Hot starts that won't last
Welcome to the Hit Parade! Your usual Grand Marshal, Tristan H. Cockcroft, is off to parts unknown this week; no truth to the rumors that he's auditioning for "So You Think You Can Dance." Fear not, though, as he's asked me to fill in for him so the parade can continue to march on.
Before he left to, shall we say, not strut his stuff for Mia Michaels, Tristan sent me his rankings for the top 100 hitters, which as always are based on each hitter's expected future output, not on how he has done so far in 2010. Whenever you make such a list, you're bound to get some critics: "How on earth can Player X be ranked 10 spots lower than Player Y? He's so much better." Some of the naysayers can be dismissed simply because they don't understand the concept of "from this point forward." Yes, Andre Ethier is batting .383 with 10 home runs through Sunday's games. While that success so far certainly might be a reason his ranking in the top 100 has risen by five spots in this week's list, it doesn't mean he should be ranked in the top 5 going forward. While Ethier is a fine player and should continue to be a valuable fantasy asset for the rest of 2010, it's just not realistic to think he will continue to lead the National League in Triple Crown categories; he's a career .296 hitter whose 31 home runs last season were an 11-homer jump from his previous career high.
But whether or not Ethier will have a better season than last isn't the point. What's important is what Ethier is doing compared to the rest of the league, and for that, we can turn to the Player Rater, where he currently ranks second behind Ryan Braun. But will Ethier finish the season second? It's possible, of course, but it's not likely. What is more likely is that he'll return to hitting somewhere closer to .300 than .400 while threatening the 110 RBI plateau, which is a long way off the 181-RBI pace he's currently on. Hence, we find him 26th in our from-now-on rankings. Respectable, but not necessarily a player who will carry you to the title.
As with any list of "top players so far" compiled in early May, we would expect that by September, much of the cream will have risen to the top and the pretenders will sink to the bottom. Based on the stats so far, it shouldn't be surprising to see Paul Konerko (12) and Kelly Johnson (22) ranked ahead of Hanley Ramirez (34) and Carl Crawford (30). It's also not in the least bit surprising to me that Tristan's top 10 contains both Han-Ram and Crawford, while Konerko and Johnson come in at 71 and 86, respectively. It's all about sustainability and growth, which are two qualities that many of the players currently in the Player Rater top 40 simply do not have.
The trick is figuring out how to put on your best Eliot Ness costume and ferret out these "unsustainables." We've done some of the leg work for you and present to you now our Most Unwanted List for the rest of the season.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (Player Rater Rank: 13): The outfielder's true value is that of his speed, which doesn't help him if he's not making contact with the ball. His high strikeout rate of 18.3 percent is disturbing, as he doesn't hit. Of more concern is his .375 batting average on balls in play, some of which might be explained away as a result of infield hits, if only he were getting them -- he has only three on the season so far. As such, we feel his current batting average is due for a severe decline. If he can compensate for some of that by making more contact and upping his on-base percentage, his speed will keep him contending for top-30 status, but expect his stock to drop anyway.
Alex Gonzalez, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (PRR: 15): Is there anyone who believes Gonzalez will hit close to 40 home runs this season? That's the only justification for sticking with the otherwise light-hitting shortstop. His isolated power number (which is slugging percentage minus batting average) is .328 (compared to the league average of .149), and Gonzalez has never been over .200 in his career, which started back in 1998. This isn't a young player coming into his own. This is a veteran who has gotten extremely lucky with fly balls sailing over the fence at two and a half times the rate they were the past three seasons.
Chase Headley, 3B/OF, San Diego Padres (PRR: 21): Headley's BABIP always has been high, but .388 is a bit too lofty even for his .340 career standards. Plus, in the past, his average has been closer to .265 than .325 with similar levels of "luck" on his side. Headley is certainly at the right point of his career to expect a jump in his overall numbers, and in his case, a strikeout rate of 20.3 percent is actually an improvement, but nearly all of his hits this season are of the one-base variety. For the Padres, that's fine, but for fantasy owners, that's not exactly what you're looking for, especially from a third baseman. The speed is a nice bonus, and while Headley has yet to be caught, his next steal will tie last season's total and he never ran much in the minors.
Shane Victorino, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (PRR: 32): How impatient has Victorino been at the plate in 2010? He doubled his walk total for the season with three walks in Monday night's game. That's a big part of why his OBP of .295 looks so much like a batting average. Add to that the 14.0 percent HR/FB ratio -- compared to 7.4 percent for his career -- and you'll see that his power numbers are a bit of a mirage as well. As the batting average rises, we expect the home runs to give, resulting in a net value loss.
TOP 100 HITTERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 100 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers (PRR: 40): What to make of Weeks? He strikes out an awful lot (29.0 percent so far in 2010), but that's always been the case. His five home runs are a likely fluke, since he's not hitting the ball in the air (only 28.4 percent fly balls) and yet nearly one in five is finding its way over the wall. In short, apart from a lucky month in terms of the longball, there's absolutely nothing to indicate this year's version of Rickie Weeks -- even a healthy one -- is any different from past seasons. As such, why would anyone expect any different results?
Alex Rios, OF, Chicago White Sox: In addition to being at No. 9 on the Player Rater, Rios continues to wield a hot bat, hitting .464 so far in May, with three home runs and eight RBIs. That power comes after a week in late April when he seemingly out of the blue decided to steal six bases. Right now, at least, it appears Rios can do no wrong.
David Wright, 3B, New York Mets: Don't panic! Every hitter goes through a rough patch at some point in the season. Just because of Wright's recent run of nine straight strikeouts, you shouldn't run scared. Even with that whiff-fest, he's still hitting .347 since April 27, and that rises to .425 if you choose to ignore any long-lasting effects of the string of K's, which we most certainly do.
Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers: Now we're talking. Elvis might have left the building, but he hasn't left the basepaths, with six stolen bases in the month of May so far. His OBP is .457 for the month, and he's in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak. Those who remained patient with Andrus after his average dropped to .246 in late April are now reaping the rewards.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Chicago Cubs: Byrd has reached base safely in 12 straight games and risen to No. 10 on the Player Rater. What's impressive about Byrd this season isn't just that he's hitting .344, but that in nearly half of his starts (14 of 30) he's had multiple-hit games for a team on which everyone in the starting lineup has double-digit RBIs, so there's little chance of him being pitched around going forward.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago Cubs: If this were a limbo contest, we'd be right there with Ramirez. We're still trying to figure out how a player can reach base safely in 14 of 15 games and manage to raise his batting average to .only 163 on the year. Throw in only one extra-base hit since April 18, and you've got your own personal Titanic.
Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays: This one might be a bit of a surprise. After all, Zobrist is hitting .333 so far in May (11-for-33), so what's the concern? For one, we're looking at only one extra-base hit in his past 15 games. Secondly, his BABIP currently stands at .337 -- the highest it has been in his career -- and yet, his overall batting average is a measly .267. Plus, he still hasn't hit his first home run of the year.
Adam Lind, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Lind is bound to rebound a bit from his current disastrous slide: a 3-for-40 month of May thus far. He's always been a better hitter at home than on the road, and much of this recent futility has been in the United States. Still, that .305 batting average from 2009 is looking more and more unreplicable with every at-bat.
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Minnesota Twins: Since his batting average reached .344 on April 21, it's been a slow and steady decline, as Cuddyer has managed just a .232 since. He's already second in the AL, having grounded into nine double plays, and his batting average with runners in scoring position is .256, down 22 points from his career total. Right now, we're considering a name change to "Couldn't"-dyer.
Pickups of the week
Mixed: Austin Kearns, OF, Cleveland Indians. Yes, we're talking about the same Austin Kearns who hit a pitiful .217 in 2008 and an even sadder .195 in 2009 during an injury-riddled run of seasons with the Washington Nationals. But in case you hadn't noticed -- and judging by the 17.9 ownership rate, most of you haven't -- he's in Cleveland now, healthy and hitting .338 on the season. With 14 RBIs over the past 13 games, go ahead and grab him. Just be sure to be gentle about it.
AL-only: Mike Aviles, 2B, Kansas City Royals. Aviles is back from Triple-A Omaha and has hit .417 with a pair of solo shots since his return. The arm is still not strong enough for him to play shortstop just yet after last year's elbow surgery, but that works out just fine since second baseman Chris Getz is struggling with the bat, hitting just .192 on the season. If this trend continues, Aviles could well be on his way to a full-time job.
NL-only: Jim Edmonds, OF, Milwaukee Brewers. Edmonds has struck out 11 times in 19 at-bats since May 5, but he's starting the get his timing back and has scored four runs in his past four starts. With Carlos Gomez on the DL with a strained rotator cuff, Edmonds should be getting to the plate quite often this week. He's worth the pickup in deeper leagues, if only for the chance at a few home runs. That is, of course, all assuming that Starlin Castro of the Chicago Cubs was already snatched up off the waiver wire as quickly as tends to happen to most hot rookies.
New position qualifiers
One game: Brandon Hicks (3B), Eric Hinske (OF), Paul Janish (2B), Geoff Blum (2B), Mitch Maier (1B), Mike Aviles (2B), Kevin Frandsen (3B), Kevin Russo (3B), Placido Polanco (2B), Matt Stairs (1B), Pablo Sandoval (1B), Ryan Langerhans (1B), Mike McCoy (3B) and Jose Bautista (1B).