Ten players not to give up on
When I was 4 years old, my family lived in Richmond, Va. Across the street lived my friend Jamie Roark, also the same age. Jamie's house was the "it" place to be for all the kids in the neighborhood, as he had a tree house high up in his backyard.
Remember, this is more than 30 years ago, so this was an honest-to-goodness tree house, not some prefabricated thing that was, you know, actually safe. To get into the tree house, you had to climb these wood planks nailed to the tree. The boards small and rickety, none of the kids were able to get up to the tree house on their first try. But eventually, all the kids did it. Except me.
I didn't try. I vaguely remember it, but my mom told me this story years later. She said it would break her heart. I would play with the kids but when it came time to go into the fort, the other kids would climb up and I would just stay there, in front of the tree. My mom would ask me if I wanted to at least try to climb up or to have her help me get up. I would say no. It was OK, I would tell her. I was the "lookout," you see, a crucial job in those tree house days. You never knew when an icky girl might try to sneak up on us. More importantly, I was totally happy with the gig. So my mom left me alone about it.
And then a few weeks later, out of the blue, I scampered up the tree like I had been doing it my whole life. My mom tells me this had been a pattern I would continue my whole life. That I would not try or attempt something until I was sure I could master it. Believe it or not, I didn't speak until I was 3 years old, which is late for a kid. But when I did finally speak? I would speak in complete sentences, not the fragments most kids do.
As I've become an adult and faced various challenges as fearsome as a tall tree is to a 4-year-old, I've always been the same way. Not wanting to try until I knew what I needed to do to succeed, analyzing everything and most importantly, having patience. The patience to wait to do it right rather than rush the job and fail.
And maybe that's why I've never been a huge trader in fantasy baseball. If a deal is too good to pass up, if there's an obvious need I can't fill anyway else, if the situation calls for something desperate I do it. But more often than not I'm willing to stay the course with my team and more importantly, with a player.
When a guy you own is struggling, the impulse is to deal him. Get something -- anything -- for the bum. But I tend to do the opposite. I ride it out. I believe that at the end of the day, a player will ultimately scamper up the tree house steps without a care in the world.
With that in mind, here are the 10 guys on my All-Be Patient With Them Team.
Catcher: Matt Wieters, Orioles. A preseason darling, Wieters has been, like many of his Orioles teammates and Ellen on "American Idol," just brutal. A top-5 catcher in drafts this spring, his ownership in ESPN leagues is now down to 60 percent. And with the addition of Buster Posey and Carlos Santana to the catching ranks, and only one catcher needed in ESPN standard leagues, you can be more picky. So I get it. But I still believe. Wieters' BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .280 suggests some unlucky bounces, his BB-to-K ratio is the same as it was last year (when he hit .288 in 96 games) and he's never hit lower than .300 in the minors. He hit 42 points higher in the second half last year and while I don't expect tons of RBIs, I do expect the average to rise to the .275 level and the power to start coming through. I've got a feeling he'll end up with 17 home runs or so.
First base: Prince Fielder, Brewers. I wasn't gonna include him here, feeling he was too obvious a name (Mark Teixeira being another), but then I get e-mails like this one from Brett Long in DeKalb, Ill.;
What's your take on Prince Fielder's incredibly dismal start? Will he pick it up or is it far too late for him to do anything close to what he's done the past few seasons?
My take is ... sort of. He's not gonna catch up to his RBI totals but I expect the average to rise a bit (and yes, I think he can get to the 40-homer mark). We are looking at a season closer to '08 (34 home runs, 102 RBIs, .276) than '09, but keep in mind he's only three home runs behind where he was on June 15th last year. In fact, Fielder has four homers in his past five games.
Second base: Aaron Hill, Blue Jays. If I had told you before the season that Toronto would be a top-10 offense in terms of runs scored and lead the majors in home runs by more than a dozen, but Aaron Hill would be hitting below the Mendoza Line ... would you at least buy me a drink before slapping on the straight jacket? Well, better days are ahead, my friend. Or my enemy. Or my casual reader, killing time until it's time to punch out.
Whichever you are, I like me some Aaron Hill, who is currently among the top 10 dropped second basemen in ESPN standard leagues. He shouldn't be. The obvious thing is the crazy-low .191 BABIP. A career .278 hitter (with a career .298 BABIP), his average will come up; he's already hitting .250 in June, so it's a start. On pace for 26 home runs, the power has actually been there. Low RBI totals so far, but again, if the average heats up, so will that number. He's hitting .240 with runners in scoring position versus .191 with nobody on. Hill screams "buy low."
Middle infield: Jose Lopez, 2B/3B, Mariners. I couldn't find a shortstop I believe in, so I'm gonna go with Lopez, who at least qualifies at middle infield. The point about Lopez is that he's probably the only Mariner that's happy to have Chone Figgins. If it wasn't for Figgins being so terrible people would be really bothered by Lopez. Lopez has hit better than .290 after the All-Star break each of the past two seasons and increased his home run total for four straight years. Am I concerned that he's hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls so far this year? Yes. I'm also concerned that what hair I've managed to hang on to is turning gray. But I soldier on and so should Lopez owners. I look at his track record, especially in the second half, the low BABIP and the fact that, at age 26, I don't expect him to end with his lowest power totals in three years (what he's currently on pace for). Maybe the position switch bothered him more than initially thought, but he continues to adjust and will be fine.
Third base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants. Much was expected of Kung Fu Panda after last year, when he had a .330 average, a 25-homer, 90-RBI season and emerged with the coolest nickname of the year. And now, on pace for just 15 homers with a .282 average, the nickname doesn't seem like all that. But then I look at last year, when, on June 1, 2009, he had just three home runs and 20 RBIs. And he is a career .338 hitter in the majors. What can I say? When it comes to him, I've got Pablo goggles.
Outfield: Adam Jones, Orioles. I've caught a lot of heat for Jones' struggles, as he was a guy I loved in the preseason. Specifically, my friend Greg Erb yelled at me because I'm the reason he drafted him. Folks definitely seem fed up with him, as his ownership has dropped to just 68 percent of leagues. But you're not gonna believe what I'm about to tell you Adam Jones owners: Send a thank you card to Corey Patterson. Normally, the Patterson thank-you cards are sent by the all the guys in the league that don't own him, but Jones seems much more comfortable hitting in the two hole than in the leadoff spot. In fact, since May 12th (Patterson's first day), Jones is hitting .294 with five home runs, 14 runs and 17 RBIs in 32 games. I expect Jones to stay as the No. 2 hitter, I expect him to start walking more (one area he's still struggling with) and I expect him to exonerate me and let folks concentrate on other preseason calls I blew. (Cough, Kyle Blanks, cough).
Nyjer Morgan, Nationals. Might seem weird to have him on this list, but he was a guy that folks (ahem, me) liked in the preseason. Along with guys like Juan Pierre, Rajai Davis, Brett Gardner, Julio Borbon, Michael Bourn, etc., he was part of that whole "you can wait on speed and there's tons of it in the outfield" stuff I was preaching all throughout February and March. And while some of those guys have struggled with their average, they've mostly been fine and stolen a decent amount of bases. Nyjer has been a bit of a disappointment, hitting just .254 and getting caught stealing 10 times. But Morgan, a career .290 hitter whose BABIP is currently 41 points below his career average, has started to heat up. He's got five steals (in seven attempts) in his past 14 games, through Tuesday, with nine runs scored. The average is still not where we want it to be but remember that over the past three years, he is a .340 hitter post All-Star break.
I'm bailing on the last outfield slot because I felt Justin Upton was too obvious and I wanted to do more than one starting pitcher.
Starting pitcher: James Shields, Rays. His K/9 is at a career high (more than eight). He's walking guys at a slightly lower rate than last year. So what's the problem? Well, he's been getting unlucky, as his BABIP, xFIP and strand rate suggest. He just got rocked by the Marlins, so I'm sure it's harder than ever to believe good times are around the corner. But he has an 82-19 strikeout-to-walk rate in 85 innings pitched with a good offense and bullpen behind him and much better days are ahead for Mr. Shields and his owners.
Starting pitcher: Max Scherzer, Tigers. He still has an ERA over 6 and a WHIP of 1.55, but two weeks ago, before I went on vacation (that's for all of you who wrote wondering where the hell I was), I did a " Ten lists of 10" column and this is what I wrote about Mad Max:
"In 2009, Max Scherzer's fastball velocity averaged 93.6. This year, before being sent down to the minors, it averaged 91.8. After adjusting his mechanics in the minors, it averaged 94.5 in his start against the A's on Sunday, including hitting 98.7 on his second-to-last pitch."
Since that crazy 14-strikeout game against Oakland, Max has been up and down, but a 33-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings gives me confidence that he's gonna be a lot closer to the strikeout stud with an ERA under 4.00 than gopher-baller with the ERA over 6.00 the rest of the way.
Utility: Gordon Beckham, 2B/3B, White Sox. Maybe it's World Cup Fever that has me believing in the only Beckham currently playing a game, but, much like the White Sox, I'm going down with the good ship Gordon. A current BABIP of .256 for a guy who was a .300 hitter in the minors and a .270 guy last year (with a .294 BABIP) screams of bad luck and bad bounces. I expect at least a livable batting average in the .260-.275 range this year. (Case in point: He's hitting .262 in June). Super small sample size, but over his past five games he has three doubles and three RBIs (that came in one game). The biggest gut call of this list, but he's only 23 and last year he had 11 home runs after the All-Star break (in 260 at bats versus three in 118 pre-break).
Some names that are specifically not on this list? Wandy Rodriguez, Jake Peavy, Rich Harden, Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Lee. But the 10 I listed? They'll get up those planks and into the tree house. You've just got to let them do it in their own time.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is super nervous but cautiously optimistic about his Lakers. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend
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