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April 25, 2012 posted by Albert Lang

The Hot N Cold Fantasy Baseball All-stars

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Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels 1B

Players get hot and cold over a seven-day period, it’s as sure as the samples are small. In head-to-head and roto fantasy baseball leagues you have to make quick decisions on players who are surging and those that are performing at a lackluster level. That’s where the Hot ‘N’ Cold All-stars come in:  to sort through the trends and see which ones are worth buying or ignoring.

‘Cause you’re hot…you’re yes…you’re in…you’re up

Adam Dunn – Dunn hit an impressive .320 over the last seven days with a ho-hum three dingers. He is more than a third of the way to last year’s HR total and is hitting the ball better this season so far (more line drives, less fly balls and grounders). He’s the same ole .250 hitter, but it looks like he could threaten 30 HRs this season. There will be peaks and valleys (he’s still striking out 36% of the time), but the peaks will provide nice power.

Matt Joyce – Joyce is just 66% owned in Yahoo! leagues, yet blasted three bombs last week and went 8/20. So far, he is hitting .353/.450/.735 against right handers and has similarly dominated them throughout his career. Joyce, fresh off the most unheralded near 20-15 season ever, is going to put together 22-25 HRs with 10 SBs. Depending on the amount of lefties he sees, he probably won’t end with an average higher than .265. However, you shouldn’t play him when he starts against lefties. If you bench him against southpaws, you’ll get all the good and none of the bad. It’s a win-win.

Cody Ross – At a certain point, the ownership of Cody Ross will be near universal and it’ll be pointless for me to write about him, especially if he keepers going 6/20 with three homers during a week. The last time Ross had 600 plate appearances he hit 24 HRs. He’s on pace to come close to that mark and hitting in the middle of a somewhat potent Red Sox line-up, meaning 18 more HRs and 80 RBIs are almost a lock. Like the above sluggers, his average isn’t great, but it isn’t Adam Dunn toxic. If he’s available, trade your #3 OF and pick him up.

Juan Francisco – Francisco has found some playing time with the shift to Atlanta. Oddly, he went from backing up one brittle third baseman (Scott Rolen) to backing up another (Chipper Jones). Last week, Francisco got 16 ABs, collected six hits and three homers. He has immense power and should end 2012 with 20+ HRs. He’s just a flier in shallow leagues but is totally rosterable in dynasty leagues (hello Chipper Jones retiring) and deeper formats.

Alcides Escobar – Escobar is off to a scorching start this year and kept it up over the last seven days: 9/21 with two steals. He is either having or creating some batted ball luck (.347 BABIP versus .287 for his career) and, for what it’s worth, is squaring the ball well (25.5% line drive rate). He probably won’t keep up that rate, but it’s a promising sign that he could possibly bat .270 the rest of the season and post an OBP over .310! If he does that another 25+ steals are certain. 

Jason Kubel – While Kubel got off to a slow start, he’s been swinging the bat well lately: 10/26 with two homers over his last seven days. The move to Arizona should ultimately prove beneficial to his final stat line. He will be good for another 20 HRs, can easily bat .285 and should approach 80-85 RBIs. He needs to be near universally owned.

Alejandro de Aza – Last week, de Aza did what we thought he would: blend speed and power. So far, de Aza is batting .283 with three homers and two steals. He has an inflated ISO, however his BABIP seems in line with his skill set. He might not bat .285 this year, but it won’t be far off. Regardless, the 12-15 HRs and 25 SBs will sparkle.

Nick Hundley – Do people still hate Todd Hundley this much? That’s the only reason for the nadir ownership of Nick. Last week, Hundley went 6/19 with two homers. The only thing holding Hundley back from a top 10 finish at the position is his health. While healthy, he should be owned universally, as he’s good for another 12 HRs and should greatly improve on his batting average (he has a .241 BABIP this year and a .309 one for his career).

Mat Gamel – Gamel hit his first homer of the year in the last week and stole another base. While he is striking out a fair amount, his swinging strike rates aren’t abysmal and he is making solid contact. He’ll hit closer to .270 than .280 but he’s good for 12-17 more HRs and a handful of steals. That sounds a lot like Paul Goldschmidt.

Brent Lillibridge – Lillibridge got three hits last week (in nine at bats) but turned them into four steals. In AL-only leagues, you best be hoping on Lillibridge. As the older players in Chicago get days off, Lillibridge will get playing time and appears able to steal first at this point. He has always flashed speed upside and should provide a good number of thefts the rest of the year.

Darwin Barney – Barney is back to his 2011 early season shenanigans: 10/25 with five RBIs last week. To date, he’s hitting .311 and looks like a reasonable MI option in deeper formats. However, that standing might be temporary. For his career, he’s a .320/.356/.440 hitter in March/April, a .296/.316/.343 hitter in May and not at all good in any other month. For the time being, it’s fine to ride the hot hand, but he has no upside in any category and probably won’t bat higher than .275.

Eduardo Nunez – Nunez, the DH, went 6/17 with two steals over the last week. While he won’t get many opportunities at DH, as games pick up, the aging Yankee infielders will need days off and Nunez will get valuable playing time. Penciling Nunez in for 400 at bats should net five HRs, 20 or so SBs and a .280 average. His current .385 BABIP isn’t likely to continue especially given a solid increase in his FB rate as increases in BABIP and FB rates don’t typically go together. Expect him to hit a few more line drives and ground balls and get on base at a .320 clip the rest of the way.

Philip Humber – Humber had to make this list, he threw a perfect game for crimmie’s sake. While the perfect game is all well and good, it could overshadow a step forward for Humber. Sure, he’s benefiting from a ridiculous BABIP (.182) and strand rate (88.9%), but his FIP is only 1.33. Once a huge strike-out pitcher in 2006 in AA, Humber is generating great K rates for the first time ever in the majors. At quick glance, he’s added a bit of velocity on his fast ball over last season and is throwing his slider a lot more. Time will tell whether these are adjustments or just small sample size noise. During that time, though, I’d love to own him. He’s a solid back end starter in mixed leagues at worst.

Wandy Rodriguez – WandyRod, as we call him in the fan club, had a brilliant two-start week: 14 IPs, nine K’s, a 0.64 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP. He’s owned in just 66% of Yahoo! leagues. While it appears his K-rate is a little low, he is generating a ton of swinging strikes and actually getting less contact than typical for him. Expect the K’s to get back to normal levels (7.70 per nine), en route to a 3.60 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 160 K season. If that isn’t valuable in your league, get a tougher league.

A.J. Burnett – Burnett’s first start of the year was a gem (seven K’s and no runs in seven innings). He shut down the hot hitting but horribly hobbled Cardinals and looks like an intriguing add in most leagues. He has upside in the National League and should be good for a handful of K’s at the least.

Jeff Niemann – While his two starts only covered 10.1 IPs, he K’ed 10 and posted a 3.48 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. His ERA (4.11) looks boring, yet under the hood he has a 49.3% strand rate. His ridiculous HR/FB has something to do with that, but first base shouldn’t mean scoring either. He has actually taken a nice step forward in the K department, relying on his split finger a lot more and generating more swinging strikes than he normally gets. If he continues on this trend, a conservative estimate has him at 160 K’s with significant upside. I’d be acquiring Niemann.

Anthony Bass – Bass had a phenomenal week (14 K’s in 11 IPs, with a 2.45 ERA and 1.36 WHIP). However, Bass hasn’t flashed this kind of K potential in the high minors and usually walks a ton of batters. That said, anyone in Petco is worth a look and, if he’s figured out his control, he might turn in the most surprising year of any pitcher. Don’t bet on it, but if pitching is surface deep in your league, grab him and ride the nice match-ups.

Then you’re cold…then you’re no…then you’re out…then you’re down

Matt Garza – Sometimes a golden two start week (say one that includes Miami and St. Louis) turns horrible. To wit, Garza somehow struck out 12 batters in 12 innings, yet ended up with a 6.00 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. That said, he now has 26 K’s in as many innings with a 3.37 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. He’s benefiting from a .242 BABIP and slightly high strand rate, but is getting a ton of fly balls. He’s also posting good swinging strike rates. He’ll flirt with 200 K’s by the end of the season and post solid ratios. If you can get him for draft day value or less (or even a little more), now is the time.

Chad Billingsley – A few weeks ago Billinglsey dominated the fledgling Padres and Pirates, and then he got roughed up by the powerful Astros? That doesn’t exactly compute, but Billinglsey had a substandard week (6.75 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and four K’s in 9.1 IPs). He was all over the place in his start against the Astros, but, so far, has gotten his walks under control. If he maintains a walk rate similar to his 2009 and 2010 seasons, Billinglsey could end up with a 3.75 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 165 K’s. He’ll be fine and is an above average match-ups type.

Brandon Morrow – Two starts from Morrow should net double digit K’s, yet he struck out just five in his last week. He added a 4.97 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Basically, he was horrific. So far, Morrow’s underlying numbers paint a different picture than his 3.71 ERA. His .190 BABIP, 84.2% strand rate and 4.05 K/9 rate suggest a pitcher that is going to have massive struggles. His fast ball velocity is down about one MPH and he’s also throwing it a lot less. Instead, he is relying on his change-up a lot more and getting a ton of ground balls. It’s just 26.2 IPs, so the funkiness could just be small sample noise. However, until we can tell what’s exactly going on with Morrow, it’s best to keep his butt firmly planted on the bench.

Austin Jackson – Way back when, at the start of the season, it appeared Jackson had a different approach. Flash forward a week later and he goes 2/25 with a dinger. That said, his K-rate is still down from the norm and his walk rate is up. His BABIP is actually lower than it was last year, suggesting his .274 average isn’t totally a mirage. He’s also hitting the ball incredibly hard (28.9% line drive rate). If Jackson performs at the bottom of this pace, he’ll flirt with 100 runs. In addition, he could easily bat .270 with a .340 OBP, which would increase runs, RBIs and SBs. He’s probably good for at least 10 more dingers and maybe 20 more SBs. There’s upside here, but we need a few more plate appearances to really understand how he’s going to do.

Albert Pujols – Pujols went 5/24 last week, which brought his average down to .246. He has no homers and just six runs and four RBIs. At the end of April, 2011, Pujols was hitting .245/.305/.453, although he did have seven HRs. There’s really no reason to worry about Pujols and stop trying to trade him for Adrian Gonzalez.

Jeff Francoeur – A 5/22 week has left Francoeur batting .246. What’s odd is that he is swinging and missing and striking out less than normal. He’s also hitting a lot more line drives and a few more grounders, yet his BABIP is below his career norm. Given it’s early and nothing demonstrable has changed with him, his value should remain static to draft day. If you can acquire him for dirt cheap, he’s worth going after. Eventually he’ll hit 15 HRs and steal 10 bases, while batting .270.

Zack Cozart – Cozart experienced his first struggles as a big leaguer this last week, as he went 4/23. If you can sell Cozart based on his hot start, go right ahead. However, he still remains a .260 hitter with 12-15 HR and 10-12 SB potential. If he keeps batting at the top of the order, 80 runs are a given. There will be peaks and valleys with him and with Dusty Baker as the manager that could cost him a high place in the batting order. However, ride or trade him during the peaks and bench him during the valleys.

Albert has been playing and arguing about baseball and fantasy sports since 2002. Since 1982, he has also been largely miserable (here’s looking at you Armando Benitez) because of the Orioles and Eagles. Albert has won leagues and lost leagues, but he has the most fun debating player values. Albert typically plays in several baseball and football leagues a year. He also is an avid baseball card collector and writes about older players and their historical value relative to the Hall of Fame and their peers/current players. When not harassing league mates with trades and analyzing what categories his team performs poorly in, Albert is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow Albert on Twitter @h2h_corner. He has an awesome puppy named Charlotte. You can find all of Albert's work at http://h2hcorner.wordpress.com/.
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