Hitters on disabled list worth waiting for
Pardon the soliloquy, but considering the volume of significant injuries, this 2010 season could be termed somewhat a Shakespearian tragedy. This has not been an easy year in the health department or for fantasy owners seeking waiver-wire injury replacements, and surely it has been a busy one for team doctors. Heck, I don't think our own Stephania Bell has had a day off since February!
Here's a rundown of the walking wounded -- players who either currently reside on a disabled list or have made a trip there -- who were among the top 100 in average draft position (ADP) this preseason and/or are currently in the top 50 of the Player Rater (PR) rankings for batters.
Shin-Soo Choo (PR: 25th)
Nelson Cruz (60.2 ADP)
Jacoby Ellsbury (21.5 ADP)
Andre Ethier (59.8 ADP, PR: 42nd)
Rafael Furcal (PR: 44th)
Curtis Granderson (52.7 ADP)
Ian Kinsler (27.5 ADP)
Victor Martinez (47.7 ADP)
Kendry Morales (60.6 ADP)
Dustin Pedroia (30.2 ADP, PR: 34th)
Aramis Ramirez (56.3 ADP)
Jose Reyes (PR: 36th)
Brian Roberts (42.8 ADP)
Jimmy Rollins (29.7 ADP)
Grady Sizemore (31.9 ADP)
Troy Tulowitzki (21.6 ADP)
Chase Utley (5.9 ADP)
As always, be sure to check out Stephania's excellent work for detailed analysis and updates on your players' injuries. But with so many notable names currently residing on major-league DLs, it's only natural that fantasy owners are wondering how to approach their own DLs. This is especially true in standard ESPN leagues, where you're permitted just one DL spot. Who do you stash there? Is a Pedroia, Tulowitzki or Utley worth keeping there considering how long they'll be out?
To help those owners -- as well as those in any format when considering things like trades and future roster planning -- the following list ranks all players currently on big-league DLs in terms of greatest value. If I'm deciding who to stash on my DL spot in an ESPN format, this is the order in which I go.
Before we begin, however, a caveat: I tend to shoot for upside. Even six weeks of potential superstar statistics is more valuable to me than, say, 10 of slightly-better-than-league-average performance. In addition, understand that lists like these are perpetually in flux. A week from now, even a seemingly harmless rehabilitation report on a certain player could shuffle the rankings. Finally, don't forget that just because you only get one DL spot, it doesn't mean you can't also use one of your three bench spots on an injured player. For a few players, it might make sense.
2. Jason Heyward (thumb): He might actually be healthy in time to make an appearance in the All-Star Game, but his owners should hope instead that the Atlanta Braves hold him out until the first game after the break. What stands out about Heyward is that his thumb injury helps explain his brutal June slump; don't forget that before that, he was a .301/.421/.596 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter in his first 46 career games. That's too much upside for what might be an entirely healthy second half to let this kid go.
3. Dustin Pedroia (broken foot): He's expected to miss approximately six weeks, putting his return date somewhere in the first-week-of-August range, but considering he's doing everything possible to keep himself in shape in the meantime, there's hope he'll meet or beat that timetable. Pedroia shouldn't rush back, as his injury affects his fielding, but it's a plus for his fantasy owners that it shouldn't have a significant impact on what we value most -- his bat. He is a top-five second baseman when healthy and might yet offer two solid months.
4. Carlos Beltran (knee surgery): Ah, perhaps the most interesting name of the list, and one whose anticipated return date is around the corner. Some reports hint he might return before the All-Star break and some say shortly thereafter, but there's a buzz growing around Beltran, thanks to a .389 batting average (14-for-36) in his 10 rehabilitation games for Class A St. Lucie. He's absolutely worthy of a DL spot -- heads up to those of you in the 21.7 percent of ESPN leagues in which he remains available -- but I'm not ready to go overboard with expectations. After all, Stephania Bell touched on concerns about Beltran's ability to steal bases upon his return in her June 24 blog, and while the outfielder's .284/.377/.403 rates in 19 late-season games after returning from this injury last year were promising, that he didn't attempt a single steal supports those worries. Here's the problem: A healthy Beltran who won't steal bases is a .285-25-100-0 type (OK, .285-12-50-0 in the remaining half-season), which sounds a heck of a lot more like Carlos Lee than, well, Carlos Beltran. Not that there's anything wrong with that offensive potential, but a .285-25-100-25 hitter is a quite a bit more valuable than .285-25-100-0.
5. Chase Utley (thumb surgery): His potential return date is being measured in months, not weeks, and there's always the worry of a sluggish start once activated from an injury like this. That's why Utley ranks so low, but he's not excluded entirely for two reasons: One, he has been ruled out for extended periods in the past yet returned quicker than expected. Two, he's a second baseman capable of tops-at-his-position stats when healthy. An example -- admittedly not exactly the same -- combining these two: In 2007, after missing exactly one month with a broken hand, he returned with .321/.397/.519 rates and 21 RBIs in his final 32 games, demonstrating his ability to quickly bounce back. It's an upside play, period.
6. Manny Ramirez (hamstring): I'm not a huge fan of Ramirez -- this season's Ramirez -- and part of it has to do with his age, his amount of health risk and the fact that he slumped badly (by his standards) late last season. Still, he has .322/.412/.525 rates in 59 games this year, should be back within a week or two and was on an offensive tear at the time of his DL placement.
7. Shin-Soo Choo (thumb): Here's a player for whom the rankings might change dramatically in the next few days, as he'll be re-examined Tuesday to determine whether he'll require surgery. The Cleveland Indians already estimate he'll miss six to eight weeks, and it's unclear whether surgery will cost him more time, so he might plummet down this list within a matter of hours. Eight weeks would mean he's out until the 40-man roster expansion.
8. Troy Tulowitzki (broken wrist): Like Utley, Tulowitzki has the lingering worry of being slow to recover even after his activation, which might not come until the rosters expand to 40 players. Both are expected to miss comparable amounts of time, both have the ability to contend for the top spot at their respective positions in terms of fantasy value when healthy (OK, OK, No. 2 for Tulowitzki because he has Hanley Ramirez to contend with), but there's a key difference: Utley has had more experience dealing with these sorts of long-term injuries as well as the rehabilitation and the adjustment upon activation. Don't bank on Tulowitzki being as safe a bounce-back player as Utley when they return.
9. Ryan Ludwick (calf): He should return sometime soon after the All-Star break, but if the aforementioned Beltran is a potential .285-25-100 hitter when healthy, Ludwick's .270-25-90 potential is a bit less attractive by comparison. He belongs a few spots further down the list.
10. Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs): When he first got hurt in April, his injury seemed relatively harmless, but the last time he attempted a return, he appeared in just three games in May before returning to the DL. As Bell noted June 17, Ellsbury's setback was an injury to a different location in his ribs, and that the speedster is still rehabbing at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona almost three weeks later is discouraging. At this point, owners with players ranked higher have to seriously consider letting Ellsbury go (if they haven't already), as he's not nearly the category-filler the names ahead of him on this list are when healthy.
Might as well keep 'em in the absence of better alternatives: Placido Polanco (could be back in two to four weeks, hits for average, qualifies at a thin position), Brian Roberts (if he was, say, a first baseman, he'd be in the list below).
It's time to let go: Grady Sizemore (still owned in 39.0 percent of ESPN leagues, despite his out-for-the-season status), Kendry Morales (likely out for the year), Nate McLouth (concussions can be dicey, not to mention he was struggling mightily before getting hurt), Nick Johnson (owned in 13.0 percent).
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.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: If you had any lingering concerns about his hamstring after his return from the disabled list May 25, suffice to say he has allayed them by now. Furcal is a .350 hitter (48-for-137) with five home runs, 24 RBIs and 28 runs scored in 33 games since that date, and if you narrow the time span further to games since June 5, he's a .402 hitter (39-for-97) with five homers, 19 RBIs and 24 runs in 22 contests. In fact, since returning from the bereavement list June 23 after the death of his father, Furcal is a .431 hitter (22-for-51) with three homers, 12 RBIs and 16 runs scored in 12 games, demonstrating how he's steadily improving each week. Though Furcal has but four steals since returning from the DL, that three of them have come in his past 10 contests offers hope for his owners in that category, too. He won't keep hitting at a better-than-.400 clip forever, but an average near .300 with double-digit homers and steals is indeed possible from him from this point forward.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies: For a player who so rarely walks, Gonzalez has had a truly exceptional season. He is batting .295 and is on pace for 30 homers, 111 RBIs and 26 stolen bases, despite the fact that he has only 11 unintentional walks all season. (Sure, Gonzalez walked three times Sunday, but two of those were intentional.) He flashed impressive power at San Diego's spacious Petco Park, hitting home runs in back-to-back games there on June 28 and 29, neither shot a cheap one by any measure. In his past 19 contests, Gonzalez is a .295 hitter (23-for-78) with six homers, 16 RBIs and five steals. He's surprisingly consistent, having batted between .276 and .350 in each of the season's first three months, ranging from three to five homers and steals and 13 to 17 RBIs.
Jim Thome, DH, Minnesota Twins: In case you forgot his name, Thome placed his best wake-up call the past week, clubbing four home runs during the Twins' six-game homestand, batting .400 (8-for-20) with eight RBIs while playing every inning. His playing time had diminished during the month of June, but that was partly a product of the team playing in National League parks where they lacked the designated hitter spot. It's good timing for Thome; among Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Danny Valencia and Delmon Young, there is a lot of competition for at-bats between the corner infield, outfield and DH spots. These Twins fancy themselves contenders and surely value Thome's veteran leadership; they'll keep finding at-bats for him and AL-only owners at least should find space for him, too.
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: It's a little hard to believe he's part of the All-Star Game Final Vote as opposed to being already named to the team, especially considering among all major leaguers he's tied for the lead in home runs (21), ranks second in on-base percentage (.418), fourth in slugging percentage (.599), seventh in runs scored (56) and 10th in RBIs (59). Perhaps those responsible for deciding the initial National League squad hadn't received word that Votto is one of the game's hottest hitters? He's a .363/.457/.788 hitter with 10 homers and 21 RBIs in his past 22 games, helping him soar to second among first basemen on our Player Rater, ahead of All-Stars Albert Pujols (third), Justin Morneau (fourth), Ryan Howard (eighth) and Adrian Gonzalez (11th). There might not be a more underappreciated first baseman in the game.
Rajai Davis, OF, Oakland Athletics: If the aforementioned Thome is picking a good time to get hot because he's facing considerable competition for at-bats, then Davis, conversely, is picking a horrible time to get cold because he, too, is facing a battle for plate appearances. Davis is 1-for-28 (.036) without an extra-base hit in his past 10 games, and as a result, during the past week he has found himself on the bench in favor of Coco Crisp and Gabe Gross. Davis' speed is an asset to AL-only owners even during some of his colder periods, but not so much when he's scarcely playing. He'll need to improve his current .256 batting average and .298 on-base percentage to score enough at-bats to remain relevant.
Adam Lind, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Many Lind owners have probably spent much of the season muttering the infamous phrase, "Well, it can't get any worse than this." Unfortunately, those folks have been wrong, as Lind's season continues to get worse, to the point where his OPS (.617) represents his worst at any stop at any professional level in any season. Since May 25, he's a .160/.216/.272 hitter with three homers, 11 RBIs and 37 strikeouts in 125 at-bats in 35 games, numbers that might have earned even the most proven player a demotion to the bench, if not to the minors. He continues to be terribly undisciplined at the plate, striking out in 27.5 percent of his at-bats, the one aspect in which he has actually been entirely consistent all year. Don't be so convinced that it's just his performance against offspeed pitches that's responsible; Inside Edge notes that he has put only 34 percent of his fastball swings into play, and he has a .209 batting average against the pitch. Last year his numbers were 42 and .315.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers: What a roller coaster of a rookie season. Smoak began his big-league career with .175/.291/.316 rates in his first 35 games, then posted .300/.400/.525 numbers in his next 23. Now he's back to being cold again, batting .067 (2-for-30) with only three walks and zero extra-base hits in his past nine contests. A nine-game cold spell might be easily forgotten if not for the favorable schedule the Rangers have faced, not to mention the fact that six of those were played at Rangers Ballpark. Smoak, incredibly, is just a .195/.326/.339 hitter in his home games, underscoring how maddening it has been to own him.
Juan Uribe, 2B/3B/SS, San Francisco Giants: Well, you didn't really think he was going to maintain a 30-homer, 100-RBI pace all season, did you? Uribe might have the power to remain valuable in NL-only and deep mixed leagues, but batting average is not his forte. There will be periods where it's painful to own him. We're in the midst of one now; he's a .105 hitter (6-for-57) with one homer and four RBIs in his past 16 games. Right-handed pitching has been giving him a lot of trouble lately, as he has .209/.285/.409 rates against that side since June 1. He's been facing a lot of it, with 130 plate appearances against them compared to only 23 versus left-handers. Ultimately, Uribe is a streaky player with mostly platoon-mate potential. When he's running cold, he's a somewhat easy out who might occasionally pop a homer against righties. He belongs in NL-only lineups, not shallow mixed, on a regular basis.
Upgrade your roster
This is a swap that not only needs to happen in fantasy leagues but also on the Cubs' roster. How they can even consider starting Fukudome, a .267/.366/.431 hitter who can barely even touch left-handed pitching, over Colvin, a .278/.320/.568 hitter, is inexplicable. Fukudome's strength is his ability to walk; outside of that, Colvin might be the superior player in every aspect, defense in particular.
Here's why such a move makes sense in fantasy: Even if the thought hasn't dawned upon manager Lou Piniella (or the Cubs' brass, if Piniella alone is ready to sign on), the Cubs continue to find themselves sliding in the standings, 11½ games back in the division and 11 back in the wild-card hunt. Barring a soon-to-come hot streak, they might throw in the towel on 2010 shortly after the All-Star break, at which point it makes plenty of sense to turn right field over full time to Colvin, who's 24 years old and a noticeable part of their future.
In the meantime, NL-only owners and those in mixed leagues can enjoy Colvin's surprising pop as well as the potential to add a stolen base or two. Batting average might be a problem for him, as he has whiffed in 29.6 percent of his at-bats, a huge increase from his 19.9-percent rate during his minor league career. Still, while he never managed more than 16 homers in any of four minor league seasons, Colvin did show the potential for more with a .188 career number in isolated power and .185 in 283 games at the Double-A level alone.
Also consider adding
Dexter Fowler, OF, Colorado Rockies: He's back and he's playing regularly, with starts in each of the Rockies' past six games, albeit partly because Brad Hawpe is nursing a rib injury. We already knew he could steal bases and hit lefties, but here's what's most encouraging: He was 6-for-7 with five walks versus right-handed pitchers during the weekend series against the San Francisco Giants.
Corey Patterson, OF, Baltimore Orioles: With Luke Scott sidelined, Patterson is sneaking in everyday at-bats in left field and capitalizing upon the opportunity. He's a .358 hitter (29-for-81) in his past 21 games, so ride the streak, though, as always with him, be prepared for a cold spell to arrive anytime.
Wilson Valdez, SS, Philadelphia Phillies: Hey, why not. No, he has never hit before, sporting a .222 career batting average entering the season, not to mention a 4-for-9 performance in terms of stolen bases that belied his ability displayed in the minors. Still, he calls a hitter-friendly ballpark his home and he's capitalizing upon an opportunity to play regularly with a .283 average (15-for-53), four homers and 12 RBIs in his past 17 games. He'll cool off, but for now, enjoy it.
New position qualifiers
Five games: Jarrett Hoffpauir (3B) and Wilson Valdez (2B).
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.