- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Guess what! Jay Bruce is good!
Unsurprisingly, the Cincinnati phenom jumped the furthest in my personal June ranking of the top 340 players in fantasy baseball, compared to the same exercise I performed in May. Specifically, in May, Bruce was just another all-world prospect who'd gotten off to kind of a mediocre start at Triple-A, and didn't actually register in my top 340. (He'd have come in 341st! I swear!) This month, he's No. 182 (44th among outfielders). That's the largest increase of any player, and I'm betting for a lot of you, it still isn't enough.
Why don't I have Jay Bruce in my top 20? How could I have the ungodly likes of Carlos Beltran, Eric Byrnes and Vernon Wells ahead of a guy who's practically hitting .600? Why don't I have Edinson Volquez rated in the top five overall? And for god's sake, why do I keep acknowledging the existence of Ian Snell?
The fact is, like it or not, baseball has a humbling way of seeing its statistics even out. The incredibly hot first-time fantasy stud tends to take a tumble, while the struggling-but-more-proven commodity tends to bounce back. At this time last year, J.J. Hardy had 15 HRs and 46 RBIs; over the rest of '07, he hit 11 and 34. By the same token, on June 1, 2007, Lance Berkman was hitting .244 with 6 HRs and 28 RBIs; for the rest of the year, he hit .294/28/74. Need another example? Jason Marquis put up a two-month line of 2.93 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, and finished the year with a four-month line of 5.58 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. Meanwhile, Brandon Webb had four wins, a 3.74 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP last May 31, and followed it up with 14 wins, a 2.65 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP.
And don't give me Ryan Braun. Ryan Braun is the exception that proves the rule.
So when I do these rankings, looking forward from this moment, I do my best not to overreact to what looks like an unbelievable start (et tu, Cliff Lee) or the onset of sheer awfulness (I'm looking at you, Victor Martinez and Robinson Cano). That said, here are my biggest movers, positive and negative, since May:
Bruce, Arroyo (ranked before his awful start last night), Volquez, Votto remind me again, how are the Reds 28-30? In many cases, the positive surprises involve getting a new job: Torres is Milwaukee's closer-of-the-moment (though, much as it induces shudders, I still have Eric Gagne rated four spots higher than Torres for the rest of the year), Wheeler gets saves while Troy Percival is hurt (which could happen again), and Franklin is currently the fireman in St. Louis. But in the cases of Longoria, Quentin and Cabrera, I'm simply convinced by what I see. It's certainly too late to buy low on Quentin (and probably Longoria), but considering Cabrera is still owned in only about a quarter of ESPN.com leagues, deeper-league owners should look into him. (Remember, I'm not telling you to go crazy; he's still just my 63rd-rated starter.)
That second list is characterized by players plagued by injury (Jones, Blalock, Young and Doumit), as well as highly ineffective players with supposed injuries (Isringhausen, Sheffield, Hafner). Butler is a serious bummer to me. His stat line just isn't all that bad (.263, 1 HR, 18 RBIs), but the Royals certainly know their players better than I do, and aren't going anywhere in '08. If they think Butler needs a swift kick in the rear, so be it. I wish I could keep him rated highly, because a big part of me thinks (hopes?) he'll be back after the All-Star break and will be able to help. But at this point, it's no sure thing, and mixed-league owners probably wouldn't be all that interested anyway. (Boy, did I ever hype him to start the year.) Meanwhile, Corpas has been passed by Taylor Buchholz in the Rockies' bullpen (deep-leaguers should look into Buchholz now, considering Colorado will look to trade Brian Fuentes before the deadline), and Saltalamacchia hasn't yet proved himself worthy of the speculative flyers we tried on him in deeper leagues early last month.
Other Buy Opportunities
Here are six players who began May outside my overall top 100, but who find themselves inside that top 100 here at the start of June. I'm a believer:
Pat Burrell, Phillies (129th in May; 81st in June): I've undervalued his steadiness for years, and it's time to acknowledge it. He's a near lock for 30 HRs and 100 RBIs every year, and if his downside is a batting average around .260, I'll take it. Plus note that in the last calendar year, he's become much more selective at the plate.
John Lackey, Angels (112th in May; 65th in June): Maybe the Lackey owner in your league is still a little gun-shy about a return of triceps problems, and maybe he or she should be. But I'd be willing to assume that risk, because if he's healthy, Lackey is just so consistent: three straight years of an ERA below 4.00, a descending WHIP paced by improving control, and all those strikeouts.
Geovany Soto, Cubs (121st in May; 76th in June): What can I say? I've bitten. In a season of depressing catcher performances, Soto has lit it up: .296 with 9 HRs and 38 RBIs (and a .942 OPS). Yes, he's been lucky: .365 BABIP. But he's shown enough patience (30 walks) to offset his whiffing ways (51 K's), making him an on-base machine (.388 OBP). He's a star in the making.
Scott Kazmir, Rays (101st in May; 59th in June): His elbow injury seems like a long time ago. Kaz went 5-1 in May with a 1.22 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and 38 K's and 13 walks in 37 IP. That's ludicrous. The gains he made in the second half last year look real. I'm not saying he's a buy-low guy at all. But I still would consider buying.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (113th in May; 77th in June): Wainwright has benefited a bit from a low BAABIP and a favorable strand rate, and his outing Monday night looks awful, but remember: He had a shutout going into the seventh inning. Generally speaking, he's pitching well, and still doesn't get enough credit for stuff that doesn't blow you away, but is always around the plate and tough to hit.
Ben Sheets, Brewers (115th in May; 85th in June): I'm a sucker. Sheets hasn't topped 156 2/3 innings pitched since 2004, and he's already at 76 1/3 this season. But he's allowed one run or fewer in five of his 11 starts, and has 60 K's to just 13 walks. It'd be a high-risk move to assume his injury history now, but that would be the only reason you could pry him away from his owner today.
And here are six players (including four Ryans) in whose hot starts I apparently do not fully believe. If I could get something very good for 'em now, I'd do it. (And since regular readers have seen me put guys like Cliff Lee and Xavier Nady on this list for a few weeks, I'll leave them off here.)
Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals (148th-rated hitter in my June rankings; 20th-best performer in April and May): Hey, I love a hot streak as much as the next guy, but Ludwick's 15 minutes are nearly up. He has 13 HRs and 42 RBIs, which rocks. But he's cooled off over the past week, making this about the last time to jump off in a trade and feel good about it.
Ryan Church, Nationals (100th-rated hitter in my June rankings; 32nd-best performer in April and May): Longtime readers know I've been a Church booster for years, but he's not this good. He's made gains, but his HR/FB rate is unsustainably high, meaning the power will tail off, and I don't expect to see his average above .300 by season's end.
Ryan Theriot, Cubs (125th-rated hitter in my June rankings; 56th-best performer in April and May): It's not as though Theriot is setting the world ablaze, but if you can afford to give up his steals, feel good that you've gotten the best of his batting average for '08. He sits at .325 right now, but has benefited from a .356 BABIP. Look out below.
Ryan Dempster, Cubs (66th-rated starter in my June rankings; eighth-best performer in April and May): I bumped Dempster up 95 spots in my overall rankings, so I haven't completely ignored his 2.75 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. But that high walk rate (33 BBs in 75 1/3 IP), a favorable strand rate (72.5 percent LOB) and a favorable BAABIP (.231) mean that worse times are coming.
Ervin Santana, Angels (37th-rated starter in my June rankings; sixth-best performer in April and May): I love the Santana story, but if I could deal him for a more established player, I'd do it. It's not that I'm positive Santana will crash and burn (he won his eighth game last night), but his BAABIP (.260) and strand rate (74.1 percent LOB) are appreciably more favorable than his career averages.
Edinson Volquez, Reds (35th-rated starter in my June rankings; third-best performer in April and May): That's right. I went there. Sure, there'd be risk in dealing him, but I still maintain there's risk keeping him. He's got an unsustainable 87 percent strand rate in '08, and his BB/9 (4.76) is too high. Control problems are what eventually got him bounced from Texas, and they could hurt him before '08 is over, too. The strikeouts are unbelievable, and I'm clearly not saying he isn't a fantasy asset. But you could get the moon for him.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports.
You can e-mail him here.
Christopher Harris offers up the highlights of his June rankings, and which players could be buy-low or sell-high candidates based on them.