Surprise, surprise. MLB is full of them, as always. Every year there are players who come out of nowhere to dominate the first few months, like Brennan Boesch last season, and teams who shock the world, like the current Cleveland Indians. The following are the winners and losers in fantasy in the first month and a half of the 2011 MLB season.
Alex Gordon, LF, Kansas City Royals: .277/.339/.452, 3 HR, 23 RBI
Gordon was on fire in April (.356/.412/.567) and has cooled in May drastically (.158/.234/.281); however, you have to appreciate the fact that he has done anything after being moved to the OF to make room for Mike Moustakas and the current fill-ins, Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles. He has become a serviceable LF in his age 27 season, and after so many years struggling between K.C. and Omaha, you have to hope he finds a happy medium between his April and May and settles in as a useful player for the Royals.
Lance Berkman, RF, St. Louis Cardinals: .349/.455/.683, 11 HR, 35 RBI
Rumor has it the Astros were upset about Berkman’s conditioning the last couple of seasons when his numbers started declining before he was dealt to New York. After turning 35, you had to expect the same thing, declining numbers and a higher risk for injury playing an ugly RF back in the NL. He is still playing an ugly RF, but his numbers resemble his prime years again. Hitting in an order with Pujols and Holliday helps, but it looks like, if he stays healthy, he could get a lucrative contract this offseason…the Cards may need him when Pujols goes to hug Jim Hendry more in Chicago full time.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland Indians: .287/.348/.491, 7 HR, 27 RBI
Not Troy Tulowitski or Hanley Ramirez…Asdrubal Cabrera as the best SS currently! He has already surpassed his previous career high with 7 HR (6 in 2008 and 2009), and while he seems like he has been around a long time, he doesn’t turn 26 until November. He, along with many other Indians, have stepped up to develop a potent lineup, which is currently leading the AL in Runs, RBI, OBP, SLG, and AVG, while their pitching ranks 2nd in the AL in ERA with their young core of talent. Cabrera could continue to bash homers, as his 42 2B in 2009 could be going just a little further. I doubt he’ll outscore HanRam and Tulo over the rest of the season, but he could still be a top 5 SS for the next several years.
Ian Kennedy, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: 4-1, 3.05 ERA, 53/16 K/BB, 59 IP
Kennedy finally got an opportunity to pitch every day last season and posted solid but not spectacular numbers, including a 3.80 ERA with 9 wins and 168 K’s in 194 IP. He is taking a step forward this season some spectacular numbers. Imagine if he wasn’t pitching half of his games in Arizona, where his ERA is 4.01 (1.78 on the road). Look at the matchups. He could be a guy to start whenever he isn’t pitching at home for the rest of the year, but he could also be someone to count on every week.
Justin Masterson, RHP, Cleveland Indians: 5-2, 2.62 ERA, 48/19 K/BB, 60 2/3 IP
After, what seemed like, a ten year run on the Pawtucket Express with Boston, Masterson was sent to Cleveland via trade in 2009. He has struggled with location during his time in Cleveland and, due to better control, he is taking a step forward this season. Masterson has been masterful (corny) this season, forming a solid combination with Fausto Carmona in the Tribe rotation. He has only given up 1 HR this season and he has been dominant against right handed hitters (.141 vs. RH, .326 vs. LH), so it’s possible he can maintain his success, as long as he continues to keep the ball down and in the strike zone.
Charlie Morton, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates: 5-1, 2.62 ERA, 29/26 K/BB, 55 IP
Morton has always had solid stuff, but hitters had a .294 BAA and .826 OPS over his 251 1/3 IP between 2008 and 2010. This year, those numbers are down to .230 and .612 and the wins are piling up. He apparently copied Roy Halladay’s delivery exactly, wind up and follow through included, changing his entire approach to this point in his career. It seems like a brilliant concept. His lack of strikeouts seems to be the only issue here, but he gets tons of groundball outs, 20 of them in his 5/18 shutout of Cincinnati. It worked for Chien-Ming Wang in New York prior to his shoulder woes, so the Pirates could have another piece to trade away for nothing in the next wave of firesales.
Mat Latos, RHP, San Diego Padres: 1-5, 4.38 ERA, 39/17 K/BB, 39 IP
Latos finally won a game this week after having 10 straight decisions on the wrong side. His overall numbers from 2010 made him look like a Cy Young candidate heading into the season; however, he has been pretty average, which shouldn’t come as a surprise with the whole no offense thing that the Padres have going on without Gonzalez. He has given up 7 HR in his 39 IP after giving up 16 in 184 2/3 IP last year. The 23 year old should rebound and become relevant again, but the ability to win games just isn’t there until Anthony Rizzo starts at 1B and Ryan Ludwick starts hitting again.
Ryan Dempster, RHP Chicago Cubs: 2-4, 6.91 ERA, 52/21 K/BB, 56 IP
Dempster has also been victim to the long ball in 2011, serving up 11 HR in just 56 IP after giving up 51 HR in 622 IP since becoming a starter again in 2008. His strikeouts are there, he isn’t walking more than his typical average, but more balls are going out and all over the field, as he has allowed a .295 BAA and .875 OPS this season. Those should come down at some point, so he is a solid buy low option right now. He just turned 34 so it isn’t the end.
Adam Dunn, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox: .202/.323/.372, 4 HR, 17 RBI
Striking out about 38% of his at bats, Dunn is doing what he does best (33% over career). He seems to hit a homer, strikeout, or walk…nothing more. He hasn’t taken advantage of the small confines of U.S. Cellular Field yet. There is plenty of potential in his production as the weather heats up, though. Quentin, Rios, and Konerko, along with Dunn, should provide plenty of offense for the Pale Hose over the rest of the season. He will continue to have a pathetic batting average, but he will score runs by getting walks when he isn’t striking out or hitting homers.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates: .208/.283/.304, 2 HR, 10 RBI
Remember when teams didn’t give up on 24 year olds? The Pirates could take Rice 3B Anthony Rendon, either eliminating Alvarez long term or moving him to another position. His struggles this season have led some to question his long, Boras-led contract holdout after being drafted, which led to poor conditioning when Alvarez apparently ate his meals with Bartolo Colon. Alvarez will be a player similar to Adam Dunn – lots of strikeouts with plenty of power. He is someone to keep an eye on, and the Pirates would be fools to send him down or bench him. He has plenty to offer and he could rebound nicely and become a solid fantasy option still, especially in keeper leagues.
Carl Crawford, LF, Boston Red Sox: .205/.243/.280, 1 HR, 10 RBI
$20 million per year doesn’t buy you what it used to, eh? Crawford had a disastrous April, hitting just .155, but has rebounded to a .281 average so far in May. Crawford hasn’t ever really been a walk machine, his career high of 51 came with his career high OBP of .364 in 2009. It’s funny he got paid so much considering he doesn’t have as much value as Kenny Lofton had at this point in his career, especially in the leadoff role which Ellsbury has replaced him in. He does have more power than Lofton, though, which could be useful if he starts using Fenway to his advantage soon. He could be a dangerous talent, but he certainly wasn’t worth the money to this point, and possibly won’t ever be.
Sell high or buy low on your own thoughts, but these guys have been the winners and losers in the surprise, surprise times of the beginning of the 2011 MLB season. Jose Bautista has blown me away, as I thought it was a Brady Anderson-esque breakout last year. More power to him…literally.