Commentary

Frustratingly inconsistent hitters

Final stats may look good, getting there is another matter

Updated: June 18, 2009, 2:11 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

Hit Parade
As long as the numbers are there in the end.

Yeah, right, forget that. We want steady production from our hitters. We expect that when we check our team box scores each morning, we'll see plenty of 2-for-4 games, maybe some ribbies, a homer or three from our team, a steal, etc. For those of us who check our teams daily, seeing an aggregate .118 team batting average for a night can ruin our day -- or at least the next five minutes.

When we look at the past seven days and see Jason Kubel or Hunter Pence going 2-for-24 in a week? &*#%@$# (Not sure how it became that weird symbols meant swear words, but you know what I mean). And then we see our team slip another week, so we check the "past 14 days," and we see 7-for-46 next to that guy, and we're ready to send the guy on the next ferry to Alcatraz.

So does a 13-for-26 the following week make us forget all that? Does one great week erase the memory of two bad weeks? It should; that all adds up to a .278 average, which won't hurt you even in most mixed leagues. But it's tough to wipe out opinions of a player so quickly, especially when we don't have that big-picture perspective.

I mean, picture yourself in one of those studios in which they zap you for every wrong answer (like what Peter Venkman does in the movie "Ghostbusters"). The prize would have to be mighty good for most of us to sit through multiple buzzes just for the possibility of getting the next one right. We'd walk away immediately, right? Because who knows when the next correct answer will come? Or if it will ever come? I'd rip that electrode off, call it a failed experiment, grab some fast food and go home and watch "Family Guy."

I want to do the same with a handful of big-name players on my teams -- often -- but I know better. Three of the many tidbits of knowledge we at ESPN have passed along: 1) Have patience; 2) Don't overreact to a small sample size; and 3) Don't trade a stud when his value is down. You just have to ride it out, because said hitter has shown he can make up for slumps quickly and completely.

Besides, some players are just that way; they slump and struggle and look like chumps, and then voila! They play like MVPs for a series or a week. And then it's back to slumping. It can be maddening, it can make you say weird symbols. But as long as you keep the big-picture perspective and leave 'em be, they'll pay off in the end. In essence, you just have to think about fast food and "Family Guy" when you're getting that zap.

That said, it doesn't hurt to know who those hitters are. Here are 10 players I've found to be the most frustrating to own this season, for inconsistency alone (not injury):

Nick Swisher
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesNick Swisher seems to be one of the few Yankees hitters who doesn't thrive in the new Yankee Stadium.
Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees: Seems he's battling overexposure on my television for a whole week, and then I forget he's even in the league for about three weeks. Witness that he hit .312 in April, .150 in May and is hitting .306 in June. And in case you think that's a mirage, consider that in 2008 he sandwiched a .315 June with a .176 May and a .193 July. This streakiness is so pronounced that mixed leaguers can probably leave him on their bench until there are signs of a heat-up.

Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays: Yeah, I can see his owners nodding their heads right now. You know the guy can go through some mean dry spells. I mean, the guy is hitting .303, and nearly a third of his games have been oh-fers (he's a combined 0-for-75 in 21 of his 64 games). But when he's on, he's on. He has had a six-RBI game this season, a five-RBI game and two four-RBI games, which means he has accounted for 19 of his 46 RBIs in just three of his 64 games. Guess you just have to wait for the big games.

Ian Stewart, 3B, Rockies: You know I love the guy, but maybe it's because I've seen too many of his good ones. In nine select games this season, totaling 34 at-bats, Stewart has 10 homers and 28 RBIs. In the other 51 games and 127 at-bats, he has two homers and six RBIs. What's worse, he has sprinkled these games in every 10 days or so -- they're not all in a consistent block -- just to tease us. Oh well, what you can expect from a guy who hit .432 last July, and then hit .139 in September.

Pedro Feliz, 3B, Phillies: He has long been known for going quiet for weeks at a time, then having a hot week. What's frustrating with him -- what has always been frustrating with him -- is that you don't have an inkling when the hot week will come. Even his road/home splits have been very close since he joined the Phils. In this case, his streakiness might make him unownable.

Hunter Pence, OF, Astros: His month-by-month averages in 2008: .260-.346-.200-.294-.223.-302. His month-by-month averages in 2009: .282-.388-.229. My response: (Shrugging my shoulders).

Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: Uggla is the epitome of inconsistency, as his owners know. And his slumps tend to drag on and on. You don't know when he'll heat up because last year he hit righties much better than lefties and hit slightly better on the road than at home, but this year those splits have reversed completely. Yet consider this: In his first three big league seasons, Uggla's year-by-year homers have gone 27-31-32, and his year-by-year RBIs have gone 90-88-92. Deal with the slumps, OK?

Jack Cust
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireAs long as Jack Cust hits homers, whatever he does in terms of batting average is somewhat irrelevant.
Jack Cust, DH/OF, A's: From May 24 to June 13 this season, Cust went 9-for-61. Awful, right? Well, he also hit .333 in the first half of May. Last May, he hit .303 after hitting .188 in April. But average isn't the story with Cust; it's his power. And that has been surprisingly consistent; he has hit his 11 homers in eight different fantasy weeks. I'm not a Cust fan, but he has hit a combined 70 homers over the past two years and 2 1/2 months.

Bengie Molina, C, Giants: He already has had a .329 April and a .200 May (and he's back over .300 in June), and that matches his 2008 inconsistency. In fact, he went almost two months without a homer last season and still ended up with 16. But look at those year-by-year numbers, and you see a lot of consistency.

Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: The batting average has remained semi-consistent, but the homers come and go. For instance, he hit just one in May and has hit six already this month. He went more than a month without a homer last season, but still finished with 20. And finally, I'll note that 14 of his 37 RBIs this season have come in just three games. He has played 58 games. But when the matchup is right with this guy, he can blow up.

Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: Do I even need to say anything here? I mean, his owners know the guy can be flammable then frigid. In fact, in his past nine months of baseball, he has hit between .225 and .300 in just three of those months. In the other six, he has been better than .300 or below .225. But if you're forced to guess when he'll slump, I'd have to say it would be during a week on the road in which he faces a lot of lefties.

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

Fortunes Rising

Casey McGehee, 2B/3B, Brewers: He's finally getting a chance to play regularly -- or was, before he suffered a knee/ankle injury that will set him down for a few more days -- and he's doing his part, hitting .338. But expecting this hot hitting to continue is unreasonable. The 26-year-old rookie has never hit above .300 in the minors. In fact, he's a career .279 hitter down there, and he's a big-college kid, so it's not like that included a bunch of developmental years. Also not good: He has just seven steals in 698 minor league games. Ken Macha told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he's not ready to commit to McGehee, and you shouldn't be, either.

Tony Gwynn Jr., OF, Padres: I have to say it warmed my heart to hear Tony Gwynn Sr. in the broadcast booth the other day talking about his son, who has been playing well for the home-town team. After all, it's almost Father's Day, and I'm a father. "Lil' Tony" has hit .316 since joining the Padres ... but this is not a story that will end well for fantasy owners. He has just two RBIs in 76 at-bats, and just two steals (with three times caught). In other words, he's batting average-dependent, and he's no .300 hitter like Big Tony.

Juan Rivera, OF, Angels: It's not that he was fat before, but it looks to me like Rivera is in much better baseball shape this season. He looks more agile, flexible. Hmm, wonder if that's as simple as him getting, um, a little more exercise each day. He already has 212 at-bats after having 256 all last season. The Angels have given him an everyday job again, and he's doing something with it. And everything I see of him leads me to believe it's for real. Remember, he went for .310-23-85 in 2006 before breaking his leg, and he just turned 31, hardly an age in which a decline can be expected. He should be owned in a lot more than 14.2 percent of leagues.

Fortunes Falling

Alfonso Soriano, 2B, Cubs: Just have to vent for a moment: Would the Cubs just put this guy on the DL already and get him right? He has hit .146 in the past 30 days, and is clearly not himself. He's even playing terrible defense. His mind is on his knee (or something else), and not the game. Get him out of there, rest him two weeks and have him work with a trainer and hitting instructor, and plug him back in. OK, thanks for listening.

Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels: Sigh, another guy I fear is playing at well less than 100 percent, and it's very much showing in his numbers. Those of you who don't own him might not realize he has just one homer this season, and it came way back on April 12. He bounced back from an injury (torn pectoral muscle) that might have ended some players' seasons, and he did it quicker than expected. But it should mean something that he still can't play the field. Yet there he is at the dish, and to me he looks "stiff," unable to get the bat head on most of the pitchers' pitches he usually can hit. He's not right, he's not Vlad, and I don't see him being Vlad 'til at least August, and maybe even not for the remainder of the season.

Pickups of the Week

Mixed: Scott Podsednik, OF, White Sox. Like him or not, he's looking like the Pods of old, batting .315 with nine steals in 41 games. To put that in perspective, he has the same number of steals as Hanley Ramirez even though he has 75 fewer at-bats.

AL-only: Gabe Kapler, OF, Rays. Not only is he hot, but he specializes in hitting lefties, and the Rays are set to face plenty of lefty starters in the next couple of weeks, if rotations stay as they are now.

NL-only: Matt Downs, 2B, Giants. He was hitting .288 at Triple-A and should get decent playing time with the G-men after Emmanuel Burriss was sent to the minors.

Position Watch

Twins outfield: Good news and bad news for those owners of Twins outfielders not named Denard Span (who has been placed on the DL). The good news: The team no longer has an "odd man out" with Span on the DL. The bad: The team plays in NL parks all next week. From my perspective, Michael Cuddyer will play every day next week, and so will Carlos Gomez, who is the team's lone true center fielder (Cuddyer has played a few games there, but he is, um, not a restaurant-quality center fielder), leaving Kubel and Delmon Young to platoon in left field. Sound familiar? And by the time the team returns home, Span should be close to returning. Bottom line is, neither Young nor Kubel gains much by Span's absence beyond this week.

Angels second base: I love Mike Scioscia as a manager, both in real baseball and for fantasy purposes. He's honest, fairly predictable, straightforward (for a manager) ... but he's also slow to turn over the reins to prospects, preferring instead to see what veterans, even journeymen, can do before doing so. Tony La Russa is also like this. Unfortunately, that means Sean Rodriguez can't be counted on to be the everyday starter at second base; Maicer Izturis is still very much part of the mix. Sure, I want to see what Rodriguez can do just like everyone else, but he shouldn't be picked up in a standard mixed league, regardless of how dominant he was at Triple-A, until it's assured that he'll get everyday playing time.

Lineup Card

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres: Kouzmanoff usually turns it on about this time of year, but he has been a little slower to get it going in 2009. Part of that, I feel, is because he is now hitting sixth instead of hitting fourth or fifth like he did much of last season, and he's hitting with nobody on base. In fact, the Padres' fifth hole has accumulated a major league-low .288 OBP, and Kouz has had runners in scoring position in just 63 of his 232 at-bats this season. He also has just nine runs in 133 at-bats out of that No. 6 hole.

Orlando Cabrera, SS, A's: O-Cab has been removed from Oakland's leadoff spot and moved to either sixth or seventh, but here is one of those rare cases that I actually think it'll help him. Cabrera is not a good fit as a leadoff hitter; he's a free swinger who can hit the ball hard early in counts. Part of the leadoff hitter's job is taking pitches to work walks and help the middle-of-the-lineup hitters (the big boys get to see more pitches, and have a better chance at facing a tired pitcher during an inning). O-Cab has more freedom to be who he really is in the sixth or seventh holes, and I think it actually will kick start him, maybe even to mixed-league status.

On the farm

Jordan Schafer, OF, Braves: According to MLB.com, Schafer felt a "pop" in his hand while swinging last week, and will miss at least another week because of what the organization is calling a bone bruise. Then again, since the team's trade of Nate McLouth, Schafer hasn't been quite so prominent on keeper owners' radar.

Final thoughts

I find that trade offers/discussions result in a trade only about 20 percent of the time. But in another 20 percent of cases, the trade actually happens down the road. This is the time of year to "check in" with other owners and open the trade lines. You can be stingy because it's still early, but you might as well let your fellow owners know which of his players you're interested in, or bring up a category weakness you might be able to address. It might end up being nothing, but at least you've opened the door for a future deal. Owners remember when a league mate has come after one of his guys, and if he decides he wants to deal that player, you're likely to be the first guy he calls.

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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