- Brendan Roberts, Fantasy
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I'm not sure we can appreciate how taxing 155-plus major league baseball games -- plus workouts, spring-training games and in some cases playoff games -- can be on the body.
That's a lot of slides and dives, a lot of mighty cuts and lunges, a lot of full-out running on cold or wet outfields or basepaths, a lot of days playing in extreme heat with little airflow on the field, a lot of all-out throws, a lot of foul balls and hit-by-pitches and ground balls off wrists, a lot of playing at less than 100 percent. I can say that I played 56 spring games and 35 summer games one year in college, and I felt like toast in September. And, mind you, I wasn't a base-stealer, middle infielder or catcher.
Wear is residual. I remember one John Madden NFL broadcast a few years ago in which he was analyzing a quarterback who was on pace to set the most-times-sacked record. The graphic was put up showing the current sack numbers and the pace, with a line for the current record. But Madden predicted he wouldn't break the record, noting that once he gets to a certain point -- he circled the approximate point on the Telestrator -- he was at great risk of either being pulled or leaving with an injury because of the residual wear and punishment he had received. Sure enough, that guy got to about Madden's predicted point a few games later, and was sidelined with severely bruised ribs or something like that.
The same can happen in baseball when a player is on pace to shatter his typical number of games played in a season or has past injuries that are residually building into more of a factor. That's especially true if said player is reaching base (and thus running them) a lot more than normal, playing the field more, playing at a more rigorous position, etc. Look at Carlos Beltran, who was battling knee pain and playing center field and getting on base 42.5 percent of the time and even stealing bases. Eventually, the residual knee pain caught up to him. And you have to remember, we don't hear about every little nick or muscle pull like you might think. Few players out there are 100 percent; they're varying degrees closer to a hamstring strain or groin pull.
For that reason, I think games played can be predictable, just like any other statistic. Maybe not so much with a younger player who's trying to establish himself in the league, but when a veteran is on pace to shatter a mark he hasn't reached in many seasons, if at all, I do have concerns.
Should I? Maybe not, but I have to admit it comes into play when considering a big trade. I mean, J.D. Drew and Nick Johnson have remained fairly healthy, and Vernon Wells' hamstring has remained intact, and Rafael Furcal hasn't reported any back problems, but when they're offered to me, I can't help but let those concerns enter my head. I'll bet you're the same. It takes more than a half-season to erase injury or wear concerns. I don't know the specific injury or result of wear, only that history has shown something will happen.
And so, with that, here are the hitters whose games played look good for now, but I'm still concerned about them either missing time or suffering a drop in performance because of residual wear:
Concerned about injury (and games pace right now)
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays (pace: 162 games): Has battled a hamstring injury the past two years, including a significant strain in spring training. What has he done since returning from it just before the season? Played in every game, that's what. And about half of those games on turf.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays (161 games): His finger injury in '08 was rather freakish, but he had dropped in games played the two seasons before that as well. He's a mega-base stealer with a lot of wear and tear (he was patrolling the Rays' outfield by the time he was 21).
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (153 games): Need I say more?
Jason Giambi 1B, A's (159 games): Already has admitted to being fatigued multiple times.
Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals (161 games): Although I have a sneaking suspicion he'll stay healthy this season, there's not much historical evidence to back that.
Johnny Damon, OF, Yankees (158 games): He quietly has been banged up all season, including his recent calf injury. Only a matter of time before one of those injuries extends beyond day-to-day.
Orlando Hudson, 2B, Dodgers (161 games): Has been a full-time starter for six seasons and has played in more than 142 games in a season just once.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers (154 games): His back injury was debilitating last season, and manager Joe Torre said before the season he'd give Furcal regular days off. So far, it hasn't really happened.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (153 games): I had to chuckle a few weeks ago when Chipper provided a walk-off hit against the Cubs, then ran for safety when his teammates mobbed him from the dugout.
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies (157 games): Tick, tick, tick
Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pirates (159 games): He could barely play in spring training because of a lingering back injury, and now he's on pace for 159 games?
Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (151 games): The more the Mets rely on him, and they kinda have to, the greater the chance of him getting hurt. And there's no DH role for him to recoup in any more this season for the Mets.
Scott Rolen, 3B, Blue Jays (151 games): Hasn't played in 150-plus games in a season since 2003.
Hideki Matsui, OF, Yankees (155 games): No way his body could stand up to 155 games, even at DH. Anybody who has seen him in the clubhouse with both knees double-wrapped with ice after games would probably agree.
Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels (161 games): Played in 115 and 116 games, respectively, the past two seasons.
Concerned about fatigue/drop in performance
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers (161 games): His injuries have been of the freakish nature, but he still hasn't played more than 130 games in a season.
Michael Bourn, OF, Astros (162 games): I just see a little wear hitting his little frame already. He has had 31 steal attempts, he's doing more in the outfield (in terms of total chances), and his OBP is almost 90 points higher than it was last season. I wouldn't be shocked to see a minor leg tweak or two pop up in the second half.
Nyjer Morgan, OF, Pirates (157 games): The most games he has played in a season, majors or minors, is 117. As it is, his batting average has dropped each month of the season.
Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers (152 games): Same as Morgan, except his season high is 118, and he's in a "maximum-effort" position.
There ya have it. Most of the above have had better seasons than expected, if for no other reason than they've just had more of a season. Take that into account in your evaluation.
Jose Lopez, 2B, Mariners: He's still under the radar, but Lopez has been playing up to preseason expectations in June, batting .309 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 55 at-bats. He's now back on pace for 25 homers and 103 RBIs. Granted, he won't win you any points leagues (he hasn't walked once in June, for one), but he's simply following a pattern of having a subpar first two months and then turning it on. Now would be the time to get him, if it's not too late.
Seth Smith, OF, Rockies: It's tough to ignore what Smith has done of late, hitting .417 in June. Even Rockies manager Jim Tracy intimated that to the team Web site recently. The team is hot, and I don't think it is tied to keeping Carlos Gonzalez in the majors once interleague play is complete (which is Sunday), nor is it tied to starting Dexter Fowler every day. Instead, I could see the Rockies turning back to Smith, an Opening Day starter, as an every-day player. Beginning next Friday, the Rox play 16 of 20 games at favorable Coors Field, a place where Smith has hit .375, so grabbing him for those games might not be a bad idea, even in shallow mixed leagues.
Matt Wieters, C, Orioles: The phenom has been very underwhelming thus far, so I decided to dive into possible reasons why, and found little more than typical rookie struggles. A source in Baltimore told me the guy's appetite for learning has been insatiable. He has been asking questions and hitting the video room hard, and even showing good composure and cool despite struggling. What hasn't helped is that the O's have played nothing but interleague games since June 12, and the scouting info tends not to be as strong for interleague matchups. Also, Wieters has yet to see a team for a second series this season, so about every pitcher he has faced he's seeing for the first time. Unfortunately, he doesn't start facing teams for a second time until about the end of July, so he might continue to struggle, comparatively speaking, till then.
Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: Another slumping hitter I have hope for. Ludwick is mired in a terrible slump (he's hitting just .177 since the April 26), but I've made it a point to watch him closely both on TV and in person, and I don't dislike what I'm seeing. His swings still look good: He's not overstriding, overswinging or chasing too many bad pitches. His timing is just off. He's seems a little ahead of the offspeed pitches and a little behind fastballs, fouling them straight back instead of lining them to right-center. And he has hit a lot of balls hard that were caught, too. Timing issues are much easier to correct -- unless it's caused by decreased bat speed, which isn't the case here -- and I think Ludwick will come roaring back to fantasy relevance, and in a big way, very soon.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Twins: For those of you who think Delmon Young takes the biggest hit when Denard Span returns from the DL, think again. The early word is Gomez, the all-glove, no-hit center fielder, will be the odd man out most days, with Span manning center field.
Pickups of the week
Mixed: Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals; Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B, Indians. Just a couple of guys to check on if you play in an ESPN standard mixed league. Both are expected back soon, and both are available in about half of ESPN standard leagues.
AL-only: Mark Ellis, 2B, A's. Another guy due back soon who could help AL-only teams if he shows the double-digit-homer power he's capable of. He has a season to erase.
NL-only: Chad Tracy, 1B, D-backs. Likely won't return till midway through next week, but he's a career .281 hitter with double-digit-homer power when healthy, and still should have at-bats available to him.
I wouldn't say I'm concerned about it, but lefty hitter Nick Markakis has been mighty susceptible to lefties this season, with just a .243 average, .291 OBP and a .308 slugging line against them this season. He never has hit lefties better than righties, but part of what has made him elite is because he hits both sides for both average and power. That hasn't been the case to this point, and while he faced lefties in just 32 percent of his at-bats last season, he has faced them in almost 39 percent of them this season.
I'm starting to get concerned about U.S. Cellular Field. As in, I just can't figure out why teams aren't scoring there. It used to be such a staple for runs and homers for fantasy owners over the years, but it currently ranks 29th in the majors on our Park Factors page in the runs scored index. It still has been slightly favorable for homers, but not near to the levels it was before. But the most alarming part is the White Sox have hit just .217 there as a team (versus .280 on the road). There are no trends to support this, meaning we either have a 2½-month fluke here, or the winds on the south side of Chicago have changed.
Ryan Garko, Indians: Garko has definitely been the odd man out at NL parks the past week, but there is one benefit: When he has been playing, it has been mostly in the outfield. He now has eight games played in the outfield, and by all accounts has accounted for himself well enough to continue earning starts there even back in AL parks (after Thursday's game, the Indians have no more games at NL parks). Outfield qualification adds a little value to him.
On the docket
Washington Nationals: Taking a different tack this week. Beginning on Friday, the lowly Nats play 13 of 16 games on the road. That means little for their hitters, as their team home/road hitting splits are very similar. But it is newsworthy because the team has easily the worst road pitching numbers, including a 5.92 team ERA and .305 batting-average-against. So if you're looking for a sleeper, you might want to check for options on teams the Nats are expected to play. For instance, the Astros have a mighty favorable schedule July 6-12, with three games versus the Pirates and four against the Nats, all at Minute Maid Park.
On the farm
Buster Posey, C, Giants: Saying his name makes me salivate, and not just because it's a fun name to say. Posey is a -- you ready for this? -- offensive-minded catcher. Love those words. And he just might stay at catcher, unlike Pablo Sandoval. Well, Class A is simply too easy for this first-round pick; he's hitting .328 with 20 doubles, 11 homers and 48 RBIs and even six steals in 66 games, and Giants GM Brian Sabean talked recently about jumping him all the way up to Triple-A in order to have him catch ex-major leaguers. Well, that would put him a hot streak or major league injury away from a call-up. (Drool.)
Unless you're in a deep (deep-mixed, AL-only, NL-only) or daily-transaction league, don't mess with platoons. It's OK if you have the platoon guy who's playing more than two-thirds of the time, but don't waste roster spots having both players (just in case the platoon shifts a different direction). It's just a waste of a roster spot, and that lesser option likely would be available on the free-agent wire if you need him. And guess who will likely know first when the platoon situation changes? You will, 'cause you have the other guy. Just pick one or the other, and if you can't, then just look elsewhere.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.
Brendan Roberts has some concerns about talented but injury-prone veterans playing out a full season, given their load so far.