These guys are ON FIRE…will they stay hot?

Asdrubal Cabrera – Cabrera’s been having a tremendous season. His 11 HR’s on the year are nearly double his previous career high of 6 HR, and his .306 batting average is almost 20 points higher than his .287 career line. Preseason projections were decent, but not earth shattering. Bill James had Cabrera going .292, 8 HR, 59 RBI, 78 R, 13 SB, and ZiPs projected a very similar .286, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 55 R, 9 SB. So, obviously, while his numbers would be quite decent in deeper, mixed leagues, he was a fringe starter at best. And yet, as we enter the second week of June, Cabrera is ranked #9 overall in Yahoo! fantasy leagues, good enough to lay the claim as the highest ranked shortstop in the game, above stalwarts Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki, and Hanley Ramirez. So what’s the deal?

Analysis: Cabrera’s having a great season, and I hate to take anything away from that. But really, where is this coming from? The best power he ever displayed professionally came in 2007, when he hit 8 HR’s in 105 games across Double- and Triple-A. So while natural growth and progression could have allowed him to increase his 6-8 HR’s per year to 12-15, his current pace (31) is way beyond any previous expectations or results. So as much as I want to believe in the guy, it’s hard to do so with a serious face. Yes, he’s changed his approach at the plate, taking bigger swings on advice from teammate Orlando Cabrera. But unlike last year’s freak breakout, Jose Bautista, Asdrubal Cabrera has absolutely no history of any power. At least Bautista had the second half of 2009, in which he slugged 11 HR’s in 193 at-bats. I’m calling the bluff here. Sell high.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .293, 18 HR, 73 RBI, 85 R, 20 SB

Alex Gordon – Alex Gordon had me worried for a little while there. After I touted him so highly in preseason, I looked pretty good for the first month. But after seeing his OPS reach .940 on May 1st, he went into a bit of a free-fall, and by May 19th, it was down to .780. For all intents and purposes, it looked like Gordon wasn’t having the breakout season it had first seemed. But now, after a brilliant two weeks, his OPS is back up to .838, and his 162-game pace is .287, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 102 R, and 14 SB. Superstar? Not quite yet, but certainly a useful player.

Analysis: I’ve always liked Gordon, ever since he was drafted in the 1st Round of the 2005 MLB Draft. His minor league career was obviously brilliant, albeit brief in its one season. As such, after 4 seasons of relative mediocrity at the Major League level, doubters were plentiful. His ZiPs preseason projection was a mere .257, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 51 R, and 6 SB. But he’s made strides in 2011, hitting the ball with more authority and lowering his K-rate to 21.4% (previous career low had been 24.3%). His ISO is now sitting at .192, nothing amazing but also nothing to sneeze at, and the emergence of Eric Hosmer has finally given Gordon and teammate Billy Butler some additional lineup protection. While my original projection of 25 HR’s may look a little optimistic right now, I do think he’ll come fairly close.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .286, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 90 R, 9 SB

Dillon Gee – Young and unheralded, Dillon Gee has had quite the start to his Major League career. Over his first 16 career games (13 starts), Gee’s line reads 8-2, 2.90 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 87.0 IP / 56 K. Not shabby, eh? He was drafted in the 21st Round of the 2007 MLB Draft and, after 437.2 minor league innings, managed a 3.78 ERA and 1.18 WHIP to go along with a brilliant 4.05 SO/BB ratio. So why wasn’t Gee found on any top prospect lists? Well, his draft status obviously played a role, as did his “stuff,” which is decent but nothing mind-shattering. Gee was thus projected as a low-floor, low-ceiling pitcher who could fit in nicely as a #5 starter. But he hasn’t performed that way. Instead, he’s given every impression of being a solid mid-rotation starter. Much like Jon Niese before him, Gee has provided hope for the Mets’ future rotation.

Analysis: As mentioned, Gee’s minor league SO/BB ratio was tremendous. Given that his career K-rate in the minors was 7.9, he’s proved his ability to get batters out despite his high 80’s fastball. True, most top starters have a zippier pitch, but there also have been plenty of pitchers who won games without an All Star arsenal. Gee’s poise is that of a veteran; despite being only 4 years removed from not being allowed a legal can of beer, Gee has shown great command on the mound. That being said, being smart and in control does not  make one an ace. His 2011 MLB K-rate of 6.5 is too low in comparison to his BB-rate of 3.3. As such, I don’t see him maintaining an ERA in the low 3’s. He’s also encountered a bit of good luck, with an opposing BABIP of merely .232. He’ll have a rookie collapse at some point, and with his below-average fastball, those starts could be ugly. Still, all in all, I do think he’s a decent pitcher. Consider him an option in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues. Keep in mind, of course, that his youth may push the Mets to monitor his innings as the year progresses.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 13 W, 3.88 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 150 IP / 110 K

Anibal Sanchez – He was always highly thought of. He was ranked as the #40 overall prospect by Baseball America in 2006, and seemed primed to become a future front line starter. But it didn’t happen- not a fault of his talent. Rather, it’s the injury bug that’s continuously bitten, forcing him to fall short of 30 starts in all but one season, 2010. In that season, however, he pitched very well: 13 W, 3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 195 IP / 157 K. He also had a tremendous rookie season, for those of you who could remember all the way back to 2006. That year, he went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA. So, it’s not totally unprecedented for him to succeed. But will he continue to do so?

Analysis: Sanchez is having a huge year, and seems to be finally delivering on his vast potential. Both his K- and BB-rates are lined up to be career highs, and he’s only gotten better as the season’s progressed. Additionally, after a newly developed labrum tear operation, his average velocity is actually up to 91.3 MPH (a good bit higher than his career average). Most importantly, Sanchez’s command has seen tremendous improvement. He’s sporting near career highs in contact-rate, first-strike percentage, and in-zone contact rate. Reportedly, he’s also improved the movement on his secondary options, and is using his slider and change-up to rack up the K’s. So long as he stays healthy, which his recent surgery should hopefully ensure, Sanchez looks every bit a #2 starter.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 14 W, 3.35 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 203 IP / 200 K

Wow, it’s chilly in here…will the ice thaw?

Dan Uggla – The Braves signed Dan Uggla for his power, which thankfully he’s provided some of by hitting 7 HR’s thus far. His other numbers, however, are deplorable. An OPS of .559 isn’t even bench player material on a bad team, let alone that of a middle of the order slugger on a contending one. While his OPS hasn’t been good at any point this year, it’s absolutely plummeted since hitting a high note (.706) on April 4th.

Analysis: Nobody expected Uggla to repeat his .287 batting average from 2010; a player with his below average speed simply can’t sustain a BABIP of .330. But 2011 has provided a complete reversal in fortune, as Uggla’s BABIP now sits at .186. Additionally, while he’s actually striking out at the 2nd best rate of his career (20.6%), his walk rate (7.9%) is the 2nd worst of his career. So while he’s making slightly better contact (in that he’s not missing pitches for strike 3’s), he’s also seen a pretty substantial drop in his patience. This could be due to him getting frustrated by his bad luck. Or perhaps he’s getting antsy with Turner Field’s large dimensions. Either way, it’s not a good thing. Still, Uggla’s track record is too good for this. He’s hit no less than 27 HR’s in any single season, so while his batting average may never again top .265, there’s no reason to think that the power will vanish. With a .174 batting average, there’s really nowhere to go but up. Buy low, and thank the Maker you can get these kind of numbers out of a second baseman.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .245, 26 HR, 78 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB

Chone Figgins – Ya know when you just don’t like a guy? Not personally, of course, but as a fantasy baseball asset? For me, that guy has always been Chone Figgins. I think it’s the fact that the extent of his fame far exceeds what is worthy of a player with a sub-100 career OPS+. Or maybe it’s because I expect speed players to score 100+ runs on an annual basis. Perhaps it’s simply my confusion on how to pronounce his first name. Whatever the reason, I’ve never drafted Chone Figgins, and have never advised others to, either. Now he’s mired in a season-long funk, which has only gotten worse over the past several weeks. Yes, he’s stolen a few bases when he’s actually been on, but that’s about it.

Analysis: Figgins’ steals are actually not as valuable as they may seem. With only 7 steals to go along with his 5 times being caught, Figgins has been extremely inefficient on the base paths. I wonder how many green lights he’ll be given going forward considering that success rate. To make matters worse, his walk rate (5%) is well below his career average of 9.9%, and his BABIP of .209 is inexcusable given his speed. While Figgins possesses a career batting average of .282, he did hit .259 last season, showing perhaps that his decline had already begun. When speed players decline, they do so at a fairly quick pace. Manager Eric Wedge has benched Figgins a few times so far, and if Figgins can’t get his act together, I can see it becoming a growing trend. Not feeling too much warmth here…if you can part ways successfully, it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .235, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 45 R, 22 SB

Max Scherzer – A huge second half in 2010 (2.47 ERA, 102.0 IP / 96 K) had Scherzer primed for a giant year in 2011. While he’s continued to strike batters out at a substantial pace (8.50 K-rate thus far), his GB% has dropped 6 points from his career average, and he’s allowed a career high 1.38 HR/9. He’s been simply dreadful as of late, allowing 14 ER and 16 H over his last 8.2 IP.

Analysis: Outside of 4 starts, Scherzer has been lights out in 2011. He’s had 7 starts in which he’s allowed 2 runs or less over 5.0 IP, and has also struck out 7+ batters in, again, 7 of his starts. I guess 7 truly is a lucky number. So really, it’s only his last couple of starts that have been a concern. The first, in which he gave up 7 earned runs (again with 7’s?!) in a mere 2.0 IP against the Red Sox was truly brutal. Still, it’s hard to imagine Scherzer has completely lost it. There have been no reports of decreased velocity and, despite being bashed during those starts, Scherzer maintained his K- and BB-rates. I see no reason to believe his recent performance represents a long-term depression. Sit him during his next start to allow him to stretch a bit, but be prepared to insert him back into your rotation soon. While he may encounter a dip or two like this, he’ll contribute in big ways for your W and K categories.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 15 W, 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 201 IP / 193 K

Joakim Soria – Who could possibly have seen this one coming? Soria entered the year as an easy choice for Top 5 Closer, but recently lost his job to rookie Aaron Crow. Earning losses and blown saves during his 3 most recent opportunities, Soria gave up 10 hits and 8 earned runs across a mere 2.1 IP. While he sported a 3.86 ERA prior to those games, that’s not too wonderful for a closer, and even worse considering his 2.35 career mark. So what gives?

Analysis: Soria’s metrics are all over the place right now. His K-, BB-, and HR/9 rates are all career worsts, and his first-pitch strike and swinging strike rates have been simply awful. Moreover, his 18.5% outside swing rate is currently last among all qualified MLB relievers, meaning that hitters aren’t chasing his moving balls for strikes. Additionally, scouting reports have been stating his cutter, which has been a plus pitch in the past, has faltered, and for some reason, he has all but abandoned his curve, which had previously been his out pitch. Still, it’s hard to imagine Soria’s morphed suddenly into Mel Rojas, so don’t drop him quite yet. While you’ll need to make allowances for the closer position, Soria should eventually regain his spot. He’s pitched perfectly in each of his last 2 outings (3.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER), so that may be happen sooner than later.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 27 SV, 3.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 65 IP / 58 K