Commentary

Hit Parade: Perennial slow starters

Updated: April 8, 2008, 7:23 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

Can you imagine if someone predicted you would have a bad day, week or even month at work or school? An even better question: Can you imagine that person keeping his faith and not hassling you about it?

"Well, Johnson's sales are way down this month, he's showing up late for work and he clearly doesn't know the sales specs. But just you wait until May; that's his month. It's when he makes up for all this disappointment."

Or, "That Jenkins kid is carrying a D, three C's and two B's here mid-semester, but just you watch. He'll turn it on at the end and finish with all A's and B's."

Comments like those sound totally far-fetched. That, my friends, is why fantasy owners want to sell off slow starters. In fantasy, a .140 hitter is a .140 hitter, no matter the time of year.

But sometimes, bad days, weeks or even months can be predictable. Not necessarily in sales or grades, but in baseball. Because, for whatever reason, certain players tend to struggle when the real games begin, when the summer heat arrives or when the tired days of September announce their entrance. It's not our job to figure out why this is; often, it can't be explained. It's our job to determine who it is and which month it happens, then inform you owners. That's our ESPN Fantasy theme of the week, beginning with the Hit Parade.

Often, when a good hitter has a bad day, week or month, we can safely say it is explainable. Right now, we're barely through Week 1 of 26, about 4 percent of the season. Therefore, you have nothing to worry about if you own any of these 10 top hitters who have started slowly, even if they remain slow starters for a few more weeks. History has shown that their "sales quota" … er, "grades" … ahem, numbers will improve as the season wears on.

Adam LaRoche
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireAdam LaRoche is batting .110 in April the past two seasons.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Pirates: So he's hitting .087 so far this season. So what? Consider this stat: Coming into this season, he was a career .184 hitter in April. In all other months, .286. The only mistake you're making is owning him this month.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Braves: It's so far-fetched it's hard to believe, but as of the morning of May 3, 2007, Teixeira was batting .223 with two homers and six RBIs for the Rangers. He finished .306-30-105, which is all you need to know.

Travis Buck, OF, Athletics: He's 0-of-21. Doesn't get any worse than that. But it's worth noting he batted .190 last April and .315 the rest of the way. That's right, .315.

Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics: Another A's hitter. Sigh. Ellis is 3-of-26. But during the past two Aprils, he hit .226 with just four of his 30 homers. All other months, he was .272 with 12 of his 13 steals.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies: Heck, his current .192 average is good compared to the .185 average (and zero homers) he sported as late as April 27, 2007. Let the record show he batted .291 with 24 homers overall last season.

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds: You remember how this youngster, currently hitting .100, was batting .218 with one homer in early May last year, which led to his demotion? You remember how he came back up last year and hit .307 with 15 homers?

Eric Byrnes, OF, Diamondbacks: In the past two seasons, Byrnes had just four of his 47 homers and seven of his 75 steals in April.

Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies: Not that any of his owners are worried by his .208, one-homer start, but as late as May 25 last season, he was hitting .204 and had just six homers. He finished with 47 homers.

Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: As late as May 2 last season, Konerko was batting .189 with just three homers. He still finished OK (.259-31).

Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: We'd like to believe he's for real … and we still can. Hawpe had just a .256-1-10 line coming out of last April, and he finished .291-29-116. I'm telling ya, the ball doesn't carry well at chilly Coors Field in April, which explains why there are two Rockies on this list (and a few others that were considered). Stick with 'em.

Fortunes Rising

Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: From his very first batting practice, there has been buzz about the Japanese import, and he hasn't disappointed, taking the league by storm with his sweet left-handed swing. Can this continue? Yes. He won't hit for power, but an examination of his swing shows it has few holes. He is very quick to the ball, has great pitch recognition and can hit pitches all around the strike zone. I say his batting average easily will stay above .300 this season.

Jason Kubel
J. Meric/Getty ImagesJason Kubel has hit safely in four of his five starts this season.
Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: With Michael Cuddyer on the DL, Kubel should see more playing time and possibly an everyday role. Many owners have given up on Kubel, who has been slow to recover from knee surgery, but let's not forget he still has legit 25-homer power if he's playing every day and is only 25 years old. Consider him for a mixed-league pickup; he's owned in just 4.4 percent of ESPN leagues. Craig Monroe also will play more and deserves AL/deep-mixed attention.

Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates: Seven games down, and Doumit has 24 at-bats to Ronny Paulino's nine. Doumit is batting .458 to Paulino's .222. In the eyes of mixed-league owners, all Doumit previously lacked was playing time, and he's now getting as much as any catcher in the league. Project his 2007 at-bats (252) and homers (9) out to, let's say, 410 at-bats, and you have a 15-homer catcher. And I think his ceiling is more in the 20-homer range. I was amazed at how big and broad this guy's upper body is when I talked to him this spring.

Fortunes Falling

Dan Johnson, 1B, Athletics: I used to be a big fan of Johnson and his upside … but vision troubles, illnesses and a handful of extended slumps later, he can hardly keep a big league job. He has one at-bat this season. One. And the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting he might be released when Chad Gaudin returns from the DL. Very sad, but the believer in me wonders if he can live up to his potential elsewhere.

Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates: The red flags are a-wavin'. Sanchez missed a good portion of spring training with shoulder soreness. The Pirates announced he has tendinitis in the joint, would return soon and would just deal with the pain. Then, he couldn't make it through the opening week before sitting the better part of three games. Then, he went 0-of-6 in an eight-run, 13-hit Pirates offense Monday. I'd be a concerned Sanchez owner right now.

Omar Vizquel, SS, Giants: It's not sounding good for the Giants shortstop. He was scratched from a rehab game during the weekend because of pain in his surgically repaired knee, and the Giants have shut him down. Now, if Vizquel were the missing piece on a team with playoff potential, I'd wait patiently. But since he's a 40-year-old with declining skills on a team beginning a youth movement, I'm not sure I'd hang on to him too long.

Pickup of the week

Wilson Betemit
AP Photo/Kathy WillensWilson Betemit saw his first action at shortstop this season after Derek Jeter left with an injured quad.
Wilson Betemit, 3B, Yankees (pending): If Derek Jeter's quad injury is going to sideline him for any extended period of time (it appears he'll miss at least a few games), Betemit is the guy to get for the short term, particularly in leagues where there is a low minimum of games necessary for positional eligibility. Currently, he's owned in just 0.2 percent of ESPN leagues.

Shallow NL-only: Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: He's off to a .304 start, while "starter" Skip Schumaker is 0-of-15. Ludwick also hit a surprising 14 homers last season in just 303 at-bats, and the Cardinals can't hold him back much longer.

Deep NL-only: Gabe Kapler, OF, Brewers: Mike Cameron is suspended, Tony Gwynn Jr. has a bum hamstring and Kapler is still, well, strong. And hitting .438 with two homers. Look for Kapler to get regular starts in center field and hit well enough to be start-worthy in the deep setup.

Splits watch

Luke Scott, OF, Orioles: Scott already has been tagged as a guy who "can't hit lefties," but that's not entirely true. In fact, coming into this season, he actually had a higher OBP against lefties in his career than against righties.

Ballpark watch

Nationals Park: There have been only two games played there, but all five of the homers hit at the park so far have come from right-handed hitters -- and one of them was from light-hitting Robert Andino. Righties hit only 68 homers in 81 games at the ol' RFK last season.

5x5 watch: stolen bases

Speaking of slow starts … Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez both went into play Monday without a steal. Ramirez did steal a base that night, but it's a rather dubious beginning for two players who combined for 129 steals in 2007. For what it's worth, I still see Reyes stealing more than 60 bases, while I feel Ramirez will drop down to the 30-35 range.

Position watch

Eugenio Velez, 2B, Giants: Definitely a good sign that he has: (a) started the past five games for the Giants; (b) seems to be holding his own; and (c) has three games played at second base and three games in the outfield. On position versatility, speed and starts alone, this kid could become a mixed-league weekly starter before we know it.

Lineup card

Richie Sexson, 1B, Mariners: Didn't take long for Sexson to be dropped to the sixth hole; he was put there Monday after batting cleanup the first five games of the season. That's not a good omen. In 2007, he had a .227 average, .341 OBP and .413 SLG in the fourth hole; in the fifth and sixth spots combined, he was .195-.312-.370.

Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals: Gordon was dropped to the sixth spot in the Royals' lineup Saturday, and he was there again Sunday. Both starts were versus right-handers (Livan Hernandez and Boof Bonser). That's not a good sign for a guy many think is in for a breakout season. He batted .222-.271-.365 in the sixth hole last season.

Tip of the week

If at all possible in daily transaction leagues, you might want to avoid filling your backup roles with players from East Coast teams if you have a starter from a Central or West team. On days when all the games will be played at night, which will happen soon, any backup options who have a game in the Eastern time zone already will have been etched into bench spots by the time you, as an owner, realize your starter is taking the night off in their Central, Mountain or Pacific time zone game. Having backups from West Coast squads gives you roster flexibility.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.