These guys are ON FIRE…will they stay hot?

Carlos Beltran – Coming into the season, not much was expected of Carlos Beltran. He had spent the majority of the 2009 and 2010 seasons on the DL, and as an aging center fielder, the outlook wasn’t good. Bill James projected a dash line of .274/.369/.478 over 116 games, while ZiPs was less optimistic at .270/.354/.447 over only 99 games. Thus far, Beltran has blown away those projections, posting early season results of .285/.373/.569 while blasting 8 HR’s and driving in 24. That puts him on a full season pace of 32 HR’s and 95 RBI’s, which would certainly put him back into “superstar” status.

Analysis: Probably the smartest decision Beltran and the Mets made in Spring Training was to move him to right field. The softened fielding requirements have allowed Beltran’s aching knees a break, thus enabling him to stay healthy. And that’s the key– when he’s on the field, there’s really no argument regarding Beltran’s ability to produce; in 78 September at-bats in 2010, he smashed to a line of .321/.365/.603. Assuming he remains healthy, which I am doing since he’s playing right field, I don’t see him having any major dips in production. Should he be traded to an AL team (Anaheim, Detroit, Oakland, and Chicago seem like good landing spots), he would likely DH and possibly produce at an even higher level. That being said, because of his knees, Beltran’s days as a 5-tool threat are seemingly over. He hasn’t attempted a single stolen base all season long.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .285, 31 HR, 92 RBI, 88 R, 5 SB

Erick Aybar – He is one of several Angel prospects who, as of 2010, seemingly hadn’t reached their potential (others that come to mind are Casey Kotchman, Brandon Wood, and Howie Kendrick). Ranked in Baseball America ‘s Top 100 prospects list 3 times (#39 in 2005, #46 in 2006, and #61 in 2007), Aybar was a terrific prospect who was supposed to contend for batting titles, steal 30-50 bases, and hit for decent (10+ HR) pop. And yet, entering 2011, he had never topped 5 HR’s or 22 SB’s, and had hit over .280 only once (in 2009, .312). But suddenly, along with his teammate Kendrick, Aybar is performing at an All-Star level. But will Aybar’s Ichiro impression last, or is it a mirage?

Analysis: Aybar has been extremely fortunate this season, sporting a .396 BABIP (career, .314), despite walking at a career-low 3.3%. While speed players such as Aybar have historically been able to get by with higher BABIP’s (beating out infield grounders, bunting for hits, etc), there’s little chance that he’ll be able to sustain his .351 batting average while walking at such an abysmal rate. If he does, we’re talking about a historic season, as it would put him on par with Ichiro’s greatest year (2004: Ichiro hit .372 with a BABIP of .399). Now, Ichiro doesn’t walk too much, either (career rate of 6.3%), but what makes him special is his ability to make contact and not strike-out (career rate of only 10%). Right now, Aybar is striking out  in 14.9% of his at-bats and, given his career rate is 13.7%, I don’t see that number seeing a significant improvement. All that said, it doesn’t mean he can’t be a positive fantasy asset. As his minor league stats show us, he has the ability to hit for average and steal bases. While I don’t expect him to win the batting title, I do think he’s turning a corner in his career.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .295, 8 HR, 60 R, 32 SB

Tom Gorzelanny – Gorzelanny is another former top prospect who has yet to put it all together. Despite his strong minor league numbers (2.78 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and K-rate of 8.9 over 530.1 IP), he’s been, for the most part, a #3/#4 starter at the Major League level. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but not exactly what was expected from the former 2nd round pick. Yet so far in 2011, Gorzelanny has been tremendous. Whereas he previously had struggled with his control (MLB career 4.06 BB-rate), he’s  seemingly gotten a hold of it. As of today, he’s posted a career-best BB-rate of 2.98 while still striking batters out at a decent rate of 7.44. So has Gorzelanny emerged as a solid fantasy option, or is he getting lucky in the early going?

Analysis: From April 15 through May 7, Gorzelanny posted 5 consecutive starts in which he allowed less than 2 earned runs. He threw 32.1 innings while striking out 21 batters (5.89 K-rate). In his other 2 starts on the year, he’s combined for 10.0 IP while allowing 9 earned runs and striking out 14 batters (12.6 K-rate). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on. Gorzelanny is at his best when he’s pitching rather than throwing. Striking batters out usually entails throwing a lot of pitches, which in turn raises the potential for opposing batters to get a hit or walk. With pitchers, such as Gorzelanny, who have historically struggled with their control, it’s sometimes better to let those batters make contact for outs. But that’s a hard lesson to teach, and one that the young pitcher has still not mastered. On the flip side, however, while one may point to his high FIP of 4.95 and claim that he’s been the fortunate recipient of good defense, I think this would be a little misleading. Not to completely disprove such theories, but his ground ball to fly ball tendencies are a little off this season. Although he’s induced a fair number of ground balls throughout his career (41.3% GB-rate), that number has shrunk to 32.2%, which conveniently corresponds with his high HR/FB rate of 12.9% (career, 8.9%). When these numbers gravitate back towards career averages, I expect his FIP will decrease as well. All that being said, opponents are getting by with a pathetic .189 BABIP (career .292) against Gorzelanny. This is an obviously unsustainable number, which will inevitably rise. I expect Gorzelanny to continue striking some batters out, and he may have a good streak or 2 throughout the season. But when the numbers balance out and reality sets in, he’s a #3 starter. That does have value, but if I owned him now, I’d definitely sell high.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 10 W, 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 175 IP / 150 K

Homer Bailey – This list is chock full of former star prospects, isn’t it? Bailey may have been the brightest, as he twice was ranked in Baseball America’s Top 10 (#5 in 2007 and #9 in 2008). He was expected to be an ACE, in every sense of the word, but after 317 career innings pitched at the Major League level, has managed only a 4.91 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. Clearly, he hasn’t worked out as planned. Still, he entered the 2011 season as a mere 24-year-old, so his book hasn’t been finished quite yet. To date, Bailey’s biggest culprit has been himself, as he’s been oft-injured and, when healthy, hasn’t been able to harness his stuff. But 2011 has been different…so far anyway. He’s started only 2 games, but has looked abslutely brilliant in them. Showing every reason why the Reds made him the 7th overall pick in the 2004 MLB Draft, Bailey currently owns a 8.31 K-rate to go along with a minuscule 0.69 BB-rate.

Analysis: As stated, the biggest threat to Bailey’s success has been his injury-proneness. While it’s hard to predict health, I think it’s safe to say that Bailey has certainly shown significant growth over his Major League journey. He lowered his ERA each season from 2008-2010, while simultaneously raising his K-rate from 4.5 (2008) to 8.3 (2010). Batters are currently sporting a .257 BABIP against him which, although lower than his career .311 rate, is not quite in the “ridiculous” range. Still, it explains why his LOB-rate has been 90% and why his FIP (1.32) is significantly higher than his actual ERA. Assuming Bailey stays healthy, however,  I can see him having a very good year. I definitely like the growth he’s shown, and even in a busy and competitive Reds rotation, feel he has the stuff to make it as a front-line starter. If you have him, hold onto him. His injury history means he won’t net you much in a trade, but if he stays healthy, you’ll have hit the jackpot.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 13 W, 3.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 185 IP / 164 K

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

Jason Bay – Making over $15 million a year, Bay has provided the Mets with terrible value. After missing much of 2010, projections for 2011 were lowered but still decent. Bill James had him hitting .267/.369/.471 with 21 HR, and ZiP’s, .252/.349/.455 with 20 HR’s. So clearly, nobody thought he’d return to pre-2010 form, but given even diminished expectations, Bay has disappointed. While he still hustles, he looks lifeless at the plate, and despite hitting in the middle of the order, has managed an awful 5 extra-base hits in 85 plate appearances. He simply looks cooked.

Analysis: There’s not too many positives to point to in Bay’s defense. While his K- and BB-rates have remained near his career levels, he’s simply shown next to nothing over his past 115 games dating back to the start of 2010. His current BABIP of .275 is significantly lower than his career rate of .326, so there’s certainly a chance he’s suffering from some bad luck. But even then, what good is a .250, 20 HR hitter? Not much, sadly. Bay’s career as an above average slugger appears all but dead. Stay far, far away.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .255, 18 HR, 65 RBI, 55 R, 7 SB

Jose Tabata – He could easily have made the “Fire” list a month ago; his stats as of April 17 were .310/.420/.517 with 3 HR, 4 RBI, 13 R, and 8 SB, and he looked like an emerging star. But the warning signs were plentiful; he had struck out 12 times in only 15 games, and had a completely unsustainable BABIP. He’s come back to Earth, but instead of settling in as a nice .285, 10 HR, 30 SB guy, has completely fallen apart.

Analysis: Despite his low batting average, Tabata is still walking at a very decent rate (14.1%). He simply hasn’t been hitting. As is often pointed out, speed guys like Tabata can get by with high BABIP’s (he hit .299 in 2010 with a BABIP of .339). Yet thus far in 2011, he’s been quite unlucky, sporting a BABIP of merely .255. Considering his high BB-rate, this is the most likely culprit for his low batting average. While I don’t think he’s quite ready to become the 5-tool player many projected he would when he was a prospect, I do think he’s a LOT better than he’s currently showing. Hold onto him, or if you need speed, target him as a good buy-low candidate. He’ll end the year as a positive fantasy asset.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: .278, 9 HR, 45 RBI, 93 R, 35 SB

John Danks – It’s simply mind-boggling to stare at Danks’ 0-6 record through 8 starts. At first glance, his numbers are pretty terrible, particularly in the W and WHIP categories. Entering the year as one of the league’s Top 30 starters, big things were expected of him, and rightfully so. From 2008-2009, Danks was one of the American League’s most reliable bets, pitching at least 195 innings and winning at least 12 games in each season, while posting ERA’s ranging from 3.32-3.77. As steady as they came, one could say. And so ZiPs’ preseason predictions reflected this, projecting 15 wins and an ERA of 3.82. Obviously, things haven’t yet worked out and, after his latest implosion (5.0 IP, 10 H, 6 ER), he became one of the most popular drops across all Yahoo! public leagues.

Analysis: Forgetting his ugly numbers and delving deeper into his stats reveals some valuable information. Danks has been on the losing end of several hard-luck outcomes, (for example: 6.0 IP, 2 ER, LOSS; 8.0 IP, 1 ER, ND), and is currently the unlucky victim of a .327 opposing BABIP (career, .287). Otherwise, his metrics are very much in line with his career averages. In fact, his current strikeout rate of 6.92 and walk-rate of 2.77 would both be his best since 2008. So while his surface stats are obviously less than inspiring, his FIP (3.92) paints a clearer picture of his actual performance to date. Currently owned in a mere 65% of all Yahoo! public leagues, he’s definitely somebody I’d target in any league. He’ll right the ship, and when he does, you’ll be happy you picked him up.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 10 W, 3.80 ERA 1.26 WHIP, 203 IP / 158 K

Chris Carpenter – Taking out 2007 and 2008 due to injuries, Chris Carpenter has been one the Major’s top starters since 2004. He has continuously won 15+ games while posting ERA’s in the low to mid 3’s. So when one glances at his 4.95 ERA as of May 17th,  it certainly comes as a shock. Even more startling is his recent performance which, for lack of a better term, as been downright awful. He’s been extremely hittable — allowing 32 hits over his last 19.1 innings — and has seen his season ERA skyrocket from 2.08 on April 6 to 4.95 as of today.

Analysis: When I began Carpenter’s analysis, I was hoping to peek at his career splits and discover that he’s been a historically slow starter. If so, I would have pointed that out, shouted “Case Closed!” and been done with it. But with monthly ERA’s ranging from 3.52 – 4.20, he’s actually been startlingly consistent, making his current production even more surprising. So then, what’s the story? Let’s start in September, 2010. After posting spectacular numbers the entire season, Carpenter collapsed, posting a 4.78 ERA over 6 September starts. He suddenly looked tired and, at age 35, it probably was a result of the long and demanding season. Now 36, Carpenter is a year older and, perhaps, has simply lost a step. It’s hard to find another answer, as his K- and BB-rates are both near his career averages. He’s simply been extremely hittable, as opposing batters have benefitted from a .330 BABIP (career, .297). We could chalk some of this up to bad luck, of course, but Carpenter’s FIP of 4.13, although better than his actual ERA, isn’t that of a front-line starter. It’s difficult to say this, but his days of being one of the league’s best starters may be over. An improvement is definitely in store, but expecting an ace may be asking too much.

Fantasy Baseball King’s Bold Prediction: 10 W, 3.95 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 188 IP / 139 K