as what will happen. Judging by his ability and track record, Kemp's chances of producing a .300-plus batting average and 30-plus homers the rest of the way are simply too high for me to sell him short now. And probably higher than Upton's, I might add.

Maybe if the slump continues for another two or three weeks, my perspective will change ever so slightly. I do make some changes at this stage of the season, having already moved Upton and Bryce Harper ahead of Hamilton in the outfield. But they were all in the same range to begin with. With Upton and Harper still young and developing, a hot start for them indicates progress. Plus, perception factors in. I could get more for Upton or Harper than Hamilton on the trade market right now, and my rankings should reflect that.

But they shouldn't reflect streaks, whether good or bad. Streaks happen for every player over the course of the season. The ones that happen earlier don't carry any more weight.

When I make a change to the rankings, it should be cautious and calculated, and it should last. If it's something I'll have to undo two weeks later, after you've already potentially acted on it, then I've done you a disservice. That's how I approach it, anyway. And judging by some of Al's and Nando's rankings, they're even more cautious than I am.

Now, I won't claim our rankings are perfect. They contain 476 names, so the occasional player will slip through the cracks. And I'm guessing the top half at each position gets more attention than the bottom half just because it's easier to form opinions on those guys.

But enough thought and effort go into these rankings that you can trust they're what they claim to be. And if we hold up our end of the bargain, they'll do more for you than a thousand Reality Check columns will.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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