Fatigue factor


When we talk about fatigue and overuse, why is it we rarely talk about hitters?

You know: The guys who swing with a lot of torque several times a day; dive after ground balls or fly balls; run hard in a single direction without focusing on where they're running (because they're mostly watching the ball) or run full speed while also turning; get hit, sometimes on bones or joints, by 90 mph fastballs; play in extreme heat or cold, rainy weather … the guys who play every day, and all game, rather than just some of them …

Take it from Barry Bonds, of all people. Some seven to eight years ago I was there when "Mr. Bonds" was gimping around the clubhouse right around early August, actually in a semi-jovial mood. An established vet -- can't remember for sure, but I'm pretty sure it was Rich Aurilia -- joked with Barry about looking like an old man walking around. And Aurilia was right; Barry had his ankles wrapped, had a couple of bags of ice for his knees and looked like he was walking on eggshells.

Barry's response went something like this: "Hey, man, you try running the bases two to three times every night."

Vintage Barry Bonds, mixing fact with insult. Bonds led the majors with an amazing .582 OBP in that season (2002), while Aurilia posted an unimpressive .305 OBP.

How Bonds remained in the lineup despite all the aches and pains is widely argued, but his point is valid: The more you play, the more times you get on base; the more times you get on base, the bigger the toll is on your body; the bigger the toll, the greater the chance those injuries or even fatigue will add up.

Baseball is a lot more tiring than we give it credit for, if for no other reason than it has long periods of relative inactivity followed by intermittent short, intense bursts of muscle and energy. And position players hit the field often at less than 100 percent. It stands to reason that over the course of 162 games plus spring training, ballplayers are going to get hurt if (A) not properly conditioned; (B) not properly rested; (C) simply don't have luck on their side; and/or (D) they push their body past a fatigue threshold.

And though many owners don't, I actually consider fatigue when trading for or picking up hitters this time of year.

Fatigue can manifest itself in many ways. It can lead to numerous minor strains of the day-to-day variety (like what happened to Gary Sheffield's hammy over the weekend). It can lead to general soreness that can quietly affect hitting. It can leave the body more susceptible to major strains. It could lead to more errors defensively, which affects playing time. Or it could be as simple as a player not stealing as many bases because his legs don't feel right.

So what do I look for? Two things: Hitters getting way more plate appearances than they ever have before, and/or those hitters getting on base way more often than previously. Baseball is a long season, and few players are conditioned to handle playing 150-plus games on defense (I'm not worried about DHs so much), especially at a demanding position, along with getting on base some 250-plus times in a given season.

If they've done it before, then I believe they can do it again. If they haven't, then I'm concerned. And here are a handful of players I'm concerned about until proven otherwise:

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers: That's right, Mr. Top 10 himself. Kinsler has never played more than 131 games or had more than 530 at-bats in a season in the majors or minors, and he's now on pace for 160 games and 659 at-bats. Oh, and he's on pace to reach safely more than 230 times this season. And he's a middle infielder. I could see his power numbers dwindle like his average already has.

Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: Wells was once known as a durable player, but hamstring problems have bit him as late as this spring training, yet he's in the top 15 in the majors in at-bats. That's a lot of running around in that outfield, and I could see a hamstring injury resurfacing.

Orlando Hudson, 2B, Dodgers: Hasn't been the most durable in recent seasons, and is on pace for a career-high 629 at-bats.

Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays: Most at-bats in a pro season: 515. At-bats pace for the Jays right now: 625. Times on base via a hit, walk or HBP already this season: 196. But working to his advantage is that he DHs in most games.

Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals and Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: Both center fielders are in excellent condition, but they're also abusing their bodies somewhat by getting on base more than their bodies are used to and stealing a ton of bases, slides and all.

Mark Reynolds, 3B/1B, D-backs: On pace for 599 at-bats, Reynolds has never had more than 539 in a season. And that was last year, and he wore down in September. Might want to sell high while you still can.

Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: I brought up these warning signs months ago, actually. He's on pace to shatter his at-bats mark by 141, and though he has slowed mightily, he's on pace to reach base 84 more times than last season. No wonder he already has reported a few minor leg tweaks.

Justin Upton, OF, D-backs: Any 21-year-old on pace for 600 at-bats likely will make this list.

Alexei Ramirez, SS/2B, White Sox: Wore down last September, hitting .211. This year he's on pace to have 100-plus more at-bats.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B/1B, Giants: Getting on base at a .375 clip, and there's a reason they call him Kung Fu Panda (he's not the picture of slimness, if you didn't catch my drift). But at least he's not catching.

Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals: I'm on record as saying he'll actually stay healthy, but that 576-AB pace looks daunting to even me.

Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels: I don't know about his workload in Cuba, but he's 25 now and has been in the States since he was 21. On pace for 572 at-bats, some 170-plus more than his previous professional high.

Juan Rivera, OF, Angels: Seems like much of his career he wasn't good enough to play every day. Seems just like yesterday he broke his leg over the winter (it was actually just before 2007). Seems like he's carrying around 230-plus pounds in that outfield. Seems like he's on pace for 568 at-bats … oh, he reported a hamstring injury earlier this week. I rest my case.

Others to consider: Scott Rolen, 3B, Blue Jays; Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pirates; Marlon Byrd, OF, Rangers; Russell Branyan, 1B, Mariners; Ben Zobrist, IF/OF, Rays; Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies; Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals.

Fortunes rising

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds: Another one of those cases where ugly season stats overshadow the progress a hitter is making, because I like what Encarnacion has been doing of late. He's hitting .308 in July and .381 since the All-Star break, but what I like most is that his walk percentage has climbed this season. He looks like he's dialed in again, and only this streaky hitter can be. It's time to buy in the 46 percent of leagues in which he's still available.

Miguel Montero, C, D-backs: See? See what happens when a team finally gives a prospect a regular starting spot instead of making him the platooned backup? Montero is hitting .379 with five homers in July. The former prospect was supposed to do this two years ago, but has always been stuck behind the now-injured Chris Snyder. Speaking of which, Snyder is due back soon, but I think Montero has hit well enough to remain the top dog. And he's a perfect second catcher in mixed leagues.

Jeff Francoeur, OF, Mets: Sometimes leaving home focuses players, and I think that's what'll happen with Frenchy, now out of his hometown and playing for the Mets. He's already hitting .324 for New York, and really hasn't even had the lineup support he could have with such players as Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran out. He's the same player we loved in 2007; he just was crumbling under the pressure of being a young leader on a Braves franchise needing to make a transition. In New York, much of that pressure falls to Wright (and Reyes, when healthy). Able to relax and swing away, Francoeur can become a .290-20-85 hitter again, in my mind.

Fortunes falling

Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros: Don't know about you, but I have a bad feeling about his calf injury. He's noticeably hurting, and told reporters he had been playing through the injury for days before finally sitting out. When asked why, the Big Puma told the Houston Chronicle, "If I don't play when I've got bumps and bruises, I won't play many games." He's trying to rest it and see how it goes, but I think this bump or bruise will either nag him for weeks or land him on the DL. I'm almost hoping for the latter.

Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: Speaking of hurting, it appears Ankiel just isn't right. And I'm not just saying that because he's hitting .218 overall, or .128 in July. Now it's his shoulder, according to the Cardinals' Web site, and I can tell it in his swing every once in awhile. It's also not a good sign that Ankiel is pressing, and pitchers are taking advantage of that. You see, Ankiel is one of the most aggressive hitters in baseball on the first pitch -- he swings at 41.8 percent of them; league average is 26.2 -- and I can see opposing pitchers intentionally giving him something that looks good but is not a hitter's pitch. Sure, they risk throwing a ball, but they also get him to hit them for outs, too. His first-pitch batting average is .283, while the major league average is .329. But do yourself a favor and tag this guy as a sleeper next year. He's still only 30, and still has 30-homer power.

Mark DeRosa, 3B/OF, Cardinals: Another Cardinal, and another one who is playing injured. DeRosa needs surgery on the torn tendon sheath in his wrist, period. Because of his impending free-agent status and concern that the Cardinals should get something for their trade of him, he's playing through pain. But I think that can last only so long, or at least he can succeed only so long. The clock is ticking until he eventually succumbs to the pain or hits poorly because of it. If your trade deadline hasn't passed, you DeRosa owners might want to wait for a couple of two-hit games, then deal him for about anything you can get.

Pickups of the week

Mixed: Garrett Jones, OF, Pirates. Obvious? Yeah. Unowned in more than 80 percent of ESPN standard leagues? Yeah. What are we waiting for, another nine homers in 67 at-bats?

AL-only: Daric Barton, 1B, A's. Still has plenty of upside, and likely will get a lot of at-bats with Jason Giambi out. He's still only 23 years old.

NL-only: Troy Glaus, 3B, Cardinals. He's reportedly getting closer to returning … might as well see if he's available.

Stat talk

Dexter Fowler is an enigma in many ways. I mean, he's a 6-foot-4 base-stealer (tied for seventh in the majors with 23 steals), and there aren't many of those. But the biggest thing I've been impressed with is his patience at the plate. While he's got a bunch of strikeouts, which likely will keep his batting average down in the .250-.270 range, he's also drawing walks. With 49 bases on balls, he's in the top 30 in the majors, and has more than such players as Ryan Howard, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez. And his walks pace has actually been improving greatly since the beginning of the season (he has 15 in 70 plate appearances in July). So why is this important? Because it means a respectable OBP even when he's not hitting well. In essence, he can steal first base, as the saying goes, giving him more chances to steal second. Thus his steals should remain consistent, unlike streakier hitters.

Ballpark watch

Would you believe the mighty Philadelphia Phillies have actually hit better on the road than in their supposed hitters' haven of a home park? Phillies fans know all too well the team is an even .500 at home (24-24), while they're a sterling 29-15 on the road. But the team also has a higher batting average, more runs per game and more homers per game on the road than at Citizens Bank Park. In fact, while Raul Ibanez has taken plenty of advantage of his home park, he actually has hit 36 points better and five more homers on the road than at home. The Phillies' hitters are to be feared just as much on the road as at home.

Points watch

It doesn't always play out this way, but I love to break down a moderate sample size from a whole-season perspective just to see how effective a player has been. And Andrew McCutchen has been incredible in that respect. He has 179 at-bats in 42 games since being called up, having played in every game. So let's roll his numbers out to, say, 154 games, just to account for a day off here and there. Considering the numbers he has posted thus far, we're talking about a .296-11-88 season, with 103 runs, 33 steals, a respectable 48 walks and even 37 doubles and 18 triples. Now that's a pretty complete stat line.

Position watch

The original guess was that Garrett Jones would slide over to first base to replace Adam LaRoche after he was traded Wednesday. Now, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is that Steve Pearce has been recalled and will get every-day at-bats. Not that he's guaranteed them if he starts slowly, but the Pirates are in an all-out youth movement, and Pearce has earned an every-day shot. So I applaud their efforts, and I'd pick up Pearce in anything resembling a deep league. I would have loved to see Lastings Milledge, too, but GM Neal Huntington told the Post-Gazette that the team does not expect to call him up soon.

On the docket

OK, so you don't like the Royals' offense. Well, you're about to like it a lot less starting next Monday. The Royals begin a stretch in which they play 17 of 23 games on the road, where the team is hitting 27 points worse than at home. Players who lose value and their splits: Billy Butler (.247-2-14 in 154 road at-bats), Alberto Callaspo (batting average 47 points worse on the road than at home) and David DeJesus (.222 average on the road).

On the farm

Jesus Montero, C, Yankees: Given his size (6-4 and at least 225 pounds) and raw hitting skills, Montero is already being compared to Mike Piazza in some circles. Of course, that has meant opposing teams are salivating over him, especially since he's still only 19 years old. But the word is the Yankees consider him nearly untouchable in trade talks. It doesn't matter much where he breaks in to fantasy owners … as long as he's a catcher. There's already talk of him being a future DH. Montero hit .356 in the Class A Florida State League and has shown pop and a .300 average since being moved to Double-A.

Final thoughts

For some odd reason, I've had a lot of trouble at second base on a number of my teams this season. Not sure why that is, other than a few of my sleepers there didn't pan out. Nevertheless, I so wish there could be a groundswell of support for my idea of having a "left side of infield" (LIF) and "a right side of infield (RIF) instead of corner infielder and middle infielder. It's just not fair that third base and first base share spots, and we're stuck with a sorry option at middle infield. Can't tell you how many times I've been intrigued by a third baseman this season, only to learn I'm pretty much set at corner infield and my utility slot -- and starting someone like Kazuo Matsui at middle infield.

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