Commentary

Ten slow starters poised to improve

Updated: June 11, 2009, 2:50 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

Stephen Drew
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireStephen Drew has just three home runs so far this season.
They must think I'm stupid.

No, I'm not talking about those of you who lashed out at me about Adam Jones and Aaron Hill and Chris Davis and Dustin Pedroia and … Instead, I'm talking about owners I've played with for years. In the past week, I've gotten trade offers for Stephen Drew, Chris Iannetta, Rick Ankiel and Francisco Liriano, among other slumping hitters and pitchers.

One guy even told me he'd "be happy to take Iannetta off my hands." Shah. No way am I trading guys like that right now. First of all, the simple law of averages and their talent suggest they're going to do much better the next 3 ½ months than they have thus far. And secondly, their value is about as low as it'll go, and I wouldn't get near fair trade value in return. If I wanted someone to take Iannetta "off my hands," I would have done it weeks ago.

Chances are, if a slow starter or slumping hitter is still on the roster of the team that drafted him, you're not going to get him unless the trade offer is pretty sweet. Like not-at-all-indicative-of-the-way-the-guy-has-played sweet. Is that fair when stats from this season are what matter most? Of course not. But in some cases, 2009 stats must be virtually ignored because they aren't a true indicator of what the player has done and will do.

With that said, here are 10 top hitters who have played much better than their stats suggest. Whether they're erasing a cold start or have dealt with a trip to the DL, the numbers you see next to their names are not a true reflection of their talent. Evaluate accordingly.

1. Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies: That .218 average makes me wince, especially given his home ballpark. But did you realize he's on pace for 33 homers and 74 RBIs? And this is even after a stint on the DL because of a hamstring injury (which he returned from soon after the 15 days were up). Iannetta was done in by a 5-for-39 stretch to begin the season; he hit a more respectable .276 in May with five homers and 13 RBIs in 17 games. I say he hits .272-16-49 from here on out.

2. Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks: Early on, the D-backs looked like they could hit a little, and then the offense went ice cold, and now it's showing signs of life again. Nobody has followed the pattern better than Drew, who also missed time because of a hamstring injury. As such, he's hitting .258-3-21-1. He hit .321 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs in the last three months of 2008, and I foresee a similar finish.

Derrek Lee
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireDerrek Lee has bounced back nicely from an April in which he hit just .189.
3. Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: No less than a month ago, as the team prepared for its May 16 game, Lee was hitting .194, which was shocking since he's normally a hot starter. The result: He was dropped in a decent percentage of mixed leagues. That was a mistake. He's himself again, hitting .377 since then. He's much better than his .269-6-24 line suggests.

4. Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs: I know, it's tough for me to even type this, but while Bradley is neither Mr. Durable nor a legit .300 hitter, he also isn't a .209 hitter with a 49-RBI pace. Like him or not, his best days are ahead.

5. Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: Ankiel's line looked a lot worse before he went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple and a homer Wednesday against the Marlins. Now he's up to .246, which I think he'll improve, but maybe by no more than 20 points or so. But that 15-homer, 63-RBI pace will shoot up.

6. Russell Martin, C, Dodgers: Zeroes have a way of scaring people. Like when a bank account shows zeroes, or the temperature on a cold day … or Russell Martin's homer count in 2009. Martin has already proved he's a consistent .285-15-75-19 hitter, and he's on pace for .258-0-58-20. Martin owners, keep the 26-year-old locked in that lineup, and reap the benefits.

7. Placido Polanco, 2B, Tigers: Polanco has his detractors, and I've taken heat for keeping him among the top-100 hitters lately, but even you critics have to admit he's not a .252 hitter. He might not be able to hit for power or steal bases, but he hasn't hit below .288 in a season since he became a starter in the big leagues (back in 2000). He's hitting a full 51 points below his career mark, and he's too young (33) to expect a major decline from him. I say he hits .330 from here on out.

8. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners: He's always been streaky, but during the past three seasons, Beltre has settled in at .268-25-85 or so. He's now on pace for .250-11-69, and hidden in those numbers is the fact he has hit almost .400 since May 29. Perhaps your window for getting him is gone.

9. Orlando Cabrera, SS, A's: All the trade talk in Oakland seems to begin and end with Matt Holliday, but what about O-Cab? He's working on a one-year deal, and the A's would love to give him to a contender with shortstop troubles (Boston, perhaps, if Jed Lowrie isn't right or doesn't hit?). And I could see this renowned second-half hitter igniting an offense and his fantasy production like he did with the Red Sox in 2004. He's certainly better than the .238-6-53-6 line he's currently on pace for.

10. Brian Giles, OF, Padres: Like him or not, he's certainly not as "done" as his stat line suggests. His batting average and slugging percentage had actually gone up two straight seasons heading into this one, and while his K's are a bit up, he has been done in by an obscenely low .213 batting average on balls in play. Only Jay Bruce and Garrett Atkins have lower BABIPs among qualified hitters. Giles is a career .291 hitter, and he's hitting .194. That should tell you all you need to know.

Note: Interleague play begins Friday, and while we've attacked the DH (and every other relevant) situation from all angles, now is a good time to bring up that I broke down each team's interleague schedule and DH situation (the NL teams adding one, the AL teams losing theirs) in the May 21 Hit Parade.

Fortunes Rising

Top 100 Hitters

Note: Brendan Roberts' top 100 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued.

1. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL (1)
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLA (2)
3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY (3)
4. David Wright, 3B, NYM (6)
5. Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY (7)
6. Ryan Braun, OF, MIL (5)
7. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET (4)
8. Carl Crawford, OF, TB (9)
9. Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN (13)
10. Chase Utley, 2B, PHI (8)
11. Ian Kinsler, 2B, TEX (11)
12. Carlos Beltran, OF, NYM (12)
13. Nick Markakis, OF, BAL (14)
14. Raul Ibanez, OF, PHI (18)
15. Evan Longoria, 3B, TB (10)
16. Jason Bay, OF, BOS (16)
17. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS (17)
18. Joe Mauer, C, MIN (15)
19. Carlos Lee, OF, HOU (20)
20. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SD (21)
21. Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI (19)
22. Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, BOS (24)
23. Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU (35)
24. Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX (38)
25. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, SEA (26)
26. Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN (28)
27. Prince Fielder, 1B, MIL (25)
28. Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC (23)
29. Brad Hawpe, OF, COL (43)
30. Matt Holliday, OF, OAK (29)
31. Jimmy Rollins, SS, PHI (30)
32. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS (31)
33. Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE (22)
34. Jose Reyes, SS, NYM (27)
35. R. Zimmerman, 3B, WAS (32)
36. Brian Roberts, 2B, BAL (33)
37. Matt Kemp, OF, LAD (36)
38. Justin Upton, OF, ARI (44)
39. Adam Jones, OF, BAL (41)
40. Torii Hunter, OF, LAA (51)
41. Nate McLouth, OF, ATL (39)
42. Victor Martinez, C, CLE (37)
43. Aaron Hill, 2B, TOR (52)
44. Jermaine Dye, OF, CWS (53)
45. Hunter Pence, OF, HOU (47)
46. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY (42)
47. Johnny Damon, OF, NYY (54)
48. Alex Rios, OF, TOR (48)
49. Manny Ramirez, OF, LAD (58)
50. B.J. Upton, OF, TB (59)
51. Carlos Pena, 1B, TB (46)
52. Curtis Granderson, OF, DET (45)
53. Chone Figgins, 3B, LAA (74)
54. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN (40)
55. Bobby Abreu, OF, LAA (55)
56. Vladimir Guerrero, OF, LAA (56)
57. Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX (34)
58. Adam Dunn, OF, WAS (49)
59. Brian McCann, C, ATL (50)
60. Derek Jeter, SS, NYY (57)
61. Michael Young, SS/3B, TEX (60)
62. Shane Victorino, OF, PHI (68)
63. Miguel Tejada, SS, HOU (76)
64. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CLE (75)
65. Alexei Ramirez, 2B, CWS (62)
66. Russell Martin, C, LAD (63)
67. Ben Zobrist, OF, TB (94)
68. Stephen Drew, SS, ARI (69)
69. Mark Reynolds, 3B, ARI (67)
70. Andre Ethier, OF, LAD (79)
71. Magglio Ordonez, OF, DET (66)
72. Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B, BAL (64)
73. Jayson Werth, OF, PHI (70)
74. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, ChC (78)
75. Denard Span, OF, MIN (77)
76. Adam Lind, OF, TOR (92)
77. Jorge Cantu, 1B, FLA (81)
78. Orlando Hudson, 2B, LAD (82)
79. Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL (73)
80. Derrek Lee, 1B, CHC (95)
81. Vernon Wells, OF, TOR (71)
82. Michael Bourn, OF, HOU (86)
83. Jay Bruce, OF, CIN (65)
84. Luke Scott, OF, BAL (NR)
85. Pablo Sandoval, 1B, SF (91)
86. Mike Lowell, 3B, BOS (83)
87. Corey Hart, OF, MIL (72)
88. Dan Uggla, 2B, FLA (88)
89. Chris Iannetta, C, COL (98)
90. Carlos Quentin, OF, CWS (61)
91. Jason Bartlett, SS, TB (NR)
92. Rafael Furcal, SS, LAD (84)
93. Todd Helton, 1B, COL (96)
94. Russell Branyan, 1B, SEA (NR)
95. Chris Davis, 1B/3B, TEX (89)
96. Mark DeRosa, 2B/3B, CLE (97)
97. David Ortiz, DH, BOS (NR)
98. Ryan Theriot, SS, CHC (NR)
99. Brandon Inge, 3B/C, DET (99)
100. Yunel Escobar, SS, ATL (NR)

Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: He's red-hot again, proving his cold spell had nothing to do with Manny Ramirez's absence and everything to do with his trademark inconsistency. In 2008, Ethier hit .195 in June, and later hit .462 in September. This season he has hit .306 in April, .211 in May and is hitting .419 in June. He's just one of those guys who has maddeningly bad stretches, but follows them up with incredible streaks. That's not so good for you head-to-head owners, but remember that the next time you get disgusted and are about to pawn him off after an 11-for-80 slump.

B.J. Upton, OF, Rays: Yet another guy whose all-around numbers hide actual 5x5 production. Upton is still not hitting for power or driving in runs out of the leadoff spot, and he's hitting just .217 for the season. But he has hit .325 since May 29, and he's on pace for a whopping 52 steals. His stats don't suggest it, but you should still consider him an upper-tier fantasy option.

Fortunes Falling

Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays: I'm officially concerned. Did you happen to catch Longoria's pinch-hit at-bat against the Yankees on Sunday? He looked very stiff and slow at the plate, and could barely run to first after hitting the ball. Even my hamstring hurt when I saw that. But the Rays put him right back in the lineup Monday, and all he has done is go 0-for-9 since. He doesn't look right to me, and like I've said before, sometimes a guy playing hurt can do more harm than good. The pessimist in me can foresee a future trip to the DL or at least a less-than-Longoria-like performance until his hamstring is well again.

Mat Gamel, 3B, Brewers: I really thought he would hit from the get-go, but it turns out Gamel has a few holes in his swing after all. He has struck out in more than a third of his at-bats and in six of his past 10 ABs. Now, instead of the buzz talking about how good he'll be, the buzz is about him possibly being shipped back to the minors. I, for one, think it's necessary. But hey, on the plus side, he has made just one error in 10 games at third base (although he hasn't gotten many chances, either). Don't count on mixed-league help from Gamel anytime soon.

Pickups of the Week

Mixed: Xavier Nady, OF, Yankees. We all know what he can do. He's working his way back from an elbow injury by playing in extended spring training games, and he could return to the Yanks at some point next week. Might as well get out in front of that and pick him up; he's available in about half of ESPN standard leagues.

AL-only: Chris Gimenez, C/1B, Indians. I can't imagine he'll get a lot of playing time for the Tribe, but considering he homered in each of his first two big league starts, he does deserve to be owned in the deepest of leagues.

NL-only: Willie Harris, OF, Nationals. He's been getting regular starts, and while he's not hitting yet, this is the same guy who had 13 homers and 13 steals in 2008. To carry on the theme from above, because of his poor '09 numbers, he's still unowned in a lot of NL-only leagues.

5x5 Watch: Home runs/RBIs

Dan Uggla has been trashed (and even dropped in some leagues) all season because of his low batting average, but you don't own him for that. You own him because the 5-foot-11 spark plug has power at a power-shallow position. Uggla has gone cold again of late, but he still has 11 homers, putting him on pace for 30, not to mention an astounding 110 RBIs. That's what you get with gap sluggers. They rack up a lot of extra-base hits, and even a double can clear the bases. Half of Uggla's 44 hits this season have been for extra bases, and because he hits either fifth or sixth in an offense that is fourth in the NL in runs, he has had plenty of guys on base in front of him.

Position Watch

Willie Bloomquist just doesn't get the respect he deserves, probably because he can hardly hit the ball out of the infield. But somehow he has managed a .288 average this season and 11 steals (a pace of 38 for the season). Just as importantly, the outfielder has added qualification at shortstop in ESPN standard leagues with 16 games there and should get to 20 games there fairly quickly for those of you with 20-game plateaus. He should be owned in a few more than 0.9 percent of ESPN standard leagues.

On the Docket

Iannetta is returning to the Rockies at the perfect time. Beginning Friday, the Rockies play 19 of their next 28 games at hitter-favorable Coors Field. As the weather warms there, look for those final scores to climb a bit.

Lineup Card

Speaking of the Rockies, Clint Barmes has moved back into fantasy owners' minds of late, and a lineup change definitely has played a part in that. When Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as Rockies manager, he moved Barmes, hitting .234 at the time, from the No. 7 hole to the more-advantageous second slot. Now he's hitting .293 and riding a 24-for-56 (.429) streak in the 13 games since then, 10 of which have been on the road. Barmes' ownership percentage has jumped up 16-plus percent in the past seven days, but it's still at only 23.4 percent.

On the Farm

Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays: Allow me to think out loud here. Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler are hitting below .200, and Gabe Gross is, well, Gabe Gross … the Rays have a Pat Burrell-sized hole in their outfield. Burrell is due back soon, but as Phillies fans, Rays fans -- OK, anybody who has watched him play -- know, he's better off as a DH, and with Ben Zobrist now playing in the infield full time, the Rays still will have a hole in their outfield even when Burrell returns. Which is where Jennings, one of their top prospects, comes in. The kid is tearing up Double-A, hitting .345 with six homers, six triples and 16 doubles, along with 20 steals and an impressive 26 walks. I could see the Rays giving him an audition later in the year if he continues to rake, and he could make an immediate contribution in 5x5 leagues. I'd also love to see a Rays outfield starting Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and this former JUCO All-America wide receiver; they sure would be able to track down a lot of balls out there.

Chris Snelling, OF, Pirates: When he wasn't blowing out a knee or struggling in limited big league time, this one-time prospect was putting together a .305 average and .389 OBP for a number of different organizations in a well-traveled minor league career. But the Pirates have just acquired him (and put him at Triple-A), and I have my eye on him for you NL-only leaguers. It seems he has been around forever, but he's still only 27, and his hitting eye is still pretty solid. Should he get the chance, he could surprise while in a platoon role.

Final Thoughts

I don't know about you, but I prefer to work out trades via e-mail or verbally. Things can change fast, and a decent offer can turn to bad very quickly because of injuries, a benching, a lost spot in the rotation, a change in closers, etc. And if the other owner gets to it before you rescind it in the system, you can get burned. Plus, e-mail or verbal communication allows for greater detail and the sales slant that you might need to get a deal through. Formal offers through the system are fine when it's a simple 1-for-1, and the guy needs to deal quickly, but direct communication usually proves more effective.

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.

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