Commentary

Escape from the bottom of the Player Rater

Updated: June 12, 2008, 4:57 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

Even though the legendary John Mellencamp once sung about something hurting so good, that just won't fly in fantasy baseball. When players hit .200 without power, that hurts your team, and there's nothing good about it. Having a batting average killer, or an outfielder sans power and speed -- let's just say there won't be any little pink houses for me and you with fantasy numbers like those.

Since it's Player Rater week on ESPN Fantasy and we just can't stop extracting the goodness from this helpful tool, I went deep position by position to see which players were hurting fantasy owners the most. A value of 0.00 -- the fantasy Blutarsky if you will -- is breaking even, I suppose, but who are the players with the worst negative value? It's easy to find pitchers with the worst ERAs, but from an offensive standpoint, do fantasy owners realize which players are more hurtful than helpful?

Let's use San Diego's injured catcher Josh Bard as an example, since he's on the wrong side of the Blutarsky. There are 17 catchers with positive value and 65 with negative value. Bard is near the end, down with the guys fantasy owners would never think of owning, including the fella in last, the always entertaining Corky Miller, who once went parts of three seasons without getting even one hit. Nobody owns Miller in fantasy, though, right? Bard was somewhat in demand this spring after hitting .285 with some power a year ago and entering this season as the undisputed starter. However, after hitting .200 with no power, his DL stint was actually welcomed, as it forced you to look elsewhere -- if you hadn't already.

Josh Bard
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziWho figured Josh Bard's injury would actually help fantasy owners?
I have an 18-team auction office league in which a team or two figured out early on that it wasn't so much fun to have two active catchers. I mean, finding a catcher in some leagues is a chore, but we need 36 active ones. Some owners decided to cease looking for backstops all together. We didn't have a rule against this practice, so if they wanted to keep the retired Mike Lieberthal in an active spot, or leave it blank, there was nothing we could do to curtail this. In fact, I started to realize this wasn't such a bad idea if your catcher was Bard, J.R. Towles, David Ross, Kenji Johjima or Carlos Ruiz, among others. They aren't hitting for power, and their low batting averages do more to hurt fantasy owners than help.

Let's check out who the worst offenders among hitters are in fantasy baseball so far, consider names who are relevant to the game and discuss whether there's light at the end of any of their proverbial tunnels.

Catcher: Bottom guys are Corky Miller, Johnny Estrada, Luke Carlin, Colt Morton and Bard.
Even in deep leagues, none of these guys are interesting anymore, though Estrada normally hits for average. Let's focus on J.R. Towles of the Astros, who is close to the bottom five, after entering the spring with so much promise. To be thorough, Towles' is currently playing for the Round Rock Express, not the Houston Astros. Towles mercifully got demoted a week ago, and he's off to a good start in his new Triple-A home, but how long will he be there? The Astros aren't giving up on him. They did give him two months, and the guy batted .145 in 42 games. Last year, the guy had an eight-RBI game, which proves he's got some pop to his bat. I picked up Towles late last season in a dynasty league, and made him a keeper, and I won't be dropping him anytime soon. In fact, I think it's a wise time in deep leagues to take a look at him. I wouldn't bother in standard since you only need one catcher and I doubt Towles will bring that much value this season. This does underscore the fact most rookies do not immediately accomplish what Geovany Soto is doing, but it doesn't mean Towles can't be a contributor. I predict he's back in the majors after the All-Star break and becomes a top-20 catcher.

First base: Mark Sweeney, Scott Hatteberg, Jeff Bailey, Nick Evans and Jason Wood.
Hatteberg was drafted in NL-only leagues, as Reds manager Dusty Baker didn't commit to Joey Votto in early-April, though eventually the situation resolved itself with Hatteberg losing his job. Dan Johnson and Ben Broussard are two others who performed poorly and are in the bottom 10.

Dmitri Young being in that ballpark with numbers that have only hurt fantasy owners is a surprise, though. Nick Johnson had a big spring and won the first base job for Washington, and Young ended up with one at-bat in April, as he hit the DL with a sore back. Johnson stopped hitting and hit the DL himself, and now Young is the starter and not a bad buy-low option. So far in June, Young is hitting .400 with a homer. The guy is a natural hitter, though with below average power for the position. He did hit .320 a year ago, and who knows when Johnson will come back. The playing time could be there for Young for awhile, and he will hit. Those in deep leagues should take a look because unlike Hatteberg, Johnson and Broussard, Young is in the majors.

Josh Barfield
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesJosh Barfield, one of last year's biggest fantasy busts, just got back to the majors.
Second base: Jayson Nix, Joe Thurston, Elliot Johnson, Chin-lung Hu and Jorge Velandia.
Nix was one of my big sleepers back in March, as the Rockies job was wide open. While I didn't think he'd be a star, he did have 11 homers and 24 steals in Triple-A a season ago. Nix couldn't hit big league pitching in the 17 games he got a chance, batting .111 with one extra base hit. Maybe he'll come back soon, but Clint Barmes and Troy Tulowitzki seem to be the middle infielders. The Dodgers' Hu also had a chance, and did so well that he got sent to the minors and the team dealt for Angel Berroa. That says a lot.

Meanwhile, check out the Indians. A year ago, Josh Barfield underachieved after coming over from the Padres, and Asdrubal Cabrera stole his job, hitting .283, though with little power. I'm not sure what fantasy owners were expecting from Cabrera. He had never shown much power, and in 2007 at Double-A Akron was the first time he had stolen bases. Cabrera got two months to prove himself this year, hitting .184 with one homer and one steal, so he and Barfield have switched places. The Indians could have two of the worst second basemen in fantasy this season. Hey, can Casey Blake play over there? The point is that fantasy owners were high on Cabrera, and he hurt them more than he helped. Barfield is likely to do the same.

Shortstop: Tony Pena Jr., Chin-lung Hu, Brian Bocock, Brent Lillibridge and Brian Bixler.
While it's never a bad thing to have a player with multi-eligibility, it's not exactly true that Hu was hurting teams twice as much, as it were. As for the Royals shortstop, let's just say he's not much of a hitter and leave it at that. The Arizona reliever of the same name, sans the junior, might not be much worse. Cleveland's Cabrera is another one who shows up at both middle infield spots, but he's a lot closer to the back end of players at second than short, which might speak to the depth of the two spots. Second basemen hurt you more! Or not. The much-publicized tale of Troy Tulowitzki has been told many times, so I'll just briefly say I expect him back this month, and I do think he will be a different hitter and help fantasy teams, so don't forget him.

The other focus guys here are the Twins' Brendan Harris and the Nationals' Felipe Lopez. They're not getting it done, and they're more a nuisance for fantasy owners than saviors. Harris was helpful a year ago, when he hit 12 home runs and batted .286, but the power is gone, the .240 batting average stinks and the guy doesn't run. There's just not much to like, and since he can play both middle infield spots, you might think the versatility is more important than the production. It's not. Lopez is really no longer an enigma. He once hit 23 home runs in a season (2005), and stole 44 bases the next year, and even last season his nine home runs and 24 steals made him worth owning. Now he's on pace for three home runs and 10 steals. Whether Ronnie Belliard takes his playing time or not, there's little reason to rely on Lopez.

Third base: Brandon Wood, Andy Marte, Travis Metcalf, Juan Castro and Matt Brown.
Two springs ago, the Angels' Wood was going to be a 40-home run monster, possibly from shortstop, and fantasy owners were drooling. Now he is dead last on the Player Rater at third base. How sad. Wood isn't getting many chances with the big club, and when he does, he looks overmatched. In parts of two seasons with sporadic playing time, he's hit .134 with four extra-base hits in 97 at-bats, and two walks versus 33 strikeouts. I know, I know, look what Michael Jack Schmidt did his nightmare rookie season, but at least he hit home runs. The Angels are likely division winners, and at some point I think their lead will be double digits and they should just play Wood regularly. I doubt that happens. Cleveland's Marte is in a similar place, except the Indians are not contenders currently, and he's not past prospect status.

Other third basemen who have done more harm than good so far include Ian Stewart and Andy LaRoche, but I like the future for each. I don't think the Nomar Garciaparra experiment at shortstop, or any position, is going to help his moribund bat. Nomar shows up with Miguel Cairo and Fernando Tatis on the rater, which is more than a sign. Don't get excited about this new change in Dodgers philosophy, Nomar is what he is, and if it's Miguel Cairo, look elsewhere.

Outfield: Jose Cruz Jr., Adam Lind, Jacque Jones, Brett Carroll and Juan Rivera.
The outfield position is just not deep. We can't surmise this from looking at the above five, but I'm finding that people are more likely to keep harmful outfielders on their team than at any other position, because there is just no depth. Jones, formerly of the Tigers and freshly released by the Marlins, can no longer hit. When a .277 career hitter with moderate power loses the pop and hits .240, OK, that's a sign of decline. But Jones is hitting .147 this season. Pitchers hit .147. Josh Willingham, hurry back. Lind is another disappointment, and when he got the call this season, I thought his third year of playing time with Toronto would show progress, and the team would commit to him. The team didn't show any patience after he got one hit in 19 at-bats, and demoted him again. Travis Snider is well ahead of Lind on the depth chart. And the Angels' Rivera went .310-23-85 in 2006, but broke his leg in winter ball and hasn't been the same since. I wonder if his career path will end up similar to Olmedo Saenz.

Among the other outfielders who have destroyed fantasy owners the most are some obvious names, like Andruw Jones, Wily Mo Pena, Dave Roberts, Reggie Willits and Travis Buck. Oakland's Carlos Gonzalez is also on the list, and while keeper owners should not give up on someone with this type of talent, those in one-year leagues do have to ask themselves if it's worth it. The prize of the Dan Haren deal with Arizona, Gonzalez hasn't homered or stolen a base in 11 games, and he sure doesn't walk, so that batting average is going to really hurt in time. Also, be careful of players you keep around for the occasional stolen base. If they hit .200, the five steals you get just aren't worth it. Endy Chavez, Tony Gwynn and Chris Burke come to mind.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer

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